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Joseph Smith/Polygamy/Emma Smith



Question: How did Emma Hale Smith react to Joseph's practice of plural marriage?

Emma was aware of Joseph's plural marriage and sometimes gave permission, but did much to try and thwart it

Emma was aware of plural marriage; it is not clear at exactly what point she was made aware, partly due to there being relatively few early sources on the matter. Emma was generally opposed to the practice of plural marriage, and did much to try and thwart it. There were times, however, when Emma gave permission for Joseph's plural marriages, though she soon changed her mind.[1] Emma was troubled by plural marriage, but her difficulties arose partly from her conviction that Joseph was a prophet:

Zina Huntington remembered a conversation between Elizabeth [Davis] and Emma [Smith] in which Elizabeth asked the prophet’s wife if she felt that Joseph was a prophet. Yes, Emma answered, but I wish to God I did not know it.[2]

Emma did teach her children that Joseph had never taught the doctrine of plural marriage, and blamed its introduction on Brigham Young

Emma never denied Joseph's prophetic calling; she did, however, teach her children that Joseph had never taught the doctrine of plural marriage, and blamed its introduction on Brigham Young. Torn between two certitudes—her conviction of Joseph's prophetic calling, and her hatred of plural marriage—Emma had difficult choices to make for which we ought not to judge her.

But, the critics ought to let all of Emma speak for herself—she had a great trial, but also had great knowledge. That she continued to support Joseph's calling and remain with him, despite her feelings about plural marriage, speaks much of her convictions. As she told Parley P. Pratt years later:

I believe he [Joseph] was everything he professed to be.[3]

Allen J. Stout: "from moments of passionate denunciation [Emma] would subside into tearful repentance and acknowledge that her violent opposition to that principle was instigated by the power of darkness"

Allen J. Stout, who served as a bodyguard for Joseph, recounted a conversation he overheard in the Mansion House between Joseph and his tormented wife. A summary of his account states that "from moments of passionate denunciation [Emma] would subside into tearful repentance and acknowledge that her violent opposition to that principle was instigated by the power of darkness; that Satan was doing his utmost to destroy her, etc. And solemnly came the Prophet's inspired warning: 'Yes, and he will accomplish your overthrow, if you do not heed my counsel.'"[4]

Emma Smith: "The principle is right but I am jealous hearted. Now never tell anybody that you heard me find fault with that [principle;] we have got to humble ourselves and repent of it

Emma's inner conflict was also dramatized in another report:

Maria Jane Johnston, who lived with Emma as a servant girl, recalled the Prophet's wife looking very downcast one day and telling her that the principle of plural marriage was right and came from Heavenly Father. "What I said I have got [to] repent of," lamented Emma. "The principle is right but I am jealous hearted. Now never tell anybody that you heard me find fault with that [principle;] we have got to humble ourselves and repent of it."[5]

Emma Smith: "I desire a fruitful, active mind, that I may be able to comprehend the designs of God, when revealed through his servants without doubting"

Emma asked Joseph for a blessing not long before he went to Carthage. Joseph told her to write the best blessing she could, and he would sign it upon his return. Wrote Emma:

I desire with all my heart to honor and respect my husband as my head, ever to live in his confidence and by acting in unison with him retain the place which God has given me by his side...I desire the spirit of God to know and understand myself, I desire a fruitful, active mind, that I may be able to comprehend the designs of God, when revealed through his servants without doubting.[6]


Question: Was Emma Smith promised "annihilation" if she didn't accept plural marriage?

The revelation is not entirely clear on what this means

It is claimed that "In the revelation [D&C 132] Emma was promised annihilation if she failed to 'abide this commandment.'"[7]

Here are the verses of Doctrine and Covenants 132 in question:

54 And I command mine handmaid, Emma Smith, to abide and cleave unto my servant Joseph, and to none else. But if she will not abide this commandment she shall be destroyed, saith the Lord; for I am the Lord thy God, and will destroy her if she abide not in my law.
55 But if she will not abide this commandment, then shall my servant Joseph do all things for her, even as he hath said; and I will bless him and multiply him and give unto him an hundred-fold in this world, of fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, houses and lands, wives and children, and crowns of eternal lives in the eternal worlds.

One can see that the commandment given to Emma was to "to abide and cleave unto my servant Joseph, and to none else". This likely is a reference to adultery and/or being sealed to another man and not to accepting the plural marriage commandment. She is to remain faithful and supportive of her spouse. The punishment for committing adultery or being sealed to another man is that she will be "destroyed". The next verse is likely the one that refers to plural marriage though it's not entirely clear. It sets off a new clause with that "But". Plus, a different kind of consequence is promised for not accepting plural marriage. The consequence is that Joseph would "do all things for her; even as he hath said". A much more mild

Keep in mind that that same punishment is promised to both men and women that don't abide strictly by the new and everlasting covenant by either committing adultery or are sealed illegally. This from verse 26 of the revelation:

Verily, verily, I say unto you, if a man marry a wife according to my word, and they are sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, according to mine appointment, and he or she shall commit any sin or transgression of the new and everlasting covenant whatever, and all manner of blasphemies, and if they commit no murder wherein they shed innocent blood, yet they shall come forth in the first resurrection, and enter into their exaltation; but they shall be destroyed in the flesh, and shall be delivered unto the buffetings of Satan unto the day of redemption, saith the Lord God (emphasis added).

This same promise is given in verses 41–42 and verse 63 of the revelation. But what exactly does it mean to "destroy in the flesh"?

