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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 ]

Conspiracy Charges Escalate against Joseph

Joseph and Emma Smith

April 1844 was a month like no other month had been since the Church was organized on April 6, 1830, fourteen years earlier. Despite the threats and persecutions that were heaped upon Joseph, he never slackened his fight against the doctrine of polygamy. The events in April included a Church Conference, the unveiling of another conspiracy under the leadership of William and Wilson Law, a constant barrage of civil suits brought by those in the Law conspiracy, the cutting off from the Church of some of the leading conspirators, the organization of a new church with William Law as the prophet, a plural marriage charge brought by Joseph against Harrison Sagers, and an increase in plural marriage charges brought against Joseph in the press.

As stated in the previous chapter, two separate conspiracies existed, among Church members, against Joseph Smith in the spring of 1844. The first conspiracy was led by polygamist Brigham Young, president of the apostolic quorum, and a majority of the apostles, who also had plural wives. The second, and newest conspiracy, was headed by two brothers, William and Wilson Law. William had been Joseph's counselor in the First Presidency. Those in the Law conspiracy increased their warfare against Joseph by publishing frequently in the Warsaw Signal, and other papers, that Joseph had plural wives. Some of their charges were old, having originated with Dr. John C. Bennett, and had been published by him two years earlier. Those charges, when repeated by those who had been respected office-holding Church members and prosperous businessmen, caused their declarations about Joseph having a plurality of wives to be more believable.

Joseph Sought Quickly to Confront the Fosters

Robert Foster residence in Nauvoo
The photograph above, taken after Joseph's death, shows where the Prophet often rode to observe the construction of the House of the Lord. The tall building on the far right with an arrow pointing to it was the Robert Foster residence and hotel.

In the previous chapter of Joseph Smith Fought Polygamy it was reported that M. G. Eaton and A. B. Williams made affidavits on March 27, 1844, and that their sworn statements were published in the Church's official paper (see Times and Seasons 5 [May 15, 1844]: 541–542). M. G. Eaton swore in his affidavit that he had heard Dr. Robert D. Foster declare that the Prophet had come to Foster's home while the doctor was away, had eaten a meal with Mrs. Foster, and had preached "the spiritual wife system to her [and] endeavoured to seduce her" (see ibid.).

After hearing of Foster's polygamous allegations against him, Joseph quickly made an attempt to question Mr. and Mrs. Foster about the allegations. The Prophet began to seek answers from the Fosters on March 23 by taking two witnesses, William Clayton and Alexander Neibaur, and going to the Foster home. Dr. Foster and his wife, Sarah, owned a spacious three-story brick building, located on the northeast comer of Mulholland and Bluff (Woodruff) Streets. The large building evidently served as both a home for Dr. and Mrs. Foster and as a hotel, just as the Mansion House served as a home and hotel for Joseph and Emma Smith. The Foster Hotel was located on the block directly east of the Temple (see Richard N. Holzapfel and T. Jeffery Cottle, Old Mormon Nauvoo 1839–1846 [Provo, Utah: Grandin Book Company, 1990], 41–42). Upon arriving at the Foster residence, Joseph and his witnesses were informed that Mr. and Mrs. Foster were not at home. They were told that Dr. Foster had gone to Appanoose, a village in the northern part of Hancock County, and that Mrs. Foster had gone to visit a Mrs. Gillman.

Joseph Interviewed Doctor Foster's Wife, Sarah

According to William Clayton, the Prophet went to Gillman's and found Mrs. Foster. Joseph was able to converse with her about the slanderous plural marriage charges which her husband was making against him. The following "extract from William Clayton's journal" is found in the official history published by the Mormon Church. It states:

President Smith's Interview With Mrs. Foster.

