Everything You Always Wanted
to Know About Plural Marriage*
(*but were afraid to ask)
by Greg Smith
[Editor's Note: Presented at the eleventh annual FAIR Conference, 7 August 2009.]
Fools and amateurs rush in where experts fear to tread. It is a great pleasure for me to be here today. I’m grateful for the invitation, and even more grateful they could schedule me near the end of the second day, guaranteeing that (a) the audience would be fed up and restless; and (b) I could relax and enjoy the conference.
I’m also thrilled to be following Matthew Brown, for whose work I have great respect. After his PowerPoint slides, I feel like the kid in school who hands in his report written in crayon, while his neighbor has a laser-printed one in a plastic folder.
So, I will begin by confessing to a bit of false advertising. I have called this presentation “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Plural Marriage* (*but were afraid to ask).” Even if I talked for the entire conference, I couldn’t have fulfilled that mandate. Literally, we’d be here for weeks, probably. But, I want to do two things today. First, I want to examine a common charge raised against Joseph Smith. And that charge is that he was lecherous, so that he had women problems, or however you want to put that, from an early age and that this is somehow the psychological or psychiatric or pathological background to plural marriage.
We will examine the primary evidence for and against this claim, and see how some scholarly—and, not so scholarly—authors have, in my opinion, used and abused that evidence.
And I do that for two reasons. One, it is a good example. It’s a worthwhile question—it’s an interesting question, people wonder about it. But secondly, I want to use it as a bit of a template to give you a framework to appreciate what we’re dealing with when we approach this topic. It will show you, I think, that even with a relatively straightforward question in plural marriage where the evidence is, in my opinion, very clear-cut, when you get down to it, it is still difficult to sort everything out. It takes time, and you can’t always—I’m sorry to say— trust what you read in the usual sources. As Brother Barney reminded us yesterday, you shouldn’t. And this is Exhibit A for why you shouldn’t. So, I hope this is a bit of a cautionary tale, if you will, to show you what you’re in for if you’re going to do research in this area.
Following that, we’re going to start the question session early, he said, foolishly. I’ve gotten a number of questions here, we’re just going to go through them as well as we can. These replies will be somewhat off the cuff—replies we don’t get to or that I don’t feel like we’ve answered adequately, I’m going to try within the next week or two to post something on the FAIR website with references and sources. So, this is an opportunity to tell us what interests you, in a sense. And we’ll try to do as much as we can here but we will do more.
Joseph the Rake?
So, Joseph the rake. There are a few sources that have treated this. The first is the classic Fawn Brodie, No Man Knows My History, published in 1945. We also have on the left Richard Van Wagoner’s Mormon Polygamy: A History, first published in 1985, second edition, 1989. And George D. Smith’s recent Nauvoo Polygamy, published last year. Both of these last two books were published by Signature Books and neither of them paints a very flattering picture of the prophet in this respect. I will leave it to you to decide just why that might be.
Claim #1 – Nancy Marinda Johnson
So, right into it, claim number one, Nancy Miranda Johnson. I’m using Van Wagoner here because he gives the most evidence, if you will, or the most examples. So, we’ll use him as a base and we’ll go into the others as we need it, just to see how different authors handle the evidence. This is a quotation from him, on page 4, note. This is right out of the gate, this is what you get:
…allegations in Hiram, Ohio, reportedly caused problems for Smith in 1832. One account related that on 24 March  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” (Brodie 1975, 119) – Van Wagoner, 4.
Wow, juicy stuff!
The only source for this claim, you’ll notice, is Fawn Brodie—that should send your antennae twitching right there. When I first encountered this passage, I didn’t know who Brodie was, so I was naÔve. So, already, we have a common phenomenon that you’ll see over and over again—the critical sources on this matter repeatedly quote each other. Getting back to what the actual source is takes a good deal of work.
There’s more. If you bother to check the endnotes to Van Wagoner’s book, you will then read this (I’ve added the emphasis):
“That an incident between Smith and Nancy Johnson precipitated the mobbing is unlikely. Sidney Rigdon was attacked just as viciously by the group as was Smith. And the leader of the mob, Simonds Ryder [you know, Mr. You-can't-spell-my-name-right], later said that the attack occurred because members of the mob had found some documents that led them to believe “the horrid fact that a plot was laid to take their property from them and place it under the control of Smith” (Hill 1977, 146). Besides, John Johnson had no son Eli. His only sons were John, Jr., Luke, Olmstead, and Lyman (Newell and Avery 1984, 41).”
Okay, now I’m not a lawyer but it seems to me that if you have an admission from the guy controlling the mob as to why they did it, that that might be something you might want to put in the main body of the text. But it wasn’t, was it?
So, there’s another hostile version of the attack we learn about in the endnotes.1 In fact, there are two other hostile versions, neither of which Van Wagoner bothers to quote.2 There’s also one from Sidney Rigdon’s son which also doesn’t support the version that Van Wagoner gives us in the main text. But, let’s be grateful for small mercies, we at least got one; we mustn’t get greedy, after all.
Claim #1: Brodie and her source
Brodie is given as the only source for this claim, and she is contradicted if we check the endnotes. What is Brodie’s source? A late, second-hand claim from Clark Braden, a missionary for the Church of Christ (Disciples) in a debate with an RLDS missionary in 1884.3
One has to ask, though—if Van Wagoner admits in the endnotes that this is unlikely, why mention it at all? Why use it as evidence of womanizing, only to undercut the evidence in the endnote? Isn’t the fact that this claim is likely false at least somewhat, vaguely germane to the question of Joseph’s early supposed woman troubles? Doesn’t it merit a mention in the main text? Four pages into this book, and I knew I was in for a ride.
Claim #1: George D. Smith’s treatment
Here is George Smith’s treatment of it. Things have not particularly improved with age. I noticed this tactic years ago in Van Wagoner. And then, when I went to read George Smith’s book, I found almost the identical thing. See if you can spot the similarities:
“rumors may have been circulating already as early as 1832 that Smith had been familiar with fifteen-year-old Marinda Johnson. . . . Smith was dragged out of the house by Marinda’s brothers, who tarred and feathered him. No contemporary documentation explicitly attributes this violent act to an insult against the girl’s virtue, but this was the explanation that was later given to it” (p. 44, emphasis added).
Note the weasel words:
- rumors “may have been” circulating. Or, they may not have. The rumors may have had merit, or they may not have. But, they certainly may have been circulating. Hard to argue with that.
- “no contemporary documentation explicitly attributes” it to Joseph’s womanizing—indeed, the only documentation that attributes it to that dates to 1888, either implicitly or explicitly. The documentation from the mob leader attributes it to something else.
- “the explanation later given it”—well, an explanation given, by a hostile minister. There were other explanations, even from the mob leader himself.
