Paul A. Douglas
16. Was Joseph’s Polygamy and his Polyandry and his Lies and Denials acceptable?
Plural or polygamous “marriages” were conducted in secret by Joseph Smith as early as 1833, even though the sealing power was not restored until 1836. As well, the rules of polygamy were not given until 1843. Joseph “married” at least 34 women in addition to Emma Smith, including seven girls under the age of 18 and at least 11 women who were simultaneously married to other men. There was also a mother-daughter set and three sister sets, and several of these women were Joseph’s own foster daughters. Joseph repeatedly lied and denied his polygamy:
“…What a thing it is 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; and I can prove them all perjurers.”
History of the Church, vol 6, p. 411
Joseph Smith made this statement preaching from the stand to the Latter-day Saints in Nauvoo on Sunday, May 26, 1844. At the time, he had secretly taken at over 25 plural wives. Who was the perjurer?
“I had not been married scarcely five minutes, and made one proclamation of the Gospel before it was reported that I had seven wives.”
Joseph Smith (LDS History of the Church 6:411, 26 May 1844
Incidentally, In the same year that Joseph began his participation in polygamy by “marrying” Fanny Alger, the Church published the following in the Book of Commandments (the predecessor of the Doctrine & Covenants):
“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, except in the case of death, when either is at liberty to marry again.”
Statement on Marriage, August 1, 1835, Section CI, p. 251,
Book of Commandments, Joseph Smith Papers
To lessen public rumors of his secret polygamy, Smith had 31 witnesses sign an affidavit published in the LDS October 1, 1842, Times and Seasons stating that he did not practice polygamy.
This affidavit, however, was signed by several people who were secret polygamists or who knew full well that Joseph was a polygamist at the time they signed the affidavit. In fact, Eliza R. Snow, one of the signers of this affidavit, was also one of Joseph Smith’s plural wives.
Also, why was Joseph still preaching against polygamy in October of 1843 when he claims to have received a revelation in July of 1843 commanding the practice of polygamy?
Joseph Smith married the following women who were already married to other men.
What possible justification could there be?
To multiply and replenish the earth? While it is possible, there is no compelling evidence that children resulted from these unions. To have a place in the hereafter? What about their husbands, some were obviously worthy, as Joseph sent away on missions for the Church. Where the marriages a way for Joseph to comply with the command to take plural wives in a manner that would be less painful for Emma? Seriously, Emma’s tender feelings can negate policy and marriage covenants that others have sincerely entered?
By Joseph Smith’s own revelations, the practice was verboten!
The revelation on celestial and plural marriage, now section 132 in the Doctrine and Covenants, contains three references to sexually polyandrous relations, and all three label them as “adultery,” with the woman involved “being destroyed.”
Moreover, as discussed above, there must be a presumption that Joseph Smith had sexual relations with his wives. There are at least a dozen affidavits and testimonies from Joseph’s plural wives themselves swearing that Joseph Smith had sexual relations with them.
One of the clearest examples of Joseph’s polyandry was his marriage to Sylvia Sessions Lyon, who had married Windsor Lyon (Joseph himself officiating) in 1838.
Joseph was also sealed to Sylvia’s mother, Patty Bartlett Sessions. Perhaps in the case of Patty, who was 47, it is plausible that the relationship was not sexual, but even a mother and daughter team is especially troubling (and unbiblical, Lev. 18:17). Did Joseph persuade Patty to become one of his plural wives to more easily persuade Sylvia to do likewise?
Significantly, in a deathbed confession, Sylvia told her daughter Josephine, who had been born in 1844, that Joseph Smith was her father. “She told me then that I was the daughter of the Prophet Smith she having been sealed to the Prophet at the time her husband Mr. Lyon was out of fellowship with the Church.” 4
It appears that Joseph’s first polyandrous wife was Zina Huntington Jacobs. In 1839 Zina and her family spent three weeks in the Smith’s home after Zina’s mother died of malaria.
