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Overview of Polygamy, Part 1: Timeline and Introduction

In my previous overviews, I have covered mostly the scriptures along with the just a few covering the church’s foundational events. There are sixteen overviews covering the Book of Mormon and biblical scholarship, two sections on the Book of Abraham, and two overviews so far on historical issues on the First Vision and the priesthood restoration.

Now it’s time to look at polygamy, and this is definitely a different topic than the others. While I want to highlight all of the historical issues with polygamy, I want to state up front that this is what bothered me first about church history as a convert and a believing member. While I am still a member of record today, I can say this is what led me towards inactivity and always nagged at me as a problem that just did not make sense.

It is an issue that really bothers me on an emotional level and transcends just the historical problems of the previous overviews. I am stating this upfront because it makes me uncomfortable and reading some of the accounts of how Joseph Smith implemented polygamy makes me angry, disgusted, and embarrassed.

When I joined the church as a convert, I was never told that Joseph Smith himself was a polygamist. It was certainly never mentioned in the lessons, and while I knew polygamy was a part of the church’s history and is still part of their doctrine, I had no idea how it was implemented.

Because this subject is so important to me with regards to studying church history, I am going to split it up into three sections so that it’s just not one massive write-up. Hopefully this will help organize the different areas of polygamy and will make it more helpful for those who make it through all three.

To be clear, if you are not familiar with the history of polygamy in the church, these overviews on polygamy are going to be uncomfortable. As I saw recently on a tweet completely unrelated to the church on Twitter:


“Studying history will sometimes disturb you.
Studying history will sometimes upset you.
Studying history will sometimes make you furious.
If studying history always makes you feel proud and happy, you probably aren’t studying history.”


I am trying to make this clear upfront because these sections are different than the previous overviews in that there is a lot of uncomfortable material that comes along with polygamy whether it’s Joseph Smith’s sexual relationships with many of these younger women, the way he uses his authority to pressure them into these sexual relationships, and how he does almost all of it behind his first wife Emma’s back.

The thing I’ve found about polygamy is that many members can rationalize it and find a way to be OK with it as long as they don’t look at how it actually happened. Polygamy is one of those areas where the church will say “it’ll all work out in the end” and “we just don’t know,” but that fact is that this is still the doctrine of the church. I think every single member of the church needs to understand how Joseph Smith implemented and engaged in polygamy because, again, this is still the doctrine of the church.

If you are a woman in the church, this is the future you have to look forward to. While most women will say “we always have a choice,” the reality is that in polygamy your choice is to accept it or “be destroyed.” This is not hyperbole as I will explain below in great detail. The church might not want to talk about it, but this is the future for every woman in the church as this is the doctrine for the eternities.

While I believe that the previous twenty two overviews make it clear that the church is not “true” with regards to its truth claims, this is where we get into areas that show that the church’s and Joseph Smith’s unique doctrines aren’t “good” either. And I am want to be upfront about this because if you’re a believing member these sections are not going to be easy, but you have to understand them if you want to really know the true history of the church and why the evidence does prove that it is not what it claims to be.

From the church’s most recent handbook changes:


“In today’s world, information is easy to access and share. This can be a great blessing for those seeking to be educated and informed. However, many sources of information are unreliable and do not edify. Some sources seek to promote anger, contention, fear, or baseless conspiracy theories (see 3 Nephi 11:30; Mosiah 2:32). Therefore, it is important that Church members be wise as they seek truth.” (Official Church Handbook)

Let me be clear: The true history of polygamy is in no way edifying. The church wants you to stay away from sources that do not edify, but these topics, just like the rest of them, are based on the real, evidence based history. If they are not edifying, it is not because Satan has caused me to write this material or that the ‘adversary is trying to deceive you,’ but because polygamy has a much more troubling history than what members are taught.


Before we begin the overviews on Joseph Smith and plural marriage/polygamy in the church, I want to highlight how other self-proclaimed prophets initiated polygamous/sexual relations with their followers. From a presentation by Jonathan Streeter at Sunstone regarding Joseph Smith and the Happiness Letter to Nancy Rigdon:


"Keep in mind that special divine permission is nothing new... Self proclaimed prophet David Koresh and the Branch Davidians claimed special divine permission to take child brides for the purpose of producing the 24 elders foretold in the Book of Revelations. Self proclaimed prophet Wayne Bent of the Lord Our Righteousness Church claimed special divine permission for having sexual relations with children, even his own daughter in law in order to avoid God's punishment. Self proclaimed prophet Julius Shacknow of the sect known as The Work, claimed special privilege to promise salvation in exchange for sexual intercourse with women and children, including his own stepdaughter. Self proclaimed prophet Tony Alamo of Alamo Christian Ministries claimed special biblical permission to illegally marry multiple women and children. Self proclaimed prophet David Berg of the Children of God claimed special divine permission to normalize sexual relation with children. Prophets, justifying their own predations as special, divine permission through the use of pious language and religious sentiment, is nothing new."

