George D. Smith's Nauvoo Polygamy

Review of George D. Smith. Nauvoo
Polygamy: “. . . but we called it celestial
Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2008. xix + 672 pp., with bibliography, appendixes, and index.

George D. Smith’s Nauvoo Polygamy

Reviewed by Gregory L. Smith

Lamentably, the field of Mormon history is saturated with
those whose productivity far outstrips their ability and preparation. Even more
regrettable, those who are least qualified frequently write on the most
technical, sensitive, and difficult topics, with scandalous, highly publicized,
and completely erroneous conclusions the inevitable result. —Andrew H.
Hedges and Dawson W. Hedges[1]

The First Page

One cannot,
it is said, judge a book by its cover. After reading George D. Smith’s Nauvoo
, however, I’ve found that one can sometimes judge a book by
its first page.[2]
“Readers can judge for themselves,” promises the book’s dust jacket.
Why it was felt necessary to state the obvious becomes clear upon reading the
first page: this book needs judging, and as that hasn’t been done by the author
or the editor or the publisher, we, the poor readers (who must pay for the
privilege) are obliged to do it ourselves. Fortunately, it isn’t hard. Unfortunately,
the author won’t like it.[3]

Nauvoo Polygamy begins with an odd introduction to
plural marriage—G. D. Smith makes Napoleon
Bonaparte a Joseph Smith doppelgänger by quoting a letter from the future
Emperor to Josephine about their first night together: “I have awakened
full of you. The memory of last night has given my senses no rest.
. . . What an effect you have on my heart! I send you thousands of
kisses—but don’t kiss me. Your kisses sear my blood” (p. xi).

It is neither immediately nor ultimately clear
what this has to do with Joseph Smith, except that we quickly learn that Joseph
Smith also once wrote a letter to a lady. G. D. Smith informs us that “Joseph
Smith . . . proposed a tryst with the appealing seventeen-year-old, Sarah Ann
Whitney.” By now he had my attention—a new primary source about
plural marriage perhaps? The text of this titillating document followed: “Come
and see me in this my lonely retreat . . . now is the time to afford me succour. . . . I have a room intirely by myself, the whole
matter can be attended to with most perfect saf[e]ty,
I know it is the will of God that you should comfort me” (p. ix).[4]

Shocking! Not only has G. D. Smith proved at once that
Joseph’s spelling hadn’t improved much since he allegedly made up the several-hundred-page
Book of Mormon, but also that Joseph wrote this to his wife! Imagine, a man
writing that to his wife! If the book’s title had not alerted us, we are
certainly on notice that this is about plural marriage. (G. D. Smith hopes, one
suspects, that we will emphasize the word plural
rather than marriage.)

Alas, this document is
merely a specimen of the hoary art of selective citation and textual distortion.
One must admire G. D. Smith’s bravado. In his haste to firmly fix some naughty
thoughts to Joseph’s character, he neglected to include much of the letter. He
didn’t burden us with the fact that Joseph wrote to three people: “Brother
and Sister, Whitney, and &c.” Now, this is a serious omission by G. D.
Smith on two counts.

First, it is a lost opportunity to show that Joseph is a bit
dimwitted in the seduction business, not having figured out that an invitation
for Sarah to a steamy tryst should perhaps not include her parents.

Second, from the main text we would not have learned to whom
this letter was sent. (One hundred and fifty pages later, G. D. Smith admits
that “Joseph judiciously addressed the letter to ‘Brother, and Sister,
Whitney and &c.'” but still insists that the letter is an example of
Joseph “urg[ing] his seventeen-year-old bride to ‘come to night’ and ‘comfort’
him—but only if Emma had not returned” (p. 142). So G. D. Smith must
have realized that this is an important bit of information. The entire letter
has been available for decades. In fact, it was printed in
full by Signature Books in 1995.[5]

Not content to rely on the reader’s memory of 1995, I include
the entire letter below. Joseph begins:

I take this oppertunity to communi[c]ate,
some of my feelings, privetely at this time, which I want you
three Eternaly to keep in your own bosams; for my feelings are so strong for
you since what has pased lately between us
, that the time of my
abscence from you seems so long, and dreary, that it seems, as if I could not
live long in this way: and three would come and see
me in this my lonely retreat
, it would afford me great relief, of
mind, if
those with whom I am alied
, do love me; now is the time to afford me
, in the days of exile, for you know I foretold you of these

G. D. Smith’s distortion is
apparent. Joseph does not ask Sarah to come for a tryst, but asks “if you three
would come. Joseph also makes it clear that he is not seeking romance or relief
of passion, since “it would afford me great relief, of mind
to see those “with whom I am alied.” The Prophet
requests “you three . . . to keep in your own bosams; for my
feelings are so strong for you [i.e., you three] since what has passed lately
between us” (emphases added). One suspects Napoleon was less keen
on having the whole family there for blood-searing kisses.

Joseph’s letter continues:

all three
of y you come come and See me in the fore part of the
, let Brother Whitney come a little a head, and nock at the
south East corner of the house at window; it is next to the
cornfield, I
have a room inti=rely by myself, the whole matter can be attended to with most
perfect safty, I it is the will of God that you should comfort
now in this time of affliction
, or not at[ta]l now is the
time or never, but I hav[e] no kneed of saying any such thing, to you, for I
know the goodness of your hearts, and that you will do the will of the Lord,
when it is made known to you; the only thing to be careful of; is to find out
when Emma comes then you cannot be safe, but when she is not here, there is the
most perfect safty: only be careful to escape observation, as much as possible,
I know it is a heroick undertakeing; but so much the greater frendship, and the
more Joy, when I see you I tell you all my plans, I cannot write
them on paper, burn this letter as soon as you read it; keep all locked up in
your breasts, my life depends up=on it. one thing I
want to see you for is git the fulness of my blessings sealed upon
our heads, &c. you wi will pardon me for my earnest=ness on when you consider how lonesome I must be
, your good
feelings know how to every allow=ance for me, I close my letter, I
think Emma wont come tonight if she dont dont fail to come to night. I
subscribe myself your most obedient, affectionate, companion, and

G. D. Smith misleads us
even further when he insists (on a later page, unsourced) that “when Joseph
requested that Sarah Ann Whitney visit him and ‘nock at the window,’ he
reassured his new young wife that Emma would not be there, telegraphing his
fear of discovery if Emma happened upon his trysts” (p. 65). Yet Joseph
does not tell
Sarah to knock at the window—he tells her father to do so. G. D. Smith
makes the same claim again elsewhere—insisting that “writing to his
newest wife,” Joseph declared that “my feelings are so strong for you
. . . now is the time to afford me succour. . . . I
know it is the will of God that you should comfort me now” (p. 53).

G. D. Smith also uses “Comfort me now” as the
subtitle for chapter 2, “Joseph’s Wives” (p. 53). He later hints that
Emma would have to sneak up on Joseph to check up on him, as evidenced by “his
warning to Sarah Ann to proceed carefully in order to make sure Emma would not
find them in their hiding place” (p. 236). Joseph’s hiding place from the
mob and instructions to the Whitneys have been transmogrified into a hiding
place for Joseph and Sarah Ann.

G. D. Smith eventually provides the full text of this letter
(150 pages after its comparison with Napoleon) but precedes it with the claim
that by

the ninth night of Joseph’s
concealment . . . Emma had visited him three times, written him several
letters, and penned at least one letter on his behalf. . . . For his part,
Joseph’s private note about his love for Emma was so endearing it found its way
into the official church history. In it, he vowed to be hers “for evermore.”
Yet within this context of reassurance and intimacy, a few hours later the same
day, even while Joseph was still in grave danger and when secrecy was of the
utmost urgency, he made complicated arrangements for a visit from his fifteenth
plural wife, Sarah Ann Whitney. (p. 142)

Joseph’s behavior is then pictured as callous toward Emma
and also as evidence of an almost insatiable sexual hunger since G. D. Smith
elsewhere tells us that Joseph’s “summer 1842 call for an intimate visit
from Sarah Ann Whitney . . . vividly substantiate[s] the conjugal relationships
he was involved in” (p. 185). G. D. Smith follows his reproduction of the
Whitney letter with the claim that Sarah Ann was to “comfort”
Joseph “if Emma not there,” further reinforcing his reading (p. 147).
He later uses the supposed fact that “Joseph sought comfort from Sarah Ann
the day Emma departed from his hideout” as emblematic of Joseph’s
treatment of his first wife (p. 236). G. D. Smith’s distortion of this letter
to the Whitneys provides the book’s leitmotif; it recurs throughout.

Yet, despite G. D. Smith’s efforts to control how the reader
sees this text, Sarah is not the only invitee or addressee: Joseph repeats
himself in asking that “all three of you can come and see me.” G. D.
Smith hammers his view repeatedly, telling us elsewhere that “Joseph . . .
pleaded with Sarah Ann to visit him under cover of darkness. After all, they
had been married just three weeks earlier” (p. 53). “Elizabeth
[Whitney] was arranging conjugal visits between her daughter, Sarah Ann, and
[Joseph] . . . in 1842, as documented in chapter 2″ (p. 366). A photograph
of the letter is included, perhaps to convince us that this tale is genuine,
with a caption that claims Sarah is to visit Joseph “with her parents’
help, in a nighttime visit” (p. 144). Once again, there is no hint from G.
D. Smith that the letter insisted all three be present for the visit.

“Did Sarah Ann keep this rendezvous on that humid
summer night?” asks G. D. Smith archly. “Unfortunately, the documentary
record is silent.” But “the letter survives to illuminate the
complexity of Smith’s life in Nauvoo” (p. 54). The documentary record is
not silent, however, as to why Joseph sought a visit with his plural wife and her
parents: to “tell you all my plans . . . [and] to git the fulness of my
blessings sealed upon our heads, &c.” Small wonder that Joseph didn’t
want a hostile Emma present while trying to administer what he and the Whitneys
regarded as sacred ordinances. And, it is unsurprising that he considered a
single private room sufficient for the purposes for which he summoned his
plural wife and her parents. Napoleon’s full letter, one suspects, had far
earthier priorities than Joseph’s. It is a shame that G. D. Smith bemoans
fragmentary documentation while simultaneously twisting the available

There are more clues of Joseph’s intent than G. D. Smith
admits. Richard Bushman points out that the letter is “a reference perhaps
to the sealing of Newel and Elizabeth in eternal marriage three days later.”[8]
Todd Compton notes that “this was not just a meeting of husband and plural
wife, it was a meeting with Sarah’s family, with a religious aspect.”[9]
G. D. Smith, however, never indicates that such a view is possible, much less

G. D. Smith knows that
the letter is addressed to all three Whitneys, and he admits as much in a later
reference to the same document (p. 31).[10] Yet the full
text of the letter does not appear until G. D. Smith’s version has been urged
at least four times (pp. ix, 53–54, 65, 142), and he returns to it again
later (pp. 236, 366). And no analysis of the letter, save the small sliver of
expurgated text favored by G. D. Smith, ever occurs. He has, in short, posed a
passionate love letter from Napoleon with a carefully pruned text to give the
false impression that Joseph was speaking in the same vein. And we are only on
page 1.

Prejudicial Language

It is unfortunate that G. D. Smith succumbs to inflammatory,
prejudicial, or loaded language in his account. He tells us, for example, that “Mormon communal practices extended to property
as well as to marriage” (p. 11). Yet Mormon wives or husbands were not
held “in common,” nor were members permitted unfettered access to any
and all sexual partners. This analogy confuses rather than illuminates.

G. D. Smith’s biases
shine through as he describes Joseph’s “unsettling conversations with
angels” and his “trial” for glass-looking
(p. 25).[11]
Joseph is said to “translate” (quotation marks in original) the
plates by “use of magic stones” (p. 7). (It seems doubtful that
Joseph would have labeled his seer stones as “magic,” whatever a
modern agnostic academic might think. G. D. Smith makes uncritical use of D.
Michael Quinn’s view of “magic’s” role in Joseph’s beginnings. Smith
gives no hint of the challenges that have been raised to Quinn’s speculation,
its problematic areas, or even the dubious nature of the very label of “magic”—one
would think there had been no discussion at all on such points. Those familiar
with the literature on these points will not be misled.)[12]

G. D. Smith characterizes Joseph’s refusal to allow Isaac
Hale to see the gold plates as “clumsy subterfuge” (p. 27). He
describes Joseph’s reported revelation as coming from “an otherworldly
being Smith called ‘the Lord'” (p. 48) and tells us that Joseph “interrupted
other activities for secret liaisons with women and girls” (p. 55). This
version of Joseph is “haunted by the suspicion . . . that he crossed moral
boundaries in his friendship with other women” (p. 28).

In announcing that he will vote for politicians most
friendly to Latter-day Saint interests, G. D. Smith’s “Joseph” is
merely “feigning impartiality” before going on to practice “undemocratic
block voting” (p. 68). Latter-day Saint temple rituals
are stripped of context and labeled as “private meetings involving
Masonic-like handshakes, oaths, and special clothing” (p. 76), featuring “vows
of secrecy and threats of blood penalties” (p. 85). Brigham Young’s
belief in an embodied deity means he had a “materialistic theology,”
a term open to misunderstanding (p. 276).[13] Parley P.
Pratt’s plural marriages are “theological philanderings” (p. 334).
Through marriage to his first wife, Orson Hyde “acquired his own lustful
spirit in Marinda Johnson” (p. 327). G. D. Smith is apparently trying to
be cute, since he tells us that Hyde’s 1832 journal described the Cochranites’ “wonderful
lustful spirit” (pp. 327, 532). What G. D. Smith does not tell us is that
Hyde’s attitude to the Cochranites’ free love was wholly negative, as his source
for the journal indicates.[14]
is here not being used in the sense of “excit[ing] . . . admiration”
but, rather, “strange; astonishing.”[15] Elsewhere
anxious that we not misunderstand Victorian idiom, G. D. Smith here provides
the reader no help (pp. 41–42). It is not clear that Hyde would have
agreed that his marriage partook of the same “lustful spirit.”

Even modern leaders are not immune to G. D. Smith’s verbal
shading. Ezra Taft Benson is characterized as “a correspondent of FBI
director J. Edgar Hoover” (p. 351). It is not clear what relevance this
has to Benson, plural marriage, or anything else, save perhaps that it
associates the church president with a figure now regarded as repressive,
megalomaniacal, and something of a sexual deviant.[16]

A particularly inapt metaphor compares Joseph to King David
and Uriah the Hittite since Joseph “occasionally . . . sent the husband
away on a mission which provided the privacy needed for a plural relationship
to flower” (p. 81). Unmentioned—but perhaps not unimplied—is
the fact that David had already committed adultery with Bathsheba and sought to
have her husband killed so he could marry her (see 2 Samuel 11). This metaphor
imputes motives to Joseph where no textual evidence exists, but perhaps G. D. Smith
has acquired some of the mind-reading powers vouchsafed to Fawn Brodie or Dan
Vogel that have brought their opinions into question.[17]

Suppression of History?

Given the opening volley
of distortion on page 1, it is no small irony that G. D. Smith then complains
of the church’s “suppression of information” (p. xiv)[18]
about polygamy, most notably in the History of the Church. He argues that “[Joseph]
Smith’s wives remain unacknowledged in the official History” (p. xiii).
He returns to this point repeatedly, often noting that the History of the Church or
Joseph’s diaries contain no mention of a marriage or meeting with a plural

G. D. Smith presumes that this official silence is due to
the fact that “when polygamy went underground again, it became difficult
to access records. Church leaders were less than pleased to find historians or
journalists investigating this peculiar relic of the past which had become an
embarrassment and was considered an obstacle to missionary efforts” (p.
xvi). He thus sees a design and desire to hide or suppress the truth.

Yet this claim is nonsensical as it applies to the History of
the Church
. Prepared mostly by secretaries and scribes, by 1854 this
had been completed up to 1 March 1843.[20] George A.
Smith completed the work by 1856.[21]
Although some reticence might have been expected before the public announcement
of plural marriage on 29 August 1852, it makes little sense to claim that those
compiling the history were trying to hide plural marriage during a historical
period in which they trumpeted it.

G. D. Smith even points out that Joseph Smith’s
journals—which he concedes are the source for six of the history’s seven
volumes—contain only one mention of plural marriage, dated April 1842.[22]
He complains that “the History of the Church
deleted even that one citation” (pp. 452–53). What coherence that
lone citation might have had without further primary sources is not explored.
Smith also ignores the fact that the 1842 material was written well before the
announcement of plural marriage, and so a lone mention of plurality would be
less likely to be included. (On 16 November 1845, Willard Richards sent a
letter requesting information about the period from 1843–1845, saying “I would say, that the history is written up to
the year 1843.”[23]
Broadcasting plural marriage in 1845 Nauvoo would have been hazardous.)
Richards further indicated that “important items of history have
frequently been presented at too late an hour to gain an insertion” in the
of the Church.
This suggests that its compilers saw the published
history as neither complete nor exhaustive of all important
elements. But G. D. Smith provides his readers with no such perspective.[24]

G. D. Smith eventually notes (after hundreds of pages in
which the absence of a given plural marriage datum from the History of
the Church
is repeatedly mentioned) that even by 1875, church
leaders were aware that they had few if any supporting documents for Joseph’s
plural marriages. Joseph F. Smith wrote to Orson Pratt that a “few years
ago [I] tried to get affidavits regarding Joseph Smith and ‘celestial marriage.’
. . . I was astonished at the scarcity of evidence. I might say almost total
absence of direct evidence upon the subject as connected with the prophet
Joseph himself.”[25]
If the church had scant evidence in 1875, what evidence did those compiling the
history more than twenty years earlier have?

Rather than belaboring the absence of plural marriage
details in the History of the Church—a noncontroversial point,
save for those unfamiliar with Latter-day Saint historiography—it would
be more useful if G. D. Smith had provided the historical or compositional
context for polygamy’s exclusion from that history. G. D. Smith’s theory of
suppression of information by an embarrassed post-Manifesto church is clearly
inapplicable in the case of the History of the Church, since it
was written before the Manifesto. Furthermore, G. D. Smith admits that only one
item from Joseph’s journal mentioning plural marriage was excluded. There was
little to suppress.

If G. D. Smith can think of no reason to exclude an entry
besides malicious intent to deceive, perhaps he can explain his own editing
decision when he published the William Clayton diaries. James Allen observed
that “in his abridgement, however, Smith kept only about one-sixth of the
total entry. . . . By including only the somewhat titillating
material and leaving out the much more important information about Clayton and
what he was doing as a missionary, this ‘abridgement’ does little but distort
the day’s activity.”[26]

“Like [Joseph] Smith’s diaries,” grouses G. D.
Smith, “the official history ignored Nauvoo’s increasingly public secret
and was never revised” (p. 415). But the diaries were the main source for
the History
of the Church
—thus the relative absence of details about
Joseph’s plural marriages is not surprising. It is unfair, then, to
editorialize that polygamy “is not found in [the] official . . .
expurgated History
of the Church
.” One cannot expurgate what was never in the
sources to begin with. The repeated mention of the history’s silence is
particularly disingenuous because it occurs over the course of hundreds of
pages before the penultimate chapter’s discussion of sources, where the raw
material for an explanation of plural marriage’s absence from the History of
the Church
is found—though G. D. Smith seems oblivious to the
obvious answer and never connects the dots for his reader.

G. D. Smith’s treatment of the History of the Church gives
an unwarranted air of suppression to something that is unlikely to be sinister.
He claims that “Mormons accepted as sufficient
the explanation that Joseph Smith’s death was due to an angry mob, without caring
to know specifically what those Illinois neighbors had been angry about”
(pp. 5, 499). Yet even B. H. Roberts’s editorial introductions to the History of
the Church
(composed 1902–1932) discuss plural marriage.[27]
After detailing the many factors that contributed to animosity between Illinois
and the Mormons, Roberts concludes that events were “awaiting only the spark. . . . The spark came.” The spark was the Expositor, according
to Roberts, since it involved “the new marriage system, involving the
practice, within certain limitations and under very special conditions, of a
plurality of wives, [which] constituted a ground of appeal to popular
prejudices and passions that would have been absolutely resistless if the paper
had been allowed to proceed. In the presence of such difficulties, what was to
be done? In addition to declaring the existence of the practice of plural
marriage, not yet announced or publicly taught as a doctrine of the Church, and
agitating for the unqualified repeal of the Nauvoo charter, gross immoralities
were charged against leading citizens which doubtless rendered the paper
grossly libelous.”[28]

This frank admission of polygamy’s role in the Illinois
troubles seems odd if suppression was the church’s intention, especially since
Roberts’s edition was published after the disavowal of plural marriage:
the period during which, G. D. Smith wishes us to believe, even acknowledging
plural marriage’s role in Nauvoo history was taboo (pp. 411, 499).

G. D. Smith also
complains that Danel Bachman and Ron Esplin’s Encyclopedia
of Mormonism
entry on plural
marriage “briefly mention[s] the ‘rumors’ of plural marriage in the 1830s
and 1840s but only obliquely refer[s] to the ‘teaching [of] new marriage and
family arrangements'” (p. 5). This is not a fair characterization. Bachman
and Esplin note that “evidence for the practice of plural marriage during
the 1830s is scant. . . . [P]erhaps
the only known plural marriage was that between Joseph Smith and Fanny Alger.
Nevertheless, there were rumors, harbingers of challenges to come.”[29]
So “rumors” are mentioned as G. D. Smith reports, but only after
frankly admitting a marriage between Joseph and Fanny in the 1830s.

Bachman and Esplin then discuss further sealings for Joseph
and other men during the 1840s. They also point out that “the Nauvoo
[aimed] to expose, among other things, plural marriage,
thus setting in motion events leading to Joseph Smith’s death.”[30]
In addition, the cross-referenced entry for “Nauvoo Expositor” notes
that the paper was published by those who

rejected what they termed Nauvoo
innovations, notably plural marriage. . . . The dissenters set out
. . . to expose the Prophet’s supposed false teachings and abominations.
. . . [The destruction of the paper] played into the hands of the opposition .
. . and provided substance for the charges used . . . to hold Joseph Smith in
Carthage Jail, where he was murdered.[31]

The entry on the martyrdom likewise
argues that “other ‘unorthodox’ doctrines, such as . . . plural marriage,
further intensified political and economic rivalries” in Nauvoo preceding
the martyrdom.[32]

Finally, the plural marriage entry in the Encyclopedia
of Mormonism
provides further references for those seeking more
information, including Danel Bachman’s landmark master’s thesis and Signature
Books’ anything-but-friendly Mormon Polygamy.[33] G.
D. Smith’s complaints and insinuations are neither accurate reflections of the
texts he critiques nor fair.

Footnotes that aren’t

“Mormons accepted as sufficient the explanation that
Joseph Smith’s death was due to an angry mob, without caring to know specifically
what those Illinois neighbors had been angry about,” writes Smith, citing
five works from 1888 to 1979 (pp. 5, 449–50, n. 105). These references
provide a textbook example of footnotes that do not support one’s claims.