While there, Zina met Henry Jacobs, whom she later married. However, Joseph, who evidently had talked to Zina about her becoming his wife even before she married Jacobs, told them that it was still the Lord’s will that she should become Joseph’s wife. She relented a few months later and was sealed to Joseph in a ceremony that she later dated as taking place on October 27, 1841.
In her autobiography, Zina stated, “I made a greater sacrifice than to give my life, for I never anticipated again to be looked upon as an honorable woman by those I dearly loved.” The “sacrifice” she speaks to implies that the union with Joseph was sexual. 5
Apologists Responses to Joseph’s Polygamy and his Polyandry and his Lies and Denials
“Joseph Smith is frequently criticized for his introduction and practice of polygamy. From a Christian perspective, these attacks usually focus on arguing that polygamy is unchristian or unbiblical and that Joseph hid the truth from the world. From a secular perspective, it is asserted that the practice of polygamy sprung from Joseph’s carnal desires to marry young women. Of interest is the fact that Joseph was sealed to women who were already married to other men (polyandry).” 6
“It is claimed by some critics of Mormonism that Joseph Smith (and or other Church members) had a voracious sexual appetite, and that because of this, he instituted polygamy. One might reasonably hold the opinion that Joseph was wrong, but in the face of the documentary evidence, it is unjustifiable to argue that he and his associates were insincere or that they were practicing their religion only for power and to satisfy carnal desires. Those who insist that “sex is the answer” likely reveal more about their own limited perspective than they do of the minds of the early Saints.” 7
The apologists go on to speculate:
“For well over a century, the impressiveness of the Prophet’s salvific teachings have been largely lost on both believers and unbelievers. Though not unexpected, polygamy as a practice and principle has garnered virtually all of the attention. The public’s fascination with polygamy both then and now is understandable, but unfortunate.”
Polygamy quickly became the alpha and omega of Joseph Smith’s teachings…
“Societal resistance against the practice of plural marriage mounted in 1842 and never relented. Lost in the shuffle were the doctrines that surrounded and transcended plurality.”
Doctrine and Covenant section 132 on July 12, 1843. This revelation, along with his other statements, provides several reasons why he believed plural marriage could be introduced among the Latter-day Saints.”
Joseph Smith dictated what is now Doctrine and Covenant section 132 on July 12, 1843. This revelation, along with his other statements, provides several reasons why he believed plural marriage could be introduced among the Latter-day Saints.
The earliest justification mentioned by the Prophet was that it was a part of the “restitution of all things” prophesied in Acts 3:19–21. Old Testament prophets practiced polygamy, so it could be a part of the restoration of “all things” (see D&C 132:40, 45).
To Provide a Customized Trial
Another reason for the establishment of plural marriage is that it brought trials to practicing Saints that provided opportunities for spiritual growth.
The belief that God challenges His followers on earth to make them worthy of blessings from their obedience is a pattern in the scriptures. Sometimes disciples are required to migrate to new lands or to defend themselves against powerful enemies.
Practicing plural marriage was difficult for most participants. One of Joseph’s plural wives, Helen Mar Kimball, remembered: “The Prophet said that the practice of this principle would be the hardest trial the Saints would ever have to test their faith.”
Multiplying and Replenishing the Earth
The third reason given by Joseph Smith for the practice of plural marriage comes as polygamous couples “multiply and replenish the earth.”
When compared to monogamy, polygamy decreases the number of children each wife bears. When practiced within a society, it may increase the overall total number of children being born by providing opportunities for motherhood to women who otherwise might never marry and have children.
There are several problems here.
First, if it were a restoration, it was short-lived.
Second, there is a good deal of data to suggest that polygamy did more harm than good to the ‘spiritual growth’ of the women who were victim to it.
Third, the argument that it was intended to multiply and replenish is demolished by Joseph’s polyandry. There is no evidence that the men who were already married when Joseph ‘took’ them were impotent or incapable of raising their offspring.
The apologists say Joseph had to keep the practice of polygamy (let alone polyandry) secret because it was against the law.
No, the fact that is was against the law is a reason NOT to engage in it!
