Commentary on Joseph Smith’s Monogamy

Meg-croppedIn response to the announcement that the Advanced Review Copy of Reluctant Polygamist is available, “Reader” suggested I look at a recent 42-page pdf titled Joseph Smith’s Monogamy: Exploring a Counter-narrative Regarding Plural Marriage. Henceforth I will refer to this as JSM.

The link didn’t work. A google search brought me to a copy that was posted at the blog “To The Remnant,” which is Adrian Larsen’s blog about doctrinal points that he thinks the mainstream LDS Church misunderstands. I haven’t read his site deeply, but it appears those who do comment on his blog embrace the heresy of Denver C. Snuffer. [Updated 12/6] Anonymous Bishop, another Snuffer sycophant, has also posted the pdf.

For the record, I am using the same format I used to comment on Brian Hales’ rebuttal of me. But I like Brian and Laura Hales. I don’t like anonymous people. To the anonymous author of JSM, I request that you grow the courage to own your writings. God, who is the only one who really matters, already knows you wrote it. Feel free to let your family, friends, and Church leaders know you are who you are.

The Problem of Paternity (2-5)

On pages 2-5 of the JSM pdf, anonymous points out that very few children appear to have been born to any man participating in Celestial Marriage (my term, to differentiate from illicit intercourse). Adelmon is explained away as likely having been engendered by William Noon before his disaffected return to England. So far anonymous is in my general vicinity regarding the past.

Much of the Evidence isn’t Contemporary (5-11)

On pages 5-11, anonymous points out what I have also said, that much of the testimony is from 1869 and 1893 and elicited with a purpose. The first real break with my position occurs on page 6, where anonymous writes:

The historical record shows that, as a group, the LDS polygamists were prone to embellishing or even inventing historical events. For example, the stories of a jealous Emma Smith throwing a pregnant Eliza Snow down the stairs of the Nauvoo Mansion house ­­ causing her to miscarry Joseph’s unborn child ­­ has since been shown false even by LDS scholars. 1

This theme that everyone in the LDS Church since Joseph Smith’s death is a pack of liars will be returned to time and again throughout JSM. This, as far as I understand things, appears to be consistent with the Snuffer position. Anonymous goes on to suggest Mormon culture has a pattern of “speaking untruthfully to defend a narrative…” Mormons, anonymous tells us, are “willing to invent, embellish, and falsely deny in order to protect a desired narrative.”

Anonymous gives us an extended analysis of the many times Mormon leaders (apostles and Eliza R. Snow) went on the record in the 1840s denying polygamy and illicit intercourse. As the cited leaders went on to practice Celestial marriage, anonymous claims they were lying in the 1840s.

Joseph was Framed… (11-14)

On pages 11-14, anonymous lays out the case that Joseph was framed by those who wanted “to carry on their iniquitous designs.” There is an interesting letter from Francis Higbee which was published in Dec 1842, which suggests to me why Joseph had originally hoped Francis and Chauncy might reform. I haven’t read every issue of all newspapers from around Nauvoo (yet), so I was unaware of this little gem.

Anonymous elides the investigation into illicit intercourse circa 1842 directly into the 1844 conspiracy to kill Joseph and Hyrum.

Stepping back, ananymous concludes that all contemporary testimony regarding Joseph Smith being a polygamist is therefore attributable to the war of words and attempt to slander Joseph, claiming that it is “enough to doubt the contemporary evidence claiming he [Joseph Smith] was a polygamist.”

LDS Church Revisionist History (14-25)

On pages 14-25, anonymous starts showing us evidence that Joseph’s journal record has been revised. In particular is one image where an original scribe had written:

[Joseph] gave inst[r]uction to try those who were preaching teaching or practicing the doctrin of plurality of wives. on this Law. Joseph forbids it. and the practice ther[e]of— No man shall have but one wife. (Oct 5, 1843)

[Updated 12/6]

Anonymous is not apparently aware that the prior month Joseph had discovered that Orange Wight was aware of his plural wives Flora Woodworth, Eliza R. Snow, and the Partridge sisters. All four of these women were distanced from Joseph in this timeframe. Thus this journal entry can be seen as a tactical mandate “No man shall have but one wife [at this time]” rather than a global doctrinal mandate “No man shall have but one wife [so sorry for you, Father Abraham and Dearest Jacob/Israel.]”

