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Joseph Smith Fought Polygamy
Vision Articles

How Men Nearest the Prophet Attached Polygamy to His Name
in Order to Justify Their Own Polygamous Crimes

By Richard and Pamela Price

"What a thing it is for a man to be accused of committing adultery, and having seven wives,
when I can only find one"
—Joseph Smith (LDS History of the Church 6:411).

[ Joseph Smith Fought Polygamy Index ]

Mormons Use Bennett and Higbee's Accusations in Attempt to Prove Joseph Introduced Polygamy

Joseph and Emma Smith

In Vision number seventy, page twenty-eight, the authors of "Joseph Smith Fought Polygamy" stated that in the next chapter of "Joseph Smith Fought Polygamy" the portion of Joseph's testimony that the apostles purposefully deleted in the report of the case of "Francis M. Higbee versus Joseph Smith" would be addressed. To cover this topic, two chapters will be written.

In order to understand the broader story, some writings by Doctor John C. Bennett, Francis M. Higbee, John W. Rigdon, and a poem written by an anonymous author are reproduced in this chapter. Each of these men allege that Joseph had asked Nancy Rigdon to be his plural wife. Many malicious falsehoods were proclaimed, written, and published, causing the Prophet to face a barrage of accusations, involving him and Nancy Rigdon, daughter of President and Mrs. Sidney Rigdon. Those accusations were destructive to Joseph's character, harmful to the Church, and most embarrassing to Joseph and Emma, and to President and Mrs. Sidney Rigdon and Nancy. But the most lasting damage was caused by early Mormon leaders and historians publishing Bennett and Higbee's false statements concerning Joseph and Nancy in order to strengthen their claim that the martyred Prophet had introduced polygamy into the Church.

Brigham Young, and other apostles, should have upheld Joseph's testimony when he explained under oath:

I went and told the girl's parents [Sidney and Phebe Rigdon], when Higbee and Bennet made affidavits and both perjured themselves, they swore false about me so as to blind the [Rigdon] family. (Times and Seasons 5 [May 15, 1844]: 539)

Joseph's side of the story will be given in detail in the next chapter. Brigham Young and the majority of the twelve apostles used Bennett and Higbee's falsehoods to their advantage. They purposefully wove those evil men's statements against Joseph into the LDS History. And, they have published other documents to strengthen their own false claims that Joseph took plural wives. An example of this is found in the affidavit by John W. Rigdon, son of Sidney Rigdon and brother to Nancy. A portion of John Rigdon's affidavit is reprinted below. He made it in 1905, when he was over seventy-five years of age, and he swore under oath that Joseph had made a marriage proposal to his sister, Nancy.

John Rigdon's affidavit was published in 1905 by Joseph F. Smith, Jr., of the LDS Church, and for over one hundred years it has been widely circulated as truth by members of that church.

The vigor with which the Prophet fought against those accusing him of polygamy is truly amazing. Yet, his brave stand has been downplayed. But when the the case of Francis M. Higbee versus Joseph Smith is studied, the subject deleted from Joseph's testimony becomes obvious. The pieces of the polygamy puzzle can be fit together, and they tell the Prophet's true story. This study will be further expanded in the next Vision.

According to Francis M. Higbee's testimony, the case that he brought against Joseph in May 1844 involved Nancy Rigdon, whom Higbee was courting. Higbee wrote an article titled "Communication," which was printed in the previous chapter of "Joseph Smith Fought Polygamy" (see Vision 70:27-28). In his "Communication" Higbee wrote of

the base attack he (Joseph Smith), made upon the virtue of Miss Nancy Rigdon, in 1842, to whom I was at that time paying my addresses. The attack was of so base, so loathesome, and so detestable a character, that I could not conceal my feelings from the base seducer... Joseph Smith. (Warsaw Signal, May 29, 1844)

Joseph declared this was an untruth and made declarations of his innocence during the hearing of the Francis M. Higbee versus Joseph Smith Case. His statements are of importance because during that hearing the Prophet swore under oath that the allegations which Francis Higbee and Doctor Bennett made against him were untrue. Joseph asserted that Higbee and Bennett's accusations had been fabricated by the two men to deceive Nancy's parents. Bennett and Higbee were attempting to convince Mr. and Mrs. Rigdon that Joseph was the guilty one, and that they were Nancy's protectors.