In this first overview I want to give more of an overview of the timeline and events of polygamy and the creation of D&C 132, in part two I want to cover the ways that Joseph Smith implemented polygamy and polyandry both with those who became his polygamous/polyandrous wives and an example of someone who rejected him, and in part three we will wrap it up and look at the apologetic responses to polygamy.

A Very Basic Polygamy Timeline

We discuss in our annotated essay on polygamy why the church's contention that the revelation was first given to Joseph Smith in 1831 is not supported by the evidence, and because of that it is necessary to establish a brief timeline with D&C 132. Here is a very brief timeline of the events that lead to D&C 132:

  • 1833: Joseph Smith has a polygamous/extramarital relationship with Fanny Alger. The church claims this was a marriage, but no records exist and the only mention of a marriage comes 60 years after the event.

  • 1835: The church, under the leadership of Joseph Smith, inserts a section to the Doctrine and Covenants denouncing polygamy

  • 1836: Joseph Smith claims a vision of Elijah and Elias to restore the priesthood keys, later to be understood to include sealing keys

  • 1841: Polygamous marriages for Joseph begin in Nauvoo with Louisa Beaman    

  • 1842: Joseph suspends polygamous marriages as John Bennett's 'spiritual wifery' is exposed.

  • 1843: Joseph resumes polygamy, marrying over a dozen women and bringing the total to over 30.

  • 1843: On July 12, Joseph gives revelation to William Clayton on polygamy (now D&C 132).


The Book of Mormon and Polygamy

As I’ve discussed in previous overviews, I believe Joseph Smith to be the author of the Book of Mormon. Throughout those overviews I pointed out where Joseph Smith inserts his own experiences and the ideas around him, so this section regarding polygamy from the Book of Mormon is significant. From the Book of Mormon in Jacob 2:

24 Behold, David and Solomon truly had many wives and concubines, which thing was abominable before me, saith the Lord.

25 Wherefore, thus saith the Lord, I have led this people forth out of the land of Jerusalem, by the power of mine arm, that I might raise up unto me a arighteous branch from the fruit of the loins of Joseph.

26 Wherefore, I the Lord God will not suffer that this people shall do like unto them of old.

27 Wherefore, my brethren, hear me, and hearken to the word of the Lord: For there shall not any aman among you have save it be bone cwife; and concubines he shall have none;

28 For I, the Lord God, delight in the chastity of women. And whoredoms are an abomination before me; thus saith the Lord of Hosts.

29 Wherefore, this people shall keep my commandments, saith the Lord of Hosts, or acursed be the land for their sakes.

30 For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up aseed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise they shall hearken unto these things. (Jacob 2)


In the Book of Mormon, we are told that God tells the people that they are seeking “to excuse themselves in committing whoredoms, because of the things which were written concerning David, and Solomon his son.” (Jacob 2:23)

It is clear that the author of the Book of Mormon is thinking about David and Solomon at this point, and is trying to add some clarity for the reader. The text also provides a loophole that could allow for polygamy, although it is impossible to know if that was intentional from the author or not.

This text is important because as we will see once we dig into the text of Doctrine and Covenants 132, Joseph Smith will not just contradict the text regarding polygamy, but completely reframe how God feels about David and Solomon having so many wives and concubines.


The 1831 Revelation on Polygamy

In the heading for Doctrine and Covenants 132, the heading includes the following:

“Although the revelation was recorded in 1843, evidence indicates that some of the principles involved in this revelation were known by the Prophet as early as 1831.”

The church’s essay on polygamy in Kirtland and Nauvoo also states this idea:

“The revelation on plural marriage was not written down until 1843, but its early verses suggest that part of it emerged from Joseph Smith’s study of the Old Testament in 1831. People who knew Joseph well later stated he received the revelation about that time.”

There is one big reason that the church wants to pin polygamy to 1831 and that is his affair with Fanny Alger. We will cover that more below, but it’s important to note here because the history behind the 1831 revelation is not helpful to the church’s case.

The “people who knew Joseph well” referred to here are W.W. Phelps, Oliver Cowdery and five other men who received instruction for their mission to the ‘Indians’ to take additional wives to make the Indians whiter. From the claimed revelation:


“[I]t is my will, that in time, ye should take unto you wives of the Lamanites and Nephites, that their posterity may become white, delightsome, and Just, for even now their females are more virtuous than the gentiles.” (W.W. Phelps, 1831)

W.W. Phelps was a friendly source, and we also have an antagonistic source that confirms that Joseph Smith claimed a revelation from God that they should marry the Native Americas, who Joseph Smith labeled as Lamanites in claimed revelations from God. From Ezra Booth:

“ has been made known by revelation, that it will be pleasing to the Lord, should they form a matrimonial alliance with the natives; and by this means the Elders, who comply with the thing so pleasing to the Lord, and for which the Lord has promised to bless those who do it abundantly, gain a residence in the Indian territory, independent of the agent....” (Ohio Star, December 8, 1831)

This revelation was probably not mentioned specifically in the church’s Gospel Topics essay because of its racist overtones and contradiction to the instructions in D&C 132. I want to again point out this line from W.W. Phelps:

“ye should take unto you wives of the Lamanites and Nephites, that their posterity may become white, delightsome, and Just.”