Other uses of the word "destroy" in the revelation are used in relation to those that are not sealed by priesthood authority (Doctrine & Covenants 132:14), in relation to those that Emma elects for Joseph to be sealed to and who have pretended to moral purity yet weren't morally pure (Doctrine & Covenants 132:52), in relation to Joseph and what will happen to his property if he put it out of his hands (Doctrine and Covenants 132:57),[8] and in relation to those women that are taught the principle of plural marriage but will not, like Sarah did, elect new wives for their husbands to be sealed to and have children in the covenant with (Doctrine & Covenants 132:64).

In these instances, "destroy" seems to mean either "create extreme psychological torment for" or "not give exaltation to" a particular person. The author is not aware, of the many people that we know that have committed adultery, of anyone who has been killed by God or struck down by him via lightning after committing adultery and being sealed to their first wife. Perhaps that should inform our understanding of "destroy" in this revelation and make it not mean "strike down with fire and utterly annihilate".

The revelation doesn't really settle the question for us. Joseph was promised this at the end of the revelation:

66 And now, as pertaining to this law, verily, verily, I say unto you, I will reveal more unto you, hereafter; therefore, let this suffice for the present. Behold, I am Alpha and Omega. Amen.

So perhaps our Heavenly Father will reveal more about exactly what the revelation means at a future date. The textual clues that already exist as well as personal experience can certainly delimit the logical number of options for possible interpretation, but we would be wise to not shut out the possibility of further light and knowledge settling the question for us definitively. Since we don't know and likely can't know, it's not rational to fret anxiously over what this verse actually meant. What we can know is that following the commandment to practice plural marriage was a moral imperative for the Lord. The commandment to enter into eternal sealings as men and women is required for our becoming gods. Failure to follow the lord's "word which is his law" results in the consequence of either a deprivation of the fulness of mortal/earthly felicity possible and/or the deprivation of God's fulness and nature that he has promised to those that keep his commandments.


See also Brian Hales' discussion: Emma's path through plural marriage
Sometime in 1840 Joseph Smith first broached the topic of plural marriage privately to trusted friends. Most of the apostles were in England and thus were unavailable for an introduction to the practice. (Link)
Emma and Fanny Alger
Joseph's first foray into plural marriage was deeply painful for Emma, his first wife. (Link)
When did Emma learn?
It is impossible to definitively determine when Emma learned of Joseph’s plural marriages. However, many historical clues help to create a possible timeline. (Link)
Emma Accepts Plural Marriage and Participates in Four of Joseph’s Plural Sealings
The earliest documentable date for Emma’s awareness of time-and-eternity plural marriage is May of 1843, when she participated in four of her husband’s polygamous sealings. (Link)
Emma’s Resistance Prompts recording of D&C 132
Emma’s resistance to plural marriage prompted Hyrum to encourage Joseph to dictate a written revelation on the subject. (Link)
Joseph and Emma: Conflict and Agreement
Rather than generating Emma’s active support, the revelation [D&C 132] appears to have brought a smoldering crisis to flame. She and Joseph took serious counsel together with some sort of agreement being negotiated. (Link)


Question: Was a pregnant Eliza R. Snow pushed down the stairs by a furious Emma, resulting in a miscarriage?

The historical and logistical problems with this story make it unlikely to be true

Note: This wiki section was based partly on a review of G.D. Smith's Nauvoo Polygamy. As such, it focuses on that author's presentation of the data. To read the full review, follow the link. Gregory L. Smith, A review of Nauvoo Polygamy:...but we called it celestial marriage by George D. Smith. FARMS Review, Vol. 20, Issue 2. (Detailed book review)

There is little evidence that the stairs incident happened as described.

Evidences that “Eliza had conceived Joseph’s child and miscarried,” George D. Smith, the author of Nauvoo Polygamy "...but we called it celestial marriage" tells us, are “fragmented” and “questions cloud the story.” Despite this, “the secondary sources are convincing in their own right” (p. 130). Here again, the author’s representation of the data and references to those who disagree leave much to be desired. He cites other authors while giving no indication that they disagree with his reading. For example, from an essay in BYU Studies he cites the Charles C. Rich version of a pregnant Eliza “heavy with child” being shoved down the stairs by a furious Emma. Nowhere does he tell the reader that these authors concluded that the story given the present evidence was untenable:

But where are we? Faced with a folk legend, with genuine documents that tell no tales, and dubious ones that contradict themselves and the contemporary accounts, perhaps it is best for us to respond as we must to many paradoxes of our history: consider thoughtfully and then place all the evidence carefully on the shelf, awaiting further documentation, or the Millennium, whichever should come first.[9]

The statement that Eliza carried Joseph’s unborn child and lost it due to an attack by Emma is brought into question by Eliza’s own journal

Newell and Avery’s biography of Emma places the story into doubt:

The statement that Eliza carried Joseph’s unborn child and lost it [due to an attack by Emma] is brought into question by Eliza’s own journal. While her Victorian reticence probably would have precluded mention of her own pregnancy, if she were indeed carrying Joseph’s child, other evidence in the journal indicates that she may not have been pregnant. Eliza’s brother Lorenzo indicated that by the time she married Joseph, she was “beyond the condition of raising a family.” Also if she was “heavy with child” as the Rich account states, she would not have been teaching school, for even legally married women usually went into seclusion when their pregnancies became obvious. Eliza continued to teach school for a month after her abrupt departure from the Smith household. Her own class attendance record shows that she did not miss a day during the months she taught the Smith children, which would not have been probable had she suffered a miscarriage.[10]

