[This post is part of a series on Joseph Smith’s Polygamy. To read from the beginning or link to previously published posts, go to A Faithful Joseph.]
Despite all that had happened through the end of June 1843, Joseph had never written down the revelation regarding plural marriage. Nor had Joseph spoken publicly about the doctrine involving possible plural marriage.
That was about to change.
Emma had demanded something of Joseph in June 1843. In response, Joseph had packed up Emma and the children and traveled some 200 miles northwest to the home of Emma’s sister, Elizabeth Hale Wasson. The pressures of Church leadership and the women Joseph had covenanted with were left behind in Nauvoo.
We’ll never know how long Joseph intended to remain with the Wassons. Sheriff Reynolds of Jackson County, Missouri, and Constable Wilson, of Carthage, Illinois, came to arrest Joseph, pistol-whipping him and tearing him away from Emma in a scene reminiscent of the horror at Far West, when Joseph was dragged to prison and his family was thrust from him by the sword.
By the beginning of July, Joseph was back in Nauvoo, protected by the strong city charter Dr. Bennett had crafted. Emma’s relief was short-lived. She was once back in Nauvoo, with all the stresses and individuals that had caused her grief the month before. She had made a demand of Joseph, which God had commanded Joseph to grant her. She planned to campaign until her promised relief was granted.
Unfortunately, we do not have Emma’s description of what she’d been promised, or the aftermath. William Clayton would not record his version of the story until decades later, after Emma’s sons had visited Utah, intent on convincing the Utah Saints to abandon the polygamy the young Smith brothers believed their father had never taught.
The Revelation is Written
William Clayton, Joseph’s scribe and a practicing polygamist in July 1843, wrote a letter in 1871 documenting that Joseph dictated a revelation on plural marriage to him on Wednesday, July 12, 1843. The revelation in question is now Section 132 of the Doctrine and Covenants. 1From the wording, it appears William Clayton was being asked to counter the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, headed by Joseph’s sons. Joseph’s sons and RLDS missionaries would have been challenging that any such revelation could ever have been written during Joseph Smith’s life:
I did write the revelation on celestial marriage given through the Prophet Joseph Smith, on the 12th of July, 1843.
When the revelation was written there was no one present except the Prophet Joseph, his brother Hyrum and myself. It was written in the small office upstairs in the rear of the brick store which stood on the banks of the Mississippi river. It took some three hours to write it Joseph dictated sentence by sentence, and I wrote it as he dictated. After the whole was written Joseph requested me to read it slowly and carefully, which I did, and he then pronounced it correct… The original was destroyed by Emma Smith. 2
Two years later, on February 16, 1874, Clayton would produce a more expansive version of the story, sworn to before John T. Caine, notary public, in Salt Lake City:
“On the morning of the 12th of July, 1843, Joseph and Hyrum Smith came into the office in the upper story of the ‘brick store,’ on the bank of the Mississippi River. They were talking on the subject of plural marriage. Hyrum said to Joseph, ‘If you will write the revelation on celestial marriage, I will take and read it to Emma, and I believe I can convince her of its truth, and you will hereafter have peace.’
“Joseph smiled and remarked, ‘You do not know Emma as well as I do.’
“Hyrum repeated his opinion and further remarked, ‘The doctrine is so plain, I can convince any reasonable man or woman of its truth, purity or heavenly origin,’ or words to their effect
“Joseph then said, ‘Well, I will write the revelation and we will see.’ He then requested me to get paper and prepare to write. Hyrum very urgently requested Joseph to write the revelation by means of the Urim and Thummim, but Joseph, in reply, said he did not need to, for he knew the revelation perfectly from beginning to end.
“Joseph and Hyrum then sat down and Joseph commenced to dictate the revelation on celestial marriage, and I wrote it, sentence by sentence, as he dictated. After the whole was written, Joseph asked me to read it through, slowly and carefully, which I did, and he pronounced it correct He then remarked that there was much more that he could write, on the same subject, but what was written was sufficient for the present.
