Bushman’s Perspective on Polygamy, Alger, and Snow

Thanks to Tara, my recent post announcing my perspective on polygamy has received a recent boost of activity (and is my most commented post ever on this blog, currently with 97 comments.)  We had been discussing some of the more controversial aspects of polygamy:  (1) Was Joseph’s polygamy revelation really a disguise for his real motive as a womanizer (libertine)? (2) What is the true nature of the Fanny Alger relationship?  (3) Was Eliza Snow pushed down the stairs by Emma?  Let’s look at how does Richard Bushman, author of Rough Stone Rolling sees these issues.

(1)  Was Joseph a Libertine?

I have never been especially fond of this position, and neither is Bushman.  I don’t think it adequately explains Joseph’s actions.  From page 323,

One of Emma’s cousins by marriage, Levi Lewis, said Martin Harris spoke of Joseph’s attempt to seduce Elizabeth Winters, a friend of Emma’s in Harmony.  But the reports are tenuous.  Harris said nothing of the event in his many descriptions of Joseph, nor did Winters herself when interviewed much later.  Considering how eager the Palmyra neighbors were to besmirch Joseph’s character, their minimal mention of moral lapses suggests libertinism was not part of his New York reputation.

Was he a blackguard covering his lusts with religious pretensions, or a prophet doggedly adhering to instructions from heaven, or something in between?

Rumors of Mormon sexual license were circulating by 1835, when an “Article on Marriage” published in the Doctrine and Covenants said that Church members had been “reproached with the crime of fornication and polygamy.”  Coming from faithful Mormons, this evidence of marital irregularities cannot be ignored, but neither can it be taken at face value.  From the Munster Anabaptists of the sixteenth century to the camp meetings of the nineteenth, critics expected sexual improprieties from religious enthusiasts.  Marital experiments by contemporary radical sects increased the suspicions.  John Humphrey Noyes, founder of the Oneida community, concluded that “there is no more reason why sexual intercourse should be restricted by law, than why eating and drinking should be.”  With old barriers coming down, people were on the lookout for aberrations.  What, if anything, lay behind the accusations of the Mormons is uncertain.  They were apparently on edge themselves; the seventies resolved to expel their members guilty of polygamy.

… page 325

On that principle, the date when plural marriage was begun will remain uncertain.  Todd Compton, putting the evidence together in his massive history, concluded that Joseph Smith began practicing plural marriage around 1833.  The sources offer conflicting testimony on when the principle was revealed.  When a plural marriage revelation written down in 1843, it referred to a question about Old Testament polygamy:  “You have enquired of my hand to know and understand wherein I the Lord justified my servants, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; also as to Moses, David and Solomon, my servants, as touching the principle and doctrine of their having many wives and concubines.”  Joseph frequently inquired about biblical practices while revising the scriptures, and it seems possible that he received the revelation on plural marriage in 1831 while working on the Old Testament.

Because plural marriage was so sexually charged, the practice has provoked endless speculation about Joseph’s motives.  Was he a libertine in the guise of a prophet seducing women for his own pleasure?  The question can never be answered definitively from historical sources, but the language he used to describe marriage is known.  Joseph did not explain plural marriage as a love match or even a companionship.  Only slight hints of romance found its way into his proposals.  He understood plural marriage as a religious principle….As Joseph described the practice to [Levi] Hancock, plural marriage had the millennial purpose of fashioning a righteous generation on the eve of the Second Coming.

… page 437

Joseph exercised such untrammeled authority in Nauvoo that it is possible to imagine him thinking no conquest beyond his reach.  In theory, he could take what he wanted and browbeat his followers with threats of divine punishment.

This simple reading of Joseph’s motives is implicit in descriptions of him as “a charismatic, handsome man.”  They suggest he was irresistible and made the most of it.  Other Mormon men went along the way out of loyalty or in hopes of sharing power.  But missing from that picture is Joseph’s sense of himself.  In public and private, he spoke and acted as if guided by God.  All the doctrines, plans, programs, and claims were ,in his mind, the mandates of heaven.  They came to him as requirements, with a kind of irresistible certainty….

page 438,

The possibility of an imaginary revelation, erupting from his own heart and subconscious mind, seems not to have occurred to Joseph.  To him, the words came from heaven.  They required obedience even though the demand seemed contradictory or wrong.  The possibility of deception did not occur to him….

Joseph never wrote his personal feelings about plural marriage.  Save for the revelation given in the voice of God, everything on the subject comes from people around him.  But surely he realized that plural marriage would inflict terrible damage, that he ran the risk of wrecking his marriage and alienating his followers.  How could faithful Emma, to whom he pledged his love in every letter, accept additional wives?…Sexual excess was considered the all too common fruit of pretended revelation.  Joseph’s enemies would delight in one more evidence of a revelator’s antinomian transgressions.

… page 440

The personal anguish caused by plural marriage did not stop Joseph Smith from marrying more women.  He married three in 1841, eleven in 1842, and seventeen in 1843.  Historians debate these numbers, but the total figure is most likely between twenty-eight and thirty-three.  Larger numbers have been proposed based on the sealing records in the Nauvoo temple.  Eight additional women were sealed to Joseph in the temple after his death, possibly implying a marriage while he was still alive.  Whatever the exact number, the marriages are numerous enough to indicate an impersonal bond.  Joseph did not marry women to form a warm, human companionship, but to create a network of related wives, children, and kinsmen that would endure into the eternities…. He did not lust for women so much as he lusted for kin.

I found this last statement especially intriguing, because there is no DNA evidence that Joseph had any kin from wives other than Emma.

continuing on page 440,

Romance played only a slight part.  In making proposals, Joseph would sometimes say God had given a woman to him, or they were meant for each other, but there was no romantic talk of adoring love.  He did not court his prospective wives by first trying to win their affections.  Often, he asked a relative–a father or an uncle–to propose the marriage.  Sometimes one of his current wives proposed for him.  When he made the proposal himself, a friend like Brigham Young was often present.  The language was religious and doctrinal, stressing that a new law has been revealed.  She was to seek spiritual confirmation.  Once consent was given, a formal ceremony was performed before witnesses, with Joseph dictating the words to the person officiating.