Of importance to this case is the fact that in the summer of 1841 Joseph brought charges against Higbee and Bennett. The two men were tried before the Church's High Council, and both were found guilty of engaging in the practice of spiritual wifery, which is another name for polygamy. Among other crimes, the investigation disclosed that Doctor Bennett had been engaged in performing abortions, and that Higbee had contracted a venereal disease from a prostitute.

Doctor Bennett Publicly Accused Joseph of Attempting to Seduce Nancy Rigdon

In order to understand the charges against Joseph and his replies to them, it is necessary to have a knowledge of the entire picture and what was being said on both sides. Such knowledge brings an awareness of what Bennett had written against Joseph, and what Joseph was referring to when he replied. Bennett wrote:

MISS NANCY RIGDON

Miss Rigdon is the eldest unmarried daughter of Sidney Rigdon, Esq., and is a beautiful girl of irreproachable fame, great moral excellence, and superior intellectual endowments. She is a young lady of many charms and varied attractions; but she, too, was marked out for the Cloister. Joe could not suffer a pretty woman to escape without a trial. The inquisitorial seraglio must swallow up most cases, and secure the beautiful birds of gaudy plumage or fascinating charms. If they fail to be insnared by the Cyprian Saints, they are liable to be taken in the net of the Chambered Sisters of Charity; if they pass that fiery ordeal, the poisoned arrows of the Consecratees of the Cloister await them: but this girl [Nancy] passed the Rubicon with heroic firmness. Knowing that I had much influence with Mr. Rigdon's family, Joe Smith said to me, one day last summer [1841], when riding together over the lawn, in Nauvoo, "If you will assist me in procuring Nancy as one of my spiritual wives, I will give you five hundred dollars, or the best lot on Main Street." I replied, "I cannot agree to it. Elder Rigdon is one of my best friends, and his family are now pure and spotless, and it would be a great pity to approach the truly virtuous." "But," said Joe, "the Lord has given her to me to wife. I have the blessings of Jacob, [meaning thereby a plurality of wives,] and there is no wickedness in it. It would be wicked to approach her, unless I had permission of the Lord; but, as it is, it is as correct as to have a legal wife, in a moral point of view." I replied that it might be so, but that he must see her himself, as I could not approach her on a subject of that kind. There I supposed the matter had ended; but, at the funeral of Mr. Ephraim R. Marks, Mrs. [Orson] Hyde told Miss [Nancy] Rigdon that Joseph desired to see her at the printing-office where Mrs. Hyde and Dr. [Willard] Richards resided, on special business. [Ephraim Marks, son of William Marks, died April 7, 1842, and his funeral was April 9; see LDS History of the Church 4:586-587, Editor.] She said she would go, and accordingly did, but Joe was busily engaged at his store. Dr. Willard Richards, however, one of the holy twelve Mormon Apostles, and Spiritual High Priest, and Pander-General for Lust, whom I had long suspected as being up to his eyes in the business with Joe, came in, and said, "Miss Nancy, Joseph cannot be in today; please call again on Thursday." This she agreed to do; but she communicated the matter to Colonel Francis M. Higbee, who was addressing her, and asked his advice as to the second visit. I then came to a knowledge of the facts, and went immediately to Joe, and said to him, "Joseph, you are a Master Mason, and Nancy is a Master Mason's daughter, (so is Mrs. [Orson] Pratt, the daughter of Mr. Bates;) so stay your hand, or you will get into trouble-remember your obligation." Joe replied, "You are my enemy, and wish to oppose me." I then went to Colonel Higbee, and told him Joe's designs, and requested him to go immediately and see Miss Rigdon, and tell her the infernal plot-that Joe would aproach her in the name of the Lord, by special revelation, &c., and to put her on her guard, but advise her to go and see for herself what Joe would do. He did so, and she went down. Joe was there, took her into a private room (his favorite assignation room,) and LOCKED THE DOOR....

