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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 ]

A False Version of How Polygamy Entered the Church

Joseph and Emma Smith

The Mormon Church has published that the doctrine of plural marriage was introduced into the Church by the visitation of an angel to Joseph Smith, which is similar to the angel visits surrounding the introduction of the Book of Mormon and the restoring of the Gospel. Joseph testified of the angel visitations at Palmyra, but he made no claim of an angel commanding him to practice polygamy. Those claims were made by others, not him.

In May 1887, nearly forty-three years after Joseph Smith's death, the Mormon Church published sixteen pages of affidavits and testimonies in the Historical Record. In some of the affidavits an attempt was made to promote the belief that polygamy was introduced into the Church by an angel. It was claimed that Joseph had declared that the Lord had given him a plural marriage revelation in the early 1830s, but that Joseph had refused to obey God's command until after the Lord sent a sword-carrying angel who threatened to "destroy" (to kill) Joseph if he did not marry plural wives. The assertion, by a comparatively few individuals, that the Lord sent an angel to deliver a plural-marriage message to Joseph should be examined in conjunction with the evidence of Joseph's constant public fight against plural marriage. Any study on the subject of how the doctrine of plural marriage entered the Church should include a careful examination of the two opposing sides on the subject. On one side there are Joseph's testimonies published while he was living. In direct opposition to Joseph's testimonies are the affidavits and historical records of polygamists made years after the Prophet's death. Their affidavits are in direct opposition to Joseph's testimonies. The story of the sword-carrying angel is very familiar to members of the Mormon Church. Fawn M. Brodie, a well-known Mormon author, wrote that she had found the story of the angel with the sword to be wide­spread among the Mormons. She published:

The story of the [angel with a] drawn sword appears frequently in the testimonies of the early polygamists. (Fawn M. Brodie, No Man Knows My History, 303)

Joseph Warned That Satanic Angels' Revelations Contradict Former True Revelations

Before reading the affidavits by his accusers, let us examine what Joseph said about angels visiting and delivering messages to individuals. As editor of the Times and Seasons, the Church's official publication, Joseph published an article entitled "Try the Spirits." In it he warned the Saints against mistaking angels of Satan for angels of God. He feared that the Saints would be deceived into believing false revelations delivered by satanic angels. "Try the Spirits" filled over five and one-half pages, but only one short quote from Joseph's article will be considered here. That is the Prophet's statement on how to know that an angel is from Satan. According to Joseph, if there is any statement within the message delivered which contradicts a former revelation which was from God, that message, and the angel who brought it, are from Satan. Joseph Smith wrote:

There have also been ministering angels in the church which were of satan appearing as an angel of light:— A sister in the State of New York had a vision who said it was told her that if she would go to a certain place in the woods an angel would appear to her,— she went at the appointed time and saw a glorious personage descending arrayed in white ... he commenced and told her to fear God and said that her husband was called to do great things, but that he must not go more than one hundred miles from home or he would not return; whereas God had called him to go to the ends of the earth; and he has since been more than one thousand miles from home, and is yet alive. Many true things were spoken by this personage and many things that were false.—How it may be asked was this known to be a bad angel? ... by his contradicting a former revelation.
(Times and Seasons 3 [April 1, 1842]: 747)

The woman of whom Joseph spoke was evidently the wife of a Church missionary because Joseph explained, "God had called him to go to the ends of the earth." However, the angel who spoke with the woman gave her a contradictory revelation, saying that her husband must not go over one hundred miles from home or he would not return.This contradiction revealed that Satan was the source of the second message.

Section 132 in the LDS Doctrine and Covenants

The message allegedly brought by the sword-carrying angel printed in the affidavits and also below, contradicted many former commandments found in the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and the Doctrine and Covenants. Therefore the message was and is of Satan and not of God. Section 132 in the LDS Doctrine and Covenants is allegedly the result of Joseph's compliance with the angel's command. That document is filled with contradictory new doctrines and is what Apostle Paul called an "other gospel" (see Galatians 1:8).