1. Contrary to G. D. Smith’s claim about Roberts’s Comprehensive
, Roberts described plural marriage, concluding, “Bearing
this situation in mind, I am sure the reader will better appreciate the many
complications which follow in this Nauvoo period of our history.”[34]
Roberts’s discussion of the Expositor reminds the reader of “the
introduction of the practice of the new marriage system of the church,
permitting under special conditions a plurality of wives,” and notes that
the dissident paper had “charged the Prophet with exercising illegal
authority, both in ecclesiastical and civil affairs; with the introduction of
the plural wife system, and other supposed doctrinal heresies; with gross
immoralities; and malfeasance in the administration of the affairs of the
church.” Roberts did not deny that errors by the Saints played a role:

This bitterness had been created in the public mind in large
part through the misrepresentations that had been made of the purposes and
designs of the church leaders; in part by the unwisdom of church members, for
whom no claim is made of impeccability, either in word or action; nor is
absolute inerrancy in judgment and policy claimed for even the leaders of the

2. For his claim that plural marriage was ignored as a cause
of Joseph’s death, G. D. Smith also cites Joseph Fielding Smith’s Essentials
of Church History
. Yet Joseph Fielding Smith both admits the introduction
of plural marriage by Joseph Smith and writes that the Prophet was arrested on
a charge of polygamy.[36]

3. G. D. Smith’s appeal to William E. Berrett’s The Restored
for the suppression thesis is likewise unpersuasive. In a section
titled “Causes of the Conflict in Illinois,” Berrett argues that one
of the new doctrines that set the Saints apart

was especially responsible for
bringing persecution upon the Church. That was the doctrine of plural marriage
by divine sanction. . . . In 1840, the doctrine was
taught to a few leading brethren who, with the Prophet, secretly married additional
wives in the following year. This secrecy could not be long kept, yet the
doctrine was not openly discussed. This state of affairs gave rise to serious
slander outside the Church. . . . He was convinced
that the practice of the doctrine would bring bitter persecution upon the
Church and eventually cause him to lose his life. . .
. The Prophet was aware that the social order he contemplated would arouse
bitter opposition in Illinois. . . . And this not because the Mormons were hard to get along with, or
because non-Mormons were wicked, but because the teachings of the Church and
the existing social orders were so directly in conflict.

That Berrett’s work was originally
published by the church’s Educational Department in 1937 (a fact not noted in
G. D. Smith’s footnote) is significant.

4. G. D. Smith’s footnote also suggests that Orson F.
Whitney’s biography of Heber C. Kimball supports his view. Whitney’s biography
tells the well-known story of Joseph requesting Vilate Kimball as his wife and
introduces the martyrdom by declaring that “without doubt,
the revelation of the great principle of plural marriage was a prime cause
of the troubles which now arose, culminating in the Prophet’s martyrdom and the
exodus of the Church into the wilderness.”[38]

5. Finally, G. D. Smith appeals to Leonard Arrington and
Davis Bitton’s The Mormon Experience. These authors again note the contribution
of polygamy that G. D. Smith insists Mormon histories ignore. The following
language contradicts his thesis: “An additional element [that] contributed
to the Mormons’ problems in Illinois—as if more were required—were
the rumors of plural marriage that began to circulate in Nauvoo,” and “paradoxically,
continuing revelation . . . contributed to the divisions of Nauvoo because of
the development during this period of certain unusual doctrines, . . .
especially plural marriage.” “From the first, polygamy was an
explosive issue,” according to Arrington and Bitton. “A scandal to
non-Mormon neighbors, it also caused a number of defections within the Mormon
camp even before the death of Joseph Smith. . . . By
the fall of 1843 the subject of plurality was on every tongue in the city.”
Arrington and Bitton also point out that the Expositor “contained
inflammatory allegations about the sex lives of Mormon leaders and members.”[39]

In works stretching from 1888 to 1979, and in B. H. Roberts’s
introduction to the History of the Church, the role of plural marriage in
Nauvoo’s troubles and Joseph’s death is routinely mentioned. The cover-up is in
G. D. Smith’s imagination, not these volumes.[40]

Godfrey’s 1967 PhD dissertation

G. D. Smith even goes so far as to claim that “one LDS
Educator in 1967 wrote about the ’causes’ of conflict in Nauvoo and mentioned
Joseph’s death as a watershed moment . . . without mentioning plural marriage.”
He cites the seventh chapter of Kenneth W. Godfrey’s 1967 PhD dissertation for
this claim.[41]
This chapter is actually entitled “Plural Marriage.” “As early
as 1836,” wrote Godfrey, the “Saints were accused of believing in
plural marriage. But it was not until the Nauvoo period . . . that this
doctrine and practice became a major source of non-Mormon resentment.”[42]
Godfrey discusses the first hints of plural marriage in 1831, the Fanny Alger
marriage, and Oliver Cowdery’s angry reaction.

When he treats the Nauvoo period, Godfrey notes
that “by 1841 or 1842 plural marriage was secretly being practiced
with increased frequency.” Godfrey even follows, without comment, Brodie’s
exaggerated estimate of forty-nine wives for Joseph.[43] He also
details the secrecy surrounding plural marriage and the deception used to maintain

Possibly Joseph Smith, partly because of Gentile opposition,
kept the doctrine as secret as possible. . . . It was
kept so secret that many members of the Church denied that it was even taught. . . . Even though some members of the Church denied
the existence of plural marriage, there are a number of documents to support
the view that, among the faithful, many such marriages were being performed.[44]

Contrary to G. D. Smith’s
claim that polygamy’s impact was ignored by Latter-day Saint historians,
Godfrey wrote that “gradually rumors became more
and more persistent regarding the Mormon matrimonial system,” adding that
one author “argues that ‘spiritual wifery was one of the leading causes
of the Mormon-Gentile trouble in Hancock County.'”[45] John C.
Bennett and Oliver Olney had published about polygamy, and Godfrey argues that “such extensive publicity appears to have
aroused the public against Mormonism and its marriage system.”[46]
Bennett’s claim about a Cyprian order of women “available to any Mormon
who desired her . . . was . . . not true but nevertheless it was somewhat
effective in arousing the public mind against Mormonism.”[47]

Godfrey also quotes extensively from the 25 April 1844
edition of the Warsaw Signal to demonstrate the animus in which
polygamy was held.[48]
As his narrative approaches Joseph’s death, Godfrey argues
that “one of the reasons for the publication of the Nauvoo Expositor
was to publicly proclaim opposition to the plurality of wives doctrine as
taught by the Prophet.”[49]

The Warsaw Signal listed spiritual wifeism as one of the major
reasons for its opposition to the Mormons, and many claimed that the Prophet .
. . was a licentious seducer of young women. Such declarations played their
role in arousing public indignation against the Mormons and their marriage
system. If polygamy was not the main reason for the Mormon expulsion, at least
it can safely be said that it aroused the moral indignation of many people.[50]

I risk belaboring the obvious. Contrary to what G. D. Smith
asserts, Godfrey dealt with polygamy as a cause of the hostilities towards the
Saints in Nauvoo. His abstract and conclusion summarize his views:

Peculiar religious beliefs held by Latter-day Saints caused
some of the difficulties they experienced in Illinois. Such doctrines as plural
marriage . . . led to further hostility. . . . Perhaps
in retrospect both Mormons and non-Mormons were to blame for the disharmony. . . . The Mormons . . . engaged in a marriage
system held by Gentiles to be adulterous. . . . Since
polygamy was unannounced yet practiced, credance [sic] was given to
the claims of former Mormons which cast even more
doubt upon the Prophet’s character. It become [sic] almost
impossible to overstress the role exscinded Mormons played in arousing people
against leaders of the Church.[51]

The claim that an “LDS educator” discussed the
Illinois troubles “without even mentioning plural marriage” is false.
Perhaps G. D. Smith hopes his readers will not be familiar with Latter-day
Saint historiography.

Progress denied

In G. D. Smith’s account, plural marriage scholars have an
Indiana Jones quality, being intrepid adventurers who “locat[e]
primary documents—diaries and affidavits—in dusty attic spaces and
from the shelves of church archives which were tended by wary gatekeepers”
(p. 409). He makes use of many documents that detail Joseph’s plural
marriages—documents that happen to have been both preserved and published
under the auspices of the church. But since these results have not been added
to an updated “official” church history, this does not seem to count
in G. D. Smith’s ledger.[52]

Thus Andrew Jenson’s Historical Record and his
list of Joseph’s plural wives give the Saints little credit since this “appeared
on the down-side slope of the historical peak in polygamy . . . [and] Woodruff
complained to Jenson.” G. D. Smith quotes Woodruff to the effect that “we
do not think it a wise step to give these names to the world at the present
time in the manner in which you have done. . . .
Advantage may be taken of their publication and in some instances, to the
injury, perhaps, of families or relatives of those whose names are mentioned”
(p. 447).[53]
What is not explained or acknowledged is that Woodruff’s paramount concern was
not to hide history or deny plural marriage (the Manifesto was three years in
the future: polygamy was hardly a secret). Rather, Woodruff likely feared the
very real risk of spies and government agents using the information to
prosecute members of the church. At this period, women were jailed for refusing
to testify against husbands; hundreds of men were in hiding or in prison. “Words
are inadequate to convey the feelings of those times—the hurts to individuals
and families, to the church. . . . Families were torn
apart, left to provide as best they could.”[54] Jenson’s
material, coming when it did, could have put members in danger. But G. D. Smith
makes it appear that Woodruff was trying to hide the practice of plural
marriage in 1887.

The church also had a large role in the production of such resources
as Joseph Fielding Smith’s Blood Atonement and the Origin of Plural Marriage (1905),
various Deseret
and Women’s Exponent articles published throughout the
nineteenth century, and even the modern International Genealogy Index (IGI) and
FamilySearch (pp. 447, 457). Surely none of these were suppressed after 1890.

G. D. Smith describes a sequence of plural marriage studies:
Danel Bachman’s Purdue thesis (1975), Lawrence Foster’s Religion and
(1981), Van Wagoner’s Mormon Polygamy (1986), Carmon
Hardy’s Solemn
(1992), D. Michael Quinn’s Mormon Hierarchy (1994),
Todd Compton’s In Sacred Loneliness (1997), Lyndon W. Cook’s Nauvoo
Marriages, Proxy Sealings
(2004), Devery S. Anderson and Gary James
Bergera’s Nauvoo
Endowment Companies, 1842–1846
(2005), and Lisle G. Brown’s Nauvoo
Sealings, Adoptions, and Anointings
(2006). “The present
discussion,” concludes G. D. Smith, “benefits
in many ways from the entire preceding outpouring of scholarly documentation
and analysis” (pp. 471–72). What he does not acknowledge, however,
is that much of this “outpouring” is due in large part to the church’s
willingness to grant access to its archives.[55] One suspects
that these authors did not get their data on Nauvoo temple work out of dusty
diaries forgotten in attics. They drew extensively on the church’s holdings.
But this goes unacknowledged in G. D. Smith’s account. Nothing seems to expiate
the sin of failing to publish it all in the History of the Church during the

G. D. Smith caricaturizes and oversimplifies a complex set
of issues. The unwary reader would never know how much of our current
information—including that in Nauvoo Polygamy—comes
straight from the church archives.

Cargo Cult History—Source Problems

The forgoing lapses, beginning on page 1 and running throughout
the book, even when G. D. Smith mentions scholarly work or documents that might
undercut his thesis, are exemplary of a problem that plagues his
work—namely, G. D. Smith does not fairly represent the sources. Richard
Feynman has discussed what he calls “cargo cult science”—activities
that are draped in the trappings and aura of science but that lack the
methodological rigor of true scientific investigation.[56] Smith offers
what might be called “cargo cult history”—sources are appealed
to and references are cited, but key points are omitted, vital assertions are
undocumented, and one has the impression (but not the reality) of a careful
review of the textual data. Such lapses can occur even in the work of the most
careful authors. When they skew an account, we are entitled to suspect that
either an author’s biases are blinding him or we are being misled.

Joseph as adolescent

G. D. Smith clearly follows the Brodie tradition in painting
Joseph as motivated by sexual needs. He assures us that “an examination of
Smith’s adolescence from his personal writings reveals some patterns and events
that might be significant in understanding what precipitated his polygamous
inclination” (pp. 15–16). The reader is advised to buckle her seatbelt
and put on a Freud hat.

Joseph, we are told, claims that “he confronted some
uncertain feelings he later termed ‘sinful’ [a]t a
time when boys begin to experience puberty” (p. 17).[57] G. D. Smith
argues that this “leav[es] us to suspect that he
was referring to the curious thoughts of an intense teenager” (p. 17). G.
D. Smith presumes that Joseph’s later “cryptic words” describing how
he “fell into transgression and sinned in many things” refer to sex.

As Sigmund Freud demonstrated, any narrative can be
sexualized. In this case, the only evidence for a sexual component to Joseph’s
sins is G. D. Smith’s presumption and mind reading.

He presumes that the Book of Mormon reflects Joseph’s mind
and preoccupations, suggesting that “an
elaboration might
found in the Book of Mormon expressions about ‘the will of the
flesh and the evil which is therein’ (2 Nephi 2:29)” (p. 17). Or it might
not. The Book of Mormon reference to “the will of the flesh” can
hardly be restricted to sexual matters. Nephi1 notes that if he errs
in what he writes, “even did they err of old; not that I would excuse
myself because of other men, but because of the weakness which is in me, according
to the flesh, I would excuse myself” (1 Nephi 19:6). Surely this does not
imply that Nephi’s mistakes in record keeping stem from sexual sin. “By
the law,” we find in the chapter cited by Smith, “no flesh is
justified . . . , no flesh . . . can dwell in presence
of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah”
(2 Nephi 2:4, 8). Clearly, “flesh” refers to unregenerate man, not
specifically or merely to sexual sin.

The King James Bible, which inspired Book of Mormon language,
likewise describes a Christian’s rebirth as son of Christ as “not of
blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God”
(John 1:13). Clearly, the “will of the flesh” does not refer only to
sexual desire, but to any carnality of the “natural man,” who is an “enemy
to God” (Mosiah 3:19; 16:5). Such usage has a venerable history in
Christianity; it is difficult to imagine that G. D. Smith could be unaware of

G. D. Smith notes that Joseph admitted to being guilty of “vices
and follies” and concludes, after an exegesis from Webster’s American
, that this phrase implied “sins great and small,
which conceivably involved sex but were not limited to it” (pp.
17–18). His treatment of Webster is less than forthright. He quotes
Webster’s second definition of vice as “‘every act of
intemperance, all falsehood, duplicity, deception, lewdness and the like’ as
well as ‘the excessive indulgence of passions and appetites which in themselves are innocent'” (p. 17). The first
definition, however, reads simply “a spot or defect; a fault; a blemish.”[58]
Smith likewise characterizes folly as “an absurd act
which is highly sinful; and conduct contrary to the laws of God or man;
sin; scandalous crimes; that which violates moral precepts and dishonours the
offender” (pp. 17–18). Yet, again, Smith has ignored an earlier
definition in Webster, which describes vice as merely “a weak or absurd
act not highly criminal; an act which is inconsistent with the dictates of
reason, or with the ordinary rules of prudence. . . .
Hence we speak of the follies of youth.”[59]

For Smith’s interpretation to be viable, we must accept that
in his personal histories Joseph was admitting serious or gross moral lapses.
Yet there are other contemporary definitions for the terms that Joseph
used—especially as applied to youth—that connote only relatively
minor imperfections. Nonetheless, this dubious argument is the “evidence”
that G. D. Smith adduces from Joseph’s personal writings.

It is a pity that G. D. Smith did not go further in
analyzing Joseph’s histories. The 1838 account makes the Prophet’s intent transparent:

I frequently fell into many foolish errors, and displayed
the weakness of youth, and the foibles of human nature; which, I am sorry to
say, led me into divers temptations, offensive in the sight of God. In making
this confession, no one need suppose me guilty of any great or malignant sins. A
disposition to commit such was never in my nature
. But I was guilty
of levity, and sometimes associated with jovial company, etc., not consistent
with that character which ought to be maintained by one who was called of God
as I had been.[60]

Joseph explicitly blocks the interpretation that G. D. Smith
wishes to advance. Why ought we to accept Joseph’s 1832 witness—as warped
by G. D. Smith’s interpretive lens—as useful evidence while ignoring an
alternative explanation supported by Joseph’s other statements? G. D. Smith all
but concedes this point two pages later, when he cites
Joseph’s characterization of his “vices and folleys” as including “a
light, and too often vain mind, exhibiting a foolish and trifling conversation”
(p. 20). If this is so, why attempt to sexualize Joseph’s admitted
imperfections? But within a few pages it has become for G. D. Smith an
established fact that “another revelation, almost seeming to recall
[Joseph] Smith’s teenage concerns about sinful thoughts and behavior,
reiterated . . . ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery; and he that commiteth
adultery, and repenteth not, shall be cast out’ (D&C 42:24)” (p. 49).
But such an analysis depends entirely on what G. D. Smith has failed to
do—establish that the teenage Joseph struggled with sexually sinful
thoughts and behavior.

G. D. Smith’s other evidence from Joseph’s teen years
consists in a brief reference to the Hurlburt-Howe affidavits. Here again a
lapse into a kind of cargo cult history is manifest; Smith cites works from the
Signature stable of writers, with no gesture to source criticism or
acknowledgement of the problematic elements in these later, hostile accounts.[61]

Joseph as early womanizer: Eliza Winters

Nauvoo Polygamy makes repeated reference to charges
that Joseph attempted to seduce Eliza Winters (p. 18 n. 42, pp. 29, 232). Here
again there is little effort by G. D. Smith to interact responsibly with the
primary documents.

One affidavit that makes this claim was
provided by Levi Lewis, Emma Hale Smith’s cousin. Lewis was the son of
the Reverend Nathaniel Lewis, a well-known Methodist minister in Harmony, Pennsylvania.[62]
Lewis’s charges came five years after Joseph’s departure, insisting that both
Joseph and Martin Harris had said “adultery was no crime,” with
Harris purportedly admitting “he did not blame Smith for his (Smith’s)
attempt to seduce Eliza Winters.”[63]

A look at Lewis’s complete affidavit is instructive. He
claimed, among other things, that

he heard Joseph admit that “God had deceived him”
about the plates and so did not show them to anyone;

he saw Joseph drunk three times while writing the Book of

he heard Joseph say “he . . . was as good as Jesus
Christ; . . . it was as bad to injure him as it was to injure Jesus Christ.”

There are serious problems with these claims. It seems
extraordinarily implausible that Joseph “admitted” that God had
deceived him and thus was not able to show the plates to anyone. Joseph had shown
the plates to people, and the Three and Eight
Witnesses all published testimony to that effect. Despite apostasy and
alienation from Joseph Smith, none denied that witness.[64]

If Joseph were drunk during the translation
of the Book of Mormon, this only makes its recovery even more impressive. But
this sounds like little more than idle talk designed to bias readers against
Joseph as a “drunkard.” Joseph’s letters and life from this period
make it difficult to believe that he would claim he was “as good as Jesus
Christ.” His private letters reveal him to be devout, sincere, and painfully
aware of his dependence on God.[65]
Three of the charges that are unmentioned by G. D. Smith’s account thus seem
They are clearly efforts to paint Joseph in a bad light: they make him a pretend
prophet who also thinks he’s better than Jesus, who admits to being deceived,
and who gets drunk.

What can we make of the claim that Martin Harris and Joseph
claimed that adultery was no crime and that Joseph attempted the seduction of
Eliza Winters? Recent work has expanded our knowledge of Winters.
She was a young woman who attended a meeting on 1 November 1832 in Springville
Township, Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania. While on a preaching mission with
his brother Emer, Martin Harris announced that Eliza “has had a bastard
child.” Eliza sued Martin for slander, asking for one thousand dollars for
the damage done to her “good name, fame, behavior and character” because
his words “render her infamous and scandalous among her neighbors.”
Martin Harris won the suit; Eliza did not prove slander, likely because she had
no good character to sully.[67]
This new information calls the Lewis affidavit into even greater question. We
are to believe that Martin, who risked and defended a defamation suit for
reproving Eliza for fornication, thinks that adultery is “no crime”?

G. D. Smith claims much
later that Eliza Winters “perhaps did not” resist Joseph’s advances “but
apparently talked about it all the same” (p. 232). But there is no record
of Eliza talking about it at all, and she had ample opportunity to do so. Eliza
clearly has no reason to like Joseph or the Saints. Why did she not provide
Hurlburt with an affidavit regarding Joseph’s scandalous behavior? Around 1879
Eliza gave information to Frederick Mather for a book about early Mormonism.[68]
Why did she not then provide testimony of Joseph’s attempt to seduce her?

It seems more likely that Eliza was known for her low morals
and that her name became associated with the Mormons in popular memory since
she had been publicly rebuked by a Mormon preacher and lost her court suit
against him. When Levi Lewis was approached by Hurlburt
for material critical of Joseph Smith, he seems to have drawn on this

Joseph as womanizer: Marinda Nancy Johnson Hyde

G. D. Smith continues his efforts to paint Joseph as a
womanizer. He reports that “rumors may have been circulating already as
early as 1832 that Smith had been familiar with fifteen-year-old Marinda Johnson. . . . Smith was dragged out of
the house by Marinda’s brothers, who tarred and feathered him. No
contemporary documentation explicitly attributes this violent act to an insult
against the girl’s virtue, but this was the explanation that was later given to
it” (p. 44). Once again, G. D. Smith does not reveal the full extent of
the available data. This was not the explanation given, but an explanation.
G. D. Smith tends to cache caveats in his footnotes; he uses the same tactics
as Van Wagoner, who admits in his endnotes that it is “unlikely” that
“an incident between Smith and Nancy Johnson precipitated the mobbing,”
while his main text simply tells the mobbing story as evidence for Joseph’s
early women troubles.[69]

G. D. Smith’s equivocating note admits that “Van
Wagoner . . . and Compton . . . argue that the mobsters . . . reacted to
financial shenanigans, not to indiscretions with their sister. In defense of
this position, Van Wagoner and Compton point to the fact that Sidney Rigdon was
also tarred and feathered that night” (p. 44 n. 100). Once again, however,
G. D. Smith fails to mention the strongest arguments advanced by those who
disagree with him. He provides no citation for the explanation that he adopts.
The roots for this kind of thing are in Brodie, who relied on a late,
secondhand account from Clark Braden. A member of the Church of Christ, the “Disciples,”
Braden was clearly a hostile witness seeking to attack the Reorganized (RLDS)
The account is further flawed because Marinda apparently didn’t have a brother
named Eli, contrary to Braden’s account.[71]

G. D. Smith also fails to
disclose that there are two other late anti-Mormon sources that do not agree
with the “Joseph as womanizer” version. Symonds Ryder, the leader of
the attack, said that the attack occurred because of “the horrid fact that
a plot was laid to take their property from them and place it under the control
of Smith.”[72]
The Johnson boys are not portrayed either as leaders or as particularly hostile
to Joseph. It is also unlikely that the mob would attack Sidney Rigdon as well
as Joseph if the issue was one of their sister’s
honor, yet as Rigdon’s son told the story, Sidney was the first target and
received much harsher treatment:

the mob came and got Rigdon first.
He was a man weighing about 225. As they draged [sic] him some
distance over the frozen ground by his heels bumping the back of his head so
that when they got him to the place where they were to put the tar and feathers
on him he was insensible. They covered him with tar and feathers and pounded
him till
they thought he was dead
and then went to get J. Smith. . . . The mob covered him with tar and feathers and
pounded him till
they got tired
and left them both on the ground. J. Smith soon after
the mob left got up and went home not very badly hurt.[73]

Sidney was attacked until the mob
thought he was dead; Joseph seems almost an afterthought in this version:
someone they will pound until they are tired, while Sidney was beaten until
thought dead.

