Joseph Smith: Monogamist or Polygamist?

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Abstract: In the past decades much of the debate regarding Joseph Smith and plural marriage has focused on his motivation — whether libido or divine inspiration drove the process. Throughout these debates, a small group of observers and participants have maintained that Joseph did not practice polygamy at any time or that his polygamous sealings were nonsexual spiritual marriages. Rather than simply provide supportive evidence for Joseph Smith’s active involvement with plural marriage, this article examines the primary arguments advanced by monogamist proponents to show that important weaknesses exist in each line of reasoning.

Whereas several individuals, religions, and groups have consistently advocated the position that Joseph Smith did not practice plural marriage, over the past few decades none have championed that position more consistently than RLDS fundamentalists Richard and Pamela Price. In a book and an online series they attempt solid investigative methodology to support their thesis.1 Other more recent advocates have echoed this same interpretation, including blogger Rock Waterman in 2010.2 On March 22, 2015, LDS excommunicant Denver Snuffer declared in an essay posted on his website that Joseph Smith did not practice [Page 118]polygamy.3 The same message is reinforced in an article posted months later by an anonymous author who may be a Snuffer follower.4

Authors like these generally admit that Brigham Young practiced plural marriage as a religious tenet of Mormonism. This acknowledgment requires that monogamist proponents overcome two issues. First, they advance arguments to discount documentation that supports that Joseph Smith was a pluralist:

  1. Most of the historical evidence supporting Joseph as a polygamist was written years, even many decades, after his death.
  2. There are no documented children fathered by Joseph Smith with a plural wife.
  3. Section 101 of the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants purportedly condemns polygamy.
  4. Joseph Smith reportedly repudiated the practice of polygamy in Nauvoo.
  5. Emma Smith purportedly denied that Joseph practiced polygamy.
  6. The provenance of Section 132 is supposedly uncertain.

The second issue is creating a credible alternate narrative of the origin of plural marriage among the Latter-day Saints that doesn’t include Joseph’s active participation. This may involve implicating a Cochranite connection or a pamphlet published in Nauvoo called The Peace Maker. Others seek to blame the practice on John C. Bennett or, more commonly, Brigham Young.

Most Historical Evidence Was Written Years Later

Few contemporaneous manuscripts from the Nauvoo period exist that link Joseph Smith and plural marriage. Most of the supportive evidence was penned years later by polygamists in the West who experienced life in Nauvoo and understandably had strong biases. The question is whether the chronological remoteness and narrator prejudices are sufficient to dismiss the entire lot of testimonials.[Page 119]

Contemporaneous Evidence

Plural marriage in Nauvoo was a clandestine practice. Zina Huntington recalled: “We hardly dared speak of it. The very walls had ears. We spoke of it only in whispers.”5 While all early polygamists may not have obeyed this strict code of silence, this sentiment suggests that few insiders close to Joseph Smith would have created discoverable documentation of the practice at the time it was practiced.

Several sources from the early 1840s — a private journal and declarations from former Latter-day Saints — provide manuscript evidence that Joseph was a polygamist. The earliest is from then excommunicated John C. Bennett, who, in October 1842, identified several women who he claimed were sealed to Joseph Smith, including Agnes Smith, Louisa Beaman, Presendia Buell, Elizabeth Davis Durfee, and Patty Sessions.6 What is controversial is whether Bennett learned this from Joseph Smith directly, from Nancy Rigdon, from rumors, or from some other source. What is not controversial is that the identities published by Bennett are corroborated by numerous later recollections from credible witnesses.7

As quoted below, William Clayton recorded in his journal on July 12, 1843, that he “wrote a revelation” dictated by the Prophet “showing the designs in Moses, Abraham, David and Solomon having many wives and concubines &c.”8 Dissidents William and Jane Law both signed affidavits on May 4, 1844, stating that they had read that document.9 On that same day, Austin Cowles signed his own affidavit:

In the latter part of the summer, 1843, the Patriarch, Hyrum Smith, did in the High Council, of which I was a member, introduce what he said was a revelation given through the Prophet; that the said Hyrum Smith did essay to read the said [Page 120]revelation in the said Council, that according to his reading there was contained the following doctrines: … the doctrine of a plurality of wives, or marrying virgins; that “David and Solomon had many wives, yet in this they sinned not save in the matter of Uriah.” This revelation with other evidence, that the aforesaid heresies were taught and practiced in the Church.10

While these references are not numerous, most are from credible sources, contemporaneous with Joseph Smith, and demonstrate that both Hyrum and Joseph were involved with plural marriage during their lifetimes.

Later Recollections

Investigating Nauvoo polygamy uncovers multiple corroborating accounts in later years. As the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints expanded its claims after 1860 that Joseph Smith was not a polygamist, many Brighamite church members in the West recorded their own recollections. This section references a number of these, but many more could be cited.

The earliest narratives date Nauvoo polygamy teachings to 1840 or 1841. Wilford Woodruff recalled that the Prophet “taught the principle to certain individuals. … There was no one teaching it only under his direction.”11

Cyrus Wheelock remembered that he first learned of the principle from the Prophet at Joseph Noble’s home in 1841.12 He reported that such teachings were subsequently shared with others on a “rainy and chilly” day in a forest setting about a mile west of Montrose, Iowa: “Joseph … taught us the principle of plural marriage, but his teaching was not specially directed to me, but to all who were in the company. We talked about it as we might here or any brother qualified and having authority [Page 121]to do so will discuss principles when he gets along with his brethren in friendly and confidential discourse.”13

Several apostles returned from their mission to England in 1841 (Heber C. Kimball, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, George A. Smith, and Brigham Young). Multiple documents exist describing how they were personally taught by Joseph Smith about polygamy. In a discourse delivered on the tenth anniversary of the martyrdom, Apostle John Taylor recalled those early days when the Prophet introduced the principle of plural marriage to them:

I remember being with President Young and Kimball and I think one or two others with Brother Joseph soon after we had returned from England. He talked with us on these principles and laid them before us. It tried our minds and feelings. We saw it was something going to be heavy upon us. It was not that very nice pleasing thing some people thought about it. It is something that harried up our feelings. … We should have been glad to push it off a little further. We [would have] been glad if it did not come in our day but that somebody else had something to do with it instead of us.14

Years later on October 14, 1882, President John Taylor again referred to the event: “Upon that occasion, Joseph Smith laid before us the whole principle pertaining to that doctrine, and we believed it. Having done this, Joseph felt, as he said, that he had got a big burden rolled off his shoulders. He felt the responsibility of that matter resting heavily upon him.”15

During an 1892 deposition taken in the Temple Lot litigation,16 Wilford Woodruff recounted, on October 5, 1841, his feelings upon returning from England:

[Page 122]Joseph Smith of course taught that principle while in Nauvoo, and he not only taught it, but practiced it too. … I heard him teach it — he taught it to the quorum of twelve apostles, and he taught it to other individuals as they bear testimony. I know he taught it to us. … In his addresses to the quorum of twelve apostles, when he visited us, he would teach that. … It was nearly six months, and he spoke of it frequently. … He taught it to us as a principle amongst other things.17

Apostle George A. Smith also remembered this period. “At one of the first interviews” he had with Joseph after returning from his mission to England on July 13, 1841, he “was greatly astonished at hearing from his lips that doctrine of Patriarchal marriage, which he continued to preach to me from time to time. My last conversation with him on this subject occurred just previous to my departure from Nauvoo (May 9, 1844) in company with Elder Wilford Woodruff, to attend Conference in Michigan. … He testified to me and to my father [John Smith] that the Lord had given him the keys of this sealing ordinance, and that he felt as liberal to others as he did to himself.”18

Brigham Young returned to Nauvoo July 1, 1841, and later recalled:

When I returned home and Joseph revealed these things to me, I then understood the reflections that were upon my mind while in England. … This was in 1841; the revelation was given in 1843, but the doctrine was revealed before this, and when I told Joseph what I understood which was right in front of my house in the street, as he was shaking hands and leaving me, he turned round and looked me in the eyes, [Page 123]and says he: “Brother Brigham, are you speaking what you understand, — are you in earnest?” Says I: “I speak just as the Spirit manifests to me.” Says he: “God bless you, the Lord has opened your mind,” and he turned and went off.19

A few months later Brigham would propose a plural marriage to Martha Brotherton, which made him the second person in Nauvoo, after Joseph, ever to seek a polygamous union.

Joseph C. Kingsbury recounted in 1892: “Joseph Smith taught me the principle of polygamy. He gave me to understand it with his own mouth that he had married wives more than one. Now in conversation with him, he told me that.”20 Another Nauvoo resident, Nathan Tanner, affirmed: “In the Spring of 1844 at Montrose, lee County, Iowa, he heard President Joseph Smith … teach the doctrine of Celestial Marriage or plurality of wives.”21

In 1894, Joseph Kelting recounted his meeting with the Prophet:

Calling at the house of the prophet one day, early in the spring of 1844, on some business or other not now remembered, the prophet invited me into a room up stairs in his house, called the Mansion. After \we/ entered the room he locked it \the door,/ and then asked me if I had heard the rumors connecting him with polygamy. I told him I had. He then began a defense of the doctrine by referring to the Old Testament. I told him I did not want to hear that as I could read it for my self.

He claimed to be a prophet — I believed him to be prophet — and I wanted to know what he had to say about it. He expressed some doubts as to how I might receive it, and wanted to know what stand I would take if I should not believe what he had to say about it. I then pledged him my word that whether I believed his revelation or not I would not betray him.

He then informed me that he had received a revelation a revelation from God which taught the correctness of the [Page 124]doctrine of a plurality of wives, and commanding him to obey it. He then acknowledged to having married several wives. I told him that was all right. He then said he would like a further pledge from me that I would not betray him. I asked him if he wanted me to ex accept the principle by marrying a plural wife. He answered yes. A short time after this I married two wives in that order of marriage.22

Elsewhere Kelting recalled asking Joseph Smith during the interview: “Have you more than one wife sealed to you by this authority”? The Prophet answered directly: “I have.”23

Lorenzo Snow left several accounts of his experience with the Prophet:

In the month of April 1843 I returned from my European Mission. A few days after my arrival at Nauvoo, when at President Joseph Smith’s house, he said he wished to have some private talk with me, and requested me to walk out with him; It was toward evening, we walked a little distance and sat down on a large log that lay near the bank of the river; he there and then explained to me the doctrine of plurality of wives. He said that the Lord had revealed it unto him, and commanded him to have women sealed to him as wives, that he foresaw the trouble that would follow, and sought to turn away from the commandment, that an angel from heaven appeared before him with a drawn sword, threatening him with destruction unless he went forward and obeyed the commandment.24

Benjamin F. Johnson’s initial introduction was similar:

[Page 125]On the first day of April A.D. (1843,) eighteen hundred and forty-three, President Joseph Smith, Orson Hyde, and William Clayton and others came from Nauvoo to my residence in Macedonia or Ramus in Hancock Co. Illinois, and were joyfully welcomed by myself and family as our guests. On the following morning, Sunday April second, President Smith took me by the arm for a walk, leading the way to a secluded spot within an adjacent grove, where to my great surprise, he commenced to open up to me the principle of plural or celestial marriage.25

Erastus Snow related his experience:

[About April 1843] I had a very enjoyable visit for about a month with the Prophet and my kindred and brethren. It was during this visit that the Prophet told me what the Lord had revealed to him touching upon baptism for the dead and marriage for eternity, and requiring his chosen and proved servants to take unto themselves wives, and introduced several of those who had been sealed to himself and others of the first elders of the Church.26

Besides teaching the principle, Joseph Smith acted as an intermediary in organizing a few plural marriages. Mary Ann Covington was sealed to William Smith in the spring of 1844. She remembered:

I went to live at Orson Hyde’s and soon after that time Joseph Smith wished to have an interview with me at Orson Hyde’s. He had the interview with me, and then asked me if I had ever heard of a man’s having more wives than one, and I said I had not. He then told me that he had received a revelation from God that man could have more wives than one, and that men were now being married in plural marriage. He told me soon after that his brother William wished to marry me as a wife in plural marriage if I felt willing to consent to it. … He said that there was power on earth to seal wives in plural marriages.27

[Page 126]Another Nauvoo Latter-day Saint, Mercy Rachel Fielding Thompson, explained in 1892 that her plural marriage was arranged by the Prophet: “The Prophet himself … was the one that introduced it to me, and he was the one that taught that principle of plural marriage to me first, and I heard him teach it to others. He taught it to me I know, and he must to others, for my sister was the first one that came to me and spoke to me about being sealed to Hyrum Smith.”28

Besides these accounts, multiple documents demonstrate that Joseph participated in the plural marriage ceremonies. In 1869, Orson Hyde signed an affidavit stating that “Joseph sealed him to Martha R. Browitt in February or March of 1843.”29 On March 4, 1870, Harriet Cook Young signed an affidavit affirming that on November 2, 1843, Joseph sealed her to Brigham Young.30 Many other Latter-day Saints signed affidavits describing how Joseph Smith taught them about plural marriage, including Mary Ann Angell Young, Augusta Adams Young, Elizabeth Lucy Ann Decker Young, Elizabeth Brotherton Pratt, Roxsena Rachel Adams, Harriet Cook Young, Clara Decker Young, Adeline Brooks Andrus Benson, Pamelia Andrus Benson, and Mary Ann Frost Pratt.31

Evidence Joseph Smith Practiced Plural Marriage

Besides teaching and assisting with plural marriages, much evidence exists that Joseph himself was sealed to plural wives. On June 26, 1869, Joseph B. Noble declared: “On the fifth day of April A.D. 1841, At the City of Nauvoo, County of Hancock, State of Illinois, he married or sealed Louisa Beaman, to Joseph Smith, President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, according to the order of Celestial Marriage revealed to the Said Joseph Smith.”32 When asked about the authority he used to perform the ceremony, Noble stated with a hint of pride: “I know this, that the law giver [Joseph Smith] authorized it. … I got it all right[Page 127] — right from the Prophet himself. That is where I got it. … I sealed her to him and I did a good job too.”33

Dimick Huntington also attested that he performed the sealings of Joseph to Huntington’s sisters Zina and Presendia. On May 1, 1869, he attested, “On the 27th day of October A.D. 1841, at the City of Nauvoo, County of Hancock, State of Illinois, he married or Sealed Zina D. Huntington to Joseph Smith President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and also on the eleventh day of December A.D. 1841 at the same place he married or Sealed, Presendia L. Huntington to the Said Joseph Smith, according to the laws of said Church, regulating marriage; in presence of Fanny M. Huntington.”34 Fanny corroborated these in separate affidavits.35

Multiple women recounted their own sealings to Joseph Smith. Eliza R. Snow wrote:

In Nauvoo I first understood that the practice of plurality of wives was to be introduced into the church. The subject was very repugnant to my feelings. … I was sealed to the Prophet, Joseph Smith, for time and eternity, in accordance with the Celestial Law of Marriage which God has revealed — the ceremony being performed by a servant of the Most High.36

On July 27, 1842, Joseph dictated a revelation recorded by Newel K. Whitney concerning the Prophet’ sealing to Sarah Ann Whitney:

Verily thus saith the Lord unto my se[r]vant N. K. Whitney the thing that my sevant Joseph Smith has made known unto you and your Famely [Family] and which you have agreed upon is right in mine eyes. … These are the words which you shall pronounce upon my sevant Joseph [Smith] and your Daughter S. A. [Sarah Ann] Whitney. They shall take each other by the [Page 128]hand and you shall say: you both mutu[al]ly agree calling them by name to be each others companion so long as you both shall live presser[v]ing yourselv[es] for each other and from all others and also through [o]ut all eternity reserving only those rights which have been given to my servant Joseph [Smith] by revelation.37

Desdemona Fullmer married Joseph Smith in July 1843:38 “Having been convinced of the truth of polygamy I therefore entered into the order but I dared not make it known not even to my parents for I was forbidden by the Prophet for it would endanger the life of Joseph and also many of the Saints.”39

In 1877, Eliza Partridge penned: “After a time my sister Emily and myself went to live in the family of the Prophet Joseph Smith. We lived there about three years. While there he taught to us the plan of Celestial marriage and asked us to enter into that order with him. This was truly a great trial for me, but I had the most implicit confidence in him as a Prophet of the Lord.”40 Eliza’s sister Emily similarly recorded: “The first intimation I had from Brother Joseph that there was a pure and holy order of plural marriage, was in the spring of 1842, but I was not married until 1843. I was married to him on the eleventh of May, 1843, [Page 129]by Elder James Adams. Emma was present. She gave her free and full consent.”41 Almera Johnson recorded a similar story:

In the years 1842 and 1843, I resided most of the time at Macedonia, in the County of Hancock, State of Illinois. … During that time the Prophet Joseph Smith taught me the principle of Celestial Marriage including plurality of wives and asked me to become his wife. … I was sealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith. At the time this took place Hyrum Smith, Joseph’s brother, came to me and said, I need not be afraid. I had been fearing and doubting about the principle and so had he, but he now knew it was true. After this time I lived with the Prophet Joseph Smith as his wife, and he visited me at the home of my brother Benjamin F. at Macedonia.42

Lucy Walker remembered:

When the Prophet Joseph Smith first mentioned the principles of plural marriage to me I became very indignant, and told him emphatically that I did not wish him ever to mention it to me again, as my feelings and education revolted against any thing of such a nature. … I received a powerful and irresistible testimony of the truth of plural marriage, which testimony has abided with me ever since. Shortly afterwards I consented to become the Prophet’s wife, and was married to him May 1, 1843, Elder William Clayton officiating.43

Similarly, Malissa Lott testified: “He [Joseph Smith] was the one that preached it [plural marriage], and taught it to me.”44 Besides these, other sworn statements from Joseph’s plural wives attest that they were sealed to him while in Nauvoo. Included were Zina D. Huntington, Presendia Huntington, Ruth Vose, Marinda Nancy Johnson, [Page 130]Rhoda Richards, Sarah Ann Whitney, Elvira A. Cowles, Patty Bartlett, and Martha McBride.45

All of these statements and many more that could be supplied fulfill the requirements to be introduced as valid evidence in a court of law. If Joseph Smith did not introduce and practice polygamy, it seems that only a conspiracy of unimaginable scope could account for these documents.