A Test for Section 132

Section 132 in the present LDS Doctrine and Covenants was officially presented to the Saints in Salt Lake City in August 1852, eight years after Joseph's death. The affidavits below were sworn to in 1887 to bolster support for the doctrines taught in Section 132. The Apostle Paul gave this warning against receiving any other doctrines from men or angels except those which had already been preached. He said:

But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed. (Galatians 1:8–9)

The much-repeated story of an angel with a sword delivering a commandment to practice polygamy is not scripturally sound. It supports a new doctrine, a new covenant, which took precedence over and above the Book of Mormon, the Bible, and the Doctrine and Covenants. There is nothing in any authentic Church publication during Joseph's lifetime to suggest that Joseph entertained such an angel. If he had, he would have discerned immediately that an angel directing him to practice and introduce into the Church a new doctrine that was condemned and forbidden in the Three Standard Books of the Church was a satanic messenger.

In testing the source of Section 132, one should ask the question: Does Section 132 agree with the laws of marriage as taught in the Bible, Book of Mormon, and Doctrine and Covenants, or does it contain new commandments which contradict former commandments and revelations? The answer is, it contains new commandments, as the following direct quotes from Section 132 show:

REVELATION given through Joseph Smith the Prophet, at Nauvoo, Illinois, recorded July 12, 1843, relating to the new and everlasting covenant ... (Section 132 introduction)

... I reveal unto you a new and an everlasting covenant ... (verse 4)

And as pertaining to the new and everlasting covenant ... (verse 6)

... by the new and everlasting covenant ... (verse 19)

... of the new and everlasting covenant ... (verse 26)

... my new and everlasting covenant ... (verse 27)

... a wife in the new and everlasting covenant ... (verse 41)

... not in the new and everlasting covenant ... (verse 42)

Affidavits That Seek to Implicate Joseph

Among those who swore under oath that Joseph had testified to them of a visitation from an angel with a sword were Elder Joseph Bates Noble, Apostle Lorenzo Snow, Elder Benjamin Johnson, and Mrs. Adam Lightner (Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner).

Joseph Bates Noble is remembered for his claim that he had performed the first plural marriage ceremony in this dispensation by uniting in marriage Joseph the Prophet and Louisa Beaman (also spelled Beman or Beeman). Louisa was Noble's wife's sister, who became one of Brigham Young's plural wives.  It is also asserted that he was the first man in the Church, "in this dispensation," to father a child by a plural wife. (Andrew Jenson,  The Historical Record 6 [Salt Lake City, Utah, May 1887]: 239; see also Hazel Noble Boyack, A Nobleman in Israel, A Biographical Sketch of Joseph Bates Noble, Pioneer To Utah In 1847 [Cheyenne, Wyoming: The Pioneer Printing Company, 1962], 31, 69). For over one hundred and forty years the LDS Church has upheld Noble's claims. Affidavits by Noble and others have helped convince many undiscerning individuals that plural marriage was a divinely given doctrine brought to Joseph Smith by a sword-carrying angel. This story, which we believe is false and never happened to Joseph Smith, is one of the foundational stones upon which the LDS polygamy doctrine rests. It is false because Joseph would have discerned it to be a false revelation that contradicted earlier true revelations.

The allegation that Joseph was plurally married to Louisa Beaman was very familiar to Joseph the Prophet and to the Saints at Nauvoo in 1842. Also aware of this accusation and Joseph's denials were Brigham Young and other members of the Quorum of Twelve,  the Church's clerks, its historian, and members of every priesthood quorum at the Church's headquarters at Nauvoo. It is probable that every adult living at Nauvoo in 1842 knew that Dr. Bennett had accused Joseph of marrying Louisa and that Joseph had denied Bennett's charges. The Saints of Nauvoo had an ample opportunity to choose whether to believe Joseph or Dr. Bennett. Joseph asserted in the strongest possible language that he had only one wife, Emma Hale Smith, and no spiritual or plural wives. The false charge published by Bennett in 1842, that Joseph was married to Louisa Beaman was common knowledge to many, but was combined years later with the story of an angel with a sword visiting the Prophet and commanding him to practice plural marriage.

Three Affidavits Published in 1887

Testimonies by Elder Joseph Bates Noble, Apostle Lorenzo Snow, and Elder Benjamin F. Johnson are given below. Their testimonies are in direct conflict with the Prophet's words of counsel and warning on the subject of discerning the identity of angels, and have no support from anything written and published by Joseph during his lifetime. Here are four of those affidavits:

"JOSEPH BATES NOBLE'S TESTIMONY.