We went down there and saw her, [Mrs. Foster]. President Joseph asked Sister Foster if she ever in her life knew him [to be] guilty of an immoral or indecent act. She answered, "No." He then explained his reasons for asking; which were, he had been informed that Dr. Foster had stated that Joseph made propositions to his wife calculated to lead her astray from the path of virtue; and then asked if ever he had used any indecent or insulting language to her. She answered, "Never." He further asked if he ever preached anything like the "plurality of wife" doctrine to her other than what he had preached in public? She said, "No." He asked her if he ever proposed to have illicit intercourse with her, and especially when he took dinner during the doctor's absence. She said, "No." After some further conversation on the subject, we left. Mrs. Gillman was present all the time. (LDS History of the Church 6:271)

There are two subjects within the above extract from Clayton's journal that should be noted. One concerns Joseph eating with Mrs. Foster while Dr. Foster was not present, because of the possibility of there being suspicion as to why the Prophet would be eating at the Foster residence. The other subject is Joseph's asking Mrs. Foster "if he ever preached anything like the 'plurality of wife' doctrine to her other than what he had preached in public?"

Mrs. Foster Contradicted Her Husband's Claims

Note that according to William Clayton, Joseph explained to Mrs. Foster his reason for calling upon her. Note also that Joseph questioned her in the presence of Mrs. Gillman, William Clayton, and Alexander Neibaur. When the Prophet asked Mrs. Foster "if he ever preached anything like the 'plurality of wife' doctrine to her other than what he had preached in public?" Mrs. Foster answered, "No."

Mrs. Foster's answer is very revealing. According to all published Church sermons during Joseph's lifetime, the Prophet always preached against polygamy. It is a fact that no sermon by Joseph was printed during his lifetime which even remotely suggests that he was in favor of plural marriage. He was noted for his denunciation of that false doctrine. Since the Prophet had only preached against polygamy, and Mrs. Foster had replied "No," it indicated that what Joseph had said to her about spiritual wifery had been in agreement with what he had preached publicly on the subject. Mrs. Foster's answer is another testimony that Joseph did not speak favorably of the spiritual wife doctrine, or polygamy, to her and that Dr. Foster's charges against Joseph were slanderous fabrications.

Joseph's Meal at the Foster Residence

Joseph did not deny that he ate a meal at the Foster's. Perhaps that was not unusual, for Joseph probably ate that meal at the Foster Hotel. According to one author it was the custom in Illinois in that day and time for three or four meals a day to be served at hotels such as the Mansion House and the Foster Hotel. It is written:

The Mansion House, incidentally, was a fine lodging for travelers in early Illinois.... Quincy [Illinois] boasted a hotel four stories high.... The cost of lodging in such hotels in the late 1830s in Illinois was around two dollars per week, which included four meals per day: breakfast, dinner, tea, and supper. (George W. Givens, In Old Nauvoo: Everyday Life in the City of Joseph [Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 1990], 49)

Persons who were not renting rooms, often ate at hotel dining tables. For a fee, anyone could go to a hotel and eat. For instance, the Prophet, who lived on the "flat" down by the river, often rode his horse the mile or so to upper Nauvoo, to the top of the hill where the Temple was under construction. Joseph frequently went to observe progress on the Temple, which was being built next door to Dr. Foster's impressive three-story hotel, that was on the block east of the Temple. It would not have been out of the ordinary for the Prophet to have eaten at the Foster Hotel while he was overseeing work on the Temple, or as mayor of Nauvoo visiting the marshal's office, or any of the other city offices in upper Nauvoo.

In spite of Mrs. Foster's denial to Joseph, in the presence of William Clayton, Alexander Neibaur, and Mrs. Gillman, Dr. Foster continued to circulate false plural marriage charges against the Prophet. The LDS History records that on April 13, 1844, Joseph took legal action against Foster. The History records:

I preferred the following charge before the High Council against Dr. Robert D. Foster "for unchristianlike conduct in general, for abusing my character privily, for throwing out slanderous insinuations against me, for conspiring against my peace and safety, for conspiring against my life, for conspiring against the peace of my family, and for lying." (LDS History of the Church 6:333)

