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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 ]

The William Law Conspiracy Moved Aggressively against Joseph

Joseph and Emma Smith

The conspirators against Joseph, and the Prophet's resistance against them, escalated during the month of April 1844. The conspirators, with President Law at their head, used the press more frequently to publicly charge Joseph with crimes. Joseph responded vigorously. No written account of Church history is complete without an account of the two conspiracies against Joseph, and his aggressive fight against his accusers and the doctrine of polygamy in the weeks immediately prior to his death. During the month of April Joseph had a loaded, double-barreled pistol pointed at his chest; other individuals threatened to kill him; and he was faced with continuous civil lawsuits, instigated by hatred and persecution. On April 18, 1844, Joseph's counselor, President William Law, his wife Jane Law, Wilson Law, Dr. Robert Foster of Nauvoo, and Howard Smith of Scott County, Illinois, were cut off from the Church for unchristian conduct (see Times and Seasons 5 [April 15, 1844]: 511).

Events that transpired because of the two polygamy conspiracies against Joseph were numerous, but Joseph remained strong and consistent with his testimony. On the one hand there existed a conspiracy in which the Laws, Fosters, and Higbees publicly charged Joseph with polygamy, while in contrast, Brigham Young and the majority of the Twelve Apostles worked discreetly and secretly to weave a web around Joseph by falsely teaching that he had plural wives. Joseph was well aware of the two conspiracies, and he set out to meet the threat of the Law conspirators in the civil court because they came out publicly against him, and their charges had to be addressed immediately. While this was transpiring, Joseph was fighting polygamy on another front by bringing a charge of teaching spiritual wifery, which was another name for polygamy, against Elder Harrison Sagers.

It is recorded under the date of April 13, 1844:

A charge was preferred against Harrison Sagers for teaching spiritual wife doctrine and neglecting his family, which was handed over to the High Council to act upon. (LDS History of the Church 6:333)

There certainly were a growing number of men like Sagers, who were embracing that false doctrine.

Meanwhile, the conspirators led by President William Law provided Thomas Sharp, editor of the Warsaw Signal of Warsaw, Illinois, with a steady supply of articles against Joseph.

That which occurred at Nauvoo and Carthage in the civil courts in the two months prior to Joseph's death were brought about to harass him. And that which occurred had a significant bearing upon the history of his death.

As an example, there was a robbery and a lynching at Nauvoo which was used as a means to persecute the Prophet. That case is very important in fitting together the puzzle of what preceded the assassination of Joseph and Hyrum. The civil court cases played an important role in bringing the conspiracy against him into the open. They also assisted in helping document and preserve sworn testimonies by both Joseph and Hyrum. Those documents can now be used in defense of Joseph and Hyrum's anti-polygamous stance.

The article below was entitled "Robbery and Lynching." It shows a definite struggle between the conspirators and Joseph, who was the mayor of Nauvoo. From April until his death in June, the conspirators led by William Law kept Joseph involved in continual civil court cases.

A Lynching in Nauvoo

Apostle John Taylor, editor of the Nauvoo Neighbor, published an account of a robbery, a lynching, and attempts by Mayor Joseph Smith, and others, to bring justice. A conspiracy against Joseph had been in operation for some time. However, the depth of the hatred held against Joseph became more apparent during the hearings on this case. Other lawsuits followed in rapid succession from the date of the robbery and continued until the day that Joseph was murdered. The names of the Laws, Fosters, and Higbees appear in other court cases as the facts of Joseph's fight against polygamy are documented in future chapters. The following article illustrates Joseph's struggle to uphold the law and preserve his own safety:

ROBBERY AND LYNCHING.

For several days past quite an excitement has prevailed in our city, occassioned by a robbery, and the application of the Lynch law to the person that is supposed to have perpetrated the act,—the particulars are as follows:

On Friday night, last, the store of Messrs Roloson and Finch was forcibly entered and robbed of from fourteen to fifteen hundred dollars in money, and other property to the amount of two hundred dollars, or upwards. As soon as the affair was discovered, suspicion rested upon a colored person by the name of Chisem [Chism], who was taken by a lawless banditti, under the pretence of a legal process, and hurried out some distance into the woods, where he was tied, stripped, and most inhumanly beaten or lacerated, till the fear of extinguishing life itself admonished the perpetrators of this outrage to desist. We are informed by those who have seen him that the wounds he exhibits are sufficient to shock humanity, and create a feeling of indignity against such a transaction, in every law-abiding person.