FairMormon writes, “One critic of the Church claims, “Joseph Smith publicly lied about his practice of polygamy, and lied to his own wife (Emma) about the practice. It is certainly true that Joseph did not disclose all of his plural marriages precisely when they happened. For example, he had been sealed to Emily and Eliza Partridge already, and Emma later had one of her periods of acceptance of plural marriage, on condition that she gets to choose the wives. She chose Emily and Eliza, and so they were resealed to Joseph without disclosing that they were already sealed. Emma’s change of heart didn’t last long, and she soon had Joseph break off contact with the girls, and expected them to renounce the covenants they had made.
There are also other examples. It’s difficult to know exactly what Emma knew, and when she knew it because she would later insist that Joseph never practiced plural marriage. So, we have to kind of piece together the evidence from fairly fragmentary sources.
Was Joseph justified in this? Well, that’s a difficult question to answer. If one doesn’t believe that Joseph was commanded to practice plural marriage, then the whole enterprise was probably a bad idea. If Joseph was commanded to practice plural marriage (as he repeatedly testified that he had been), then ultimately he had to choose between obeying Emma and obeying God. And, Joseph seems to have been determined to obey God.” 8
Come on; Joseph did more than, “not disclosing all his plural marriages,” he LIED about it when asked and he was asked often, once again:
“…What a thing it is 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; and I can prove them all perjurers.”
Not only did Smith lie to Emma, the saints, and others but he also suborned perjury by having others lie for him in a vain attempt to halt public rumors of his secret polygamy and polyandry. He got 31 witnesses to sign an affidavit published in the LDS October 1, 1842, Times and Seasons stating that Joseph did not practice polygamy:
“…we know of no other rule or system of marriage than the one published in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants.” 9
One of the signers of this affidavit, was one of Joseph Smith’s plural wives, Eliza Partridge whom he married three months earlier on June 29, 1842. Two Apostles and future prophets, John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff, were fully aware of Joseph’s polygamy behind the scenes when they signed. This says quite a bit about their honesty and character as well.
Another signer, Bishop Whitney, had married his daughter Sarah Ann Whitney to Joseph as a polygamist wife a few months earlier on July 27, 1842; Whitney’s wife and Sarah’s mother Elizabeth (also a signer) witnessed the ceremony.
“Among Joseph’s plural marriages and/or sealings, between eight to eleven of them were to women who were already married. Of the eight well-documented cases, five of the husbands were Latter-day Saints, and the other three were either not active in or not associated with the Church. In all cases, these women continued to live with their husbands, most of them doing so until their husbands died. These eternal marriages appear to have had little effect on the lives of the women involved, with the exception that they would be sealed to Joseph in the afterlife rather than to their earthly husbands. One of the most well-known of these ‘polyandrous’ marriages was to Zina Diantha Huntington Jacobs.” 10
“Of all the aspects of Joseph Smith’s marital theology, this is the most difficult area to understand, because very little primary evidence exists.” 11
It should also be noted that while FairMormon and the Gospel Topics Essay on polygamy suggest that God commanded certain prophets in the Bible to practice plural marriage.
This is not true.
The fact that polygamists can be found in the Bible, Abraham, Lamech, Jacob, Esau, Nahor and Eliphaz for example, there is no indication that the practice was commanded by God. The LDS Church would have you believe that the Lord’s silence on the matter equates to commanding it.
Monogamy is about love,
Polygamy is about sex
1 History of the Church, vol 6, p. 411
2 Joseph Smith (LDS History of the Church 6:411, 26 May 1844
3 Statement on Marriage, August 1, 1835, Section CI, p. 251,
Book of Commandments, Joseph Smith Papers.
4 ” Hales, Joseph Smith’s Polygamy, 1:265.
5 Zina Young, in her autobiography or “Biographical Sketch,”
quoted in Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 81;
Hales, Joseph Smith’sPolygamy, 1:254
9 The affidavit published in the Times and Seasons, October 1, 1842
10 Samuel Katich, “A Tale of Two Marriage Systems: Perspectives on Polyandry and Joseph Smith,” Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research, 2003.