No Documented Children Fathered by
Joseph Smith and a Plural Wife

Multiple authors in the past (including me) have reported Joseph Smith may have fathered one or two children with his plural wives.46 Recent research including DNA testing has eliminated the most likely candidates. Currently there are no known children fathered by Joseph Smith and a plural wife and none with a seemingly high probability.

Several documents support the possibility that Joseph had children by a plural wife. Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner stated: “I know he [Joseph Smith] had three children. They told me. I think two are living today but they are not known as his children as they go by other names.”47 On another occasion she declared: “I don’t know about his having children, but I heard of three that he was the father of.”48 A secondhand account from Lucy Meserve Smith49 (wife of Apostle George A. Smith) in Nauvoo recalls that her husband “related to me the circumstance of calling on the Prophet one evening about 11, o clock, and he was out on the porch with a basin of water washing his hands, I said to him what is up, said Joseph one of my wives has just been confined and Emma was midwife and I have been assisting her. He said she had granted a no. of women for him.”50

[Page 131]The lack of identifiable offspring to Joseph is not completely surprising in light of the difficulties he would have encountered finding time to spend with his wives. The lack of children could indicate that sexual relations with plural wives were less common, but it does not shut the door on such relations.

During the last eight months of his life, the Prophet lived publicly as a monogamist, but several of his plural wives lived in the Nauvoo Mansion with him and Emma. Any could have become pregnant and later delivered without anyone documenting the event. As with so many research realities, the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. That is, the absence of documented births is not evidence that no such births occurred. In evaluating whether or not Joseph Smith practiced polygamy, the real question is not about children. Focusing solely on offspring is something of a detour. If Joseph consummated any of the plural sealings — whether there was offspring or not — then he practiced polygamy in the full sense, just as Old Testament patriarchs had done. Claims that he was a monogamist would be in error.

Another evidence supporting Joseph Smith’s consummation of at least some of his plural unions is found in what is now Doctrine and Covenants section 132. Verse 63 specifies one of the reasons for plural marriage, “to multiply and replenish the earth, according to my commandment.” Similarly, “raising up seed” is the only reason given in the Book of Mormon to explain why God might command his people to practice plural marriage (Jacob 2:27, 30).

Manuscript evidence exists supporting the possibility of sexuality in twelve of Joseph’s plural marriages, along with ambiguous evidence in a few more.51 The validity of the documents varies from plain declarations from participants given under oath to much less reliable reports.

Several firsthand statements are available. As quoted above, in an 1883 affidavit, Almera W. Johnson admitted she had “lived with Joseph Smith [Page 132]as his wife.”52 During the Temple Lot dispositions, Malissa Lott gave the response, “Yes sir,” when the lawyer inquired: “Did you ever room with Joseph Smith as his wife?” 53 Emily Partridge also answered, “Yes sir,” when asked, “Did you ever have carnal intercourse with Joseph Smith?”54 These statements were included in the women’s deposed testimonies taken under oath and are very credible.

Multiple additional statements affirm sexuality. “Yes, they did,” was Benjamin Winchester’s reply when asked, “Did they sleep together?” regarding Joseph and Louisa Beaman.55 Benjamin F. Johnson affirmed that either Emily or her sister, Eliza, had “occupied the Same Room & Bed” as Joseph Smith.”56 On another occasion he wrote: “I saw one of my sisters [Almera?] married to him [Joseph Smith] and know that with her he occupied my house on May 16 and 17, 1843.”57

When asked, “Where did they [Joseph Smith and plural wife Louisa Beaman] sleep together?” Joseph Noble’s answered: “Right straight across the river at my house they slept together.”58 Similarly, plural wife Malissa Lott affirmed she had been Joseph’s wife “in very deed” (see discussion below). D. H. Morris, quoted Lucy walker saying she “married Joseph Smith as a plural wife and lived and cohabited with him as such.”59 She likewise attested in 1902: “I know that [Emma] gave [Page 133]her consent to the marriage of at least four women to her husband as plural wives, and she was well aware that he associated and cohabited with them as wives.”60

Respecting sexuality in plurality, there is both theological support and convincing historical evidence corroborating its presence in some of Joseph Smith’s polygamous marriages.

Section 101 of the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants’s
Purported Condemnation of Polygamy

In early August of 1835, Joseph Smith left Kirtland, Ohio, with First Presidency Counselor Frederick G. Williams to visit Pontiac, Michigan, returning on August 23rd.61 Shortly after the Prophet’s departure from Kirtland, Oliver Cowdery and Sidney Rigdon hastily called a “General Assembly” of Church leaders and members specifically “for the purpose of examining a book of commandments and covenants, which [had] been compiled and written.”62

The assembly proceeded to accept the Doctrine and Covenants as a binding religious document for the Latter-day Saints. In addition, an article on “Marriage,” written by Oliver Cowdery, was read and was “accepted and adopted and ordered to be printed in said book, by a unanimous vote.”63 Accordingly, the marriage declaration was published in the very next issue of the Messenger and Advocate (dated August, 1835, but printed sometime in September) and was included in the first edition of the Doctrine and Covenants as section CI (101).64

[Page 134]It specified, “Inasmuch as this Church of Christ has been reproached with the crime of fornication and polygamy, we declare that we believe that one man should have one wife, and one woman but one husband.”65 The declaration seems to specify monogamy and disallow polygamy and was interpreted as such by Nauvoo Saints, who published it at least twice as evidence that the Church advocated only monogamy.66

After the main body of Church members migrated to the Rocky Mountains and embraced the practice of plural marriage, members of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints continued to advance the monogamous view. However, RLDS Elder David H. Bays pointed out in an 1897 book:

You may have observed the ingenious phraseology of that part of the document [1835 D&C section 101] which is designed to convey the impression that the assembly, as well as the entire church, was opposed to polygamy, but which, as a matter of fact, leaves the way open for its introduction and practice. The language I refer to is this:

“We believe that one man shall have one wife; and one woman but one husband.” Why use the restrictive adverb in the case of the woman, and ingeniously omit it with reference to the man? Why not employ the same form of words in the one case as in the other? Of the woman it is said she shall have but one husband. Why not say of the man, he shall have “but one wife except in case of death, when either is at liberty to marry again.”67

[Page 135]In 1902, LDS Church President Joseph F. Smith made the same observation: “The declaration … that ‘one man should have one wife, and one woman but one husband,’ bears the implication that a man might possibly be permitted at some time to have more than one wife.”68

These two authors took the position that the statement in the Article on Marriage could be seen as ambiguous due to the absence of a needed qualifier “we believe that one man should have [only or at least?] one wife.” Bays condemns the lack of specificity, while President Smith implied it was an intended loophole.

Whether the precise terminology was truly deliberate is unknown because Joseph Smith apparently never referred to the technical aspects of the declaration. It is possible the language was crafted by Joseph himself, since by 1835, he knew the practice of plural marriage was one of the many things he was expected to restore.69

Despite early interpretations, the actual language seems less definite either to deny the possibility of acceptable polygamy or to affirm monogamy. It was removed from the Doctrine and Covenants with the 1876 printing, which included what is now section 132. It would seem that proponents of the idea that the 1835 D&C section 101 constituted a strong statement against polygamy are going beyond the evidence.

Joseph Smith’s Reported Repudiation
of the Practice of Polygamy in Nauvoo

Besides the article on “Marriage,” Joseph answered “no” to the question “Do the Mormons believe in having more wives than one?”70 But in 1837, polygamy was not a publicly official doctrine of the Church, which did not occur until 1852. On other occasions he condemned individuals who were practicing polygamy without proper authority, as in the cases of Hiram Brown.71

Perhaps the most popular “denial” was uttered on May 26, 1844, when Joseph Smith declared: “What a thing it is for a man to be accused [Page 136]of committing adultery, and having seven wives, when I can only find one.”72 Since he had been sealed to over two dozen women for time and eternity by that time, this was a dodge that used creative language to avoid acknowledging a practice that he believed God approved but that many of his listeners might not.

Combining all the reported “denials” or reading them separately fails to find a revelation or other prophetic pronouncement categorically condemning celestial plural marriage or denying it might have been practiced by the Latter-day Saints in Nauvoo. A close reading of all the statements indicates they could be read as (1) denying polygamy as an official Church doctrine at that time; (2) denying John C. Bennett’s immoralities, which never involved a marriage ceremony and therefore were technically not polygamy; (3) denying polygamy teachings and practices that were unauthorized; or (4) denying polygamy through verbal technicalities that contained intentional ambiguity.

Emma Smith’s Purported Denial that
Joseph Practiced Polygamy

Several weeks before the passing of Emma Hale Smith, on April 30, 1879, her sons Joseph and Alexander arranged for a question-and-answer interview. Several of the responses were printed in the RLDS publication The Saints’ Herald, and as a pamphlet shortly after her death:

Ques. Did he [Joseph Smith] not have other wives than yourself?

Ans. He had no other wife but me; nor did he to my knowledge ever have.

Ques. Did he not hold marital relation with women other than yourself?

Ans. He did not have improper relations with any woman that ever came to my knowledge.73

Attempts to correlate these comments with the multitude of contradictory narratives has generated several theories. Historian [Page 137]Lawrence Foster suggests that “the questions had been carefully prepared in advance, with ambiguities in wording that, whether deliberate or not, allowed for ‘deniability.’”74 Author Mark Staker proposed another explanation: “Perhaps, Emma’s memory was already failing in February [1879] when Joseph Smith III interviewed her. She may have made statements in those declining weeks that were not intentionally inaccurate but influenced by growing senility.”75

A third possibility deals with Joseph Smith III’s apparent willingness to edit out undesirable details in published conversations dealing with polygamy. On October 20, 1885, he interviewed Malissa Lott in her Lehi, Utah home. His recollection of the interview was published later:

I asked, plainly, “Melissa will you tell me just what was your relation to my father, if any?”

She arose, went to a shelf, and returned with a Bible which she opened at the family record pages and showed me a line written there in a scrawling handwriting:

“Married my daughter Melissa to Prophet Joseph Smith — “ giving the date, which I seem to remember as late in 1843.

I looked closely at the handwriting, and examined the book and other entries carefully. Then I asked:

“Who were present when this marriage took place — if marriage it be called?”

“No one but your father and myself”’

“Was my mother there?”

“No, sir.”

“Was there no witness there?”

“No, sir.”

“Where did it occur?”

“At the house on the farm,”

“And my mother knew nothing of it, before or after?”

“No, sir.”

[Page 138]“Did you ever live with my father as his wife, in the Mansion House in Nauvoo, as has been claimed?”

“No, sir.”

“Did you ever live with him as his wife anywhere?” I persisted.

At this point she began to cry, and said, “No, I never did: but you have no business asking me such questions. I had a great regard and respect for your father and your mother. I do not like to talk about these things.”76

Malissa Lott’s own record of their interview allows researchers to compare the two:

Ques. 1 – Were you married to my father?

Ans. – yes

Ques. 2 – When

Ans. – I handed him the family Bible in which was recorded by my father at the time of my said marriage & told him he would find it there.

Ques. 3 – Was you a wife In very deed?

Ans. – yes

Ques. 4 – Why was there no children say in your case?

Ans. – Through no falt of either of us. Lack of proper conditions on my part probably or it might of been in the wisdom of the Almighty that we should have none. The Prophet was Martyred 9 mos. After our marriage

Ques. 5 – Did you know of any brother or sister of mine by my father?

Ans. – I did not know of any.77

Malissa’s account differs from Joseph Smith III’s on several important points. It might be said that it is simply a matter of “he said she said,” both [Page 139]sides claiming the other is lying. Yet, additional documents created long before this conversation support both that Malissa was Joseph Smith’s plural wife and that the union was consummated.78 Malissa reported saying she was a wife of the Prophet “in very deed,” unmistakable language for sexual relations and consistent with things she had said on multiple occasions prior to their visit.

Joseph reported exactly the opposite, portraying Malissa as avoiding the question and beginning to cry. If true, Malissa had done an abrupt reversal concerning this issue, only to again affirm her consummated plural marriage to Joseph in the years afterward.79

Joseph Smith III also mentioned additional conversational points with responses that Malissa apparently omitted. On March 16, 1892, while under oath during the Temple Lot litigation, she addressed several of these, describing how “Hyrum Smith performed the ceremony” and how “There was quite a good many around my father’s house at the time” of the sealing ordinance.80 She also affirmed that Emma gave her consent and answered “Yes, sir” when asked, “Did you ever room with Joseph Smith as his wife?”81 These statements again contradict the version published by Joseph Smith III.

In light of the discrepancies between the two accounts of their interview, the possibility that young Joseph edited his mother’s actual answers to the questions regarding polygamy cannot be excluded. Eliza R. Snow seemed to hold such suspicions, writing in the Deseret News:

If what purports to be her “last testimony” was really her testimony, she died with a libel on her lips — a libel against her husband — against his wives — against the truth, and a libel against God, and in publishing that libel, her son has [Page 140]fastened a stigma on the character of his mother, that can never be erased. … I would gladly have been silent and let her memory rest in peace, had not her misguided son, through a sinister policy, branded her name with gross wickedness — charging her with the denial of a sacred principle which she had heretofore not only acknowledged but had acted upon.82

Joseph Smith III’s Private Acknowledgment

Surprisingly, an unexpected verification that Joseph Smith practiced plural marriage comes from the hand of Joseph Smith III. Sometime before January 6, 1894, young Joseph wrote to RLDS Elder E. C. Brand, who was living in Salt Lake City, asking him to create a list of women who were reportedly plural wives of his father. Brand responded by providing a list of twenty names. Then on January 6, 1894, Joseph Smith III replied to Brand’s letter by providing commentary on each of the names provided in the earlier correspondence.

During the process, Joseph Smith III revealed his personal beliefs regarding his father’s alleged polygamy: “I have been getting used to contemplating my respective step-mothers, and possible half brothers & sisters.” He then complimented Brand: “I have always given you credit for a kind heart, and tenderness of feeling, and a sensibility and recognition of proprieties not usual among men; and have believed that much of what I facetiously called ‘cheek,’ was bravery for the best and political reasons. That is why I asked you to look after the ‘limbs of the’ family tree, I wanted to see if they were akin to the ‘root.’”83

RLDS President Smith wrote of possible “stepmothers,” indicating a belief that his father was married polygamously. Also, references to “possible half-brothers & sisters” and “limbs of the family tree” seem to acknowledge his belief that blood relatives might have been born to some of the plural unions.

A second letter also supports that Joseph Smith III believed his father practiced polygamy. His uncle, William B. Smith, had written to him about his intent to compose a biography of his brother, the Prophet (which was never written). On March 11, 1882, nephew Joseph responded, “Father’s history is not yet written for the world, and ought to [Page 141]be written by a friend, of course.”84 Contemplating what his uncle might write, he continued:

I have long been engaged in removing from Father’s memory and from the Early church, the stigma and blame thrown upon them because of Polygamy; and have at last lived to see the cloud rapidly lifting. And I would not consent to see further blame attached, by a blunder now. Therefore uncle, bear in mind our standing today before the world as defenders of Mormonism free from Polygamy and go ahead with your personal recollections of Joseph & Hyrum.85

Joseph then admonished William: “If you are the wise man I take you to be, You will fail to remember anything contrary to the lofty standard of character by which we esteem those good men. You can do the Cause great good; you can injure it by injudicious sayings.”86 Encouraging William to “fail to remember anything” conflicting with the standard of “Mormonism free from Polygamy” suggests that William could remember plural marriage and young Joseph was aware of the likelihood.