A prosecution was immediately commenced against a person by the name of Townsend, before squire Johnson, on the charge of an Assault and Battery, and a verdict rendered of guilty; but for want of evidence to prove the full particulars of the case, he was Fined but five dollars and the cost. Mr. J. Easten has since been tried on the charge of being accessory to the above crime; but was acquitted, there being no tangible evidence adduced against him. (Nauvoo Neighbor, April 3, 1844)

Following this statement Editor Taylor published an opinion on "the manner in which this trial was conducted." Note in the statement below that mention is made of Justice Robert D. Foster and Attorney Chauncey L. Higbee, who were conspirators with President William Law. Taylor published:

The Marshall of the city [John P. Greene] upon information given, arrested Mr. Easton for the purpose of bringing him before Daniel H. Wells, Esq, and had his witness prepared to give evidence before that magistrate. At this stage of affairs, a plot was entered into by some of his friends and associates, for the purpose of taking him out of the hands of the Marshall and bringing him before another Justice of the peace. Accordingly, a Mr. Finch, upon affidavit, obtained a warrant from R. D. Foster to bring him forthwith before him. A jury was accordingly empannelled, witnesses called and an investigation had; but as no testimony was adduced to condemn the prisoner, the main witness not being present, he was acquitted, for want of evidence. However, the matter was again called up by squire Wells, who decided that he had no jurisdiction over the case, from the fact, that the prisoner had previously been tried and acquitted on the same charge, (ibid.)

Next, Editor Taylor mentioned a statement made by Joseph Smith, as well as other important details of the Chism Case. Taylor said:

After the court dismissed the case, Gen. (Joseph] Smith fearlessly stated that he believed that it was a plot on the part of those who were instrumental in getting up the previous trial, to thwart the ends of justice, and screen the prisoner [Mr. Easton] from the condemnation he justly deserves. (ibid.)

The author of the article stated that when Joseph had finished speaking, Justice of the Peace Robert D. Foster responded. It is written of him:

Mr. Foster then stated by way of an apology, that at the time he issued the warrant, he did not know that the prisoner was under an arrest, or that there was any process against him. We hope for the honor of such a man as Mr. Foster, that his statement is true. Mr. Foster, however, called upon one of his jurors, Mr. Carn to corroborate what he had said; but to our astonishment, he replied that when Mr. Foster summoned him to appear and act as juryman, that he was not informed what case he was to act upon, nor did he learn till he entered the office, where he acted according to the evidence given, but believed then as well as now that it was in part a sham trial, a mere mockery of justice. Whether or not, there was any honor or justice in the above transaction we do not pretend to determine, but state the facts as they are, and let the public judge for themselves, (ibid.)

Mr. Chism, the man who had been severely beaten, declared:

that Messrs Easton, Townsend, and W. H. J. Marr were the persons engaged in this diabolical affair: Mr. Gibbs, one of the witnesses against Townsend, believed the other persons were engaged in it... and Mr. Gibbs could not positively swear to it. (ibid.)

The citizens of Nauvoo were greatly disturbed by the unlawful beating of Chism. Editor John Taylor published:

we don't remember of ever having seen more indignation manifest than was manifested on this occasion, and the public mind is not satisfied at the turn affairs have taken. Lynch law will not do in Nauvoo, and those who engaged in it must expect to be visited by the wrath of an indignant people; not according to the rules of Judge Lynch; but according to law and equity, (ibid.)

It was also reported:

On Monday last Chancy [Chauncey] L. Higbee, a lawyer, was brought before Daniel H. Wells, Esq., on the charge of using abusive language to, and insulting the City Marshall [John P. Greene], while in the discharge of his official duty—he was fined ten dollars.

On the same day R. D. Foster Esq. was taken before Isaac Higbee, J. P; and fined ten dollars, for a breach of the ordinance pertaining to gambling, &c.

We are sorry to find that our lawyers and magistrates should be taking the lead among gamblers and disorderly persons and be numbered among law-breakers, rather than supporting virtue, law, and the dignity of the city. (ibid.)

The disregard by this group of men for civil law, and their defiance toward civil officers, escalated in the days ahead. Their defiance continued until Joseph and Hyrum were both dead. The article below, reprinted from the Neighbor, provides more insight into the actions of those who were aligned with William Law. The article reported:

Outrages.—It becomes our duty to chronicle some of the proceedings of a band of men who infest our city, and occasionally disturb the peace thereof when opportunity offers itself, but while our magistrates continue to enforce the law they must eventually succeed in establishing law and order.

