Polygamy: Joseph vs. Brigham

I’m always interested when I see rules being applied differently in different circumstances. At the Bloggernacle Times a while back I considered what I saw as the unfair critique of Joseph Smith by skeptics who would themselves never apply the same level of criticism to Jesus. In "Jettisoning Joseph but not Jesus" I was amazed at those Christians who use text-criticism, for example, to "unravel" Joseph’s claims but who do not seem to acknowledge that the same tools would strike a blow at the heart of the New Testament (about which they express no doubt).

It’s a little ironic, don’t ya think? (And hypocritical.) I noticed a similar, albeit subconscious double-standard at play this week. A few comments at BT expressed surprise that Joseph Smith was polygamous. Wasn’t it only practiced under Brigham Young and his successors?

This, of course, is nonsense. Joseph married around 30 women. Everyone knows that, right? Right? Er, wrong!

I had a similar experience in the MTC. Somehow we got around to discussing polygamy and my roommates categorically rejected my assertion that Joseph had been polygamous. That only began with Brigham Young, they maintained.

Why the denial? First, I must admit that I can hardly believe people labour under this false notion. At 19 I was no Mormon history geek. Everything I knew, I knew from paying attention in Seminary and from a well-informed but by no means nerdish father. I think my Mormon "education" was pretty normal. I don’t know how I knew that polygamy had begun with Joseph, but I just did. I thought it was common knowledge. Well, it would appear that it isn’t.

Amazing! But why?

I know that we don’t talk about polygamy much, except to assert we have nothing to do with it anymore. But that cannot alone explain the ignorance on this matter. Why is it so hard to admit Joseph was polygamous but chuckle a little at Brigham’s many wives? Is it because we have an image of Brigham as an old salt, and although we find polygamy a little (or a lot) weird today, somehow it isn’t dissonant with the second prophet’s character? On the other hand, has Joseph been so polished and pedestaled, that we simply cannot square polygamy with the modern Mormon that we want Joseph to be? Why is there one rule for Joseph and another for Brigham (just as there is one for the Gospels and another for the First Vision)?

By doing this, those who make this dichotomy are, I think, expressing distaste for polygamy, a distaste they can forgive Brigham Young for but cannot countenance emanating from Joseph. I can understand this, but the problem is, it just ain’t true. And the irony is delicious: when did the Brighamites become so, well, Josephite?

Comments

  1. Aaron Brown says:

    “Why is there one rule for Joseph and another for Brigham … ?”

    For the RLDS, it makes perfect sense to have two different rules. If your truth claims center on the prophetic career of Joseph, but are hostile to any prophetic claims of Brigham, then you will be interested in drawing this distinction as sharply as possible. I understand that the RLDS have traditionally done this, though more recently they’ve faced up to the historical evidence and had to eat crow.

    As you point out, this issue is stranger in a Mormon (LDS) context. Obviously, as long as we believe Joseph and Brigham were both “prophets” in the same qualitative sense, clinging to the distinction makes no sense. I suspect that what’s really going on is this: Enough people recognize that to acknowledge Joseph’s polygamy is to invite a discussion about how he lied about it (unlike Brigham, who was open about it). THIS is the discussion that people don’t want to have.

    Having said this, I really don’t know how common or uncommon knowledge of Joseph’s polygamy is among most Church members. I seem to recall an essay in which Paul Toscano recounts how his Bishop or Stake President very over-bearingly tried to put down any notion that Joseph was polygamist in an interview with him before his mission. But I don’t know how representative that story was.

    Aaron B

  2. I’m surprised, too, that it isn’t (apparently?) common knowledge that Joseph was a polygamist–as far back as I can remember knowing anything about polygamy I knew that Joseph pioneered the practice.

    I’ll have to do an informal survey of my friends and neighbors to see what their experience is.

  3. Mephibosheth says:

    It’s probably due to the paucity of historical information concerning polygamy before the 1852 pronouncement. It was a secret practice in earlier times, only taught to and practiced by the most trusted leaders of the church.

    I’m no historian, but could there also be a difference in the extent of the polygamous relationships? Although there are 30+ names we have Joseph being sealed to, how many marriages resulted in children? How many were supported by Joseph financially?

    I don’t know. When I was in seminary, I was taught that a lot of the sealings to Joseph grew out of a misunderstanding of the sealing ordinance. It was revealed you had to be sealed in order to be exalted, and everyone was pretty sure the prophet was gonna make it so women got sealed to him. Later, sealings occurred between spouses, as the Saints understanding of the practice grew line upon line.

  4. Mephibosheth, I believe that your last paragraph doesn’t mesh well with the historical record. Joseph knew full well what sealings were about and none of the women came to the prophet to be sealed to him. It was secret, so they didn’t know about it until the invitation came. It would seem that those apostles who remained in the church held the same perspective as Joseph’s. But you are correct that exaltation was leveraged as a reason to be sealed to him. There is also the polyandry issue.

    I think that people want to blame Brigham because it seems that he is the font of all things repudiated. This can be just one more thing to pin on the uber-fallible prophet. We want Joseph to be innocent and infallible.

  5. I think it’s pretty obvious why mormons are more uncomfortable with Joseph’s polygamy than with Brighams…it was practiced secretly, with deceitful public statements, and even secrecy from Emma, and it involved other men’s wives. It goes against our whole image of what marriage should be. So we don’t like to talk about it much (both we as indivicuals, and, especially, the church as an institution). And if it doesn’t get talked about, it’s not surprising that lots of people don’t know about it.

  6. I’m no historian, but could there also be a difference in the extent of the polygamous relationships? Although there are 30+ names we have Joseph being sealed to, how many marriages resulted in children? How many were supported by Joseph financially?

    Buy Todd Compton’s In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith for some of these answers. It’s all in there. Here’s some of what I remember:

    1). Some claims to have carried Joseph’s seed were made. I think only two were ever pursued, both girls, and subsequently proved but only by affidavit. Can’t remember the outcome.

    2). That there was not a sexual dimension to the marriages is ludicrous. A cursory reading of the age groups of the women to whom he was sealed reveals that most were teenagers and in their twenties. Only a handful were above 40 years old. Why so young? Perhaps he was trying to raise up seed unto himself.

    Back to the Brigham vs. Joseph issue: I think, again, it’s the PR machine at work. BY isn’t pushed in the discussions (and justifiably so, he’s not the one who started it). JS however, has to be painted as a good-looking sandy blond man with straight and polished teeth (or are they caps?). His image needs to be squeeky clean in order for people to like him. So perhaps the distance between the JS of today and the JS of 1830s is for PR reasons. It seems these days that a lot of the church history and doctrine is a reflection not of what we were per se, but of what we want to become.

    That people deny JS’s polygamous involvement is about the strangest thing I’ve ever heard. I know the RLDS used to do this before the research was done (after all, you can’t find polygamy in TPJS or WJS and D&C 132 was canonized in Utah, not in Nauvoo), but even before that, I had never been taught that JS WASN’T a polygamist by believing LDS-folk. I’d like to know what SS or seminary instructor was pushing that. The person ought to be flogged for it.

  7. I was amazed at those Christians who use text-criticism, for example, to “unravel” Joseph’s claims but who do not seem to acknowledge that the same tools would strike a blow at the heart of the New Testament (about which they express no doubt).

    Funny — just today I was thinking about something I read on the blog not too long ago about Oliver Cowdry copying Isaiah into the BofM while Joseph was out running errands, and I thought to myself how hypocritical it is for NT scholars to posit that Mark (being the earliest) was copied into Matthew and Luke (which I believe) and that’s “okay” but it’s fraudulent for Isaiah to get copied into the BofM… I wonder if there’s a Q source for the BofM… maybe the inscription on Nephi’s Asherah pole??? :)

  8. There is also Joseph F. Smith who gathered affidavits of Joseph’s wives (if I’m not mistaken they included attestation to the physical component of their marriage – but will have to check on that) and followed Joseph III’s tour through Utah. He would set the record strait after Joseph III preaching against the Brighamites.

  9. I’m taking an excellent class this semester on religion and film – it focuses on film’s representation of religion and how movies influence our idea of what religion is. It’s one of the few candid classes at the U of U that isn’t afraid to discuss Mormonism, but without turning it into a bashfest. One of the films we viewed was Brigham Young, with Tyrone Power.