Joseph himself said nothing about sex in these marriages.  Other marriage experimenters in Joseph’s time focused on sexual relations.  The Shakers repudiated marriage altogether, considering sex beastly and unworthy of a millenial people….

page 441

We might expect that Joseph, the kind of dominant man who is thought to have strong libidinal urges, would betray his sexual drive in his talk and manner.  Bred outside the rising genteel culture, he was not inhibited by Victorian prudery.  But references to sexual pleasure are infrequent.  Years later, William Law, Joseph’s counselor in the First Presidency, said he was shocked to hear Joseph say one of his wives “afforded him great pleasure.”  That report is one of the few, and the fact that it shocked Law suggests that such comments were infrequent.  As Fawn Brodie said, “There was too much of the Puritan” in Joseph for him to be a “careless libertine.”

What was the nature of the Fanny Alger relationship?

Some people have wondered if Alger was ever pregnant.  Bushman says there is no good evidence of this position.  Many people often quote Oliver Cowdery (as does Bushman) as referring to the “dirty, nasty, filthy affair.”  First, let’s provide some background on Alger.  From pages 323-327,

Alger was fourteen when her family joined the Church in Mayfield, near Kirtland, in 1830.  In 1836, after a time as a serving girl in the Smith household, she left Kirtland and soon married.  Between those two dates, perhaps as early as 1831, she and Joseph were reportedly involved, but conflicting accounts make it difficult to establish the facts–much less to understand Joseph’s thoughts.

… page 324

Cowdery, long Joseph’s friend and associate in visions, was a casualty of the bad times.  In 1838, he was charged with “seeking to destroy the character of President Joseph Smith jr by falsly insinuating that he was guilty of adultry &c.”  Fanny Alger’s name was never mentioned, but doubtless she was the woman in question.

The Far West court did not accuse Joseph of being involved with Alger.  Some councilors had heard the rumors, but concluded they were untrue.  They were concerned only with Cowdery’s insinuations.  He was on trial for false accusations, not Joseph for adultery.  David Patten, an apostle, “went to Oliver Cowdery to enquire of him if a certain story was true respecting J. Smith’s committing adultery with a certain girl, when he turned on his heel and insinuated as though he was guilty.”  Thomas Marsh, another apostle, reported a similar experience.  “Oliver Cowdery cocked up his eye very knowingly and hesitated to answer the question, saying he did not know as he was bound to answer the question yet conveyed the idea that it was true.”  George Harris testified that in conversation between Cowdery and Joseph the previous November, Cowdery “seemed to insinuate that Joseph Smith jr was guilty of adultery.”  Eventually the court concluded that Cowdery had made false accusations, and cut him off from the church.

Cowdery denied that he had lied about Joseph and Alger.  Cowdery had heard accusations against him when he wrote to Joseph in January 1838.  “I learn from Kirtland, by the last letters, that you have publickly said, that when you were here I confessed to you that I had willfully lied about you.”  He demanded that Joseph retract the statement.  In a letter to his brother Warren, Cowdery insisted he would never dishonor the family name by lying about anything, much less about the Smiths, whom he had always defended.  In his conversation with Joseph, Cowdery asserted, “in every instance, I did not fail to affirm that what I had said was strictly true,” meaning he believed Joseph did have an affair.  His insinuations were not lies but the truth as he understood it.

Cowdery and Joseph aired their differences at a meeting in November 1837 where Joseph did not deny his relationship with Alger, but contended that he had never confessed to adultery.  Cowdery apparently had said otherwise, but backed down at the November meeting.  When the question was put to Cowdery “if he [Joseph] had ever acknowledged to him that he was guilty of such a thing…he answered No.”  That was all Joseph wanted: an admission that he had not termed the Alger affair adulterous.  As Cowdery told his brother, “just before leaving, he [Joseph] wanted to drop every past thing, in which had been a difficulty or difference–he called witnesses to the fact, gave me his hand in their presence, and I might have supposed of an honest man, calculated to say nothing of former matters.

These scraps of testimony recorded within a few years of the Alger business show how differently the various parties understood events…. On his part, Joseph never denied a relationship with Alger, but insisted it was not adulterous.  He wanted it on record that he had never confessed to such a sin.  Presumably, he felt innocent because he had married Alger.

After the Far West council excommunicated Cowdery, Alger disappears from the Mormon historical record for a quarter of a century.  Her story was recorded as many as sixty years later by witnesses who had strong reason to take sides.  Surprisingly, they all agree that Joseph married Fanny Alger as a plural wife.

Mosiah Hancock wrote in the 1890s about Joseph engaging Levi Hancock, Mosiah’s father, to ask Alger’s parents for permission to marry.  Levi Hancock was Alger’s uncle and an appropriate go-between.  He talked with Alger’s father, then her mother, and finally to Fanny herself, and all three consented.  As in many subsequent plural marriages, Joseph did not steal away the prospective bride.  He approached the parents first to ask for their daughter’s hand.  Hancock performed the ceremony, repeating the words Joseph dictated to him.  The whole process was formal and, in a peculiar way, old-fashioned.

Most of the other stories about Joseph’s plural marriage in Kirtland come from one individual without confirmation from a second source.  Ann Eliza, for example, included a story of Fanny being ejected by a furious Emma, one of the few scraps of information about her reaction.  Ann Eliza could not have been an eyewitness because she was not yet born, but she might have heard the story from her parents who were close to the Smiths.  Are such accounts to be believed?  One of the few tales that appears in more than one account was of Oliver Cowdery experimenting with plural wives himself, contrary to Joseph’s counsel.  That pattern of followers marrying prematurely without authorization was repeated later when some of Joseph’s followers used the doctrine of plural marriage as a license for marrying at will.  Stories like these, all of them partisan, must be treated with caution.

