Difference between revisions of "Joseph Smith/Polygamy"

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|S=Joseph Smith is frequently criticized for his introduction and practice of polygamy.  From a Christian perspective, these attacks usually focus on arguing that polygamy is unchristian or unbiblical, and that Joseph hid the truth from the world. From a secular perspective, it is asserted that the practice of polygamy sprung from Joseph's carnal desires to marry young women. Of particular interest is the fact that Joseph was sealed to women who were already married to other men (polyandry).
 
|S=Joseph Smith is frequently criticized for his introduction and practice of polygamy.  From a Christian perspective, these attacks usually focus on arguing that polygamy is unchristian or unbiblical, and that Joseph hid the truth from the world. From a secular perspective, it is asserted that the practice of polygamy sprung from Joseph's carnal desires to marry young women. Of particular interest is the fact that Joseph was sealed to women who were already married to other men (polyandry).
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|L2=Implementation of plural marriage
 
|L2=Implementation of plural marriage

Revision as of 13:02, 13 March 2022

FAIR Answers Wiki Table of Contents

Joseph Smith and polygamy

Summary: Joseph Smith is frequently criticized for his introduction and practice of polygamy. From a Christian perspective, these attacks usually focus on arguing that polygamy is unchristian or unbiblical, and that Joseph hid the truth from the world. From a secular perspective, it is asserted that the practice of polygamy sprung from Joseph's carnal desires to marry young women. Of particular interest is the fact that Joseph was sealed to women who were already married to other men (polyandry).

Video published by the Church History Department.

Jump to Subtopic:


Plural wives of Joseph Smith, Jr.

Summary: This collection of articles lists a number of known plural wives, with responses to critical claims related to specific plural wives of Joseph Smith, Jr.


Jump to Subtopic:


Implementation of plural marriage


Jump to Subtopic:

FAIR Answers Wiki Table of Contents

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


Initiation of the practice of plural marriage


Jump to Subtopic:


Question: When did Joseph Smith receive the revelation on plural marriage?

Joseph's first introduction to the concept of plural came during the 1829 translation of the Book of Mormon

Of the little we do know, much comes from later reminiscences. Later memories are not useless, but memory can change, and can be influenced by what people later came to believe or desire. Such data must be used with caution.

There are enough scattered bits of evidence, however, that let us form some tentative conclusions.

The first specifically-LDS encounter with plural marriage was the 1829 Book of Mormon. The prophet Jacob rebuked the Nephites for their practice of having many wives and concubines. Jacob forbade this practice, and declared monogamy to be the norm unless "I will…raise up seed unto me…." [1]

It is not clear that the early Saints contemplated any exceptions to this command in their own case, until after Joseph had taught plural marriage. As late as May 1843, Hyrum Smith (not yet converted to Joseph's plural marriage doctrine) attempted to rebut rumors of plural marriage by citing the condemnation in Jacob 2. [2]

Evidence points to a 1831 date for the revelation to Joseph regarding plural marriage

There are no contemporaneous records which tell us when Joseph first taught plural marriage, or when he first had a revelation endorsing it. One account has Brigham Young placing the revelation to Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith in 1829 while translating the Book of Mormon. [3]

Most scholars have rejected this early date. Brigham was not even a member at this time, so he would have heard such a story second-hand at best, and may well have misunderstood the timing. There is nothing in the Book of Mormon that portrays plural marriage positively, so there is little which would inspire Joseph and Oliver to ask questions about it, and such questioning seems to have been a prerequisite to Joseph and Oliver's early revelations on baptism, the priesthood, and other matters. The journal which records the 1829 date may be in error, since there is another, earlier record in which Brigham Young opines that Joseph had the plural marriage revelation "as early as in the year 1831." [4]

Other evidence also points to an 1831 date. Joseph undertook his revision/translation of the Bible, and was working on Genesis in February–March 1831. [5] Hubert Howe Bancroft was the first to suggest this theory, [6] while Joseph Noble, [7] B.H. Roberts, [8] and Joseph F. Smith [9] have agreed. The obvious approval of the polygamous patriarchs in Genesis is a more likely stimulus for Joseph's questions to the Lord about plural marriage than the Book of Mormon's generally negative view.

Joseph was probably teaching the idea of plural marriage to a limited circle by the end of 1831

The date of 1831 is reinforced by a letter written years later by W.W. Phelps. Phelps reported that on 17 July 1831, the Lord told Joseph "It is my will, that in time, ye should take unto you wives of the Lamanites and Nephites, that their posterity may become white, delightsome and just." Phelps then said that he asked Joseph three years later how this commandment could be fulfilled. Joseph replied, "In the same manner that Abraham took Hagar and Keturah; and Jacob took Rachel, Bilhah and Zilpha, by revelation.” [10] Phelps' recollection is reinforced by Ezra Booth, an apostate Mormon. In November 1831, Booth wrote that Joseph had received a revelation commanding a "matrimonial alliance" with the natives, though he says nothing about plural marriage per se. [11]

Since Joseph's explanation to Phelps came three years later, this does not help us date the receipt of the revelation specifically. It may be that Joseph did not understand the import of the July 1831 revelation any more than Phelps did. On the other hand, Orson Pratt reported that Joseph told some early members in 1831 and 1832 that plural marriage was a true principle but that the time to practice it had not yet come. [12] Lyman Johnson also reportedly heard the doctrine from Joseph in 1831, [13] as did a plural wife who recalled late in life that in 1831 Joseph told her that he had been commanded to one day take her as a plural wife. [14] Mosiah Hancock reported that his father was taught about plural marriage in the spring of 1832. [15]

Some authors have suggested that Phelps' late recollection is inconsistent with other things that he wrote earlier. Richard Van Wagoner argues that:

the Phelps letter has been widely touted as the earliest source documenting the advocacy of Mormon polygamy, [but] it is not without its problems. For example, Phelps himself, in a 16 September 1835 letter to his wife, Sally, demonstrated no knowledge of church-sanctioned polygamy: "I have no right to any other woman in this world nor in the world to come according to the law of the celestial kingdom.” [16]

It seems, though, that the problem is more in Van Wagoner's reading of the data. Phelps says nothing about "church-sanctioned polygamy," one way or the other. He merely tells his wife that he has no right to any other woman. This was certainly true, since Joseph Smith had introduced no other men to plural marriage by September 1835. In fact, Phelps' remark seems a strange comment to make unless he understood that there were circumstances in which one could have "right to" another woman. [17]

Joseph F. Smith gave an account which synthesizes most of the preceding data:

The great and glorious principle of plural marriage was first revealed to Joseph Smith in 1831, but being forbidden to make it public, or to teach it as a doctrine of the Gospel, at that time, he confided the facts to only a very few of his intimate associates. Among them were Oliver Cowdery and Lyman E. Johnson, the latter confiding the fact to his traveling companion, Elder Orson Pratt, in the year 1832. (See Orson Pratt's testimony.)" (Andrew Jenson, The Historical Record 6 [Salt Lake City, Utah, May 1887]: 219) [18]

The bulk of the evidence, therefore, suggests that plural marriage was known by Joseph by early 1831. The Prophet was probably teaching the idea to a limited circle by the end of that year.

FAIR Answers Wiki Table of Contents <onlyinclude>

Question: Did Joseph Smith actually teach and practice polygamy?

Some splinter groups of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have claimed that Joseph Smith did not practice polygamy. Instead, these groups argue, polygamy was the later invention of a libidinous and greedy Brigham Young. Since, on these groups’ view, plural marriage was a man-made invention instead of a commandment from the divine, this is evidence that the modern Church is in apostasy and that we must seek the true authority elsewhere. A related charge is that the Church hasn’t taught that Joseph Smith practiced polygamy openly and frequently.

There is contemporaneous, reliable documentation to establish that Joseph Smith received the revelation on plural marriage and there is ample documentation that he and many of his colleagues practiced plural marriage.

Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship, "Joseph Smith: Monogamist or Polygamist?"

Brian C. Hales,  Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship, (2017)
In the past decades much of the debate regarding Joseph Smith and plural marriage has focused on his motivation — whether libido or divine inspiration drove the process. Throughout these debates, a small group of observers and participants have maintained that Joseph did not practice polygamy at any time or that his polygamous sealings were nonsexual spiritual marriages. Rather than simply provide supportive evidence for Joseph Smith’s active involvement with plural marriage, this article examines the primary arguments advanced by monogamist proponents to show that important weaknesses exist in each line of reasoning.

Click here to view the complete article

The charts below, prepared by Brian Hales, outline all the evidence available for a polygamist Joseph in an easy-to-read way.

B7BB6399-9961-40B2-8A3F-8627C5081D4C.jpeg

BEB33A12-AE96-475A-8B5B-029773E6719D.jpeg

Video by The Interpreter Foundation.


Notes

  1. Jacob 2:27–30.
  2. Levi Richards Journal, 14 May 1843; cited by Richard S. Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy: A History (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1989), 54.; Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery, Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith, 2nd ed. (Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 1994), 141, 332.
  3. Brigham Young, quoted in Charles L. Walker, "Diary," (Harold B. Lee Library, BYU, 1855–1902), 25–26.
  4. Journal History, 26 August 1857; cited by Hyrum Leslie Andrus, Doctrines of the Kingdom (Salt Lake City, Utah: Desert Book Co., 1999), 489n436.
  5. Robert J. Matthews, "A Plainer Translation": Joseph Smith's Translation of the Bible, a History and Commentary (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1975), 64–67. Also discussed in Danel W. Bachman, "A Study of the Mormon Practice of Polygamy before the Death of Joseph Smith" (Purdue University, 1975), 67 and Danel W. Bachman, "New Light on an Old Hypothesis: The Ohio Origins of the Revelation on Eternal Marriage," Journal of Mormon History 5 (1978): 24. This view is endorsed by Todd Compton, "Fanny Alger Smith Custer: Mormonism's First Plural Wife?," Journal of Mormon History 22/1 (Spring 1996): 178–181.
  6. Bachman, "New Light on an Old Hypothesis," 22n11 notes that Roberts' History of the Church introduction (5:xxix) and Hubert Howe Bancroft, History of Utah (San Francisco: A.L. Bancroft Co., 1889), 161 were the first to posit the role of Joseph's revision of the Bible in the plural marriage revelation.
  7. Joseph Noble, cited in Millennial Star 16:454.
  8. Joseph Smith, History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, ed. Brigham H. Roberts, 7 vols. (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 1980), 5:xxix.
  9. }Joseph F. Smith at funeral of Elizabeth Ann Whitney; cited in Deseret Evening News (18 February 1882).
  10. W.W. Phelps, Letter to Brigham Young, 1861, original in Church Archives, emphasis in original; cited by B. Carmon Hardy, Doing the Works of Abraham: Mormon Polygamy: Its Origin, Practice, and Demise, Kingdom in the West: The Mormons and the American Frontier (Norman, Okla.: Arthur H. Clark Co., 2007), 36–37
  11. Ezra Booth, Letter to the editor, Ohio Star (10 November 1831).
  12. Orson Pratt, "Celestial Marriage," Journal of Discourses, reported by David W. Evans (7 October 1869), Vol. 13 (London: Latter-day Saint's Book Depot, 1871), 192–193.
  13. Lyman Johnson as recounted by Orson Pratt, reported in “Report of Elders Orson Pratt and Joseph F. Smith," Millennial Star 40/50 (16 December 1878): 788; cited in Bachman, "Mormon Practice of Polygamy", 56.
  14. Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner to Emmeline B. Wells, Summer 1905, LDS Archives; cited by Newell and Avery, Mormon Enigma, 65.
  15. Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1997), 644. ( Index of claims ); citing Mosiah Hancock Autobiography, 61–62.
  16. Richard S. Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy: A History (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1989), 3n2.
  17. Phelps would publicly teach the idea of eternal marriage soon thereafter: "[W]e came into this world and have our agency, in order that we may prepare ourselves for a kingdom of glory; become archangels, even the sons of God where the man is neither without the woman, nor the woman without the man in the Lord…" - WW Phelps to O[liver] Cowdery, "Dear Brother in the Lord," Latter-day Saint Messenger & Advocate 1/9 (June 1835): 130. See discussion of the Phelps material in Bachman, "New Light on an Old Hypothesis," 28–29
  18. Joseph F. Smith (comment made 4 March 1883) in "Utah Stake Historical Record, 1877–1888," LDS Archives;Richard and Pamela Price, Joseph Smith Fought Polygamy—Vision Articles [from Vision Magazine, Vol. 32–46, 48–51, 53–56], vol. 2 (E-book: Price Publishing Company, n.d.), "LDS Leaders Accused Oliver Cowdery of Polygamy".

Note: This material is part of a collection of draft essays on LDS plural marriage. They are provided for the use of FairMormon and its readers. (C) 2007-2017 Gregory L. Smith. No other reproduction is authorized.

Question: When and how did plural marriage begin in the Church?

Of the little we do know, much comes from later reminiscences

Of the little we do know, much comes from later reminiscences. Later memories are not useless, but memory can change, and can be influenced by what people later came to believe or desire. Such data must be used with caution.

There are enough scattered bits of evidence, however, that let us form some tentative conclusions.

The first specifically-LDS encounter with plural marriage was the 1829 Book of Mormon

The first specifically-LDS encounter with plural marriage was the 1829 Book of Mormon. The prophet Jacob rebuked the Nephites for their practice of having many wives and concubines. Jacob forbade this practice, and declared monogamy to be the norm unless "I will…raise up seed unto me…." [1]

It is not clear that the early Saints contemplated any exceptions to this command in their own case, until after Joseph had taught plural marriage. As late as May 1843, Hyrum Smith (not yet converted to Joseph's plural marriage doctrine) attempted to rebut rumors of plural marriage by citing the condemnation in Jacob 2. [2]

There are no contemporaneous records which tell us when Joseph first taught plural marriage, or when he first had a revelation endorsing it

There are no contemporaneous records which tell us when Joseph first taught plural marriage, or when he first had a revelation endorsing it. One account has Brigham Young placing the revelation to Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith in 1829 while translating the Book of Mormon. [3]

Most scholars have rejected this early date. Brigham was not even a member at this time, so he would have heard such a story second-hand at best, and may well have misunderstood the timing. There is nothing in the Book of Mormon that portrays plural marriage positively, so there is little which would inspire Joseph and Oliver to ask questions about it, and such questioning seems to have been a prerequisite to Joseph and Oliver's early revelations on baptism, the priesthood, and other matters. The journal which records the 1829 date may be in error, since there is another, earlier record in which Brigham Young opines that Joseph had the plural marriage revelation "as early as in the year 1831." [4]

Evidence also points to an 1831 date for receipt of the revelation on plural marriage

Other evidence also points to an 1831 date. Joseph undertook his revision/translation of the Bible, and was working on Genesis in February–March 1831. [5] Hubert Howe Bancroft was the first to suggest this theory, [6] while Joseph Noble, [7] B.H. Roberts, [8] and Joseph F. Smith [9] have agreed. The obvious approval of the polygamous patriarchs in Genesis is a more likely stimulus for Joseph's questions to the Lord about plural marriage than the Book of Mormon's generally negative view.

Joseph's First Mention of the Doctrine in 1831

The date of 1831 is reinforced by a letter written years later by W.W. Phelps. Phelps reported that on 17 July 1831, the Lord told Joseph "It is my will, that in time, ye should take unto you wives of the Lamanites and Nephites, that their posterity may become white, delightsome and just." Phelps then said that he asked Joseph three years later how this commandment could be fulfilled. Joseph replied, "In the same manner that Abraham took Hagar and Keturah; and Jacob took Rachel, Bilhah and Zilpha, by revelation.” [10] Phelps' recollection is reinforced by Ezra Booth, an apostate Mormon. In November 1831, Booth wrote that Joseph had received a revelation commanding a "matrimonial alliance" with the natives, though he says nothing about plural marriage per se. [11]

Since Joseph's explanation to Phelps came three years later, this does not help us date the receipt of the revelation specifically. It may be that Joseph did not understand the import of the July 1831 revelation any more than Phelps did. On the other hand, Orson Pratt reported that Joseph told some early members in 1831 and 1832 that plural marriage was a true principle but that the time to practice it had not yet come. [12] Lyman Johnson also reportedly heard the doctrine from Joseph in 1831, [13] as did a plural wife who recalled late in life that in 1831 Joseph told her that he had been commanded to one day take her as a plural wife. [14] Mosiah Hancock reported that his father was taught about plural marriage in the spring of 1832. [15]

Some authors have suggested that Phelps' late recollection is inconsistent with other things that he wrote earlier. Richard Van Wagoner argues that:

…the Phelps letter has been widely touted as the earliest source documenting the advocacy of Mormon polygamy, [but] it is not without its problems. For example, Phelps himself, in a 16 September 1835 letter to his wife, Sally, demonstrated no knowledge of church-sanctioned polygamy: "I have no right to any other woman in this world nor in the world to come according to the law of the celestial kingdom.” [16]

It seems to me, though, that the problem is more in Van Wagoner's reading of the data. Phelps says nothing about "church-sanctioned polygamy," one way or the other. He merely tells his wife that he has no right to any other woman. This was certainly true, since Joseph Smith had introduced no other men to plural marriage by September 1835. In fact, Phelps' remark seems a strange comment to make unless he understood that there were circumstances in which one could have "right to" another woman. [17]

Joseph F. Smith gave an account which synthesizes most of the preceding data:

The great and glorious principle of plural marriage was first revealed to Joseph Smith in 1831, but being forbidden to make it public, or to teach it as a doctrine of the Gospel, at that time, he confided the facts to only a very few of his intimate associates. Among them were Oliver Cowdery and Lyman E. Johnson, the latter confiding the fact to his traveling companion, Elder Orson Pratt, in the year 1832. (See Orson Pratt's testimony.)" (Andrew Jenson, The Historical Record 6 [Salt Lake City, Utah, May 1887]: 219) [18]

The bulk of the evidence, therefore, suggests that plural marriage was known by Joseph by early 1831. The Prophet was probably teaching the idea to a limited circle by the end of that year.


