History of Western Polygamy Debates

Welcome to a brief history of Western Polygamy debates. This section is due to grow in the future, but for the moment we have listed below, in chronological order, all the English-language works on polygamy so far identified from the beginning of printing until the rise of the Mormon religion. This latter date has been picked in order that the large amount of Mormon literature does not sidetrack the researcher who is looking for non-Mormon material. It is also useful in highlighting that consideration of polygamy was not something reintroduced by the Mormons, as printed debate on this subject had been extensive since it was first made possible.

Please note that some of the comments below are taken from descriptions made by dealers in antiquarian books.

Date Author Title Comment
1658   A Remedy against uncleanness. Or, Seventeen queries humbly proposed to his Highness the Lord Protector. Concerning polygamy

While this small pamphlet is technically the first original work on polygamy as yet identified in the English language, its publication in Britain was preceded in 1657 by a translation of the reformer Bernardino Ochino’s Dialogue on Polygamy from his XXX Dialogues. Also, it is likely that John Milton was working on his treatise De Doctrina Christiana at this time, although it was lost until 1825, when its discovery led the King to order its translation and publication, and a chapter promoting the toleration of polygamy was discovered.

1710 GRANTHAM, Thomas A MARRIAGE SERMON, CALLED A WIFE MISTAKEN, OR A WIFE AND NO WIFE: or Leah instead of Rachel. A sermon accused for railing against women; for maintaining polygamy, many wives, etc. Grantham was curate of High Barnet, near London.
1724 SALMON, Thomas A CRITICAL ESSAY CONCERNING MARRIAGE. Shewing I. The preference of marriage to a single life. II. The arguments for and against a plurality of wives and concubines. III. Th… An interesting work with sections on marriage in Central and South America, Canada, Japan, Formosa, etc. Includes a number of comments on the role of women: to ease the husband’s cares, how a wife is to make herself agreeable; including notes on polygamy, and much more. Salmon (1679-1767) wrote numerous historical works, this was his fourth. Salmon was a continual investigator of what we now call anthropolgy and accompanied Anson in his trip around the world.
1731 Burnet, Bishop Gilbert Two dissertations written by the late Bishop Burnet, viz. I. A defence of polygamy. Proving that it is not contrary to the law and nature of marriage; and that an express prohibition of it is no where to be found in scripture. II. The lawfulness of divorce, on account of sterility in women. Proving that defect a sufficient reason for separation. With other curious tracts. Does not appear on ESTC under this title, either as first, second or third editions, only as part of a larger collection issued by Curll in 1731, entitled “Bibliotheca recondita”. The pamphlet appears without the title page in that collection Seems to be largely a discussion of views expressed (or attributed to) Gilbert Burnet in these previously unpublished writings, also a discussion of other pamphlets
1736 Wolseley, Charles, Sir/Ochino Select and curious cases of polygamy, concubinage, adultery, divorce, &c. seriously and learnedly discussed.

Includes Bernardino Ochino’s work.

