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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 ]

Joseph Smith Continued to Fight Polygamy through 1843

Joseph and Emma Smith

As has been seen in former chapters, the year of 1842 found Joseph coping with a long list of polygamous allegations. Included were Doctor Bennett and his assertions that Joseph had tried to seduce Sarah Pratt, Nancy Rigdon, and others. In that year Joseph brought the young lawyer, Chauncey Higbee, to trial for claiming that he (Joseph) had given him permission to seduce several women in practicing spiritual wifery. And there was Udney Hay Jacob who, without Joseph's knowledge, had his book The Peace Maker printed on the Times and Seasons press, with Joseph's name listed on the cover as the printer.

Eighteen forty-three was a very important year in the battle against polygamy. The new year began as the old one had ended, with Joseph engaged in fighting polygamy. Two very different stories have grown out of 1843. One is Joseph's story of his innocence, his hatred of polygamy, and his fight against the infiltration of that doctrine (in all forms) into the Church. Joseph's published statements and those of other Church officials plainly show that the Prophet was a bitter foe of polygamy throughout that year.

A very different story of what happened that year is told by Brigham Young and his followers. They declare that Joseph had plural wives in 1843, and that he sent a written revelation on the subject of plural marriage for time and eternity (Section 132 of the LDS Doctrine and Covenants) to the members of the High Council for their approval as a doctrine of the Church.

The polygamy problem continued through the year of 1843, causing major problems for Joseph and the Saints; but he faithfully struggled to put down the practice and its thousands of rumors. Meanwhile, Brigham Young and other polygamists increased their practice of polygamy by taking more wives under the cover of strict secrecy. Further, the apostles under Brigham's leadership gradually gained more and more control of Nauvoo and the Church, so that polygamy became more difficult for the Prophet to combat.

Taking the polygamy cases which occurred in 1843 by dates, demonstrates the fact that Joseph was plagued with the problem continuously.

Oliver Olney's Polygamous Charges Condemned

One problem which Joseph had in 1842 carried over into the new year of 1843. This problem involved Oliver H. Olney, who had aligned himself with Dr. John C. Bennett and accused Joseph of polygamy. Elder Olney was disfellowshipped in 1842, as is shown by the following record dated March 17, 1842:

The High Council withdrew the hand of fellowship from Elder Oliver Olney for setting himself up as a prophet, and took his license. (LDS History of the Church 4:552)

Joseph referred to Olney in an editorial entitled "TRY THE SPIRITS," in which the Prophet explained:

We have also had brethren and sisters that have had written revelations, and have started forward to lead this church. Such was ... Oliver Olney of Nauvoo.... Mr. Olney has also been tried by the high council, and disfellowshiped because he would not have his writings tested by the word of God. (Times and Seasons 3 [April 1,1842]: 747–748)

Dr. John Bennett found a ready ally in Oliver Olney. Shortly after Bennett began publishing his polygamous accusations against Joseph in the Sangamo Journal newspaper at Springfield, Illinois, Olney rushed to testify to the truth of Bennett's plural marriage charges against the Prophet.

In February 1843 Apostle Taylor, who was editor of the Church periodical, the Times and Seasons, published an article explaining more about Olney's apostasy and his support of Bennett's position. Taylor published:

"Mr. Olney has also been tried by the High Council, and disfellowshiped, because he would not have his writings tested by the word of God; evidently proving that he loves darkness rather than light, because his deeds are evil."

Since his expulsion from the Church, he has been engaged in a campaign against Mormonism, and has been one of John C. Bennet's right hand men—he was also one of the contributors to the filthy columns of the "Sangamo Journal," making or professing to make, a great expose of the corrupt principles of Mormonism....

Mr. Olney has long been a member of this church, and until within two or three years ago, has always maintained a consistent character. He began to be wild and visionary about that time, and having become loosed from the moorings of eternal truth, and been dashing about on the waves of superstition, fanaticism and uncertainty, he became a fit subject to be duped by the notorious Bennet, and it would seem has been too apt a scholar to his teaching until he has become engulphed in the whirlpool of destruction. (Times and Seasons 4 [February 1, 1843]: 89; see also LDS History of the Church 5:269–270)