    Anyway, while discussing polygamy, a non-Mormon girl expressed surprise that Joseph Smith was a polygamist and asked how many wives he had. I quickly blurted out Todd Compton’s number – 33 (at least I think that’s what Todd’s count is). A Mormon girl literally went, “Oh!” – an angry oh, not a surprised oh. She quickly began whispering to the girl that Joseph Smith was only sealed to women posthumously. I don’t know why it frustrated me so much – normally I’m not that confrontational in public, despite my annoying online persona. But I interrupted the other girl and explained that no, Joseph Smith was sealed to women while alive, and also sealed to other women posthumously.

    “I’m no historian, but could there also be a difference in the extent of the polygamous relationships? Although there are 30+ names we have Joseph being sealed to, how many marriages resulted in children? How many were supported by Joseph financially?”

    It’s been a while since I’ve read Todd Compton’s book, but I’d guess few, if any, were actually supported by Joseph. The women he was married to went on living as if they were single, or in the case of the 10 women who were already married, went on living with their own husbands. I find it extremely hard to believe Joseph didn’t father other children, and know a member in Salt Lake who claims to have traced his roots back to Joseph. The evidence looks convincing.

  10. Ronan, I think you are wrong on only one count – that we don’t talk about polygamy much. I’ve been talking about polygamy on the internet since about 1997, since I first married into a copy of Van Waggoner’s “Mormon Polygamy.” And I haven’t been talking to myself.

    Re: fathering children. Plural marriage included sex. Why shouldn’t it? Sex is one of the benefits of being married.

  11. Mephibosheth says:

    The statements Plural marriage included sex. Why shouldn’t it? and That there was not a sexual dimension to the marriages is ludicrous. A cursory reading of the age groups… are not as convincing as the kind of evidence mentioned by John H. or the affidavits David J. mentions.

    I’ll have to check out that book by Compton, but if out of 33 wives only 2 claims to posterity were substantiated, then I’m led to believe that the extent of polygamous relationships practiced by Joseph were to a much lesser degree than those practiced by Brigham, what with his 27 wives and 50-odd children. Thus the difference in public understanding of Joseph’s polygamy.

  12. Mephibosheth, don’t you think the secrecy of the marriages; the need to hide them from the members at large, and especially from Emma, might have led to reduced opportunities for Joseph to father children?

    One woman who did not claim to have a child fathered by Joseph, Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner, said that she was his wife “in very deed.” That’s about as explicit as a religious 19th century woman would get about her sex life – and few of the others would even go that far. Eliza Snow, on the day she and Joseph were married, only commented something about how hard it was to describe her feelings this day – in her own journal!

  13. Great observation, Ronan. I think we all do that a little, though. I certainly place more stock in things I hear in the New Testament and BOM than in what I heard at conference a couple weeks ago. If you asked me in a survey which is more true, I’d probably give the good Mormon answer of “equally so”. But there is a different standard applied, and I don’t have an entirely compelling reason for that.

  14. Ronan,

    With respect to the comments on BT, and similar comments made in the online web commentary with the author of the article of the Newsweek story on Mormonism, those people who are questioning Smith’s multiple marriages are probably doing so deliberately, not ignorantly. There are plenty of people online who are of the persuasion (e.g., the CofC aka RLDS) that Smith had no plural wives and it was all Young’s fault, so they seek to “exonerate” Smith from this practice.

  15. Ann,

    Well, of course New Order Mormons talk about polygamy. I had the average, non-internet Mormon in mind. But lest anyone think that I am suspecting some COB anti-polygamy conspiracy: as I say in my post, my “correlated” Mormon education led me to understand that Joseph was polygamous. I didn’t know much, but enough. Which is why I’m kind of amazed that there is this ignorance.

  16. I have to say I never knew JS was polygamous until this year. Never heard it talked about in church and never even thought about it. I was *always* under the assumption that BY started the practice. I guess we just always think of JS as “pure” and polygamy doesn’t really fit the stereotype of a man being “pure” but rather as a bit, … um.. unpure in some way.

  17. I must say I’m kind of baffled by this conversation. Maybe it’s because I’m a convert and had to look into such things before joining the Church. But I’ve always been under the impression that one of the main reasons Joseph Smith faced persecution was because of polygamy (and I’ve told my primary students so), and I’ve never read anything, even in materials such as “The Work and the Glory” novels, to indicate otherwise. To me it’s always been common knowledge that Joseph Smith practiced polygamy, in some cases under questionable circumstances. And isn’t polygamy the reason Emma was so upset at him? How could people not know that?

  18. Growing up in YM I always was told that JS was a polygamist. There just were not that many details discussed like with BY cause JS did not practice it as openly.

  19. Sigh…I wish I could say something without getting into a bad discussion about Joseph’s sex life.

    He got a bad rap.

  20. Interestingly, I just finished reading Roger Launius’ bio of Joseph Smith III (yeah, I’m a little slow…), and I was fascinated by the fact that JSIII more or less intentionally manipulated the RLDS doctrine on the subject. He had a vested interest in “purifying” his father’s image, but he had to wait until the people who were around in Nauvoo and knew the facts died out. Now of course, I doubt that the issue is meaningful to the CoC, but LDS PR seems determined not to mention any facet of polygamy, including its origin.

    Those of you in SLC might still be able to find a reprint of the old pamphlet “Blood Atonement and the Origins of Polygamy” at Sam Weller’s. It was the reprint of correspondence between Joseph Fielding Smith and one of his RLDS cousins, in which JFS quotes extensively from affidavits from Joseph’s wives. Or, as mentioned earlier, you could read Todd Compton’s book.

  21. Also, read the DIALOGUE article by Stephen Taysom about plural marriage and Mormon collective memory. I think it was in the Fall 2002 issue.

  22. Also,

    “Identifying the Earliest Mormon Polygamists, 1841-1844″ by Gary James Bergera in the latest Dialogue.

    (ht: curelom)

  23. Another possible reason why we find Joseph’s practice of plural marraige to be more awkward than Brigham’s is that in addition to being secret is was also more chaotic under Joseph. Although still very controversial to the outside world, in Utah it became socially organized. Married women (at least those married to other Church members) were not usually courted, often consent of existing wives was actually required, the husbands were really expected to provide for their plural families, etc. Altough far from perfect in implementation, rules were established which regulated plural marriage so it could function within a cohesive social system.

    In contrast Joseph was very disorganized in implementing plural marriage – there seemed to be no rhyme or reason to it. Sometimes teenage girls and sometimes older married women, sometimes consummated and sometimes not, sometimes linked to temple ordinances and sometimes not, it is impossible to explain what was going on with plural marriage under Joseph because Joseph himself never explicated it. In contrast in Utah there was time and openness sufficient to make plural marriage a regulated and explicable system (regardless of what one ultimately thinks of the regulations and explanations). Joseph had neither the time nor the opportunity to do this. He seems to have been floundering, trying to figure out how to implement this radical change in the accepted social mores, and this does not make for a neat picture that can being easily encapsulated and explained to the general Church membership that wants an exposition but doesn’t want to get into the detail of the book-length treatments.

  24. I think the mystery around Joseph’s polygamy exists because of the non-children issue. So many people are quick to “defend” Joseph by insisting his plural marriage was squeaky-clean, in name only, and completely non-sexual.

    However, if Joseph thought he was going to live until his eighties, and if he took very young women/teens to wife (particularly those who weren’t married before or weren’t married to others at the time) were those young women expected to life like nuns the rest of their lives while married to Joseph? Was Helen Marr Kimball intended to be celibate while a married woman, without any hope of sex and children?

    I think it’s obvious that Joseph’s marriages were marriages “in very deed”. It’s the age of the wives, the secrecy from Emma, the church membership, the temple implications, etc. that make plural marriage problematic.

    Today’s Church programs and curriculum certainly don’t help to shed any light on the subject, and it seems they want members and non-members alike to believe Joseph was monogamous. Articles and books about Joseph and Emma as perennial newlyweds abound, and on the josephsmith.net webpage it has no mention of his plural marriages.

  25. John Mansfield says:

    On the other hand if you go to the Church’s Family Search web site…

  26. Yes, data exists, but there is no exposition or critical treatment of the facts.

    It would be nice if the Ensign tackled these subjects, or even if Joseph’s polygamy were mentioned in General Conference.