"Territory of Utah,
County of Salt Lake.
Bracket ss.

"Be it remembered, that on this twenty-sixth day of June, A. D. 1869, personally appeared before me, James Jack, a notary public in and for said county, Joseph Bates Noble, who was by me sworn in due form of law, and upon his oath saith, that in the fall of 1840, Joseph Smith taught him the principle of celestial or plural marriage, or a plurality of wives; and that the said Joseph Smith declared that he had received a revelation from God on the subject, and that the angel of the Lord had commanded him (Joseph Smith) to move forward in the said order of marriage; and further, that the said Joseph Smith requested him (Joseph B. Noble) to step forward and assist him in carrying out the said principle, saying, 'In revealing this to you, I have placed my life in your hands, therefore do not in an evil hour betray me to my enemies.'

"Subscribed and sworn to by the said Joseph B. Noble, the day and year first above written.

[SEAL] JOSEPH B. NOBLE,
JAMES JACK,
Notary Public."

"... Elder Joseph B. Noble swears (the affidavit I have on hand) before a notary public, on June 6, 1869, that he did on April 5, 1841, seal to Joseph Smith, the Prophet, Miss Louisa Beaman, according to the revelation on plural marriage." (Jenson, The Historical Record 6 [May 1887]: 221)

"APOSTLE LORENZO SNOW'S TESTIMONY.

"The following affidavit was made before J. C. Wright, clerk of Box Elder County, Utah, Aug. 28, 1869:

"In the month of April, 1843 ... when at President Joseph Smith's house ... we walked a little distance ... he there and then explained to me the doctrine of plurality of wives.

"He said that the Lord had revealed it unto him and commanded him to have women sealed to him as wives, that he foresaw the trouble that would follow and sought to turn away from the commandment, that an angel from heaven appeared before him with a drawn sword, threatening him with destruction unless he went forward and obeyed the commandment....

(Signed) LORENZO SNOW, (ibid., 222)

Lorenzo Snow and his family were polygamously related to the Youngs, the Nobles, and the Beamans. Lorenzo's sister, Eliza Snow, was one of Brigham Young's plural wives. Young was also married plurally to Louisa Beaman (Joseph Bates Noble's sister-in-law). Lorenzo's brother, Erastus Snow, was married to Artemesia Beaman, who was Louisa Seaman's sister, and Joseph Bates Noble had married Mary Adeline Beaman, who was also a sister to Louisa and Artemesia (see Boyack, A Nobleman in Israel, 21). They were so deeply involved in polygamy that they sought to justify their actions.

"BENJAMIN F. JOHNSON'S TESTIMONY.

"The following affidavit was sworn to before James Jack, a notary public, in Salt Lake City, March 4,1870....

"Again, on the 19th of October, the same year [1843], President [Joseph] Smith made us another visit at Macedonia [Illinois]....

"He also visited my mother at her residence in Macedonia and taught her in my hearing the doctrine of celestial marriage, declaring that an angel appeared unto him with a drawn sword, threatening to slay him if he did not proceed to fulfill the law that had been given to him....

(Signed) B. F. JOHNSON. (Jenson, The Historical Record 6:221,222)

Affidavit of Mary Elizabeth Rolling Lightner

Mormon Historian Andrew Jenson published the names of twenty-seven women whom he alleged were Joseph's plural wives. Mary Elizabeth Rollins is listed as one of them (ibid., 234).

LDS genealogical records show that Mary Elizabeth Rollins was the wife of Adam Lightner, the mother of two little children, and was eight months pregnant with her third child in February 1842, the month in which LDS historians claim that she and Joseph were wed.

Mary Lightner made claims of angels who had allegedly visited her and Joseph, and directed both in the doctrine of plural marriage. Her statements were readily accepted in Utah, because she claimed that Brigham Young had married her to Joseph in 1842. Although she was living with and cohabiting with her husband, Adam Lightner, she had been sealed as a plural wife to Brigham Young for time in January 1846 (see John J. Stewart, Brigham Young and His Wives: And The True Story of Plural Marriage [Salt Lake City, Utah: Mercury Publishing Company, Inc., 1961], 89; see also Vision, December 2008, 25).