And what had Dr. Bennett published in the Sangamo Journal that caused Apostle Taylor to call the columns "filthy"? It was Dr. Bennett's accusations that Joseph was involved in practicing polygamy. It was the same letters and documents that have been reviewed and refuted in previous chapters of Joseph Smith Fought Polygamy. Here are a few examples of what can be found in the Sangamo Journal for that time period. In the July 7, 1842, issue is found an article by Bennett on the subject of "clandestine wives of Joseph Smith under the new dispensation." The July 15, 1842, publication contains Bennett's charges that Joseph had attempted to get Nancy Rigdon, Sarah Pratt, and others to be his plural wives. Also in this issue is the allegation that Joseph had received a plural marriage revelation. The issue for July 22, 1842, features Bennett's charges against Joseph involving Martha Brotherton, Emmeline White, and others. In the Sangamo Journal for August 19,1842, there appeared Bennett's infamous "Sixth Letter" in its entirety. The headline declared:

"6th Letter from Gen. Bennett. Joe Smith's Letter to Miss Rigdon, in defense of the spiritual wife doctrine ..."

Dr. Bennett's "Sixth Letter" was printed in full. (For a study of that false document see Vision 33, January 2000, pages 20–27.) Bennett's Sixth Letter can be read under the title of "Happiness" in the LDS History of the Church 5:134–136.

Olney Published a Pamphlet

Oliver Olney published a pamphlet, The Absurdities of Mormonism Portrayed, in Hancock County in the spring of 1843. A synopsis of Olney's writings in his pamphlet is found in the Stanley Snow Ivins Collection in the Library of the Utah State Historical Society in Salt Lake City, Utah. Stanley Ivins made the following notes as he quoted these words directly from Olney's pamphlet:

p[page]10—Under a section headed "Polygamy", he [Olney] says: "Polygamy was first introduced in Kirtland, Ohio, about eight years ago. Hint after hint has been going, until we have to say, they have begun to do, as well as say, This subject has been kept in the dark as long as it could be, as it was first said to be too strong meat for the Latter Day Saints to bear. But as some have long waited impatiently, and the plainness of the Scripture is such on the occasion, has forbid any further delay....

"Again, a dark saying arises in the name of the Lord, in the form of a pamphlet, said to be written by a man by the name of Jacobs, but published by Joseph Smith/Editor. We find that if the pamphlet was not written by the authorities of the church, it by them was revised in Jacobs name. But to come to its contents, it argues polygamy; that there is hardly a saying in the Bible but what misapply to polygamy." He says polygamy "can no longer be kept in the dark; as many are actually attached to the second living companion; and a door is fast opening on this subject, that many is arguing it to be the will of God. That in these days God designed to raise up a more righteous people on the Earth than has been for many ages past. It is argued that those of the chosen of God, is to father them,... A number of wives have been made, to effect that order, and get it established. But nothing seemed to prevail, until they got a wise Master Free Mason to come and establish a lodge among them." He had them form a woman's lodge. "But altered the name, that they could be distinguished from the lodge of the men. That they called the ladies benevolent society." The sisters were then allowed to receive certain degrees of Masonry. (Stanley Snow Ivins Collection, Manuscript Collection on Polygamy, Book 6, pages 160–161)

In another notebook, under the heading of "Papers of Oliver Olney— Original Mss. ... Journal of Oliver Olney...," Stanley Ivins makes further notes from Olney's writings, which show that Olney repeated Dr. Bennett's claims that Joseph was taking plural wives from within the Ladies' Relief Society. Ivins recorded the following from Olney's Journal:

He [Olney] tells how he was brot before a High Council, which "set me afloat", because he would not show them "the record that I had kept of the Church."

p. 8, 9—He [Olney] says: "We have of late" had Masonry set up, and the Master Mason: "He said there were certain Degrees/for the fair sex of the land/They soon met in Union/A Lodge to form but changed the name/That they might be distinguished/From the Lodge of the Men/" (This is written in a sort of doggerel and the marks (/) indicate line divisions.)

p 10,11—He tells of the organization of the Relief Society. Said the first degree was organizing to help the poor. Of the second degree he said: "It was that those of high renown/went in to the water and gathered/A plurality of wives/" Says he will not expostulate on the 3d and 4th degrees until another time.

