oseph Smith, the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ
of Latter-day Saints, was born to a poor farm family
on December 23, 1805, in Vermont. Given his
humble beginning no one would have suspected that one day
he would issue revelations, found a religion, and marry
thirty-eight women in a new order of plural marriage.
In studying Joseph Smith's life one is left to
wonder when he first puzzled over the issue of polygamy in
the Bible. In the earliest account of Smith's childhood
he mentions that he studied the Bible from an early age:
At about the age of twelve years my
mind become seriously imprest with regard to the
all important concerns for the welfare of my immortal
Soul which led me to searching the scriptures believeing, as I
was taught, that they contained the word of
God.11 Editor Scott Faulring, American Prophet's Record, Signature Books, 1987, p. 4.
2 Book of Mormon, Jacob 2:23-25.
No doubt he had read in the Bible of Abraham, Jacob, David and Solomon's
extra wives. It certainly was on Smith's mind in 1828 and
1829 when he dictated the Book of Mormon passage
denouncing polygamy unless directed by
While there are examples of polygamy in the Old Testament there is no evidence that the practice
was commanded by God or was a doctrine to be obeyed. Plural marriage in Mormonism, on the other hand, was
always connected to their doctrine of eternal marriage and exaltation, not just a social practice. Following the lives of Biblical polygamists one is struck by the troubles it brought into their relationships. And so it was with Joseph Smith.
A Double Standard
Throughout Joseph Smith's life the LDS
Church continually insisted that its standard for marriage was
one man and one wife. However, behind the scene Smith had
a very different agenda. Richard Van Wagoner observed:
Smith never publicly advocated polygamy. New
Testament monogamy, the official church position throughout his
lifetime, was clearly outlined to the prophet in 1831
revelations: "Thou shalt love thy wife with all thy heart, and shall
cleave unto her and none else" (D&C 42:22); "It is lawful that [a
man] should have one wife, and they twain shall be one flesh" (D&C 49:16).
But from the early days of the church rumors
hinted that Smith maintained a private position different from
his public posture.33 Richard Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy: A History, Signature Books, 1989, second edition, p. 4.
4 Dan Vogel, Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet, Signature Books, 2004, pp. 178, 514.
Smith's double standard was evident early in
his marriage to Emma.4 Linda King Newell and
Valeen Tippetts Avery in their biography of Emma Smith felt
that charges of impropriety against Joseph may have
caused him to leave Harmony, Pennsylvania, in 1830 for Ohio:
The pleasant aspects of Emma's life, however,
were being overshadowed by rumors that Joseph had
an unconventional view of marriage. His and Emma's
abrupt departure from Harmony in 1830 may have been
because her cousin, Hiel Lewis, accused Joseph of improper
conduct with women. Fifty years later he repeated thirdhand
stories that Joseph attempted "to seduce E.W. (Eliza
Winters)," and that Joseph and Martin Harris had said "adultery
was no crime."55 Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery, Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith, University of Illinois Press, 1994, second edition, p. 64.
6 Glen M. Leonard, Nauvoo: A Place of Peace, A People of Promise, Deseret Book, 2002, p. 343.
When Smith began his revision of the Bible in 1830
he again encountered the issue of polygamy. LDS
historian Glen Leonard commented:
Joseph Smith's puzzlement over biblical
references prompted him to seek understanding from the Lord.
While working on what has become known as the Joseph
Smith Translation of the Bible (JST), he pondered the meaning
of the Old Testament marriage practices described in
Further, we know that in 1831 he had given a
revelation to a few trusted men to take plural wives of the
"Lamanites" while doing missionary work among them. This
was supposed to aid in making the American Indians a
"white and delightsome" people, as promised in the Book
of Mormon,7 7 Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 30:6. "...their scales of darkness shall begin to fall from their eyes; and many generations shall not pass away among them, save they shall be a white and a delightsome people." In 1981 the word "white" was changed to "pure." In spite of this change the book still promotes a racist view of American Indians. See 2 Nephi 5:21 and 3 Nephi 2:12-15.
8 Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith, Signature Books, 1997, p. 27.
9 Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual—Religion 324-325, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2001, p. 327.
10 Leonard, Nauvoo, p. 344; Newell and Avery, Mormon Enigma, p. 64. through intermarriage. Todd Compton writes:
W.W. Phelps, in 1861, recorded that Smith received
a revelation in Missouri on July 17, 1831, that directed
Mormon men to intermarry with "Lamanite" (Native
American) women. When Phelps later asked how the group in
question, mostly married men, could take other wives,
Smith immediately answered, "In the same manner that
Abraham took Hagar and Keturah; that Jacob took Rachel,
Bilhah, and Zilpah; by revelation—the saints of the Lord are
always directed by revelations." A December 1831 letter by
anti-Mormon Ezra Booth supports Phelps: "It had been
made known by revelation" that God wanted "a
matrimonial alliance with the natives" and that God would bless
them "abundantly" if they obeyed. They would also "gain
a residence" in Indian lands, despite the Indian
agent's opposition. "It has been made known to one who has
left his wife in the State of New York that he is entirely free
from his wife, and is at pleasure to take him a wife from among
In spite of Smith's revelation, none of the
missionaries seem to have obeyed this command. It also appears
that none of the Indians were converted.
Mormon leaders and historians generally assert
that the earliest teaching on plural marriage was given as
early as 1831.9 However, they usually fail to mention
the revelation to marry the "Lamanites." Smith's
associates would later claim that he had taught them about
plural marriage in addition to the revelation about
Later there would be charges that Smith was
involved with young Nancy Marinda Johnson while in Ohio in
1831-1832. Most Mormons have heard about the time that
Smith and Sidney Rigdon, while staying with the Johnson
family, were dragged from their beds in the middle of the night
and tarred and feathered. A Dr. Dennison was brought along
to "perform a surgical operation, but he declined when
the time came to operate."11 11 Journal of Discourses, Latter-day Book Depot, vol. 11, p. 5; Fawn M. Brodie, No Man Knows My History, Random House, 1971, p. 119.
12 Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, pp. 230-231, 238; Van
Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy, pp. 4-5, 13.The mob included former Mormons who were reportedly concerned about
Smith's financial plans. But later it was charged that one of
the men was angry at Joseph for being "too familiar" with
Nancy Johnson. Mormon historians discount the connection of
the beatings with outrage at any misconduct by Smith,
pointing out that the beatings included both Rigdon and
Smith. However, it is suspicious that Dr. Dennison was
brought along to castrate only Joseph, although he ended up
refusing to do the surgery.12 Why was Joseph singled out for
this punishment and not Rigdon? The presence of the doctor
to castrate Joseph adds credibility to the charge that
Smith had behaved improperly. While the claim of an affair
with Nancy in the early 1830's isn't definitive, it is known
that she was later sealed to Smith in Nauvoo even though
she was a married woman. Todd Compton relates that in
1834 Nancy Marinda married future apostle Orson
Hyde. However, in Nauvoo she
was a polyandrous plural wife of Joseph Smith, a
relationship that still has many puzzling aspects. She married Smith
when Hyde was on a mission, and it is uncertain how much
the apostle knew of the marriage.1313 Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, pp. 228-229, 232.
George D. Smith (no relation to Joseph Smith) in
his new book Nauvoo Polygamy: ". . .but we called it
celestial marriage," relates:
The sealing of Marinda [Nancy Johnson] Hyde in
April 1842 [to Joseph] consummated a relationship that had
begun ten years earlier but had stalled the previous
December. Between Smith's polyandrous marriages to the
Huntington sisters in late autumn 1841, he courted Marinda
Nancy Johnson Hyde, wife of the absent missionary Apostle
Orson Hyde.1414 George D. Smith, Nauvoo Polygamy: ". . .but we called it celestial marriage," Signature Books, 2008, p. 116.
15 Smith, Nauvoo Polygamy, pp. 38-44.
16 Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, pp. 32-33.
17 Ibid., pp. 26-28, 34-35, 38-39.
During the mid-1830's Joseph Smith had an affair
with a teenager named Fanny Alger, who was living in the
Smith home in Ohio.15 Todd Compton lists her as Smith's
first plural wife but the evidence of an actual ceremony is
weak. There is an 1896 account by Mosiah Hancock that his
father performed the Smith-Alger marriage, most likely in
1833.16 Book of Mormon witness Oliver Cowdery,
however, referred to Joseph's involvement with Fanny as a
"dirty, nasty, filthy
affair."17 Former LDS apostle William
E. McLellin asserted that Emma caught Joseph in the
barn with Fanny:
William McLellin told his account of Joseph and
Fanny Alger to a newspaper reporter in 1875.
"[McLellin] . . .informed me of the spot where the first well
authenticated case of polygamy took place, in which Joseph Smith
was 'sealed' to the hired girl. The 'sealing' took place in a
barn on the hay mow, and was witnessed by Mrs. Smith
through a crack in the door!... Long afterwards when he visited
Mrs. Emma Smith. . .she then and there declared on her
honor that it was a fact—'saw it with her own eyes.'
"1818 Newell and Avery, Mormon Enigma, p. 66.