On Friday morning last the 26th ult. information was given to Mr. Green that Augustine Spencer had committed an assault on the person of Alderman [Orson] Spencer who immediately took him into custody, and on his refusing to go to the Mayor's office [Joseph's office] Mr. Green called upon R. D. [Robert] Foster, C. L. [Chauncey] Higbee, and C. A. [Charles] Foster to assist him, but they swore they would not and said they would see the mayor and the city d___d, and then they would not. Spencer was, however conveyed to the mayor's office and fined $100.00. The mayor then ordered the three above named to be arrested for refusing to assist the officer when called upon. They all resisted and C. A. Foster immediately drew a double barrelled pistol and presented it to the Mayor's breast, who had come to the assistance of the officers, but it was instantly wrenched from his grasp. Higbee joined with Foster in declaring that they would thank God for the opportunity of shooting the mayor. They were fined $100.00 each. They all appealed to the municipal court.

These individuals have lately become notorious. R. D. Foster is the magistrate who was fined a few weeks ago for gambling; Higbee a respectable limb of the law who was fined for insulting the city officers; and C. A. Foster is a candidate for fame, lately fined for disturbing a religious congregation, (ibid., May 1, 1844)

Augustine Spencer, who is mentioned above as having attacked his brother, Orson, was deeply involved in the conspiracy against Joseph. Mr. H. T. Reid, an attorney for Joseph, issued a statement after the Prophet's death:

On Tuesday morning soon after the surrender of the prisoners on the charge of riot, Gen. Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum were both arrested on a charge of treason against the State of Illinois. The affidavits upon which the writs issued were made by Henry O. Norton and Augustine Spencer. (Times and Seasons 5:561–562; see also RLDS History of the Church 2:746; and LDS History of the Church 6:569–570)

A Statement from the City Marshall

The following account by Marshall John P. Greene appeared in the Neighbor and it corroborates the other accounts on this subject. The article states:

But, Mr. Taylor, I wish to give the following outrage an insertion in the Neighbor, that the public mind may be disabused and the disgrace and shame fall on those who have justly deserved it and merited the people's rebuke! On Friday morning the 26th inst. I was informed by Mr. O. [Orin] P. Rockwell that one Mr. Augustine Spencer, had committed an assault on the person of Alderman Orson Spencer, and the Mayor of the city [Joseph] had sent for A. Spencer and found him in Mr. Marr's Law Office; made him a prisoner and informed him he must go with me to the Mayor's Office, when he said he would not go! I then called upon R. D. Foster, C. L. Higbee, and C. A. Foster, to assist me in taking said Spencer to the Mayor's Office; but they swore they would not and used many threatening oaths, and aspersions, saying they would see the Mayor and the city damned and then they would not, but soon followed me and Mr. A. Spencer to the office door, when the Mayor ordered me to arrest those three men for refusing to assist me in the discharge of my duty, and when attempting to arrest them they all resisted and with horrid imprecations threatened to shoot. I called for help and there not being sufficient, the Mayor laid hold on the two Fosters at the same time. At that instant C. A. Foster drew a double barrel pistol on Mr. Smith; but it was instantly wrenched from his hand, and afterwards he declared he would have shot the Mayor if we had let his pistol alone, and also he would thank God for the privilege of ridding the world of a tyrant. C. L. Higbee responded to Foster's threats, and swore that he would do it! However the three were arrested and brought before the Mayor, whereupon O. P. Rockwell, Joseph Cooledge, J. P. Green, and E. Tufts testified to the amount of the above statements, upon which the Court assessed a fine of one hundred dollars to each of the above named aggressors, (who appealed to the Municipal Court).... J. P. G. (Nauvoo Neighbor, May 1, 1844)

Lucy Mack Smith Wrote of the Conspiracy

Lucy Smith, mother of Joseph the Prophet, referred in her autobiography to Augustine Spencer's attack upon his brother Orson. Lucy Smith wrote:

There was also another individual, named Augustine Spencer, a dissolute character, (although a member of an excellent family), who, I believe, was concerned in this conspiracy. About the time of [M. G.] Eaton's disclosures, this man went to the house of his brother Orson, and abused my sons and the church at such a rate that Orson finally told him that he must either stop or leave the house. Augustine refused, and they grappled. In the contest, Orson was considerably injured. He went immediately to Joseph, and, stating the case, asked for a warrant. Joseph advised him to go to Doctor Foster, who was a justice of the peace. Accordingly, he went and demanded a warrant of Foster, but was refused. On account of this refusal, Foster was brought before Esquire Wells, and tried for non-performance of duty. At this trial Joseph met Charles Foster, the doctor's brother, who attempted to shoot him, as soon as they met, but was hindered by Joseph's catching his hands, and holding him by main force, in which way Joseph was compelled to confine him above an hour, in order to preserve his own life. (Lucy Smith, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet and His Progenitors for Many Generations [Lamoni, Iowa, Herald Publishing House for the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, 1908], 350–351)

