Sunday Evenings with the Doctrine and Covenants. Section 132. Part 2: Manuscripts.

This is part 2 of a series of posts on Doctrine and Covenants Section 132, Joseph Smith’s July 12, 1843 revelation on marriage. Part 1 is here. You can find part 3 here.

The Manuscripts

Part 1 of the series established that William Clayton wrote the revelation on plural marriage (D&C 132) on July 12, 1843 and that its content was probably, at least in length, essentially the same as the currently printed edition. Moreover, this original did not survive the disgust of Emma Smith, who apparently burned it (one story circulated that she used fire tongs to put it in the flames so that she could say she never touched it).

The Revelation and Emma Smith’s Domestic Tranquillity

Joseph Smith feared his wife Emma might divorce him over polygamy and Clayton reported as much. Clayton’s own experience with his second wife seems somewhat parallel. He wrote:

Wednesday [August] 23rd. [1843] Prest J. told me that he had difficulty with E[mma]. yesterday. She rode up to Woodworths with him & called while he came to the Temple. When he returned she was demanding the gold watch of F. he reproved her for her evil treatment. On their return home she abused him much & also when he got home. he had to use harsh measures to put a stop to her abuse but finally succeeded … This evening I had some more conversation with Margaret & find she is stubborn and disposed to abuse me. I feel resolved to break my feelings from her if I possibly can.[1]

Manuscript Copies of the Revelation

Clayton observed that Newel K. Whitney asked to make a copy of the revelation.[2] Whitney recruited Joseph C. Kingsbury to make this copy. This copy survives in “Revelations Collections,” MS 4583, fd 75, CHL (Church History Library).

This is the first page of the Kingsbury copy. Just for fun, I verified that the handwriting is his. The notation at the top left is by Thomas Bullock. Click to enlarge.

This is the first page of the Kingsbury copy. Just for fun, I verified that the handwriting is in fact Kingsbury’s.

Another handwritten copy of the revelation was produced nine years later by Willard Richards. It is possible that this functioned as a manuscript for the Manuscript History (however, both the Kingsbury and Richards manuscripts show markup annotation). The Kingsbury manuscript may have been the printers manuscript for the revelation as it appeared in a special edition of the church newspaper—the Deseret News Extra of September 1852—a part of the church’s public announcement of plural marriage as a practice in the faith. The manuscript of the revelation was copied into the Manuscript History of the Church by Robert Lang Campbell ca. 1855. Precisely how many other copies of the revelation were made is unknown, but it is apparent that Joseph Smith saw it as an engine for trouble given the continued secret practice in Nauvoo.[3]

More on the impact of the revelation in comments on the revelation text to come. Next, a printing history of the revelation.
[1] F. was Joseph Smith’s wife, sixteen-year-old Flora Ann Woodworth. Clayton notes several meetings between Joseph and Flora. Joseph used Clayton’s home for some of these meetings (August 28, 29). Flora died in 1850 having remarried in 1846. The “harsh measures” is troubling perhaps, but Joseph was generally a tender family man and church records attest that he did not countenance beatings and the severe corporal punishments that were not uncommon in frontier families. The harsh measures may have referred to something other than physical contact. On the other hand, behavior between spouses in the 1840s operated under quite different parameters than the present day. Domestic abuse is nearly always a pattern behavior and there is no evidence that Joseph Smith engaged in this. That said, their marriage was clearly under tension over a number of issues, especially polygamy. On such domestic mores, see for example, Christine Daniels and Michael Kennedy, eds., Over the Threshold: Intimate Violence in Early America (New York, 1999): 45-64; 148-172. Also here for a legal timeline. See also, John Turner, Brigham Young (Boston, 2012):240-3. What is lacking in much of the contemporary records is the female perspective. Any number of reasons can be offered, but the lack of such context results in what is really an unrectifiable state of affairs. Because of this, historians have often mistaken the ideology of the adult males in the narrative for that of other fractions of the population, whether those ideologies corresponded to follower, dissenter or observer.

[2] Whitney was one of those to whom the revelation was read. Whitney was already acquainted with the practice of polygamy and in fact a daughter, Sarah Ann, was married to Joseph in July 1842. By May 26, 1842, Emma was pressing the Relief Society to out polygamous marriages in the wake of the Bennett scandal.a The following day, Whitney addressed the Society in these words:

In the beginning God created man, male and female and betowed upon man certain blessings peculiar to a man of God of which woman partook, so that without the female all things cannot be restored to the earth. It takes all to be restored to the earth. It takes all to restore the Priesthood . . . Far be it from me to harbor iniquity and outbreaking sins. We may have different views of things, still there is some criterion which all may come to, and by bringing our minds and wills in subjection to the law of the Lord . . . I tell you, there are blessings before to be conferred as soon as our hearts are prepared to receive them.[Nauvoo Relief Society minutes, May 27, 1842. For the manuscript minutes of the Relief Society, see here. see also, Linda Newell, Valeen Avery, Mormon Enigma (Urbana, 1994), 116.]