That Joseph Smith III would have known from reliable sources concerning his father’s plurality is not unexpected. The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints was formed on April 6, 1860. Three years later William Marks was called as Joseph Smith III’s First Counselor in the First Presidency, serving there until Marks’s death on May 22, 1872. Marks’s attendance on August 12, 1843 with the Nauvoo High Council when they heard Hyrum Smith read the revelation on celestial and plural marriage is well documented in both contemporaneous and late manuscripts.87 There is little doubt that Marks [Page 142]was privy to polygamy’s introductory activities, even if he remained aloof or nonparticipating.88 Since one of the primary tenets of the RLDS church was that Joseph Smith the Prophet was not a polygamist, the topic likely would have been raised in conversation with the RLDS First Presidency. It is also probable they would have asked Marks concerning his published statement in the July 1853 Zions Harbinger and Baneemy’s Organ, stating that Joseph was involved, but in the weeks before his death had planned to give up the practice.89

The Supposed Uncertain Provenance of D&C 132

The provenance of LDS section 132 is sometimes criticized by those who believe Joseph Smith was a monogamist. Available manuscript data provide a credible historical background for the document that is today published in the LDS Doctrine and Covenants. William Clayton recorded in his journal that he wrote the original revelation on July 12, 1843 as it was dictated to him by the Prophet:

This A.M, I wrote a Revelation consisting of 10 pages on the order of the priesthood, showing the designs in Moses, Abraham, David and Solomon having many wives and concubines &c. After it was wrote Presidents Joseph and [Page 143]Hyrum presented it and read it to E[mma] who said she did not believe a word of it and appeared very rebellious.90

Then one or two days later, Newell K. Whitney requested permission to have a copy made.91 Joseph C. Kingsbury described the copying process in 1886:

Bishop Newel K. Whitney handed me the Revelation … the day [after] it was written or the day following and stating what it was asked me to make a copy of it. I did so, and then read my copy of it to Bishop Whitney, who compared it with the original to which he held in his hand while I read to him. When I had finished reading, Bishop Whitney pronounced the copy correct and Hyrum Smith came into the room at the time to fetch the original. Bishop Whitney handed it to him. I will also state that this copy, as also the original are identically the same as published in the present edition [1876] of the Book of Doctrine and Covenants.92

The existence of the Kingsbury copy was fortunate because the original Clayton document was destroyed within weeks of its creation.93

[Page 144]In the months following its being committed to paper, multiple Nauvooans learned about the revelation and its contents. William Law reported in the Nauvoo Expositor, published June 7, 1844:

I hereby certify that Hyrum Smith did, (in his office,) read to me a certain written document, which he said was a revelation from God, he said that he was with Joseph when it was received. He afterwards gave me the document to read, and I took it to my house, and read it, and showed it to my wife, and returned it next day. the revelation (so called) authorized certain men to have more wives than one at a time, in this world and in the world to come.94

Jane Law signed a similar affidavit.95 Others left records referring to the revelation, many saying they either handled it or heard it read to them. Mercy Rachel Thompson stated she was privileged to keep the written revelation “some four or five days. Something like that.”96 Lucy Walker testified that she saw the revelation “at the Nauvoo Mansion” where she was living.97

Several documents affirm that the revelation was read to the Nauvoo High Council. One member, David Fullmer, described what happened:

Dunbar Wilson made inquiry in relation to the subject of plurality of wives, as there were rumors about respecting it, and he was satisfied there was something in those rumors, and he wanted to know what it was. Upon which Hyrum Smith stepped across the road to his residence, and soon returned bringing with him a copy of the revelation on celestial [Page 145]marriage given to Joseph Smith July 12, 1843, and read the same to the High Council, and bore testimony to its truth.98

Seven other Nauvoo High Councilors and stake leaders, James Allred, Thomas Grover, William Huntington, Aaron Johnson, Leonard Soby, and Austin Cowles, left similar records.99

Another witness of the revelation’s existence is Cyrus Wheelock, who recounted how Joseph Smith “had that revelation read to a group of three or four or five together” by his clerk.100 He added: “There was a few of us in the woods, getting out of the way and we were talking and I heard about it.”101 Others who recorded similar testimony were John Hawley, Franklin D. Richards, Ebenezer Robinson, James Leithead, Charles Smith, Mary Ann West, John Taylor, Jane Snyder Richards, and Charles Lambert.102

Apostle George A. Smith reported in 1871: “In 1843 the law on celestial marriage was written, but not published, and was known only to perhaps one or two hundred persons.”103 The quantity of testimonies from both believers and unbelievers regarding a revelation dictated [Page 146]by Joseph Smith in the summer of 1843 is important evidence that a document dealing with polygamy then existed.

Some critics contend that at some point the Kingsbury copy was changed, ostensibly by Brigham Young or under his direction. Evidence for this theory is thin. Historian Lyndon Cook described what happened next to the Kingsbury manuscript: “Newel K. Whitney preserved the Kingsbury copy of the revelation. In March of 1847, at Winter Quarters, Brigham Young asked Bishop Whitney for the Kingsbury copy, which transcript was published in 1852.”104 In 1885, Helen Mar Kimball explained what occurred at Winter Quarters:

Sunday, the 14th [March 1847], my husband [Horace Whitney] penned in his journal: “By father’s request I went and copied an important document, which took me the greater part of the day and into the night.”105

March 14, 1847, entry in Horace Whitney’s journal.

March 14, 1847, entry in Horace Whitney’s journal.

The revelation on plural marriage was the “document” referred to, which he afterwards gave to President Young, retaining a copy.106

If emendations were made by Brigham Young, they would have occurred after he took possession of the document in March 1847. However, the widespread knowledge of the revelation would have made successfully altering it more difficult. Success would have required a widespread intrigue involving many individuals. Kingsbury would have needed to collaborate by penning an altered (or new) revelation as directed by Brigham Young because Section 132 is a transcription of his [Page 147]manuscript and shows no sign of editing. Clayton and Kingsbury would have needed to agree to promote the changed manuscript as the original. While many Nauvoo polygamists may not have remembered details of the revelation, many other members were still alive who were familiar enough with its message to detect alterations.

Contemporaneous evidence corroborates some details in the Kingsbury copy. The testimonies of William and Jane Law as published in the Nauvoo Expositor, that the original revelation “authorized certain men to have more wives than one at a time, in this world and in the world to come,”107 dovetail with Law’s later recollections. When asked in 1887, “What do you remember about Emma’s relations to the revelation on celestial marriage?” Law replied, “Well, I told you that she used to complain to me about Joseph’s escapades whenever she met me on the street. She spoke repeatedly about that pretended revelation. She said once: “The revelation says I must submit or be destroyed. Well, I guess I have to submit.108

Proponents of the altered revelation theory must also confront the question of why Brigham would have included verses 51‒66, which deal with personal issues confronting the Prophet and his wife over plural marriage. The sometimes confusing narrative in those verses documents Emma’s awareness and a struggle between her and Joseph that fits their known marital tensions in the summer of 1843.

It seems Brigham Young had no need to frame Joseph Smith as the initiator of the practice or the revelation. Multiple voices, early and late, friendly and unfriendly, verify Joseph as the originator.

Additional Theories

Several alternative theories have been advanced to explain Nauvoo polygamy that do not implicate Joseph Smith or his active participation. Each, however, fails to “pass muster” when compared to the available data.[Page 148]

A Cochranite Connection?

There is no question that early Church missionaries were aware of Jacob Cochran, the charismatic founder of a group called the Cochranites, who was sent to prison for adultery in 1819.109 Orson Hyde encountered members of the group in October 11, 1832, writing in his journal: “They had a wonderful lustful spirit, because they believe in a ‘Plurality of wives’ which they call spiritual wives, knowing them not after the flesh but after the spirit, but by the appearance they know one another after the flesh.”110 Three years later, on August 21, 1835, nine of the Twelve [apostles] met in conference at Saco, Maine,” where they again encountered those holding to Cochranite beliefs.111

Despite these observations, there is no evidence that any of the LDS members were influenced by the Cochranites to embrace their extramarital practices or in any other way. The timeline, too, is disconnected. Meetings in 1832 and 1835 are years apart from the 1842 practice when the apostles first entered plural unions. Cochran’s ideas were nothing similar to the new and everlasting covenant and sealing authority that formed the basis for Nauvoo plurality. Anyone reading the Old Testament would have learned of polygamy in a more acceptable light. Interacting with Cochran or his followers in the early 1830s was unneeded to introduce early Bible-reading members to the subject of a patriarchal plurality of wives.

Udney Jacob’s The Peace Maker

Some proponents of the position Joseph Smith was not a polygamist allege that plural marriage among the Latter-day Saints in the early 1840s arose from a pamphlet published on the Church’s printing press, authored by nonmember Udney Jacob. The theory is that the apostles and a few other church members read it and wanted to apply its precepts among Church members.112

[Page 149]Born in 1781, Jacob was bold in his attempt to expound scripture and perhaps gather a following. Several pieces of evidence, however, indicate that he never met Joseph Smith, who was uninvolved with the creation and publication of the pamphlet.113

The most convincing observation is found within the text itself.114 The Peace Maker discusses polygamy on only three out of thirty-seven pages, with brief references to it in two other places.115 Its message is not a gentle defense of plural marriage in Old Testament times. Instead, Jacob implements a sledgehammer approach that could have had little effect other than to alienate its readers, especially women, concerning the practice of polygamy: “A man cannot be put lawfully under the law of marriage to the woman; she is his property in marriage … when his wife rebels; and by depriving him of the right of marrying more than one wife, you totally annihilate his power of peaceable government over a woman, and deprive the family of its lawful and necessary head.”116 For [Page 150]Jacob, Old Testament polygamy was just one more evidence that women should be subordinate to men.

Even more problematic claims are found within the pages: “It is written in Malachi 4:5‒6: Behold I will send you Elijah the Prophet. … The author of this work professes to be the teacher here foretold.”117 Jacob apparently touted himself as Elijah returned. It seems improbable that Joseph Smith would have endorsed statements that so clearly conflicted with his own revelations or promoted a publication containing them.118

The wordy Peace Maker contained plenty of rhetoric, sufficient to offend just about any female who read it no matter how devout her faith in the Bible. Understandably, Church sisters in Nauvoo, not receptive to its message, approached the Prophet concerning it. In response he wrote in the Times and Seasons: “There was a book printed at my office, a short time since, written by Udney H. Jacob, on marriage, without my knowledge; and had I been apprised of it, I should not have printed it; not that I am opposed to any man enjoying his privileges; but I do not wish to have my name associated with the authors, in such an unmeaning rigamarole of nonsense, folly, and trash.”119

John C. Bennett

John C. Bennett arrived in Nauvoo in the fall of 1840, bringing a troubling hidden past. Historian Linda King Newell assessed: “There is no evidence that Bennett was hampered by either theological or ethical considerations.”120

By mid-February, 1841, Joseph Smith sent George Miller to McConnelsville, Ohio, to investigate rumors about his reputation.121 Four weeks later Miller reported back that Bennett, who had been passing himself off as a bachelor, was already married and that “his poor, but confiding wife, followed him from place to place, with no suspicion [Page 151]of his unfaithfulness to her; at length however, he became so bold in his departures, that it was evident to all around that he was a sore offender, and his wife left him under satisfactory evidence of his adulterous connections.”122

Having been the focus of numerous rumors himself, Joseph did not immediately expose Bennett. Perhaps hoping that church affiliation might assist Bennett’s redirection, Joseph supported his election as Nauvoo’s first mayor and even asked him to serve as an “assistant” to the First Presidency.123

Because of the close relationship of the two and the nature of Bennett’s later accusations, multiple authors have concluded that Bennett was privy to Joseph’s marriage teachings or may have been the primary mover in the practice of polygamy.124 However, the two systems were very different. Bennett’s extramarital activities were called “spiritual wifery,” which created “spiritual wives” who could have sex with men who became their spiritual husbands so long as they kept the union a secret. The spiritual wifehood and spiritual husbandhood meant nothing after the liaison unless the couple decided to recreate their secret sexual union at some future time. This was a far different practice than eternal marriage or eternal plural marriage as revealed by the Prophet.

[Page 152]Bennett later denied he knew anything about Joseph’s teachings of eternal marriage. In a letter to the Iowa Hawk Eye published December 7, 1843, he wrote that he never learned about “marrying for eternity,” monogamously or polygamously, while in Nauvoo.125 Plural marriage sealings were always for time and eternity. The discussion above indicates that Bennett’s spiritual wifery and Joseph’s eternal plural marriage were disconnected the entire time Bennett was in Nauvoo.126

Brigham Young

The most common alternative explanation for Nauvoo and Utah polygamy is that it started with Brigham Young. The problem is that available historical evidence does not fit that explanation. As John Adams observed, “facts are stubborn things.”127

It might be likened to the story of George Washington and the cherry tree. The original story tells of when Washington was six years old he received a hatchet as a gift and proceeded to chop his father’s cherry tree. When his father discovered the damage, he confronted young George who admitted: “I cannot tell a lie. … I did cut it with my hatchet.” According to the narrative, Washington’s father then embraced him, rejoicing in his son’s honesty.128 The story has since been shown to be nonhistorical because there was no documentation to corroborate it. Instead, it appears to have arisen from the imagination of an author seeking to portray Washington in a positive light, with or without genuine supporting evidence.

Similarly, available evidence from Nauvoo polygamists fails to identify Brigham as the originator. Joseph B. Noble testified the first plural sealing in the Church (between Joseph and Louisa Beaman) occurred months before Brigham returned from England. After accepting the teachings in the summer of 1841, Brigham Young became [Page 153]a trusted confidant of the Prophet to teach selected individuals about the principle. Joseph A. Kelting recollected that the Prophet “referred me to Brigham Young if I wanted any more on this subject, Brigham seeming to be the man he trusted most with this matter, and was putting him to the front.”129

Contemporaneous evidence, published in 1842, acknowledges Brigham’s involvement with plural marriage but also lists Joseph’s participation as well. Brigham taught Martha Brotherton, who was terrified and confused. Brigham found the Prophet who, according to Brotherton, joined their conversation, telling Martha that plural marriage “is lawful and right before God — I know it is. … I have the keys of the kingdom, and whatever I bind on earth is bound in heaven, and whatever I loose on earth is loosed in heaven, and if you will accept of Brigham, you shall be blessed.” 130 The accuracy of the report is subject to debate, but the detail that both Brigham and Joseph were secretly advancing polygamy teachings at that time is supported by other later historical data.

For example, on October 23, 1843, Brigham Young wrote in his journal: “With Elder H. C. Kimball and George A. Smith, I visited the Prophet Joseph, who was glad to see us. … He taught us many principles illustrating the doctrine of celestial marriage, concerning which God had given him a revelation.”131

It seems only a superficial evaluation of historical manuscripts would allow the conclusion that Brigham was the originator of eternal plural marriage in Nauvoo, Illinois in the early 1840s.


The documents and observations above support that Joseph Smith introduced and engaged in plural marriage in Nauvoo in the early 1840s, while alternative explanations seem insufficient. History describes many instances in which sincere, intelligent, and devoted individuals were capable of discounting vast quantities of evidences that contradict their accepted views regarding history, science, or religion. Joseph defended [Page 154]the position that “all men are, or ought to be free … to think, and act, and say as they please.”132 Yet he also emphasized that “truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come”133 and invited everyone to embrace it.

Appendix: Chronology of Plural Marriage

The chronology of the marriage dates of Joseph Smith’s plural wives provides a general view of his involvement with polygamy. While the marriage dates for several of Joseph Smith’s plural wives are unknown, solid documentation is available for the vast majority:

Joseph Smith’s Plural Wives

Marriage Date


Fanny Alger


Louisa Beaman

April 5


Zina Huntington


Presendia Huntington

Dec. 11

Agnes Coolbrith

Jan. 6


Mary Elizabeth Rollins


Patty Bartlett

March 9

Marinda Nancy Johnson


[Page 155]Delcena Johnson


Eliza R. Snow

June 29

Sarah Ann Whitney

July 27

Martha McBride


Sylvia Sessions



Ruth Vose


Flora Ann Woodworth


Emily Dow Partridge

March 4

Eliza Maria Partridge

March 8

Almera Johnson


Lucy Walker

May 1

Sarah Lawrence


Maria Lawrence


Helen Mar Kimball


Hannah Ells


Elivira Annie Cowles

June 1

Rhoda Richards

June 12

Desdemona Fullmer


Olive G. Frost


Malissa Lott

Sept. 20

Fanny Young

Nov. 2

Lucinda Pendleton


Nancy Winchester

Elizabeth Davis

Sarah Kingsley

Esther Dutcher

Mary Heron

During his lifetime, Joseph Smith also authorized 29 other men to be sealed to plural spouses:

Nauvoo Polygamists


Date of First Plural Sealing

Total Plural Wives

1. Heber C. Kimball




2. [Page 156]Brigham Young

June 14


3. Vinson Knight

pre-July 31


4. Willard Richards


January 18


5. William D. Huntington

February 5


6. Orson Hyde



7. Lorenzo Dow Young

March 9


8. Joseph Bates Noble

April 5


9. William Clayton

April 27


10. Benjamin F. Johnson

May 17


11. James Adams

July 11


12. Parley P. Pratt

July 24


13. William Felshaw

July 28


14. Hyrum Smith

August 11


15. John Smith

August 13


16. John Taylor

December 12


17. Isaac Morley

December 19


18. William Henry Sagers



19. Edwin D. Woolley



20. Theodore Turley




21. Erastus Snow

April 2


22. William Smith



23. Ezra T. Benson

April 27


24. Joseph W. Coolidge



25. Howard Egan


26. Joseph A. Kelting


27. John E. Page


28. Lyman Wight


29. Reynolds Cahoon




Multiple historical documents corroborate that by the time of the martyrdom, approximately 115 men and women had entered into plural unions, each authorized by Joseph Smith.


1. See Richard and Pamela Price, “Joseph Smith Fought Polygamy,” accessed October 6, 2016,

2. Rock Waterman, “Why I’m Abandoning Polygamy,” accessed December 16, 2016,

3. Denver Snuffer, “Plural Marriage,” accessed June 19, 2015,

4. Anonymous, “Joseph Smith’s Monogamy: Exploring a Counter-narrative Regarding Plural Marriage,” accessed Oct. 3, 2016,

5. John Wight, “Evidence from Zina D. Huntington Young,” Interview with Zina, October 1, 1898, Saints Herald 52 (January 11, 1905): 29. Available at

6. John C. Bennett, History of the Saints: Or an Exposé of Joe Smith and Mormonism. Boston: Leland & Whiting, 1842, 256. Available at

7. See Brian C. Hales, Joseph Smith’s Polygamy: History and Theology, 3 vols., Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2013, 2:324–28.

8. George D. Smith, ed. An Intimate Chronicle: The Journals of William Clayton. Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1995, 110.

9. William Law, Affidavit, Jane Law, Affidavit, Nauvoo Expositor 1, no. 1 (June 7, 1844): 2. Available at

10. Austin Cowles, Affidavit, Nauvoo Expositor 1, no. 1 (June 7, 1844): 2. Available at

11. Wilford Woodruff, deposition, Temple Lot Transcript, Respondent’s Testimony, Part 3, pp. 56 question 536; sentence order reversed. Available at

12. Cyrus Wheelock, deposition, Temple Lot Transcript, Respondent’s Testimony, Part 3, p. 538, question 78. Available at

13. Ibid., p. 539, question 80. See also questions 107, 136, 139, 142. Available at

14. John Taylor, “Sermon in Honor of the Martyrdom,” June 27, 1854, Papers of George D. Watt, MS 4534, Box 2, Disk 2, images 151–52, CHL. Sermon not in Journal of Discourses or in CR 100 317. Transcribed by LaJean Purcell Carruth, September 1, 2009. Used by permission. Terminal punctuation and initial capitals added.

15. John Taylor, quoted in Minutes of the Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1835–1893 (Salt Lake City: Privately Published, 2010), 342 (October 14, 1882).