“Hyrum then took the revelation to read to Emma. Joseph remained with me in the office until Hyrum returned. When he came back, Joseph asked him how he had succeeded. Hyrum replied that he had never received a more severe talking to in his life, that Emma was very bitter and full of resentment and anger.
“Joseph quietly remarked, ‘I told you you did not know Emma as well as I did.’ Joseph then put the revelation in his pocket, and they both left the office.” 3
Joseph and Hyrum were long dead. Emma Smith would die in April 1879, and William Clayton passed away in seven months later. Clayton’s statements in the 1870s imply Emma’s concern centered on the doctrine of plural marriage. However the contemporary record indicates her concern may have been financial.
The record for July 12th indicates “Hyrum took the revelation and read it to Emma. I directed Clayton to make out deeds of certain lots of land to Emma and the children.” 4
With Joseph marrying multiple young women, who could potentially bear any number of children, Emma would have an understandable concern about the property available to sustain herself and her children.
On July 13th, the journal record says “I was in conversation with Emma most of the day…” On the 14th, the record says “Spent the day at home.” 5
Emma had the original manuscript of the revelation burned. Apparently she didn’t know a copy had been made by Bishop Whitney while he had possession of the revelation.
In 1867 Emma told Elder Jason W. Briggs that she had never seen the purported revelation and had not burned the thing, a testimony also reported by Edmund Briggs. 6 This could possibly true and still be substantially consistent with Brigham’s version, if Emma had refused to look at the written words and if Joseph had been the one to burn it, at her behest. 7 Unfortunately for Jason Briggs’ version of the tale, where the revelation was merely an 1852 artifact of Brigham Young’s creation, there are many other accounts attesting to the existence of the revelation in Nauvoo during the summer of 1843.
It might have been best had all copies of this version of the revelation been burned. After all, Joseph maintained that he could reproduce the revelation at any time. But a copy had been made of that particular version of the revelation, a version including very specific revelation regarding Emma and the events of summer 1843. 8
Hyrum Begins to Share the Revelation
Almost immediately after Hyrum was himself introduced to the doctrine of plural marriage at the end of May 1843, he began to officiate in marrying others. 9
Howard Coray tells of an early instance where Hyrum explained the revelation:
About the 1st of July of , my wife had a peculiar dream and, believing that it had significance, she desired me to accompany her to Brother Hyrum Smith’s for the purpose of getting him to interpret it.
We went the next Sunday to see him, but having company, he was not at liberty to say much to us; he said, however, if we would come the next Sunday, he would interpret the dream, but wished to see us by ourselves, when there was no other one present.
Accordingly the next Sunday we went, but found as many at his house as the Sunday previous. He said to us, come again the next Sunday and probably it will be different; but in a day or so he called at our house, and invited us to take a ride with him in his buggy. We accordingly did so.
When we had gotten far enough out of town to converse safely, without attracting attention or being understood, he commenced rehearsing the revelation [D&C 132] on celestial marriage and carefully went through with the whole of it, then reviewed it, explaining such portions of it as he deemed necessary. This was on the 22nd of July, 1843.
The dream was in harmony with the revelation and was calculated to prepare her mind for its reception. She never doubted the divinity of it, nor rebelled against it. And while still in the buggy, Brother Hyrum asked my wife if she was willing to be sealed to me. After a moment’s thought, she answered yes. He then asked me if I wished to be sealed. I replied in the affirmative and after telling us that he knew by the spirit of the Lord that it was His will for us to be sealed, he performed the ceremony, then and there. 10
Hyrum and the High Council
On Saturday, August 12, 1843, Hyrum Smith was in a meeting of the Nauvoo Stake High Council when the conversation turned to marriage. Hyrum, apparently still of the impression that “The doctrine is so plain, I can convince any reasonable man or woman of its truth, purity or heavenly origin,” excused himself to obtain the copy of the revelation.
Returning to the High Council, Hyrum proceeded to read the revelation.