Notes

  1. Jacob 2:27–30.
  2. Levi Richards Journal, 14 May 1843; cited by Richard S. Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy: A History (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1989), 54.; Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery, Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith, 2nd ed. (Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 1994), 141, 332.
  3. Brigham Young, quoted in Charles L. Walker, "Diary," (Harold B. Lee Library, BYU, 1855–1902), 25–26.
  4. Journal History, 26 August 1857; cited by Hyrum Leslie Andrus, Doctrines of the Kingdom (Salt Lake City, Utah: Desert Book Co., 1999), 489n436.
  5. Robert J. Matthews, "A Plainer Translation": Joseph Smith's Translation of the Bible, a History and Commentary (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1975), 64–67. Also discussed in Danel W. Bachman, "A Study of the Mormon Practice of Polygamy before the Death of Joseph Smith" (Purdue University, 1975), 67 and Danel W. Bachman, "New Light on an Old Hypothesis: The Ohio Origins of the Revelation on Eternal Marriage," Journal of Mormon History 5 (1978): 24. This view is endorsed by Todd Compton, "Fanny Alger Smith Custer: Mormonism's First Plural Wife?," Journal of Mormon History 22/1 (Spring 1996): 178–181.
  6. Bachman, "New Light on an Old Hypothesis," 22n11 notes that Roberts' History of the Church introduction (5:xxix) and Hubert Howe Bancroft, History of Utah (San Francisco: A.L. Bancroft Co., 1889), 161 were the first to posit the role of Joseph's revision of the Bible in the plural marriage revelation.
  7. Joseph Noble, cited in Millennial Star 16:454.
  8. Joseph Smith, History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, ed. Brigham H. Roberts, 7 vols. (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 1980), 5:xxix.
  9. }Joseph F. Smith at funeral of Elizabeth Ann Whitney; cited in Deseret Evening News (18 February 1882).
  10. W.W. Phelps, Letter to Brigham Young, 1861, original in Church Archives, emphasis in original; cited by B. Carmon Hardy, Doing the Works of Abraham: Mormon Polygamy: Its Origin, Practice, and Demise, Kingdom in the West: The Mormons and the American Frontier (Norman, Okla.: Arthur H. Clark Co., 2007), 36–37
  11. Ezra Booth, Letter to the editor, Ohio Star (10 November 1831).
  12. Orson Pratt, "Celestial Marriage," Journal of Discourses, reported by David W. Evans (7 October 1869), Vol. 13 (London: Latter-day Saint's Book Depot, 1871), 192–193.
  13. Lyman Johnson as recounted by Orson Pratt, reported in “Report of Elders Orson Pratt and Joseph F. Smith," Millennial Star 40/50 (16 December 1878): 788; cited in Bachman, "Mormon Practice of Polygamy", 56.
  14. Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner to Emmeline B. Wells, Summer 1905, LDS Archives; cited by Newell and Avery, Mormon Enigma, 65.
  15. Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1997), 644. ( Index of claims ); citing Mosiah Hancock Autobiography, 61–62.
  16. Richard S. Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy: A History (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1989), 3n2.
  17. Phelps would publicly teach the idea of eternal marriage soon thereafter: "[W]e came into this world and have our agency, in order that we may prepare ourselves for a kingdom of glory; become archangels, even the sons of God where the man is neither without the woman, nor the woman without the man in the Lord…" - WW Phelps to O[liver] Cowdery, "Dear Brother in the Lord," Latter-day Saint Messenger & Advocate 1/9 (June 1835): 130. See discussion of the Phelps material in Bachman, "New Light on an Old Hypothesis," 28–29
  18. Joseph F. Smith (comment made 4 March 1883) in "Utah Stake Historical Record, 1877–1888," LDS Archives;Richard and Pamela Price, Joseph Smith Fought Polygamy—Vision Articles [from Vision Magazine, Vol. 32–46, 48–51, 53–56], vol. 2 (E-book: Price Publishing Company, n.d.), "LDS Leaders Accused Oliver Cowdery of Polygamy".

The "Cochranites" and their potential influence on Mormon plural marriage

Summary: Did another religious group from the 1830s--the "Cochranites"--act as the source for plural marriage in the LDS faith?


Jump to Subtopic:


Lorenzo Snow's statements about polygamy during the Temple Lot case


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William Marks claimed Joseph intended to abandon plural marriage


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Doctrinal issues related to plural marriage


Jump to Subtopic:

FAIR Answers Wiki Table of Contents

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

With the authority of the Bible behind them, early Mormons argued for 'plural marriage,' and some Mormon fundamentalist sects continue to practice polygyny. They were and are right: if the Bible provides authoritative models, then a man should be allowed to have more than one wife, as did Abraham, Jacob, David, and other biblical heroes, with no hint of divine disapproval.

—Michael Coogan, God and Sex: What the Bible Really Says (New York, N.Y.: Twelve, 2010), 78–79.

Question: Was there no biblical mandate for plural marriage?

This claim is false; levirate marriage was mandated by the law of Moses

While sometimes forced to admit that some Old Testament figures practiced polygamy, some Christians insist that there was no biblical mandate or command to practice plural marriage.

This claim is false; levirate marriage was mandated by the law of Moses (Deuteronomy 25:5-6).

Even if true, this claim is immaterial. God did not condemn the practice of plural marriage in the Bible. If it was everywhere and always forbidden, God could and would have done so. Early Christian authors understood this.

The practice of levirate marriage did not make any conditions on whether or not the brother-in-law was married

The details of this practice are outlined in Deuteronomy 25:5-6, which the Sadducees quote in asking the question to Jesus. The practice of levirate marriage did not make any conditions on whether or not the brother-in-law was married. There was a way for the brother-in-law to avoid this marriage, through a ceremony called halitza, which was a mark of shame on the brother-in-law for refusing to continue his brother's name, thus declaring that his brother was irrevocably dead. This secondary option however, has become much more relevant to the modern practice of Judaism than it was to ancient Israel. Additionally, the practice makes no distinction to whether or not the brother was already married. It is the only instance in the Old Testament where polygamy was mandated under certain circumstances. Finally, the widow with no children, upon the death of her husband, was automatically considered to be betrothed, or engaged, to the next brother in the family of her now-deceased husband.

This practice was changed somewhat in Talmudic law where we find more than a hundred clarifications and expansions on the practice. Among these was a shift towards the practice of halitza being preferable to levirate marriage. This became a ban that was established by religious law in modern Israel in 1957. Because of this, there was an interesting case reported in 1998 in the Spring Newsletter of the International Council of Jewish Women. It describes the unusual case of a married woman, living in Israel, who had a single daughter. In 1991, the family was involved in a serious automobile accident, and the daughter died immediately. The husband died hours later. According to Jewish law, the woman (who was childless at the time of her husband's death) was immediately placed in the role of the childless widow. Before she could remarry, she needed to go through the halitza ceremony with the only living brother of her late husband, who lived in Paris. This case was of significance because the brother-in-law refused to perform the ceremony. At first the Jewish courts simply ordered the brother-in-law to either perform the ceremony, or to pay the woman a thousand dollars a month for maintenance. He refused to do either. It took the woman six years to get the brother-in-law to perform the ceremony, and he also ended up paying her thousands of dollars as ordered by the religious courts.

This practice was not just a custom, but an integral part of the religious law at the time of Jesus

This practice was not just a custom, but an integral part of the religious law at the time of Jesus. While the above story happened only recently, ancient Israel was just as fervent in their keeping the Law of Moses, even in cases such as this. While a hypothetical situation was proposed to Jesus, it was a hypothetical situation that could actually happen, and the statements provided by the authors do not represent correctly this practice.


Question: Does the Bible forbid plural marriage?

The Bible does not forbid plural marriage

Some Christians claim that plural marriage has no Biblical precedents—they point to condemnation of King David and King Solomon as evidence that polygamy is always forbidden by God. Some claim that Abraham's polygamy "portrays his acceptance of plural marriage as a mark of disobedience to, and a lack of faith in, God." It is claimed that since the Bible didn't allow a man to marry two sisters, this proves that LDS plural marriage was "unbiblical" because some Mormons did so.

The Bible does not forbid plural marriage. In fact, many of the most noble Biblical figures (e.g., Abraham) had more than one wife. Furthermore, Biblical laws quoted by critics forbid kings from being led astray by plural spouses, or entering relationships not sanctioned by God's authority. However, the same Biblical laws provide guidelines for legitimate plural relationships.

It is true that David and Solomon were condemned for some of their marriage practices

This problem was mentioned in Deuteronomy:

15 Thou shalt in any wise set him king over thee, whom the LORD thy God shall choose: one from among thy brethren shalt thou set king over thee: thou mayest not set a stranger over thee, which is not thy brother...17 Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart turn not away... (Deuteronomy 17:15,17

Only four chapters later, the Lord gives instructions on how to treat equitably plural wives and children

Critics ignore the fact that only four chapters later, the Lord gives instructions on how to treat equitably plural wives and children. (See Deuteronomy 21:15-17.) Why does He not simply forbid plural marriage, if that is the intent of chapter 17? Why does He instruct the Israelites on how to conduct themselves in plural households, if all such households are forbidden?

So, rather than opposing plural marriage, the command to kings is that they:

  1. not multiply wives to themselves (i.e., only those who hold proper priesthood keys may approve plural marriage—see 2 Samuel 12:8, Jacob 2:30, DC 132:38-39);
  2. that these wives not be those who turn his heart away from God (1 Kings 11:3-4);
  3. not take excessive numbers of wives (see Jacob 2:24).

David and Solomon are excellent examples of violating one or more of these Biblical principles, as described below.

David is well-known for his sin with Bathsheba and Uriah

David is well-known for his sin with Bathsheba and Uriah (see 2 Samuel 12:1-27. Nathan the prophet arrived to condemn David's behavior, and told the king:

7 ¶ And Nathan said to David...Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, I anointed thee king over Israel, and I delivered thee out of the hand of Saul;

8 And I gave thee thy master's house, and thy master's wives into thy bosom, and gave thee the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would moreover have given unto thee such and such things.

9 Wherefore hast thou despised the commandment of the LORD, to do evil in his sight? thou hast killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and hast taken his wife to be thy wife, and hast slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon.

10 Now therefore the sword shall never depart from thine house; because thou hast despised me, and hast taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be thy wife. (2 Samuel 12:7-10)

Nathan here tells David that the Lord "gave thee...thy master's wives." And, the Lord says, through His prophet, that He would have given even more than He has already given of political power, wives, and wealth.

But, David sinned and did evil in the matter of Uriah. If plural marriage is always a sin to God, then why did Nathan not take the opportunity to condemn David for it now? Or, why did the prophet not come earlier?

Solomon's wives turned his heart away from the Lord, as Deuteronomy cautioned

Solomon's problem is described:

1 BUT king Solomon loved many strange women, together with the daughter of Pharaoh, women of the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Zidonians, and Hittites;

2 Of the nations concerning which the LORD said unto the children of Israel, Ye shall not go in to them, neither shall they come in unto you: for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods: Solomon clave unto these in love...

7 Then did Solomon build an high place for Chemosh, the abomination of Moab, in the hill that is before Jerusalem, and for Molech, the abomination of the children of Ammon.

8 And likewise did he for all his strange wives, which burnt incense and sacrificed unto their gods. (1 Kings 11:1-8

Solomon's wives turned his heart away from the Lord, as Deuteronomy cautioned. Nothing is said against the plurality of wives, but merely of wives taken without authority that turn his heart away from the Lord.

Abraham and other Biblical examples demonstrate that plural marriage may, on occasion, be sanctioned

David and Solomon do not prove the critics' point, but in fact demonstrate that plural marriage may, on occasion, be sanctioned (as in David's case certainly).

But, we need not rely on these examples only to demonstrate that plural marriage was practiced by righteous followers of God in the Bible. Other cases include:

and also possibly:

  • Moses [married Zipporah (Exodus 2:22 and an "Ethiopian" (Cushite) woman Numbers 12:1 which may or may not be the same person. [1]

The Law of Moses provides rules governing Israelites who have plural wives

As noted above, Deuteronomy 21:15 provides rules governing Israelites who have plural wives. Further instructions are also given in Exodus 21:10. Why did God not ban plural marriage through Moses if it is always an immoral act?

The Law of Moses did not allow plural marriages to two sisters

Latter-day Saint plural marriage did not rely on biblical authority or interpretation (though they used biblical parallels to explain and understand the command which they believed they had received from God via a modern prophet.)

Marrying two sisters was quite frequent, possibly because sisters had already learned to get along together, which made for more harmonious plural families. One researcher noted:

Marriage to the wife's sister, defined as incest only by Anglican canon law, is the only form of polygamous marriage of the [potentially 'incestuous] categories...that occurs in significant numbers. [2]

The Saints did not claim to be restoring Mosaic plural marriage—they only used Moses' example as precedent for the fact that God could and had commanded plural marriage in the past. The specific structure, rules, and restrictions varied from time to time as guided by prophets.


Question: What are the "works of Abraham" and how does this relate to plural marriage?

The "works of Abraham" are fundamentally about obedience to God's laws, obedience to any commandment given, and willingness to sacrifice

D&C 132 tells Joseph and others to "do the works of Abraham." What are the "works of Abraham" and how does this relate to plural marriage?

The "works of Abraham" are fundamentally about obedience to God's laws, obedience to any commandment given, and willingness to sacrifice. For Joseph and the early Saints, a prominent part of such works was plural marriage, but this was (in a sense) incidental—the great work was obedience to covenant and law; plural marriage was simply their burden and trial.

It is often casually assumed that "the works of Abraham" refer mainly to plural marriage

It is often casually assumed that "the works of Abraham" refer mainly to plural marriage.[3] A consideration of both the phrase's orgins, and its use in D&C 132, may suggest that a broader meaning is intended.

The phrase has its origins in the gospel of John. Jesus rebuked unrighteous Jews, saying:

...Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin. And the servant abideth not in the house for ever: but the Son abideth ever. If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed. I know that ye are Abraham's seed; but ye seek to kill me, because my word hath no place in you. I speak that which I have seen with my Father: and ye do that which ye have seen with your father (John 8:34-38).

Stung, the Jews replied, "Abraham is our father." Jesus answered:

If ye were Abraham's children, ye would do the works of Abraham. But now ye seek to kill me, a man that hath told you the truth, which I have heard of God: this did not Abraham (John 8:39-40).

At its most basic level, "the works of Abraham" are to obey and serve God, and not be "the servant of sin"

Even before the abolition of plural marriage, leaders of the Church understood this,[4] though many also used obedience to the command to practice plural marriage as a pre-eminent example.[5]

Abraham plays a central role in D&C 132's justification of plural marriage

Yet, it is not simply as a polygamist that Abraham is appealed to:

29 Abraham received all things, whatsoever he received, by revelation and commandment, by my word, saith the Lord, and hath entered into his exaltation and sitteth upon his throne.

30 Abraham received promises concerning his seed, and of the fruit of his loins—from whose loins ye are, namely, my servant Joseph—which were to continue so long as they were in the world; and as touching Abraham and his seed, out of the world they should continue; both in the world and out of the world should they continue as innumerable as the stars; or, if ye were to count the sand upon the seashore ye could not number them.

31 This promise is yours also, because ye are of Abraham, and the promise was made unto Abraham; and by this law is the continuation of the works of my Father, wherein he glorifieth himself.

Abraham received blessings because of revelation and obedience to covenant and commandment

32 Go ye, therefore, and do the works of Abraham; enter ye into my law and ye shall be saved.

33 But if ye enter not into my law ye cannot receive the promise of my Father, which he made unto Abraham.

The works of Abraham, we remember, were obedience and service to God. Joseph and others were to "enter into [God's] law," which has been explained earlier in the section as the law of sealing as part of the new and everlasting covenant (DC 132:7; see here for a more extensive discussion of the new and everlasting covenant).

34 God commanded Abraham, and Sarah gave Hagar to Abraham to wife. And why did she do it? Because this was the law; and from Hagar sprang many people. This, therefore, was fulfilling, among other things, the promises.

35 Was Abraham, therefore, under condemnation? Verily I say unto you, Nay; for I, the Lord, commanded it.

We must not confuse "the law" to which verse 34 refers with "the law" described in verse 7

We must not confuse "the law" to which verse 34 refers with "the law" described in verse 7: "The conditions of this law are these: All covenants, contracts, bonds, obligations, oaths, vows, performances, connections, associations, or expectations, that are not made and entered into and sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise...are of no efficacy, virtue, or force in and after the resurrection from the dead; for all contracts that are not made unto this end have an end when men are dead."

"The law" which Sarah obeys or follows is later (v. 64-65) referred to as "the law of Sarah"—this law seems to imply that a man who will practice plural marriage must first give his wife the opportunity to approve and endorse the new wife. Thus, the rhetorical question and answer is not

Q: Why did Sarah do this?
A: Because plural marriage is "the law."

But, rather:

Q: Why did Sarah give the wife to Abraham, when he could have simply, by his culture's rules, taken another wife himself?
A: Because "the law" [of Sarah] requires a righteous man to give his wife a chance to approve, and not proceed unilaterally.

We here recall that this revelation was written to persuade Emma Smith to endorse plural marriage; this argument, then, is especially directed at her (see verses 51-56).

