AP Smears Romney With 155-Year-Old Family History

YahooNews runs under the headline “Romney family tree has polygamy branch” an AP piece from Jennifer Dobner and Glen Johnson breaking the shocking news that Mitt Romney’s “great-grandfather had five wives and at least one of his great-great grandfathers had 12.”

They don’t run this as slow-news-Saturday trivia. Oh, no:

Polygamy was not just a historical footnote, but a prominent element in the family tree of the former Massachusetts governor now seeking to become the first Mormon president.

Romney’s great-grandfather, Miles Park Romney, married his fifth wife in 1897. That was more than six years after Mormon leaders banned polygamy and more than three decades after a federal law barred the practice.

Romney’s great-grandmother, Hannah Hood Hill, was the daughter of polygamists. She wrote vividly in her autobiography about how she “used to walk the floor and shed tears of sorrow” over her own husband’s multiple marriages.

Romney’s great-great grandfather, Parley Pratt, an apostle in the church, had 12 wives. In an 1852 sermon, Parley Pratt’s brother and fellow apostle, Orson Pratt, became the first church official to publicly proclaim and defend polygamy as a direct revelation from God.

Romney’s father, former Michigan Gov. George Romney, was born in Chihuahua, Mexico, where Mormons fled in the 1800s to escape religious persecution and U.S. laws forbidding polygamy. He and his family did not return to the United States until 1912, more than two decades after the church issued “The Manifesto” banning polygamy.

“When you read the family’s history, you realize how important polygamy was to them,” said Todd Compton, a Mormon and independent historian who wrote a book about the polygamous life of the church’s founder, Joseph Smith. “They left America and started again as pioneers, after they had done it over and over again previously.”

Now, I’ve noted many times that Mormonism is viewed by many Evangelical Christians as a cult and that this could be a liability for Romney among the Republican nominating electorate. I’ve even gone so far as to say that Romney’s apparent literal belief in the teachings of the Book of Mormon is a legitimate concern for secular Republicans. But my reaction to the headline was identical to Ed Morrissey‘s: “What exactly does [this] have to do with Mitt Romney and the race for the presidency?” (Well, words to that effect, anyway.)

Morrissey’s headline is dead-on: “And Brigham Young’s Great-Great-Great-Grandson Won A Super Bowl.” Indeed, Romney probably deserves more credit for Steve Young’s football prowess than he does blame for who his great-great-grandpappy married. After all, he probably donated some money to BYU at some point whereas things that happened a century or so before he was born are largely out of his control.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2008, Media, Religion, The Presidency, US Politics, , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. NoZe says:

    I agree completely, James. Are we going to see similar research into the activities of the other candidates’ progenitors? How many slaveowners were among them? Did Obama’s ancestors practice female circumcision? Did Richardson’s collaborate with the Spanish in destroying the indigenous Aztec empire in Mexico?

  2. jpe says:

    This stuff is madness. It’s gone well past the normal “Mormons are different!” stuff and into trying to start a fire that isn’t there.

  3. Terrence says:

    I think we should investigate what Jennifer Dobner and Glen Johnson’s great grandparents were up to.

  4. Tano says:

    How is it a smear if it is true?

    Actually, I wouldnt be surprised if Romney himself had a hand in orchestrating this. To think that, if there is anything of interest in your family history, it wont come out in a presidential campaign, is nuts. Better to have it come out and be discussed a year and a half before the election, rather than later.

  5. Matthew J. Stinson says:

    In case Romney somehow emerges as a GOP frontrunner, shall we lay odds on whether this family history will be distilled into a one-sentence “Hypocrite Mitt Romney personally benefited from polygamy” meme by his primary and/or general election opponent(s)?

  6. David L says:

    Pologamy is not part of the Book of Mormon. The concept of polygamy was invented by Joseph Smith when he was caught by Mrs. Smith diddlng the maid. Mr. Smith invented the exuse of pologamy even beore he got his pants back on.

  7. Cybrludite says:

    How is it a smear if it is true?

    Tano, how would you like to be accountable for what your great-grandfather did? Corruption of Blood is not a valid legal concept in America.

  8. just me says:

    How is it a smear if it is true?

    Because it has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not Romney is fit to be president.

    I think if we start digging 150 years back into candidates family trees we will find tons of stuff to object too-but doesn’t what a great grandfather did have anything to do with what a current decendant does?

    No, this is just an article designed to hurt a candidate, and how exactly does a candidate respond to this other than to say “well I only believe in having one wife and I have one.”

