Criticism of Mormonism/Books/Nauvoo Polygamy/Index/Preface

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Response to claims made in "Preface"

A FairMormon Analysis of: Nauvoo Polygamy: "... but we called it celestial marriage", a work by author: George D. Smith

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Response to claim: flyleaf - The book claims that Bishop Edwin Woolley married a plural wife without having her first divorce her legal husband

The author(s) of Nauvoo Polygamy make(s) the following claim:

The book claims that Bishop Edwin Woolley married a plural wife without having her first divorce her legal husband.

(Author's sources: *No source provided)

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda and/or spin - 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 spin:On the flyleaf and on page 345, we see a claim that Bishop Edwin Woolley married a plural wife without having her first divorce her legal husband. On page 333 we see that Parley P. Pratt's "last wife, Eleanor McComb McLean…was sealed to him without divorcing her legal husband, who fatally shot Parley near Van Buren, Arkansas…."The facts:The author does not note that practices regarding marriage and divorce differed substantially from the 20th or 21st century. The author also tells us nothing about McComb's tyrannical and abusive husband, making him appear the wronged party.



See also ch. 5: 345

Gregory L. Smith, A review of Nauvoo Polygamy:...but we called it celestial marriage by George D. Smith. FARMS Review, Vol. 20, Issue 2. (Detailed book review)

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.” [1]

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. [2]

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. [3]


Question: How were divorces formalized among Mormons on the frontier in the 19th century?

Some members of the Church remarried without obtaining a formal legal divorce

Some members of the Church remarried without obtaining a formal legal divorce. Was this adultery? Remarriage without a formal, legal divorce was the norm for the period, especially on the frontier and among the poor. These were the legal realities faced by nineteenth century Americans.

"Presentism" is an analytical fallacy in which past behavior is evaluated by modern standards or mores. Even worse than a historian's presentism is a historian exploiting the presentism of his readers. Critics do this repeatedly when they speak about legal issues. "Presentism," observed American Historical Association president Lynn Hunt, "at its worst, encourages a kind of moral complacency and self-congratulation. Interpreting the past in terms of present concerns usually leads us to find ourselves morally superior. . . . Our forbears constantly fail to measure up to our present-day standards." [4]

To remarry without a formal divorce was not an unusual thing in antebellum America

Louisa Rising married Edwin Woolley "without first divorcing her legal husband," the dust jacket of George D. Smith's Nauvoo Polygamy teases. We are reminded later that "though she was not divorced from her legal husband, she agreed to marry" (p. 345). Eleanor McLean also married Parley Pratt without divorcing her first husband. It appears that G. D. Smith hopes to capitalize on ignorance about nineteenth-century laws and practices regarding marriage and divorce. "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." [5] To remarry without a formal divorce was not an unusual thing in antebellum America.

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. [6]

The legal apparatus for performing divorces was not always readily available

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

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. [7]

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. Critics of the Church offer us none of this information or perspective—with the result that some readers might be horrified by the "loose" marriage practices of the Saints.


Response to claim: ix - Joseph Smith proposed a "tryst" with his plural wife Sarah Ann Whitney

The author(s) of Nauvoo Polygamy make(s) the following claim:

Did Joseph propose a "tryst" with his plural wife Sarah Ann Whitney?

(Author's sources:
  • Joseph Smith to "Brother and Sister, [Newel K.] Whitney, and &c. [Sarah Ann,] Nauvoo, Illinois, August 18, 1842, Joseph Smith Collections, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), Salt Lake City, Utah
  • Full text of the letter may be viewed at Letter from Joseph Smith to the Whitneys (18 August 1842) (Wikisource))

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda and/or spin - 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 spin:How does one have a "tryst" with someone to whom they are married?The facts:The letter referred to was written to Sarah Ann's parents, not Sarah Ann.



Whitney "love letter" (edit)

Gregory L. Smith, A review of Nauvoo Polygamy:...but we called it celestial marriage by George D. Smith. FARMS Review, Vol. 20, Issue 2. (Detailed book review)

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, [8] and again in 1984 by Dean C. Jessee in The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith. [9] 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.


Response to claim: ix - Joseph Smith was age 36, versus Sarah Ann Whitney at age 17

The author(s) of Nauvoo Polygamy make(s) the following claim:

The point is made that Joseph was age 36, versus Sarah Ann Whitney at age 17.

(Author's sources: * No source provided)

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda and/or spin - 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 spin:The author commonly exploits the presentist fallacy in the matter of Joseph's wives' ages.



Ages of wives (edit)

Question: Was Joseph Smith a "serial practitioner of statutory rape?"

Charges of statutory rape are inapplicable, since no such law or convention applied to any of Joseph's wives

Charges of statutory rape are inapplicable, since no such law or convention applied to any of Joseph's wives. Joseph's percentage of wives in their teen years was less than the series percentage of teen wives in Kirtland, Nauvoo, or the 1850 U.S. census, even among men his own age. If anything, Joseph married a greater percentage of older women, which suggests that motives other than sexual attraction drove these matches.

Large spousal age differences were not uncommon before and after Nauvoo, among members and non-members

Large spousal age differences were not uncommon before and after Nauvoo, among members and non-members. To attack Joseph Smith on the age of his wives is to misunderstand the historic time in which he lived. Modern readers have been unfairly treated by authors who, misled by or preying upon presentism, either did not know, or declined to mention, that the practice was routine in Joseph’s time.

Critics of Joseph Smith are sometimes filled with righteous indignation when they raise the issue of his wives' ages. Never one to be over-burdened by historical details or interpretive nuance, vocal atheist Christopher Hitchens savages Joseph as a "serial practitioner of statutory rape." [10] Modern members and investigators, with more sincerity than Hitchens, have also been troubled (and even a little shocked) to learn, for example, that Joseph married one woman a few months shy of her fifteenth birthday.

Such surprise is a natural first reaction, though an author such as Hitchens—who purports to be providing reasoned analysis—might be expected to bring something besides knee-jerk slogans to the discussion. Sadly, Hitchens' remarks on religion generally provide little but bombast, so Latter-day Saints need not feel singled out. Hitchens does provide us, however, with a textbook example of presentism.

What is Presentism?

Imagine a school-child who asks why French knights didn't resist the English during the Battle of Agincourt (in 1415) using Sherman battle tanks. We might gently reply that there were no such tanks available. The child, a precocious sort, retorts that the French generals must have been incompetent, because everyone knows that tanks are necessary. The child has fallen into the trap of presentism—he has presumed that situations and circumstances in the past are always the same as the present. Clearly, there were no Sherman tanks available in 1415; we cannot in fairness criticize the French for not using something which was unavailable and unimagined.

Spotting such anachronistic examples of presentism is relatively simple. The more difficult problems involve issues of culture, behavior, and attitude. For example, it seems perfectly obvious to most twenty-first century North Americans that discrimination on the basis of race is wrong. We might judge a modern, racist politician quite harshly. We risk presentism, however, if we presume that all past politicians and citizens should have recognized racism, and fought it. In fact, for the vast majority of history, racism has almost always been present. Virtually all historical figures are, by modern standards, racists. To identify George Washington or Thomas Jefferson as racists, and to judge them as moral failures, is to be guilty of presentism.

A caution against presentism is not to claim that no moral judgments are possible about historical events, or that it does not matter whether we are racists or not. Washington and Jefferson were born into a culture where society, law, and practice had institutionalized racism. For them even to perceive racism as a problem would have required that they lift themselves out of their historical time and place. Like fish surrounded by water, racism was so prevalent and pervasive that to even imagine a world without it would have been extraordinarily difficult. We will not properly understand Washington and Jefferson, and their choices, if we simply condemn them for violating modern standards of which no one in their era was aware.

Hitchens' attack on Joseph Smith for "statutory rape" is a textbook example of presentist history

Hitchens' attack on Joseph Smith for "statutory rape" is a textbook example of presentist history. "Rape," of course, is a crime in which the victim is forced into sexual behavior against her (or his) will. Such behavior has been widely condemned in ancient and modern societies. Like murder or theft, it arguably violates the moral conscience of any normal individual. It was certainly a crime in Joseph Smith's day, and if Joseph was guilty of forced sexual intercourse, it would be appropriate to condemn him.