16. In August 1891, the RLDS Church, led by Joseph Smith III, sued the Church of Christ (Temple Lot). The RLDS claimed they were natural successors to the church organized in 1830 and as such were the rightful owners of the temple lot in Independence, Missouri. The Church of Christ disagreed, saying Joseph Smith taught polygamy, and since the RLDS did not, it could not be the natural successor. On March 16, 1892, an entourage of lawyers traveled to Salt Lake City to depose men and women who participated in Nauvoo polygamy. Although the LDS Church was not a party to the suit, it provided support to the Church of Christ because polygamy was a primary issue and, perhaps, because it did not want the RLDS Church to gain possession of this sacred property.

17. Wilford Woodruff, deposition, Temple Lot Transcript, Respondent’s Testimony, Part 3, pages 10, 58, questions 62–64, 573–80. Available at Woodruff’s recollection of a six month teaching period fits quite well with the documented meetings from August 1841 to March 1842, the most intense period being in the late fall and winter of 1841–42.

18. George A. Smith, letter to Joseph Smith III, October 9, 1869, Journal History. Available at link JS0737.

19. Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, 18:241 (June 23, 1874). Available at

20. Joseph Kingsbury, deposition, Temple Lot Transcript, Respondent’s Testimony, Part 3, page 178, question 18. Available at

21. Joseph F. Smith Affidavit Books, MS 3423, CHL. Available at

22. Joseph A. Kelting, “Statement,” Joseph Smith Affidavits, CHL. Available at link JS0361. See also–4#page/n74/mode/1up.

23. Joseph Kelting, affidavit, September 11, 1903, CHL. Available at link JS0452.

24. Lorenzo Snow, Affidavit dated August 28, 1869, MS 3423, CHL; copied into Joseph F. Smith, Affidavit Books, 2:19. Available at See also Lorenzo Snow, “Discourse,” Millennial Star, 61 (August 31, 1899) 35: 548. Available at Eliza R. Snow, Biography and Family Record of Lorenzo Snow. Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1884, 70. Available at

25. Joseph Smith Affidavit Books, 2:3–6 . Available at

26. Franklin R. Snow, “Autobiography of Erastus Snow,” Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine 14 (April 1923): 109. Available at

27. Mary Ann West, deposition, Temple Lot Transcript, Respondent’s Testimony, Part 3, pages 495–96, 504, questions 13, 272. Available at According to her testimony, this was the only time she discussed plural marriage with the Prophet. See ibid., page 503, questions 264–65.

28. Mercy Rachel Thompson, deposition, Temple Lot Transcript, Respondent’s Testimony, Part 3, pages 238–40, 263–64, questions 23–31, 512, 522. Available at

29. Joseph F. Smith Affidavit Books, 2:45, MS 3423, CHL. Available at

30. Ibid., Affidavit Books, 2:12.

31. Ibid.

32. Ibid., Affidavit Books, 1:3.

33. Joseph Bates Noble, deposition, Temple Lot transcript, respondent’s testimony (part 3), pages 432, 436, questions 793, 799, 861; sentence order reversed. Available at

34. Joseph F. Smith Affidavit Books, MS 3423, CHL. Available at

35. Joseph F. Smith Affidavit Books, MS 3423, CHL. Available at

36. Eliza R. Snow, “Sketch of My Life,” in “Utah and Mormons” collection, Bancroft Library, UC Berkeley, microfilm copy in CHL, under call number MS 8305, Reel 1, Item 11, page 13. Transcript available at MormonPolygamyDocuments JS0410. See also Maureen Ursenbach Beecher, ed., The Personal Writings of Eliza Roxcy Snow, Logan, UT: USU Press, 2000, 16‒17.

37. Revelation for Newell K. Whitney, July 27, 1842. Original manuscript in CHL; quoted in Michael Marquardt, The Joseph Smith Revelations: Text and Commentary, Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1999, 315‒16. Available at See also Revelations in Addition to Those Found in the LDS Edition of the D&C on New Mormon Studies: A Comprehensive Resource Library. CD-ROM. Salt Lake City: Smith Research Associates, 1998.

38. Desdemona Fullmer, Affidavit, June 17, 1869, Joseph F. Smith Affidavit Books, 1:32, 4:32, CHL. Available at William Clayton Affidavit, February 16, 1874, CHL; published in Andrew Jenson, “Plural Marriage,” Historical Record, Salt Lake City, 6 (July 1887) 225; available at link JS1000.

39. Desdemona Fullmer, Autobiography, [not MS 734 in CHL], quoted in D. Michael Quinn papers – Addition – Uncat WA MS 244, bx 1, Yale University, Special Collections. The exact source of this quotation is unknown. Church historians have been unable to locate it in the archives. When contacted by Don Bradley on July 14, 2008, Quinn was unable to recall additional details but was confident of the accuracy of the document.

40. Eliza Maria Partridge Lyman, “Life and Journal of Eliza Maria Partridge Lyman,” n.p., n.d. [1877?], not paginated but covers pages 7‒8 in the holograph, CHL, typescript MS 9546, holograph MS 1527. Typescript available at links JS0025, JS0249.

41. Emily D. Partridge, “A Living Testimony,” Millennial Star, 47 (September 7, 1885) 570‒71. Available at

42. Almera W. Johnson, affidavit dated August 1, 1883, digital holograph, MS 3423, CHL; typescript published in Joseph Fielding Smith, Blood Atonement and the Origin of Plural Marriage (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1905), 70‒71. Available at

43. Andrew Jenson, “Plural Marriage,” Historical Record 6 (July 1887): 229‒30. Available at link JS1000.

44. Malissa Lott, deposition, Temple Lot transcript, respondent’s testimony (part 3), p. 102, question 181. Available at

45. Joseph F. Smith Affidavit Books, MS 3423, CHL. Available at

47. Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner, “Remarks” at Brigham Young University, April 14. 1905, vault MSS 363, fd 6, Harold B. Lee Library, Special Collections, 5. Available at link JS0118.

48. J. D. Stead, Doctrines and Dogmas of Brighamism Exposed, Lamoni, IA: RLDS Church, 1911, 218. Available at

49. For a history of Lucy Meserve Smith (1817‒1892) see Kenneth W. Godfrey, Audrey M. Godfrey, and Jill Mulvay Derr. Women’s Voices: An Untold History of the Latter-day Saints, 1830‒1900. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1982, 261‒71.

50. Lucy Meserve Smith, Statement, Wilford Wood Collection of Church Historical Materials, Microfilm at CHL, MS 8617, Reel 8, Internal reference within collection — 4-N-b-2. Available at link JS0474. For a very similar handwritten statement, dated May 18, 1892, signed by Lucy M. Smith, see copy of holograph in Linda King Newell Collection, Marriott Library. Available at link JS0166. See also Todd Compton, “A Trajectory of Plurality: An Overview of Joseph Smith’s Thirty Three Plural Wives,” Dialogue, 29 (Summer 1996) 2:16.

51. See “Did Plural Marriages Include Sexual Relations,” at Joseph Smith’s Polygamy website, (accessed January 3, 2017)

52. Almera W. Johnson, Affidavit, August 1, 1883; published in Joseph Fielding Smith, Blood Atonement and the Origin of Plural Marriage, 71. Available at

53. Malissa Lott, Deposition, Temple Lot Transcript, Part 3, pp. 97, 105‒6, questions 87‒93, 224‒60. Available at

54. Emily Dow Partridge Young, Deposition, Temple Lot Transcript, Part 3, pp. 371, 384, questions 480‒84, 747, 751‒62. Available at

55. Benjamin Winchester, Testimony to Joseph Smith III, Council Bluffs, Iowa, November 27, 1900. Transcript available at link JS0938.

56. Benjamin F. Johnson, (1818‒1905), Letter to George S. Gibbs, 1903, Church Archives, typescript. Available at

57. Benjamin F. Johnson, “More Testimony,” Letter, Deseret Evening News, April 12, 1904, 4. Available at link JS1223.

58. Joseph B. Noble, deposition, Temple Lot transcript, respondent’s testimony (part 3), page 426, question 683. Available at

59. D. H. Morris, Untitled typed statement, June 12, 1930. Text begins: “The following was given by Judge D. H. Morris of St. George, Utah. … “ Vesta P. Crawford Papers, MS 125, Box 1, fd. 5, Marriott Library. Copy of transcript available at link JS1337.

60. Lucy Walker, affidavit, December 17, 1902; available at–4#page/n74/mode/1up. See also Joseph Fielding Smith, Blood Atonement and the Origin of Plural Marriage, Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1905, 68. Available at

61. Journal History, CHL, August 23, 1835; see also History of the Church 2:253. Available at

62. Fred C. Collier ed., Kirtland Council Minute Book, August 19, 1835, Salt Lake City: Collier’s Publishing, 2nd ed., 2002, 122. Transcript available at

63. “General Assembly,” Messenger and Advocate 1 (August 1835) 2: 162; History of the Church, 2:246. Available at

64. “General Assembly,” Messenger and Advocate 1 (August 1835) 2: 162. 1835 Doctrine and Covenants CI (pages 251‒52); available at Section CI (the Article on Marriage) became Section 109 in the 1844 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants; available at

65. 1835 Doctrine and Covenants CI:4 (page 251); available at; “General Assembly,” Messenger and Advocate 1 (Aug 1835) 2: 163; available at

66. See “Inasmuch as the public mind has been … ,” Times and Seasons, 3 (September 1, 1842), 909; available at “On Marriage,” Times and Seasons, October 1, 1842, 939–940; available at

67. Davis H. Bays, Doctrines and Dogmas of Mormonism Examined and Refuted, St. Louis: Christian Publishing, 1897, 328; italics in original. Available at

68. Joseph F. Smith, “The Real Origin of American Polygamy,” The Arena, vol. XXVIII (Nov. 1902), 494; italics in original. Available at link 84.068.

69. See Brian C. Hales, Joseph Smith’s Polygamy: History and Theology, 3 vols., Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2013, 1:85–91.

70. [Editorial,] Elder’s Journal, 1 (November 1837), 28, 43. Available at

72. Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook, eds., The Words of Joseph Smith: Contemporary Accounts of the Nauvoo Discourse of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1980, 377, May 1844 (Sunday Morning), p. 377.

73. “Last Testimony of Sister Emma,” Saints Herald, October 1, 1879, 289–9 0; available at See also in Saints’ Advocate 2 (October 1879): 49‒52; available at

74. Lawrence Foster, Women, Family, and Utopia: Communal Experiments of the Shakers, the Oneida Community, and the Mormons, Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1991, 168.

75. Mark Staker, email to the author, July 20, 2016.

76. Mary Audentia Smith Anderson, The Memoirs of President Joseph Smith (1832‒1914), Independence, MO: Herald Publishing House, 1979, 245. This is a reprint of The Saint’s Herald, April 28, 1936.

77. This manuscript is in possession of Preston Richard Dehlin. See also Raymond T. Bailey, “Emma Hale: Wife of the Prophet Joseph Smith.” MA thesis, Brigham Young University, 1952, 100–102; available at

78. See Lott Family Bible, MS 3373, CHL; transcript available at link JS0472. Malissa Lott, Affidavit, May 20, 1869, Joseph F. Smith, Affidavit Books, 1:23, 4:23. CHL. Available at George A. Smith, Letter to Joseph Smith III, October 9, 1869; available at link JS0737.

Eliza R. Snow, “First list of wives,” Document #1, in Andrew Jenson Papers, MS 17956, Box 49, fd. 16; transcript available at link 50.010.

79. Malissa Lott, Temple Lot Transcript [1892], Part 3, pp. 97, 105‒106, questions 87–9 3, 22460. Available at

80. Malissa Lott, deposition, Temple Lot transcript, respondent’s testimony (part 3), pp. 93, 95‒96. Available at

81. Ibid.

82. Quoted in “Joseph the Seers Plural Marriages,” Deseret News, 28:604‒05, October 22, 1879. Available at link JS0884.

83. Joseph Smith II to Bro. E.C. Brand, Joseph Smith II Letter Press Book, P6, JSLB4, 63, Community of Christ Archives, January 26, 1894. Typescript available at link JS1401.

84. Joseph Smith III, letter to William B. Smith, March 11, 1882, P6, Joseph Smith III Letter Book 3, pp. 335–36. Available at link JS0886.

85. Ibid.

86. Ibid. The original transcription replaced “contrary” with “[contrasting],” although the script is fairly clear.

87. See Austin Cowles, Affidavit, Nauvoo Expositor 1, no. 1 (June 7, 1844): 2 (available at ); Ebenezer Robinson, “Items of Personal History.” The Return 3 (February 1891) 29; available at Joseph F. Smith Affidavit Book, 1:27, 1:42; 1:54, 1:82; available at John Hawley statement, January 1885 (original in the archives of the Community of Christ Church); available at link JS1291. Franklin D. Richards Notebook, “Words of the Prophets/ Scriptural Items.” LDS CHL; typescript at link JS0355. James Allred, “statement,” October 15, 1854. CHL; see link JS1380. Thomas Grover to Brigham Young, 14 October 1870, Brigham Young Collection, CR 1234, 1, (Reel 45) CHL, pages 1‒2; transcript at link JS0671. Leonard Soby, affidavit dated March 23, 1886, MS 3423, CHL; available at

88. Church of Christ (Disciples) minister Clark Braden reported that William Marks’s daughter may have rejected polygamy, possibly influencing her father’s reaction to the practice. (E. L. Kelley and Clark Braden, Public Discussion of the Issues Between The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and The Church of Christ (Disciples) Held in Kirtland, Ohio, Beginning February 12, and Closing March 8, 1884 Between E. L. Kelley, of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and Clark Braden, of the Church of Christ. St. Louis: Clark Braden, 1884, 203.) Available at

89. William Marks, “Epistle,” Zions Harbinger and Baneemy’s Organ 3 (July 1853): 52‒54 (published in St. Louis, by C. B. Thompson). Available at See also the discussion in Hales, Joseph Smith’s Polygamy, 2:247–56.

90. George D. Smith, ed. An Intimate Chronicle: The Journals of William Clayton. Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1995, 110.

91. Willard Richards made a separate private copy sometime before November of 1843. (Robert J. Woodford, “The Historical Development of the Doctrine and Covenants.” PhD diss., Brigham Young University, 1974, 1460, table 110. Available at link JS0829. To view both copies, see (accessed December 18, 2016) Whether Brigham Young was aware of this copy is unknown.

92. Joseph C. Kingsbury, Affidavit dated May 22, 1886, MS 3423, CHL. See also Joseph F. Smith Affidavit Books, 2:18; available at Andrew Jenson, “Plural Marriage,” Historical Record 6 (July 1887): 226. Available at link JS1000. See also Joseph Kingsbury, deposition, Temple Lot transcript, respondent’s testimony (part 3), page 178, question 19. Available at

93. See Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses, 13:193, October 7, 1869; available at Andrew Jenson, “Plural Marriage,” Historical Record 6 (July 1887): 226; available at link JS1000. Brigham Young, August 9, 1874, Journal of Discourses, 17:159; available at Comments of Joseph F. Smith, at Quarterly conference held March 3‒4, 1883, USHS #64904, page 271; CD manuscripts series 11, reel 2; available at link JS0797. Charles A. Shook, The True Origin of Mormon Polygamy. Cincinnati, OH: The Standard Publishing Co., 1914, 153; available at William E. McLellan, M.D. to President Joseph Smith [III], Independence, Jackson County Missouri. July 1872, original in Community of Christ CHL, copy at CHL, MS 9090; transcript available at link JS0363.

94. William Law, “Affidavit.” Nauvoo Expositor 1, no. 1 (July 7, 1844): 2. Available at

95. Jane Law, “Affidavit.” Nauvoo Expositor 1, no. 1 (July 7, 1844): 2. Available at

96. Mercy Rachel Thompson, deposition, Temple Lot Transcript, Respondent’s Testimony, Part 3, p. 250, questions 244. Available at

97. Lucy Walker, deposition, Temple Lot transcript, respondent’s testimony (part 3), page 452, questions 66‒68. Available at

98. Joseph F. Smith Affidavit Book, 1:27. Available at See also Andrew Jenson, “Plural Marriage,” Historical Record 6 (July 1887): 227; available at link JS1000. Joseph Fielding Smith, Blood Atonement and the Origin of Plural Marriage (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1905) 79. Available at James Allred left a similar affidavit in 1869 (Joseph F. Smith Affidavit Books, 1:82.

99. See Thomas Grover, Letter to A. Milton Musser, January 10, 1886; available at link JS1264. See also Thomas Grover, Affidavit, July 6, 1869, Joseph F. Smith, Affidavit Book, 1:42; available at Abraham H. Cannon, “Diary Excerpts of Abraham H. Cannon,” June 10, 1883; Austin Cowles, Affidavit, Nauvoo Expositor, June 7, 1844, 2; available at

100. Cyrus Wheelock, deposition, Temple Lot transcript, respondent’s testimony (part 3), page 542, question 141‒42; page 540, question 96. Available at The names of the other men were Joseph Bates Noble, Daniel Davis, and two men with the surnames of Van Alstine and Williams.

101. Cyrus Wheelock, deposition, Temple Lot transcript, respondent’s testimony (part 3), page 539, question 79. Available at

102. See Brian C. Hales, Joseph Smith’s Polygamy: History and Theology, 3 vols., Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2013, 2:139‒52.

103. George Albert Smith, Journal of Discourses, 14:213, August 13, 1871. Available at

104. Lyndon W. Cook, Joseph C. Kingsbury, Provo, UT: Grandin Book Co., 1985, 79.

105. Horace K. Whitney journals, 1846–1847, entry for March 14, 1847, MS 1616, CHL.

106. Helen Mar Kimball, Woman’s Exponent, vol. 14, no. 4, 15 July 1885, pp. 30–31; available at

107. William Law, “Affidavit.” Nauvoo Expositor 1, no. 1 (July 7, 1844): 2, available at

108. William Law in “The Law Interview,” The Daily Tribune: Salt Lake City, Sunday Morning, July 31, 1887. Transcript available at

109. “From the Boston Patriot,” National Intelligencer, November 13, 1819; available at link JS1134.

