This section of the book is from "The Complete Herbalist" by Dr. O. Phelps Brown. Also available from Amazon: The Complete Herbalist: The People Their Own Physicians By The Use Of Nature's Remedies.
This is a state in which a man has at the same time one or more wives, or a woman more than one husband. The latter custom is more properly called polyandry, and prevails in Thibet and a few other places. Polygamy has existed from time immemorial, especially among the nations of the East. In sacred history we find that it prevailed before the flood. Lamech had two wives, and the patriarchs were nearly all polygamists. The custom was tolerated by the laws of Moses, and, in fact, no positive injunctions against it is found in the whole of the Old Testament. It is questionable whether more than one was recognized as the bona-fide wife, the other simply being wives by right of concubinage. But if polygamy was in its strictest sense the legal custom, it soon grew unpopular, for no trace of it is met in the records of the New Testament, where all the passages referring to marriage imply monogamy as alone lawful. The custom has been almost universal in the East, being sanctioned by all the religions existing there. The religion of Mohammed allows four wives, but the permission is rarely exercised except by the rich. The custom is accounted for on the ground of the premature old age of the female in those regions, and also on the ground of excess of the number of females, though the latter, by the authority of recent travellers, is probably not the truth. The marriage code of Fu-hi, who primarily established civilizaton among the Chinese, gave most probably superiority to but one wife, but raised the concubine to the dignity of a wife to a certain extent.
Among the Greeks, at least of later times, monogamy was the custom, though in the time of Homer polygamy prevailed to some extent. It was not known in the republic of Rome, but during the existence of the empire the prevalence of divorce gave rise to a state almost analogous to it. It prevailed among the barbarous nations of antiquity, excepting the Germans, who, according to Tacitus, "were content with a single wife." In some countries more than one wife was allowable if the husband could extend the dowry; a wife without a dowry was considered only a concubine. This was the case in Judea, when it became a dependency of Rome.
In Christian countries polygamy was never tolerated, the tenets of the church forbidding it, though Charlemagne had two wives, and Sigibert and Chilperic also had a plurality. John of Leyden, an Anabaptist leader, was the husband of seventeen wives, and he held that it was his moral right to marry as many as he chose.
In England the punishment of polygamy was originally in the hands of the ecclesiatics. It was considered a capital crime by a statute of Edward I., but it did not come entirely under the control of the temporal power until a statute of James I. made it a felony, punishable with death. George III. made it punishable by imprisonment or transportation for seven years. By the laws of ancient and modern Sweden the penalty is death. The Prussian Code of 1794 subjected the criminal to confinement in a house of correction for not less than two years. In the United States the second marriage is a nullity, and the punishment varies in the different States, though usually imprisonment for a certain period, or fine, or both, is the penalty. The term bigamy is most in use, however, as the plurality seldom extends beyond two. Polygamy has had some defenders even in modern times, most of whom have grounded their defence on the absence of an express prohibition in the Scriptures. Bernard Ochinus, general of the Catholic Order of Capuchins, though afterwards a Protestant, wrote in the sixteenth century a work in which he advocated it. It was also boldly defended by the Rev. M. Madan, in a treatise called Thelyphthoro, but limited the privilege to men.
It is the offspring of licentiousness, and its advocates merely wish to give legal color to licentious habits. Every student of history will find that as soon as a nation became morally depraved, polygamy was practised, and that monogamy was the rule in all countries truly civilized. Monogamy is an element of civilization, and, as a true child, fosters and maintains its parent.
Polygamy has of late years been most shamefully revived, and outrageously practised in face of law, by the Mormons. They claim it as a religious duty, and defend the system by claiming that unmarried women can in the future life reach only the position of angels who occupy in the Mormon theocratic system a very subordinate rank, being simply ministering servants to those more worthy, thus proclaiming that it is a virtual necessity of the male to practise the vilest immorality in order to advance the female to the higheest place in Heaven.
Mormonism is a religion founded by Joseph Smith, who was born in Sharon, Vt., December 23, 1805, and killed at Carthage, Ill., June 27, 1844. The Smith family removed from Vermont to Palmyra, N. Y., in 1815, and, according to testimony, the reputation of the family was bad, and that Joseph was the worst of the lot. They were untruthful, intemperate, and commonly suspected of vile practices, which were probably true in some cases, and false in others. These statements are not contradicted even by the Mormons. Joseph claims that in 1823 (Sept. 21), he had a vision, in which the angel Moroni appeared to him and made known that in a hill near Manchester, N. Y., he would find a record written on golden plates, giving an account of the ancient inhabitants of America, and the dealings of God with them, and with the record, two transparent stones in silver bows like spectacles, which were anciently called Urim and Thummim, on looking through which the golden plates would become intelligible. These he claimed were placed in his hand September 22, 1827, by the angel of the Lord. The language was called the reformed Egyptian, not then known on earth, and the contents of the plates formed the "Book of Mormon." The book of Mormon has been proven to have been written by Solomon Spaulding. It will thus be seen that Mormonism was the development of a stupendous fraud, and it is exceedingly singular, that a sect of such numbers as Mormonism is now, or has been, could have been formed, when everything connected with it is fraudulent and perniciously immoral. Polygamy was not introduced among the Mormons until 1843, when Smith ordered it as a doctrine of the church by virtue of a revelation. The Mormons also aim to prove its right by claiming that St. Paul's injunction that a bishop "should be the husband of one wife," implies that other men should have as many as they choose, and that if a bishop should be the husband of one wife at least the passage does not express a prohibition of his having more if he wishes.
It is a most singular fact that a sect like the Mormons could have been established in a country peopled with such law-abiding people as of the United States, and maintain a system of marriage antagonistic to the law and religion of the land. Neither could they have done so, if they had not possessed two great virtues, temperance and industry. It is to be hoped that the legal process now instituted for its abolition will effectually remove the blot from the national escutcheon.
The "Oneida Communists" are essentially polygamic, although they have no marriage system. They do not marry, and ignore all marriage codes. Cohabitation is under no restrictions between the sexes. Marriage is also not observed among the Shakers.