James Allred, David Fullmer, Thomas Grover, Aaron Johnson, Austin Cowles and Leonard Soby, documented the meeting in letters and affidavits.
Hyrum was on a roll. He took the revelation to William Law. Upon request, Hyrum left the revelation with William Law to study. William’s wife, Jane, also studied the revelation that night.
Perhaps Hyrum’s own faith in Joseph, supported by the faithfulness of individuals he had interacted with prior to August 12, led him to believe that everyone would be able to overcome the resistance he himself had felt towards the doctrine.
Unfortunately, the men of the High Council were the same men who had investigated the instances of illicit intercourse in May 1842. The women who testified against John C. Bennett and Chauncy Higbee had repeatedly mentioned that Bennett or Higbee or even Joseph’s brother, William, had claimed Joseph taught about illicit intercourse, but that the women had subsequently learned that Joseph taught no such thing.
Now here was Joseph’s respected brother, Hyrum, blithely claiming that Joseph indeed had received a revelation stating a man could have multiple wives.
It is not clear if Hyrum understood at the time how much the written version of the revelation shocked many hearers.
Austin Cowles was one of those in the High Council that day that would leave the Church as a result of Hyrum’s reading of the revelation. Austin wrote:
Forasmuch as the public mind hath been much agitated by a course of procedure in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, by a number of persons declaring against certain doctrines and practices therein, (among whom I am one,) it is but meet that I should give my reasons, at least in part, as a cause that hath led me to declare myself.
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 revelation in the said Council, that according to his reading there was contained the following doctrines;
1st, the sealing up of persons to eternal life, against all sins, save that of sheding innocent blood or of consenting thereto;
2nd, 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; determined me to leave the office of first counsellor to the president of the Church at Nauvoo, inasmuch as I dared not to teach or administer such laws. 11
Austin’s experience hearing the testimonies of the women who had been seduced by Dr. Bennett and his “Strikers, for we know not what else to call them” 12 appears to have featured significantly in his rejection of the revelation. 13 Austin was perhaps more troubled that “sealed” persons could commit any manner of sin save murder and be assured of eternal life. And yet Austin believed deeply in the fundamental doctrines Joseph had taught, contained in the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and the Book of Covenants.
William and Jane Law were similarly horrified, though their opposition focused almost solely on the doctrine of plural marriage.
Austin and the Laws would eventually contribute to an opposition newspaper, named the Expositor. Even having determined that Joseph’s alleged teachings on plural marriage had to be stopped, those behind the Expositor affirmed their belief in the doctrines Joseph had originally taught:
We all verily believe, and many of us know of a surety, that the religion of the Latter Day Saints, as originally taught by Joseph Smith, which is contained in the Old and New Testaments, Book of Covenants, and Book of Mormon, is verily true; and that the pure principles set forth in those books, are the immutable and eternal principles of Heaven, and speaks a language which, when spoken in truth and virtue, sinks deep into the heart of every honest man. — Its precepts are invigorating, and in every sense of the word, tend to dignify and ennoble man’s conceptions of God and his atributes[sic]. It speaks a language which is heard amidst the roar of Artillery, as well as in the silence of midnight: it speaks a language understood by the incarcerated spirit, as well as he who is unfettered and free… 14
In 1866 Brigham Young would say of Hyrum, “although he was just as honest as an Angel, and as full of integrity as the Gods… he had not that ability which Joseph possessed to see and understand men as they were.” 15 The cold reading of the revelation in a hot room to skeptical men was a massive mistake, for which Hyrum would pay with his life.
Joseph’s Secret Campaign
Unlike Hyrum, Joseph taught about the revelation in intimate settings. As Danel Bachman wrote, Joseph introduced the doctrine of plural marriage “primarily through private and personal interviews.” 16
Aroet Hale tells of one gathering, and how Joseph explained the revelation to a group of “regular” saints:
“The Prophet Joseph was visiting at our house on one occasion and spent the evening. My father was a bishop of one of the wards. With the Prophet’s consent, father invited in his counselors and a few of the good old staunch brethren.