Finally, G. D. Smith neglects to mention Marinda’s own
witness about Joseph’s behavior. She had had difficulties with plural marriage,
but many years later she would still testify: “Here I feel like bearing my
testimony that during the whole year that Joseph was an inmate of my father’s
house I never saw aught in his daily life or conversation to make me doubt his
divine mission.”[74]

Joseph as womanizer: Fanny Alger

G. D. Smith’s thesis is that Joseph was sexually driven
since his teen years. This makes the Fanny Alger case a particularly juicy data
point. “Todd Compton has assembled the most complete documentation
regarding Joseph and Fanny’s relationship,” notes Smith in a footnote. “However,
I hesitate to concur with Compton’s interpretation of their relationship as a
marriage” (pp. 38–39 n. 81).

Here again, while G. D.
Smith mentions an alternative view and some of the evidence used by those with whom he
disagrees, he omits what I consider the strongest arguments. He cites Warren
Parrish, Oliver Cowdery, William McLellin, Chauncey Webb, Andrew Jenson, Heber
C. Kimball, and Joseph F. Smith (p. 39). He virtually ignores, however, the
data that Compton clearly considers the most important—the Mosiah Hancock
autobiography, in which Hancock reports that “Father
gave her [Fanny] to Joseph repeating the Ceremony as Joseph repeated to him.”[75]
In addition, he ignores other data cited by Compton, including Ann Eliza Young’s
report that Fanny’s “parents . . . considered it the highest honor to have
their daughter adopted into the Prophet’s family, and her mother has always
claimed that she [Fanny] was sealed to Joseph at that time.”[76]
In a private letter, Ann Eliza reiterated her conviction that such
relationships were formally sanctioned: “I do not know that ‘sealing’
commenced in Kirtland but I am perfectly satisfied that something similar
commenced, and my judgement is principally formed from what Fanny Algers [sic] told me herself
concerning her reasons for leaving ‘sister Emma.’ ”[77]
These are secondhand accounts since Ann Eliza was not born until Nauvoo, but so
are both of the McLellin accounts cited by G. D. Smith (pp. 42–43).

While he spends considerable time on the McLellin letters,
G. D. Smith never comes to grips with some of the difficulties identified by
Compton and others.[78]
These issues are worthy of consideration in some detail.

With a lone exception,
there is no account after Joseph’s death of Emma admitting Joseph’s plural
marriages in any account.[79]
The reported exception is recorded in a newspaper article and two letters
written by excommunicated Latter-day Saint apostle William E. McLellin.[80]
McLellin addressed the letters to Emma’s son, Joseph Smith III. The former
apostle claimed to have visited Emma in 1847 and to have discussed Joseph’s
relationship with Fanny Alger.

Letter No. 1—1861

McLellin’s first letter to Joseph Smith III arrived soon
after he assumed the duties of RLDS Church president on 6 April 1860.[81]
Joseph Smith III began his tenure as president by declaring that his father
could never have been involved with plural marriage.[82] When
McLellin heard of his stance, he wrote the new leader:

I do not wish to say hard things to You of your Father, but
Joseph, if You will only go to your own dear mother, she can tell You that
he believed in Polygamy and practiced it long before his violent death! That he
delivered a revelation sanctioning, regulating, and establishing it. . . . Your Mother told me these items when I was in
Nauvoo. I am not dealing in fictions, nor in ill founded

McLellin wanted Joseph III to
confront Emma and seemed to hope he would learn the truth from her.

Letter No. 2—July 1872

Eleven years later, McLellin wrote Joseph Smith III a second
letter, asserted Joseph’s polygamous teachings, and urged him to ask his “own
dear Mother for the truth.” McLellin claimed that Emma would confirm his
story, “if you ask her,” for “Can you dispute your dear Mother?”
To believe otherwise, insisted the former apostle, “I would have to
believe your Mother a liar, and that would be hard for me to do, considering my
acquaintance with her.” McLellin recounted a story that he attributed to
Frederick G. Williams, an excommunicated member of the First Presidency.
McLellin claimed that Joseph had been caught in immoral behavior with a “Miss
Hill” in late 1832.[84]
According to McLellin, Emma called Williams, Oliver Cowdery, and Sidney Rigdon
to help settle the matter. McLellin insists that “she
told me this story was true!!”

McLellin also reported a tale he had heard about Joseph and
Fanny Alger. He claimed that Fanny and Joseph were in the barn and Emma “looked
through a crack and saw the transaction!!! She told me this story too was
verily true.”[85]
In this letter, McLellin upped the ante, adding
disturbing details that he claims Emma verified in 1847. He wanted Joseph III
to confront his mother about at least two women with whom he claims the Prophet
was involved.

Newspaper—October 1875

McLellin also repeated his charges to a newspaper reporter
who claimed that McLellin described how “[t]he ‘sealing’
took place in a barn on the hay mow, and was witnessed by Mrs. Smith through a
crack in the door! . . . Long afterwards when he
visited Mrs. Emma Smith . . . she then and there declared on her honor that it
was a fact—’saw it with her own eyes.'”[86]

It is interesting that McLellin’s account here refers to the
Fanny Alger incident as “where the first well authenticated case of
polygamy took place.”[87]
Gone is McLellin’s claim that a “Miss Hill” existed and caused
problems prior to Fanny. “Miss Hill” is otherwise unmentioned in
either friendly or hostile sources, and some authors—like G. D.
Smith—try to paper over this discrepancy by suggesting that McLellin got
confused in his “old age” and mistook “Fanny Hill” in John
Cleland’s 1749 novel for “Fanny Alger.”[88] This is
unpersuasive since McLellin tells both stories in the 1872 letter.[89]
His accounts are mutually contradictory on this point.

This discrepancy calls McLellin’s accuracy into question. In
1872 he told Joseph Smith III that Emma had confirmed both accounts, but in
1875 he described the second account as “the first well authenticated
case.” One suspects that McLellin’s authentication may be lacking overall.
McLellin is a late (second- or thirdhand), antagonistic witness whose story
seems to vary in the telling. Can anything else help us assess other parts of
the story?

Examining the witness: McLellin

McLellin insisted that Emma Smith confirmed these tales in
1847. Yet this is a strange occurrence—there is virtually no other record
of Emma admitting, following Joseph’s death, that he even taught plural
marriage. Emma and Joseph Smith III would go to their graves denying that
Joseph had anything to do with the practice. But we are expected to believe
that she confirmed these events to McLellin, who had no personal knowledge of
them but was misled, merely repeating secondhand gossip. Emma did more (in
McLellin’s retelling) than confirm that Joseph practiced plural
marriage—she verified a version of events that would have been intensely
shameful for her personally and that sullied her dead husband’s memory.

Was McLellin the sort of man to whom she would have unburdened
herself? To begin to answer this, we must briefly revisit McLellin’s history in
and out of the church. McLellin was baptized 20 August 1831 and was ordained an
elder four days later.[90]
On 25 October he received a revelation via Joseph Smith in which he was warned:
“Commit not adultery—a temptation with which thou hast been
McLellin did not take this advice and was excommunicated in December 1832 for
spending time with “a certain harlot” while on a mission.[92]
Rebaptized in 1833, he was ordained an apostle on 15 February 1835. His
problems continued. He was disfellowshipped in 1835 for writing a letter that “cast
. . . censure upon the [first] presidency.” Reinstated on 25 September
1835, he attended the Kirtland Temple dedication but had lost confidence in the
church leadership by August 1836. At his 11 May 1838 excommunication hearing, “he
said he had no confidence in the presidency of the Church; consequently, he had
quit praying and keeping the commandments of the Lord, and indulged himself in
his sinful lusts. It was from what he had heard that he believed the presidency
had got out of the way, and not from anything that he had seen himself.”[93]

It seems that McLellin had difficulty with adulterous
behavior. He also frequently disagreed with church leaders and did not hesitate
to criticize them publicly. His penchant for believing and acting on secondhand
information—as in the report about “Miss Hill” from Frederick
G. Williams—was already apparent, since he attacked the First Presidency
for what he had heard, not for what he personally had witnessed.

McLellin’s later life found him bouncing from one Mormon
splinter group to another. He gave early support to James J. Strang but later
distanced himself when it became clear that he would not get a leadership
position. In a public debate with Strang, McLellin denied ever having been
friendly with Strang or well-disposed toward his
claims. In response, Strang produced three letters written by McLellin, which
he proceeded to read. The letters “ended the debate quickly, and McLellin
never mentioned these matters again, even in his own publications.
. . . In their debate Strang exploited the content of those letters to
demonstrate that McLellin’s verbal and other published statements were at total
variance with the reality suggested in the letters.”[94] Clearly,
then, McLellin was perfectly willing to fib to others in furtherance of his
religious goals. He lied about conversations he had had with Strang only to
have his own letters prove his duplicity.

Emma Smith and McLellin

Following his excommunication, McLellin played an active
role in mobbing and robbing the Saints. Joseph was taken to Liberty Jail, and
Emma returned home to find that she had been robbed of everything. A
contemporary journal records that McLellin “went into brother Joseph’s
house and commenced searching over his things . . . [and] took all his
[jewelry] out of Joseph’s box and took a lot of his cloths [sic]
and in fact, plundered the house and took the things off.” When Emma asked
McLellin why he did this, McLellin replied, “Because I can.” This
theft affected Emma profoundly. She received word that Joseph was suffering
greatly from the cold in Liberty Jail, and he asked her to bring quilts and
bedding. “Sister Emma cried and said that they had taken all of her bed
cloths [sic]
except one quilt and blanket and what could she do?” Emma sought legal
redress but recovered nothing.[95]

McLellin’s offenses against Joseph extended beyond robbing
his family:

While Joseph was in prison at Richmond, Missouri, McLellin,
who was a large and active man, went to the sheriff and asked for the privilege
of flogging the Prophet. Permission was granted on condition that Joseph would
fight. The sheriff made known to Joseph McLellin’s earnest request, to which
Joseph consented, if his irons were taken off. McLellin then refused to fight
unless he could have a club, to which Joseph was perfectly willing; but the
sheriff would not allow them to fight on such unequal terms.[96]

If we accept the late, secondhand accounts of McLellin as
reliable, we must accept that Emma made her (only?) admission of Joseph’s
plural marriages to a man who had robbed her and her family and had saucily
insisted that he did so merely because they could do nothing to stop him. While
her husband froze in Liberty Jail, Emma had to worry about her children going
cold because McLellin had stolen their bedding.

It seems an enormous leap of faith in McLellin—who
clearly does not deserve such faith—to presume both that he was truthful
and that Emma disclosed humiliating details about Joseph and Fanny to him of
all people. Todd Compton acknowledges that McLellin may have “‘bent’ the
truth in this case,” but if the account is false, the truth has not been
bent but shattered.[97]

It is worth noting that some, such as Michael Quinn, have
argued that after Joseph’s death Emma had a high opinion of McLellin. Quinn
writes that “[i]ronically between his receipt of
these two letters, Emma . . . wrote Joseph Smith III on 2 February 1866 and
highly praised McLellin.”[98]
Quinn reads too much into his source or does not represent it properly. Emma’s
exact words were “I hope that Wm. E. McLellin will unearth his long buried
talents, and get them into circulation before it is everlastingly too late . .
. for he is certainly a talented man.”[99] This does
not strike me as high praise. It sounds instead as if Emma is claiming that
McLellin had great potential but that he has squandered it or left it untapped.

Other hostile accounts

There is another version of the relationship between Fanny
and Emma. It relies on a much later account attributed to Chauncey G. Webb,[100]
whose account was first given in the notoriously anti-Mormon Wilhelm Wyl’s 1886
work. Wyl had Webb claim that Joseph “was sealed there [in Kirtland]
secretly to Fanny Alger. Emma was furious, and drove the girl, who was unable
to conceal the consequences of her celestial relation with the prophet, out of
her house.”[101]
Webb’s daughter, Ann Eliza, added a few details, claiming that “it was
with a shocked surprise that the people heard that sister Emma had turned Fanny
out of the house in the night.”[102]

As a source, Wyl cannot be used without the greatest care.
On the same page as Webb’s account, Wyl has another witness imply that Joseph
concocted the idea of plural marriage while consorting with Latter-day Saint
females at a brothel. Such a claim is absurd. Compton insists that although
Webb might be mistaken about the pregnancy, “this seems unlikely, if Fanny
lived in his home after leaving the Smith home.”[103] Compton
does not acknowledge that Webb need not have been mistaken—he might have
simply lied, and he had reason to do so. By contrast, G. D. Smith, after
quoting Webb, says only that “there is no evidence to corroborate the
claim that Fanny was pregnant,” but this soft-pedals the evidence (p. 42).
There is reason to doubt this claim, not merely to regard it as

Webb was in a position to know about Fanny’s pregnancy, so
why does he tell us nothing else? Why do we hear no tragic tale about the
despoiled maiden’s child being stillborn or the heartrending scene of the
mother required to give up the Prophet’s bastard offspring for someone else to raise in secret? Either scenario would have suited the tone
and tastes of the late-nineteenth-century exposŽ in which Webb’s words
appeared. The opportunities for him to use his “knowledge” are
legion, and yet Webb simply teases his audience with a sly hint and drops the

Even Ann Eliza, who should have known if Webb knew, leaves
the explosive matter of a child by Joseph unmentioned—a curious omission
since the purpose of both accounts is to attack Joseph’s character. Her account
is also questionable because it portrays Oliver Cowdery as a staunch ally in
Joseph’s deception, while Oliver’s hostility on the subject of Fanny is based
on contemporary documents.[104]
Ann Eliza’s version does not agree with McLellin’s “Miss Hill” account
in his 1872 letter either—McLellin claimed that Cowdery, Frederick G.
Williams, and Sidney Rigdon were all called in to help calm Emma. But in
McLellin’s version, both Emma and Oliver eventually “forgave
implying that both had to be placated, while Ann Eliza has Oliver worried about
his own polygamy being exposed. Even if we assume that “Miss Hill”
existed—an existence attested to by no other source and contradicted by
McLellin’s other accounts—why would Oliver be upset about “Miss Hill”
and worried about exposure in the case of Fanny?

Despite the use made of him by G. D. Smith and others,
McLellin is clearly a witness who cannot be accepted without great caution. At
best his report likely draws on second- or thirdhand gossip. I doubt that Emma
ever confirmed the stories he tells. The Webbs are likewise hostile
witnesses—as members in Ohio, they took Fanny Alger into their home and
yet said nothing about these events (including Fanny’s supposed pregnancy) to
anyone for decades. These supposedly scandalous events were not enough to keep
Chauncey Webb from following Joseph to Nauvoo and the Saints to Utah.

Is there, then, no truth at all to
these accounts? One corroborated detail comes from Benjamin F. Johnson, who
repeated Warren Parrish’s claim that Oliver Cowdery and Parrish had known that
Joseph was involved with Fanny since “they were spied upon and found together.”[106]
This version says nothing about Emma and contains none of the details contained
in McLellin’s or the Webbs’ accounts.

G. D. Smith avoids
labeling Fanny a wife since this weakens his thesis that Joseph was sexually
driven. He quotes Johnson as saying that Joseph had “Fanny Alger as a
wife.” Anxious to protect his theory, G. D. Smith informs his readers that
this phrase “employs a Victorian euphemism that should not be construed to
imply that Fanny was actually married to Joseph” (pp. 41–42). Yet it
is not clear why we should not so construe it. G. D. Smith does not tell us
that Johnson then insisted that “without a doubt
in my mind, Fanny Alger was, at Kirtland, the Prophet’s first plural wife.”[107]
G. D. Smith provides no evidence or citation to enforce his reading over Johnson’s
clear view of the relationship. The various accounts are compared in the table
on the following page.

Oliver Cowdery, 1838 Emma Smith via William McLellin, 1861 Frederick G. Williams via McLellin,
Emma Smith via McLellin, 1872b Emma Smith via McLellin, 1875 Chauncey Webb via Ann Eliza, 1876 Chauncey Webb via Wilhelm Wyl, 1886 Levi Hancock via Mosiah Hancock, 1896 Warren Parrish via Benjamin Johnson
Identity of woman
Fanny Alger
Miss Hill
Fanny Alger*
Fanny Alger
Fanny Alger
How Discovered
Emma, no circumstances described; around Joseph III’s birth (6 Nov 1832)
In the barn
In the barn
Emma, repeatedly sees them together
“Spied upon”
Emma’s reaction
Called other(s)
Called other(s); eventually evicted Fanny
Evicted Fanny when pregnancy discovered
Others involved
Oliver, Williams, Sidney Rigdon
Oliver and Parrish
Oliver’s Reaction
Joseph Smith begged his forgiveness
Oliver fears exposure of himself
Nature of relationship

* Fanny’s identity is confirmed in a private letter by Ann Eliza.
** Oliver called it a “dirty, nasty, filthy affair.” Oliver’s excommunication hearing charged him with “insinuating that [Joseph] was guilty of adultery.”[108]
*** The characterization as a marriage is Johnson’s, not Parrish’s.

There is little that agrees between the accounts. The
facts seem to be that Emma became aware of the marriage at some point, probably
involved Oliver and perhaps other church leaders, and was upset enough to
eventually insist that Fanny leave her home. Todd Compton argues that these
accounts can be harmonized since regardless of “whether Emma saw her
husband in the barn or discovered evidence of Fanny’s pregnancy, her reaction
was the same.”[109]
This stance glosses over a key point—it may well be that both the
Webbs and McLellin are either mistaken or lying.[110] That Emma
was upset is certain. But the contradictions and problems with these two
hostile accounts give us no reason to conclude that the truth must be that Emma
discovered either Joseph and Fanny in the barn or a
pregnancy. Above all else, one’s attitude toward Joseph, the church, and plural
marriage will influence how such contradictory and biased testimony is

Emma would later give her permission for Joseph to marry two
sisters who also lived in the Smith home—Emily and Eliza Partridge. Yet
Emma was soon to change her mind and eventually compelled these wives to leave
her home. It is thus consistent with her later behavior for her to have agreed
(if only reluctantly) to a marriage with Fanny only to have second thoughts

The evidence seems to show that Fanny and Joseph were regarded
as married. It seems likely that their involvement became more widely known
when someone (perhaps Parrish?) spied on Joseph and Fanny and when other church
leaders then became involved. We can say little with confidence of the
circumstances surrounding their discovery and nothing of Emma’s knowledge (or
lack thereof) beforehand, though she almost certainly became hostile if she did
not start out that way. I suspect that the bare bones tale to which Johnson
alludes—perhaps no better than gossip itself—is the kernel around
which McLellin and the Webbs embroidered exaggeration, drama, and even outright
fabrication. The textual evidence deserves more attention and care than G. D.
Smith has given it. His analysis is superficial and inadequate, and it
contributes nothing new.

Eliza Snow and the stairs

Evidences that “Eliza had conceived Joseph’s child and
miscarried,” G. D. Smith tells us, are “fragmented” and “questions
cloud the story.” Despite this, “the secondary sources are convincing
in their own right” (p. 130). Here again, G. D. Smith’s representation of
the data and references to those who disagree leave much to be desired. He
cites other authors while giving no indication that they disagree with his
reading. For example, from an essay in BYU Studies he cites the Charles
C. Rich version of a pregnant Eliza “heavy with child” being shoved
down the stairs by a furious Emma. Nowhere does he tell the reader that these
authors concluded that the story given the present evidence was untenable.[111]
G. D. Smith also quotes Newell and Avery’s biography of Emma but ignores their

The statement that Eliza
carried Joseph’s unborn child and lost it [due to an attack by Emma] is brought
into question by Eliza’s own journal. While her Victorian reticence probably
would have precluded mention of her own pregnancy, if she were indeed carrying
Joseph’s child, other evidence in the journal indicates that she may not have
been pregnant. Eliza’s brother Lorenzo indicated that by the time she married
Joseph, she was “beyond the condition of raising a family.” Also if
she was “heavy with child” as the Rich account states, she would not
have been teaching school, for even legally married women usually went into
seclusion when their pregnancies became obvious. Eliza continued to teach
school for a month after her abrupt departure from the Smith household. Her own
class attendance record shows that she did not miss a day during the months she
taught the Smith children, which would not have been probable had she suffered
a miscarriage.[112]

G. D. Smith may disagree, but he must address these issues,
not simply proceed by assertion. The award for most humorously ironic use of a
source in this section goes to his citation of Richard Price. G. D. Smith argues that “most convincing of all is to think that
these stories were circulating widely and Eliza never considered to clarify or
refute them.” He attributes this insight to Price (p. 134 n. 207). He
believes that the “most convincing” aspect of the story is that Eliza
never rebutted it. Uncorrected rumor or gossip is more convincing than the
absence of diary or behavioral evidence for a pregnancy as outlined by Newel
and Avery? If I do not rebut an unfounded rumor, does this mean I give it my
consent? This seems a strange standard. Joseph and the members of the church
tried to rebut the rumors spread by the Hurlburt-Howe affidavits, yet G. D.
Smith treats them as valuable insights. The Saints, it seems, are
damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

G. D. Smith’s citation of Price might lead the reader to
believe that Price agrees with Smith’s reading—that Eliza Snow never rebutted
the story because it was true. But Price claims exactly the opposite, writing
with feeling, “Why did Eliza allow the rumor to circulate throughout Utah
Mormondom and the world, that Emma had beaten her in the Mansion House?”
It was “because Eliza was a devoted and favored wife of Brigham Young
while in Utah and a woman of great influence, and therefore she chose to uphold
Brigham’s doctrine of polygamy. . . . She could have
stopped the malicious lies about her being a plural wife of Joseph Smith.
Instead, she chose to feed the fires of untruth for over a quarter of a century
by not publishing that those stories were false. She supported Brigham Young’s
false dogma that polygamy was introduced by Joseph the Prophet in order to keep
Brigham’s Rocky Mountain empire from crumbling.”[113]

In addition to the indignity of having his work cited for a
view that is the reverse of his own, Price suffers further. An RLDS conservative,
Price is committed to the stance that Joseph did not teach or practice plural
Far from endorsing Smith’s view of the stairs incident, Price is adamant that
the story is false. Though G. D. Smith spends a page explaining why Joseph and
Emma may have moved to the Mansion House earlier than thought (as the stairs
story requires), he ignores Price’s diagram and argument for the story’s
impossibility based on the Mansion House’s layout.[115] G. D. Smith
can hardly have been unaware of it since the same Web page contains the
argument to which he makes reference. I do not agree with Price on all
points—his dogged insistence that Joseph did not practice plural marriage
cannot be sustained by the evidence, which often leads him to make unwarranted
leaps—but G. D. Smith ought to at least engage Price’s critique and
fairly represent his views.