"Statutory rape," however, is a completely different matter. Statutory rape is sexual intercourse with a victim that is deemed too young to provide legal consent--it is rape under the "statute," or criminal laws of the nation. Thus, a twenty-year-old woman who chooses to have sex has not been raped. Our society has concluded, however, that a ten-year-old child does not have the physical, sexual, or emotional maturity to truly understand the decision to become sexually active. Even if a ten-year-old agrees to sexual intercourse with a twenty-year-old male, the male is guilty of "statutory rape." The child's consent does not excuse the adult's behavior, because the adult should have known that sex with a minor child is illegal.

Even in the modern United States, statutory rape laws vary by state. A twenty-year-old who has consensual sex with a sixteen-year-old in Alabama would have nothing to fear; moving to California would make him guilty of statutory rape even if his partner was seventeen.

By analogy, Joseph Smith likely owned a firearm for which he did not have a license--this is hardly surprising, since no law required guns to be registered on the frontier in 1840. It would be ridiculous for Hitchens to complain that Joseph "carried an unregistered firearm." While it is certainly true that Joseph's gun was unregistered, this tells us very little about whether Joseph was a good or bad man. The key question, then, is not "Would Joseph Smith's actions be illegal today?" Only a bigot would condemn someone for violating a law that had not been made.

Rather, the question should be, "Did Joseph violate the laws of the society in which he lived?" If Joseph did not break the law, then we might go on to ask, "Did his behavior, despite not being illegal, violate the common norms of conscience or humanity?" For example, even if murder was not illegal in Illinois, if Joseph repeatedly murdered, we might well question his morality.

Four Key Questions

We must, then, address four questions:

  1. What were the ages of Joseph's wives?
  2. Did Joseph have sexual intercourse with these women? If not, then the issue of statutory rape is moot. If so, we have not proven statutory rape, but can move on to the next question.
  3. What were the statutory rape laws of the time, and did Joseph violate them?
  4. If Joseph was not guilty of statutory rape, did he nevertheless violate common norms of conscience or society?

1. The Age of Joseph's Wives

Even LDS authors are not immune from presentist fallacies: Todd Compton, convinced that plural marriage was a tragic mistake, "strongly disapprove[s] of polygamous marriages involving teenage women." [11] This would include, presumably, those marriages which Joseph insisted were commanded by God. Compton notes, with some disapproval, that a third of Joseph's wives were under twenty years of age. The modern reader may be shocked. We must beware, however, of presentism—is it that unusual that a third of Joseph's wives would have been teenagers?

When we study others in Joseph's environment, we find that it was not. A sample of 201 Nauvoo-era civil marriages found that 33.3% were under twenty, with one bride as young as twelve. [12] Another sample of 127 Kirtland marriages found that nearly half (49.6%) were under twenty. [13] And, a computer-aided study of LDS marriages found that from 1835–1845, 42.3% of women were married before age twenty. [14] The only surprising thing about Joseph's one third is that more of his marriage partners were not younger.

Furthermore, this pattern does not seem to be confined to the Mormons (see Chart 12 1). A 1% sample from the 1850 U.S. census found 989 men and 962 who had been married in the last year. Teens made up 36.0% of married women, and only 2.3% of men; the average age of marriage was 22.5 for women and 27.8 for men. [15] Even when the men in Joseph's age range (34–38 years) in the U.S. Census are extracted, Joseph still has a lower percentage of younger wives and more older wives than non-members half a decade later. [16]

Chart 12-1 Chart 12-1.png

I suspect that Compton goes out of his way to inflate the number of young wives, since he lumps everyone between "14 to 20 years old" together. [17] It is not clear why this age range should be chosen—women eighteen or older are adults even by modern standards.

A more useful breakdown by age is found in Table 12-1. Rather than lumping all wives younger than twenty-one together (a third of all the wives), our analysis shows that only a fifth of the wives would be under eighteen. These are the only women at risk of statutory rape issues even in the modern era.

Table 12-1: Ages of Joseph's Wives [18]
Age range Percent (n=33)
14-17 21.2%
18-19 9.1%
20-29 27.3%
30-39 27.3%
40-49 3.0%
50-59 12.1%

2. Were there marital relations?

As shown elsewhere, the data for sexual relations in Joseph's plural marriages are quite scant (see Chapter 10—not online). For the purposes of evaluating "statutory rape" charges, only a few relationships are relevant.

The most prominent is, of course, Helen Mar Kimball, who was the prophet's youngest wife, married three months prior to her 15th birthday. [19] As we have seen, Todd Compton's treatment is somewhat confused, but he clarifies his stance and writes that "[a]ll the evidence points to this marriage as a primarily dynastic marriage." [20] Other historians have also concluded that Helen's marriage to Joseph was unconsummated. [21]

Nancy M. Winchester was married at age fourteen or fifteen, but we know nothing else of her relationship with Joseph. [22]

Flora Ann Woodruff was also sixteen at her marriage, and "[a]n important motivation" seems to have been "the creation of a bond between" Flora's family and Joseph. [23] We know nothing of the presence or absence of marital intimacy.

Fanny Alger would have been sixteen if Compton's date for the marriage is accepted. Given that I favor a later date for her marriage, this would make her eighteen. In either case, we have already seen how little reliable information is available for this marriage (see Chapter 4—not online), though on balance it was probably consummated.

Sarah Ann Whitney, Lucy Walker, and Sarah Lawrence were each seventeen at the time of their marriage. Here at last we have reliable evidence of intimacy, since Lucy Walker suggested that the Lawrence sisters had consummated their marriage with Joseph. Intimacy in Joseph's marriages may have been more rare than many have assumed—Walker's testimony suggested marital relations with the Partridge and Lawrence sisters, but said nothing about intimacy in her own marriage (see Chapter 10—not online).

Sarah Ann Whitney's marriage had heavy dynastic overtones, binding Joseph to faithful Bishop Orson F. Whitney. We know nothing of a sexual dimension, though Compton presumes that one is implied by references to the couple's "posterity" and "rights" of marriage in the sealing ceremony. [24] This is certainly plausible, though the doctrine of adoption and Joseph's possible desire to establish a pattern for all marriages/sealings might caution us against assuming too much.

Of Joseph's seven under-eighteen wives, then, only one (Lawrence) has even second-hand evidence of intimacy. Fanny Alger has third-hand hostile accounts of intimacy, and we know nothing about most of the others. Lucy Walker and Helen Mar Kimball seem unlikely candidates for consummation.

The evidence simply does not support Christopher Hitchens' wild claim, since there is scant evidence for sexuality in the majority of Joseph's marriages. Many presume that Joseph practiced polygamy to satisfy sexual longings, and with a leer suggest that of course Joseph would have consummated these relationships, since that was the whole point. Such reasoning is circular, and condemns Joseph's motives and actions before the evidence is heard.

Even were we to conclude that Joseph consummated each of his marriages—a claim nowhere sustained by the evidence—this would not prove that he acted improperly, or was guilty of "statutory rape." This requires an examination into the legal climate of his era.

3. Statutory Rape and the Law

The very concept of a fifteen- or seventeen-year-old suffering statutory rape in the 1840s is flagrant presentism. The age of consent under English common law was ten. American law did not raise the age of consent until the late nineteenth century, and in Joseph Smith's day only a few states had raised it to twelve. Delaware, meanwhile, lowered the age of consent to seven. [25]

In our time, legal minors can often be married before the age of consent with parental approval. Joseph certainly sought and received the approval of parents or male guardians for his marriages to Fanny Alger, Sarah Ann Whitney, Lucy Walker, and Helen Kimball. [26] His habit of approaching male relatives on this issue might suggest that permission was gained for other marriages about which we know less.

Clearly, then, Hitchens' attack is hopelessly presentist. None of Joseph's brides was near ten or twelve. And even if his wives' ages had presented legal risks, he often had parental sanction for the match.

4. Did Joseph violate societal norms?

There can be no doubt that the practice of polygamy was deeply offensive to monogamous, Victorian America. As everything from the Nauvoo Expositor to the latest anti-Mormon tract shows, the Saints were continually attacked for their plural marriages.