The early rumors of Smith's infidelity might have
been dismissed if it weren't for his later polygamist
activities, especially his marriages to women with living
husbands. Taken as a whole they show a pattern of affairs
throughout his life.
As these rumors spread the LDS leaders realized
that they needed to do something to clear the church's name
of scandal. Richard Van Wagoner explains:
Rumors of the prophet's relationship with
Alger, whispered about Kirtland during the summer of 1835,
may have been the catalyst for the church's announcement
of its official position on marriage as well as motivation for
the prophet's frequent addresses on marital relationships
that fall. While Smith was in Michigan his secretary, W.W. Phelps, presented to the church's 17 August 1835
General Conference a "Chapter of Rules for Marriage among the Saints." This declaration stipulated in part: "Inasmuch
as this church of Christ has been reproached with the crime
of fornication, and polygamy; we declare that we believe,
that one man should have one wife; and one woman, but
one husband, except in the case of death, when either is at
liberty to marry again." The assembled Saints voted to accept
the statement as part of "the faith and principle of this
society as a body" by canonizing it in the official Doctrine and Covenants of the
church.1919 Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy, p. 6; 1835 Doctrine and Covenants, section 101.
This section on marriage was printed in every edition
of the Doctrine and Covenants until 1876, making it
possible for early LDS leaders to publicly denounce plural
marriage while practicing it in private.
George Smith discusses Joseph's early
acquaintance with the women who would later become his plural wives:
Joseph made other acquaintances in his early life
that presaged the plural marriages he would consummate in
the 1840's. His relationships in Ohio with various families
and their daughters—some quite youthful at the
time—allowed him to invite the young women into his further
confidence when they were older. In most cases, the women
were adolescents or in their twenties when he met them.
About ten were pre-teens, others already thirty or above. Most were with the families in Ohio, where Smith had
sent missionaries from western New York in 1830. Then
Smith issued a revelation in January 1831 ordering his
followers to sell their property and trek 300 miles west to
Kirtland, which he designated as a city of refuge for the
church's converts. He became acquainted there with some
twenty-seven of the women who would later become his
mates. . .2020 Smith, Nauvoo Polygamy, p. 30.
The next possible case of polygamy was
Lucinda Morgan Harris, the widow of William Morgan, who
had since remarried. Todd Compton lists her as Smith's
second plural wife. Evidently the Smiths lived with the Harris's
for two months in 1838. Compton states, "There is no
firm date for Smith's marriage to Lucinda, but these two
months are a good possibility. He often married women while
he was living in the same house with them. . ." If the
marriage didn't happen at that time, there is reason to believe
Smith was married to her in the
1840's.21 21 Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, p. 49.
22 Smith, Nauvoo Polygamy, p. 621.George Smith lists Lucinda as Joseph's fifth plural wife, using the later date.22
However one views the events in the 1830's,
historians generally agree that by at least 1841 Joseph Smith
was being sealed to women in some sort of marriage
ceremony. George Smith observes:
The story of Joseph Smith's documented
marriages after wedding Emma in 1827 opens in April 1841 [in
Nauvoo, Illinois] and ends some thirty-seven wives later with
his marriage to Fanny Young in November 1843. His life
during those two and a half years was dizzying as he juggled
land purchases, religious appointments, speeches,
meetings; armed and trained a town militia; welcomed settlers
and immigrants to the new town; oversaw building
projects; and assumed a prominent role in the ascent
municipal government. All of this in addition to
pronouncing revelations, avoiding arrest and extradition orders,
and entering into matrimony with over three dozen women,
which meant about one new wife a month. . . .
Woven throughout this fabric of daily public life is
a concealed record of courtship and marriage that can
be found in diaries, autobiographies, letters, affidavits,
and sealing records which confirm these
events.2323 Smith, Nauvoo Polygamy, p. 54.
George Smith starts his list of Joseph's plural wives with Louisa Beaman in April of 1841. They were
married by Joseph Bates Noble, who was married to Louisa's
sister, Mary. Years later Noble would tell of marrying them
"during the evening under an Elm tree in Nauvoo. The
Bride disguised in a [man's] coat and
hat."24 24 Ibid., p. 59.
25 Ibid., p. 63. When asked about the nature of the marriage, Noble stated that the
marriage was consummated "for I saw him [Joseph] in bed with
George Smith comments, "Neither Smith nor
Beaman left a personal account of their marriage (that has
been found), but eleven other sources confirm that the
ceremony did take place."26 26 Ibid., p. 57.
27 Ibid., p. 3.There was always a
great need for secrecy as Illinois had a law against
Nauvoo Polygamy documents Joseph Smith's
thirty-seven plural wives and categorizes them as follows:
Seventeen of them were single. Three of the teenaged
wives and three of those in their twenties were orphaned
or separated from their parents. Unlike Louisa, fourteen of
the wives were already married and typically had
children.2828 Ibid., p. 63.
Todd Compton starts his list of Smith's wives
with Fanny Alger, followed by Lucinda Harris, thus
making Louisa Beaman Joseph's third plural wife, with a total
of thirty-three. Whether the final count is thirty-three,
thirty-seven or more, scholars generally agree that the list
includes about a dozen women with living husbands.
In the fall of 1841 Joseph Smith took his next
two wives, sisters Zina Huntington Jacobs and
Presendia Huntington Buell, who were already married. By
marrying Zina and Presendia, Smith disobeyed the directive given
to Moses that a man was not to marry sisters. Later he
would also disobey the command that a man was not to
marry both a mother and daughter.2929 Leviticus 18:17-18; 20:14.
Smith had proposed to Zina in 1840, prior to
her marriage to Jacobs, and was refused. Even though Zina
was now married, Smith persisted in his pursuit of her.
Compton tells the story:
Again according to family tradition, she and Henry
saw Smith soon after the marriage and "asked why he had
not come . . . he told them the Lord had made it known to him
she was to be his celestial wife." Once again Zina was
plunged into a quandary. Smith told them that God had
commanded him to marry her. However, he apparently also told them they could continue to live together as husband and wife. According to family tradition, Henry accepted this, but Zina continued to struggle. . . .
Zina remained conflicted until a day in October, apparently, when Joseph sent [her brother] Dimick to
her with a message: an angel with a drawn sword had stood over Smith and told him that if he did not establish
polygamy, he would lose "his position and his life." Zina, faced
with the responsibility for his position as prophet, and even perhaps his life, finally
acquiesced.3030 Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, pp. 80-81.
31 Smith, Nauvoo Polygamy, p. 75.
32 Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, pp. 4-5.
She finally consented and entered into a
polyandrous marriage with Smith while six months pregnant with
Jacobs' child.31 During the next six months Joseph would
enter into six more polyandrous
Later in Utah, Jedediah M. Grant, second counselor
to President Brigham Young, gave a sermon in the
Tabernacle in which he confirmed that Joseph Smith asked for
other men's wives:
When the family organization was revealed from
heaven—the patriarchal order of God, and Joseph began, on
the right and on the left, to add to his family, what a
quaking there was in Israel. Says one brother to another,
"Joseph says all covenants are done away, and none are binding but the new covenants; now suppose Joseph should
come and say he wanted your wife, what would you say to that?" "I would tell him to go to hell." This was the spirit of
many in the early days of this Church. . . .
What would a man of God say, who felt aright,
when Joseph asked him for his money? He would say, "Yes, and
I wish I had more to help to build up the kingdom of God."
Or if he came and said, "I want your
wife?" "O yes," he would say, "here she is, there are plenty more.". . . Did the
Prophet Joseph want every man's wife he asked for? He did not
. . . If such a man of God should come to me and say, "I
want your gold and silver, or your wives," I should say,
"Here they are, I wish I had more to give you, take all I have
got."3333 Journal of Discourses, vol. 2, pp. 13-14.
34 Smith, Nauvoo Polygamy, p. 47.
When Brigham Young returned from his missionary trip to England in 1841 he was soon introduced to the
secret practice.34 Brigham later stated:
Some of my brethren know what my feelings were
at the time Joseph revealed the doctrine;. . .it was the first
time in my life that I had desired the grave, and I could hardly get over it for a long time and when I saw a funeral, I felt to
envy the corpse its situation, . . .3535 Journal of Discourses, vol. 3, p. 266.
36 Smith, Nauvoo Polygamy, p. 635.
37 Journal of Discourses, vol. 11, p. 269.
However, once converted he was diligent in expanding
his kingdom, eventually marrying fifty-five
women.36 Years later Brigham Young would proclaim "The only men
who become Gods, even the Sons of God, are those who
enter into polygamy."37
In April of 1842 Joseph Smith secretly
approached Nancy Rigdon, the nineteen-year-old daughter of
Sidney Rigdon, to be his wife but was refused. Shortly after
that Smith sent her a letter, laying out his rational for
undertaking an action that on the surface might appear wrong.
Even though she was instructed to destroy the letter after
reading it she saved the letter, which was later published in
the August 19, 1842, Sangamo Journal and then in John
C. Bennett's History of the Saints. It read in part:
Happiness is the object and design of our
existence; and will be the end thereof, if we pursue the path that leads to it; and this path is virtue, uprightness, faithfulness, holiness, and keeping all the commandments of
God; but we cannot keep ALL the commandments without first knowing them . . . That which is wrong under
one circumstance, may be, and often is, right under another. . . . Whatever God requires is right, NO MATTER WHAT IT IS, although we may not see the reason thereof till
long after the events transpire.3838 John C. Bennett, History of the Saints, Leland & Whiting, 1842, pp. 243-244. Emphasis in original.