We note also that Abraham was not condemned because he was commanded and then acted

We note also that Abraham was not condemned—but not because plural marriage was "the law" and he practiced it, but because he was commanded and then acted. And, it was this fundamental obedience to any and every commandment that made Abraham great, as the next verse makes clear:

36 Abraham was commanded to offer his son Isaac; nevertheless, it was written: Thou shalt not kill. Abraham, however, did not refuse, and it was accounted unto him for righteousness.

If taking a plural wife was "the law," which Abraham was bound by, then this analogy makes little sense—for it is surely not a law to murder. Indeed, the Lord acknowledges that the "default setting" for the law is not to kill. But, Abraham was commanded to sacrifice Isaac. Abraham took a plural wife not because it was the law, but because he was commanded (just as Joseph had been):

37 Abraham received concubines, and they bore him children; and it was accounted unto him for righteousness, because they were given unto him, and he abode in my law; as Isaac also and Jacob did none other things than that which they were commanded; and because they did none other things than that which they were commanded, they have entered into their exaltation, according to the promises, and sit upon thrones, and are not angels but are gods.

Abraham kept "the law"—the sealing power and conditions detailed earlier. He, Isaac, and Jacob were justified because they "did the works of Abraham"—they did "none other things than that which they were commanded."

The Lord returns to Abraham later in the section:

49 For I am the Lord thy God, and will be with thee even unto the end of the world, and through all eternity; for verily I seal upon you your exaltation, and prepare a throne for you in the kingdom of my Father, with Abraham your father.

50 Behold, I have seen your sacrifices, and will forgive all your sins; I have seen your sacrifices in obedience to that which I have told you. Go, therefore, and I make a way for your escape, as I accepted the offering of Abraham of his son Isaac.

The same themes recur—Joseph has been obedient, and thus will join Abraham. He has sacrificed (as with Isaac, notably, rather than as with Hagar) in obedience.


Gregory L. Smith, M.D., "Polygamy, Prophets, and Prevarication: Frequently and Rarely Asked Questions about the Initiation, Practice, and Cessation of Plural Marriage in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints"

Gregory L. Smith, M.D.,  FairMormon Papers, (2005)
The criticism that polygamy is irreligious appeals to western sensibilities which favor monogamy, and argues that polygamy is inconsistent with biblical Christianity or (ironically) the Book of Mormon itself.


This is a weak attack at best, and replies–devotional, apologetic, and scholarly–have been made to the claim. There is extensive, unequivocal evidence that polygamous relationships were condoned under various circumstances by biblical prophets, despite how uncomfortable this might make a modern Christian. Elder Orson Pratt was widely viewed as the victor in a three-day debate on this very point with Reverend John P. Newman, Chaplain of the U.S. Senate, in 1870.

Even were there no such precedents, LDS theology has no problem accepting and implementing novel commandments, since the Saints believe in continuing revelation. I will not belabor the matter here, since ample resources are available.

Click here to view the complete article

</onlyinclude> To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here

Notes

  1. Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, 2:10. off-site
  2. Jessie L. Embry, "Ultimate Taboos: Incest and Mormon Polygamy," Journal of Mormon History 18/1 (Spring 1992): 93–113.
  3. B. Carmon Hardy's sourcebook on plural marriage is even given this title:B. Carmon Hardy (editor), Doing the Works of Abraham: Mormon Polygamy, Its origin, practice and demise, Vol. 9 of Kingdom in the West Series: The Mormons and the American Frontier (series editor Will Bagley), (Norman, Oklahoma: The Arthur H. Clark Company, 2007). ISBN 0870623443. ISBN 978-0870623448.
  4. See: Franklin D. Richards, Conference Report (April 1880), 94.; John Taylor, (8 April 1853) Journal of Discourses 1:226-227.; Orson Hyde, Journal of Discourses 11:151-152.; Wilford Woodruff, Journal of Discourses 13:158.; Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses 21:238.; Franklin D. Richards, Journal of Discourses 24:282.; Franklin D. Richards, Journal of Discourses 24:337.; N[ewell] K. Whitney [et al.], "A Voice from the Temple," Times and Seasons 5 no. 22 (2 December 1844), 729. off-site GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
  5. See: Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses 1:60.; Heber C. Kimball, Journal of Discourses 4:224.; Orson Hyde, Journal of Discourses 4:259-260.; Heber C. Kimball, Journal of Discourses 5:91.; Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 9:322-333.; George Q. Cannon, Journal of Discourses 13:198.; George Teasdale, Journal of Discourses 26:48.; Franklin D. Richards, Journal of Discourses 26:341.;
  1. REDIRECT Plural marriage in the Book of Mormon

Early Christians on plural marriage


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19th century attitudes about plural marriage


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The Law of Adoption: The sealing of men and women as children to prominent Latter-day Saint leaders

Summary: Critics point to the early practice of sealing men and women as children to prominent LDS leaders as an example of changes in LDS belief.


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Critics' claimed motivations for Joseph's implementation of plural marriage


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FAIR Answers Wiki Table of Contents

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

The Prophet said...that it [plural marriage] would damn more than it would have because \so many/ unprincipled men would take advantage of it, but that did not prove that it was not a pure principle. If Joseph had had any impure desires he could have gratified them in the style of the world with less danger of his life or his character, than to do as he did. The Lord commanded him to teach & to practice that principle.

—Helen Mar Kimball Whitney, Letter to Mary Bond, n.d., 3-9 quoted in Brian Hales, Joseph Smith's Polygamy: History, Vol. 1, 26-27. off-site
∗       ∗       ∗
Now nothing can be more idle, nothing more frivolous, than to imagine that this polygamy had anything to do with personal licentiousness. If Joseph Smith had proposed to the Latter-day Saints that they should live licentious lives, they would have rushed on him and probably anticipated their pious neighbors who presently shot him.

—George Bernard Shaw, The Future of Political Science in America; an Address by Mr. Bernard Shaw to the Academy of Political Science, at the Metropolitan Opera House, New York, on the 11th. April, 1933
∗       ∗       ∗

Question: Did Joseph Smith institute polygamy because he had a "voracious sexual appetite"?

It is unjustifiable to argue that he and his associates were insincere or that they were practicing their religion only for power and to satisfy carnal desires

It is claimed by some critics of Mormonism that Joseph Smith (and/or other Church members) had a voracious sexual appetite, and that because of this, he instituted polygamy.

One might reasonably hold the opinion that Joseph was wrong, but in the face of the documentary evidence it is unjustifiable to argue that he and his associates were insincere or that they were practicing their religion only for power and to satisfy carnal desires. Those who insist that “sex is the answer” likely reveal more about their own limited perspective than they do of the minds of the early Saints.

Neutral observers have long understood that this attack on plural marriage is probably the weakest of them all

George Bernard Shaw, certainly no Mormon, declared:

Now nothing can be more idle, nothing more frivolous, than to imagine that this polygamy had anything to do with personal licentiousness. If Joseph Smith had proposed to the Latter-day Saints that they should live licentious lives, they would have rushed on him and probably anticipated their pious neighbors who presently shot him. [1]

Brigham Young matches the explanation proposed by Shaw. When instructed to practice plural marriage by Joseph, Brigham recalled that it “was the first time in my life that I had desired the grave." [2]

John Taylor had similar opinions:

I had always entertained strict ideas of virtue and I felt as a married man that this was to me…an appalling thing to do…Nothing but a knowledge of God, and the revelations of God…could have induced me to embrace such a principle as this…We [the Twelve] seemed to put off, as far as we could, what might be termed the evil day. [3]

Joseph knew these men intimately. He would have known their sensibilities. If it was "all about sex," why push his luck with them? Why up the ante and ask them to marry polygamously? It would have been easier for him to claim the “duty” singularly, as prophet, and not insist that they join him.

As non-Mormon church historian Ernst Benz wrote:

Mormon polygamy has nothing to do with sexual debauchery but is tied to a strict patriarchal system of family order and demonstrates in the relationship of the husband to his individual wives all the ethical traits of a Christian, monogamous marriage. It is completely focused on bearing children and rearing them in the bosom of the family and the Mormon community. Actually, it exhibits a very great measure of selflessness, a willingness to sacrifice, and a sense of duty. [4]

Furthermore, Joseph Smith would not permit other members’ sexual misconduct

For example, he refused to countenance John C. Bennett’s serial infidelities. [5] If Joseph was looking for easy access to sex, Bennett—mayor of Nauvoo, First Counselor in the First Presidency, and military leader—would have been the perfect confederate. Yet, Joseph publicly denounced Bennett’s actions, and severed him from the First Presidency and the Church. Bennett became a vocal opponent and critic, and all this could have been avoided if Joseph was willing to have him as a “partner in crime.” The critic cannot argue that Joseph felt that only he was entitled to polygamous relationships, since he went to great efforts to teach the doctrine to Hyrum and the Twelve, who embraced it with much less zeal than Bennett would have. If this is all about lust, why did Joseph humiliate and alienate Bennett, who Joseph should have known he could trust to support him and help hide polygamy from critics, while risking the support of the Twelve by insisting they participate?

There were certainly easier ways to satisfy one’s libido, as one author noted:

Contrary to popular nineteenth-century notions about polygamy, the Mormon harem, dominated by lascivious males with hyperactive libidos, did not exist. The image of unlimited lust was largely the creation of travelers to Salt Lake City more interested in titillating audiences back home than in accurately portraying plural marriage. Newspaper representatives and public figures visited the city in droves seeking headlines for their eastern audiences. Mormon plural marriage, dedicated to propagating the species righteously and dispassionately, proved to be a rather drab lifestyle compared to the imaginative tales of polygamy, dripping with sensationalism, demanded by a scandal-hungry eastern media market. [6]

Those who became Mormons were those who were least likely, culturally, to be thrilled at the prospect of polygamy

Douglas H. Parker wrote,

Polygamy, when first announced to the Saints, was an offensive, disgusting doctrine, difficult to accept…The men and women who placed faith in the bona fides of the revelation were Victorian in their background and moral character. The hard test of accepting polygamy as a principle revealed and required by God selected out from the Church membership at large a basic corps of faithful members who, within the next few decades, were to be subjected to an Abraham-Isaac test administered by the federal government as God’s agent. [7]

Perhaps the best argument against the “lascivious” charge is to look at the lives of the men and women who practiced it. Historian B. Carmon Hardy observed:

Joseph displayed an astonishingly principled commitment to the doctrine [of plural marriage]. He had to overcome opposition from his brother Hyrum and the reluctance of some of his disciples. Reflecting years later on the conflicts and dangers brought by plural marriage, some church leaders were struck with the courage Joseph displayed in persisting with it. And when one recalls a poignant encounter like that between [counselor in the First Presidency] William Law and Joseph in early 1844, it is difficult not to agree. Law, putting his arms around the prophet’s neck, tearfully pleaded that he throw the entire business of plurality over. Joseph, also crying, replied that he could not, that God had commanded it, and he had no choice but to obey. [8]

One can read volumes of the early leaders’ public writings, extemporaneous sermons, and private journals. One can reflect on the hundreds or thousands of miles of travel on missionary journeys and Church business. If the writings of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, Heber C. Kimball, George Q. Cannon and many others cannot persuade someone that they were honest men (even if mistaken) then one should sincerely question whether such a person is capable of looking charitably upon any Mormon.

Paul Peterson’s comment about the diaries of Joseph Smith resonates well in this regard:

I had not fully grasped certain aspects of the Prophet’s psyche and personality. After just a few pages into Personal Writings, [9] it became clear that Joseph possessed religious dimensions that I had not understood. For one thing, it was apparent I had underestimated the depth of his dependence upon Deity. The Joseph that emerges in Personal Writings is an intensely devout and God-fearing young man who at times seems almost helpless without divine support. And his sincerity about his prophetic calling is also apparent. If others were not persuaded of his claims, it could not be said that Joseph was unconvinced that God had both called and directed him. Detractors who claim that Joseph came to like the game of playing prophet would be discomfited if they read Personal Writings. Scholars may quibble with how true his theology is, but for anyone who reads Personal Writings, his earnestness and honesty are no longer debatable points. [10]


Question: Did Joseph Smith have a youthful struggle with unchastity?

There is no evidence from Joseph's early writings that he struggled over much with immoral thoughts or behavior

Some critics charge that Joseph Smith had youthful struggles with immoral actions. They claim that these are what eventually led him to teach the doctrine of plural marriage. [11]

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 no evidence from Joseph's early writings that he struggled over much with immoral thoughts or behavior. Such an interpretation results on twisting the text, ignoring alternate possibilities, and ignoring Joseph's direct explanation of what he meant by the words which the critics twist. That they can produce nothing better strongly suggests that no evidence exists for their claim.

G. D. Smith clearly follows the Brodie tradition in painting Joseph as motivated by sexual needs. He assures us that “an examination of Smith’s adolescence from his personal writings reveals some patterns and events that might be significant in understanding what precipitated his polygamous inclination” (pp. 15–16). The reader is advised to buckle her seatbelt and put on a Freud hat.

Joseph, we are told, claims that “he confronted some uncertain feelings he later termed ‘sinful’ [a]t a time when boys begin to experience puberty” (p. 17). [12] G. D. Smith argues that this “leav[es] us to suspect that he was referring to the curious thoughts of an intense teenager” (p. 17). G. D. Smith presumes that Joseph’s later “cryptic words” describing how he “fell into transgression and sinned in many things” refer to sex.

The only evidence for a sexual component to Joseph’s sins is presumption and mind reading

As Sigmund Freud demonstrated, any narrative can be sexualized. In this case, the only evidence for a sexual component to Joseph’s sins is G. D. Smith’s presumption and mind reading.

He presumes that the Book of Mormon reflects Joseph’s mind and preoccupations, suggesting that “an elaboration might be found in the Book of Mormon expressions about ‘the will of the flesh and the evil which is therein’ (2 Nephi 2:29)” (p. 17). Or it might not. The Book of Mormon reference to “the will of the flesh” can hardly be restricted to sexual matters. Nephi1 notes that if he errs in what he writes, “even did they err of old; not that I would excuse myself because of other men, but because of the weakness which is in me, according to the flesh, I would excuse myself” (1 Nephi 19:6). Surely this does not imply that Nephi’s mistakes in record keeping stem from sexual sin. “By the law,” we find in the chapter cited by Smith, “no flesh is justified . . . , no flesh . . . can dwell in presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah” (2 Nephi 2:4, 8). Clearly, “flesh” refers to unregenerate man, not specifically or merely to sexual sin.

The King James Bible, which inspired Book of Mormon language, likewise describes a Christian’s rebirth as son of Christ as “not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13). Clearly, the “will of the flesh” does not refer only to sexual desire, but to any carnality of the “natural man,” who is an “enemy to God” (Mosiah 3:19; 16:5). Such usage has a venerable history in Christianity; it is difficult to imagine that G. D. Smith could be unaware of this.

G. D. Smith notes that Joseph admitted to being guilty of “vices and follies” and concludes, after an exegesis from Webster’s American Dictionary, that this phrase implied “sins great and small, which conceivably involved sex but were not limited to it” (pp. 17–18). His treatment of Webster is less than forthright. He quotes Webster’s second definition of vice as “‘every act of intemperance, all falsehood, duplicity, deception, lewdness and the like’ as well as ‘the excessive indulgence of passions and appetites which in themselves are innocent’” (p. 17). The first definition, however, reads simply “a spot or defect; a fault; a blemish.” [13] Smith likewise characterizes folly as “an absurd act which is highly sinful; and conduct contrary to the laws of God or man; sin; scandalous crimes; that which violates moral precepts and dishonours the offender” (pp. 17–18). Yet, again, Smith has ignored an earlier definition in Webster, which describes vice as merely “a weak or absurd act not highly criminal; an act which is inconsistent with the dictates of reason, or with the ordinary rules of prudence. . . . Hence we speak of the follies of youth.” [14]

For Smith’s interpretation to be viable, we must accept that in his personal histories Joseph was admitting serious or gross moral lapses. Yet there are other contemporary definitions for the terms that Joseph used—especially as applied to youth—that connote only relatively minor imperfections. Nonetheless, this dubious argument is the “evidence” that G. D. Smith adduces from Joseph’s personal writings.

It is a pity that G. D. Smith did not go further in analyzing Joseph’s histories. The 1838 account makes the Prophet’s intent transparent:

I frequently fell into many foolish errors, and displayed the weakness of youth, and the foibles of human nature; which, I am sorry to say, led me into divers temptations, offensive in the sight of God. In making this confession, no one need suppose me guilty of any great or malignant sins. A disposition to commit such was never in my nature. But I was guilty of levity, and sometimes associated with jovial company, etc., not consistent with that character which ought to be maintained by one who was called of God as I had been. [15]

Joseph explicitly blocks the interpretation that G. D. Smith wishes to advance. Why ought we to accept Joseph’s 1832 witness—as warped by G. D. Smith’s interpretive lens—as useful evidence while ignoring an alternative explanation supported by Joseph’s other statements? G. D. Smith all but concedes this point two pages later, when he cites Joseph’s characterization of his “vices and folleys” as including “a light, and too often vain mind, exhibiting a foolish and trifling conversation” (p. 20). If this is so, why attempt to sexualize Joseph’s admitted imperfections? But within a few pages it has become for G. D. Smith an established fact that “another revelation, almost seeming to recall [Joseph] Smith’s teenage concerns about sinful thoughts and behavior, reiterated . . . ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery; and he that commiteth adultery, and repenteth not, shall be cast out’ (D&C 42:24)” (p. 49). But such an analysis depends entirely on what G. D. Smith has failed to do—establish that the teenage Joseph struggled with sexually sinful thoughts and behavior.