Whitney’s remarks seem carefully worded to comfort those participants with knowledge of the practice and perhaps forewarn some of the others. In fact, of the 26 initial inductees to the Society, nearly half were already or would shortly be aware of Joseph’s involvement and a number of those were or would be married to him. By the time the revelation was written on July 12, 1843, Joseph Smith had married nearly all of his oft-claimed 33 wives. It was at best an afterthought for that particular issue.

a On Bennett, see Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling (New York, 2005) and Andrew Smith, Saintly Scoundrel (Urbana, 1997).

[3] It has been suggested that Joseph had a hand in deploying a pamphlet printed on the church’s Nauvoo press that broached the subject of polygamy in 1842. The pamphlet created a stir among church members and Joseph denounced it later. If this was a fishing expedition, it wasn’t the only time the technique was deployed by Joseph.

The Richards manuscript has two interesting bits of penciled annotation, one at the beginning of the revelation, which reads “Revelation given to Joseph Smith” and one that appears with the docket. It reads, “ex. as altered in pencil Aug. 7, 52” below that, the date “July 12, 53” appears. The latter date may simply be an error. At some point in this series, I will remark on the differences between the manuscripts and the first imprint of the revelation. This may help to decide the issue of which manuscript may have been used for which purpose. [Note: further checking suggests that Richards ms was used to construct the ms history entry while the Kingsbury ms was the base text for the first imprint (see part 3).]


  1. WVS: You are mixing accusation with fact, again.

    If you want to be objective, you should write “Part 1 of the series ARGUES THAT William Clayton wrote the revelation on plural marriage (D&C 132) on July 12, 1843…” (You did not ESTABLISH anything in Part 1 other than a certain witness made later claims about earlier purported events, and you did not present nor deflect arguments against your own.)

    If you want to be objective, you should write “CLAYTON CLAIMED THAT Joseph Smith feared his wife Emma might divorce him over polygamy.”

    Etc. etc. etc.

    I get the impression that you either do not want to be, or cannot be, objective. Maybe you will reveal why that is the case.

  2. dx, accusations about people you don’t know are uncharitable, ignorant and a good way to get banned here. You might want to dial it down a notch if you really care about people and their views.

  3. dx: I have examined much of the documentary evidence. Adding “alleged” terms to every phrase I write is simply silly. The diary dates from Nauvoo. There simply isn’t any legitimate doubt about that. Labeling Clayton, Richards, Brigham Young and the many men and women of Nauvoo who testified to what happened as conspirators partakes of the craziness and ill will that still surrounds the JFK assassination in some quarters. Get over it. Read some Bushman and do a little repenting before you come back. Otherwise, you’ll find this an inhospitable place.

  4. J. Stapley says:

    Great write-up, WVS. The comments in n1 are particularly important.

  5. Kevin Barney says:

    Good stuff, WVS, thanks.

  6. I appreciate and value this series as I have the others. Thanks for doing them.

  7. Thanks all.

  8. Excellent work, again! In the surviving copies are there any differences in text? Looking forward to your next post.

  9. Reading with anticipation.

  10. WVS, comments in n1 are very intriguing. I have never previous come across an account which suggests that JS was violent toward Emma. Are there any other accounts which indicate something similar during this time?

    Great series, looking forward to next installment.

  11. Aaron R., I don’t know of any other reports. There is the well known David Whitmer story of how JS could not translate after a domestic disagreement with Emma. No details about that disagreement survive. I’ve always assumed it was some sort of raised voices thing. There is evidence that JS didn’t countenance domestic violence. That said, the cultural boundaries then were different than they are now and federal, state and local statutory protections were not in place. Church judiciary bodies like the high council took up cases of domestic violence. But outside of early Utah, those bodies had rather limited reach, though they might have economic effects.

  12. As always, fascinating stuff. Looking forward to more!

  13. J. Stapley says:

    Just noticed your caption of the Kingsbury ms. Awesome that you verified it. His affidavit is also interesting.

  14. Thanks, WVS. My reading of that Whitmer story has been similar but wonder now whether that is merely a presentist/apologetic reading. One might argue that if JS were trying to persuade Emma to the divinity of the revelation then violence might not have been the best course of action but then again, as you say, the cultural norms were very different and, on top of that, people can be incredibly short-sighted when it comes to sexual fidelity.

  15. Vintage WVS. I’m loving this series.

  16. Well, Aaron, of course it’s a presentist reading! Haha. I think that if we could somehow penetrate household happenings in the nineteenth century, pleasant surprise and shock would come in equal measures. And, it seems, if William Law is to be trusted, Emma felt somewhat beaten down over the whole matter. Fall 1843, they seemed to reconcile, perhaps over the difficult illness of Joseph’s mother. In any case, they seem to be on the same team well into 1844.

    After Joseph’s death, you see Emma’s rush to get the estate sorted out, and the apostle’s reluctance to place knowledge of the assets of the church in Carthage hands as another wedge between them. Council of Fifty records seem key in this whole thing, and who knows when they’ll appear?* Emma was almost frantic over the estate and saw conspiracy in the delays. And I think she was as committed to Smithian royalty as Joseph.
    *Ha! See here!

  17. Thanks David.

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