11 https://www.fairmormon.org/answers/ Joseph_Smith
Response to claim: “Emma was unaware of most her husband’s marriages, and she certainly did not consent to most of them as required by D&C 132.”
Again, FairMormon just provides boilerplate responses not specific to my comments.
I feel, however, that it is important to provide the reader with some worthwhile commentary supporting polygamy from Smith’s or the Church’s perspective or at least putting it in a different context.
Brian Hales is perhaps the leading expert on, and LDS apologist for, Mormon polygamy. He has done a considerable amount of research on the subject and has produced three volumes in which he delves into almost every aspect of it.
Dr. Hales has discovered historical documents and factual information that contributes a great deal to the discussion of the origins and practices of Mormon polygamy.
But Brian is an apologist and he openly admits that his writings are driven by a specific agenda.
I find his style non-confrontational and his demeanor pleasant and even respectful toward critics of the Church’s dominant narrative; nevertheless I feel he suffers from the same confirmation bias as most other Mormon apologists.
This is not, however, the proper forum for a thorough analysis and critique of his wordy writings or what I find to be his somewhat peculiar interpretations of the data.
However, I would like to comment on a recent interview he and his wife had with Daniel Peterson on an LDS Perspectives podcast that somewhat capsulate his apologetic efforts.
This is a ‘softball’ interview, where both he and his ‘interviewer’ are preaching to the choir but it still shines a light on his modus operandi.
I couldn’t help but think that this interaction was analogous to Sean Hannity’s interview with Donald Trump, and is equally painful to listen to without shouting out meaningful and difficult questions for the interviewer to ask.
The first question Peterson reads from the script is, “Did Joseph Smith introduce plural marriage in order to expand his sexual opportunities?”
Hales replies. “… it is important for us who believe to understand what Joseph taught.” “The first thing he taught was that it was a special trial for the membership…”
I am not sure this is not an unwarranted conclusion. Joseph made a comment to that effect but there is not much beyond that.
I don’t wish to be unkind to Dr. Hales but I find that he tends to tell us what conclusions we should come to based on the evidence he produces; many times I would submit, where a reasonable person would draw quite a different conclusion based on their interpretation of the same facts.
I find no compelling evidence of Hales supposition that polygamy stood as an Abrahamic test for the Saints or that Smith taught it. Perhaps Dr. Hales has a primary source beyond Joseph’s offhand comment so indicating. I have been unable to find any collaboration myself.
He goes on to suggest that the second reason for polygamy was a restitution of all things as spoken of in Acts 3:19–21.
Here Brian Hales is on mark and makes a valid point and certainly, Joseph spoke to it.
But the restoration of what exactly?
It states in a recent Gospel Doctrine manual, that the words “all things” refer to the ‘laws and ordinances of the gospel.”
Was Polygamy then an ancient law or ordinance?
According to Gordon B. Hinckley, not only was it neither a law nor an ordinance, it wasn’t even doctrinal.
I have discovered only one instant where God commanded polygamy and that was actually in the New Testament (Corinthians 7:10-11 & 27-28) but a careful reading of this passage shows it was intended to fit a specific and complicated circumstance and was clearly not a law or ordinance.
I think the Old Testament shows that polygamy was permitted for cultural reasons but was not commanded of God. I think we need to be careful not to make the mistake of believing that while the Bible speaks of polygamy this does not equate to God’s approval of it.
I think Genesis clearly shows God’s intent was for marriage to be monogamous—one man for one woman. God gave Adam “a helper,” not several helpers. A man would leave his family to “be joined to his wife,” not wives. This special union is described as becoming “one flesh.”
The first reference to polygamy is found in Genesis where Lamech, a descendant of Cain and a murderer himself takes two wives.
After the Flood, there are many mentions of polygamous relationships—including among the patriarchs of Israel. Jacob, Abraham, David, and Solomon who all had multiple wives.
I have not been able to locate any passages in Scripture forbidding polygamy but often polygamous relationships are mentioned in a very negative light, in fact, the problems of such relationships are often highlighted.