Augustine Stated in a Letter that Joseph Had "Six or Seven" Wives

Apostle Parley P. Pratt, who was on a mission to Massachusetts, wrote a letter on May 3,1844, to Joseph and Orson Spencer. It informed them of the following:

Mr. Augustine Spencer, brother to Elder Orson Spencer, has written a letter from Nauvoo, which is now going the rounds in this neighborhood, and is fraught with the most infamous slander and lies concerning Joseph Smith and others, and which is calculated to embitter the minds of the people who read or hear it. It affirms that Joseph Smith ... keeps six or seven young females as wives, &c., and many other such like insinuations. (LDS History of the Church 6:354, 355)

Plural Marriage Accusations against Joseph Escalated

An article entitled "The Nauvoo Block and Tackle" was written by one who signed his name "The Exile." Upon reading the article it is evident that it was written in order to entice the public to believe the falsehood that Joseph was responsible for the polygamy practiced earlier at Kirtland and in 1844 at Nauvoo. It was asserted that Joseph had introduced plural marriage in 1834 at Kirtland. Evidence was given in an earlier chapter that polygamy was practiced by some members of the Church at Kirtland during the 1830s. There is documentation which shows that Joseph was in the forefront of bringing the practicing of that doctrine into the open and placing a document "On Marriage" which condemned polygamy in the 1836 Edition of the Doctrine and Covenants. (The identical "Marriage" document is Section 111 in the Doctrine and Covenants published by Price Publishing Company in 1996.)

In spite of what the anonymous author of "The Nauvoo Block and Tackle" wrote, the Prophet did not introduce plural marriage into the Church. Polygamy was brought into the Church by some of the newly baptized Cochranites, "gathering" to Kirtland with their "spiritual wives." Before being baptized into the Church, they had been members of a polygamous sect called Cochranites, who had been baptized in Maine, Massachusetts, and surrounding states. A number of them gathered to Kirtland without giving up their polygamous practices or beliefs. Their polygamy brought reproach upon the Church and gave evil persons the opportunity to place the blame for polygamy in the Church upon the innocent Prophet. (For further information on the Cochranites see Joseph Smith Fought Polygamy, volume one, chapters one through four.)

It is obvious that "The Nauvoo Block and Tackle" was the creation of a conspirator, whose aim was to do as much harm to Joseph's character as was possible. The article stated:

The Nauvoo Block and Tackle.

MR. EDITOR:—I have frequently noticed in the columns of your paper, articles concerning the doctrine of Spiritual Wives, a part of the Mormon creed. Nothing as yet has come to my view which gave entire satisfaction; and as it is my turn now, just command silence for a few moments that I may have a hearing. In the year 1834, at Kirtland Ohio, the aforementioned step in the heavenly stairway was located. Much excitement grew out of this measure; many of the Saints demurred, and the more knowing ones readily perceived that it was entirely too liberal in its provisions—even to be constitutional. In a word, the Saints rejected it; only a few of the more licentious delighting in it. The doctrine was hushed up, as being sent before its time—for be it known that Mormonism is a system of progression. The next glimpse I obtained of this hellish Spiritual Wife doctrine, was in the year 1838, just on the eve of hostilities in Missouri. The presence of the enemy furnished subjects for reflection, to the exclusion of the old eye-sore [polygamy] for the second time. But iniquity never lies dormant. No sooner did prosperity smile upon the fraternity in Nauvoo, than the secret workings of the same faction were set in motion.... Counsel met.... Counsel adjourned—and the following became the order of the kingdom: It is the privilege of the saints to be united to their better half in time for eternity; and then they can be sealed up to eternal felicity in the celestial kingdom. Of course this was very acceptable, and productive of great joy, particularly among the firm Smithites. The Patriarch of the church [Hyrum Smith] is the only one who officiates in these matters, and he complains of being bothered by applications, but some think difficult questions are more his evil genius than many applications.— But to the qualifications. Brother S. desires to be united to his wife for eternity and in order to do the thing correctly, he takes advice from some one entitled to give the same; and to his mortification, he learns that he cannot be benefited in this way until his tithing is paid on the Temple—which is every tenth day, and a tenth of all his property. The prize is too great to loose, so this tithing is paid over into the hands of the Trustee in Trust, and brother S. and his lady are united for eternity, who depart rejoicing.... AN EXILE. (Warsaw Signal [April 24, 1844], 2)

It is obvious that "An Exile" wrote with one purpose. That purpose was to assist in causing the Prophet's death or downfall. The above article, and many more similar to it, aroused the public, confused many Saints, and set the stage for the deaths of Joseph and Hyrum.