“Among the few was Uncle Henry Harriman, one of the first seven presidents of the seventies, and Jonathan H. Holmes, and several others of fathers old stand-by friends. This circumstance took place at my father’s house, Jonathan H. Hale, bishop. 17 This was the first time that our parents had ever heard the Prophet speak on the subject of celestial marriage.
“During the evening, the Prophet spoke to Uncle Henry Harriman. Said he, “Henry, your wife Clarisa [sic] is barren; she never will have any children. Upon your shoulders rests great responsibilities. You have a great work to perform in the temple of our God. You are the only Harriman that will ever join this Church.” He even told the lineage that he was of and told him that he must take another wife and raise up a family to assist him in his great work, and to honor and revere his name.
“The Prophet also told Aunt Clarisa [sic] that if she would consent to this marriage and not try to hinder Henry, that she should share a portion of the glory that would be derived from this marriage. Uncle Henry Harriman was finally convinced that the command that the Prophet Joseph had given him was right. In a short time, he took a young woman [Eliza Elizabeth Jones] and was sealed by the Prophet. 18 He brought her to the valleys. They have raised a family of children. They have done a good work in the St. George temple.” 19
Joseph would sometimes delegate news regarding plural marriage to others. We see this in the case of Orange Wight, teenage son of Apostle Lyman Wight. Orange became aware of plural marriage in 1841, discovering that John Higbee 20 had two wives. 21 When Orange was almost 80 years old, he would write:
“The next I noticed when in company with the young folks the girls were calling one another spirituals… when at Nauvoo in the winter of 1841 and 1842, I became fully initiated. 22
“Now although [I] would not be 20 until 29 November, 1843, I concluded to look about and try to pick up one or more of the young ladies before they were all gone. So I commenced keeping company with Flora Woodworth, daughter of Lucian Woodworth (called the Pagan Prophet).
“I was walking along the street with Flora near the Prophet’s residence when he, Joseph, drove, up in his carriage, stopped and spoke to I and Flora and asked us to get in the carriage and ride with him. He opened the door for us and when we were seated opposite to him he told the driver to drive on. We went to the [Nauvoo] temple lot and many other places during the afternoon and then he drove to the Woodworth house and we got out and went in.
“After we got in the house Sister Woodworth took me in another room and told me that Flora was one of Joseph’s wives. I was aware or believed that Eliza R. Snow and the two Partridge girls were his wives but was not informed about Flora. But now Sister Woodworth gave me all the information necessary, so I knew Joseph believed and practiced polygamy.”
Orange Wight would go on to marry two cousins of Marietta Carter [Holmes], deceased wife of Jonathan Harriman Holmes. But Orange and his father settled Texas rather than joining with the “Brighamites.” So his 1903 letter to Joseph I. Earl describing these events were not informed by decades of living in the shadow of the apostles who had been close to Joseph during his life.
Brigham Young Explains the Doctrine
For those of us attempting to understand the revelation many decades into the future, it is easy to get caught up in the belief that polygamy was about established men gathering up their pick of the available teenage girls. But if we look at the early explanations from Joseph and Hyrum and Brigham, we see that it was explained as part of a complete marriage system that allowed all members of a family to be joined together, and to establish links not only between spouses, but to their future, as in the case of Henry Harriman.
On July 9, 1843, before Joseph had written down the revelation, Brigham Young documents a discussion he had with a professor from a Southern university, who asked if Joseph Smith had more wives than one (as Dr. Bennett had widely claimed). Brigham admitted that he had. To explain, Brigham asked if the gentleman believed the Bible and the resurrection.
I then asked him if he believed parents and children, husbands and wives woud recognize each other in the resurrection. He said he did.
Also if parents and children would have the same filial feeling towards each other which they have here; and he said he believed they would, and that their affections would be more acute that they were in this life.
