By Guest Blogger fh451
After a hiatus, I continue the letter with a discussion of Polygamy, Kirtland Anti-Banking Safety Society, the Priesthood Restoration, and Mountain Meadows.
At first glance polygamy may seem to be a non-issue since it happened so far in the past. The main LDS church has stopped the practice and goes to great pains to distance itself from the fundamentalist Mormon-related groups that continue doing so today. [One might wonder why they are so insistent on maintaining this distance - if it was a commandment from God, why would it be an embarrassment? It is certainly not acceptable to a large portion of society today.] Even so, there are a number of facts you should know about Joseph Smith and his practice of polygamy that are not commonly talked about in the church. Section 132 of the Doctrine and Covenants is the section that lays out the "New and Everlasting Covenant" of marriage. While today this is viewed as marriage in the temple for eternity, originally (and this should be clear from the text itself) it was viewed as the exposition of the doctrine of polygamy. Note that in the introduction to section 132 it states that the revelation was given in July of 1843, but "it is evident from the historical records that the doctrines and principles involved in this revelation had been known by the Prophet since 1831." The significance of this footnote is that Joseph had been practicing polygamy in secrecy since approximately 1833, even from his first wife Emma.
When I was going to seminary I was taught that a large number of women had themselves sealed to Joseph after he was dead, but he never practiced polygamy while alive. Emma Hale Smith Bidemon also denied that Joseph practiced polygamy, and this was one of the primary issues that seperated the Reorganized LDS Church from the Utah church. They continued to believe and advocate (including Joseph's son, Joseph III) that Joseph had never practiced polygamy, and it was an invention of Brigham Young. LDS scholars and historians had long ago documented the wives of Joseph Smith; in particular, LDS church president Joseph F. Smith commissioned the church historian of that time, Andrew Jensen, to interview the widows of Joseph that were still alive and collect their testimonies to the fact. From these and other records we know of at least 30 women who were married to Joseph Smith while living, their ages at the time of marriage ranging from 14 to 50. Even the RLDS church has now accepted the facts about Joseph's polygamy, and this has caused quite a schism in that church. It has since reorganized (again!) with another church to become the Community of Christ, at least in part as a result of this information.
For your reference, a partial record of the wives of Joseph Smith may be found at the LDS church sanctioned website FamilySearch here: http://www.familysearch.org/Eng/Search/AF/individual_record.asp?recid=7762167&lds=0®ion=-1®ionfriendly=&frompage=99. More complete information is found in Todd Compton's book "In Sacred Loneliness," which is a biography of more than 30 of Joseph's wives. At the time I write this, Todd is still a practicing member of the LDS church and has been a contributor and editor of FARMS (Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies at BYU) publications. Thus, you do not have to depend on unfriendly "apostate" sources for any of this information.
Was it Legal?
One must confront the contradiction that the LDS church taught that they believed in "obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law" (12th Article of Faith), when in fact the practice of polygamy was illegal. A section of the Doctrine and Covenants that was published in the 1835 edition as section 101 specifically stated that LDS believed in having one wife.
"Inasmuch as this church of Christ has been reproached with the crime of fornication and polygamy; we declare that we believe that one man should have one wife; and one woman but one husband; except that in the event of death when either is at liberty to marry again." (History of the Church, Vol 2, pg 247).
But the laws of both Ohio and Illinois specifically prohibited polygamy at the time it was being practiced by Joseph and a few of the inner circle of leaders (see Section 121, Revised Laws of the State of Illinois, 1833). The only time that one could reasonably say that polygamy was legal was between 1847 and 1862 in the Territory of Utah. In 1862, the Morrell act was passed by congress to specifically prohibit polygamy, and was mainly to reinforce already existing state laws.
Were Marriages Sexual?