… page 437

After marrying Fanny Alger sometime before 1836, Joseph, it appears, married no one else until he wed Louisa Beaman on April 5, 1841, in Nauvoo.  (Historian debate the possibility of one other wife in the interim.)

… page 326

The end of Joseph’s relationship with Fanny Alger is as elusive as the beginning.  After leaving Kirtland in September 1836, Alger, reportedly a comely, amiable person, had no trouble remarrying.  Joseph asked her uncle Hancock to take her to Missouri, but she went with her parents instead.  They stopped in Indiana for a season, and while there she married Solomon Custer, a non-Mormon listed in the censuses as a grocer, baker, and merchant.  When her parents moved on, Alger remained in Indiana with her husband.  She bore nine children.  After Joseph’s death, Alger’s brother asked her about her relationship with the Prophet.  She replied:  “That is all a matter of my–own.  And I have nothing to Communicate.”

Was Eliza Snow pushed down the stairs?

Bushman doesn’t think so.  From page 493,

One story told in Utah in the 1880s had Emma pushing one of Mormondom’s most honored women, Eliza Roxcy Snow, down the stairs upon discovering she was married to Joseph, but the evidence for the incident is shaky.  Snow was a refined, intelligent woman who had been brought into the Smith household to teach their children.  She joined the Mormons in 1835 along with her sister Leonora and moved to Kirtland, where she boarded with the Smiths and taught school.  Slender and ramrod straight, Snow was the most intellectual of all the women converts.  She wrote poetry and prepared a constitution for the Female Relief Society.  Repelled at first by the practice of plural marriage, she concluded that she was “living in the dispensation of the fulness of times, embracing all the other Dispensations,” and so “surely Plural Marriage must necessarily be included.”  Brigham Young performed the ceremony for Joseph and Eliza on June 29, 1842.  She was thirty-eight, two years older than Joseph.  She later spoke of him as “my beloved husband, the choice of my heart and the crown of my life.”

In August 1842, Emma invited Eliza to move back into the Smith household.  In December, Eliza began teaching the Smith children and ran a school for them and others until March 1843.  Eliza noted in her diary that on February 11, 1843, while still teaching, she moved out of the Smiths’ house without saying why, though the reason could well be that on the same day, Joseph’s mother, Lucy Mack Smith, moved in.  Later gossip blamed Emma.  All the versions of the Eliza story, however, were attenuated.  Most of them were tales told many decades after the fact and were second- or third-hand hearsay.  Some had Emma pushing Eliza, others said she beat her.  None hold up under scrutiny.  They have to be read skeptically because of the widespread dislike for Emma among the Utah Mormons.  Brigham Young never forgave her for breaking with the Church and not coming west.  She was considered a traitor to Mormonism because she remained behind and denied, in carefully worded statements that skirted the truth, that Joseph took additional wives.  When her sons, then leaders of a rival branch of Mormonism, the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints, came to Utah on missions in the 1860s, they tried to trace and discredit every claim that Joseph had multiple wives.  In response, the Utah church secured scores of affidavits from people who knew of the practice in Nauvoo.  Besides proving the existence of plural marriage, the affidavits attempted to refute the hypothesis that Joseph’s relations with his plural wives were purely spiritual.  Some members of the Reorganized Church accepted ceremonial marriages but thought Joseph never slept with his wives.  To rebut that view, the affidavits noted the occasions when Joseph occupied the same room with a wife, facts that might have been omitted had not the Utah Mormons been determined to prove the Joseph and his plural wives were married as completely as the later polygamists under Brigham Young.

Bushman gives so much detail, that it is hard to cover every aspect in a single post.  But, given this information, what do you make of Smith’s practice of polygamy?  Are you comfortable with it?

108 comments on “Bushman’s Perspective on Polygamy, Alger, and Snow

  1. “Now, isn’t it interesting that the devil would be part of the First Vision? Doesn’t the destroying angel sound much more like this than the following, which literally continues in the same verse”

    No. I don’t recall there being any indication of thick darkness, or a binding of Joseph’s tongue, or an enemy, or the need to call upon God for deliverance when the angel with a drawn sword came for a visit. But by the example you give, knowing that Joseph had been victimized by and was familiar with the adversary makes me feel all the more comfortable that he knew the power he was up against. It matters not what YOU perceive that an angel should or should not do. HE was the one with a great deal of experience.

    “Are we to think the devil was going to try to quit interfering in Joseph’s life?”

    No, and I’m not under the impression that he did. I’ve little doubt that the devil antagonized him whenever he felt inclined to do so.

    “Isn’t it interesting that Joseph went to pray, and the Devil first came upon him?”

    I’m not sure why it is interesting to you. I’m not suprised that the adversary would try to stop such a crucial event from taking place.

    “I’m not aware of Joseph asking to shake hands with the Destroying Angel. Are you aware of this?”

    Has Joseph made known every detail which takes place during angelic visits? He spent an entire night with the angel Moroni and we only have a few verses of all that Moroni said to him. I know that didn’t take all night, even if it WAS repeated several times. But shaking hands was not the only way Joseph could determine a true from a false spirit–words and signs, hair color, clothing, the spirit of discernment, and by simply asking God to reveal it. Certainly Joseph took a moment to simply ask God to reveal the nature of the angel which was threatening to kill him. If he had asked and if it was of the devil, it would’ve fled. Even so, I would not be suprised if signs and tokens were not a regular exchange during angelic visits for which vital information was conveyed.

  2. If he had asked and if it was of the devil, it would’ve fled.

    I don’t recall the devil fleeing before Jesus while tempting him. I think you’re not giving the devil much credit here. I think he learns and changes tactics as needed. My point of coincidence is the destroying angel threatened destruction, and in the First Vision, Joseph initially felt he was going to be destroyed, so the objectives are similar–threat of destruction–though the tactics might have been different.