There are several passages in the New Testament that speak against the practice of polygamy.
The relationship between husband and wife is compared to that of Christ and the Church. In Ephesians 5:25–33 Paul speaks about this relationship and refers back to Genesis. Once again, God’s standard for marriage is defined as one man and one woman. Paul states, “let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.”
The third reason Hales states for polygamy is, “to multiply and replenish the earth.“
He says, “having children with his polygamist wives was one of the reasons. It wasn’t the most important one, and we would probably be wise to point out that the evidence does not show that Joseph was having a lot of sexual relations with his plural wives.”
Hales, it would seem bases this conclusion largely on the fact that DNA studies have yet to show offspring resulting from Smith’s marriages. The implication is no prodigy, no sex.
He further states that “Many other reasons and evidences (sic) and observations indicate that sexuality was not a common occurrence.”
I would suggest that this is another example of where Hales forms an unwarranted conclusion. I believe any reasonable person would infer from Smith’s behavior and the statements of several of his ‘brides.’ that sex was certainly involved if not Smith’s primary motivation.
The interview then discussed the accusation that Joseph Smith a was a pedophile, and all agree as do I that pedophilia has to do with an interest in prepubescent children and I would agree there is no particular evidence that Joseph had a sexual interest in children, however, most definitions of pedophilia also speak of sex with children, ” an interest in or sexual interaction with prepubescent children.” I think as my analysis above shows, even using FairMormon’s statistics on the age of menarche in 1843, and using the standard deviations they present, there is a 60% chance Helen Kimball, his youngest wife as far as we know, was prepubescent.
However Hales, his wife, and Peterson in a grand display of discounting, another technique he often employs in his writing, pass over the inappropriateness and immorality of a 37-year-old man marrying a 14-year-old girl. Hales says, “A sealing or a marriage to a 14-year-old would have been a little out of the norm, but it wasn’t that abnormal.”
This is demonstrably false. I have shown above it was so abnormal that the Smith/Kimball ‘marriage’ was likely the only such 37/14 cohort in all of New York State that entire year.
Peterson chirps in, “It’s the problem, isn’t it, of presentism, that we look at these things, and we think, “14, that’s shocking.” and Brian replies “It’s eyebrow-raising.” But, maybe it wasn’t scandalous then. It would be a little on the young side, but not unheard of.”
‘A little on the young side;’ notice that there is no mention of Smith’s age – 37. Maybe a 21-year-old man marrying a 14-year-old girl was ‘eyebrow-raising’ in 1843, but it was another thing when a middle-aged man did so, even ignoring the fact that what Smith and Kimball entered into what was no more a marriage in the eyes of the law than Warren Jeffs recent marriages to his young brides. Bigamy was just as illegal then as it is now and far less acceptable to the good people of 19th-century Illinois.
In today’s environment where men of power, wealth and celebrity are being accused of using their power to abuse and harass women, I think it is unbecoming, almost bordering on rape apology to discount or rationalize away the significance of Smith’s ‘relationships’ with young girls.
Also, Hales inserts ‘facts,’ not likely to be questioned by those casually reading or listening to his work. When speaking about the legality of marrying someone who is 14 years of age, he says, “even of our time right now if you have a parent’s permission. It’s not underage in many countries now even without a parent’s permission.”
Yes in the Cameroons 14 is just fine but what has that got to do with anything?
Hales’ statement that “even of our time right now if you have a parent’s permission…” is misleading. That is not the general rule. In the United States as the chart below shows the minimum age of consent is 16 years of age or older in every state in the Union, with only five of the fifty allowing those under 16 to marry with parental consent.
Let’s also not forget Smith was not legally married to anybody but Emma and by the laws of every state, then and now, there is no age of consent to have sexual intercourse with a 14-year-old-year-old girl, with or without her parent’s consent.
