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Question: Did those who entered into plural marriage do so simply because Joseph Smith (or another Church leader) "told them to"?
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Question: Did those who entered into plural marriage do so simply because Joseph Smith (or another Church leader) "told them to"?
It is clear that Joseph applied very little pressure, and the members were not inclined to simply follow him blindly. Those who sought a witness received a dramatic experience which convinced them, independent of Joseph, that plural marriage was the correct path for them to follow
Most of the members—both women and men—approached about plural marriage were extremely reluctant until their opinions were changed by what were often dramatic spiritual experiences.
Allred was a member of the Nauvoo High Council, and heard Hyrum Smith read Joseph's revelation on plural marriage (now D&C 132). He later recalled that
- he did not believe it at first, it was so contrary to his feelings, but he said he knew Joseph was a prophet of God so he made a covenant that he would not eat, drink or sleep until he knew for himself, that he had got a testimony that it was true, that he had even heard the voice of God concerning it.
- About the 1st of July of this year  my wife had a peculiar dream; and, believing that it had significance, she desired me to accompany her to bro. Hyrum SMith's for the purpose of getting him to interpret it. We went the next Sunday to see him, but, having company; he was not at liberty to say much to us; he said, however, if we would \come/ the next Sunday he would interpret the dream, but wished to see us by ourselves, when there was no other one present. Accordingly the next Sunday we went; but found as many at his house as the Sunday previous. He said to us, come again the next Sunday, and probably it will be different; but in a day or so he called at our house, and invited us to take a ride with him in his buggy. We accordingly did so. When we had got far enough out of town to converse safely, without attracting attention or being understood, he commenced rehearsing the revelation on Celestial marriage, and carefully went through with the whole of it, then reviewed it, explaining such portions of it
to usas he deemed necessary. This was on the 22 of July 1843. The dream was in harmony with the Revelation, and calculated to prepare her mind for its reception: She nevered doubted the divinity of it, nor rebelled against it. & While [sic] still in the buggy, bro. Hyrum asked my wife if she was willing to be sealed to me; after a moment's thought, she answered, yes. He then asked me if I wished to be sealed. I replied in the affirmative; & After telling us that he knew by the Spirit of the Lord, that it was His will for us to be sealed, he performed the ceremony, then and there.
Grover was a member of the Nauvoo High Council, and heard Hyrum Smith read Joseph's revelation on plural marriage (now D&C 132). He later recalled that
- There was something took place when I was commanded by Bro Joseph to take more wives which I thought it was wisdom to communicate to you [Brigham Young]. At the time I was in the deepest trouble that I had ever been in my life. I went before the Lord in prayer and prayed that I might die as I did not wish to disobey his order to me. On a sudden there stood before me my oldest wife that I have now and the voice of the Lord said that "This is your companion for time and all Eternity." At this time I never had seen her and did not know that there was such a person on this Earth. Days & weeks passed away & I had not seen her. About the time that you came from your mission to the East she came to my home for an item of counsel the first time that I ever saw her with my natural eyes I gave the required counsel and she came again In progress of time we talked of marriage[.]
- My instructions were to her to make it a matter of prayer to see whether the results would be correct or not. She came again and told me that it seemed to be the mind of the Lord that she should come into my family. When you read this you will see why I have been so tenacious over that woman.
- About the time we were leaving Nauvoo and about one year after I married her I thought it wisdom to communicate the above to her mother, her sister and herself, which was the first time I had mentioned it to anybody.
