Criticism of Mormonism/Websites/MormonThink/Polygamy

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Response to MormonThink page "Polygamy"

A FairMormon Analysis of: MormonThink, a work by author: Anonymous
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Response to claims made on MormonThink page "Polygamy"

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Response to claim: "one of the reasons most commonly given in church to justify polygamy is: There were more women than men in the 1800s"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

The reasons most commonly given by members (even if not published in church lesson manuals) to justify polygamy are: There were more women than men in the 1800s and polygamy provided a way for women, particularly widows to have the benefits of a husband

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

Just because some members have come up with uninformed opinions about why plural marriage was practiced, is this the Church's fault? The Church doesn't include any of those reasons in its manuals. Why does Elder John A. Widtsoe specifically deny such explanations in the Church's official magazine?

In Utah, there were always more women worthy of temple marriage than there were men. So, plural marriage might not increase the number of children born, but it could very easily increase the number of children born to active families with dedicated parents. Given a choice between not marrying at all, or marrying a man who was not as active or dedicated, do you think it surprising that some dedicated LDS women preferred a plural relationship with a believing, temple-worthy man? "The theory that plural marriage was a consequence of a surplus of female Church members fails from lack of evidence." - John A. Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations (1943), p. 390. (Acknowledged on the MormonThink site)


Response to claim: "The reasons most commonly given by members (even if not published in church lesson manuals) to justify polygamy are:...Polygamy was not practiced until after the Saints started immigrating to Utah"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

The reasons most commonly given by members (even if not published in church lesson manuals) to justify polygamy are:...Polygamy was not practiced until after the Saints started immigrating to Utah, and done so that women, whose husbands had died from the exertions of the trek, could be taken care of.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

As noted by the critics, the Church doesn't include any of those reasons in its manuals. Just because some members have come up with uninformed opinions about why plural marriage was practiced, is this the Church's fault? "The most common of these conjectures is that the Church, through plural marriage, sought to provide husbands for its large surplus of female members. The implied assumption in this theory, that there have been more female than male members in the Church, is not supported by existing evidence." - John A. Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations (1943), p. 390.


Response to claim: "Member beliefs....Polygamy was not illegal in the 1800s"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

Member beliefs....Polygamy was not illegal in the 1800s and was not in violation of U.S. law or against the 12th article of faith, which supports obeying the laws of the land.
....
Polygamy was always illegal whenever and wherever the Mormons practiced it. It was even illegal in Canada and Mexico as they only recognize marriages that are legal in the person's home country.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

The law was not as clear on this issue as the critics assume. It was later realized that Illinois law would probably support the practice of Latter-day Saint plural marriage, so they changed the wording of the law.


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

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

Joseph Smith was, in fact, once charged with adultery under Illinois Law. This occurred shortly before his death, when Robert Foster, William Law (Joseph's former counselor in the First Presidency) and Law's brother Wilson charged Joseph with adultery in the case of Maria Lawrence.[1]:403,414 Joseph took an aggressive stance in the defense of himself and Maria, which would be surprising if Illinois law was as detrimental to his case as many have assumed.

For example, as soon as Joseph was charged, two days later he and his supporters "rode to Carthage, intent on having" the charge "'investigated.'"[1]:404

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

It is vital to understand, however, that:

Joseph Smith could not have been properly convicted of adultery under the law of Illinois in 1844. Illinois law only criminalized adultery or fornication if it was "open". Had Joseph lived to face trial on this charge, he would have had good reason to expect acquittal because his relationships with his plural wives were not open, but were kept confidential and known by a relative few. Given a fair trial on this indictment, Joseph could have relied on several legal defenses.[1]:402

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

The same author emphasized:

The term "open" in [the Illinois Criminal Code of the day[2]] is a key element of this crime. The meaning of this term was then and still today is generally understood in law to cover conduct that is "notorious," "exposed to public view," or "visible," and which is "not clandestine." Joseph's relationships with his plural wives did not meet this definition.[1]:408


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

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

Two cases decided after Joseph's death but under the same legal regime likewise demonstrate that there was nothing about Maria and Joseph's relationship (regardless of whether or not they had sexual relations) which would have permitted conviction under the Illinois adultery statute. Additionally, Stephen R. Douglas (the famed Illinois judge and later candidate for the presidency of the United States) and Thomas Ford (the governor of Illinois at the time of Joseph's murder) prosecuted adultery cases during their legal careers and both were definitive that an "open" and "notorious" aspect to the cohabitation had to be proven under the statute.[1]:408-411

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

By contrast, had Joseph been charged by his wife Emma with adultery, this could have served as grounds for divorce, and did not require the stringent requirements of being "open" or "notorious."[3]

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

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

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

Several delegates expressed support for changes in the wording of the Illinois constitution in order to protect the state from what they viewed as extreme forms of worship, including Mormon polygamy. These delegates feared that the more liberal wording of the earlier constitution (in force in Joseph's day) might actually protected practices such as polygamy. One such delegate was Thomas J. Turner...[who] stated:"...Mormonism is a form of religion 'grant it, a false religion' nevertheless, it claims to be the true Christian religion...[d]o we desire that the Mormons shall return to our State, and bring with them polygamy?"[1]:416, 416n45


Response to claim: "The reasons most commonly given by members (even if not published in church lesson manuals) to justify polygamy are:...Polygamy was an acceptable way to rapidly increase the Church membership"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

The reasons most commonly given by members (even if not published in church lesson manuals) to justify polygamy are:...Polygamy was an acceptable way to rapidly increase the Church membership.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is based upon correct information - The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event

In Utah, there were always more women worthy of temple marriage than there were men. So, plural marriage might not increase the number of children born, but it could very easily increase the number of children born to active families with dedicated parents. Given a choice between not marrying at all, or marrying a man who was not as active or dedicated, do you think it surprising that some dedicated LDS women preferred a plural relationship with a believing, temple-worthy man?

How many of you are descendants of polygamists? If there had been no polygamy, would you be here?

As noted by the critics, the Church doesn't include any of those reasons in its manuals. Just because some members have come up with uninformed opinions about why plural marriage was practiced, is this the Church's fault?

"Another conjecture is that the people were few in number and that the Church, desiring greater numbers, permitted the practice so that a phenomenal increase in population could be attained. This is not defensible, since there was no surplus of women." - John A. Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations (1943), p. 390.


Response to claim: "For example Brigham Young reportedly had 55 children by some 29 child-bearing capable wives but had those women had their own husbands they may have had 150 or more children in total"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

For example Brigham Young reportedly had 55 children by some 29 child-bearing capable wives but had those women had their own husbands they may have had 150 or more children in total. This reasoning only makes sense if there was a shortage of men but as shown above this was not the case.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader


Response to claim: "The first edition of the Doctrine and Covenants (1835) included a section denying any practice of polygamy"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

The first edition of the Doctrine and Covenants (1835) included a section denying any practice of polygamy: "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." (History of the Church, Vol. 2, p. 247)

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is based upon correct information - The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event

This was added by Oliver Cowdery after he learned that plural marriage had been restored. After the Saints moved to Utah and the practice of plural marriage was made public, this section was removed and replaced by Section 132.


Question: Why did the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants include a statement of marriage that denied the practice of polygamy at a time when some were actually practicing it?

Polygamy was not being taught to the general Church membership at that time

The Article on Marriage was printed in the 1835 D&C as section 101 and in the 1844 D&C as section 109. The portion of the Article on Marriage relevant to polygamy states:

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 case of death, when either is at liberty to marry again. [4]

This was true—the Church membership generally was not being taught plural marriage, and were not living it at that time.

The statement itself was not changed between the 1835 and 1844 editions of the D&C

In fact, the statement remained in the D&C until the 1876 edition, even though plural marriage had been taught to specific individuals since at least 1831, practiced in secret since 1836, and practiced openly since 1852. The matter of not removing it in 1852 was simply due to the fact that a new edition of the D&C was not published until 1876.

The available evidence suggests that Joseph Smith supported its publication

While some have suggested that the article was published against Joseph's wishes or without his knowledge, the available evidence suggests that he supported its publication. It was likely included to counter the perception that the Mormon's practice of communal property (the "law of consecration") included a community of wives.

The statement was not a revelation given to Joseph Smith - it was written by Oliver Cowdery

This statement was not a revelation given to Joseph Smith—it was written by Oliver Cowdery and introduced to a conference of the priesthood at Kirtland on 17 August 1835. Cowdery also wrote a statement of belief on government that has been retained in our current edition of the D&C as section 134. Both were sustained at the conference and included in the 1835 D&C, which was already at the press and ready to be published. Joseph Smith was preaching in Michigan at the time Oliver and W.W. Phelps introduced these two articles to the conference; it is not known if he approved of their addition to the D&C at the time, although he did retain them in the 1844 Nauvoo edition, which argues that he was not opposed to them. (Phelps read the article on marriage, while Cowdery read the one on government.) [5]

Some have suggested that the manner in which the conference was called suggests that Joseph was not the instigator of it, since it seems to have been done quite quickly, with relatively few high church leaders in attendance:

The General Assembly, which may have been announced on only twenty-four hours' notice, was held Monday, August 17[, 1835]. Its spur-of-the-moment nature is demonstrated by observing that a puzzling majority of Church leaders were absent. Missing from the meeting were all of the Twelve Apostles, eight of the twelve Kirtland High Council members nine of the twelve Missouri High Council members, three of the seven Presidents of the Quorum of Seventy, Presiding Bishop Partridge, and...two of the three members of the First Presidency. [6]

However, there is also some evidence that an article on marriage was already anticipated, and cited four times in the new D&C's index, which was prepared under Joseph's direction and probably available prior to his departure. Thus, "if a disagreement existed, it was resolved before the Prophet left for Pontiac." [7]


Question: Was Oliver Cowdery aware that some in the Church were practicing polygamy in 1835 at the time he authored the "Article on Marriage"?

Oliver Cowdery, the author of the 1835 "Article on Marriage," was aware that some in the Church were practicing polygamy at the time that the statement was published

On July 7, 1878, Joseph F. Smith discussed Oliver's awareness of polygamy at the time of this publication:

To put this matter more correctly before you, I here declare that the principle of plural marriage was not first revealed on the 12th day of July, 1843. It was written for the first time on that date, but it had been revealed to the Prophet many years before that, perhaps as early as 1832. About this time, or subsequently, Joseph, the Prophet, intrusted this fact to Oliver Cowdery; he abused the confidence imposed in him, and brought reproach upon himself, and thereby upon the church by "running before he was sent," and "taking liberties without license," so to speak, hence the publication, by O. Cowdery, about this time, of an article on marriage, which was carefully worded, and afterwards found its way into the Doctrine and Covenants without authority. This article explains itself to those who understand the facts, and is an indisputable evidence of the early existence of the knowledge of the principle of patriarchal marriage by the Prophet Joseph, and also by Oliver Cowdery. [8]

However, there continues to be debate about whether Oliver Cowdery knew about--or prematurely practiced--plural marriage in the 1830s. [9] Oliver would learn about the Fanny Alger marriage, but his reaction at the time seems to have been wholly negative.

The original D&C 101 article outlined the general practice of performing a Latter-day Saint wedding, explained LDS beliefs about the marriage relationship, and denied that the Saints were practicing polygamy.


Question: Was the practice of polygamy general knowledge among Latter-day Saints in 1835 when the "Article on Marriage" was published?

Knowledge of the practice of polygamy among the Saints was limited prior to the 1840s

Some have argued that rumors of "polygamy" may already have been circulating as a result of the Prophet teaching the concept to some of his close associates. However, Brian Hales has argued that there are few if any extant attacks on Joseph or the Saints about polygamy prior to the 1840s:

...if the article was designed to neutralize reports about Joseph Smith and his alleged "crimes," polygamy would not have been included because that allegation was not made then nor at any other time during the Kirtland period according to any documentation currently available. In other words, assuming that the denial of polygamy in the "Marriage" article [of D&C 101] was specifically tied to rumors of Joseph Smith's behavior is problematic, unless other corroborating evidence can be located. [10]

Charges of polygamy or "free love" or having wives in common were often made against new or little-known religious or social groups

On the other hand, charges of polygamy or "free love" or having wives in common were often made against new or little-known religious or social groups. As Hales reports:

Some [nineteenth-century utopian societies] experimented with novel marital and sexual practices, which focused suspicion on all the groups....Accordingly, early Latter-day Saint efforts to live the law of consecration, even though it sustained traditional monogamy, were instantly misunderstood....

John L. Brooke...wrote: "Among the non-Mormons in Ohio there were suspicions that the community of property dictated in the 'Law of Consecration' included wives."...

It seems plausible, even likely, that beginning in 1831, some uninformed individuals assumed that the law of consecration included a community of wives as one of its tenets, even publishing such claims, although there is no indication that this is how the Mormons themselves interpreted the law of consecration. Understandably, Church leaders would actively seek to deny such untrue allegations in a document on marriage to be included in the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants. [11]

Gilbert Scharffs notes:

The original Section 101 (never claimed as a revelation but approved as a statement of belief) did state that monogamy was the practice of the Church at that time. The section was not written by Joseph Smith and was voted upon by members in his absence. Perhaps the section was intended to prevent members from getting involved with plural marriage until such a time as the practice would be authorized by the Lord Church-wide. When that became the fact, the current Section 132 replaced the old Section 101. [12]


Response to claim: "many church members, especially converts, naturally believe that Brigham Young started polygamy"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

The Sunday School lesson manuals, priesthood manuals, seminary books, etc almost never mention Joseph's polygamy. There are some references to the other prophet's plural marriages but not for Joseph. By rarely mentioning Joseph's polygamous marriages in lessons taught in church, talks given at conferences, etc. many church members, especially converts, naturally believe that Brigham Young started polygamy.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

Doctrine and Covenants Section 132 is pretty clearly talking about Joseph, not Brigham.


Doctrine and Covenants 132:51-52: "all those that have been given unto my servant Joseph"

D&C 132 (Latter-day Saint scripture):

51 Verily, I say unto you: A commandment I give unto mine handmaid, Emma Smith, your wife, whom I have given unto you, that she stay herself and partake not of that which I commanded you to offer unto her; for I did it, saith the Lord, to prove you all, as I did Abraham, and that I might require an offering at your hand, by covenant and sacrifice.

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. (DC 132:51-52)

Since it speaks of those "that have been given unto my servant Joseph," this clearly indicates that Joseph was practicing plural marriage.


Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Gospel Doctrine Teacher’s Manual (1999): "the Lord commanded some of the early Saints to practice plural marriage. The Prophet Joseph Smith and those closest to him...were challenged by this command, but they obeyed it"

In this dispensation, the Lord commanded some of the early Saints to practice plural marriage. The Prophet Joseph Smith and those closest to him, including Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball, were challenged by this command, but they obeyed it. Church leaders regulated the practice. Those entering into it had to be authorized to do so, and the marriages had to be performed through the sealing power of the priesthood. [13]


Church History in the Fulness of Times (2003): "The law of celestial marriage, as outlined in this revelation, also included the principle of the plurality of wives"

Institute Manual: Church History in the Fulness of Times:

Later that summer Joseph recorded a revelation on marriage that incorporated principles that had been revealed to him as early as 1831 in Kirtland. In it the Lord declared, “If a man marry a wife by my word, which is my law, and by the new and everlasting covenant, and it is sealed unto them by the Holy Spirit of promise, by him who is anointed, unto whom I have appointed this power and the keys of this priesthood . . . [it] shall be of full force when they are out of the world; and they shall pass by the angels, and the gods, which are set there, to their exaltation and glory in all things, as hath been sealed upon their heads, which glory shall be a fulness and a continuation of the seeds forever and ever” ( D&C 132:19 ).

The law of celestial marriage, as outlined in this revelation, also included the principle of the plurality of wives. In 1831 as Joseph Smith labored on the inspired translation of the holy scriptures, he asked the Lord how he justified the practice of plural marriage among the Old Testament patriarchs. This question resulted in the revelation on celestial marriage, which included an answer to his question about the plural marriages of the patriarchs.

First the Lord explained that for any covenant, including marriage, to be valid in eternity it must meet three requirements (see D&C 132:7 ): (1) It must be “made and entered into and sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise.” (2) It must be performed by the proper priesthood authority. (3) It must be by “revelation and commandment” through the Lord’s anointed prophet (see also vv. 18–19 ). Using Abraham as an example, the Lord said he “received all things, whatsoever he received, by revelation and commandment, by my word” ( v. 29 ). Consequently, the Lord asked, “Was Abraham, therefore, under condemnation? Verily I say unto you, Nay; for I, the Lord, commanded it” ( v. 35 ).

Moreover, Joseph Smith and the Church were to accept the principle of plural marriage as part of the restoration of all things (see v. 45 ). Accustomed to conventional marriage patterns, the Prophet was at first understandably reluctant to engage in this new practice. Due to a lack of historical documentation, we do not know what his early attempts were to comply with the commandment in Ohio. His first recorded plural marriage in Nauvoo was to Louisa Beaman; it was performed by Bishop Joseph B. Noble on 5 April 1841. 12 During the next three years Joseph took additional plural wives in accordance with the Lord’s commands.

As members of the Council of the Twelve Apostles returned from their missions to the British Isles in 1841, Joseph Smith taught them one by one the doctrine of plurality of wives, and each experienced some difficulty in understanding and accepting this doctrine. 13 Brigham Young, for example, recounted his struggle: “I was not desirous of shrinking from any duty, nor of failing in the least to do as I was commanded, but 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, and to regret that I was not in the coffin.”

After their initial hesitancy and frustration, Brigham Young and others of the Twelve received individual confirmations from the Holy Spirit and accepted the new doctrine of plural marriage. They knew that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God in all things. At first the practice was kept secret and was very limited. Rumors began to circulate about authorities of the Church having additional wives, which greatly distorted the truth and contributed to increased persecution from apostates and outsiders. Part of the difficulty, of course, was the natural aversion Americans held against “polygamy.” This new system appeared to threaten the strongly entrenched tradition of monogamy and the solidarity of the family structure. Later, in Utah, the Saints openly practiced “the principle,” but never without persecution. [14]

The number of dissenters in Nauvoo grew with the addition of Church members who opposed plural marriage and other new doctrines taught by Joseph Smith. William Law, second counselor in the First Presidency, his brother Wilson Law, major general in the Nauvoo Legion, and high council members Austin Cowles and Leonard Soby all believed that Joseph Smith was a fallen prophet. [15]

The Twelve were among the first to receive instruction from Joseph Smith on plural marriage and the temple ordinances. [16]

A large part of the persecution experienced by the Latter-day Saints centered around the practice of plural marriage, which was instituted under the direction of the Prophet Joseph Smith. The law of plural marriage was revealed to the Prophet as early as 1831, but he mentioned it only to a few trusted friends. Under strict commandment from God to obey the law, the Prophet began in 1841 to instruct leading priesthood brethren of the Church concerning plural marriage and their responsibility to live the law. The Prophet Joseph Smith dictated the revelation to William Clayton in 1843, when it was first written. Nine years passed, however, before the revelation was read in general conference and published. [17]


Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith (2007): "The doctrines and principles relating to plural marriage were revealed to Joseph Smith as early as 1831"

Priesthood/Relief Society Manual Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith:

This book deals with teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith that have application to our day....This book also does not discuss plural marriage. The doctrines and principles relating to plural marriage were revealed to Joseph Smith as early as 1831. The Prophet taught the doctrine of plural marriage, and a number of such marriages were performed during his lifetime. [18]


Ensign (1992): "[Emma Smith's] great trial came when the prophet revealed to Emma that they would be required to live the ancient law of Abraham—plural marriage"

Gracia N. Jones, Ensign (1992):

Her [Emma Smith's] great trial came when the prophet revealed to Emma that they would be required to live the ancient law of Abraham—plural marriage. Emma suffered deeply hurt feelings because of it. While she agreed with this doctrine at times, at other times she opposed it. Years later, Emma is purported to have denied that any such doctrine was ever introduced by her husband. [19]


Ensign (1989): "The Prophet introduced several doctrines relating to the temple, including the temple ceremonies and plural marriage"

William Hartley, Ensign (1989):

In Nauvoo, the Knight group faced and passed another great test of faith. The Prophet introduced several doctrines relating to the temple, including the temple ceremonies and plural marriage, which some could not accept. But the Knights received the teachings. [20]


Ensign (1977): "plural marriage...Starting during Joseph Smith’s own lifetime but limited to a few dozen families until its official announcement in 1852"

Davis Bitton, Ensign (1977):

Then, along with economic privation and an absent father, was for some the institution of plural marriage. Starting during Joseph Smith’s own lifetime but limited to a few dozen families until its official announcement in 1852, plural marriage brought a powerful new challenge to the equanimity of Latter-day Saint family life. Never could it be said that a majority of Latter-day Saint families were polygamous families. If each mother and her children are considered as a single family unit, the percentage reaches something like 10 or 15 percent. These families, by and large, tended to include the most prominent families within Latter-day Saint society.

While there were many examples of success, of harmony, of love, of delightful “aunty” relationships with the plural wives of one’s father, it should also be said that for some the plurality of wives created tensions and unhappiness. “My wives have not spoken to each other for many months,” wrote one husband in 1856. We do not have a thorough study of divorces in Mormon families, polygamous and monogamous, but we do know that permanent separation ended some nineteenth-century marriages. Obviously plural marriage for most meant even more fatherly absence than had existed before. In the words of Professor Eugene Campbell of Brigham Young University, “Many of the normal problems of marriage, such as finance, personality adjustment, sexual relationships, jealousies, child-rearing and discipline were all magnified in plural marriages.”

These factors—those presenting special challenges to Mormon families—are not the whole picture. But they are part of the picture. In the actual recorded experiences of family life we discover, not surprisingly, that behind our surface impression of harmonious, loving families—the families of the family portraits existed most of the challenges which threaten family life today. The point is that in the past century neither the family life of Americans and Europeans generally, nor that of the Latter-day Saints, was as free of problems as we have tended to believe. We now find ourselves in a period of looking on our past. There is a tendency among many of us to overstate the positive, understate the negative. We need not hesitate to see the whole picture as we seek to discover our forefathers. The more we see their fiber and strengths, the more we will appreciate their efforts in building the Church and in raising their children. [21]


Joseph Smith Papers: "Although he hated adultery and was deeply loyal to his wife Emma, he believed he was to take additional wives as had the ancient patriarchs"

Joseph Smith Papers Project (online):

At times revelation became a burden as well as a blessing, at no time more than when plural marriage was revealed. Plural marriage was the final component of the logic of restoration. Smith had prayed for an understanding of Old Testament polygamy and was commanded to do the “works of Abraham.”45 Although he hated adultery and was deeply loyal to his wife Emma, he believed he was to take additional wives as had the ancient patriarchs. He went about it carefully, one woman at a time, usually approaching her relatives first and going through a prescribed wedding ceremony. During his lifetime, he was married to approximately thirty women.46 Although conjugal relations were apparently involved, he spent little time with these women, the need for secrecy and the demands on his time keeping them apart. At first aghast at what her husband was doing, Emma eventually agreed to a few of the plural marriages but then pulled back. She oscillated between hesitant submission and outright opposition to the practice, but according to Maria Jane Johnston Woodward, who worked for a time as a servant in the Smith household, Emma told her, “The principle of plural marriage is right. . . . [I]t is from our Father in Heaven.” After her husband’s death, Emma refused to go west, where plural marriage would be practiced. She never admitted to her children that their father had been involved. [22]


John A. Widtsoe (apostle, 1943): "That Joseph Smith actually was the person who introduced plural marriage into the Church and that he practiced it himself are amply proved by existing facts"

John A. Widtsoe, "Did Joseph Smith Introduce Plural Marriage?", Evidences and Reconciliations:

Moral purity is required of all Latter-day Saints. Men must be as clean as women, and both must be free from any violation of the moral law. That is the basis of all marriages performed under the authority of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The Church solemnizes two kinds of marriages. First, those that unite husband or wife for the duration of mortal life. These marriages end with death. Second, those that continue the family relationship after death, in the hereafter. This is often known as eternal or celestial marriage.