RLDS perspective

The award for most humorously ironic use of a source in this section goes to the author's citation of Richard Price. The author argues that “most convincing of all is to think that these stories were circulating widely and Eliza never considered to clarify or refute them.” He attributes this insight to Price (p. 134 n. 207). He believes that the “most convincing” aspect of the story is that Eliza never rebutted it. Uncorrected rumor or gossip is more convincing than the absence of diary or behavioral evidence for a pregnancy as outlined by Newel and Avery? If I do not rebut an unfounded rumor, does this mean I give it my consent? This seems a strange standard. Joseph and the members of the church tried to rebut the rumors spread by the Hurlbut-Howe affidavits, yet the author treats them as valuable insights. The Saints, it seems, are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

The author’s citation of Price might lead the reader to believe that Price agrees with Smith’s reading—that Eliza Snow never rebutted the story because it was true. But Price claims exactly the opposite.[11]

In addition to the indignity of having his work cited for a view that is the reverse of his own, Price suffers further. An RLDS conservative, Price is committed to the stance that Joseph did not teach or practice plural marriage.[12] Far from endorsing Smith’s view of the stairs incident, Price is adamant that the story is false. Though the author spends a page explaining why Joseph and Emma may have moved to the Mansion House earlier than thought (as the stairs story requires), he ignores Price’s diagram and argument for the story’s impossibility based on the Mansion House’s layout.[13] The author can hardly have been unaware of it since the same Web page contains the argument to which he makes reference. FairMormon does not agree with Price on all points—his dogged insistence that Joseph did not practice plural marriage cannot be sustained by the evidence, which often leads him to make unwarranted leaps—but the author ought to at least engage Price’s critique and fairly represent his views.


Question: If the story of Emma pushing Eliza Snow down the stairs is true, why did Eliza not make use of it?

Eliza went to considerable lengths to defend plural marriage and to insist that Joseph Smith had practiced it, so why did she never offer her pregnancy and miscarriage as evidence?

If the stairs story is true, why did Eliza not make use of it? The argument from silence cuts both ways: Eliza went to considerable lengths to defend plural marriage and to insist that Joseph Smith had practiced it. Why did she never offer her pregnancy and miscarriage as evidence? Eliza was not afraid to criticize Emma Smith for what she regarded as the latter’s dishonesty. Following Emma’s death and her sons’ publication of her last denial of plural marriage, Eliza wrote:

I once dearly loved ‘Sister Emma,’ and now, for me to believe that she, a once honoured woman, should have sunk so low, even in her own estimation, as to deny what she knew to be true, seems a palpable absurdity. If . . . [this] was really her testimony she died with a libel on her lips—a libel against her husband—against his wives—against the truth, and a libel against God; and in publishing that libel, her son has fastened a stigma on the character of his mother, that can never be erased. . . . So far as Sister Emma personally is concerned, I would gladly have been silent and let her memory rest in peace, had not her misguided son, through a sinister policy, branded her name with gross wickedness.[14]

Emma was safely dead; Eliza had no need to spare her feelings. Why not offer her alleged miscarriage or Emma’s angry assault as evidence if it were true? This scenario seems at least as plausible as the author’s weak claim that silence equals agreement. Yet more than a hundred pages later, the author asks us to “assume . . . that LeRoi Snow’s account was accurate” before asking leading rhetorical questions. Yet again, no links to the other side of the story are provided (p. 236).


Question: Under what circumstances was Doctrine and Covenants Section 132 committed to writing?

Hyrum Smith asked Joseph to commit the doctrine to writing, because he believed that he could thereby persuade Emma of its truth

Hyrum Smith asked Joseph to commit the doctrine to writing, because he believed that he could thereby persuade Emma of its truth. Joseph did as Hyrum asked, but warned his brother that even this would not help persuade his wife.

See also Brian Hales' discussion: Emma’s Resistance Prompts a New Revelation
D&C 132 was committed to paper because of Emma's resistance, and Hyrum's desire to persuade her. (Link)


Question: Since first wives were generally to grant permission for sealings to subsequent wives, did Joseph's later sealing to Emma mean that Emma no longer held the role of "first wife"?

If the wife of the person who holds the keys to plural marriage rejects plural marriage, her husband is to follow the commands of God to him without her permission

Joseph's revelation in D&C 132 explicitly states that if the wife of the person who holds the keys to plural marriage rejects plural marriage, her husband is to follow the commands of God to him without her permission.


See also Brian Hales' discussion: Emma's path through plural marriage
Sometime in 1840 Joseph Smith first broached the topic of plural marriage privately to trusted friends. Most of the apostles were in England and thus were unavailable for an introduction to the practice. (Link)
Emma and Fanny Alger
Joseph's first foray into plural marriage was deeply painful for Emma, his first wife. (Link)
When did Emma learn?
It is impossible to definitively determine when Emma learned of Joseph’s plural marriages. However, many historical clues help to create a possible timeline. (Link)
Emma Accepts Plural Marriage and Participates in Four of Joseph’s Plural Sealings
The earliest documentable date for Emma’s awareness of time-and-eternity plural marriage is May of 1843, when she participated in four of her husband’s polygamous sealings. (Link)
Emma’s Resistance Prompts recording of D&C 132
Emma’s resistance to plural marriage prompted Hyrum to encourage Joseph to dictate a written revelation on the subject. (Link)
Joseph and Emma: Conflict and Agreement
Rather than generating Emma’s active support, the revelation [D&C 132] appears to have brought a smoldering crisis to flame. She and Joseph took serious counsel together with some sort of agreement being negotiated. (Link)


Question: Did Joseph Smith offer to trade Jane Law for Emma Smith in a wife swap with William Law?