If the stairs story is true, why did Eliza not make use of
it? The argument from silence cuts both ways: Eliza went to considerable
lengths to defend plural marriage and to insist that Joseph Smith had practiced
it. Why did she never offer her pregnancy and miscarriage as evidence? Eliza
was not afraid to criticize Emma Smith for what she regarded as the latter’s
dishonesty. Following Emma’s death and her sons’ publication of her last denial
of plural marriage, Eliza wrote:

I once dearly loved “Sister Emma,” and now, for me
to believe that she, a once honoured woman, should have sunk so low, even in
her own estimation, as to deny what she knew to be true, seems a palpable
absurdity. If . . . [this] was really her testimony she died with a libel on
her lips—a libel against her husband—against his
wives—against the truth, and a libel against God; and in publishing that
libel, her son has fastened a stigma on the character of his mother, that can
never be erased. . . . So far as Sister Emma
personally is concerned, I would gladly have been silent and let her memory
rest in peace, had not her misguided son, through a sinister policy, branded
her name with gross wickedness.[116]

Emma was safely dead; Eliza had no need to spare her
feelings. Why not offer her miscarriage or Emma’s angry assault as evidence if
it were true? This scenario seems at least as plausible as G. D. Smith’s weak
claim that silence equals agreement. Yet more than a hundred pages later, G. D.
Smith asks us to “assume . . . that LeRoi Snow’s account was accurate”
before asking leading rhetorical questions. Yet again, no links to the other side
of the story are provided (p. 236).

Finally, those who read for amusement should not miss G. D.
Smith’s opening argument for Emma, Eliza, and the stairs: “Historian Fawn
M. Brodie thought the documentation was strong enough to include it in her
biography of [Joseph] Smith” (p. 131).

To Censor: To Make Appear Absurd

Lord Byron once observed that “the
proper way to cut up [censor] is to quote long passages, and make
them appear absurd.”[117] G.
D. Smith’s errors and textual distortions suggest that he had two target
audiences. The first would be the unwitting Latter-day Saints who approach this
book as their first introduction to plural marriage. Without considerable
legwork, such readers might be vulnerable to his approach. The second audience
is likely those for whom G. D. Smith provided a prepublication excerpt of his
Napoleonic Joseph with Sarah Ann Whitney fiction: the secularists. G. D. Smith
often presents material (some of which is tangential to plural marriage at
best) that serves to paint the Saints as unenlightened, ignorant, morally
corrupt, or ridiculous. At times he appeals to his audience’s presentist
assumptions, which he does nothing to dispel. In other instances, he relies on
distortion of the textual record. I will here provide several examples.

Brigham Young as young earth creationist?

Perhaps hoping to
capitalize on readers’ disdain for young earth creationism, G. D. Smith tells
us that Brigham Young “ridiculed geologists who ‘tell us that this earth
has been in existence for thousands and millions of years'” (p. 277).[118]
The source cited says nothing of the kind. Brigham begins by remarking that he
is not surprised that unbelief prevails, since apostate “religious
teachers of the people advance many ideas and notions for truth which are in
opposition to and contradict facts demonstrated by science.” To Brigham,
this state of affairs creates a conflict in which men of science must reject
truths discovered through science if they are to accept creedal Christianity.
He then proceeds to give an example: “You take, for instance, our
geologists, and they tell us that this earth has been in existence for
thousands and millions of years. They think, and they have good reason for
their faith, that their researches and investigations enable them to demonstrate
that this earth has been in existence as long as they assert it has.”

There is no ridicule here: Brigham points out that
geologists “have good reason” to believe that the earth is extremely
old. “If the Lord, as religionists declare, made the earth out of nothing
in six days, six thousand years ago,” Brigham has the geologists reply, “our
studies are all vain; but by what we can learn from nature and the immutable
laws of the Creator as revealed therein, we know that your theories are
incorrect and consequently we must reject your religions as false and vain.”
Concludes Brigham, “In these respects we differ from the Christian world,
for our religion will not clash with or contradict the facts of science in any
particular. You may take geology, for instance, and it is a true science; not
that I would say for a moment that all the conclusions and deductions of its
professors are true, but its leading principles are.”[119]

Far from mocking those who accept an earth greater than six
thousand years old, Brigham gives this idea his provisional approval and
insists that while young earth creationism (as we would call it) may be a
problem for traditional Christians, it is not a problem for the Latter-day
Saints. It would have been hard to distort Brigham any further than G. D. Smith
has done. But accustomed to religious zealots who insist that radiometric
dating is a sham (while trying to get such ideas into the science classroom),
most secular readers will not think to question whether a nineteenth-century
fanatic would say the words G. D. Smith puts in Brigham’s mouth.

Polygamy—going beyond bounds?

“Sometimes Joseph phrased the matter [of polygamy] in
terms of being free to go beyond normal ‘bounds,'” G. D. Smith announces.
As evidence, he presents Brigham Young’s account of being taught plural
marriage. Brigham worried out loud that he might marry a second wife but then
apostatize, leaving his plural family “worse off.” In Brigham’s
account, Joseph replied, “‘There are certain bounds set to men, and if a
man is faithful and pure to these bounds, God will take him out of the world;
if he sees him falter, he will take him to himself. You are past these bounds,
Brigham, and you have this consolation.’ But Brigham indicated that he never
had any fears of not being saved” (p. 364).[120]

Joseph’s point is clear—men, like Brigham, who have
reached a certain degree of faithfulness may be asked to do even more difficult
things. They need not fear that they will lose their eternal reward if they
falter in these Abrahamic tasks, for God “will take him to himself”
before they reap damnation. But G. D. Smith seems to be reading “bounds”
in the sense “a limit by which any excursion is restrained; the limit of
indulgence or desire.”[121]
This is why he conceives of it as being “free to go beyond normal bounds”—that
is, beyond normal limits or restrictions. This is clearly not Brigham’s
meaning. Bounds
should be understood as “the line which comprehends the whole of any given
object or space. It differs from boundary.”[122]
These bounds are not a limit beyond which one may not
go—they encircle and enclose all that one must do.
Before polygamy, Brigham had already striven to be faithful to the whole of his
duty to God. Having done so, he would not be damned. But he was now being asked
to fulfill a task not asked of most. The circumference of his bounds—or
duties—was enlarged.

Unfortunately for G. D. Smith’s reading, polygamy cannot be “the
bounds” referred to since Joseph told Brigham that he was already
(before practicing polygamy) “past these bounds”—that is, the
duties required of all men by God—and thus “you have this consolation.”
Brigham was thus past the bounds because he had done all that
God required and more, not because he would violate moral limits. He had
crossed the finish line; he had not gone “out of bounds” or offside.

G. D. Smith argues that Brigham gave “a telling
concession that the normal rules governing social interaction had not applied
to [Joseph] Smith as he set about instigating polygamy.” But Brigham is
not conceding anything like this. His “bounds” are not limits beyond
which one may not go, but duties that one must fulfill before anything else
might be asked. The bounds are divine duties, not social rules. G. D. Smith
caps his argument by citing Brigham’s belief that Joseph “passed certain
bounds . . . before certain revelations were given” (p. 365). Thus G. D.
Smith wants to paint Brigham as admitting that polygamy required one to
transgress social or moral boundaries.

Brigham was clearly making the same claim about Joseph that
Joseph made about Brigham. In Brigham’s view, Joseph had not been challenged by
the command to practice plural marriage until he had proved sufficiently
faithful to guarantee his salvation. For its first practitioners, the challenge
of plural marriage was such that a merciful God would not, in Brigham’s mind,
require it of those whose salvation would be at risk in the event of their

Immediately preceding the language quoted by G. D. Smith,
Brigham tells an apostle that

the spiritual wife doctrine came
upon me while abroad, in such a manner that I never forget. . . . Joseph said
to me, “I command you to go and get another wife.” I felt as if the
grave was better for me than anything, but I was filled with the Holy Ghost, so
that my wife and brother Kimball’s wife would upbraid me for lightness in those
days. I could jump up and hollow [holler?]. My blood was as clear as West India
rum, and my flesh was clear.[123]

In this passage, Brigham sees the
matter as a command that he does not wish to fulfill—he would
prefer to be dead—but that God confirms as his will. His bounds are
duties to fulfill, not limits that he is now free to exceed.

That this reading is correct, and that G. D. Smith is in
error, is confirmed by Heber C. Kimball’s similar doubts and reassurance: “Finally
[Heber] was so tried that he went to Joseph and told him how he felt—that
he was fearful if he took such a step [to practice plural marriage] he could
not stand, but would be overcome. The Prophet, full of sympathy for him, went
and inquired of the Lord. His answer was, ‘Tell him to go and do as he has been
commanded, and if I see that there is any danger of his apostatizing, I will
take him to myself.'”[124]

bounds—the commandments given him—had increased. But having already
proved his faithfulness, he would not be damned for failure. Kimball apparently
clung to this promise and would soon write to his wife that
“my prayer is day by day that God would take me to Himself rather than I
should be left to sin against Him, or betray my dear brethren who have been
true to me and to God the Eternal Father.”[125]

The Kimball data is absent from Smith’s analysis, but one wonders
if it would have helped. To accept it would require a modification of the
thesis that polygamy was driven by lust and a violation of barriers, and that
Joseph knew it.

William Clayton—”unlawful intercourse with women”?

G. D. Smith edited and published some of William Clayton’s
journals—including material taken from Andrew Ehat and republished,
without authorization, by Jerald and Sandra Tanner.[126] He should
know of Clayton’s history and might even be expected to view him with sympathy.
But Clayton receives the same treatment that G. D. Smith gives to
Joseph—loaded language stalks him in Nauvoo Polygamy: Joseph and
Clayton are “conspiring to amend . . . [the] marital status” of
Clayton’s first wife, and Clayton’s journal “disclosed his own
extracurricular romances” (pp. 244, 247).

Joseph instructed Clayton
to send for Sarah Crookes, a close female friend he had known in England, to
which Clayton replied that “nothing further than an attachment such as a
brother and sister in the Church might rightfully entertain for each other”
occurred between them. “But in fact,” G. D. Smith editorializes
darkly, “Clayton’s journal recorded the depth of emotional intimacy he had
shared with her” (p. 244). G. D. Smith argues that Clayton was deceiving
himself or Joseph and that his own journals prove it. Clayton’s journal noted
of Sarah, “I don’t want Sarah to be married. I was much . . . tempted on
her account and felt to pray that the Lord would preserve me from impure affections. . . . I certainly feel my love towards her to
increase but shall strive against it. I feel too much to covet her and afraid
lest her troubles should cause her to get married. The Lord keep me pure and
preserve me from doing wrong.”[127] Others have
read the account quite differently.[128]

G. D. Smith then notes that “instead of waiting for
[Sarah’s] arrival, [Clayton] married his legal wife’s sister Margaret on April
27. This was before Sarah’s ship had even set sail from England” (p. 245).
He strives to paint Clayton as unfaithful to both his first wife (having
already had an inappropriate level of emotional intimacy with another woman
before “conspiring to amend” his marriage) and the woman with
whom he conspired to cheat.

G. D. Smith then describes Clayton’s 1853 mission to
England, during which, “instead of persuading the flock of the correctness
of [polygamy], Clayton contributed to defections and was personally suspected
of ‘having had unlawful intercourse with women’ ” (p. 247).[129]
Two hundred pages later, we learn that this suspicion was only because of his
[Clayton’s] “discussion of plural marriage”
(p. 445), and his [Smith’s] own introduction to
Clayton’s journals tell us that the charge was actually raised by an “apostate
Mormon,” whom Clayton claimed had maliciously distorted his words, leading
to what he called his life’s most painful experience.[130]

In the narrative environment that G. D. Smith has created,
it would be easy to conclude that Clayton was as unfaithful in England as G. D.
Smith has subtly made him out to be in Nauvoo. This is a good example of how an
undercurrent of judgmental hostility dominates Nauvoo Polygamy.
Clayton is disparaged through innuendo, and G. D. Smith puts crucial events in
the worst possible light while withholding explanatory and exculpatory
information until much later in the volume—if it appears at all.

Legal presentism

“Presentism” is an analytical fallacy in which
past behavior is evaluated by modern standards or mores. Even worse than a historian’s
presentism is a historian exploiting the presentism of his readers.
G. D. Smith does this repeatedly when he alludes to legal issues. “Presentism,”
observed American Historical Association president Lynn Hunt, “at its
worst, encourages a kind of moral complacency and self-congratulation.
Interpreting the past in terms of present concerns usually leads us to find
ourselves morally superior. . . . Our forbears
constantly fail to measure up to our present-day standards.”[131]

Louisa Rising married Edwin Woolley “without first
divorcing her legal husband,” the dust jacket of Nauvoo
teases. We are reminded later that
“though she was not divorced from her legal husband, she agreed to marry”
(p. 345). Eleanor McLean also married Parley Pratt without divorcing her first
husband (see discussion below in next section). It appears that G. D. Smith
hopes to capitalize on ignorance about nineteenth-century laws and practices
regarding marriage and divorce. “From the standpoint of the legal
historian,” wrote one expert who is not a Latter-day Saint, “it is
perhaps surprising that anyone prosecuted bigamy at all. Given the confusion
over conflicting state laws on marriage, there were many ways to escape notice,
if not conviction.”[132]
To remarry without a formal divorce was not an unusual thing in antebellum

Bigamy or, rather, serial monogamy (without divorce or
death) was a common social experience in early America. Much of the time,
serial monogamists were poor and transient people, for whom the property rights
that came with a recognized marriage would not have been much of a concern,
people whose lives only rarely intersected with the law of marriage.[133]

The Saints were often poor and spent most of their time on
the frontier, where the legal apparatus of the state was particularly feeble.
Women who had joined the church and traveled to Zion without their husbands
were particularly likely to be poor, and also unlikely to be worried about
property rights. Nor, not incidentally, were their husbands available for a
formal divorce.

Does this mean that marriage in America was a free-for-all?
Hardly, notes Nancy Cott:

When couples married informally, or reversed the order of
divorce and remarriage, they were not simply acting privately, taking the law
into their own hands. . . . A couple about to join or
leave an intimate relationship looked for communal sanction. The surrounding
local community provided the public oversight necessary. Without resort to the
state apparatus, local informal policing by the community affirmed that
marriage was a well-defined public institution as well as a contract made by
consent. Carrying out the standard obligations of the marriage
bargain—cohabitation, husband’s support, wife’s service—seems to
have been much more central to the approbation of local communities at this
time than how or when the marriage took place, and whether one of the partners
had been married elsewhere before.[134]

It also should be remembered that because Joseph Smith,
Brigham Young, and other Latter-day Saint leaders exercised exclusive
jurisdiction over celestial or plural marriages, marriages conducted under
their supervision had as much (or more) formal oversight as many traditional
marriages in America during the first half of the nineteenth century. G. D.
Smith tells us nothing of this—with the result that some credulous
readers might be horrified by the “loose”
marriage practices of the Saints.

G. D. Smith also makes much of how closely Latter-day Saint
marriage partners were related. Of Rhoda Richards we are told: “That she
was her husband Brigham’s cousin was apparently secondary to the grander scheme
of interlocking the hierarchy in marriage” (p. 205). Here again, he relies
on presentism to provide a hostile interpretive lens. It was not unusual for
first cousins to marry; notable first-cousin marriages include scientists
Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein; composers Edvarg Grieg and Sergei
Rachmaninoff; the founding prime minister of Canada, John A. Macdonald; and
authors Edgar Allen Poe and H. G. Wells.[135] Nineteen of
the present-day states permit unrestricted marriage between first cousins, and
most countries have no restrictions at all on marriage between cousins.[136]
In its exploitation of the presentist fallacy, G. D. Smith’s remark is utterly
irrelevant in its historical context.

Parley P. Pratt and Eleanor McComb McLean

Legal presentism can also be seen in G. D. Smith’s
description of the murder of Parley P. Pratt. Pratt’s last wife, Eleanor, “was
sealed to him without divorcing her legal husband, who fatally shot Parley near
Van Buren, Arkansas” (p. 333). There is, however, much that we are not
told. Eleanor’s husband was a heavy drinker, which in 1844 resulted in
separation. The couple was reconciled, and the family moved to San Francisco.
While in California, Eleanor discovered the church. Her husband forbade her to
join and “purchased a sword cane and threatened to kill her and the
minister who baptized her if she became a Mormon.” Eleanor attended
meetings, and one Sunday at home, “while Eleanor was singing from a Mormon
hymn book she had purchased, Hector tore the book from her hands, threw it into
the fire, beat her, cast her out into the street, and locked the door.”[137]

Eleanor lodged a complaint of assault and battery against
Hector and planned to leave him until prevailed upon by local church members
and her physician. At that point, said Eleanor, “I presume McLean himself
would not deny that I then declared that I would no more be his wife however
many years I might be compelled to appear as such for the sake of my children.”[138]

Eleanor was not baptized until 1854, and she had the written
permission of her husband to do so. However, he forbade her to read church
literature or to sing church hymns at home. It is not clear, then, why G. D.
Smith feels Eleanor owed an observance of all the twentieth-century legal
niceties to a violent, abusive, tyrannical drunkard. Through it all, as a
church leader, Parley Pratt had tried to help the couple reconcile.

Eleanor had her children baptized, and Hector responded by
filing a charge of insanity against his wife so he could have her committed to
an asylum. Hector sent her children by steamer to their maternal grandparents’
home, confined Eleanor to the house, and again threatened to have her committed
for insanity. Eleanor eventually found her children at her parents’ home, but
they refused to let her take them.[139]
Eleanor went to Salt Lake City and married Pratt on 14 November 1855. As we
have seen, she considered herself divorced from Hector from the time he
violently threw her from their home in San Francisco. They never received a
civil divorce, however.

From which authority,
exactly, would G. D. Smith prefer that Eleanor receive a divorce? She was in
Utah; Hector was in San Francisco. He had abused, beaten, confined, and
threatened to institutionalize her. As we have seen, notions of divorce were
also more fluid in the mid-nineteenth century, especially on the frontier. It
is unlikely that most contemporaries would have insisted that Eleanor required
a formal divorce.

Pratt was arrested on trumped-up charges, freed by a
non-Mormon judge, and pursued by Hector, who shot the unarmed apostle six times
and stabbed him twice. He was left to bleed to death over the course of two
In G. D. Smith’s worldview, are men like Hector entitled to hold women
emotionally or martially hostage, civil divorce or no? I suspect not. But in
his zeal to condemn the church, he does not provide his readers with the facts
necessary to understand the Pratts’ choices.

Ignoring Relevant Data

G. D. Smith often does more than selectively cite
evidence—he also ignores it completely. I will provide several examples.

Paternity of Oliver Buell

The consequences of a less-than-rigorous
approach to sources becomes clear in the case of Oliver Buell, son of
Huntington Buell, one of Joseph’s polyandrous plural wives. Fawn Brodie was the
first to suggest that Oliver Buell was Joseph’s son, and she was so convinced
(based on photographic evidence)[142]
that she wrote, “If Oliver Buell isn’t a Smith then I’m no Brimhall,”
which was her mother’s name.[143]
In a footnote, G. D. Smith notes that Todd Compton “considers it
improbable that Joseph and Presendia would have found time together during the
brief window of opportunity after his release from prison in Missouri” (p.
80 n. 63).[144]

This slight nod toward an opposite point of view is
inadequate, however. G. D. Smith does not mention and hence does not confront
the strongest evidence. Compton’s argument against Joseph’s paternity does not
rest just on a “narrow window” of opportunity but on the fact that
Brodie seriously misread the geography required by that window. It is not
merely a question of dates. Brodie would have Joseph travel west from
his escape near Gallatin, Davies County, Missouri, to Far West in order to meet
Lucinda, and then on to Illinois toward the east. This route would require
Joseph and his companions to backtrack while fleeing from custody in the face
of an active state extermination order.[145] Travel to
Far West would also require them to travel near the virulently anti-Mormon area
of Haun’s Mill, along Shoal Creek.[146]
Yet by April 22 Joseph was in Illinois, having been slowed by traveling “off
from the main road as much as possible”[147] “both
by night and by day.”[148]
This seems an implausible time for Joseph to be conceiving a child.
Furthermore, it is evident that Far West was evacuated by other church leaders,
“the committee on removal,” and not under the Prophet’s direction.
Joseph did not regain the Saints until reaching Quincy, Illinois, contrary to
Brodie’s misreading.[149]
Timing is the least of the problems with G. D. Smith’s theory.

Despite Brodie’s enthusiasm, few other authors have included
Oliver on their list of possible children.[150] With so
many authors ranged against him, G. D. Smith ought not to act as if Compton’s
analysis is merely about dates.

G. D. Smith also soft-pedals the most vital
evidence—the DNA.[151]
He makes no mention in the main text that DNA testing has definitively ruled
out Joseph as Oliver’s father. This admission is confined to a footnote, and
its impact is minimized by its placement. After noting Compton’s disagreement
with the main text’s suggestion that Oliver might be Joseph’s son, G. D. Smith
writes, “There is no DNA connection,” and cites a Deseret News
article. He immediately follows this obtuse phrasing with a return
to Compton, who finds it “‘unlikely, though not impossible, that Joseph
Smith was the actual father of another Buell child,’ John Hiram, Presendia’s
seventh child during her marriage to Buell and born in November 1843″ (p.
80 n. 63). Thus the most salient fact—that Joseph is certainly not Oliver’s
father—is sandwiched between a vicarious discussion
with Compton about whether Oliver or John could be Joseph’s sons. Since G. D.
Smith knows there is definitive evidence against Joseph’s paternity in Oliver’s
case, why mention the debate at all only to hide the answer in the midst of a
long endnote? That Brodie is so resoundingly rebutted on textual, historical,
and genetic grounds provides a cautionary lesson in presuming that her
certainty counts for much.[152]

Two pages later, G. D. Smith again tells us of a Buell child
being sealed to a proxy for Joseph with “wording [that] hints that it
might have been Smith’s child.” “It is not clear,” he tells us, “which
of her children it might have been” (p. 82). In fact, what is clear is
that he has not assimilated the implications of the DNA data. John Hiram, the
seventh child about whom Compton is skeptical, is the only other option. Yet
the only evidence for this child belonging to Joseph is Ettie V. Smith’s
account in the anti-Mormon Fifteen Years among the Mormons (1859), which claimed
that Presendia said she did not know whether Joseph or her first husband was John
Hiram’s father.[153]
As Compton notes, such an admission is implausible, given the mores of the

Besides being implausible, Ettie’s account gets virtually
every other detail wrong—insisting that William Law, Robert Foster, and
Henry Jacobs had all been sent on missions only to return to find Joseph
preaching plural marriage. Ettie then has them establish the Expositor.[155]
While Law and Foster were involved with the Expositor, they were not sent on
missions. Jacobs had served missions but was a faithful Saint unconnected to
the Expositor.
He was also, contrary to Ettie’s claims, present when Joseph was sealed
polyandrously to his (Jacobs’s) wife.