Faithful members of the Church seek to enjoy both of these kinds of marriages. They wish to be wedded for time and eternity, that is, to continue their associations forever. To be able to do this is one of the happiest privileges of Church membership. Such marriages, usually called sealings, must be performed in the temples, whenever they exist.

Several approaches to eternal marriage may be made: Two living person may be sealed to each other for time and eternity. A living man may be sealed for eternity to a dead woman; or a living woman to a dead man. Two dead persons may be sealed to each other. It is also possible though the Church does not now permit it, to seal two living people for eternity only, with no association on earth.

Further, under a divine command to the Prophet Joseph Smith, it was possible for one man to be sealed to more than one woman for time and for eternity. Thus came plural marriage among the Latter-day Saints. By another divine command, to Wilford Woodruff, a successor to Joseph Smith, this order of marriage was withdrawn in 1890. Since that time the Church has not sanctioned plural marriages. Anyone who enters into them now is married unlawfully, and is excommunicated from the Church.

That Joseph Smith actually was the person who introduced plural marriage into the Church and that he practiced it himself are amply proved by existing facts.

1. The revelation known as section one hundred thirty-two in the Doctrine and Covenants, which contains the doctrine of celestial marriage and also the practice of plural marriage, was dictated to his scribe, William Clayton, by Joseph Smith on July 12, 1843, a year before the martyrdom of the Prophet. It had been received by the Prophet some years before, and taught to many, but was not reduced to writing until 1843. William Clayton lived as an honorable citizen, of the highest character until December 4, 1879, thirty-six years after the revelation was written. He never wavered in his simple declaration that the revelation as now found in the Doctrine and Covenants was dictated to him, sentence by sentence. He adds that "after the whole was written, Joseph asked me to read it through, slowly and carefully, which I did, and he pronounced it correct." (Andrew Jenson, Historical Record, Volume VI, pp. 225, 226)

On the day the revelation was written, or the day after, Joseph C. Kingsbury was asked to make a copy of it. This copy was carefully compared with the original by Bishop Newell K. Whitney, and preserved by him. Elder Kingsbury, of unblemished character and reputation lived fifty-five years after this event (dying October 5, 1898), and always bore solemn testimony to the written origin of the revelation in 1843, through the lips of the Prophet. In further corroboration of the claim that the revelation came from the lips of the Prophet, are the statements of numerous men and women, then living, who either saw the revelation or heard it read. In fact, the document was read to the high council in Nauvoo.

2. A number of men, who in their lives showed themselves honest, have testified that they actually performed the ceremonies that united Joseph Smith to plural wives. Among these were Joseph B. Noble, Hyrum Smith, James Adams, Newell K. Whitney, Willard Richards, and others. Several of these men lived long after the Prophet's death and always declared that they officiated in marrying the Prophet to a plural wife, giving place, date, and the witnesses present.

3. Many of the women who were thus sealed to Joseph Smith lived long after his death. They declared that they lived with the Prophet as husband and wives. These women were of unblemished character, gentle and lovely in their lives who spoke with loving respect of their martyr husband. They substantiated in detail the statements of those who performed the ceremonies.

4. Many of the elders in Nauvoo entered into plural marriage, under the authority of Joseph Smith who was yet living, as certified to by the men and their wives. Among these were William Clayton, Orson Hyde, Hyrum Smith John Smith, Erastus Snow, Lyman Wight, James J. Strang, Gladden Bishop, William Smith, Heber C. Kimball, and Brigham Young. These men and their wives who survived the Prophet, made affidavits of their marriages in Joseph's day in answer to the charge by enemies of the Church that plural marriage was not instituted nor practiced, neither authorized by the Prophet. These men and women were good citizens, so well-known over such long periods of time that their concordant declarations cannot be gainsaid.

5. The Nauvoo Temple records, which are in the possession of the Church likewise furnish evidence that Joseph Smith practiced plural marriage. Before the completion of the temple, marriage sealings were usually performed in rooms in the home of the Prophet. When the temple was dedicated in 1846 for such ceremonies, the plural marriages of Joseph were given temple sanction, and where the marriages were for time only, they were often made to continue through eternity.

This was done within a year and a half of the assassination of the Prophet. Many received plural wives in the Nauvoo Temple. It is utterly improbable, if not impossible, that such a new doctrine could have been conceived and carried out by the men who succeeded the Prophet. There would have been a serious resentment among those who entered the temple, if the teachings of the Prophet had been violated. Such criticism would have overflowed to the outside.

6. After the death of the Prophet, women applied for the privilege of being sealed to him for eternity. They felt no doubt that in the eternal ages they would then share the companionship of the Prophet. They wanted to enjoy eternity with the man whom they revered as one chosen of God to open the last dispensation of the gospel on earth. To these requests, assent was often given. Such action by women who lived in the days of the Prophet implies a belief in plural marriage. These women, who were not in any sense earthly wives of the Prophet, have been counted by uninformed or antagonistic writers as wives of the Prophet.

Women no longer living, whether in Joseph's day or later have also been sealed to the Prophet for eternity. The request for such unions has usually come from relatives or friends who would have their loved one share eternity with the Prophet, rather than with anyone else. Unscrupulous and unreliable writers have even added such marriages to the list of Joseph's wives.

7. Another kind of celestial marriage seems to have been practiced in the early days of plural marriage. It has not been practiced since Nauvoo days, for it is under Church prohibition. Zealous women, married or unmarried, loving the cause of the restored gospel, considered their condition in the hereafter. Some of them asked that they might be sealed to the Prophet for eternity. They were not to be his wives on earth, in mortality, but only after death in the eternities. This came often to be spoken of as celestial marriage. Such marriages led to misunderstandings by those not of the Church, and unfamiliar with its doctrines. To them marriage meant only association on earth. Therefore any ceremony uniting a married woman, for example, to Joseph Smith for eternity seemed adulterous to such people. Yet in any day, in our day, there may be women who prefer to spend eternity with another than their husband on earth.

Such cases, if any, and they must have been few in number, gave enemies of the Church occasion to fan the flaming hatred against the Latter-day Saints. The full truth was not told. Enemies made the most of the truth. They found it difficult to believe that the Church rests on truth and virtue.

The literature and existing documents dealing with plural marriage in Nauvoo in the day of Joseph Smith are very numerous. Hundreds of affidavits on the subject are in the Church Historian's office in Salt Lake City. Most of the books and newspaper and magazine articles on the subject are found there also. (For a fairly condensed but complete discussion consult Andrew Jenson, Historical Record, Vol. VI, pp. 219-236; Joseph Fielding Smith, Blood Atonement and the Origin of Plural Marriage, pp. 67-94; Woman's Exponent, Vol. III and IV; The Deseret News, especially in 1886)

The careful study of all available information leads to but one conclusion. Joseph Smith received the revelation in question, and practiced plural marriage. The issue is not one of doctrine hut of history. No honest student can declare the host of witnesses, hundreds of them, from Nauvoo days, Mormon and non-Mormon of various residence, pursuits and temperaments to have united in lying about the matter. The evidence is confirmed by those who place the introduction of plural marriage on others, for they seek feeble, unworthy shelter in the statement that Joseph Smith did practice plural marriage, but later repented of it. (The Saints Herald, Vol. 1, pp. 9, 26, 27) That is throwing dust in the eyes of seekers after truth. The case is clear. Authentic history says that plural marriage originated with Joseph Smith the Prophet. And so it did. The apparent denials by Church leaders in Nauvoo days that the Church practiced plural marriage were correct. At that time the Church members as a whole had not heard the revelation, nor had they been given an opportunity to accept it. But many of the leaders knew of it and were polygamists.

The chaotic conditions of the years immediately following the Prophet's death, delayed the formal presentation of the revelation. Soon after the Church was established in the Great Salt Lake region, at the conference in 1852, the doctrine of celestial and plural marriage was accepted by the Church as a whole. During the intervening years, however, it was taught and practiced. [23]


Response to claim: "If we take the Book of Mormon witnesses' statements so seriously, shouldn't we also accept other things that they reportedly witnessed just as powerfully?"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

Critic's Note:If we take the Book of Mormon witnesses' statements so seriously, shouldn't we also accept other things that they reportedly witnessed just as powerfully? For example, Oliver Cowdery called it "a dirty, nasty, filthy affair..."

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

That's what Oliver thought that it was. He didn't accept the idea of plural marriage. In his eyes, it was a "dirty, nasty, filthy affair." Has someone claimed that Oliver did not believe this? Oliver didn't claim that an angel had come down and told him this--as he continued to insist to his dying day it had with the plates and other instruments. Oliver was already alienated from the Church and some members over other issues before plural marriage--could this have affected his reaction? Oliver later learned more about plural marriage and accepted the doctrine. Oliver came back to the Church afterward--he must have resolved any concerns he had about it.

Does MormonThink really think that being a witness of one thing makes opinions on other subjects equally certain to be true? If I see a car accident and can tell about it, does my opinion about what caused my neighbor's divorce have the same weight?


Response to claim: "Joseph's first polygamous marriage was before the sealing authority was given"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

Joseph's first polygamous marriage was before the sealing authority was given....The "sealing" power was not restored under LDS belief until April 1836 when Elijah appeared to Joseph and conferred the sealing keys upon him.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources


Question: Did Joseph Smith marry Fanny Alger as his first plural wife in 1833?

Joseph Smith met Fanny Alger in 1833 when she was a house-assistant to Emma

Joseph Smith came to know Fanny Alger in early 1833 when she stayed at the Smith home as a house-assistant to Emma. Neither Joseph nor Fanny ever left any first-hand accounts of their relationship. There are no second-hand accounts from Emma or Fanny's family. All that we do have is third hand accounts from people who did not directly observe the events associated with this first plural marriage, and most of them recorded many years after the events.

Joseph said that the "ancient order of plural marriage" was to again be practiced at the time that Fanny was living with his family

Benjamin F. Johnson stated that in 1835 he had "learned from my sister’s husband, Lyman R. Sherman, who was close to the Prophet, and received it from him, 'that the ancient order of Plural Marriage was again to be practiced by the Church.' This, at the time did not impress my mind deeply, although there lived then with his family (the Prophet’s) a neighbor’s daughter, Fannie Alger, a very nice and comely young woman about my own age, toward whom not only myself, but every one, seemed partial, for the amiability for her character; and it was whispered even then that Joseph loved her."[24]

Joseph asked the brother-in-law of Fanny's father to make the request of Fanny's father, after which a marriage ceremony was performed

Mosiah Hancock discusses the manner in which the proposal was extended to Fanny, and states that a marriage ceremony was performed. Joseph asked Levi Hancock, the brother-in-law of Samuel Alger, Fanny’s father, to request Fanny as his plural wife:

Samuel, the Prophet Joseph loves your daughter Fanny and wishes her for a wife. What say you?” Uncle Sam says, “Go and talk to the old woman [Fanny’s mother] about it. Twill be as she says.” Father goes to his sister and said, “Clarissy, Brother Joseph the Prophet of the most high God loves Fanny and wishes her for a wife. What say you?” Said she, “Go and talk to Fanny. It will be all right with me.” Father goes to Fanny and said, “Fanny, Brother Joseph the Prophet loves you and wishes you for a wife. Will you be his wife?” “I will Levi,” said she. Father takes Fanny to Joseph and said, “Brother Joseph I have been successful in my mission.” Father gave her to Joseph, repeating the ceremony as Joseph repeated to him.[25]


Question: How could Joseph and Fanny have been married in 1831 if the sealing power had not yet been restored?

There is historical evidence that Joseph Smith knew as early as 1831 that plural marriage would be restored

There is historical evidence that Joseph Smith knew as early as 1831 that plural marriage would be restored. Mosiah Hancock (a Mormon) reported a wedding ceremony in Kirtland, Ohio in 1833.

Apostate Mormons Ann Eliza Webb Young and her father Chauncery both referred to Fanny's relationship as a "sealing." Ann Eliza also reported that Fanny's family was very proud of Fanny's relationship with Joseph, which makes little sense if it was simply a tawdry affair. Those closest to them saw the marriage as exactly that—a marriage.

Joseph and Fanny's marriage was a plural marriage, not an eternal marriage

Some have wondered how the first plural marriages (such as the Alger marriage) could have occurred before the 1836 restoration of the sealing keys in the Kirtland temple (see DC 110:). This confusion occurs because we tend to conflate several ideas. They were not all initially wrapped together in one doctrine:

  1. plural marriage - the idea that one could be married (in mortality) to more than one woman: being taught by 1831.
  2. eternal marriage - the idea that a man and spouse could be sealed and remain together beyond the grave: being taught by 1835.
  3. "celestial" marriage - the combination of the above two ideas, in which all marriages—plural and monogamous—could last beyond the grave via the sealing powers: implemented by 1840-41.

Thus, the marriage to Fanny would have occurred under the understanding #1 above. The concept of sealing beyond the grave came later. Therefore, the marriage of Joseph and Fanny would have been a plural marriage, but it would not have been a marriage for eternity.


Response to claim: "Although Henry eventually remarried, after Brigham Young told him that his wife and children belonged to Brigham and not to Henry, he continued to yearn for Zina and their children"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

Our Comment: Although Henry eventually remarried, after Brigham Young told him that his wife and children belonged to Brigham and not to Henry, he continued to yearn for Zina and their children. There doesn't seem to be any good, logical reason why Joseph and then Brigham Young would take Henry Jacob's wife Zina from him and force him to abandon his children and find another wife. Henry wrote to Zina while in England “I have had to hear, feel and suffer everything he has—if you only knew my troubles you’d pity me.” Why was it necessary for Joseph and Brigham to unnecessarily torment this faithful man?

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

Henry didn't seem to think so--he supported the process. Joseph and Brigham didn't "take" Henry's wife and children. Zina made the choice to be sealed to them. Henry consented to the sealing, and was present to give his consent.

Allen Wyatt, "Zina and Her Men: An Examination of the Changing Marital State of Zina Diantha Huntington Jacobs Smith Young," (FAIR 2006 Conference).


Response to claim: "LDS apologists acknowledge Joseph married other men's wives"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

LDS apologists acknowledge Joseph married other men's wives

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources


Response to claim: "Joseph Smith literally stole other men's wives and their children"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

If you believe the concept of eternal marriage, then Joseph Smith literally stole other men's wives and their children, regardless of whether he had sex with them or not. What right did he have to do that - because he was the prophet?

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is false

To "steal" means to "take the property of another without right or permission." These women continued to live with, and have relations with, their earthly husbands. Did you know that Joseph had the permission of these women to be sealed to them, and in all cases where we are told about the husband's reaction, the men also gave permission? Polyandrous sealings appear to have been designed to bind members into one great family. This didn't destroy existing family relationships, it simply bound the members together.

Why are there no examples of angry husbands upset that Joseph had cheated on them with their wives? Joseph's "polyandrous" relationships have no evidence of being consummated. Polyandry applied only the the next life and was probably designed to link families together.


Question: Was Joseph Smith sealed or married to other men's wives without the knowledge or consent of their husband?

Joseph Smith was sealed to between 11 to 14 women who were married to men who were still living

Joseph Smith was sealed to between 11 to 14 women who were married to men who were still living. Some of these men were even active members of the Church.

  • One critic claims that these were "unions without the knowledge or consent of the husband, in cases of polyandry." [26]

Each case is unique. In some cases, the husband was not a member of the Church who didn't believe in marriage after this life and simply didn't care if Joseph was sealing to his wife for eternity

To conclude that these "unions" were performed without the knowledge or consent of the living husband is a gross oversimplification. Each case is unique. In some cases, the husband was not a member of the Church who didn't believe in marriage after this life and simply didn't care if Joseph was sealing to his wife for eternity. Since the husbands didn't necessarily believe in a "next life," it seems that they had no problem with the idea of their spouse being sealed to Joseph.

For some whose husbands were Church members, there is circumstantial evidence that the husbands approved

For some whose husbands were Church members, there is circumstantial evidence that the husbands approved, since they continued to live with their wives and associate with the Saints.

Here is a summary of the situation of each of these 14 women and whether or not their husbands knew and approved

  1. Ruth Vose Sayers: Sealed to Joseph for eternity only with the knowledge and consent of her husband Edward (a non-member), and with the consent of Joseph's wife Emma. Ruth continued to live with Edward as earthly husband.
  2. Esther Dutcher: Married her husband Albert at age 15. Sealed to Joseph for eternity only without the knowledge or consent of her Latter-day Saint husband. Esther and Albert continued to live as earthly husband and wife until Esther died. After her death, Albert acted as proxy to have her sealed to Joseph for eternity and to himself for time.
  3. Mary Elizabeth Rollins: Married her non-Mormon husband Adam at age 17. Sealed to Joseph for eternity after trying and failing to convince her husband to join the Church. Mary lived with Adam until his death. She does not specify whether or not Adam knew of or consented to her sealing to Joseph.
  4. Presendia L. Huntington: Married her husband Norman at age 16. Sealed to Joseph for eternity only after her husband Norman left the Church. Presendia continued to live with Norman. She does not specify whether or not Norman knew of or consented to her sealing to Joseph.
  5. Sarah Kingsley: Sealed to Joseph for eternity. Her husband John was not a member of the Church, but was friendly to the Latter-day Saints. She does not specify whether or not John knew of or consented to her sealing to Joseph.
  6. Patty Bartlett: Married her husband David at age 17. Sealed to Joseph for eternity. Her husband David was a member of the Church, and they continued to live together until he died. He and Patty received their endowment together in Nauvoo after Joseph's death. She does not clarify what her Latter-day Saint husband thought of her sealing to Joseph, or whether or not he knew and consented to this.
  7. Elizabeth Davis: Sealed to Joseph for eternity, but continued to live with her LDS husband Jabez Dufee. She does not specify whether or not her husband knew of and consented to the sealing, although there is some circumstantial evidence that he may have objected to this.
  8. Lucinda Pendleton: Married her husband William Morgan at age 18. Sealed to Joseph for eternity after his death. There is no written evidence that she was sealed to him during his lifetime.
  9. Elvira Annie Cowles: Sealed to Joseph for eternity. She was married to her husband Jonathan apparently at Joseph's request. Jonathan was fully aware of Elivra's sealing to Joseph prior to this marriage.
  10. Marinda Nancy Johnson: Married her husband Orson Hyde at age 19. She was sealed to Joseph some time after her marriage to Orson. There are conflicting accounts that indicate that she did this either with, or without, her husband's knowledge and consent.
  11. Zina Diantha Huntington: She was married to her husband Henry and pregnant by him at the time she was sealed to Joseph for eternity. Her husband Henry was aware of this.
  12. Sylvia Sessions: Married her husband Windsor at age 20. She was sealed to Joseph after Windsor was excommunicated and left Nauvoo. Sylvia may have considered herself "divorced" from Windsor at this point. Sylvia's daughter Josephine may be a legitimate child of Joseph Smith, but a clear link has not yet been proven.
  13. Sarah Ann Whitney: Sarah was married to Joseph for time and eternity while she was still a single woman. Later, she was married civilly to Joseph Kingsbury as a "pretend marriage," in which they lived in the same home, but which apparently did not include marital relations. Joseph Kingsbury therefore had the knowledge that he was marrying one of Joseph's plural wives and consented to it.
  14. Mary Heron: Married her husband John Snider at age 18. John was an active member of the Church. There is insufficient information to determine whether or not her husband knew of and consented to her sealing to Joseph.


Question: What did the husband of Ruth Vose Sayers know about her sealing to Joseph Smith for eternity?

Ruth was sealed to Joseph Smith only for eternity, and not for time, with both her husband’s consent and with Emma’s consent

Ruth was sealed to Joseph Smith only for eternity, and not for time, with both her husband’s consent and with Emma’s consent. She “continued to live with Mr. Sayers (remained with her husband) until his death. “[27] Ruth’s husband Edward was not a member of the Church, and was not interested in becoming one. Edward was, however, a good friend of Joseph Smith. Since Edward did not attach “much importance to the theory of a future life,” he “insisted that his wife Ruth should be sealed to the Prophet for eternity, as he himself should only claim …her in this life. She was accordingly [then] sealed to the Prophet in Emma Smith’s presence…” [27] Brian Hales notes that in 1869, Ruth signed an affidavit that reads:

Be it remembered that on this first day of May, A.D. 1869, personally appeared before me, Elias Smith, Probate Judge for Said County, Ruth Vose Sayers who was by me Sworn in due form of law and upon her oath Saith that on [blank] day of February A.D. 1843 at the City of Nauvoo County of Hancock, State of Illinois, She was married or Sealed to Joseph Smith President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, by Hyrum Smith, Presiding Patriarch of Said Church, according to the laws of the Same, regulating Marriage; in the presence [blank] [28]

Ruth's husband Edward Sayers did not attach "much importance to the theory of a future life"

Hales also notes the following from the research papers of Andrew Jenson:

\Sister Ruth/ Mrs. Sayers was married in her youth to Mr. Edward Sayers, a thoroughly practical horticulturist and florist, and though he was not a member of the Church, yet he willingly joined his fortune with her and they reached Nauvoo together some time in the year 1841; While there the strongest affection sprang up between the Prophet Joseph and Mr. Sayers. The latter not attaching much importance to \the/ theory of a future life insisted that his wife \Ruth/ should be sealed to the Prophet for eternity, as he himself should only claim [page2—the first 3 lines of which are written over illegible erasures] her in this life. She \was/ accordingly the sealed to the Prophet in Emma Smith’s presence and thus were became numbered among the Prophets plural wives. She however \though she/ \continued to live with Mr. Sayers / remained with her husband \until his death. [29]

A biography of Ruth Vose may be viewed on Brian and Laura Hales' website "josephsmithspolygamy.org". off-site


Question: What did the husband of Esther Dutcher know about her sealing to Joseph Smith for eternity?

