Saturday, September 6, 2014

Polygamy and Honesty

Note: This is part one in a three part series on polygamy. Part 2 Part 3

What is a lie? The LDS Gospel Principles manual states the following in chapter 31:
When we speak untruths, we are guilty of lying. We can also intentionally deceive others by a gesture or a look, by silence, or by telling only part of the truth. Whenever we lead people in any way to believe something that is not true, we are not being honest.
Honest people will recognize Satan’s temptations and will speak the whole truth, even if it seems to be to their disadvantage.
People use many excuses for being dishonest. People lie to protect themselves and to have others think well of them. 
These excuses and many more are given as reasons for dishonesty. To the Lord, there are no acceptable reasons.
Today I want to write about early Mormon polygamy and honesty. First, it is necessary to lay out some background information. In my opinion, the definitive works on Joseph Smith's polygamous relationships are "In Sacred Loneliness" by Todd Compton and "Joseph Smith's Polygamy" by Brian Hales. Both are active Mormons. If one really wants to know the beginnings of Mormon polygamy, those are the books to go to. Since I can't share my books over the internet, is an excellent place to get a short blurb about each of Joseph's wives. The website is largely based off of information from "In Sacred Loneliness". Also, here is a Wikipedia article that summarizes all of Joseph's marriages. As you can see, Joseph starts practicing polygamy in the early 1830s and continues marrying until late 1843, which is the year before his death in the summer of 1844. In their books, Compton gives a total of 34 wives (if you include Emma) and Hales gives a total of 36.  Hales's book was written later and has the benefit of making use of information that has come to light since the 90's, when Compton's book was written.

I also want to introduce some background information on John Taylor, who practiced polygamy starting in the 1840s. Here is a summary of his polygamous marriages from

As you can see, Taylor starts marrying polygamously in Nauvoo and by 1850 he has at least seven wives. I say 'at least' because records of polygamous Mormon marriages are very spotty before 1852. 1852 was the date that LDS church leaders stopped denying that they practiced polygamy and started practicing it openly, so records of marriages before that date were minimal, kept hidden, and sometimes lost to history.

Now that we have that background information out of the way, what struck me in my studies of polygamy was the dishonesty that accompanied it. It bothers me deeply. Let me show you what I mean. There was a man named William Law who was in the First Presidency until he found out about polygamy and became disaffected from the church. He was pretty angry when he left the church and began to oppose Joseph. In the spring of 1844, he went and had charges filed against Joseph Smith for living "in an open state of adultery" with Maria Lawrence. In the eyes of the law, since polygamy was illegal in Illinois and Maria was living with Joseph as his wife, Joseph was living in an open state of adultery. Joseph gave a sermon on May 26, 1844 that was a response to "the dissenters at Nauvoo," who were led by William Law. This sermon is recorded in the LDS church publication "History of the Church" Vol 6, p. 408-412. Here is an excerpt:
What a thing it is for a man to be accused of committing adultery, and having seven wives, when I can only find one. I am the same man, and as innocent as I was fourteen years ago; and I can prove them all perjurers.
I have seen people justify this statement by saying things like, "well he doesn't actually say that he only has only one wife, he says that he can only find one, so he was just wording things carefully so that he wouldn't lie." But I ask, even if that is what he was trying to do, does that meet the standard of honesty in the Gospel Principles manual? I don't see how it could be in harmony with that standard.