Some have attempted to excuse Joseph by saying none of his marriages were sexual in nature - they were meant for the afterlife only and for building his eternal kingdom. However, LDS scriptures talk specifically about the purposes and justifications for polygamy. First, in Jacob 2:27 it states "Wherefore, my bretheren, hear me, and hearken to the word of the Lord: For there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife; and concubines he shall have none;" But in verse 30, the condition when it is acceptable is given: "For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise they shall hearken unto these things." Therefore, it is quite clear that when the Lord commands polygamy to be practiced, that it is for the purpose of raising up seed. Of course, this involves sexual relations. Additionally, D&C section 132:61 states: "And again, as pertaining to the law of the priesthood - if any man espouse a virgin, and desire to espouse another, and the first give her consent, and if he espouse the second and they are virgins, and have vowed to no other man, then is he justified; he cannot commit adultery for they are given unto him; for he cannot commit adultery with that that belongeth unto him and to no one else." If sexual relations were not involved, then there should be no need to talk about adultery. Finally, in section 132:63 it continues: "But if one or either of the ten virgins, after she is espoused, shall be with another man, she has committed adultery, and shall be destroyed; for they are given unto him to multiply and replenish the earth, according to my commandment..." This re-emphasizes that the purpose is for creating "seed" in this life, and not some future state. Finally, several of the women themselves testified that their relations were sexual, that their marriages were marriages "in very deed." One, Sylvia Sessions Lyon, even told her last daughter Josephine that she was the daughter of Joseph Smith. (See "In Sacred Loneliness" page 183)
One of the more troubling aspects of Joseph's polygamous relationships was the fact that 11 of the known women (nearly 1/3) that he married were married to other men at the same time, and most continued to live with their first husbands after their marriage to Joseph. This is called polyandry. Some were married to non-members, and one may attempt to justify this by saying these women wished to be sealed "under the covenant" to Joseph, since their own husbands would not participate. However, several were married to faithful members of the church, one of which was on a mission for the church at the time of his wife's marriage to Joseph (Henry Jacobs). Another, Marinda Johnson Hyde, was married to prominent early LDS apostle Orson Hyde. I am at a loss to understand how such a marriage arrangement could be justified, whether in this life or in some future state. Even if the relationship wasn't meant to be "physical" here, why would God sanction taking another man's wife for eternity? But the relationships were reported to be physical by Sylvia Sessions Lyon (among others), who was married to Windsor Lyon simultaneously.
Were There Too Many Women?
Another justification for polygamy after the time of Joseph Smith (and Brigham Young, too) was that there was an excess of women that needed to be taken care of, especially of widows and orphans. However, this is not born out by the available information, and this was recognized by LDS apostle John A. Widtsoe: "Members of the Church unfamiliar with its history, and many non-members, have set up fallacious reasons for the origin of this system of marriage among the Latter-Day Saints. The most common of these conjectures is that the Church, through plural marriage, sought to provide husbands for its large surplus of female members. The implied assumption in this theory, that there have been more female than male members in the Church, is not supported by existing evidence. On the contrary, here seem always to have been more males than females in the Church....The United States Census records from 1850 to 1940, and all available Church records, uniformly show a preponderance of males in Utah, and in the Church." ("Evidences and Reconciliations," A. Widtsoe, p. 391.) This is consistent with how frontier America developed (and most "uncivilized" frontiers) - men move in to hack out trails, roads, and settlements in harsh conditions. Women and families come later as the area is developed. This is how Colonial America developed, and all the frontier areas as America was settled. Utah was no exception.
Official Church Position(s) on Polygamy
The practice of polygamy was not consistent with the church's own declared doctrine on marriage, which was canonized in the Doctrine and Covenants, section 101, until 1876: "Inasmuch as this Church of Christ has been reproached with the crime of fornication and polygamy, we declare that we believe that one man should have one wife, and one woman but one husband, except in the case of death, when either is at liberty to marry again." (History of the Church, Vol. 2, p. 247)
Joseph himself denied practicing polygamy publicly a number of times, one of which was recorded in the official History of the Church: "I had not been married scarcely five minutes, and made one proclamation of the Gospel, before it was reported that I had seven wives. I mean to live and proclaim the truth as long as I can. This new holy prophet [William Law] has gone to Carthage and swore that I had told him that I was guilty of adultery. This spiritual wifeism! Why, a man does not speak or wink, for fear of being accused of this…I wish the grand jury would tell me who they are - whether it will be a curse or blessing to me. I am quite tired of the fools asking me…What a thing it is for a man to be accused of committing adultery, and having seven wives, when I can only find one. I am the same man, and as innocent as I was fourteen years ago; and I can prove them all perjurers." (Joseph Smith, History of the Church, Vol. 6, pp. 410-411) Note that William Law was a counselor to Joseph Smith in his church presidency, and finally could not stomach Joseph's marriage practices. I will speak more on this in the section about Joseph's death.
Regarding D&C section 132 where it states that the first wife should give consent for additional wives to be taken, it is quite clear from the record that Emma did not approve of Joseph's additional wives. In most instances he married women without her knowledge, and in some cases when she found out about women who were living in her own house, she threw them out. See "Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith" for more information about these episodes.