Fool me once, shame on you—fool me twice: well, this was having a familiar smell to it, so I checked the footnote:
“Van Wagoner . . . and [Todd] Compton . . . argue that the mobsters . . . reacted to financial shenanigans, not to indiscretions with their sister. In defense of this position, Van Wagoner and Compton point to the fact that Sidney Rigdon was also tarred and feathered that night” (p. 44 n. 100).
We don’t get the story even here. Van Wagoner and Todd Compton do not base their argument on the mere fact that Sidney just happened to be there and happened to get beaten up too. They point out that the leader of the mob said why they did it. And because they were convinced Sidney was trying to take their property and Sidney was attacked first and beaten, in the words of Sidney’s son, until they thought he was dead. And then, they went and beat Joseph, in the words of Sidney’s son, until they got tired and left.
Claim #1: the “victim’s” testimony
Completely unmentioned by either Van Wagoner or George Smith is a testimony from the despoiled maiden herself, Miranda Hyde, who did not have a good experience with plural marriage and cannot be described, I think, as someone who would’ve been thought one of its boosters. But, she said this,
“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.”4
Again, one might suspect that that’s somehow vaguely relevant.
Claim #1: Summary
So, what have we learned from the first claim?
- If a former critic used it, you can too.
- If the story doesn’t help the image you’re going for, you can put the exonerating details in the endnotes. Only nerds check those anyway.
- No need to mention all the hostile accounts if they exonerate Joseph
- If you must discuss counterarguments, try not to mention the strongest ones.
- Don’t mention the victim’s testimony if it helps Joseph.
- Weasel words are useful.
Claim #2: Benjamin Winchester
Next slide, second evidence:
Benjamin F. Winchester, 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” (Benjamin F. Winchester, “Primitive Mormonism—Personal Narrative of It,” Salt Lake Tribune, 22 Sept. 1889.).
- Van Wagoner, 4.
I love the way Van Wagoner describes him, “Joseph’s close friend and leader of Philadelphia Mormons.”5 Check the footnote again. In the footnote, we learn that far from being a close friend of Joseph when he made the statement, Winchester was excommunicated after the martyrdom, and he claims he was excommunicated for being an enemy of plural marriage. So, when the dust settles, we have a bitter apostate who hated plural marriage and all he can tell us is that there are rumours of plural marriage in Kirtland—forgive me if I do not sound too impressed.
In the same letter, Winchester also claimed that the Kirtland temple dedication was nothing but a drunken frolic, but as Milton Backman noted, that position requires us to reject a host of contemporaneous testimony:
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.6
Claim #2: Summary
Things we’ve learned:
- Don’t forget, put things that weaken the witness in the endnotes. Only nerds check them.
- You don’t need to assess how reliable your source was on other matters before you use him.
- There were plural marriage rumours in Kirtland.
Claim #3: Polly Beswick
I love this one.
A second-hand story remembered many years after the event by a “Mrs. Alexander” contended that Polly Beswick, a colorful two-hundred-pound Smith domestic, told her friends that “Jo Smith said he had a revelation to lie with [another woman]….
“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.”
- Van Wagoner, 4.
Where do we start?
- No citation is given for this claim, so one can’t evaluate it.
- The unidentified “Mrs. Alexander” (there is a “Mrs. Warner Alexander, 1886 statement, LDS Archives”; I suspect this is it). Compton [Dialogue 29/2, p. 36] calls this “antagonistic and second-hand.”
- Quoting a domestic’s gossip: how would she know and everyone in Kirtland not know? Where are the confirmatory witnesses?
- Polly is also reportedly known as a gossip (See Linda King Newell’s review in Dialogue 20/2 (Summer 1987): 155.)
- The description of Emma does not match her behavior or character—if nothing else, a “revalation” from Joseph was hardly sufficient to mollify Emma on this issue!
We all know very well what Emma did when Joseph presented her with a revelation about plural marriage. And it was not to say, “Well, okay then!” It was probably to set fire to the revelation.7
Claim #3: Summary
Things we’ve learned:
- Second hand gossip is useful even if it is uncorrobrated when it ought to be, and even when it describes behavior contradicted by later history.
- To his credit, George D. Smith made no mention of this account.
Claim #4—Martin Harris
During an 1873 interview Martin Harris, Book of Mormon benefactor and close friend of Smith, recalled another such [charge from the] early Kirtland period….
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” (Anthony Metcalf, Ten Years Before the Mast (N.p.: n.p., n.d.), 72).
- Van Wagoner, 4-5.
Problems with this claim:
- Martin Harris was not in Kirtland at the time (1833) (see Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 646.)
- The interview supposedly happened in 1873, but was not published until 1888 (Harris died 10 June 1875).
- Harris was back in the Church by 1870—why would he then give a tell-all attack on Joseph Smith in 1873?
Claim #4: Summary
Things we’ve learned:
- Second-hand reports made public only after the death of the witness are reliable even if they are inconsistent with the witnesses’ other actions like returning to the Church.
- It’s OK to have two stories that contradict each other….
…because, we’ve saved the best for last, and it doesn’t match with this one at all.
Claim #5—Eliza Winters
This is where I began to lose my patience, shall we say:
[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” (Susquehanna Register, 1 May 1834, reprinted in Howe 1834, 268; see also Newell and Avery 1984, 64). – Van Wagoner, 4.
Weasel words: “[Joseph's] abrupt 1830 departure…may have been precipitated in part by Levi and Hiel Lewis’s accusations….”
Well, was it or wasn’t it? Is there any evidence that it was? If not, why are we mentioning it? If so, where’s the evidence? And, why does this fact go unmentioned by the other members of the Lewis family? We have affidavits from:
- Isaac Hale (Emma’s father)
- Alva Hale (Emma’s brother)
- Nathaniel Lewis (Emma’s uncle, a Methodist preacher)
- Sophia Lewis (wife of Levi)8
…none of whom mentioned this supposedly scandalous conduct by Joseph. They’re happy to mention Joseph eloping with Emma, for example, but don’t say anything about him cheating on her? That strikes me as rather strange.
Five years later Levi Lewis, Emma’s cousin, repeated stories…
Actually, since we don’t have any evidence at all that the story was told at Joseph’s departure, it isn’t really fair to say it was “repeated” later. All we know is that in 1833, Levi Lewis made these charges. (There is no record of Hiel saying anything until 1879. He gave no evidence to Hurlbut, and would later simply repeat at third hand stories of how Joseph had attempted to “seduce” Eliza. At best, he is repeating Levi’s early tale.9 Interestingly, the seduction claim does not even appear in the lengthy article written by Joseph and Hiel Lewis; Hiel only mentions it in passing in his second reply to Elder Cadwell; and Joseph said nothing about it in his two replies.)