Earlier, in 1842, the Times and Seasons published a reiteration of the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants statement on marriage which states,
"Inasmuch as this church of Christ has been reproached with the crime of fornication, and polygamy: we declare that we believe, that one man should have one wife; and one woman, but one husband, except in case of death, when either is at liberty to marry again."
Now, on its own, I have a big problem with the 1835 statement because as you can see from Joseph Smith's marriage dates, the statement is dishonest from the beginning, since Joseph marries Fannie Alger some time between 1833 and 1835. But in the October 1, 1842 newspaper reprinting, the statement is followed by two affidavits. Follow the link and you will see that a group of men and a group of women sign a statement affirming the following:
We the undersigned members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and residents of the city of Nauvoo, persons of families do hereby certify and declare that we know of no other rule or system of marriage than the one published from the Book of Doctrine and Covenants and we give this certificate to show that Dr. J. C. Bennett's "secret wife system" is a creature of his own make as we know of no such society in this place nor never did.
S. Bennett, N. K. Whitney, (witnessed daughter's marriage to Joseph in July 1842)
George Miller, Albert Pettey,
Alpheus Cutler, Elias Higbee,
Reynolds Cahoon, John Taylor,
Wilson Law, E. Robinson,
W. Woodruff, Aaron Johnson.
We the undersigned members of the ladies' relief society, and married females do certify and declare that we know of no system of marriage being practiced in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints save the one contained in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants and we give this certificate to the public to show that J. C. Bennett's "secret wife system" is a disclosure of his own make.
Emma Smith, President,
Elizabeth Ann Whitney, Counsellor, (witnessed daughter's marriage to Joseph in July 1842)
Sarah M. Cleveland, Counsellor, (married Joseph in June 1842)
Eliza R. Snow, Secretary, (married Joseph in June 1842)
Mary C. Miller, Catharine Pettey,
Louis Cutler, Sarah Higbee,
Thirza Cahoon, Phebe Woodruff,
Ann Hunter, Leonora Taylor,
Jane Law, Sarah Hillman,
Sophia R. Marks, Rosannah Marks,
Polly Z. Johnson, Angeline Robinson,
Abigail Works.
At issue is the swearing that they, "know of no other rule or system of marriage than the one published from the book of Doctrine and Covenants..."  The problem is that among the people who signed those statements are Newell K. Whitney, Elizabeth Ann Whitney, Sarah Cleveland, and Eliza R. Snow. Cleveland and Snow were wives of Joseph smith at this time and the Whitneys were witnesses at their daughter's marriage to Joseph Smith prior to this date this was published. All four of them certainly knew of a system of marriage other than the one in the Doctrine and Covenants, since Section 132 wouldn't be added until many years after Joseph Smith's death. As shown on the last page of the paper, the editor of the paper was Joseph Smith himself, so he bears ultimate responsibility for what is published in this paper, and he certainly knew that these were false statements.

Joseph Smith also married women without his first wife's knowledge. I can't imagine being a polygamist, but if I were to marry other women I also can't imagine not telling my first wife about it. I imagine that when she found out that I had married other women without even telling her, she would be deeply hurt. Emily Partridge states:
My sister Eliza and I, having arrived at an age at which we might earn our own living and perhaps contribute something to help our mother and the smaller children, were considering what we had better do, when the Prophet Joseph and his wife Emma offered us a home in their family, and they treated us with great kindness. We had been there about a year when the principle of plural marriage was made known to us, and I was married to Joseph Smith on the 4th of March, 1843, Elder Heber C. Kimball performing the ceremony. My sister Eliza was also married to Joseph Smith a few days later. This was done without the knowledge of Emma Smith. Two months afterward she consented to give her husband two wives, provided he would give her the privilege of choosing them. She accordingly chose my sister Eliza and myself, and to save family trouble Brother Joseph thought it best to have another ceremony performed. Accordingly on the 11th of May, 1843, we were sealed to Joseph Smith a second time, in Emma’s presence, she giving her free and full consent thereto. (Emily Partridge writing on Feb 28 1887, quoted in Historical Record, p. 240) 
In other words, since Emma didn't know about the first time the sisters married Joseph, they decided to have another ceremony and pretend that it was the first ceremony, because simply telling the truth to Emma, that there was no reason to perform a ceremony because it had already been done, would create trouble. I want to make a note here that Emily is not an "Anti-Mormon." She was a faithful Mormon all of her life. She is just telling her story here.

