20. Joe & Emma & Bill & Jane
It is well documented that Joseph Smith took at least thirty-four wives between 1841 and 1843. Emma Smith was clearly not happy in her marriage with Joseph. William Clayton, Smith’s personal secretary, recorded a conversation in his journal on this date that Joseph Smith had with Emma: “He [Joseph Smith] knew she [Emma] was disposed to be revenged on him for some things. Emma wanted [William] Law for a spiritual husband, and she urged as a reason that as he had so many spiritual wives, she thought it but fair that she should at least have one man…and that she wanted Law because he was such a ‘sweet little man.’” 1
In June or July 1843, Joseph Smith receives a commandment mentioned in his July 12, 1843, Revelation: “A commandment I give unto my handmaiden, Emma Smith…which I commanded you [Joseph] to offer unto her” 2
William Law, who was at that time Smith’s counselor in the first presidency, described the “offer” Smith used to appease Emma:
“Joseph offered to furnish his wife, Emma, with a substitute for him, by way of compensation for his neglect of her, on condition that she would forever stop her opposition to polygamy and permit him to enjoy his young wives in peace and keep some of them in her [mansion] house and to be well treated, etc.” 3
Joseph and Emma Smith agreed to this sexual offer; however, William and Jane Law did not. “He [Joseph] and Emma had both tried to persuade her [Jane Law] of the correctness of the doctrine, but that she would not believe it to be of God.” 4
Several months after this sexual “wife swapping,” or more accurately sexual substitute proposal, Joseph Smith made a pass at the “attractive” thirty-year-old Jane Law
William Law wrote in his diary on May 13, 1844, that, “He [Smith] had lately endeavored to seduce my wife, and had found her a virtuous woman.”
Alexander Neibaur, a very close friend of Joseph Smith, recorded that: “When Mr. Law came home he Inquired who had been in his Absence. she said no one but Br Joseph. he then demanded what had pass[ed.] Mrs. L[aw] then told that Joseph wanted her to be Married to him.” 5
Jane and William Law indicated they had direct first-hand knowledge of Joseph Smith breaking at least six of the Ten Commandments and many of the teachings in the Sermon on the Mount. William Law writes:
“The gospel of Jesus Christ, as we find it recorded in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament in which we most firmly believe, and upon which we base our hopes of eternal salvation, does not admit of murder, false swearing, lying, stealing, robbing, defrauding, polygamy, adultery, fornication, and blasphemy. And yet those evils have been introduced into the Church at Nauvoo, by Joseph Smith and others, for the purpose of accomplishing their base designs. We have always disapproved such things and opposed them both privately and publicly, and for our opposition to them, we were driven from our homes in Nauvoo.” 6
While lengthy, the following interview provides a great insight into the character of Joseph Smith. William Law was very close to Joseph Smith as a member of the First Presidency and knew him well for some time.
Interview with William Law as it appeared in the
THE DAILY TRIBUNE: SALT LAKE CITY, SUNDAY MORNING, JULY 31, 1887
“Dr. William Law lives with his son, Judge “Tommy” Law. The house is a fine cottage, large, well-kept grounds surround it. We entered a cheerful looking room and there sat William Law, dressed in black, a most venerable looking figure. The head has a striking expression of intelligence, the large clear eyes are of a remarkably deep steel blue; the general impression is that of a thinker, of a benevolent and just man. He greeted me in a fatherly way. I expressed my joy at seeing at last so important a witness of a history, to whose study I had devoted two years.
I sat down near the venerable figure. I hesitated to put any question to him, but he made my task easy by saying: “You speak, in your book, of Joseph Smith having sent Rockwell to kill Governor Boggs. Let me tell you, that Joe Smith, told me the fact himself. The words were substantially like this, “I sent Rockwell to kill Boggs, but he missed him, it was a failure; he wounded him instead of sending him to Hell.”
“What position had Rockwell in Joseph’s house?”
“Rockwell was the lackey of the house. He used to comb and shave Joseph, blackened his boots and drove his carriage. He would have done anything Joe wanted him to do. I never saw a horse or carriage belonging to Rockwell which you say he got from Joseph for the attempt to kill Boggs.”
The reader will easily understand that I had particular reasons to ask about the Expositor, Wm. Law being the only surviving publisher and editor of that celebrated sheet, born and killed June 7th, 1844. So I began:
“I suppose that you originated the Expositor, Doctor Law?”
“Yes, I originated the idea to publish that paper. I had friends in many parts of the country. They knew that I had become a member of the Mormon religion. I wanted to show them, by publishing the paper, that I had not been in a fraud willingly (here the old man’s eyes filled with tears and his voice trembled). I started the idea, and my brother, Wilson, stood to me like a brother should. I don’t remember whether it was I, or not, who gave the name “Expositor.” But I and my brother, we gave the money, about $2000. I gave the biggest part. The Higbees etc., had scarcely a dollar in it.”
“You were well off at that time. Dr. Law?”
“We had property to the amount of about $30,000, which was a good deal in those days. We had farms in Nauvoo, city lots and our residences. My brother had a fine brick two story building. By starting the Expositor we lost nearly everything.”