Following the thread of the four women distanced from Joseph, we see Eliza Snow invited to return to Nauvoo in 1844. I’ll have to go dig up the reference, but the implication is that the danger that caused a need to flee Nauvoo is not so much eliminated, but that Eliza’s remaining away from Nauvoo won’t change things, one way or the other.

In support of the tactical nature of this “No man shall have but one wife” statement, we see William Clayton’s entry of October 19, 1843, were we see that Emma is now “quite friendly and kind.” Now that Joseph is taking the threat to his life seriously, she is no longer using divorce threats to try to get through to him, apparently. Next, regarding Clayton’s plural marriage to Margaret Moon, who is now five months pregnant, Joseph passes on Emma’s advice “that I should keep M[argaret] at home and it was also his council. Says he [would advise me to] just keep her at home and brook it and if they raise trouble about it and bring you before me I will give you an awful scourging and probably cut you off from the church and then I will baptise you and set you ahead as good as ever.”

[End Update]

There is a note in the margin that says “to be revised”. The edited version reads:

[Joseph]  gave inst[r]uction to try those who were preaching teaching or practicing the doctrin of plurality of wives. on this law 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 the keys are conferred ­ and I have continually said Joseph forbids it. and the practice ther[e]of No man shall have but one wife at a time unless the Lord directs otherwise.

Anonymous then attempts to make the case that “Young, Taylor, Woodruff and others were guilty of knowingly ascribing false behavior to Joseph Smith after his death.” The origin of D&C 132 is thoroughly questioned, with testimony from James Whitehead, who anonymous claims should have properly been the scribe to write down any such revelation.

[Anonymous fails to tell us James Whitehead told Joseph’s sons in 1864 that he was present for ceremonies were Joseph Smith was sealed to women, with Emma participating in the ceremonies and placing the hand of each woman in Joseph’s hand. I am glad anonymous brought Whitehead to my attention, because I was not familiar with the 1864 assertions to the Smith boys, or how much this news upset them.]

Anonymous’ assertion that every LDS prophet since the death of Joseph has been lying is not convincing to people who are familiar with the historical record and the lives of the women who covenanted with Joseph Smith.

Sealing v. Marriage (25-28)

On pages 25-28 anonymous lays out a case that sealing in Joseph’s day was not the conjugal plural marriage of Brigham Young, John Taylor, and Wilford Woodruff. Fine enough, except for the assertion that therefore there was no continuity between Joseph and the actions of Joseph’s trusted apostles. I think by this point anonymous has already claimed these three (in particular) invented the polygamy scheme while in England and then hijacked an entire Church for personal sexual gratification.

Anonymous gets a minor dig in at Brigham, claiming that Brigham taught that men could be sealed to other men, referring to this as same-sex sealing. This is calculated to cause a conservative Mormon to revile Brigham. But what is referred to was sealings of adoption, where a man would have himself sealed as a son to another man. This is clear from Anonymous’ chosen footnote, ” The Law of Adoption: One Phase of the Development of the Mormon Concept of Salvation, p 8″

The New and Improved William Clayton (28-34)

On pages 28-34 anonymous treats us to a theory regarding the second notebook of Journal 2 from William Clayton, covering the timeframe from Apr 1843- Sep 1844. This comprises the time from Clayton’s plural marriage with Margaret Moon through Joseph’s death to Brigham Young’s emergence as preferred leader of the LDS Church.

Anonymous claims that one entry suggests that it was Brigham Young, rather than Joseph Smith, who taught Clayton about plural marriage. Anonymous also suggests that the entirety of the second notebook is a later addition. Why such an invented notebook would include an entry claiming BY had transgressed or recording Joseph’s threat to excommunicate Clayton for engendering a child with Margaret Moon is not treated. If invented, why include such entries? They were hardly needed for verisimilitude.

[Updated 12/6] Anonymous neglects to mention the more likely reason that the second notebook of Journal 2 is separate, which would be William Clayton’s keeping a separate record during the hidden time of Celestial (plural) marriage, a record which he would be able to destroy or hide, since such things were close hold at the time (think top secret). This is consistent with the extreme measures Eliza R. Snow took to obliterate a word in her journal that implied union of married couples in eternity, though it is still possible to see that the original word started with “a”, ended in “s”, would have been a noun, and is the length of the word “angels” as she has written it elsewhere in that time period.