It appears that Esther was sealed to Joseph for eternity before informing her husband of that fact

There is very little evidence of the sealing of Esther Dutcher to Joseph Smith. Ester was married to Albert Smith (no relation to Joseph Smith or George Albert Smith). The little evidence that exists indicates that she was sealed to Joseph for eternity only, and continued to live with her husband until she died. It also appears that she was sealed to Joseph for eternity before informing her husband of that fact. Thirty-two years after Esther's death, Apostle Daniel H. Wells wrote the following letter to Joseph F. Smith. Wells notes that after Esther's death that,

He [Albert Smith was] also much afflicted with the loss of his first wife. It seems that she was sealed to Joseph the Prophet in the days of Nauvoo, though she still remained his wife, and afterwards nearly broke his heart by telling him of it, and expressing her intention of adhering to that relationship. He however got to feeling better over it, and acting for Joseph, had her sealed to him, and to himself for time. [30]

A biography of Esther Dutcher may be viewed on Brian and Laura Hales' website "josephsmithspolygamy.org". off-site


Question: What did the husband of Mary Elizabeth Rollins know about her sealing to Joseph Smith for eternity?

Mary did not proceed with the sealing to Joseph until she had given up attempting to persuade her husband Adam to join the Church

Mary Elizabeth Rollins was married to a non-Mormon, Adam Lightner. Mary did not proceed with the sealing to Joseph until she had given up attempting to persuade her husband Adam to join:

My husband did not belong to the Church. I begged him and pled with him to join but he would not. He said he did not believe in it, though he thought a great deal of Joseph. He sacrificed his property rather than testify against Joseph, Hyrum and George A. Smith. After he said this, I went forward and was sealed to Joseph for eternity. [31]

After being sealed to Joseph, Mary continued to live with her husband Adam until his death in 1885

After being sealed to Joseph, Mary continued to live with her husband Adam until his death in 1885. Although this particular statement, and the evidence that she continued to live with her husband until his death, indicates a sealing for eternity only, on other occasions Mary actually referred to being sealed to Joseph for "time and eternity." Joseph also told her that she was to be sealed to him for eternity, and she initially resisted the idea until she received an angelic visitation and confirmation.

A biography of Mary Elizabeth Rollins may be viewed on Brian and Laura Hales' website "josephsmithspolygamy.org". off-site


Question: What did the husband of Presendia L. Huntington know about her sealing to Joseph Smith for eternity?

Presendia's husband Norman left the Church, and since she was unable to be sealed for eternity to her earthly husband, she was sealed to Joseph Smith instead

Presendia Huntington was married to Norman Buell when she was sixteen years old. Both Presendia and Norman originally joined the Church, but Norman later left it while Presendia remained a believing member. Since she was unable to be sealed for eternity to her earthly husband, she was sealed to Joseph Smith instead. Presendia's 1881 biography notes her husband's rejection of the Church as the reason she decided to be sealed to Joseph Smith for eternity,

I was maried to Norman Buell Jan 6th 1827. both joined the Church in in [sic] Kirtland Geauga Co Ohio he left the church in Mo in 1839 the Lord gave me strength to stand alone & keep the faith amid heavy persecution in 1841 I entered into the new & everlasting Covenant was sealed to Joseph Smith the Prophet & Seer & to the best of my ability I have honored Plural Marriage never speking one word against the principal. [32]

An affidavit signed by Presendia on May 1, 1869 states:

Be it remembered that on this first day of May A.D. 1869 personally appeared before me Elias Smith Probate Judge for Said County Presenda Lathrop Huntington \Kimball/ who was by me Sworn in due form of law and upon her oath saith, that on the eleventh day of December A.D. 1841, at the City of Nauvoo, County of Hancock State of Illinois, She was married or Sealed to Joseph Smith, President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints by Dimick B. Huntington, a High-Priest in Said Church, according to the laws of the Same regulating Marriage; in the presence of Fanny Maria Huntington. [33]

A biography of Presendia L. Huntington may be viewed on Brian and Laura Hales' website "josephsmithspolygamy.org". off-site


Question: What did the husband of Sarah Kingsley know about her sealing to Joseph Smith for eternity?

Sarah was married to non-Mormon John Cleveland, but was sealed to Joseph Smith

Sarah was married to non-Mormon John Cleveland. John was not interested in joining the Church, but was friendly to the Saints.

In the days of Joseph. Mother [Sarah M. Kingsley (Howe)] Cleveland by advice, was sealed to the prophet in Nauvoo but lived with her [non-LDS] husband John Cleveland. [34]

Sarah wished to go west with the Saints, but Brigham Young advised her to remain with her husband

When the Saints moved west, Sarah wished to go with them, even to the point of leaving her non-LDS husband. Brigham Young advised her to remain with him:

Brigham Young and council...counseled her to stay with her husband as he was a good man, having shown himself kind ever helping those in need, although for some reason his mind was darkened as to the gospel. She obeyed council and stayed with her husband, and was faithful and true to her relation and died a faithful member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. [35]

A biography of Sarah Kingsley may be viewed on Brian and Laura Hales' website "josephsmithspolygamy.org". off-site


Question: What did the husband of Patty Bartlett know about her sealing to Joseph Smith for eternity?

Patty and her husband David Sessions received their endowment after she had been sealed to Joseph three years earlier

Patty and her husband David Sessions were active members of the Church. They received their endowment in Nauvoo in 1845. Patty had been sealed for eternity to Joseph Smith three years earlier in 1842. After her husband David's death, she was sealed "for time" (re-married to an earthly husband) to John Parry in 1852. Patty's diary states,

Patty Bartlett daughter of Enoch and Anne Bartlett was born February 4 1795 \Bethel Mane/ and was married to David Session June 28th 1812 who was the son of David and Rachel Sessions, he was born April the 4th 1790 Veshire Vermont I was Batpised into the church of Jesus Christ \of later day saints/ July 2 1834 Mr Sessions was Baptised Aug <st> 1735 we received our we received our endowment Dec 16 1845 in Nauvoo. . . .

I was sealed to Joseph Smith by Willard Richards March 9 1842 in Newel K Whitneys chamber Nauvoo for Eternity and I and if I do not live to attend to it myself when there is a place prepared I want some one to attend to it for me according to order Sylvia \my daughter/ was present when I was sealed to Joseph Smith.I was after Mr. Sessions death sealed to John Parry senior for time on the 27 of March 1852 G[reat] S[alt] L. City. [36]

Nothing is stated in Patty's diary regarding what her husband David thought of her sealing to Joseph

Nothing is stated regarding what her husband David thought of her sealing to Joseph, or whether or not he agreed to it. Brian Hales notes that, "David and Patty Sessions attended the Nauvoo Temple together, receiving their endowments on December 15, 1845, but they were not sealed in marriage." It would seem apparent that David was fully aware of her sealing to Joseph.

A biography of Patty Bartlett may be viewed on Brian and Laura Hales' website "josephsmithspolygamy.org". off-site


Question: What did the husband of Elizabeth Davis know about her sealing to Joseph Smith for eternity?

Elizabeth's husband Jabez Dufee was active in the Church, but Elizabeth chose to be sealed for eternity to Joseph Smith

Elizabeth's husband Jabez Dufee was active in the Church. Elizabeth chose to be sealed for eternity to Joseph Smith. Brian Hales notes that, "It appears that the couple experienced some marital turmoil before the sealing or perhaps as a consequence of it. Jabez was endowed on a different day than Elizabeth when the Nauvoo Temple opened in the winter of 1845 and Elizabeth was resealed by proxy to Joseph Smith on January 22, 1846, but Jabez did not participate either as a proxy husband or witness." [37]

A biography of Elizabeth Davis may be viewed on Brian and Laura Hales' website "josephsmithspolygamy.org". off-site


Question: What did the husband of Lucinda Pendleton Morgan Harris know about her sealing to Joseph Smith for eternity?

There are no records in existence that indicate that she was sealed to Joseph during his lifetime, only after his death

Lucinda Pendleton was married to Latter-day Saint George W. Harris. There are no records in existence that indicate that she was sealed to Joseph during his lifetime. It is known that Lucinda’s proxy sealing to Joseph Smith was performed in the Nauvoo Temple on January 22, 1846, after Joseph's death. In addition, she was re-sealed to Joseph in the Salt Lake Temple in 1899. Brian Hales notes that, "current evidence indicates that several of the women who participated in proxy sealing to the Prophet in the Nauvoo Temple were not married to him while he was living." [38]


Question: What did the husband of Elvira Annie Cowles know about her sealing to Joseph Smith for eternity?

Joseph asked Jonathan Holmes to marry Elvira for time, and Joseph was later sealed to her for eternity

A letter by William Wright talks of Joseph asking Jonathan Holmes to marry Elvira. Joseph was later sealed to her for eternity.

I was well acquainted with two of Joseph’s wives, LaVina [Elvira] and Eliza [Snow or Partridge]. I came to Utah in ’69, and rented LaVina Holmes farm. Before Joseph was shot, he asked Jonathan Holmes if he would marry and take care of LaVina, but if LaVina wanted him to take care of her he would take her. He would fill that mission to please his Father in Heaven. [39]

Brian Hales notes that, "It seems to corroborate that Jonathan may have been given a “mission” to marry Elvira and “take care of her” in a legal pretend marriage. After the martyrdom, Jonathan would have been free to take Elivira as his own wife. She did not conceive her first child until seven months after Joseph’s death. The couple went on to have a total of five children together." [40]

A biography of Elvira Annie Cowles may be viewed on Brian and Laura Hales' website "josephsmithspolygamy.org". off-site


Question: What did Orson Hyde, the husband of Marinda Nancy Johnson, know about her sealing to Joseph Smith for eternity?

There are contradictory accounts which make it impossible to know for certain whether or not Orson knew of and consented to Marinda's sealing for eternity to Joseph

Marinda Nancy Johnson was married to Orson Hyde. There are contradictory accounts which make it impossible to know for certain whether or not Orson knew of and consented to Marinda's sealing for eternity to Joseph. However, according to Hales, "If the 1842 date for the sealing between Joseph and Marinda marriage is correct, then Joseph may have been sealed to Marinda in an “eternity only” sealing without Orson Hyde’s knowledge." Yet he also notes that "John D. Lee remembered that Orson gave his permission: 'Hyde’s wife, with his consent, was sealed to Joseph for an eternal state.'" [41]

There are two sealing dates for Joseph to Marinda - one during a period of one to two years after Hyde left on his mission, and one after he had already returned

The popular story among critics is that Joseph sent Orson away on his mission so that he could quickly marry his wife Marinda. However, the first sealing date shows that Joseph was sealed to Marinda for eternity one to two years after Hyde had left on his mission, so there was nothing "quick" about it. Furthermore, the evidence indicates that this was an "eternity only" sealing typical of Joseph's other "polyandrous" marriages involving other men's wives. No children are known to have conceived during this time. However, upon Hyde's return, not only did he father children by Marinda, but he also quickly asked Joseph to seal him in a new polygamous marriage of his own.

Todd Compton: “It is striking that Marinda had no children while Orson was on his mission to Jerusalem, then became pregnant soon after Orson returned home”

Fawn Brodie speculated that Mrs. Orson Hyde’s sons Orson and Frank “could have been Joseph’s sons.” [42] Orson Washington Hyde, born November 9, 1843, died as an infant and therefore had no descendants. DNA testing cannot help determine paternity.

Brian Hales notes the following regarding the timeline,

The timeline shows that Apostle Orson Hyde, Marinda’s legal husband, served a mission to Palestine from the spring of 1840 to December 7, 1842. Weeks after his return, Marinda became pregnant with Orson Washington Hyde (conception approximately February 16, 1843) who was born on November 9, 1843. Several authors alleged Joseph Smith practiced sexual polyandry with some of his plural wives including Marinda, despite a mountain of contradictory evidences [43] However, no evidence has been found to connect Joseph Smith with this child. Todd Compton observes: “It is striking that Marinda had no children while Orson was on his mission to Jerusalem, then became pregnant soon after Orson returned home.” [44] They also allege that a second son, Frank Henry Hyde, was father by Joseph Smith under the assumption that he was born January 23, 1845 (conception approximately May 2, 1844). [45] However, his birth certificate and an obituary in the The Ogden Standard, June 29, 1908, “Frank H. Hyde Dies Suddenly,” both corroborate a January 23, 1846, birthdate (May 2, 1845, approximate conception). [46][47]

Timeline of the marital status of Marinda Nancy Johnson Hyde. From the website Brian Hales, Joseph Smith's Polygamy off-site

Hales continues,

If the 1842 date for the sealing between Joseph and Marinda marriage is correct, then Joseph may have been sealed to Marinda in an “eternity only” sealing without Orson Hyde’s knowledge. While such a sealing would not have affected her civil union with Orson, a late second-hand report from exposé author Ann Eliza Webb Young states:

When Joseph Smith first taught polygamy, and gave the wives as well as the husbands opportunity to make new choice of life-partners, Mrs. Hyde, at that time a young and quite prepossessing woman, became one of the Prophet’s numerous fancies. . . . Hyde was away on a mission at the time, and when he returned, he, in turn, imbibed the teachings of polygamy also, and prepared to extend his kingdom indefinitely. In the mean time it was hinted to him that Smith had had his first wife sealed to himself in his absence, as a wife for eternity. Inconsistent as it may seem, Hyde was in a furious passion.” [48]

However, John D. Lee remembered that Orson gave his permission: “Hyde’s wife, with his consent, was sealed to Joseph for an eternal state.” [49] [47]

Hyde requested that Joseph perform his own plural marriage just a few weeks after returning from his mission

Hales concludes,

Whatever the sequence, Orson appealed to Joseph to perform his own plural marriage weeks after returning from his mission stating in 1869: “In the month of February or March, 1843, I was married to Miss Martha R. Browitt, by Joseph Smith, the martyred prophet, and by him she was sealed to me for time and all eternity in Nauvoo, Illinois.” [50]

The details of the relationship between Marinda and the Prophet will probably never be known. If Marinda had chosen Joseph as her eternal husband, she apparently changed her mind because she chose to be sealed to her legal husband Orson Hyde in the Nauvoo temple on January 11, 1846.

However, Marinda Nancy Johnson relocated to Salt Lake City in 1852 and later divorced Orson Hyde. She died in 1886, having kept the faith in the Church established by her eternal husband.[47]

The accounts of the sealing of Marinda to Joseph

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


Author Date Claim Comments
Sidney Rigdon[51] 1845
  • Orson unaware of marriage
  • Orson refused to live with wife when he found out

Contrary to claim, Orson continued to live with Miranda and father children by her.

William Hall[52] 1852
  • Joseph demanded Miranda and all Orson's money to let him back in the Church
  • "Many jokes were cracked at his [Hyde's] expense."

Very unlikely—no record of others mocking Hyde; Hall is unreliable on other marriages as well. [53] Orson's return to the quorum was in June 1839, [54] putting Hall's account two years too early for marriage. [55]

Ann Eliza Young[56] 1876
  • Orson did not know of marriage
  • Angry when he learned of it
  • Swore would not live with his wife; did so anyway.

Too young to have any first-hand knowledge of Nauvoo, her book's intent was clearly to titillate with stories of polygamous intrigue. Claims that Brigham told Orson that she was only to be his wife for time, and Joseph's for eternity—but this is frankly false, since sealed to Orson in early 1846. [57] She also confuses the temporality, since she describes Hyde "in a furious passion," because "he thought it no harm for him to win the affection of another man's wife… but he did not propose having his rights interfered with even by the holy Prophet whose teachings he so implicitly followed" (326). Yet, Orson did not begin practicing plural marriage until after he knew of Miranda's sealing to Joseph.

John D. Lee[58] 1877
  • "Report said that Hyde's wife, with his consent, was sealed to Joseph for an eternal state, but I do not assert the fact."
Lee's work was published posthumously and may have been altered by anti-Mormon editor.

A biography of Marinda Nancy Johnson may be viewed on Brian and Laura Hales' website "josephsmithspolygamy.org". off-site


Zina Diantha Huntington Jacobs

Question: What did the husband of Zina D. Huntington know about her sealing to Joseph Smith for eternity?

Zina married Henry Jacobs in 1840, and was sealed to Joseph Smith for eternity in 1841

Zina married Henry Jacobs in 1840, and was sealed to Joseph Smith for eternity in 1841,

Be it remembered that on this first day of May A.D. eighteen sixty nine before me Elias Smith Probate Judge for Said County personally appeared, Zina Diantha Huntington ^Young^ who was by me Sworn in due form of law, and upon her oath Saith, that on the twenty-Seventh day of October A.D. 1841, at the City of Nauvoo, County of Hancock, State of Illinois, She was married or Sealed to Joseph Smith, President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, by Dimick B. Huntington, a High Priest in Said Church, according to the laws of the same; regulating marriage; In the presence of Fanny Maria Huntington. [59]

There are many stories and accusations related to the marriage of Zina and Henry, and her sealing to Joseph. For details regarding each of these allegations, see Brian and Laura Hales, "Zina Diantha Huntington," josephsmithspolygamy.org off-site.

See also: Allen Wyatt, "Zina and Her Men: An Examination of the Changing Marital State of Zina Diantha Huntington Jacobs Smith Young," FAIR Conference, 2006.


Question: What did the husband of Sylvia Sessions know about her sealing to Joseph Smith for eternity?

Sylvia was married to Windsor Lyon by Joseph Smith in Nauvoo, and was sealed to Joseph Smith at some point after she was married

Sylvia was married to Windsor Lyon by Joseph Smith in Nauvoo. She was sealed to Joseph Smith at some point after she was married. Brian Hales notes that , "This marriage triangle is unique among all of the Prophet’s plural marriages because there is strong evidence that Sylvia bore children to both men. She became pregnant by Windsor Lyon in October of 1838, September of 1840, and April of 1842. Then a year later became pregnant with a daughter (named Josephine—born February 8, 1844) that was purportedly fathered by the Prophet." Sylvia's daughter, who had the intriguing name "Josephine," made the following statement:

Just prior to my mothers [Sylvia Sessions Lyon] death in 1882 she called me to her bedside and told me that her days on earth were about numbered and before she passed away from mortality she desired to tell me something which she had kept as an entire secret fro me and from others until no but which she now desired to communicate to me. She then told me that I was the daughter of the Prophet Joseph Smith, she having been sealed to the Prophet at the time that her husband Mr. Lyon had was out of fellowship with the Church.

Daughter Josephine was proven not to be a daughter of Joseph Smith, Jr. through DNA analysis

For many years, Josephine appeared to be the only viable candidate as a child of Joseph Smiths "polyandrous" sealings. However, DNA analysis ultimately disproved the paternity claim: Josephine was not a descendant of Joseph Smith, Jr.[60]

Sylvia may have considered herself divorced from Windsor after he was excommunicated from the Church

It appears, however, that Sylvia may have considered herself divorced from Windsor after he was excommunicated from the Church and left Nauvoo. Hales points out that "Currently, no documentation of a legal divorce between Windsor and Sylvia after his excommunication has been found. However, in the mid-nineteenth century, religious laws often trumped legal proceedings. Stanley B. Kimball observed: 'Some church leaders at that time considered civil marriage by non-Mormon clergymen to be as unbinding as their baptisms. Some previous marriages . . . were annulled simply by ignoring them.'" [61] The sealing to Joseph occurred after Windor's excommunication. Andrew Jenson, in his historical record, referred to Sylvia as a “formerly the wife of Windsor Lyons.” [62] There is no known evidence that Windsor lived with Sylvia after he returned to Nauvoo, but Sylvia did "rejoin" Windsor after he was rebaptised in 1846. Hales states, "No details are available to clarify what authority was used to reconfirm the marriage relationship between Sylvia and Windsor after their previous marital separation. Most likely the couple consulted with Brigham Young or Heber C. Kimball, who authorized their rejoining. Whether a private religious marriage ceremony for time was performed or the couple resumed observing their legal marriage is unknown. Importantly, even with the renewed conjugality between Windsor and Sylvia after Joseph Smith’s death, no evidence has been found to support her involvement in sexual polyandry at any time." [63]

A biography of Sylvia Sessions may be viewed on Brian and Laura Hales' website "josephsmithspolygamy.org". off-site


Question: What did the husband of Sarah Ann Whitney know about her sealing to Joseph Smith for eternity?

Joseph actually requested that Joseph C. Kingsbury marry Sarah civilly in order to allay any suspicions regarding their plural marriage

Sarah Ann Whitney's marriage to Joseph Smith was unusual in that, at some point after the marriage, Joseph actually requested that Joseph C. Kingsbury marry her civilly in order to allay any suspicions regarding their plural marriage. This marriage, however, was a "pretend" marriage according to Kingsbury,

[I] was imployed in Joseph Smith’s Store under the direction of Bishop Newel K Whitney untill the fall of 1842 and on the 16th day Oct Caroline my Wife Died. . . . how thankfull I feal thinking I shall see & meat her again to enjoy each other society for ever to part no more & also my little sons . . . and on the 29th of April 1843 I according to President Joseph Smith council & others agreed to stand by Sarah \Ann/ Whitney as supposed to be her husband & had a pretended marriage for the purpose of bringing about the purposes of bringing about the purposes of God in the last days as spoken by the mouth of the prophet Isiah Jeremiah Ezekiel and also Joseph Smith, & Sarah Ann should rec-d a great glory Honner & Eternal Lives and I Also Should Rec-d a Great Glory Honner & Eternal Lives to the full desire of my heart in having my companion Caroline in the first resurrection to hail her & no one to have power to take her from me & we Both shall be crowned & enthroned togeather in the Celestial Kingdom of God Enjoying Each others Society in all of the fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ & our little ones with us as is Recorded in this blessing that President Joseph Smith Sealed upon my head on the Twenty third day of March 1843 as follows. [64]

Sarah Ann and Joseph Kingsbury acted the part of husband and wife publicly, but apparently never consummated the marriage. Sarah married Heber C. Kimabll for time, not eternally, after Joseph's death and had seven children. According to Brian Hales, Joseph Kingsbury later billed the church for his services of acting as "front husband" for one of Joseph's plural wives. [65]

A biography of Sarah Ann Whitney may be viewed on Brian and Laura Hales' website "josephsmithspolygamy.org". off-site


Question: What did the husband of Mary Heron know about her sealing to Joseph Smith for eternity?