Zina's brother Dimick encouraged her to accept Joseph's proposal of plural marriage. However, she refused. What changed her mind? Zina recorded:
- I searched the scripture & buy [by] humble prayer to my Heavenly Father I obtained a testimony for myself that God had required that order to be established in this church, I mad[e] a greater sacrifise than to give my life for I never anticipated a gain [again] to be looked uppon as an honerable woman by those I dearly loved [but] could I compremise conience lay aside the sure testimony of the spiret of God for the Glory of this world…:81
Simply put, Zina "did not merely bow to Smith’s pressure; she obtained her own testimony of polygamy by scripture study…and by personal revelation.":81
Joseph approached Benjamin Johnson for permission to marry his sisters, Delcena and Almera. If Joseph's intentions were dishonorable, this seems a foolhardy thing to do. Benjamin reports his reaction:
- In almost an agony of feeling…I looked him Straight in the Face & Said: ‘Brother Joseph This is Something I did not Expect & I do not understand it—You know whether it is right. I do not. I want to do just as you tell me, and I will try. But if I [ever] should Know that you do this to Dishonor & debauch my Sister I will kill you as Shure as the Lord lives=and while his eye did not move from mine He Said with a Smile, in a soft tone ‘But Benjamin you will never know that. But you will know the principle is true and will greatly Rejoice in what it will bring to you’ "But.how I asked. Can I teach my Sister when I mYself do not understand…'But you will See & underStand it' he Said and when you open your mouth to talk to your Sister light will come to you & your mouth will be full. & your toung lose.:296
Here we have a brother who wants to do the right thing, but swears by God to kill Joseph if he learns that the prophet is proceeding for false reasons. This demonstrates that Joseph was not seen as infallible by his followers—Benjamin knows that Joseph could be acting from base motives. Benjamin says that Joseph knows “whether it is right” (not “that it is right”) but he does not. Benjamin proceeds on the basis of a rather fear-filled faith to speak to a sister:
- I stood before her trembling, my knees shaking…Just So Soon as I found powr to open my mouth it was filled for the Light of the Lord Shone upon my understanding and the Subject that had Seemed So dark, now appeared of all Subjects pertaining to our Gospel the most lucid & plain, and So my Sister & myself were converted together.:297
Helen Mar Kimball
- ...I thought that the Anointed of the Lord would not get more wives unless they were commanded to do so. But still I wanted a knowledge of the truth for myself. I asked my husband if he did not think we could get a revelation for ourselves on that subject. He said he did not know....[That evening] my mind was carried away from the earth and I had a view of the order of the celestial kingdom....I have seen so much wrong connected with this ordinance that had I not had it revealed to me from Him that cannot lie[,] I should have...doubted the truth of it, but there has never a doubt crossed my mind concerning the truth of it since the Lord made it known to me by a heavenly vision.
- My mind was carried away from the earth and I had a view of the order of the celestial kingdom. I saw that it [plural marriage] was the order there and oh, how beautiful. I was filled with love and joy that was unspeakable. I waked my husband and told him of the views I had and that the ordinance was from the Lord, but it would damn thousands. It was too sacred for fools to handle, for they would use it to gratify their lustful desires.
When Joseph Smith mentioned plural marriage to Emily Partridge, her response was immediate:
- ‘He asked me if I wished the matter ended. I said I did…[I] shut him up so quick’ that he did not bring up the subject again for months.:406
Critics are fond of portraying Joseph Smith as being driven by sexual lusts. In this case, he simply left Emily alone for months. She received her own witness in the interim, without any influence or pressure from Joseph:
- she was troubled by Joseph’s teachings and later described herself as ‘struggling in deep water’ during those months: ‘I had plenty of time to think and began to wish I had listened to what he would have said and I began to be as miserable as I was before…[In] those few months I received a testimony of the words that Joseph would have said to me and their nature before they were told me and being convinced of them I received them readily.:407, (italics added)
When Emily told Joseph about her decision, it is clear that Joseph merely waited patiently for months until Emily approached him:
- …[Joseph] said the Lord had commanded [him] to enter into plural marriage and had given me to him and although I had got badly frightened he knew I would yet have him. So he waited till the Lord told him. My mind was now prepared and would receive the principles.:408
Mary Elizabeth Rollins
When taught about plural marriage:
- She replied that she would never be sealed to him until she had a direct witness from God. He told her to pray earnestly, for the angel had told him that she would have a witness.” [And, indeed, this witness comes:] a Personage stood in front of the Bed looking at me. Its clothes were whiter than anything I had ever seen, I could look at its Person, but when I saw its face so bright, and more beautiful than any Earthly being could be, and those eyes pearcing me through, and through, I could not endure it… [She recounted this to Joseph,] who…predicted events that would take place in her family. ‘Every word came true. I went forward and was sealed to him.’:213
Unnamed couple from Nauvoo
- We each began having revelations from Heaven night after night, saying that we must go back to the customs of the patriarchs with regard to marriage. The whole thing was so repugnant to us both that for some time we could not receive it. The revelations, however, became clearer and more emphatic, and at last my wife ventured to communicate to me what the Lord had declared to her. This led to a comparison of experiences all around, and we found the same revelation had come to many; and hence it was received and acted upon as the unmistakable will of Heaven.