This claim rests on a single, unreliable hostile source. Other hostile sources (including William Law) deny the tale

This question arises because of a somewhat opaque verse in the Doctrine and Covenants section on plural marriage. (The revelation was written down at Hyrum Smith's request, who believed that he could persuade Emma Smith of the doctrine's provenance from God.) The verses in question read:

51 Verily, I say unto you: A commandment I give unto mine handmaid, Emma Smith, your wife, whom I have given unto you, that she stay herself and partake not of that which I commanded you to offer unto her; for I did it, saith the Lord, to prove you all, as I did Abraham, and that I might require an offering at your hand, by covenant and sacrifice....54 And I command mine handmaid, Emma Smith, to abide and cleave unto my servant Joseph, and to none else. (D&C 132:51,54.

No one is certain as to what this refers. William Clayton, Joseph's scribe and secretary, wrote in his contemporaneous journal:

This A.M. President Joseph took me and conversed considerable concerning some delicate matters. Said [Emma] wanted to lay a snare for me. He told me last night of this and said he had felt troubled. He said [Emma] had treated him coldly and badly since I came…and he knew she was disposed to be revenged on him for some things. She thought that if he would indulge himself she would too.[15]

Some have seen this as Emma claiming she would practice plural marriage (a strange idea, given how she felt about it), and these readers have then extended the reading to include a belief that she was threatening to marry William Law. Others have seen these verses (perhaps more plausibly) as Emma simply threatening divorce if Joseph didn't cease plural marriage. In this reading, Joseph would have agreed to a divorce--both were probably speaking somewhat in the heat of the moment—and the Lord in D&C 132 makes it clear that he does not endorse Joseph's offer of (or agreement to) a divorce.

The idea of Joseph offering William Law to Emma springs out of an anti-Mormon work. As D. Carmon Hardy noted:

Belief that the prophet contemplated a 'spiritual swap' of wives with William Law, based on Joseph Jackson's statement in his exaggerated Narrative, 20–21, should be viewed with caution. The best review of the matter remains Newell and Avery, Mormon Enigma, 176–77.[16]

It becomes clear how shaky the evidence is when one drills down to the ultimate source of the idea. The source of this charge seems to be a book by Joseph H. Jackson. Jackson claimed to have insinuated himself into Joseph's counsels, and claimed Joseph had told him that he was going to attempt to "get Mrs. William Law for a spiritual wife…for the purpose of affecting his object [Joseph] got up a revelation that Law was to be sealed up to Emma, and that Law's wife was to be his; in other words there was to be a spiritual swop [sic]…[Joseph] had never before suffered his passion for any woman to carry him so far as to be willing to sacrifice Emma for its gratification."[17]

However, Jackson appears on no Church membership records, and Joseph's early opinion was that he was "rotten hearted." Note that D&C 132 was given almost a year prior to Jackson's claimed revelation.[18]

Testimony that contradicts the claim

William Law himself denied that Joseph ever attempted such a swap:

Joseph Smith never proposed anything of the kind to me or to my wife; both he and Emma knew our sentiments in relation to spiritual wives and polygamy; knew that we were immoveably opposed to polygamy in any and every form…[but Law did believe] that Joseph offered to furnish his wife, Emma, with a substitute, for him, by way of compensation for his neglect of her, on condition that she would stop her opposition to polygamy and permit him to enjoy his young wives in peace and keep some of them in the house.[18]:176

Law thus saw the verse as referring to divorce, not a swap.

It is also interesting that another anti-Mormon writer (and former wife of Brigham Young) Ann Eliza Webb Young wrote:

One particular passage [of D&C 132] is said to refer to a matrimonial scene in which a threat was held out that the life of the Elect Lady should be terminated [84] by poison. She is here commanded to "stay herself, and partake not" of that which Joseph had offered her. It is, however, only right to add that the Mormon exponents of the Revelation say that this passage refers to an offer which Joseph had made to sacrifice his own personal feelings, and to accede to a divorce between Emma and himself. In these few lines more is disclosed of the Prophet's domestic life and difficulties than he probably was aware of. I give these paragraphs in full, that the reader may judge for himself. [She then cites D&C 132:51–60][19]

Ann Eliza wasn't old enough to have direct personal knowledge about plural marriage in Nauvoo, but her parents (who also later apostatized) were there--so this may well reflect their insights. At the very least, she too would have had reason to condemn Joseph Smith if Joseph had offered a wife swap, but she didn't. In fact, she understood the mysterious verses quite differently.

Most historians have thus not given much weight to this idea. It is probably best seen as anti-Mormon folk history. It still crops up now and again among those who either don't know the data well, or who are working with a lascivious picture of Joseph and so this "fits" how they think he behaved.

William Law and complicating the picture

The story is complicated by the issue of William Law (who was a counselor to Joseph in the First Presidency before he apostatized and helped write the Nauvoo Expositor) and his wife, Jane. There are various versions of that story, and so they get tangled up in this issue.

It is not clear whether or not William and Jane were ever sealed. Alexander Neibaur, a close friend of the Prophet, said that "Mr Wm Law--wisht to be Married to his Wife for Eternity Mr [Joseph] Smith said would Inquire of the Lord, Answered no because Law was a Adultereous person. Mrs Law wandet to know why she could not be Married to Mr Law Mr S said would not wound her feeling by telling her, some days after Mr Smith going toward his Office Mrs Law stood in the door beckoned to him more the once did not Know wheter she bekoned to him went across to Inquire yes please to walk in no one but herself in the house. she drawing her Arms around him if you wont seal me to my husband Seal myself unto you. he Said stand away & pushing her Gently aside giving her a denial & going out. when Mr Law came home he Inquired who had been in his Absence. she said no one but Br Joseph, he then demanded what had[pass[ed] Mrs L then told Joseph wandet her to be Married to him." (Journal of Alexander Neibaur, 24 May 1844, Church Archives. See also Hyrum Smith's statement in Nauvoo Neighbor, Extra, 17 June 1844, regarding Law's adulterous conduct.) Yet at Law's trial of excommunication, Jack John Scott, a Canadian convert, testified that to ameliorate conditions between William and Joseph (possibly because of the accusations that the Prophet had made advances to Jane Law) Joseph Smith had sealed William Law and his wife (Minutes of meeting, 18 April 1844, Brigham Young Papers, Church Archives).[20]