As we discussed in our overview on DNA and the Book of Mormon, the teaching of the Book of Mormon was that the Native Americans were cursed with a dark skin for their wickedness, and if they came back to Christ, their skin would again turn ‘white and delightsome.’ This claimed revelation from God has Joseph Smith teaching this concept again, with the idea that if the more righteous leaders of the church have sex and procreate with the Native Americans, that their children would become whiter.

This is the harm that is caused from an incorrect teaching such as the premise of the Book of Mormon, where Native Americans are given a history and identity that is simply not true. While it is true that children of Native Americans would look whiter if they have a child with a white settler, it is not because the child is “white, delightsome, and just,” but because that child would have DNA from the white father.

The one other reference we have to Joseph Smith speaking about polygamy in 1831 is another one the church does not want to bring up. Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner, who is famous in church history for protecting the copies of the Book of Commandments against the mob in Missouri, was later a polyandrous wife of Joseph Smith. She gives this account of her introduction to polygamy:


Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner: "[At age 12 in 1831], [Smith] told me about his great vision concerning me. He said I was the first woman God commanded him to take as a plural wife. … In 1834 he was commanded to take me for a Wife …. [In 1842 I] went forward and was sealed to him. Brigham Young performed the sealing … for time, and all Eternity. I did just as Joseph told me to do." (Compton, Todd (1997), In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith)

To be clear, I do not believe that Joseph Smith was telling Mary at the age of 12 that he was going to take her for a wife. Many stories in church history are altered and embellished to become faith promoting and, in some cases, self-serving, and there is absolutely no reason to believe Joseph Smith was thinking of polygamy at this point, let alone with a  12 year old girl.

That said, this is another data point that shows Joseph Smith was thinking about polygamy in 1831, but it is not one the church is wanting to reference. While we will see later that Joseph Smith does marry two 14 year old girls, the idea that he is grooming a 12 year old girl to become a polyandrous wife makes no sense – especially given that Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner would marry Adam Lightner in 1835. If she was told in 1831 that she was commanded by God to become a polygamous wife of Joseph Smith and did not appear to have any reservations about that declaration, then why would she marry another guy? As we will see with Fanny Alger, a lot of these late additions to the story don’t make a lot of sense.


Joseph Smith’s Relationship with Fanny Alger

As stated above, a key reason that the church wants to push the polygamy revelation back to 1831 is because just a few years later Joseph Smith will be caught in a scandalous relationship with Fanny Alger. Although no precise records exist, it is believed that around 1833 the then 27 year old Joseph Smith would engage in a sexual relationship with 16 year old Fanny Alger, who was a live-in maid at the Smith’s household.

The church’s essay contends the following:


“Fragmentary evidence suggests that Joseph Smith acted on the angel’s first command by marrying a plural wife, Fanny Alger, in Kirtland, Ohio, in the mid-1830s. Several Latter-day Saints who had lived in Kirtland reported decades later that Joseph Smith had married Alger, who lived and worked in the Smith household, after he had obtained her consent and that of her parents.”

First, there is no record of the marriage. This is important to note, because the account that the church cites to declare that this was a marriage is the following from Mosiah Hancock, a second hand source to his father Levi:

“Therefore Brother Joseph said ‘Brother Levi I want to make a bargain with you – If you will get Fanny Alger for me for a wife you may have Clarissa Reed. I love Fanny.' ‘I will' Said Father. ‘Go brother Levi and the Lord will prosper you' Said Joseph… Father goes to Fanny and said ‘Fanny Brother Joseph the Prophet loves you and wishes you for a wife will you be his wife?' ‘I will Levi' Said She – Father takes Fanny to Joseph and said ‘Brother Joseph I have been successful in my mission' – Father gave her to Joseph repeating the Ceremony as Joseph repeated to him.” (Mosiah Hancock Autobiography, pp. 62-63)

I want to state up front that just like Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner’s quote above, I do not believe that Joseph Smith and Fanny Alger were married. There is no contemporary evidence, and this is a second hand quote given 36 years after the relationship happened. Furthermore, this quote is from 1869, which is after polygamy was well established and many within the church had a lot of motivation to tie the Fanny Alger relationship to early polygamy both for Joseph Smith’s reputation and the authenticity of polygamy. Remember that following the split with the RLDS, the Brighamite (today’s LDS) branch of the church needed to establish Joseph Smith as a polygamist to claim their authority as the true heir to Joseph Smith’s church.

If the church wants to use this source to contend that there was a marriage between Joseph and Fanny, they have to explain how Joseph Smith used Fanny as a bargaining chip to approve of Levi Hancock’s marriage. That might sound like an unfair shot, but look at the line above that is attributed to Joseph Smith: “Brother Levi I want to make a bargain with you – If you will get Fanny Alger for me for a wife you may have Clarissa Reed. I love Fanny.”