Of the proposal of marriage:
- When [Joseph] Smith sensed resistance, as has been seen, he generally continued teaching—asking the prospective wife to pray about the principle, promising that she would receive a witness. So it happened here. ‘He said, “if you will pray sincerely for light and understanding in relation thereto, you Shall receive a testimony of the correctness of this principle.”’ Lucy was horrified by polygamy and by his proposal and did not quickly gain the promised testimony. She prayed, she wrote, but not with faith. She was nearly suicidal: “tempted and tortured beyond endureance until life was not desirable. Oh that the grave would kindly receive me that I might find rest of the bosom of my dear mother.:464
Joseph waited at least four months, and then told Mary that she had to decide before the next day. What was her response?
- ‘This aroused every drop of scotch in my veins,' [wrote Mary,]…I felt at this moment that I was called to place myself upon the altar a living Sacrafice, perhaps to brook the world in disgrace and incur the displeasure and contempt of my youthful companions; all my dreams of happiness blown to the four winds, this was too much, the thought was unbearable.’…She then told Joseph that she could not marry him unless God revealed it to her, and God had not done so yet. She wrote, ‘[I] emphatically forbid him speaking again to me on this Subject.’:464-65, (italics added)
What was Joseph's response? Did he threaten? Cajole? Use his prophetic office to apply pressure?
- He walked across the room, returned, and stood before me. With the most beautiful expression of countenance, he said, “God almighty bless you. You shall have a manifestation of the will of God concerning you; a testimony that you can never deny. I will tell you what it shall be. It shall be that peace and joy that you never knew.”:465
Lucy describes the answer she later received while alone:
- My room became filled with a heavenly influence. To me it was in comparison like the brilliant sun bursting through the darkest cloud…My Soul was filled with a calm, sweet peace that I never knew. Supreme happiness took possession of my whole being. And I received a powerful and irristable testimony of the truth of the marriage covenant called ‘Celestial or plural mariage.’ Which has been like an anchor to the soul through all the trials of life. I felt that I must go out into the morning air and give vent to the Joy and grattitude that filled my Soul. As I descended the stairs, Prest. Smith opened the door below; took me by the hand and said: ‘Thank God, you have the testimony. I too, have prayed.’ He led me to a chair, placed his hands upon my head, and blessed me with Every blessing my heart could possibly desire.:465
Margaret Cooper West
- We were living in Nauvoo when I first heard that it was right for men to have two wives. I never thought then of their having more than two [sic]; it looked an awful thing to me, and I said I would not believe it was right, if an angel from heaven should tell me so, And again, I said that if I should hear the Almighty tell and angel to come and tell me it was right, I would not believe it. I knew very well what I thought. I thought it would only be to try my virtue, as Abraham's faith was tried, when he was told to offer his son as a sacrifice, and I thought the Lord would love me better if I refused to believe in such a heinous thing, for the Lord loves virtuous women....
- I was perplexed; I did not have much to say. I felt very serious over it, and made it a matter of prayer.
- On the Sunday morning following, after my husband and I were ready to go to meeting, we walked out through our gate, and he said, "Let us call in at John's (his brother's); perhaps some of them will go to meeting." As we passed through the gate, all creation was opened in vision to my view, as it seemed to me; we were as the grass of the field. I can see now how it looked as it ran off in the distance. Then I saw plurality of wives, the celestial order of marriage, open to my view, and knew it was right, and a virtuous principle, and pertaining to the everlasting Gospel of Jesus. Then I saw the authorities of the Church, and what they had suffered to establish this peculiar doctrine. It was a grand point in the Gospel, and had to be established in this generation; there was no getting around it, it had to come forth. When I saw the labors of the brethren, and their toils and sufferings, my heart was pained for them, and I loved and pitied them. I was no longer an opposer of the two-wife system. I did not speak of these things, but pondered them in my heart. I realized the beauty and glory and exaltation connected with this heavenly principle; it was grand and glorious, and I felt rapt in joy.