Joseph and Emma Viewed Threats against the Smith Family As Serious

A. B. Williams stated in his affidavit that he had heard Joseph H. Jackson say that "he should not be surprised if in two weeks there should not be one of the Smith family left in Nauvoo" (Times and Seasons 5 [May 15, 1844]: 541; see also LDS History of the Church 6:278). Joseph and Emma had been through too much persecution to take Joseph Jackson's prediction lightly. The statement that within two weeks the entire Smith family could be killed must have brought back frightening memories of what mob persecution had already cost their family. Joseph and Emma's adopted infant son, Joseph, had died as a result of the kidnapping of the Prophet by an angry mob. The baby had died in March 1831 while Joseph and Emma and their adopted twin babies, Joseph and Julia Murdock Smith, were living with the John Johnson family in Hiram, Ohio. One cold wintry night, when the babies were ill with measles and Joseph and Emma were overly tired and sleeping, members of a mob invaded the bedroom. The men seized Joseph, who was sleeping soundly. Joseph awoke as they were dragging him through the open doorway. The Prophet tried to fight off his attackers, but they subdued him and carried him outside and into a field. There he was carried and dragged and dropped upon the frozen ground, which was covered with ice and snow. He was beaten, a tooth was broken, and he was covered with hot tar and feathers. The mobbers had come into the bedroom through an outside door that led into the room. Before the door could be closed after the mob took the Prophet outside, frigid air rushed into the room. The baby boy was exposed to the cold, which caused a relapse, and he died a few days later.

Still vivid also in Joseph and Emma's memories was a scene of horror which they were forced to witness in November 1838 at Far West, Missouri. They watched their little children abused, and were powerless to interfere as soldiers used their swords to separate their little ones from Joseph, who was a prisoner. He, with other Church men, had been sentenced to be shot the morning of November second. The time came for him to be shot, and some soldiers stationed near the prisoners fired their guns. Emma was only a few blocks away in their home with the children. There was four-month-old Alexander; Julia, who was seven years old; Joseph III, who was almost six; and Frederick, who was almost two and a half. Emma heard the gunshots, and she began to weep, for she thought that Joseph had been shot and killed. She was later surprised to see a wagon stop in front of her home and the Prophet climb out. Armed soldiers surrounded Joseph as they came to the door and entered the house. Joseph the Prophet later recalled:

We were taken to the town, into the public square, and before our departure from Far West, we, after much entreaty, were suffered to see our families, being attended all the while with a strong guard. I found my wife and children in tears, who expected we were shot by those who had sworn to take our lives, and that they should see me no more. When I entered my house, they clung to my garments, their eyes streaming with tears, while mingled emotions of joy and sorrow were manifest in their countenances. I requested to have a private interview with them a few minutes, but this privilege was denied me. I was then obliged to take my departure, but who can realize my feelings which I experienced at that time, to be torn from my companion, and leaving her surrounded with monsters in the shape of men, and my children too, not knowing how their wants would be supplied; to be taken far from them in order that my enemies might destroy me when they thought proper to do so. My partner wept, my children clung to me, and were only thrust from me by the swords of the guards who guarded me. I felt overwhelmed while I witnessed the scene, and could only recommend them to the care of that God whose kindness had followed me to the present time, and who alone could protect them, and deliver me from the hands of my enemies, and restore me to my family. I was then taken back to the camp, and then I with the rest of my brethren ... started off for Independence... under a strong guard commanded by Generals Lucas and Wilson. (Millennial Star 16:525; RLDS History of the Church 2:258–259)

Lyman Wight was a prisoner with Joseph and others, who were being transferred by wagon from Far West to Independence, Missouri. The prisoners would then be taken from Far West to Independence, Missouri. Wight saw the guards take Joseph from the wagon and into his home. When Joseph was returning to the wagon, little Joseph III was holding onto him and crying. Wight told how he witnessed one of the guards mistreat the Prophet's son. Apostle Wight swore under oath:

When passing his [Joseph's] own house, he was taken out of the wagon and permitted to go into the house, but not without a strong guard, and not permitted to speak with his family but in the presence of his guard and his eldest son, Joseph, about six or eight years old, hanging to the tail of his coat, crying father, is the mob going to kill you? The guard said to him, 'you damed little brat, go back, you will see your father no more.' (Times and Seasons 4 [July 15,1843]: 268)