There is an extensive discussion with a Mormon missionary in the newspaper, and Hiel Lewis goes on for pages over other issues and only gives one line of it to Joseph’s infidelity in an almost off-hand way: “And by the way, my brother heard he cheated on her….” and then goes on to other matters. And yet, his brother, who’s also writing to the newspaper, says nothing about the infidelity at all, despite writing these long letters to the editor. And yet, they’re trying to discredit Joseph Smith. If that were my goal, the infidelity would be the first thing I’d bring up and I’d pound it mercilessly—strange.
So, five years later, we have at least one second-hand story after the fact from one witness and silence from at least five others who should’ve known if he knew.
… both Smith and his friend Martin Harris had claimed “adultery was no crime”
Does this really sound like Martin Harris? Does it match claim #4 where he washes his hands of Joseph’s woman troubles? And now, I’m supposed to believe this witness that Harris says that adultery is not a crime.
And all this comes from the Hurlbut affidavits—enough said!
Claim #5: evaluating the witness
Let’s check what else Levi tells us. The full Levi Lewis affidavit is lost, but other excerpts were published. Lewis also claims:
- he heard Joseph admit that “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.”10
These claims are absurd—Joseph repeatedly insisted that he had shown the plates to the Three and Eight witnesses.
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.”11
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.12
Thus, three of the charges that are unmentioned by Van Wagoner seem implausible, even laughable. They are clearly efforts to simply paint Joseph in a bad light: 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 sceptical ears. This Joseph is ridiculous, not to be taken seriously.
Who is Eliza Ann Winters?
Recent work has also uncovered who “Eliza Winters” actually is.13 She was a young woman at a meeting on 1 November 1832 in Springville Township, Susquehana County, Pennsylvania.
Martin Harris announced that Eliza “has had a bastard child,” while on a preaching mission with his brother Emer.
Eliza sued Martin for slander, asking for $1,000 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 either could not prove libel, or had no good character to sully.
Why did she not provide Hurlburt with an affidavit regarding Joseph’s scandalous behavior? Around 1879 Eliza gave information to Frederick Mather for a book about early Mormonism.14 Why did she not then provide testimony of Joseph’s attempt to seduce her? She had means, motive, and ample opportunity. She clearly wasn’t shy about going into court—would she scruple to tell of defending her maidenly virtue against the evil Joseph? Who among her friends and neighbors would gainsay her?
How come she’s not in the Hurlbut affidavits? Where’s her testimony? Why isn’t she running to the newspapers, why isn’t she claiming in open court that she was seduced or molested or attacked by the wicked Mormon Joseph Smith? This is the perfect opportunity—but we get nothing but silence.
Claim #5: George D. Smith’s treatment
Well, how does George Smith handle this tidbit of information? His book claims that Eliza Winters “perhaps did not” resist Joseph’s advances “but apparently talked about it all the same” (p. 232).
Well, excuse me, but there’s no record of her talking about it at all. Not in 1828, when it supposedly happened. Not in 1833, when the affidavits were given. Not in 1832 at her court case against Martin Harris, and not in 1879—she never mentioned it.
Claim #5: Summary:
Things we’ve learned:
- If your source is unreliable on most matters, he’s reliable on adultery charges made well after the fact.
- If the victim didn’t go on the record given multiple chances and motive, she still must have talked and it still must have happened—though you can quibble about whether Joseph tried and failed, or tried and succeeded. Above all, we’re certain he tried.
Overall thing we’ve learned, as we used to say in France, is: Plus Áa change, plus c’est la mÍme chose—“The more things change, the more they stay the same.” So, we will now do as many questions15 as we can here.
Question: Is there any sense of what percentage of nineteenth-century plural marriages did not have the component of sexual relations that were simply sealings?
Answer: I don’t have a great sense of that. I think, by and large, though, that it would be a mistake to assume that this was the case. These people considered the marriages in every sense of the word, certainly by the Utah period. To insist that they did not have sexual relations—well, that did happen on occasion, but it was by far, the minority stance.16
Question: People ask me how I feel about being the second wife. Is there a hierarchy for wives in heaven? Is the first wife more important than the second or the third, et cetera?
Answer: Well, this is a revealing question, I think, revealing because it shows how some of the things that worry people about plural marriage, and some of how I think critics and even perhaps, less sensitive members of the church may deal with it.
You know, if I was asked this I’d say, “It’s a loaded question that you ask of me, how do you feel about being a second wife?” As if that would be a problem, you know, as if that you should be worried. You weren’t worried until they mentioned it but now, you certainly are!
It is certainly true that from a social point of view, a cultural point of view, the first wife was often a more prestigious position among the Mormons, partly because they husband had generally been married to their first wife for longer, and the second wife or third wives were not something that anybody was looking for.
And these people were not perfect, of course. This was an extraordinarily difficult thing they’d been asked to do. And so, was there a hierarchy among wives at times? Certainly. Is there any doctrinal basis for that? I think, certainly not. The Doctrine and Covenant 76 makes it clear that all those who attain the celestial glory have the same glory: “the glory of the celestial is one, even as the glory of the sun is one” (D&C 76:96; compare verse 98 for the distinction).
Question: Do you believe that those all those who achieve exaltation in the Celestial Kingdom will be required to practice polygamy?
Answer: Do I believe that personally? No, I do not. Did some early Mormons believe it? Yes, they certainly did. What I believe is that people who don’t obey God don’t go to the Celestial Kingdom. And for those people in those days, the command to practice plural marriage was so difficult for many that the rhetoric, if you will, or the way they were taught, insisted upon it.
This is like Noah and the ark. Do I think I need to go build a boat? No. If Noah didn’t build the boat, was he in deep spiritual and physical trouble? You bet your life he was.
So, there’s a lot of things that were said certainly, suggesting that plural marriage was essential for salvation. But, the critics never temper these citations with remarks by the very same leaders, Brigham Young, for example. I’ll just flip here to show you something. This slide is of the FAIR Wiki; I’ve done a lot of these articles. If you scroll down to the plural marriage section, you can see all this. And there is a section called “Plural Marriage Necessary for Exaltation.”
You read that, you’ll see Brigham Young saying to people, for example, there’ll with many wives, with one wife and with no wife at all:17
I attended the school of the prophets. Brother John Holeman made a long speech upon the subject of Poligamy. He Contended that no person Could have a Celestial glory unless He had a plurality of wives. Speeches were made By L. E. Harrington O Pratt Erastus Snow, D Evans J. F. Smith Lorenzo Young. Presidet Young said there would be men saved in the Celestial Kingdom of God with one wife with Many wives & with No wife at all.18
And there’s other statements like that:19
Then Presidt Young spoke 58 Minuts. He said a Man may Embrace the Law of Celestial Marriage in his heart & not take the Second wife & be justified before the Lord.20
The fact that Brigham had to make those statements, I think, suggests how the rhetoric could at times, get a bit out of control, you know, that saying, “You people need to do this because Gods command it,” was easily morphed into, “We’ve all got to do this forever.” But I don’t believe that’s the case, and the leaders of the church have certainly not taught that in the modern day.