  27. It would be nice if the Ensign tackled these subjects, or even if Joseph’s polygamy were mentioned in General Conference.

    LOL! Thanks for the laugh, Imelda. (wiping tears from eyes…)

  28. Oh, but I agree it will never happen. It’s that 13th article of faith:

    “We believe in being honest in all our dealings, except when it makes the Church look bad.”

  29. Levi Peterson says:

    By all means see Gary Bergera’s long article in the latest issue of Dialogue, vol. 38, no. 3 (Fall 2005) on the temple marriages conducted in Nauvoo during the lifetime of the Prophet. Gary documents each marriage with careful objectivity, granting that a few of them are probable but not conclusive. The article will lay to rest any conjecture that Brigham Young ceated polygamy. Some 28 men and 108 women are documented as having entered the prophet’s order of celestial matrimony while he was still alive. For the large majority of them, the numbers of additional wives were modest. Joseph Smith had, as I recall, 38, most of them securely documented.

    As the son of a woman who was raised in a polygamous home, a woman who was married to an LDS widower and therefore believed she would exist in a polygamous relationship in the Hereafter, I find myself indignant with attempts to deny that polygamy ever happened. Mormonism has to live with its pioneer ancestors. They aren’t going to go away.

  30. Mary L. Bradford says:

    My mother believed that she would have to live in polygamy because my dad had married his first wife in the temple. How about that?

    The material about Joseph Smith’s polygamy has been out for many years. Much of it was published during my time as editor of Dialogue. Now that Bushman’s magnificent biography has been published by the country’s most important publisher, perhaps we can stop worrying. What do you think?

  31. Today polygyny (although not polyandry) is still doctrine if not pre-death practice…

    What I’ve always wanted to know is what does the Church do about Muslim men who wish to be baptized, but who may be married (legally) to more than one woman at the same time?

  32. I think the argument that polygamy under Joseph was pretty disorganized seems to be the most likely reason why we don’t talk about it much. So much was done in secret, and although certainly some of his marriages must have been consummated, it’s not clear that all of them were, so that adds to the confusion. I would think that Joseph himself didn’t have a clear idea how to approach implementing polygamy, with all of the complications that went with it, not the least of which was hiding it from his own wife.

    Also, well, the church just doesn’t talk about polygamy very much, period. How many of you knew that Heber J. Grant was a polygamist, or that his mother was his father’s 7th wife, and they barely knew each other when they married? This information was very explicitly absent from the biographical sketch written in the Heber J. Grant manual, and there was even an article published years ago in a church media outlet that stated that Heber J. Grant was never a polygamist. Senator Wallace F. Bennett, who was married to Grant’s youngest daughter by his third wife, called up the young PR punk who printed the article and told him that he better retract it, because he just made the Senator’s wife a bastard.

    I agree that Mormons need to come to terms with our polygamist roots, and everybody has to come to terms with the fact that Joseph did indeed practice it, sometimes under what would seem less than honorable circumstances. I’m not saying that they WEREN’T honorable, I’m just saying that the circumstances did not mirror those that evolved later in the church.

    The young PR punk who didn’t know Grant was a polygamist, by the way, happened to be a church beuracrat by the name of Gordon B. Hinckley.

  33. Nate Oman says:

    I’m with Ronan on this one: I just don’t get it. I think that JWL offers a good reason for why some people are uncomfortable with Joseph’s polygamy but I am shocked that anyone would seriously try to deny it.

  34. john fowles says:

    I never heard of anyone trying to deny JS’s polygamy until I had an RLDS investigator on my mission (in Berlin, of all places). It made perfect sense, however, for him to blame BY for polygamy and to use it as perhaps the key factor or evidence that BY was not a true prophet. It was the easiest way, anyway, to justify the RLDS existence. Interestingly, BY himself was very apprehensive about the prospect of polygamy but obeyed JS anyway.

    I also was always taught, at home and in seminary and church generally (i.e. gospel doctrine classes once I started going to them as a freshman at college), that JS received revelation concerning the institution of polygamy and that polygamy and block-voting were two of the reasons for the hatred against LDS in the early days. That was just standard, non-intellectual, non-doubting/questioning, purely mainstream, church education from everything that I can tell.

  35. john fowles says:

    In fact, growing up in Dallas, I was often exposed to exactly the opposite: people pointing to JS’s role in instituting polygamy as “proof” that he wasn’t a prophet, along the lines of “Joseph Smith started a new religion just so he could have many wives.”

  36. john fowles says:

    The young PR punk who didn’t know Grant was a polygamist, by the way, happened to be a church beuracrat by the name of Gordon B. Hinckley.

    ?

  37. How many of you knew that Heber J. Grant was a polygamist, or that his mother was his father’s 7th wife, and they barely knew each other when they married?

    …or that his mom was married to Joseph Smith and Heber was sealed to Joseph?

  38. Here’s what this year’s sunday school manual has to say:

    6. Plural marriage
    The following information is provided to help you if class members have questions about the practice of plural marriage. It should not be the focus of the lesson.

    The Lord’s purpose for commanding His people to practice plural marriage

    In the Book of Mormon, the prophet Jacob taught: “For there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife. … [But] if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise they shall hearken unto these things” (Jacob 2:27, Jacob 2:30). At various times throughout biblical history, the Lord commanded people to practice plural marriage. For example, He gave this command to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, and Solomon (D&C 132:1).

    The revelation to practice plural marriage in this dispensation

    In this dispensation, the Lord commanded some of the early Saints to practice plural marriage. The Prophet Joseph Smith and those closest to him, including Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball, were challenged by this command, but they obeyed it. Church leaders regulated the practice. Those entering into it had to be authorized to do so, and the marriages had to be performed through the sealing power of the priesthood.

    It seems to imply that JS practiced polygamy, although it’s not completely clear and doesn’t give any details at all.

  39. Heather, that was news to me about HJG. Any literature on the subject?

  40. J. Watkins says:

    I know that this could be off subject and most of the people who will read this already have but I gotta say: Am I the only one who feels a difference between Joseph and all later prophets? They don’t prophesy the same way, they don’t seem to have Joseph’s charisma. Is it because they moved to Utah? Anyway, Joseph is different from all his predecessors, just not in the innocent/pure way that some people seem to think. At least to me.

  41. Aaron Brown says:

    “Is it because they moved to Utah?”

    Fascinating theory! Maybe there’s something about Utah that actually drains the charisma and prophetic powers out of Church leaders. With all the insults we snobby California Mormons like to hurl at the Utahs, perhaps we’ve overlooked the most important one!

    I always said Brigham & Co. should have kept marching towards the Pacific. “This is the place,” my *ss. :)

    Aaron B

  42. “What I’ve always wanted to know is what does the Church do about Muslim men who wish to be baptized, but who may be married (legally) to more than one woman at the same time?”

    Converts from any culture/faith that practices polygamy are required to live monogamously with one wife in order to be accepted for baptism.

  43. Oh…my…gosh…Mary…Bradford…must…breathe…

    I could just weep. I’m gonna go all Wayne and Garth, here. First Levi Peterson and now…Mary Bradford…

    BCC is true!

  44. The Prophet Joseph Smith and those closest to him, including Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball, were challenged by this command, but they obeyed it.

    They may have been “challenged” by it initially, but they seemed to be pretty enthusiastic participants by the time The Principle was being practiced openly.

    RT, I think the good folks at soc.religion.mormon might be more than a little put off to be called “New Order Mormons.” There are really only one or two NOMs there, and the place is swarming with current and present Gospel Doctrine teachers.

    I agree that the “messiness” of the beginnings of plural marriage is what makes it problematic to discuss. On the other hand, it’s also what makes it interesting.

  45. “…or that his mom was married to Joseph Smith and Heber was sealed to Joseph?”

    Rachel Ridgeway Grant was sealed to Joseph Smith posthumously – that is, after Joseph’s death. She married Jedediah Morgan Grant who was Heber’s natural father. But since Jedediah died when Heber was still very young, Heber often thought of himself as Joseph’s child, if just a spiritual child.