Mary Heron was married to John Snider, who was an active member of the Church, but little information is available regarding her sealing to Joseph

Mary Heron was married to John Snider, who was an active member of the Church. Very little information is available regarding her sealing to Joseph. Brian Hales notes that, "John was never sealed to Mary during their lifetimes, even though a proxy sealing after her death would have been possible. Curiously, John waited until two weeks after Mary’s passing away to obtain his own temple endowments. Perhaps the timing of John Snider’s first temple visit was coincidental, or possibly a sealing between Mary and Joseph Smith had created an awkward situation while they were both living." [66]

A biography of Mary Heron may be viewed on Brian and Laura Hales' website "josephsmithspolygamy.org". off-site


Response to claim: "The following is from a love letter Joseph Smith wrote when he wanted to arrange a liaison with Newel K. Whitney's daughter Sarah Ann"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

The following is from a love letter Joseph Smith wrote when he wanted to arrange a liaison with Newel K. Whitney's daughter Sarah Ann, whom Smith had secretly married without Emma's knowledge three weeks prior to this time.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

It wasn't a "love letter" and the meeting wasn't a "liason." MormonThink originally posted an edited version of this letter copied from a critical website that left out important information. They only corrected it when someone on an ex-Mormon message board pointed out that FairMormon showed the text of the full letter, but they continue to refer to is as a "love letter."

Read the whole letter, and ask yourself: who writes a love letter to his wife and her parents? Who asks his bride and her parents to come to a single private room for carnal relations?


Question: Did Joseph Smith write a "love letter" to his plural wife Sarah Ann Whitney to request a secret rendezvous?

On 18 August 1842, Joseph Smith wrote a letter to the parents of Sarah Ann Whitney, who had become his plural wife three weeks earlier, asking them to visit him while he was in hiding.

Critics of the Church would have us believe that this is a private, secret "love letter" from Joseph to Sarah Ann, however, Joseph wrote this letter to the Whitney's, addressing it to Sarah's parents. The "matter" to which he refers is likely the administration of ordinances rather than the arrangement of some sort of private tryst with one of his plural wives. Why would one invite your bride's parents to such an encounter? Joseph doesn't want Emma gone because he wants to be alone with Sarah Ann—a feat that would be difficult to accomplish with her parents there—he wants Emma gone either because she is opposed to plural marriage (the contention that would result from an encounter between Emma and the Whitney's just a few weeks after Joseph's sealing to Sarah Ann would hardly be conducive to having the spirit present in order to "git the fulness of my blessings sealed upon our heads"), or because she may have been followed or spied upon by Joseph's enemies, putting either Joseph or the Whitneys in danger.

The Prophet was in hiding as a result of the assassination attempt that had been made on Missouri governor Lilburn Boggs

On the 16th of August, 1842, while Joseph was in hiding at the Sayer's, Emma expressed concern for Joseph's safety. She sent a letter to Joseph in which she noted,

There are more ways than one to take care of you, and I believe that you can still direct in your business concerns if we are all of us prudent in the matter. If it was pleasant weather I should contrive to see you this evening, but I dare not run too much of a risk, on account of so many going to see you. (History of the Church, Vol.5, Ch.6, p.109)

It is evident that there was concern on Emma's part that Joseph's hiding place would be discovered because of all the people visiting Joseph, particularly if they were in the company of Emma

Joseph wrote the next day in his journal,

Several rumors were afloat in the city, intimating that my retreat had been discovered, and that it was no longer safe for me to remain at Brother Sayers'; consequently Emma came to see me at night, and informed me of the report. It was considered wisdom that I should remove immediately, and accordingly I departed in company with Emma and Brother Derby, and went to Carlos Granger's, who lived in the north-east part of the city. Here we were kindly received and well treated." (History of the Church, Vol.5, Ch.6, pp. 117-118)

The next day, while in hiding at the Granger's, Joseph wrote a letter to three members of the Whitney family inviting them to come visit him

The letter is addressed to "Brother and Sister Whitney, and &c." Scholars agree that the third person referred to was the Whitney's daughter Sarah Ann, to whom Joseph had been sealed in a plural marriage, without Emma's knowledge, three weeks prior. The full letter, with photographs of the original document, was published by Michael Marquardt in 1973, [67] and again in 1984 by Dean C. Jessee in The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith. [68] The complete text of the letter reads as follows (original spelling has been retained):

Nauvoo August 18th 1842

Dear, and Beloved, Brother and Sister, Whitney, and &c.—

I take this oppertunity to communi[c]ate, some of my feelings, privetely at this time, which I want you three Eternaly to keep in your own bosams; for my feelings are so strong for you since what has pased lately between us, that the time of my abscence from you seems so long, and dreary, that it seems, as if I could not live long in this way: and <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 alied, do love me; now is the time to afford me succour, in the days of exile, for you know I foretold you of these things. I am now at Carlos Graingers, Just back of Brother Hyrams farm, it is only one mile from town, the nights are very pleasant indeed, all three of you come <can> come and See me in the fore part of the night, let Brother Whitney come a little a head, and nock at the south East corner of the house at <the> window; it is next to the cornfield, I have a room inti=rely by myself, the whole matter can be attended to with most perfect safty, I <know> it is the will of God that you should comfort <me> now in this time of affliction, or not at[ta]l now is the time or never, but I hav[e] no kneed of saying any such thing, to you, for I know the goodness of your hearts, and that you will do the will of the Lord, when it is made known to you; the only thing to be careful of; is to find out when Emma comes then you cannot be safe, but when she is not here, there is the most perfect safty: only be careful to escape observation, as much as possible, I know it is a heroick undertakeing; but so much the greater frendship, and the more Joy, when I see you I <will> tell you all my plans, I cannot write them on paper, burn this letter as soon as you read it; keep all locked up in your breasts, my life depends upon it. one thing I want to see you for is <to> git the fulness of my blessings sealed upon our heads, &c. you wi will pardon me for my earnest=ness on <this subject> when you consider how lonesome I must be, your good feelings know how to <make> every allowance for me, I close my letter, I think Emma wont come tonight if she dont dont fail to come to night. I subscribe myself your most obedient, <and> affectionate, companion, and friend.

Joseph Smith

Some critics point to this letter as evidence the Joseph wrote a private and secret “love letter” to Sarah Ann, requesting that she visit him while he was in seclusion. Others believe that the letter was a request to Sarah Ann's parents to bring their daughter to him so that he could obtain "comfort," with the implication that "comfort" involved intimate relations.


Question: How do critics of the Church portray Joseph Smith's letter to the Whitney family as a "love letter"?

Critical treatments of the letter: Was this a "love" letter to Sarah Ann?

Did Joseph Smith write a private and secret “love letter” to Sarah Ann Whitney? Was this letter a request to Sarah Ann's parents to bring her to Joseph? Was Joseph trying to keep Sarah Ann and Emma from encountering one another? Certain sentences extracted from the letter might lead one to believe one or all of these things. Critics use this to their advantage by extracting only the portions of the letter which support the conclusions above. We present here four examples of how the text of the letter has been employed by critics in order to support their position that Joseph was asking the Whitney's to bring Sarah Ann over for an intimate encounter. The text of the full letter is then examined again in light of these treatments.

Critical presentation #1

Consider the following excerpt from a website that is critical of the Church. Portions of the Whitney letter are extracted and presented in the following manner:

... the only thing to be careful of; is to find out when Emma comes then you cannot be safe, but when she is not here, there is the most perfect safty. ... Only be careful to escape observation, as much as possible, I know it is a heroick undertakeing; but so much the greater friendship, and the more Joy, when I see you I will tell you all my plans, I cannot write them on paper, burn this letter as soon as you read it; keep all locked up in your breasts, my life depends upon it. ... I close my letter, I think Emma wont come tonight if she dont, dont fail to come to night, I subscribe myself your most obedient, and affectionate, companion, and friend. Joseph Smith.
—’’Rethinking Mormonism’’, “Did Joseph Smith have sex with his wives?” (Web page)

This certainly has all of the elements of a secret “love letter:” The statement that it would not be safe if Emma were there, the request to “burn this letter as soon as you read it,” and the stealthy instructions for approaching the house. The question is, who was this letter addressed to? The critics on their web site clearly want you to believe that this was a private letter to Sarah Ann.

Critical presentation #2

Here is the way that Van Wagoner presents selected excerpts of the same letter. In this case, at least, he acknowledges that the letter was addressed to “the Whitney’s,” rather than Sarah, but adds his own opinion that it “detailed [Joseph’s] problems in getting to see Sarah Ann without Emma's knowledge:”

My feelings are so strong for you since what has pased 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 alied, 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.
—Richard S. Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy: A History, 48.

Critical presentation #3

This version, presented by George D. Smith, presents excerpts from the letter which makes it sound like Joseph was absolutely lusting for the company of Sarah Ann. Smith even makes Napoleon Bonaparte a Joseph Smith doppelgänger by quoting a letter from the future Emperor to Josephine of their first night together:

"I have awakened full of you. The memory of last night has given my senses no rest. . . . What an effect you have on my heart! I send you thousands of kisses—but don’t kiss me. Your kisses sear my blood” (p. xi). George Smith then claims that a “young man of ambition and vision penned his own letter of affection to a young woman. It was the summer of 1842 when thirty-six-year-old Joseph Smith, hiding from the law down by the Mississippi River in Illinois, confessed:"

Smith then compares the excerpts from Napoleon's letter above to portions of the Whitney letter:

My feelings are so strong for you . . . come and see me in this my lonely retreat . . . now is the time to afford me succour . . . I have a room intirely by myself, the whole matter can be attended to with most perfect saf[e]ty, I know it is the will of God that you should comfort me.
—George D. Smith, “Nauvoo Polygamy: We Called It Celestial Marriage,” Free Inquiry [Council for Secular Humanism] 28/3 (April–May 2008): 44–46.

Critical presentation #4

Finally, we have a version which acknowledges the full contents of the letter...but only after presenting it in the manner described above numerous times. The author eventually provides the full text of this letter (150 pages after its comparison with Napoleon). Since there are no extant "love letters" from Joseph Smith to any of his plural wives, the mileage that the author of Nauvoo Polygamy..."but we called it celestial marriage" extracts from the single letter to the Whitney's is simply astounding:

  • "[i]t was eleven years after the Smiths roomed with the Whitneys that Joseph expressed a romantic interest in their daughter, as well." (p. 31)
  • "recommended his friend, whose seventeen-year-old daughter he had just married, should 'come a little a head, and nock…at the window.'" (p. 53)
  • "Emma Hale, Joseph's wife of fifteen years, had left his side just twenty-four hours earlier. Now Joseph declared that he was "lonesome," and he pleaded with Sarah Ann to visit him under cover of darkness. After all, they had been married just three weeks earlier. (p. 53)
  • "As will be seen, conjugal visits appear furtive and constantly shadowed by the threat of disclosure." (p. 63)
  • “when Joseph requested that Sarah Ann Whitney visit him and ‘nock at the window,’ he reassured his new young wife that Emma would not be there, telegraphing his fear of discovery if Emma happened upon his trysts.” (p. 65)
  • "Three weeks after the wedding, Joseph took steps to spend some time with his newest bride." (p. 138)
  • "It was the ninth night of Joseph's concealment, and Emma had visited him three times, written him several letters, and penned at least one letter on his behalf…For his part, Joseph's private note about his love for Emma was so endearing it found its way into the official church history. In it, he vowed to be hers 'forevermore.' Yet within this context of reassurance and intimacy, a few hours later the same day, even while Joseph was still in grave danger and when secrecy was of the utmost urgency, he made complicated arrangements for a visit from his fifteenth plural wife, Sarah Ann Whitney." (p. 142)
  • "Smith urged his seventeen-year-old bride to 'come to night' and 'comfort' him—but only if Emma had not returned….Joseph judiciously addressed the letter to 'Brother, and Sister, Whitney, and &c." (p. 142-143)
  • "Invites Whitneys to visit, Sarah Ann to 'comfort me' if Emma not there. Invitation accepted." (p.. 147)
  • "As if Sarah Ann Whitney's liaison were not enough…another marriage took place…." (p. 155)
  • "summer 1842 call for an intimate visit from Sarah Ann Whitney…substantiate[s] the intimate relationships he was involved in during those two years." (p. 185)
  • “his warning to Sarah Ann to proceed carefully in order to make sure Emma would not find them in their hiding place.” (p. 236)
  • "Just as Joseph sought comfort from Sarah Ann the day Emma departed from his hideout…." (p. 236)
  • "Elizabeth [Whitney] was arranging conjugal visits between her daughter, Sarah Ann, and [Joseph]…." (p. 366)

One must assume that this is the closest thing that the author could find to a love letter, because the "real" love letters from Joseph to his plural wives do not exist. The author had to make do with this one, despite the fact that it did not precisely fit the bill. With judicious pruning, however, it can be made to sound sufficiently salacious to suit the purpose at hand: to "prove" that Joseph lusted after women.

The full story

In contrast to the sources above, Compton actually provides the complete text of the letter up front, and concludes that "[t]he Mormon leader is putting the Whitney's in the difficult position of having to learn about Emma's movements, avoid her, then meet secretly with him" and that the "cloak-and-dagger atmosphere in this letter is typical of Nauvoo polygamy." [69]

What parts of the Whitney letter do the critics not mention?

As always, it is helpful to view the entire set of statements in content. Let's revisit the entire letter, this time with the selections extracted by the critics highlighted:

Nauvoo August 18th 1842

Dear, and Beloved, Brother and Sister, Whitney, and &c.—

I take this oppertunity to communi[c]ate, some of my feelings, privetely at this time, which I want you three Eternaly to keep in your own bosams; for my feelings are so strong for you since what has pased lately between us, that the time of my abscence from you seems so long, and dreary, that it seems, as if I could not live long in this way: and <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 alied, do love me; now is the time to afford me succour, in the days of exile, for you know I foretold you of these things. I am now at Carlos Graingers, Just back of Brother Hyrams farm, it is only one mile from town, the nights are very pleasant indeed, all three of you come <can> come and See me in the fore part of the night, let Brother Whitney come a little a head, and nock at the south East corner of the house at <the> window; it is next to the cornfield, I have a room inti=rely by myself, the whole matter can be attended to with most perfect safty, I <know> it is the will of God that you should comfort <me> now in this time of affliction, or not at[ta]l now is the time or never, but I hav[e] no kneed of saying any such thing, to you, for I know the goodness of your hearts, and that you will do the will of the Lord, when it is made known to you; the only thing to be careful of; is to find out when Emma comes then you cannot be safe, but when she is not here, there is the most perfect safty: only be careful to escape observation, as much as possible, I know it is a heroick undertakeing; but so much the greater frendship, and the more Joy, when I see you I <will> tell you all my plans, I cannot write them on paper, burn this letter as soon as you read it; keep all locked up in your breasts, my life depends upon it. one thing I want to see you for is <to> git the fulness of my blessings sealed upon our heads, &c. you wi will pardon me for my earnest=ness on <this subject> when you consider how lonesome I must be, your good feelings know how to <make> every allowance for me, I close my letter, I think Emma wont come tonight if she dont dont fail to come to night. I subscribe myself your most obedient, <and> affectionate, companion, and friend.

Joseph Smith

So, let’s take a look at the portions of the letter that are not highlighted.

Dear, and Beloved, Brother and Sister, Whitney, and &c.—

The letter is addressed to “Brother and Sister Whitney.” Sarah Ann is not mentioned by name, but is included as “&c.,” which is the equivalent of saying “and so on,” or “etc.” This hardly implies that what follows is a private “love letter” to Sarah Ann herself.

Could this have been an appeal to Sarah's parents to bring her to Joseph? In Todd Compton's opinion, Joseph "cautiously avoids writing Sarah's name." [70] However, Joseph stated in the letter who he wanted to talk to:

I take this oppertunity to communi[c]ate, some of my feelings, privetely at this time, which I want you three Eternaly to keep in your own bosams;

Joseph wants to talk to “you three,” meaning Newel, Elizabeth and Sarah Ann.


Question: What was the real purpose of the letter written by Joseph Smith to the parents of Sarah Ann Whitney?

The one portion of the letter in which Joseph actually gives a reason for this meeting is often excluded by critics

Interestingly enough, the one portion of the letter in which Joseph actually gives a reason for this meeting is often excluded by critics:

..one thing I want to see you for is <to> git the fulness of my blessings sealed upon our heads, &c. you wi will pardon me for my earnest=ness on <this subject> when you consider how lonesome I must be, your good feelings know how to <make> every allowance for me...

According to Richard L. Bushman, this may have been "a reference perhaps to the sealing of Newel and Elizabeth in eternal marriage three days later." [71] Compton adds, "This was not just a meeting of husband and plural wife, it was a meeting with Sarah's family, with a religious aspect. [72]

Joseph needed to have the company of friends who supported him

In addition to the stated purpose of the meeting, Joseph "may have been a lonely man who needed people around him every moment." [73] Consider this phrase (included in Van Wagoner's treatment, but excluded by the others):

...it would afford me great relief, of mind, if those with whom I am al[l]ied, do love me, now is the time to afford me succour, in the days of exile. (emphasis added)

These are not the words of a man asking his secret lover to meet him for a private tryst—they are the words of a man who wants the company of friends.

"...when Emma comes then you cannot be safe"

So, what about Emma? The letter certainly contains dire warnings about having the Whitney's avoid an encounter with Emma. We examine several possible reasons for the warning about Emma. Keep in mind Emma's stated concern just two days prior,

If it was pleasant weather I should contrive to see you this evening, but I dare not run too much of a risk, on account of so many going to see you. (History of the Church, Vol.5, Ch.6, p.109)

Joseph wished to discuss and/or perform a sealing ordinance that Emma had not yet received

Joseph had been sealed to Sarah Ann three weeks before without Emma's knowledge.[74] Joseph may have wished to offer a sealing blessing to Newel and Elizabeth Whitney at this time. Given Joseph's indication to the Whitneys that he wished to "git the fulness of my blessings sealed upon our heads," and the fact that Emma herself was not sealed until she consented to the doctrine of plural marriage nine months later, Joseph may have felt that Emma’s presence would create an uncomfortable situation for all involved—particularly if she became aware of his sealing to Sarah Ann.

Joseph wished to avoid involving his friends in case he were found by those looking for him

If Joseph was in hiding, he had good reason to avoid being found (hence the request to burn the letter that disclosed his location). He would also not want his friends present in case he were to be found. Anyone that was searching for Joseph knew that Emma could lead them to him if they simply observed and followed her. If this were the case, the most dangerous time for the Whitney's to visit Joseph may have been when Emma was there—not necessarily because Emma would have been angered by finding Sarah Ann (after all, Emma did not know about the sealing, and she would have found all three Whitney's there—not just Sarah Ann), but because hostile men might have found the Whitney's with Joseph. Note that Joseph's letter states that "when Emma comes then you cannot be safe, but when she is not here, there is the most perfect safty: only be careful to escape observation, as much as possible." Joseph wanted the Whitneys to avoid observation by anyone, and not just by Emma.


Response to claim: "So why question whether or not Joseph had sex with his wives, even the ones who were already married to other men?"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

No one denies that Brigham Young had sex with his many wives. He had over 50 children. So why question whether or not Joseph had sex with his wives, even the ones who were already married to other men?

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

Lets follow this logic: Brigham Young had sex with his many wives. We know this because he had 50 children. Joseph Smith had no known children by his many wives, even the ones that were "married to other men." Therefore, this means.....oh, wait.

Of course, as the site notes, 13 of Joseph's plural wives testified that they did have relations with him, but not any of the ones that were "married to other men."

Why are there no examples of angry husbands upset that Joseph had cheated on them with their wives? Joseph's "polyandrous" relationships have no evidence of being consummated. Polyandry was probably designed to link families together.

Did you know that Brigham Young had no polyandrous marriages? Instead, the members of his era used "adoption" sealings to bind families together. A person would be "adopted" by a Church leader, rather than "married" to a Church leader. This didn't destroy existing family relationships, it simply bound the members together.


Response to claim: "he would have been breaking the "commandment" from God if he did not try to procreate with his wives"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

If Joseph was commanded to marry these women for the express purpose of multiplying and replenishing the earth, he would have been breaking the "commandment" from God if he did not try to procreate with his wives.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

Well, if that was the only reason, then it seems that Joseph did a pretty lousy job of it then. Polygamy was not permitted only for the purpose of procreation. Joseph established the practice of plural marriage as part of the "restoration of all things." The lack of children from Joseph's polygamous marriages demonstrates that.


Question: Was the only purpose of polygamy to "multiply and replenish the earth" and "bear the souls of men"?

Doctrine and Covenants states that polygamy is for the purpose of multiplying and replenishing the earth

Doctrine and Covenants 132:63 states,

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, according to my commandment, and to fulfil the promise which was given by my Father before the foundation of the world, and for their exaltation in the eternal worlds, that they may bear the souls of men; for herein is the work of my Father continued, that he may be glorified.

The institution of the practice of polygamy was part of the "restoration of all things"

Polygamy was not permitted only for the purpose of procreation. Joseph established the practice of plural marriage as part of the "restoration of all things," and introduced it to a number of others within the Church. This alone may have been the purpose of Joseph's initiation of the practice. The establishment of the practice ultimately did have the effect of "raising up seed"...just not through Joseph Smith.


Question: If the only purpose of polygamy was to "raise up seed," then why did Joseph not have children by his plural wives?

Polygamy was not permitted only for the purpose of procreation

If the only purpose of polygamy, at least in Joseph Smith's case, was to "raise up seed," then why did Joseph not have children by his plural wives? He was certainly capable of having children, as demonstrated by those that he had by Emma, many of whom died. Yet, there is no conclusive evidence to date of Joseph having had children by any of his plural wives, and DNA testing has ruled out most of those who were suspected of being such.

Joseph was commanded to restore the practice of polygamy as part of the "restoration of all things." It was obviously not intended that Joseph use the practice to produce progeny.

Joseph was also sealed for eternity to some women who were already married, but these women continued to have children by their current husbands

Among Joseph's plural marriages and/or sealings, between eight to eleven of them were to women who were already married. Of the eight well-documented cases, five of the husbands were Latter-day Saints, and the other three were either not active in or not associated with the Church. In all cases, these women continued to live with their husbands, most of them doing so until their husbands died. These eternal marriages appear to have had little effect upon the lives of the women involved, with the exception that they would be sealed to Joseph in the afterlife rather than to their earthly husbands. No children from these marriages have ever been identified. These were sealings which would only affect Joseph's association with these women in the afterlife.


Response to claim: "Faithful Mormon and wife of Joseph Smith, Sylvia Sessions (Lyon), on her deathbed told her daughter, Josephine, that she (Josephine) was the daughter of Joseph Smith"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

Faithful Mormon and wife of Joseph Smith, Sylvia Sessions (Lyon), on her deathbed told her daughter, Josephine, that she (Josephine) was the daughter of Joseph Smith. Josephine testified: "She (Sylvia) then told me that I was the daughter of the Prophet Joseph Smith, she having been sealed to the Prophet at the time that her husband Mr. Lyon was out of fellowship with the Church."

Author's sources:
  1. Affidavit to Church Historian Andrew Jenson, 24 Feb. 1915

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is based upon correct information - The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event

Sylvia may have considered herself divorced from Windsor after he was excommunicated from the Church.


Question: What did the husband of Sylvia Sessions know about her sealing to Joseph Smith for eternity?