110. Orson Hyde, 1832 mission journal for date, (typescript), BYU HBLL Special Collections, Americana Collection; BX 8670, M82 vol. 11; emphasis in original. available at link JS0459.

111. [Letter, Kirtland, Ohio, October, 1835], Messenger and Advocate, 2 (October 1835): 206. Available at–1846/id/7308.

112. See John L. Brooke, The Refiner’s Fire: The Making of Mormon Cosmology, 1644‒1844, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994, 265; Harry M. Beardsley, Joseph Smith and His Mormon Empire, New York: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1931, 269; William D. Morain, The Sword of Laban: Joseph Smith, Jr. and the Dissociated Mind, Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Press, Inc., 1998, 190.

113. Concerning the possibility that Joseph Smith may have authored the booklet, historian Kenneth W. Godfrey reported: “It seems safe to conclude that Jacob, not Joseph Smith, wrote the Peace Maker. … [It] should [not] be viewed as binding upon members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. [It was], in fact, written by a nonmember of the Church.” (Kenneth W. Godfrey, “A New Look at the Alleged Little Known Discourse by Joseph Smith,” BYU Studies, 9 [Autumn 1968] 1: 53.) See also Ronald O. Barney, The Mormon Vanguard Brigade of 1847: Norton Jacob’s Record, Logan, UT: USU Press, 2005, 21 fn18.

114. Williard Griffith, believed that “Parley Pratt was the prime originator of the system of polygamy” and that he wrote the “book called ‘Father Jacobs,’” which is likely the Peace Maker. (Deposition, Temple Lot transcript, part 4, pages 40, questions 121, 123. Available at

115. Udney Hay Jacob, An Extract, From a Manuscript Entitled The Peace Maker, or the Doctrines of the Millennium: Being a Treatise on Religion and Jurisprudence. Or a New System of Religion and Politicks. Nauvoo, IL: J. Smith, 1842, 29‒31, and 17, 36. Available at Richard Van Wagoner assesses: “The Peace Maker, a thirty-seven-page- booklet, skillfully articulated scriptural and theological justifications for polygamy.” (Richard S. Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy: A History. Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1989, 50.) This seems fanciful at best.

116. Udney Hay Jacob, An Extract, From a Manuscript Entitled The Peace Maker, or the Doctrines of the Millennium: Being a Treatise on Religion and Jurisprudence. Or a New System of Religion and Politicks. Nauvoo, IL: J. Smith, 1842, 29‒30. Available at

117. Ibid., Preface.

118. Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery had already witnessed the return of Elijah in the Kirtland Temple on April 3, 1836 (D&C 110:13‒16).

119. “Notice,” Times and Seasons, 4 (December 1, 1842) 32. Available at

120. Linda King Newell, “Emma Hale Smith and the Polygamy Question.” Journal of the John Whitmer Historical Association 4 (1984): 13 en18. Available at

121. See Andrew C. Skinner, “John C. Bennett: For Prophet or Profit?” in H. Dean Garrett, ed., Regional Studies in Latter-day Saint Church History: Illinois, Provo, UT: Department of Church History and Doctrine, BYU, 1995, 256–6 3.

122. See Joseph Smith, “To the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and to all the Honorable Part of Community,” Times and Seasons 3:839‒40 (July 1, 1842). Available at

123. For more historical information about Bennett and his part in the management of the Church and Nauvoo, see Brian C. Hales, “John C. Bennett and Joseph Smith’s Polygamy: Addressing the Question of Reliability, Journal of Mormon History, vol. 41 (April 2015) no. 2, 131–181.

124. See Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith. Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1997, 239. Gary James Bergera, “John C. Bennett, Joseph Smith, and the Beginnings of Mormon Plural Marriage in Nauvoo,” Journal of the John Whitmer Historical Association, 25 (2005) 52; available at Conflict in the Quorum: Orson Pratt, Brigham Young, Joseph Smith, Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2002, 16; “’Illicit Intercourse,’ Plural Marriage, and the Nauvoo Stake High Council, 1840‒1844,” The John Whitmer Historical Association Journal, 23, 2003, 65; available at Richard S. Van Wagoner, Sidney Rigdon: A Portrait of Religious Excess. Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1994, 298. George D. Smith, Nauvoo Polygamy: “… but we called it celestial marriage,” Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2008, 65, 67, 70.

125. John C. Bennett, “Letter from General Bennett,” Hawk Eye, December 7, 1843, 1, emphasis in original. Available at link JS1135.

126. See Brian C. Hales, “John C. Bennett and Joseph Smith’s Polygamy: Addressing the Question of Reliability, Journal of Mormon History, vol. 41 (April 2015) no. 2, 131–181.

127. John Adams, “In Defense of the British Soldiers on trial for the Boston Massacre,” December 4, 1770, (accessed December 18, 2016). Quoted at

128. See Mason Locke Weems, The Life of Washington the Great (Augusta, GA: George P. Randolph, 1806), 8‒9. Available at

129. Joseph Kelting, affidavit date September 11, 1903, CHL. Available at link JS0452.

130. Ibid.

131. Eldon J Watson, Manuscript History of Brigham Young. Salt Lake City: Smith Secretarial Service, 1969, 154. Available at See also Journal History, CHL, for date. Available at

132. Joseph Smith to James Arlington Bennett, September 8, 1842. Quoted in “History of Joseph Smith,” Millennial Star 20 (January 16, 1858) 38. Available at

133. D&C 93:24.

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About Brian C. Hales

Brian C. Hales, is the author of six books dealing with polygamy, most recently the three-volume, Joseph Smith’s Polygamy: History and Theology (Greg Kofford Books, 2013). His Modern Polygamy and Mormon Fundamentalism: The Generations after the Manifesto received the “Best Book of 2007 Award” from the John Whitmer Historical Association. He has presented at numerous meetings and symposia and published articles in The Journal of Mormon History, Mormon Historical Studies, and Dialogue as well as contributing chapters to The Persistence of Polygamy series. Brian works as an anesthesiologist at the Davis Hospital and Medical Center in Layton, Utah, and has served as the President of the Utah Medical Association.

49 thoughts on “Joseph Smith: Monogamist or Polygamist?

  1. A very well written and researched article supporting the contention that Joseph taught and practiced polygamy of some form.

    It seems like a discussion like this should point out what the Lord had said about monogamy and polygamy during the foundational years of the restoration to provide context. Is polygamy or monogamy the law of marriage with regard to the fulness of the gospel? Do those questions not provide much needed context in this discussion?

    One question is whether Joseph secretly practiced polygamy. A very important related question is, should he have been practicing polygamy if he was living the fulness of the Gospel?

    I think it is unfortunate that your apologetic writings repeatedly suggest intentionally ambiguous wording to question the section on marriage by Oliver Cowdery while conveniently failing to mention sections 42 and 49 which are “thus saith the Lord” revelations confirming monogamy as God’s law of marriage. Sections 42 and 49 don’t even merit a footnote in your paper.

    22 Thou shalt love thy wife with all thy heart, and shalt cleave unto her and none else. (Doctrine and Covenants 42:22)

    16 Wherefore, it is lawful that he should have one wife, and they twain shall be bone flesh, and all this that the cearth might answer the end of its creation; (Doctrine and Covenants 49:16)

    Why is it that the official “law of the church” in section 42 is unworthy of mention?

    Further, why would you not observe that those sections are consistent with the teachings in the New Testament and Book of Mormon (1 Timothy 3:2,12 Jacob 2:27)

    The doctrine of monogamy as portrayed in those revelations would substantiate the traditional interpretation of section 101 by Oliver, although I seem to recall that you also think the Lord was using “creative language” in section 42 as well .

    Why don’t you include those revelations in your remarks and provide full disclosure to your readers instead of trying to guide people into conclusions by omitting credible revelations that don’t support your theory.

    Also, you list two doctrinal reasons for living plural marriage as stated in section 132 while omitting a third doctrinal reason given in the letter to newel K whitney from Joseph Smith.

    As you are aware, the letter explains how Bishop Whitney was to perform the ceremony of giving his daughter to Joseph in a polygamous marriage for the implied purpose of establishing the Davidic dynasty.

    “All these things I do in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, that through this order he may be glorified and [that] through the power of anointing David may reign King over Israel, which shall hereafter be revealed”

    • Hello Watcher,

      I appreciate the post. It is not my purpose to defend polygamy. I seek only to show historically that Joseph Smith introduced it and that when God allows or commands it, it is not a sinful practice.

      You seem to say that the scriptures you quoted demand monogamy. Let’s look at each one:

      “Thou shalt love thy wife with all thy heart, and shalt cleave unto her and none else” (D&C 42:22). Here we learn that a man should cleave ONLY to a wife and never cleave to a non-wife. The issue of monogamy is plainly discussed, but the language does not prevent polygamy.

      “Wherefore, it is lawful that he should have one wife, and they twain shall be bone flesh, and all this that the earth might answer the end of its creation” (D&C 49:16). If this were a declaration against polygamy, the language would have needed to be different: “Wherefore, it is lawful that he should have [ONLY] one wife.” This is similar to language in the 1835 D&C section CI.

      The New Testament verses (1 Tim. 3:2, 12 and Tit. 1:6) simply indicate that polygamy was probably not permitted at that time (just as it is not permitted today). Do we think these verses are backhanded criticisms of Abraham, Jacob and Moses? I don’t think so.

      Pretty much everyone realizes that following Jacob 2:27 is verse 30 with a loophole: “For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, RAISE UP SEED UNTO ME, I WILL COMMAND MY PEOPLE; otherwise they shall hearken unto these things” (emphasis added).

      I quote Sarah Ann Whitney’s entire ceremony in JSP 1:505.

      D&C 132:38-39 states plainly that King David of the Old Testament “hath fallen from his exaltation.” Joseph Smith taught: “Although David was a King he never did obtain the spirit & power of Elijah & the fulness of the Priesthood, & the priesthood that he received & the throne & kingdom of David is to be taken from him & given to another by the name of David in the last days, raised up out of his linage” (WJS 331). We must be talking about a future David.

      Ehat and Cook provide these references: “Concerning the David of the Last Days to rule in Jerusalem see 2 Samuel 7:8-29 (esp. v. 8-19); Ezekiel 34:23-25; 37:21-28; Zechariah 3; Isaiah 55:3-5; Jeremiah 30:4-9; Psalms 89:1-4; and D&C 113:5-6.”


      Brian Hales

      • Thank you for a response Brian.

        If I understand you correctly, you do not think that any of the passages in the Doctrine and Covenants or related passages in the New Testament or Book of Mormon are declaring monogamy to be God’s law of marriage.

        You seem to think that they are only stating that one must cleave only to all of the wives that one is married to.

        I obviously disagree with your interpretation, however, assuming that your interpretation is correct, perhaps you can respond to the following statement found in the essays on the LDS website

        “Latter-day Saints believe that the marriage of one man and one woman is the Lord’s standing law of marriage. In biblical times, the Lord commanded some to practice plural marriage”

        Can you state whether you agree with the above declaration and if you do, what would be the scriptural precedence for it since you have discarded the scriptures previously addressed as being the precedence.

        • Hi Watcher,

          I am aware of the contents of the Gospel Topics essay on Plural Marriage. I actually help write the one on Nauvoo/Kirtland polygamy.

          Also, I totally agree with the statement: “Latter-day Saints believe that the marriage of one man and one woman is the Lord’s standing law of marriage.” We only have to look at the Book of Mormon or New Testament to see that is true.

          While I don’t defend polygamy, I do maintain that nowhere in the Bible or the other scriptures does God condemn polygamy as a practice. Polygamy critics bend-over-backwards to try to create the illusion that God has condemned plural marriage in some verse. I felt that is what you were trying to do and I simply demonstrated that the verses did not condemn plurality.

          God regulates plural marriage, sometimes commanding it, sometimes just permitting it, and most of the time not permitting it (like today). The regulation occurs through priesthood keys held by “one man (D&C 132:7, 18, 19). He asks plainly, “Will I receive at your hands that which I have not appointed?” (D&C 132:10).

          I’m very grateful plural marriage is not now commanded and I’m also glad we don’t have to offer up animal sacrifices like Abraham did (sounds kinda messy).



  2. D&C 132:7 says “I have appointed unto my servant Joseph to hold this power in the last days, and there is never but one on the earth at a time on whom this power and the keys of this priesthood are conferred”

    Why do you think so many different men performed sealings for Joseph, when only Joseph had the power to perform sealings? Also, since this was all done in secret, why have so many people who knew where the bodies were buried? Why not just have Hyrum do all the sealings?

    • I’m not sure I understand the question, but through ordination, the keyholder can authorize other men to perform valid ordinances. The keyholder’s authorization is always require however.

      Brigham Young explained how a misunderstanding on this principle was a problem between Joseph and Hyrum:

      “Joseph said that the sealing power is always vested in one man, and that there never was, nor never would be but one man on the earth at a time to hold the –sealing power- keys of the sealing power in the church, that all sealings must be performed by the man holding the keys or by his dictation, and that man is the president of the church.”

      “Hyrum held the patriarchal office legitimately… Hyrum was counseller… but the sealing power was not in Hyrum, legitimately, neither did he act on the sealing principle only as he was dictated by Joseph in every case [sic] This was proven, for Hyrum did in one case [sic] undertake to seal without counsel, & Joseph told him if he did not stop it he would go to hell and all those he sealed with him.”

      Joseph delegated sealing authority to many men in Nauvoo, first was Joseph B. Noble. Brigham and Hyrum later sealed a number of eternal marriages, but always with Joseph’s permission.


      Brian Hales

  3. “Perhaps the most popular “denial” was uttered on May 26, 1844, when Joseph Smith declared: “What a thing it is for a man to be accused of committing adultery, and having seven wives, when I can only find one.”72 Since he had been sealed to over two dozen women for time and eternity by that time, this was a dodge that used creative language to avoid acknowledging a practice that he believed God approved but that many of his listeners might not.”

    Could you offer any further thoughts on what Joseph meant by “when I can only find one”? I can see how the statement Joseph made is not as direct as saying “I only have one wife”, but I’m not exactly sure how to explain what this statement was intended by Joseph to mean.

    • Good question.

      The verbiage: “What a thing it is for a man to be accused of committing adultery, and having seven wives, when I can only find one” is curious, especially if Joseph wanted to communicate the message: “I have only one wife.”

      If that was his message, then we wonder why didn’t he just say it that plainly.

      I believe he was saying that outwardly and legally, he only had one wife. We know that he never publicly acknowledged his plural wives. He never introduced them in a public setting as his wives. He did not commit bigamy either because none of the plural marriage ceremonies invoked legal authority.

      So as he was openly addressing the congregation that day, only one wife was legally recognized and only one wife had ever been publicly acknowledged. And that wife was Emma.



  4. Brian,

    You’re doing a good work in proving that Joseph did in fact practice polygamy.

    Believing that he never did is dangerous. It is a false spirit that accompanies the monogamist-Joseph approach.

    However, it is also dangerous to the salvation of souls to believe that Joseph was RIGHT by living polygamy.

    I know how much you love Joseph; I love him too. But we have to separate our bias from what God has revealed.

    The Lord has given us adequate resources to know the full truth of these matters. Watcher has mentioned to you Sections 42, and 49, which clearly state the law of monogamy… (Not the law of fidelity, as you presupposed in your books.) Section 132 contradicts both 42 and 49, as well as the Book of Mormon and New Testament.

    Even Cowdery’s Section 101 should be considered the word of the Lord! Cowdery had the same calling as Paul! He wrote Section 20. He was a prophet. God in fact gave his stamp of approval on the 1835 D&C and said anything more or less than it “cometh of evil” via Section 124–

    I believe when Joseph returns to the earth he will be sorely disappointed to discover how many of the Saints believe he hadn’t fallen from his station. Only a tiny fraction of the Saints have come to understand this. His eyes were covered due to the iniquity of the people. This is why he stopped receiving revelation after Section 124 and immediately thereafter began marrying other women.

    Section 43 combined with Section 28 prove that Joseph would “stop abiding in the Lord”–

    Clearly by going against the Lord’s protocol and taking multiple wives this is to be considered not abiding in the Lord. What else could be more clear?!

    The good news is that Joseph will be redeemed and fulfill his role in establishing Zion. He was a true prophet, and God allowed/caused him to stumble at the law as part of the glorious plan for the immortality and eternal life of man.


    • Hi Gazelem,

      We have people tell us they love Joseph, but that he just got polygamy wrong. Carol Lynn Pearson has written a whole book reflecting this unfortunate idea.

      We can’t dismiss polygamy without dismissing JS’s zenith teaching—which was (in my view) eternal marriage. Plural marriage is a smaller component in the larger New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage—Celestial eternal marriage. But it is needed to make exaltation available to all worthy men and women (see D&C 132:16-17).

      JS nor other prophets ever explained why God commanded polygamy. But He was there providing spiritual witnesses and spiritual support to those required to live that difficult law.

      I respectfully, but strenuously, reject any notion that Joseph was a prophet who made a mistake introducing plural marriage. I’d never want to live it, but it is too closely tied to eternal marriage to possible believe it was wrongly introduced.

      Take Care,

      Brian Hales

      • Thanks for the response.

        What has you convinced that eternal marriage is a legitimate doctrine?

        Besides Section 132 we have absolutely nothing else to validate such a doctrine.

        If it were truly so important, why did God wait 10+ years to introduce it? Why did Joseph teach it in secret? Why, when about to publish the 1844 D&C, did he not include Section 132???

        All things in the church are to be done by common consent.

        Joseph Smith was not afraid to shock people. If the doctrine was of God he would not have lied about it. He knew what he was doing was wrong, and was clearly testing the Saints.