Emma Smith's biographers describe the confrontation that followed:
Nancy Rigdon showed the letter to her father.
Rigdon immediately sent for Joseph, who reportedly
denied everything until Sidney thrust the letter in his face.
George W. Robinson, Nancy's brother-in-law, claimed he
witnessed the encounter and said Joseph admitted that he had
spoken with Nancy but that he had only been testing her
virtue.3939 Newell and Avery, Mormon Enigma, pp. 111-112.
Even though Sidney Rigdon was a member of the first presidency and stayed in the church, the event put a
strain on Smith and Rigdon's friendship.
A couple of months later Brigham Young would face
a similar situation. He was first married at age
twenty-three in 1824, then widowed a few years later. After
converting to Mormonism he married Mary Ann Angell in 1834.
Years later he secretly entered plural marriage, taking Lucy
Ann Decker Seely, possibly separated from her husband, as
his plural wife in June of 1842.40 40 Smith, Nauvoo Polygamy, p. 262.But his next attempt at
courting turned into a public scandal.
Brigham Young approached a young English
convert, Martha Brotherton, but was rejected. Her story was
then published in the St. Louis Bulletin on July 15, 1842.
She made a sworn affidavit that Heber C. Kimball
escorted her to a private meeting with Brigham Young where
she was locked in the room and pressured to marry
Brigham Young in polygamy. Martha gave this report of the meeting:
B[righam] Y[oung]: Well, what are your feelings toward me?
M[artha] B[rotherton]: My feelings are just the same
towards you that they ever were, sir.
BY: But to come to the point more closely, have not you
an affection for me, that, were it lawful and right, you
could accept of me for your husband and companion?
MB: If it was lawful and right perhaps I might; but
you know, sir, it is not.
BY: Well, brother Joseph has had a revelation from God
that it is lawful and right for a man to have two wives; . . . and
if you will accept of me I will take you straight to the
celestial kingdom; and if you will have me in this world, I will
have you in that which is to come, and brother Joseph will
marry us here today, and you can go home this evening, and
your parents will not know any thing about it.
MB: Sir, I should not like to do anything of the kind
without the permission of my parents.
BY: Well, you are of age, are you not?
MB: No, sir, I shall not be until the 24th of May.
BY: Well, that does not make any difference. You will be
of age before they know, and you need not fear. . . .
MB: I want time to think about it.
BY: Well, I will have a kiss any how.4141 H. Michael Marquardt, The Rise of Mormonism: 1816-1844, Xulon Press, 2005, p. 564.
When it was obvious that she was hesitant to accept
his proposal Joseph Smith was brought into the room to
try and convince her:
J[oseph] S[mith]: Well, Martha, it is lawful and right
before God. I know it is. Look here, don't you believe in me?
Well Martha, just go ahead and do as Brigham wants you to, he is the best man in the world except me. . . . Yes, and I
know that this is lawful and right before God, and if there is
any sin in it I will answer for it before God, and I have the keys
of the kingdom, and whatever I bind on earth is bound
in heaven, and whatever I loose on earth is loosed in
heaven; and if you will accept of Brigham, you shall be blessed.
God shall bless you, and my blessing shall rest upon you, and
if you will be led by him, you will do well; for I know
Brigham will take care of you, and if he don't do his duty to
you, come to me and I will make him; and if you do not like it in
a month or two, come to me and I will make you free
again; and if he turns you off I will take you on.
M[artha] B[rotherton]: Sir, it will be too late to think in
a month or two after. I want time to think
first.4242 Marquardt, The Rise of Mormonism, p. 565.
Finally, after Martha was able to convince them
that she needed time to pray about it and that she would tell
no one of the conversation, she was allowed to leave the
room. The next day she wrote down the conversation and
soon left for St. Louis. Her statement was given wide
distribution in various newspapers and was included in
ex-Mormon John C. Bennett's 1842 expose, History of the
Saints.43 43 Bennett, History of the Saints, pp. 236-240.However, Joseph and his brother Hyrum continued to
make public denials of any such doctrine or practice.
Richard Van Wagoner comments:
Even before Martha left Nauvoo, rumors of the
incident began to circulate. Hyrum Smith, believing Joseph's
public posture that polygamy was not being practiced,
publicly addressed the Saints on 7 April 1842 "in contradiction of
a report in circulation about Elders Heber C. Kimball,
Brigham Young, himself, and others of the Twelve, alleging 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." Joseph, who addressed the group after
Hyrum, added, "There is no person that is acquainted with
our principles who would believe such
lies."4444 Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy, p. 20.
Martha's statement would cost her dearly. The
LDS newspaper, The Wasp, edited by Joseph Smith's
brother, printed a stinging denunciation of her and John C.
Bennett on August 27, 1842. It charged that Martha Brotherton
and all such females were "mean harlots." Brigham
Young's denial, issued the same day as the Wasp article, stated, "I do hereby testify that the affidavit of Miss Martha Brotherton . . . is a base falsehood, with regard to any
private intercourse or unlawful conduct or
conversation with me."4545 Smith, Nauvoo Polygamy, p. 270.
George Smith explains that "Brotherton
eventually returned to England, where she died in 1864. But
on August 1, 1870, in Salt Lake City, Brigham Young achieved
his romantic pursuit when he had Brotherton sealed to him
for eternity. Her sister, Elizabeth Brotherton Pratt, plural
wife of Apostle Parley Pratt, acted as proxy for the
deceased."4646 Smith, Nauvoo Polygamy, pp. 271-272.
While Joseph Smith was publicly denying any
doctrine or practice of plural marriage, he was secretly taking
more wives. Only a week after Martha Brotherton's
accusations were printed in the St. Louis
Bulletin, Smith convinced seventeen-year-old Sarah Ann Whitney to be his plural
wife. However, the transaction was carefully kept from
Emma Smith. Richard Van Wagoner relates:
He [Joseph Smith] was walking a tightrope,
secretly courting both thirty-eight-year-old Eliza R. Snow
and seventeen-year-old Sarah Ann Whitney, while
fighting extradition to Missouri as "an accessory to an assault
with intent to kill" former governor Lilburn W. Boggs. Smith
was also at odds with his long-time friend and counselor
Sidney Rigdon over a reputed polygamous proposal on 9 April
1842 to Rigdon's unmarried daughter
Nancy.4747 Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy, pp. 31-32.
In a footnote Van Wagoner tells more of the
She [Sarah Ann Whitney] was sealed to Smith with
her parents' permission on 27 July 1842. In an 18 August
1842 letter to the Whitneys, Smith, hiding from Missouri
law enforcement officials, detailed his problems in getting
to see Sarah Ann without Emma's knowledge. "My
feelings are so strong for you since what has pased
[sic] lately between us . . . if you three would come and see me in
this my lonely retreat, it would afford me great relief, of mind,
if those with whom I am allied, do love me, now is the time
to Afford me succor . . . the only thing to be careful is to
find out when Emma comes then you cannot be safe, but
when she is not here, there is the most perfect
safety"4848 Ibid., pp. 48-49, footnote 3.
Any youthful dreams of courtship and a public
marriage were sacrificed to gain Smith's promise of eternal
exaltation for herself and her parents. Both Todd Compton and
George Smith list Sarah Ann as Joseph's fifteenth plural
wife.4949 Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, p. 6; Smith, Nauvoo Polygamy, p. 622.
Six weeks after marrying Sarah Ann Whitney
Joseph made another public denial of plural marriage. Due
to Bennett's expose and the ongoing rumors of
polygamy Joseph Smith printed the following in the September 1,
1842, Times and Seasons:
Inasmuch as the public mind has been unjustly
abused through the fallacy of Dr. Bennett's letters, we make
an extract on the subject of marriage, showing the rule of
the church . . . from the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, and
is the only rule allowed by the church. . . . "Inasmuch as
this church of Christ had been reproached with the crime
of fornication, and polygamy: we declare that we believe,
that one man should have one wife; and one woman, but one husband, except in case of death, when either is at liberty
to marry again."5050 Time and Seasons, vol. 3, September 1, 1842, p. 909.
In spite of such denials Joseph continued to take
more wives and he expanded the number of men involved in
the practice. George Smith lists five men who were living
in plural marriage in 1842: Joseph Smith, Brigham
Young, Heber Kimball, Vinson Knight and Reynolds
Cahoon. Joseph had sixteen plural wives, the others had one
plural wife each.5151 Smith, Nauvoo Polygamy, p. 311.
Joseph Smith introduced the new teaching to
his secretary, William Clayton, in February of 1843.
Upon hearing that Clayton had formed a special friendship
with a woman while doing missionary work in England,
Smith used this as an opening to teach him the new doctrine.
He instructed Clayton to send to England for the woman
and marry her in polygamy. Joseph explained "It is your
privilege to have all the wives you want." However, when
Sarah Crooks arrived in Nauvoo she rejected Clayton's
offer.5252 Ibid., pp. 244-245.