“How did you become a Mormon, Doctor?”
“John Taylor and Almon W. Babbitt came as missionaries to Canada and preached where I lived, twenty-five miles south of Toronto. I believe that Taylor was sincere then and I believe he was to a late day. Finally, the greed of power and money killed his conscience. There was, now and then, a good man in Mormondom, for instance Wm. Marks. He was a very good man and knew as little of the secret crimes of the leaders as I knew myself.”
“The letters you wrote me, made me suppose that the Smiths tried to kill you when they saw an enemy in you?”
“They tried to get rid of me in different ways. One was by poisoning. I was already out of the church when Hyrum called one day and invited me for the next day to a reconciliation dinner as he called it, to his house. He said Joseph would come, too. He invited me and my wife. He was very urgent about the matter, but I declined the invitation. Now I must tell you that I, in those dangerous days, did not neglect to look out somewhat for the safety of my person and that I kept a detective or two among those who were in the confidence of the Smiths. That very same evening of the day on which Hyrum had been to my house inviting me, my detective told me that they had conceived the plan to poison me at the reconciliation dinner. Their object was a double one. My going to the dinner would have shown to the people that I was reconciled and my death would have freed them of an enemy. You may imagine that I didn’t regret having declined that amiable invitation.
“Have you had any knowledge of cases of poisoning in Nauvoo, ordered by the authorities?”
“I know that several men, six or seven, died under very suspicious circumstances. Among them were two secretaries of the prophet, Mulholland and Blaskel Thompson. I saw Mulholland die and the symptoms looked very suspicious to me. Dr. Foster, who was a very good physician, believed firmly that those six or seven men had been poisoned, and told me so repeatedly.”
“What may have been the reason for poisoning the secretaries?”
(With a smile) “They knew too much, probably.”
“What do you know about the Danites?”
“Nothing of my personal knowledge. They existed, but their workings were kept very secret. I never belonged to the initiated. Smith tried very hard to get them to kill me. One day my detective told me, that two Danites had gone to Joseph and told him that they wanted to put me out of the way. Joseph said: “Don’t–he (Law) is too influential; his death would bring the country down upon us; wait.” Later when I was thoroughly aware of my danger, they tried in all manners to use me up and had Danites all day and night after me, but I looked out and kept myself safe.
Whatever there was of crime in Nauvoo, was kept secret. On the outside, everything looked nice and smooth. There were lots of strangers every Sunday as visitors and then the best speakers were put on the stand as samples of the fruits of this fine religion.”
“…I told you that the Smiths tried to poison me. When Joseph saw that I had no great appetite for reconciliation dinners, he tried with the Indians. The plan was, that somebody should use me up who was not openly connected with the church, he was yet afraid of the people because of my influence. Later he would have killed me without any regard. One day about one hundred redskins came to town and twenty or thirty were sent to my house. We tried to get rid of them, but could not and we saw clearly that they had a dark plan for the night. But we had to keep them, gave them blankets and they were all night in our hall. Wilson Law, I and some friends, though, kept good watch all night, with barricaded windows and doors and guns and pistols ready.”
“You have known the parents of the prophet, old Lucy and old Joe, the Abraham of this new dispensation?”
“Oh, yes, I knew them. Old Lucy was in her dotage at that time; she seemed a harmless old woman. Old Joe sold blessings, so much a head, always in the same style–that my sons should be emperors and my daughters mothers of queens, and that everybody should have as many children as there was sands on the shore. Old Joe was an old tramp.”
“What do you remember about Emma’s relations to the revelation on celestial marriage?”
“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.” On another day she said: “Joe and I have settled our troubles on the basis of equal rights.” * * * Emma was a full accomplice of Joseph’s crimes. She was a large, coarse woman, as deep a woman as there was, always full of schemes and smooth as oil. They were worthy of each other, she was not a particle better than he.”
“You think that Joseph was an infidel?”
“Yes, that he was I have not the slightest doubt. What proofs have I? Well, my general and intimate knowledge of his character. And is it possible that a man who ascribes all kinds of impudent lies to the Lord, could have been anything else but an infidel?”
“Was Joseph a habitual drunkard?”
“I don’t believe he was. I only saw him drunk once. I found Joseph and Hyrum at a place where they kept quantities of wine. I remember that Joseph drank heavily, and that I talked to Hyrum begging him to take his brother away, but that was the only time I saw the prophet drunk.”
“…Did you ever hear of abortion being practiced in Nauvoo?”
“Yes. There was some talk about Joseph getting no issue from all the women he had intercourse with. Dr. Foster spoke to me about the fact. But I don’t remember what was told about abortion. If I heard things of the kind, I didn’t believe in them at that time. Joseph was very free in his talk about his women. He told me one day of a certain girl and remarked, that she had given him more pleasure than any girl he had ever enjoyed. I told him it was horrible to talk like this.”
“Had you ever some dramatic scene with Joseph about the difficulties between you and him?”
