Joseph Smith/Polygamy

Table of Contents

Joseph Smith and polygamy

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

Jump to Subtopic:


Plural wives of Joseph Smith, Jr.

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

Jump to Subtopic:


Implementation of plural marriage

Jump to Subtopic:

Initiation of the practice of plural marriage

Jump to Subtopic:


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

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

Jump to Subtopic:


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

Jump to Subtopic:


William Marks claimed Joseph intended to abandon plural marriage

Jump to Subtopic:



Doctrinal issues related to plural marriage

Jump to Subtopic:

The Bible and plural marriage

Jump to Subtopic:


Book of Mormon statements about the practice of polygamy

Jump to Subtopic:


Early Christians on plural marriage

Jump to Subtopic:


19th century attitudes about plural marriage

Jump to Subtopic:


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

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

Jump to Subtopic:



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

Jump to Subtopic:

Did Joseph have "lustful motives" for practicing polygamy?

Summary: Neutral observers have long understood that this attack is probably the weakest of them all. One might reasonably hold the opinion that Joseph was wrong, but in the face of the documentary evidence it is wrong 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” probably reveal more about their own limited perspective than they do of the minds of the early Saints.

Jump to Subtopic:


Did Joseph Smith send men on missions in order to "steal" their wives?

Summary: Beginning with LDS dissident John C. Bennett, some have charged that Joseph would send men on missions in order to marry their wives. Does this claim match the historical evidence?

Jump to Subtopic:


Did Joseph Smith practice polygamy for the purpose of monetary gain?

Jump to Subtopic:


Keeping plural marriage a secret

Jump to Subtopic:

Joseph Smith hid polygamy from the general Church membership

Summary: It is true that Joseph did not always tell others about plural marriage. He did, however, make some attempt to teach the doctrine to the Saints. 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. Critics of Joseph's choice want their audience to ignore the danger to him and the Saints.

Jump to Subtopic:


Joseph Smith hiding plural marriages from his first wife, Emma

Jump to Subtopic:


Joseph Smith's letter to the Whitney family

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

Jump to Subtopic:


Legality of polygamy

Jump to Subtopic:

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

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

(Click here for full article)


Entering into plural marriage

Jump to Subtopic:

Joseph Smith's marriages to young women

Jump to Subtopic:


Fanny Alger was Joseph Smith's first plural wife

Summary: With a lone exception, there is no account after Joseph’s death of Emma admitting Joseph’s plural marriages in any source. The reported exception is recorded in a newspaper article and two letters written by excommunicated Latter-day Saint apostle William E. McLellin. The former apostle claimed to have visited Emma in 1847 and to have discussed Joseph’s relationship with Fanny Alger. McLellin also reported a tale he had heard about Joseph and Fanny Alger in which they were allegedly observed by Emma together in the barn.

Jump to Subtopic:


Did Joseph Smith coerce women to marry him?

Jump to Subtopic:


Mormon women refusing offers of plural marriage

Summary: Some have claimed that significant pressure was put on women to practice plural marriage in Nauvoo. Did any of these women resist or refuse? What were the consequences of doing so?

Jump to Subtopic:


Does Joseph Smith's lack of children through polygamy contradict the commandment to "multiply and replenish the earth"?

Summary: Joseph Smith does not appear to have produced any children by his plural wives, except for Emma, yet, 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." Why did Joseph practice polygamy, if it was not for the purpose of multiplying and replenishing the earth?

Jump to Subtopic:


Joseph Smith and polyandry

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

Jump to Subtopic:

Joseph Smith was sealed to other men's wives

Jump to Subtopic:

Joseph's polyandrous marriages

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

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

Summary: It is claimed that Joseph was sealed or married to women who were married to other men without the knowledge or consent of their husbands.

Jump to Subtopic:


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

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

Jump to Subtopic:


Did Joseph Smith send men on missions in order to "steal" their wives?

Summary: Beginning with LDS dissident John C. Bennett, some have charged that Joseph would send men on missions in order to marry their wives. Does this claim match the historical evidence?

Jump to Subtopic:


Mormon women refusing offers of plural marriage

Summary: Some have claimed that significant pressure was put on women to practice plural marriage in Nauvoo. Did any of these women resist or refuse? What were the consequences of doing so?

Jump to Subtopic:


Divine manifestions to plural wives and families

Summary: Did those who entered into plural marriage do so simply because Joseph Smith (or another Church leader) "told them to"? Is this an example of "blind obedience"? No, they bore witness that only powerful revelatory experiences convinced them that the command was from God.

Jump to Subtopic:

Zina Diantha Huntington Jacobs

Summary: A collection of articles about Zina.
See also Brian Hales' discussion: FAQ: Joseph Smith and Polyandry
Few things are more confusing to observers than Joseph Smith’s sealings to legally married women. Due to limitations in the number and types of documents available, understanding what transpired is difficult. The topic itself is very complex. Nevertheless, sufficient evidence is available to discern why these sealings took place and whether sexual polyandry occurred. (Link)
Did Joseph Smith’s Plural Marriages Include Sexual Relations?
The answer is yes or no, depending upon the type of plural marriage Joseph and the woman entered into. Those that were for this life and the next (called “time and eternity”) could include sexual relations. Those that were limited to the next life (“eternity only”) did not. Overall, evidence supports sexual relations in less than half of Joseph Smith’s polygamous unions, and available documents indicate that such relations were infrequent. (Link)
Sexual Relations are Documented In Less than Half of Joseph Smith’s Plural Marriages
Kathryn Daynes observed that any assertion that most of Joseph Smith’s plural marriages included sexual relations is “a conclusion that goes beyond documentary evidence.”[1] (Link)
Children from Joseph Smith’s Plural Marriages


Emma Smith and polygamy

Jump to Subtopic:

Emma Smith's reaction to Joseph Smith's plural marriages

Jump to Subtopic:


Joseph Smith hiding plural marriages from his first wife, Emma

Jump to Subtopic:


Children of Joseph Smith by polygamous marriages

Jump to Subtopic:

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

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

Jump to Subtopic:


See also Brian Hales' discussion: Did Joseph Smith’s Plural Marriages Include Sexual Relations?
The answer is yes or no, depending upon the type of plural marriage Joseph and the woman entered into. Those that were for this life and the next (called “time and eternity”) could include sexual relations. Those that were limited to the next life (“eternity only”) did not. Overall, evidence supports sexual relations in less than half of Joseph Smith’s polygamous unions, and available documents indicate that such relations were infrequent. (Link)
Sexual Relations are Documented In Less than Half of Joseph Smith’s Plural Marriages
Kathryn Daynes observed that any assertion that most of Joseph Smith’s plural marriages included sexual relations is “a conclusion that goes beyond documentary evidence.”[2] (Link)
Children from Joseph Smith’s Plural Marriages


Mormonism and divorce in the nineteenth century

Jump to Subtopic:

Divorce among Mormons in the 19th century

Summary: Some critics 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.

Jump to Subtopic:


Some 19th century Mormons did not receive civil divorces before remarrying

Jump to Subtopic:


Joseph Smith's performance of marriages in Ohio

Summary: Critics charge that Joseph Smith performed monogamous marriages for time of already-married members, violating Ohio law in Kirtland. Such claims are false and represent a misunderstanding about the marriage and divorce law of the day.

Jump to Subtopic:

  • Kathryn M. Daynes, More Wives than One: Transformation of the Mormon Marriage System, 1840–1910 (Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 2001), 29. ISBN 0252026810.
  • Kathryn M. Daynes, More Wives than One: Transformation of the Mormon Marriage System, 1840–1910 (Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 2001), 29. ISBN 0252026810.