I then said, “We see in this life, that amongst Christians, ministers and all classes of men, a man will marry a wife, and have children by her; she dies, and he marries another, and then another, until men have had as many as six wives, and each of them bear children. This is considered all right by the Christian world, inasmuch as a man has but one at a time.
“Now, in the resurrection this man and all his wives and children are raised from the dead; what will be done with those women and children, and who will they belong to? and if the man is to have but one, which one in the lot shall he have?”
The professor replied, he never thought of the question in this light before, and said he did not believe those women and children would belong to any but those they belonged to in this life.
“Very well,” said I, “you consider that to be a pure, holy place in the presence of God, angels, and celestial beings’ would the Lord permit a thing to exist in heaven that is evil?
“And if it is right for a man to have several wives and children in heaven at the same time, is it not an inconsistent doctrine that a man should have several wives and children by those wives at the same time, here in this life, as was the case with Abraham and many of the old Prophets? Or is it any more sinful to have several wives at a time than at different times?”
[The university professor answered,] “I cannot see that it would be any more inconsistent to have more wives in this life than in the next, or to have five wives at one time than at five different times. I feel to acknowledge it is a correct principle and a Bible doctrine, and I cannot see anything inconsistent in it.” 23
This early record of Brigham’s explanation of plural marriage helps us see that he had, originally, seen plural marriage to be part of an over-arching marriage construct, fully consistent with modern ideas about sealing spouses and children and ancestors together. We also see Brigham making the case that plural wives should bear children, a point on which he and Emma would disagree after Joseph’s death.
From the time Emma was sealed to Joseph, the first semi-public sealing between two individuals who were already married, the doctrine of eternal sealing, and the concomitant doctrine of plural marriage, began to spread among the saints. Where Joseph and others had previously confined their teachings to secretive meetings with individuals, this new era involved larger meetings, where the underlying reasons for doctrine were explained, rather than simply stating that God had commanded it, and obedience would yield eternal blessings to the family of the individual participating.
Emma, always concerned about the threat plural marriage posed to Joseph’s life, and secondarily concerned about the temporal security of herself and her children, would have happily terminated all open discussion of plural marriage. She clearly believed plural wives had no business producing children.
But the teachings of Joseph and Brigham make it clear that plural wives should be permitted to have children. I have cherry-picked the best examples, but many more exist, of which I believe most are contained in Chapter 29 of Brian C. Hales’ book on Joseph Smith’s polygamy.
Finally, Hyrum’s action in sharing the revelation with the Nauvoo High Council led to disaffection of several prominent leaders. Hyrum’s decision to share the written form of the revelation with William and Jane Law similarly led to rejection and disbelief. Therefore it is not unreasonable to cite Hyrum as the inspiration for the Expositor.
Dr. Bennett had created an environment where many in the United States were at least informed of the possibility of sexual shenanigans in Joseph’s Nauvoo. When the revelation of the revelation fell on unbelieving ears, all of Dr. Bennett’s past accusations were revived in the minds of those horrified by the prospect of plural marriage. The Expositor would be the fuse to the powder keg of suspicion Bennett had created. When Joseph and others made the decision to destroy the Expositor press in the summer of 1844, the fuse was lit.
But Joseph was not dead yet. Carthage was still a year in his future. The actions and decisions during this last year of Joseph’s life would have a profound impact on the way Joseph’s followers continued Joseph’s legacy.