Mary Lightner's affidavit was published by Fawn Brodie, who wrote:

Curiously, she [Mary Lightner] makes no mention of her marriage to Joseph in her autobiography ... but on February 8,1902, when eighty-four years old, she swore to an affidavit that said in part: "I was sealed to Joseph Smith, the Prophet, by commandment. In the spring of 1831, the Savior appeared and commanded him to seal me up to everlasting life, gave me to Joseph to be with him in his Kingdom. ... In 1834 he was commanded to take me for a wife. I was a thousand miles from him. He got afraid. The angel came to him three times, the last time with a drawn sword and threatened his life. I did not believe. If God told him so, why did he not come and tell me? The angel told him I should have a witness. An angel came to me—it went through me like lightning—I was afraid. Joseph said he came with more revelation and knowledge than Joseph ever dare reveal. Joseph said I was his before I came here and he said all the Devils in Hell should never get me from him. I was sealed to him in the Masonic Hall, over the old brick store by Brigham Young in February 1842 . . ." (Brodie, No Man Knows My History, 443–444)

Summary

When Joseph Noble swore under oath that he had performed a plural marriage ceremony uniting Joseph Smith and Louisa Beaman in marriage, he was repeating the same false allegation made in 1842 by Dr. John C. Bennett. Dr. Bennett was deeply involved in practicing and teaching plural marriage at Nauvoo, and was expelled from the Church for his immoral conduct. He then published a book in which he wrote:

In concluding this subject, however, I will semi-state two or more cases, among the vast number, where Joe Smith was privately married to his spiritual wives—in the case of Mrs. A**** S****, by Apostle Brigham Young; and in that of Miss L***** B***** [Louisa Beaman], by Elder Joseph Bates Noble. (John C. Bennett, The History of the Saints; or, An Expose of Joe Smith and Mormonism [Boston: Leland & Whiting, 1842], 256)

Joseph Noble, by making affidavit that he had performed a plural marriage ceremony for Joseph and Louisa, strengthened the foundation for polygamy in Utah. No doubt Noble's affidavit caused some to say, "Bennett said it was so in 1842, and now Noble is agreeing with Bennett. Therefore, it must be true." However, Noble agreeing with Bennett does not make it true. It is the opinion of the authors that neither Bennett nor Noble told the truth. It should be remembered that Bennett made many converts to polygamy at Nauvoo. Only a few names of his converts are named in Church history. He had many converts whose names were never published. Fortunately, Joseph left an astounding amount of testimony against Bennett's false allegations. The Prophet did all in his power to stop the doctrine of plural marriage that was being secretly taught at Nauvoo and in the surrounding communities. However, his efforts were not enough in the face of the strong opposition he faced from within the Church by those who wanted to promulgate that doctrine and were determined to undermine his efforts.

On Sunday, May 26, 1844, one month before Joseph's death, he preached to thousands who had gathered at the Stand to hear him speak against those who were accusing him of plural marriage and other crimes. Joseph began his sermon by reading the entire eleventh chapter of Second Corinthians, which includes these words:

The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is blessed for evermore, knoweth that I lie not. (2 Corinthians 11:31; see also LDS History of the Church 6:408)

He wanted his audience to know that he was not lying to them. He told them:

A man asked me whether the commandment was given that a man may have seven wives.... What a thing it is for a man to be accused of committing adultery, and having seven wives, when I can only find one. (ibid., 411)

This statement by Joseph was definite and purposeful because he wanted the Saints to be assured that he was telling them the truth.

There are two sides in this controversy, and both sides cannot be telling the truth about how polygamy came into the Church. We are convinced that Joseph Smith told the truth when he said that he had only one wife. If Joseph told the truth, then polygamy did not enter the Church by way of him introducing it. And those who swore affidavits in 1869 and 1870, that were published in 1887 in the Historical Record, did so to deceive the Saints and the general public. This is equally true for Mary Lightner's 1902 sworn affidavit, which was published in Fawn M. Brodie' s No Man Knows My History.

 

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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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