Even the anti-Mormon
Fanny Stenhouse considered Ettie Smith to be a writer who “so mixed up
fiction with what was true, that it was difficult to determine where one ended
and the other began,”[156]
and a good example of how “the autobiographies of supposed Mormon women
were [as] unreliable”[157]
as other Gentile accounts, given her tendency to “mingl[e]
facts and fiction” “in a startling and sensational manner.”[158]

Brodie herself makes no mention of John Hiram as a potential
child, going so far as to carelessly misread Ettie Smith’s remarks as referring
to Oliver, not John Hiram. No other historian has argued that Buell was not the
There is no good evidence whatever that any of Presendia’s children were Joseph’s.
It is not clear why G. D. Smith clings to the idea.

G. D. Smith elsewhere tells his readers that “until
decisive DNA testing of possible [Joseph] Smith descendants—daughters as
well as sons—from plural wives can be accomplished, ascertaining whether
Smith fathered children with any of his plural wives remains hypothetical”
(pp. 228–29, cf. p. 473). This is true, but G. D. Smith fails to tell us
that all those who have been definitively tested so far—Oliver Buell,
Mosiah Hancock, Zebulon Jacobs, Moroni Pratt, and Orrison Smith—have been
excluded. Would he have neglected, I wonder, to mention a positive DNA test?

Marriage to Marinda Nancy Johnson Hyde

G. D. Smith’s discussion of Joseph’s polyandrous marriage
with Marinda Hyde is likewise flawed. He cites only Ann Eliza Webb’s version,
which characterized Orson as “furious” (pp. 117–18). G. D.
Smith makes no mention of three other hostile versions of this marriage, none
of which accord with one other.

1. Sidney Rigdon claimed that Orson was unaware of the marriage
before it occurred and refused to cohabitate with Marinda when he found out.
This latter claim is certainly false.[160]

2. William Hall provided an implausible account in which
Joseph demanded Marinda and all of Orson’s money if the former apostle wished
to be let back into the church. Hall claimed that as a result “many jokes
were cracked at his [Hyde’s] expense.”[161] There is no
other record of anyone mocking Hyde, and Hall is unreliable on other marriages
as well.[162]
Orson’s return to the quorum was in June 1839, putting Hall’s account two years
too early for the marriage.[163]

3. John D. Lee provided some gossip, noting that a “report
said that Hyde’s wife, with his consent, was sealed to Joseph for an eternal
state, but I do not assert the fact.”[164] The latter
is false; Marinda was sealed for eternity to Hyde.[165] Students of
Latter-day Saint history are well aware that Lee’s writing
was potentially altered by an anti-Mormon editor after his death.[166]

The Ann Eliza version chosen by G. D. Smith also has its problems,
which he leaves unexamined. Ann Eliza was too young to have any firsthand
knowledge of Nauvoo, and her intent was clearly to titillate with stories of
polygamous intrigue. She claimed that Brigham Young told Orson that Marinda was
only to be his wife for time and Joseph’s for eternity—but this is false,
since she was sealed to Orson in early 1846.

Ann Eliza’s report of anger is also suspect. In the material
cited by G. D. Smith, she describes Hyde “in a furious passion”
because “he thought it no harm for him to win the affection of another man’s
wife, . . . but he did not propose having his rights interfered with even by
the holy Prophet whose teachings he so implicitly followed.”[167]
Yet Orson did not begin practicing plural marriage until after he knew of
Marinda’s sealing to Joseph.

Despite the hostile
reports of Orson Hyde’s anger, there are no contemporary accounts of problems
between Orson and Joseph, who repeatedly dined with the Hydes following Orson’s
return from Palestine. Orson himself was to marry a plural wife in early 1843,
and another in September.[168]
A second sealing ceremony between Joseph and Marinda was held in May 1843. This
suggests to me that the best read on the conflicting accounts is that Orson did
not know about the sealing initially, but soon accepted it and the doctrine of
plural marriage upon his return. The second sealing ceremony allowed him to
formally give his consent to the arrangement. While it is possible that his
initial reaction was heated, this perspective derives entirely from authors
writing scandalous exposés of the Mormons long after the fact.

Mrs. Durfee the wife?

G. D. Smith argues that
Elizabeth Durfee was a plural wife. Her inclusion on the list of Joseph’s wives
has been challenged.[169]
G. D. Smith argues that Wyl’s Sarah Pratt material confirms Durfee’s marriage
to Joseph (p. 108). He follows Compton in misreading the Wyl data. Richard
Anderson and Scott Faulring argue that In Sacred Loneliness misleads the reader by claiming
that “Sarah Pratt mentions that she heard a Mrs. Durfee in Salt
Lake City profess to have been one of Smith’s wives.”[170] But this
changes the actual report of Sarah’s comments on Mrs. Durfee: “I don’t think she was ever sealed to him, though it may have been the case after Joseph’s death. . . . At all events, she boasted here in Salt Lake of
having been one of Joseph’s wives.”[171]

If anything these data argue that Durfee was aware of and involved
in promoting and teaching plural marriage but was not necessarily sealed to
Joseph in life. Compton ignores this point in his reply to Anderson and
It should also be noted that Andrew Jenson’s list of wives does not include
Durfee, though she was a close friend of Eliza Snow and Jenson had access to
Eliza as a witness.[173]
Of Compton’s list of thirty-three wives, this is the only inclusion I find
unconvincing. At the very least, G. D. Smith’s readers deserve an accurate
presentation of the scanty evidence and links to those works that disagree with
his reading.

Benjamin F. Johnson and the “mainstream”

G. D. Smith provides considerable statistical information,
but he exaggerates even there. Benjamin F. Johnson, “representative of the
mainstream in LDS practice,” he tells us, “eventually married seven
wives—a few short of the model of ten talents” (p. 166). Is seven wives really the “mainstream”
for the Latter-day Saint practice of polygamy?

Both Stanley Ivins and Kathryn Daynes have made estimates of
the number of plural wives with Utah polygamists. Their data are summarized in
the table below:

Number of Wives per Utah
Polygamist Males


Ivins (%)[174]

Daynes (%)[175]















Included above

G. D. Smith’s claim that seven wives represents some type of
“mainstream” is erroneous—such prolific espousers were well
below 5 percent overall. He later claims that “since institutional [LDS
Church] histories have minimized the incidence and profile of polygamy . . . , it is easy to imagine that most men who entered polygamy
did so in a cursory way. In reality, the typical Utah polygamist whose roots in
the principle extended back to Nauvoo, had between three and four wives”
(p. 289; see p. 286). G. D. Smith’s analysis disguises, however, the fact that
polygamists with Nauvoo roots were a tiny minority. “Most men who entered
polygamy” had only two wives, and a large majority (>80%) had no more
than three. Even these would probably not think of their participation as “cursory,”
since a majority of men never practiced plural marriage at all.[176]
G. D. Smith even knows about these data from Ivins (though he ignores Daynes)
but places them several chapters away, in a completely different context.[177]

Johnson exceeded even the average of Nauvoo’s “early
adopters,” who had far more wives, on average, than the vast majority of
Utah polygamists. Johnson may have been “mainstream” among polygamists
at Nauvoo—but polygamy was restricted to a relatively small core in
Nauvoo. It was not “mainstream” for the
entire church at all. And most Utahans never approached the number of wives
achieved by those men who began the practice in Nauvoo. Any attempt to extrapolate
patterns in Nauvoo to the rest of Latter-day Saint history is fraught with
pitfalls. In short, Johnson was extraordinary except among the highly selected
group of Nauvoo-era polygamists. G. D. Smith insists elsewhere that before 1890
“the number of [polygamy] practitioners had expanded exponentially.”
In support of this, we are told that Orderville, Utah, had 67 percent of its
members in plural households (pp. 535–36). Mathematical quibbles about
whether the adoption of plural marriage was truly “exponential”
aside, this figure is misleading.
G. D. Smith leaves unmentioned the study’s observation that Orderville
was somewhat unique because “one suspects that membership in Mormondom’s
most successful attempt to establish the United Order may have required a
commitment to plural matrimony. Unlike the pattern that usually prevailed in
Mormon towns, many young men of Orderville entered the celestial order when
they first married or soon thereafter.” Nearby Kanab was less successful
in its communal economy and had less than half as many polygamists.[178]
Furthermore, all of southern Utah was more likely to be polygamist than Utah as
a whole, for similar reasons.[179]
G. D. Smith’s desire to correct underestimates in some Latter-day Saint publications
should not be license to exaggerate the norm—whether in reference to
groups or individuals (such as Johnson)—in the other direction.

Necessary for salvation?

G. D. Smith appears to relish pointing out that Latter-day
Saint prophets taught that polygamy was essential for salvation and then
contrasting this with the church’s current stance (p. 356).[180] The irony,
one guesses, is intended to be arresting.

While it is a simple matter to find nineteenth-century
language extolling the necessity of plural marriage, G. D. Smith does nothing
to address the nuances of Latter-day Saint preaching on this point. After all,
even at its height the majority of members never entered plural marriage. Did
the most of the church simply resign themselves to a lesser glory in the

It would be difficult to find a more ardent polygamist than
Brigham Young. Yet Wilford Woodruff reported that

Brother John Holeman made a long speech upon the subject of
Poligamy. He Contended that no person Could have a Celestial
glory unless He had a plurality of wives. Speeches were made By L. E.
Harrington O Pratt Erastus Snow, D Evans J. F. Smith Lorenzo Young. Presidet
Young said there would be men saved in the Celestial Kingdom of God with one
wife with Many wives & with No wife at all.

G. D. Smith might reply that nonpolygamous males might yet
be denied the highest degree of celestial glory, but Woodruff reported less
than two years later that “Presidt Young spoke 58
Minuts. He said a Man may Embrace the Law of Celestial Marriage in his heart
& not take the Second wife & be justified before the Lord.”[182]

Endorsing the doctrine of polygamy as divine was the key;
there was no expectation that all were required to practice it. The fundamental
issue was always obedience to God and ongoing revelation, not a dogged
insistence that polygamy was essential to exaltation for everyone. Still, that
Brigham Young had to insist upon this point, and that Wilford Woodruff thought
it important enough to write down, demonstrates how powerful the rhetoric
encouraging plural marriage could be. There can be no doubt that the rhetoric
for compliance often lost sight of the nuances underlined by Brigham
Young—but when writing as a historian, G. D. Smith ought not to mistake
rhetoric for the broader reality.

In another address, Brigham Young made clear the kind of polygamy
he expected the Saints to embrace:

We wish to obtain all that father Abraham obtained. I wish here to say to the
Elders of Israel, and to all the members of this Church and kingdom, that it is
in the hearts of many of them to wish that the doctrine of polygamy was not
taught and practiced by us. . . . It is the word of
the Lord, and I wish to say to you, and all the world,
that if you desire with all your hearts to obtain the blessings which Abraham
obtained, you will be polygamists at least in your
faith, or you will come short of enjoying the salvation and the glory which
Abraham has obtained
. This is as
true as that God lives. You who wish that there were no such thing in
existence, if you have in your hearts to say: “We will pass along in the
Church without obeying or submitting to it in our faith or believing this
order, because, for aught that we know, this community may be broken up yet,
and we may have lucrative offices offered to us; we will not, therefore, be
polygamists lest we should fail in obtaining some earthly honor, character and
office, etc,”—the man that has that in his heart, and will continue
to persist in pursuing that policy, will come short of dwelling in the presence
of the Father and the Son, in celestial glory. The only men who become Gods,
even the Sons of God, are those who enter into polygamy.[183]

All Saints had to be
polygamists—in their faith. To deny the divine origin of the command or
to wish the command rescinded because of worldly concerns was to court
damnation. One could refrain and be “justified before the Lord,” if one’s
reasons were pure.

Stanley Ivins understood years ago what G. D. Smith misses: “Although
plurality of wives was taught as a tenet of the church, it was not one of the
fundamental principles of the Mormon faith. . . . The
Saints accepted plurality in theory, but most of them were loath to put it into
If practicing polygamy was truly the only way to salvation, the relatively low
percentages of polygamists is indeed bizarre. G. D. Smith apparently hopes that
we will see it so, with former and present prophets in seeming contradiction.
But when the full spectrum of contemporary teaching is presented, it is not
surprising that many could remain polygamist in their faith only, with no fears
about their salvation.

Sexuality in Joseph’s plural marriages

“There is no reason to doubt,” G. D. Smith tells
us, “that [Joseph’s] marriages involved sexual relations in most instances”
(p. 227). There is, in fact, relatively little evidence with
which to judge, which means that some doubt is prudent. There is
good evidence of a conjugal relationship with Almira Johnson, Melissa Lott,
Emily Partridge, and Eliza R. Snow. It is also reasonable to include Eliza Partridge,
Maria Lawrence, and Sarah Lawrence. The evidence for their inclusion is
persuasive, though they are not named specifically. There is late, hostile
evidence of intimacy with Fanny Alger, and most intriguingly there is some
evidence of both a physical relationship and a child with Sylvia Sessions Lyon.[185]
This is only nine marriages out of Todd Compton’s list of thirty-three—or
G. D. Smith’s list of thirty-eight—plural marriages.

G. D. Smith is here following Compton’s analysis. The latter
concluded that

though it is possible that Joseph
had some marriages in which there were no sexual relations, there is no
explicit or convincing evidence for this (except, perhaps, in the cases of the
older wives, judging from later Mormon polygamy). And in a significant number
of marriages, there is evidence for sexual relations.
. . . [T]here is no good evidence that Joseph Smith
did not have sexual relations with any wife, previously single or polyandrous.[186]

Compton here makes a large—and, to my mind,
unwarranted—leap. But G. D. Smith’s leap is even larger—he moves
from Compton’s “no good evidence” to “no reason to doubt.”
Compton and those who follow his lead extend evidence from a few marriages and
then argue that all of the marriages—single and
polyandrous—followed the same pattern. G. D. Smith commits this error,
though in a less rigorous manner than Compton. One is tempted to ask what
evidence of no sexual relations would look like.

Compton is somewhat inconsistent, however, when treating
this issue. For example, he writes that “some
conclude that Helen Mar Kimball, who married Smith when she was fourteen, did
not have marital relations with him. This is possible, as there are cases of
Mormons in Utah marrying young girls and refraining from sexuality until they
were older. But the evidence for Helen Mar is entirely ambiguous in my view.”[187]

Compton’s first claim is
that the data are “entirely ambiguous,” that is, entirely “open
to or having several possible meanings or interpretations.”[188]
When anti-Mormons Jerald and Sandra Tanner exploited this ambiguity to
emphasize the possibility of a sexual relationship with such a young wife,
Compton argued that there were likely no sexual relations in the marriage to Helen Mar Kimball. His reason
is that “there is absolutely no evidence that there was any sexuality in
the marriage, and I suggest that, following later practice in Utah, there may
have been no sexuality. All the evidence points to this marriage as a primarily
dynastic marriage.”[189]

Compton thus softens his
initial claim: he first insisted that the evidence was ambiguous—amenable
to interpretation in multiple ways. When accepted at his word by the Tanners,
he then insisted that “all the evidence points” to a nonsexual
conclusion, which hardly sounds ambiguous at all. The jumbled thinking
continues when Compton later insisted that his “position, actually, is
that there is no evidence, pro or con, for sexual relations.”[190] Compton’s
position has thus veered from considering the data “entirely ambiguous”
to “no evidence” of sexuality in what was likely a “dynastic
marriage” to “no evidence at all, pro or con”! Unsurprisingly,
his resulting interpretive structure is rickety.

One wonders if the confusion on this point is due in part to
the hand of an editor. In his response to some unfavorable reviews, Compton
described how an editor approached this passage:

My position, actually,
is that there is no evidence, pro or con, for sexual relations. You cannot
prove that there were sexual relations; you cannot prove that there were no
sexual relations. Notice that I do not simply say “ambiguous”; I say “entirely

But, the reader may ask, what is my best guess? I remember
talking with my publisher Gary Bergera [of Signature Books] on the phone once
during the editorial process and I restated the cautious “no evidence
either way” position. But Gary pressed: “But what do you think? What
is your best guess?” And I answered that my best guess was that there were
no sexual relations, based on parallels from some marriages to underage women
in Utah polygamy. [191]

One wishes that the editor at Signature Books had made
Compton’s point of view less ambiguous, though Compton’s expression of his
point of view has not lent itself to clarity. G. D. Smith’s subsequent
treatment of the evidence is even more garbled, concluding that a marriage for
time “involv[ed] physical relations.” He quotes Compton as a source
for this claim, though such a conclusion is not made by
Compton (p. 201).[192]

Despite clarifying the Helen Kimball matter after
publication, Compton’s treatment of sexuality remains muddled throughout In Sacred
. Of Zina Huntington, he writes, “Nothing specific is
known about sexuality in their marriage, though judging from Smith’s other
marriages, sexuality was probably included.”[193] Once again,
we have him arguing from negative evidence—we don’t know anything, but
Compton argues that we should judge based on other relationships. Yet elsewhere
we read that “it is probable that Smith did not have sexual relations with
his older wives,”[194]
which sounds like a claim about evidence against sexuality.[195]

G. D. Smith also cites an anti-Mormon account of Helen’s supposed
angry regrets about plural marriage. Compton discloses that this source is
anti-Mormon and calls its extreme language “suspect.” No such caveat
appears in G. D. Smith or his other sources (pp. 201–2).[196]
G. D. Smith likewise does not tell us that historian Stanley Kimball believed
the marriage was “unconsummated.”[197]

We should avoid the trap
into which Compton falls and be clear when we are speculating. G. D. Smith’s
loaded language worsens the situation, describing Joseph’s “amorous
proposal,” his “prolonged dalliance,” “his continuing
affection for young women,” and “his insatiable addition of one woman
after another to an invisible family” (pp. 198, 231, 237). Such language
begs the question and asserts without proof that Joseph’s motivation was
sexual. As Richard Bushman notes, Joseph’s offers of plural marriage were not
even couched in romantic, wooing terminology.[198] G. D. Smith’s
thesis of a sexually driven, even compulsive, Joseph requires that he shoehorn
the data to fit it.

The character of Joseph Smith

1. The History of the Church
Has Its Uses . . .

Despite his disparagement of the History of the Church,
G. D. Smith does find a use for it. At times he cites this history when other,
more accurate accounts are available elsewhere. For example, in his treatment
of the King Follett discourse, he uses the History of the Church
version—he ignores the Times and Seasons, the version published
by Signature Books in The Essential Joseph Smith, and Stan Larson’s BYU Studies article
compiling all versions into an amalgamated text.[199]

G. D. Smith writes that “in
defending his theology [during the King Follett discourse], Smith proclaimed, ‘I
am learned, and know more than all the world put together.'”[200]
The period ending the sentence would imply that this completed his
thought—and so it appears in the History of the Church. If the
three versions cited above are consulted, however, they each demonstrate that
the sentiment may have been quite different:

Now, I ask all the learned men who hear me, why the learned
doctors who are preaching salvation say that God created the heavens and the
earth out of nothing. They account it blasphemy to contradict the idea. If you tell
them that God made the world out of something,
they will call you a
fool. The reason is that they are unlearned but I am learned and know
more than all the world put together—the Holy
Ghost does, anyhow.
If the Holy Ghost in me comprehends more than all the world, I will associate myself with it.[201]

the History of the Church version, the statement about the Holy Ghost is placed in its own
sentence. This allows G. D. Smith to exclude it with no ellipsis and portray
Joseph as decidedly more arrogant than he was.

Daniel C. Peterson’s remark is telling: “Amusing, isn’t
it, . . . that the very same people who vehemently reject the . . . History of
the Church
as an unreliable source when it seems to support the
Latter-day Saint position clutch it to their bosoms as an unparalleled historical
treasure when they think they can use it as a weapon against the alleged errors
of Mormonism.”[202]

2. Joseph Smith: Arrogant Aspirant to the Presidency?

That G. D. Smith intends Joseph to be seen as arrogant is
clear; in the previous paragraph he quotes a letter from Joseph to James
Arlington Bennet:[203]
“I combat the errors of ages; I meet the violence of mobs; I cope with
illegal proceedings from executive authority; I cut the Gordian knot of powers,
and I solve mathematical problems of universities, with truth . . . diamond
truth; and God is my ‘right hand man.'” G. D. Smith then editorializes: “With
such a self-image, it is not surprising that he also aspired to the highest
office in the land: the presidency of the United States” (p. 225). Here
again, he serves his readers poorly. He neglects to tell us that Joseph’s
remark comes from a somewhat tongue-in-cheek exchange with James Bennet, who
had been baptized in the East but immediately wrote Joseph to disclaim his “glorious
frolic in the clear blue ocean; for most assuredly a frolic it was, without a
moment’s reflection or consideration.”[204]

Bennet went on to praise Joseph in an exaggerated, humorous
style: “As you have proved yourself to be a philosophical divine . . .
[it] point[s] you out as the most extraordinary man of the present age.” “But,”
cautioned Bennet,

my mind is of so mathematical and philosophical a cast, that the divinity of
Moses makes no impression on me, and you will not be offended when I say that I
rate you higher as a legislator than I do Moses. . . . I cannot, however, say
but you are both right, it being out of the power of man to prove you wrong. It
is no mathematical problem, and can therefore get no mathematical solution.[205]

Joseph’s claim that his religious
witness can “solve mathematical problems of universities” is thus a
playful return shot at Bennet,[206]
who has claimed a “so mathematical” mind that cannot decide about
Joseph’s truth claims since they admit of “no mathematical solution.”[207]
G. D. Smith may not get the joke, but he ought to at least let us know that
there is one being told.

Bennet continued by suggesting that he need not have
religious convictions to support Joseph, adding slyly that “you know
Mahomet had his ‘right hand man.'” Joseph’s reply that God is his
right-hand man is again a riposte to Bennet and follows Joseph’s half-serious
gibe that “your good wishes to go ahead, coupled with Mahomet and a right
hand man, are rather more vain than virtuous. Why, sir, Cæsar had his right
hand Brutus, who was his left hand assassin.” Joseph here pauses, and we
can almost see him grin before adding: “Not, however, applying the
allusion to you.”[208]

Bennet had also offered Joseph a carving of “your head
on a beautiful cornelian stone, as your private seal, which will be set in gold
to your order, and sent to you. It will be a gem, and just what you want. . . . The expense of this seal, set in gold, will be
about $40; and [the maker] assures me that if he were not so poor a man, he
would present it to you free. You can, however, accept it or not.”[209]

Joseph does not let this rhetorical opportunity go by,
telling Bennet that “facts, like diamonds, not only cut glass, but
they are the most precious jewels on earth. . . . As to
the private seal you mention, if sent to me, I shall receive it with the
gratitude of a servant of God, and pray that the donor may receive a reward in
the resurrection of the just.”[210] Joseph’s
concluding remark about the necessity of “truth—diamond-hard truth”
plays on this same association with the proffered precious stone.

The key point of Bennet’s letter, after the sardonic
preliminaries, was an invitation to use untruth for political gain—hence
Joseph’s insistence on “diamond-hard truth.” Bennet closed his letter
by asking to be privately relieved of his honorary commission with the Nauvoo
Legion, noting that

I may yet run for a high office in your state, when you
would be sure of my best services in your behalf; therefore, a known connection
with you would be against our mutual interest. It can be shown that a
commission in the Legion was a Herald hoax, coined for the fun of it by me, as
it is not believed even now by the public. In short, I expect to be yet,
through your influence, governor of the State of Illinois.[211]

Bennet hoped to use
Joseph without embracing his religious pretensions and was bold enough to say
However, Joseph was not as cynical and malleable as the Easterner hoped, for
the Prophet then insisted at length on the impropriety of using “the
dignity and honor I received from heaven, to boost a man into [political]
power,” since “the wicked and unprincipled . . . would seize the
opportunity to [harden] the hearts of the nation against me for dabbling at a
sly game in politics.”