    At this point, I don’t see the point in continuing this discussion. I don’t want to antagonize any more, and it is evident we are both pretty firm in our beliefs. I guess we’ll just try to leave it as an amicable disagreement.

    I am curious what you thought of some of my other posts–the Lemba, Joseph’s presidential platform, and the Spaulding Theory, for example. Certainly we are in more agreement on those topics. (I think you enjoy our areas of disagreement more than areas of agreement.) 🙂

    I’ll try to get something on Balaam soon, and am thinking about origins of the Book of Abraham (though you’ll probably prefer Balaam, because I suspect you’ll disagree with me more.) Jonah might be an interesting post too. I may do some other polygamy posts too–I keep coming up with stuff, and my book club is reading 2 books on the topic. It’s too bad you’re not in my book club! Would you like a list of books (they’re not all controversial)?

  3. Did Jesus request that the devil leave? He probably does change tactics, but he is bound by the limits placed on him by God.

    It’s not that I enjoy our areas of disagreement more so much as I just have more to say about the areas in which we disagree. By their nature, these issues tend to be more controversial and as such, I’ve studied them more. When other controversial topics come up which interest me, I look to try to understand them better. I honestly learn a great deal when I engage in discussion on controversial subjects because it pushes me to learn more on the subjects that I probably wouldn’t find the time to do otherwise.

    I haven’t caught up on very many posts. I have been off work a lot lately and so I’ve had more time, but this topic has kept me very busy.

    You can give me a list of the non-controversial books, but I don’t know when I will ever get to them. I’m on a book now that I’ve been on for a couple months now and it isn’t very long. Now I have RSR coming in the mail any day now and no telling how long that will take me to get through. I stay busy, but it doesn’t help that I’m not a terribly fast reader.

    I’m curious what you make of this statement when cast against the idea that Joseph was deceived on the issue of plural marriage:


    The Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this Church to lead you astray. It is not in the programme. It is not in the mind of God. If I were to attempt that, the Lord would remove me out of my place, and so He will any other man who attempts to lead the children of men astray from the oracles of God and from their duty. (Sixty-first Semiannual General Conference of the Church, Monday, October 6, 1890, Salt Lake City, Utah. Reported in Deseret Evening News, October 11, 1890, p. 2.)

    Is this not to be believed? I understand that not everything a prophet says is the word of the Lord, but revelations published in the standard works are, and they are binding upon the church. That includes D&C 132. Yes, plural marriage has been discontinued, but it has not been renounced.

    As Joseph Smith once said, “I never hear of a man being damned for believing too much; but they are damned for unbelief.”

  4. I’m off to Oslo today and will probably be gone the next couple days, I just wanted to respond very quickly to one thing:

    “As Joseph Smith once said, “I never hear of a man being damned for believing too much; but they are damned for unbelief.”

    How would this apply to fanaticism? Guys like Warren Jeffs who marry off young girls so they can be raped, because they believe God has commanded it. Men and women who blow themselves up on a bus or in a busy market because they are doing what they genuinely believe Allah wanted them to do. And then we have an atheist who is a good, moral person and treats others well, but wants nothing to do with God or religion.

    Who is better off in the eyes of God?

  5. Tara,

    I addressed that exact quote during my 2nd month of my blog. (Of course few people read it back then since I was new.) Anyway, check it out at http://www.mormonheretic.org/2008/02/12/similarites-between-papal-infallibility-and-mormon-prophetic-infallibility/

  6. On my way to Oslo the other day, we had some time to kill and stopped into a bookstore. I went to the religion section to peruse the books and there was an interesting one, in Norwegian, called “Religion and Sex.” I figured there would be something about polygamy in there, so I was curious to see how fairly it addressed the subject in regards to Mormonism. I thought that it was very fair, and a couple of names and stories caught my attention. The first one was Helen Mar Kimball, whom I had heard of, but whose story I wasn’t really familiar with. I just checked RSR’s index to see whether she was mentioned in it, as it’s been some time since I’ve read RSR, but she wasn’t. So I found this about her on Wikipedia. The other name that I made a mental note of was Cordelia Morley, whose name doesn’t ring a bell. All I can really find about her is this.

    I find a couple of things interesting. First of all, in that Wikipedia about Helen, it says:

    “In the early summer of 1843, shortly before her fifteenth birthday, Kimball’s father described the doctrine of plural marriage to her. He then asked if she would consent to be “sealed to Joseph” (Compton 1997, p. 498). Helen describes her reaction to this proposition,

    “My father was the first to introduce it to me, which had a similar effect to a sudden shock of a small earthquake. When he found (after the first outburst of displeasure for supposed injury) that I received it meekly, he took the first opportunity to introduce Sarah Ann [Whitney] to me as Joseph’s wife.”

    Kimball took 24 hours to respond to this request, and consented after Smith explained to her that it would ensure her eternal salvation along with that of her family. Helen was ”sealed” to Smith in May 1843. The marriage was kept secret, and Kimball continued to live with her parents.

    Initially, Kimball despised the concept of polygamy, stating that, “seeing the trials of my mother, felt to rebel. I hated polygamy with my heart.” Later in her life, however, she became a vigorous defender of the practice and wrote a number of publications praising it. With regard to her feelings about Smith’s implementation of the practice, Kimball states,

    “It was a strange doctrine, and very dangerous too, to be introduced at such a time, when in the midst of the greatest trouble Joseph had ever encountered. The Missourians and Illinoisans were ready and determined to destroy him. They could but take his life, and that he considered a small thing when compared with the eternal punishment which he was doomed to suffer if he did not teach and obey this principle. No earthly inducement could be held forth to the women who entered this order. It was to be a life sacrifice for the sake of an everlasting glory and exaltation.”