In the meantime Clayton had taken his wife's
sister, Margaret, as his second wife. Upon learning of
her pregnancy and fearing public exposure, Clayton took
the matter to Joseph. George Smith explains:
With such access to the church president, Clayton
not only captured the tone of the invitation to marry when
Smith said "you have a right to get all you can." He bequeathed
to us Smith's plan for keeping such obvious marriages
secret. After Margaret became pregnant in May or June
1843, Clayton wrote on October 19 about needing to protect "the truth" by telling
untruths, in this case the strategic charade of publicly rebuking someone while privately
embracing them. Clayton wrote about Smith's advice: "Says he[,]
just keep her [Margaret] at home and brook it and if they
raise trouble about it and bring you before me I will give you
an awful scourging and probably cut you off from the
church and then I will baptize you and set you ahead as good
as ever."5353 Ibid., p. 247, italics in original.
The secrecy surrounding polygamy even led
to problems for young men trying to court the girls in Nauvoo:
When nineteen-year-old Orange Wight noticed
the attractive sixteen-year-old Flora Woodworth one spring
day in 1843, how could he have known she was already
married, and was even a secret wife of the Mormon prophet? He
had returned home from a year-long mission to the eastern
United States and was not yet familiar with the changed
social landscape in Nauvoo. He was surprised to discover
that many of the young women he wanted to befriend
were someone else's secret wives.5454 Smith, Nauvoo Polygamy, p. 414.
When Did Emma Know?
While Emma did not see Joseph's revelation
on polygamy until Hyrum Smith read it to her in July of
1843, she had to know of the rumors in the 1830's of
Smith's connection to other women. At least by 1842 she had to be aware of Martha Brotherton, Nancy Rigdon and
John C. Bennett's accusations. She may have initially hoped
that it was only a matter of a few indiscretions, not a
doctrine promoted by her husband.
The Smith's home in Nauvoo was large enough to
allow boarders. Emma may not have been aware of
the convenience this arrangement offered Smith in his
courting and marrying single women. Many of Joseph's wives
first came to the home as boarders or helpers.
Several times Emma seemed to accept plural
marriage only to change her mind later. Evidently Joseph had
tried on a number of occasions to convince her it was of
God and necessary for her salvation. Finally, after assuring
her that with acceptance she would also be sealed eternally
to Joseph, she agreed to his marrying two sets of
sisters, ranging in age from sixteen to twenty-two, who were
living in the home.5555 Newell and Avery, Mormon Enigma, pp. 142-143.
One of his wives, Emily Partridge, gave a
statement in 1887 regarding her two marriages to Smith in the
spring of 1843:
. . .the Prophet Joseph and his wife Emma offered us
a home in their family, and they treated us with great
kindness. We had been there about a year when the principle of
plural marriage was made known to us, and I was married to
Joseph Smith on the 4th of March, 1843, Elder Heber C.
Kimball performing the ceremony. My sister Eliza was also
married to Joseph a few days later. This was done without the knowledge of Emma Smith. Two months afterwards
she consented to give her husband two wives, provided
he would give her the privilege of choosing them.
She accordingly chose my sister Eliza and myself, and to
save family trouble Brother Joseph thought it best to have
another ceremony performed. Accordingly on the 11th of May,
1843, we were sealed to Joseph Smith a second time, in
Emma's presence, she giving her free and full consent thereto.
From that very hour, however, Emma was our bitter enemy.
We remained in the family several months after this, but
things went from bad to worse until we were obliged to leave
the house and find another home.5656 Andrew Jenson, Historical Record, May 1887, p. 240.
Before the Partridge sisters left the home, Emma
had several confrontations with them and Joseph,
demanding that there be an end to their marriages. Emily
recounted that "Emma said some very hard things—Joseph
should give us up or blood should flow." She went on to
relate, "Joseph came to us and shook hands with us, and
the understanding was that all had ended between
us." Summing it all up, Emily stated "I am ashamed to say, I
felt indignant towards Joseph for submitting to Emma, but
I see now he could do no
different."5757 Smith, Nauvoo Polygamy, p. 180. Such accounts
destroy the well-polished image of Joseph and Emma's
happy marriage that is promulgated today.
Joseph now approached young Lucy Walker,
who would become his twenty-second plural wife.
Todd Compton relates:
Lucy was another young wife of Smith—he
proposed to her when she was fifteen or sixteen. In her story we
find the familiar pattern of the teenage girl living in the
Mormon leader's house, whom Joseph then approaches
and marries.5858 Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, p. 458.
The Walker family had converted to
Mormonism several years before moving to Nauvoo. In the summer
of 1841 the mother, Lydia, contracted malaria due to
the swampy conditions in Nauvoo and finally died on
January 18, 1842. Lucy recalled, "When at length we were
forced to believe she would not speak to us again we were in
the depths of despair. Ten motherless
children!"5959 Ibid., p. 461. Joseph soon came up with a solution. The father was sent on a
mission to the east, the younger children were sent to other
families and at least two of the older siblings, Lorin and Lucy,
were taken in by the Smith's. Shortly after this division of
the family one of the younger children died.
In the midst of all this sorrow and loneliness,
Joseph approached sixteen-year-old Lucy Walker in late
1842 about plural marriage. Todd Compton outlines
When Smith sensed resistance, as has been seen,
he generally continued teaching—asking the prospective
wife to pray about the principle, . . . So it happened here.
"He said, 'If you will pray sincerely for light and
understanding in relation thereto, you Shall receive a testimony of
the correctness of this principle.' " Lucy was horrified
by polygamy and by his proposal and did not quickly gain
the promised testimony. She prayed, she wrote, but not
with faith. She was nearly suicidal: "tempted and tortured
beyond endureance until life was not desirable. Oh that the
grave would kindly receive me that I might find rest on the
bosom of my dear mother." Lucy now felt intensely the absence
of her parents: "Why—Why Should I be chosen from
among thy daughters, Father, I am only a child in years
and experience. No mother to council; no father near to tell
me what to do, in this trying hour. Oh let this bitter cup
pass. And thus I prayed in the agony of my
soul."6060 Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, p. 464.
Then in the spring of 1843, while Lucy's brother
and Emma were in St. Louis, Joseph pressed the issue
again.61 61 Newell and Avery, Mormon Enigma, p. 132; Smith, Nauvoo Polygamy, p. 193.
62 Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, p. 465.Lucy took the matter to God in prayer and finally felt
she had received divine approval. Todd Compton relates:
On May 1  Lucy, who had turned seventeen
the day before, married Smith at his home, with William
Clayton officiating and Eliza Partridge standing
Later that month Joseph married two other girls
who were staying with the Smiths, Sarah and Maria
Lawrence, evidently with Emma's consent. Linda Newell and
Valeen Avery provide this background:
The Lawrence sisters had come to Nauvoo from
Canada without their parents in 1840 when Maria was about
eighteen and Sarah fifteen. Emma and Joseph offered them a
home. According to William Law's account, the girls had
inherited about eight thousand dollars in "English gold." Law
said, "Joseph got to be appointed their guardian," and
indicated that he [Law] and Sidney Rigdon were bondsmen to
Joseph. After Emma approved of the Lawrence marriages,
William Law accused her of doing so with an eye to helping
Joseph secure the inheritance. Joseph's history dated May 30,
1843, reads, "I superintended the preparation of papers to
settle the Lawrence estate," and four days later the "accounts
of the Lawrence estate were presented to the probate
judge, to which he made
objection."6363 Newell and Avery, Mormon Enigma, p. 144.
Five days after watching Joseph be sealed to the Lawrence sisters Emma was rewarded with her
own sealing to Joseph for time and all eternity. But
evidently struggling with jealousy, Emma fell back into her old
pattern of resisting the practice of plural marriage.
Even though Emma forced the Partridge sisters to
leave the home she evidently allowed the Lawrence girls to
stay. Lucy Walker stayed as well, but Emma may not
have known of her marriage to Smith. But Joseph's marriage
to Maria Lawrence would become the last straw for
Smith's counselor William Law who would bring charges
of adultery against Smith in May of 1844.
Finally Joseph's brother Hyrum convinced Joseph
to dictate the revelation and he would take it to Emma
and convince her once and for all of its truth. William
Clayton, who wrote the revelation as Smith dictated it, provided
On the morning of the 12th of July, 1843; Joseph
and Hyrum Smith came into the office. . . . They were talking
on the subject of plural marriage. Hyrum said to Joseph,
"If you will write the revelation on celestial marriage, I will
take it and read it to Emma, and I believe I can convince her of
its truth, and you will hereafter have peace." Joseph
smiled and remarked, "You do not know Emma as well as I do."
. . . Hyrum then took the revelation to read to Emma.
Joseph remained with me [William Clayton] in the office until
Hyrum returned. When he came back, Joseph asked how he
had succeeded. Hyrum replied that he had never received a
more severe talking to in his life. . . .