Sylvia was married to Windsor Lyon by Joseph Smith in Nauvoo, and was sealed to Joseph Smith at some point after she was married

Sylvia was married to Windsor Lyon by Joseph Smith in Nauvoo. She was sealed to Joseph Smith at some point after she was married. Brian Hales notes that , "This marriage triangle is unique among all of the Prophet’s plural marriages because there is strong evidence that Sylvia bore children to both men. She became pregnant by Windsor Lyon in October of 1838, September of 1840, and April of 1842. Then a year later became pregnant with a daughter (named Josephine—born February 8, 1844) that was purportedly fathered by the Prophet." Sylvia's daughter, who had the intriguing name "Josephine," made the following statement:

Just prior to my mothers [Sylvia Sessions Lyon] death in 1882 she called me to her bedside and told me that her days on earth were about numbered and before she passed away from mortality she desired to tell me something which she had kept as an entire secret fro me and from others until no but which she now desired to communicate to me. She then told me that I was the daughter of the Prophet Joseph Smith, she having been sealed to the Prophet at the time that her husband Mr. Lyon had was out of fellowship with the Church.

Daughter Josephine was proven not to be a daughter of Joseph Smith, Jr. through DNA analysis

For many years, Josephine appeared to be the only viable candidate as a child of Joseph Smiths "polyandrous" sealings. However, DNA analysis ultimately disproved the paternity claim: Josephine was not a descendant of Joseph Smith, Jr.[75]

Sylvia may have considered herself divorced from Windsor after he was excommunicated from the Church

It appears, however, that Sylvia may have considered herself divorced from Windsor after he was excommunicated from the Church and left Nauvoo. Hales points out that "Currently, no documentation of a legal divorce between Windsor and Sylvia after his excommunication has been found. However, in the mid-nineteenth century, religious laws often trumped legal proceedings. Stanley B. Kimball observed: 'Some church leaders at that time considered civil marriage by non-Mormon clergymen to be as unbinding as their baptisms. Some previous marriages . . . were annulled simply by ignoring them.'" [76] The sealing to Joseph occurred after Windor's excommunication. Andrew Jenson, in his historical record, referred to Sylvia as a “formerly the wife of Windsor Lyons.” [77] There is no known evidence that Windsor lived with Sylvia after he returned to Nauvoo, but Sylvia did "rejoin" Windsor after he was rebaptised in 1846. Hales states, "No details are available to clarify what authority was used to reconfirm the marriage relationship between Sylvia and Windsor after their previous marital separation. Most likely the couple consulted with Brigham Young or Heber C. Kimball, who authorized their rejoining. Whether a private religious marriage ceremony for time was performed or the couple resumed observing their legal marriage is unknown. Importantly, even with the renewed conjugality between Windsor and Sylvia after Joseph Smith’s death, no evidence has been found to support her involvement in sexual polyandry at any time." [78]

A biography of Sylvia Sessions may be viewed on Brian and Laura Hales' website "josephsmithspolygamy.org". off-site


Response to claim: "When Joseph supposedly propositioned (or actually had sex with) fifteen year old Nancy Marinda Johnson, Dr. Dennison, with the encouragement of a neighborhood mob, nearly castrated him"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

When Joseph supposedly propositioned (or actually had sex with) fifteen year old Nancy Marinda Johnson, Dr. Dennison, with the encouragement of a neighborhood mob, nearly castrated him. Why would the mob try to castrate him? Castration is used as a penalty for sexual crimes only. The castration attempt is acknowledged by pro-LDS scholar Susan Easton, although she does not say why the Johnson brothers attempted to castrate Joseph.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

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

Did you know that Van Wagoner's source is Fawn Brodie? Brodie's source, Clark Braden, also got his information second-hand 52 years after this incident occurred, and is clearly antagonistic, since he is a member of the Church of Christ, the “Disciples,” seeking to attack the Reorganized (RLDS) Church.

Did you know that Brodie and Van Wagoner also get the woman's name wrong—it is "Marinda Nancy," not "Nancy Marinda."

Did you know that Marinda had no brother named Eli?

Did you know that Van Wagoner and others acknowledge in the footnotes that the story is probably false?

"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." - Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy, 4, endnote.

Did you know that members of the mob later discussed why they attacked Joseph, and it had nothing to do with immoral acts?[79]

"And the leader of the mob, Simonds Ryder, 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)." - Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy, 4, endnote.

Did you know that Marinda Nancy Johnson remained a member of the Church, and was not a fan of plural marriage? Yet, she said this about Joseph's time there:

"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." - Marinda (Johnson) Hyde, Interview, cited in Edward Tullidge, Women of Mormondom (1877), 404.


Response to claim: "Some critics believe that Joseph may have gotten some of his wives pregnant but had them get abortions"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

Some critics believe that Joseph may have gotten some of his wives pregnant but had them get abortions. This is what Sarah Pratt, whom Joseph excommunicated for refusing to have sex with him, said to Smith's son.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

We're not surprised that "some critics" believe this—they have to account for the lack of children somehow.


John C. Bennett and Sarah Pratt

Summary: John C. Bennett and Joseph Smith exchanged charges, each claiming that the other had attempted the seduction of Sarah Pratt, wife of apostle Orson Pratt. Learn about this complex period of LDS history here.

Jump to Subtopic:


Response to claim: "Joseph Smith had "conjugal relations" with at least eight women in addition to his first wife, Emma"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

FARMS reviewer Gregory L. Smith acknowledges, 71 pages into his 86-page review of George D. Smith's new book, Nauvoo Polygamy: "…but we called it celestial marriage" ("George D. Smith's Nauvoo Polygamy," FARMS Review 20:2, 2008), that Joseph Smith had "conjugal relations" with at least eight women in addition to his first wife, Emma.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is based upon correct information - The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event

This information is not new--another FARMS reviewer discussed the same matter years earlier in 1998. (See Richard Lloyd Anderson and Scott H. Faulring, "The Prophet Joseph Smith and His Plural Wives (Review of In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith)," FARMS Review of Books 10/2 (1998): 67–104. off-site). A CES teacher, Danel Bachman, discussed these matters in the 1970s. (Danel W. Bachman, “A Study of the Mormon Practice of Polygamy Before the Death of Joseph Smith,” (1975) (unpublished M.A. thesis, Purdue University).) Why is it such a scandal if Joseph had conjugal relations with his plural wives? Every other Church president and leader had conjugal relations with at least some of their wives too.


Response to claim: "If even the FARMS apologists, FAIR apologists and faithful LDS historians acknowledge that Joseph may have had sex with his polygamous wives (including the ones already married)"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

If even the FARMS apologists, FAIR apologists and faithful LDS historians acknowledge that Joseph may have had sex with his polygamous wives (including the ones already married) then why should any LDS members dispute that Joseph likely did have sex with those wives?

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

Why do they keep making sure to lump in "the ones already married" multiple times in the article. Where is the data? There is no evidence that Joseph's polyandrous sealings involved marital relations. This is not surprising, since the polyandrous sealings were likely designed to bind families together with Joseph.


Question: What was the nature of Joseph Smith's "polyandrous" marriages?

Evidence indicates that Joseph was sealed for eternity to eight to eleven women who were married to other men

The fact that these women continue to live with their earthly husbands and even have children by them indicates that the sealings to Joseph Smith were not marriages in the normal sense.

Joseph's sealing to their wives doesn't appear to have changed anything in their daily lives or their relationship to their current husbands

The relationship between these women and their husbands appear to have not changed even after they were sealed to Joseph Smith. Of the eight well-documented cases, five of the husbands were Latter-day Saints, and the other three were either not active in or not associated with the Church. In all cases, these women continued to live with their husbands, most of them doing so until their husbands died. These eternal marriages appear to have had little effect upon the lives of the women involved, with the exception that they would be sealed to Joseph in the afterlife rather than to their earthly husbands.


Question: Did Joseph Smith consummate any of these marriages with married women?

There is no evidence to indicate that Joseph consumated any polyandrous marriages, with one possible exception for a woman who considered herself divorced

The available evidence also does not support the claim that Joseph had intimate relations with these married women. Fawn Brodie, who repeatedly stated her belief that Joseph had intimate relations with many of his plural wives, identified several individuals that she thought “might” be children of Joseph Smith, Jr. Yet, even Brodie noted that “it is astonishing that evidence of other children than these has never come to light.” Brodie postulated, in spite of a complete lack of evidence, that Joseph must have been able to successfully practice some sort of primitive birth control, or that abortions must have been routinely employed.To date, DNA analysis has ruled out Joseph Smith as the father of any of the children of the women to whom he was sealed who were married to other men.

In 1915, Sylvia Sessions Lyon's daughter, Josephine, signed a statement that in 1882 Sylvia "told me that I was the daughter of the Prophet Joseph Smith"

In 1915, Sylvia Sessions Lyon's daughter, Josephine, signed a statement that in 1882 Sylvia "told me that I was the daughter of the Prophet Joseph Smith, she having been sealed to the Prophet at the time that her husband Mr. Lyon was out of fellowship with the Church." It is not known whether Sylvia was referring to her daughter as being a literal descendant of Joseph Smith, or if she was referring to the fact that she had been sealed to the prophet. In an article published in Mormon Historical Studies, Brian C. Hales demonstrates that Sylvia considered herself divorced prior to marrying Joseph polygamously. [80]


Response to claim: "Smith then asked for his only daughter, 14 year-old Helen"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

It's often taught that concerning the marriage of Joseph to 14 year old Helen Mar Kimball, it was Helen's father that initiated and arranged the marriage. This is not true. Before Smith approached Heber to have 14 year-old Helen as his bride, Smith called on Heber to turn over his wife, Vilate, to be Smith's wife.....So after Joseph Smith went so far as to "test" Heber C. Kimball to see if he would turn over his wife, Smith then asked for his only daughter, 14 year-old Helen.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is false

Wait a minute—Helen is the one that said that her father initiated and arranged the marriage. These quotes are included on MormonThink's own page! Here it is again:

"Having a great desire to be connected with the Prophet, Joseph, he [Heber] offered me to him; this I afterwards learned from the Prophet's own mouth." - Helen, cited in Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 498.

Note that again this sealing was designed to bind families in the Church together. Joseph did test Heber and Vilate, and after they consented to give Vilate to Joseph as his wife, Joseph said that it was not required, and sealed them instead. So where are we supposed to make the leap of logic that "Smith then asked for his only daughter?" Can MormonThink produce some data indicating that the Heber/Vilate "proposal" was all a setup for Joseph to ask for their "only daughter?" To be precise, Helen was born on August 20, 1828 and sealed to Joseph in May 1843, three months short of her 15th birthday.

Helen Mar Kimball: "Without any preliminaries, my father asked me if I would believe him if he told me that it was right for married men to take other wives."

Helen was upset when she first heard about plural marriage, because she thought her father was questioning her virtue:

Helen Mar Kimball: “My father was the first to introduce it to me, which had a similar effect to a sudden shock of a small earthquake. When he found (after the first outburst of displeasure for supposed injury) that I received it meekly, he took the first opportunity to introduce Sarah Ann [Whitney] to me as Joseph's wife" (Whitney, Helen Mar Kimball (1880–1883), Helen Mar Kimball Whitney, 1828-1896, Autobiography (c. 1839-1846), "Life Incidents," Woman's Exponent 9-10 (1880-1882) and "Scenes and Incidents in Nauvoo,") off-site (emphasis added)

During the summer of 1843, Heber tried to explain plural marriage to Helen, who was then nearly fifteen. Of this experience she later wrote, "I remember how I felt, but which would be a difficult matter to describe--the various thoughts, fears and temptations that flashed through my mind when the principle was first introduced to me by my father . . . in the summer of 1843. . . ." Helen was very disturbed and skeptical. "The next day, the Prophet called at our house, and I sat with my father and mother and heard him teach the principle and explain it more fully, and I believed it . . . ." - Stanley B. Kimball, "Heber C. Kimball and Family, the Nauvoo Years," Brigham Young University Studies 15/4 (Summer 1975): 465; citing H. M. Whitney, "Scenes and Incidents," 11(15 July 1882): 39.


Response to claim: "The negative writings by Helen seem to greatly outweigh the positive writings"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

Editor Comments: Like many polygamous wives, Helen likely hated the very idea of polygamy when first introduced to it and for many years afterward as she said in many of her writings. The negative writings by Helen seem to greatly outweigh the positive writings. This is similar to Emma Smith, who at times accepted polygamy, but most of the time was bitterly opposed to the practice. As time went on Helen may have accepted it and even felt special by being known as one of the wives of the most revered prophet. Perhaps she decided to make the best of it as she had no choice at that point. No one but Helen herself can say for sure if she really enjoyed being a polygamous wife of Joseph Smith. However, one thing we can say with conviction is that a 14 year-old girl should never have been put in that position in the first place by Joseph and by her own parents.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is false

Helen became a great supporter of plural marriage. How does one "weigh" the negative writings against the positive ones? Helen has already told us that she believed the doctrine when it was taught to her. Helen made the choice to be sealed to Joseph: "This promise was so great that I willingly gave myself to purchase so glorious a reward." - Helen Mar Kimball Whitney, Autobiography, 30 March 1881, LDS archives; cited in B. Carmon Hardy, Works of Abraham, 49.

She realized, in retrospect, that she did not understand the trials that would result: "in [my mother's] mind she saw the misery which was as sure to come as the sun was to rise and set; but it was all hidden from me."

Helen was one of the most vocal and persistent defenders of plural marriage among all nineteenth-century LDS women. MormonThink does not fairly represent her experience or her opinions. Let's let Helen speak for herself.

[William Clayton spoke about plural marriage]…"his subject was polygamy, showing why it was so necessary, & the great loss of those that did not practice it; proving it by scripture, that what seemed to be theirs would be taken and given to another, that men with only one wife would be nothing but angels in the next world, it was very interesting; & I confess I understood things that night that I never did before, & saw not only the necessity but the beauty of polygamy our trials here look so small, when I look at the great glory that is in store for the few that will hold out faithfull to the end." - Helen Mar Kimball Whitney to Horace K. Whitney, 17 December 1869, Whitney Family Papers, Box 1, fd 1, ULA; cited in B. Carmon Hardy, Works of Abraham, 162.

I did not try to conceal the fact of its having been a trial, but confessed that it had been one of the severest of my life; but that it had also proven one of the greatest of blessings. I could truly say it had done the most towards making me a Saint and a free woman, in every sense of the word; and I knew many others who could say the same, and to whom it had proven one of the greatest boons--a "blessing in disguise." – Helen Mar Kimball, Why We Practice Plural Marriage, 23-24.

I have encouraged and sustained my husband in the celestial order of marriage because I knew it was right. At various times I have been healed by the washing and annointing, administered by the mothers in Israel. I am still spared to testify to the truth and Godliness of this work; and though my happiness once consisted in laboring for those I love, the Lord has seen fit to deprive me of bodily strength, and taught me to 'cast my bread upon the waters' and after many days my longing spirit was cheered with the knowledge that He had a work for me to do, and with Him, I know that all things are possible… - Helen Mar Kimball Whitney, cited in Augusta Joyce Crocheron (author and complier), Representative Women of Deseret, a book of biographical sketches to accompany the picture bearing the same title (Salt Lake City: J. C. Graham & Co., 1884).

Helen's greatest trial occurred when she lost her newborn child at Winter Quarters:

No one but God and the angels to whom I owe my life and all I have, could know the tenth part of what I suffered. I never told anybody and I never could. A keener taste of misery and woe, no mortal, I think, could endure. For three months I lay a portion of the time like one dead, they told me; but that did not last long. I was alive to my spiritual condition and dead to the world. I tasted of the punishment which is prepared for those who reject any of the principles of this Gospel. Then I learned that plural marriage was a celestial principle, and saw the difference between the power of God's priesthood and that of Satan's and the necessity of obedience to those who hold the priesthood, and the danger of rebelling against or speaking lightly of the Lord's annointed.

"I had, in hours of temptation, when seeing the trials of my mother, felt to rebel. I hated polygamy in my heart, I had loved my baby more than my God, and mourned for it unreasonably. All my sins and shortcomings were magnified before my eyes till I believed I had sinned beyond redemption. Some may call it the fruits of a diseased brain. There is nothing without a cause, be that as it may, it was a keen reality to me. During that season I lost my speech, forgot the names of everybody and everything, and was living in another sphere, learning lessons that would serve me in future times to keep mein the narrow way. I was left a poor wreck of what I had been, but the Devil with all his cunning, little thought that he was fitting and preparing my heart to fulfill its destiny…

I fasted for one week, and every day I gained till I had won the victory and I was just as sensible of the presence of holy spirits around my bedside as I had been of the evil ones. It would take up too much room to relate my experience with the spirits, but New Year's eve, after spending one of the happiest days of my life I was moved upon to talk to my mother. I knew her heart was weighed down in sorrow and I was full of the holy Ghost. I talked as I never did before, I was too weak to talk with such a voice (of my own strength), beside, I never before spoke with such eloquence, and she knew that it was not myself. She was so affected that she sobbed till I ceased. I assured her that father loved her, but he had a work to do, she must rise above her feelings and seek for the Holy Comforter, and though it rent her heart she must uphold him, for he in taking other wives had done it only in obedience to a holy principle. Much more I said, and when I ceased, she wiped her eyes and told me to rest. I had not felt tired till she said this, but commenced then to feel myself sinking away. I silently prayed to be renewed, when my strength returned that instant… - Representative Women of Deseret

Helen is clear that plural marriage caused trials to her mother, but is also equally clear that it was a commandment. Her conviction and knowledge was the product of revelation. Why doesn't MormonThink let Helen speak for herself--which she does eloquently--instead of claiming it's "hard" to balance her statements? She doesn't seem to think it's hard at all.


Response to claim: "it's futile for Mormon apologists to argue that Smith's sealing to Helen was 'dynastic' or 'spiritual' only"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

Smith was killed 13 months after his sealing to Helen, so he simply may not have had the opportunity to consummate their relationship before his death. However, it's a virtual certainty that he would have if he had lived. The bottom line being that it's futile for Mormon apologists to argue that Smith's sealing to Helen was "dynastic" or "spiritual" only, in an effort to show that Smith's plural marriages to young girls were proper.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

This claim is nonsense. Isn't 13 months (a little over one year) enough time to consummate a marriage if one is really determined to do so? In other words, despite the total lack of evidence, and the fact that Helen herself wrote about plural marriage years later and never claimed such a thing, you simply want this to be true. It is a "virtual certainty." The word "virtual" is defined as "a condition without boundaries or constraints. It is often used to define a feature or state that is simulated in some manner." So, if you can't actually show any documented evidence in this case, you will simply simulate it. MormonThink has decided upon the answer it wants, and so it doesn't matter to them what the evidence shows. Is it really "futile" to argue a position based upon evidence against a "virtual" position? Think about it.


Response to claim: "It is clear that on May 26, 1844 Joseph lied about practicing polygamy"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

1844 Sermon given by Joseph. It is clear that on May 26, 1844 Joseph lied about practicing polygamy, despite claims to the contrary.

Author's sources:
  1. Joseph Smith, History of the Church, Vol. 6, pp. 410-411

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

Joseph tried to teach plural marriage publicly to Church members, but many rejected it. Did Joseph have any duty to protect the Saints from the mobbing and deaths that would surely follow if plural marriage became widely known? Joseph showed himself willing to die to prevent attacks on the Saints—but, should he have been willing to risk the death of others because of what he was teaching? It is easy to criticize from the safety of the twenty-first century, when police protection is strong, and unpopular groups are not always at risk of vigilante justice. It seems like MormonThink would prefer that Joseph tell everything, and have the Saints slaughtered as a result. Polygamy was revealed as soon as it was safe to do so, even though the Church and its leaders knew that they would suffer political disadvantage. Orson Hyde said, "What would it have done for us, if they had known that many of us had more than one wife when we lived in Illinois? They would have broken us up, doubtless, worse than they did." - Orson Hyde, "The Marriage Relations," (6 October 1854) Journal of Discourses 2:75-75.


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

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

It is true that Joseph did not always tell others about plural marriage. One critic of the Church claims, "Joseph Smith publicly lied about his practice of polygamy, and lied to his own wife (Emma) about the practice." [81]

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

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

When the prophet “went to his dinner,” [Joseph Lee] Robinson wrote, “as it might be expected several of the first women of the church collected at the Prophet’s house with his wife [and] said thus to the prophet Joseph O mister Smith you have done it now it will never do it is all but Blassphemy you must take back what you have said to day is it is outrageous it would ruin us as a people.” So in the afternoon session Smith again took the stand, according to Robinson, and said “Brethren and Sisters I take back what we said this morning and leave it as though there had been nothing said.”[82]


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

The Saints would have suffered negative consequences

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

In olden times they might have passed through the same circumstances as some of the Latter-day Saints had to in Illinois. What would it have done for us, if they had known that many of us had more than one wife when we lived in Illinois? They would have broken us up, doubtless, worse than they did.[83]

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


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

The Laws sought to have Joseph indicted for adultery and perjury

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

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

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

History of The Church 6:410-411:

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

This new holy prophet [William Law] has gone to Carthage and swore that I had told him that I was guilty of adultery. This spiritual wifeism! Why, a man dares not speak or wink, for fear of being accused of this.[84]....

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

Dr. Goforth was invited into the Laws' clique, and Dr. Foster and the clique were dissatisfied with that document,[85] and they rush away and leave the Church, and conspire to take away my life; and because I will not countenance such wickedness,[86] they proclaim that I have been a true prophet, but that I am now a fallen prophet.

[Joseph H.] Jackson[87] has committed murder, robbery, and perjury; and I can prove it by half-a-dozen witnesses. Jackson got up and said—"By God, he is innocent," and now swears that I am guilty. He threatened my life.

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

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

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

I am the same man, and as innocent as I was fourteen years ago; and I can prove them all perjurers. I labored with these apostates myself until I was out of all manner of patience; and then I sent my brother Hyrum, whom they virtually kicked out of doors.[88]

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

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

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

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

A review of Joseph's remarks in light of the circumstances under which they were spoken shows that Joseph's words were carefully chosen. In this speech, Joseph was specifically reacting to the indictments for perjury and adultery that were presented by the grand jury the day earlier. Thus, when Joseph affirmed during the same speech: "I am innocent of all these charges," he was in particular refuting a claim that he and Maria [Lawrence] had openly and notoriously cohabitated, thus committing the statutory offense of adultery. He was also refuting the perjury charge. While the overall tone of Joseph's remarks may seem misleading, it is understandable that Joseph would have taken pains to dodge the plural marriage issue. By keeping his plural marriages in Nauvoo secret, Joseph effectively kept them legal, at least under the Illinois adultery statute.[1]:413


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

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

Joseph Smith was, in fact, once charged with adultery under Illinois Law. This occurred shortly before his death, when Robert Foster, William Law (Joseph's former counselor in the First Presidency) and Law's brother Wilson charged Joseph with adultery in the case of Maria Lawrence.[1]:403,414 Joseph took an aggressive stance in the defense of himself and Maria, which would be surprising if Illinois law was as detrimental to his case as many have assumed.