    Just a couple thoughts of mine:

    -It appears that after Helen and JS were married, that was all there was to it. She continued to live with her parents and it’s assumed that there was no husband-wife relations between the two.

    -Helen calls is a “doctrine.” And yet President Hinckley said polygamy was “not doctrinal.”

    -She said about polygamy: “It was to be a life sacrifice for the sake of an everlasting glory and exaltation.” I wonder why she thought of it as a “sacrifice.” What was she sacrificing? She never had to live with JS, it appears the marriage was never consummated, and she was free to marry a husband of her choice later. Was it “eternity” she was sacrificing, meaning that she was sacrificing eternity with the man that she loved in order to make JS’s eternity better for him?

    Cordelia says in her own words:

    “In June 1844, Joseph Smith was martyred and it was a time of mourning for all. After Joseph Smith’s death, I was visited by some of his most intimate friends who knew his request and explained to me this religion, counseling me to accept his wishes for he now was gone and could do no more for himself. I accepted Joseph Smith’s desire and in 1846, January 27, was married to your father in the Nauvoo Temple. While still kneeling upon the altar, my hand clasped in his, now his wife, he gave his consent and I was sealed to Joseph Smith for eternity. I lived with your father and loved him. I was satisfied with the course I had taken. I had three little girls with him. I took comfort [they were] born under the new and everlasting covenant. I had not doubted. I thought if one principle taught by Joseph Smith was true, all he taught must be true. I was sincere in my belief and had never doubted the truth of what I had accepted. Still, I had no testimony for myself of the truth of such a principle and became acquainted with the trials and hardships of such a life but was satisfied and contented in the course I had taken. I had three little girls born under the new and everlasting covenant.”

    So, if I understand this correctly, the children born to Cordelia and her “temporal” husband belonged to JS because she was sealed to him? I wonder how her husband felt about that, knowing that neither his wife nor his children were really “his.”

  7. FD, I don’t have my copy of RSR handy, but I’m pretty sure Bushman talks about Helen Mar Whitney–I’ll have to check.

    I agree with Pres Hinckley that polygamy is not doctrinal. Kimball was certainly sacrificing her reputation by coming out in favor of polygamy.

  8. RSR mentions Elizabeth Ann Whitney, who was 17 when she married JS. But I can’t find Helen Mar Kimball. Neither can I find Cordelia. But they may be listed under different names in the index.

  9. Does anyone here find it odd that a destroying angel would visit JS with a drawn sword multiple times between the years of 1834 and 1842 when he was clearly already practising polygamy during that time period?

    Also, why would an angel of God be insulted by a frightened person hiding their face?

    The drawn sword account appears to made up and the declaration that the angel was insulted seems quite self serving.

    Just my observation.

  10. Hey BR! Long time, no see. How are you? It’s “tatabug” by the way. I dropped the nickname.

    Let me take a stab at your comment. Of course, I can only speculate. Perhaps the reason that a destroying angel visited Joseph on multiple occasions was that because of Emma’s resistance, Joseph tried to avoid taking more wives. Or, perhaps he wasn’t teaching the practice to as many Saints as he should have for fear that they would reject it and not keep confidences about the practice. Whatever it was exactly, I’m guessing that even though he was practicing plural marriage, somehow or another, he wasn’t practicing or teaching it to the extent that the Lord expected.

    As to why an angel of God would be insulted by a frightened person, I have no idea. But why would such a declaration be considered self serving in your opinion? Maybe the explanation that Joseph gave was off, but does it really matter? The lady said she saw an angel. That’s what is significant to me.

  11. MH, I know you’ve already listened to all of the Mormon Stories podcasts, but Tara and the others might be interested in the three-part series with Todd Compton. It was really interesting and I learned a lot, as it was more in-depth about the details of polygamy than Bushman could fit into RSR. I’d really like to read his book In Sacred Loneliness. If any of you are interested, you can access them here and they are podcast #’s 12, 13, 14.

    One thing I was really surprised about was just how many Mormons were practicing polygamy at its height. The historical experts agree it was somewhere around 30-40%, I believe he said. Certainly not the 1-5% that most Mormons seem to assume. It reminded me about our discussion as to why we didn’t think polygamy was sustainable.

    It was also interesting to hear accounts of “good” and “bad” example of polygamy, and just how hard it was for the Church to eradicate its practice even after the Manifesto. Also, the pressure to practice polygamy must have been extreme on many of the faithful members because of the powerful rhetoric by Brigham Young.

  12. Bishop Rick, I’m pretty sure I’m on your side on the polygamy issue. If Bushman were to answer your question, I guess the angel didn’t think Joseph was fully embracing polygamy. Bushman says that there was only 1 polygamist marriage to Fanny Alger prior to 1841. Joseph, it appears, married no one else until he wed Louisa Beaman on April 5, 1841 So I guess the angel wanted him to pick up the pace a bit.

    FD, I too want to read Compton’s book. The funny thing is my book club has 2 polygamy books on the schedule, but Compton isn’t one of them.

  13. It was interesting to hear Compton say that no one in his ward or stake has really shown an interest or talked to him about his book, except for the stake presidency who initially expressed some concern over it but let it go at that. Even though I haven’t read it, my impression of him was that he is a Bushman-like figure in the sense that he is an active/believing Mormon, but is not afraid to tell the story as it is, according to what evidence historians have to go on. He also highly recommended another book which I think he said focused on the post-Manifesto period where polygamist marriages were still being performed in Mexico and on boats in int’l waters.

  14. Tara, in reading your posts here I thought the voice was similar to tata’s. Well I guess if the destroying angel episode actually happened, it would be for the reason you state and MH mentions that Bushman might state. I just don’t see any purpose in polygamy so I can’t justify all the hullabaloo. Destroying angels that will kill him over this? Can’t see it. The reason I mentioned that the insulted angel declaration was self serving is because JS was trying to convince Lightner to become a polygamous wife…hence self serving.

