This begins a series of posts on Doctrine and Covenants Section 132, Joseph Smith’s July 12, 1843 revelation on marriage. (Part 2 is here.)
Perhaps the most controversial revelation in the current Doctrine and Covenants is section 132. It’s (mainly external) controversy stems from its deification ideas and its (more broadly controversial) explicit promotion of plural marriage, polygamy. The revelation seems referenced in Joseph Smith’s sermons near its delivery and its appearance in 1843 divided church leaders and members who saw or heard its contents.
The revelation has an interesting textual history and rather complex internal structure with several interwoven themes. But it is fundamentally about polygamy: its justification, purpose, regulation, and salvific force.
But we move ahead of the story. The textual analysis will also very briefly treat these impact issues.
William Clayton, confidant and scribe of Joseph Smith, observes the following in his second Nauvoo diary under the date July 12, 1843:
Wednesday 12th This A.M, I wrote a Revelation consisting of 10 pages on the order of the priesthood, showing the designs in Moses, Abraham, David and Solomon having many wives & concubines &c. After it was wrote Prests. Joseph & Hyrum presented it and read it to E[mma]. who said she did not believe a word of it and appeared very rebellious. J[oseph] told me to Deed all the unincumbered lots to E[mma] and the children He appears much troubled about E[mma].
Physical Structure of the Original Manuscript
Ten pages probably refers to ten half-foolscap pages or possibly pages cut from a blank ledger book (not an unknown practice). If Clayton wrote from Joseph Smith’s dictation, his usual unhurried writing might suggest lines containing roughly 11-13 words with perhaps 30-33 lines on such a page. This gives an estimate of perhaps 3,900 words on ten full pages, assuming Clayton means to say 10 pages of writing and not ten leaves written on both sides. Doctrine and Covenants section 132 at present contains about 3,300 words, suggesting either that the revelation as written was longer than present, that Clayton was somewhat less compact in his writing style than on other observable locations (for example, compare his writing of April 7, 1844 on loose pages to his journal for April 2, 1843), or that the leaves were sized somewhat differently than assumed above. Part two will consider manuscripts of the revelation.
William Clayton’s 1874 Affidavit on Delivery of the Revelation
Clayton left an affidavit about his July 12, 1843 experience which is much longer than his brief diary entry (this is not terribly out of character for Clayton judging by the way he noted happenings in his diaries and how he reported events by official assignment). Of course, the content of the affidavit requires us to consider what he chose to write: namely defending current Mormon practice against critics who denied Joseph Smith engaged in and began polygamy in Mormonism.
Here is Clayton’s affidavit:
On the morning of the 12th of July, 1843, Joseph and Hyrum Smith came into the office in the upper story of the ‘brick store,’ on the bank of the Mississippi River. They were talking on the subject of plural marriage. Hyrum said to Joseph, “If you will write the revelation on celestial marriage, I will take it to Emma, and I believe I can convince her of its truth, and you will hereafter have peace.” Joseph smiled and remarked, “You do not know Emma as well as I do.” Hyrum repeated his opinion and further remarked, “The doctrine is so plain, I can convince any reasonable man or woman of its truth, purity or heavenly origin,” or words to their effect. Joseph then said, “Well, I will write the revelation and we will see.” He then requested me to get paper and prepare to write. Hyrum very urgently requested Joseph to write the revelation by means of the Urim and Thummim, but Joseph, in reply, said he did not need to, for he knew the revelation perfectly from beginning to end.
Joseph and Hyrum then sat down and Joseph commenced to dictate the revelation on celestial marriage, and I wrote it, sentence by sentence, as he dictated. After the whole was written, Joseph asked me to read it through, slowly and carefully, which I did, and he pronounced it correct. He then remarked that there was much more that he could write, on the same subject, but what was written was sufficient for the present.
Hyrum then took the revelation to read to Emma. Joseph remained with me in the office until Hyrum returned. When he came back, Joseph asked him how he had succeeded. Hyrum replied that he had never received a more severe talking to in his life, that Emma was very bitter and full of resentment and anger.