Elizabeth and Newel K. Whitney
Wrote one biographer:
- When Joseph saw that he [Newel Whitney] was doubtful concerning the righteousness of this celestial order he told him to go and enquire of the Lord concerning it, and he should receive a testimony for himself’…This is typical of the way Smith dealt with initial resistance to plurality. And as so often happened, Newel and Elizabeth received a revelation.:347
- …We pondered upon [the doctrine of polygamy] continually, and our prayers were unceasing that the Lord would grant us some special manifestation concerning this new and strange doctrine. The Lord was very merciful to us; He revealed unto us His power and glory. We were seemingly wrapt in a heavenly vision, a halo of light encircled us, and we were convinced in our own minds that God heard and approved our prayers…Our hearts were comforted and our faith made so perfect that we were willing to give our eldest daughter [Sarah Ann Whitney], then only seventeen years of age, to Joseph, in the holy order of plural marriage…laying aside all our traditions and former notions in regard to marriage, we gave her with our mutual consent.:347
Phoebe Carter Woodruff
The first wife of future Church President Wilford Woodruff, Pheobe reported:
- When the principles of polygamy was first taught I thought it the most wicked thing I ever heard of; consequently I
suppopposed it to the best of my ability, until I became sick and wretched. As soon, however, as I became convinced that it originated as a revelation from God through Joseph, and knowing him to be a prophet, I wrestled with my Heavenly Father in fervent prayers--, to be guided aright at that all important moment of my life. The answer came. Peace was given to my mind. I knew it was the will of God and from that time to the present I have sought to faithfully honor the patriarchal law. Of Joseph, my testimony is that he was one of the greatest prophets the Lord ever called; that he lived for the redemption of mankind, and died a martyr for the truth.
- James Allred, "Statement," (15 October 1854) cited in Brian C. Hales, Joseph Smith's Polygamy Volume 2: History (Salt Lake City, Utah: Greg Kofford Books, 2013), 142–143.
- Howard Coray, "Autobiography, 1817–1888," holograph, 25–26, cited in Hales, Joseph Smith's Polygamy Vol. 2, 182. Hales also cites Richard Neitzel Holzapfel and Jeni Broberg Holzapfel, editors, Women of Nauvoo (Salt Lake City, Bookcraft, 1992), 96.
- Thomas Grover, Letter to Brigham Young (14 October 1870): 1–2 cited in Hales, Joseph Smith's Polygamy Vol. 2, 143.
- Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1997). ( Index of claims )NOTE: While this work is a valuable collection of many primary sources about early plural marriage, many members of FAIR reject some of what they regard as the faulty conclusions which the author draws from the data.
- "Autobiography of Sarah S. Leavitt, from her history," ed. Juanita Leavitt Pulsipher, June 1919, 23, Utah State historical Society Library, Salt Lake City; cited in George D. Smith, Nauvoo Polygamy, 359–360.
- Sarah Studevant Leavitt, "History of Sarah Studevant Leavitt," 23 as cited in Hales, Joseph Smith's Polygamy Vol. 2, 172. Hales also cites Richard N. Skousen and W. Cleon Skousen, Brother Joseph: Seer of a New Dispensation, 2:847.
- John C. Kimball, Christian Register, quoted in Anti-Polygamy Standard 2/6 (September 1881): 44, cited in Hales, Joseph Smith's Polygamy Vol. 2, 172.
- Margaret West, "Testimony of Margaret West," 35 cited in Hales, Joseph Smith's Polygamy Vol. 2, 185–186.
- Phebe Carter Woodruff, "Autobiographic Sketch of Phebe W. Woodruff, Salt Lake City, 1880," 3 cited in Hales, Joseph Smith's Polygamy Vol. 2, 171-172.