For example, as soon as Joseph was charged, two days later he and his supporters "rode to Carthage, intent on having" the charge "'investigated.'"[1]:404

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

It is vital to understand, however, that:

Joseph Smith could not have been properly convicted of adultery under the law of Illinois in 1844. Illinois law only criminalized adultery or fornication if it was "open". Had Joseph lived to face trial on this charge, he would have had good reason to expect acquittal because his relationships with his plural wives were not open, but were kept confidential and known by a relative few. Given a fair trial on this indictment, Joseph could have relied on several legal defenses.[1]:402

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

The same author emphasized:

The term "open" in [the Illinois Criminal Code of the day[89]] is a key element of this crime. The meaning of this term was then and still today is generally understood in law to cover conduct that is "notorious," "exposed to public view," or "visible," and which is "not clandestine." Joseph's relationships with his plural wives did not meet this definition.[1]:408


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

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

Two cases decided after Joseph's death but under the same legal regime likewise demonstrate that there was nothing about Maria and Joseph's relationship (regardless of whether or not they had sexual relations) which would have permitted conviction under the Illinois adultery statute. Additionally, Stephen R. Douglas (the famed Illinois judge and later candidate for the presidency of the United States) and Thomas Ford (the governor of Illinois at the time of Joseph's murder) prosecuted adultery cases during their legal careers and both were definitive that an "open" and "notorious" aspect to the cohabitation had to be proven under the statute.[1]:408-411

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

By contrast, had Joseph been charged by his wife Emma with adultery, this could have served as grounds for divorce, and did not require the stringent requirements of being "open" or "notorious."[90]

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

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

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

Several delegates expressed support for changes in the wording of the Illinois constitution in order to protect the state from what they viewed as extreme forms of worship, including Mormon polygamy. These delegates feared that the more liberal wording of the earlier constitution (in force in Joseph's day) might actually protected practices such as polygamy. One such delegate was Thomas J. Turner...[who] stated:"...Mormonism is a form of religion 'grant it, a false religion' nevertheless, it claims to be the true Christian religion...[d]o we desire that the Mormons shall return to our State, and bring with them polygamy?"[1]:416, 416n45


Response to claim: "The Church continued to practice polygamy after 1890"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

The Church continued to practice polygamy after 1890

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is based upon correct information - The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event

This is correct, as noted on LDS.org.


Gospel Topics: "The Second Manifesto. At first, the performance of new plural marriages after the Manifesto was largely unknown to people outside the Church"

"The Manifesto and the End of Plural Marriage," Gospel Topics on LDS.org:

At first, the performance of new plural marriages after the Manifesto was largely unknown to people outside the Church. When discovered, these marriages troubled many Americans, especially after President George Q. Cannon stated in an 1899 interview with the New York Herald that new plural marriages might be performed in Canada and Mexico.40 After the election of B. H. Roberts, a member of the First Council of the Seventy, to the U.S. Congress, it became known that Roberts had three wives, one of whom he married after the Manifesto. A petition of 7 million signatures demanded that Roberts not be seated. Congress complied, and Roberts was barred from his office.41

The exclusion of B. H. Roberts opened Mormon marital practices to renewed scrutiny. Church President Lorenzo Snow issued a statement clarifying that new plural marriages had ceased in the Church and that the Manifesto extended to all parts of the world, counsel he repeated in private. Even so, a small number of new plural marriages continued to be performed, probably without President Snow’s knowledge or approval. After Joseph F. Smith became Church President in 1901, a small number of new plural marriages were also performed during the early years of his administration.[91]—(Click here to continue)


Gospel Topics: "The Church’s role in these marriages became a subject of intense debate after Reed Smoot, an Apostle, was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1903"

"The Manifesto and the End of Plural Marriage," Gospel Topics on LDS.org:

The Church’s role in these marriages became a subject of intense debate after Reed Smoot, an Apostle, was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1903. Although Smoot was a monogamist, his apostleship put his loyalty to the country under scrutiny. How could Smoot both uphold the laws of the Church, some of whose officers had performed, consented to, or participated in new plural marriages, and uphold the laws of the land, which made plural marriage illegal? For four years legislators debated this question in lengthy public hearings.[92]—(Click here to continue)


Gospel Topics: "Church President Joseph F. Smith took the stand in the Senate chamber in March 1904. When asked, he defended his family relationships"

"The Manifesto and the End of Plural Marriage," Gospel Topics on LDS.org:

The Senate called on many witnesses to testify. Church President Joseph F. Smith took the stand in the Senate chamber in March 1904. When asked, he defended his family relationships, telling the committee that he had cohabited with his wives and fathered children with them since 1890. He said it would be dishonorable of him to break the sacred covenants he had made with his wives and with God. When questioned about new plural marriages performed since 1890, President Smith carefully distinguished between actions sanctioned by the Church and ratified in Church councils and conferences, and the actions undertaken by individual members of the Church. “There never has been a plural marriage by the consent or sanction or knowledge or approval of the church since the manifesto,” he testified.43

In this legal setting, President Smith sought to protect the Church while stating the truth. His testimony conveyed a distinction Church leaders had long understood: the Manifesto removed the divine command for the Church collectively to sustain and defend plural marriage; it had not, up to this time, prohibited individuals from continuing to practice or perform plural marriage as a matter of religious conscience.[93]—(Click here to continue)


Question: Why were some plural marriages performed after the Manifesto?

A limited number of plural marriages were solemnized after Wilford Woodruff's Manifesto of 1890 (Official Declaration 1)

Some of these marriages were apparently sanctioned by some in positions of Church leadership.

  • Does this demonstrate that the Manifesto was merely a political tactic, and that the "revelation" of the Manifesto was merely a cynical ploy?
  • Do Post-Manifesto marriages demonstrate the LDS Church's contempt for the civil law of the land?

Some Church members unfamiliar with the history behind the aggressive Federal anti-polygamy movement have been troubled by critics who try to portray Church members’ and leaders’ choices as dishonest and improper. It is important to realize that this is a point on which modern enemies of the Church would be impossible to satisfy. If the Church had acquiesced to government pressure and stopped polygamy completely in 1890, the Church would then be charged with having “revelations on demand,” or with abandoning something they claimed was divine under government pressure. In fact, prior to the Manifesto, the attorney prosecuting Elder Lorenzo Snow for polygamy “predicted that if Snow and others were found guilty and sent to prison church leaders would find it convenient to have a revelation setting aside the commandment on polygamy.”[94]

Church leaders were placed in a vicious double-bind: they were being ruthlessly persecuted by the legislature for following their faith

If they were to comply with the law, they would (in the eyes of some) be admitting that revelation came “on demand” and in response to secular pressure or “convenience.” Their enemies would “win” no matter what they did.

But, this did not happen—the leaders and members of the Church were literally willing to do anything they were commanded to do, in order to obey the Lord, until they were told otherwise. Impressively, the Church and its leaders took the only possible course which would preserve its revelatory integrity: only when they literally had no further choice besides dissolution was the plural marriage commandment completely rescinded.

It should be remembered, finally, that a key doctrine of the Church is that no one should have to take anyone else’s word for something—”that man should not council his fellow man, neither trust in the arm of flesh—but that every man might speak in the name of God the Lord, even the savior of the world.”(D&C 1:19-20.) This doesn’t apply to polygamy alone; every discussion of testimony includes it. Joseph Smith made numerous other claims that might make us skeptical: appearances of God and Jesus, angels, gold plates, and everything else. Said he:

Search the scriptures—search the revelations which we publish, and ask your Heavenly Father, in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, to manifest the truth unto you, and if you do it with an eye single to His glory nothing doubting, He will answer you by the power of His Holy Spirit. You will then know for yourselves and not for another. You will not then be dependent on man for the knowledge of God; nor will there be any room for speculation.[95]

As President Cannon explained, the leaders of the Church were not exempt from the rigors of receiving revelation:

Yet, though [Church doctrines] shocked the prejudices of mankind, and perhaps startled us as Latter-day Saints, when we sought God for a testimony concerning them, He never failed to give unto us His Holy Spirit, which witnessed unto our spirits that they were from God, and not of man. So it will be to the end. The Presidency of the Church have to walk just as you walk. They have to take steps just as you take steps. They have to depend upon the revelations of God as they come to them. They cannot see the end from the beginning, as the Lord does. They have their faith tested as you have your faith tested. So with the Twelve Apostles. All that we can do is to seek the mind and will of God, and when that comes to us, though it may come in contact [conflict?] with every feeling that we have previously entertained, we have no option but to take the step that God points out, and to trust to Him…[96]

The full implications of the Manifesto, however, were still the subject of discussion and debate

The Doctrine and Covenants clearly indicates that the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve are of equal authority[97] and that every decision should be done in unanimity in order to make such decisions binding upon the Church[98]: to make them “official,” as it were. Clearly, President Woodruff did not follow this practice—which would be very strange if he expected the Manifesto to be read as a formal revelation insisting that all polygamous practices immediately cease: only three of the apostles even saw the Manifesto prior to its publication.[99] The leaders were agreed that President Woodruff had been right to issue it, and acknowledged his action of the Lord; the full implications of the Manifesto, however, were still the subject of discussion and debate.

President Woodruff did not frame the matter as a declaration from the First Presidency and the Twelve

President Woodruff did not frame the matter as a declaration from the First Presidency and the Twelve (which would be required for any official change in doctrine or practice). Rather, he spoke of the Manifesto as a “duty” on his part, which the Lord required. Even the wording of the Manifesto reflects this—it does not speak of “we the First Presidency and Council of the Twelve,” but simply of Wilford Woodruff in the first person singular. The wording is careful and precise: "I hereby declare my intention to submit to those laws, and to use my influence with the members of the Church over which I preside to have them do likewise… And I now publicly declare that my advice to the Latter-day Saints is to refrain from contracting any marriage forbidden by the law of the land.”(OD-1) Thus, President Woodruff announces a personal course of action, but does not commit other general authorities or the Church—he even issues “advice,” rather than a “command” or “instruction.” No other signatures or authorities are given, other than his own.

A useful comparison can be made with Official Declaration 2, which follows the prescribed pattern for Church government:

…the First Presidency announced that a revelation had been received by President Spencer W. Kimball…[who] has asked that I advise the conference that after he had received this revelation…he presented it to his counselors, who accepted it and approved it. It was then presented to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, who unanimously approved it, and was subsequently presented to all other General Authorities, who likewise approved it unanimously.(OD-2)

The First Presidency and Council of the Twelve voted on 2 October 1890 to sustain President Woodruff’s action

Even at this meeting their intent was clear, since they debated whether the Church as a whole should sustain the Manifesto, since “some felt that the assent of the Presidency and Twelve to the matter was sufficient without committing the people by their votes to a policy which they might in the future wish to discard.”[100]

It is evident that these united quorums did not consider the Manifesto to be a revelation forbidding all plural marriage in 1890: for, why would they then contemplate the Church wanting to “disregard” it? The leaders were doubtless still hoping that they might be able to gain some reprieve, and continue to practice their religion without civil or criminal penalty.

Perhaps most convincingly, an editorial in the Church’s Deseret News responded to the government’s Utah Commission, which had argued that President Woodruff needed to “have a revelation suspending polygamy.” The editorial advised that “[w]hen President Woodruff receives anything from a Divine source for the Church over which he presides he will be sure to deliver the message.”[101] This was written five days after the publication of the Manifesto. It seems clear that President Woodruff considered his action inspired and divinely directed; however, he and the Church did not believe that God had, by the Manifesto, told them to cease all plural marriage.

George Q. Cannon made it clear that the Church still felt somewhat trapped between duties to God and duties to political authority

George Q. Cannon said,

But the nation has interposed and said, "Stop," and we shall bow in submission, leaving the consequences with God. We shall do the best we can; but when it comes in contact with constituted authorities, and the highest tribunals in the land say "Stop," there is no other course for Latter-day Saints, in accordance with the revelations that God has given to us telling us to respect constituted authority, than to bow in submission thereto and leave the consequences with the Lord.[102]

The Manifesto thus strove to walk this difficult line–conceding sufficient to “constitutional authority” to prevent the Church’s destruction, maintaining the restrictions on plural marriage, and refraining from teaching the doctrine. Yet, significantly President Cannon says that the Saints “shall do the best we can” (emphasis added). That is, they will continue to practice their faith to the extent possible without threatening the Church’s existence. This would later include a limited continuation of plural marriage.

The Church leaders’ united understanding was that the Manifesto was a revelation. However, they did not understand it as universally forbidding all plural marriage at that time, though for the Church’s survival it was necessary that the government so interpret it.

The leaders and Saints would understand the meaning and application of the Manifesto differently in time. An altered understanding—via revelation—of a revelation is not unprecedented: Jesus commanded the apostles to “teach all nations,” but the apostles continued to interpret this command in a more limited way until later revelation expanded the Christian gospel beyond those who had first embraced the rites of Judaism. A modern example involves the Word of Wisdom, which was not declared to be universally binding for more than a century, though the revelation in section 89 did not “change.”[103]

It is estimated that fewer than two hundred plural marriages were sanctioned between 1890 and 1904

It is estimated that fewer than two hundred plural marriages were sanctioned between 1890 and 1904.[104] These were often performed in areas outside the reach of U.S. law, such as on the seas or in Mexico.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks spoke at BYU about the difficulties of this period:

Some have suggested that it is morally permissible to lie to promote a good cause. For example, some Mormons have taught or implied that lying is okay if you are lying for the Lord… As far as concerns our own church and culture, the most common allegations of lying for the Lord swirl around the initiation, practice, and discontinuance of polygamy. The whole experience with polygamy was a fertile field for deception. It is not difficult for historians to quote LDS leaders and members in statements justifying, denying, or deploring deception in furtherance of this religious practice.

Elder Oaks then reaches the key point—there will be times when moral imperatives clash:

My heart breaks when I read of circumstances in which wives and children were presented with the terrible choice of lying about the whereabouts or existence of a husband or father on the one hand or telling the truth and seeing him go to jail on the other. These were not academic dilemmas. A father in jail took food off the table and fuel from the hearth. Those hard choices involved collisions between such fundamental emotions and needs as a commitment to the truth versus the need for loving companionship and relief from cold and hunger.

My heart also goes out to the Church leaders who were squeezed between their devotion to the truth and their devotion to their wives and children and to one another. To tell the truth could mean to betray a confidence or a cause or to send a brother to prison. There is no academic exercise in that choice!

It is also clear that polygamy did not end suddenly with the 1890 Manifesto. Polygamous relationships sealed before that revelation was announced continued for a generation. The performance of polygamous marriages also continued for a time outside the United States, where the application of the Manifesto was uncertain for a season. It appears that polygamous marriages also continued for about a decade in some other areas among leaders and members who took license from the ambiguities and pressures created by this high-level collision between resented laws and reverenced doctrines.

I do not know what to think of all of this, except I am glad I was not faced with the pressures those good people faced. My heart goes out to them for their bravery and their sacrifices, of which I am a direct beneficiary. I will not judge them. That judgment belongs to the Lord, who knows all of the circumstances and the hearts of the actors, a level of comprehension and wisdom not approached by even the most knowledgeable historians.[105]

Note: This article was adapted from a longer paper which examines these historical matters in much more detail. Interested readers are strongly encouraged to consult it for a much more thorough analysis of the basic concepts sketched in this wiki article. FairMormon link PDF link


Response to claim: "a sitting apostle in the 1950s had a polygamous Father-in-law living in full fellowship in the church and was a temple worker, more than half a century after church leaders claimed to have abandoned polygamy"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

Critics' Comment: Today's church leaders assert that the mainstream Mormon church has nothing whatsoever to do with fundamentalist polygamists. There's no contradiction in the fact that a sitting apostle in the 1950s had a polygamous Father-in-law living in full fellowship in the church and was a temple worker, more than half a century after church leaders claimed to have abandoned polygamy???

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

MormonThink should remember that we "can't pick our families." If an apostle's father-in-law in the 1950s is the best they can come up with to try to link "fundamentalist" groups to the Church, what does that say about the quality of the argument? Most "fundamentalists" have never been members of the LDS Church. The Church does not now preach or sanction the practice of polygamy. If MormonThink has any evidence proving otherwise, they ought to provide it.


Response to claim: Gordon B. Hinckley..."Why did the prophet of the church just lie and say that polygamy was not doctrinal?"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

The website notes the following from an interview with Larry King on September 8, 1998:

Larry King: You condemn it (polygamy)?
Gordon B. Hinckley: I condemn it, yes, as a practice, because I think it is not doctrinal. It is not legal. And this church takes the position that we will abide by the law. We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, magistrates in honoring, obeying and sustaining the law.

The site then responds with the following "Critic's comments":

Why did the prophet of the church just lie and say that polygamy was not doctrinal? It is still in our scriptural canon, D&C 132. Hinckley makes it sound as if it was either a mistake or practiced for reasons unrelated to religion. Surely he knows why it was practiced. Also he makes an issue that polygamy is not legal today (as practiced by the fundamentalists). That's correct but it was not legal when the LDS practiced it in the 1800s either. He wants everyone to believe that polygamy was legal when the Latter-day Saints practiced it in the 1800s but is illegal now as practiced by the fundamentalists. As shown above, this is completely untrue. It was always illegal - from Joseph's first plural wife in 1833 through the 2nd manifesto in 1904.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

Doctrine changes according to the times, and polygamy is not considered doctrinal today.


Question: Did Gordon B. Hinckley claim that polygamy was "not doctrinal" on Larry King Live?

Hinckley said that he condemned polygamy as a practice because he thought that it was not doctrinal

Gordon B. Hinckley made the following statement on Larry King Live on September 8, 1998 with regard to the practice of polygamy:

I condemn it [polygamy], yes, as a practice, because I think it is not doctrinal. It is not legal. And this church takes the position that we will abide by the law. We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, magistrates in honoring, obeying and sustaining the law.


Question: How can President Hinckley claim that polygamy is "not doctrinal" if it was a required practice in the 19th-Century Church?

The Church no longer teaches polygamy as doctrine, despite the fact that it was doctrine in the 19th-Century Church

Despite the fact that rules regarding polygamy are outlined in D&C 132, the Church no longer teaches it as doctrine. It was taught as doctrine in the 1800's, it is not taught as doctrine today. There is no doctrine that allows the present practice of plural marriage in the Church. Its practice is "not doctrinal."

Polygamy is illegal today, and Church policy is to respect the law on the matter

Polygamy is illegal today, and Church policy is to respect the law on the matter. For most of the practice of plural marriage, the Church fought the anti-polygamy laws, and regarded them as violations of the Constitution. Any decision to disobey secular law for conscience sake must be specifically commanded by the Church's leaders. At present, that has not happened.

Many constitutional law scholars--LDS and non-LDS--regard the Supreme Court decisions on the legality of plural marriage as clearly biased and motivated by religious prejudice. The nineteenth century Saints had good grounds for believing that the law was unjust and would eventually be overturned. [106]


Gospel Topics: "Today, any person who practices plural marriage cannot become or remain a member of the Church"

"Plural Marriage and Families in Early Utah," Gospel Topics on LDS.org:

After the Manifesto, monogamy was advocated in the Church both over the pulpit and through the press. On an exceptional basis, some new plural marriages were performed between 1890 and 1904, especially in Mexico and Canada, outside the jurisdiction of U.S. law; a small number of plural marriages were performed within the United States during those years. In 1904, the Church strictly prohibited new plural marriages. Today, any person who practices plural marriage cannot become or remain a member of the Church.[107]


Response to claim: "The Church Almanac lists Parley P Pratt as assassinated while on a mission but he was really murdered by the irate existing husband of his latest fancy"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

The April 2007 Ensign had a lengthy article on the amazing life of Parley P. Pratt, one of the prominent apostles of the restoration. In the article they actually made a brief mention of a second wife. At they end of the article it says that Brother Pratt was murdered. That's all that was said. Other LDS books we've read merely say Parley was killed by a foe. What most LDS people don't know is why he was murdered. Parley had 12 polygamous wives. The last one was already married to another man, and he wasn't very happy that Parley added his wife and his children to his harem.

and

While in San Francisco, Pratt induced the wife of Hector H. McLean, the former Elenor J. McComb, to accept the Mormon faith and to elope with him to Utah as his 12th wife.

and concludes with this sarcastic response:

Critic's note:The Church Almanac lists Parley P Pratt as assassinated while on a mission but he was really murdered by the irate existing husband of his latest fancy. Technically therefore, she was polyandrous also. Practically, she was adulterous and then when she married Parley, bigamous. She was never divorced from her first husband. She had just abducted one of her children. Her husband took the child back after a court hearing and then killed Parley. I don't think he was ever tried for the murder which was in Arkansas. The Mountain Meadows Massacre was one later result of the ensuing hatred by Brigham et al of people from that area. The brethren did not recognize any marriage they did not perform as being legal, so they took whom they pleased. Missions were often wife gathering expeditions. Moral of the story: Better be careful whose family you try to steal...you might just get yourself killed!

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

Eleanor's husband was abusive, and she was trying to leave him. Pratt was unarmed when he was murdered by her husband.


Question: Was Parley P. Pratt murdered because he stole another man's wife?

Parley Pratt is accused of being sealed to Eleanor Mclean without her having divorced her husband

Pratt’s last wife, Eleanor, “was sealed to him without divorcing her legal husband, who fatally shot Parley near Van Buren, Arkansas” (p. 333). There is, however, much that we are not told. Eleanor’s husband was a heavy drinker, which in 1844 resulted in separation. The couple was reconciled, and the family moved to San Francisco. While in California, Eleanor discovered the church. Her husband forbade her to join and “purchased a sword cane and threatened to kill her and the minister who baptized her if she became a Mormon.” [108]

It is therefore claimed by critics of Mormonism that Parley P. Pratt's practice of polygamy was responsible for his murder, partly because he married a woman who hadn't been divorced from her first husband.

  • Was Parley P. Pratt building a "harem" of wives?
  • Did Parley P. Pratt "induce" another man's wife to join the Church simply so that he could add her as a polygamous wife?

Eleanor's husband Hector physically abused her

Eleanor attended LDS meetings, and one Sunday at home, “while Eleanor was singing from a Mormon hymn book she had purchased, Hector tore the book from her hands, threw it into the fire, beat her, cast her out into the street, and locked the door.” [109]

Eleanor declared herself divorced from Hector

Eleanor lodged a complaint of assault and battery against Hector and planned to leave him until prevailed upon by local church members and her physician. At that point, said Eleanor, “I presume McLean himself would not deny that I then declared that I would no more be his wife however many years I might be compelled to appear as such for the sake of my children". [110]

Eleanor was not baptized until 1854, and she had the written permission of her husband to do so. However, he forbade her to read church literature or to sing church hymns at home. It is not clear, then, why G. D. Smith feels Eleanor owed an observance of all the twentieth-century legal niceties to a violent, abusive, tyrannical drunkard. Through it all, as a church leader, Parley Pratt had tried to help the couple reconcile.