For further information see: http://en.fairmormon.org/Brigham_Young_in_JD_11,_page_269
Question: Will polygamy be making a return engagement at some point in the future?
Answer: I certainly hope not. But I don’t believe so—nothing would astonish me more. In my opinion, one of the big functions of polygamy was to put the saints into tension with their host community and frankly, plural marriage wouldn’t do that for us. But—and you might think about this, though, on a serious note, it may be that continuing to support and sustain a prophet who practice and preached polygamy just might. Your “plural marriage” may be coming to grips with historical plural marriage.
Question: Now, one question I’ve been asked a lot and someone—I’ve just got another one, so I’m going to do it before we run out of time. Two things: Marriages to younger woman, and polyandry or the marriage to other men’s wives.
Answer: Age of Wives
[Slide shows picture of family with back-combed, Bon-Jovi-style hair from the 1980s.] Presentism; that says it all right there. Here, we have a picture of a couple who, 20 years ago, was I’m sure at the cutting edge of fashion and hairstyle. Now, we wonder what they were thinking.
Okay, that’s presentism—the judging of people of the past by other standards. David Keller and I have done some of this work and Craig Foster, David, and I have a paper or a chapter in a book that will explore this in a lot more detail, but here’s—just to give you a taste—we’ve found a lot of good data but this is just a taste.
[Discussion of various graphs; comment was extemporaneous. To see graphs with discussion (and more material) see here: http://en.fairmormon.org/Polygamy_book/Age_of_wives]
So, again, when we think about a 13-year-old getting married, we throw our hands up in the air. But for these people, that was not as big a deal. And the writers and authors who don’t tell you that are either ignorant or are trying to deceive you. You’ve got to consider this….This is not bizarre, weird stuff for these people. And I have not found any mention by critic or member of the church until the mid- to late-1850s, that even mentions the age difference, and then it was about old “greybeards” supposedly marrying young women. I just don’t think it was on the radar for these people. If you know of one, please come tell me because I’ve looked for four years and I haven’t found one….
So, I think this is just a dog that won’t hunt. Anyway, more about it on the wiki, go read it if you want to know more.
Of polyandry, Katharyn Daynes said:
perhaps, nothing is less understood than Joseph Smith’s feelings to women who are already married, because the evidence supports conflicting interpretations.21
This is probably the thing, in my experience, that bothers members the most. And it’s so foreign into our experience and we don’t know what to do with it. And I can’t pretend to tell exactly what to do with it either because, frankly, the data isn’t there and you can make it mean whatever you want it to mean. And in some ways, it’s very easy for a critic to use this as the final knife thrust. The term “polyandry” means women having more than one husband, but don’t let that deceive you, it’s probably not accurate for how they saw it—don’t assume that it means what “polyandry” means in other parts of the world. The LDS form is sui generis.
[Chart of the polyandrous marriages from Compton's In Sacred Loneliness] presented.
One thing, though, is Sylvia’s Sessions Lyon right there—Brian Hales has written in wonderful paper on her.22 Hales argues that Sylvia was probably not married at the time she was sealed to Joseph. There are two possible dates for her marriage, 1842 and 1843. There are two different affidavits, and they use different dates, though neither one of them is signed by her. The 1843 date, though, accords with her own report about her marriage. She told her daughter that she was sealed to Joseph Smith while her husband was out of the church. That works for a 1843 date, it doesn’t work for a 1842 date. Compton, in his book, presumes that she must be retroactively changing the story to make herself look better for the 1842 date. But, for the 1843 date, you don’t have to postulate that she’s altering the history or making an error in the time-line. So, she probably was not married at the time.
So, why did they do this? Well, here’s Zina Huntington’s quote:
…when I heard that God had revealed the law of Celestial marriage that we would have the privilege of associating in family relationships in the worlds to come, I searched the scriptures and by humble prayer to my Heavenly Father I obtained a testimony for myself that God had required that order to be established in his Church. 23
She was interviewed by a hostile witness about her marriage, and then finally shut him up by saying,
“Mr. Wight, you are speaking on the most sacred experiences of my life….”24
Whatever these relationships mean, these women regarded them with deep seriousness and had a deep spiritual component. Anyone who tries to tell you that this is just Joseph Smith and some women hopping into bed together, he’s missing the point dramatically.
One of the interesting things, though, which I noticed, is that a lot of the early marriages are these polyandrous ones. You get Fanny Alger, the first one, you get Louisa Beaman, maybe one other one. And then, the next 10 or 11 marriages are all these polyandrous ones, except for Joseph marrying his dead brother Don Carlos’ wife, which may be the same kind of thing, except that his brother happened to be dead. Now, why would that be?
If you think about it, these must be the most difficult marriages for the people involved, wouldn’t they? Why? Well, in the first place, the women are less likely to accept because they’re already married. It’s one thing to go up to a young, perhaps, romantic, unmarried girl and say, “Let’s get married polygamously.” It’s quite another to approach someone who has a husband, who has children and say, “Hey….” There’s also a husband involved which, call me crazy, I think would probably something of a sticking point, right? There’s the risk of anger, exposure, violence, and yet, this doesn’t happen? Henry Jacobs does not call Joseph out for six guns at high noon. And it’s even stranger than the Bible model—at least with regular plural marriage, you can appeal to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob but, what are you going to use as the model for polyandry?
Well, all of that presumes, of course, that the polyandrous marriages had sexual relations as a component. And so, I have long wondered if it wasn’t mostly about sealing.
But, I was always sceptical of that for two reasons: One, it seemed too easy and pat, and I worried that maybe, I was just trying to subconsciously avoid sexuality in these relationships. I started out thinking they were sexual, and started to think maybe they weren’t, but couldn’t rule out that some bias or wish was shading my judgment.
The second reason for my reluctance was Sylvia Sessions, the lady discussed in Hales’ paper, because Sylvia Sessions has the only, in my opinion, good case for a child by Joseph Smith. (The rest of the potential children do not hold water,. And ironically, this is the only child that Brodie did not mention, which gives you some idea of how accurate she was.25)
So I was always kind of on the fence about this, but then Hales’ paper came along and got rid of one of the big arguments against this hypothesis and I begin to think, “Well, maybe, that’s the case, maybe, that’s how it worked?” I don’t know.
But then, I ran on to something in my own family history. There is evidence from this that some early Mormons at least, firmly believed that a faithful spouse could help exalt a wayward or even a non-member spouse. I don’t believe this has ever been printed or published in any scholarly discussion of it. This is my great-great, great grandfather, Isaiah Moses Coombs, who was 21 years old when he came to Utah in 1855. He had been in Illinois during the Nauvoo period but he had not moved to Utah immediately—his family was far too poor. So, they didn’t suffer much persecution in Illinois, since he and his family were the only members in town, and they were too poor to go west when the rest of the saints went.