If we set aside the issue of plurality, however, the only issue which remains is whether it would have been considered bizarre, improper, or scandalous for a man in his mid-thirties to marry a woman in her mid- to late-teens. Clearly, Joseph's marriage to teen-age women was entirely normal for Mormons of his era. The sole remaining question is, were all these teen-age women marrying men their own age, or was marriage to older husbands also considered proper?

To my knowledge, the issue of age disparity was not a charge raised by critics in Joseph's day. It is difficult to prove a negative, but the absence of much comment on this point is probably best explained by the fact that plural marriage was scandalous, but marriages with teenage women were, if not the norm, at least not uncommon enough to occasion comment. For example, to disguise the practice of plural marriage, Joseph had eighteen-year-old Sarah Whitney pretend to marry Joseph Kingsbury, who was days away from thirty-one. [27] If this age gap would have occasioned comment, Joseph Smith would not have used Kingsbury as a decoy.

One hundred and eighty Nauvoo-era civil marriages have husbands and wives with known ages and marriage dates. [28] Chart 12 2 demonstrates that these marriages follow the general pattern of wives being younger than husbands.

Chart 12-2

Chart 12-2.png

When the age of husband is plotted against the age of each wife, it becomes clear that almost all brides younger than twenty married men between five and twenty years older (see Chart 12-3).

Chart 12-3

Chart 12-3.png

This same pattern appears in 879 marriages from the 1850 U.S. Census (see Chart 12 4). Non-Mormon age differences easily exceeded Joseph's except for age fourteen. We should not make too much of this, since the sample size is very small (one or two cases for Joseph; three for the census) and dynastic motives likely played a large role in Joseph's choice, as discussed above.

Chart 12-4 Chart 12-4.png

In short, Mormon civil marriage patterns likely mimicked those of their gentile neighbors. Neither Mormons or their critics would have found broad age differences to be an impediment to conjugal marriage. In fact, the age difference between wives and their husbands was greatest in the teen years, and decreased steadily until around Joseph's age, between 30–40 years, when the spread between spouses' ages was narrowest (note the bright pink bars in Chart 12-5).

Chart 12-5

Chart 12-5.png

As Thomas Hine, a non-LDS scholar of adolescence noted:

Until the twentieth century, adult expectations of young people were determined not by age but by size. If a fourteen-year-old looked big and strong enough to do a man's work on a farm or in a factory or mine, most people viewed him as a man. And if a sixteen-year-old was slower to develop and couldn't perform as a man, he wasn't one. For, young women, the issue was much the same. To be marriageable was the same as being read for motherhood, which was determined by physical development, not age....
The important thing, though, was that the maturity of each young person was judged individually. [29]

Why the modern world is different

Why did pre-modern peoples see nothing wrong with teen marriages? Part of the explanation likely lies in the fact that life-expectancy was greatly reduced compared to our time (see Table 12 2).

Table 12-2 -- Life Expectancy in the United States
Group Life Expect in 1850 (years) [30] Life Expect in 1901 (years) [31] Life Expect in 2004 (years) [32]
Males at birth 38.3 47.9 75.7
Males at age 20 60.1 62.0 76.6
Females at birth 40.5 50.7 80.8
Females at age 20 60.2 63.6 81.5

The modern era has also seen the "extension" of childhood, as many more years are spent in schooling and preparation for adult work. In the 1840s, these issues simply weren't in play for women—men needed to be able to provide for their future family, and often had the duties of apprenticeship which prevented early marriage. Virtually everything a woman needed to know about housekeeping and childrearing, however, was taught in the home. It is not surprising, then, that parents in the 1840s considered their teens capable of functioning as married adults, while parents in 2007 know that marriages for young teens will usually founder on issues of immaturity, under-employment, and lack of education.


Response to claim: ix - The book presents Joseph's letter to Sarah Whitney's parents as analogous to Napoleon's passionate love letter to Josephine

The author(s) of Nauvoo Polygamy make(s) the following claim:

The book presents Joseph's letter to Sarah Whitney's parents as analogous to Napoleon's passionate love letter to Josephine.
  • Gregory L. Smith, A review of Nauvoo Polygamy:...but we called it celestial marriage by George D. Smith. FARMS Review, Vol. 20, Issue 2. (Detailed book review)

    (Author's sources: *Author's opinion.)

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda and/or spin - 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





Whitney "love letter" (edit)

Womanizing & romance (edit)

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." [33]

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." [34] 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.


Response to claim: x - Did Joseph Smith have a "predilection" to "take an interest in more than one woman?"

The author(s) of Nauvoo Polygamy make(s) the following claim:

Did Joseph Smith have a "predilection" to "take an interest in more than one woman?"

(Author's sources: *Author's opinion.)

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda and/or spin - 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





Womanizing & romance (edit)

Response to claim: x - The author posits that Napoleon's Egyptian findings "lit a fire in Smith that inspired even the language of his religious prose"

The author(s) of Nauvoo Polygamy make(s) the following claim:

*The author posits that Napoleon's Egyptian findings "lit a fire in Smith that inspired even the language of his religious prose."

(Author's sources: *No source provided.)

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

The mistake:The author provides no evidence for this claim, aside from the Book of Mormon's use of the term "Reformed Egyptian."



Egyptian influence? (edit)

Response to claim: xi - "Little did Napoleon dream that by unearthing the Egyptian past, he would provide the mystery language of a new religion"

The author(s) of Nauvoo Polygamy make(s) the following claim:

Author's quote: "Little did Napoleon dream that by unearthing the Egyptian past, he would provide the mystery language of a new religion."

(Author's sources: *Author's opinion.)

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda and/or spin - 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 is simply the author's opinion.



Egyptian influence? (edit)

Response to claim: xii - The author discusses Joseph Smith's "quest for female companionship...."

The author(s) of Nauvoo Polygamy make(s) the following claim:

 Author's quote: "Beyond [Joseph's] quest for female companionship...."

(Author's sources: *Author's opinion.)

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda and/or spin - 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





Womanizing & romance (edit)

Response to claim: xii - "...Smith utilized plural marriage to create a byzantine structure of relationships intended for successive worlds"

The author(s) of Nauvoo Polygamy make(s) the following claim:

Author's quote: "...Smith utilized plural marriage to create a byzantine structure of relationships intended for successive worlds."

(Author's sources: *No source provided.)

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

The mistake:There is no evidence that Joseph intended the relationship structure to be "byzantine."The facts:He did however, want all believers connected into one family.



Response to claim: xii - After the Nauvoo Expositor was destroyed, Joseph Smith was arrested for "destroying a local press"

The author(s) of Nauvoo Polygamy make(s) the following claim:

After the Nauvoo Expositor was destroyed, Joseph Smith was arrested for "destroying a local press."

(Author's sources: No source provided.)

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

The mistake:The destruction of the press was a decision ordered by Joseph as mayor with the approval of the Nauvoo city council.The facts:Joseph was charged with riot because of the press' destruction, released on bail, and offered to pay a fine if necessary. He was rearrested on a capital charge of treason.



Nauvoo Expositor (edit)

  • See also ch. Preface: xii
  • See also ch. 4: 285
  • See also ch. 6: 408
  • See also ch. 7: 435

Question: Was the destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor legal?

The destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor led directly to the murder of Joseph and Hyrum

It is claimed by one critic of the Church that Joseph "could not allow the Expositor to publish the secret international negotiations masterminded by Mormonism’s earthly king." [35] Another claimed that "When the Laws (with others) purchased a printing press in an attempt to hold Joseph Smith accountable for his polygamy (which he was denying publicly), Joseph ordered the destruction of the printing press, which was both a violation of the 1st Amendment, and which ultimately led to Joseph’s assassination." [36]

The Expositor incident led directly to the murder of Joseph and Hyrum, but it was preceded by a long period of non-Mormon distrust of Joseph Smith, and attempts to extradite him on questionable basis.

The destruction of the Expositor issue was legal; it was not legal to have destroyed the type, but this was a civil matter, not a criminal one, and one for which Joseph was willing to pay a fine if imposed.