    He caused a stir in the early 20th century when he made a flippant remark about being a polygamist – this is while the Church is trying to be more careful, of course. Next thing you know, he’s opening the Japanese mission and then presiding over the European Mission.

  46. From “Teachings of the Presidents of the Church – Heber J. Grant” page viii.

    Heber J. Grant was born Nov 22, 1856. And ordained an apostle Oct 16, 1882. (age 25, almost 26).

    Being an apostle while John Taylor was Prophet, and of course prior to the 1890 Manifesto, I think it would be highly unlikely that he was not a polygamist.

  47. Perhaps the confusion about Pres. Grants polyg/monog status is because by the time he was president of the church, he only had one living wife.

  48. “Perhaps the confusion about Pres. Grants polyg/monog status is because by the time he was president of the church, he only had one living wife.”

    Probably, but she was at one time a polygamous wife – I think his second wife.

    “Being an apostle while John Taylor was Prophet, and of course prior to the 1890 Manifesto, I think it would be highly unlikely that he was not a polygamist.”

    Anthon H. Lund, called in 1889, was the first Apostle in many years to not be a polygamist.

  49. Ronan:
    Heather, that was news to me about HJG. Any literature on the subject?

    There’s some good information about HJG’s polygamous marriages (including marriages in 1877, 1884 (twice) and some “courtships” between 1900 and 1903), as well as indictments for co-habitation in Quinn’s “Mormon Hierarchy – Extensions of Power”. By 1908, HJG only had one living wife.

  50. Mormons do need to come to terms with their polygamous past–and also the polygamous assumptions in the hereafter.

    The pride in polygamy is still prevalent today; it is not seen as an unfortunate practice that was/is inherently abusive to women, or is in the least bit embarrassing. Instead it is a source of pride (when speaking of the male ancestor).

  51. Jonathan Green says:

    Yes, that’s precisely how I’ve come to terms with my family’s, and my church’s, polygamous past: I’m not ashamed of it, I take pride in the sacrifices of my–male and female–ancestors, I don’t see polygamy as unfortunate or inherently abusive. I’m grateful, really grateful, that it came to an end a long time ago, but I refuse to be embarrassed for it today.

  52. Just to add to something John H. and JWL mentioned above–in additional point to keep in mind about the confusion which Joseph Smith’s practice of polygamy adds to the current efforts by the church to keep our doctrinal history coherent, is the fact that several of Joseph’s marriages resulted in his wives living in what may have been polyandrous sexual relationships–and not just with apostate members or non-members, but active members of the church. The evidence that such relations actually took place is extremely scanty and debatable; nonetheless, if one accepts the idea that Smith meant marriage to be about full-blooded bonding between persons (and there is every reason to believe that such was his intention) then the possibility that sexual polyandry was practiced in Nauvoo by some women cannot be ruled out. Of course, this doesn’t make any sense in light of later, “patriarchal order”-type readings of polygamy. When Compton first broached this interpretation of the data, there were several church historians who really went after his data; now, a few years later, on the basis of the Bushman biography at least, it seems that this reading of the Nauvoo period being is accepted as one which as one more of those many unknowable about Smith’s life.

  53. #45–see, this is what I’m saying. I don’t think Joseph Smith even knew half the women attributed to be his wives. They got all nutso with exaltation and thought they could hang on his coattails.

    I’m saying he gets a bad rap.

    I’m not ashamed of polygamy. Why should I be, I didn’t do it. I’m not proud of it, either. Why should I be, I didnt’ do it.

    But I have no patience with our inability to discuss it in public. Our being us, Mormons. Inability isn’t the right word, it’s just the only one I can think of at the moment.

    Tell the truth, no matter what, is my motto. Unless Bill asks how much we owe on the credit card.

  54. Anne, Compton only counts women married to JS during his lifetime in his biography. The number was in the low-mid 30s. Some of the marriages were dynastic (Helen Mar Kimball), some were what Compton calls levirate (his brother Don Carlos’s widow, Agnes Coolbrith) and some were to older women (Patty Sessions) who seemed to act as “recruiters” for the Principle. But the plurality were to young marriageable women, some of whom were already married to someone else. This is ONLY in his lifetime.

    I don’t doubt that some were sealed to him after he died. But 30-odd during his lifetime is nothing to sneeze at.

  55. JOnathan, you wrote: “Yes, that’s precisely how I’ve come to terms with my family’s, and my church’s, polygamous past: I’m not ashamed of it, I take pride in the sacrifices of my–male and female–ancestors, I don’t see polygamy as unfortunate or inherently abusive. I’m grateful, really grateful, that it came to an end a long time ago, but I refuse to be embarrassed for it today.”

    I think this may reflect the sense of most Mormon men.

    If you were a Southerner whose ancestors had held slaves, would you come to terms with that in the same way?

  56. Laurie, being embarrassed by past polygamy requires the assumption that the practice was not commanded by God. And if such a practice were not commanded by God, it certainly would not have been condoned. It seems to me inconceivable that men who were legitimate prophets of God, constantly receiving revelation, would still have the spirit of God with them while engaging in a practice that was heinous in God’s eyes. One or the other has to go, you cannot have both. If polygamy was wrong, the church cannot be true.

  57. Eric, you’re wrong. Prophets make serious mistakes all the time. Just look at the Old Testament…

  58. By the way, that last comment was intended to be at least substantially flippant.

  59. And if such a practice were not commanded by God, it certainly would not have been condoned.

    I’m not sure I buy this specific part of your comment, Eric (though I agree with the rest). It seems to me that God could accept the practice of polygamy even if he didn’t suggest/command it originally. The Lord might have a range of practices that he will accept if his stewards suggest them. It seems possible to me (though not necessarily probable) that Joseph suggested plural marriage be restored and God said “OK”. Maybe there would have been other acceptable paths for the church to take as well but that is the one that we got. (Agency at work…)

    The Lord’s interaction with the Brother of Jared might be an analogous example here. There were surely many ways to light up the barges. The Brother of Jared thought that 16 clear molten stones would be a good solution. When he suggested that idea God said “sure”.

  60. Aaron Brown says:

    Geoff J,

    You’re making the standard argument that just because the Church/Prophet tells us to do something, it doesn’t follow that God is the source of the idea. There are a probably lots of historical LDS beliefs that I would be open to applying this argument to. However, I find it very difficult to do this with polygamy. Polygamy was, in many ways, THE defining institution of Mormonism in the 19th Century. This is not only true looking back in hindsight, but was no doubt true for Mormons themselves in the 19th Century. Look at everything the LDS people sacrificed in order to maintain the principle, all the adversity they endured, and how central to their faith and notions of exaltation it was. Are we really going to say it was all just a big mistake, and that our 19th Century forebearers were operating under mistaken religious assumptions?

    It seems to me that certain beliefs and practices are so central to the Mormon experience that they can’t be explained away as something fundamentally misguided to which God just shrugged his sholders and granted “acceptance.” I find the notion of polygamy very distateful and I wish it wasn’t part of the repertoire of historical baggage that LDS people have to come to terms with. But I find even more distasteful the notion that I am supposed to believe that God has one “True Church” on the whole face of the Earth, whose first 100 years (post-restoration) was characterized by a scandalous drama that originated in his Prophet’s misguided attempt to restore ancient practices that God really wasn’t that interested in having restored.

    If I were God, and I wanted to effect a “Restoration” and my Prophet did that, I’d probably just throw in the towel and start over. Maybe go pay a visit to Charles Taze Russell or Mary Baker Eddy, or something …

    Aaron B

  61. Aaron Brown says:

    Geoff J,

    You’re making the standard argument that just because the Church/Prophet tells us to do something, it doesn’t follow that God is the source of the idea. There are a probably lots of historical LDS beliefs that I would be open to applying this argument to. However, I find it very difficult to do this with polygamy. Polygamy was, in many ways, THE defining institution of Mormonism in the 19th Century. This is not only true looking back in hindsight, but was no doubt true for Mormons themselves in the 19th Century. Look at everything the LDS people sacrificed in order to maintain the principle, all the adversity they endured, and how central to their faith and notions of exaltation it was. Are we really going to say it was all just a big mistake, and that our 19th Century forebearers were operating under mistaken religious assumptions?

