The Joseph Smith Papers provides historical context to the statement on marriage in the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants.

The Joseph Smith Papers

"Historical Introduction," Appendix 3: Statement on Marriage, circa August 1835, The Joseph Smith Papers website, accessed June 13, 2022

The Joseph Smith Papers
W. W. Phelps, Brigham Young, Sidney Rigdon, The Joseph Smith Papers, Joseph Smith, Jr., Oliver Cowdery
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On 17 August 1835, Oliver Cowdery and Sidney Rigdon presented what was probably a collection of unbound gatherings or signatures of the forthcoming Doctrine and Covenants to a general assembly of the church in Kirtland, Ohio. Representatives from different priesthood offices expressed approval of the work and testified of their satisfaction with it. During the proceedings, William W. Phelps and Cowdery presented two additional documents to be included in the volume: the statement featured here, which the minutes refer to as “Rules for Marriage among the saints”; and a declaration on “laws in general. & church government.” The assembly accepted both to be “attached to the book,” and they were included as sections 101 and 102 in the Doctrine and Covenants, which was available by September 1835.

Although the text of the statement on marriage suggests that it was written partly because the church had been charged with fornication and polygamy, the statement may also have been produced in an effort to claim the right for members of the church’s clergy to solemnize marriages. Earlier that year, the Geauga County Court of Common Pleas had denied Sidney Rigdon a license to perform marriages because he was judged not a “regularly ordained minister of the gospel, within the meaning” of Ohio’s 1824 statute on marriage. That statute allowed “the several religious societies agreeably to the rules and regulations of their respective churches, to join” men and women “together as husband and wife.” This statement on marriage may have been the church’s formal declaration of just such “rules and regulations,” published so that JS and other church leaders could perform marriages under Ohio law.

The authorship of the statement is unclear, but it has generally been attributed to Oliver Cowdery. In 1867, Brigham Young stated that Cowdery had requested that a proclamation disavowing plural marriage be included in the Doctrine and Covenants, but JS had refused to pen one, stating he would “have nothing to do with it.” According to one observer, in 1869, Young explained further that “Cowdry wrote it, and incisted on its being incerted in the Book of D.&C. contrary to the thrice expressed wish and refusal of the Prophet Jos. Smith.” JS’s only specific objection that Young noted was to the mention of polygamy. There are no records specifying whether JS disapproved of the rest of the statement. There is also no evidence indicating whether JS contributed to the statement’s creation. He signed a preface included at the beginning of the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants that stated that the book presented “our belief . . . the faith and principles of this society as a body.” But since the preface was written six months before the book was published and likely before the statement on marriage was composed, it is possible that the statement on marriage was included by Cowdery and printed without JS’s permission or even against his wishes. JS was absent when the statement was read to and approved by the congregation in August 1835. Since it is unclear whether JS was involved in producing the statement or whether he approved it, it is included as an appendix of this volume rather than as a featured text.

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