Joseph seems to have believed—or, his followers believed after his death—that the decision, while 'unwise' for Joseph, may have been in the Saints' interest to have Joseph killed. For a time, this diffused much of the tension and may have prevented an outbreak of generalized violence against the Saints, as occurred in Missouri.

The destruction of the first issue was legal, but it was not legal to destroy the printer's type

It is claimed that "When the Laws (with others) purchased a printing press in an attempt to hold Joseph Smith accountable for his polygamy (which he was denying publicly), Joseph ordered the destruction of the printing press, which was both a violation of the 1st Amendment, and which ultimately led to Joseph’s assassination." [37]

The destruction of the Expositor issue (i.e., the paper itself) was legal; it was not legal to have destroyed the type, but this was a civil matter, not a criminal one, and one for which Joseph was willing to pay a fine if imposed.

Joseph did not unilaterally order the action against the Expositor—it was the Nauvoo City Council (which included non-Mormons) which reached the unanimous decision. Having reached that decision, Joseph Smith then issued an order, as mayor, to carry out the Council's decision. As described in the Church's 2011 Priesthood/Relief Society manual:

On June 10, 1844, Joseph Smith, who was the mayor of Nauvoo, and the Nauvoo city council ordered the destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor and the press on which it was printed. [38]

History of the Church also describes this event [39]:

I [Joseph Smith] immediately ordered the Marshal to destroy it [the Nauvoo Expositor] without delay, and at the same time issued an order to Jonathan Dunham, acting Major-General of the Nauvoo Legion, to assist the Marshal with the Legion, if called upon so to do." [40]

The First Amendment is irrelevant to this discussion. In 1844, the First Amendment only applied to federal law; it had no application to state or local law until the passing of the Fourteenth Amendment after the Civil War.


Response to claim: xii - The book claims that it is not known whether or not Joseph's wife Emma consented to plural marriages, and that this "remains a mystery"

The author(s) of Nauvoo Polygamy make(s) the following claim:

The book claims that it is not known whether or not Joseph's wife Emma consented to plural marriages, and that this "remains a mystery," although she is known to have "sent away" at least five of Joseph's plural wives.

(Author's sources: No source provided.)

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

The mistake:This is not a mystery.The facts:We know Emma consented to at least four marriages.



Question: How did Emma Hale Smith react to Joseph's practice of plural marriage?

Emma was aware of Joseph's plural marriage and sometimes gave permission, but did much to try and thwart it

Emma was aware of plural marriage; it is not clear at exactly what point she was made aware, partly due to there being relatively few early sources on the matter. Emma was generally opposed to the practice of plural marriage, and did much to try and thwart it. There were times, however, when Emma gave permission for Joseph's plural marriages, though she soon changed her mind.[41] Emma was troubled by plural marriage, but her difficulties arose partly from her conviction that Joseph was 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.[42]

Emma did teach her children that Joseph had never taught the doctrine of plural marriage, and blamed its introduction on Brigham Young

Emma never denied Joseph's prophetic calling; she did, however, teach her children that Joseph had never taught the doctrine of plural marriage, and blamed its introduction on Brigham Young. Torn between two certitudes—her conviction of Joseph's prophetic calling, and her hatred of plural marriage—Emma had difficult choices to make for which we ought not to judge her.

But, the critics ought to let all of Emma speak for herself—she had a great trial, but also had great knowledge. That she continued to support Joseph's calling and remain with him, despite her feelings about plural marriage, speaks much of her convictions. As she told Parley P. Pratt years later:

I believe he [Joseph] was everything he professed to be.[43]

Allen J. Stout: "from moments of passionate denunciation [Emma] would subside into tearful repentance and acknowledge that her violent opposition to that principle was instigated by the power of darkness"

Allen J. Stout, who served as a bodyguard for Joseph, recounted a conversation he overheard in the Mansion House between Joseph and his tormented wife. A summary of his account states that "from moments of passionate denunciation [Emma] would subside into tearful repentance and acknowledge that her violent opposition to that principle was instigated by the power of darkness; that Satan was doing his utmost to destroy her, etc. And solemnly came the Prophet's inspired warning: 'Yes, and he will accomplish your overthrow, if you do not heed my counsel.'"[44]

Emma Smith: "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

Emma's inner conflict was also dramatized in another report:

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."[45]

Emma Smith: "I desire a fruitful, active mind, that I may be able to comprehend the designs of God, when revealed through his servants without doubting"

Emma asked Joseph for a blessing not long before he went to Carthage. Joseph told her to write the best blessing she could, and he would sign it upon his return. Wrote Emma:

I desire with all my heart to honor and respect my husband as my head, ever to live in his confidence and by acting in unison with him retain the place which God has given me by his side...I desire the spirit of God to know and understand myself, I desire a fruitful, active mind, that I may be able to comprehend the designs of God, when revealed through his servants without doubting.[46]


Response to claim: xiii - None of Joseph's plural wives are mentioned in History of the Church

The author(s) of Nauvoo Polygamy make(s) the following claim:

None of Joseph's plural wives are mentioned in History of the Church.

(Author's sources: No source provided.)

FairMormon Response

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





Necessary for salvation? (edit)

  • See also ch. Preface: xiv
  • See also ch. 1: 6
  • See also ch. 2: 55
  • See also ch. 6: 356

Question: Has the Church "whitewashed" some of the information about its origins to appear more palatable to members and investigators?

Church historians and church hierarchy are fully aware of its history, yet they maintain strong testimonies of the authenticity and authority of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Some feel that this is done intentionally to hide negative aspects of church history. Others feel that it is done to focus on the good, but that it causes problems for believing members when they encounter these issues outside of church curriculum.

Church historians and church hierarchy are fully aware of its history, yet they maintain strong testimonies of the authenticity and authority of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Problems arise when faithful members can't reconcile a perfect Savior and his church being led by imperfect people. Developing an understanding that all people, even prophets of the Lord make mistakes. Only Jesus Christ himself was perfect.

The reality is that there are very few new discoveries related to Church history

Many critics will present a faithful member with some fact of church history and would have them believe that this is a new discovery. The reality is that there are very few new discoveries related to Church history. In fact, most, if not all of these documents have been well known to church historians for many years. Occasionally, a new document will be discovered which sheds additional light on some aspect of Church history. One such example is the discovery of documents that clarify that the Church was actually organized in Fayette rather than Manchester, as some have claimed. Situations such as this are rare, however. When the critic presents a "new" historical fact, you can rest assured that this very same "fact" has been discussed by LDS scholars for many years. There is truly little new information for the critics to draw from.

The critic presents these historical facts in order to shake the member's testimony, hopefully to the point of leaving the church. They attempt to present contradictions, such as "Joseph Smith drank wine at Carthage Jail, and therefore violated the Word of Wisdom." They attempt to catch Church leaders in deceit or portray them as hypocrites. Yet, there are many LDS experts on Church history that remain fully aware, faithful, actively attending church members. There are no facts that unarguably disprove the authenticity of the church. As always it comes down to faith and a personal witness between an individual and the Lord.

Critics routinely accuse the Church of suppressing and hiding uncomfortable facts from its own history, yet they quote Church sources in order to provide proof of their claims

Critics routinely accuse the Church of suppressing and hiding uncomfortable facts from its own history. Yet, these very same critics quote Church sources in order to provide proof of their claims. This concern often rests on a misunderstanding. It is true that the Church's teachings are primarily doctrinal and devotional—Church lessons are neither apologetic nor historical in scope or intent.

It is remarkable, however, how many of the issues which critics charge the Church with "suppressing" are discussed in Church publications. Various issues are listed in the subarticle below, with references to Church sources which mention them. So, has the Church been suppressing the truth? You might be surprised to find out where some of these facts are actually hidden.


Response to claim: xiii - "...today, in official Mormon circles, Smith's granting of favors to chosen followers, allowing them to take extra women into the home, is rarely mentioned"

The author(s) of Nauvoo Polygamy make(s) the following claim:

 Author's quote: "...today, in official Mormon circles, Smith's granting of favors to chosen followers, allowing them to take extra women into the home, is rarely mentioned."

(Author's sources: *No source provided.)

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda and/or spin - 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 author provides no information to support this claim.