Emma closely guarded her children because she was ever aware of a possible attack by a mob or a kidnapping by law officers upon her husband. If that should happen, she did not want her children to be in harm's way. Joseph III revealed that he and his sister and brothers always slept near their parents. He wrote:

The sleeping room I shared with my brothers was never more than a door away from where Father and Mother slept. Because of the great love and concern Mother had for her children she never wanted us far from her, in order that she might be on hand to take care of us herself in case of necessity. (Mary Audentia Smith Anderson, The Memoirs of President Joseph Smith III (1832–1914) [Independence, Missouri: Price Publishing Company, 2001], 35)

Joseph III stated that his mother always kept the children close until after their father was killed. He said under oath:

The children slept in the room adjoining their mother and father's sleeping room. They were adjoining rooms with an open door between.... My mother never allowed us to sleep away from her very far until after father's death. (The Temple Lot Case. Complainant's Abstract of Pleading and Evidence, In the Circuit Court of the United States, Western District of Missouri, Western Division, at Kansas City: The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Complainant, vs. The Church of Christ at Independence, Missouri ... Respondents [Independence, Missouri: Price Publishing Company, 2003], 486, 488)

Joseph and Emma knew Joseph Jackson, and they took his threats seriously. However, they were determined not only to guard their children from physical harm, but they were committed also to guard the Church from the threat of false doctrine brought on by the apostate doctrine of polygamy.

Sharp Responded to the Affidavits Made by Eaton and Williams

Editor Thomas Sharp was quick in attempting to cast aspersion upon the statements made by M. G. Eaton and A. B. Williams. Sharp published:

FROM THE HOLY CITY.—We have rumors of war from the city of the saints; but our information is too indefinite to allow us to risk a detail. It is said however that a difficulty originated some time since between the Prophet and some of his most conspicious followers, in relation to the doctrine of spiritual wives. These persons of course became odius to his excellency [Joseph Smith], and to quiet them, two individuals [M. G. Eaton and A. B. Williams] were induced to make oath that they [the Laws, Fosters, Higbees, and others] were joined in conspiracy to poison [murder] the Prophet. This of course has created quite a sensation, but what it will end in, we are unable to conjecture. (Warsaw Signal [April 3, 1844], 3)

As the storm against the Saints quickly gathered, Editor Sharp published his intentions as follows:

As heretofore, the Signal will take a decided stand in opposition to the encroachments of the fanatical band [of Mormons], located in our midst. Believing that the head of the Mormon Church [Joseph Smith], is capable of any outrage, which can procure for him supremacy over our county—believing that the only check upon his presumption, is continued vigilance, and the only safeguard of our liberties, is determined resistance; we will faithfully expose his usurpations, and undauntedly rebuke them. (Warsaw Signal [April 10, 1844], 7)

The conspirators furnished plenty of articles for publication in Sharp's newspaper. The articles accused Joseph of polygamy and many other crimes. Editor Sharp, true to his promised intentions to his readers, published many articles which had been written to destroy Joseph Smith and the Church. The articles caused more and more nonmembers to view the Saints with fear and suspicion. There was talk of extermination and driving the Saints out of Nauvoo.

Word spread across the nation that serious problems existed between the Saints at Nauvoo and their nonmember neighbors. An example of this is found in an article republished in the Nauvoo Neighbor from the New York Sun. The Sun article reported:

The Mormons—Horrible Conspiracy!