  15. We’ve been the rounds over polygamy too so there’s not much point in going over it again, wouldn’t you say? But regarding the insulted angel being self serving, it seems that Joseph could’ve said the angel was bored, or shy, or off on another errand and it wouldn’t make much difference as far as I can see. I’m not sure how saying that the angel was insulted would make Sister Ligtner more inclined to accept Joseph’s proposal. Joseph didn’t tell her what the angel’s intent was in order to convince her to believe in the principle. He simply told her the angel was insulted at her reaction. He then told her that she would receive a witness from another angel and told her three things which would come to pass with her family and they all came true. This is what convinced her of the truth, not the fact that Joseph said the angel was insulted. Again, I just don’t see how this would be considered self serving. You can claim a lot of things with the issue of plural marriage being self serving, but I just don’t see how this thing can be. The witness and the fulfillment of prophecy are key to understanding why Sister Lightner accepted Joseph’s marriage proposal.

  16. Well, we have gone the rounds but this is new twist…at least new to me. I have never discussed Lightner before. IMO, the …insulted… statement just shows JS’s desperation. Again, this is my opinion, but it appears to be a made up statement. I don’t believe for a second that an angel (with the benefit of knowing both sides of the veil) would be insulted at Lightner’s fear. I have no alternative but to think he made that up. It is that point of view that makes the statement self serving.

    He made something up during a conversation aimed at getting Lightner to marry him, which in this case would have included marital relations. The deception is there and the motive is there…IMO.

  17. Tara,

    I don’t think Bushman views Lightner as a reliable source, and here’s why I think that. (1) Lightner claims that Joseph came to her in 1831, when she was about 12 years old. (2) Bushman claims that the first polygamist marriage was to Fanny Alger somewhere between 1833 and 1836, which would seemingly disqualify Lightner as a plural wife of Joseph during this early period.

    I have to say I’m more than a little bit bothered that Joseph would attempt to introduce this doctrine to a 13 year old. Even Alger may have been as young as 15 (in 1833) to 18 (in 1836). Bushman seems to make the case that the marriage to Alger was over by 1836, and then she went on to marry someone else.

    Insulted is a strange term to use. Perhaps Joseph mis-spoke in using that term, but I am greatly troubled by Lightner’s claim that she was so young when Joseph first came to her. If she was indeed that young, I think that a court of law would have a hard time accepting her testimony at face value. Perhaps she was mistaken on the date at least, even if her testimony regarding the angel is to be believed? It appears that she finally married Joseph in 1842 (at age 23, and after she had married Adam Lightner in 1835–age 17.)

    I think Lightner is a troubling figure to support a testimony of polygamy on. (I tend to agree with Bishop Rick that the angel story is self-serving to Joseph. I’m sure you don’t agree.)

  18. One thing is for sure, Lightner must have been a very pleasing woman, both in looks and personality.

  19. I do want to point out that “insulted” was a term used by Lightner. It is certainly possible that Joseph used a different word, and Lightner “misremembers” (to quote Roger Clemens) the word Joseph used.

    (Anybody think Roger and Andy Pettite hang out any more?) 🙂

  20. For me, plural marriage is no different from tithing. It comes from God and requires a specific spiritual conversion, to that specific principle, in order to be understood and embraced.

  21. Pedro, your comment strikes me as incredibly flippant. Certainly the law of tithing is much easier to live than polygamy. It’s almost like comparing polygamy to brushing your teeth, and I find your characterization as inappropriate.

  22. “It’s almost like comparing polygamy to brushing your teeth.”

    😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

    Pedro, if you’ve read Compton’s book, or listened to his podcasts, and can still 100% honestly tell me that you “understand” polygamy, or that it’s just like tithing, then you will have my utmost respect and admiration.

  23. I agree with Pedro. Polygamy is very similar to tithing as they are both Old Testament practices that had no part in the post resurrection church.

  24. My comment was not intended to be flippant. Obviosly, it recquires more to live plural marriage than it does to tithe. The similiarity is not in the difficulty. The similiarity is in that they are both the products of God’s revelation to a prophet and that they recquire a witness from God in order to be embraced.

    I haven’t read Compton’s book but i have read Van Wagoner’s Mormon Polygamy cover to cover as well as Mormon Enigma and some other non-Deseret Book type stuff.

    For me, polygamy is to monogamy what the United Order is to tithing;or what the NBA is to the highschool basketball, or what Miss Universe is to Little Miss Sunshine.

    It is alot harder and most people can’t cut it. But when done correctly,and obviosly thatis a big “when”, it is vastly superior for everyone involved.

    I’m glad plural marriage has been taken back to Heaven though. When I think of what it really means to be worthy of one woman, and to inspire that daughter of God to love you….not because circumstances force her to stay with you, or because she thinks she is too old to re-marry or is staying with you for the kids sake, or because she will be homeless otherwise…..but because she really loves you and wants to spend eternity with you, it blows my mind.

    What kind of patience, service, humility and kindness is recquired for that to happen? How many women can honestly say that they are happy to be with the man they chose? How many can say that they know they are appreciated and loved? How many woman can say that they know that their husband would die for them? I don’t know. Being a Christ-like husband to one wife seems hard enough; but being the same to two women….well, it would be easier to move a mountain through faith than to be the kind of man that inspires such love, trust and gratitude.

    I thank God for the mercy of monogamy. I have seen far too many men demean their wives for me to believe that men in our day should be blessed with the challenge of having multiple wives.

  25. Pedro,

    In order to be sustainable, then women have to outnumber men for polygamy to work. Do you really think this is feasible, even in heaven? Will God help us manipulate the sexes of our offspring in order to support more females than males?

  26. “It is alot harder and most people can’t cut it. But when done correctly,and obviosly thatis a big “when”, it is vastly superior for everyone involved.”

    How is it “vastly superior,” even just from a practical standpoint?

  27. @MH
    Dunno, I dunno. I have no idea who is getting into the Celestial Kingdom and how many of them will be exalted as opposed to merely being ministering angels.