This could be Joseph just spin-doctoring, but his account told to Neibaur was done privately, and wasn't used in public to discredit Law or his wife. This, to me, adds to its plausibility. It didn't really benefit Joseph if he were to lie in private to a very few about Law, while Law was making such public trouble for Joseph. Here's Hyrum Smith's evidence (and many regarded Hyrum as impeccably honest):

Councilor Hyrum Smith continued—Jackson told him he (Jackson) meant to have his daughter, and threatened him if he made any resistance. Jackson related to him a dream, that Joseph and Hyrum were opposed to him, but that he would execute his purposes; that Jackson had laid a plan with four or five persons to kidnap his daughter, and threatened to shoot any one that should come near after he had got her in the skiff; that Jackson was engaged in trying to make bogus, which was his principal business. Referred to the revelation read to the High Council of the Church, which has caused so much talk, about multiplicity of wives; that said revelation was in answer to a question concerning things which transpired in former days. That when sick, William Law confessed to him that he had been guilty of adultery, and was not fit to live, and had sinned against his own soul, &c., and inquired who was Judge Emmons? When he came here he had scarce two shirts to his back; but he had been dandled by the authorities of the city, &c., and was now editor of the Nauvoo Expositor, and his right hand man, was Francis M. Higbee, who had confessed to him that he had had the——! [the blank at the end likely refers to a venereal disease contracted by Higbee from a prostitution ring run by John C. Bennett][21]

Law, in his turn, claimed "[Joseph][ha[s] lately endeavored to seduce my wife, and[ha[s] found her a virtuous woman".[22]

The best reconstruction may be Cook's:

A possible explanation for this discrepancy is that Neibaur's account (cited above), though reasonably accurate, is simply incomplete. Obviously, Jane Law's frustration over not being permitted to be eternally sealed to her husband might have prompted her to request eternal marriage to the Mormon leader (say, in late 1843), and (as per Neibaur) she was rebuffed. Subsequently, possibly to gratify and assuage the Laws, Joseph might have finally agreed to seal the couple near Christmas 1843 (as per John Scott). Then later, just before or soon after the Laws' excommunication, Joseph Smith might have sought to have Jane Law sealed to him in an attempt to keep her from following her apostate husband (as per Law's diary and other published sources noted above). Bathsheba W. Smith, one of the anointed quorum who was conversant with all the ramifications of plural marriage in Nauvoo, believed that Jane Law may well have been sealed to the Prophet (Bathsheba W. Smith Deposition, Eighth Circuit Court, 1892 Temple Lot Case, carbon copy of original, Church Archives). However, if this were the case, it was short-lived because Jane, who was expecting her sixth child, did remain with her husband, William Law. In July 1867, John Hawley reported that Wilford Woodruff had said, "When Brigham Young got the records of the Church in his hands, after the death of Joseph Smith, he found by examination that . . . [William] Laws wife and [Francis] Higbys wife and[L[yman] Wights wife and [Robert D .] Fosters wife had all been Sealed to Joseph, as their Husbands could not Save them" (John Hawley, Autobiography, January 1885, p. 97, RLDS Library-Archives).[20]


See also Brian Hales' discussion: William and Jane Law and the Prophet
William Law was Joseph's counselor, but eventually broke with the Prophet and helped publish the Nauvoo Expositor. (Link)
Plural Marriage and the Martyrdom
Did Joseph Smith Intend to Abandon Plural Marriage?
William Marks related that Joseph’s conversation denouncing plural marriage occurred “three weeks before his death” or around June 6. Perhaps Joseph had such a change of heart during the first week of June, but this seems unlikely and other parts of Marks’ recollection are implausible. (Link)
See also Brian Hales' discussion: Emma's path through plural marriage
Sometime in 1840 Joseph Smith first broached the topic of plural marriage privately to trusted friends. Most of the apostles were in England and thus were unavailable for an introduction to the practice. (Link)
Emma and Fanny Alger
Joseph's first foray into plural marriage was deeply painful for Emma, his first wife. (Link)
When did Emma learn?
It is impossible to definitively determine when Emma learned of Joseph’s plural marriages. However, many historical clues help to create a possible timeline. (Link)
Emma Accepts Plural Marriage and Participates in Four of Joseph’s Plural Sealings
The earliest documentable date for Emma’s awareness of time-and-eternity plural marriage is May of 1843, when she participated in four of her husband’s polygamous sealings. (Link)
Emma’s Resistance Prompts recording of D&C 132
Emma’s resistance to plural marriage prompted Hyrum to encourage Joseph to dictate a written revelation on the subject. (Link)
Joseph and Emma: Conflict and Agreement
Rather than generating Emma’s active support, the revelation [D&C 132] appears to have brought a smoldering crisis to flame. She and Joseph took serious counsel together with some sort of agreement being negotiated. (Link)