Anonymous Thinks Scholars are Biased (34-39)

Of course scholars have biases. Anonymous also has biases, which we could understand better if he or she would have the decency to show themselves.

Anonymous proceeds to destroy the credibility of 8 sources used by Brian Hales discussing Joseph Smith’s practice of polygamy. Anonymous then proclaims:

Every single item on this list was refuted and denied directly or indirectly by Joseph Smith. Hales provides us with an important discovery: there is remarkably little reliable contemporary evidence that Joseph Smith was a polygamist. It demonstrates the most common form of scholarship on this topic; that is, highly assumptive and over reliant on questionable sources.

Anonymous makes the mistake of presuming that those 8 sources are the only sources. Specifically, anonymous ignores the testimonies of the women who covenanted with Joseph.

Anonymous betrays lawyerly bias, reverting back to the finding of the Judge for the Temple Lot case, who indicated he felt the assorted testimony had proved Joseph Smith was not a polygamist.

The Cochran Theory (39-41)

Anonymous leads us through a thread where some Mormons were exposed to Jacob Cochrans “spiritual wifery” and transmogrified the non-marriage sexual activity of the Cochranites into a Mormon polygamy that had no reference to Joseph Smith other than a veneer from Joseph’s teachings regarding sealing people together.

I agree that various early Mormons were aware of Jacob Cochran’s teachings, which is why Dr. Bennett’s spiritual wifery/illicit intercourse was able to be seen as a legitimate teaching of a Christian religion (until Joseph told them it wasn’t). However the Cochranite practice and teaching does not resemble Celestial marriage as taught by Brigham Young and others, while the teachings of Brigham Young and others are consistent with what Joseph Smith taught, which was consistent with the personal journal of Eliza R. Snow, who is one of dozens of women bridging any seeming gap between Joseph’s teachings/practice of Celestial marriage and Brigham’s teachings/practice of Celestial marriage.

Why Anonymous Thinks this Matters (41-42)

Anonymous hopes this 42 page pdf will:

  • Help active LDS members replace idolatry of men (read obedience to LDS leaders) with worship of God alone.
  • Help Fundamentalists practicing polygamy understand Joseph didn’t teach or practice polygamy, that it is an abomination that is damning them.
  • Help those who have rejected Mormonism due to polygamy (an alleged 10 million who are no longer active) to realize that Joseph never taught the thing that gives them heartburn. Anonymous fails to explain how a document damning all LDS leaders since Joseph as liars and cheats would entice such disaffected believers to return to Church.

Conclusion

Sifting through this pile of anonymous’ musings, I pick up a few interesting points.

  • Glad to have the reference to the Francis Higbee letter, which shows the fruit of Joseph’s policy of forbearance. The fruit spoiled, with Francis (Frank) and his illicit intercourse buddies turning on Joseph like rabid dogs. But it is a part of the history, and that is cool.
  • Love the James Whitehead assertion regarding Emma’s participating in Nauvoo sealings. Also love Michael Quinn’s assessment that Whitehead thoroughly perjured himself during the Temple Lot trial in attempting to bolster the case for Joseph Smith III being the legitimate leader of the LDS faith. Anonymous didn’t mention either of these points, but I found them from researching Whitehead because of the assertions in this pdf. Sweet.
  • Nice to have a concise summary of why reasonable folks doubt D&C 132 came via Joseph Smith. I don’t agree, since Joseph Kingsbury’s writings regarding his marriage to Sarah Whitney is written in the 1840s, which is completely consistent with Eliza Snow’s poem Conjugal, written in 1842.
  • The revision of Joseph’s journal actually dovetails nicely into the excommunication of two apostles who were performing sealing ordinances without authorization: William Smith, Lyman Wight. It seems Henry Jacobs may also have been excommunicated for performing unauthorized sealings, involved in why Zina ended up as Brigham’s wife. The October 1843 journal entry is entirely consistent with the expanded edit. As there were many who “knew” Joseph had practiced “plural marriage,” the edit served to correct those who figured they could do what they pleased, since “obviously” the original statement was false. I argue William Smith and Lyman Wight didn’t know as much about Joseph as they thought they did. Henry Jacobs screwed up, but his error is (almost) understandable.