One should note that 10 of the known wives of Joseph Smith were less than 20 years old, the youngest being 14 at the time of marriage. Some have excused this saying it was "common practice" for very young women to get married at that age during that time period. However, this assertion is not backed up by the data. I certainly don't dispute that some young women (some very young!) married at that age. Some still do today; but it was far from "common." And it was not at all common for a mid-30-year-old-male with numerous pre-existing wives to marry a teenager. Regardless, here is some research on the subject from the Encarta Encyclopedia: "The timing of marriage has fluctuated over the past century. In 1995 the median age of women in the United States at the time of their first marriage was 25. The median age of men was about 27. Men and women in the United States marry for the first time an average of five years later than people did in the 1950s. However, young adults of the 1950s married younger than did any previous generation in U.S. history. Today’s later age of marriage is in line with the age of marriage between 1890 and 1940." Additionally, in Colonial America, the average age of first marriage for women was 20.5, and had risen to 22 by 1890, with the age of men being 26 (Wells, R. (1985). Demographic Change and Family Life in American History: Some Reflections (Ed.), The Family Experience (pp.43-62). New York: Macmillan). So to assert that it was common for older men to marry very young women in the United States is simply not supported by the facts.
Does Polygamy Make Any Sense?
On the question of polygamy, one should think to ask "does it make any sense?"
- Given the very common trait of human nature, jealousy, why should one enter into a marriage arrangement that makes marital relationships even more difficult?
- Can one man actually produce more total progeny with multiple women than multiple men with multiple women? When considering the mechanics involved in the human reproductive cycle, it is almost certain that couples living together will produce more children than one male with multiple females.
- Would God set up a system where at least 50% of men will be unable to enter the Celestial Kingdom for lack of a partner? The ratio of men to women has been very near 50-50 for all of recorded history.
- Polygamy, when instituted on a community-wide basis, eventually results in younger and younger women being married to older men, because that is all that are left. The abuses committed by men like Warren Jeffs' community of fundamentalists are almost inevitable.
- Are men and women expected to live without close one-to-one relationships? If a man is required to spread his time, energy, and resources amongst multiple families, they certainly will not receive the full benefit of fatherhood.
All of these questions should make one consider whether polygamy was really a commandment from a supreme being, or merely the machinations of men.
A Final Note on Polygamy...
One of Joseph Smith's more profound statements on the purpose of existence is found here: "Happiness is the object and design of our existence; and will be the end thereof, if we pursue the path that leads to it; and this path is virtue, uprightness, faithfulness, holiness, and keeping all the commandments of God." When he was "on," he could be very good! It is interesting to note that this quote actually comes from a letter to Nancy Rigdon, April 11, 1842 asking her to be one of his plural wives. He went on to say:
"But we cannot keep all the commandments without first knowing them, and we cannot expect to know all, or more than we now know unless we comply with or keep those we have already received. That which is wrong under one circumstance, may be, and often is, right under another. God said, "Thou shalt not kill;" at another time He said "Thou shalt utterly destroy." This is the principle on which the government of heaven is conducted—by revelation adapted to the circumstances in which the children of the kingdom are placed. Whatever God requires is right, no matter what it is, although we may not see the reason thereof till long after the events transpire. If we seek first the kingdom of God, all good things will be added. So with Solomon: first he asked wisdom, and God gave it him, and with it every desire of his heart, even things which might be considered abominable to all who understand the order of heaven only in part, but which in reality were right because God gave and sanctioned by special revelation." (History of the Church Vol 5, pp 134-136). In other words, if God commands it (or a man says God commands it), then it is right.
Kirtland Anti-Banking Safety Society
Carthage was certainly not the first time Joseph had been at odds with the law. Besides the Bainbridge proceedings mentioned previously, he and Sydney Rigdon had been tried and convicted of running an illegal bank in Kirtland, Ohio. During the 1830's there was considerable land and securities speculation occurring on the frontier of America. The banking laws and operating rules were not as firmly established as they are today, and Smith and Rigdon started a bank to finance the operations of the church. It was called the Kirtland Banking Society. They were told to stop by Ohio authorities since they did not have a charter or license to run a bank in that state, so they merely changed the name to the Kirtland Anti-Banking Safety Society. They issued notes that were supposed to represent value in the company (similar to stock today) and these were passed around among members as collateral and payment for property and other transactions. The "anti-bank" was severely under-capitalized, and when the general economy of the area went bad (there was a recession at the time) the bank became insolvent. Many people lost their life savings. Smith and Rigdon were arrested and tried for running an illegal bank, and convicted of the charge. They were released on bale pending appeal of their conviction, and at this time they fled for Missouri in the middle of the night.