Eleanor's husband Hector erupts over baptism of children and tries to have her declared insane

Eleanor had her children baptized, and Hector responded by filing a charge of insanity against his wife so he could have her committed to an asylum. Hector sent her children by steamer to their maternal grandparents’ home, confined Eleanor to the house, and again threatened to have her committed for insanity. Eleanor eventually found her children at her parents’ home, but they refused to let her take them. [111] Eleanor went to Salt Lake City and married Pratt on 14 November 1855. As we have seen, she considered herself divorced from Hector from the time he violently threw her from their home in San Francisco. They never received a civil divorce, however.

Nineteenth century marriages did not always end in a formal divorce

It is assumed that nineteenth century marriages always ended in a formal divorce. They did not--this was often impossible. From which authority, exactly, would G. D. Smith prefer that Eleanor receive a divorce? She was in Utah; Hector was in San Francisco. He had abused, beaten, confined, and threatened to institutionalize her. As we have seen, notions of divorce were also more fluid in the mid-nineteenth century, especially on the frontier. It is unlikely that most contemporaries would have insisted that Eleanor required a formal divorce.

After Eleanor married Parley, Hector pursued and shot him six times and stabbed him twice

Pratt was arrested on trumped-up charges, freed by a non-Mormon judge, and pursued by Hector, who shot the unarmed apostle six times and stabbed him twice. He was left to bleed to death over the course of two hours. [112] In G. D. Smith’s worldview, are men like Hector entitled to hold women emotionally or martially hostage, civil divorce or no? One suspects not. But in his zeal to condemn the church, he does not provide his readers with the facts necessary to understand the Pratts’ choices.


Question: Was it normal not to obtain a formal civil divorce in 19th century America?

To remarry without a formal divorce was not an unusual thing in pre-Civil War America

Some critics of Mormonism like to emphasize that some LDS members did not receive civil divorces before remarrying—either monogamously or polygamously. They either state or imply that this shows the Saints' cavalier attitude toward the law.

The Saints were often poor and spent most of their time on the frontier, where the legal apparatus of the state was particularly feeble. Women who had joined the church and traveled to Zion without their husbands were particularly likely to be poor, and also unlikely to be worried about property rights. Critics usually tell us nothing of all this—with the result that some credulous readers might be horrified by the “loose” marriage practices of the Saints. It also should be remembered that because Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and other Latter-day Saint leaders exercised exclusive jurisdiction over celestial or plural marriages, marriages conducted under their supervision had as much (or more) formal oversight as many traditional marriages in America during the first half of the nineteenth century.

“From the standpoint of the legal historian,” wrote one expert who is not a Latter-day Saint, “it is perhaps surprising that anyone prosecuted bigamy at all. Given the confusion over conflicting state laws on marriage, there were many ways to escape notice, if not conviction.” [113]

Bigamy or, rather, serial monogamy (without divorce or death) was a common social experience in early America. Much of the time, serial monogamists were poor and transient people, for whom the property rights that came with a recognized marriage would not have been much of a concern, people whose lives only rarely intersected with the law of marriage. [114]

Nor, not incidentally, were their husbands available for a formal divorce.

Marriage in 19th century America was not a "free-for-all"

Does this mean that marriage in America was a free-for-all? Hardly, notes Nancy Cott:

When couples married informally, or reversed the order of divorce and remarriage, they were not simply acting privately, taking the law into their own hands. . . . A couple about to join or leave an intimate relationship looked for communal sanction. The surrounding local community provided the public oversight necessary. Without resort to the state apparatus, local informal policing by the community affirmed that marriage was a well-defined public institution as well as a contract made by consent. Carrying out the standard obligations of the marriage bargain—cohabitation, husband’s support, wife’s service—seems to have been much more central to the approbation of local communities at this time than how or when the marriage took place, and whether one of the partners had been married elsewhere before. [115]


Response to claim: "the circumstances surrounding Joseph's assassination was a result of the actions he took to prevent his being exposed as a polygamist"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

Many LDS are under the impression that shortly before Joseph Smith was killed, he was put in jail unjustly by anti-Mormons using trumped-up charges. In reality, the circumstances surrounding Joseph's assassination was a result of the actions he took to prevent his being exposed as a polygamist.

Author's sources:
  1. From the "neutral" site wikipedia (from June 2008)

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

Notice the contradiction: MormonThink criticizes Joseph for hiding plural marriage, but then says Joseph was murdered because of plural marriage. So, if he would have announced to everyone that the Saints were teaching and practicing plural marriage, are we supposed to believe everything would have gone well?

Joseph and Hyrum were brought to Carthage to answer charges regarding the destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor. Let us assume that they were completely in the wrong in ordering the paper's destruction--it was not something for which they would have been jailed, even if found guilty. (They had already been acquitted twice, once by an LDS judge and once by a non-LDS.) At most, Joseph and Hyrum would have been liable for financial damages to the owners of the press. They posted bail, and would have been tried in court when the circuit court judge next arrived. They were free to leave and go home. The "trumped up charges" were charges of treason, which were then lodged against Joseph and Hyrum once they had posted bail. These new charges were intended to keep them in custody, where they could be assassinated. (It is no coincidence that the leader of the Carthage Greys militia--the group which assassinated Joseph--was the justice of the peace who jailed them on the treason charge, without a hearing.)

Richard Bushman notes,

"The court business of the day was to hear the charge of riot against Nauvoo's town officers [including Joseph and Hyrum]. The defendants were released on bail of $500 each and bound over to the next term of the circuit court. Before the hearing, however, another charge, this one for treason, was brought against Joseph and Hyrum. Not the government, but dissenter Augustine Spencer accused them of calling out the legion to resist the state militia. The Mormons could see the dissenters were determined to keep Joseph and Hyrum in Carthage on one pretext or other. [Illinois Governor] Ford considered the treason charge groundless since the city had had reason to fear a mob invasion, but he refused to intervene in a judicial proceeding. The justice of the peace, Robert Smith [captain of the Carthage Greys who would murder them], committed Joseph and Hyrum to prison without a hearing, claiming he did so for their safety." — Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Knopf, 2005), 547.


Response to claim: "Perhaps that's one reason we're told not to pray to our Mother-in-Heaven as we wouldn't know which one"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

Editor comment: The concept of a Heavenly Mother can be a bit strange for some people to accept but the idea of Heavenly Mothers (plural) is very unnerving. Logically, if God has multiple wives then although everyone has the same Father-in-Heaven, most people would have different 'Mothers-in-Heaven'. Perhaps that's one reason we're told not to pray to our Mother-in-Heaven as we wouldn't know which one.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

Logically? When a child is in a room full of mothers and calls his own mother, wouldn't you think that she can hear that child and knows his or her voice? Do you think that she would be able to respond to him or her? This is the first time we've seen someone try to combine the concept of praying to a Heavenly Mother with the idea that God is a polygamist.


Response to claim: "We have to wonder why an angel didn't appear to Emma to convince her that polygamy was commanded by God"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

We have to wonder why an angel didn't appear to Emma to convince her that polygamy was commanded by God. The Bible talks of Mary being visited by the angel Gabriel. Mary's soon-to-be husband Joseph was going to put her away until he had a visit in a dream explaining the virgin birth. Wouldn't it make sense that Emma would have been given the same information from God as Joseph did about polygamy, so that Emma would have gone along and not fought Joseph as she did? This is another reason to think that perhaps polygamy may have originated with Joseph Smith rather than from God or an angel.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

Are we to compare Mary's angelic visit to announce the upcoming birth of the savior of all mankind to Emma accepting polygamy? Really? It was certainly difficult for Emma, but how about those that were asked to be plural wives? They reported divine manifestations. Since Emma would later lie and say Joseph never taught plural marriage, it's hard to know what she did or didn't experience in relation to it.

There are at least two accounts in which Emma expresses her belief in plural marriage and Joseph's call as a prophet:

  • Zina Huntington remembered a conversation between Elizabeth [Davis] and Emma [Smith] in which Elizabeth asked the prophet’s wife if she felt that Joseph was a prophet. Yes, Emma answered, but I wish to God I did not know it.[116]
  • Maria Jane Johnston, who lived with Emma as a servant girl, recalled the Prophet’s wife looking very downcast one day and telling her that the principle of plural marriage was right and came from Heavenly Father. “What I said I have got [to] repent of,” lamented Emma. “The principle is right but I am jealous hearted. Now never tell anybody that you heard me find fault with that[principle[;] we have got to humble ourselves and repent of it.”[117]

And, what did Emma say about Joseph after all that had happened?: I believe he [Joseph] was everything he professed to be.[118]

MormonThink wants us to believe everything that Oliver Cowdery says about plural marriage if we accept what he says about his role as one of the three witnesses. So, shouldn't we believe Emma on this matter?


Response to claim: "we can't think of any earthly reason for practicing polygamy"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

With the statements that these justifications for polygamy are simply not true, by such LDS leaders as apostle John A. Widtsoe and FAIR Chairman John Lynch, we must turn to the only possible remaining answer - God commanded the early saints to take multiple wives for some reason. But we can't think of any earthly reason for practicing polygamy. Why would God command this? Even if there were women that needed help, why would the men have to marry the women in order to help them. We certainly don't advocate marrying a homeless person to help them financially or otherwise. And why have polygamy at all since it could only be practiced by maybe 30% of its members?

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

If you can't think of any earthly reason for practicing polygamy, then perhaps the reason was not earthly at all—perhaps God had His own reasons for commanding it. But, MormonThink is not thinking very hard if they cannot see some of the advantages that accrued to the early Church because of plural marriage.


Response to claim: "although polygamy was practiced somewhat in Old Testament times, it was more of a social custom and not a religious commandment"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

And although polygamy was practiced somewhat in Old Testament times, it was more of a social custom and not a religious commandment....Yes, polygamy was practiced in the OT, but God never commanded it to be practiced. The model was Adam and Eve, not Adam and Eve and Jane and Sally .... God seems to have accepted their practicing it for cultural reasons.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is false

This is absolutely false. In fact, Levirate marriage was a commandment.


Question: Does the Bible forbid plural marriage?

The Bible does not forbid plural marriage

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

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

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

This problem was mentioned in Deuteronomy:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Solomon's problem is described:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and also possibly:

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

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

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

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

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

Marriage to the wife's sister, defined as incest only by Anglican canon law, is the only form of polygamous marriage of the [potentially 'incestuous] categories...that occurs in significant numbers. [120]

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


Response to claim: "Why would Joseph make up the preposterous story that an angel with a sword commanded him to practice polygamy"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

Joseph's plural marriages were not known until Joseph was caught with Fanny Alger. Oliver Cowdery referred to it as a 'dirty, nasty, filthy affair'. Now suppose for just a minute, that this really was an affair as reported by Brother Cowdery, an apostle and one of the three witnesses to the Book of Mormon. Why would Joseph make up the preposterous story that an angel with a sword commanded him to practice polygamy (before the sealing power was even restored no less)? Why, because he could. People believed him. They believed his earlier story about an angel, so why not another one? Perhaps the entire practice of polygamy by the saints was inspired by Joseph's efforts to cover up an affair? If he was truly in an affair, he would have a hard time justifying his adultery, and he may have lost many, many followers. But he came up with the only excuse that could be justified - God commanded him to. It was so successful that he continued to take more and more women as wives.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The authors simply assume that Joseph was lying and that the story was "preposterous."


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

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

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

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

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

George Bernard Shaw, certainly no Mormon, declared:

Now nothing can be more idle, nothing more frivolous, than to imagine that this polygamy had anything to do with personal licentiousness. If Joseph Smith had proposed to the Latter-day Saints that they should live licentious lives, they would have rushed on him and probably anticipated their pious neighbors who presently shot him. [121]

Brigham Young matches the explanation proposed by Shaw. When instructed to practice plural marriage by Joseph, Brigham recalled that it “was the first time in my life that I had desired the grave." [122]

John Taylor had similar opinions:

I had always entertained strict ideas of virtue and I felt as a married man that this was to me…an appalling thing to do…Nothing but a knowledge of God, and the revelations of God…could have induced me to embrace such a principle as this…We [the Twelve] seemed to put off, as far as we could, what might be termed the evil day. [123]

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

As non-Mormon church historian Ernst Benz wrote:

Mormon polygamy has nothing to do with sexual debauchery but is tied to a strict patriarchal system of family order and demonstrates in the relationship of the husband to his individual wives all the ethical traits of a Christian, monogamous marriage. It is completely focused on bearing children and rearing them in the bosom of the family and the Mormon community. Actually, it exhibits a very great measure of selflessness, a willingness to sacrifice, and a sense of duty. [124]

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

For example, he refused to countenance John C. Bennett’s serial infidelities. [125] If Joseph was looking for easy access to sex, Bennett—mayor of Nauvoo, First Counselor in the First Presidency, and military leader—would have been the perfect confederate. Yet, Joseph publicly denounced Bennett’s actions, and severed him from the First Presidency and the Church. Bennett became a vocal opponent and critic, and all this could have been avoided if Joseph was willing to have him as a “partner in crime.” The critic cannot argue that Joseph felt that only he was entitled to polygamous relationships, since he went to great efforts to teach the doctrine to Hyrum and the Twelve, who embraced it with much less zeal than Bennett would have. If this is all about lust, why did Joseph humiliate and alienate Bennett, who Joseph should have known he could trust to support him and help hide polygamy from critics, while risking the support of the Twelve by insisting they participate?

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

Contrary to popular nineteenth-century notions about polygamy, the Mormon harem, dominated by lascivious males with hyperactive libidos, did not exist. The image of unlimited lust was largely the creation of travelers to Salt Lake City more interested in titillating audiences back home than in accurately portraying plural marriage. Newspaper representatives and public figures visited the city in droves seeking headlines for their eastern audiences. Mormon plural marriage, dedicated to propagating the species righteously and dispassionately, proved to be a rather drab lifestyle compared to the imaginative tales of polygamy, dripping with sensationalism, demanded by a scandal-hungry eastern media market. [126]

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

Douglas H. Parker wrote,

Polygamy, when first announced to the Saints, was an offensive, disgusting doctrine, difficult to accept…The men and women who placed faith in the bona fides of the revelation were Victorian in their background and moral character. The hard test of accepting polygamy as a principle revealed and required by God selected out from the Church membership at large a basic corps of faithful members who, within the next few decades, were to be subjected to an Abraham-Isaac test administered by the federal government as God’s agent. [127]

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

Joseph displayed an astonishingly principled commitment to the doctrine [of plural marriage]. He had to overcome opposition from his brother Hyrum and the reluctance of some of his disciples. Reflecting years later on the conflicts and dangers brought by plural marriage, some church leaders were struck with the courage Joseph displayed in persisting with it. And when one recalls a poignant encounter like that between [counselor in the First Presidency] William Law and Joseph in early 1844, it is difficult not to agree. Law, putting his arms around the prophet’s neck, tearfully pleaded that he throw the entire business of plurality over. Joseph, also crying, replied that he could not, that God had commanded it, and he had no choice but to obey. [128]

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

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

I had not fully grasped certain aspects of the Prophet’s psyche and personality. After just a few pages into Personal Writings, [129] it became clear that Joseph possessed religious dimensions that I had not understood. For one thing, it was apparent I had underestimated the depth of his dependence upon Deity. The Joseph that emerges in Personal Writings is an intensely devout and God-fearing young man who at times seems almost helpless without divine support. And his sincerity about his prophetic calling is also apparent. If others were not persuaded of his claims, it could not be said that Joseph was unconvinced that God had both called and directed him. Detractors who claim that Joseph came to like the game of playing prophet would be discomfited if they read Personal Writings. Scholars may quibble with how true his theology is, but for anyone who reads Personal Writings, his earnestness and honesty are no longer debatable points. [130]


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

Non-LDS Christian Stephen H. Webb wrote:[131]

By any measurement, Joseph Smith was a remarkable person. His combination of organizational acumen with spiritual originality and personal decorum and modesty is rare in the history of religion. He was so steadfast in his ability to inspire men and women through times of great hardship that none of those who knew him could claim to fully understand him. He knew more about theology and philosophy than it was reasonable for anyone in his position to know, as if he were dipping into the deep, collective unconsciousness of Christianity with a very long pen. He read the Bible in ways so novel that he can be considered a theological innocent—he expanded and revised the biblical narrative without questioning its authority—yet he brusquely overturned ancient and impregnable metaphysical assumptions with the aplomb of an assistant professor. For someone so charismatic, he was exceptionally humble, even ordinary, and he delegated authority with the wisdom of a man looking far into the future for the well-being of his followers. It would be tempting to compare him to Mohammed—who also combined pragmatic political skill and a genius for religious innovation—if he were not so deeply Christian. [Title is Webb's.][132]:95

Response to claim: "So why doesn't the spirit make us all feel warm fuzzies inside when it comes to polygamy?"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

If polygamy was really sanctioned by our Heavenly Father and polygamy is an eternal principle expected to be practiced in the next life, then naturally the spirit should bear witness to this. So why doesn't the spirit make us all feel warm fuzzies inside when it comes to polygamy? We have rarely found members in the church, especially women, who readily accept this idea.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

Why should we receive a spiritual manifestation about polygamy? We aren't required to practice it, and we're willing to bet that few people today would want to. There is no Church doctrine which says that plural marriage must be practiced in the next life. We do not know. Does it seem like MormonThink might be trying to make you worried that you will have to practice plural marriage in heaven?

LDS author and former BYU Professor Valerie Hudson spoke powerfully against this idea. If this worries you, you should read it: here. Are we supposed to receive a spiritual manifestation about polygamy practiced in the past? Are we supposed to receive a witness of polygamy as it was practiced anciently? Those who did practice it reported that only revelation persuaded them to obey.

Our Heavenly Father can tell us whether Joseph Smith and his successors were true prophets or not, and whether plural marriage means that we should not trust them. Another member's experience with these issues is described here: Gregory L. Smith, "Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Plural Marriage (*But Were Afraid to Ask)," FAIR Conference presentation (7 August 2009).


Response to claim: "The brother missionaries have been in the habit of picking out the prettiest women for themselves before they get here"

The author(s) of MormonThink make(s) the following claim:

When we read such statements as these by the First Presidency of the Church, we have to wonder if polygamy, as practiced by the saints, came from God or from man:

"Brethren, I want you to understand that it is not to be as it has been heretofore. The brother missionaries have been in the habit of picking out the prettiest women for themselves before they get here, and bringing on the ugly ones for us; hereafter you have to bring them all here before taking any of them, and let us all have a fair shake."

- Apostle Heber C. Kimball, First Counselor to Brigham Young, The Lion of the Lord, New York, 1969, pp 129-130.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

The authors misinterpret their sources.


Question: Was Heber C. Kimball concerned that missionaries would "take all the best" convert women as plural wives before they returned to Salt Lake City?

Heber C. Kimball warns the missionaries simply that they are on the Lord's errand, and should allow the Lord to choose his sheep

Two quotes from Heber C. Kimball are used to demonstrate that nineteenth century Church leaders worried that missionaries would "take all the best" convert women as plural wives before they got to Salt Lake.

For example, Jerald and Sandra Tanner use a quote from Heber C. Kimball, Journal of Discourses 6:256. to assert that "Mormon leaders were evidently worried that the missionaries would take the best women" [133]:

Let truth and righteousness be your motto; and do not go into the world for anything else but to preach the Gospel, build up the kingdom of God, and gather the sheep into the fold. You are sent out as shepherds to gather the sheep together; and remember that they are not your sheep: they belong to Him that sends you. Then do not make a choice of any of those sheep; do not make selections before they are brought home and put into the fold. You understand that. Amen.

The second quote is attributed to Heber C. Kimball in Stanley P. Hirshson's book The Lion of the Lord.

Brethren, I want you to understand that it is not to be as it has been heretofore. The brother missionaries have been in the habit of picking out the prettiest women for themselves before they get here, and bringing on the ugly ones for us; hereafter you have to bring them all here before taking any of them, and let us all have a fair shake.

The quote from the Journal of Discourses says nothing about choosing women. Heber C. Kimball warns the missionaries simply that they are on the Lord's errand, and should allow the Lord to choose his sheep. They are not to decide who is worthy of the gospel, they are merely to bring home those whom the Lord (as master shepherd) chooses.

The quote from Hirshson gives no indication regarding who heard Kimball state this.

Heber C. Kimball in the Journal of Discourses: "do not make selections before they are brought home and put into the fold"

Heber C. Kimball said,

Let truth and righteousness be your motto; and do not go into the world for anything else but to preach the Gospel, build up the kingdom of God, and gather the sheep into the fold. You are sent out as shepherds to gather the sheep together; and remember that they are not your sheep: they belong to Him that sends you. Then do not make a choice of any of those sheep; do not make selections before they are brought home and put into the fold. You understand that. Amen. [134]

Elsewhere in The Changing World of Mormonism, the Tanners quote Heber C. Kimball from the Deseret News:

The principle of plurality of wives never will be done away, although some sisters have had revelations that, when this time passes away and they go through the veil, every woman will have a husband to herself (Deseret News, November 7, 1855). [135]

The Tanners do not, however, include the very next sentence in Heber's speech, which calls their interpretation of his remarks from the Journal of Discourses above into question:

The principle of plurality of wives never will be done away, although some sisters have had revelations that, when this time passes away and they go through the veil, every woman will have a husband to herself. I wish more of our young men would take to themselves wives of the daughters of Zion, and not wait for us old men to take them all; go-ahead upon the right principle, young gentlemen, and God bless you for ever and ever and make you fruitful, that we may fill the mountains and then the earth with righteous inhabitants. That is my prayer, and that is my blessing upon all the saints and upon your posterity after you, for ever: Amen." [136]

"Remarks by Heber C. Kimball, directly after the sermon by President B. Young, printed in no. 34: Bowery, Oct. 6, 1855," Deseret News Vol. V, No. 35 (7 November 1855): 274

Clearly, Heber is here not worried about having missionaries "save" more wives for him. It seems, then, that his concern was in missionaries should be focused, during their missions, on bringing people to Christ and baptism. They were not to have other goals or priorities (including, but not limited to, marriage).

Yet, when they were home, Kimball encouraged younger men to enter plural marriage, and joked that he was tired of not having their support in this endeavor. The critics' reading, then, is questionable.