G. D. Smith’s other evidence from Joseph’s teen years consists in a brief reference to the Hurlbut-Howe affidavits. Here again Smith simply cites works from the Signature stable of writers, with no gesture to source criticism or acknowledgment of the problematic elements in these later, hostile accounts. [16]


Stephen H. Webb: "Evidence That Demands Our Amazement... Joseph Smith was a remarkable person"

Non-LDS Christian Stephen H. Webb wrote:[17]

By any measurement, Joseph Smith was a remarkable person. His combination of organizational acumen with spiritual originality and personal decorum and modesty is rare in the history of religion. He was so steadfast in his ability to inspire men and women through times of great hardship that none of those who knew him could claim to fully understand him. He knew more about theology and philosophy than it was reasonable for anyone in his position to know, as if he were dipping into the deep, collective unconsciousness of Christianity with a very long pen. He read the Bible in ways so novel that he can be considered a theological innocent—he expanded and revised the biblical narrative without questioning its authority—yet he brusquely overturned ancient and impregnable metaphysical assumptions with the aplomb of an assistant professor. For someone so charismatic, he was exceptionally humble, even ordinary, and he delegated authority with the wisdom of a man looking far into the future for the well-being of his followers. It would be tempting to compare him to Mohammed—who also combined pragmatic political skill and a genius for religious innovation—if he were not so deeply Christian. [Title is Webb's.][18]:95
See also Brian Hales' discussion: [{{{link1}}} {{{subject1}}}]
Joseph Smith’s Personal Polygamy
Many are quick to declare that Joseph's polygamy sprang from religious extremism and/or sexual desire. This article explores the difficulties that Joseph had with plural marriage, and evidence for what truly motivated his acts. (Link)


Note: This material is part of a collection of draft essays on LDS plural marriage. They are provided for the use of FairMormon and its readers. (C) 2007-2017 Gregory L. Smith. No other reproduction is authorized.

Question: Did Joseph Smith have a long history of "womanizing" before practicing plural marriage?

There is no good evidence to support the charge that Joseph was adulterous or had other "woman problems"

The charges are all late, at least second-hand, and typically gathered with hostile intent. Those making the claims are often verifiably wrong on other facts. The witnesses contradict each other, are sometimes ridiculous, and seem to be nothing but warmed-over gossip. Those who could have confirmed the stories did not. Many details bear the mark of outright fabrication.

Even more significantly, there is no contemporary account of witnesses accusing Joseph of unchastity in the Church's early years, save a single, second-or-third hand charge that was neither substantiated by those with an opportunity to do so, or repeated. Everything else is after-the-fact, often decades later. Given how anxious Joseph's enemies were to condemn him, it would be astonishing if he was known to be immoral without them noticing and taking advantage.

…the sources are not the past but only the raw materials whence we form our conception of the past, and in using them we inherit the limitations that produced them… [19]
- Dean C. Jessee

An early date for the first plural marriage revelation (see here) makes it more difficult for critics to charge that Joseph invented the idea of plural marriage to justify his "adultery" with Fanny Alger (see here). In response, some critics have charged that Joseph had a long history of adulterous scrapes predating 1831.

They want Joseph to be seen as a rake and womanizer. But was he?

Joseph Smith faced intense opposition throughout his life. Attacks on his moral character surfaced a few years after the Church's organization, though no such charges appeared before the organization of the Church.

A key source for these claims was an apostate Mormon, Doctor Philastus Hurlbut. Hurlbut joined the Church in 1833, but was excommunicated for immoral conduct while on a mission. Hurlbut became Joseph's avowed enemy, and Joseph even brought a peace warrant (akin to our modern "restraining order") against him because of threats on Joseph's life.

Hurlbut returned to the New York area, and gathered a collection of affidavits about Joseph and the Smith family. Hurlbut's reputation, however, was so notorious, that he gave the affidavits to Eber D. Howe of Painsville, Ohio. Howe disliked the Mormons, doubtless partly because his wife and daughter had joined the Church. Howe published the first anti-Mormon book using the affidavits: Mormonism Unvailed (1834). [20]

The Hurlbut-Howe affidavits have provided much anti-Mormon ammunition ever since. But, their value as historical documents is limited. There is evidence that Hurlbut influenced those who gave affidavits, and since some who gave them were illiterate, they may have merely signed statements written by Hurlbut himself.

That said, these charges continue to surface, and are sometimes used as a type of "introduction" to plural marriage. Critics seem to presume that because charges were made, those charges must be true to some extent—"where there's smoke, there must be at least a small fire." They then conclude that since these charges are true, they help explain Joseph's enthusiasm for plural marriage. It is difficult to prove a negative, but a great deal of doubt can be cast on the affidavits themselves, without even considering the bias and hatred which motivated their collection and publication.

Eliza Winters

One affidavit was provided by Levi Lewis, Emma Hale Smith's cousin and son of the Reverend Nathaniel Lewis, a well-known Methodist minister in Harmony. [21] Van Wagoner uses this affidavit to argue that:

[Joseph’s] abrupt 1830 departure with his wife, Emma, from Harmony, Pennsylvania, may have been precipitated in part by Levi and Hiel Lewis's accusations that Smith had acted improperly towards a local girl. Five years later Levi Lewis, Emma's cousin, repeated stories that Smith attempted to "seduce Eliza Winters &c.," and that both Smith and his friend Martin Harris had claimed "adultery was no crime." [22]

Van Wagoner argues that this "may" have been why Joseph left. But, we have no evidence of Levi and Hiel Lewis making the charge until the affidavits were gathered five years later. (Hiel Lewis' inclusion adds nothing; he gave no affidavit in 1833, and in 1879 simply repeated third hand stories of how Joseph had attempted to "seduce" Eliza. [23] At best, he is repeating Levi's early tale.)

A look at Lewis' complete affidavit is instructive. He claimed, among other things, that:

  • he heard Joseph admit "God had deceived him" about the plates, and so did not show them to anyone.
  • he saw Joseph drunk three times while writing the Book of Mormon
  • he heard Joseph say "he…was as good as Jesus Christ…it was as bad to injure him as it was to injure Jesus Christ."
  • he heard Martin Harris and Joseph Smith claim "adultery was no crime."
  • he heard Martin say that Joseph attempted to "seduce Eliza Winters," and that he didn't blame him.

There are serious problems with these claims. It seems extraordinarily implausible that Joseph "admitted" that God had deceived him, and thus was not able to show the plates to anyone. Joseph insisted that he had shown the plates to people, and the Three and Eight Witnesses all published testimony to that effect. Despite apostasy and alienation from Joseph Smith, none denied that witness.

The claim to have seen Joseph drunk during the translation is entertaining. If Joseph were drunk, this only makes the production of the Book of Mormon more impressive. But, this sounds like little more than idle gossip, designed to bias readers against Joseph as a "drunkard."

A study of Joseph's letters and life from this period make it difficult to believe that Joseph would insist he was "as good as Jesus Christ." Joseph's private letters reveal him to be devout, sincere, and almost painfully aware of his dependence on God. [24]

Thus, three of the charges that are unmentioned by Van Wagoner are extraordinarily implausible. They are clearly efforts to simply paint Joseph in a bad light: make him into a pretend prophet who thinks he's better than Jesus, who admits to being deceived, and who gets drunk. Such a portrayal would be welcome to skeptical ears. This Joseph is ridiculous, not to be taken seriously.

We can now consider the claim that Martin and Joseph claimed that adultery was no crime, and that Joseph attempted the seduction of Eliza Winters. Recent work has also uncovered Eliza Winters' identity. She was a young woman at a meeting on 1 November 1832 in Springville Township, Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania. While on a preaching mission with his brother Emer, Martin Harris announced that Eliza "has had a bastard child."

Eliza sued Martin for slander, asking for $1000 for the damage done to her "good name, fame, behavior and character" because his words "render her infamous and scandalous among her neighbors." Martin won the suit; Eliza could not prove libel, likely because she had no good character to sully. [25]

This new information calls the Lewis affidavit into even greater question. We are to believe that Martin, who risked and defended a libel suit for reproving Eliza for fornication, thinks that adultery is "no crime"? Eliza clearly has no reason to like Joseph and the Mormons—why did she not provide Hurlbut with an affidavit regarding Joseph's scandalous behavior? Around 1879, Eliza gave information to Frederick Mather for a book about early Mormonism. Why did she not provide testimony of Joseph's attempt to seduce her?

It seems far more likely that Eliza was known for her low morals, and her name became associated with the Mormons in popular memory, since she had been publicly rebuked by a Mormon preacher and lost her court suit against him. When Levi Lewis was approached by Hurlbut for material critical of Joseph Smith, he likely drew on this association.

Marinda Nancy Johnson

Van Wagoner describes another charge against Joseph:

One account related that on 24 March [1832] a mob of men pulled Smith from his bed, beat him, and then covered him with a coat of tar and feathers. Eli Johnson, who allegedly participated in the attack "because he suspected Joseph of being intimate with his sister, Nancy Marinda Johnson, … was screaming for Joseph's castration."

There is more to the story than this, however—much more. Van Wagoner even indicates that it is "unlikely" that "an incident between Smith and Nancy Johnson precipitated the mobbing." Unfortunately, Van Wagoner tucks this information into an endnote, where the reader will be unaware of it unless he checks the sources carefully.

Todd Compton casts further doubt on this episode. He notes that Van Wagoner's source is Fawn Brodie, and Brodie's source is from 1884—quite late. Clark Braden, the source, also got his information second-hand, and is clearly antagonistic, since he is a member of the Church of Christ, the “Disciples,” seeking to attack the Reorganized (RLDS) Church. [26] Brodie also gets the woman's name wrong—it is "Marinda Nancy," not "Nancy Marinda." And, the account is further flawed because Marinda has no brother named Eli. [27]

Compton notes further that there are two other late anti-Mormon sources that do not agree with the "Joseph as womanizer" version. Symonds Ryder, the leader of the attack, said that the attack occurred because of "the horrid fact that a plot was laid to take their property from them and place it under the control of Smith." [28] The Johnson boys are not portrayed as either leaders, or particularly hostile to Joseph. It is also unlikely that the mob would attack Sidney Rigdon as well as Joseph if the issue was one of their sister's honor, yet as Rigdon's son told the story, Sidney was the first target who received much harsher treatment:

…the mob came and got Rigdon first. He was a man weighing about 225. As they draged him some distance over the frozen ground by his heels bumping the back of his head so that when they got him to the place where they were to put the tar and feathers on him he was insensible. They covered him with tar and feathers and pounded him till they thought he was dead and then went to get J. Smith… The mob covered him with tar and feathers and pounded him till they got tired and left them both on the ground. J. Smith soon after the mob left got up and went home not very badly hurt.

Sidney was attacked until the mob thought he was dead; Joseph seems almost an after-thought in this version: someone they will pound until tired, while Sidney is beaten until thought dead. [29]

Marinda Johnson had difficulties with plural marriage, but many years later would still testify, "Here I feel like bearing my testimony that during the whole year that Joseph was an inmate of my father’s house I never saw aught in his daily life or conversation to make me doubt his divine mission." [30]

It is clear, then, that little remains of this episode to condemn Joseph—and Van Wagoner seems to think so too, though he caches this fact in the endnotes.

Benjamin Winchester: "Close friend" of Joseph?

Van Wagoner continues to outline Joseph's supposed pattern of problems with women:

Benjamin F. Winchester[31], Smith's close friend and leader of Philadelphia Mormons in the early 1840s, later recalled Kirtland accusations of scandal and "licentious conduct" hurled against Smith, "this more especially among the women. Joseph's name was connected with scandalous relations with two or three families."

There is again more to the story, and Van Wagoner again places it in the endnotes. Far from being a "close friend" of Joseph when he made the statement, Winchester was excommunicated after the martyrdom. Winchester claims he was excommunicated for being "[a] deadly enemy of the spiritual wife system and for this opposition he had received all manner of abuse from all who believe in that hellish system."

So, we have a late reminiscence, by someone who is now definitely not a “close friend and leader of Philadelphia Mormons” as he was in 1844. By his own admission, he was an excommunicate apostate and bitter opponent of plural marriage. And, all he can tell us is about rumors of “scandal” in Kirtland, and isn't even sure with whom or how many families.

Van Wagoner's habit of putting important details in the endnotes should trouble us more than these vague charges against Joseph in Kirtland—a period by which he had begun to practice plural marriage.

Winchester's other claims are not included by Van Wagoner. As with Levi Lewis' charges, the other claims demonstrate how unreliable Winchester is. He wrote that the Kirtland Temple dedication "ended in a drunken frolic." As one historian noted:

Such an accusation conflicts with many other contemporary accounts and is inconsistent with the Latter-day Saint attitude toward intemperance. If such behavior had been manifest, individuals would have undoubtedly recorded the information in their diaries or letters in 1836, but the negative reports emerged long after the events had transpired and among vindictive critics who had become enemies of the Church.

So, on issues which we can verify, Winchester is utterly unreliable. Why ought we to credit his vague, gossipy recall of early plural marriage?

Polly Beswick: The Two-Hundred Pound Domestic

The "best" sources on Joseph's early character have already been presented. The most creative, however, involves Polly Beswick, "a colorful two-hundred-pound Smith [servant who] told her friends" a tale better suited to a farce or bad situation comedy:

"Jo Smith said he had a revelation to lie with Vienna Jacques, who lived in his family" and that Emma Smith told her "Joseph would get up in the night and go to Vienna's bed." Furthermore, she added, "Emma would get out of humor, fret and scold and flounce in the harness," then Smith would "shut himself up in a room and pray for a revalation … state it to her, and bring her around all right."

One hardly knows where to start with this account. Van Wagoner notes that the story is second hand, but fails to mention that Polly is a known gossip. There is also no reference for Polly's claims—it is impossible to verify them, or know in what context they were given.

The description, however, seems totally implausible. No doubt, Emma Smith was challenged by plural marriage (see here). But, the image of Emma being petulant and then settling down once Joseph produces a "revalation" is totally out of character and quite different from how she behaved when Joseph did provide a revelation. I find this evidence utterly unconvincing and unreliable.

Martin Harris: Again?

The final source provided by Van Wagoner quotes Martin Harris from an interview purportedly given in 1873:

Martin Harris, Book of Mormon benefactor and close friend of Smith, recalled another such incident from the early Kirtland period. "In or about the year 1833," Harris remembered, Joseph Smith's "servant girl“ claimed that the prophet had made "improper proposals to her, which created quite a talk amongst the people." When Smith came to him for advice, Harris, supposing that there was nothing to the story, told him to "take no notice of the girl, that she was full of the devil, and wanted to destroy the prophet of god." But according to Harris, Smith "acknowledged that there was more truth than poetry in what the girl said." Harris then said he would have nothing to do with the matter; Smith could get out of the trouble "the best way he knew how" [32]

We should not be surprised by now that this charge has many weaknesses. To begin with, Martin Harris was not in Kirtland at the time. The interview with Martin Harris supposedly occurred in 1873; it was not published until 1888. The reader's patience is also strained when we realize that Harris had returned to the Church by 1870, and died 10 June 1875 before the interview was published. Why would Harris give a "tell-all" interview about Joseph Smith three years after being rebaptized and endowed? He was safely dead before it was published, so the author had no need to worry about Harris' reaction.

Furthermore, in this account Martin Harris is portrayed as someone who definitely did not approve of adulterous conduct. This is in direct contradiction with the Levi Lewis affidavit, which has Harris claiming that adultery is no crime.

Other witnesses in Joseph's behalf

Though there are no contemporary witnesses of Joseph's bad behavior, there are witnesses to his good character. We have already seen how Marinda Nancy Johnson also testified of Joseph's good conduct, but there are other more contemporary witnesses.