    It seems to me that certain beliefs and practices are so central to the Mormon experience that they can’t be explained away as something fundamentally misguided to which God just shrugged his sholders and granted “acceptance.” I find the notion of polygamy very distateful and I wish it wasn’t part of the repertoire of historical baggage that LDS people have to come to terms with. But I find even more distasteful the notion that I am supposed to believe that God has one “True Church” on the whole face of the Earth, whose first 100 years (post-restoration) was characterized by a scandalous drama that originated in his Prophet’s misguided attempt to restore ancient practices that God really wasn’t that interested in having restored.

    If I were God, and I wanted to effect a “Restoration” and my Prophet did that, I’d probably just throw in the towel and start over. Maybe go pay a visit to Charles Taze Russell or Mary Baker Eddy, or something …

    Aaron B

  62. Aaron Brown says:

    Geoff J said:
    “The Lord’s interaction with the Brother of Jared might be an analogous example here. There were surely many ways to light up the barges. The Brother of Jared thought that 16 clear molten stones would be a good solution. When he suggested that idea God said “sure”.”

    If polygamy was indeed something to which God said “sure,” I certainly hope God is kicking himself for that one. Given the trauma that polygamy brought on the Mormon community, if we want to analogize it to the Brother of Jared’s 16 stones, let’s at least be honest and admit that God accepting polygamy would be analogous to his rubber-stamping the Brother of Jared’s bright idea to bring 16 flaming torches aboard the wave-rocked boat, with 16 open canisters of gasoline and no fire extinguisher.

    Aaron B

  63. I would go appear in a tortilla in Mexico.

  64. Some questions occur to me from this discussion (in the spirit of the commandment to love the Lord with all our minds):

    1. Did God actually command polygamy, or alternatively, is it important for us as Mormons to believe that God commanded polygamy? And how might we know the difference?

    2. Did God command polygamy or did He allow it (not act to stop it)?

    3. In the final analysis, does polygamy make any difference in the truth claims of the Church? On what grounds do we find our faith? Is being right all the time one of them? Must we be a mistake-free zone?

    4. How can we fathom polygamy not as an inherently abusive situation for women? And how would any man know?

    5. Can we parallel any pro-slavery arguments to the polygamy defense?

    6. So, how does the defense of polygamy arguments figure into our “By their fruits” deliberation?

    7. Wouldn’t these be great to discuss in Sunday School?!

  65. Not one of those 30 women had a child by Joseph. I don’t want to hear about Eliza Snow’s miscarriage. Joseph has no descendents from any of those children. Zip. Nada.

    That is impossible if he were actually married to these women. Just not possible. IMHO.

    Please don’t say anything nasty about his health. Just show me a living descendant today and I will give up my point of view. Can’t be done. I don’t know how to spell descendant.

  66. 8. You should write a post answering these questions.

    :)

    I’m not going to attempt (right now) a formal response, but to whether the Lord commanded it, it seems like there are three possible scenarios:

    1) God commanded Polygamy
    2) God did not command it, Joseph Smith is a liar and the church is a hoax.
    3) God did not command it, but God allows his prophets to do what ever they feel like…no matter what (and the commandments are really quite malleable – Fanny Alger).

  67. Jonathan, with polygamy we are faced with your three possibilities and more–such as, is it necessary for prophets to be error-free? Given the times, is it feasible or possible that Joseph honestly make an error?

    God likely knows that His truth, the Church, and the Gospel, are bigger than any errors on earth–even those of the magnitude of polygamy.

    For over a century the Priesthood was denied to males of African descent. The revelation that initiated that practice is by no means clear.

    Are these errors? Tests of our faith? A lesson of hope to each of us that in the Ultimate–and in our own lives–good overcomes all errors?

    My suggestion in these posts is that there is virtue in deliberating on such issues and questions, even if individual answers remain unchanged.

  68. I concur Laurie.

  69. Jonathan Green says:

    Uh, Laurie, no. The doctrinal foundation of polygamy is canonized as scripture. That gives us as Mormons very little room to debate whether it was inspired or not.

    I’m not easily offended, but the comparison of 19th-century polygamy to slavery offends me. I don’t see that the lives of polygamous wives were any worse or more demeaning than any other women on the American frontier. I don’t see any productive discussion arising from the comparison.

    The suggestion that men can’t possibly understand isn’t offensive, merely silly and annoying.

    I’m not trying to be difficult. I’m entirely sympathetic if you find polygamy a tough bit of history to deal with. I can easily understand how some people might find it troubling. I’ve got my own bits of history and doctrine that make me cringe now and again. But I think you’re trying to turn your own need to come to terms with polygamy into an institutional need which just doesn’t exist. I’m sympathetic to people struggling with questions and doubts, but I bristle when people suggest that I should feel ashamed for how my ancestors chose to live.

  70. Aaron B.

    I have to assume you wrote you first response to me prior to reading my whole comment because my second paragraph dealt with most of your complaints. However I will respond to a few things.

    However, I find it very difficult to do this with polygamy. Polygamy was, in many ways, THE defining institution of Mormonism in the 19th Century.

    An excellent reason why God might have allowed and even approved of the the church and prophet taking the path they did. The question is whether the net effect of the decision was positive or negative on the spiritual welfare of the church. I believe it was positive in a major way despite several negatives that are associated with the chosen path. (Again we are talking about the spiritual effect on the church at the time and reaching to today.)

    let’s at least be honest and admit that God accepting polygamy would be analogous to his rubber-stamping the Brother of Jared’s bright idea to bring 16 flaming torches aboard the wave-rocked boat, with 16 open canisters of gasoline and no fire extinguisher.

    It’s hard to admit such a thing when it is completely inaccurate. If such a thing had been accepted by God in the Book of Ether then there would be no book of Ether. The barges would have burned (and possibly exploded) the first day and all the Jaredites would have burned/drowned. Is that analogous to what happened to the church Joseph started? Hardly.

    The analogy works because Joseph’s actions worked. Just as the Brother of Jared could have chosen any number of paths, I suspect that Joseph also could have chosen other paths. (BTW — My feelings about an open future versus a fixed future underlie my thoughts on this.)

  71. Laurie and J,

    I wanted to respond to some of your questions because I don’t think all of them fairly portray the possibilities.

    2. Did God command polygamy or did He allow it (not act to stop it)?

    I think he allowed it because it was among the options that were allowable. It was a path that would work with God’s purposes for the church in the last days — I just don’t think it was the only possible path to success. (I have no idea if it was the most efficient or effective path either — I just know God agreed to it.)

    3. In the final analysis, does polygamy make any difference in the truth claims of the Church?

    God himself, through the Holy Ghost makes ALL of the truth claims for the church. We all have to hear it directly from him through personal revelation.

    5. Can we parallel any pro-slavery arguments to the polygamy defense?

    No. God never accepted slavery in the latter days. But don’t take my word for it — you can ask him.

    As for J’s three choices in #66 I would go for:

    4) God did not command out of the blues but after Joseph studied it out in his mind and chose that path God ratified it and commanded the church to implement the practice. It was among the paths that God knew would lead to the success of the church.

    Given the times, is it feasible or possible that Joseph honestly make an error?

    Sure errors happened. But I doubt this was one of them.

    For over a century the Priesthood was denied to males of African descent. The revelation that initiated that practice is by no means clear.

    Since there is no section 132 supporting this one, I am more inclined to suspect it was an error. I believe God adjusted for it though.

    Are these errors? Tests of our faith?

    If we are receiving revelation from God then it isn’t much of a test — just ask God his opinion. If we are receiving no personal revelation then I guess it would be a test. But the fact that a person with the Gift of the Holy Ghost is not receiving revelation ought to be the first problem resolved.

  72. David J., the latest Journal of Mormon History (Summer 2005) has a report on the results of DNA tests of descendants of those rumored to have been Joseph’s children. They looked at 5 rumored children who could be tested by reconstructing Joseph’s Y-chromosome. (If I remember correctly–I can’t find my copy of the journal because it appears to have gotten thrown away). There are 5, including Moroni Pratt (which this website mistakenly reports having been verified as a descendant of Joseph Smith), which the report rules out. There are several which it cannot report on because of incomplete evidence, and one that cannot be determined by reconstructing Joseph’s Y chromosome.

  73. Here is another approach to the conundrum of how modern Mormons might deal with the existence of polygamy in what we believe to be the authentic complete restored gospel of Jesus Christ.