1737 Delany, Patrick, 1685 or 6-1768 Reflections upon polygamy, and the encouragement given to that practice in the Scriptures of the Old Testament …By Phileleutherus Dubliniensis [pseud.] A argues with the effects of polygamy on population growth, coming to the conclusion that it does not serve the population trend. Moral-ethical and religious aspects were not of interest to the author, a close friend of Swift and Thomas Sheridan.
1764 Free, John, and Burnet, Bishop Gilbert Matrimony made easy; : or, a new form of marriage, founded on the principles and practice of the holy patriarchs, and the laws of God, and nature: … with the determination of two remarkable cases of conscience, the one respecting divorce, the other polygamy  
1780 Madan, Martin, 1726-1790 Thelypthora The author supports polygamy as a cure to the evil of prostitution, also known as “thelyphthora,” or “ruination of women.” Madan explains that polygamy is in accordance with Christianity, properly understood, and with Mosaic law. The work aroused such a storm of protest that Madan wrote a retaliatory response, retired from his chaplainship, and removed himself to private life. Martin Madan (1726-1790), first a lawyer and then clergyman, was a close correspondent with John Wesley. As a youth, he was addicted to fast company and reckless fun. Attending a sermon by Wesley in order to learn to caricature his style, he was completely captivated and took orders shortly thereafter. Soon after receiving the chaplainship of Lock Hospital, London, which he held for thirty years, he fell into a bad way with the Wesleys because of his sympathy with the views Lady Huntingdon, whose circle of “genteel methodists was famous, and with George Whitefield.
1780   A letter to the Rev. Mr. Madan, concerning the chapter on polygamy, in his late publication, entitled Thelyphthora. London, Printed for Fielding and Walker, 1780
1780 Towers, John Polygamy unscriptural. London, 1780
1780 Smith, John Polygamy indefensible. Two sermons preached in the parish-church of Nantwich, … on Sunday, the 10th of December, 1780. … To which is prefixed, a letter to the Rev. Mr. Madan  
1780 HW The unlawfulness of polygamy evinced: : or, observations occasioned by the erroneous interpretations of the passages of the New Testament, respecting the laws of marriage, lately published in a treatise on female ruin.  
1780 Layman A letter to the Rev. Mr. Madan : concerning the chapter of polygamy, in his late publication, entitled Thelypthora  
1781 HILL, Richard The blessings of polygamy displayed, in an affectionate address to the Rev. Martin Madan; In spite of the title, this was an attack on Madan. Dedicating his essay ‘to all good wives in the kingdom’, Richard Hill (1732-1808), who in 1783 inherited his father’s baronetcy, here castigates Madan. ‘I most cordially wish your book entitled Thelyphthora, had never seen the light’, he writes. ‘I am now most fully persuaded of the sad truth of what I told you in a private letter, when I earnestly besought you to suppress it’. Hill was at least an acquantance of Madan, and was a Justice of the Peace and a Member of Parliament.
1781 Miner, Dr. John Dr. Miner’s defence Being a concise relation of the church process against him, for professing the doctrine of polygamy, or the lawfulness of a man’s having a plurality of wives: in which his several pleas in vindication, from the first step to his condemnation, are made public. : As also, the result of an ecclesiastical council that advis’d the church to condemn him. : And remarks on the result, &c. : To which is added, by way of appendix, a solemn discourse on Matt. xii. 22. &c. :This may be the first work on polygamy in the United States.
1781 Moore, Henry, 1732-1802 A word to Mr. Madan, or Free thoughts on his late celebrated defence of polygamy. In a letter to a friend.  
1781   Remarks on polygamy, : &c. in answer to the Rev. Mr. M-d-n’s Thelypthora London : printed and sold by T. Hughes and F. Walsh; R. Baldwin; and W. Otridge
1781 Haweis, Thomas A scriptural refutation of the arguments for polygamy, advanced in a treatise entitled Thelyphthora. Printed for the author, and sold by Charles Dilly, J. Matthews, and T. Wilkins
1781 Wills, Thomas, 1740-1802 Remarks on polygamy, &c. in answer to the Rev. Mr. M-d-n’s Thelypthora. By Thomas Wills …  
1782 Cookson, James Thoughts on polygamy … Including remarks on Thelyphthora and its scheme  
1792 Walwyn, B., b. 1750. The farce of Chit chat, or, Penance for polygamy. In one act. As performed at the Theatre-Royal, Smoke-Alley. Later turned into a burletta and published under title: A matrimonial breakfast. A satire on Martin Madan’s “Thelyphthora,” which advocated polygamy.
1795 Paley, William The Principles of Moral and Political Philosophy William Paley (Archdeacon of Carlisle). Samuel Etheridge for J. White, Thomas & Andrews etc., Boston 1795 Book III discusses polygamy right along with incest and adultery.
1836 Dwight, S. E. THE HEBREW WIFE: OR THE LAW OF MARRIAGE EXAMINED IN RELATION TO THE LAWFULNESS OF POLYGAMY AND TO THE EXTENT OF THE LAW OF INCEST An interesting, early American essay on polygamy and incest from a legal and moral point of view. 
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