Two of Josiah Stowell's daughters (probably Miriam and Rhoda) were called during a June 1830 court case against Joseph:

the court was detained for a time, in order that two young women (daughters to Mr. Stoal) with whom I had at times kept company; might be sent for, in order, if possible to elicit something from them which might be made a pretext against me. The young ladies arrived and were severally examined, touching my character, and conduct in general but particularly as to my behavior towards them both in public and private, when they both bore such testimony in my favor, as left my enemies without a pretext on their account. [33]


Stephen H. Webb: "Evidence That Demands Our Amazement... Joseph Smith was a remarkable person"

Non-LDS Christian Stephen H. Webb wrote:[17]

By any measurement, Joseph Smith was a remarkable person. His combination of organizational acumen with spiritual originality and personal decorum and modesty is rare in the history of religion. He was so steadfast in his ability to inspire men and women through times of great hardship that none of those who knew him could claim to fully understand him. He knew more about theology and philosophy than it was reasonable for anyone in his position to know, as if he were dipping into the deep, collective unconsciousness of Christianity with a very long pen. He read the Bible in ways so novel that he can be considered a theological innocent—he expanded and revised the biblical narrative without questioning its authority—yet he brusquely overturned ancient and impregnable metaphysical assumptions with the aplomb of an assistant professor. For someone so charismatic, he was exceptionally humble, even ordinary, and he delegated authority with the wisdom of a man looking far into the future for the well-being of his followers. It would be tempting to compare him to Mohammed—who also combined pragmatic political skill and a genius for religious innovation—if he were not so deeply Christian. [Title is Webb's.][18]:95
See also Brian Hales' discussion: Joseph Smith’s Personal Polygamy
Many are quick to declare that Joseph's polygamy sprang from religious extremism and/or sexual desire. This article explores the difficulties that Joseph had with plural marriage, and evidence for what truly motivated his acts. (Link)


Notes

  1. George Bernard Shaw, The Future of Political Science in America; an Address by Mr. Bernard Shaw to the Academy of Political Science, at the Metropolitan Opera House, New York, on the 11th. April, 1933 (New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1933) as cited in Richard Vetterli, Mormonism, Americanism and Politics (Salt Lake City: Ensign Publishing, 1961), 461–462.
  2. Brigham Young, "Plurality of Wives—The Free Agency of Man," (14 July 1855) Journal of Discourses 3:266.
  3. John Taylor, "President John Taylor's Recent Trip To Bear Lake, Selections from his Discourses delivered in the Various Settlements," (1883) Journal of Discourses 24:232.
  4. Ernst Benz, "Imago dei: Man as the Image of God," FARMS Review 17/1 (2005): 223–254. off-site
  5. For an extensive discussion, see Danel W. Bachman, “A Study of the Mormon Practice of Polygamy Before the Death of Joseph Smith,” (1975) (unpublished M.A. thesis, Purdue University).
  6. Richard Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy: A History (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1986), 89.
  7. Douglas H. Parker, “Victory in Defeat—Polygamy and the Mormon Legal Encounter with the Federal Government,” Cardozo Law Review 12 (1991): 814.
  8. B. Carmon Hardy, Solemn Covenant: The Mormon Polygamous Passage (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1992), 9; an account of this encounter between Joseph and William can be found in Joseph W. McMurrin, "An Interesting Testimony / Mr. Law’s Testimony," Improvement Era (May 1903), 507–510.
  9. He here refers to Dean C. Jesse’s landmark volume Personal Writings of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1984).
  10. Paul H. Peterson, “Understanding Joseph: A Review of Published Documentary Sources,” Joseph Smith: The Prophet, the Man, edited by Susan Easton Black and Charles D. Tate, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1988), 109–110.
  11. George D. Smith, Nauvoo Polygamy: "...but we called it celestial marriage" (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2008), 15–22. ( Index of claims , (Detailed book review)); Richard S. Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy: A History (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1989), 4–5.
  12. G. D. Smith cites Joseph’s 1832 account from Dean C. Jessee (editor), The Papers of Joseph Smith: Autobiographical and Historical Writings (Vol. 1 of 2) (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 1989), 1:1–6. ISBN 0875791999
  13. Noah Webster, An American Dictionary of the English Language (New York: S. Converse, 1828), s.v. "vice."
  14. Noah Webster, An American Dictionary of the English Language (New York: S. Converse, 1828), s.v. "folly."
  15. JS-H 1:28 (emphasis added)
  16. G. D. Smith cites Rodger I. Anderson, Joseph Smith’s New York Reputation Reexamined (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1990); Richard S. Van Wagoner, Sidney Rigdon: A Portrait of Religious Excess (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1994); Dan Vogel, ed., Early Mormon Documents, 5 vols. (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1996–2003); Dan Vogel, Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2004); and Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville [Ohio]; Ann Arbor, Michigan: printed and published by the author, 1834). There is no mention of or interaction with such critiques as Hugh W. Nibley, The Myth Makers (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1961); Nibley, Tinkling Cymbals and Sounding Brass; Richard L. Anderson, “The Reliability of the Early History of Lucy and Joseph Smith,” Dialogue 4 (Summer 1969): 15–16; Anderson, “Joseph Smith’s New York Reputation Reappraised,” BYU Studies 10:3 (1970): 283–314; Anderson, “The Mature Joseph Smith and Treasure Searching,” BYU Studies 24 (Fall 1984): 492–94; Anderson, review of Joseph Smith’s New York Reputation Reexamined, by Rodger I. Anderson,” FARMS Review of Books 3/1 (1991): 52–80; and Thomas G. Alexander, review of Early Mormon Documents, Vol. 2, ed. Dan Vogel, Journal of Mormon History 26/2 (Fall 2000): 248–52.
  17. 17.0 17.1 "Webb is Professor of Philosophy and Religion at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana. He is a graduate of Wabash College and earned his PhD at the University of Chicago before returning to his alma mater to teach. Born in 1961 he grew up at Englewood Christian Church, an evangelical church. He joined the Disciples of Christ during He was briefly a Lutheran, and on Easter Sunday, 2007, he officially came into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church."
  18. 18.0 18.1 Stephen H. Webb, "Godbodied: The Matter of the Latter-day Saints (reprint from his book Jesus Christ, Eternal God: Heavenly Flesh and the Metaphysics of Matter (Oxford University Press, 2012)," Brigham Young University Studies 50 no. 3 (2011). (emphasis added)
  19. Dean C. Jessee, ed., The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 1984), xiv, italics in original.
  20. For discussion of the affidavits, see Hugh W. Nibley, The Myth Makers (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1961); Hugh W. Nibley, Tinkling Cymbals and Sounding Brass: The Art of Telling Tales About Joseph Smith and Brigham Young (Vol. 11 of the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley), edited by David J. Whittaker, (Salt Lake City, Utah : Deseret Book Company ; Provo, Utah : Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1991); Richard L. Anderson, "The Reliability of the Early History of Lucy and Joseph Smith," Dialogue 4 (Summer 1969): 15–16; Richard L. Anderson, "Joseph Smith's New York Reputation Reappraised," Brigham Young University Studies 10:3 (1970): 283–314; Richard Lloyd Anderson, "The Mature Joseph Smith and Treasure Searching," BYU Studies 24 (Fall 1984): 492-494.Richard Lloyd Anderson, "Review of Joseph Smith's New York Reputation Reexamined by Rodger I. Anderson," FARMS Review of Books 3/1 (1991): 52–80; Thomas G. Alexander, "Review of Dan Vogel (Editor) Early Mormon Documents, Vol. 2," Journal of Mormon History 26/2 (Fall 2000): 248–252.
  21. A. Brant Merrill, "Joseph Smith's Methodism?" letter to the editor, Dialogue 16/1 (Spring 1983): 4–5.
  22. Except where noted, I have taken the accusations of immorality against Joseph from Richard S. Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy: A History, 2nd ed. (Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books, 1989), 4–5. Van Wagoner takes no time to analyze these charges—he simply drops them on the reader and moves on. One reviewer criticized this tendency in both his volume on polygamy and Sidney Rigdon, writing, "He cites negative reports of early episodes but buries his suspicion for or rejection of the account in a note. But if it is not to be trusted, why cite it in the first place?" [David J. Whittaker, "Review of Richard Van Wagoner's Sidney Rigdon: A Portrait of Religious Excess," Journal of Mormon History 23/1 (Spring 1997): 193.]
  23. Hiel Lewis, "Mormon History," Amboy Journal (6 August 1879); cited by Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery, Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith, 2nd ed. (Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 1994), 64.
  24. See remarks in this vein in Paul H. Peterson, "Understanding Joseph: A Review of Published Documentary Sources," in Joseph Smith: The Prophet, the Man, ed. Susan Easton Black and Charles D. Tate (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 1988), 110.
  25. Mark B. Nelson and Steven C. Harper, "The Imprisonment of Martin Harris in 1833," Brigham Young University Studies 45/4 (2006). (My thanks to David Keller for bringing the article to my attention in this context.)
  26. Todd M. Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1997), 230–232: citations to other accounts derive from Compton's treatment, except where noted.
  27. Compton notes this, as does Van Wagoner's footnote. Ronald V. Huggins, "Joseph Smith's 'Inspired Translation' of Romans 7," Dialogue 26/4 (Winter 1993): 180–181, footnote 59 relies on Van Wagoner, but argues that Joseph's own account (in William Mulder and A. Russell Mortensen, eds., Among the Mormons (New York: Knopf, 1969), 67) mentions an Eli being present at the attack. While Smith, History of the Church, 1:260 mentions Eli Johnson, Johnson is not present in any of the scholarly versions of Joseph's diaries such as Jessee, ed., Personal Writings , Dean C. Jessee, ed., The Papers of Joseph Smith: Autobiographical and Historical Writings, vol. 1 (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Co., 1989), or Scott H. Faulring, ed., An American Prophet's Record : The Diaries and Journals of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books in association with Smith Research Associates, 1987).
  28. Symonds Ryder, "Letter to A. S. Hayden," 1 February 1868 in Amos S. Haydon, Early History of the Disciples in the Western Reserve (1876); cited by Van Wagoner, Sidney Rigdon, 114–115. A second account is also cited by Compton: S.F. Whitney [brother of NK Whitney, a Reverend], in Arthur B. Demming (editor), Naked Truths About Mormonism 1 (January 1888): 3–4.
  29. John M. Rigdon, "Lecture Written by John M. Rigdon on the Early History of the Mormon Church," 9; transcript from New Mormon Studies CD-ROM, Smith Research Associates, 1998 (emphasis added).
  30. Marinda Hyde, Interview, cited in Edward W. Tullidge, The Women of Mormondom (New York: 1877), 404.
  31. It should be noted that Van Wagoner incorrectly cites "Benjamin F. Winchester." It should be "Benjamin Winchester". See Brian C. Hales and Gregory L. Smith, "A Response to Grant Palmer’s 'Sexual Allegations against Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Polygamy in Nauvoo'," Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 12 (2014): 183-236 Note 3: "Van Wagoner likewise cites this source as “Benjamin F. Winchester.” Richard S. Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy: A History (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1989), 4."
  32. Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy, 4–5; citing Anthony Metcalf, Ten Years Before the Mast (N.p.: n.p., n.d.), 72 [published 1888].
  33. "History of Joseph Smith Continued," Times and Seasons 4/3 (28 October 1842): 41; see also Smith, History of the Church, 1:90.

FAIR Answers Wiki Table of Contents

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


Question: Did Joseph Smith send men on missions in order to "steal" their wives while they were gone?

This claim is contradicted by historical data: ten of the husbands of the twelve "polyandrous" wives were not on missions at the time and there is insufficient or contradictory information about the other two

One critic of the Church states, "Joseph Smith would frequently approach other men’s wives about being his own plural wives — often while the men were away." [1]

Researcher Brian C. Hales noted that this claim is without foundation:

Another detail in [John C.] Bennett's Pittsburgh affidavit is that the Prophet had sent men on missions so he could marry their wives in Nauvoo. This statement is contradicted by historical data. Of the twelve "polyandrous" husbands identified by Todd Compton, ten were not on missions at the time Joseph was sealed to their legal wives. Of the two possible exceptions, only one, Orson Hyde, is documented as on a mission at the time of Marinda Johnson Hyde's sealing to Joseph Smith. The second possible case involves George Harris, who left on his fourteen-month mission in July 1840. His wife, Lucinda may have been...sealed to Joseph Smith at some point, but the date is unavailable.[2]

The only question regards Orson Hyde, who had been on his mission for one year to two years before the sealing

It is of note that Orson had been on his mission for about a year before the sealing--he departed on 15 April 1840, and would return 7 December 1842. There are two dates available for her sealing to Joseph--either April/Spring 1842, or May 1843.[3] Thus, even with the earliest sealing date, Orson had been gone for nearly two years prior to Joseph's sealing to Nancy. If the second sealing date is correct, Orson was already home from his mission at the time.

This long delay does not fit well with the claim that a sexually-aggressive Joseph simply wanted his male rivals out of the way.

Hyde's wife Marinda was sealed to Orson following Joseph's death

Unique to the Hyde's marriage is the fact that Marinda was sealed to Orson following Joseph's death. All of the Prophet's other polyandrous wives were posthumously sealed to Joseph by proxy.[4]

Much of what we know about the Hyde sealing is also contaminated by hostile, mutually contradictory accounts that contain some known false information.


Question: Did Joseph Smith send William Law, Robert D. Foster, and Henry Jacobs on missions so that he could steal their wives?

This claim was made in an anti-Mormon expose entitled Fifteen Years Among the Mormons

This book was written by Nelson Winch Green, who reported what estranged member Marry Ettie V. Coray Smith reportedly told him.

Even other anti-Mormon authors who had lived in Utah regarded it as nearly worthless. Fanny Stenhouse wrote:

Much has already been written on this subject much that is in accordance with facts, and much that is exaggerated and false. Hitherto, with but one exception [Mrs. Ettie V. Smith is noted in the footnote as the work referred to] that of a lady who wrote very many years ago, and who in her writings, so mixed up fiction with what was true, that it was difficult to determine where the one ended and the other began no woman who really was a Mormon and lived in Polygamy ever wrote the history of her own personal experience. Books have been published, and narratives have appeared in the magazines and journals, purporting to be written by Mormon wives; it is, however, perhaps, unnecessary for me to state that, notwithstanding such narratives may be imposed upon the Gentile world as genuine, that they were written by persons outside the Mormon faith would in a moment be detected by any intelligent Saint who took the trouble to peruse them.[5]

So, we must remember that the source of this charge against Joseph is a work that is not regarded as generally reliable today, and it was not regarded as reliable even by some of the Church's well-informed enemies in the 19th century.

The book claimed that Law, Foster and Jacobs were returned from missions to find their wives "blushing under the prospective honors of spiritual wifeism"

The relevant passage reads:

The Prophet had sent some time before this, three men, Law, Foster and Jacobs, on missions, and they had just returned, and found their wives blushing under the prospective honors of spiritual wifeism; and another woman, Mrs. Buel [sic], had left her husband, a Gentile, to grace the Prophet's retinue, on horseback, when he reviewed the Nauvoo Legion. I heard the latter woman say afterwards in Utah, that she did not know whether Mr. Buel [sic] or the Prophet was the father of her son. These men [Law, Foster and Jacobs] established a press in Nauvoo, to expose his alleged vicious teachings and practices, which a revelation from Joseph destroyed.[6]

Law and Foster never served missions, and Jacobs was not on a mission when Joseph proposed a sealing to his wife

As might be expected, then, there are many claims in this passage that are in error. We know that the following are false:

  • Ettie Smith claims that William Law, Robert D. Foster, and Henry Jacobs were on missions and that Joseph had proposed plural marriage to them. Law and Foster, in fact, never served missions. Henry Jacobs did serve a mission, but he was not gone on a mission when Joseph discussed plural marriage.
  • Foster and Law did participate in publishing the Nauvoo Expositor, but Henry Jacobs did not. He was and remained a faithful member of the Church.
  • The destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor was undertaken by the Nauvoo city council. Some members of that council were not members of the Church--it seems implausible to think that they would bow to a "revelation" to Joseph requiring its destruction. The decision was made, instead, after 8 hours of discussion and after consulting legal references.

Thus, in the single paragraph we have several basic errors of fact. None of the men were on missions save Jacobs, and he was in Nauvoo when Joseph proposed a sealing to his wife.


Question: Was Apostle Orson Hyde sent on a mission to dedicate Israel so that Joseph Smith could secretly marry his wife, Marinda Hyde, while he was away?

Orson was involved briefly with apostasy at Far West in the fall of 1838, but had returned to the Church by March 1839

Marinda Nancy Johnson married future apostle Orson Hyde on 4 September 1834. He was involved briefly with apostasy at Far West in the fall of 1838, but had returned to the Church by March 1839 following a dramatic vision in which he saw the consequence of continued rebellion. [7]

Marinda was sealed to Joseph either in April 1842, while Orson was on a mission, or in May 1843, after Orson had returned. Since there are two conflicting sources, there are two alternatives for the sealing date. The later date comes from Miranda's own affidavit and the earlier date comes from one of Joseph's scribes, Thomas Bullock[8]. Only antagonistic accounts of this sealing exist. [9] Of the four reports, two claim that Orson was aware of the sealing, and two claim that he was not.

If the earlier sealing date is correct, Orson had been on his mission for about a year before the sealing

It is of note that Orson had been on his mission for about a year before the sealing if the earlier sealing date is correct--he departed on 15 April 1840, and would return 7 December 1842. Thus, even with the earliest sealing date, Orson had been gone for nearly two years prior to Joseph's sealing to Nancy.

This long delay does not fit well with the claim that a sexually-aggressive Joseph simply wanted his male rivals out of the way.

The Hydes divorced in 1870, but Marinda was sealed to Orson following Joseph's death

The Hydes were to divorce in 1870: "The precise reasons for the divorce are not known, but it appears that Orson was giving most of his attention to his younger wives at this time." [10]

Unique to the Hyde's marriage is the fact that Marinda was sealed to Orson following Joseph's death. All of the Prophet's other polyandrous wives were posthumously sealed to Joseph by proxy. [11]

Marinda's children Orson W. Hyde and Frank Henry Hyde

Two of Marinda Nancy Johnson Hyde's children have been suggested as possible children. The first, Orson, died in infancy, making DNA testing impossible. Compton notes, however, that "Marinda had no children while Orson was on his mission to Jerusalem, then became pregnant soon after Orson returned home. (He arrived in Nauvoo on December 7, 1842, and Marinda bore Orson Washington Hyde on November 9, 1843),"[12] putting the conception date around 16 February 1843.

Frank Hyde's birth date is unclear; he was born on 23 January in either 1845 or 1846.[13] This would place his conception around 2 May, of either 1844 or 1845. In the former case, Frank was conceived less than two months prior to Joseph's martyrdom. Orson Hyde left for Washington, D.C., around 4 April 1844,[14] and did not return until 6 August 1844, making Joseph's paternity more likely than Orson's if the earlier birth date is correct.[15] The key source for this claim is Fawn Brodie, who includes no footnote or reference. Given Brodie's tendency to misread evidence on potential children, this claim should be approached with caution.

Frank's death certificate lists Orson Hyde as the father, however, and places his birth in 1846, which would require conception nearly a year after Joseph's death.[16] A child by Joseph would have brought prestige to the family and Church, and Orson and Nancy had divorced long before Frank Henry's death.[17] It seems unlikely, therefore, that Orson would be credited with paternity over Joseph if any doubt existed. Without further data, Brodie's dating should probably be regarded as an error, ruling out Joseph as a possible father.

