Polygamy book/Initiation of the practice/Joseph Smith practiced plural marriage

Table of Contents

Church-produced materials that discuss Joseph Smith's plural marriages


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

—The 2008-2009 lesson manual Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, (2007), pages vii–xiii.
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Doctrine and Covenants 132:51-52: "all those that have been given unto my servant Joseph"

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

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

52 And let mine handmaid, Emma Smith, receive all those that have been given unto my servant Joseph, and who are virtuous and pure before me; and those who are not pure, and have said they were pure, shall be destroyed, saith the Lord God. (DC 132:51-52)

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


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

In this dispensation, the Lord commanded some of the early Saints to practice plural marriage. The Prophet Joseph Smith and those closest to him, including Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball, were challenged by this command, but they obeyed it. Church leaders regulated the practice. Those entering into it had to be authorized to do so, and the marriages had to be performed through the sealing power of the priesthood. [1]


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

Institute Manual: Church History in the Fulness of Times:

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

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

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

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

As members of the Council of the Twelve Apostles returned from their missions to the British Isles in 1841, Joseph Smith taught them one by one the doctrine of plurality of wives, and each experienced some difficulty in understanding and accepting this doctrine. 13 Brigham Young, for example, recounted his struggle: “I was not desirous of shrinking from any duty, nor of failing in the least to do as I was commanded, but it was the first time in my life that I had desired the grave, and I could hardly get over it for a long time. And when I saw a funeral, I felt to envy the corpse its situation, and to regret that I was not in the coffin.”

After their initial hesitancy and frustration, Brigham Young and others of the Twelve received individual confirmations from the Holy Spirit and accepted the new doctrine of plural marriage. They knew that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God in all things. At first the practice was kept secret and was very limited. Rumors began to circulate about authorities of the Church having additional wives, which greatly distorted the truth and contributed to increased persecution from apostates and outsiders. Part of the difficulty, of course, was the natural aversion Americans held against “polygamy.” This new system appeared to threaten the strongly entrenched tradition of monogamy and the solidarity of the family structure. Later, in Utah, the Saints openly practiced “the principle,” but never without persecution. [2]

The number of dissenters in Nauvoo grew with the addition of Church members who opposed plural marriage and other new doctrines taught by Joseph Smith. William Law, second counselor in the First Presidency, his brother Wilson Law, major general in the Nauvoo Legion, and high council members Austin Cowles and Leonard Soby all believed that Joseph Smith was a fallen prophet. [3]

The Twelve were among the first to receive instruction from Joseph Smith on plural marriage and the temple ordinances. [4]

A large part of the persecution experienced by the Latter-day Saints centered around the practice of plural marriage, which was instituted under the direction of the Prophet Joseph Smith. The law of plural marriage was revealed to the Prophet as early as 1831, but he mentioned it only to a few trusted friends. Under strict commandment from God to obey the law, the Prophet began in 1841 to instruct leading priesthood brethren of the Church concerning plural marriage and their responsibility to live the law. The Prophet Joseph Smith dictated the revelation to William Clayton in 1843, when it was first written. Nine years passed, however, before the revelation was read in general conference and published. [5]


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

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

This book deals with teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith that have application to our day....This book also does not discuss plural marriage. The doctrines and principles relating to plural marriage were revealed to Joseph Smith as early as 1831. The Prophet taught the doctrine of plural marriage, and a number of such marriages were performed during his lifetime. [6]


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

Gracia N. Jones, Ensign (1992):

Her [Emma Smith's] great trial came when the prophet revealed to Emma that they would be required to live the ancient law of Abraham—plural marriage. Emma suffered deeply hurt feelings because of it. While she agreed with this doctrine at times, at other times she opposed it. Years later, Emma is purported to have denied that any such doctrine was ever introduced by her husband. [7]


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

William Hartley, Ensign (1989):