  28. @TheFaithfulDissident

    Well, women won’t have to lower their standards and settle for losers because all “the good ones are taken”?

    ; )

  29. @Pedro A. Olavarria
    Let me just make one thing clear. I have absolutly no clue if polygamy is going to play any role in my or anyone elses salvation. I assume men like Abraham,Brigham or Russel M. Nelson will have multiple wives in the eternities, provided the parties involved kept their covenants and want to honor the sealings they entered into. Free will doesn’t end during judgement day.

  30. It is interesting to me just how many people actually support polygamy.

  31. It’d be interesting to know how many really know all the facts about it and still support it. It amazes me that some believe it’s even “vastly superior.”

  32. It’s equally funny to me that people who don’t support plural marriage think they have all the facts.

  33. @TheFaithfulDissident
    I forgot were I read it. But I remember reading a story about a man who had two wives and they all 3 went to a dance. While he was at the dance, he paid little attention to his wives and spent the whole night trying to flirt with single women. Imagine being a woman in her early 30’s and finding out that your husband is trying to marry a 17 year old.
    I aggree that we shouldn’t look at plural marriage with rose colored glasses. It was a tough system to live under and one that was practiced in a very clumsy way by some people. The same thing could be said for monogamy.
    When I say that it is “vastly superior”, I mean so in the way the United Order is vastly superior to tithing/fast offering. Both are superior because it recquires a superior spirtituality to live correctly, a kind of spirituality almost no one has today. I also think that it might offer women more options with regards to good husbands. It might also provide a solution to the problem of neglected women aka single moms.

    Two things are certain: 1)Snow White and Cinderella didnt have sister-wives. Plural marriage flies in the face of modern notions about love and “finding the one”. 2)No one has the right or authorization to practice it today. Those that claim they do are in serious sin.

    Like I said earlier,I think alot of men have helped make their women very miserable in monogamy, so I am glad polygamy is off the table, because allowing it would compound female misery.

  34. Pros
    1)Big families without having to have 8-10 children come from just 1 woman.
    2)Sisterhood, provided the wives get along.
    3)Female support,the wives can cover for each other in baby sitting. see #2.
    4)A woman can have a carrear and a family because she only has a fraction of a husband to worry about. see #3

    4)not feeling special

    Lets just be glad it isn’t around.

  35. ps. 1,3 and 4 of the Cons is where that hyper-spirituality and maturity come in. I suspect that many monogamous women feel 1,3 and 4 to varying degrees. Hence why Im glad it isnt currently practiced.

  36. “It’s equally funny to me that people who don’t support plural marriage think they have all the facts.”

    Tara, I apologize for insinuating that people who read the history of polygamy have ALL the facts. I realize that’s an arrogant assumption and it’s not what I meant. But with all due respect, initially you showed little interest in reading books such as RSR, saying that you didn’t think it would be of much worth, and I’m guessing you would feel the same about Todd Compton’s book or podcasts. And so when I or MH give reasons for not supporting polygamy, our reasons are considered to be practically blasphemous. Please don’t take this the wrong way, but it’s hard to accept the point of view of polygamy being acceptable when the one holding the point of view doesn’t seem to want to know more of the history behind it. (I apologize in advance, because I think I remember you saying that you had now ordered RSR and were going to read it, but I’m just saying that before, you argued orthodox views while giving an impression that other views weren’t of any value to you.)

  37. FD,

    But you don’t know what I do or do not know–in spite of my views. I knew a great deal about Helen Mar Kimball which you seemed to not know about before this discussion. Just because I haven’t read Compton and have only just begun reading RSR doesn’t mean I don’t already have a great deal of knowledge about plural marriage. Am I an expert? No. But you just might be suprised what I do know. There are other sources available than just the books which have been cited here. It isn’t that other views are not of value to me, it’s just that I’m somewhat familiar with them and I just disagree with them. It’s amazing how we can read the same or similar things and come to different conclusions.

  38. “But you don’t know what I do or do not know–in spite of my views.”

    I agree. You are probably more familiar with the spiritual manifestations that some of the women claimed to have than I am. I do recall hearing them (not in the case of JS or Helen Mar Kimball, but with later prophets), but have not always been able to match up stories with faces. All this stuff is still fairly new to me. Remember, a year and a half ago I still believed that JS only ever had one wife. 🙂 You accept the orthodox belief and I respect that, even though I disagree with it. I don’t believe these women were lying, neither do I believe JS was a fraud. I do, however, question how much was pure revelation, or just getting caught up in emotion or deceit due to the enormous pressure some of them were put under to accept it. So, you see, reconciling the spiritual accounts with the historical accounts is impossible to me. It just doesn’t jive for me. Which leads to my personal conclusion that JS was deceived in the matter, or that he turned it into something that it was never meant to be by taking it way too far.

  39. I think we need to know each other’s perspective. What is interesting is there are 4 of us having this discussion (some of us have had many discussions on this) and we are all 4 active LDS, but we have varying levels of TBMness. On a scale of 1 to 4 with 1 being TBMest I would say Tara is a 1, MH is a 2, FD is a 3 and I’m a 4.

    My point here is that if I thought that God did in fact command JS (through a destroying angel) to reinstate and practice polygamy, I would support it too. This is where Tara is I believe. On the other hand, I do not believe that God did this, so I find it impossible to support.

    Tara, I would be curious to know what your opinion would be of polygamy if you did not believe it was a commandment from God. Would you still support it or would you feel the way the rest of us do?

  40. More than 4 of you are reading. I’ve just exhausted all I have to say on the subject and am listening quietly.

  41. BR,

    If I didn’t believe it was a commandment of God, I would not support it. As to whether or not I would feel the way the rest of you do, I couldn’t say for sure. But I would probably not deal with the subject very well if I believed it were not of God.