There are serious difficulties growing up between the people of Illinois and the Mormons, and knowing the exciteable and irritable tempers in that region of country, and their propensity to take the law into their own hands, we have great apprehension for the results. We recently noticed the fact that a large meeting had been held at Carthage.... The Warsaw Message [edited by Thomas Gregg] holds forth the following language:—

'We see no use in attempting to disguise the fact that many in our midst contemplate a total extermination of that people [the Mormons]; that the thousands of defenceless women and children, aged and infirm, who are congregated at Nauvoo, must be driven out, aye, driven, scattered, like leaves before the autumn blast.' But what good citizens, let us ask, what lover of his country and his race, but contemplates such an event with horror! ... —N. Y. Sun. (Nauvoo Neighbor, April 10, 1844)

Joseph now faced three conspiracies. One conspiracy was made up of nonmembers who wished to exterminate the Saints and drive them out of Nauvoo. The second and third conspiracies existed within the Church at Nauvoo. One was a conspiracy led by Brigham Young and a majority of the members of the Quorum of Twelve to bring polygamy as a doctrine into the Church, and the other conspiracy was headed by President William Law. While the conspiracy led by Young and fellow polygamists wished to keep the subject of polygamy mute, those in the Law conspiracy were working feverishly to expose the practice of plural marriage. They were dedicated to implicating Joseph Smith in its practice and bringing the wrath of the enemy upon him and the Church. The two conspiracies within the Church fueled the flames and helped create mobocracy among nonmembers who wished to exterminate the Saints or drive them from Nauvoo.

Joseph Was Accused of Turning Emma Out of Doors

No rumor accusing Joseph of wrongdoings was too ridiculous to be printed in the Warsaw Signal. An example of Sharp's rush to print unsubstantiated claims is an article which stated that Joseph had cast Emma out of their home. Editor Thomas Sharp published:

The Last from Nauvoo.—We learn direct from Nauvoo, that Jo Smith, on Friday last [April 12] turned his wife out of doors. "Sister Emma's" offence was, that she was in conversation with Mr. E. Robinson, and refused, or hesitated to tell the Prophet on what subjects they were engaged. The man of God, thereupon, flew into a holy passion, and turned the partner of his bosom, and the said Robinson into the street—All of which was done in broad day-light, and no doubt in the most approved style. (Warsaw Signal [ April 17, 1844], 2)

A week later Editor Sharp published that Emma Smith, wife of the Prophet, had passed down the river on the previous Sunday on the steamboat Hibernia. It was also reported that prior to leaving Nauvoo, Emma had become reconciled to Joseph, who had "turned her out of his house" (see Warsaw Signal, April 24, 1844).

Joseph did not cast Emma out of the Mansion House on April 12 as Sharp claimed. If that had happened dozens would have witnessed such an event. There was a huge influx of nonmember and member visitors in Nauvoo on that date as a the result of the Church Conference which had commenced on April 6 and continued through April 9. The throngs of people at the Church Conference services were estimated to have numbered from fifteen to twenty thousand people (see Nauvoo Neighbor [April 10,1844], 2). For days Nauvoo was teeming with Conference visitors from Quincy, Alton, Warsaw, Fort Madison, and other places, who had not yet departed the city. The Mansion House was crowded with visitors day and night.

It is true that Emma Smith did board a steamboat at Nauvoo and took passage to St. Louis. But, she was not fleeing from Joseph. Emma was a competent businesswoman, who had previously gone to St. Louis to shop, and she was doing so again. The newly built Mansion House and hotel was greatly in need of furnishings. Emma was naturally anxious to shop in St. Louis. She left Nauvoo by steamboat on April 20,1844, and returned to Nauvoo five days later, on April 25 (see LDS History of the Church 6:342–343). Joseph III recalled his mother making the trip to St. Louis with these words:

Mother was to be installed as landlady, and soon made a trip to Saint Louis for the purpose of securing such furniture, curtains, bed linen, table napery, dishes, and utensils as were needed to properly equip and operate a hostelry of its kind.... It has been charged by certain ones advocating plural marriage that she was a thorn in his side, opposing his policies, and leading him an ill life. This is absolutely not true. I was old enough at the time to know what was going on around me, and was closely associated with both my parents. The sleeping room I shared with my brothers was never more than a door away from where Father and Mother slept. Because of the great love and concern Mother had for her children she never wanted us far from her, in order that she might be on hand to take care of us herself in case of necessity. So, I am sure if there ever were angry words between my parents I should have known it, and I can truthfully state that nothing of the kind ever occurred. Father was a kindly man, and emphatically a home-loving one, whose wife and children were very dear to him and who was, in turn, loved and respected by them. (Mary Audentia Smith Anderson, The Memoirs of President Joseph Smith III (1832–1914) [Independence, Missouri: Price Publishing Company, 2001], 34, 35)