So, he got married to a girl who was not a member and was his childhood sweetheart. He describes in glowing terms in his journal how much he loved this woman. A year after they got married, he went west and she refused to go. This is what Coombs said about her:
…not least was the consideration that I was obeying the voice of God and that I was taking a course that would secure my own glory and exaltation and that would eventually either in this life or that which is to come enable me to bind my wife to me in bands that could not be broken. She was blind then but the day would come when she would see.26
This was written, you know, long after the fact. So, he knew how the story worked out and he continued to insist that this was so. And to me, this is particularly persuasive because he was not writing this account for public consumption; he wrote it for his children. He had no polemic purpose save to tell his story. He was not prominent in the church, he was outside, he was one of the rank-and-file, garden-variety church members.
So, if a 21-year-old convert in rural Illinois, not at the hub of power, is thinking like this to the extent that he is willing to leave his wife and their new child and head west, I suggest to you that he probably wasn’t the only one thinking that way. So, I suspect, on the basis of all that, that these polyandrous sealings had as their intent to bind people to whom Joseph was very close, including their non-member or faithless husbands, for whom Joseph had great affection.
Anyway, you can read all about this in gory detail there in the wiki, that’s my article. So, there’s more there, you can see all the sources, you can write and tell me why I’m wrong, if you think so.27
Question: Are we embarrassed about polygamy? When I asked about polygamy, church leaders seemed to want to brush the topic off by stating that we don’t practise that anymore.
Answer: Yeah, we seem uncomfortable about it—
Question (continued): It’s still something we believe in. Do we believe it will be practised again in this life by the LDS church?
Answer: Well, I don’t know what you all believe but I don’t.
Question (continued): …and do we believe it will be practised in the eternities?
Answer: I think it’s clear that in some form, it will exist in the eternities but I don’t think we know a lot about that. So, are we embarrassed about it? Well, I don’t know, I can’t speak for the church. I think in a sense, we are, culturally. In a sense, we have almost, to a degree, imbibed some of the attitudes of the Saints’ critics from the old days. And we have plenty of examples of, you know, the so-called fundamentalist groups that of course, you see the worst examples on TV and that kind of makes your toes curl. And critics of the church, of course, have gone out of their way to continue to tar us with this brush. And, as I hope this talk bears witness, giving any kind of a sensible, coherent, respectable answer about any question about plural marriage requires a great deal of time.
If you want a bullet point, sound bite answer, you have come to the wrong place and the critics know that. It’s very easy to say, “Joseph Smith was married to a 14-year-old girl.” Explaining all that takes some time. And 60 Minutes and 20/20 are not going to wait for President Hinckley to get out his flowcharts. So, we’re sort of between a rock and a hard place.
And I think that’s the most difficult thing about it—it’s very hard to explain succinctly. We also don’t know what to do with some of this stuff, and that’s okay, but that makes us look wishy-washy to outsiders looking in.
And then, the third thing is that, the church continues to struggle with members who go after the so-called polygamous cults, who continue to do return to polygamy and who, I am certain, would look at any positive comment about plural marriage from a leader of the church as a nudge-nudge, wink-wink to them to practice it.
Why do I say that? I say that because I personally, in Alberta, have been requested as an “expert witness” in behalf of a polygamist apostate in Alberta who is being subject to a church disciplinary council for practising and preaching polygamy and wanted to call me as an expert witness to defend him. Fortunately, his state president declined that opportunity to hear from me. But the guy was quoting a paper I wrote where in the very first paragraphs, I wrote “I have come to see polygamy as a vital, even indispensable, part of the Restoration, practiced at the behest of the Lord and ultimately discontinued through proper priesthood authorization.”
So, if someone will take a nobody like me and twist what I write or say, heaven help what they would do to something Gordon B. Hinckley or Thomas S. Monson said. So I don’t know if those are the reasons, but to me those strike me as some reasons why this is very difficult to answer and we may just have to live with that.
We got ten minutes, there’s more questions, but I want to bring this to some sort of a conclusion that I hope will wrap it up nicely and then, afterwards, if Scott wants me to do more, I guess I can keep yapping till you’re sick of me. I’m going to read one more question—it’s actually a series of questions, it was emailed in and it’s very good because I think it speaks to a lot of things and may, in fact, speak more to the fundamental root difficulty we all have than just the historical nuts and bolts.
And I hope you will excuse me but I will speak about my “personal journey,” if you want to call it that, with this material. And if that’s useful, or if what I say is useful, great. And if it isn’t, well then, please just ignore me and go back to what you were doing.
So, the question begins: “I am a woman and NOT a fan of polygamy, although I and my husband are both descendants of it. Is the text of D&C 132-58-66 the origin of the practice?”
Answer: The best historical evidence suggests that plural marriage was revealed to Joseph by 1831, and that he was teaching it to a limited circle by that year.28 It is possible (some think probable) that D&C 132 represents one or more revelations on this and other topics given well before the date they were recorded. Whether the D&C 132 text is the first encounter Joseph had with the idea is not known, however.
Question continues: “Wasn’t it originally to be practiced ONLY by those who’d received a special calling to do so?”
Answer: Joseph was told he was the only one who held the power to approve it (D&C 132:7). There is no suggestion, however, that Joseph anticipated that it would only be done on a limited scale. Certainly Joseph taught others to practice it, and indicated that it was a commandment from God that they do so. Later leaders of the Church still approved plural marriages, but issued the command generally to anyone worthy and able.
Question continues: “Did the practice mushroom beyond expectations and sort of get out of control? The fundamental LDS groups of Texas, Colorado City and others have clearly shown how evil the practice is and how it is NOT a blessing to women and children. Is it possible Joseph Smith made a mistake in introducing the practice.”
Answer: Finally, a softball question. [Laughter] And I was just handed something here that said, ” Richard Bushman has said to a group of CES that he believes polygamy was a faulty revelation, is polygamy a faulty revelation in your [i.e., the presenter Smith's] opinion?
Question from audience: “Bushman said it is or is not faulty?”
Answer: “Is,” according to this author [i.e., the written question]. I’ve never heard that or read that from Bushman but that’s what they say.
[Editor's Note: After the conference, FAIR contacted Dr. Bushman to determine if this
question accurately reflects his views. Bushman replied: "I have said that section 132 is complex and difficult to interpret in our time but never that it was a faulty revelation. This claim illustrates the dangers of quoting hearsay statements."]
This is a sincere and heartfelt question, and I doubt I will be able to adequately answer it in the time we have. I will point out a few things, though, and I appreciate the question because it illustrates a broader point that I wished to close on.