Censorship of Church History (edit)

Response to claim: xiv - It became "difficult to access" Church records regarding polygamy after the 1890 Manifesto was issued

The author(s) of Nauvoo Polygamy make(s) the following claim:

It became "difficult to access" Church records regarding polygamy after the 1890 Manifesto was issued.

(Author's sources: *No source provided.)

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda and/or spin - 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 author provides no evidence to support this claim.



Censorship of Church History (edit)

Response to claim: xiv - "The cyclical nature of this suppression of information, first in Illinois and later in Utah, left a brief window in Mormon history from which most of the documentation has been recovered"

The author(s) of Nauvoo Polygamy make(s) the following claim:

 Author's quote: "The cyclical nature of this suppression of information, first in Illinois and later in Utah, left a brief window in Mormon history from which most of the documentation has been recovered."

(Author's sources: *No source provided.)

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda and/or spin - 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 author provides no evidence to support this claim.



Censorship of Church History (edit)

Response to claim: xiv - "because the history of polygamy in Nauvoo was never officially rewritten, even during the period of openness, Joseph Smith's initiation of the practice has remained in an historical penumbra to this day"

The author(s) of Nauvoo Polygamy make(s) the following claim:

Author's quote: "because the history of polygamy in Nauvoo was never officially rewritten, even during the period of openness, Joseph Smith's initiation of the practice has remained in an historical penumbra to this day."

(Author's sources: *No source provided.)

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda and/or spin - 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





Censorship of Church History (edit)

Response to claim: xiv - Joseph "courted and eloped with his first wife"

The author(s) of Nauvoo Polygamy make(s) the following claim:

Joseph "courted and eloped with his first wife."

(Author's sources: *No source provided.)

FairMormon Response

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

Nauvoo Polygamy mentions that Joseph and Emma eloped whenever their marriage is mentioned. Perhaps this is intended to demonstrate Joseph's disregard for authority or propriety in all romantic matters.



Emma and Joseph Eloped (edit)

Response to claim: xiv - The author claims that the topic of polygamy was already on Joseph's mind as early as the 1820s

The author(s) of Nauvoo Polygamy make(s) the following claim:

The author claims that the topic of polygamy was already on Joseph's mind as early as the 1820s.

(Author's sources: No source provided.)

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda and/or spin - 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 spin:The author is attempting to read Joseph Smith's mind years after his death.



Question: Is it possible to deduce Joseph Smith's thoughts and dreams years after his death?

Some critics of the Church attempt to discern Joseph Smith's motivations, thoughts and dreams, in order to explain the rise of the Church

Secular critics face a tough challenge when attempting to explain the foundational stories of Church—the primary sources from Joseph Smith and his associates do not provide them with any useful information. The only explanation left to them is that Joseph must have been lying about everything that he said. Authors then resort to fabricating Joseph's thoughts and dreams, and deducing his motivations based upon his surroundings. As one reviewer of Vogel's work puts it, "if no evidence can be gathered to demonstrate that a historical actor thought what you attribute to him or her, no conjecture can be beyond the realm of hypothetical possibility—just make things up, if you need to."[47]:326 This technique allows secular critics to quite literally create any explanation that they wish to account for Joseph's ability to restore the Church.

Creating a "psychobiography" by putting thoughts into Joseph's head

Secular critics, as a result of their inability to accept what they call "paranormal experiences," must come up with explanations for why Joseph Smith was able to create and grow the Church. Since many of the primary documents from Joseph and his associates accept evidence of spiritual experiences and angelic visitations as normal, secular critics look at Joseph's surrounding environment in order to deduce his thoughts and dreams, thus creating a "psychobiography" of the Prophet. A well-known critical work in which this technique is heavily employed is Fawn Brodie's No Man Knows My History. Consider the following:

But the need for deference was strong within [Joseph]. Talented far beyond his brothers or friends, he was impatient with their modest hopes and humdrum fancies. Nimble-witted, ambitious, and gifted with a boundless imagination, he dreamed of escape into an illustrious and affluent future. For Joseph was not meant to be a plodding farmer, tied to the earth by habit or by love for the recurrent miracle of harvest. He detested the plow as only a farmer's son can, and looked with despair on the fearful mortage [check spelling] that clouded their future.[48]:18

Brodie's prose is very readable, and would be well suited to a fictional novel. Unfortunately, nothing in the paragraph quoted above is referenced to any sort of a source. According to Dr. Charles L. Cohen, professor of history and religious studies, and director of the Lubar Institute for the Study of the Abrahamic Religions at the University of Wisconsin-Madison:

This habit of insinuating herself into historical actors' minds constitutes the second part of Brodie's method. "For weeks" after learning that Martin Harris had lost the 116-page translation of the golden plates, she stated, "Joseph writhed in self-reproach for his folly." Lucy Smith described her son's distraught reaction when Harris told him the bad news, but, though one can well imagine Joseph agonizing over what to do, there is insufficient evidence to say in an unqualified declarative sentence what he actually did.[49]

The speculation of one author becomes a later author's "fact"

Since Brodie's work is heavily referenced by critics, Brodie's opinions eventually become considered to be "fact" by those who wish to tear down the Church. Brodie's pronouncements regarding Joseph's motives are then passed along to the next anti-Mormon writer. Consider how the following claim evolves from speculation to "documented endnote," when Brodie states:

The awesome vision he described in later years was probably the elaboration of some half-remembered dream stimulated by the early revival excitement and reinforced by the rich folklore of visions circulating in his neighborhood. Or it may have been sheer invention, created some time after 1830 when the need arose for a magnificent tradition to cancel out the stories of his fortune-telling and money-digging. Dream images came easily to this youth, whose imagination was as untrammeled as the whole West (emphasis added).[48]:25

Now observe how author Richard Abanes treats this quote in his book Becoming Gods (retitled Inside Today's Mormonism):

Such a theory boldly challenges LDS apostle James Faust's contention that critics of the First Vision "find it difficult to explain away." His assertion is further weakened by yet another theory of Brodie's, which posits that Smith's story might have been "created some time after 1830 when the need arose for a magnificent tradition to cancel out the stories of his fortune-telling and money-digging" (emphasis added).[50]

Here we have an unsupported theory by Brodie being confirmed by another author to "further weaken" LDS claims about the First Vision. Brodie's speculation of "was probably" and "it may have been" now becomes a cited endnote in Abanes' work. The speculation of one author has become the documented fact for the next author down the line.

Deducing Joseph's thoughts from his environment

Another author who takes great liberties in deducing Joseph's thoughts and dreams is Dan Vogel. Vogel's book Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet liberally assigns motives to the Prophet which cannot be backed up with any primary source. Instead, the author must interpret the meaning behind second- and third-hand sources that agree with his point-of-view.

Frankly admitting his "inclination . . . to interpret any claim of the paranormal . . . as delusion or fraud" (p. xii), Vogel refuses to accept Joseph's and his supporters' autobiographical statements—most of which grant, either explicitly or implicitly, such "paranormal" phenomena as angels, revelation, visions, and prophecy—at face value. Vogel's Joseph opens his mouth only to lie and deceive; and whatever he might be experiencing, or trying to do, or thinking about, one can rest assured that it's not what any record generated by him or his sympathizers would have us believe.[51]:206

When an author disregards the primary sources—the statements made by Joseph Smith himself—it becomes possible to create any story, motivation, thought or dream which suits the author's purpose. Responding to Vogel's description of Joseph's prayers and thoughts on September 21, 1823 leading up to the visit of Moroni, BYU professors Andrew and Dawson Hedges note:

What more could a student of early Mormon history possibly want? Here, in a crisp three pages, is a detailed account of what Joseph Smith was thinking about, praying about, and hesitating about over 180 years ago during one of the most significant 24-hour periods in church history. And not just what he was thinking about, in general terms, but how and when, within this 24-hour period, his thoughts evolve! And Vogel gives us all this without a single source to guide his pen—indeed, in direct contravention of what the sources say! One might chalk up this ability to navigate so confidently and so deftly through Joseph's mind to some type of clairvoyance on Vogel's part—"clairvogelance," we could call it—were it not that he himself protests so loudly against anything smacking of the "paranormal."[51]:211

Again, as with Brodie, and freed from the constraint of having to use actual sources, the author can attribute any thought or motivation to the Prophet that they wish in order to explain the unexplainable.