In Nauvoo, the Knight group faced and passed another great test of faith. The Prophet introduced several doctrines relating to the temple, including the temple ceremonies and plural marriage, which some could not accept. But the Knights received the teachings. [8]


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

Davis Bitton, Ensign (1977):

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

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

These factors—those presenting special challenges to Mormon families—are not the whole picture. But they are part of the picture. In the actual recorded experiences of family life we discover, not surprisingly, that behind our surface impression of harmonious, loving families—the families of the family portraits existed most of the challenges which threaten family life today. The point is that in the past century neither the family life of Americans and Europeans generally, nor that of the Latter-day Saints, was as free of problems as we have tended to believe. We now find ourselves in a period of looking on our past. There is a tendency among many of us to overstate the positive, understate the negative. We need not hesitate to see the whole picture as we seek to discover our forefathers. The more we see their fiber and strengths, the more we will appreciate their efforts in building the Church and in raising their children. [9]


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

Joseph Smith Papers Project (online):

At times revelation became a burden as well as a blessing, at no time more than when plural marriage was revealed. Plural marriage was the final component of the logic of restoration. Smith had prayed for an understanding of Old Testament polygamy and was commanded to do the “works of Abraham.”45 Although he hated adultery and was deeply loyal to his wife Emma, he believed he was to take additional wives as had the ancient patriarchs. He went about it carefully, one woman at a time, usually approaching her relatives first and going through a prescribed wedding ceremony. During his lifetime, he was married to approximately thirty women.46 Although conjugal relations were apparently involved, he spent little time with these women, the need for secrecy and the demands on his time keeping them apart. At first aghast at what her husband was doing, Emma eventually agreed to a few of the plural marriages but then pulled back. She oscillated between hesitant submission and outright opposition to the practice, but according to Maria Jane Johnston Woodward, who worked for a time as a servant in the Smith household, Emma told her, “The principle of plural marriage is right. . . . [I]t is from our Father in Heaven.” After her husband’s death, Emma refused to go west, where plural marriage would be practiced. She never admitted to her children that their father had been involved. [10]


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The chaotic conditions of the years immediately following the Prophet's death, delayed the formal presentation of the revelation. Soon after the Church was established in the Great Salt Lake region, at the conference in 1852, the doctrine of celestial and plural marriage was accepted by the Church as a whole. During the intervening years, however, it was taught and practiced. [11]


Notes

  1. "Lesson 31: “Sealed … for Time and for All Eternity”," Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Gospel Doctrine Teacher’s Manual, (1999) (emphasis added).
  2. "Chapter Twenty: Doctrinal Developments in Nauvoo," Church History In The Fulness Of Times Student Manual, (2003).
  3. "Chapter Twenty One: Growing Conflict in Illinois," Church History In The Fulness Of Times Student Manual, (2003).
  4. "Chapter Twenty-Three: The Twelve to Bear Off the Kingdom," Church History In The Fulness Of Times Student Manual, (2003)
  5. "Chapter Thirty-Three: A Decade of Persecution, 1877–87," Church History In The Fulness Of Times Student Manual, (2003).
  6. The 2008-2009 lesson manual Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, (2007), pages vii–xiii.
  7. Gracia N. Jones, “My Great-Great-Grandmother, Emma Hale Smith,” Ensign, Aug 1992, 30 off-site (emphasis added)
  8. William Hartley, "The Knight Family: Ever Faithful to the Prophet," Ensign (January 1989).; and William Hartley, "The Knight Family: Part II," Liahona (November 1989).
  9. Davis Bitton, "Great-Grandfather’s Family," Ensign (February 1977). (emphasis added)
  10. "Joseph Smith and his Papers: An Introduction," josephsmithpapers.org (accessed 24 April 2012): p. 6 of 9.
  11. John A. Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations: Aids to Faith in a Modern Day, arranged by G. Homer Durham (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1960), "Did Joseph Smith Introduce Plural Marriage?". GL direct link