First thing on the issue of the fundamentalists. I would be very careful about trying to draw analogies to what plural marriage was like in the nineteenth-century with what you see on TV about fundamentalist people. In fact, I would be reluctant to draw conclusions about what I see with Warren Jeffs and company about the rest of the fundamentalists, I don’t think that’s fair to them. I certainly don’t think it’s fair to the early Saints. I will elaborate on that on the website but there’s too many differences for it to be anything but a rough and very crude analogy.
[This supplementary material was not presented, but elaborates on these ideas.]
I am not an expert on fundamentalist marriage, but I think it a mistake to think that nineteenth-century practice among the Saints can be compared to the actions of modern practitioners. Some key differences include:
- A constant influx of new converts in nineteenth-century, which helped avoid the so-called “old boys” phenomenon in which older men out-compete with younger men for wives.
- The lax divorce practices granted to women by Brigham and his successors are miles away from the almost forced plural marriages of some modern groups. One 1985 estimate had a 9% divorce rate for polygamists versus a 1% for monogamists—which may sound shockingly high for the time, but isn’t really much out of line for how fluid relationships were in the frontier. 30% of those who married again chose polygamy.
- There was community support and endorsement for such marriages; they were not ostracized or hidden (until the persecutions of the 1880s).
- The clichÈ of the “old man” marrying young women is mostly myth. Stanley Ivins wrote: “Another false conception was that polygamists were bearded patriarchs who continued marrying young girls as long as they were able to hobble about. It is true that Brigham Young took a young wife when he was sixty-seven years old and a few others followed his example, but such marriages were not much more common with the Mormons than among other groups. Of 1,229 polygamists, more than ten per cent married [p.315] their last wives while still in their twenties, and more than one half of them before arriving at the still lusty age of forty years. Not one in five took a wife after reaching his fiftieth year. The average age at which the group ceased marrying was forty years.”29
- If one believes plural marriage was commanded at one time, and not commanded at another, the types of people involved and their behavior is not likely to be the same.
[Supplementary material ends here.]
Now, the question she ends with, “Was this a mistake—was it all a mistake?” Well, anything’s possible. And there are some members of the church who’ve taken that stance. Todd Compton, in his book In Sacred Loneliness is very clear that he regards the restoration of plural marriage as unnecessary.30 He regards the practice as a mistake that was adopted because of over-enthusiasm for the restoration of all things as a tragic and unnecessary error.
[Editor's Note: Following the FAIR Conference, Greg Smith corresponded directly with both Todd and Laura Compton after hearing that Todd felt his views relative to Joseph and polygamy were misrepresented. In the ensuing correspondence Greg clarified his understanding and expressed a willingness to add clarifications that fairly represented Todd's views on the matter, as Greg had done with Richard Bushman's views. Despite repeated and pointed requests for correction and clarification, Laura deferred to Todd, and Todd cordially declined to definitively state whether he believed Joseph's revelations on polygamy reflected God's will or not. He would only say that the word "mistake" was not one that he would have used. He declined to provide any better description or wording.]
And personally, I really don’t think it matters what a member of the church believes about polygamy unless whatever it is you believe leads you to decide that Joseph was not a prophet of God, that Jesus is not the Christ and the ordinances and the authority to perform them are not vested in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. If whatever you conclude or whatever I conclude leads you to challenge those things or to doubt those things, then polygamy suddenly matters a very great deal.
So, you can adopt Brother Compton’s conclusion if we wish, but I would offer one caution. There is an old saying that, when you pick up one end of a stick, you pick up the other end. We should be clear about the full implications about what Compton is offering us before we rush to embrace it because we think it will solve our problems, calm out hearts and make us feel better. And what I suggest you must consider is this:
- If Joseph could be mistaken about D&C 132 being a revelation, couldn’t he be mistaken about D&C 1? D&C 2? D&C 3? Et cetera.
- If Joseph could mistake—or would lie about—an angel coming three times to command polygamy, couldn’t he mistake—or lie about—the angel Moroni, or angels restoring the priesthood, or any of a dozen other claims?
- Early polygamists, men and women reported similar dramatic experiences. They’re on the wiki.31
Now, Compton may not draw those conclusions—to my knowledge, he does not, and for that I applaud him. But, anti-Mormons understand very well that accepting that model seriously risks you concluding not just that Joseph was a prophet who made a mistake, but that Joseph was no prophet at all. And that is one reason, I’m convinced, why they have embraced Compton’s book so happily. It is not because of the great primary sources, it is not because it gives you access to things that are hard to find unless you are in the church archives, it is for this reason—if you accept Compton’s thesis, the other end of the stick is waiting, or potentially is.
So, personally, I’m not convinced that Joseph made a mistake and in fact, I am confident that he did not, and I will conclude now by telling you why. And again, I apologize for the personal nature of some of this but it’s the only way to tell it. And during the two hour drive through beautiful northern Montana, it became clear to me that I should say this.
I was always aware of plural marriage and I knew that Joseph had practised it. But when I first began to study the details, it was by way of the Van Wagoner volume with which I began our little chat today, and I almost immediately encountered the claims of the womanizing trouble on pages four to five. And I stopped at that point because I hadn’t done the legwork to demonstrate what we did here today. The author dumped it on me and he moved on and I had to decide what to do with it, and many of you or most of you have perhaps had that experience of kind of bopping along blissfully, and then someone presents you with some stuff and just kind of leaves you to deal with it. And that’s why plural marriage is such a useful tool for the antis is because they don’t have to do much.
So, I thought about it a lot. And I didn’t know much but I knew three things.
- I knew that I didn’t know enough to answer the questions that this was going to bring up.
- I knew that finding the answers, if there were any, was going to take a lot of time and a lot of work.
- I knew that I might not be intellectually or spiritually up to the challenge of finding those answers or recognising the answers or being satisfied with the answers. And I knew that answers might not exist.
So, I determined then to take that to the Lord and it was one of the most interesting experiences of my life. The scriptures talk about having the Spirit give you words—give you words to pray when you don’t know what you should say (e.g., Romans 8:26, 3 Nephi 19:24). Well, I thought I knew what I was going to say, but apparently that wasn’t what I was supposed to say, so I ended up saying something quite different from what I knelt down intending to talk about. Somewhat to my surprise, I found myself telling my Father in Heaven what bothered me and instead of begging him for answers or insisting upon them (as I had half planed to do) I found myself telling him that I would not forsake him, that I would not forsake our relationship, that I was not going to turn my back on it or on him. And, that I was not going to abandon my covenants. I told him that come what may, I would do whatever he wanted me to do. And then, I asked him if it would be spiritually dangerous for me to commit the kind of time and energy and effort and intellectual work that this project would probably require.
And I thought that that was going to be the first of many struggling prayers over the issue. But God is gracious and he told me very clearly that I was quite free to investigate it, that it would all work out, though he gave me no idea of how or in what way, and that I had nothing to worry about. And here I am, four years later, talking about it—you must be careful what you ask for, you may get it. I almost think he was a little bit unfair! If I had known this was part of the deal—I did not bargain for this. I did not set out to be the person people ask about plural marriage. Anyone out there who wants the title can see me after.