    (1) Section 132 is part of our canon. Therefore if you accept the divine authority of the modern LDS scriptures, there really is no way to deny that in some way God approved/commanded polygamy.

    (2) Neither God or Joseph Smith as the initial revelator ever gave any explanation for the commandment to practice polygamy. I recognize that both early and modern Mormons have come up with numerous explications, justifications, and defenses, but none of these have ever been put forth as the definitive word of God explaining why it was approved/commanded.

    (3) Since Joseph Smith never gave anything explaining the how or why other than Section 132, we really have no basis for distinguishing whether God gave it as a positive commandment or simply approved something Joseph proposed.

    (4) The one thing we do know from Section 132 is that, like most other revelations, the revelation on polygamy came as a result of an inquiry from Joseph (see Vision, First).

    (5) We do not know the mind of God or His reasons for the revelation of Section 132. This is frustrating, but I think this is where we are. It is one of those doctrines we have to accept on faith even if it doesn’t seem to easily fit into the larger rational framework of the modern revelations.

    (6) HOWEVER, we can ask about the mind of Joseph. We can at least ask this: why did Joseph ask God about polygamy among the ancient Hebrew patriarchs?

    (7) The motive for asking that question that immediately comes to mind among non-believers, and the motive that believers secretly dread may be there, is LUST. Even if we heroically accept on faith that the revelation came from God, it would be very disturbing if Joseph’s motivation was carnal.

    (8) So, is there another motive for Joseph to inquire of God about ancient biblical polygamy? Well, yes. In Rough Stone Rolling, Richard Bushman points out how strongly Joseph was tied to his family and friends. Now a lot of people like their family and friends, but Bushman explains how Joseph was especially driven by his need to be with people and to have people around him all of the time. In the modern vernacular, Joseph was a “people person” and then some. Indeed, he dreaded being alone. All through the polygamous periods his letters burst with his longing for Emma and the children. He was intensely attached to his parents and siblings as well.

    (9) This suggests a motivation other than lust for Joseph’s inquiry about biblical polygamy. In Bushman’s memorable phrase (which I am quoting from memory) “Joseph did not lust for women so much as he lusted for kin.”

    (10) More than just offering a less embarrassing explanation for why Joseph would pursue the subject of biblical polygamy with the Lord, this also offers a better contextual explanation. If Joseph was only interested in bedding more babes, why would the revelation on polygamy be embedded within an unnecessarily far more elaborate and complex theology of eternal sealings, baptism and sealing for dead ancestors, temple ordinances, etc? Polygamy was intimatley tied into all of these other doctrines. The common thread to all of them is a concern for enjoying the same sociality in the eternities that we enjoy here on earth. In this context, what polygamy offers is not more sex, it offers “… an hundredfold in this world, of fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, houses and lands, wives and children ….” (D&C 132:55).

    (11) One advantage of this reasoning if it holds, is that we might actually contextualize polygamy within 20th C Mormonism. Why did we practice polygamy? We’re just so crazy about families that the early Mormons wanted to have as many of them as possible.

    [Note that the facts are Bushman's. I am solely responsible for this interpretive gloss.]

  74. Goeff J: Thank you for considering the questions. I tend to agree with you that the denial of the priesthood issue may have been in the error category. It was a painful error for many, of course–moreso for those of African American descent than for those of European descent.

    Jonathan Green: I am sorry that you were offended by my questions; no personal attack on you or your ancestry or anyone’s ancestry (including my husband’s) was intended.

    As you know, there is ample historical precedent for the comparisons of polygamy to slavery. In the 19th century, the two issues were debated nationally as “twin evils.”

    As for your statement, “I don’t see that the lives of polygamous wives were any worse or more demeaning than any other women on the American frontier.”–I will leave that to the ample historical record to the contrary.

    A further question might be: Do we think God might command human slavery? Torture? Hate crimes? If the Prophet revealed any of these options, would we support it? Lowell Bennion, by the way, used to pose a similar stimulating question to his classes–if the Prophet commanded us to do something that we knew was morally wrong, would we do it?

    I suggest that these moral dilemmas are difficult questions to consider and that the process of honest consideration of these questions are more important than any answers we might give to the questions. At the very least, it behooves us to understand the reasoning and deliberations of those who come up with answers that may differ from our own.

    At times we Mormons can be very focused on making sure that we all agree. We give stock answers to difficult questions. We neglect the critical task of respecting the views of others with whom we disagree, and learning from them. I, for one, hold that we as human beings do not need to be agreed with all the time or to get our way all the time. Instead, we need to be heard, understood, respected, and taken seriously. This has been my stock (albiet a bit inadequate perhaps) answer to those stake presidents and other church leaders who have asked me: What do sisters in the Church need?

    Back to moral dilemmas and your point about nonexistent institutional needs, I argue that the acceptance of polygamy in the past, present, and hereafter, directly impacts how women in the church are placed today, and thus poses institutional issues. The hole in my argument, of course, is the observation that many religious institutions with no polygamy in their history or eternity, also are organized in ways that can demean women. So I accept that logical criticism.

    But then again, many religious institutions are not.

    Jonathan, I think we might have a point of agreement in the view that our ancestors did the best they could under the circumstances. We are in a very different environment than our ancestors–whether they held slaves or multiple wives. But to a large extent we as humans negotiate our lives in the context of our times. There is an inherent underlying arrogance in the assumption that modern knowledge and standards are to be applied to the lives of those who did the best they knew how to do in times past. Would that we could live with the benefit of such historical hindsight!

    My own Virginia ancestors were Protestants from England. None held slaves to my knowledge, but a number were Confederate soldiers. They fought for the South. Did they fight for slavery? Obviously in the context of history they did–even though there is evidence that a few may have opposed the practice on religious grounds. Am I embarrassed to have had ancestors fight for the preservation of human slavery? Let’s say that when I visit with African American colleagues, especially on related issues (slavery, the underground railroad, etc), such actions of my ancestors are not touted as a point of pride.

  75. Imelda #24, no way. If he was/were married to even ten young women under the age of 25 for three years, there had to be children. Brigham Young had what–over a hundred. Nobody can produce one.

    Jonathan #69 Would the comparison bother you less if it were men in the womens role? It doesn’t bother me, although it may be an exaggeration in most cases. I think your chagrin is based on your gender.

    #72 DKL, Aha! I was right! I knew it, I knew it, I knew it!

  76. On the minor sub-issue of the relationship between polygamy and slavery, I’d just like to remind any Republicans in view of the very first platform of the Republican party (1856): It is “the imperative duty of Congress to prohibit in the territories those twin relics of barbarism — polygamy and slavery.”

    Note which comes first in the listing.

    Which may have something to do with the fact that some brethren had to be called to be Republicans in the Democratic sea of Mormons at the time of Utah’s admission to the Union.

    On the other sub-issue of whether polygamous wives had it worse than others on the frontier, I suggest a review of Annie Clarke Tanner’s autobiography and/or some of the writings of Sam Taylor (esp. “Family Kingdom”) and one or two articles in early issues of Dialogue.

  77. Jonathan Green says:

    Hugh, could you save me a little research time and just summarize what those sources say?

    Laurie, about the 19th-century comparison of polygamy and slavery: well, duh. Yes, I’ve heard that before. People who didn’t like the Mormons in the 19th century compared polygamy to slavery. Why should 21st-century Mormons accept that comparison?

    You quote the “ample historical record” that polygamous wives led lives of confinement and degradation comparable to slavery. Did they? Humor me here; 19th-century America is not what I work on. I don’t intend to dispute your sources, but I’d like you to provide some evidence to back up what until now are just assertions.

    This seems to be the major sticking point. If the common experience of Mormon women living as polygamous wives in the 19th century was a unique degree of exploitation, abuse, subjugation, and degradation, then the Church might need to scrutinize its past. If, however, polygamy differed only numerically from contemporary and current American practice, then I don’t see much for the Church to atone for.

  78. JG: I never asserted that Mormon polygamous wives lived lives in conditions comparable to human slavery in the American South. The two were often cited as twin evils. Today many Mormons find polygamists in their ancestry, and many Southerners find slave holders in theirs.