Joseph quietly remarked, “I told you you did not know Emma as well as I did” Joseph then put the revelation in his pocket, and they both left the office. The revelation was read to several of the authorities during the day. Towards evening Bishop Newel K. Whitney asked Joseph if he had any objections to his making a copy of the revelation; Joseph replied that he had not, and handed it to him. It was carefully copied the following day by Joseph C. Kingsbury. Two or three days after the revelation was written Joseph related to me and several others that Emma has so teased, and urgently entreated him for the privilege of destroying it, that he became so weary of her teasing, and to get rid of her annoyance, he told her she might destroy it and she had done so, but he had consented to her wish in this matter to pacify her, realizing that he knew the revelation perfectly, and could rewrite it at any time if necessary.
The copy made by Joseph C. Kingsbury is a true and correct copy of the original in every respect. The copy was carefully preserved by Bishop Whitney, and but few knew of its existence until the temporary location of the Camps of Israel at Winter Quarters, on the Missouri River, in 1846.
After the revelation on celestial marriage was written, Joseph continued his instructions, privately, on the doctrine, to myself and others, and during the last year of his life we were scarcely ever together, alone, but he was talking on the subject, and explaining that doctrine and principles connected with it. He appeared to enjoy great liberty and freedom in his teachings, and also to find great relief in having a few to whom he could unbosom his feelings on that great and glorious subject.
From him I learned that the doctrine of plural and celestial marriage is the most holy and important doctrine ever revealed to man on the earth, and that without obedience to that principle no man can ever attain to the fulness of exaltation in celestial glory.
Now, I say to you, as I am ready to testify to all the world, and on which testimony I am most willing to meet all the Latter-day Saints and all apostates, in time and through all eternity, I did write the revelation on celestial marriage given through the Prophet Joseph Smith, on the 12th of July, 1843.
When the revelation was written there was no one present except the Prophet Joseph, his brother Hyrum and myself. It was written in the small office upstairs in the rear of the brick store which stood on the banks of the Mississippi river. It took some three hours to write it. Joseph dictated sentence by sentence, and I wrote it as he dictated. After the whole was written Joseph requested me to read it slowly and carefully, which I did, and he then pronounced it correct.
The same night a copy was taken by Bishop Whitney, which copy is now here (in the Historian’s office) and which I know and testify is correct. The original was destroyed by Emma Smith.
I again testify that the revelation on polygamy was given through the prophet Joseph on the 12th of July, 1843; and that the Prophet Joseph both taught and practiced polygamy I do positively know, and bear testimony to the fact.
— William Clayton, 1874
Clayton’s journal entry hints at the strained relationship between Joseph and Emma at the time, and her confused and angry feelings over Joseph’s marriages. For instance, she found two letters from Eliza R. Snow in Joseph’s coat pocket. In anger, she asked Clayton if he was the delivery service. For some time, Emma had been working in the background to prevent or disrupt plural unions when knowledge and opportunity arose. At the same time she felt vulnerable to disgrace and insecurity and hence avoided direct public action.
The July 12 revelation was not the end of marriage revelation from Joseph. For instance, he tells Clayton the following on September 15, 1843:
Prest.J. told me he had lately had a new item of law revealed to him in relation to myself. He said the Lord had revealed to him that a man could only take 2 of a family except by express revelation and as I had said I intended to take Lydia he made this known for my benefit. to have more than two in a family was apt to cause wrangles and trouble. He finally asked if I would not give L[ydia] to him I said I would so far as I had any thing to do in it. He requested me to talk to her.
One question that has always surrounded the revelation is its actual date. I do not mean that the July 12 dictation date is in dispute. I refer to the commonly quoted idea that this revelation is somehow connected to Joseph Smith’s Bible revision effort. There may be something to this, but as we will see in future installments, this revelation is modern: it is a product of 1843. Not perhaps of July 12, but almost certainly it was largely known by Joseph Smith and most probably referenced by him to members of his inner circle. Indeed, the revelation’s preamble makes this a near certainty I believe. But enough of that until part 5.