To believe this quote, you also have to believe that 27 year old Joseph Smith fell in love with the 16 year old live-in maid, which would also contradict the idea that he was marrying her purely based on a commandment. Furthermore, Joseph Smith then holds Levi Hancock’s love for Clarissa Reed over his head as a “bargain” for him to recruit Fanny Alger to be a polygamous wife for him. As I said above, even if you want this to be a marriage, the details are still horrible.

The Fanny Alger relationship caused a lot of problems for Joseph Smith, leading to Emma Smith throwing her out of the house. Oliver Cowdery stated the following:


“A dirty, nasty, filthy affair of his and Fanny Alger's was talked over in which I strictly declared that I had never deserted from the truth in the matter, and as I supposed was admitted by himself.” (Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling, p. 323)

This extramarital relationship factored in heavily to Oliver Cowdery being excommunicated from the church. As I mentioned above, this affair also led Emma Smith to kick Fanny Alger out of the house.

The church’s essay states that “After the marriage with Alger ended in separation, Joseph seems to have set the subject of plural marriage aside until after the Church moved to Nauvoo, Illinois”

What they do not mention is that the relationship (there is no record of a marriage despite the church’s claim that it was a marriage) “ended in separation” because Emma Smith kicked her out of the house. According to William McLellin, an early member of the church who would later be considered by many an antagonistic source, told Joseph Smith’s son, Joseph Smith III, the following:


“Again I told her [Emma] I heard that one night she missed Joseph and Fanny Alger. She went to the barn and saw him and Fanny in the barn together alone. She looked through a crack and saw the transaction!! She told me this story too was verily true.” (Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, p. 35)

After Emma discovered the sexual relationship between her husband and their live-in maid, Emma threw Fanny Alger out of their home. From Ann Eliza Webb Young:

Emma “had turned Fanny out of the house in the night…By degrees it became whispered about that Joseph’s love for his adopted daughter was by no means a paternal affection, and his wife, discovering the fact, at once took measures to place the girl beyond his reach. Angered at finding the two persons whom most she loved playing such a treacherous part towards her, she by no means spared her reproaches, and, finally, the storm became so furious, that Joseph was obliged to send, at midnight, for Oliver Cowdery, his scribe, to come and endeavor to settle matters between them.” (Young, Wife Number 19: Or The Story of a Life in Bondage, Being a Complete Exposé of Mormonism, And Revealing the Sorrows, Sacrifices and Sufferings of Women in Polygamy, p. 66)

While Ann Eliza Webb Young became an antagonistic source after being a polygamous wife of Brigham Young, she would have knowledge of this event as Fanny Alger was sent to her parents after Emma kicked her out of their house. If that’s not enough, here is Ann’s father, Chauncey Webb, speaking about the incident:

“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.” (Wyl, Wilhelm. “Mormon portraits: or the Truth About the Mormon Leaders, 1830-1866” p. 57)

As we will see in the future polygamous and polyandrous marriages, Joseph Smith is engaging in these relationships behind Emma’s back. While she is working to root out polygamy in Relief Society, many of her closest friends are secretly married to her husband. These details might make you very uncomfortable as they do for me, but they are the historical facts that we will need to address.

One last note is that whether or not this was a marriage, it was not a “legal” relationship. If Joseph Smith did perform some sort of marriage to Fanny Alger it would be an illegal marriage in the eyes of the law, and, more importantly for the church, because he did not claim the sealing keys at this point, it would not even be a marriage in the eyes of God. If it was not a marriage as Oliver Cowdery, who would know if Joseph claimed sealing authority, believed, then it was simply an affair. Whichever of the three options you choose here, it was done behind his wife’s back.

Fanny Alger is important because the relationship, marriage or affair, happened before Joseph Smith even established the idea of sealing keys. Beyond the fact that any marriage would be technically illegal, the fact that Joseph Smith hadn’t even claimed the idea of sealing keys yet makes this relationship highly problematic, and we will cover more relationships as we go.


The 1835 Statement on Polygamy in the Doctrine and Covenants

Following the Fanny Alger relationship, Joseph Smith went on a trip to Michigan. When he was away, the church wrote the following ‘article on marriage’ which would be added to the Doctrine and Covenants in 1835:

“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 case of death, when either is at liberty to marry again.”

This is simply not a statement that would be inserted into the Doctrine and Covenants unless the rumors were persistent about Joseph Smith’s sexual relations outside of his marriage to Emma. Furthermore, Todd Compton, a faithful member and author of In Sacred Loneliness, stated that “clearly the statement represented an effort to counteract scandal and perhaps to defuse rumors of Fanny Alger’s marriage, possible pregnancy, and expulsion.” (Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, p. 36)

While there is no direct evidence that Fanny Alger was pregnant when she was kicked out of the Smith home, this idea is corroborated by the quote from Chauncey Webb above, which mentions that Fanny Alger “was unable to conceal the consequences of her celestial relation with the prophet” (Wyl, Wilhelm. “Mormon portraits: or the Truth About the Mormon Leaders, 1830-1866” p. 57)

Often apologists will note that Joseph Smith did not write this article on marriage, which is true. However, Joseph Smith inserted the statement into the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants and would later oversee its publication in the Times and Seasons as polygamy was really ramping up, which is why you cannot separate Joseph Smith from this statement even if he did not originally write it.