Joseph quietly remarked, "I told you you did not
know Emma as well as I did." Joseph then put the revelation in
his pocket. . . . Two or three days after the revelation was
written Joseph related to me and several others that Emma had
so teased, and urgently entreated him for the privilege
of destroying it, that he became so weary of her teasing,
and to get rid of her annoyance, he told her she might destroy
it and she had done so, but he had consented to her wish
in this matter to pacify her, realizing that he . . . could rewrite
it at any time if necessary.6464 History of the Church, Introduction to vol. 5, Deseret Book, 1976, pp. xxxii-xxxiii.
65 Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, pp. 4-6.
According to Todd Compton, Joseph Smith
married approximately two dozen women by July of 1843, most
of them without Emma's knowledge or
consent.65 While Smith's revelation is dated July 12, 1843, it was not
included in the LDS canon until 1876. Prior to that date the
1835 section denouncing polygamy was included in every
printing of the Doctrine and Covenants. Thus Smith and
various church leaders could publicly appeal to that section
to demonstrate that they did not promote polygamy.
This raises the problem of Joseph publicly lying about the
very thing he was practicing in private. The revelation
on polygamy is still printed in the current Doctrine
and Covenants, section 132.
1 Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you my servant Joseph, that inasmuch as you have inquired of my hand
to know and understand wherein I, the Lord, justified my servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as also Moses, David and Solomon, my servants, as touching the principle
and doctrine of their having many wives and
concubines— . . .
3 Therefore, prepare thy heart to receive and obey
the instructions which I am about to give unto you; for all
those who have this law revealed unto them must obey the
4 . . .and if ye abide not that covenant, then are
ye damned; for no one can reject this covenant and be
permitted to enter into my glory. . . .
19 And again, verily I say unto you, if a man marry a wife by my word, which is my law, and by the new
and everlasting covenant, . . . shall inherit thrones,
kingdoms, principalities, and powers, dominions, . . . and they shall
pass by the angels, and the gods, . . . to their exaltation and
glory . . . which glory shall be a fulness and a continuation of
the seeds forever and ever.
. . . Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them. . . . .
22 For strait is the gate, and narrow the way that
leadeth unto the exaltation and continuation of the lives, and few there be that find it, . . .
24 This is eternal
lives—to know the only wise and true God, and Jesus Christ, whom he hath sent. . . .
25 Broad is the gate, and wide the way that leadeth to the deaths; and many there are that go in thereat, because they receive me not, neither do they abide in my law. . .
27 The blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, which shall not be forgiven in the world nor out of the world, is in that ye commit murder wherein ye shed innocent blood, and assent unto my death, after ye have received my new
and everlasting covenant, saith the Lord God; . . .
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. . . .
32 Go ye, therefore, and do the works of
Abraham; enter ye into my law and ye shall be saved. . . .
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. . . .
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 . . . they have entered into
their exaltation, according to the promises, and sit upon
thrones, and are not angels but are gods.
38 David also received many wives and
concubines, and also Solomon and Moses my servants, as also
many others of my servants, from the beginning of creation
until this time; and in nothing did they sin save in those
things which they received not of me.
39 David's wives and
concubines were given unto him of me, . . .
40 I am the Lord thy God, and I gave unto thee,
my servant Joseph, an appointment, and restore all things. . . .
52 And let mine handmaid, Emma
Smith, receive all those that have been given unto my servant Joseph,
and who are virtuous and pure before me; and those who
are not pure, and have said they were pure, shall be destroyed, saith the Lord God. . . .
54 And I command mine handmaid, Emma Smith,
to abide and cleave unto my servant Joseph, and to none
else. But if she will not abide this commandment she shall
be destroyed, saith the Lord; for I am the Lord thy God, and
will destroy her if she abide not in my law.
55 But if she will not abide this commandment,
then shall my servant Joseph do all things for her, even as
he hath said; and I will bless him and multiply him and
give unto him an hundredfold in this world, of . . .wives
and children, and crowns of eternal lives in the eternal worlds. . . .
61 And again, as pertaining to the law of
the priesthood—if any man espouse a
virgin, and desire to espouse another, and the first give her consent, and if
he espouse the second, and they are virgins, and have
vowed to no other man, then is he justified; he cannot
commit adultery for they are given unto him; . . .
62 And if he have ten
virgins given unto him by this law, he cannot commit adultery, . . .
63 But if one or either of the ten virgins, after she
is espoused, shall be with another man, she has
committed adultery, and shall be destroyed; for they are given
unto him to multiply and replenish the earth, . . .and for
their exaltation in the eternal worlds, that they may bear the
souls of men; . . .
64. . .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; . . .
65 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, . . . 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. . . .6666 Doctrine and Covenants, section 132, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1981. Emphasis added.
It is obvious that the revelation was specifically
worded to justify polygamy and to use spiritual coercion to
get Emma to accept it or be damned. In relation to verse
one, the LDS Church gave the following explanation to the
use of the word "concubines":
D&C 132:1. What Are Concubines?
Concubine, a word commonly used in the Old
Testament, was defined by Elder Bruce R. McConkie as
follows: "Anciently they were considered to be secondary wives, that is, wives who did not have the same standing in
the caste system then prevailing as did those wives who
were not called concubines. There were no concubines
connected with the practice of plural marriage in this
dispensation, because the caste system which caused some wives to
be so designated did not exist."6767 Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual, p. 327.
By this definition it would seem that all of
Joseph Smith's wives would fall into the category of
"concubine." They certainly did not have the "same standing" as
Emma, were not publicly acknowledged and had no rights
Mormons today try to separate eternal marriage
from polygamy but the revelation makes these one and the
same. In section 132 the Biblical term "eternal life" is
redefined as "eternal lives," thus changing man's goal of being
with God eternally to that of becoming a God with the ability
to procreate eternally.68 68 Compare D&C 132:22, 24 with Matthew 7:13 and John 17:4.The Doctrine and
Covenants Student Manual explains:
D&C 132:22–25. What is "the Continuation of the
Lives" and the "Deaths"?
Elder Bruce R. McConkie taught: "Those who gain
eternal life (exaltation) also gain eternal lives, meaning that in
the resurrection they have eternal 'increase,' 'a
continuation of the seeds,' a 'continuation of the
lives.' Their spirit progeny will 'continue as innumerable as the stars; or, if ye were
to count the sand upon the seashore ye could not
number them.' " . . . President Joseph Fielding Smith further
explained that "the term 'deaths' mentioned here has reference to
the cutting off of all those who reject this eternal covenant
of marriage and therefore they are denied the power
of exaltation and the continuation of posterity. To be
denied posterity and the family organization, leads to the
'deaths,' or end of increase in the life to
come."6969 Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual, p. 327.
Doing the "works of Abraham," as mentioned in
section 132:32-37, thus becomes eternal procreation, or "eternal lives." Those who enter into this covenant "are not
angels but are gods." In opposition to the clear teaching of
the Bible that there is only one God,70 70 Isaiah 43:10-11; 44:6, 8, 24; 45:5:5-7, 22.
71 Joseph Fielding Smith, ed., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph
Smith, Deseret Book, pp. 312, 345-347.Smith taught there is
an endless stream of men progressing to
Mormons today seem to view D&C section 132
as mainly relating to a man being sealed to his wife in
an eternal marriage, with plural marriage only an
outdated appendage. The early Mormons viewed it just the
opposite, declaring that plural marriage was necessary for
exaltation. In Joseph Smith's day eternal marriage was
synonymous with plural marriage. Curiously Smith wasn't even
sealed to his legal wife, Emma, until May 28, 1843, after he
had already been sealed to two dozen women. If
Smith's concern was to be married eternally to his wife why did he put
so many women ahead of her? It seems obvious that the
issue was getting her to accept plural marriage. Once she
agreed to the new doctrine Smith had her sealed to him.
Virgins or Married Women?
In contradiction to the revelation restricting
marriage to "virgins" Smith married over a dozen women with
living husbands.72 72 Smith, Nauvoo Polygamy, pp. 223-224.Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner, married
and a faithful Mormon, told how Joseph Smith had
approached her to be his secret plural wife with the claim that God
had sent an angel to him "three times between the year of
'34 and '42 and said I [Smith] was to obey that principle
[plural marriage] or he would lay (destroy) me." Todd
Compton observed that "Smith linked plural marriage with
salvation, as he did in later marriages. If Mary accepted him as
her husband, her place in heaven would be
assured."7373 Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, p. 212.
Richard Van Wagoner tells more of Mary's sealing
Mary Elizabeth Rollins, married to non-Mormon
Adam Lightner since 11 August 1835, was one of the first
women to accept the "celestial marriage" teachings of the
prophet. "He was commanded to take me for a wife," she
declared. . . "I was his, before I came here," she added. . . Brigham
Young secretly sealed the two in February 1842 when Mary
was eight months pregnant with her son, George
Algernon Lightner. She lived with Adam Lightner until his death
in Utah many years later. In her 1880 letter to Emmeline
B. Wells, Mary explained: "I could tell you why I stayed
with Mr. Lightner. . . . I did just as Joseph told me to do, as
he knew what troubles I would have to contend
with."7474 Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy, p. 43.
No explanation is given as to how married women
met the criteria for "virgins" in Smith's plural marriage revelation.