Lucy Walker, also a wife of Joseph Smith and faithful Mormon until her death told of her marriage to Joseph in a deposition:
It was the 1st day of May, 1843, when I married him [Joseph Smith]. … Elder William Clayton performed the ceremony. Emma Smith was not present, and she did not consent to the marriage; she did not know anything about it at all
No, sir, she did not know anything about my marriage to her husband. (Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Complainant, vs. The Church of Christ at Independence Missouri et al., 373-374.)
Also, Joseph Smith had Joseph Kingsbury marry Sarah Ann Whitney in a pretended marriage to deflect suspicion of his previous polygamous marriage to Sarah Ann. Kingsbury writes about it later:
On the 29th of April 1843 I according to President Council & others agreed to Stand by Sarah Ann Whitney as Supposed to be her husband & had a pretended marriage for the purpose of Bringing about the purposes of God in these last days...(Kingsbury's personal writings quoted in In Sacred Loneliness, Todd Compton, p. 351)
Another event that I can't justify morally is a debate that John Taylor had in France with a couple of other ministers in 1850. We know of this debate because Taylor had it recorded by a stenographer and printed up as a booklet to aid in proselyting efforts in England. A scanned copy can be found here at On page 7, a Mr. Robertson asks John Taylor about rumors of Joseph Smith keeping a "seraglio of 'Sisters of the White Veil' and 'Sisters of the Green Veil'," which seem to be rumors of polygamy promulgated by John C. Bennett. John Taylor responds with the following:
It would seem from the remarks of Mr. Robertson, that he also attaches very great importance to the statement, of Mr. Caswell and John C. Bennett, of course, for want of better testimony. I have already referred to their characters. I have already stated that I proved Mr. Caswell to have told one lie, and a man that will tell one falsehood to injure an innocent people, will tell five hundred, if necessary, for the same object. I have also spoken of John C. Bennett's character; perhaps these gentlemen suppose that great importance is to be attached to Mr. Caswell's statement, because he is a reverend gentleman; but reverend gentlemen can tell falsehoods, when it answers their purpose, as well as others...We are accused here of polygamy, and actions the most indelicate, obscene, and disgusting, such that none but a corrupt and depraved heart could have contrived. These things are too outrageous to admit of belief; therefore leaving the sisters of the "White Veil," the "Black Veil," and all the other veils, with those gentlemen to dispose of, together with their authors, as they think best, I shall content myself by reading our views of chastity and marriage, from a work published by us, containing some of the articles of our Faith. "Doctrine and Covenants," page 330.
Inasmuch as this Church of Jesus Christ has been reproached with the crime of fornication and polygamy, we declare that we believe that one man should have one wife, and one woman but one husband, except in case of death, when either is at liberty to marry again.
As you can see from John Taylor's marriage dates above, he is knowingly lying here in this debate. More than that, after the debate he prints his lies up in a booklet and uses them in proselyting efforts in England. If you download the booklet from the link above, look at the title page of the booklet, it is published by John Taylor and for sale by O. Pratt.

I can't describe how much this bothers me. It makes me feel sick that these leaders didn't think that they needed to tell the truth to people they were asking to give up their lives and join a church on another continent. Only after they made the journey would these people find out the truth about polygamy. Let's be clear here: John Taylor took away these people's ability to choose for themselves by denying them the right of informed consent. In Mormon theology, Taylor is following Satan's plan. In my opinion, everyone should be supplied with as many facts as possible and left to do what they think is best. The true church of God should not need to misrepresent itself to gain converts.

The thing is, I think that John Taylor is absolutely right when he says, "...a man who will tell one falsehood...will tell five hundred, if necessary, for the same object." If Joseph Smith and John Taylor were willing to lie about polygamy to get more people to join the church, what else were they willing to lie about for the same goal? If Joseph Smith was capable of getting a group of people to swear to something in a newspaper that they knew to be false, was he capable of getting a group together and having them falsely swear to witness plates and an angel? I don't know, but lies have ripple effects throughout one's credibility.

And this leads me to my final thought: I just don't understand why a just God would expect that I would believe prophets/apostles who have demonstrated their willingness to lie from the pulpit about church doctrine, especially if I should feel in my heart that things they are saying are not morally right, which is how I feel about polygamy.


  1. What if Joseph Smith was telling the truth and was not practicing polygamy, spiritual wifery or any of that nonsense?