The 1836 Vision Restoring the Priesthood Keys

As mentioned above, when Joseph Smith claimed in 1831 that leaders should marry Native Americans to make their posterity “white, just, and delightsome,” he had not even developed the idea of sealing keys yet. This is also true for whatever relationship that Joseph Smith had with Fanny Alger.

This leads us to the 1836 vision in the Kirtland temple, where Joseph Smith claims to receive the priesthood keys, which would later be said to include sealing keys. The vision is now known as D&C 110, and is a shared vision by Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery.

First, as I mentioned in the priesthood restoration overview, I want to point out that Joseph Smith claims to be visited by both Elias and Elijah during this vision, although they are the same person with different translations. This is a problem for the vision right off the bat, although not the biggest problem with regards to polygamy.

Typically the church associates this vision with the sealing keys being restored, but if you read D&C 110 you will see no mention of sealings, eternal marriage, polygamy, or celestial marriage. The vision is using the idea of “keys” in the most generic sense, which is then later used by the church to fit the later evolution in Joseph Smith’s theology. The church’s essay on polygamy makes this point:


“The sealing of husband and wife for eternity was made possible by the restoration of priesthood keys and ordinances. On April 3, 1836, the Old Testament prophet Elijah appeared to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in the Kirtland Temple and restored the priesthood keys necessary to perform ordinances for the living and the dead, including sealing families together.”

There is simply no way that Fanny Alger’s relationship could have been a marriage with proper sealing keys, and there is also no way that Joseph Smith’s 1831 revelation would have had any connection to what is happening in this Kirtland vision, because the ideas simply were not developed by Joseph Smith about sealing even at this moment.

Joseph Smith’s 1841 Teaching on No Sin if No Accuser

Just as Joseph Smith begins ramping polygamy up in late 1841, he introduced a very interesting teaching that he had dictated in journal. From November 7, 1841:

“I charged the Saints not to follow the example of the adversary in accusing the brethren, and said “if you do not accuse each other God will not accuse you. If you have no accuser you will enter heaven; and if you will follow the Revelations and instructions which God gives you through me, I will take you into heaven as my back load. If you will not accuse me, I will not accuse you. If you will throw a cloak of charity over my sins, I will over yours— for charity covereth a multitude of sins. What many people call sin is not sin; I do many things to break down superstition, and I will break it down:” (History, 1838–1856, volume C-1 Addenda)

This teaching from Joseph is incredibly interesting, in that the rumors had been swirling about Joseph Smith’s infidelity since at least Fanny Alger and now he is beginning a system of polygamy that will only amplify those rumors.

Here Joseph is stating explicitly that if other church members do not accuse Joseph of sins, he would not accuse them. To be clear, Joseph Smith is completely circumventing the idea of sin in order to get members to “throw a cloak of charity of his sins.”

As I will outline in the next overview with Joseph Smith’s proposals to these women, here Joseph is flipping doctrine upside down to suit his personal needs. The idea that “if you have no accuser you will enter heaven” is an awful theology and is explicitly telling those who have been wronged to keep quiet or else Joseph Smith will air their dirty laundry in guaranteed mutual destruction.

Furthermore, Joseph here is telling members that his word is God’s word by declaring “if you will follow the Revelations and instructions which God gives you through me, I will take you into heaven as my back load,” which we will see again as he makes proposals to these women in the next overview. This will especially be important as we cover Joseph Smith’s Happiness Letter to Nancy Rigdon, as these ideas as used explicitly to pressure these young women to marry him.

Not only is Joseph Smith using these tactics, but you’ll see similar ones from other religious leaders who are initiating sexual relationships with their followers. The idea that only the leader speaks for God and that whatever he says is divinely approved did not start with Joseph Smith, and is has continued through many self proclaimed prophets since whether it’s David Berg, David Koresh, or Warren Jeffs.

These concepts will factor greatly into polygamy, as Joseph Smith utilizes secrecy in this practice along with the need to leverage his authority as a self-proclaimed prophet of God to keep other members from questioning what he is doing or accuse him of adultery, as Olivery Cowdery had done with Fanny Alger.

How Joseph Smith Proposed to Polygamous/Polyandrous Wives

It’s a little tricky to give an overview on polygamy in a perfect chronological order, but before we get to D&C 132 it’s important to look at how Joseph Smith was practicing polygamy before the revelation was ever dictated and recorded.

As I said in the beginning, these stories are not comfortable ones and certainly not what we have been taught as members. I will cite my sources below and I will do my best to note if the sources are antagonistic or apologetic, because I want to be as straightforward and thorough as I can.