Joseph's polyandrous marriages

Summary: Nothing in plural marriage mystifies—or troubles—members of the Church more than Joseph's polyandrous sealings. Marriage to multiple wives may seem strange, but at least it intrudes on our historical awareness, while many remain unaware of polyandry's existence in LDS history. But, most critical accounts do not provide all the facts. When we understand what these marriages consisted of—and what they did not consist of—they are much less strange.
See also Brian Hales' discussion: Joseph Smith and Polyandry: Common questions


Notes

  1. John Dehlin, "Questions and Answers," Mormon Stories Podcast (25 June 2014).
  2. Hales, Joseph Smith's Polygamy Vol. 1, 313–314.
  3. Hales, Joseph Smith's Polygamy Vol. 1, 273–274.
  4. Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1997), 240–242. ( Index of claims )
  5. Stenhouse, "Tell It All", 618.
  6. Nelson Winch Green, Fifteen Years among the Mormons: Being the Narrative of Mrs. Mary Ettie V. Smith, Late of Great Salt Lake City; a Sister of One of the Mormon High Priests, She Having Been Personally Acquainted with Most of the Mormon Leaders, and Long in the Confidence of The "Prophet," Brigham Young (New York: H. Dayton, Publishers, 1860 [1858]), 34–35.
  7. Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 234.
  8. Hales, Joseph Smith's Polygamy Vol. 1.
  9. Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 238–239.
  10. Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 230–243.
  11. Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 240–242.
  12. Compton, "Fawn Brodie on Joseph Smith's Plural Wives," 165.
  13. Brodie, No Man Knows My History, 345, 464. gives his birth as 1845, though there is no footnote indicating her source. Frank's death certificate lists his birth in 1846}} Compton follows the date of 1846, citing Howard H. Barron, Orson Hyde: Missionary-Apostle-Colonizer (Salt Lake City: Horizon, 1977), 134 and Ancestral File.
  14. 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), 6:286. Volume 6 link Times and Seasons 5 (15 September 1844): 651}}
  15. Andrew Jenson, LDS Church Chronology: 1805–1914 (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Co., 1914), entry for 6 August 1844. GospeLink (requires subscrip.).
  16. Frank H. Hyde, State of Utah--Death Certificate, State Board of Health File No. 967300}} Online at <http://wiki.hanksplace.net/index.php/Image:FrankHHyde.jpg>
  17. Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 249.

FAIR Answers Wiki Table of Contents

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


Question: Did Joseph Smith mismanage the estate of two orphans, Maria and Sarah Lawrence by marrying these sisters polygamously in order to use the marriage to enrich himself?

The account presented is given by a bitter apostate: The courts found that Joseph's conduct had been appropriate

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)

It is claimed that Joseph Smith mismanaged the estate of two orphans, Maria and Sarah Lawrence. Joseph also married these sisters polygamously, and it is suggested that he also used the marriage to enrich himself. [1]

The account presented is given by a bitter apostate—offered nearly forty-three years after the fact—exclusive precedence over contemporary court documents, which demonstrate that the courts found that Joseph's conduct had been appropriate.

G.D. Smith reports that William Law charged Joseph with

fiduciary neglect of his teenage responsibility, Maria Lawrence. Reviewing his own actions forty years later, Law concluded that Joseph was not the only one who had taken advantage of a defenseless girl. Emma, he believed, was equally complicit. . . . With Hyrum Smith’s death, William Law, the other bondsman for the Lawrences, felt acutely the responsibility he bore, ultimately reimbursing Joseph’s $3,000 worth of expenses charged to the estate—the amount Joseph had claimed as the value of room and board (pp. 438–39).

Repeating error

By accepting Law’s account, G. D. Smith commits many of the same errors present in Todd Compton’s In Sacred Loneliness. However, even before the publication of Compton’s book, Gordon A. Madsen had presented data showing the falsity of Law’s charges. Compton has the excuse that Madsen’s material was unpublished when his book went to press and only available from a presentation made at the Mormon History Association in 1996. More than a decade later, G. D. Smith makes the same errors, though with no hint of the exculpatory evidence available from the primary documents. [2] He even cites Madsen’s materials but tells the reader nothing about their contents. [3]

Ignoring other sources since Compton

G. D. Smith has apparently not paid attention to what the FARMS Review reported on this topic either, since

most of what Law said about the estate itself was incorrect. . . . Madsen’s paper quoted the will, under which Maria and Sarah would share equal parts of the estate with several siblings, but the distribution was not due during the life of their widowed mother, who was entitled to her share of annual interest on the undivided assets. . . . Between 1841 and early 1844, Joseph Smith charged nothing for boarding Maria and Sarah, nor did he bill the estate for management fees. Furthermore, in mid-1843, the probate court approved his accounts, including annual interest payments to the widow, as required by the will. . . . Gordon Madsen’s overall point was that the Prophet met his legal responsibilities in being entrusted with the Lawrence assets. There is no hint of fraud. [4]

Following William Law regardless

But rather than respond to this material or describe Madsen’s conclusions, G. D. Smith merely follows the hostile William Law. Madsen further informed me that there was never any “cash” in the estate delivered to Joseph, and certainly not the “$8,000.00 in English gold” that Law would later claim. [5]

The bulk of the estate was in promissory notes owed by fellow Canadians to the Lawrences. Law was well aware of this since he and his brother Wilson were hired by Joseph to collect some of these debts. Joseph’s accounts provided the probate court list payment to “W. & W. Law” in such cases. At one point, Joseph “sent William Clayton to Wilson Law to find out why he refused paying his note, when he brought in some claims as a set-off which Clayton knew were paid, leaving me no remedy but the glorious uncertainty of the law.” [6] It is not clear whether this was Law’s own note or one owed to the Lawrences. Certainly the estate was never liquid, and it is likely that not all of the notes had been collected before Joseph’s death. [7]

To portray Joseph as “us[ing] celestial marriage as a means to access . . . [a] fortune” (p. 439) is to ignore virtually all the primary sources.


Notes

  1. Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1997), 478-479. ( Index of claims ); William Law, cited in “Dr. Wyl and Dr. Wm. Law,” Daily Tribune (Salt Lake City), 13 July 1887, 6.
  2. Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 475, 742–43; this is discussed in Anderson and Faulring, “Joseph Smith and His Plural Wives,” 90. Compton replies in Compton, “Truth, Honesty and Moderation,” noting the difficulties that he had in accessing Madsen’s as-yet-unpublished findings. In preparation for this review, I spoke with Madsen, who told me that when approached by Compton, he felt his materials were not yet ready for distribution. Madsen believes a responder to his 1996 presentation at the Mormon History Association conference at Snowbird, Utah, placed some rough notes on the presentation in the library (Madsen to Gregory L. Smith, personal communication, 21 November 2008).
  3. G. D. Smith, Nauvoo Polygamy, 196 n. 137, cites “Gordon Madsen, ‘The Lawrence Estate Revisited: Joseph Smith and Illinois Law regarding Guardianships,’ Nauvoo Symposium, Sept. 21, 1989, Brigham Young University, copy in possession of Todd Compton; see Sacred Loneliness, 474–476.” Strangely, this paper was not cited by Compton, nor is Madsen’s work mentioned on the pages cited by Smith. Compton’s actual discussion of Madsen’s research is restricted to endnotes on pages 742–746: “Madsen, Gordon. ‘Joseph Smith as Guardian: The Lawrence Estate.’ Paper given at Mormon History Association, May 18, 1996. . . . I have followed Madsen as closely as possible from my notes, but do not have his written argument and citations.” The FARMS Review (cited in main text above) also provided some of Madsen’s data in a review of Compton’s work, which G. D. Smith likewise ignores. G. D. Smith’s reference to 1989 instead of 1996 may be related to an event reported in the Ensign: “William Law’s recollection of how Joseph Smith, as guardian of the Lawrence children, cheated them and him is full of errors, claimed Gordon A. Madsen. All the court records pertaining to the guardianship and Joseph Smith’s management of the Lawrence estate still exist. They show that virtually all of Law’s claims are mistaken.” (“Nauvoo Symposium Held at Brigham Young University,” Ensign, November 1989, 109–11). Madsen told me that he had never given an address about the Lawrence estate until his 1996 MHA presentation, while his 1989 talk focused on the Austin King hearing in Richmond, Missouri, not the Anderson estate. In any case, Madsen’s research nowhere corroborates G. D. Smith’s version (GL Smith, personal communication as above).
  4. Danel W. Bachman, "Prologue to the Study of Joseph Smith's Marital Theology (Review of In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith)," FARMS Review of Books 10/2 (1998): 105–137. off-site
  5. “Dr. Wyl and Dr. Wm. Law,” Daily Tribune (Salt Lake City), 13 July 1887, 6; see also Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 742.
  6. 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), 6:350. Volume 6 link
  7. FairMormon thanks to Gordon A. Madsen, who was gracious enough to review GL Smith's draft of the Lawrence material. He also provided GL Smith with the information in this paragraph. Any mistakes or misapprehensions remain ours, and he is not responsible for these conclusions. Madsen’s manuscript on the Lawrence estate is currently (as of Dec 2008) in preparation for publication.


Keeping plural marriage a secret


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FAIR Answers Wiki Table of Contents

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


Question: Did Joseph Smith ever publicly attempt to teach the doctrine of plural marriage?

Joseph initiated the practice of polygamy and hid it from the general Church membership during his lifetime

It is true that Joseph did not always tell others about plural marriage. 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]

Joseph made at least one attempt to teach the doctrine, but it was rejected

Joseph did, however, make an attempt to teach the doctrine to the Saints. When Joseph tried to teach the doctrine, it was rejected by many Saints, including Emma, his wife. Joseph then began to teach the doctrine privately to those who would obey. A contemporary journal describes the reaction to Joseph's attempt to teach this doctrine:

When the prophet “went to his dinner,” [Joseph Lee] Robinson wrote, “as it might be expected several of the first women of the church collected at the Prophet’s house with his wife [and] said thus to the prophet Joseph O mister Smith you have done it now it will never do it is all but Blassphemy you must take back what you have said to day is it is outrageous it would ruin us as a people.” So in the afternoon session Smith again took the stand, according to Robinson, and said “Brethren and Sisters I take back what we said this morning and leave it as though there had been nothing said.”[2]


Question: Why did Joseph keep the doctrine of plural marriage private?

The Saints would have suffered negative consequences

Keeping the doctrine private was also necessary because the enemies of the Church would have used it as another justification for their assault on the Saints. Orson Hyde looked back on the Nauvoo days and indicated what the consequences of disclosure would have been:

In olden times they might have passed through the same circumstances as some of the Latter-day Saints had to in Illinois. What would it have done for us, if they had known that many of us had more than one wife when we lived in Illinois? They would have broken us up, doubtless, worse than they did.[3]

It is thus important to realize that the public preaching of polygamy—or announcing it to the general Church membership, thereby informing the public by proxy—was simply not a feasible plan.


Question: Why did Joseph Smith say "I had not been married scarcely five minutes...before it was reported that I had seven wives"?

The Laws sought to have Joseph indicted for adultery and perjury

This statement refers to Joseph's well-known declaration on 26 May 1844 in his "Address of the Prophet—His Testimony Against the Dissenters at Nauvoo". Significantly, this address was given the day after the Laws sought to have Joseph indicted for adultery in the case of Maria Lawrence. (They also sought to indict him on a charge of perjury.)

Many have criticized or been concerned by the secrecy with which Joseph instituted plural marriage without appreciating the realities of the dangers involved. Illinois law only criminalized adultery or fornication if it was "open". Since Joseph was sealed to his plural wives for either eternity, or for time and eternity, he did not view these relationships as constituting adultery or fornication. Therefore, under Illinois law, as long as Joseph and his plural wives did not live in an "open," or "public," manner, they were not guilty of breaking any civil law then in force in Illinois. Furthermore, this reality explains some of Joseph's public denials, since he could be truthfully said to not be guilty of the charges leveled against him: he was not committing adultery or fornication.

Joseph was refuting the charge of adultery, not the fact that he had "seven wives"

History of The Church 6:410-411:

I had not been married scarcely five minutes, and made one proclamation of the Gospel, before it was reported that I had seven wives. I mean to live and proclaim the truth as long as I can.

This new holy prophet [William Law] has gone to Carthage and swore that I had told him that I was guilty of adultery. This spiritual wifeism! Why, a man dares not speak or wink, for fear of being accused of this.[4]....

A man asked me whether the commandment was given that a man may have seven wives; and now the new prophet has charged me with adultery. I never had any fuss with these men until that Female Relief Society brought out the paper against adulterers and adulteresses.

Dr. Goforth was invited into the Laws' clique, and Dr. Foster and the clique were dissatisfied with that document,[5] and they rush away and leave the Church, and conspire to take away my life; and because I will not countenance such wickedness,[6] they proclaim that I have been a true prophet, but that I am now a fallen prophet.

[Joseph H.] Jackson[7] has committed murder, robbery, and perjury; and I can prove it by half-a-dozen witnesses. Jackson got up and said—"By God, he is innocent," and now swears that I am guilty. He threatened my life.

There is another Law, not the prophet, who was cashiered for dishonesty and robbing the government. Wilson Law also swears that I told him I was guilty of adultery. Brother Jonathan Dunham can swear to the contrary. I have been chained. I have rattled chains before in a dungeon for the truth's sake. I am innocent of all these charges, and you can bear witness of my innocence, for you know me yourselves.

When I love the poor, I ask no favors of the rich. I can go to the cross—I can lay down my life; but don't forsake me. I want the friendship of my brethren.—Let us teach the things of Jesus Christ. Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a downfall.

Be meek and lowly, upright and pure; render good for evil. If you bring on yourselves your own destruction, I will complain. It is not right for a man to bare down his neck to the oppressor always. Be humble and patient in all circumstances of life; we shall then triumph more gloriously. What a thing it is for a man to be accused of committing adultery, and having seven wives, when I can only find one.

I am the same man, and as innocent as I was fourteen years ago; and I can prove them all perjurers. I labored with these apostates myself until I was out of all manner of patience; and then I sent my brother Hyrum, whom they virtually kicked out of doors.[8]

Note the rejection of the term "spiritual wifeism". Note that "spiritual wifeism" likely refers to John C. Bennett's pattern of seduction and sexual license, which the Saints were always at pains to deny.

Joseph was not merely bluffing, nor was he lying—he literally could prove that the Laws were perjuring themselves on this point

In light of the circumstances under which they were spoken, Joseph's words were carefully chosen. Joseph was not merely bluffing, nor was he lying—he literally could prove that the Laws were perjuring themselves on this point in the charges brought only the day before.

Bradshaw cites a portion of Joseph's above statement, and then concludes:

A review of Joseph's remarks in light of the circumstances under which they were spoken shows that Joseph's words were carefully chosen. In this speech, Joseph was specifically reacting to the indictments for perjury and adultery that were presented by the grand jury the day earlier. Thus, when Joseph affirmed during the same speech: "I am innocent of all these charges," he was in particular refuting a claim that he and Maria [Lawrence] had openly and notoriously cohabitated, thus committing the statutory offense of adultery. He was also refuting the perjury charge. While the overall tone of Joseph's remarks may seem misleading, it is understandable that Joseph would have taken pains to dodge the plural marriage issue. By keeping his plural marriages in Nauvoo secret, Joseph effectively kept them legal, at least under the Illinois adultery statute.[9]:413


Question: Was Joseph Smith ever charged with adultery under Illinois law?

William and Wilson Law charged Joseph with adultery in the case of Maria Lawrence

Joseph Smith was, in fact, once charged with adultery under Illinois Law. This occurred shortly before his death, when Robert Foster, William Law (Joseph's former counselor in the First Presidency) and Law's brother Wilson charged Joseph with adultery in the case of Maria Lawrence.[9]:403,414 Joseph took an aggressive stance in the defense of himself and Maria, which would be surprising if Illinois law was as detrimental to his case as many have assumed.

For example, as soon as Joseph was charged, two days later he and his supporters "rode to Carthage, intent on having" the charge "'investigated.'"[9]:404

Illinois law only criminalized adultery or fornication if it was "open"

It is vital to understand, however, that:

Joseph Smith could not have been properly convicted of adultery under the law of Illinois in 1844. Illinois law only criminalized adultery or fornication if it was "open". Had Joseph lived to face trial on this charge, he would have had good reason to expect acquittal because his relationships with his plural wives were not open, but were kept confidential and known by a relative few. Given a fair trial on this indictment, Joseph could have relied on several legal defenses.[9]:402

Joseph's relationships with his plural wives did not meet this definition

The same author emphasized:

The term "open" in [the Illinois Criminal Code of the day[10]] is a key element of this crime. The meaning of this term was then and still today is generally understood in law to cover conduct that is "notorious," "exposed to public view," or "visible," and which is "not clandestine." Joseph's relationships with his plural wives did not meet this definition.[9]:408


Question: Were there any similar cases under Illinois adultery statute which demonstrate that Joseph was not breaking the law?

Two cases decided after Joseph's death demonstrate that there was nothing which would have permitted conviction

Two cases decided after Joseph's death but under the same legal regime likewise demonstrate that there was nothing about Maria and Joseph's relationship (regardless of whether or not they had sexual relations) which would have permitted conviction under the Illinois adultery statute. Additionally, Stephen R. Douglas (the famed Illinois judge and later candidate for the presidency of the United States) and Thomas Ford (the governor of Illinois at the time of Joseph's murder) prosecuted adultery cases during their legal careers and both were definitive that an "open" and "notorious" aspect to the cohabitation had to be proven under the statute.[9]:408-411

If Joseph been charged by his wife Emma with adultery, this could have served as grounds for divorce under Illinois law

By contrast, had Joseph been charged by his wife Emma with adultery, this could have served as grounds for divorce, and did not require the stringent requirements of being "open" or "notorious."[11]

It was later realized that Illinois law would probably support the practice of Latter-day Saint plural marriage, so they changed the wording of the law

Even Joseph's near-contemporaries would later realize that Illinois law would probably support the practice of Latter-day Saint plural marriage, perhaps even if done so openly.