Future Planned Posts:
Those Virtuous and Pure
Daughter of Hope
The Prodigal Returns
Conferring the Mantle
Collecting the Sorrowful
For Eternity and Time
Fifty Years in the Wilderness
Days of Defiance
God’s Strange Act: A Legacy
- D&C 132. ↩
- Joseph F. Smith, Jr., Blood Atonement and the Origin of Plural Marriage, p. 77. ↩
- Andrew Jensen, The Historical Record 6 [May 1887): pp. 224, 225–226 ↩
- History of the Church 5:507. ↩
- History of the Church 5:509. ↩
- RLDS History of the Church 3:351–352; The Messenger of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints 1 [April 1875], p. 23. From the date, it appears Briggs’ testimony was published as a direct attack on Clayton’s 1874 account. ↩
- When I separated from my first husband, my mother did not want to have to lie to my husband. So she would drop me off around the corner from whatever home I had arranged to shelter in that night, so she could honestly tell my abusive husband that she didn’t know where I was. ↩
- Joseph F. Smith or Joseph Fielding Smith later opined that the revelation in its entirety ought not to have been canonized, as I recall, containing as it did these time-specific and embarrassing details regarding Emma Smith. If anyone knows off-hand where that opinion is recorded, I would be grateful to include the reference. ↩
- One of these early sealings would show Hyrum’s lack of understanding. Even though Joseph had sealed Hyrum to the widowed Mercy Fielding [Thompson] for time, Hyrum had not understood that widows should be given the chance to be sealed to their beloved first husbands. So Hyrum sealed Parley P. Pratt to his wife, Mary Ann Frost [Sterns Pratt], a sealing Joseph would feel he had to cancel. ↩
- Howard Coray, Autobiography, available online at http://www.boap.org/LDS/Early-Saints/HCoray.html, retrieved May 15, 2014. ↩
- The Expositor, June 7, 1844, Page 2, Col. D. Available online at http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Nauvoo_Expositor, retrieved 15 May, 2014. ↩
- The Expositor, June 7, 1844, Page 1, Col. F. Available online at http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Nauvoo_Expositor, retrieved 15 May, 2014. ↩
- Modern historians make a point of the fact that Austin’s daughter, Elvira Annie Cowles [Holmes] had become one of Joseph’s plural wives earlier that summer. However I don’t know why Austin would have any idea about Elvira’s sealing to Joseph. ↩
- The Expositor, June 7, 1844, Page 1, Col. E. Available online at http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Nauvoo_Expositor, retrieved 15 May, 2014. ↩
- Brigham Young, Sermon, October 8, 1966, LDS Church Archives, cited in Gary Bergera, Identifying the Earliest Mormon Polygamists, 1841-44, available online at http://www.dialoguejournal.com/wp-content/uploads/sbi/articles/Dialogue_V38N03_13.pdf, retrieved 22 March 2014. ↩
- Danel Bachman, “A Study of the Mormon Practice of Plural Marriage before the Death of Joseph Smith,” p.176. ↩
- Jonathan Harriman Holmes, Jonathan Harriman Hale, and Henry Harriman were three cousins from Massachusetts who joined the Church together and traveled to Kirtland in 1835. Holmes was one of Joseph’s bodyguards, husband of the ill-fated Marietta Carter, and “assigned” husband to Elvira Annie Cowles, who had been sealed to Joseph by the time this gathering took place. ↩
- Eliza Elizabeth Jones was born in January 1830, making her at most 14 if Joseph performed a sealing ceremony between Eliza and Henry before Joseph’s death. Henry and Eliza were sealed in the Nauvoo temple in January 1846 and Eliza conceived her first child in the summer when she was 16 years old. ↩
- Aroet Lucious Hale, Journal, available online at http://www.boap.org/LDS/Early-Saints/AHale.html, retrieved May 15, 2014. ↩
- This was likely John Somers Higbee, uncle to Chauncy Higbee and Francis Higbee. As John Higbee is not identified as an early polygamist by either Gary Bergera or George D. Smith, it seems possible or even likely that John Higbee was involved in Bennett’s spiritual wifery, not Joseph’s plural marriage. ↩
- Orange Wight, May 4, 1903, letter to Joseph I. Earl, available online at http://www.boap.org/LDS/Early-Saints/OWight.html, retrieved 15 May 2014. ↩
- It is not clear if this means Orange became informed, or if it means he became an active member of the group involved in illicit intercourse. After Orange was “initiated” at age 18, he was sent away from Nauvoo on a mission under the supervision of two older missionaries. ↩
- Watson, Manuscript History of Brigham Young, July 9, 1843, pp. 134-136. ↩