Presenting the Revelation to the Nauvoo Stake High Council
With rumors of polygamy growing in number,
Joseph evidently decided it was time to present the revelation to
a larger audience. George Smith explains:
On August 12, 1843, as Hyrum Smith read his
brother's month-old dictated revelation to a dozen or more
individuals at a Nauvoo Stake High Council meeting, reactions
were mixed. Reports of the event contain references to dissent
in the leadership for the first time since Oliver
Cowdery's private objection in 1838 to the prophet's conduct with
Fanny Alger or the year-ago protest of President John
Bennett when he defected over what he called "gross
sexual improprieties, ethical degradation, financial
misbehavior, theft, and murder." Four supporters of plural marriage,
James Allred, David Fullmer, Thomas Grover, and Aaron
Johnson, as well as a critic, Leonard Soby, reported on the meeting
in letters and affidavits. . . .
Not long afterward, two members of the High
Council, Cowles (father of Smith's plural wife, Elvira Cowles)
and Soby, withdrew from the church and revealed the
content of the revelation to the public. It created a wave of
confusion and discontent as these formerly esteemed leaders
accused Smith and others of marital infidelity. Citizens in
the surrounding area needed little prompting to join their
own voices to the chorus of protesters. It was during this
period, before and after the Smith brothers' martyrdom, that
many first realized that plural marriage was, in fact, a reality
among the LDS hierarchy.7575 Smith, Nauvoo Polygamy, p. 369.
Even though Emma knew of Joseph's marriages to
the Partridge sisters and the Lawrence sisters, and possibly
a few others, she must not have known the extent of
Smith's marriages. On August 16,1843, Smith's secretary,
William Clayton, recorded in his diary:
This A.M. Joseph told me that since E[mma] came
back from St. Louis she had resisted the P[riesthood] in toto
and he had to tell her he would relinquish all for her sake.
She said she would [have] given him E[liza] and
E[mily] P[artridge], but he knew if he took them she would pitch
on him and obtain a divorce and leave him. He however told
me he should not relinquish anything.7676 George D. Smith, ed., An Intimate Chronicle: The Journals of William Clayton, Signature Books, 1995, p. 117.
Then on August 18 Clayton records a conversation
with Joseph about a visit he and Emma made at the Woodworths. Evidently this was the first that Emma realized Joseph
had already wed young Flora Woodworth, his eighteenth
President Joseph told me that he had difficulty with E[mma] yesterday. She rode up to Woodworths
with him and called while he came to the Temple. When
he returned she was demanding the gold watch of F[lora].
He reproved her for her evil treatment. On their return
home she abused him much and also when he got home. He
had to use harsh measures to put a stop to her abuse but
finally succeeded. . .7777 Smith, An Intimate Chronicle, p. 118.
One of the last leaders to be introduced to
polygamy by Joseph Smith was apostle Amasa Lyman in 1844.
George Smith details Lyman's conversion to plural marriage:
Amasa Lyman . . . was preparing to go to Boston in
the spring of 1844 when Joseph Smith spoke with him
about plural marriage. As Lyman reported it, "a few days after
the [April] conference, I had an interview with the Prophet,
in which he taught me some principles on celestial
marriage. On the day of my parting with him, he said as he
warmly grasped my hand for the last time, 'Brother Amasa, go
and practice on the principles I have taught you, and God
bless you.' "
. . . Lyman understood that the "plurality of wives"
was a matter that "as yet was to be kept carefully from the
ears of the world." In Lyman's last conversation with the
prophet, Smith used "impressive words" to emphasize "the
import and obligation of this ancient law," saying that "to
obey that law" was "one of the essentials to salvation."
At first, Lyman found polygamy to be
"strange, startling, astonishing" and "rather too much to grasp in
a moment." He also perceived a "tone" of "power
and authority" in Smith's voice. More and more often,
Joseph would threaten colleagues with eternal damnation if
they did not accept the promised rewards of plural marriage.
If Lyman rejected this principle, Joseph told him, "he
would be damned." . . . When he returned from the East, he
dutifully married eight women and by old age would father
thirty-seven children.7878 Smith, Nauvoo Polygamy, pp. 363-364.
While Nauvoo Polygamy discusses Smith's
various wives, it also details the extent of early polygamy among
the leaders in Nauvoo. George Smith offers the following tally:
From 1843 through the first half of 1844, Joseph
Smith expanded the number of his confidants. John Bennett
had broken the story to the newspapers, but publicity had not prevented the inner circle from swelling to
thirty-three brethren, excluding Bennett, by the time Joseph and
Hyrum Smith were assassinated on June 27, 1844. As we have
seen, new plural marriages ceased for a few months after
Bennett's intimate accounts in 1842, but the next year and a half
saw seventy-one more celestial weddings, twenty-one for
Smith and fifty for other men. In fact, celestial marriages more
than tripled in 1843. Young married his second and third
plural companions on November 2, 1843, the same day
Smith married his last plural wife. Kimball would not marry in
1843, but chose to postpone his second plural sealing until
the fall of 1844. Cahoon would not marry again, after
joining Lucinda Johnson in 1842 matrimony, until January
1846. Knight, of course, had died. However, twenty-eight
other men complied with the principle: twenty in 1843 and eight
in the first half of 1844 (see chapter 5).
Before the Saints left Nauvoo in 1846, this total
would swell to 196 men and 719 women.7979 Smith, Nauvoo Polygamy, p. 310.
Events Leading to Joseph's Death
The last few months of Joseph's life were full of
strife and confusion, much of it in relation to polygamy.
Emma seems to have enlisted the help of various friends to
keep an eye on Joseph's movements. On April 17, 1844,
the Warsaw Signal reported the following:
We learn direct from Nauvoo, that Jo Smith, on
Friday last, turned his wife out of doors. "Sister Emma's"
offence was, that she was in conversation with Mr.
E[benezer]. Robinson, and refused, or hesitated to tell the Prophet
on what subject they were engaged. The man of God,
thereupon, flew into a holy passion, and turned the partner of
his bosom, and the said Robinson, into the street—all of
which was done in broad day-light, and no doubt in the
most approved style.8080 Jerald and Sandra Tanner, Mormonism—Shadow or Reality? Utah Lighthouse Ministry, 1987, p. 210.
In his journal and autobiography, Joseph Lee
Robinson, Ebenezer's brother, frankly admitted that Joseph and
Emma had a fight over plural marriage:
. . . Angeline Ebenezers wife had some time before
this had watched Brother Joseph the Prophet had seen him
go into some house that she had reported to sister Emma
the wife of the Prophet it was at a time when she was
very suspicious and jealous of him for fear he would get
another wife . . . she was determined he should not get another if
he did she was determined to leave and when she heard
this she Emma became very angry and said she would leave
. . . It came close to breaking up his family . . . the Prophet felt dreadful bad over it, he went to my Brothers and talked with
Angelene on the matter, and she would not give him any
satisfaction, and her husband did not reprove his wife, and it
came to pass the prophet cursed her severely, . . .
I thought that I would not have a wife of mine do a thing of that kind for
a world, but if she had done it she should get upon her
nees at his feet and beg his
pardon. . . .8181 Journal of Joseph Lee Robinson, as quoted in Tanner and Tanner, Mormonism—Shadow or Reality? p. 210.
Smith was not only facing opposition at home, some
of his top leaders came out against him and his new
doctrines. Besides teaching polygamy and multiple gods, Smith
also had himself secretly ordained king and was planning
the political kingdom of God. Several leaders filed
lawsuits against Smith, one was by William
Law.82 82 Salt Lake City Messenger, no. 106, pp. 16-17.After repeatedly pleading with Joseph to renounce plural marriage, Law decided to bring a lawsuit against Smith for "living in
an open state of adultery" with Maria Lawrence. Richard Van Wagoner explains:
Smith commented on the charges the next day in
Sunday services, noting that such accusations were not new to
him. "Another indictment has been got up against me," he
said. "I had not been married scarcely five minutes, and
made one proclamation of the gospel, before it was reported that I had seven wives, . . . What a thing it is for a man to
be accused of committing adultery, and having seven
wives, when I can only find one" ([HC 6]:408-11). Smith, who
had been sealed to Maria and Sarah Lawrence in the summer
or early fall of 1843, had himself appointed legal guardian
of the two orphan girls on 4 June 1844, two weeks after
Law's charges were filed. . . .
Law's charge of adultery against the prophet
was apparently his final attempt to get Smith to
abandon polygamy. . . . On 18 April 1844 Law and his wife Jane
and brother Wilson were excommunicated for
"unchristianlike conduct." Ten days later they and other dissidents
founded a separatist church, declaring Smith a fallen prophet.
The group issued a prospectus for an opposition
newspaper, The Nauvoo Expositor, 10 May
1844.8383 Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy, p. 66.
Nauvoo Expositor Destroyed
On June 7, 1844, the first and only edition of the Nauvoo Expositor was printed. In it were charges of
secret polygamy, the doctrine of plural gods and the
Mormons' political agenda:
We are earnestly seeking to explode the
vicious principles of Joseph Smith, and those who practice the same abominations and whoredoms; which we verily know
are not accordant and consonant with the principles of
Jesus Christ. . .