Joe then swore her to secrecy, and told her that she had long been the idol of his affections, and that he had asked the Lord for her, and that it was his holy will that he should have her as one of the Chambered Sisters of Charity; but that, if she had any scruples on the subject, he would consecrate her with the Cloistered Saints, AND MARRY HER IMMEDIATELY-that it would not prevent her from marrying any other person-that he had the blessings of Jacob granted to him-and that all was lawful and right before God....

She told him she would alarm the neighbors if he did not open the door and let her out immediately. He did so; and, as she was much agitated, he requested Mrs. Hyde to explain matters to her; and, after agreeing to write her a doctrinal letter, left the house. Mrs. Hyde told her that these things looked strange to her at first, but that she would become more reconciled on mature reflection. Miss Rigdon replied, "I never shall," left the house, and returned home. In a day or two, Dr. Richards, who is notorious for Hyde-ing in these last days, handed her [Nancy] the following letter from the Prophet Joe, (written by Richards, by Joe's dictation,) and requested her to burn it after reading, to wit:-

[Willard Richards' Letter]

"Happiness is the object and design of our existence, and will be the end thereof, if we pursue the path that leads to it; and this path is virtue, uprightness, faithfulness, holiness, and keeping all the commandments of God; but we cannot keep ALL the commandments without first knowing them, and we cannot expect to KNOW ALL, or more than we now know, unless we comply with or keep those we have ALREADY RECEIVED! That which is wrong under one circumstance, may be, and often is, right under another. God said, Thou shalt not kill; at another time he said, Thou shalt utterly destroy. This is the principle on which the government of Heaven is conducted, by revelation adapted to the circumstances in which the children of the kingdom are placed. Whatever God requires is right, NO MATTER WHAT IT IS, although we may not see the reason thereof till long after the events transpire. If we seek first the kingdom of God, all good things will be added. So with Solomon; first he asked wisdom, and God gave it him, and with it EVERY DESIRE OF HIS HEART; even things which might be considered ABOMINABLE [polygamy] to all who understand the order of Heaven ONLY IN PART, but which, in reality, were right, because God gave and sanctioned BY SPECIAL REVELATION. A parent may whip a child, and justly too, because he stole an apple; whereas, if the child had asked for the apple, and the parent had given it, the child would have eaten it with a better appetite; there would have been no stripes; all the pleasures of the apple would have been secured, all the misery of stealing lost. This principle will justly apply to all of God's dealings with his children. Every thing that God gives us is lawful and right, and it is proper that we should ENJOY his gifts and blessings, WHENEVER AND WHEREVER he is disposed to bestow; but if we should seize upon those same blessings and enjoyments without law, without REVELATION, without COMMANDMENT, those blessings and enjoyments would prove cursings and vexations in the end, and we should have to lie down in sorrow and wailings of everlasting regret. But in obedience there is joy and peace unspotted, unalloyed; and as God has designed our happiness, the happiness of all his creatures, he never has, he never will, institute an ordinance or give a commandment to his people that is not calculated in its nature to promote that happiness which he has designed, and which will not end in the greatest amount of good and glory to those who become the recipients of his law and ordinances. Blessings offered, but rejected, are no longer blessings, but become like the talent hid in the earth BY THE WICKED AND SLOTHFUL SERVANT; the proffered good returns to the giver; the blessing is bestowed on those who will receive, and occupy; for unto him that hath shall be given, and he shall have ABUNDANTLY, but unto him that hath not, or will not receive, shall be taken away that which he hath, or might have had.

"'Be wise to-day; 'tis madness to defer!
Next day the fatal precedent may plead;
Thus on till wisdom is pushed out of time,' into eternity.

"Our Heavenly Father is more liberal in his views, and boundless in his mercies and blessings, than we are ready to believe or receive, and, at the same time, is more terrible to the workers of iniquity, more awful in the executions of his punishments, and more ready to detect every false way than we are apt to suppose him to be; he will be inquired of by his children; he says, Ask and ye SHALL RECEIVE, seek and ye SHALL FIND; but, if ye will take that which is not your own, or which I have not given you, you shall be rewarded according to your deeds; but no good thing will I withhold from them who walk uprightly before me, and do my will in all things; who will listen to my voice and to the voice of MY SERVANT WHOM I HAVE SENT; for I delight in those who seek diligently to know my precepts, and abide by the laws of my kingdom; for ALL THINGS SHALL BE MADE KNOWN UNTO THEM IN MINE OWN DUE TIME,and in the end THEY SHALL HAVE JOY."