Jeremiah Smith Wrote in Defense of Joseph

Jeremiah Smith, who roomed at the Mansion House, wrote the following statement in order to exonerate the Prophet of having cast Emma out:

Friends and Fellow-Citizens:

...As to the report of Gen. [Joseph] Smith's spiritual wives—if I understand the name of spiritual wife—it is all false. I have been lodging at Smith's house some time and if there was any thing of the kind I must have seen something of it going on. I have seen a note in the Warsaw Signal stating difficulties between Joseph Smith and his wife, not long since. I was at his house when this thing was said to have taken place. I saw Mrs. Smith start to St. Louis, and when she returned home, and they had every appearance of love and friendship. I will say to you the statement is all false and without grounds. This I will certify on oath.

JEREMIAH SMITH, Sen, (Nauvoo Neighbor, May 1, 1844)

Joseph's Cousin, Almira Covey, Exonerated Joseph

Three weeks after the Prophet's death, on July 18, 1844, Joseph's first cousin, Almira Mack Covey, who was a member of the Church and lived at Nauvoo, wrote her sister, who resided in Michigan. Almira contradicted the charge that had been published throughout the nation that Joseph had abused Emma by casting her out of the home. Almira, who was Lucy Mack Smith's brother's daughter, wrote:

Joseph's wife is not very well, the report you heard about her being turned out of doors is false; there never could a man use a wife better than he has her! I presume you hear a great deal that is not true; but what I have written you is correct. (The Saints' Herald [September 25, 1934], 1229)

Summary

Brigham Young and those in his conspiracy and William Law and his fellow conspirators declared that Joseph had plural wives. They and Dr. John C. Bennett used the same tactics and sometimes named the same women whom they claimed were Joseph's wives. If those men told the truth there should be evidence (posterity of Joseph's) on earth today to bear witness that Joseph was their father.

In January 1841 Joseph received a wonderful promise from the Lord in the form of a revelation concerning his posterity, his children. The promise stated:

for this anointing have I put upon his head, that his blessing shall also be put upon the head of his posterity after him; and as I said unto Abraham, concerning the kindreds of the earth, even so I say unto my servant Joseph, In thee, and in thy seed, shall the kindred of the earth be blessed. (RLDS Doctrine and Covenants 107:18b–c; LDS Doctrine and Covenants 124:57–58)

Emma Smith was pregnant when she made the trip by steamboat to St. Louis in April 1844. Not one alleged plural wife has borne a child which Joseph fathered. Emma gave birth to a son after Joseph's death, and named him David Hyrum. The kindreds of the earth have been blessed by Joseph's posterity, and there is every reason to believe those blessings will continue. Joseph and Emma's sons, Joseph III, Alexander Hale, and David Hyrum gave to the kindreds of the earth the Book of Mormon without the taint of polygamy. That "grosser" crime is not acceptable under any circumstance in that which their three sons published.

Those same three sons also provided the kindreds of the earth with a Doctrine and Covenants containing the "Marriage" article adopted by a unanimous vote of a General Assembly of the Church on August 17, 1835, and printed in all editions thereafter in Joseph's lifetime. No polygamous Section 132 is found therein, and there is no document upholding plural marriage of any form.

Joseph's posterity—Joseph, Alexander, and David—also prepared the manuscript and printed the Holy Scriptures, which their father corrected by inspiration and left in the care of his only wife, Emma. The first edition of the Inspired Version was printed by the three sons of Joseph and Emma in 1867. No children born of any alleged plural wives of Joseph Smith who have claimed to be Joseph's posterity have fulfilled the above prophecy, and have blessed the kindreds of the earth as did the three sons of Joseph and Emma.

 

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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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