Response to claim: xv - "...these same polygamists continued marrying to the point that they had acquired an average of nearly six wives per family"

The author(s) of Nauvoo Polygamy make(s) the following claim:

 Author's quote: "...these same polygamists continued marrying to the point that they had acquired an average of nearly six wives per family. This model became the blueprint for forty years of Utah polygamy."

(Author's sources: No source provided.)

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

The mistake:The author gets the number wrong and contradicts himself: p. 289: "the typical Utah polygamist whose roots in the principle extended back to Nauvoo, had between three and four wives."The facts:The average of "nearly six wives per family" is incorrect.



Statistical problems (edit)

  • See also ch. Preface: xv
  • See also ch. 4: 253 and 289
  • See also ch. 8: 535-536

Gospel Topics: "Although some leaders had large polygamous families, two-thirds of polygamist men had only two wives at a time"

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

Still, some patterns are discernible, and they correct some myths. Although some leaders had large polygamous families, two-thirds of polygamist men had only two wives at a time. Church leaders recognized that plural marriages could be particularly difficult for women. Divorce was therefore available to women who were unhappy in their marriages; remarriage was also readily available. Women did marry at fairly young ages in the first decade of Utah settlement (age 16 or 17 or, infrequently, younger), which was typical of women living in frontier areas at the time. As in other places, women married at older ages as the society matured. Almost all women married, and so did a large percentage of men. In fact, it appears that a larger percentage of men in Utah married than elsewhere in the United States at the time. Probably half of those living in Utah Territory in 1857 experienced life in a polygamous family as a husband, wife, or child at some time during their lives. By 1870, 25 to 30 percent of the population lived in polygamous households, and it appears that the percentage continued to decrease over the next 20 years.[52]


Question: What was the prevalence of polygamy in Utah and how many wives did most polygamist males have?

Note: This wiki section was based partly on a review of G.D. Smith's Nauvoo Polygamy. As such, it focuses on that author's presentation of the data. To read the full review, follow the link. Gregory L. Smith, A review of Nauvoo Polygamy:...but we called it celestial marriage by George D. Smith. FARMS Review, Vol. 20, Issue 2. (Detailed book review)

About 15-20% of families were polygamous, and most had only two wives

G. D. Smith’s desire to correct underestimates in some Latter-day Saint publications should not be license to exaggerate the norm—whether in reference to groups or individuals (such as Johnson)—in the other direction.

Most polygamists in Utah had only two wives. About 15-20% of families were polygamous, though the impact on the LDS experience was profound:

Excluding inactive men, “over a third of all husbands’ time, nearly three-quarters of all women-years, and well over half of all child-years were spent in polygamy before 1880.”[53]

G. D. Smith provides considerable statistical information, but he exaggerates even there. Benjamin F. Johnson, “representative of the mainstream in LDS practice,” he tells us, “eventually married seven wives—a few short of the model of ten talents” (p. 166). Is seven wives really the “mainstream” for the Latter-day Saint practice of polygamy?

Both Stanley Ivins and Kathryn Daynes have made estimates of the number of plural wives with Utah polygamists. Their data are summarized in the table below:

Number of wives Ivins (%)[54] Daynes (%)[55]
2 66.3 66
3 21.2 21.3
4 6.7 8
5 3 4.7
6 or more <3 Included in "5"

The claim that seven wives represents some type of “mainstream” is erroneous

The claim that seven wives represents some type of “mainstream” is erroneous—such prolific espousers were well below 5 percent overall. He later claims that “since institutional [LDS Church] histories have minimized the incidence and profile of polygamy . . . , it is easy to imagine that most men who entered polygamy did so in a cursory way. In reality, the typical Utah polygamist whose roots in the principle extended back to Nauvoo, had between three and four wives” (p. 289; see p. 286). G. D. Smith’s analysis disguises, however, that polygamists with Nauvoo roots were a tiny minority. “Most men who entered polygamy” had only two wives, and a large majority (>80%) had no more than three. Even these would probably not think of their participation as “cursory,” since a majority of men never practiced plural marriage at all. Probably 15 to 20 percent of Latter-day Saint families were polygamous, “with variations from place to place and from decade to decade.”[56]

G. D. Smith even knows about these data from Ivins (though he ignores Daynes) but places them several chapters away, in a completely different context (see p. 535–536).

Johnson exceeded even the average of Nauvoo’s “early adopters,” who had far more wives, on average, than the vast majority of Utah polygamists. Johnson may have been “mainstream” among polygamists at Nauvoo—but polygamy was restricted to a relatively small core in Nauvoo. It was not “mainstream” for the entire church at all. And most Utahans never approached the number of wives achieved by those men who began the practice in Nauvoo. Any attempt to extrapolate patterns in Nauvoo to the rest of Latter-day Saint history is fraught with pitfalls.

In short, Johnson was extraordinary except among the highly selected group of Nauvoo-era polygamists. G. D. Smith insists elsewhere that before 1890 “the number of [polygamy] practitioners had expanded exponentially.” In support of this, we are told that Orderville, Utah, had 67 percent of its members in plural households (pp. 535–36). Mathematical quibbles about whether the adoption of plural marriage was truly “exponential” aside, this figure is misleading. G. D. Smith leaves unmentioned the study’s observation that Orderville was somewhat unique because “one suspects that membership in Mormondom’s most successful attempt to establish the United Order may have required a commitment to plural matrimony. Unlike the pattern that usually prevailed in Mormon towns, many young men of Orderville entered the celestial order when they first married or soon thereafter.” Nearby Kanab was less successful in its communal economy and had less than half as many polygamists. Furthermore, all of southern Utah was more likely to be polygamist than Utah as a whole, for similar reasons.[57]


Response to claim: xv - The Church "suppressed" its history

The author(s) of Nauvoo Polygamy make(s) the following claim:

"suppressed history"

(Author's sources: No source provided.)

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

The mistake:The Church did not "suppress" its own history.The facts:All of the allegedly "suppressed" Church historical information is taken from Church sources.



Censorship of Church History (edit)

Question: Has the Church "whitewashed" some of the information about its origins to appear more palatable to members and investigators?

Church historians and church hierarchy are fully aware of its history, yet they maintain strong testimonies of the authenticity and authority of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Some feel that this is done intentionally to hide negative aspects of church history. Others feel that it is done to focus on the good, but that it causes problems for believing members when they encounter these issues outside of church curriculum.

Church historians and church hierarchy are fully aware of its history, yet they maintain strong testimonies of the authenticity and authority of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Problems arise when faithful members can't reconcile a perfect Savior and his church being led by imperfect people. Developing an understanding that all people, even prophets of the Lord make mistakes. Only Jesus Christ himself was perfect.

The reality is that there are very few new discoveries related to Church history

Many critics will present a faithful member with some fact of church history and would have them believe that this is a new discovery. The reality is that there are very few new discoveries related to Church history. In fact, most, if not all of these documents have been well known to church historians for many years. Occasionally, a new document will be discovered which sheds additional light on some aspect of Church history. One such example is the discovery of documents that clarify that the Church was actually organized in Fayette rather than Manchester, as some have claimed. Situations such as this are rare, however. When the critic presents a "new" historical fact, you can rest assured that this very same "fact" has been discussed by LDS scholars for many years. There is truly little new information for the critics to draw from.

The critic presents these historical facts in order to shake the member's testimony, hopefully to the point of leaving the church. They attempt to present contradictions, such as "Joseph Smith drank wine at Carthage Jail, and therefore violated the Word of Wisdom." They attempt to catch Church leaders in deceit or portray them as hypocrites. Yet, there are many LDS experts on Church history that remain fully aware, faithful, actively attending church members. There are no facts that unarguably disprove the authenticity of the church. As always it comes down to faith and a personal witness between an individual and the Lord.

