Polygamy was THE THING that finally made me realize that Joseph Smith, and the Church (since it rises and falls with him) were not what they claimed to be. Here are some of the troubling facts that convinced me why: (Note: despite the current Church's obfuscation, these fact are all available from official LDS sources).
1. According to Mormon historian Richard Bushman, Joseph Smith had between 28 and 33 wives. Other historians put the number at 46 (D. Michael Quinn), 33 (Todd Compton), 48 (Fawn Brodie), and 24 (LDS Family Search website). Smith never cohabited with any of his wives (due to the need for secrecy) but, according to Bushman, “nothing indicates that sexual relations were left out.” Todd Compton agrees, saying "in a significant number of marriages, there is evidence for sexual relations." Where do you think Brigham Young, who had 56 children from 16 wives, got the idea from?
2. According to Compton, 11 of Joseph’s plural wives were under the age of 20 (Bushman cites 10 "wives"). His youngest wife was only 14-years-old. Of Joseph’s 33 well documented wives, only 3 were significantly older than Smith.
3. Eleven of Joseph's plural wives were already married to other men (polyandry). He was also married to 4 sister pairs of wives (Huntington, Partridge, Johnson, Lawrence), and a mother-daughter pair (Sessions). Interestingly - at least to me - I am related to the Huntington sisters; my mother is a descendent of their diarist brother Oliver.
4. Joseph began to experiment with polygamy in the 1830's; taking 2 wives that decade. In 1841, Joseph added another three wives. In 1842, quickening his pace, he added 11 wives. In 1843, safe and secure as the most powerful man in theocratic Nauvoo, Joseph added 17 more wives.
5. A number of Smith’s wives were dependent orphans or young women employed and living with Emma and Joseph, including a very pretty sixteen-year-old Fanny Alger, who was living with the Smiths in Kirtland, and became Joseph’s first “plural wife” in 1833.
6. Joseph would usually coerce his potential brides into marrying him, saying that he had received a revelation that they were supposed to be married, and that such relationships would ensure both hers, and her families, salvation. This offer of salvation usually was time-sensitive, and would expire if the girl or woman did not consent within a certain time - usually only 24 hrs. Joseph told Helen Mar Kimball, daughter of Heber C. Kimball, “If you will take this step, it will ensure your eternal salvation & exaltation and that of your father’s household & all of your kindred.” Helen had only 24 hours to decide; a lot for a 14 year old to swallow.
7. Polygamy caused marital problems between Joseph and Emma (for obvious reasons). Since Emma was not OK with Joseph’s sexual indiscretions, he lied to her about his multiple wives. Joseph also lied repeatedly to the general public and Church members about his extramarital affairs. Only his secret inner circle was privy to polygamy. Joseph's need for secrecy regarding polygamy was the main reason he destroyed the Nauvoo Expositor, the local Nauvoo newspaper, that was about to expose him.
8. After Joseph introduced the Temple endowment ceremony, Joseph refused to grant it to Emma until she let him take additional wives. Emma finally gave in to Joseph’s coercion, and allowed him marry Emily and Eliza Partridge. Unbeknownst to Emma, Joseph had already married them without Emma’s knowledge.
9. D&C 132 was the revelation given by God that commanded Joseph to practice polygamy. It also contained a warning that “if [Emma] will not abide this commandment she shall be destroyed” (D&C 132:54). After Hyrum Smith asked Joseph to give him a copy of the revelation to give to Emma, in order to convince her of “the principle,” she took it, and promptly threw it in the fire. However, Emma’s acceptance of polygamy was short-lived. Emma used her position as Relief Society president to oppose polygamy. Joseph retaliated by suspending the organization in March 1844. It was not reorganized until three decades later.
10. Oliver Cowdery had a falling out with Joseph Smith over the “dirty, nasty filthy affair of [Smith] and Fanny Alger’s adulterous affair.” On April 12, 1838, Cowdery was tried and excommunicated for “seeking to destroy the character of President Joseph Smith, Jun., by falsely insinuating that he was guilty of adultery.” What do you call it when a married man has sex with another women, to whom he is not legally married?
11. Joseph may have gotten his idea of “Celestial marriage” from reading about Old Testament patriarchs, or from contemporary religious communities who practiced it, such as Emanuel Swedenborg’s Oneida Community. However, nowhere in the Old Testament is polygamy related to salvation, nor does the Old Testament state that rewards in heaven increase linearly with increasing numbers of offspring.