“He avoided me. But once I got hold of him in the street and told him in very plain terms what I thought of him. I said: ‘You are a hypocrite and a vulgar scoundrel, you want to destroy me.’ Instead of knocking me down, which he could have done very easily, being so much bigger and stronger than I, he went away hurriedly without uttering a single word
“What kind of a life did the prophet lead in Nauvoo?”
“Joseph lived in great plenty. He entertained his friends and had a right good time. He was a jolly fellow. I don t think that in his family tea and coffee were used, but they were served to the strangers when he entertained as tavern-keeper. At least, I suppose so. The Smiths had plenty of money. Why, when I came to Nauvoo I paid Hyrum $700 in gold for a barren lot and at that rate they sold any amount of lots after having got the land very cheap, to be sure Their principle was to weaken a man in his purse, and in this way take power and influence from him. Weaken everybody, that was their motto. Joseph’s maxim was, when you have taken all the money a fellow has got, you can do with him whatever you please.”
“What do you know about the revelation on polygamy?”
“The way I heard of it was that Hyrum gave it to me to read. I was never in a High Council where it was read, all stories to the contrary notwithstanding. Hyrum gave it to me in his office, told me to take it home and read it and then be careful with it and bring it back again. I took it home, and read it and showed it to my wife. She and I were just turned upside down by it; we did not know what to do. I said to my wife, that I would take it over to Joseph and ask him about it. I did not believe that he would acknowledge it, and I said so to my wife. But she was not of my opinion. She felt perfectly sure that he would father it.
When I came to Joseph and showed him the paper, he said: ‘Yes, that is a genuine revelation.’ I said to the prophet: ‘But in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants there is a revelation just the contrary of this.’ ‘Oh,’ said Joseph, ‘that was given when the church was in its infancy, then it was all right to feed the people on milk, but now it is necessary to give them strong meat’ We talked a long time about it, finally our discussion became very hot and we gave it up. From that time on the breach between us became more open and more decided every day, after having been prepared for a long time. But the revelation gave the finishing touch to my doubts and showed me clearly that he was a rascal. I took the revelation back to my wife and told her that Joseph had acknowledged it. ‘That is what I fully expected.’ said she. ‘What shall we do?’ said I. She advised me to keep still try to sell my property quietly for what I could get. But I did not follow her advice. My heart was burning. I wanted to tread upon the viper.”
“Was Joseph a coward?”
“Yes, he was a coward and so was Hyrum. You see it already in the fact that when I attacked him on the street with most violent words, he did not dare to answer a word.”
“How did the prophets dress?”
“Joe and Hyrum were always dressed well, generally in blue, sometimes in black. Joseph was a fine man, no doubt of it.”
There is nothing in the aspect of the old gentleman that indicates 78 summers, except the white hands, that tremble a little. I said: “God bless you, Dr. Law,” when I went to the door. I looked round and I couldn’t help it–went back to shake his hand once more. I held out both hands; he put aside his black staff and grasped both my hands, and gave me such a hearty, warm, good shake. I said: ‘Doctor, be cheerful. You will live twenty years yet like William of Prussia. The Williams are a good race, I belong to it myself.’”
It would appear there is more than smoke here. William Law, who was at that time Smith’s counselor in the first presidency, described the “offer” Smith used to appease Emma:
“Joseph offered to furnish his wife, Emma, with a substitute for him, by way of compensation for his neglect of her, on condition that she would forever stop her opposition to polygamy and permit him to enjoy his young wives in peace and keep some of them in her [mansion] house and to be well treated, etc. 7
Combined with this report by William Clayton, Joseph’s scribe and secretary, written in his contemporaneous journal also builds the case.
And finally, Smith puzzling round-face revelation below written after the Law’s rejection of the Smith’s indecent proposal fits the story very well.
- Verily, I say unto you: A commandment I give unto mine handmaid, Emma Smith, your wife, whom I have given unto you, that she stay herself and partake not of that which I commanded you to offer unto her; for I did it, saith the Lord, to prove you all, as I did Abraham, and that I might require an offering at your hand, by covenant and sacrifice
- And I command mine handmaid, Emma Smith, to abide and cleave unto my servant Joseph, and to none else.
I believe this story, as they say, this story has legs. But does it not strike anyone else as ridiculous to think that God would be so involved in Joseph and Emma’s petty martial machinations.
1 A narrative of the adventures and experience of Joseph H. Jackson, in
Nauvoo, Morrison, K. Yost, Publisher, Chicago, 2011. Pp 202 (D&C 132: 51)
3 Letter by William Law, on 7 January 1887, Salt Lake Daily Tribune, July 3, 1887.
4 “A narrative of the adventures and experience of Joseph H. Jackson, in Nauvoo, Morrison, K. Yost, Publisher, Chicago, 2011. P. 20
5 Alexander Neibaur, May 24, 1844, LDS Church History Library, Salt Lake City
6 William Law correspondence of August 1844 with The Upper Mississippian, in Cook, William Law: Biographical Essay, 91.
7 “Letter by William Law, on 7 January 1887, Salt Lake Daily Tribune, July 3, 1887