Joseph Smith and Polyandry

While most people focus on polygamy in the church’s history, one of the shocks I had in learning about church history was Joseph Smith’s practice of polyandrous marriages. To put it simply, polyandry is the practice of a marrying a woman who is already in a legal marriage to their husband. From the church’s essay:

“Following his marriage to Louisa Beaman and before he married other single women, Joseph Smith was sealed to a number of women who were already married.”

While the church is intentionally vague on the details of Joseph Smith’s polygamy in the essay, Todd Compton puts the “number of women” at eleven polyandrous wives. This also seemed to be Joseph Smith’s preference early on, as nine of the first twelve women he married were polyandrous. (Compton, In Sacred Loneliness)

The church provides a few apologetic reasons for why Joseph Smith would marry women who were already married, and I want to cover them briefly here. From the essay:

“There are several possible explanations for this practice. These sealings may have provided a way to create an eternal bond or link between Joseph’s family and other families within the Church… Joseph Smith’s sealings to women already married may have been an early version of linking one family to another. In Nauvoo, most if not all of the first husbands seem to have continued living in the same household with their wives during Joseph’s lifetime, and complaints about these sealings with Joseph Smith are virtually absent from the documentary record.”

As I will highlight as we go, the idea that these marriages were a way to provide an “eternal bond or link” falls apart the moment that you realize that Joseph Smith married multiple pairs of sisters along with mother and daughter pairs. If it was a way to establish an eternal link, he would only need to marry one woman in a family, yet we’ll show instances where he married pairs. Furthermore, if it was simply a sealing issue, Joseph Smith could have sealed himself to women (or men) without the need for sex.

If polygamy/plural marriage was intended only to link families together why did so many of Joseph’s wives have to be young girls and other men’s wives? The Law of Adoption, which Joseph also practiced on occasion, allowed men to be sealed to other men as adopted sons. Why didn’t Joseph just seal those men to him directly, rather than sealing himself to their wives or daughters? Or why didn’t Joseph seal these girls to himself as celestial daughters, rather than wives, and allow them to find worthy husbands that they truly loved for the eternities? Why remove them from a normal social life and prevent them from finding companionship with someone their own age?  Helen Kimball made it very clear that she was forbidden to associate with her peers because she was now a married woman. Or why not limit the sealings to older women and widows, as we were all once told was the real reason for polygamy, if there really was no sexual component to these relationships?

This is where the "dynastic/kinship bond" argument falls completely flat. If it was really all about eternity-only sealings that were intended to eternally join friends in the afterlife there would be no need for the secrecy and lying. Joseph could simply have said, "Emma, I love the Kimballs and I want to be connected with them for eternity. God has revealed to me an ordinance that will make this possible." This would require no lying, no denying, no writing in a secret letter to a polygamous wife that “when Emma comes then you cannot be safe ...burn this letter as soon as you read it.”

Why couldn’t this practice just be forthright, transparent and honest?  If all of this was really as noble and virtuous as the authors of this essay want us to believe there wouldn’t have been a need for all of this hand wringing and excuse making. Simply sealing families to other families would not have been illegal, Joseph Smith would not have needed to lie about doing it behind Emma’s back, and it would not have caused so much pain and damage to families and young girls.

The church’s second point that “complaints about these sealings with Joseph Smith are virtually absent from the documentary record” is an interesting way to frame it. We do have records from those who were propositioned by Joseph but rejected him, and their husbands which include Orson Pratt, Albert Smith, William Law and Hiram Kimball.  There are also the very sad stories of polyandrous marriages such as Zina Huntington and her husband Henry Jacobs. We will cover those relationships more as we go.

Back to the essay:

“These sealings may also be explained by Joseph’s reluctance to enter plural marriage because of the sorrow it would bring to his wife Emma. He may have believed that sealings to married women would comply with the Lord’s command without requiring him to have normal marriage relationships. This could explain why, according to Lorenzo Snow, the angel reprimanded Joseph for having “demurred” on plural marriage even after he had entered into the practice. After this rebuke, according to this interpretation, Joseph returned primarily to sealings with single women.”

What is interesting here is that the church wants to portray the Fanny Alger relationship as a marriage because it included sex, but they then turn around here to say that Joseph Smith avoided sex to save his (first) wife Emma the sorrow polygamy would bring her. The problem is that Joseph Smith was having sex with other women at this time, and I’m not sure how much sorrow would be spared for Emma knowing that he wasn’t having sex with every one of them.

To be clear, while we do not have great records of the polyandrous marriages, we do have indications that he had sex with at least one of them. According to Todd Compton, one of Joseph Smith’s polyandrous wives, Sylvia Sessions, told her daughter that she was the child of Joseph Smith. This is exemplified by the fact that Sylvia named her daughter Josephine.