But, as I’ve thought about that experience, it has been my experience with FAIR and elsewhere that even the idea of plural marriage—and I think you picked that up very well in this, you know, quite heartrending letter that I’ve been reading from here—even the idea of plural marriage is deeply hurtful for some people, especially women. And it’s more, I’m convinced, than just some kind of social or cultural revulsion. I think sometimes it’s speaks to the things that we have experienced in our lives. It brings up memories of the abusive power or of men who mistreated us or sexual abuse or inconsiderate spouses or a host of other things. And it also is easily made to seem a textbook example of the abuse of religion for power—the preacher who wants sex with you and your daughter in exchange for salvation. And I sympathise with all those reactions because I know something of them.
But, perhaps, because of them or in my case, because of the vastness of the topic, we become very uneasy, in a way, with plural marriage that I don’t see with other apologetic issues. We feel a pressure and urgency to solve this problem above all others, once and for all, and quickly. The more we look, the harder it seems to solve it. In large part because the usual sources that we have to rely on, as I have shown you, do very little to help us solve it. And without the primary sources we are, in a sense, lost. And the cycle is thus a vicious one because the more we try to solve it, the more it gets dumped on us.
There is a song by Paul Simon on his most, in my opinion, underrated album, Hearts and Bones, 1983. It is a song called Think Too Much (b):
The left side of the brain
It dominates the right
And the right side has to labor through
The long and speechless night
And in the night
My father came to me
And held me to his chest
And said, “There’s not much more
“That you can do.
“Go on and get some rest.”
And I said, “Yeah,
“Maybe I think too much.
“Maybe I think too much.
“Maybe I think too much.”32
Now, I am not—before some mouth-breather on the internet concludes otherwise—I am not suggesting that we stop thinking or that I think thinking is a bad idea. I trust that the hundreds of wiki pages I have written with thousands of footnotes, and the fact that I’m standing up here, and that I have about 2,000 pages of notes on plural marriage on my computer suggests that I think thinking is an okay thing.
But, the problem was, in that moment, when I first approached God with this, was that my spiritual life did not have four or five years, which is how long I’ve been doing this now, to sit in the church archives. My spiritual life could not be put on hold for that long. How long could I halt between two opinions? If Joseph be Baal or a sexual predator, don’t follow him. Jesus called the apostles and did not tell them to spend three or four years with the primary sources before deciding to answer the call to “Come, follow me.”
And for me, ultimately, the question (I see now) had nothing to do with plural marriage at all. Plural marriage was only the catalyst for a much more fundamental question and that question was, “Do I trust Father?” And I see now, by the grace of God, that my instinctive reaction was to do that, to express my trust and, amazingly, to mean it. I did not realise it at the time, but what I effectively chose to do, if I can put it crudely, is I chose to “consecrate my brain.” I value my brain—we all do—nobody likes to be thought foolish or naÔve or ill-informed or duped or cognitively dissonant or any of the other labels people can put upon us.33 I’m a doctor, I’m regarded as a reasonably smart person, I love science, I love evidence, I’m a sceptic, I’m a rationalist. I say all this about myself—I am all those things, that’s part of how I conceive of myself.
I could have gone before God and I could have demanded answers, I could’ve told him I want the evidence and I want it now, I want closure. I could’ve issued him ultimatums. I could’ve told him that if this didn’t work out, I was quitting. But, I chose instead, to consecrate my brain. I was willing to sacrifice my self-image, my years of learning, my intellectual effort and my social respectability on the internet (which I’m sure is crashing as I speak!) because I trusted Father.
But, you know, it’s the funny thing about consecration, you always get back everything you consecrate, with interest. Once my Father and I had an understanding which took, maybe, 10 minutes, I was back to thinking again. And immediately, I began to get more answers and perspective that I know what to do with, and it hasn’t stopped yet. It’s like trying to drink from a fire hose and I apologize for spraying you all but I haven’t exactly got it controlled yet.
I got “good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over” (Luke 6:38). I cast my bread upon the water and God sent back an aircraft carrier with a bakery on top.
My only fear in saying all this is that some people will think I’m offering a pat answer—I’m not. Abraham was asked to consecrate Isaac. And with Isaac went all the precious promises, everything that made Abraham, Abraham. But he put his son on the altar and he got him back and so much more. We know how Abraham’s story ends but Abraham did not. And as Elder Maxwell observed, even when we know it’s a test, we can’t say, “Look ma, no hands.”34 You can’t consecrate your brain while crossing your fingers and hoping that we can somehow trick God by going through the intellectual motions and that he will support our demand for proof. You can’t ask for a sign, but I bear you my witness that “signs follow them that believe,” in this as in everything (D&C 63:9).
And so, I’ve tried to answer some questions today but I will leave you with one. And that question is, “Do you trust Father?” If you do, I have no worries, and if you do not, or if you’ve forgotten how, or you fear you may be starting to, you must start there because no answer from me or anyone else will satisfy you on a historical matter. And if plural marriage doesn’t trip you up, something will. Settle it up with Father and then you and I can talk.
Praise be to the man who communed with Jehovah. I will not bear you testimony of the history I’ve told you for that could all change tomorrow. But I bear witness of the Lord of the outstretched arm, who comes into our nights and into our days and clasps us to his chest, and who gives us back a hundredfold of all the poor leavings that we drop upon the altar—sometimes with clenched fists and worried backward glances, since we really didn’t want to give it up—that we drop upon the altar which is already stained with his far more impressive sacrifice on our behalf.
May God be with you. Amen.
1 See this account 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 Richard S. Van Wagoner, Sidney Rigdon: A Portrait of Religious Excess (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1994), 114ñ115.
2 S.F. Whitney (brother of NK Whitney, a Reverend], in Arthur B. Demming (editor), Naked Truths About Mormonism, 1 (January 1888): 3-4; Amos S. Haydon, Early History of the Disciples in the Western Reserve (1876); 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.
3 Clark Braden and E. L. [Edmund Levi] Kelley, Public Discussion of the Issues between the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and the Church of Christ (Disciples), Held in Kirtland, Ohio, Beginning February 12, and Closing March 8, 1884, between E. L. Kelley, of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and Clark Braden, of the Church of Christ (St Louis, MO: C. Braden, 1884), 202.
4 Marinda (Johnson) Hyde, Interview, cited in Edward Tullidge, Women of Mormondom (1877), 404.
5 Van Wagoner’s earlier Dialogue article was slightly better, describing Winchester as “once a close friend.” Richard S. Van Wagoner, “Mormon Polyandry in Nauvoo,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 18/3 (Fall 1985): 70. It is unfortunate that the author or his editor made this alteration.