Alleged to be Heber C. Kimball by Stanley P. Hirshson: "The brother missionaries have been in the habit of picking out the prettiest women for themselves"

The provenance of this alleged Kimball quote is less certain. The most commonly cited source for this quote is Stanley P. Hirshson, The Lion of the Lord, pp. 129-130:

Brethren, I want you to understand that it is not to be as it has been heretofore. The brother missionaries have been in the habit of picking out the prettiest women for themselves before they get here, and bringing on the ugly ones for us; hereafter you have to bring them all here before taking any of them, and let us all have a fair shake.[65]

Hirshson's endnote [65] references The New York Tribune, May 15, 1860 and The New York Times, April 17, 1860. Here's the relevant paragraph from the newspaper article:

Some time ago HEBER KIMBALL was lecturing some missionaries who were preparing to start out on foreign missions, in the Tabernacle, and said to them: "Brethren, I want you to understand that it is not to be as it has been heretofore. The brother Missionaries have been in the habit of picking out the prettiest women for themselves before they get here, and bringing on the ugly ones for us; hereafter you have to bring them all here before taking any of them, and let us all have a fair shake." The old reprobate then had at least a score of women whom he called wives. [137]

No indication is given regarding who heard Kimball state this. The byline on the article is simply "From Our Own Correspondents." The New York Times article is clearly antagonistic toward the Church. Here is a sampling of phrases from the same article:

In all polygamic countries women are treated as though they were animals not to be trusted, and are watched with most jealous care. Utah is rather an aggravation than an exception to this general rule.

Caliph OMAR never kept a stricter watch over his youngest wife than BRIGHAM and his lecherous satellites do over their concubines.

We have a large army in Utah -- Does it not prevent the recurrence of such outrages? I answer, It does not; simply because it is chained down to a little military reservation of a few thousand acres, and is prohibited from operating outside of that; and outside of that BRIGHAM's power is absolute, and the degradation of the people as complete as it ever has been.

Notes

  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 M. Scott Bradshaw, "Defining Adultery under Illinois and Nauvoo Law," in Sustaining the Law: Joseph Smith's Legal Encounters, edited by Gordon A. Madsen, Jeffrey N. Walker, and John W. Welch (Provo, Utah: BYU Studies, 2014), 401–426.
  2. Bradshaw cites Criminal Code, section 123, Revised Laws of Illinois: "Any man or woman who shall live together in an open state of adultery or fornication, or adultery and fornication, every such man and woman shall be indicted...." (Bradshaw, 407, emphasis added).
  3. "Compare [the strict criteria for statutory adultery] to Illinois divorce law which allowed adultery as a grounds for divorce; however, the cases that involved divorce petitions on this basis do not seemed [sic] to have followed any clear standard defining what constituted adultery, focusing rather on proving individual acts of adultery. Divorce law did not require that the conduct be "open" or "notorious." - Bradshaw, "Defining Adultery," 407–408n21.
  4. Doctrine and Covenants, 1835 edition, Section 101.
  5. History of the Church, 2:246–247. Volume 2 link
  6. Brian C. Hales, Joseph Smith's Polygamy Volume 1: History (Salt Lake City, Utah: Greg Kofford Books, 2013), 154.
  7. Hales, Joseph Smith's Polygamy Vol. 1, 173, see pp. 171–1731 for full details.
  8. Joseph F. Smith, Journal of Discourses 20:29.
  9. Hales, Joseph Smith's Polygamy Vol. 1, 156–158.
  10. Hales, Joseph Smith's Polygamy Vol. 1, 161–162.
  11. Hales, Joseph Smith's Polygamy Vol. 1, 166, 168.
  12. Gilbert Scharffs, "Marriage Is Ordained of God", The Truth About "The God Makers" off-site
  13. "Lesson 31: “Sealed … for Time and for All Eternity”," Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Gospel Doctrine Teacher’s Manual, (1999) (emphasis added).
  14. "Chapter Twenty: Doctrinal Developments in Nauvoo," Church History In The Fulness Of Times Student Manual, (2003).
  15. "Chapter Twenty One: Growing Conflict in Illinois," Church History In The Fulness Of Times Student Manual, (2003).
  16. "Chapter Twenty-Three: The Twelve to Bear Off the Kingdom," Church History In The Fulness Of Times Student Manual, (2003)
  17. "Chapter Thirty-Three: A Decade of Persecution, 1877–87," Church History In The Fulness Of Times Student Manual, (2003).
  18. The 2008-2009 lesson manual Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, (2007), pages vii–xiii.
  19. Gracia N. Jones, “My Great-Great-Grandmother, Emma Hale Smith,” Ensign, Aug 1992, 30 off-site (emphasis added)
  20. William Hartley, "The Knight Family: Ever Faithful to the Prophet," Ensign (January 1989).; and William Hartley, "The Knight Family: Part II," Liahona (November 1989).
  21. Davis Bitton, "Great-Grandfather’s Family," Ensign (February 1977). (emphasis added)
  22. "Joseph Smith and his Papers: An Introduction," josephsmithpapers.org (accessed 24 April 2012): p. 6 of 9.
  23. John A. Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations: Aids to Faith in a Modern Day, arranged by G. Homer Durham (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1960), "Did Joseph Smith Introduce Plural Marriage?". GL direct link
  24. Dean Zimmerman, I Knew the Prophets: An Analysis of the Letter of Benjamin F. Johnson to George F. Gibbs, Reporting Doctrinal Views of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young (Bountiful, Utah: Horizon, 1976), 38; punctuation and spelling standardized. Cited in Brian Hales, "Fanny Alger," josephsmithspolygamy.org. off-site
  25. Levi Ward Hancock, “Autobiography with Additions in 1896 by Mosiah Hancock,” 63, MS 570, LDS Church History Library, punctuation and spelling standardized; cited portion written by Mosiah. Cited in Brian Hales, "Fanny Alger," josephsmithspolygamy.org. off-site
  26. Jeremy Runnells, "Letter to a CES Director"
  27. 27.0 27.1 Andrew Jenson Papers [ca. 1871–1942], LDS Archives.
  28. Ruth Vose, Affidavit, May 1, 1869, Joseph F. Smith, Affidavit Books, 1:9; see also 4:9.
  29. Andrew Jenson Papers [ca. 1871–1942], LDS Archives. Brian Hales notes: “It appears that the documents in these folders were used to compile Jenson’s 1887 Historical Record article on plural marriage. See Joseph F. Smith affidavit books, LDS Archives, 1:9 for date of this sealing “February A.D. 1843.”However the affidavit states that the sealing was performed by Hyrum Smith, which is unlikely because Hyrum did not accept plural marriage until May of that year.” off-site
  30. Daniel H. Wells, Letter to Joseph F. Smith, June 25, 1888. Brian Hales notes, "I am indebted to Joseph Johnstun and Michael Marquardt for bringing this source to my attention." off-site
  31. Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner, “Remarks” at B.Y.U April 14, 1905, copy of original signed typescript, Vault Mss 363, fd 6, HBLL, BYU, 7.
  32. Presenda Huntington Kimball, “Biographical Sketch,” 1881, MS 742, CHL, first copy page 2 and variant copy page 2. off-site
  33. Joseph F. Smith affidavit books, CHL 1:7. off-site
  34. Holograph letter of John L. Smith attached to a letter of the First Presidency dated March 8, 1895, the letter of Smith being written on Feb 27, 1895, to David H. Cannon; copy in D. Michael Quinn Papers—Addition—Uncat WA MS 244 (Accession:19990209-c), Box 1—Card file—Topic: Polygamy, Joseph Smith’s. off-site
  35. Anon. Biography, CHL. Possibly by August Cleveland Smith quoted in Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1997), 283. off-site
  36. Donna Toland Smart, ed., Mormon Midwife: The 1846–1888 Diaries of Patty Bartlett Sessions (Logan: Utah State University, 1997), 276–77. off-site
  37. Brian and Laura Hales, "Elizabeth Davis," josephsmithspolygamy.org off-site
  38. Brian and Laura Hales, "Lucinda Pendleton," josephsmithspolygamy.org off-site
  39. Undated holograph letter of William Wright, stamped as received in the First Presidency Office on June 2, 1931, in Box 65, CR 1/44, Misc. Corresp. Of 1st Pres., at CHL; copy in D. Michael Quinn Papers, Yale University, Special Collections, Uncat WA MS Uncat. WA MS. 98, 881028, bx3, fd 2. off-site
  40. Brian and Laura Hales, "Elvira Annie Cowles," josephsmithspolygamy.org off-site
  41. John D. Lee, Mormonism Unveiled, or, The Life and Confessions of the Late Mormon Bishop, John D. Lee and W. W. Bishop, eds. (St. Louis: Byron, Brand, 1877), 147. Lee added “but I do not assert the fact.”
  42. Fawn Brodie, No Man Knows My History, 301, 345, 465
  43. Brian Hales: "See also discussion regarding John Bowes Quoting William Arrowsmith Regarding Marinda Nancy Johnson Hyde in Brian C. Hales, Joseph Smith’s Polygamy: History and Theology, 3 vols. (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2013), 1:314–16."
  44. Todd Compton, “Fawn Brodie on Joseph Smith’s Plural Wives and Polygamy: A Critical View,” in Reconsidering No Man Knows My History: Fawn M. Brodie and Joseph Smith in Retrospect, ed. Newell G. Bringhurst (Logan: Utah State University Press, 1996), 165.
  45. See Fawn M. Brodie, No Man Knows My History, 345.
  46. Brian Hales: "Birth certificate available at http://wiki.hanksplace.net/index.php/Image:FrankHHyde.jpg (accessed August 27, 2009). Thanks to Gregory L. Smith for identifying this. See also “Frank H. Hyde Dies Suddenly,” The Ogden Standard (June 29, 1908), 5."
  47. 47.0 47.1 47.2 Brian Hales, Joseph Smith's Polygamy off-site Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "halespolygamy" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "halespolygamy" defined multiple times with different content
  48. Ann Eliza Webb Young, Wife Number 19, or, The Story of a Life in Bondage, Being a Complete Exposé of Mormonism, and Revealing Sorrows, Sacrifices and Sufferings of Women in Polygamy (Hartford: Dustin, Gilman, and Co., 1876), 325–26.
  49. John D. Lee, Mormonism Unveiled, or, The Life and Confessions of the Late Mormon Bishop, John D. Lee and W. W. Bishop, eds. (St. Louis: Byron, Brand, 1877), 147. Lee added “but I do not assert the fact.”
  50. Affidavit of Orson Hyde, September 15, 1869, MS 3423, CHL; affidavit was copied into Joseph F. Smith Affidavit Books, 2:45; published in Joseph Fielding Smith, Blood Atonement and the Origin of Plural Marriage (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1905), 74.
  51. J. GI SON DIVINE [Sidney Rigdon], "To the Sisters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints," Latter Day Saint's Messenger and Advocate (Pittsburgh) 1/10 (15 March 1845): 154–158.
  52. William Hall, Abominations of Mormonism Exposed; Containing Many Facts and Doctrines Concerning That Singular People, During Seven Year's Membership with Them; from 1840 to 1847 (Cincinnati: I. Hart, 1852), 113.
  53. Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 239.
  54. See History of the Church, 3:345. Volume 3 link Brigham H. Roberts, Comprehensive History of the Church (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1965), 2:24–25n12. GospeLink (requires subscrip.) Wilford Woodruff, Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 9 vols., ed., Scott G. Kenny (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1985), 1:340 (journal entry dated 25 June 1839). ISBN 0941214133.
  55. See Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 238.
  56. Ann Eliza Young, Wife No. 19, or the Story of a Life in Bondage, Being a Complete Exposé of Mormonism, and Revealing the Sorrows, Sacrifices and Sufferings of Women in Polygamy (Hartford, Conn.: Custin, Gilman & Company, 1876), 324–326.
  57. Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 243.: "Marinda was sealed to Orson Hyde, not Smith, for time and eternity on January 11, 1846."
  58. John D. Lee, Mormonism Unveiled; or, the Life and Confessions of the Late Mormon Bishop, John D. Lee; (Written by Himself) Embracing the History of Mormonism ... With an Exposition of the Secret History, Signs, Symbols and Crimes of the Mormon Church. Also the True History of the Horrible Butchery Known as the Mountain Meadows Massacre (St. Louis: Bryan, Brand, 1877), 147.
  59. Joseph F. Smith Affidavit Books, 1:5, CHL.
  60. R. Scott Lloyd, ""Joseph Smith apparently was not Josephine Lyon's father, Mormon History Association speaker says," Deseret News (13 June 2016)
  61. Brian and Laura Hales, "Sylvia Sessions," josephsmithspolygamy.org off-site
  62. Andrew Jenson Papers, MS 17956, CHL, box 49, folder 16.
  63. Brian and Laura Hales, "Sylvia Sessions," Note 28 josephsmithspolygamy.org off-site
  64. Joseph C. Kingsbury, “History of Joseph C. Kingsbury,” (photocopy of manuscript), in Ronald and Ilene Kingsbury Collection, MS 522 Box 3 Folder 2, page 13, Marriott Library. off-site
  65. Brian and Laura Hales, "Sarah Ann Whitney," josephsmithspolygamy.org off-site
  66. Brian and Laura Hales, "Mary Heron," josephsmithspolygamy.org off-site
  67. Michael Marquardt, 1973 pamphlet "The Strange Marriages of Sarah Ann Whitney to Joseph Smith the Mormon Prophet, Joseph C. Kingsbury, and Heber C. Kimball," George Albert Smith Family Papers, Manuscript 36, Box 1, Early Smith Documents, 1731-1849, Folder 18, in the Special Collections, Western Americana, Marriott Library, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah (source). The original is in the LDS Church Archives.
  68. Dean C. Jessee, The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, [original edition] (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 1984), 539–540. ISBN 0877479747. GL direct link
  69. Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1997), 350. ( Index of claims )
  70. Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1997), 349. ( Index of claims )
  71. Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Knopf, 2005), 473.
  72. Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1997), 350. ( Index of claims )
  73. Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Knopf, 2005), 473.
  74. Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Knopf, 2005), 473.
  75. R. Scott Lloyd, ""Joseph Smith apparently was not Josephine Lyon's father, Mormon History Association speaker says," Deseret News (13 June 2016)
  76. Brian and Laura Hales, "Sylvia Sessions," josephsmithspolygamy.org off-site
  77. Andrew Jenson Papers, MS 17956, CHL, box 49, folder 16.
  78. Brian and Laura Hales, "Sylvia Sessions," Note 28 josephsmithspolygamy.org off-site
  79. There are two accounts by hostile sources, and neither blames Joseph's immoral actions for the attack: 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.
  80. See: Hales, Brian C. "The Joseph Smith-Sylvia Sessions Plural Sealing: Polyandry or Polygyny?" Mormon Historical Studies 9/1 (Spring 2008): 41–57.] DNA research is ongoing but it is rendered more difficult since the Y chromosome evidence of paternal lineage is not present in females.
  81. John Dehlin, "Questions and Answers," Mormon Stories Podcast (25 June 2014).
  82. Richard S. Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy: A History (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1986),48; citing Robinson, Journal, 23–24.
  83. Orson Hyde, "The Marriage Relations," (6 October 1854) Journal of Discourses 2:75-75.
  84. Note that "spiritual wifeism" likely refers to John C. Bennett's pattern of seduction and sexual license, which the Saints were always at pains to deny.
  85. That is, the Relief Society document condemning adultery, which Foster had engaged in under the tutelage of John C. Bennett.
  86. Again, Joseph is denying the spiritual wifeism of Bennett, which he calls "wickedness" and was quick to oppose via Church discipline.
  87. Jackson was another witness against Joseph Smith, and would go on to write an anti-Mormon tract: Joseph H. Jackson, The Adventures and Experiences of Joseph H. Jackson in Nauvoo, (Printed for the Publisher: Warsaw, Illinois, 1846).
  88. Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 6:410-412. Volume 6 link
  89. Bradshaw cites Criminal Code, section 123, Revised Laws of Illinois: "Any man or woman who shall live together in an open state of adultery or fornication, or adultery and fornication, every such man and woman shall be indicted...." (Bradshaw, 407, emphasis added).
  90. "Compare [the strict criteria for statutory adultery] to Illinois divorce law which allowed adultery as a grounds for divorce; however, the cases that involved divorce petitions on this basis do not seemed [sic] to have followed any clear standard defining what constituted adultery, focusing rather on proving individual acts of adultery. Divorce law did not require that the conduct be "open" or "notorious." - Bradshaw, "Defining Adultery," 407–408n21.
  91. "The Manifesto and the End of Plural Marriage," Gospel Topics on LDS.org
  92. "The Manifesto and the End of Plural Marriage," Gospel Topics on LDS.org
  93. "The Manifesto and the End of Plural Marriage," Gospel Topics on LDS.org
  94. B. Carmon Hardy, Solemn Covenant: The Mormon Polygamous Passage (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1992), 50-51.
  95. Joseph Smith, Jr., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected by Joseph Fielding Smith, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1976), 11–12. off-site
  96. George Q. Cannon, "Enduring to the End," in Brian H. Stuy (editor), Collected Discourses: Delivered by Wilford Woodruff, his two counselors, the twelve apostles, and others, 1868–1898, 5 vols., (Woodland Hills, Utah: B.H.S. Publishing, 1987–1989), 2:115–116. [Discourse given on 5 October 1890.]
  97. D&C 107:23-24
  98. DC 107:27
  99. See discussion in wiki article on Official Declaration 1
  100. Abraham H. Cannon, Diary, 2 October 1890; see also George Q. Cannon, Diary, 6 October 1890; Heber J. Grant, Journal, 2 October 1890, and copy in Conference Report 1:48.
  101. See discussion in B. Carmon Hardy, Solemn Covenant, 148; citing “A Utah Commissioner’s Perversions,” Deseret News, 1 October 1890.
  102. George Q. Cannon, "Enduring to the End," in Brian H. Stuy (editor), Collected Discourses: Delivered by Wilford Woodruff, his two counselors, the twelve apostles, and others, 1868–1898, 5 vols., (Woodland Hills, Utah: B.H.S. Publishing, 1987–1989), 2:119. [Discourse given on 5 October 1890.]
  103. See FairMormon Answers Wiki article on Word of Wisdom
  104. Telegram from President Joseph F. Smith to Reed Smoot, Apr. 1, 1911, Reed Smoot Correspondence.
  105. Dallin H. Oaks, “Gospel Teachings About Lying,” BYU Fireside Address, 12 September 1993, typescript, no page numbers.
  106. Gregory L. Smith, "Polygamy, Prophets, and Prevarication: Frequently and Rarely Asked Questions about the Initiation, Practice, and Cessation of Plural Marriage in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints," FAIR, 2005. describes these issues in detail.
  107. "Plural Marriage and Families in Early Utah," Gospel Topics on LDS.org (2013)
  108. Steven Pratt, “Eleanor Mclean and the Murder of Parley P. Pratt,” BYU Studies (Winter 1975): 226.
  109. Steven Pratt, “Eleanor Mclean and the Murder of Parley P. Pratt,” 226.
  110. Pratt, “Eleanor Mclean and the Murder of Parley P. Pratt,” 226, emphasis in original, citing Millennial Star 19:432. (italics in original)
  111. Pratt, “Eleanor Mclean and the Murder of Parley P. Pratt,” 228–31.
  112. Pratt, “Eleanor Mclean and the Murder of Parley P. Pratt,” 241–48.
  113. Beverly J. Schwartzberg, “Grass Widows, Barbarians, and Bigamists: Fluid Marriage in Late Nineteenth-Century America” (Ph.D. diss., University of California, Santa Barbara, 2001), 51–52.
  114. Hendrik Harlog, Man & Wife in America: A History (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000), 87
  115. Nancy F. Cott, Public Vows: A History of Marriage and the Nation (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000), 37.
  116. Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1997), 261. ( Index of claims )
  117. Emma Smith to Maria Jane Johnston, cited in Wendy C. Top "'A Deep Sorrow in Her Heart' – Emma Hale Smith," in Heroines of the Restoration, edited by Barbara B. Smith and Blythe Darlyn Thatcher (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1997), 17–34.; quoting Newell and Avery, Mormon Enigma, 161.
  118. Mary Audentia Smith Anderson (editor), "Memoirs of Joseph Smith III (1832–1914)," The Saints Herald (2 April 1935): 431–434.
  119. Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, 2:10. off-site
  120. Jessie L. Embry, "Ultimate Taboos: Incest and Mormon Polygamy," Journal of Mormon History 18/1 (Spring 1992): 93–113.
  121. George Bernard Shaw, The Future of Political Science in America; an Address by Mr. Bernard Shaw to the Academy of Political Science, at the Metropolitan Opera House, New York, on the 11th. April, 1933 (New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1933) as cited in Richard Vetterli, Mormonism, Americanism and Politics (Salt Lake City: Ensign Publishing, 1961), 461–462.
  122. Brigham Young, "Plurality of Wives—The Free Agency of Man," (14 July 1855) Journal of Discourses 3:266.
  123. John Taylor, "President John Taylor's Recent Trip To Bear Lake, Selections from his Discourses delivered in the Various Settlements," (1883) Journal of Discourses 24:232.
  124. Ernst Benz, "Imago dei: Man as the Image of God," FARMS Review 17/1 (2005): 223–254. off-site
  125. For an extensive discussion, see Danel W. Bachman, “A Study of the Mormon Practice of Polygamy Before the Death of Joseph Smith,” (1975) (unpublished M.A. thesis, Purdue University).
  126. Richard Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy: A History (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1986), 89.
  127. Douglas H. Parker, “Victory in Defeat—Polygamy and the Mormon Legal Encounter with the Federal Government,” Cardozo Law Review 12 (1991): 814.
  128. B. Carmon Hardy, Solemn Covenant: The Mormon Polygamous Passage (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1992), 9; an account of this encounter between Joseph and William can be found in Joseph W. McMurrin, "An Interesting Testimony / Mr. Law’s Testimony," Improvement Era (May 1903), 507–510.
  129. He here refers to Dean C. Jesse’s landmark volume Personal Writings of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1984).
  130. Paul H. Peterson, “Understanding Joseph: A Review of Published Documentary Sources,” Joseph Smith: The Prophet, the Man, edited by Susan Easton Black and Charles D. Tate, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1988), 109–110.
  131. "Webb is Professor of Philosophy and Religion at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana. He is a graduate of Wabash College and earned his PhD at the University of Chicago before returning to his alma mater to teach. Born in 1961 he grew up at Englewood Christian Church, an evangelical church. He joined the Disciples of Christ during He was briefly a Lutheran, and on Easter Sunday, 2007, he officially came into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church."
  132. Stephen H. Webb, "Godbodied: The Matter of the Latter-day Saints (reprint from his book Jesus Christ, Eternal God: Heavenly Flesh and the Metaphysics of Matter (Oxford University Press, 2012)," Brigham Young University Studies 50 no. 3 (2011). (emphasis added)
  133. Jerald and Sandra Tanner, The Changing World of Mormonism, p. 225
  134. Heber C. Kimball, Journal of Discourses 6:256.
  135. Jerald and Sandra Tanner, The Changing World of Mormonism, p. 263.
  136. "Remarks by Heber C. Kimball, directly after the sermon by President B. Young, printed in no. 34: Bowery, Oct. 6, 1855," Deseret News Vol. V, No. 35 (7 November 1855): 274 (2nd page of this number). off-site
  137. FROM UTAH.; "Polygamy and its Fruits--The Missionaries--The Pony Express--More Pugnacious Preaching--Death of a Prominent Physician--The Season.", The New York Times, May 15, 1860.