We will get to the ‘angel with a drawn sword’ later in these overviews, but the entire idea is used by Joseph Smith to get more women to accept his proposals, which makes this comparison more wishful thinking than based in the reality of what Joseph Smith was doing. The essay above is stating that the angel wasn’t happy with just marrying the women, but that Joseph had to have sex with them or else would be slain with a drawn sword. I’ll get back to this later, but for now, back to the essay:

“Another possibility is that, in an era when life spans were shorter than they are today, faithful women felt an urgency to be sealed by priesthood authority. Several of these women were married either to non-Mormons or former Mormons, and more than one of the women later expressed unhappiness in their present marriages. Living in a time when divorce was difficult to obtain, these women may have believed a sealing to Joseph Smith would give them blessings they might not otherwise receive in the next life.”

This paragraph is particularly problematic, because the church is framing polyandry as if Joseph Smith is somehow saving these women from bad situations. The reality, however, is that many of these women were married to faithful, active members of the church. In fact, only three of Joseph Smith’s polyandrous wives were not married to members of the church. Some of these women were married to leaders of the church, and one of them was married to an apostle.

I also think it’s pretty horrible to justify Joseph Smith’s polyandry by stating that “more than one of the women later expressed unhappiness in their present marriage.” Even if we accept that claim at face value, the church is implying that Joseph Smith was capitalizing on vulnerable women in unhappy relationships. This doesn’t make me think polygamy is more virtuous, but that Joseph Smith was choosing vulnerable women to propose to, which I will detail in the next overview.

Furthermore, this is a direct violation of D&C 132, which is clear that these men are only to espouse virgins. Later in this overview I will point out all of the ways that Joseph Smith violated the very revelation that he himself dictated, and this would be a good time to go over how D&C 132 was produced.

There is a lot of speculation about why Joseph Smith engaged in polyandry almost exclusively early on, and the most reasonable explanation I’ve heard is that it would be the easiest way to cover up any surprise pregnancy. Joseph Smith learned after Fanny Alger that secrecy was of the utmost importance, and if any of his polyandrous wives were to get pregnant, it would be a lot easier to cover up any potential scandal.

The Production of Doctrine and Covenants 132

There is so much history the occurs between Fanny Alger and when D&C 132 was produced, but I want to quickly cover D&C 132  here because I feel it is important to understanding how Joseph Smith produced revelation. This revelation was first written down on July 12, 1843, and was dictated to William Clayton as the request of Joseph’s brother, Hyrum Smith.

Hyrum Smith wanted Joseph to produce this revelation as Hyrum had been convinced of the idea of polygamy, and believed that he could convince Joseph’s first wife Emma of the principal if it was written in the voice of God. The church has the narrative of this event in their book Saints:

"On the morning of July 12, William Clayton was in Joseph’s office when the prophet and Hyrum entered. “If you will write the revelation,” Hyrum told Joseph, “I will take and read it to Emma, and I believe I can convince her of its truth, and you will hereafter have peace.”

“You do not know Emma as well as I do,” Joseph said. That spring and summer, he had been sealed to additional women, including a few whom Emma had personally selected. Yet helping Joseph choose wives had not made obeying the principle easy for Emma.

“The doctrine is so plain,” Hyrum said. “I can convince any reasonable man or woman of its truth, purity, and heavenly origin.”

“We will see,” Joseph said. He asked William to take out paper and write as he spoke the word of the Lord.

Much of the revelation was already known to Joseph. It described the new and everlasting covenant of eternal marriage, along with associated blessings and promises. It also revealed the terms governing plural marriage, which Joseph had learned while translating the Bible in 1831. The remainder of the revelation was new counsel for him and Emma, addressing their questions and current struggles with plural marriage." (Saints, Volume 1)

As I pointed out earlier, what Joseph Smith was speaking about in 1831 is completely different than what was happening in Nauvoo. Joseph Smith was talking about taking the Lamanite women as wives to make their posterity “white, delightsome, and just.” That phrasing is based on the teaching of the Book of Mormon, which explicitly said that you can turn the Native Americans white by bringing them to Christ. Again, there is a reason that Saints or the essay are not explaining what that 1831 revelation was, because it’s based on the (now considered racist and scientifically wrong) teachings of the Book of Mormon and the revelations from Joseph Smith.

The other big issue that this entry from Saints does not tell the reader is that by this point Joseph Smith is already married to 20 other women, with Emma being completely unaware of most of them. When Saints states “including a few whom Emma had personally selected,” what they don’t tell you is that Emma Smith chose four women for Joseph Smith to marry. Of those four, Joseph Smith had already been married to two of them: a pair of sisters named Emily and Eliza Partridge.

Emily and Eliza Partridge lived in the Smith home following the death of their father Edward in May 1840. We will get into this more in the next section, but Joseph Smith would marry them in March of 1843, two months before Emma would choose them to be wives for Joseph. This led Joseph Smith to orchestrate a ‘mock wedding’ with the Partridge sisters to avoid having to tell Emma that he was already married and having sex with two of the women that had been living in the Smith house that Emma picked for him.