Joseph’s fear in relation to politics is that to support the
unworthy would be to corrupt the mission he has been given. “Shall I,”
continued Joseph rhetorically, “. . . turn to be
a Judas? Shall I, who have heard the voice of God, and communed with angels,
and spake as moved by the Holy Ghost for the renewal of the everlasting
covenant, and for the gathering of Israel in the last days,—shall
I worm myself into a political hypocrite?” Rather, Joseph hoped that “the
whole earth shall bear me witness that I, like the towering rock in the midst
of the ocean, which has withstood the mighty surges of the warring waves for
centuries, am impregnable, and am a faithful friend to virtue, and a fearless
foe to vice.”[213]

It is at this point that
he makes the statement quoted by G. D. Smith
—a nice rhetorical summation of the word games he and Bennet were playing
and a jovial but direct rejection of Bennet’s politically cynical
offer—but hardly evidence of someone with a grandiose self-image.[214]

To paraphrase G. D.
Smith, small wonder, then, that this Joseph—the one revealed by the
documents—decided to run for the presidency. The decision was natural
since the Saints felt no candidate was worthy of their support—though
they knew that a vote for Joseph could well be “throw[ing] away our votes.”[215]
Joseph’s campaign was “a gesture,” though one he took seriously.
Experienced students of Mormon history will know this; G. D. Smith evidently
counts on his audience not knowing.[216]

3. Joseph Smith: Financial Impropriety?

Not content with a
portrayal of Joseph as an egomaniacal libertine, Nauvoo Polygamy also
accuses him of shady financial deals. This is also done through a selective and
incomplete presentation of the evidence.

Land speculation. G. D. Smith claims that “the Law brothers
came into a . . . dispute with [Joseph] over his conduct as trustee-in-trust
for the church. In that capacity, [Joseph] had appropriated church members’
charitable donations for real estate speculation, buying low and reselling high
to those immigrants who could afford to pay” (p. 423). In fact, Joseph had
signed two promissory notes of $25,000 for Nauvoo, payable to Eastern land
speculators. Yet the dispossession suffered by the Saints in Missouri made
repayment difficult since many could not afford to purchase land.[217]
“Joseph wanted to help,” reports Richard Bushman, “but huge
debts prevented him from simply giving away land. What could poor converts do?”
Joseph’s preference was “to give land to the poor, especially to widows
and orphans. To finance these free gifts, he wanted others to pay generously.
The high council priced Nauvoo lots from $200 to $800, leaving room for negotiation.
All these judgments required patience and wisdom and exposed Joseph to criticism
for gouging and unfair treatment.”[218] In
addition, “in June 1840, he asked the high council to appoint someone else
to attend to ‘the temporalities of the Church.’ . . . [B]ut
his appeal went unheeded, . . . leaving Joseph responsible for the debts and
final disposition of land.”[219]

Thus the charge that Joseph was involved in “real
estate speculation” is not true. G. D. Smith’s claim that Joseph was
selling high “to those . . . who could afford to pay” is a bit of
verbal legerdemain—it is true, while still managing to hide the fact that
the Prophet was giving away land to those who could not pay. Joseph
was already in debt for the land; land sold for higher prices did not benefit
Joseph but did benefit those Saints too poor to afford land at all.

On what basis, then, were the Law
brothers complaining? Their motives were not so pure as G. D. Smith suggests,
just as Joseph’s actions were not so venal as G. D. Smith’s version implies.
The Laws invested in lots in upper Nauvoo and on the outskirts while the church
held title to the lower city. As Lyndon Cook has explained,

By 1843 the fundamental economic interests of the [Laws] and the Mormon leader were in definite conflict.
Brisk competition caused the Prophet to insist that the Saints purchase
building lots from only the Church. Although most recognized this as a sacrifice which would assist in liquidating Church debts, to
William Law it sounded too much like totalitarianism.[220]

The Laws’ profits were harmed by
Joseph’s policy of giving land to the poor, and the Laws also resented his
ability to influence buyers. G. D. Smith’s account is a caricature of the
facts. Few citations to the relevant literature are provided.

Maria and Sarah Lawrence. G. D. Smith twice mentions
the Lawrence sisters, two of Joseph’s plural wives who also boarded with him
and for whom he was responsible following their father’s death. William Law
charged Joseph with

fiduciary neglect of his teenage responsibility,
Maria Lawrence. Reviewing his own actions forty years later, Law concluded that
Joseph was not the only one who had taken advantage of a defenseless girl.
Emma, he believed, was equally complicit. . . . With
Hyrum Smith’s death, William Law, the other bondsman for the Lawrences, felt
acutely the responsibility he bore, ultimately reimbursing Joseph’s $3,000
worth of expenses charged to the estate—the amount Joseph had claimed as
the value of room and board. (pp. 438–39)

By accepting Law’s account,
G. D. Smith commits many of the same errors present in Todd Compton’s In Sacred Loneliness. However,
even before the publication of Compton’s book, Gordon A. Madsen had presented
data showing the falsity of Law’s charges. Compton has the excuse that Madsen’s
material was unpublished when his book went to press and only available from a
presentation made at the Mormon History Association in 1996. More than a decade
later, G. D. Smith makes the same errors, though with no hint of the
exculpatory evidence available from the primary documents.[221] He even
cites Madsen’s materials but tells the reader nothing about their contents.[222]

G. D. Smith has apparently not paid attention to what the FARMS Review
reported on this topic either, since

most of what Law said about the
estate itself was incorrect. . . . Madsen’s paper quoted the will, under which
Maria and Sarah would share equal parts of the estate with several siblings,
but the distribution was not due during the life of their widowed mother, who
was entitled to her share of annual interest on the undivided assets. . . . Between 1841 and early 1844, Joseph Smith
charged nothing for boarding Maria and Sarah, nor did he bill the estate for
management fees. Furthermore, in mid-1843, the probate court approved his accounts,
including annual interest payments to the widow, as required by the will. . . . Gordon Madsen’s overall point was that the
Prophet met his legal responsibilities in being entrusted with the Lawrence
assets. There is no hint of fraud.[223]

But rather than respond to this material or describe Madsen’s
conclusions, G. D. Smith merely follows the hostile William Law. Madsen further
informed me that there was never any “cash” in the estate delivered
to Joseph, and certainly not the “$8,000.00 in English gold” that Law
would later claim.[224]
The bulk of the estate was in promissory notes owed by fellow Canadians to the
Lawrences. Law was well aware of this since he and his brother Wilson were
hired by Joseph to collect some of these debts. Joseph’s accounts provided the
probate court list payment to “W. & W. Law” in such cases. At one
point, Joseph “sent William Clayton to Wilson Law to find out why he
refused paying his note, when he brought in some claims as a set-off which
Clayton knew were paid, leaving me no remedy but the glorious uncertainty of
the law.”[225]
It is not clear whether this was Law’s own note or one owed to the
Lawrences. Certainly the estate
was never liquid, and it is likely that not all of the notes had been collected
before Joseph’s death.[226]

To portray Joseph as “us[ing] celestial marriage as a
means to access . . . [a] fortune” (p. 439) is to ignore virtually all the
primary sources. G. D. Smith gives an account by a bitter
apostate—offered nearly forty-three years after the fact—exclusive
precedence over contemporary court documents. We are back where we
started—at cargo cult history.

A Grand Synthesis?

In his final chapter, G. D. Smith attempts to tie Latter-day
Saint plural marriage to the broader history of polygamy, with a special emphasis
on the Münster Anabaptists. The noted similarities are generally strained,
somewhat superficial, and not argued but simply portrayed as parallels by
assertion or suggestion. No attention is given to the many differences between
elements that share superficial similarities. Given G. D. Smith’s failure to do
justice to the Latter-day Saint plural marriage data, I am reluctant to trust
his more perfunctory treatment of three hundred years of polygamy and
polygamist thought in the broader Christian world. This chapter feels and reads
as something of an afterthought. It is, at least, an improvement to see Joseph’s
religious ideas tied to millennialist thought—though the claim that he
might have gleaned them via the oral traditions of descendants of the Münster
Anabaptists living near Emma Hale’s family in the 1820s smacks of desperation
(p. 529).

I say improvement because chatty Anabaptists are better than
the bizarre claim with which the book opens, insisting that Joseph’s religious
impulses and ideas were due to a fascination with all things Egyptian. This is
part of G. D. Smith’s attempt to equate Joseph with Napoleon: “The French
adventurer’s finding . . . [of the Rosetta Stone] lit a fire in [Joseph] Smith
that inspired even the language of his religious prose” (pp. x–xi).
Mercifully, this line of analysis is quickly abandoned for the remainder of the

But, we are advised, the Anabaptist connection does have an “interest
to Mormon history, [since] one of their [later] leaders was Alexander Mack,
having the same surname as Joseph Smith’s mother, Lucy Mack Smith”
(p. 528, emphasis added). As Dave Barry was wont to say, “I swear I’m not
making this up.” One can only imagine the riches that will be of interest
to the Mormon historian once we realize that Joseph Smith’s surname is likewise
shared by even more historical figures than Hale’s. Would G. D. Smith see this
as fraught with meaning too?


More than a quarter century ago, G. D. Smith published Quinn’s
claim that

writers are certainly “dishonest
or bad historians” if they fail to acknowledge the existence of even one
piece of evidence they know challenges or contradicts the rest of their evidence.
If this omission of relevant evidence is inadvertent, the author is careless.
If the omission is an intentional effort to conceal or avoid presenting the
reader with evidence that contradicts the preferred view of the writer, that is fraud, whether by a scholar or non-scholar,
historian or other specialist. If authors write in scholarly style, they are
equally dishonest if they fail to acknowledge any significant work whose
interpretations differ from their own.[227]

Quinn’s standard, taken to extremes,
is clearly unreasonable. No one can know everything. No researcher is
infallible, and scholarship must involve judgments of what to include and
exclude. Honest mistakes and omissions happen.

However, Nauvoo Polygamy is an example of
failing to meet minimal scholarly standards. G. D. Smith leaves evidence that
differs with his interpretation uncited or unengaged. In some cases he acknowledges
an alternative viewpoint but leaves the strongest evidence for the differing
view unmentioned. Often the selective citation and discussion of evidence is

Nauvoo Polygamy adds little that is new to the
discussion of Mormon polygamy prior to the death of Joseph Smith.[228]
In many ways his thesis is atavistic and advances no further than Brodie’s 1945
effort—which was similarly driven by an ideology that was unfailingly
hostile. I suspect that anyone moderately familiar with the extant literature
will learn little; anyone who uses Nauvoo Polygamy as an
introduction to the subject will be misled.

Why was this book published? To advance an
agenda? The result often reads like the product of a vanity press rather
than a serious attempt to synthesize the best available scholarship.

[1] Andrew H.
Hedges and Dawson W. Hedges, “No, Dan, That’s Still Not History,”
review of Joseph
Smith: The Making of a Prophet
, by Dan Vogel, FARMS Review
17/1 (2005): 208 n. 2.

[2] Given that
Joseph, George D., and I all share a surname, I will refer to the author as “G.
D. Smith” where necessary for clarity. Readers can take comfort in an
adage of my grandfather’s: “There’s two kinds of people in the
world—Smiths and those that wish they was.”

[3] My thanks
to Robert B. White for generous feedback and to Blair Hodges, Edward (Ted)
Jones, David Keller, Roger Nicholson, and Allen Wyatt for help locating some
sources and drawing connections. Any mistakes and the conclusions herein remain
my own.

[4] Here and
elsewhere original spelling has been preserved where not bracketed.

[5] Joseph
Smith, The
Essential Joseph Smith
(Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1995),
166–67. I use here the version published earlier in Dean C. Jessee, ed., The Personal
Writings of Joseph Smith
(Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1984),

[6] Italics
indicate the portion quoted by G. D. Smith. The boldface text indicates my

[7] Again,
italics indicate the text cited by G. D. Smith; the boldface is my emphasis.

[8] Richard
Lyman Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Knopf,
2005), 473.

[9] Todd M.
Compton, In
Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith
(Salt Lake City:
Signature Books, 1997), 350.

[10] G. D. Smith
reproduced Nauvoo Polygamy‘s introduction, with minor edits, in the Council
for Secular Humanism’s flagship publication, Free
. The absence of references
and the relative unfamiliarity of most of that audience with Latter-day Saint
historiography assure us that his deception will be undetected, especially as
most secular humanists will be ideologically predisposed to accept his account
since it accords with their biases. Apparently, secular humanists tolerate
distortion from authors rather more willingly than their rationalist stance
would have led me to believe. See George D. Smith, “Nauvoo Polygamy: We
Called It Celestial Marriage,” Free Inquiry 28/3 (April–May 2008): 44–46,
available on-line at
?section=library&page=smith_28_3 (dated 4 November 2008, accessed 2
November 2008). For Smith’s long-standing links to the secular humanist
movement, see Louis Midgley, “George Dempster Smith, Jr., on the Book of
Mormon,” review of On the Barricades: Religion
and Free Inquiry in Conflict
, ed.
Robert Basil, Mary Beth Gehrman, and Tim Madigan, Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 4 (1992): 5–12; and Midgley, “Atheists and Cultural Mormons
Promote a Naturalistic Humanism,” review of Religion, Feminism, and Freedom of Conscience: A Mormon/Humanist
, ed. George D. Smith, Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 7/1 (1995): 229–97. On Signature Books’ ideological atheism, see Louis
Midgley, “The Signature Books Saga,” FARMS Review 16/1 (2004):
361–406. Much of the work here under review is explicable, though not
excusable, when G. D. Smith’s evangelizing atheism and hostility to the truth
claims of the Church of Jesus Christ are recognized.

[11] The extant
evidence demonstrates that the 1826 court case was a hearing, not a trial.
While such terminology may have been appropriate in the past, the current state
of the data makes it misleading. See Russell Anderson, “The 1826 Trial of
Joseph Smith,” FAIR Conference presentation, 2002, (accessed 2 November 2008). For
other references available at FAIR, see (accessed 2 November
2008). G. D. Smith refers to the court visit as “a hearing” earlier
on the same page, a more appropriate characterization.

[12] See, for
example, Richard L. Anderson, “Joseph Smith’s New York Reputation Reappraised,”
BYU Studies
10/3 (1970): 283–314; Anderson, “The Mature Joseph Smith and
Treasure Searching,” BYU Studies 24/4 (1984): 489–560; Anderson, review of Joseph Smith’s New York Reputation Reexamined, by Rodger I. Anderson, Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 3/1 (1991): 52–80; Benson Whittle, review of Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, 1st ed., by D. Michael Quinn, BYU Studies 27/4 (Fall
1987): 105–21; Ronald W. Walker, “The Persisting Idea of American
Treasure Hunting,” BYU Studies 24/4 (Fall 1984): 429–59; Walker, “Joseph
Smith: The Palmyra Seer,” BYU Studies 24/4 (Fall 1984): 461–72; Stephen E.
Robinson, review of Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, 1st ed., by D. Michael Quinn, BYU Studies 27/4 (1987):
94–95; Stephen D. Ricks and Daniel C. Peterson, “Joseph Smith and ‘Magic':
Methodological Reflections on the Use of a Term,” in To Be Learned Is Good If . . . , ed. Robert L. Millet (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1987), 129–47;
Richard L. Bushman, “Joseph Smith’s Family Background,” in The Prophet Joseph: Essays on the Life and Mission of Joseph Smith, ed. Larry C. Porter and Susan Easton Black (Salt
Lake City: Deseret Book, 1988), 1–18; Janet Thomas, “Magic,” in
Encyclopedia of Mormonism, ed. Daniel H. Ludlow (New York, Macmillan,
1992), 2:849–50; Davis Bitton, review of The Refiner’s Fire: the Making of Mormon Cosmology, 1644–1844, by John L. Brooke, BYU Studies 34/4
(1994–95): 182–92; William J. Hamblin, Daniel C. Peterson, and
George L. Mitton, review of Brooke, The Refiner’s Fire, BYU Studies 34/4 (1994–95): 167–81, and Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 6/2 (1994): 3–58; John Gee, “Abracadabra, Isaac and Jacob,”
review of “The Use of Egyptian Magical Papyri to Authenticate the Book of
Abraham: A Critical Review,” by Edward H. Ashment, Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 7/1 (1995): 19–84; Gee, “‘Bird Island’ Revisited, or the
Book of Mormon through Pyramidal Kabbalistic Glasses,” review of Written by the Finger of God: A Testimony of Joseph Smith’s Translations, by Joe Sampson, Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 7/1
(1995): 219–28; Gee, “‘An Obstacle to Deeper Understanding,'”
review of Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, revised and enlarged edition, by D. Michael
Quinn, FARMS Review of Books 12/2 (2000): 185–224; Matthew Roper, “Unanswered
Mormon Scholars,” review of Answering Mormon
Scholars: A Response to Criticism Raised by Mormon Defenders
, FARMS Review of Books 9/1 (1997): 87–145; William J. Hamblin, “That
Old Black Magic,” review of Early Mormonism and the
Magic World View
, revised and enlarged edition,
by D. Michael Quinn, FARMS Review of Books 12/2 (2000): 225–394; Rhett S. James, “Writing
History Must Not Be an Act of ‘Magic,'” review of Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, revised and enlarged edition, by D. Michael Quinn,
FARMS Review of Books 12/2 (2000): 395–414; Mark Ashurst-McGee, “A Pathway to
Prophethood: Joseph Smith Junior as Rodsman, Village Seer, and Judeo-Christian
Prophet” (master’s thesis, Utah State University, 2000); Ashurst-McGee, “Moroni
as Angel and as Treasure Guardian,” FARMS
18/1 (2006): 34–100;
Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling, 41–52; Larry E. Morris, “‘I Should
Have an Eye Single to the Glory of God': Joseph Smith’s Account of the Angel
and the Plates,” review of “From Captain Kidd’s Treasure Ghost to the
Angel Moroni: Changing Dramatis Personae in Early Mormonism,” by Ronald V. Huggins, FARMS Review 17/1 (2005):

[13] Compare
with a more informed treatment, which displays a proper grasp of the nuances in
both Latter-day Saint and non–Latter-day Saint applications of the term,
in Bushman, Rough
Stone Rolling
, 419–21.

[14] G. D. Smith
(p. 532 n. 151) quotes Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy, 8. Van Wagoner
indicates that Hyde’s journal “disdainfully described” the
Cochranites’ practice. Elsewhere Van Wagoner likewise notes that Hyde was “worried”
by the practice: “Mormon Polygamy at Nauvoo,” Dialogue 18/3
(Fall 1985): 69–70.

[15] See Noah
Webster, An
American Dictionary of the English Language
(New York: S. Converse,
1828), s.v. “wonderful,” available online at,wonderful (accessed 4 December 2008).

[16] For a
biography in this vein, see Anthony Summers, Official & Confidential: The Secret Life
of J. Edgar Hoover
(New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1993).

[17] On Fawn
Brodie, see Hugh Nibley, No Ma’am, That’s Not
History: A Brief Review of Mrs. Brodie’s Reluctant Vindication of a Prophet She
Seeks to Expose
(1946, reissued
1959); reprinted in Hugh Nibley, Tinkling Cymbals and
Sounding Brass: The Art of Telling Tales about Joseph Smith and Brigham Young
, ed. David J. Whittaker (Salt Lake City: Deseret
Book and FARMS, 1991), 3–45, esp. 33–35. See also Louis Midgley, “F.
M. Brodie: ‘The Fasting Hermit and Very Saint of Ignorance': A Biographer and
Her Legend,” review of No Man Knows My
History: The Life of Joseph Smith, the Mormon Prophet
, by Fawn McKay Brodie, FARMS Review of Books
8/2 (1996): 147–230. See also Charles L. Cohen, “No Man Knows My
Psychology: Fawn Brodie, Joseph Smith, and Psychoanalysis,” BYU Studies 44/1 (2005):
55–78. On Dan Vogel’s “clairvogelance,” see Hedges and Hedges, “No,
Dan, That’s Still Not History,” 205–22; see also Larry E. Morris, “Joseph
Smith and ‘Interpretive Biography,’ review of Joseph
Smith: The Making of a Prophet
by Dan Vogel, FARMS Review 18/1 (2006): 321–74.

[18] See also “suppressed
history” (p. xv) and complaints that “official church texts have
ignored polygamy’s role in the death of the prophet and the westward migration
that was forced upon the church” (p. 5).

[19] For example, pp. 55, 57, 88, 99, 137, 201, 205, 209, 216.

[20] Howard C. Searle, “History of the Church (History of Joseph
Smith),” in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 2:647–48.

[21] Dean C.
Jessee, “The Writing of Joseph Smith’s History,” BYU Studies
11/4 (Summer 1971): 458.

[22] Some other
material was used as well. For example, twenty-five entries prior to Joseph’s
death derive from William Clayton’s diaries. See James B. Allen, review of An Intimate
Chronicle: The Journals of William Clayton
, ed. George D. Smith, BYU Studies
35/2 (1995): 168.

[23] Willard
Richards, “An Epistle to the Saints” (16 November 1845); cited in
Joseph Smith, History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints,
ed. Brigham H. Roberts (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1980), 7:526 (hereafter History of
the Church
). My thanks to Ted Jones, master of
sources, for bringing this to my attention.

[24] G. D. Smith
also admits later that “efforts to suppress the story of Nauvoo until the
1852 announcement restricted the breadth and depth of the records that were
kept” (p. 356). If this was true until 1852—or in
1872 for Joseph F. Smith (see below)—how much more so in 1842? It
is likely that few documents were available to those compiling the History of
the Church

[25] Joseph F.
Smith to Orson Pratt Sr., 19 July 1875, Joseph F. Smith Letterbooks, Joseph F.
Smith Collection, Church History Library and Archives (hereafter LDS Church
Archives), p. 455; see also pp. 447–48.

[26] Allen,
review of An
Intimate Chronicle
, 166.

[27] History
of the Church
, 5:xxix–xlvi.

[28] History
of the Church
, 6:xxxvii–xxxviii.

[29] Danel W.
Bachman and Ronald K. Esplin, “Plural Marriage,” in Encyclopedia
of Mormonism
, 3:1092.

[30] Bachman and
Esplin, “Plural Marriage,” 3:1093, emphasis added.

[31] Reed C.
Durham Jr., “Nauvoo Expositor,” in Encyclopedia of Mormonism,
3:996–97, emphasis added.

[32] Joseph I.
Bentley, “Martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith,” in Encyclopedia
of Mormonism
, 860.

[33] Bachman and
Esplin, “Plural Marriage,” 1095. See Danel W. Bachman, “A Study
of the Mormon Practice of Polygamy before the Death of Joseph Smith”
(Purdue University, 1975); Richard S. Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy: A History,
1st ed. (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1986).