  42. BR.

    I forgot to say that I didn’t know you considered yourself to be a TBM at any level. I thought you quit the church and considered yourself a Deist. Has something changed or did I have you pegged wrong?

  43. Tara,

    I never quit the church. I am still quite active. In fact, if you didn’t know me from blogging, you would think I’m a TBM because I live like a TBM (WoW, Chastity, Tithing, Callings, etc.), but I no longer believe the JS story and do consider myself a Deist.
    I guess I should have said 1 = TBM, 2 = Heretic, 3 = NOM, 4 = NOM (Deist)


    I didn’t mean to leave you out, but Tara, MH and I go back a ways and like you said, you (and others) were quiet during the very last segment where FD wasn’t.

  44. BR:

    No problem. If you’ve looked at my blog, you know no one has to encourage me to speak up if I think I have something to say (and sometimes even when I don’t).

  45. I’m enjoying the debate. I’m new to this blog. I have been really studying and trying to figure out the polygamy thing as best as I can these past few years. I wanted to be balanced so I read http://restorationbookstore.org/jsfp-index.htm Joseph Smith Faught Polygamy by a couple from the RLDS church. I think they make a lot of valid arguments and present documents and letters that shoot down a lot of what JS was supposedly involved in. I”m not saying that JS didn’t fall into folly with this doctrine, (though I would like to believe this book 100% to ease my mind, lol) and yes I think it was folly and I agree from my studies with Bishop and FD. They have witnesses and letters shooting down the threat of an angel if you don’t practice polygamy and completely shooting down the Eliza Snow, Nancy Rigdon (and that infernal unsigned letter she received not in JS writing), and Sarah Pratt. It shows how some of the early missionaries were influenced by the Cochranites (polygamous sect) that they were preaching to, BY being one of them, and bringing those influences and converts from that sect back with them. And it show how William C Bennett was the main culprit and was not a good man and was behind almost all the slander on JS. I am LDS, but the LDS church has a need to have us believe that polygamy is a true doctrine or the whole succession thing and other doctrines can be called into question, so I guess it’s easier to slander JS than maybe look into it deeper and see that there were a lot of other influences playing on him to indulge in this practice more than any sort of revelation.

    One of my favorite blogs writes many things on how polygamy was folly and presents many scriptures to support his stand. http://onewhoiswatching.wordpress.com/2008/11/29/the-spiritual-wife-doctrine/

    He has many articles that address this subject that should be read he has a sister blog http://threewatches.blogspot.com/
    that should be read first, I find it fascinating and scripturally supported. I hope some of you will find the time to read it, would love to hear any feedback. Found MH’s site through his kind words about MH and his articles.

  46. Also read the “19th Wife” written by one of BY’s polygamous wives. I understand that she had an agenda but if even 1/10 of what is in the book is true (and I tend to believe a first hand account more than a historical one) then polygamy was the cause of a lot of heartache, a story of wives being abandoned by their husbands for the newest, youngest wife over and over again, the jealousy and infighting of the various wives which caused only a spirit of contention in the family, and lastly the suffering of the offspring, the children who many never even got to know their father or develop a relationship with their father, BY being one of the main culprits of the above things mentioned. The book is online but I can’t find the link right now. It was Ann Eliza Young’s book, not the newer one that was just released recently as historical fiction.

    I tend to think the God I know wouldn’t subscribe to demeaning women to this level of humiliation and I tend to believe the BOM Jacob 2 and that God does not make exceptions to eternal truths and he didn’t change his mind with the brethern and decided it was all right now to practice it, but it wasn’t ok in the translation of the BOM that you just recently received Jacob 2:27 is talking specifically about Polygmany and condemning it all the way throughout the chapter.

    Remember JS was likened to Joseph of old and their were seven years of fat 1829/30 to 1836/7 and seven years of lean 1837 or so til his death. See how many revelations were written in those last seven years? Maybe he got caught up in the sins of spiritual wifery, masonry, and pressured to change the original wording in scriptures and visions he had?

    And yes I do believe he was a prophet of God and only next to JC has he done more for mankind. (so i want to make that clear)

  47. Bishop Rick, I must say I didn’t ever expect to see TBM and your name in the same sentence. 🙂 Thanks for clarifying your status. From your previous comments, I’m surprised to hear how active you are. Hopefully I can help convince you to come back to level 2 like me, but I’m not holding my breath. 🙂 Also, I do want to mention that I find that Faithful Dissident and I are quite similar in our beliefs on most subjects.

    CDS, welcome! I am familiar with One who is watching from some comments that he left here about Sidney Rigdon. He certainly goes into great detail on most of his beliefs.

    As for Restoration Bookstore, I think it is interesting in that it brings to light many interesting court cases. The RLDS church (which is the source of more of the Restoration Bookstore items) has for years denied that Joseph practiced polygamy. However, they have recently (in the last 50 years) changed position on this. You might want to read Pres Veazey’s statement given about a month ago. I blogged about it just a month ago. Check it out here. Also, if you do a search on the LDS genealogy website for Joseph Smith, you can see that it lists about 30 wives of Joseph. (Let me know if you need instructions how to access this.) I don’t think the LDS church goes out of its way to publicize Joseph’s polygamy, but it doesn’t hide it either.

    Thanks for the links to the books. I’ll have to check them out when I have time, but I already have a pretty big list now.

  48. MH,

    “Come back to level 2 like me”

    Does that mean you were a 4 at one time, but went back to level 2?

  49. No, but I was 1. I assume you didn’t jump from 1 to 4 all at once, did you?

  50. “Also, if you do a search on the LDS genealogy website for Joseph Smith, you can see that it lists about 30 wives of Joseph.”

    MH, that reminds me of how in that Mormon Stories podcast with Todd Compton, I was surprised to hear just how little emphasis is put on anything found in Family Search. He basically said that historically-speaking in the matter of polygamy, Family Search is pretty much worthless. I guess because anyone can pretty much submit anything.

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