Critics routinely accuse the Church of suppressing and hiding uncomfortable facts from its own history, yet they quote Church sources in order to provide proof of their claims

Critics routinely accuse the Church of suppressing and hiding uncomfortable facts from its own history. Yet, these very same critics quote Church sources in order to provide proof of their claims. This concern often rests on a misunderstanding. It is true that the Church's teachings are primarily doctrinal and devotional—Church lessons are neither apologetic nor historical in scope or intent.

It is remarkable, however, how many of the issues which critics charge the Church with "suppressing" are discussed in Church publications. Various issues are listed in the subarticle below, with references to Church sources which mention them. So, has the Church been suppressing the truth? You might be surprised to find out where some of these facts are actually hidden.


Response to claim: xv - Nauvoo was "a more or less insignificant river town"

The author(s) of Nauvoo Polygamy make(s) the following claim:

Nauvoo was "a more or less insignificant river town"

(Author's sources: *No source provided.)

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is a falsehood - The author has disseminated false information

The falsehood: Nauvoo was not an insignificant town.The facts:The author himself contradicts this claim on p. 2: Nauvoo was "a bustling Mississippi River town with several thousand inhabitants." And, ultimately only Chicago was a larger city in all of Illinois. [58]



Response to claim: xvi - Mormon grandparents considered polygamy "requisite for heaven"

The author(s) of Nauvoo Polygamy make(s) the following claim:

*Mormon "grandparents considered [polygamy] requisite for heaven."

(Author's sources: No source provided.)

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

The mistake:Regardless of whether or not these grandparents believed this, such a belief has never been a doctrine of the Church.



Necessary for salvation? (edit)

  • See also ch. Preface: xiv
  • See also ch. 1: 6
  • See also ch. 2: 55
  • See also ch. 6: 356

Question: Is plural marriage required in order to achieve exaltation?

Brigham Young said "The only men who become Gods, even the sons of God, are those who enter into polygamy"

Critics of the Church point to a statement made by Brigham Young to make the claim that Latter-day Saints believe that one must practice plural marriage in order to achieve exaltation: [59] Brigham Young once said,

The only men who become Gods, even the sons of God, are those who enter into polygamy" (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 11:269.)

This quotation is often used in anti-Mormon sources. They do not include the surrounding text which explains what Brigham Young had in mind on this occasion (italics show text generally not cited by those trying to worry modern-day readers):

Brigham Young also said "if you desire with all your hearts to obtain the blessings which Abraham obtained, you will be polygamists at least in your faith"

We wish to obtain all that father Abraham obtained. I wish here to say to the Elders of Israel, and to all the members of this Church and kingdom, that it is in the hearts of many of them to wish that the doctrine of polygamy was not taught and practiced by us...It is the word of the Lord, and I wish to say to you, and all the world, that if you desire with all your hearts to obtain the blessings which Abraham obtained, you will be polygamists at least in your faith, or you will come short of enjoying the salvation and the glory which Abraham has obtained. This is as true as that God lives. You who wish that there were no such thing in existence, if you have in your hearts to say: "We will pass along in the Church without obeying or submitting to it in our faith or believing this order, because, for aught that we know, this community may be broken up yet, and we may have lucrative offices offered to us; we will not, therefore, be polygamists lest we should fail in obtaining some earthly honor, character and office, etc,"—the man that has that in his heart, and will continue to persist in pursuing that policy, will come short of dwelling in the presence of the Father and the Son, in celestial glory. The only men who become Gods, even the Sons of God, are those who enter into polygamy. Others attain unto a glory and may even be permitted to come into the presence of the Father and the Son; but they cannot reign as kings in glory, because they had blessings offered unto them, and they refused to accept them.[60]

Brigham was stating that the command to practice plural marriage was from God, and it is wrong to seek to abolish a command from God

It is clear that Brigham was making several points which the critics ignore:

  • The command to practice plural marriage is from God, and it is wrong to seek to abolish a command from God.
  • To obtain the blessings of Abraham, the Saints were required to be "polygamists at least in your faith": i.e., it was not necessary that each enter into plural marriage in practice, but that they accept that God spoke to His prophets.
  • It was wrong to avoid plural marriage for worldly, selfish reasons, such as believing the Church would fail, and hoping to have political or monetary rewards afterward.
  • Faithful Saints cannot expect to receive "all that the Father has" if they willfully disobey God. When the people have "had blessings offered unto them," and if they refuse to obey, God will withhold blessings later because of that disobedience now.

Finally, it must be remembered that Brigham Young is speaking to a group who had been commanded to live the law of polygamy. There is no basis for speculating about what he would have said to a group who did not have that commandment given to them, as present-day members do not.


Question: Did Brigham Young believe that one could not enter the Celestial Kingdom unless they were a polygamist?

Wilford Woodruff: "President Young said there would be men saved in the Celestial Kingdom of God with one wife with Many wives & with No wife at all"

I attended the school of the prophets. Brother John Holeman made a long speech upon the subject of Poligamy. He Contended that no person Could have a Celestial glory unless He had a plurality of wives. Speeches were made By L. E. Harrington O Pratt Erastus Snow, D Evans J. F. Smith Lorenzo Young. President Young said there would be men saved in the Celestial Kingdom of God with one wife with Many wives & with No wife at all.[61]

Wilford Woodruff: President Young...said a Man may Embrace the Law of Celestial Marriage in his heart & not take the Second wife & be justified before the Lord

Then President Young spoke 58 Minuts. He said a Man may Embrace the Law of Celestial Marriage in his heart & not take the Second wife & be justified before the Lord.[62]