12. Nancy Rigdon, daughter of Sidney Rigdon, is one of the few women who rebuffed Joseph's marriage proposal. Smith wrote Nancy a letter, following her rejection of him, trying to persuade her, saying “happiness is the object and design of our existence. That which is wrong under one circumstance, may be, and often is, right under another.”
13. The murder of Joseph Smith in 1844 is intricately connected with Joseph’s practice of polygamy (a fact that is conveniently obfuscated by the modern LDS Church, who chalk it up to another false arrest or practicing his religion). William Law, who was Joseph’s Second Counselor in the First Presidency, and a well respected man of integrity, was deeply opposed to Joseph’s doctrine of polygamy. He confronted Joseph and the Nauvoo police to stop their physical intimidation of him, (with the Danites) and also asked Joseph to publicly renounce polygamy. Joseph refused, and instead excommunicated Law. William Law then started his own newspaper, the Nauvoo Expositor, which printed only one paper - before it was destroyed under Smith’s orders because it would “destroy the peace of the city” and foment a “mob spirit.” It would also threaten Joseph’s power and control in Nauvoo if the facts of his polygamy came out. Joseph then went to prison in Carthage to stand trial for the destruction of a Law’s printing press, and was subsequently murdered on June 27th, 1844.
14. The US government tried multiple times, unsuccessfully, to stop Utah polygamy. Their first attempt was the Morril Anti-Bigamy Act of 1862 which prohibited bigamy and adultery. Mormons claimed that “celestial marriage” was neither bigamy or adultery, so the law was ineffective in Utah, where Mormon judges refused to enforce it anyway. However, the Poland Act of 1874 placed federal appointed judges in Utah to enforce the law.
15. Polygamy lost it’s day in court in 1879 when the LDS church asked George Reynolds, a polygamist with two wives and First Presidency secretary, to volunteer for the case. The Supreme Court ruled unanimously against Reynolds, in United States v. Reynolds, saying that while laws “can’t interfere with mere religious belief and opinions, they may with practices.”
16. In open defiance of US law, polygamists were sent to Arizona, Colorado, Wyoming, and northern Mexico to practice "the principle." In 1882, Congress responded with the Edmunds Act that made “unlawful cohabitation” grounds for criminal prosecution.
17. Church President John Taylor, who went into hiding in southern Utah, claimed to receive a revelation from God, who said “I have not revoked this law nor will I for it is everlasting and those who will enter into my glory must obey the conditions thereof, even so amen.” While in hidding, he married twenty-six year old Josephine Rouche in 1886. I'm sure he was lonely. He was seventy-eight years old at the time. He died in hiding about a year later.
18. The Church was officially dissolved by the US government in 1887 under the Edmunds-Tucker Act which seized all Church properties and funds. Finally, in 1890, and under enormous pressure from the Government, Wilford Woodruff announced the end of polygamy.
19. However, Woodruff’s manifesto did not disband existing polygamous marriages, nor did it stop new polygamous marriages from occurring. D. Michael Quinn, who had unfettered access to LDS records in the First Presidency vault until 1982, (when they cut him off) states that more than 250 polygamous marriages took place between 1890 and 1904 with authorization from the First Presidency. The semi-official Encyclopedia of Mormonism admits to post-Manifesto marriages, but avoids admitting First Presidency sanction of them.
20. In a sensation trial that mesmerized the nation for four years (1903 - 1907), Reed Smoot, a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles and newly elected US Senator from Utah, underwent Congressional hearings prior to his seating in the US Senate. In 1904 Church President Joseph F. Smith was called to testify, in which he perjured himself by lying repeatedly under oath about his knowledge and participation of post-Manifesto polygamy. Smith undoubtedly knew about the nearly 250 post-Manifesto marriages that were being performed and approved by Apostles under his own direction. In the first three years of Joseph F. Smith’s presidency, from 1901-1904 (and just before Smoot's hearings) President Smith sent Apostles to Canada and Mexico to establish polygamous colonies outside US borders. The last post-Manifesto plural marriages known to, and authorized by, Joseph F. Smith took place in 1906 and 1907 - after he was found guilty of perjury during Smoot’s Congressional Hearings.
These facts about polygamy have implications (even though they largely speak for themselves). What these facts mean will be the topic of my next post.
Todd Compton, "In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith"
Richard Van Wagoner, "Polygamy: A History"
Fawn Brodie, "No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith"
Linda King Newell, Valeen Tippetts Avery, "Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith"
Richard Lyman Bushman, "Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling"
D. Michael Quinn, “LDS Church Authority and New Plural Marriages, 1890-1904,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 18 (Spring 1985): 9-105.