See also Brian Hales' discussion: Emma's path through plural marriage
Sometime in 1840 Joseph Smith first broached the topic of plural marriage privately to trusted friends. Most of the apostles were in England and thus were unavailable for an introduction to the practice. (Link)
Emma and Fanny Alger
Joseph's first foray into plural marriage was deeply painful for Emma, his first wife. (Link)
When did Emma learn?
It is impossible to definitively determine when Emma learned of Joseph’s plural marriages. However, many historical clues help to create a possible timeline. (Link)
Emma Accepts Plural Marriage and Participates in Four of Joseph’s Plural Sealings
The earliest documentable date for Emma’s awareness of time-and-eternity plural marriage is May of 1843, when she participated in four of her husband’s polygamous sealings. (Link)
Emma’s Resistance Prompts recording of D&C 132
Emma’s resistance to plural marriage prompted Hyrum to encourage Joseph to dictate a written revelation on the subject. (Link)
Joseph and Emma: Conflict and Agreement
Rather than generating Emma’s active support, the revelation [D&C 132] appears to have brought a smoldering crisis to flame. She and Joseph took serious counsel together with some sort of agreement being negotiated. (Link)


Notes

  1. Emma gave permission for at least the marriages of Eliza and Emma Partridge, and Sarah and Maria Lawrence. See Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1997), 409, 475. ( Index of claims )
  2. Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1997), 261. ( Index of claims )
  3. Mary Audentia Smith Anderson (editor), "Memoirs of Joseph Smith III (1832–1914)," The Saints Herald (2 April 1935): 431–434.
  4. Allen J. Stout, "Allen J. Stout's Testimony," Historical Record 6 (May 1887): 230–31; cited in Wendy C. Top "'A Deep Sorrow in Her Heart' – Emma Hale Smith," in Heroines of the Restoration, edited by Barbara B. Smith and Blythe Darlyn Thatcher (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1997), 17–34.
  5. Emma Smith to Maria Jane Johnston, cited in Wendy C. Top "'A Deep Sorrow in Her Heart' – Emma Hale Smith," in Heroines of the Restoration, edited by Barbara B. Smith and Blythe Darlyn Thatcher (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1997), 17–34.; quoting Newell and Avery, Mormon Enigma, 161.
  6. Emma Hale Smith, Blessing (1844), Church Archives, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah.
  7. George D. Smith, Nauvoo Polygamy: "...but we called it celestial marriage" (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2008), 29. ( Index of claims , (Detailed book review))
  8. The reference to "property" does appear to be an oblique reference to women. The language will appear stereotypically sexist to many viewers. So is Doctrine & Covenants 132 sexist? Men and women sealed together are promised to share the same amount of power once they are out of the world in the revelation. See verses 19–20. See also our page on this: Question: Is polygamy sexist?. The language in verse 57 is certainly influenced by Joseph's legal milieu which followed a more patriarchal system of marriage that included laws for protecting a man's property including, as they were then legally considered, women. We need to remember that Heavenly Father speaks unto prophets "in their weakness, after the manner of their language, that they might come to understanding" (Doctrine & Covenants 1:24). So the revelation follows Joseph's legal language and understanding. That does not, however, mean that that is how God valued women morally. Thus the revelation itself does not need to be seen as sexist. It doesn't intend to assign more moral value inherently to men over women. God values us all equally and it is made clear by the revelation that he intends to give us the same blessings once we become gods. The legal environment of that time is what is making its way into the revelation though. We should be very grateful for activists and legal scholars that have reshaped our understanding of marriage and the legal framework around it to not make women property.
  9. Maureen Ursenbach Beecher et al., “Emma and Eliza and the Stairs,” BYU Studies 22/1 (Fall 1982): 86–96. Compare Smith, Nauvoo Polygamy, 131 n. 195.
  10. Newell and Avery, Mormon Enigma, 136. Compare Smith, Nauvoo Polygamy, 132 n. 201.
  11. Richard Price and Pamela Price, “Eliza Snow Was Not Pushed Down the Mansion House Stairs,” in Richard Price, chap. 9 of “Joseph Smith Fought Polygamy: How Men Nearest the Prophet Attached Polygamy to His Name in Order to Justify Their Own Polygamous Crimes.” (n.p.: Price Publishing Co., 2001), off-site (accessed 5 November 2008). FairMormon's consultants do not sustain Price's view, however, that Joseph Smith did not practice or teach plural marriage.
  12. On Price’s break from the RLDS (now Community of Christ) mainstream, see: William D. Russell, “Richard Price: Leading Publicist of the Reorganized Church’s Schismatics,” in Differing Visions: Dissenters in Mormon History, ed. Roger D. Launius and Linda Thatcher (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1994), 319–37.
  13. Compare Price and Price, “Eliza Snow Was Not Pushed,” with George D. Smith’s opinion in Nauvoo Polygamy, 133.
  14. Eliza R. Snow, Woman’s Exponent 8 (1 November 1879): 85; cited in Newell and Avery, Mormon Enigma, 307–8.
  15. William Clayton and George D. Smith (editor), An Intimate Chronicle: The Journals of William Clayton (Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books, 1995), 108 (entry dated 23 June 1843).
  16. B. Carmon Hardy, Doing the Works of Abraham, 65, note 99.
  17. Joseph H. Jackson, The Adventures and Experiences of Joseph H. Jackson in Nauvoo: Disclosing the Depths of Mormon Villany <sic> Practiced in Nauvoo (Printed for the Publisher: Warsaw, Illinois, 1846), 21-22.
  18. 18.0 18.1 See Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery, Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith, 2nd edition, (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1994).:176-177 The conclude that "Its meaning [the verse in D&C 132] remains a mystery.
  19. Ann Eliza Young, Wife No. 19, or the Story of a Life in Bondage...(Hartford, Conn.: Custin, Gilman & Company, 1876), 84.
  20. 20.0 20.1 Lyndon W. Cook, "William Law, Nauvoo Dissenter," Brigham Young University Studies 22 no. 1 (Fall 1982), footnote 82.
  21. Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 6:434-436 (10 June 1844). Volume 6 link
  22. Law Diary, 13 May 1844

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Articles about plural marriage
Doctrinal foundation of plural marriage
Introduction of plural marriage
Questions about Joseph Smith and plural marriage
Notable plural wives of Joseph Smith
Plural marriage in Utah
End of plural marriage



Joseph Smith/Polygamy/Emma Smith



Question: Did Joseph hide his plural marriages from Emma, his first wife?

