Spiritual Wives

William Hepworth Dixon. Spiritual Wives. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Co., 1868.

The New Earthly Paradise

And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years, And cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled.

Revelation 20:1-3

A Voice of Warning and Instruction to all People

Parley Pratt. A Voice of Warning and Instruction to all People. Or, an introduction to the faith and doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret News Printing and Publishing Establishment, 1881. Gift of Governor Frederick Holliday.

The term millennium (which means "one thousand") properly refers to the thousand-year interim in the Apocalypse when the earth returns to a state of paradise and Satan cannot battle believers. Although the thousand-year intervals of our calendar are natural candidates for its beginning, many Americans of the nineteenth century saw no need to wait around until the year 2000 for Christ to come again. Many persisted in the belief that the millennium was upon them, and adopted new lifestyles that were deemed appropriate for the kingdom of heaven. Most of the new "communities" that emerged in the commune boom of the mid-nineteenth century looked to the passage from the Gospel of Matthew quoted above to justify this new heavenly lifestyle. If we needed to behave "as the angels in heaven," however, the tracts collected here show us that many Americans had rather ingenious ideas about how angels acted. In the minds of many, heavenly beings were not excessively bothered by puritanical quibbles. 

Bible Argument Defining the Relationship of the Sexes in the Kingdom of Heaven

Oneida Community. Bible Argument Defining the Relationship of the Sexes in the Kingdom of Heaven. [Oneida, New York?]: [1840].

In fact, most American millennial movements of the nineteenth century attracted converts precisely because they promised a new sexual ethic, and the range of sexual reform advocated by these groups is eye-opening. Members of the Oneida community founded by John Humphrey Noyes advocated a complex system of multiple marriage in which "amative" sexual relations were preferred to "procreative" ones. Although textbooks such as the Bible Argument Defining the Relationship of the Sexes in the Kingdom of Heaven or the Hand-book of the Oneida Community outlined this new sexual ethic, it generated numerous arguments among its adherents including a famous exchange between William Hepworth Dixon and Noyes' infamous response entitled Dixon and His Copyists. 

At right: Oneida Community. Hand-book of the Oneida Community, with a sketch of its founder, and an outline of its constitution and doctrines. Wallingford, Connecticut: Office of the Circular, Wallingford Community, 1867.

Origin of American Polygamy

Joseph Smith. Origin of American Polygamy. [Lamoni, Iowa?]: [1903].

If the "American polygamy" of Mormonism was equally infamous, it played a less central role in Mormon theology than is often claimed. Private revelations and the concourse of spirits were far more important in the life of its founder Joseph Smith, and the most important works of Mormonism, The Book of Mormon and Parley Pratt's A Voice of Warning, rivaled the Book of Revelation itself in their visionary intensity.

At right: The Book of Mormon. An account written by the hand of Mormon, upon plates taken from the plates of Nephi translated by Joseph Smith, Jun., division into chapters and verses, with references, by Orson Pratt, Sen. Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret News Printing and Publishing Establishment, 1879. Gift of W.W. Corcoran.

Jesus answered and said unto them, Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels in heaven.

The Gospel of Matthew 22:29-30

At right: John Humphrey Noyes. Dixon and His Copyists. A criticism of the accounts of the Oneida Community in "New America," "Spiritual Wives," and kindred publications. [Wallingford, Connecticut]: The Oneida Community, 1871.