        Both sealings and the endowment are not scriptural in the slightest. If these things were truly of God, they would have come about in the protocol that the Lord had laid out.


        • Hi Gazelem,

          You pose interesting questions. You seem to be of the same mindset of William Law who sought in 1844 to return the Church to the Kirtland doctrines and those of the Book of Mormon.

          I am sorry but I don’t find your questions too compelling. Joseph was a prophet and you can say he was a fallen prophet (like William Law) but I respectfully disagree. I love his eternal marriage teachings and how they describe not only the hope of future exaltation, but also our premortal past (D&C 132:19-20).

          D&C 132 was approved by common consent in 1876 and included in the D&C that year.

          I could take time to defend sealings and the endowment, but lots of smarter people have shown that historically, there are vestiges in several places including liturgies of the Catholic Church.

          I actually kinda feel bad for anyone who is unable to accept these later teachings (King Follett?). To me, they are rich in the Spirit and constitute some of the “mysteries” that Joseph held the keys to receiving. (See D&C 28:7, 64:5.)

          Take Care,


          • As a lifelong Mormon I have known for many years that Joseph practiced polygamy. It not a surprize to us Mormons that he did that which you seem to think we didn’t already know. We know Joseph is a prophet of God, but you did make me think about whether he had any children with his other wives which I would like know and will research. Still that would never take away from my conversion to the TRUE Church Of Jesus Christ OF Latter Day Saints!

  5. I would not consider John Bennett or William Clayton ‘credible’ or ‘believable’ sources at all, just as I would not consider Brigham Young and others credible either.

  6. It is apparent from Joseph Smith’s writings and scriptures that he, like countless non LDS of his day, understood that all marriages and families are eternal, such was not a new or ‘Mormon’ idea. It seems Joseph would not have believed in the necessity of such things like ‘sealings’, temple work, or even being LDS to make marriages and families eternal.

    People in all ages have had the knowledge of eternal marriage and families for thousands of years, because of how thin the veil is and how common it is and has always been for deceased spouses, children, parents and other relatives to visit, comfort and teach their living spouses and family members about eternity and the eternal nature of their and every family.

    I personally have known many non-lds who have had these experiences and they understand their marriage and family is forever because of their spouse or other deceased relatives visiting them and teaching them so. Not to mention how near death experiences also teach the same things. Such visitations and near death experiences have been common since probably the days of Adam.

    Eternal marriage is not a new idea, just one that Mormonism played up or believed in more than most churches. But many if not most, non lds people have knowledge, beliefs and hopes that their marriage and family are eternal, even if their religion doesn’t promise it.

    I believe it is clear that the story about the angel with a sword was totally made up, for Joseph was far too wise to fall for an angel who would have come commanding polygamy, for Joseph clearly understood that polygamy was against the scriptures and Christ’s teachings, and that only false angels would preach or pressure things contrary to Christ. He warned about such angels and how to detect them. He would have told such angel ‘no’, had it really happened.

    One needs to understand Christ’s teachings to understand how much Joseph understood how wrong polygamy was and how much Christ preached against it also, just like Joseph did.

    It is possible that the natural man in Joseph eventually caused him to fall for polygamy, but he would have understood that he was doing wrong and thus was a fallen or false prophet. For he had a deep understanding of just how wrong polygamy always was.

    If Joseph believed in polygamy he would never have set up the Church and Saints to reject him if he ever in the future came preaching it or was found practicing it. He taught everyone that they would lose their salvation if they ever fell for anyone, even an angel or prophet (even if it was him) who came preaching or practicing polygamy. All his own scriptures completely condemned polygamy in every instance.

    You have to understand how wrong polygamy always is and how much Christ condemned it, before you can see how Joseph was very likely innocent of it.

    • Hi Lilli,

      I appreciate the comments and you are certainly entitled to your opinion. But since you have posted them here, I must respectfully disagree with many things you have written.

      The idea that a marriage might continue after death was not new to Joseph Smith. Beginning in 1741, inventor and scientist Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) taught, “since from creation woman is for man and man for woman, thus the one is the other’s, and since this love is innate in both, it follows that there are marriages in heaven as well as on earth.”

      However, Swedenborg’s view of heavenly marital relations did not extend to procreation in the hereafter: “Marriages in the heavens differ from the marriages on earth in this, that marriages on earth, in addition to [their other uses], are for the procreation of offspring; but not in the heavens. In place of that procreation there is in the heavens a procreation of good and truth.”

      When Joseph Smith taught of spirit birth, he was teaching a very unique idea. Please see:

      You are certainly free to dismiss Joseph’s story of the angel with a sword, but I’ve compiled 22 accounts from nine men and women who personally knew Joseph, who left records of those teachings. Please see:

      You seem to reflect a very common idea that Joseph was a true prophet who later made a mistake with polygamy (and perhaps other things). This is a very common interpretation, sometimes embraced by active LDS. It doesn’t work for me because eternal marriage requires polygamy in some form unless there are exactly equal numbers of men and women at the final judgment (See D&C 132:16-17).

      We know nothing of eternal marriage so worrying about eternal plural marriage is a useless occupation. Fearing the unknown is darkness.

      May God bless you in your faith,

      Brian Hales

  7. Reading the above comments is puzzling to me. Why is there any controversy about plural marriage as practiced by Joseph? The person who seems to imply that Joseph just made up a doctrine not approved of by God: well, Abraham, Issac, and Jacob seem to imply otherwise. Especially since Jesus Himself located Abraham in heaven (the parable of the rich man). Also, didn’t the prophet Gad condemn David for taking Bathsheba… because she was already married, thereby implying that if she was single, it would have been a-ok?

    Given the Old Testament history, it should be no problem to recognize that polygamy was practiced in the early church, and that God ended it in the 1890-1910 time period. It’s a historical curiosity now, but without real meaning today.

    As I’ve remarked before, the real issue seems to be “How can one man have many women in heaven–that’s not fair!” But here’s the hard truth: we don’t know what being sealed really means. I am sealed to my wife as well as my children. What is the difference between those sealings? I am sealed to my great grandparents too, but what exactly is my relationship going to be with them?
    Jesus said that He wants us to become one, like He and the Father are one. Whatever that actually means, it involves a relationship far, far closer than my current marriage. And I’m supposed to have that kind of relationship with everyone in the celestial kingdom.
    Remember, we are all going to be about the same age/ in the same physical shape in heaven. What kind of society is that, when you don’t have “Old” or “young” people?

    The point is: any ideas we have about “fairness” or how we actually are going to interact with people in the celestial kingdom is unknowable. Assuming I make it there (a very tall assumption indeed), I’m going to be “one” with likely millions of women; all far closer than I currently am with my spouse. And also with millions of men, too. So what does that mean, and is that something to be concerned about? I don’t know, and probably no one on the earth today knows either.

    Thus, I think any concerns about plural marriage in the eternities is simply a wild goose chase: we simply don’t know what human society will be like in a civilization where we are all sealed to each other and all one. And one of the qualifications to get there is overcoming things like jealousy, bitterness, and envy.

  8. The Book of Mormon unequivocally condemns the practice of polygamy. Here is a sampling. Jacob 1:15 says, “And now it came to pass that the people of Nephi, under the reign of the second king, began to grow hard in their hearts, and indulge themselves somewhat in wicked practices, such as like unto David of old desiring many wives and concubines, and also Solomon, his son.” Jacob 2:24 says, “David and Solomon truly had many wives and concubines, which thing was abominable before me, saith the Lord.” Jacob 2:27 says, “Hearken to the word of the Lord: For there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife; and concubines he shall have none”. Jacob 3:5 says that the Lamanites “have not forgotten the commandment of the Lord, which was given unto our father—that they should have save it were one wife, and concubines they should have none”. Mosiah 11:2 says that King Noah “did not keep the commandments of God, but he did walk after the desires of his own heart. And he had many wives and concubines. And he did cause his people to commit sin, and do that which was abominable in the sight of the Lord. Yea, and they did commit whoredoms and all manner of wickedness.” Ether 10:5 says, “And it came to pass that Riplakish did not do that which was right in the sight of the Lord, for he did have many wives and concubines”.

    Never at any point does the Book of Mormon allow polygamy. Many people, including myself on multiple occasions, have been told that Jacob 2:30 is a loophole that allows polygamy under certain circumstances ordained by the Lord. This post is written to disabuse everyone of that notion. The following is what Jacob 2:30 actually says about polygamy when we disregard what we may want it to say about polygamy. We must allow the text and its entire context to inform us.

    Jacob 2:25 says, “Wherefore, thus saith the Lord, I have led this people forth out of the land of Jerusalem, by the power of mine arm, that I might raise up unto me a righteous branch from the fruit of the loins of Joseph.” God uses the terms “branch”, “fruit”, and “loins”. These are genealogical and familial terms and we ought to anticipate the further use of such terms to describe the righteous branch the Lord wants to “raise up”. God is describing His goal: To raise up the people as a righteous branch of Joseph unto Himself. In other words, God is trying to raise up a righteous seed, even the family of God. This is one of the major themes of Jacob’s ministry, as evidenced by Jacob 5, Zenos’ allegory of the tame olive tree, which Jacob makes his own by declaring in Jacob 6:1 that it “must surely come to pass”. Jacob 5 is all about raising up the family of God through covenant Israel.

    Directly after discussing God’s hope for raising up His family, Jacob 2:26 says, “Wherefore, I the Lord God will not suffer that this people shall do like unto them of old.” God says that to become a righteous branch, the people have to cease doing what the people of old did (the polygamy referenced earlier in the chapter). Jacob 2:27 says, “For there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife; and concubines he shall have none”. Here the Lord gives the commandment and it is very explicit and clear: A man should have a maximum of one wife. Jacob 2:29 says, “Wherefore, this people shall keep my commandments, saith the Lord of Hosts, or cursed be the land for their sakes.” The curses are described further in Jacob 2:33 and Jacob 3:3-4.

    Right after warning the people of potential curses, in Jacob 2:30 the Lord leaves the people no alternative to obedience if they want to be raised up as His family: “For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people”. Here the Lord restates the goal: To raise up the family of God, or the righteous seed He just talked about in verse 25. God tells the people that if they want to become His righteous seed or branch they absolutely need to listen to Him and obey the commandments He is telling them right now. God makes it very clear that the people need to obey all His commandments by saying “I will command my people”. Notice He does not say, “I will command my people to disregard previous commandments”. He is simply saying that any people who want to be His righteous seed need to listen to all the commandments of the Lord, without exception.

    The end of verse 30 says, “…otherwise they shall hearken unto these things.” If the people do not obey, God is warning them that they will naturally tend towards “these things”. But what are “these things”? If a verse uses the generic term, “things”, without explicitly defining what those things are, our duty is to examine the full context in order to properly identify those “things” so that we may avoid making unwarranted assumptions. Fortunately for us, “these things” are mentioned multiple times in the chapter. These are the things that have been written concerning polygamy, specifically in regards to David and Solomon. Jacob 2:23-24 says, “This people begin to wax in iniquity; they understand not the scriptures, for they seek to excuse themselves in committing whoredoms, because of the things which were written concerning David, and Solomon his son. Behold, David and Solomon truly had many wives and concubines, which thing was abominable before me, saith the Lord.” Verse 34 says, “ye have done these things which ye ought not to have done.” So how do the people avoid doing those awful things that have been written about? God told the people that He has to command them if they want to be His seed (and thus avoid evil). Otherwise, if the people don’t listen to God’s commandments and rebel against Him, they will naturally apostatize and continue to make the same severe mistake of hearkening to the distorted interpretations of scriptures and records – those “things” that have caused so much wickedness and so much heartache among the Nephites.

    Notice that this “seed” spoken of in verse 30 is the same seed of Christ that Abinadi discusses in Mosiah 15:10-13: “And now I say unto you, who shall declare his generation? Behold, I say unto you, that when his soul has been made an offering for sin he shall see his seed. And now what say ye? And who shall be his seed? Behold I say unto you, that whosoever has heard the words of the prophets, yea, all the holy prophets who have prophesied concerning the coming of the Lord—I say unto you, that all those who have hearkened unto their words, and believed that the Lord would redeem his people, and have looked forward to that day for a remission of their sins, I say unto you, that these are his seed, or they are the heirs of the kingdom of God. For these are they whose sins he has borne; these are they for whom he has died, to redeem them from their transgressions. And now, are they not his seed? Yea, and are not the prophets, every one that has opened his mouth to prophesy, that has not fallen into transgression, I mean all the holy prophets ever since the world began? I say unto you that they are his seed” (see also Isaiah 53:10 and Mosiah 14:10).

    Going back to Jacob 2:30, notice that God says nothing about raising a large quantity of seed, which is what is unfairly inferred by the traditional reading of the verse. Besides, the notion that polygamy is required in order to produce a large population is is an unwarranted assumption. Additionally, the idea that polygamy is sometimes permitted by God in order for righteous people to have lots of offspring is inconsistent with the complete lack of confirmed children of Joseph Smith through alleged polygamous relationships.

    Keeping the Lord’s singular standard of sexual morality in mind, read Jacob 2:23-30 again: “…This people begin to wax in iniquity; they understand not the scriptures, for they seek to excuse themselves in committing whoredoms, because of the things which were written concerning David, and Solomon his son. Behold, David and Solomon truly had many wives and concubines, which thing was abominable before me, saith the Lord. I have led this people forth out of the land of Jerusalem, by the power of mine arm, that I might raise up unto me a righteous branch from the fruit of the loins of Joseph. Wherefore, I the Lord God will not suffer that this people shall do like unto them of old. Wherefore, my brethren, hear me, and hearken to the word of the Lord: For there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife; and concubines he shall have none; For I, the Lord God, delight in the chastity of women. And whoredoms are an abomination before me; thus saith the Lord of Hosts. Wherefore, this people shall keep my commandments, saith the Lord of Hosts, or cursed be the land for their sakes. For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise they shall hearken unto these things.” If I were to translate verse 30 into modern English, I might say, “If I, the Lord, am going to make you part of my family, my commandments must be obeyed. If my commandments are not obeyed, you will undoubtedly continue in the same pattern of wickedness of previous apostates.”

    Jacob preached against polygamy and had a difficult time doing so because the people warped the words of the scriptures and used them to justify their abominable acts. Many Mormons continue in that same wicked tradition by doing the exact same thing – warping the meaning of the scriptures to justify polygamy, even if the polygamy in question is not in the present, but in the past (and potentially the future). Knowing that the Nephites so easily succumbed to false interpretations of scriptures dealing with sexual sin, the importance of understanding this chapter correctly should become quite clear. Diligent prayer and study, independent of tradition, ought to be the tools we use to understand these things.

    Regardless of what people believe other books of scripture and historical accounts say about the appropriateness of polygamy, make no mistake that the Book of Mormon is decidedly anti-polygamy and makes no exceptions. Joseph Smith said, “I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.” Therefore, the teachings of the Book of Mormon ought to inform our beliefs a great deal.

    • Yes, the Book of Mormon speaks out against polygamy… for their people. I note you did not address anywhere the examples of Abraham, Issac, Jacob or Israel, David or Solomon. The Old Testament is also scripture. And I must have missed Jacob’s condemnation of the Patriarch’s practice of polygamy. Your attempt to reason away the “raise up seed I will command this people” language makes no sense in context.

      Further, if you are correct and the Book of Mormon was God’s final word on polygamy, then Joseph Smith must not be a prophet in your view. Was he a prophet when the Book of Mormon was translated? If so: when did he cease being the spokesman for God?

      As a note, the Book of Mormon implies that Amulek had more than one wife, and God indeed called him to be a mighty servant. Alma 10:11 (where Amulek refers to God blessing his children and “women” plural).

      The simple facts are that, like the full law of consecration, the law of gathering, and a few other doctrines: God implements them or not as He sees fit. Joseph and Brigham commanded all the Saints to gather together, because it was God’s will. Now that has been revoked and we gather in our own nations. The Word of Wisdom was optional at one point; now it no longer is. Certainly Jesus drank some wine, but we cannot. The Israelites could not eat pork or shellfish, restrictions we no longer need to abide. We do not live the full law of consecration and have all things in common; instead we live the law of tithing.

      Polygamy is yet another of these laws of God that are, in fact, tailored to the time and place and needs of His people. Most of the time, God outlaws it. Sometimes, He allows it. And occasionally, He commands it. That is His decision and His rules: who are we to judge the Lord? Even things we see as immoral now are sometimes commanded of the Lord, consider incest and Adam and Eve’s children: certainly marrying a sibling was allowed then, while a gross sin now.

      Polygamy is not evil when God Commands it.

      • This is obviously a very divisive issue. I understand that well-meaning people can disagree on this. So I feel no ill will towards you or your opinions. I think this discussion is important and I simply offer my understanding as an alternative with no expectation of anyone believing me or even being civil with me. But I hope for civility and I will offer it. I hope these comments clear up any way that you have misunderstood my position.

        Abraham and Jacob were the only patriarchs who had multiple wives (Isaac only had Rebecca), but you’ll notice that they were never commanded to take multiple wives. They did that all on their own. Personally, I think that was a mistake. And I have no problem with God saving and covenanting with people who made mistakes. I certainly hope He does, because I have made many mistakes in my life. And please note that I did mention the polygamist examples of David and Solomon as I quoted Jacob who thoroughly condemned their polygamy. My reasoning for the supposed “polygamy loophole” in Jacob 2:30 is definitely plausible (remember, the “seed unto [God]” is a reference to the “righteous branch” He hopes to raise up), but you are certainly not required to believe it.

        I don’t believe God ever commanded polygamy. The only place in “scripture” where God supposedly commanded it is in D&C 132. But I question how that document came into existence. Interestingly, Enid DeBarthe did a writing style analysis on D&C 132 and it didn’t match Joseph’s writings but instead it matched Brigham’s writings. You can find that analysis with a Google search. Feel free to do your own research on the origins of that document.