Joseph did not always tell Emma immediately about some of his plural relationships

Joseph and Emma were in a complex and unique situation with regard to plural marriage—Emma had been warned by Joseph's revelation that if she refused to allow Joseph to obey the commandment he had received, he might proceed without her permission.

We also know relatively little about what Emma knew, and when she knew it. We should be cautious in assuming that the critical or anti-Mormon narrative of Joseph constantly sneaking around behind Emma's back is accurate.

Emma had periods where she accepted plural marriage, and then later rejected it

One critic of the Church claims, "Joseph Smith publicly lied about his practice of polygamy, and lied to his own wife (Emma) about the practice." [1] It is certainly true that Joseph did not disclose all of his plural marriages precisely when they happened. For example, he had been sealed to Emily and Eliza Partridge already, and Emma later had one of her periods of acceptance of plural marriage, on condition that she get to choose the wives. [2] She chose Emily and Eliza, and so they were resealed to Joseph without disclosing that they were already sealed. Emma's change of heart didn't last long, and she soon had Joseph break off contact with the girls, and expected them to renounce the covenants they had made. [3]

Ultimately, Joseph had to choose between obeying Emma and obeying God

There are also other examples. It's difficult to know exactly what Emma knew, and when she knew it, because she would later insist that Joseph never practiced plural marriage. So, we have to kind of piece together the evidence from fairly fragmentary sources.

Was Joseph justified in this? Well, that's a difficult question to answer. If one doesn't believe that Joseph was commanded to practice plural marriage, then the whole enterprise was probably a bad idea. If Joseph was commanded to practice plural marriage (as he repeatedly testified that he had been), then ultimately he had to choose between obeying Emma and obeying God. And, Joseph seems to have been determined to obey God.

The best way to contextualize this is to now look at the evidence against lustful desires motivating Joseph and coercion of women he approached into marrying him.


Question: Was Emma aware of the possibility that Joseph could take additional wives even without her consent?

Emma was warned about the possibility that Joseph could take wives even without her consent

Emma was warned about the possibility that Joseph could take wives even without her consent. [4] The D&C 132 revelation was Joseph's written instructions on the matter, put into writing at the request of his brother Hyrum, who felt he could use it to persuade Emma that plural marriage was a true principle. [5] However, there's an important line in there that speaks to the circumstance in which Joseph found himself with regard to Emma:

Therefore, it shall be lawful in me, if she receive not this law, for him to receive all things whatsoever I, the Lord his God, will give unto him, because she did not believe and administer unto him according to my word; and she then becomes the transgressor; and he is exempt from the law of Sarah, who administered unto Abraham according to the law when I commanded Abraham to take Hagar to wife (DC 132:65).

The Law of Sarah: Wives were to be first taught the revelation to see if they would accept it. If they accepted it, then they elected new wives for their husband. If they rejected plural marriage, then the Lord picked wives for the man

In short, the Lord brings up something called "the Law of Sarah"--this refers to Sarah, wife of Abraham, who in order to fulfill the covenants made to Abraham, was willing to seek out another wife (Hagar) for her husband. So, the principle seems to be that wives were to be first taught the revelation, and see if they would obey. If they accepted the law of plural marriage, then they elected new wives for their husbands. If they didn’t accept plural marriage, then God elected new wives for men. The previous verse reads:

And again, verily, verily, I say unto you, if any man have a wife, who holds the keys of this power, and he teaches unto her the law of my priesthood, as pertaining to these things, then shall she believe and administer unto him, or she shall be destroyed, saith the Lord your God; for I will destroy her; for I will magnify my name upon all those who receive and abide in my law (DC 132:64

If Emma rejected the teaching, then Joseph was exempt from the Law of Sarah

Thus, Joseph (who held the keys--and the only one who did so at the time, see DC 132:7) was to teach Emma--which he did. But, ultimately, if she refused to accept the revelation, then "he is exempt from the law of Sarah"---i.e., he no longer requires her approval or acceptance.

This is a stern doctrine, and we can all probably sympathize with Emma's situation. But, it is not clear that the alternative is any better, if one believes Joseph was acting by revelation--ultimately, either a mortal's will has to trump, or God's does. So, Joseph was to teach Emma, but if she ultimately refused, then Joseph was to obey, even in the face of her disobedience. She could not choose for him.

It may be that this clause did not apply to any other situation--the scripture says that it applies to a "man...who holds the keys of this power," and only the President of the Church did or does. So, this was likely not much of a model for others; it was very much an issue just between Joseph and Emma. One can see that throughout--the whole revelation is really targeted at helping solve their problems. (Joseph F. Smith would later say that if the revelation had not been written in that context, it would have been different, and perhaps more useful in a sense.) [6]

We can and should have considerable sympathy for Emma, since she was in a very difficult situation

She may ultimately have taken a harder road (leaving the Church, marrying outside the Church, lying about Joseph's teaching of plural marriage, raising an illegitimate child of her second husband's as her own child, etc.) to learning the same sorts of things that plural marriage would have taught her. As Brian Hales has pointed out, she had the hardest job (in a way) because she was the only woman who was faced with a revelation from her husband commanding it:

Emma may have also confronted the fear that perhaps she was inadequate to bind Joseph's affections, leading him to desire other companions and thus introducing the possibility that he could have been deceived by those desires. None of the first wives of other polygamists would have experienced this trial, because none of the other first wives were married to the man who received the polygamy revelation. All other pluralists could hold the Prophet and his teachings responsible....unlike Emma, they could more easily dismiss the question of whether their husband's adoption of plurality was related to their own contributions to the marriage or that they were somehow deficient. [7]

Emma believed in Joseph as a prophet but could not bear plural marriage

On the other hand, though, we must remember that Emma had many experiences that others did not have. (When asked by some women in the midst of the plural marriage at Nauvoo if she still believed Joseph was a prophet, she replied, "Yes, but I wish to God I did not know it." [8]) She accompanied Joseph to retrieve the golden plates. She wrote for him during the initial translation of the Book of Mormon. She participated in sacred ordinances, and knew Joseph and his calling in an intimate way that few if any others did, and continued to insist to her death that he had been a prophet. [9] So, perhaps it is not surprising that she was tested in ways that few others were. And, Joseph may well have not handled it perfectly. He likely did did his best, but it was an agonizing situation without ideal options. As Richard Bushman noted:

I see their [Joseph and Emma's] relationship as tragic. She believed in him but could not bear plural marriage. He loved her but could not resist his own revelation. They were both heroic actors on a large stage trapped in terrible moral dilemmas. [10]


Question: What possible modern lessons can we learn from Emma and Joseph's struggle with plural marriage?

Joseph Smith: "it is quite as necessary for you to be tried [even] as Abraham and other men of God"

These observations provide perhaps the most useful lesson for the modern members, since Joseph Smith told the Twelve, soon before his death: "'You will have all kinds of trials to pass through. And it is quite as necessary for you to be tried [even] as Abraham and other men of God, God will feel after you, and He will take hold of and wrench your very heart strings, and if you cannot stand it you will not be fit for an inheritance in the Celestial Kingdom of God.' ." (Cited by John Taylor, JD 24:197).

Harold B. Lee said of this statement:

Now I want to bear testimony to you that every one of us [the Twelve] has had that kind of testing. Some of us have been tried and have been tested until our very heart strings would seem to break. I have heard of persons dying with a broken heart, and I thought that was just a sort of a poetic expression, but I learned that it could be a very real experience. I came near to that thing; but when I began to think of my own troubles, I thought of what the Apostle Paul said of the Master, "Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; and being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him" (Hebrews 5:8-9).

Don't be afraid of the testing and trials of life. Sometimes when you are going through the most severe tests, you will be nearer to God than you have any idea, for like the experience of the Master Himself in the temptation on the mount, in the Garden of Gethsemane, and on the cross at Calvary, the scriptures record, "And, behold, angels came and ministered unto him" (Matthew 4:11). Sometimes that may happen to you in the midst of your trials. [11]

We should not, then, judge Joseph or Emma too harshly. Who says but what we would face similar trials with as much grace as they did? And, hopefully we won't face ours in a fishbowl, like they did.


See also Brian Hales' discussion: Emma's path through plural marriage
Sometime in 1840 Joseph Smith first broached the topic of plural marriage privately to trusted friends. Most of the apostles were in England and thus were unavailable for an introduction to the practice. (Link)
Emma and Fanny Alger
Joseph's first foray into plural marriage was deeply painful for Emma, his first wife. (Link)
When did Emma learn?
It is impossible to definitively determine when Emma learned of Joseph’s plural marriages. However, many historical clues help to create a possible timeline. (Link)
Emma Accepts Plural Marriage and Participates in Four of Joseph’s Plural Sealings
The earliest documentable date for Emma’s awareness of time-and-eternity plural marriage is May of 1843, when she participated in four of her husband’s polygamous sealings. (Link)
Emma’s Resistance Prompts recording of D&C 132
Emma’s resistance to plural marriage prompted Hyrum to encourage Joseph to dictate a written revelation on the subject. (Link)
Joseph and Emma: Conflict and Agreement
Rather than generating Emma’s active support, the revelation [D&C 132] appears to have brought a smoldering crisis to flame. She and Joseph took serious counsel together with some sort of agreement being negotiated. (Link)


Notes

  1. John Dehlin, "Questions and Answers," Mormon Stories Podcast (25 June 2014).
  2. "I will give you two wives if you will let me choose them," – Emma to Joseph, as per "Incidents of the early life of Emily Dow Partridge," written beginning December 1876, finished 7 January 1877, BYU Special Collections; cited by Andrew F. Ehat, "Joseph Smith's Introduction of Temple Ordinances and the 1844 Mormon Succession Question," (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University, Master's Thesis, 1981), 60.
  3. Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1997), 409. ( Index of claims )
  4. Danel W. Bachman, “A Study of the Mormon Practice of Polygamy Before the Death of Joseph Smith,” (1975) (unpublished M.A. thesis, Purdue University), 164–166.
  5. Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 5:xxxiii. Volume 5 link
  6. Joseph F. Smith, Journal of Discourses 20:29-30.
  7. Hales, Joseph Smith's Polygamy Vol. 2, 136.
  8. Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 251.
  9. Mary Audentia Smith Anderson (editor), "Memoirs of Joseph Smith III (1832–1914)," The Saints Herald (2 April 1935): 431–434.
  10. Richard L. Bushman, Interview with Millennial Star Blog, 14 November 2005; conveniently reprinted in Richard Lyman Bushman, On the Road With Joseph Smith: An Author's Diary (Salt Lake City, Utah: Greg Kofford Books, Ltd., 2007), 72.
  11. Harold B. Lee, Teachings of Harold B. Lee (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1996), 192.