Anonymous completely ignores the women involved. It is one thing for men to make up lies about Joseph. But how could these men get dozens of amazing women to follow their lead, women who had known Joseph personally and learned the doctrines related to sealing from him? These weren’t vapid women.

I heard from a lady in my ward who says a brother or brother-in-law working on the Joseph Smith Papers project has been saying things like what I read in JSM. So I don’t know that anonymous is necessarily an apostate attempting to tear people away from the Mormon faith. Certainly the concluding page of JSM supports a reading that anonymous believes the pdf to be faith affirming.

Whoever anonymous might be, I am sure they are an individual I knew from forever, someone I love. As a brother (or sister), then, I would lovingly tell them things I would say to my own mortal siblings, were they to engage me on this topic and say such things. But as such words might be misunderstood out of context on the internet, I will forbear and leave my commentary as it is.

Notes:

  1. Anonymous is wrong that LDS scholars have shown the tale is false. They have shown that the staircase couldn’t have been in the Smith homestead or the Mansion House. They have also shown that the date of the fall down the stairs could not have been February 1843, as Eliza was teaching school. Questioning the alleged location and debunking a date other scholars had posultated is a far cry from saying “Eliza was never pregnant.”
This entry was posted in General by Meg Stout. Bookmark the permalink.

About Meg Stout

Meg Stout has been an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ (of Latter-day Saints) for decades. She lives in the DC area with her husband, Bryan, and several daughters. She is an engineer by vocation and a writer by avocation. Meg is the author of Reluctant Polygamist, laying out the possibility that Joseph taught the acceptability of plural marriage but may have privately defied the commandment for love of his wife, Emma.

7 thoughts on “Commentary on Joseph Smith’s Monogamy

  1. Hiya Meg! Sometimes anonymity serves purposes other than cowardice. For example, in the case of this paper, you are forced to read it through your own lens rather than through the lens of the author. You are denied the opportunity to judge the contents based on what you think you know of the author and are instead left to judge it based merely on the information given. So even though you “don’t like anonymous people”, perhaps you can see that there is some benefit to you from the paper being authored anonymously.

    Also, you take a couple shots at the author over James Whitehead. Did you see footnote 107? The author there discloses that Whitehead gave conflicting testimony and possibly perjured himself.

    As to your other points, it’s very hard to analyze them without any citations. I know this is just your commentary but proof of your claims would make it easier to take this seriously. All the best!

  2. Hi anonymous,

    I don’t know if you were actually associated with Snuffer, or if you happen to be one of those working on the Joseph Smith papers project that I’ve heard about, who believe what the paper states, such as my friend’s brother.

    What I can see from the paper is that you were someone who fundamentally questions the validity of the LDS church leadership since the death of Joseph Smith.

    As you may be aware, I have written a book length treatment of Joseph Smith polygamy. This is titled Reluctant Polygamist, and the Advanced review copy is available on Amazon.com in both Kindle in hardcopy form for cost,

    I certainly invite you to read the hundred thousand words that I’ve written, complete with several pages of references. I am actively soliciting feedback. It was in that vein that someone told me about your 42 page PDF.

    I moderately happy to realize that you apparently have no knowledge of me or my writings. I have been puzzled why so many traditional LDS researchers were so upset with me, but now that I read the 42 page PDF I see that they have been fighting this idea of the Joseph Smith was a monogamist and that therefore everyone else is a bunch of lying cheats.

    That has never been my position, but the title of my blog series, “Faithful Joseph ,” obviously lead them to think that I was in your camp. Whoever you are.

    I’m not bothering to put any links in this comment because anyone with a moderate capability to do a Google search can find any of the things that I am talking about. Your failure to be aware of me and my writings is not reason for me to go out of my way to correct you. Aside from writing a commentary pointing out the logical fallacies of your position.

  3. As you can see, I don’t bother moderating my comments. Apologies for the odd voice to text errors in the above.

    (this is another reason that I’m not including links, because I don’t know how to do that with voice to text.)

Comments are closed.