        As far as Joseph Smith and his status as a prophet is concerned, I don’t believe he ever had multiple wives, at least not plural wives that he had sex with. Again, you are certainly free to disagree with me and I have no problem with that. Joseph himself said that he wouldn’t believe his own history if he hadn’t lived it (thus, he never undertook to explain his entire history) so I certainly don’t blame anyone for not believing his own assertions that he did not have multiple wives.

        • So this is interesting. Jacob in the Book of Mormon condemns David and Solomon’s taking of “wives and concubines.” I do not think that anyone has ever suggested that concubines were ever allowed by God.

          I have an issue with you saying that Abraham and Jacob, or Israel, made a mistake and committed sin by taking multiple wives. Abraham was very close to God, obviously, and Jacob also had many visions and encounters with Deity. If polygamy was such a grave sin as you and others hold, do you not think that God may well have mentioned such a thing to Abraham and Israel? Abraham was willing to kill Issac on command of the Lord. Surely if the Lord was displeased with his taking Hagar and Keturah to wife; the Lord would have mentioned it. Of all men on this earth, Abraham would certainly be one to have changed his course.

          I further note that by rejecting section 132, you have also cast aside eternal marriage and eternal families. Plus, even if Brigham wrote section 132, is he not a prophet as well? If you reject Brigham; well, then what is left for today? Most of the early Presidents of the Church had multiple wives… how did they have the Priesthood and sealing powers if they were involved in something God didn’t approve of? Did God again just forget to tell them like Abraham? God certainly had no problems when it came time to end the practice and He told Wilford Woodruff… and please note that Woodruff dutifully followed the Lord and ended the practice.
          I think the whole “It was a mistake!” just doesn’t match the historical record; and to say it was a mistake calls into question all of LDS history and the LDS concept of God and His dealings with His Church. And that’s your prerogative, of course, but that doesn’t exactly lead to remaining a member of the Church, does it?

      • God can’t command anything contrary to Christ’s commandments and the Golden Rule. Truth and right never change. Adam had to obey the same commandments as those in Christ’s day and as we do today. Polygamy is contrary to the Golden Rule and Christ’s teachings. Just because someone claims something in the Bible doesn’t mean it’s true. It seems the God of the OT is not the same God of the NT.

        It seems that most of the so called prophets of the OT did not keep Christ’s commandments and thus according to Christ’s teachings were false or fallen prophets.

        • Hi Again,

          Perhaps to clarify, Joseph taught that polygamy was a commandment.

          It is not a law, a covenant, or an ordinance.

          God can command polygamy (as the angel did to Joseph Smith in 1834) and he can revoke the commandment (as occurred through Wilford Woodruff in 1890).

          D&C 56:4 explains this process: “Wherefore I, the Lord, command and revoke, as it seemeth me good; and all this to be answered upon the heads of the rebellious, saith the Lord.”

          The Saints in 1890 were willing to continue to sacrifice for plural marriage, but the rebellious leaders of the U.S. Government prompted the revocation.



    • Hi Dan,

      I appreciate these ideas, which I had to read a couple of times and forgive me if I don’t fully understand your argument.

      In Jacob 2:27 Jacob quotes the Lord: “For there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife; and concubines he shall have none.” Then three verses later He says: “For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise they shall hearken unto these things.”

      What is meant by “raise up seed”? In 1 Nephi 7:1 we read:

      “And now I would that ye might know, that after my father, Lehi, had made an end of prophesying concerning his seed, it came to pass that the Lord spake unto him again, saying that it was not meet for him, Lehi, that he should take his family into the wilderness alone; but that his sons should take daughters to wife, THAT THEY MIGHT RAISE UP SEED UNTO THE LORD in the land of promise” (emphasis added).

      Here monogamy is invoked to “raise up seed,” meaning to have children.

      Accordingly, I would reject any argument saying that Jacob 2:30 is not referring to the possibility of God commanding polygamy to enhance the birthrate in a population. And studies show that this indeed occurs. (Despite some critics who claim otherwise—they are in error.)

      On the other hand, I certainly agree that the Book of Mormon disallows polygamy and that any polygamists described therein were committing sin because at that time, it was not permitted.



      • Thanks for your opportunity for me to clarify my position. Forgive me if I am not very clear in what I wrote above. I’m glad we can discuss these things civilly.

        The seed that is to be raised up in Jacob 2:30 is the righteous branch that Jacob mentions earlier in the chapter. It is the seed of Christ that Abinadi mentions in Mosiah 15. It’s the natural fruit the Lord is trying to grow in the vineyard in Jacob 5. Jacob is telling the people that, if they want to be the righteous branch/seed of Christ/natural fruit, then it must be God that commands them, and not their false traditions or false leaders. They can’t let anyone or anything else but God command them if they want to be the Lord’s seed, raised up to be a righteous branch of Israel. The Lord warns them that if they don’t allow the Lord command them, they will end up hearkening unto “these things,” which, if you look at the context of everything in the chapter, “these things” are the abominations of old, namely polygamy.

        You brought up an important verse about Lehi’s family. They had to have wives to reproduce if they were indeed going to be a righteous branch of Israel (without children they would just a righteous stump). This concerns the promises given to Lehi and Nephi about their seed in the promised land (see 1 Nephi 4:14; 2 Nephi 3:5; 9:53; 10:1,18-19)

  9. Thank you Brother Hales for your tireless efforts to bring understanding, context, and perspective to such a charged and challenging issue. At the risk of oversimplifying, to me in the end it becomes a matter of faith: was Joseph Smith God’s prophet or not? I may have concerns about how polygamy was preached and practiced, and questions regarding the same that are not as yet answered. But such questions do not negate the calling and ministry of Joseph and at least my feeling for the Prophet.

  10. With the amount of evidence presented in this article alone it would seem that any objective reader would come to the conclusion that the Prophet Joseph Smith practiced polygamy, that he taught others to enter into polygamy, and taught them that God insisted that he do so. So, either God wanted the Latter-day Saints to practice polygamy or Joseph Smith was deceived and/or a great deceiver.

    However, every president of the LDS Church practiced polygamy from Joseph Smith through Heber J Grant. If it was not the will of the Lord, why did He keep calling prophets of the Church who had practiced polygamy? Or were none of them really called by God to be His prophets? As there is very little controversy about the practice of polygamy in other religions and cultures around the world it appears that the real reason for the condemnation of LDS polygamy is to condemn the prophets who taught and practiced it.

    The young Joseph Smith Jr. made an extremely bold and presumptive statement when he reported that the angel told him on their first visit that, “[his] name should be had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues, or that it should be both good and evil spoken of among all people.” That prophecy continues to be fulfilled.

  11. For me, one of the greatest lessons on polygamy was given to me by, of all things, a recent convert. She and I were discussing this issue once and she told me her thoughts: How on earth would I ever share my husband? Inconceivable, never ever!

    But then, she said, she thought of her best friend, another girl in the singles ward (This was in college). “What,” said she, “if my friend was qualified for the celestial kingdom in every way except that she never got married? The question I faced,” she continued, was “would I be so selfish as to keep my husband for me and thereby prevent her from being exalted? What would I do to help my friend make it to heaven and exaltation?”
    This was the question that changed her outlook on polygamy, and I think there is something very powerful in it. My personal feeling is that every woman who makes it to the celestial Kingdom will be required to be willing to share her husband. This does not mean that they will actually have to share, but they must be willing to. This kind of sacrifice and conquering of the petty, natural man is what qualifies us for the Celestial Kingdom.
    As for men, there are equivalent sacrifices required of us. Never forget that the Lord required Abraham to sacrifice Issac, the son of promise. Abraham was blessed that the Lord provided a sacrifice at the last moment…. but sometimes we must let the knife fall.

    What would we do to help our friend, our family, our loved ones receive exaltation? Would we invite them into our families? If we cannot sacrifice all for the sake of the Lord, then I think we will find that we do not qualify for all that the Father hath.

  12. Wonderful review. It occurs to me that we may object to polygamy from empathy with women, who imagine themselves (or we imagine them) losing some percent of love from their husband. Such empathy is sensitive and sympathetic, but I think perhaps short sighted. There are some issues. As a practicing psychologist, I have been able to help some troubled marriages by shifting focus from “Am I loved?” to “Am I loving?” Being loved is great and also out of our control, but being a person who creates and projects love is critical. The commandment to love God implies that we are responsible not for whether we are loved but we are responsible to send love. Suppose my wife has little love for me (and rightfully so!) but I can maintain a high level of love for her. In that case, isn’t her lack of love for me (this is a thought experiment, not a real issue) a blessing in disguise? Wouldn’t I be a better person to focus on my responsibility to be loving?

    Another problem I could see with the after-life concerns which came up more your review of the Carol Lynn Pearson book is that time doesn’t exist in the celestial kingdom, being measured only on this earth. That means that since you cannot meaningfully divide infinity, you cannot suppose that the husband’s love can be divided. Infinity divided by two or by ten is still infinity. Are we irate that God loves all his children and not just us? Or do we rejoice in a God with infinite love (and infinite time to listen to each and every of our concerns)?

    Finally, it does occur to me that there is some ark-steadying going on. Those who cannot imagine Brother Joseph did practice polygamy or was wrong if he did, are implying that their judgment is superior to Joseph’s or even God’s. The oxen stumble and we put out our hand to steady the ark. This never ends well. II Samuel 6:6-7; I Chronicles 13:9-10.

  13. Polygamy and the Mormon Church…was/is, it right or was/is, it wrong? If I have a spiritual question, or a temporal question, I can ask God myself… therefore I will come to know for myself and not of another, except God.
    If you want to know if the LDS Church is true, ask God. If you want to know if the Book of Mormon is true, ask God. If you want to know if polygamy was/is a moral principle, ask God. Well I have done that and will share my findings with you. My answer came after much pondering, prayer and study of the scriptures and this is where it brought me. I first wanted to establish the “true” nature of God’s moral character as best I can from reading the scriptures.
    1. God is a God of truth and does not lie, nor does he teach his people to lie or bear false witness of each other:

    “He is the Rock, his work is perfect: for all his ways are judgment: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he.”
    (Old Testament | Deuteronomy 32:4)

    “Yea, Lord, I know that thou speakest the truth, for thou art a God of truth, and canst not lie.”
    (Book of Mormon | Ether 3:12)

    “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
    (Old Testament / Exodus 20).

    2. God is a God of virtue, a moral God, “one man, one wife” God’s pattern is the same yesterday, today and forever!

    “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” (this implies “one wife”)
    “thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife” (this implies “one wife.”)
    (Old Testament | Exodus 20)

    • Adam & Eve: Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: (singular) and they shall be one flesh.(Old Testament | Genesis 2:18 – 24)

    • Noah and his sons: In the selfsame day entered Noah, and Shem, and Ham, and Japheth, the sons of Noah, and Noah’s wife, and the three wives of his sons with them, into the ark; (Old Testament | Genesis 7:13) (notice the pattern, one man one wife)

    • Lehi and his sons: And it came to pass that I, Nephi, took one of the daughters of Ishmael to wife; and also, my brethren took of the daughters of Ishmael to wife; and also Zoram took the eldest daughter of Ishmael to wife. (notice the pattern, one man one wife)
    And thus my father had fulfilled all the commandments of the Lord which had been given unto him. (Book of Mormon | 1 Nephi 16:7 – 8) Behold, David and Solomon truly had many wives and concubines, which thing was abominable before me, saith the Lord. (Book of Mormon | Jacob 2:24) Wherefore, thus saith the Lord, I have led this people forth out of the land of Jerusalem, by the power of mine arm, that I might raise up unto me a righteous branch (seed) from the fruit of the loins of Joseph.
    Wherefore, I the Lord God will not suffer that this people shall do like unto them of old.
    Wherefore, my brethren, hear me, and hearken to the word of the Lord: For there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife; and concubines he shall have none;
    For I, the Lord God, delight in the chastity of women. And whoredoms are an abomination before me; thus saith the Lord of Hosts. (Book of Mormon | Jacob 2:25 – 28)

    For a more understandable version of Jacob 2:29-30 and in keeping in the context and pattern of what the Lord has commanded from “before the world was made” on this matter of a moral, virtuous marriage, it would read like this, parentheses are mine and added for clarity:

    • Lehi and his sons continue: “Wherefore, this people shall keep my commandments, saith the Lord of Hosts, or cursed be the land for their sakes.
    For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will (always) command my people (in righteousness); otherwise (in other words or therefore) they shall hearken unto these things.” (Book of Mormon | Jacob 2:29 – 30)

    To continue further in context from the prophet Jacob, we read:

    • Lehi and his sons continue: “Behold, the Lamanites your brethren, whom ye hate because of their filthiness and the cursing which hath come upon their skins, are more righteous than you; for they have not forgotten the commandment of the Lord, which was given unto our father(s) (1830 Book of Mormon, pg. 128 “fathers” was changed to “father” in all subsequent BOM’s. This is important because “fathers” would go all the way back to Adam and Eve, the commandment of the Lord to have only one wife.)—that they should have save it were one wife, and concubines they should have none, and there should not be whoredoms committed among them. And now, this commandment they observe to keep; wherefore, because of this observance, in keeping this commandment, the Lord God will not destroy them, but will be merciful unto them; and one day they shall become a blessed people.” (Book of Mormon | Jacob3:5 – 6)

    • The Prophet Joseph Smith and the latter-day church:

    And again, verily I say unto you, that whoso forbiddeth to marry is not ordained of God, for marriage is ordained of God unto man.
    16 Wherefore, it is lawful that he should have one wife, and they twain shall be one flesh, and all this that the earth might answer the end of its creation;
    17 And that it might be filled with the measure of man, according to his creation before the world was made. (Doctrine and Covenants | Section 49:15 – 17)

    “Before the world was created” God said “he should have one wife.” This has been God’s pattern and moral law of virtue in marriage from Adam and Eve, “before the world was created” and on into infinity😊. God has never changed his moral laws of marriage and virtue. God is not a “changeable God” (Moroni 8:12). God does not lie. He is the same yesterday, today and forever.

    “I, Nephi, was desirous also that I might see, and hear, and know of these things, by the power of the Holy Ghost, which is the gift of God unto all those who diligently seek him, as well in times of old as in the time that he should manifest himself unto the children of men. For he is the same yesterday, to-day, and forever; and the way is prepared for all men from the foundation of the world, if it so be that they repent and come unto him.”(Book of Mormon | 1 Nephi 10:17 – 18)

    So far, we have that God’s character is one that is virtuous and moral (meaning one man one wife), truthful, honest, does not lie or bear false witness of others. For an in-depth study of God’s character, attributes and perfections of God the Father and Christ, I would point the reader to pondering the 7 “Lectures on Faith,” which was called “The Doctrine Of The Church of the Latter Day Saints” for 86 years before it was pulled out of our scriptures. Today there is a brief comment of them in the “Explanatory Introduction” of any current Doctrine and Covenants.

    The Prophet Joseph Smith said: (first-hand account). “It is the first principle of the gospel to know for a certainty the character of God, and to know that we may converse with Him as one man converses with another…” (The King Follet Sermon 1844). Once you have established a foundation of the truth for yourselves in the attributes and character of God…Joseph went on to say “if men do not comprehend the character of God they do not comprehend themselves.” (Words of Joseph Smith pg. 340).

    First-hand account. The Prophet Joseph Smith said:
    On May 26, 1844 Joseph Smith said, one month before he was murdered June 27, 1844: “What a thing for a man to be accused of committing adultery, and having seven wives, when I can only find one. I am the same man, and as innocent as I was fourteen years ago” (History of the Church Vol.6, p.408-412 Sunday, May 26, 1844).

    While the Prophet Joseph Smith was alive he had only one wife (Emma) and fought polygamy his whole life. He was true and faithful to Emma and his family. It wasn’t until after he was murdered that most of all the second-hand accusations came out to say otherwise. In a court of law “second-hand” evidence is “hearsay.” I am a member of the LDS Church and attend the temple often and I do not believe in the opinions the Church is claiming today about the Prophet Joseph having taught and lived polygamy…it is all “hearsay” evidence. What Brian Hales has documented is also “hearsay” evidence. Everything else that we have from Joseph himself testifies he opposed it and fought against it…hence he was murdered for the truth that God had established from “before the foundation of the world” (the one man, one wife principle)! In my book, in my heart of hearts, the Prophet Joseph Smith died a moral man of godliness, holding true to the “one man one wife principle:”

    We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul—We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.
    (Pearl of Great Price | Articles of Faith 1:13)

    So with regards to polygamy, What are we to believe?

    1. Did the doctrine of polygamy come from Joseph Smith?
    2. Did the doctrine polygamy come from God?
    3. Did Joseph Smith lie about his involvement?
    4. And probably The most important question is: Can a person make it to heaven (the Celestial Kingdom for Mormons) believing in a lie? Or telling lies? Or bearing false witness of others?
    The answer to all these questions for me is “NO.”
    Find out for yourself and ask God… I did!

    • Hi Kenneth,

      I readily acknowledge there can be a lot of emotion involved when discussing this topic. I appreciate that you have asked God and received your answer.

      The problem I sense deals with Joseph Smith’s teaching that we should “seek learning, even by study and also by faith” (D&C 88:118, 109:7).

      From my perspective, we must also STUDY, besides praying to God for enlightenment. Having viewed hundreds of pieces of reliable historical evidences showing Joseph Smith introduced plural marriage and practiced polygamy, I’m confident that if you or others will study those evidences and then pray, you will come up with a different conclusion.

      Transparency in our “study” is important–that is we should not simply study the things we like and ignore things we don’t. The truth can account for all evidences.

      I worry sometimes about what I call “bread crumb” scholarship where writers (like the Prices) lead their audiences through one bread crumb evidence to the next, eventually guiding them to their conclusion. Readers are encouraged to not look to the right or left (to not investigate contradictory evidences), but to follow the line of bread crumbs.