The original, of which the above is a literal copy, in the hand-writing of Dr. [Willard] Richards, is now in my [Doctor John C. Bennett's] possession. It was handed me by Colonel F. M. Higbee [Francis M. Higbee], in the presence of General George W. Robinson. (John C. Bennett, The History of the Saints; or, An Expose of Joe Smith and Mormonism, 243–245; LDS History of the Church 5:134–136)

Apostle Willard Richards never denied that he wrote and delivered the letter to Nancy Rigdon. In contrast, Joseph issued a statement in which he asserted that he was not the author of the letter. Mormon historians have ignored Joseph's denial of authorship, and after copying the letter directly from Bennett's book, The History of the Saints, they attributed it to Joseph the Prophet. To further convince the Saints that the letter had been authored by the deceased Prophet, it was called an essay and given the title of "Happiness." Then a false statement was printed about the letter (see LDS History of the Church 5:134–136). The compiler or compilers of Mormon history actually published an untruth. In referencing the letter, which they had to know was copied directly from Bennett's book, they wrote for the trusting Saints:

It is not positively known what occasioned the writing of this essay; but when it is borne in mind that at this time the new law of marriage for the Church-marriage for eternity, including plurity of wives under some circumstances-was being introduced by the Prophet, it is very likely that the article was written with a view of applying the principles here expounded to the conditions created by introducing said marriage system, (ibid., 5:134)

Whomsoever copied Willard Richards' fake letter from Bennett's book, and pawned it off as an "essay" on "Happiness" written by Joseph Smith, was guilty of purposefully changing historical facts. It is time for the truth to be known. The truth regarding Joseph Smith will come to be known, according to a prediction by Joseph the Seer. One month before he was murdered, Joseph preached a sermon against those conspiring against him. To an audience numbering in the thousands, Joseph the Seer predicted:

When facts are proved, truth and innocence will prevail at last. My enemies are no philosophers: they think that when they have my spoke under,* they will keep me down; but for the fools, I will hold on and fly over them.

God is in the still small voice. In all these affidavits, indictments, it is all of the devil-all corruption. Come on! ye prosecutors! ye false swearers! All hell, boil over! Ye burning mountains, roll down your lava! for I will come out on the top at last, (ibid., 6:408)

[*When Joseph said that his enemies think "when they have my spoke under" he was speaking of the spokes of a wheel on a carriage in which he was traveling, figuratively speaking. The wheel could mire so deeply in the mud, on a dirt road, that the wheel could not turn and the carriage could not travel. In other words, his enemies hoped to make Joseph immobile and hopelessly bogged down. Editor]

Bennett and Higbee's Falsehoods Published in a Poem

An anonymously written poem, the creation of an enemy to Joseph, told Higbee and Bennett's fabricated tales in poetry. The poem was published and republished in the newspapers of the day. The poem had twenty-two stanzas and one hundred and thirty-two lines. Only verses six through eleven are reproduced here to show the extent of the persecution heaped upon Joseph. The poem stated:

THE BUCKEYE'S FIRST EPISTLE TO JO.

6
Have you forgot the snare you laid
For Nancy, (lovely Buckeye maid?)
With all your priestly arts array'd
Her to seduce;
Assisted by that wretched bawd
Who kept the house.

7
But she, in virtues armour steel'd,
Was proof against what you reveal'd,
And to your doctrines would not yield
The least belief;
Although the scriptures you did wield
In your relief.

8
And when you saw, she would detest
Such doctrines, in her noble breast,
And did despise the man, the priest;
Who taught them too
A sallow, yellow, lustful beast,
Poor Joe, like you.

9
'Twas then you chang'd your lover's sighs,
And vengeful hate flash 'd in your eyes
When you found out she did despise
You as a man;
You took to circulating lies,
Your usual plan.