In part 2, I’ll look at the surviving manuscript copies of the revelation.
 The original may be found in the Joseph F. Smith papers: miscellaneous files, MS 1325, CHL (LDS Church History Library).
 Clayton’s reference to Urim here is important for a number of reasons. First, it illustrates the fact that Joseph’s use of revelatory instrumentality had never really ceased, as is often suggested. Urim and Thummim was a catch-all term in early Mormonism for all these objects, not just the spectacles associated with the Book of Mormon. The title for these objects, Urim and Thummim, was perhaps first suggested by W. W. Phelps. The fact of Joseph’s continuing use of these stones probably accounts for Latter-day Saint stories, hopes, and guesses about his successors using such things, though there is little or no evidence that they did. (For an interesting use of Urim in 1835, see Newel K. Whitney collection Box 6, fd 19, LTPSC, BYU.)
 Clayton’s claims here are verified by his own diary. Joseph Smith focused a lot of his time with Clayton on polygamy, and the angst both men felt over the domestic strains it fostered (the male centeredness of these reports is of course evident). Additionally, there is no doubt that both Clayton, Joseph and the others involved in the practice engaged in sexual activity with their multiple partners. Of course, Joseph had more wives than anyone in town and it appears that the linkage aspect was more important to him than sex in most cases. I’ll talk a little bit about Joseph’s marriages later, but this series is focused on the revelation, not on the background relationships. That story is much wider and longer than is possible to treat in this format. One of the most useful ways of understanding female viewpoints in the enterprise is correspondence between husbands and wives. One fascinating example is the new digitized correspondence between Joseph F. Smith and his wives. [In that vein, see the article by Lisa Olsen Tait, “The 1890s Mormon Culture of Letters and the Post-Manifesto Marriage Crisis: A New Approach to Home Literature,” BYU Studies Quarterly 52/1 (2013):98-124.]
 The following day, Clayton was called to a meeting of Joseph and Emma who had come to some agreement over their differences. Joseph hoped to keep her from leaving him by offering stability tied to city property. Clayton’s journal August 13.
 For example, Clayton journal August 21, 23, 1843. In the meantime, Clayton was having his own drama over polygamy with one wife fending off or ambivalent about an ignorant suitor or confused/upset “in laws” and so on. Joseph made promises of support but had to be careful over his own situation. Meanwhile, Joseph’s sermons are in part a direct reflection of this stormy background, meant to support those in the know, and perhaps prepare others. For his July and August sermons see here. In particular, Clayton’s interpretive account of the August 27 sermon.
 “Law” or “Priesthood” or “order of the priesthood” were often, as in the July 12 revelation, code words for plural marriage, and as Clayton saw it, that law had to be lived if it was “revealed” to a man or woman (meaning, apparently, that the subject was introduced to the practice and invited to participate) see the sermon in note 5. The text of the revelation suggests this and lies at the foundation of 19th century Mormon claims that the highest heaven was closed to those who rejected the practice.
 Clayton was already married to two of the Moon sisters (Margaret [“M” in his diary] and Ruth). The regulation was either unknown or ignored in later instances of marriages where several daughters and a mother might be married to the same man (not the father). This was a rare situation however, and really irrelevant to the 1843 period. The object of these relationships was to enlarge one’s kingdom in heaven by two processes: more children by the (possible) larger number of pregnancy producing conjugal encounters, and more connection to the families of the wives. At this point the idea of “spirit children” in heaven had a different meaning than we give it now, at least for Joseph apparently. So that “increase” had a more complex meaning. I’ll look at this further as we move through the text of the revelation. Lydia was reluctant to marry Joseph, but apparently comfortable about Clayton. Ultimately she married Clayton’s younger brother James who died at Winter Quarters. Lydia’s genealogy is badly deformed in church records, mostly because of the way the families involved treated her mother’s marriages.