      I don’t know if that applies here, but my simply admonition is to study everything from the participants before praying or while you are praying. From a prayerful and evidentiary standpoint, there is no denying Joseph Smith was a polygamist.

      God Bless,


      • Brother Brian,

        I have studied this topic a great deal and read a lot of your writings. I have read a lot of Brigham Young’s words in the JD. I am well studied in the pros and cons of who introduced polygamy in the first place (in other words) I have been where you are, in your thinking and have made an about face. It came down to this: Do i trust in the arm of flesh or in the Lord. Which brings be back to prayer after much study.

        Who is the “authority” on this subject?

        I would remind you, including myself and anyone else who may think they have “done their homework” on this subject, really, just have excellent “opinions.”

        I would suggest “God” is the only one who “knows” the legitimacy of polygamy and its founder.

        As mortals, all we can really do is make an opinion on the subject. Your opinions are great second hand observations.

        I suggest some first hand observation, ask God in prayer. My suggestion to you is to “forget” all the rhetoric you have learned and look at the “pattern” of “one man one wife” God set up from before the world was created (D&C 49) and then follow the “pattern(s)” from Adam & Eve; when God (not man) started an new beginning for a group of people. Remember it was Adam & Eve (singular, one wife). It was Noah and his family (singular, one wife for each male). It was Lehi and his family (singular, one wife for each male); New Testament, look up “one wife” and you will find the moral principle of “one wife” again… this pattern suggest to me a constant morality of “one wife” God has commanded and taught for a reason! It is man who has corrupted the truth, not God.

  14. One more bit of evidence, “first-hand evidence” that God never commanded polygamy.

    First, we must understand what is “secondhand evidence?” In a court of law, it is “hearsay.” This is a term used for evidence that a person has learned from another person and has not seen or heard themselves. It is “expert opinion.”

    On the other hand, what is “first hand evidence?” “Primary evidence, as distinguished from secondary; original, as distinguished from substitutionary; the best and highest evidence of which the nature of the case is susceptible. A written instrument is itself always regarded as the primary or best possible evidence of its existence and contents; a copy, or the recollection of a witness, would be secondary evidence.” ( Dictionary)

    I submit that D&C 132 is “secondhand evidence” because it was placed in the Doctrine and Covenants by Brigham Young 32 years after Joseph Smith was murdered in cold blood; it was only 8 years after Joseph Smith was killed that Brigham Young said he found a revelation from the Prophet Joseph Smith which is the now D&C 132 ).

    Eight years or 32 years later (It doesn’t really matter; the Prophet Joseph Smith was dead and he could not defend his reputation or his beliefs). So what did (Brigham Young) do? He removed Section 101 on “Marriage” from the Doctrine and Covenants, which said:

    “Inasmuch as this church of Christ has been reproached with the crime of fornication, and polygamy: we declare that we believe, that one man should have one wife; and one woman, but one husband,…”
    and replace it with D&C 132…He did this to justify his beliefs and actions in polygamy, he needed the name of the Prophet Joseph Smith attached to a “revelation” that would sanction polygamy, otherwise it would not have worked.

    It should be told here that the “first” mention of polygamy in the scriptures was lived by those who forsook Gods pattern and laws regarding the marriage principle of “one man, one wife;” and this action came from the seed of Cain, where men began to fall into this practice (Genesis 4:16 – 24). It has never been a “commandment of God,” for it does not follow the “pattern” God set up in the beginning, “before the world was created” (D&C 49: 15-17)…”polygamy” has always been born from the lusts of men.

    Find out for yourself, ask God… “if any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God…” I did, and this was my answer and I share it with you because it is my testimony of the truth…and you must find out for yourself if I speak the truth or a lie.

  15. From the Book “Joseph Smith Fought Polygamy” Volume 1 Chapter 10:
    “Joseph forbids it [polygamy] and the practice thereof”

    The LDS Church history quotes a statement which purports to be an exact entry from Joseph’s journal for October 5, 1843, to prove that Joseph had commanded that polygamy be practiced. The statement is monogamous in the original journal, but was changed by Mormon historians to have a polygamous meaning.

    Joseph’s October 5,1843, entry as it now appears incorrectly in the Mormon history is:

    “Gave instructions to try those persons who were preaching, teaching, or practicing the doctrine of plurality of wives; for, according to the law, I hold the keys of this power in the last days; for there is never but one on earth at a time on whom the power and its keys are conferred; and I have constantly said no man shall have but one wife at a time, unless the Lord directs otherwise.”(LDS History of the Church 6:46)

    Modern Mormon scholars, who have had access to records in the Mormon Church’s archives, have found that this statement has been changed. Originally it condemned polygamy. The original quotation is in “an untitled journal of 278 manuscript pages,” which is thought to be in the handwriting of Willard Richards, one of Joseph’s scribes. Richards made the following entry:

    “Walked up and down St[reet] with Scribe and gave instructions to try those who were preaching, teaching, or practicing the doctrine of plurality of wives on this Law. Joseph forbids it and the practice thereof. No man shall have but one wife.” [rest of page blank] {page 116} (Scott H. Faulring, ed., An American Prophet’s Record: The Diaries and Journals of Joseph Smith, 417)

    Richard S. Van Wagoner, author and historian, agreed that this is true, saying,

    The prophet’s most pointed denial of plural marriage occurred on 5 October 1843 in instructions pronounced publicly in the streets of Nauvoo. Willard Richards wrote in Smith’s diary that Joseph “gave instructions to try those who were preaching, teaching, or practicing the doctrine of plurality of wives…. Joseph forbids it and the practice thereof. No man shall have but one wife.” (Van Wagoner, Sidney Rigdon, 292)

    Van Wagoner continued by explaining:

    When incorporating Smith’s journal into the History of the Church, church leaders, under Brigham Young’s direction, deleted ten key words from this significant passage and added forty-nine others. (ibid., 303, note 17)

    What a tremendous difference between the way Joseph gave this instruction against polygamy and the way the LDS polygamists published it in their doctored history! They changed the history as part of the conspiracy to legalize their own polygamous crimes by making the dead Prophet the author of it. The original version of the October 5 entry agreed with all of Joseph’s writings which were published during his lifetime—including those found in the Three Scriptures and his sermon of May 26, 1844, against the dissenters.

  16. Kenneth, I am doubtful. My great-great grandfather Joel knew the prophet very well, and his brother Benjamin even more closely and was his secretary for a time. If any of this is as you suggest, they would have objected and spoken up, since Joel was known to be forthright and of the greatest probity. Ben was fearless.

    Their sister Almira married Joseph Smith. Are you saying my great-great-great uncle and my great great-great aunt and my great-great grandfather conspired together? If you believe that, you’d believe anything. In Missouri a mobber tried to kill Benjamin when he refused to denounce the church, his gun failed to discharge three times, he put a fresh load into the weapon and when he pulled the trigger the fourth time, the gun blew up and killed the mobber. Can you seriously think such a brave man would lie about polygamy, which neither he nor grandfather Joel wanted at all?

    I don’t see why anyone would object. If God tells Nephi to cut off Laban’s head, why can’t he tell Joseph that plurality of wives is part of the restoration? We don’t murder, but what if God tells us? Our limited notions of right and wrong are childish thinking compared to God’s.

    I said I was doubtful. Not true. No, I reject your premise and your evidence completely, and believe you are utterly wrong. Just my opinion, of course; you could be a wonderful person. I hope you are. It is not a sin to have the wrong opinion. I’ve had many in my long life.

    • Greetings Lynn,
      I appreciate your thoughts and a little history of your ancestors.
      Regardless of who we are or where we came from, we can agree that we all choose “Fathers Plan” in the pre-mortal existence. That means a lot to me and suggests that we were once valiant for Christ and what He stood for.

      The “test” is now here… are we going to be valiant and moral here. I can not answer for the Prophet Joseph Smith (but in my heart of hearts I believe he never introduced polygamy at all or lived it… he fought against it in my opinion). I can’t answer for Brigham Young or any who entered into the polygamy doctrine, they will have to answer to God as we all will for our behavior, our thinking, and our words and intent of heart.
      Regardless of where the Church may decide to go in the future, I have crated for myself a “foundation” of spiritual principles or attributes of godliness that I have covenanted to obey and immerse myself into, regardless what others my choose to do. I can tell you what that “foundation” is:
      1. Lectures on Faith
      2. Sermon on the Mount taught by Christ
      3. My moral foundation is “one man one wife” morality
      4. “Sanctify yourselves and be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.”
      5. D&C 121: 41-46

      These to me are my 5 points of fellowship with myself, God and my fellowman.

      God bless you in your journey,

      • Hi Kenneth,

        I’m happy to let you believe what you choose, but there is a principle here that needs to be understood and I wouldn’t want readers to be misled.

        Joseph Smith’s revelations teach that we should “study it out” (D&C 9:8) before we pray. “It” refers to information we seek to understand. Praying without study brings condemnation. The Lord was critical of Oliver because he “took no thought save it was to ask” God, rather than studying.

        Joseph also taught that we learn “by study and also by faith” (D&C 88:118), not by faith alone.

        Why is this? Because “there are many spirits which are false spirits, which have gone forth in the earth, deceiving the world” (D&C 50:2). By studying to learn truth from the scriptures (John 5:39) and from the “best books,” (D&C 88:118), and then exercising faith through prayer, we can come to know the truth. Praying alone leaves us vulnerable to false spirits because of our disobedience.

        This applies to the issue of plural marriage. We should not be afraid of transparency. I mean, learning everything available in the historical record, especially when those records were made by believers in Christ and in Joseph Smith as His prophet.

        You may not realize it, but you are on one end of a polygamy spectrum. You allege Joseph didn’t practice polygamy and at the other end are Mormon fundamentalists who say he did and we are supposed to practice it today.

        In both cases, there is (in my view) a LACK of STUDY. Joseph Smith did introduce plural marriage as part of the new and everlasting covenant so to deny it is to deny his teachings.

        Joseph also taught that valid eternal marriages (monogamous or polygamous) cannot be freelanced. They are strictly controlled by a key holder who many fundamentalist ignore or embrace lines of authority that are indefensible once the claims are investigated.

        Prayerful study is needed in both cases; not just study; not just prayer.

        Happy Holidays.

        Brian Hales

  17. Greetings Brian,

    Brian, you said, “there is a principle here that needs to be understood” … are you listening to what your are saying? Lets bring out the “principle.”

    The truth is, everyone believes what they choose to believe. I totally agree with D&C 9… your research and my research both shows two individuals who have taken the “polygamy issue” and studied it out in their minds… and as the scripture says: “behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.

    (Doctrine and Covenants | Section 9:8)

    I can’t speak for you, but am I to assume you have done this and your answer from the Lord is that Joseph Smith both lived and taught the principle of polygamy?

    I have applied the same principles from D&C 9 and received a totally different, opposite answer.

    I have been and continue to receive after pursuing a similar path of research, study and prayer, that my bosom burned within me and I felt that it was right; that the Prophet Joseph Smith never lived or taught the principle of polygamy but fought it his whole life.

    Now I have not just stopped there with the Prophet Joseph Smith… I went further into the same path of study, research and prayer concerning the practice of polygamy, where it originally came from and those individuals in the Old Testament who got involved in the practice were not following “a command from the Lord to live it” but were following their own “fallen natures” in assuming it was the right thing to do. Some of them pulled away from the practice and never continued to add more wives (I am speaking of Abraham and Jacob).

    As far as, where the practice of polygamy came from, after much study and prayer again, it was shown to me that it originated from the seed of Cain (a family group and people) who forsook the original commandment from the Lord God to only have “one wife” and pursued their own “fallen natures” Old Testament | Genesis 4:16 – 24 … this would include all those people and nations who even to this day practice polygamy.

    Ancient Israel who were wanderers in the land after they left Egypt… some of them got caught up in the “fallen nature” of embracing the doctrine of polygamy… not by God’s command, but by their own “fallen natures.”

    As it was with Ancient Israel, so it was with modern Israel who followed Brigham Young out West (going “West” is symbolic of leaving the path the Lord originally set up and “falling away” from the truth). It was in the “East” (which is symbolic of following the Lord in righteousness) that the Book of Mormon came forth which clearly said: “Behold, David and Solomon truly had many wives and concubines, which thing was abominable before me, saith the Lord.”

    (Book of Mormon | Jacob 2:24)

    And during this same period, the Prophet Joseph Smith received a revelation (March 1831) that from “before the world was created” the Lord God gave a law or commandment that man should have only “one wife.” “Wherefore, it is lawful that he should have one wife, and they twain shall be one flesh, and all this that the earth might answer the end of its creation; and that it might be filled with the measure of man, according to his creation before the world was made.

    (Doctrine and Covenants | Section 49:16 – 17)

    My point is that, my conclusion and the answer to my study and prayer, came from the “heavenly pattern” of “one wife” which the Lord God established “before the world was created;” (D&C 49) that His moral law for marriage was that a man should have only “one wife.” This is the Lord speaking these words, not Abraham, or any other prophet… That is “the principle that needs to be understood.”

    I pray your Christmas may be a “holy one.”

    • Hi Again,

      I’ve debated whether I should answer this but I’m troubled. You may not realize it but from my perspective, your assertions actually condemn Joseph Smith, his revelations, his teachings, and his practices in Nauvoo.

      You say you’ve studied and that’s great. Have you read the contemporaneous and late accounts from dozens of men and women who heard Joseph teach eternal marriage (and the plurality of wives) or had him authorize their plural sealings?

      If you have, then could I ask a question? Did inspiration tell you they were all lying or did inspiration tell you to ignore them or have your prayers told you something else? You don’t have to answer, but a huge obstacle to maintaining your viewpoint are the accounts from many of Joseph’s closest followers, 115 at his death, who are documented as participating in polygamous marriages with his authorization.

      I once tried to identify who first said “Fact are stubborn things.” I think it is generally attributed to John Adams, but I’m not convinced he was the first to say it. Regardless, I worry when burning bosoms trump well documented historical facts. I’m more bothered when the reconstructions portray Joseph negatively. Please be careful in advancing your views.

      Happy Christmas and a Merry New Year to you,


  18. Hello Brian,

    If you understand the gospel correctly, you don’t condemn the person but the “sin.”

    No, I do not condemn the Prophet Joseph, Brigham or David or Solomon or any who involved themselves in polygamy or a lie or baring false witness of others…(Article of Faith 2). Since the Lord called having more that “one wife” an “abomination” (Jacob 2:24) and “whoredoms” (Jacob 3:5) that is good enough for me, past, present or future… perhaps this is a principle you don’t completely understand, for God teaches the same truth, the same morality, and the same virtue…yesterday, today, and forever.

    It is man who “wrests” (2 Peter 3: 16) the scriptures or twists the truth to satisfy his or her own unholy desires.

    I pray your path will bring you to the truth,


  19. Pingback: Joseph Smith Likely Had No Sexual Relations With His Plural ‘Wives’ | Conflict of Justice

  20. One of the wonderful blessings of free agency is being able to choose what we believe. As we do, we also choose the consequences that come with that set of beliefs.

    People generally credit John Adams with the following: “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”

    I don’t understand how people can mentally dismiss the historical evidences surrounding Joseph Smith’s introduction and practice of plural marriage. But if they choose to do so, I’ll respect their agency.

    My sadness is that they might influence others who don’t take the time to learn the historical facts surrounding the issue. Joseph taught: “Truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come” (D&C 93:24).

    The evidences showing Joseph introduced eternal AND plural marriage is strong enough to be declared truth. The alternate argument (continually popping up on the internet) instead posits a conspiracy of hundreds of people who sought to create a false history for reasons I can’t explain.

    For followers of Denver Snuffer, or others who disbelieve, the antidote is MORE KNOWLEDGE. Study the evidences without fear because the truth will set us free. Sure there are thousands of pages of material (see ), but the effort will be worth it (rather than being deceived).

  21. I have never brought this scripture into play before regarding the fact that “polygamy” has never been taught as a principle for marriage by the Lord (PERIOD).

    Here are the Lords words “from the beginning of creation God made them male and female…a man shall cleave to his wife…the twain shall be one…” and it has not changed from the beginning. Any changes that have taken place are mans attempt to wrest the scriptures and live a life contrary to godliness and holiness which Christ taught. This is my testimony of this truth with respect to polygamy and marriage in general.

    Ҧ And the Pharisees came to him, and asked him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife? tempting him.
    3 And he answered and said unto them, What did Moses command you?
    4 And they said, Moses suffered to write a bill of divorcement, and to put her away.
    5 And Jesus answered and said unto them, For the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept.
    6 But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female.
    7 For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife;
    8 And they twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh.
    9 What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.”

    (New Testament | Mark 10:2 – 9)

    From the “beginning of the creation” a man was to have “one” wife and was to cleave to his wife and none else. And “they twain” shall be “one” flesh; therefore what “God hath joined together, let not man up asunder” or add other wives to his own damnation.

    During Joseph’s lifetime fallen man sought to destroy the Prophet and accused him of lying and living secretly polygamy… those are not the attributes of a true prophet. A true prophet would not lie, and he would “cleave to his wife and none else.” After his death (assassination and murder) others in the church came forward and lied about the Prophet Joseph having many wives secretly. This is all hearsay evidence. The Prophet Joseph Smith said this through the Lord in revelation February 9, 1831… before D&C 132 came into existance:

    “Thou shalt love thy wife with all thy heart, and shalt cleave unto her and none else.
    23 And he that looketh upon a woman to lust after her shall deny the faith, and shall not have the Spirit; and if he repents not he shall be cast out.
    24 Thou shalt not commit adultery;”

    (Doctrine and Covenants | Section 42:22 – 24)

    • Kenneth, this is a classic “no true scotsman” fallacy. Your argument is also cherry picking and private interpretation of scriptures. Shaky, shaky ground, build on a sandy foundation and you fall. PLUS: You never did show me the courtesy of answering my core argument about my own family. Ignoring powerful arguments isn’t a good way to discover the truth.

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