[34] Brigham H.
Roberts, A
Comprehensive History of the Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter-Day Saints
(Provo, UT: BYU Press, 1965),

[35] Roberts, Comprehensive History, 2:221, 227–28.

[36] Joseph
Fielding Smith, Essentials in Church History: A History of the Church from the
Birth of Joseph Smith to the Present Time (1922), with Introductory Chapters on
the Antiquity of the Gospel and The “Falling Away”
Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1922), 282, 300–301.

[37] William E.
Berrett, The
Restored Church: A Brief History of the Origin, Growth and Doctrines of the
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints
(Salt Lake City: Department
of Education of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Deseret
Book, 1958), 247–48, 251, emphasis in original.

[38] Orson F.
Whitney, Life
of Heber C. Kimball, An Apostle; The Father and Founder of the British Mission

(Salt Lake City: Kimball family, 1888), 323–29, emphasis added.

[39] Leonard J.
Arrington and Davis Bitton, The Mormon Experience: A History of the
Latter-Day Saints
, 2nd ed. (New York: Knopf, 1992), 55, 69, 77–78.

[40] Other
histories that include mention of plural marriage as contributing to the
problems in Nauvoo include Church History in the Fulness of Times, CES Manual for Religion
, 2nd ed. (Salt Lake City: Intellectual Reserve, 2003),
256, 263, 268, 274; Glen M. Leonard, Nauvoo: A Place of Peace, a People of
(Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and BYU Press, 2002), chap.
13; and Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling, 529.

[41] See Kenneth
W. Godfrey, “Causes of Mormon Non-Mormon Conflict in Hancock County,
Illinois, 1839–1846″ (PhD diss., Brigham Young University, 1967). G.
D. Smith’s footnote (p. 450) mistakes the title, citing “Non-Mormon
Conflict” instead of “Mormon Non-Mormon Conflict.” Thanks to Blair Hodges for helping me locate this

[42] Godfrey, “Conflict
in Hancock County,” 91.

[43] Godfrey, “Conflict
in Hancock County,” 95.

[44] Godfrey, “Conflict
in Hancock County,” 97–98.

[45] Godfrey, “Conflict
in Hancock County,” 99–100.

[46] Godfrey, “Conflict
in Hancock County,” 103.

[47] Godfrey, “Conflict
in Hancock County,” 108.

[48] Godfrey, “Conflict
in Hancock County,” 92 n. 93.

[49] Godfrey, “Conflict
in Hancock County,” 106–7.

[50] Godfrey, “Conflict
in Hancock County,” 108–11.

[51] Godfrey, “Conflict
in Hancock County,” 2–3, 215.

[52] He does,
however, acknowledge his debt to the church’s
extensive primary records and to the “highly professional team of
archivists” employed there (xviii). The paradox of this acknowledgement
juxtaposed with his complaints is never explained.

[53] G. D. Smith
cites Richard S. Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy: A History, 2nd
ed. (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1989), 135, which includes
a letter from Wilford Woodruff to Andrew Jenson, 6 August 1887.

[54] S. George
Ellsworth, “Utah’s Struggle For Statehood,” Utah
Historical Quarterly
31/1 (Winter 1963): 66.

[55] Danel
Bachman told me in 2007 that he was not forbidden permission to see any
document he requested in during his research on his 1975 thesis.

[56] Richard P.
Feynman, “Cargo Cult Science,” Engineering and Science 37 (June
1974): 10–13.

[57] G. D. Smith
cites Joseph’s 1832 account in Dean C. Jessee, ed., The Papers of Joseph Smith:
Autobiographical and Historical Writings
(Salt Lake City: Deseret
Book, 1989), 1:1–6.

[58] Webster, American
, s.v. “vice.”

[59] Webster, American
, s.v. “folly.”

[60] Joseph
Smith—History 1:28, emphasis added.

[61] G. D. Smith
cites Rodger I. Anderson, Joseph Smith’s New York Reputation Reexamined (Salt
Lake City: Signature Books, 1990); Richard S. Van Wagoner, Sidney
Rigdon: A Portrait of Religious Excess
(Salt Lake City: Signature
Books, 1994); Dan Vogel, ed., Early Mormon Documents, 5 vols.
(Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1996–2003); Dan
Vogel, Joseph
Smith: The Making of a Prophet
(Salt Lake City: Signature Books,
2004); and Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville [Ohio]; Ann Arbor,
Michigan: printed and published by the author, 1834). There is no
mention of or interaction with such critiques as Hugh W. Nibley, The Myth
(Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1961); Nibley, Tinkling
Cymbals and Sounding Brass
; Richard L. Anderson, “The
Reliability of the Early History of Lucy and Joseph Smith,” Dialogue
4 (Summer 1969): 15–16; Anderson, “Joseph Smith’s New York
Reputation Reappraised,” BYU Studies 10:3 (1970):
283–314; Anderson, “The Mature Joseph Smith and Treasure Searching,”
24 (Fall 1984): 492–94; Anderson, review of Joseph Smith’s
New York Reputation Reexamined
, by Rodger I. Anderson, FARMS Review
of Books
3/1 (1991): 52–80; and Thomas G. Alexander, review of
Mormon Documents, Vol. 2
, ed. Dan Vogel, Journal of Mormon History
26/2 (Fall 2000): 248–52.

[62] A. Brant
Merrill, “Joseph Smith’s Methodism?” letter to the editor, Dialogue 16/1
(Spring 1983): 4–5.

[63] See “Mormonism,”
Susquehanna Register and Northern Pennsylvanian 9 (1 May 1834); reprinted
in Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, 268, and Vogel, Early Mormon Documents,
4:296–97. Hiel Lewis (Levi’s brother) repeated the same tale thirdhand
decades later: Hiel Lewis, “Mormon History,” Amboy Journal (6 August
1879); cited in Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, 4:314, and in Linda King Newell and Valeen
Tippetts Avery, Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith, 2nd ed. (Urbana: University of Illinois Press,
1994), 64.

[64] For
in-depth examination of the witnesses, see Richard Lloyd Anderson, “Attempts
to Redefine the Experience of the Eight Witnesses,” Journal of
Book of Mormon Studies
14/1 (2005): 18–31; Anderson, “The
Credibility of the Book of Mormon Translators,” in Book of
Mormon Authorship: New Light on Ancient Origins
, ed. Noel B.
Reynolds and Charles D. Tate (Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1982),
chap. 9; Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake
City: Deseret Book, 1981); Anderson, “Personal Writings of the Book of
Mormon Witnesses,” Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited: The Evidence for Ancient
, ed. Noel B. Reynolds (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1997), chap. 3;
Kenneth W. Godfrey, “David Whitmer and the Shaping of Latter-day Saint
History,” in The Disciple as Witness: Essays on Latter-day Saint History and
Doctrine in Honor of Richard Lloyd Anderson
, ed. Richard Lloyd
Anderson, Stephen D. Ricks, Donald W. Parry, and Andrew H. Hedges (Provo, UT:
FARMS, 2000), 223–56; Kirk B. Henrichsen, “How Witnesses Described
the ‘Gold Plates,'” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 10/1 (2001):
16–21; Matthew Roper, “Comments on the Book of Mormon Witnesses: A Response
to Jerald and Sandra Tanner,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies
2/2 (1993): 164–93; Milton V. Backman Jr., Eyewitness Accounts of the
(Orem, UT: Grandin Book, 1983); John W. Welch, ed., Opening the
Heavens: Accounts of Divine Manifestations, 1820–1844
Lake City: Deseret Book and BYU Press, 2005), 76–213.

[65] See remarks
in this vein in Paul H. Peterson, “Understanding Joseph: A Review of
Published Documentary Sources,” in Joseph Smith: The Prophet, the Man,
ed. Susan Easton Black and Charles D. Tate (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book,
1988), 110.

[66] G. D. Smith
is not the first to report Lewis’s claims of seduction without addressing the
problems in his other statements. See Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy,

[67] Mark B. Nelson and Steven C. Harper, “The Imprisonment of Martin
Harris in 1833,” BYU Studies 45/4 (2006): 113–17. My thanks to David Keller for bringing the article to my attention
in this context.

[68] John
Phillip Walker, ed., Dale Morgan on Early Mormonism: Correspondence and a New History
(Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1986), 242 n. 42; Vogel, Early Mormon
, 4:297, 345–60. The original is Frederick G. Mather,
“The Early Mormons. Joe Smith Operates at Susquehanna,” Binghamton
(29 July 1880).

[69] Van
Wagoner, Mormon
, 4 n. 4. In a later work, he argues that Sidney was the
main focus of the attack. See Van Wagoner, Sidney Rigdon, 108–18.

[70] Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 230–32. Compare
Fawn M. Brodie, No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith, 2d.
ed. rev. (New York: Knopf, 1971), 119. Brodie’s other
reference is an error; she cites Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses,
9:3–4 (15 November 1864); the correct citation is George Albert Smith, “Historical
Discourse,” reported by G. D. Watt, Journal of Discourses,
11:4–6 (15 November 1864). There is nothing in this account about an
insult to Miranda’s honor. The full citation for Braden’s claim is Clark Braden
and E. L. [Edmund Levi] Kelley, Public Discussion of the Issues between the
Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and the Church of
Christ (Disciples), Held in Kirtland, Ohio, Beginning February 12, and Closing
March 8, 1884, between E. L. Kelley, of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ
of Latter Day Saints, and Clark Braden, of the Church of Christ
(St Louis, MO: C. Braden,
1884), 202.

[71] Compton
notes this, as does Van Wagoner in a footnote. Ronald V. Huggins, “Joseph
Smith’s ‘Inspired Translation’ of Romans 7,” Dialogue 26/4 (Winter
1993): 180–81 n. 59, relies on Van Wagoner but argues that Joseph’s own
account (found in William Mulder and A. Russell Mortensen, eds., Among the Mormons [New York: Knopf, 1969], 67) mentions an Eli
being present at the attack. History of the Church, 1:260; the Times and
5/15 (15 August 1844):
611–12; and Journal of Discourses, 11:4, all mention Eli Johnson but do not
identify him as related to Miranda. Johnson is not present in any of the
scholarly versions of Joseph’s papers such as Jessee, Personal Writings of Joseph Smith; Jessee, The Papers of Joseph Smith; or Scott H. Faulring, ed., An American Prophet’s Record: The Diaries and Journals of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books in association
with Smith Research Associates, 1987). It is not clear to me what the origin of
Eli’s inclusion is; the Times and Seasons version was published after Joseph’s death and
seems to be the source for subsequent versions. Perhaps Eli was not Miranda’s
brother—there are almost as many Johnsons as Smiths. Brodie may have
simply presumed a blood relationship where there was none.

[72] Symonds
Ryder, “Letter to A. S. Hayden,” 1 February 1868, in Amos S. Haydon, Early
History of the Disciples in the Western Reserve
(1876); cited by Van
Wagoner, Sidney
, 114–15. A second account is also cited by Compton, In Sacred
, 692: S. F. Whitney [a reverend, he was the brother of
Newell K. Whitney], in Arthur B. Demming, ed., Naked Truths About Mormonism
1 (January 1888): 3–4.

[73] John M. Rigdon, “Lecture Written by John M. Rigdon on the
Early History of the Mormon Church,” 9; transcript from New Mormon
Studies CD-ROM
, Smith Research Associates, 1998 (emphasis added).
See also John Wickliffe Rigdon, “The Life and Testimony of Sidney Rigdon,”
1/4 (Winter 1966): 18–42, esp. 25–26.

[74] Marinda
Hyde interview, cited in Edward W. Tullidge, The Women of Mormondom (New York:
1877), 404. G. D. Smith mentions Joseph’s residency in the Johnson home on page
116 but likewise says nothing of Marinda’s testimony regarding Joseph’s

[75] Mosiah F.
Hancock, Autobiography, MS 570, LDS Church Archives, 61–62; Todd Compton,
“Fanny Alger Smith Custer: Mormonism’s First Plural Wife?” Journal of
Mormon History
22/1 (Spring 1996): 189–90. G. D. Smith says
only (in a footnote) that “Compton, Sacred Loneliness, 33, 646, draws
from a late reminiscence by Mosiah Hancock to suggest that Smith married Alger
in early 1833″ (p. 41 n. 90). This neither engages nor does justice to
Compton’s argument. See Compton, In Sacred Loneliness,
25–42, 643–45, and discussion in Richard L. Anderson and Scott H.
Faulring, “The Prophet Joseph Smith and His Plural Wives,” FARMS Review
of Books
10/2 (1998): 67–104. G. D. Smith also ignores Hancock
in his first footnote, arguing that there is no “documented” marriage
before Louisa Beaman (p. 1 n. 1).

[76] Ann Eliza
Young, Wife
No. 19, or the Story of a Life in Bondage, Being a Complete ExposŽ of
Mormonism, and Revealing the Sorrows, Sacrifices and Sufferings of Women in
(Hartford, CT: Custin, Gilman & Company, 1876),
66–67. G. D. Smith cites page 72 of this work but ignores the material at
p. 61 n. 14 that bears on Fanny.

[77] Ann Eliza
Webb to Mary Bond, letter (4 May 1876) in Myron H. Bond Collection, P21, f11,
RLDS Library-Archives; cited in Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 645.

[78] Compton, In Sacred
, 26–36, 642–46; and Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy,
225 n. 227.

[79] D. Michael
Quinn says that this account was “her only post-1844 admission of her
husband’s polygamous arrangements.” As will be seen, I believe Quinn (like
G. D. Smith) gives it far too much credence. See D. Michael Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power (Salt Lake City: Signature Books in association with Smith Research
Associates, 1994), 147. Quinn also neglects to mention a possible second
reference to Joseph’s marriages by Emma. “Joseph Coolidge, onetime
executor of Joseph [Smith]’s estate, told Joseph F. Smith that Emma ‘remarked
to him that Joseph had abandoned plurality of wives before his death.’ Smith
said that Coolidge told her she was wrong. ‘She insisted that he had, Coolidge
insisted that he . . . knew better.’ Coolidge told Joseph F. Smith that at this
news Emma responded, ‘[Then] he was worthy of the death he died!'” This is
a thirdhand source at best; if accurate it suggests that Emma was admitting
that she knew of Joseph’s practice, even if she believed he had eventually discontinued
it. Joseph F. Smith interview with Joseph W. Coolidge, Joseph F. Smith diary,
28 August 1870; cited in Newell and Avery, Mormon
, 292. See also Smith, Nauvoo Polygamy, 238.

[80] In a
disturbing example of failing to adequately characterize a source, Newell and
Avery describe McLellin as “a member of the Twelve [who] wrote in an 1872
letter” about Fanny. These authors fail to inform the reader that McLellin
was excommunicated for apostasy and immoral behavior and had not been an
apostle for more than thirty years. See Newell and Avery, Mormon
, 65.

[81] Newell and
Avery, Mormon
, 271–72; Roger D. Launius, Joseph Smith III: Pragmatic
(Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988), 115–22.

[82] Joseph
Smith III, True
Latter Day Saints’ Herald
1 (May 1860): 103;
cited in Launius, Pragmatic Prophet, 199. (The occasion was Joseph III
accepting leadership of the RLDS Church on 6 April 1860 at Amboy, Illinois.)

[83] William E.
McLellin to Joseph Smith III, letter, Linden, Genesse Co., Michigan (10 January
1861): 2, in RLDS Library-Archives; reproduced in William E. McLellin, The William
E. McLellin Papers, 1854–1880
, ed. Stan Larson and Samuel J.
Passey (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2007), 441–42 (emphasis in
original); portions also cited in Newell and Avery, Mormon Enigma, 274.

[84] McLellin
told Joseph Smith III that it happened “at your birth,” that is,
around 6 November 1832.

[85] William E.
McLellin to Joseph Smith III, letter, Independence, Jackson County, Missouri
(July 1872): 1–2, in RLDS Library-Archives; reproduced in McLellin, McLellin
, 483–95; portions also cited by Newell and Avery, Mormon
, 291.

[86] McLellin to
Lake Tribune
(6 October 1875); cited in Newell and Avery, Mormon
, 66; also cited in part by Van Wagoner, Mormon
, 5.

[87] McLellin to
Lake Tribune
(6 October 1875), emphasis added.

[88] Newell and Avery, Mormon Enigma, 66; Smith, Nauvoo
, 41 n. 90.

[89] See Van
Wagoner, Mormon
, 5 n. 7.

[90] Unless
otherwise noted, biographical information on McLellin is from Lyndon W. Cook, The
Revelations of the Prophet Joseph Smith: A Historical and Biographical
Commentary of the Doctrine and Covenants
(Salt Lake City: Seventy’s
Mission Bookstore/Deseret Book, 1985).

[91] Doctrine and Covenants 66:10; History of the Church,

[92] Quinn, Origins of
, 44.

[93] “History
of William E. McLellin,” Millennial Star 26 (1864): 808; see also History of the Church, 3:31.

[94] See Richard
P. Howard, “William E. McLellin: ‘Mormonism’s Stormy Petrel’,” in Differing
Visions: Dissenters in Mormon History
, edited by Roger D. Launius
and Linda Thatcher, (Urbana and Chicago, Illinois: University of Illinois,
1994), 86–8.

[95] Newell and
Avery, Mormon
, 77–8; citing Journal of John Lowe Butler, LDS Church
Archives, 20; punctuation added and tense changed by authors to accommodate
dialogue; see also History of the Church, 3:286–88.

[96] “History
of William E. McLellin,” Millennial Star 26 (1864): 808.

[97] Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 35. See also Compton, “Fanny
Alger Smith Custer,” 197 n. 170: “In the aggregate, these stories
[Fanny Brewer, cited in Bennett’s History of the Saints; McLellin’s
1872 account of Miss Hill; and Martin Harris’s posthumously published and
attributed claim in Ten Years Before the Mast] establish only that three
individuals were willing to publish their belief that Joseph Smith had been
sexually involved with a woman other than his wife during the Kirtland period;
but no one story is completely convincing.”

[98] Quinn, Origins of
, 147, footnote text.

[99] Emma Smith
to Joseph Smith III, 2 February 1866, RLDS Library-Archives; cited in Newell
and Avery, Mormon
, 291. Newell and Avery likewise believe this “reinforced
McLellin’s credibility.” As noted in the main text, I disagree.

[100] As noted
above, Webb’s daughter, Ann Eliza Webb Young, made similar claims, but she
should not be regarded as an independent witness—born in 1844, she can be
a witness only to what her family later said about Joseph and Fanny. Compton
claimed that Ann Eliza “was nevertheless an eyewitness to the latter part
of the Smith/Alger story” (Compton, “Fanny Alger Smith Custer,”
192). Ann Eliza’s birth in 1844, well after Fanny’s remarriage to a non-Mormon
and settlement in Indiana in November 1836, precludes her being anything but a
secondhand witness of her parents’ account. See Young, Wife No. 19,
33. Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 645, corrects this error. By contrast,
Smith cites Ann Eliza for events that occurred in 1842 and then adds a footnote
claiming that “some of the events she related
depended upon the ‘experience of those so closely connected with me that they
have fallen directly under my observation.'” Smith does not explain how
events two years prior to her birth qualify as being under her observation
(Smith, Nauvoo
, 263 n. 254).

[101] Wilhelm Wyl
[Wilhelm Ritter von Wymetal], Mormon Portraits Volume First: Joseph Smith
the Prophet, His Family and Friends
(Salt Lake City: Tribune
Printing and Publishing Co., 1886), 57. This reference is
used by G. D. Smith on p. 42 of Nauvoo Polygamy.

[102] Young, Wife No. 19,

[103] Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 35. See also discussion
of Webb’s testimony in Compton, “Fanny Alger Smith Custer,”

[104] Young, Wife No. 19,
66–7. Oliver Cowdery to “Dear Br. Warren [Cowdery],” letter (21
January 1838), Cowdery Letterbook, 80–3, Henry E. Huntington Library, San
Marino, California; transcript in “Letters of Oliver Cowdery,” New Mormon
Studies CD-ROM: A Comprehensive Resource Library
(Smith Research
Associates, 1998).

[105] William E.
McLellin to Joseph Smith III, letter, Independence, Jackson County, Mo. (July
1872): 2 in RLDS Library-Archives; reproduced in McLellin, McLellin
, 488–89.

[106] Benjamin F.
Johnson, Letter to George F. Gibbs, 1903, transcript in NMS CD-ROM .

[107] Benjamin F.
Johnson, Letter to George F. Gibbs, 1903, transcript in NMS CD-ROM .

[108] Cowdery
Letterbook, 80–3; Lyndon W. Cook and Donald Q. Cannon, Far West
Record: Minutes of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,
(Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1983), 163 (12 April

[109] Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 35.

[110] The failure
to consider other possibilities is an example of “the
fallacy of false dichotomous questions” since it suggests “a false
dichotomy between two terms that are neither mutually exclusive nor
collectively exhaustive.” See David Hackett Fischer, Historians’
Fallacies: Toward a Logic of Historical Thought
1st ed. (New York: HarperPerennial, 1970), 9–11.

[111] “But
where are we? Faced with a folk legend, with genuine documents that tell no
tales, and dubious ones that contradict themselves and the contemporary
accounts, perhaps it is best for us to respond as we must to many paradoxes of
our history: consider thoughtfully and then place all the evidence carefully on
the shelf, awaiting further documentation, or the Millennium, whichever should
come first.” Maureen Ursenbach Beecher et al., “Emma and Eliza and
the Stairs,” BYU Studies 22/1 (Fall 1982): 86–96. Compare
Smith, Nauvoo
, 131 n. 195.

[112] Newell and
Avery, Mormon
, 136. Compare Smith, Nauvoo Polygamy, 132 n. 201.

[113] Richard
Price and Pamela Price, “Eliza Snow Was Not Pushed Down the Mansion House
Stairs,” in Richard Price, chap. 9 of “Joseph Smith Fought Polygamy:
How Men Nearest the Prophet Attached Polygamy to His Name in Order to Justify
Their Own Polygamous Crimes.” (n.p.: Price
Publishing Co., 2001),
(accessed 5 November 2008).

[114] On Price’s
break from the RLDS (now Community of Christ) mainstream, see: William D.
Russell, “Richard Price: Leading Publicist of the Reorganized Church’s
Schismatics,” in Differing Visions: Dissenters in Mormon History, ed.
Roger D. Launius and Linda Thatcher (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois
Press, 1994), 319–37.

[115] Compare
Price and Price, “Eliza Snow Was Not Pushed,” with G. D. Smith’s opinion
in Nauvoo
, 133.

[116] Eliza R.
Snow, Woman’s
8 (1 November 1879): 85; cited in
Newell and Avery, Mormon Enigma, 307–8.

[117] “Letter
18: To Miss Elizabeth ——,” in Thomas Moore, The Works of
Lord Byron: with His Letters and Journals and His Life
(London: John
Murraym, 1835), 1:176.

[118] G. D. Smith
quotes Journal
of Discourses
, 12:271, for this assertion. He gets the citation
wrong (it is at 14:115) but might benefit from reading 12:271—it provides
Brigham’s insistence that plural marriage had little to do with early
persecution of Joseph and the church.

[119] Brigham
Young, “Attending Meetings—Religion &
Science—Geology—The Creation,” in Journal of Discourses,
14:115–16 (14 May 1871).