Recognizing the breadth of [the] state constitutional provision [for religious freedom] as it stood in 1844, Illinois adopted a new constitution in 1869 that introduced a number of changes in the clause governing religious liberty, including wording specifically intended to give the state authority to prohibit Mormon polygamy or other religiously-based practices that might be deemed offensive. Comments by certain delegates to the 1869 Illinois Constitutional Convention show taht there was a concern that the Mormon practice of plural marriage could be protected under the state constitution....

Several delegates expressed support for changes in the wording of the Illinois constitution in order to protect the state from what they viewed as extreme forms of worship, including Mormon polygamy. These delegates feared that the more liberal wording of the earlier constitution (in force in Joseph's day) might actually protected practices such as polygamy. One such delegate was Thomas J. Turner...[who] stated:"...Mormonism is a form of religion 'grant it, a false religion' nevertheless, it claims to be the true Christian religion...[d]o we desire that the Mormons shall return to our State, and bring with them polygamy?"[9]:416, 416n45


Gregory L. Smith, M.D., "Polygamy, Prophets, and Prevarication: Frequently and Rarely Asked Questions about the Initiation, Practice, and Cessation of Plural Marriage in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints"

Gregory L. Smith, M.D.,  FairMormon Papers, (2005)
Critics charge that Joseph Smith and his successors made repeated public statements in which they hid or frankly denied the practice of polygamy, despite knowledge to the contrary. It is argued that this dishonesty is morally dubious and inconsistent with the Church’s purported principles.


The concept of “civil disobedience” is essential to understanding those occasions in which Joseph Smith or other Church members were not forthright about the practice of polygamy.
Like obedience to civil law, honesty and integrity are foundational values to the Church of Jesus Christ. Indeed, the success which critics have in troubling members of the Church with tales of polygamy and its deceptive circumstances is, in a way, a compliment to the Church. If the Church as an institution typically taught its members to have a casual disregard for the truth, a discovery that Joseph Smith had deceived others about polygamy would not be troubling to most. But, because the Church (contrary to the suggestions of some critics) really does teach its members to aspire to live elevated lives of moral rectitude, the discovery that deception was involved with polygamy can come as something of a shock. Disillusionment can ensue if we follow the critics in assuming that because Joseph occasionally misled others in this specific context, he must therefore have lied about everything else, and been absolutely unworthy of trust.

But, as we have seen, the practice of polygamy must be viewed in its moral context as an act of religious devotion which the Saints were unwilling to forego simply because the state or society disapproved.

Click here to view the complete article

Joseph Smith's Polygamy: "1840—Plural Marriage Secretly Introduced", by Brian C. Hales

Summary: 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.

(Click here for full article)

To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here

Notes

  1. John Dehlin, "Questions and Answers," Mormon Stories Podcast (25 June 2014).
  2. Richard S. Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy: A History (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1986),48; citing Robinson, Journal, 23–24.
  3. Orson Hyde, "The Marriage Relations," (6 October 1854) Journal of Discourses 2:75-75.
  4. Note that "spiritual wifeism" likely refers to John C. Bennett's pattern of seduction and sexual license, which the Saints were always at pains to deny.
  5. That is, the Relief Society document condemning adultery, which Foster had engaged in under the tutelage of John C. Bennett.
  6. Again, Joseph is denying the spiritual wifeism of Bennett, which he calls "wickedness" and was quick to oppose via Church discipline.
  7. Jackson was another witness against Joseph Smith, and would go on to write an anti-Mormon tract: Joseph H. Jackson, The Adventures and Experiences of Joseph H. Jackson in Nauvoo, (Printed for the Publisher: Warsaw, Illinois, 1846).
  8. 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), 6:410-412. Volume 6 link
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 9.5 9.6 M. Scott Bradshaw, "Defining Adultery under Illinois and Nauvoo Law," in Sustaining the Law: Joseph Smith's Legal Encounters, edited by Gordon A. Madsen, Jeffrey N. Walker, and John W. Welch (Provo, Utah: BYU Studies, 2014), 401–426.
  10. Bradshaw cites Criminal Code, section 123, Revised Laws of Illinois: "Any man or woman who shall live together in an open state of adultery or fornication, or adultery and fornication, every such man and woman shall be indicted...." (Bradshaw, 407, emphasis added).
  11. "Compare [the strict criteria for statutory adultery] to Illinois divorce law which allowed adultery as a grounds for divorce; however, the cases that involved divorce petitions on this basis do not seemed [sic] to have followed any clear standard defining what constituted adultery, focusing rather on proving individual acts of adultery. Divorce law did not require that the conduct be "open" or "notorious." - Bradshaw, "Defining Adultery," 407–408n21.

FAIR Answers Wiki Table of Contents

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


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.

Joseph Smith's letter to the Whitney family

Summary: Is it true that on 18 August 1842 Joseph Smith wrote a “love letter” to Sarah Ann Whitney requesting a secret rendezvous or "tryst?" Joseph had been sealed to Sarah Ann three weeks prior to this time. What does this letter actually say?


Jump to Subtopic:

FAIR Answers Wiki Table of Contents

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

A question has many times been asked of the Church and of its individual members, to this effect: In the case of a conflict between the requirements made by the revealed word of God, and those imposed by the secular law, which of these authorities would the members of the Church be bound to obey?…Pending the overruling by Providence in favor of religious liberty, it is the duty of the saints to submit themselves to the laws of their country.

James E. Talmage, The Articles of Faith (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 1981[1899]),382–383.
∗       ∗       ∗

Question: Was polygamy illegal?

Contrary to popular belief, the plural marriages in Illinois were not illegal under the adultery statutes of the day

  • Prior to the first anti-polygamy statute for the U.S. Territories (the Morril Act of 1862), no law forbade polygamy in the Great Basin region.
  • Polygamy was certainly declared illegal during the Utah-era anti-polygamy crusade (i.e., from 1862 onward). The Saints refused to comply with the law during that period because they believed:
a) that the law was unconstitutional and violated their right of religious worship; and
b) that God had commanded them to practice plural marriage despite the potential legal penalties.

The Church believes in honoring and sustaining the law, but it does not believe that members must surrender their religious beliefs or conscience to the state

Not surprisingly, the question comes down to whether Joseph was a Prophet and whether God commanded his actions.

Just because some members have come up with uninformed opinions about plural marriage, is this the Church's fault? The Church doesn't include any of these claims in its manuals.

The practice of polygamy during periods when it was illegal is a clear case of civil disobedience

This is hardly new information, and Church members and their critics knew it. Modern members of the Church generally miss the significance of this fact, however: the practice of polygamy during periods when it was illegal is a clear case of civil disobedience.

The decision to defy the [anti-polygamy laws] was a painful exception to an otherwise firm commitment to the rule of law and order. Significantly, however, in choosing to defy the law, the Latter-day Saints were actually following in an American tradition of civil disobedience. On various previous occasions, including the years before the Revolutionary War, Americans had found certain laws offensive to their fundamental values and had decided openly to violate them.…Even though declared constitutional, the law was still repugnant to all [the Saints’] values, and they were willing to face harassment, exile, or imprisonment rather than bow to its demands. [1]

Elder James E. Talmage taught that members should obey the law, unless God commanded an exception:

A question has many times been asked of the Church and of its individual members, to this effect: In the case of a conflict between the requirements made by the revealed word of God, and those imposed by the secular law, which of these authorities would the members of the Church be bound to obey?…Pending the overruling by Providence in favor of religious liberty, it is the duty of the saints to submit themselves to the laws of their country. [2]

  1. REDIRECT Joseph Smith/Polygamy/Illegal in Nauvoo

</onlyinclude>

Gregory L. Smith, M.D., "Polygamy, Prophets, and Prevarication: Frequently and Rarely Asked Questions about the Initiation, Practice, and Cessation of Plural Marriage in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints"

Gregory L. Smith, M.D.,  FairMormon Papers, (2005)
Critics charge that the Church and its members participated in polygamy in violation of both state and federal laws. It is therefore argued that the Church abandoned its commitment to “obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.”8 Critics, however, make such arguments without a full understanding of the legal considerations of the day and without understanding how civil disobedience plays into the picture.

Click here to view the complete article

</onlyinclude>

Notes

  1. James B. Allen and Glen M. Leonard, Story of the Latter-day Saints, 2nd edition revised and enlarged, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1992[1976]), 401. ISBN 087579565X. GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
  2. James E. Talmage, The Articles of Faith (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 1981[1899]),382–383.

Joseph Smith's Polygamy: "“Thou Shalt not Lie” and Denials of Polygamy: FAQ", by Brian C. Hales

Summary: During Joseph Smith’s lifetime, the Prophet and other Church leaders issued several denials regarding the practice of polygamy. “Polygamy” means “poly” or “many” and “gamy” means “marriages.” Combined they mean: “many marriages.”

(Click here for full article)


Entering into plural marriage


Jump to Subtopic:

Joseph Smith's marriages to young women


Jump to Subtopic:

  1. REDIRECT Fanny Alger was Joseph Smith's first plural wife

FAIR Answers Wiki Table of Contents

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


Question: Were plural wives forced into the marriage?

Plural wives were not forced into marriage

Brian Hales:

Some writers affirm that Joseph Smith put pressure on women to marry him. They portray him almost as a predator gallivanting about Nauvoo seeking new wives, even marrying other men’s spouses. While it makes for an entertaining storyline, it does not square with the historical record. One of Joseph’s plural wives, Lucy Walker, remembered the Prophet's counsel: “A woman would have her choice, this was a privilege that could not be denied her.” The Prophet taught that eternal marriage was necessary for exaltation and encouraged all those he taught to comply, but he always respected their agency and choices in the matter.[1]


Question: Did any woman suffer consequences for turning down Joseph's proposal?

Two women afterward attacked Joseph's character and misrepresented his offer, to which Joseph responded. Those who did not were left strictly alone

There are numerous accounts of women to whom Joseph proposed plural marriage, who turned him down.

Two women afterward attacked Joseph's character and misrepresented his offer. He responded. Those who did not were left strictly alone. There were no consequences to these women. Sarah Kimball reported Joseph's mild reaction to the rejection:

Early in the year 1842, Joseph Smith taught me the principle of marriage for eternity, and the doctrine of plural marriage. He said that in teaching this he realized that he jeopardized his life; but God had revealed it to him many years before as a privilege with blessings, now God had revealed it again and instructed him to teach it with commandment, as the Church could travel (progress) no further without the introduction of this principle. I asked him to teach it to some one else. He looked at me reprovingly, and said, 'Will you tell me who to teach it to? God required me to teach it to you, and leave you with the responsibility of believing or disbelieving.‘ He said, 'I will not cease to pray for you, and if you will seek unto God in prayer you will not be led into temptation.'[2]

(Sarah's husband was not a member of the Church until 1843. There was some tension between him and Joseph as a result of this episode, but he seems to have resolved any animosity he held for the prophet.[3] They were later to go Utah with the Saints, where Sarah assumed a prominent role in the Relief Society. Her husband died while en route to a mission in Hawaii.[4]

Other women loudly trumpeted the plural marriage doctrine in Nauvoo and the hostile press. These women's testimony and character were generally attacked to try to discredit them in an effort to preserve the secrecy which surrounded plural marriage. (This factor is complicated by the fact that at least some were guilty of inappropriate behavior (e.g., likely Sarah Pratt). Despite attacks on their character, some remained in Nauvoo and likewise suffered no physical harm (e.g., Nancy Rigdon).


Question: Were women put under "tremendous pressure" to accept a proposal of plural marriage?

Given that the Saints believed Joseph was a prophet, any command from him would carry significant weight

  • No one was coerced or forced into marriage (see above). However, given that the Saints believed Joseph was a prophet, any command from him would carry significant weight.
  • Despite this, the reported initial reactions are all negative: these women were strong-minded, and did not simply obey because Joseph told them to.
  • Because of their distaste for the idea, many plural wives reported divine revelations that confirmed the truth of plural marriage. Joseph encouraged women to seek for such divine confirmation.


Question: Did Joseph Smith give a woman only one day to decide about entering a plural marriage, and would refusal mean terrible consequences?

One woman was told that the opportunity for plural marriage would expire in twenty-four hours. She was not threatened with damnation or physical consequences

This claim distorts the account of Lucy Walker. Joseph offered to teach Lucy about plural marriage, but she angrily refused:

When the Prophet Joseph Smith first mentioned the principle of plural marriage to me I became very indignant and told him emphatically that I did not wish him to ever mention it to me again....and so expressed myself to him....He counseled me, however, to pray to the Lord for light and understanding in relation thereto, and promised me if I would do so sincerely, I should receive a testimony of the correctness of the principle. Before praying I felt gloomy and downcast; in fact, I was so entirely given up to despair that I felt tired of life...."

Joseph then said nothing more to her for at least four months (and possibly as long as sixteen). Lucy continues:

[I] was so unwilling to consider the matter favorably that I fear I did not ask in faith for light. Gross darkness instead of light took possession of my mind. I was tempted and tortured beyond endurance until life was not desirable....

The Prophet discerned my sorrow. He saw how unhappy I was, and sought an opportunity of again speaking to me on this subject....

[He said] "I have no flattering words to offer. It is a command of God to you. I will give you until tomorrow to decide this matter. If you reject this message the gate will be closed forever against you."

– Lucy Walker, italics added

Lucy was told that the opportunity for plural marriage would expire in twenty-four hours. She was not threatened with damnation or physical consequences. Yet, she did not meekly obey:

This aroused every drop of scotch in my veins...I felt at this moment that I was called to place myself upon the altar a living Sacrafice, perhaps to brook the world in disgrace and incur the displeasure and contempt of my youthful companions; all my dreams of happiness blown to the four winds, this was too much, the thought was unbearable.... I...at last found utterance and said, "Although you are a prophet of God you could not induce me to take a step of so great importance, unless I knew that God approved my course. I would rather die. I have tried to pray but received no comfort, no light....The same God who has sent this message is the Being I have worshipped from my early childhood and He must manifest His will to me."

Joseph's response:

He walked across the room, returned, and stood before me. With the most beautiful expression of countenance, he said, "God almighty bless you. You shall have a manifestation of the will of God concerning you; a testimony that you can never deny. I will tell you what it shall be. It shall be that peace and joy that you never knew."

That night, Lucy reported:

It was near after another sleepless night when my room was lighted up by a heavenly influence. To me it was, in comparison, like the brilliant sun bursting through the darkest cloud. The words of the Prophet were indeed fulfilled. My soul was filled with a calm, sweet peace that "I never knew." Supreme happiness took possession of me, and I received a powerful and irresistible testimony of the truth of plural marriage, which has been like an anchor to the soul through all the trials of life. I felt that I must go out into the morning air and give vent to the joy and gratitude that filled my soul. As I descended the stairs, President Smith opened the door below, took me by the hand and said, "Thank God, you have the testimony. I too have prayed." He led me to a chair, placed his hands upon my head, and blessed me with every blessing my heart could possibly desire.
– Lucy Walker

Even with Lucy's revelation and consent, Joseph then sought the permission of her oldest male relative in Nauvoo, her brother William Holmes Walker. He said:

The Prophet invited me to hitch up my horse with one of his...and to ride with him....On this occasion the subject of celestial, or plural marriage, was introduced to me. As we returned home he remarked, 'If there was anything I did not understand to hold on a little, and I would understand it."....

In the spring of 1843, my father, being away on a mission, the Prophet asked my consent, for my sister Lucy in Marriage. I replied that if it was her free will and choice, I had no objection....

When father returned from his mission, the matter being fully explained in connection with the doctrine, received his endorsement and all parties concerned received his approbation.

— William Holmes Walker

This is the only case of any kind of deadline being given, and it only came because Joseph saw how unhappy Lucy was as she hesitated with a decision over a period of months.


Question: Did Joseph claim that an angel threatened him with a "drawn sword" or "flaming sword" if a woman refused to marry him?

The references to the "angel with a sword" refer to Joseph's postponement of the initiation of polygamy

Zina Diantha Huntington Jacobs said that Joseph mentioned an angel with a drawn sword.[5] The account of a "flaming" sword came from Eliza Snow and Orson F. Whitney.

The "angel with a sword" reference refers to Joseph's postponement of the practice of polygamy. Brian Hales notes that,

"Twenty-one accounts by nine polygamy insiders left recollections that the Prophet told of one specific reason: an angel with a sword who threatened him if he did not proceed. All nine witnesses could have heard the statement from the Prophet himself; however, the narratives themselves suggest that Benjamin F. Johnson and Eliza R. Snow may have been repeating information gathered from other people. Joseph Lee Robinson's narrative is difficult to date and his actual source is not clear. Lorenzo Snow, Erastus Snow, and Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner quote the Prophet directly and Mary Elizabeth provides details not available elsewhere. Unfortunately, with the possible exception of the Robinson account, all of the reminiscences date to at least twenty to thirty years after the event." [6]

Here are the quotes attributed to Zina on the matter:

1881: Zina Huntington—Zina D. Young told of Bro. Joseph's remark in relation to the revelation on celestial marriage. How an angel came to him with a drawn sword, and said if he did not obey this law he would lost his priesthood; and in the keeping of it he, Joseph, did not know but it would cost him his life. [7]

1894: Zina Huntington—[Joseph] sent word to me by my brother, saying, 'Tell Zina I put it off and put it off till an angel with a drawn sword stood by me and told me if I did not establish that principle upon the earth, I would lost my position and my life.'" [8]


Question: Were women "locked in a room" in order to convince them to accept plural marriage?