Notes

  1. 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.
  2. Hendrik Harlog, Man & Wife in America: A History (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000), 87
  3. Nancy F. Cott, Public Vows: A History of Marriage and the Nation (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000), 37.
  4. Lynn Hunt, "Against Presentism," Perspectives 40/5 (May 2002); available online at http://www.historians.org/perspectives/issues/2002/0205/ (accessed 2 December 2008).
  5. Beverly J. Schwartzberg, "Grass Widows, Barbarians, and Bigamists: Fluid Marriage in Late Nineteenth-Century America" (PhD diss., University of California, Santa Barbara, 2001), 51–52.
  6. Hendrik Harlog, Man & Wife in America: A History (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000), 87.
  7. Nancy F. Cott, Public Vows: A History of Marriage and the Nation (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000), 37.
  8. 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.
  9. 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
  10. Christopher Hitchens, "Holy Nonsense: Mitt Romney's Windy, Worthless Speech," slate.com (6 December 2007). < http://www.slate.com/id/2179404/>
  11. Todd M. Compton, Response to Tanners, post to LDS Bookshelf mailing list, no date. (15 May 2005).
  12. Susan Easton Black, "Marriages in the Nauvoo Region 1839-1845," on-line database, using sources: Lyndon W. Cook, Civil Marriages in Nauvoo and some outlying areas (1839-1845) (Liberty Publishing Co., 1980); with additional data from Times and Seasons, The Wasp, Nauvoo Neighbor, and "A Record of Marriages in the City of Nauvoo," located at the Historical Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. <http://www.worldvitalrecords.com/indexinfo.aspx?ix=usa_il_nauvoo_marriages> I am indebted to David Keller, who performed the initial data extraction, and saved me hours of work by sharing his raw data files.
  13. Kirtland marriage data from Milton V. Backman, Jr. with Keith Perkins and Susan Easton, "A profile of Latter-day Saints of Kirtland, Ohio and members of Zion's Camp 1830–1839 : vital statistics and sources," complied in cooperation with the Department of Church History and Doctrine, Brigham Young University, in Family History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah. The indefatigable David Keller also provided me with this data.
  14. M. Skolnick, L. Bean, D. May, V. Arbon, K. De Nevers and P. Cartwright, "Mormon Demographic History I. Nuptiality and Fertility of Once-Married Couples," Populations Studies 32 (1978): 14, table 3. off-site I appreciate John Gee bringing this reference to my attention.
  15. Data from Steven Ruggles, Matthew Sobek, Trent Alexander, Catherine A. Fitch, Ronald Goeken, Patricia Kelly Hall, Miriam King, and Chad Ronnander, Integrated Public Use Microdata Series: Version 3.0 [Machine-readable database]. Minneapolis, MN: Minnesota Population Center [producer and distributor] (2004), accessed 14 July 2007. <http://usa.ipums.org/usa/> I'm grateful to David Keller for sharing the raw data with me.
  16. The U.S. Census data included marriages within the last year since the census, so some marriages could have occurred prior to the wife's recorded birthday. Presumably this effect would be equally distributed throughout the year—to adjust for this, the data was convolved via a moving average. This did not materially affect the data plots; see Appendix 1 for both versions of the Nauvoo data plotted. My thanks to David Keller for discussions and help with the statistics.
  17. Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1997), 11. ( Index of claims )
  18. Despite debates about whether all these wives should be included, I have simply used the data from Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1997), 4–7. ( Index of claims ) If a marriage date is uncertain, I have used the earliest possible age.
  19. B. Carmon Hardy, Works of Abraham, 48; Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 6.
  20. Todd M. Compton, Response to Tanners, post to LDS Bookshelf mailing list, no date. (Accessed 15 May 2005).
  21. See Stanley B. Kimball, "Heber C. Kimball and Family, the Nauvoo Years," Brigham Young University Studies 15/4 (Summer 1975): 465; see also 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; citing Stanley B. Kimball, Heber C. Kimball: Mormon Patriarch and Pioneer (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1981), 98.
  22. Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 606.
  23. Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 390.
  24. Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 347–349.
  25. Melina McTigue, "Statutory Rape Law Reform in Nineteenth Century Maryland: An Analysis of Theory and Practical Change," (2002), (accessed 5 Feb 2005). < http://www.law.georgetown.edu/glh/mctigue.htm>
  26. Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 31–33, 347–349, 464, 497–502.
  27. Kingsbury was born 2 May 1812, and "married" Sarah Whitney on 29 April 1843.
  28. Of 883 married individuals, there were 219 men and 201 women with exact birth and marriage dates. Of these, 180 marriages were identified in which the husband and wife's birth date was known. I matched these couples for data analysis. Since it is not clear how many of these marriages were first marriages, these data represents a conservative estimate of teen-age marriage in Nauvoo in the early 1840s. If second marriages were excluded, there would likely be an even greater percentage of teen marriages. The data is again from Susan Easton Black, "Marriages in the Nauvoo Region 1839–1845," op. cit. as originally extracted by David Keller.
  29. Thomas Hine, The Rise and Fall of the American Teenager: A New History of the American Adolescent Experience (HarperCollins, 1999), 16.
  30. These data are from Massachusetts only; U.S. Dept. of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, Historical Statistics of the United States, on-line at < http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0005140.html> (accessed 10 December 2007).
  31. James W. Glover, United States Life Tables: 1890, 1901, 1910, and 1901–1910 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, 1921), 56, 60, tables 3, 5; on-line at <http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/lifetables/life1890-1910.pdf > (accessed 10 December 2007).
  32. U.S. Center for Disease Control, National Vital Statistics Reports 55/19 (21 August 2007): 25–26, tables 7–8, < http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr55/nvsr55_19.pdf> (accessed 10 December 2007). The figures used are for whites.
  33. Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1997), 350. ( Index of claims )
  34. Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1997), 349. ( Index of claims )
  35. Richard N. and Joan K. Ostling, Mormon America: The Power and the Promise, (New York:HarperCollins Publishers, 2000), 16. ( Index of claims )
  36. John Dehlin, "Questions and Answers," Mormon Stories Podcast (25 June 2014).
  37. John Dehlin, "Questions and Answers," Mormon Stories Podcast (25 June 2014).
  38. "Chapter 46: The Martyrdom: The Prophet Seals His Testimony with His Blood," Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith," The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (2011), 528–40.
  39. It should be noted that History of the Church was begun after Joseph's death, and was written in the "first person," as if Joseph himself had written it. For further information on this, see Question: Who is the author of ''History of the Church''?
  40. History of the Church, 6:432. Volume 6 link
  41. Emma gave permission for at least the marriages of Eliza and Emma Partridge, and Sarah and Maria Lawrence. See Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1997), 409, 475. ( Index of claims )
  42. Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1997), 261. ( Index of claims )
  43. Mary Audentia Smith Anderson (editor), "Memoirs of Joseph Smith III (1832–1914)," The Saints Herald (2 April 1935): 431–434.
  44. Allen J. Stout, "Allen J. Stout's Testimony," Historical Record 6 (May 1887): 230–31; 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.
  45. 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.
  46. Emma Hale Smith, Blessing (1844), Church Archives, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah.
  47. Alan Goff, "Dan Vogel's Family Romance and the Book of Mormon as Smith Family Allegory (Review of: Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet)," FARMS Review 17/2 (2005): 321–400. [{{{url}}} off-site]
  48. 48.0 48.1 Fawn M. Brodie, No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1945). ( Index of claims )
  49. Charles L. Cohen, "No Man Knows My Psychology: Fawn Brodie, Joseph Smith, and Psychoanalysis," Brigham Young University Studies 44 no. 1, 68.
  50. Richard Abanes, Becoming Gods: A Closer Look at 21st-Century Mormonism (Harvest House Publishers: 2005). 44, note 135. ( Index of claims )
  51. 51.0 51.1 Andrew H. Hedges and Dawson W. Hedges, "No, Dan, That's Still Not History (Review of: Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet, by Dan Vogel)," FARMS Review 17/1 (2005): 205–222. [{{{url}}} off-site]
  52. "Plural Marriage and Families in Early Utah," Gospel Topics on LDS.org (2013)
  53. Larry Logue, “A Time of Marriage: Monogamy and Polygamy in a Utah Town,” Journal of Mormon History 11 (1984): 25; cited by B. Carmon Hardy, Doing the Works of Abraham: Mormon Polygamy: Its Origin, Practice, and Demise (Norman, OK: Arthur H. Clark Co., 2007), 143–44.
  54. Stanley S. Ivins, “Notes on Mormon Polygamy,” The Western Humanities Review 10 (Summer 1956): 229–30; reproduced “exactly as it appeared” in his “Notes on Mormon Polygamy,” Utah Historical Quarterly 35/4 (Fall 1967): 313–14, 316. See the anonymously authored article “Tribute to Stanley S. Ivins,” Utah Historical Quarterly 35/4 (Fall 1967): 307–9.
  55. Kathryn M. Daynes, More Wives Than One: Transformation of the Mormon Marriage System, 1840–1910 (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2001), 130.
  56. Davis Bitton, Historical Dictionary of Mormonism, 2nd ed. (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2000), 147.
  57. Lowell “Ben” Bennion, “The Incidence of Mormon Polygamy in 1880: ‘Dixie’ Versus Davis Stake,” Journal of Mormon History 11 (1984): 34–36.
  58. Leonard J. Arrington and Davis Bitton, The Mormon Experience: A History of the Latter-Day Saints, 2nd ed. (New York: Knopf : distributed by Random House/University of Illinois Press, [1979] 1992), 69. ISBN 0252062361. off-site
  59. The following critical works use this quote from Brigham to claim that Latter-day Saints must accept polygamy as a requirement to enter heaven. Contender Ministries, Questions All Mormons Should Ask Themselves. Answers; Richard Abanes, Becoming Gods: A Closer Look at 21st-Century Mormonism (Harvest House Publishers: 2005). 233, 422 n. 48-49. ( Index of claims ); George D. Smith, Nauvoo Polygamy: "...but we called it celestial marriage" (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2008), xiv, 6, 55, , 356. ( Index of claims , (Detailed book review)); Jerald and Sandra Tanner, The Changing World of Mormonism (Moody Press, 1979), 29, 258.( Index of claims )
  60. Brigham Young, "Remarks by President Brigham Young, in the Bowery, in G.S.L. City," (19 August 1866) Journal of Discourses 11:268-269. (emphasis added) See Quote mining—Journal of Discourses 11:269 to see how this quote was mined.
  61. Wilford Woodruff, Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 9 vols., ed., Scott G. Kenny (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1985), 6:527 (journal entry dated 12 February 1870). ISBN 0941214133.(emphasis added)
  62. Wilford Woodruff, Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 9 vols., ed., Scott G. Kenny (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1985), 7:31 (journal entry dated 24 September 1871). ISBN 0941214133.(emphasis added)