6 Milton V. Backman, Jr., The Heavens Resound: A History of the Latter-Day Saints in Ohio, 1830ñ1838 (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 1983), 309n377.
7 Both friendly and hostile sources describe Emma’s attempt (whether successful or not) to destroy one copy of D&C 132. See NW Green [Ettie V. Smith], Fifteen Years among the Mormons (New York: H. Dayton, Publishers, 1860 ), 34; Ann Eliza Young, Wife No. 19, or the Story of a Life in Bondage, Being a Complete ExposÈ of Mormonism, and Revealing the Sorrows, Sacrifices and Sufferings of Women in Polygamy (Hartford, Conn.: Custin, Gilman & Company, 1876), 86; Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 17:159 (9 August 1874); Ellizabeth Whitney as quoted in Edward W. Tullidge, The Women of Mormondom (New York, 1877), 369ñ370; Joseph F[ielding] Smith, Jr., Blood Atonement and the Origin of Plural Marriage: A Discussion (Independence, Missouri: Press of Zion’s Printing and Publishing Company, 1905), 53; Joseph Smith, Heman Conoman Smith, and F. Henry Edwards, The History of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Independence, Mo: Herald House, 1967), 3:349ñ351 (quoting Elder Joseph Young). William McLellin claimed that Emma told him in 1847 that Joseph had burned the revelation. This is inconsistent with Emma’s lifelong refusal to admit that Joseph ever taught or practiced plural marriage. (See William E. McLellin to Joseph Smith III, 10 January 1861 and July 1872, in archives of Community of Christ; cited in William E. McLellin, The William E. McLellin Papers, 1854-1880, ed. Stan Larson and Samuel J. Passey (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2007), 441ñ442, 489.) For Emma’s denial of this story later, see Elder J.W. Briggs, interview with Emma Smith Bidamon, April 1867; cited in various works, including Charles A. Shook, The True Origin of Mormon Polygamy (Cincinnati: The Standard Publishing Company, 1914 ), 185ñ186; Elbert A. Smith, Differences that Persist Between the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and the Utah Mormon Church, 18-22; Church History 3:355ñ356; The Messenger 1:23.
8 See Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents 5 vols. (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1996ñ2003), 4:281ñ298.
9 “Levi Lewis states that he has heard Joseph Smith and Martin Harris both say adultery was no crime. Harris said that ‘he did not blame Smith for attempting to seduce E.W., (Eliza Winters).” Here was the early seed from which Mormon polygamy developedÖ.” – Hiel Lewis, “Mormon History,” Amboy Journal (6 August 1879); cited in Vogel, EMD 4:314ñ316; also cited by Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery, Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith, 2nd ed. (Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 1994), 64.
10 The original affidavit is lost; we have only excerpts published in “Mormonism,” Susquehanna Register, and Northern Pennsylvanian 9 (1 May 1834): 1; republished in E.D. Howe, Mormoism Unvailed (1834), 268ñ269; cited in Vogel, EMD 4:296ñ297.
11 As Vogel notes (p. 297) Methodists regarded any use of liquor by a minister as grounds for dismissal; these accusations from a Methodist family are clearly intended to portray Joseph as someone unsuited for the ministry.
12 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.
13 Mark B. Nelson and Steven C. Harper, “The Imprisonment of Martin Harris in 1833,” BYU Studies 45/4 (2006): 113ñ117. (My thanks to David Keller for bringing the article to my attention in this context.)
14 John Phillip Walker, ed., Dale Morgan on Early Mormonism: Correspondence and a New History (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1986), 242 n. 42; Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, 4:297, 345ñ60. The original is Frederick G. Mather, “The Early Mormons. Joe Smith Operates at Susquehanna,” Binghamton Republican (29 July 1880).
15 These questions were submitted by the audience; the extemporaneous answers provided here have been edited lightly for clarity and style.
16 See examples of such relationships discussed in Kathryn M. Daynes, More Wives Than One: Transformation of the Mormon Marriage System, 1840-1910 (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2001), 75ñ82.
17 This citation has been added to this printed version for clarity and convenience.
18 Wilford Woodruff, Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 9 vols., ed., Scott G. Kenny (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1985), 6:527; journal entry dated 12 February 1870.
19 This citation has been added to this printed version for clarity and convenience.
20 Wilford Woodruff, Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 9 vols., ed., Scott G. Kenny (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1985), 7:31; journal entry dated 24 September 1871.
21 Kathryn M. Daynes, More Wives Than One : Transformation of the Mormon Marriage System, 1840-1910 (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2001), 29.
22 Brian C. Hales, “The Joseph Smith-Sylvia Sessions Plural Sealing: Polyandry or Polygyny?” Mormon Historical Studies 9/1 (Spring 2008): 41ñ57.
23 Autobiography of Zina D. Young, no date, part of the Zina Card Brown Family Collection (1806-1972), LDS Church Archives, MS 4780, box 2, folder 17, cited by Allen Wyatt, “Zina and Her Men: An Examination of the Changing Marital State of Zina Diantha Huntington Jacobs Smith Young,” draft copy in my possession.
24 John Wight with Zina D.H. Young, 1 October 1898, “Evidence from Zina D. Huntington-Young,” Saints Herald 52 (11 January 1905): 28.
25 For a discussion, see http://en.fairmormon.org/Polygamy_book/Children_of_polygamous_marriages.
26 Kate B. Carter, ed., Isaiah M[oses] Coombs from His Diary and Journal (Salt Lake City, Utah: published by Daughters of Utah Pioneers through Utah Printing Company, n.d.), 339, italics added.
28 See discussion here: http://en.fairmormon.org/Polygamy_book/Initiation_of_the_practice
29 Stanley S. Ivins, “Notes on Mormon Polygamy,” Utah Historical Quarterly 35/4 (Fall 1967): 314ñ315.
32 Paul Simon, “Think Too Much (b),” Hearts and Bones, Warner Bros., 1983.
33 I’ve no doubt that someone out in cyberspace will immediately point to all this as “cognitive dissonance” in action. I was (in their telling) faced with an irreconcilable problem, fell back on emotion, and got relief. Well, if that just-so story helps them sleep better at night, they are welcome to it. (Thereówe’ve solved their cognitive dissonance.) But, none of them are in my brain. None of them knows about the deep intellectual and moral comfort and learning that my research has brought me which was quite unexpected and unlooked for. And, of far more importance, they apparently do not know what it is to be clasped in the arms of Jesus, or to hear the still small voice of the Father while in mental or emotional darkness. I can pity such people, but you must pardon me for not crediting their armchair psychoanalysis of someone they have never met.
34 “On the straight, narrow path, which leads to our little Calvarys, one does not hear a serious traveler exclaiming, ‘Look, no hands!’” Neal A. Maxwell, “Endure It Well,” Ensign (May 1990): 34.