Many of us have sought a reformation in the
church, without a public exposition of the enormities of
crimes practiced by its leaders . . . but our petitions were
treated with contempt; and in many cases the petitioner
spurned from their presence, and particularly by Joseph . . .
It is a notorious fact, that many females . . . are
requested to meet brother Joseph, or some of the Twelve, at
some insulated point, or at some particularly described place
on the bank of the Mississippi, or at some room, which
wears upon its front—Positively NO
admittance. . . . they are told, after having been sworn in one of the most solemn
manners, to never divulge what is revealed to them, with a penalty
of death attached, that God Almighty has revealed it to
him that she should be his (Joseph's) Spiritual
. . . The Prophet damns her if she rejects. . . .
Our hearts have mourned and bled at the wretched and miserable condition of females in this place; many
orphans have been the victims of misery and wretchedness, through the influence that has been exerted over them, under the cloak of religion and afterwards, in consequence of
that jealous disposition which predominates over the minds
of some, have been turned upon a wide world, fatherless
and motherless, destitute of friends and fortune; and robbed of that which nothing but death can
restore. . . .
The next important item which presents itself for
our consideration, is the attempt at Political power and influence, which we verily believe to be preposterous
and absurd. . . .
Among the many items of false doctrine that are taught the Church, is the doctrine of many
Gods, one of the most direful in its effects that has characterized the world
for many centuries. We know not what to call it other
than blasphemy, for it is most unquestionably, speaking of
God in an impious and irreverent manner.—It is contended
that there are innumerable Gods as much above the God
that presides over this universe, as he is above us; . . .8484 Nauvoo Expositor, June 7, 1844, pp. 1-2.
Also in the paper was a statement by William
Law's wife, Jane:
I certify that I read the revelation referred to in
the above affidavit of my husband, it sustained in strong
terms the doctrine of more wives than one at a
time, in this world, and in the next, it authorized some to have to the number
of ten, and set forth that those women who would not
allow their husbands to have more wives than one should
be under condemnation before God.8585 Ibid., p. 2.
Three days later the Nauvoo City Council, with
Joseph Smith officiating as mayor, ordered the Marshal to
destroy the press:
The Council passed an ordinance declaring the
Nauvoo Expositor a nuisance, and also issued an order to me
[Joseph Smith] to abate the said nuisance. I immediately ordered
the Marshal to destroy it without delay. . . . About 8 p.m.,
the Marshal returned and reported that he had removed
the press, type, printed paper, and fixtures into the street,
and destroyed them.8686 History of the Church, vol. 6, p. 432.
The Mormon account sounds quite tame in
comparison to the June 12, 1844, version given by Charles A.
Foster, one of the publishers of the Expositor:
. . . a company consisting of some 200 men, armed
and equipped, with muskets, swords, pistols, bowie
knives, sledge-hammers, &c, assisted by a crowd of several
hundred minions, who volunteered their services on the
occasion, marched to the building, and breaking open the doors
with a sledge-hammer, commenced the work of
destruction. . . . They tumbled the press and materials into the street,
and set fire to them, and demolished the machinery with a
sledge hammer, and injured the building very
materially.8787 Warsaw Signal, June 12, 1844.
While Mormons try to justify the destruction of the
press on the basis that the paper was full of
lies,88 88 Encyclopedia of Mormonism, "Nauvoo Expositor," vol. 3, 1992, p. 996.
89 Brodie, No Man Knows My History, pp. 392-394.history has shown that the charges were legitimate. The
destruction of the press caused a public uproar, and fearing a riot
Smith called out the Nauvoo Legion. This led to the arrest
of both Joseph Smith and his brother, Hyrum. While the
Smiths were awaiting a hearing the jail was stormed by an
angry mob and the brothers were shot to
Between 1844 and 1846 LDS Church leaders would marry twenty-four of Joseph Smith's thirty-seven
plural wives before their trek west. George Smith explains:
Susa Young Gates recalled that her father, Brigham, approached the widows to tell them that "he and his
brethren stood ready to offer themselves to them as husbands"
in order to contribute to their comrade's offspring, and that the widows were free to "choose for themselves." Within just a half a year, six of the women married Young, four married Kimball, and one married Amasa M. Lyman. Over the next year and a half, Young, Kimball, and six others . . . would marry thirteen more of the widows for a total of twenty-four of Smith's thirty-eight wives.9090 Smith, Nauvoo Polygamy, p. 282.
91 Newell and Avery, Mormon Enigma, p. 246.
Emma Smith, rejecting Brigham Young's leadership
and polygamy, stayed in Illinois and married Lewis Bidamon,
a non-Mormon, in December of 1847.91
LDS scholars Danel Bachman and Ronald K.
Esplin defend Joseph Smith's practice of polygamy with this claim:
Far from involving license, however, plural
marriage was a carefully regulated and ordered system. Order,
mutual agreements, regulation, and covenants were central to
the practice.9292 Encyclopedia of Mormonism, "Plural Marriage," vol. 3, p. 1094.
This might cover many of the later plural marriages
in Utah but it hardly is a picture of the way Smith took
wives. Pressuring a woman into accepting him as a husband
by using claims of an angel with a drawn sword,
threatening Smith with destruction if she refuses him, hardly seems
to fit the description given above. Smith's relationship
with numerous teenagers and married women looks
like "license." These "mutual agreements" usually did
not include Emma's consent and Smith did not establish a
home with any of these women or publicly acknowledge
them. The Partridge sisters entered into plural marriage in
good faith but after repeated run-ins with Emma, Joseph
seems to have divorced them and sent them on their way.
How does this fit with the claim of eternal "covenants"?
It is estimated that there are currently 60,000
people who claim Joseph Smith as their prophet (even though
not members of the LDS Church) who are involved in polygamy, spread among a number of off-shoot groups
and independent polygamists.93 93 Salt Lake Tribune, June 7, 1998.The recent raid on
the polygamist group in Texas and the arrests in Canada
have brought the issue to public attention and created a
public relations nightmare for the Mormons. While the
LDS Church tries repeatedly to distance itself from the
current practice there is no denying that the only reason there
are splinter groups today practicing polygamy is because
of Joseph Smith and his revelation, which is still printed in
the Doctrine and Covenants.
After looking at the heartbreaks and confusion
of polygamy one is drawn to Christ's simple teaching:
"For this reason a man will leave his father and
mother and be united to his wife, and the
two will become one flesh." (Matthew 19:5)
(Christian Pastor, Former Mormon)
Zondervan Publishing Corporation
An Excerpt from Chapter Seven
Search for a Missing Civilization:
Is the Book of Mormon Really an Ancient Book?
As a teenager, I remember the excitement I felt the evening my father and I were invited to visit the ruins of Central America. I envisioned a
fascinating adventure to discover the lost cities of the Book of
Mormon lands. We never made the trip, although thousands of
Latter-day Saints have. Many more have imagined the
journey through the various picture books available that
compare Book of Mormon stories to ancient American sites.
To Latter-day Saints, the Book of Mormon is an
ancient record of great cities, peoples at war, and the rise and
fall of nations. They look for its mark on the landscape
of America. But archaeology has failed to unearth
any concrete evidence for the Book of Mormon. In
response, LDS scholars seek to validate the book's antiquity
by seeking similarities to the ancient Near East. Others
see stronger connections between the Book of Mormon
and Joseph Smith's own times.
The Silent Testimony of Archaeology
From the beginning, Latter-day Saints have
made various attempts to reconstruct Book of Mormon
geography on the American map. The most common approach
today locates the story largely in Central America and
Mexico, the region known as Mesoamerica. LDS authors
have published elaborate suggestions, complete with full
color photographs, about how ancient Mesoamerican
cultures might parallel the Book of Mormon peoples. But LDS writers admit that all of this is pure conjecture. One
Brigham Young University professor puts it like this:
"No one has found any inscriptional evidence for,
or material remains that can be tied directly to any of
the persons, places or things mentioned in the
Consider some examples. The Book of
Mormon peoples are described using gold, silver, iron, brass,
and copper. The mining, smelting, and casting of metal
ores require special tools and complex processes that
leave traces in the archaeological record. But scholars
generally agree that metallurgy was not introduced into
Mesoamerica until several centuries after the Book of Mormon
story ends. What's more, the Book of Mormon mentions the
use of steel swords. But metal swords were not known
in Mesoamerica before the Spanish
The Book of Mormon also speaks of many
different kinds of animals, mostly those familiar in the Old
World, like cattle, sheep, goats and horses. But none of these
have been found in any archaeological setting that dates to
Book of Mormon times. Unlike the deer, jaguar, peccary,
tapir and other native species, the horse has never been found depicted in any of thousands of samples of
Mesoamerican art — in spite of its impressive
The Book of Mormon contains anachronisms, that
is, events or objects that appear out of the proper time
period in which one would expect them to be present. To give
just one example, Alma 16:13 describes how Nephite evangelists "went forth preaching repentance to
the people. . .in their synagogues, which were built after
the manner of the Jews." The Book of Mormon
mentions synagogues twenty-five times. But synagogues were
not developed by the Jews until four hundred years after
Lehi left Jerusalem. How could the writer have known how
the Jews built their synagogues?