While Nancy Rigdon and Martha Brotherton were likely approached about plural marriage in private, it is unlikely that they were locked in rooms or confined against their will

The author of Nauvoo Polygamy:..."but we called it celestial marriage," claims that "…both Nancy [Rigdon] and Martha [Brotherton] were…isolated in a locked room during the...effort" to persuade them to practice plural marriage.[9]

The claims about being "locked in a room," while dramatic, seem unlikely. Much of the evidence hinges on the unreliable and vindictive John C. Bennett, who published the exposé, The History of the Saints, or an Exposé of Joe Smith and Mormonism. While Nancy and Martha were likely approached about plural marriage in private, it is unlikely that they were locked in rooms or confined against their will.

Hyrum Smith touched upon this subject during a Conference talk on April 6, 1842:

He [Hyrum Smith] then spoke in contradiction of a report in circulation about Elder Kimball, B. Young, himself, and others of the Twelve, alledging that a sister had been shut in a room for several days, and that they had endeavored to induce her to believe in having two wives...

Pres't. J. Smith spoke upon the subject of the stories respecting Elder Kimball and others, showing the folly and inconsistency of spending any time in conversing about such stories or hearkening to them, for there is no person that is acquainted with our principles would believe such lies, except Sharp the editor of the "Warsaw Signal."[10]

The claim that Martha was locked in a room for "days" is likely an exaggerated rumor: It was more likely "about ten minutes" while Joseph was summoned

RLDS authors Richard and Pamela Price, who firmly believed that Joseph did not practice plural marriage, uses the Times and Seasons account to assert that Martha "changed her story" regarding the length of time during which she was held in the room:

The records show that Martha changed her story. As Hyrum reported to the Conference, at first she had told that she was locked in a room for days. But since that was such a ridiculous, unbelievable story, she changed it in her St. Louis affidavit to read that Brigham locked her in Joseph's office for only "about ten minutes."

However, we have no access to Martha's original story, so the Prices' assumption that Martha originally claimed that she was held in the room for a number of days cannot be verified. The source of the claim that Martha was held in the room for "days" is likely an exaggeration, however, the source of the rumor cannot be determined. The claim that she was locked in the office for "about ten minutes" while Joseph was summoned seems much more plausible.

The Prices provide additional reasoning against the idea that Martha was in the room for a number of days,

It would have been impossible for Martha to have been imprisoned in any room in the Red Brick Store without it being detected. In fact, she could not have gone up and down the stairs and from room to room without being observed by many. The store was a small, two-story building, and Joseph's office was only about ten feet square. Since dozens of people came to the store daily, her calls for help would have been heard. Martha had but one witness—John Bennett, who asserted in the Sangamo Journal for July 15, 1842, "She was locked up ... I saw her taken into the accursed room."

If Martha's story had been true, there would have been many witnesses, because Joseph' s store was the hub of activity in Nauvoo. People came to the store to buy everything from food to footwear. The store building also housed the headquarters for the Church and the city. There, the people paid their tithing and taxes, and conducted banking and real estate business. The store was alive with people by day and by night, for it was also in constant use as a civic and religious center…."[11]

One suspects Bennett's influence in this part of the story, since Bennett would likewise claim Joseph locked him in a room. In Bennett's case, the story is unworkable and contradicted by a non-LDS eyewitnesses.[12]


See also Brian Hales' discussion: The Faith of the Nauvoo Polygamists
Why did early members of the Church practice polygamy? Were they all dupes? Easily manipulated? Religious fanatics who believed Joseph could do no wrong? This article explores the initial reactions and eventual decisions made by the first generation of polygamists in Nauvoo. (Link)
Joseph Smith’s Proposals of Plural Marriage
Some critics would have readers believe that Joseph Smith simply had to smile at the young maidens of Nauvoo, and they would readily accept Joseph’s offers of marriage, perhaps acting on hidden desires to be with the handsome young prophet. Others characterize the women as acquiescing because of religious zealousness or coercion, unwilling victims of a lustful prophet wielding his powers of persuasion.
While these make for dramatic stories, the reality was certainly more complex than these colorful narratives would lead one to believe. (Link)


Notes

  1. Brian Hales, "A Response to Concerns Regarding Joseph Smith and the Practice of Plural Marriage in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints," October 17, 2013.
  2. Augusta Joyce Crocheron (author and complier), Representative Women of Deseret, a book of biographical sketches to accompany the picture bearing the same title (Salt Lake City: J. C. Graham & Co., 1884).
  3. See 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), 5:12–13. Volume 5 link; Richard S. Van Wagoner, "Mormon Polyandry in Nauvoo," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 18/3 (Fall 1985): 77; Van Wagoner, "Joseph and Marriage," Sunstone 10/9 (January 1986): 32.
  4. Jill C. Mulvay, "The Liberal Shall be Blessed: Sarah M. Kimball," Utah Historical Quarterly 44/3 (Summer 1976): 209; citing (221n11) "Jenson dates Hiram's baptism July 20, 1843. Andrew Jenson, Latter-day Saint Biographical Encyclopedia, 4 vols. (Salt Lake City, 1901-36), 2:372. At the end of 1844 Hiram received a patriarchal blessing, an ordinance usually reserved for church members. Patriarchal Blessings, vol. 9, December 25, 1844, manuscript, LDS Archives."
  5. Brian C. Hales, "Encouraging Joseph Smith to Practice Plural Marriage – The Accounts of the Angel with a Drawn Sword," Mormon Historical Studies 11/2 (Fall 2010).
  6. Brian Hales, Joseph Smith's Polygamy: History, 2:187.
  7. Hales, Joseph Smith's Polygamy: History 2:190. Originally quoted in "The Prophet's Birthday," Deseret News, January 12, 1881, 2.
  8. Hales, Joseph Smith's Polygamy: History 2:190. Originally quoted in "Joseph, the Prophet, His Life and Mission as Viewed by Intimate Acquaintances," Salt Lake Herald Church and Farm Supplement, January 12, 1895, 212.
  9. George D. Smith, Nauvoo Polygamy: "...but we called it celestial marriage" (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2008), 154. ( Index of claims , (Detailed book review))
  10. Times and Seasons, April 15, 1842 p. 763.
  11. Richard and Pamela Price, Joseph Smith Fought Polygamy—Vision Articles [Subsequent to Volume 1] (From Vision Magazine, Vol. 32, "The Martha Brotherton Case," off-site. FairMormon's consultants cannot endorse the Prices' contention that Joseph Smith did not practice plural marriage.
  12. Bennett, History of the Saints, 287–288. See affidavit from a non-LDS witness denying that Bennett was locked in a room by Joseph: Daniel H. Wells, "[Affidavit], "Times and Seasons 3/19 (1 August 1842): 873–874.

FAIR Answers Wiki Table of Contents

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


Question: Did any woman suffer consequences for turning down Joseph's proposal?

Two women afterward attacked Joseph's character and misrepresented his offer, to which Joseph responded. Those who did not were left strictly alone

There are numerous accounts of women to whom Joseph proposed plural marriage, who turned him down.

Two women afterward attacked Joseph's character and misrepresented his offer. He responded. Those who did not were left strictly alone. There were no consequences to these women. Sarah Kimball reported Joseph's mild reaction to the rejection:

Early in the year 1842, Joseph Smith taught me the principle of marriage for eternity, and the doctrine of plural marriage. He said that in teaching this he realized that he jeopardized his life; but God had revealed it to him many years before as a privilege with blessings, now God had revealed it again and instructed him to teach it with commandment, as the Church could travel (progress) no further without the introduction of this principle. I asked him to teach it to some one else. He looked at me reprovingly, and said, 'Will you tell me who to teach it to? God required me to teach it to you, and leave you with the responsibility of believing or disbelieving.‘ He said, 'I will not cease to pray for you, and if you will seek unto God in prayer you will not be led into temptation.'[1]

(Sarah's husband was not a member of the Church until 1843. There was some tension between him and Joseph as a result of this episode, but he seems to have resolved any animosity he held for the prophet.[2] They were later to go Utah with the Saints, where Sarah assumed a prominent role in the Relief Society. Her husband died while en route to a mission in Hawaii.[3]

Other women loudly trumpeted the plural marriage doctrine in Nauvoo and the hostile press. These women's testimony and character were generally attacked to try to discredit them in an effort to preserve the secrecy which surrounded plural marriage. (This factor is complicated by the fact that at least some were guilty of inappropriate behavior (e.g., likely Sarah Pratt). Despite attacks on their character, some remained in Nauvoo and likewise suffered no physical harm (e.g., Nancy Rigdon).


Question: Were women put under "tremendous pressure" to accept a proposal of plural marriage?

Given that the Saints believed Joseph was a prophet, any command from him would carry significant weight

  • No one was coerced or forced into marriage (see above). However, given that the Saints believed Joseph was a prophet, any command from him would carry significant weight.
  • Despite this, the reported initial reactions are all negative: these women were strong-minded, and did not simply obey because Joseph told them to.
  • Because of their distaste for the idea, many plural wives reported divine revelations that confirmed the truth of plural marriage. Joseph encouraged women to seek for such divine confirmation.


Question: Did Joseph Smith give a woman only one day to decide about entering a plural marriage, and would refusal mean terrible consequences?

One woman was told that the opportunity for plural marriage would expire in twenty-four hours. She was not threatened with damnation or physical consequences

This claim distorts the account of Lucy Walker. Joseph offered to teach Lucy about plural marriage, but she angrily refused:

When the Prophet Joseph Smith first mentioned the principle of plural marriage to me I became very indignant and told him emphatically that I did not wish him to ever mention it to me again....and so expressed myself to him....He counseled me, however, to pray to the Lord for light and understanding in relation thereto, and promised me if I would do so sincerely, I should receive a testimony of the correctness of the principle. Before praying I felt gloomy and downcast; in fact, I was so entirely given up to despair that I felt tired of life...."

Joseph then said nothing more to her for at least four months (and possibly as long as sixteen). Lucy continues:

[I] was so unwilling to consider the matter favorably that I fear I did not ask in faith for light. Gross darkness instead of light took possession of my mind. I was tempted and tortured beyond endurance until life was not desirable....

The Prophet discerned my sorrow. He saw how unhappy I was, and sought an opportunity of again speaking to me on this subject....

[He said] "I have no flattering words to offer. It is a command of God to you. I will give you until tomorrow to decide this matter. If you reject this message the gate will be closed forever against you."

– Lucy Walker, italics added

Lucy was told that the opportunity for plural marriage would expire in twenty-four hours. She was not threatened with damnation or physical consequences. Yet, she did not meekly obey:

This aroused every drop of scotch in my veins...I felt at this moment that I was called to place myself upon the altar a living Sacrafice, perhaps to brook the world in disgrace and incur the displeasure and contempt of my youthful companions; all my dreams of happiness blown to the four winds, this was too much, the thought was unbearable.... I...at last found utterance and said, "Although you are a prophet of God you could not induce me to take a step of so great importance, unless I knew that God approved my course. I would rather die. I have tried to pray but received no comfort, no light....The same God who has sent this message is the Being I have worshipped from my early childhood and He must manifest His will to me."

Joseph's response:

He walked across the room, returned, and stood before me. With the most beautiful expression of countenance, he said, "God almighty bless you. You shall have a manifestation of the will of God concerning you; a testimony that you can never deny. I will tell you what it shall be. It shall be that peace and joy that you never knew."

That night, Lucy reported:

It was near after another sleepless night when my room was lighted up by a heavenly influence. To me it was, in comparison, like the brilliant sun bursting through the darkest cloud. The words of the Prophet were indeed fulfilled. My soul was filled with a calm, sweet peace that "I never knew." Supreme happiness took possession of me, and I received a powerful and irresistible testimony of the truth of plural marriage, which has been like an anchor to the soul through all the trials of life. I felt that I must go out into the morning air and give vent to the joy and gratitude that filled my soul. As I descended the stairs, President Smith opened the door below, took me by the hand and said, "Thank God, you have the testimony. I too have prayed." He led me to a chair, placed his hands upon my head, and blessed me with every blessing my heart could possibly desire.
– Lucy Walker

Even with Lucy's revelation and consent, Joseph then sought the permission of her oldest male relative in Nauvoo, her brother William Holmes Walker. He said:

The Prophet invited me to hitch up my horse with one of his...and to ride with him....On this occasion the subject of celestial, or plural marriage, was introduced to me. As we returned home he remarked, 'If there was anything I did not understand to hold on a little, and I would understand it."....

In the spring of 1843, my father, being away on a mission, the Prophet asked my consent, for my sister Lucy in Marriage. I replied that if it was her free will and choice, I had no objection....

When father returned from his mission, the matter being fully explained in connection with the doctrine, received his endorsement and all parties concerned received his approbation.

— William Holmes Walker

This is the only case of any kind of deadline being given, and it only came because Joseph saw how unhappy Lucy was as she hesitated with a decision over a period of months.


Question: How many Mormon women refused offers of plural marriage?

It is difficult to know how many women refused plural marriage—if they said nothing, then we may have no way of knowing if they refused. Some cited in LDS sources include:

  • Sarah Granger Kimball
  • Rachel Ivins (Grant)
  • Lydia Moon
  • Cordelia C. Morley (Cox)
  • Esther M. Johnson
  • Nancy Rigdon - daughter of Sidney Rigdon
  • Sarah Pratt - wife of Orson Pratt[4]

Anti-Mormon sources list several other possibilities, but it is hard to know how far to trust them. As Compton notes, "Some...are fairly well documented; others are sensationalist and badly documented." These include:

  • Jane Silverthorne (Law) - wife of William Law
  • Leonora Cannon (Taylor) - wife of John Taylor
  • Melissa Schindle
  • Emeline White
  • Mrs. Robert Foster
  • Pamela Michael
  • Mrs. Caroline Grant Smith
  • Lucy Smith Milligan (or Miliken)
  • Lavina Smith
  • Miss Marks - daughter of William Marks
  • Athalia Rigdon[5]
  • Eliza Winters


See also Brian Hales' discussion: The Faith of the Nauvoo Polygamists
Why did early members of the Church practice polygamy? Were they all dupes? Easily manipulated? Religious fanatics who believed Joseph could do no wrong? This article explores the initial reactions and eventual decisions made by the first generation of polygamists in Nauvoo. (Link)
Joseph Smith’s Personal Polygamy
Many are quick to declare that Joseph's polygamy sprang from religious extremism and/or sexual desire. This article explores the difficulties that Joseph had with plural marriage, and evidence for what truly motivated his acts. (Link)

To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here

Notes

  1. Augusta Joyce Crocheron (author and complier), Representative Women of Deseret, a book of biographical sketches to accompany the picture bearing the same title (Salt Lake City: J. C. Graham & Co., 1884).
  2. See 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), 5:12–13. Volume 5 link; Richard S. Van Wagoner, "Mormon Polyandry in Nauvoo," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 18/3 (Fall 1985): 77; Van Wagoner, "Joseph and Marriage," Sunstone 10/9 (January 1986): 32.
  3. Jill C. Mulvay, "The Liberal Shall be Blessed: Sarah M. Kimball," Utah Historical Quarterly 44/3 (Summer 1976): 209; citing (221n11) "Jenson dates Hiram's baptism July 20, 1843. Andrew Jenson, Latter-day Saint Biographical Encyclopedia, 4 vols. (Salt Lake City, 1901-36), 2:372. At the end of 1844 Hiram received a patriarchal blessing, an ordinance usually reserved for church members. Patriarchal Blessings, vol. 9, December 25, 1844, manuscript, LDS Archives."
  4. Hales, Joseph Smith's Polygamy Vol. 2, 121n26. See also 1:274–275; 2:31–32, 120–121; 3:230–234.
  5. Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1997), 634–635. ( Index of claims ) We have here omitted Eliza Winters, a claim not supportable by the evidence.
  1. REDIRECT Joseph Smith and children through plural marriage


Polyandry: Women married to more than one husband


Jump to Subtopic:


Emma Smith and polygamy


Jump to Subtopic:


Children of Joseph Smith by polygamous marriages


Jump to Subtopic:

What is known about possible children through Joseph Smith's polygamous marriages?

Summary: Is it possible that Joseph Smith fathered children with some of his plural wives, and that he covered up the evidence of pregnancies? Did Joseph Smith have intimate relations with other men’s wives to whom he had been sealed, and did any children result from these unions? DNA testing has so far proven these allegations to be false.


Jump to Subtopic:


See also Brian Hales' discussion: Did Joseph Smith’s Plural Marriages Include Sexual Relations?
Some wonder if sexual relations were included in Joseph Smith’s plural marriages. The answer is yes or no, depending upon the type of plural marriage. Those marriages, often called “sealings,” were of two types. Some were for this life and the next (called “time-and-eternity”) and could include sexuality on earth. Others were limited to the next life (called “eternity-only”) and did not allow intimacy in mortality. Overall, evidence indicates that less than half of Joseph Smith’s polygamous unions were consummated and sexual relations in the others occurred infrequently. (Link)
Sexual Relations are Documented In Less than Half of Joseph Smith’s Plural Marriages
It appears the Prophet experienced sexual relations with less than half of the women sealed to him. There is no credible evidence that Joseph had sex with three subgroups of his plural wives: (1) fourteen-year-old wives, (2) non-wives (or women to whom he was not married), and (3) legally married women who were experiencing conjugal relations with their civil husbands. (Link)
Children from Joseph Smith’s Plural Marriages
No children are known to have been born to Joseph and his plural wives. (Link)
  1. REDIRECT Latter-day Saints and divorce in the nineteenth century