Question: Was William Clayton an example of the evils and problems of plural marriage?

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Question: Was William Clayton an example of the evils and problems of plural marriage?

Clayton is disparaged by critical authors through innuendo

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)

In the narrative environment that G. D. Smith has created, it would be easy to conclude that Clayton was as unfaithful in England as G. D. Smith has subtly made him out to be in Nauvoo. This is a good example of how an undercurrent of judgmental hostility dominates Nauvoo Polygamy. Clayton is disparaged through innuendo, and G. D. Smith puts crucial events in the worst possible light while withholding explanatory and exculpatory information until much later in the volume—if it appears at all. [1]

Clayton is used as surrogate for attacks on Joseph Smith

G. D. Smith edited and published some of William Clayton’s journals—including material taken from Andrew Ehat and republished, without authorization, by Jerald and Sandra Tanner. [2] He should know of Clayton’s history and might even be expected to view him with sympathy. But Clayton receives the same treatment that G. D. Smith gives to Joseph—loaded language stalks him in Nauvoo Polygamy: Joseph and Clayton are “conspiring to amend . . . [the] marital status” of Clayton’s first wife, and Clayton’s journal “disclosed his own extracurricular romances” (pp. 244, 247).

Clayton's first plural wife

Joseph instructed Clayton to send for Sarah Crookes, a close female friend he had known in England, to which Clayton replied that “nothing further than an attachment such as a brother and sister in the Church might rightfully entertain for each other” occurred between them. “But in fact,” G. D. Smith editorializes darkly, “Clayton’s journal recorded the depth of emotional intimacy he had shared with her” (p. 244). G. D. Smith argues that Clayton was deceiving himself or Joseph and that his own journals prove it. Clayton’s journal noted of Sarah, “I don’t want Sarah to be married. I was much . . . tempted on her account and felt to pray that the Lord would preserve me from impure affections. . . . I certainly feel my love towards her to increase but shall strive against it. I feel too much to covet her and afraid lest her troubles should cause her to get married. The Lord keep me pure and preserve me from doing wrong.” [3] Others have read the account quite differently.

For example, Jim Allen saw this episode as suggesting Clayton and Crookes' nobility and fidelity:

Clayton soon admitted to himself that the situation could easily develop into something more than he could handle. . . . Caught in a war between his tender feelings for Sarah, on the one hand, and his love for his wife and his personal integrity, on the other, Clayton thus met another test of discipleship. This one was perhaps the most difficult of all, for it involved the temptations of the flesh that too often destroy both the reputation and the marriages of those who weaken. The attachment between Sarah and William caused inward struggles for both, but they avoided the obvious temptation. [4]

G. D. Smith then notes that “instead of waiting for [Sarah’s] arrival, [Clayton] married his legal wife’s sister Margaret on April 27. This was before Sarah’s ship had even set sail from England” (p. 245). He strives to paint Clayton as unfaithful to both his first wife (having already had an inappropriate level of emotional intimacy with another woman before “conspiring to amend” his marriage) and the woman with whom he conspired to cheat.

Clayton's mission to England

G. D. Smith then describes Clayton’s 1853 mission to England, during which, “instead of persuading the flock of the correctness of [polygamy], Clayton contributed to defections and was personally suspected of ‘having had unlawful intercourse with women’” (p. 247). [5] Two hundred pages later, we learn that this suspicion was only because of his [Clayton’s] “discussion of plural marriage” (p. 445), and his [Smith’s] own introduction to Clayton’s journals tell us that the charge was actually raised by an “apostate Mormon,” whom Clayton claimed had maliciously distorted his words, leading to what he called his life’s most painful experience. [6]


  1. George D. Smith, Nauvoo Polygamy: "...but we called it celestial marriage" (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2008), 244–247, 445. ( Index of claims , (Detailed book review))
  2. Cecelia Warner, “The Tanners On Trial,” Sunstone: Review 4:4/6 (April 1984); Lawrence Foster, “Career Apostates: Reflections on the Works of Jerald and Sandra Tanner,” Dialogue 17/2 (Summer 1984): 48 and n. 28;James B. Allen, review of An Intimate Chronicle: The Journals of William Clayton, by George D. Smith, ed., BYU Studies 35/2 (1995): 165–75.
  3. William Clayton, An Intimate Chronicle: The Diaries of William Clayton, ed. George D. Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books in association with Smith Research Associates, 1991), 29.
  4. James B. Allen, Trials of Discipleship: The Story of William Clayton, a Mormon (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1987), 33–4; see also 130–34.
  5. Citing Smith, Diaries of William Clayton, xlviii–l.
  6. Smith, Diaries of William Clayton, xlix, 488–489, 490 n. 444.