10
Just that you might destroy her fame
And give to her a ruined name,
So that if she should ever proclaim
What you had tried;
Your friends might turn on her the shame
And say she lied.

11
But Joe, in this you fairly tail'd,
Though you her father's house assail'd
She met you face to face; you quailed
Before her frown,
And like a counterfeit she nail'd
You tightly down....(Warsaw Signal, April 25, 1844)

It is evident that the author wrote the poem and had it published to harm Joseph, and to give support to Bennett and Higbee's false charges against him. Nancy Rigdon is referred to in the poem as the "lovely Buckeye maid" because she and her family came from Ohio, known as "the Buckeye State." The author referred to Joseph in a derogatory manner, describing him as a lustful beast, a liar, and a man without any moral principles. The slanderous poem is an example of the character assassination that Joseph was subjected to.

The untruths written about Joseph in the poem, as well as in Bennett and Higbee's writings, fulfill in part the prophecy spoken to Joseph by a "heavenly messenger sent from the presence of God" on the night of September 21, 1823. According to Joseph, the messenger prophesied to him, saying:

That God had a work for me to do, and that my name should be had for good and evil, among all nations, kindreds, and tongues; or that it should be both good and evil spoken of among all people. (Times and Seasons 3:753)

Today the Mormon Church continues to ignore Joseph's testimony of what transpired in 1842 between him and the Rigdon family. In so doing they are still giving support to Higbee and Bennett's accusations against Joseph. Their historians have never published the truth of why Joseph went to the Rigdon home, taking with him Willard Richards, author of the spurious letter. Joseph gave Sidney Rigdon a written statement in which he declared that he, Joseph, was not the author of that letter. Joseph and Richards' visit with Mr. and Mrs. Rigdon will be discussed in the next chapter of "Joseph Smith Fought Polygamy."

The authors of this chapter believe that Joseph told the truth when he testified in the Francis Higbee versus Joseph Smith Case, that the story told by Francis Higbee and John Bennett was fabricated by them to deceive Sidney and Phebe Rigdon. Brigham Young, Willard Richards, and other apostles found it convenient to build upon Higbee and Bennett's falsehoods in order to make it look as if polygamy was introduced into the Church by Joseph.

The writings of the LDS Church historians convey the idea that Joseph the Prophet was not a man of truth, but he was given to lying and mistreatment of women. In their historical accounts of Joseph's last days they have omitted his bold statements against polygamy. They have published affidavits that depict him as a man who had no regard for virtue and womanhood. How can Joseph be depicted on the one hand as an untruthful man, and on the other hand as a righteous Prophet?

In the case of Nancy Rigdon, the Mormon Church has published affidavits that declare that Joseph lied in the case of Nancy. He is represented as having defamed her character in an effort to hide his alleged attempt to seduce her and make her his plural wife. An excerpt from an affidavit sworn to by Nancy's brother, John W. Rigdon, is printed below. John Rigdon portrayed Joseph as a scheming, mean man-a liar, a predator, and as one who was willing to destroy Nancy's character.

There are differing versions of what transpired in the case of Nancy Rigdon. One is Joseph Smith's testimony, and then there are the accounts given by Doctor Bennett, Francis Higbee, and John Rigdon. Rigdon's account does not agree with Doctor Bennett's. The testimonies do not agree with Joseph's. They cannot all be true. Mormon leaders, historians, and writers have chosen to accept the accounts given by Joseph's enemies. Both accounts cannot be true. Who was telling the truth? Was it Joseph? Or was it Bennett, Higbee, and John Rigdon? Primary sources verify that Joseph Smith told the truth.

As late as 1905 Elder Joseph F. Smith, Jr., of the LDS Church published John W. Rigdon's affidavit that gave credence to Bennett and Higbee's claims about the Nancy Rigdon Case. But Elder Joseph F. Smith, Jr., made no mention of Joseph's testimonies which contradict John Rigdon's sworn statement. The claims within John Rigdon's affidavit will be discussed in the next chapter of "Joseph Smith Fought Polygamy." John Rigdon asserted in his affidavit:

AFFIDAVIT OF JOHN W. RIGDON

State of Utah
County of Salt Lake.
Curly Brace ss.