    That being said, reports of control and exploitation reported by contemporary Mormon fundamentalist polygamist wives are compelling. One can find numerous current (past 10 years) such reports; Tapestry of Polygamy has been especially active in urging the authorities in Utah to prosecute polygamists. Until 1999 the legal age of marriage was 14; the Utah legislature increased legal marrying age to 16 (with parental consent) effective 7/1/1999.

    While contemporary Mormon fundamentalist polygamy may be qualitatively different from 19th century LDS polygamy, contemporary accounts portray strong religious motivation and a desire to raise a righteous generation in the building of Zion. Women are afraid of losing any eternal reward for failure to comply, as well as afraid of jeopardizing their children.

    Its interesting to me how readily Brigham Young granted divorce for wives who requested it. In the thousands. Quite enlightened–the Prophet was not blind.

    As to historical sources, Hugh cited but a few and I’m sure you’ll find more in ample number.

  79. annegb, you are assuming that three years of marriage to young women = regular sex. It’s very possible (and I think likely) that Joseph’s wives were married, consummated (in some cases) and then discarded. That is, he moved on to the next wife, and paid little attention to the one he had just married. He didn’t have a lot of time; it was all done in secrecy, and he didn’t have ANY of the advantages BY or HCK had as far as partaking of connubial bliss.

    If a man has sex one time in three years with a young woman, that’s one chance to get her pregnant.

    Josephine Rosetta Lyon wrote: “Just prior to my mothers death in 1882 she called me to her bedside and told me that her days were numbered and before she passed away from mortality she desired to tell me something which she had kept as an entire secret from me and from all others but which she now desired to communicate to me. She then told me that I was the daughter of the Prophet Joseph Smith”.

    Was she one of the children that was refuted? Because she’s the only one I’ve ever read any good documentary evidence on, and that’s a late writing from a deathbed confession by her mother.

  80. Matt Bowman says:

    For what it’s worth, there’s a fair amount of historiography – I’m thinking primarily of the edited collections _Mormon Sisters_ and _Battle for the Ballot_ edited by Claudia Bushman and Carol Cornwall Madsen, respectively – which argues that polygamy facilitated, if not encouraged, women to become involved in the public sphere and develop lives and interests outside the home to a degree largely unknown in the eastern United States. Certainly Eliza Snow, Emmaline Wells, Ruth May Fox and many other would (and did) strenuously dispute the idea that they were in subjugation. Indeed, this is one claim the Women’s Exponent was founded to dispute, and it’s notable that the Women’s Suffrage Association of Utah was among the strongest and most successful in the nation. Here’s an example of the Exponent.

    http://www.pbs.org/weta/thewest/resources/archives/five/wells.htm

    Of course, the routinized polygamy in Utah (documented best by Kathryn Daynes’s _More Wives than One_)was different from the secretive version of Nauvoo (and perhaps earlier), and it is far from the systematized exploitation of current fundamentalism. I think the strong female advocacy of the practice in late nineteenth century Utah is one important indicator of that.

  81. Matt, first wives whose husbands took additional wives nearly always found their post-polygamy marital relationship to be less fulfilling. Likewise, the relationships of polygamous wives with their husbands were generally less satisfying than the relationship between monogamous wives and their husbands. The denial to these women of this fulfillment is enough assymetry for me to find the practice repugnant.

  82. Matt Bowman says:

    Oh, I’m not endorsing it, Miranda, nor did I make any claims about marital relationships. Rather, I’m offering some evidence to address the question Jonathan Green asked – where is the evidence to show that polygamous wives led lives of “confinement and degradation?”

    Indeed, it is entirely possible to argue – as I believe some have – that the lack of a fulfilling or substantial private life led these women into much larger roles in the public sphere than they might otherwise have sought.

  83. Ann, not gonna touch the Prophet’s sex life with a ten foot pole.

    So where are that woman’s descendants? Let’s test them. I don’t want to hear stories, I want a lab test that shows a living descendant of Joseph’s today from a woman other than Emma.

    You can produce them from Brigham, you can produce them from my husband’s great, great, great grandfather. You can produce about a thousand of them from my first husband’s great great grandfather (that’s a low estimate, there are Gardners all over southern Utah). Show me one, just one.

    Then I will believe. Until then I’m going to hear stories like Sacred Lonliness and think “you can fool some of the people all the time.”

  84. Matthew, in the confines of the populated stakes of Salt Lake City and within the social circles of General Authorities, sure–some women broke out and developed public interests. They were advocates in the national women’s suffrage movement and actively campaigned for women’s rights. I have not seen a claim that theirs is indicative of the polygamous experience for women, any more than the lives of the wives of GAs today reflect the lives and realities of Mormon women in Utah.

    Its been fascinating over the years to see women’s involvement in the public sphere in the 19th century presented as a positive outgrowth of polygamy.

    Two decades ago, women’s activity in the public sphere was openly condemned. “To the Mothers in Zion” talk produced in brochure form and distributed widely. In this talk, then-Apostle Benson strongly admonished working mothers to stay home. In response, women began dropping out of school, abandoning their degree programs.

    Our stake mandated that the brochure be delivered to every sister in the Church by her **home** teachers. I pleaded with the SP NOT to do this, but if he insisted on special distribution, to distribute it through the RS. He relented, as I recall.

    As a result, some GAs had to be dispatched to BYU to talk to the women students at the new BYU Law School who were dropping out because it was clear from the talk that the Church disapproved of any public interests for women that is not Church-orchestrated (such as the anti-ERA campaign).

    We as a Church support women in the public sphere when it suits our purposes.

  85. Jonathan Green says:

    Laurie, you’re changing the subject. The new subject is certainly worthy of discussion some time, but it’s a tangent. Matt raises a reasonable counterargument, and in response you say that the experience of those women was not representative. Fine; which 19th-century polygamous wives would you point to as being closer to the common experience, and how would you characterize that experience? While I like to think that I appreciate the gift of bibliography more than most people, could you spell it out in a couple sentences, rather than through a reference to the historical record? Or maybe just a short explanation of what you think was so bad about 19th-century polygamy?

    Like I said, I’m glad polygamy’s gone, and I don’t see myself as a defender of it, and have no sympathy for the modern polygamists you mention. But I’m still looking for a way for the comparison of polygamy to slavery to make sense, and not finding one.

  86. Jonathan, first let me refer you again to my comment #78, first paragraph, on your polygamy/slavery issue. (Although come to think of it–there is the history of women as property issue, but I’ll not get into that in order to avoid another “tangent” so to speak).

    To your request (and my time is as valuable as yours, so I still encourage you to look into the historical record), I will attempt to state in a few sentences what many books have detailed, although everything I say will be severely understated as compared to the real situation. Anything I summarize here will not be as compelling as, say, Annie Clark Tanner’s personal account. So what you might wish to do to get a handle on this question for yourself is what many do, and that is to imagine oneself in such a situation–of being one of multiple spouses to one’s husband or wife. Upon serious reflection and self-examination, most people conclude that they do not care for this arrangement, as part of the multiples. Perhaps this accounts for the lack of popularity of this marital arrangement in modern societies.

    But more to your question: in polygamy, the wives are placed in positions of emotional isolation and being psychologically demeaned. I will explain:

    The husband is the exclusive recipient of the sole affection from each of his wives; the wives enjoy no such marital benefit. Each wife knows that the husband is professing his love for and devotion to other women. Each wife is part of a group of wives; the husband’s time is necessarily split among numerous wives. Each wife must await her turn for the husband’s attention and affection.

    Many women in these situations come to subjugate their normal emotions and desires to his, while he is free to fulfill his. If a wife asserts her feelings in any way to suggest a need, the husband is totally empowered to skip her next turns, and she has no recourse.

    If she shares her difficulties with one of the other wives (assuming everyone lives nearby or gets along), that itself can be risky. The other wife might tell the husband; she might be accused of being unspiritual; she might be made to feel that she is placing the eternal fate of her children in jeopardy. She is emotionally isolated.

    The wife might feel she has to be on her “best” behavior at all times with him, or else he could say something negative about her to the other wives. She has no way of knowing what he is saying about her to the others. The wives are all in the male-favorable position of courting his favors.