To Latter-day Saints, raising issues like this
will probably seem like an "anti-Mormon" attack. A
sincere inquirer should not be expected to ignore honest
questions that bear on the Book of Mormon's credibility. Yet we
should raise these questions with sensitivity and humility.
New World archaeology is still a young
science. Perhaps some day, an artifact or inscription will
be unearthed to validate the Book of Mormon. By
contrast, archaeology has repeatedly demonstrated the
Bible's historical and geographical reliability. The use of
metals, as described in the Bible, has been verified at a number
of sites in the Near East. A traveler today can visit the site
of ancient Capernaum, where Jesus lived, or Ephesus,
where the apostle Paul traveled.
A few years ago I visited the British Museum
in London. There I saw a series of massive stone panels
from ancient Nineveh, carved during the reign of Assyria's
King Sennacherib to commemorate the defeat of the
Israelite city Lachish. Lachish is mentioned in the Bible, as
is Sennacherib's military campaign in Israel. But even
after decades of archaeological work in the New World, it
seems to me that the best Mormon apologists can do is create
an aura of plausibility by suggesting vague similarities
between the Book of Mormon and ancient Mesoamerica.
Denied by DNA
Recent advances in DNA research have
challenged the traditional LDS understanding of where the
American Indians came from, leading some to question the
credibility of the Book of Mormon's basic story. The
predominant hypothesis of mainstream science is that all Native Americans are of Asian origin. This view is supported
by extensive DNA sampling of American Indian populations.
The traditional LDS view, still held by most
Mormons, is that, as children of Lehi, Native Americans are of
Semitic origin. Latter-day Saints have believed this because it
was taught by Joseph Smith and is the most
straightforward way to read of the Book of Mormon text. But
widespread testing of Native American DNA affords no evidence
of any relationship with Semitic peoples.
While some LDS scholars claim that DNA results
are inconclusive and thus do not undermine the traditional
view, others have adopted the hypothesis that most
Native Americans are of Asian origin, while a small subset
is Semitic. If so, Nephites and Lamanites made up only
a small portion of the total New World population during
the Book of Mormon's time frame.
The LDS Church has seemingly acknowledged
that the DNA evidence carries some weight. For example,
the introduction to the 1981 edition of the Book of
Mormon identifies the Lamanites as "the principle ancestors of
the American Indians." The 2006 edition states that the Lamanites "are among the ancestors of the
American Indians." This change accommodates the current
scientific consensus at the expense of the traditional LDS view.
But if the Nephite and Lamanite clans were not alone in
the Americas, it seems odd that the Book of Mormon
never mentions the numerous people who must have lived
in surrounding lands and who surely would have
interacted with them.
Internal versus External Evidence
Lacking external, physical evidence, LDS scholars
have turned from spade to book, hoping to establish an
ancient provenance for the Book of Mormon by linking it to
ancient Near Eastern texts and practices. The idea is that if
the Book of Mormon accurately reflects Near
Eastern elements that Joseph Smith could not have known and
that cannot be traced to the Bible, then it must be taken
seriously as an ancient text, even without archaeological
proofs. Yet this approach can be highly speculative. The
pioneer of this method, Hugh Nibley, explains it like this:
While Book of Mormon students readily admit that
no direct, concrete evidence currently exists substantiating the links with the ancient Near East that are noted in the book, evidence can be adduced—largely external
and circumstantial—that commands respect for the claims
of the Book of Mormon concerning its ancient Near
For the typical Latter-day Saint, circumstantial
evidence is enough. Even though many of the parallels break
down upon close inspection, those who are already committed
to the Book of Mormon will find them convincing.
Their testimony of the Book of Mormon is based on a
spiritual experience, not on external verification. Thus LDS
scholars merely need to provide enough of an argument to
reassure believers and to hold the critics at bay.
One type of internal evidence for the Book of
Mormon has to do with its language and style. If the Book of
Mormon peoples came from Jerusalem, the root language
behind the book would be Hebrew. Thus LDS scholars
believe that the presence of Hebrew literary and
grammatical patterns, called Hebraisms, give evidence of its ancient origin. The most fundamental problem with this
approach is that the Book of Mormon is only available to us
in translated form. Without an original document to
compare, we simply cannot know whether the Hebraisms we
observe are rooted in some Hebrew original or result from
factors in the English text.
One example of a Hebraism in the Book of Mormon
is chiasm. Chiasm occurs when a series of terms are
stated and then repeated in reverse order, forming a
mirror-like reflection. The elements of a chiasm follow the pattern A1-B1-B2-A2, as in Isaiah 6:10 (KJV):
A1: Make the heart of this people fat,
B1: and make their ears heavy,
C1: and shut their eyes;
C2: lest they see with their eyes,
B2: and hear with their ears,
A2: and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed.
No one disputes that chiasm appears in the Book
of Mormon (see Alma 41:13-14). But does this reflect
a Hebrew basis of the text? After all, chiasm is not unique
to the Hebrew language. Any time a reciprocal
relationship or action is described, or a series of items is repeated
in reverse order, chiasm will result. The common phrase,
"A place for everything, and everything in its place," is
a chiasm. Thus chiasm can arise by coincidence.
Moreover, Joseph Smith's familiarity with
biblical language could account for chiasm occurring in his
writings, whether intentionally or not. This explains why
chiasm crops up in Smith's writings outside the Book of
Mormon. Let me give just one example, from Doctrine
and Covenants 3:2.
A1: For God doth not walk in crooked paths,
B1: neither doth he turn to
the right hand nor to the left,
B2: neither doth he vary from that which he hath said,
A2: therefore his paths are straight. . .
A cursory reading of the Doctrine and Covenants reveals other passages that have elements of chiasm,
such as Section 6:33-34 and Section 43:2-6. Since these
passages are neither ancient nor Hebrew in origin, they diminish
the relevance of chiasm in the Book of Mormon.
LDS apologists also claim to find names in the Book
of Mormon that are found in ancient Near Eastern
sources but not in the Bible. For example, the name Alma
has been found in Jewish documents from about 132 A.D. But without knowing what the original Hebrew spelling of
these names might have been, no one can know whether
any Book of Mormon name is truly parallel to a Near
Eastern name or not. Moreover, many of the names listed by
LDS scholars could easily be derived from biblical names
with only slight modification: Sam from Samuel, Josh
from Joshua, Sariah from Sarah, Chemish from Chemosh,
and so forth.
One challenge in trying to establish Hebraic
literary parallels is that the Book of Mormon is riddled with
the language of the Bible. As illustrated with chiasm, most
of the Hebraisms identified in the Book of Mormon can
also be found in modern writings of Joseph
Smith. This suggests that these language forms do not come from
an ancient Hebrew source, but from Smith consciously
or unconsciously imitating the language of the Bible.
A Nineteenth-Century Text?
Since its publication, observers have noted that
the Book of Mormon contains numerous parallels to
nineteenth-century American life. In chapter one I
mentioned Alexander Campbell, a leading American theologian
from Joseph Smith's time. In his review of the Book of
Mormon, Campbell noted that Smith had written into the book
"every error and almost every truth discussed in N. York for
the last ten years."
He decides all the great controversies - infant
baptism, ordination, the trinity, regeneration, repentance,
justification, the fall of man, the atonement, transubstantiation,
fasting, penance, church government, religious experience, the
call to the ministry, the general resurrection, eternal
punishment, who may baptize, and even the question of
freemasonry, republican government, and the rights of man. All
these topics are repeatedly alluded to.
As Campbell observed, the Book of Mormon
reflects nineteenth century American theological and
political themes. It offers guidance on democracy, the practice
of capitalism, and various Protestant controversies.
Some scholars see parallels between the Book of Mormon's secret societies—the Gadianton
robbers—and contemporary concerns about Freemasonry. Many see the warning in
1 Nephi 13 about a "great and abominable church" as a
close parallel to anti-Catholic propaganda in the 1830s.
Sermons by Nephite prophets echo the form
and language of nineteenth century evangelists. The
conversion experiences described in the Book of Mormon are
similar to spiritual awakenings commonly reported in the
American revival movement of the early
1800s. Why are the contents of an ancient work so closely tied to the
concerns of one American generation?
Battle of the Parallels
LDS scholars counter that, as a translation, the
Book of Mormon can be expected to reflect the time and
place in which it was translated. They recognize many of
the parallels cited, but argue that instead of being unique
to nineteenth-century America, these reflect
universal questions of human life. Where the Book of Mormon
does speak directly to particulars of Joseph Smith's
environment, they assert, this is evidence of the book's prophetic
power. If God intended the Book of Mormon to speak to
Smith's generation, Mormons are not surprised that it
addresses concrete issues from American life. From this
perspective, the parallels actually confirm the prophetic accuracy of
the Book of Mormon.
In the end, the question is: Which parallels are
more convincing? Those that link the Book of Mormon to
the ancient Near East, or those that connect it to Joseph
Smith's American context? Taking the evidence of
archaeology, literary parallels, and nineteenth-century anachronisms
all into account, people who are not already convinced of
the Book of Mormon's claims have reason to doubt that it is
an ancient book.
* * * * *
This entire book is now available—