May 13, 1842—He warns against "a multiplicity of wives"—"They will be a trouble to you/As they will harrass you/ Both by Night and by Day/They will depend on you for a living/That will come out of the tithing of the L.D.S./Be satisfied with one as is the custom around"/ June 4,1842—He speaks of stories that make "the daily rounds", and thinks that so much smoke must mean a fire. (Stanley Snow Ivins Collection, Manuscript Collection on Polygamy, Book 8, page 228)

Joseph Denied Polygamy before Temple Workers

In spite of Joseph's constant denials and his condemnation of Jacob's Peacemaker in the Times and Seasons, volume 4, (December 1,1842) page 32, there was much speculation as to whether or not Joseph was a polygamist. More and more were learning that members of the Twelve and others had plural wives, and the saying became more popular, "There cannot be so much smoke without some fire."

On February 21,1843, the Prophet spoke to those who were building the Temple—a group consisting of both men and women, and told them that he knew what people were saying about him. Joseph is reported to have declared:

There is a great noise in the city, and many are saying there cannot be so much smoke without some fire. Well, be it so. If the stories about Joe Smith [having plural wives] are true, then the stories of John C. Bennett are true about the ladies of Nauvoo; and he [Bennett] says that the Ladies' Relief Society are all organized of those who are to be the wives of Joe Smith. Ladies, you know whether this is true or not. (LDS History of the Church 5:286)

The above quotation shows that Joseph spoke boldly of the "great noise in the city" caused by people discussing whether or not he was a polygamist. He met his accusers head-on. He could not have met them with more force, than when he reminded his audience that if they accepted Bennett's statements that he had plural wives, they must also accept Bennett's charge that many members of the Ladies' Relief Society were Joseph's plural wives. And since the Nauvoo women knew they were not his wives, they knew that Joseph was not a polygamist.

It is ironic that years later the LDS Church leaders made the same claim that Bennett had made and actually named prominent members of the 1843 Ladies' Relief Society as having been Joseph's wives. These were the same charges that Joseph had scoffed at publicly because, to him, it was such a ridiculous accusation. It is astounding that Joseph's denials of those charges have been ignored and Bennett's charges are still being lauded as truth by the LDS Church.

Sidney Rigdon Condemned Polygamy Charges against Joseph

It was explained in Vision 33, January 2000, pages 20 and 21, that a letter written by Apostle Willard Richards was delivered to Sidney Rigdon's nineteen-year-old daughter Nancy, on the pretense that it was authored by Joseph. Bennett published that Joseph had sent the letter to Nancy in order to convince her to become his plural wife. However, Joseph declared to Elder Rigdon that he was not its author, and published a statement to that effect. The LDS Church leaders knew that Joseph had not written the letter, but they decided that it would be to their advantage to attach Joseph's name to it to promulgate plural marriage. They therefore chose to use Bennett's story instead of Joseph's, and that forged letter has become a sacred document to their church members and is known as an "Essay on Happiness."

Dr. Bennett's story of Nancy Rigdon and the alleged letter from Joseph caused President Sidney Rigdon, who was the Nauvoo postmaster, to be deluged with letters requesting him to divulge the true facts in the case. Rigdon's son-in-law, George Robinson, who was Bennett's friend, kept Dr. Bennett abreast of Nauvoo news. Robinson informed Bennett:

Mr. Rigdon.... has letters from all quarters, making inquiries about your accusations against Smith. (John C. Bennett, History of the Saints, 247)

Sidney and other Church leaders were bombarded with so many questions that over four pages of the February 15, 1843, Times and Seasons were devoted to the problems which Joseph and the Church were facing due to Bennett's falsehoods (see pages 97–101). Included in those pages was a copy of a letter by Elder Rigdon in which he condemned the slanderous statements against Joseph and the Saints. President Rigdon wrote:

Nauvoo, Ill. Feb 19,1843.

MR. ALFRED ED. STOKES

Dear Sir,—In obedience to your request, I send you one number of each of the papers published in this place [the Times and Seasons and the Wasp]. I am well aware, that designing men, for sinister purposes, have put in circulation reports concerning the people here, which are so monstrous, that it is a matter of surprise how any rational being could profess to believe them at all. If I were to even profess to believe such incredible and ridiculous nonsense about any people, I should consider the public would have sufficient cause to scorn me, as the mere tool of corrupt and foul slanderers; but any thing to stop the progress of that, which cannot be done by fact and scripture truth. That man must have a large stock of moral courage, who dare, in any wise, profess belief in such outlandish representations as are made in the public papers concerning the people of Nauvoo, and circulated orally by wicked and designing men.... Yours, with respect, SIDNEY RIGDON, P. M. [Postmaster]. (Times and Seasons 4 [February 15,1843]: 100, 101; LDS History of the Church 5:280–281)

The testimony by Elder Rigdon in behalf of Joseph and the Saints at Nauvoo has been ignored, as has been his reference to "reports concerning the people here, which are so monstrous."