    An unspoken understanding is that the husband might sexually and emotionally prefer the company of one or all of the other wives to her. Any sense of diminishment that she would feel over this situation cannot be asserted; it comes to define who she is: diminished and lesser, as she is deemed as not entitled to any of her own needs. She is psychologically demeaned.

    This in and of itself is one of many powerful tools of control, along with the religious control. She has no recourse or options.

    While polygamy (in the sense of one man with multiple wives) may have its fans among males, it enjoys few fans among females. For good reason.

  87. Besides what Laurie just said, there’s an additional factor that shows up time and again. Here I’m referring to some of Sam Taylor’s writings as well as to some letters I saw in the church archives, from Orson Pratt to some of his wives:

    Few men, including GA’s, had the economic resources to support multiple families, so the level of poverty and material deprivation was greater in many polygamous families than in monogamous families. This, coupled with the emotional deprivation Laurie described caused severe difficulties within suppoosedly celestial families.

    Taylor, in his Dialogue article, also focuses on the emotional deprivation of children whose father was a part-time, occasional member of the family.

    Altogether it was a major sacrifice for the Kingdom on the part of many who participated in the Principle, both male and female. And the rate of divorce indicates that many couldn’t keep making those sacrifices.

  88. Early in this thread, the question of whether polygamy might have been a mistake which the Lord allowed to go forward, in some measure similar to the ban against African-Americans holding the priesthood, and many responders ridiculed that idea, citing D&C 132 as justification.

    I’m not going to take on the murky history of Sec. 132, because I’m not up on the details, but I suggest that, if the Principle itself was not a mistake, certainly much mistaken (if not false) doctrine was taught around it. Mainly the insistence that only people sealed in plural marriages could ascend to exaltation. Aside from the obvious control functions of such a policy, we have the clear discrepancy between teachings then and now. Today, we’re taught that living in a polygamous marriage will cause us to lose all hope of any level of the Celestial Kingdom. But if God is the same today and yesterday and tomorrow, which is it? Which of my ancestors, those who practiced polygamy or those who didn’t will be exalted (assuming otherwise equally righteous lives)? And what am I supposed to do to ensure my exaltation today?

    Or, as I strongly suspect, is the issue irrelevant to our exaltation, past present and future? Any other interpretation seems to me to provide the picture of a partial God, who loves some of His children more than others.

    Of course, there’s the doctrine that I was taught at my mother’s knee: someday polygamy is coming again, and all must live it, in this life or the next. Of course, I have never heard that in General Conference or seen an Ensign article about it, so maybe I ought to assume my mother was wrong.

    What I’m trying to get at, here, with a bit of hyperbole, is the suggestion that viewing polygamy as an essential principle of the Gospel for only a brief period of historical time leads us into some fairly uncomfortable paths, both historically and contemporaneously and brings us up against the image of a Father who has different rules of behavior for different groups of His children.

    I’m more willing to accept prophetic misunderstanding than that.

  89. Jonathan Green says:

    Laurie: Thanks. That was the kind of explanation I needed, not to come to agreement, but to be able to understand your perspective and map out where we agree and disagree.

  90. annegb: “Imelda #24, no way. If he was/were married to even ten young women under the age of 25 for three years, there had to be children. Brigham Young had what–over a hundred. Nobody can produce one.”

    Bill Clinton has one child, Chelsea. I guess he only ever had sex one time, with his wife Hillary.

    Ever think maybe JS engaged in acts of a non-intercoursal variety?

  91. EAS:”Bill Clinton has one child, Chelsea. I guess he only ever had sex one time, with his wife Hillary.

    Ever think maybe JS engaged in acts of a non-intercoursal variety?”

    Yes, but this is in the post-pill era where getting pregnant is fairly easy to prevent.

    In the 1830’s, regular sex usually meant pregnancies, unless every single woman Joseph slept with, other than Emma, was barren.

  92. Given the LDS scriptural statements that polygamy is only acceptable for the purpose of “raising up a people” to the Lord, how could Joseph have theologically justified not having sex with his plural wives? Wouldn’t that have been against his understanding of the scriptures?

  93. annegb #83Then I will believe. Until then I’m going to hear stories like Sacred Loneliness and think “you can fool some of the people all the time.”

    I read the link DKL posted, and then the paper referenced by the link. The “Wives of Joseph Smith” page states that it has been “confirmed by DNA” that Parley P. Pratt really was Moroni Pratt’s father.

    The paper referenced by DKL’s link states that Josephine Lyons (the only child I’ve ever heard of that’s got affidavit evidence to support it, IIRC) has not been confirmed or disproved because she’s not a male descendent, so Y chromosome testing won’t work. They’ve spent 5 years on Josephine so far with no success.

  94. Hyrum #91: In the 1830’s, regular sex usually meant pregnancies, unless every single woman Joseph slept with, other than Emma, was barren.

    You are assuming that Joseph had regular sex with his plural wives. Even if he only had sex with each plural wife ONE TIME, then it was still sex, even if not regular. Given the secrecy of Joseph’s plural marriages, I think it highly unlikely that he had “regular” sex with ANYBODY but Emma.

  95. FYI,

    Just to keep it real on Wed nite I informed my Teachers Quorum that JS had 30 plus plural wives. To a boy they said that they had learned that in seminary this year. Then they all said that BY had “like 25″ and then he had been divorced from a one or two as well.

    So much for not teaching about this stuff in church at least in my ward.

  96. Not gonna touch the sex life. But there are no kids except from Emma.

  97. Anne, no evidence of kids, anyway.

  98. I'm too sexy for my church. . . says:

    #88 Thank you, you summarized my thoughts completely. How can talking about the ‘eternal’ laws of God be embarrassing or unneccessary, unless, in fact, they aren’t eternal or necessary. I was taught in Gospel Doctrine as recently as a year ago that polygamy will be practiced in the heavens but that we ‘didn’t want to focus on that today’ (or ever, from all that I’ve heard) If more recent prophets can change doctrine that older prophets revealed, doesn’t that mean that either the earlier prophets were mistaken (self-serving or not) or God changes his teaching methods to be more relevant to the times? Which is it? And what was the lesson of polygamy? That there can be no true intimacy in marriage when more than two are involved? Could have told you that before –but maybe 19th century men were slower to understand human nature. I think if you ask long enough, the Lord will allow you to do your thing (duh, the manuscript given to Martin Harris–What part of ‘no’ didn’t you understand) We are now suffering from the loss of those pages, just as, I believe, the majority of families were destroyed by polyandry.

    As for the ‘regulations’ regarding the practice, you have to be a severely naive Mormon to think that societal as well as spiritual pressures were not placed on first wives to compel aggreement to their husbands taking more wives. In my ward, you wouldn’t even hold a calling in the YW organization if you have a second earring on your earlobe,(nevermind that your favorite dead grandma took you to get that piercing 20 years ago when you were 12 and it is a fun memory and you wear nothing but a tasteful small diamond stud in that hole)

    Women of the 19th and early 20th centuries had very few resources for providing for their children should their husband leave them for not allowing them to ‘live their religion’. And, any resource that may have been available was further restricted from these women for openly going against the ‘bretheren’.

    I am willing to accept that Joseph received revelation as a young boy and young man, prophet and husband. I am also willing to believe he had a choice in the matter of polyandry and he ‘chose the left’. Does that make the BoM false? No. Does it mean that possibly Joseph was not allowed to live a long life as prophet? Possibly yes.

    And I don’t mean to get too graphic, but lets not be guilty of what makes us angry about the PR machine-gloss and shine for the least amount of offense.– I have been married 12 years, had 2 pregnancies, and have had a lot of unprotected sex with my husband. It’s called ‘pulling out’. I wouldn’t count on it if you really didn’t want to get pregnant but it works at least 20 days of every month. Ann–why is it harder for you to accept Joseph had children with these wives? Is it the practice or the proof you abhore? They are both the same-sorry.

  99. RT (#92), it all depends. Joseph also created the notion of adoption. Thus such reproduction could have been considered in the next life. One could also argue that he was married, but awaiting the day that the practice could be public. Finally one could say (as say with the younger women) that the marriage was legally made but was to await for final practice until the women were older.

    The problem is that there’s just not enough evidence to say with regards to any of these.

    However some of Joseph’s wives (such as Eliza R. Snow) were around enough that it seems unlikely that they wouldn’t have had relations were relations a significant part of things.

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