John W. Rigdon, being duly sworn, says: I am the son of Sidney Rigdon, deceased. Was born at Mentor, in the State of Ohio, in the year 1830, and am now over seventy-five years of age....

And deponent further says: Joseph the Prophet, at the City of Nauvoo, Illinois, some time in the latter part of the year 1843, or the first part of the year 1844, made a proposition to my sister, Nancy Rigdon, to become his wife. It happened in this way: Nancy had gone to Church, meeting being held in a grove near the temple lot on which the "Mormons" were then erecting a temple, an old lady friend who lived alone invited her to go home with her, which Nancy did. When they got to the house and had taken their bonnets off, the old lady began to talk to her about the new doctrine of polygamy which was then being taught, telling Nancy, during the conversation, that it was a surprise to her when she first heard it, but that she had since come to believe it to be true. While they were talking Joseph Smith the Prophet came into the house, and joined them, and the old lady immediately left the room. It was then that Joseph made the proposal of marriage to my sister. Nancy flatly refused him, saying if she ever got married she would marry a single man or none at all, and thereupon took her bonnet and went home, leaving Joseph at the old lady's house. Nancy told father and mother of it. The story got out and it became the talk of the town that Joseph had made a proposition to Nancy Rigdon to become his wife, and that she refused him. A few days after the occurrence Joseph Smith came to my father's house and talked the matter over with the family, my sister, Mrs. Athalia Robinson also being present, who is now alive. The feelings manifested by our family on this occasion were anything but brotherly or sisterly, more especially on the part of Nancy, as she felt that she had been insulted. A day or two later Joseph Smith returned to my father's house, when matters were satisfactorily adjusted between them, and there the matter ended....

John W. Rigdon.

Sworn to before me this 28th day of July, 1905.
[Seal.]James Jack, Notary Public.

(Elder Joseph F. Smith, Jr., Blood Atonement and the Origin of Plural Marriage: A Discussion; Correspondence between Elder Joseph F. Smith, Jr. Of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Mr. Richard C. Evans, Second Counselor in the Presidency of the "Reorganized" Church [Independence, Jackson County, Mo: Zion's Printing and Publishing Company, 1905], 81, 83–84)

Summary

John Rigdon's description of what occurred in the case of Nancy Rigdon, and when the event supposedly took place, does not agree with the accounts given by Doctor Bennett and Francis Higbee.

The authors of "Joseph Smith Fought Polygamy" are convinced that existing documents bear out the fact that Joseph told the truth, and that all other versions are untrue. Evidence exists that shows that Apostle Willard Richards was deeply involved in a scheme to make it appear that Joseph had attempted to get Nancy Rigdon to be his (Joseph's) wife. That scheme was successful to a great extent.

The fact that Willard Richards wrote the fraudulent letter, and delivered it to Nancy Rigdon during the time Higbee and Bennett were alleging that Joseph had tried to entice Nancy into becoming his plural wife, shows how far Richards and Young were willing to go in their conspiracy against Joseph. Richards' deceptive letter was delivered to Nancy under the pretense that it was a doctrinal letter authored by Joseph. Richards wrote the crafty letter in an attempt to convey the idea that polygamy, which is condemned in the Scriptures, can be wrong at one time, but be right at another.

Surely, Apostle Richards did not act alone. He would not have made such a bold move against Joseph without the full support of his first cousin, Brigham Young, president of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles.

The publishing of Bennett and Higbee's accusations against Joseph, along with John Rigdon's accusative affidavit, provides the background for a report in the next Vision of Joseph's responses to their charges. The Prophet's actions and sworn testimonies deserve to be carefully examined!

 

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Joseph Smith Fought Polygamy—Volume I, by Richard and Pamela Price, can be purchased at the Restoration Bookstore or from our online store.  Articles on this subject continue to be published in Vision magazine, which also can be purchased at the Restoration Bookstore or online. It is planned that this additional material will be compiled into future volumes.

For a general understanding of both the origins of polygamy among the Latter Day Saints and the several conspiracies to falsely implicate Joseph in polygamy, read the article on our Web site, "Joseph Smith: Innocent of Polygamy," by Richard Price.

 
 

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