While one cannot blame Smith for being a poor businessman, there are a couple of issues about this episode that reflect on his general character. One, they did not have a legal charter but continued to operate the "anti-bank" at defiance of the law. Two, he published a number of articles in the local LDS newspaper proclaiming that the bank was blessed of the Lord and would stand through the millennium. Many people trusted him because of his religious position and lost everything as a result. Third, rather than face the consequences of their mismanagement, he and Rigdon fled to another state to avoid incarceration. Many people left the church at that time because of this affair, and it has been referred to in the classes I took at BYU as "The Great Ohio Apostasy." I never learned that many of the people who left the church, including most of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, had legitimate grievances against Joseph that were never properly redressed.
The story of the restoration of the priesthood is usually presented as a seamless series of events resulting from Joseph and Oliver asking the Lord questions and receiving consecutive visits from heavenly messengers (John the Baptist, and then Peter, James, and John). The documented events are a little more complex. In the standardized LDS version, John the Baptist is said to have visited first on April 6, 1828, to confer the Aaronic Priesthood, followed shortly thereafter by Peter, James and John with the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood. But in fact, "Priesthood," per se, was not even known to church members when the church was organized in 1830. David Whitmer comments thus:
"In no place in the word of God does it say that an Elder is after the order of Melchisedec, or after the order of the Melchisedec Priesthood. An Elder is after the order of Christ. This matter of "priesthood," since the days of Sydney Rigdon, has been the great hobby and stumbling-block of the Latter Day Saints. Priesthood means authority; and authority is the word we should use. I do not think the word priesthood is mentioned in the New Covenant of the Book of Mormon. Authority is the word we used for the first two years in the church — until Sydney Rigdon's days in Ohio. This matter of the two orders of priesthood in the Church of Christ, and lineal priesthood of the old law being in the church, all originated in the mind of Sydney Rigdon
This is the way the High Priests and the "priesthood" as you have it, was introduced into the Church of Christ almost two years after its beginning — and after we had baptized and confirmed about two thousand souls into the church." (David Whitmer, "An Address to All Believers in Christ," pg 64)
In the offial history of the church, it records that conference of the church where this ordination took place, stating that on June 30, 1831, "the authority of the Melchizedek Priesthood was manifested and conferred for the first time upon several of the Elders" (History of the Church, Vol.1, p.175) In a footnote, historian B. H. Roberts attempts to explain the discrepancy thus:
"A misapprehension has arisen in the minds of some respecting the statement—"The authority of the Melchizedek Priesthood was manifested and conferred for the first time upon several of the Elders." It has been supposed that this passage meant that the higher or Melchizedek Priesthood was now for the first time conferred upon men in this dispensation. This of course is an error, since even before the Church was organized, the Apostleship, the highest authority in the Melchizedek Priesthood, was conferred upon Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, and very probably upon David Whitmer also. (See pp. 40-42, note.) The Prophet does not mean that the Melchizedek Priesthood was given for the first time in the Church. It was at this conference, however, that the special office of High Priest was for the first time conferred upon men in this dispensation, except in so far as Apostles are also High Priests (Doctrine and Covenants, sec. lxxxiv: 63); and of course as there were men who had been ordained to the apostleship before this conference of June, 1831, in that manner there had been High Priests in the Church, but not otherwise."
In my opinion, this is an attempt by Roberts to justify after-the-fact a belief currently (at Roberts' time and now) held in the church about the restoration of the priesthood. But there is no contemporary evidence to support this - all stories relating the official restoration story were recorded years later. No mention of angelic visitations or ordinations can be found documented until 1834-35 (See D. Michael Quinn, "The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power", p. 14). One might also wonder about the mechanism for conferring priesthood - were Peter, James, and John present physically, or "spiritually," since Peter and James are dead and not yet resurrected? One early church leader speculated that Peter and James must have been there spiritually, while John was in the physical body, since he was the beloved disciple who had not yet tasted death. Regardless, the recorded history and the current traditional history of the priesthood restoration are not consistent, and early witnesses (including one of the "three witnesses," David Whitmer) to the church organization testify that it did not exist at the church's inception.