Joseph Reaffirmed His Innocence

Many newspaper publishers increased their sales and financial profits by publishing Dr. Bennett's sensational stories about Joseph and the members of the Ladies' Relief Society. Bennett's lectures and writings stated that the Relief Society members were part of a "seraglio," which is another name for Joseph's alleged harem. One editor who published Bennett's seraglio story was the editor of the Chicago Express. Joseph answered the falsehoods by writing the following letter to be printed in the Church's newspaper:

To the EDITOR of the TIMES & SEASONS.

Sir, ... The slanderous allusion of a "seraglio," like the Grand Turk [who was a polygamist], which the editor [of the Chicago Express] applies to me, he may take to himself, for "out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh." Every honest man, who has visited the city of Nauvoo, since it existed, can bear record of better things, and place me in the front ranks of those who are known to do good for the sake of goodness, and show all liars, hypocrites; and abominable creatures, that while vice sinks them down to darkness and wo, virtue exalts me and the saints to light and immortality.... JOSEPH SMITH. (Times and Seasons 4 [March 1, 1843]: 113)

Over thirty years later Joseph F. Smith and other Mormon officials published for the first time, sworn affidavits of women who claimed to have been wives of Joseph. They had been members of the Ladies' Relief Society at Nauvoo. The affidavits were made after Joseph and Emma's sons, Joseph III, Alexander, and David, grew to manhood and went to Salt Lake City, Utah, as missionaries for the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and were convincing people that their father had not practiced polygamy.

Joseph Defended in the Boston Bee

Bennett's book was published in Boston late in 1842, and he lectured there. As a result, there was much said and written in the Boston newspapers against Joseph and the Saints. Among the topics discussed were Bennett's charges that the doctrines of plural wives and common stock were prevalent at Nauvoo. However, a Church member who signed himself simply as "H. R." wrote a letter to the editor of the Boston Bee, refuting Bennett's charges. Editor John Taylor republished the letter in the Times and Seasons. H. R. wrote:

Mr. Editor, SIR.... I have heard General Bennett's lectures, and left not a stone unturned to find its character.... We are charged with advocating a plurality of wives, and common property. Now this is as false as the many other ridiculous charges which are brought against us. No sect have a greater reverence for the laws of matrimony, or the rights of private property, and we do what others do not, practice what we preach. (Times and Seasons 4 [March 15, 1843]: 143)

Joseph Invited the Saints to Reveal Any Misconduct on His Part

On April 6,1843, a special conference convened at Nauvoo, and Joseph gave the Saints an opportunity to bring charges against him. If the Prophet had been guilty, he would not have opened the way for his own prosecution, because bigamy was a crime in Illinois. He would not have stood before thousands and invited anyone with a complaint to make a charge against him. The record reveals:

President Joseph then asked the conference if they were satisfied with the First Presidency, so far as he was concerned, as an individual, to preside over the whole church; or would they have another? If, said he, I have done any thing that ought to injure my character, reputation, or standing; or have dishonored our religion by any means in the sight of men, or angels, or in the sight of men and women, I am sorry for it, and if you will forgive me, I will endeavor to do so no more. I do not know that I have done anything of the kind; but if I have, come forward and tell me of it. If any one has any objection to me, I want you to come boldly and frankly, and tell of it; and if not, ever after hold your peace. (Times and Seasons 4 [May 1,1843]: 181)

Not one hand was lifted. Not one voice was raised. No complaint was made against Joseph, and he was unanimously chosen to continue as Prophet.

Missionaries Continually Proclaimed Joseph's Innocence

Under Joseph and Hyrum's direction Church missionaries waged constant warfare against Bennett's writings and lectures. An example is found in a letter written by George P. Dykes, who was one of those sent forth by Joseph and Hyrum in August 1842 to declare Joseph's innocence and Bennett's untruthfulness. George Dykes wrote Editor Taylor as follows:

One year since, I visited a settlement of Norwegians, in La Salle county, Illinois.... I returned to Nauvoo, where I found the whole country deluged with falsehood, from the pen of J. C. Bennet, and I immediately returned to La Salle, but the people there, looked upon him [Bennett] as a wicked designing man; his lies continued but a short time, when eternal disgrace fell upon his own head. I soon returned to Nauvoo, and in a few days was appointed by the special [church] conference, in August [1842], to travel through Illinois, to correct the misstatements of Bennet, in which journey I travelled through eighteen different counties. I was generally successful in convincing the people that Bennet maliciously slandered the innocent. (Times and Seasons 4 [May 15, 1843]: 195)

Elder Dykes was one of the three hundred and eighty missionaries who left Nauvoo after a special conference held at Nauvoo on August 29, 1842. The missionaries were to travel throughout the land and distribute thousands of broadsides, filled with affidavits that denied the plural marriage charges against the Prophet. The broadside was entitled Affidavits and Certificates Disproving the Statements and Affidavits Contained in John C. Bennett's Letters (see Vision 36, page 27). So for nearly nine months missionaries had been in the field verbally defending Joseph and distributing the "Affidavits" which declared that Joseph did not have plural wives.

A Pittsburgh Editor Accused Joseph of Having Numerous Children

A number of newspaper editors in search of sensational stories traveled to Nauvoo. They were guests at the Mansion House, which served as Joseph and Emma's home, a hotel, and a place for conducting Church business.

Among those who ate at the Prophet's table in 1843 was the senior editor of the Pittsburgh Gazette who was seeking a sensational story about Joseph. After partaking of the bounty of food at the Prophet's table, and finding no proof of polygamy in that household, he left Nauvoo and went to Warsaw among the Church's bitter enemies. From there he penned a story of his Nauvoo visit in which he mentioned Joseph's "numerous children" and "dependants" as if they truly existed. He purposely worded his story in such a way as to lead people to believe that the goodly number of children and young people he saw at the Mansion House were Joseph's children by his plural wives.

Apostle John Taylor knew that Joseph had no sons by anyone but Emma and that the Prophet's only daughter was their adopted daughter Julia. Taylor therefore published in the Prophet's defense:

It is a little singular, how men can step aside so far from truth, when they endeavor to give the conversations of General Smith.... The Senior Editor says, the prophet's "numerous children," and dependants were at the table, &c. Now as to the prophet's numerous children, they consist of three sons and one adopted daughter, and his dependants are either orphans or honorable men and women, who know better than to taint the truth. (Nauvoo Neighbor [December 27, 1843], 3)

Overseeing the entire operation of the Mansion House Hotel, which provided both sleeping and eating facilities, was the Prophet's wife Emma. The Mansion House was very popular, and many travelers preferred staying there, for they could view the Prophet in both his home and Church settings. The accommodations were very good in the hotel, which had a main lobby or parlor, bedrooms, and a large dining room which was noted for its excellent food. Therefore, the hotel required a staff of workers which Emma chose with care. Emma was president of the Ladies' Relief Society that had been organized "for the relief of the poor, the destitute, the widow and the orphan; and for the exercise of all benevolent purposes" (see the Times and Seasons 3 [April 1, 1842]: 743). Therefore, waiting on the tables, cooking, cleaning, and performing all the tasks required to efficiently operate a hotel were the destitute, the widow, orphans, and the fatherless whom Emma was attempting to assist. The Prophet had only one wife and four children!

Conclusion

Because the year of 1843 is such an important time in the history of the Church, it is important to consider the differing stories and their sources of events that may or may not have transpired. It is the opinion of the authors that Joseph was an honest man, unafraid of telling the truth. He was truthful when he denied being involved in polygamy in all forms. The truth is also that Joseph battled the doctrine of polygamy throughout 1843, but he could not hold back the tide of polygamy which Bennett, Young, and others were spreading under the cloak of secrecy.

The double standard of Apostles Young, Taylor, and other members of the Twelve have caused a perplexing problem. On the one hand they publicly defended the innocent Prophet and the Church against charges of polygamy, while on the other they were living with plural wives and begetting children themselves. This has made the task of uncovering truth enormous. Not until the true facts of Joseph's fight are known, can the task which the young Prophet faced in his battles against polygamy in 1843 be understood. The truth is found in Joseph's denials, and the fact that he had no children by any woman but his wife Emma. The brave Prophet, who gave his life so fearlessly at Carthage, must not be judged by the double standard practiced by members of the Twelve and their many accomplices in bringing the doctrine of plural marriage for time and for eternity into the Church, and like Bennett's Sixth Letter, making Joseph its author.

 

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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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