Again, Hales chooses to believe that Smith’s relationship with Helen Kimball did not involve sex in spite of the fact that we have this statement from her friend:
“I would never have been sealed to Joseph had I known it was anything more than ceremony. I was young, and they deceived me, by saying the salvation of our whole family depended on it.” 1
The point is made that Helen still went to dances as if this is prima facie evidence that she wasn’t having sex with Joseph. We know that none of Joseph Smith’s marriages involve him living with or maintaining his wives financially. We know with greater certainty that he had sex with other teenage girls he married who lived otherwise normal lives.
They all went about their daily lives except when Smith called upon them. Hales does not present any compelling evidence showing why this pattern would differ with Helen.
Hales also throws in that, “in Utah then, (speaking of years later) there was a policy to not consummate marriages to the younger wives until they had hit like 18 years of age or 19.” Even if there was any evidence of this ‘policy,’ this is, of course, irrelevant and immaterial. We are talking about Joseph Smith in Illinois, not Brigham and the boys in Utah. That is a whole other story.
I agree that there is little evidence that Smith sent men on missions just to have sex with their wives although I do not accept Hales comment that “the sealings were all what(sic) we call ‘eternity only.'”
Hales’ definition of what sexual polyandry is incredibly strict. In his view, even if a woman’s legal marriage was superseded by her religious marriage to a second man, that would not, according to Hales, constitute “polyandry.”
There is indeed evidence that Smith had sex with at least three of his polyandrous wives.
Hales himself reports a deathbed confession in 1882, in which Sylvia Sessions Lyon told her daughter Josephine, who had been born in 1844, that Joseph Smith was her father: “She told me then that I was the daughter of the Prophet Joseph Smith, she having been sealed to the Prophet at the time her husband Mr. Lyon was out of fellowship with the Church.” 2
Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner another of Joseph’s polyandrous wives gave a signed statement in 1902 affirming that in February 1842 Brigham Young had sealed her to Joseph “for time and all eternity.”3
And in her autobiography, Zina Diantha Huntington Jacobs writes “I made a greater sacrifice than to give my life, for I never anticipated again to be looked upon as an honorable woman by those I dearly loved.” surely this “sacrifice” clearly implies sexual relations with Smith.4
Finally, Emma’s knowledge of Joseph’s polygamous relationship is broached by Laura Hales who states, “We actually don’t know when Emma found out about polygamy. We know for sure that she didn’t know about two marriages, and we can make educated guesses by other documents — that she didn’t know about some other marriages.”
“But by May 1843, she knew about plural marriage, and she was temporarily supportive of it. By that time, Joseph had been married to quite a few women, most of them for eternity only.”
It was temporary and again I dispute that “most were for eternity only,”
The three conclude the interview by clucking about how nobody is perfect. “We also know that prophets aren’t perfect. They make mistakes. It doesn’t mean that they can’t necessarily lead the church and receive revelation. If we put a prophet on a pedestal and say, “He has to be perfect,” I think we’ll be disappointed every time.”
Yes, let’s not look for perfection, but when we witness so many examples of arrogant, immoral, deceitful and criminal behavior resident in one person, do we not have to ask ourselves, is this someone the Lord would choose to be his spokesman?
A man who begins his adult life running a ‘treasure hunting’ money-making scam that led to his arrest and trial. He faced fifteen criminal charges between March 1826 and June 1844 including banking fraud, perjury, adultery, and fornication, threatening a sitting judge, and twice for conspiracy to commit murder and twice for treason. His serial lying to the Saints, his friends and even his wife about his myriad unions with other women. His arrogant and boastful nature, trumping the Savior himself, “I am the only man that has ever been able to keep a whole church together since the days of Adam. A large majority of the whole have stood by me. Neither Paul, John, Peter, nor Jesus ever did it. I boast that no man ever did such a work as I. The followers of Jesus ran away from Him, but the Latter-day Saints never ran away from me yet”.
But as Dr. Hales declares, nobody is perfect.
1 Polygamy: A History, by LDS member Richard S. van Wagoner, p. 53
2 Hales, Joseph Smith’s Polygamy, 1:349-54
3 Hales, Joseph Smith’s Polygamy, 1:265.
4 Zina Young, in her autobiography “Biographical Sketch,” quoted in Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 81.