[120] Citing
Brigham Young Manuscript History, 16 February 1849, LDS Church Archives. The
quoted material is on pp. 19–20.

[121] Noah
Webster, American
Dictionary of the English Language
(1828; republished in facsimile
edition by Foundation for American Christian Education, 7th ed., 1993), s.v. “bound.”

[122] Webster, American
, s.v. “bound”; compare
the definition for boundary.

[123] Church
Historian’s Office, History of the Church, 1839–circa 1882, DVD 2,
call number CR 100 102, vol. 19 (19 February 1849), 19.

[124] Whitney, Life of
Heber C. Kimball
, 325–26.

[125] Heber C.
Kimball to Vilate Kimball, “My Dear Vilate” (23 October 1842), cited
in Augusta Joyce Crocheron (author and complier), Representative Women of Deseret, a book of biographical sketches to
accompany the picture bearing the same title
(Salt Lake City: J. C. Graham & Co., 1884). Online
transcript available at
(accessed 2 December 2008).

[126] Cecelia
Warner, “The Tanners On Trial,” Sunstone: Review 4:4/6 (April
1984); Lawrence Foster, “Career Apostates: Reflections on the Works of
Jerald and Sandra Tanner,” Dialogue 17/2 (Summer 1984): 48
and n. 28; Allen, review of An Intimate Chronicle,

[127] William
Clayton, An
Intimate Chronicle: The Diaries of William Clayton
, ed. George D.
Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books in association with Smith Research
Associates, 1991), 29.

[128] “Clayton
soon admitted to himself that the situation could easily develop into something
more than he could handle. . . . Caught in a war
between his tender feelings for Sarah, on the one hand, and his love for his
wife and his personal integrity, on the other, Clayton thus met another test of
discipleship. This one was perhaps the most difficult of all, for it involved the
temptations of the flesh that too often destroy both the reputation and the
marriages of those who weaken. The attachment between Sarah and William caused
inward struggles for both, but they avoided the obvious temptation.” James
B. Allen, Trials
of Discipleship: The Story of William Clayton, a Mormon
(Urbana and
Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1987), 33–4; see also

[129] Citing Clayton, Diaries of William Clayton,

[130] Clayton, Diaries of
William Clayton
, xlix, 488–489, 490 n. 444.

[131] Lynn Hunt, “Against Presentism,” Perspectives
40/5 (May 2002); available online at (accessed 2 December 2008).

[132] Beverly J.
Schwartzberg, “Grass Widows, Barbarians, and Bigamists: Fluid Marriage in
Late Nineteenth-Century America” (PhD diss., University of California,
Santa Barbara, 2001), 51–52. I appreciate Allen Wyatt pointing me to this
reference and those of Harlog and Cott below.

[133] Hendrik
Harlog, Man
& Wife in America: A History
(Cambridge, MA: Harvard University
Press, 2000), 87.

[134] Nancy F.
Cott, Public
Vows: A History of Marriage and the Nation
(Cambridge, MA: Harvard
University Press, 2000), 37.

[135] See (accessed 9 November

[136] Joanna
Grossman, “Should the Law Be Kinder to ‘Kissin’ Cousins’? A Genetic Report
Should Cause a Rethinking of Incest Laws” (8 April 2002), (accessed 9 November 2008).

[137] Steven
Pratt, “Eleanor Mclean and the Murder of Parley P. Pratt,” in BYU Studies
(Winter 1975): 226.

[138] Pratt, “Eleanor Mclean and the Murder of Parley P. Pratt,”
226, emphasis in original, citing Millennial Star 19:432.

[139] Pratt, “Eleanor Mclean and the Murder of Parley P. Pratt,”

[140] Pratt, “Eleanor Mclean and the Murder of Parley P. Pratt,”

[141] Presendia’s
name is also spelled Presenda or Prescindia in contemporary documents.
I here use the spelling adopted by her autobiography, also followed by Compton
and G. D. Smith.

[142] Fawn McKay
Brodie, No
Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith, the Mormon Prophet

(New York: Vintage Books, 1995), 301. Brodie includes the picture between

[143] Fawn Brodie
to Dale Morgan, Letter, 24 March 1945, Dale Morgan papers, Marriott Library,
University of Utah; cited by Todd Compton, “Fawn Brodie on Joseph Smith’s
Plural Wives and Polygamy: A Critical View,” in Reconsidering ‘No Man Knows My
History': Fawn M. Brodie and Joseph Smith in Retrospect
, ed. Newell
G. Bringhurst (Logan, UT: Utah State University Press, 1996), 166.

[144] Citing
Compton, In
Sacred Loneliness
, 670, 673.

[145] See Clark
V. Johnson, “Northern Missouri,” in Historical Atlas of Mormonism,
ed. S. Kent Brown, Donald Q. Cannon, and Richard H. Jackson (New York: Simon
& Schuster, 1994), 42.

[146] Compton, “Fawn Brodie on Joseph Smith’s Plural Wives,”

[147] History
of the Church
, 3:320–21.

[148] History of
the Church
, 3:327.

[149] History of
the Church
, 3:315, 319, 322–23, 327.

[150] The following
all fail to include Oliver Buell as a potential child of Joseph’s: Danel
Bachman, “Mormon Practice of Polygamy,” 137–38; Van Wagoner, Mormon
, 43–44 and 43 n. 43; Lawrence Foster, Religion and
(New York: Oxford University Press, 1984), 157–58;
Gary James Bergera, “Identifying the Earliest Mormon Polygamists,
1841–44,” Dialogue 38/3 (Fall 2005): 49–50 n. 115.

[151] Carrie A.
Moore, “DNA tests rule out 2 as Smith descendants,” Deseret
Morning News
, 10 November 2007),,5143,695226318,695226300.html
(accessed 2 December 2008); Ugo A. Perego et al., “Resolving the
Paternities of Oliver N. Buell and Mosiah L. Hancock through DNA,” The John
Whitmer Historical Association Journal
28 (2008): 128–36. For
background information, see Ugo A. Perego and Scott R. Woodward, “Reconstructing
the Y-Chromosome of Joseph Smith” (paper presented at the Mormon History
Association Conference, 28 May 2005); Ugo A. Perego et al., “Reconstructing
the Y-Chromosome of Joseph Smith Jr.: Genealogical Applications,” Journal of
Mormon History
32/2 (Summer 2005): 70–88.

[152] Elsewhere
G. D. Smith actually uses an appeal to the fact that Brodie was persuaded by a
tale as evidence! (p. 131).

[153] Nelson
Winch Green, Fifteen Years among the Mormons: Being the Narrative of Mrs. Mary
Ettie V. Smith, Late of Great Salt Lake City; a Sister of One of the Mormon
High Priests, She Having Been Personally Acquainted with Most of the Mormon
Leaders, and Long in the Confidence of The “Prophet,” Brigham Young

(New York: H. Dayton, Publishers, 1860), 34–35.

[154] Compton, “Fawn Brodie on Joseph Smith’s Plural Wives,”

[155] Green, Fifteen
, 34–35.

[156] Mrs. T. B.
H. [Fanny] Stenhouse, “Tell It All”: The Story of a Life’s Experience in
(Hartford, CT: A. D. Worthington & Co., 1875), 618;
the footnote confirms the identity of the author as Ettie V. Smith.

[157] Stenhouse, “Tell
It All
, x.

[158] Stenhouse, “Tell
It All
, xi–xii.

[159] See
Bachman, “Plural marriage,” 139; Van Wagoner, Mormon
43–44 and 43 n. 43; Lawrence Foster, Religion and
Sexuality: The Shakers, the Mormons, and the Oneida Community
York: Oxford University Press, 1984), 157–58; Compton, “Fawn Brodie
on Joseph Smith’s Plural Wives,” 167; Gary
James Bergera, “Identifying the Earliest Mormon Polygamists,
1841–44,” Dialogue 38/3 (Fall 2005): 49–50 n. 115.

[160] J. GI SON
DIVINE [Sidney Rigdon], “To the Sisters of the Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter Day Saints,” Latter Day Saint’s Messenger and Advocate (Pittsburgh)
1/10 (15 March 1845): 154–58.

[161] William
Hall, Abominations
of Mormonism Exposed; Containing Many Facts and Doctrines Concerning That
Singular People, During Seven Year’s Membership with Them; from 1840 to 1847

(Cincinnati: I. Hart, 1852), 113.

[162] See Compton,
Sacred Loneliness
, 239.

[163] See
History of the Church, 3:345; Roberts, Comprehensive History, 2:24–25 n. 12; Wilford Woodruff’s Journal,
1:340 (25 June 1839). See also Compton, In Sacred
, 238.

[164] John D.
Lee, Mormonism
Unveiled; or, the Life and Confessions of the Late Mormon Bishop, John D. Lee;
(Written by Himself) Embracing the History of Mormonism . . . With an Exposition of the Secret
History, Signs, Symbols and Crimes of the Mormon Church. Also
the True History of the Horrible Butchery Known as the Mountain Meadows
Massacre (St. Louis: Bryan, Brand, 1877), 147.

[165] Compton, In Sacred
, 243: “Marinda was sealed to Orson Hyde, not Smith,
for time and eternity on January 11, 1846.”

[166] Lee’s
lawyer relied on the posthumous sale of Lee’s confessions to pay his fees and told
Lee that “I will at once go to work preparing it for the press adding such
facts connected with the trial and the history of the case as will make the
Book interesting and useful to the public.” William Bishop to John D. Lee,
23 February 1877, Papers of Jacob Smith Boreman, 1857–1912, Huntington
Library; cited in part in Robert D. Crockett, “A Trial Lawyer Reviews Will
Bagley’s Blood of the Prophets,” FARMS Review 15/2 (2003): 213. In a later letter, the lawyer
wrote, “Your confession given to Howard [the prosecutor of Lee’s case, who
was to publish them for free] is having a bad effect so far as the sale of your
writings are concerned, but by giving me your history during your life in Utah
I can make the thing work all right yet I think. Send me such other Journals
and writings as you have to throw light on this work.” Cited in Robert D.
Crocket, “Re: Massacre At Mountain Meadows Review,” mormondiscussions forum
(15 October 2008, 4:20 pm),
(accessed 2 December 2008). Crocket and others have seen this exchange as
evidence that not all of the published material came from Lee, and efforts may
have been made to render the material more critical (and thus more saleable).

[167] Young, Wife No. 19,

[168] Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 240–42.

[169] See Richard
L. Anderson and Scott H. Faulring, “The Prophet Joseph Smith and His
Plural Wives,” review of In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of
Joseph Smith
, by Todd M. Compton, FARMS Review of Books 10/2
(1998): 73, 76.

[170] Quotation from Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 260.

[171] Quotation
from Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 701, emphasis added. See Anderson and Faulring, “Joseph Smith and His Plural Wives,”

[172] Todd M.
Compton, “Truth, Honesty and Moderation in Mormon History: A Response to
Anderson, Faulring and Bachman’s Reviews of In Sacred Loneliness,”
E-book, July 2001,
(accessed 12 December 2008).

[173] Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 262. Compton elsewhere
argues that Sarah Kingsley’s reported marriage at Eliza Snow’s home and her
inclusion on Jenson’s list of wives mandate acceptance (see Compton, “Truth,
Honesty and Moderation.”) I agree. For consistency’s sake, it would seem
that we should admit that Eliza could have also confirmed Durfee’s
marriage—but did not. Hence, I accept Kingsley but doubt Durfee’s

[174] Stanley S.
Ivins, “Notes on Mormon Polygamy,” The Western Humanities Review 10
(Summer 1956): 229–30; reproduced “exactly
as it appeared” in his “Notes on Mormon Polygamy,” Utah
Historical Quarterly
35/4 (Fall 1967): 313–14, 316. See the
anonymously authored article “Tribute to Stanley S. Ivins,” Utah
Historical Quarterly
35/4 (Fall 1967): 307–9.

[175] Kathryn M.
Daynes, More Wives Than One: Transformation of the
Mormon Marriage System, 1840–1910
(Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2001), 130.

[176] Probably 15
to 20 percent of Latter-day Saint families were polygamous, “with
variations from place to place and from decade to decade.” Davis Bitton, Historical Dictionary of Mormonism, 2nd ed. (Lanham,
MD: Scarecrow Press, 2000), 147. Excluding inactive men, “over a
third of all husbands’ time, nearly three-quarters of all women-years, and well
over half of all child-years were spent in polygamy before 1880.” Larry
Logue, “A Time of Marriage: Monogamy and Polygamy in a Utah Town,” Journal of
Mormon History
11 (1984): 25; cited by B.
Carmon Hardy, Doing the Works of Abraham: Mormon Polygamy: Its Origin,
Practice, and Demise
(Norman, OK: Arthur H. Clark Co., 2007),

[177] Smith, Nauvoo
, 535–36.

[178] Lowell “Ben”
Bennion, “The Incidence of Mormon Polygamy in 1880: ‘Dixie’ Versus Davis
Stake,” Journal of Mormon History 11 (1984): 34.

[179] Bennion, “Incidence of Mormon Polygamy,” 36.

[180] Other
critics of the Church of Jesus Christ also take this stance. For example,
Richard Abanes, Becoming Gods: A Closer Look at 21st-Century Mormonism
(Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2005), 233, 422 nn. 47–49; Contender
Ministries, “Questions all Mormons Should Ask Themselves,” (accessed 6 December
2008); Jerald and Sandra Tanner, The Changing World of Mormonism
(Chicago: Moody Press, 1979), 29, 258.

[181] Wilford
Woodruff’s Journal, 1833–1898 Typescript
, ed. Scott G. Kenney
(Midvale, UT: Signature Books, 1983), 6:527, citing entry for 12 February 1870,
emphasis added.

[182] Wilford
Woodruff’s Journal
, 7:31, citing entry for 24 September 1871.

[183] Brigham
Young, in Journal
of Discourses
, 11:268–69 (19 August 1866), emphasis added.

[184] Ivins, “Notes
on Mormon Polygamy,” 321.

[185] G. D. Smith
ignores Brian C. Hales, “The Joseph Smith–Sylvia Sessions Plural
Sealing: Polyandry or Polygyny?” Mormon Historical Studies 9/1
(Spring 2008): 41–57, which argues that Sylvia considered herself
divorced prior to marrying Joseph polygamously, contrary to evidence misread by
Compton. There is no evidence for sexuality in any other polyandrous marriage.
I have outlined my reasons for believing that there are no other viable
candidates for potential polygamous children (save Josephine Lyon) in Gregory
L. Smith, “Children from Joseph’s Plural Marriages?” draft chapter in
Principle: A history of LDS plural marriage
(2007); available online
(accessed 2 December 2008).

[186] Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 15, 21.

[187] Compton, In Sacred
, 14, emphasis added.

, version 1.1 (Random House, Inc.), s.v. “ambiguous,” (accessed 2 December 2008).

[189] Todd M.
Compton, “Response to Tanners,” post to LDS Bookshelf mailing list
(no date), (accessed 2 December 2008).
Compare with Smith, Nauvoo Polygamy, 198–202, 302, 362.

[190] Compton, “Truth,
Honesty and Moderation.”

[191] Compton, “Truth,
Honesty and Moderation.”

[192] Compare
Compton, In
Sacred Loneliness
, 500.

[193] Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 82.

[194] Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 281.

[195] As in the
matter of Helen Kimball’s marriage, one is perhaps entitled to wonder if the
clear hostility of Compton’s publisher (George D. Smith’s Signature Books) to
Latter-day Saint truth claims affected the way in which this charged issue was

[196] Compare
Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 501, versus Newell and Avery, Mormon Enigma, 147, and
Van Wagoner, Sidney Rigdon, 293. The source is Catherine Lewis, Narrative of Some of the Proceedings of the Mormons: Giving an Account
of Their Iniquities, with Particulars Concerning the Training of the Indians by
Them, Description of the Mode of Endowment, Plurality of Wives . . .
(Lynn, MA: The Author, 1848), 19. Newell and Avery tell us
nothing of the nature of this source and call it only a “statement”
in the Stanley Ivins Collection; Van Wagoner mirrors G. D. Smith by
disingenuously writing that “Helen confided [this information] to a close
Nauvoo friend,” without revealing its anti-Mormon origins. To credit this
story at face value, one must admit that Helen told others in Nauvoo about the
marriage (something she repeatedly emphasized she was not to do) and that she
told a story at variance with all the others from her pen during a lifetime of
staunch defense of plural marriage. On Helen’s authentic statements, see Helen
Mar Whitney, A Woman’s View: Helen Mar Whitney’s
Reminiscences of Early Church History
, ed. Jeni Broberg Holzapfel and Richard Neitzel Holzapfel (Provo, UT:
BYU Religious Studies Center, 1997), ix–xliii.

[197] Stanley B.
Kimball, Heber
C. Kimball: Mormon Patriarch and Pioneer
(Urbana: University of
Illinois Press, 1981), 98.

[198] Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling, 440, 445.

[199] Smith, The
Essential Joseph Smith
, 238; Joseph Smith, “Conference Minutes,”
and Seasons
15/5 (15 August 1844): 614–15; Stan Larson, ed., “The
King Follett Discourse: A Newly Amalgamated Text,” BYU Studies
18 (Winter 1978): 193–208.

[200] Smith, The Essential Joseph Smith, 226.

[201] Larson, “Newly Amalgamated Text,” 203. The italic
type (added by Larson) indicates material found only in Wilford Woodruff’s

[202] Daniel C.
Peterson, “P. T. Barnum Redivivus,” review of Decker’s
Complete Handbook on Mormonism
, by Ed Decker, Review of
Books on the Book of Mormon
7/2 (1995): 54–55.

[203] Bennet’s
name is also sometimes spelled Bennett.

[204] History of
the Church
, 6:71.

[205] History of
the Church
, 6:72, emphasis added.

[206] Charles
Mackay, though mistaking this Bennet for John C. Bennett, nevertheless realized
what was going on: “‘Joseph’s reply to this singular and too candid
epistle was quite as singular and infinitely more amusing. Joseph was too
cunning a man to accept, in plain terms, the rude but serviceable offer; and he
rebuked the vanity and presumption of Mr Bennett, while dexterously retaining
him for future use.” See Charles Mackay, ed., The Mormons, or Latter-day
Saints; with memoirs of the Life and Death of Joseph Smith, the American
4th ed. (London, 1856); cited in Hubert Howe Bancroft and
Alfred Bates, History of Utah, 1540–1886 (San Francisco: The
History Co., 1889), 151 n. 112. Concludes Bancroft: “More has been made of
this correspondence than it deserves,” though G. D. Smith has seen fit to
continue the error.

[207] Joseph
pursued Bennet’s mathematical analogy for several paragraphs; see History of
the Church
, 6:75–77. Bennet was fond of the metaphor; in 1855
he was to privately publish A New Revelation to Mankind, drawn from
Axioms, or self-evident truths in Nature, Mathematically demonstrated
See Richard D. Poll, “Joseph Smith and the Presidency, 1844,” BYU Studies
3/3 (Autumn 1968): 19 n. 19.

[208] History of
the Church
, 6:77.

[209] History of
the Church
, 6:72.

[210] History of
the Church
, 6:77, emphasis added.

[211] History of
the Church
, 6:72.

[212] Lyndon W.
Cook, “James Arlington Bennet and the Mormons,” BYU Studies
19/2 (Winter 1979): 247–49.

[213] History
of the Church
, 6:77–78.

[214] When Joseph’s
personal letters are compared with this letter, one suspects a large
contribution by scribe and newspaperman W. W. Phelps.

[215] “Who
Shall Be Our Next President,” Times and Seasons 5/4 (15 February 1844): 441.

[216] See
Bushman, Rough
Stone Rolling
, 512–17.

[217] Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling, 430.

[218] Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling, 414, 417.

[219] Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling, 417.

[220] Lyndon W.
Cook, “William Law: Nauvoo Dissenter,” BYU Studies 22/1
(Fall 1982): 62.

[221] Compton, In Sacred
, 475, 742–43; this is
discussed in Anderson and Faulring, “Joseph Smith and His Plural Wives,”
90. Compton replies in Compton, “Truth, Honesty and Moderation,”
noting the difficulties that he had in accessing Madsen’s as-yet-unpublished
findings. In preparation for this review, I spoke with Madsen, who told me that
when approached by Compton, he felt his materials were not yet ready for distribution.
Madsen believes a responder to his 1996 presentation at the Mormon History
Association conference at Snowbird, Utah, placed some rough notes on the
presentation in the library (personal communication, 21 November 2008).

[222] G. D.
Smith, Nauvoo
, 196 n. 137, cites “Gordon Madsen, ‘The Lawrence
Estate Revisited: Joseph Smith and Illinois Law regarding Guardianships,’
Nauvoo Symposium, Sept. 21, 1989, Brigham Young University, copy in possession
of Todd Compton; see Sacred Loneliness, 474–476.” Strangely, this paper was not cited by Compton, nor is Madsen’s work
mentioned on the pages cited by G. D. Smith. Compton’s actual discussion of
Madsen’s research is restricted to endnotes on pages 742–46: “Madsen, Gordon. ‘Joseph Smith as Guardian: The
Lawrence Estate.’ Paper given at Mormon History Association, May 18, 1996. . . . I have followed Madsen as closely as possible
from my notes, but do not have his written argument and citations.” The FARMS Review
(cited in main text above) also provided some of Madsen’s data in a
review of Compton’s work, which G. D. Smith likewise ignores. G. D. Smith’s
reference to 1989 instead of 1996 may be related to an event reported in the Ensign:
“William Law’s recollection of how Joseph Smith, as guardian of the
Lawrence children, cheated them and him is full of errors, claimed Gordon A.
Madsen. All the court records pertaining to the guardianship and Joseph Smith’s
management of the Lawrence estate still exist. They show that virtually all of
Law’s claims are mistaken” (“Nauvoo Symposium Held at Brigham Young
University,” Ensign, November 1989, 109–11). Madsen told me
that he had never given an address about the Lawrence estate until his 1996 MHA
presentation, while his 1989 talk focused on the Austin King hearing in
Richmond, Missouri, not the Anderson estate. In any case, Madsen’s
research nowhere corroborates G. D. Smith’s version.

[223] Anderson and Faulring, “Joseph Smith and His Plural Wives,”

[224] “Dr.
Wyl and Dr. Wm. Law,” Daily Tribune (Salt Lake City), 13 July 1887, 6; see
also Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 742.

[225] History of
the Church
, 6:350.

[226] My thanks
to Gordon A. Madsen, who was gracious enough to review a draft of my Lawrence
material. He also provided me with the information in this paragraph. Any
mistakes or misapprehensions remain my own, and he is not responsible for my
conclusions. Madsen’s manuscript on the Lawrence estate is currently in
preparation for publication.

[227] D. Michael
Quinn, “Editor’s Introduction,” in The New
Mormon History: Revisionist Essays on the Past
, ed. D. Michael Quinn (Salt Lake City: Signature
Books, 1992), viii n. 5.

[228] I do not
consider myself familiar enough with the postmartyrdom literature to assess the
novelty of G. D. Smith’s contribution. I suspect that his statistical
tabulation of Nauvoo polygamists and families (pp. 283–90, 311–22,
474–78, 573–656) is the book’s most useful contribution. His errors
in other areas, however, make it difficult to trust his work here without