  9. Rick DeMent says:

    “What exactly does [this] have to do with Mitt Romney and the race for the presidency?”

    Read your own post on hoe the news business is a business for the answer to this question. Now that the news is totally divorced from any goal save for making money this is the kind of reporting we can expect. Ain’t capitalism grand!!!!

  10. TheManTheMyth says:

    DeMent—lets just say it beats the alternative, unless you like systems that starve to death and murder 100 million plus of their own citizens.

  11. ken says:


    If Romney wanted any other job this information would never be reported. But he is asking to be President. Do you not think that Presidents lives are examined in every way imaginable? Read a biography of any of our Presidents. The best biographical accounts go deep into the factors that gave shape to the mans character, his cultural environment and his era.

    If Mitt Romney were to be elected President it is naive of you to think that this information would not be researched, discussed, reported on, and incorporated into any biographical understanding of the man.

    Is it your contention that the public should wait until after his presidency, should he have one, is over before they are made aware of this information? And then through history books?

    I think you have it backwards. It is best to know this stuff now before we make the momentous decision of choosing the next President. I do not understand why you want to deny information to the public before they make a choice which would surely be available to the public, probably in greater depth, after they make their choice.

  12. ken says:

    Oh, and James,

    You are putting yourself in the position of having to claim that any biographer of a hypothetical Romney presidency would be smearing the man if he or she did a good job.

  13. floyd says:

    cybrludite; it is a smear because he can not be responsible for the crimes of his relatives, living or dead.

  14. James Joyner says:

    You are putting yourself in the position of having to claim that any biographer of a hypothetical Romney presidency would be smearing the man if he or she did a good job.

    Biographies usually begin with the subject’s birth. I would be surprised if a biography of, say, Bill Clinton, began in 1492. Granted, Columbus sailed the ocean blue that year and set off a chain of events that likely impacted the Clinton presidency. One nonetheless has to cut of the research somewhere.

  15. ken says:

    James, you obviously do not read very many biographies if you think decent biographers limit themselves in such a way.

  16. Cory says:

    I did a bit of background checking on these two AP journalists.
    Jennifer actually works out of their Salt Lake City office — obviously not happy by her LDS surroundings. If you look at her story history, she reports on polygamy all the time. If anyone wants to contact her and call her out on this shameful story, email her at jdobner@ap.org; or call her at (801) 322-3405.
    Glen Johnson on the other hand reported from Boston, where they are looking for every possible way to smear their former governor. And he is always looking for ways to highlight the other candidates. Take a look at this glowing piece that Johnson did on Obama that doesn’t mention a negative thing in it, and of course doesn’t mention that Obama’s own father had multiple wives.

    The editors and publisher of the Associated Press should be ashamed.

  17. NoZe says:

    >Do you not think that Presidents lives are >examined in every way imaginable?

    I’m not saying it shouldn’t be reported, I’m just saying “So what?” Romney can’t be held personally responsible for the activities of his great-grandparents over a century ago, any more than you or I could. I don’t see how this tells us anything about what kind of president he might be.

    Its not technically a smear, since it has nothing to do with anything he’s done. The only way I can see it as a smear is if its meant to draw attention to his Mormonism as a means of discrediting him in the eyes of those who don’t like Mormons.

    On a related note, geneologists have discovered that Strom Thurmond’s forebears once owned Al Sharpton’s. What does that tell us about what kind of president Thurmond or Sharpton would have made, given that both were once candidates!

  18. Bandit says:

    The Boston Globe used to start every article with ‘Romney, a Mormon,’ because like – it isn’t an issue – then they’d run the sunday feature about how in a RC state relgion isn’t an issue – unless you’re a Mormon – then in every story on every social issue they’d compare his stance to whatever perversion of the LDS doctrine they could come up with. If he gets thru the primary it’ll be tenfold in the National media when he’s dealing with the purveyors of the party of tolerance and compassion.

  19. Rick DeMent says:

    DeMent—lets just say it beats the alternative, unless you like systems that starve to death and murder 100 million plus of their own citizens.

    Ah the false dichotomy, if it isn’t A it can only be B. Yes an oldie but a goodie!!!.

    Mr. Man/Myth is apparently unaware of the rules that were in place until the 80’s where news was not run as a profit center but rather as a condition of being granted a license. This had nothing to do with a system that killed anyone.

  20. floyd says:

    cybrludite; sorry; i read your comment with too much haste!