It is possible to see within the writings of the conspirators, traces of false doctrines that accompanied the plural marriage doctrine as practiced under the leadership of Brigham Young. Those false teachings later became strong beliefs in the church under Young's presidency. Those doctrines included the doctrine of plural marriage, the attaining of a higher state of salvation by marrying plurally, the belief in a plurality of gods, the Adam-god theory, the progression to godhood, the practicing of blood atonement, temple secrets, and the wearing of secret temple undergarments. In Joseph's day until the present time, some have incorrectly taken the fact that these doctrines were talked of and preached during Joseph's lifetime to be proof that they were introduced by Joseph. But that is not true! Those false doctrines were being taught before Joseph was killed, but he and Hyrum spoke against such and sought to eradicate them.

A statement signed by Hyrum Smith gives evidence that in March 1844 elders were teaching false doctrines, which later appeared in Salt Lake City in the plural marriage for eternity document known as Section 132. Those false doctrines and the elders preaching them were condemned by both Joseph and Hyrum. The following notice signed by Hyrum informed the Saints:

Nauvoo, March 15,1844.

To the brethren of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints, living on China Creek, in Hancock County, Greeting:—Whereas brother Richard Hewitt has called on me today, to know my views concerning some doctrines that are preached in your place, and states to me that some of your elders say, that a man having a certain priesthood, may have as many wives as he pleases, and that doctrine is taught here [at Nauvoo]: I say unto you that that man teaches/a/re doctrine, for there is no such doctrine taught here; neither is there any such thing practised here. . . . HYRUM SMITH. (Times and Seasons 5 [March 15, 1844]: 474)

But, say the defenders of Mormon polygamy, Historian Andrew Jenson and other officials in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have published that Hyrum had plural wives.

Indeed, Historian Jenson and others, including one of Hyrum's sons, have made that claim. Jenson printed a statement by Hyrum's son, Joseph F. Smith, in an effort to convince all that his father had had plural wives. Joseph F. Smith, who was five and a half years old when his father was killed, wrote:

"Let all the Latter-day Saints know that Joseph Smith, the martyred Prophet, is responsible to God and the world for this doctrine, and let every soul know that he and his brother Hyrum did practice the doctrine in their lifetime, and until their death, notwithstanding their seeming denials as published in the Times and Seasons,... JOSEPH F. SMITH." (Andrew Jenson, The Historical Record 6 [May 1887): 219–220)

Reliable records reveal that Hyrum Smith was the father of eight children. He and his first wife, Jerusha Barden Smith, who died October 13,1837, were the parents of six children. Those six children, Lovina, Mary, John, Hyrum, Jerusha, and Sarah were born within a period of ten years and one month. The youngest was less than two weeks old when Jerusha died.

Shortly after Jerusha's death, Hyrum married Mary Fielding. Their first child, Joseph Fielding [Joseph F.], was born November 13, 1838. A daughter, Martha, was born May 14, 1841. She celebrated her third birthday May 14, 1844, and her father, Hyrum, was assassinated the next month. He was only forty-four years of age (see Lucy Smith, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet and His Progenitors for Many Generations [Lamoni, Iowa, Herald Publishing House for the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, 1908], 35).

If Hyrum had married plural wives would he not have parented children as did Apostle Brigham Young and others?

Presiding Patriarch Hyrum Smith was Joseph's primary witness against the doctrine of plural marriage. Hyrum stood with Joseph, proclaiming against it. He stood head and shoulders above all other men in the Church in proclaiming against it. Hyrum worked constantly with Joseph in denouncing polygamy as a doctrine and supporting Joseph. No apostle defended Joseph's innocence, or fought to keep plural marriage out of the Church, as did Hyrum. He remained Joseph's primary witness until he was killed in Carthage Jail.

Summary

Joseph the Prophet's resistance to those who were charging him with having plural wives is another evidence that he was monogamous. If he had been guilty he would not have sought to arrest and bring into court men, such as Augustine Spencer, who were sure to raise the accusation of polygamy against Joseph in a court of law. If Joseph had been attempting to cover up the crime of bigamy, he would not have physically and orally challenged those who were resisting arrest and carrying pistols to kill him. In challenging his accusers, Joseph was following a policy which would surely place him, sooner or later, in a court of law and subject him to answering questions under oath concerning the plurality of wives charges. A guilty man does not invite such investigations. Neither would Joseph if he had been guilty. He, however, went face-to-face with his accusers. He was ready to meet those same men in the courts of the land and under oath declare that he was innocent of all charges, including polygamy. No evidence existed then that would convict him of the crime of polygamy, because he was innocent.

 

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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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