Regarding the priesthood restoration, it is instructive to compare verses from the original 1833 Book of Commandments with what was later published in 1835 in the renamed Doctrine and Covenants. In the first version, it states:
28:5 - . Behold this is wisdom in me, wherefore marvel not, for the hour cometh that I will drink of the fruit of the vine with you, on the earth, and with all those whom my Father hath given me out of the world:
28:6 - Wherefore lift up your hearts and rejoice, and gird up your loins and be faithful until I come:--even so. Amen.
That's it. But in section 27 of the D&C it picks up in verse 5 and continues for 13 more verses listing all the angelic visitors that have come, including Peter, James, and John:
27:5 - Behold, this is wisdom in me; wherefore, marvel not, for the hour cometh that I will drink of the fruit of the vine with you on the earth, and with Moroni, whom I have sent unto you to reveal the Book of Mormon, containing the fulness of my everlasting gospel, to whom I have committed the keys of the record of the stick of Ephraim.
27:12 - And also with Peter, and James, and John, whom I have sent unto you, by whom I have ordained you and confirmed you to be apostles, and especial witnesses of my name, and bear the keys of your ministry and of the same things which I revealed unto them
And so forth. Why was this included at a later date when the original was supposed to have been received in August of 1830?
Mountain Meadows Massacre
A number of full books have been written about the Mountain Meadows Massacre, so I will only attempt to give a brief overview. In September of 1857, there was a wagon train of settlers heading to California from Arkansas that was known as the Fancher Party. They happened to be coming through Utah at a time of significant strain. Pressure was being exerted on Utah to stop the practice of polygamy, and Brigham Young and other church leaders were leading a "Mormon Reformation." Fiery rhetoric was being preached about people needing to repent and return to the Lord, obey the priesthood leadership, be re-baptized, and resist the United States government. There was also an oath being used in the temple as part of the endowment called the "Oath of Vengeance," requiring people to promise to seek revenge upon those who had killed Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum. President James Buchanan appointed a governor to replace Brigham Young in the Utah territory, and was assembling an army, to be eventually led by Col. Johnston, to come to Utah and enforce the appointment. In the midst of this a wagon train of 150 men, women, and children appeared.
They were able to pass through most of Utah without incident, though residents were warned to not have any dealings with them. At Mountain Meadows, about 35 miles from Cedar City, a local militia led by John D Lee, along with a number of Paiute Indians, attacked the wagon train (Paiutes had been promised a share of spoils from wagon trains coming through the territory). The train successfully held them off and the Indians and Mormons laid siege to the train for 4 days. On the fifth day, John Lee approached the train under a white flag and told them that he had negotiated a truce with the Paiutes, whereby he would escort them safely to Cedar City in exchange for leaving all their livestock and supplies to the Paiutes. The Fancher party agreed, and they were escorted out of the camp and split into three groups - women and younger children, followed by women and older children, and finally all the adult men. Each man was escorted by an armed Mormon militiaman. After they had marched about 1.5 miles, John Higbee, one of the militia leaders, gave the command "Do Your Duty!" Each man turned and shot the man he was guarding. All the women and older children were also massacred. Only children younger than eight years old were spared, and these were later taken to live with local Mormon families in the area.
While it is difficult to pin down exactly who gave the order to attack the wagon train, the participants believed they were doing their duty and obeying the priesthood leadership at the time. This remained one of the single worst massacres of civilians in the United States (120 men, women, and children) for many years. It should serve as a reminder of what terrible things can happen when both civil conflict and religious fanaticism are rampant.
In the aftermath of the attack, blame was first placed on the Paiutes to deflect investigation of Mormon men. Further investigations by federal agents were interrupted by the Utah War and then by the U.S. Civil War. John D Lee was finally arrested in 1875, and after one mistrial, was finally convicted in 1877. He was executed at Mountain Meadows for his part in the attack. No others were ever charged or convicted, and Lee himself claimed he was being made a scapegoat for others involved. He wrote:
"I have always believed, since that day, that General George A. Smith was then visiting Southern Utah to prepare the people for the work of exterminating Captain Fancher's train of emigrants, and I now believe that he was sent for that purpose by the direct command of Brigham Young.
"The knowledge of how George A. Smith felt towards the emigrants, and his telling me that he had a long talk with Haight on the subject, made me certain that it was the wish of the Church authorities, that Fancher and his train should be wiped out, and knowing all this, I did not doubt then, and I do not doubt it now, either, that Haight was acting by full authority from the Church leaders, and that the orders he gave to me were just the orders that he had been directed to give, when he ordered me to raise the Indians and have them attack the emigrants." (From "Mormonism Unveiled; or the Life and Confessions of the Late Mormon Bishop, John D. Lee", pp 225-226)