We will cover these marriages more as we go, but I want to be clear that what led to D&C 132 being recorded is a long history of Joseph Smith deceiving Emma, having sex with other women behind her back, and telling these mostly young women to keep it secret from her while being some of her closest friends. I can’t even imagine what that must have felt like for Emma as she began to realize what Joseph Smith was doing, and this is why polygamy makes me so upset.

This is what leads Hyrum Smith to ask Joseph Smith to dictate the revelation now known as D&C 132. The dictation process is very interesting especially given our overviews on the Book of Mormon authorship.

William Clayton, who recorded the revelation as given by Joseph Smith, wrote this note about the process:

“Hyrum very urgently requested Joseph to write the revelation by means of the Urim and Thummim, but Joseph, in reply, said he did not need to, for he knew the revelation perfectly from beginning to end.” (History of the Church)

To be clear, Hyrum was asking Joseph Smith to read the revelation from the seer/peep stone that he used to translate both the Book of Mormon and other early revelations so it would be a direct revelation from God, but instead Joseph Smith told him that he did not need to because he knew it perfectly from beginning to end.

The revelation now known as D&C 132 is over 3,200 words long. There is no way that anyone could retain and memorize a 3,200 word revelation in the way that Joseph Smith claims here – by Joseph Smith’s own claims this is a revelation Joseph would have been given many years earlier that was never recorded.

As I mentioned in the Book of Mormon authorship overview, a typical scribe could legibly write about 1,200 words per hour. That means that the dictation of D&C 132 was the equivalent of an entire day of translating the Book of Mormon, and Joseph Smith did it without any source material or the use of the seer stone.

The dictation is made as in the language of God and is given in the language of the King James Bible just as the Book of Mormon is written. It also includes many of the similar phrases that occur in Joseph's other revelations such as "I am the Lord thy God," "Behold, I am Alpha and Omega," etc. Again it's not so much the exact phrases but the overall style -- compare this revelation to Joseph Smith's 'first' First Vision account in 1832 that Joseph wrote himself. It becomes pretty clear how gifted Joseph was at switching between a 'normal' manner of speaking and the 'voice of God,' even in a setting where Joseph is simply dictating a revelation he claimed to receive before he began polygamy.

Because this revelation was effectively dictated "on the fly" at the request of Hyrum in order to convince Emma, it gives more context as to why so much of the revelation is justifying Joseph marrying women without Emma's knowledge while also threatening to 'destroy' Emma if she does not comply. While apologists would argue that Joseph could've received these instructions years earlier, the fact that he never recorded them previously (while recording so many others) gives more weight to the overall argument by critics that he used the voice of God as needed to reestablish his authority or justify his actions.

Furthermore, the revelation is written as if it was given to Joseph before he entered into polygamous relationships as you would expect, but the section about Emma reads as if it was given after Emma became more aware of Joseph's polygamous wives. From D&C 132:

D&C 132:51: Verily, I say unto you: A commandment I give unto mine handmaid, Emma Smith, your wife, whom I have given unto you, that she stay herself and partake not of that which I commanded you to offer unto her; for I did it, saith the Lord, to prove you all, as I did Abraham, and that I might require an offering at your hand, by covenant and sacrifice.

It has been long speculated as to what exactly Joseph Smith offered Emma, so it is difficult to pin down exactly what the offer was. Critics have long pointed to a journal entry made by William Clayton just a few weeks before D&C 132 was dictated that states:


"This A.M. President Joseph took me and conversed considerable concerning some delicate matters. Said [Emma] wanted to lay a snare for me. He told me last night of this and said he had felt troubled. He said [Emma] had treated him coldly and badly since I came…and he knew she was disposed to be revenged on him for some things. She thought that if he would indulge himself she would too." (William Clayton Journal, June 23, 1843)

Apologists have countered that perhaps Joseph had offered Emma Smith a divorce. From FAIR:

"Some have seen this as Emma claiming she would practice plural marriage (a strange idea, given how she felt about it), and these readers have then extended the reading to include a belief that she was threatening to marry William Law. Others have seen these verses (perhaps more plausibly) as Emma simply threatening divorce if Joseph didn't cease plural marriage."

Critics have pointed to a story that Emma Smith wanted an additional husband if Joseph Smith would be taking dozens of additional wives. This is made quite clear by Clayton’s journal stating that “She thought that if he would indulge himself she would too.” This is further bolstered by D&C 132 calling the offer Joseph Smith made to Emma an ‘Abrahamic test’ that Emma should ‘partake not of.’

If it was a divorce, why would D&C 132 call it an Abrahamic test? Furthermore, how does that line up with Joseph Smith telling William Clayton that Emma believed she should indulge herself if Joseph Smith was already indulging himself in extramarital relationships?

But the overall point here is that Joseph Smith claimed to know this revelation perfectly and would've needed to receive before he started taking polygamous wives, yet he includes material in D&C 132 that references what appears to be a very recent offer from Joseph to Emma. With no use of the Urim and Thummim (seer/peep stone) to receive this revelation as he did with other revelations, how would Joseph Smith know to add this clause in? The inclusion of this instruction to Emma implies to me that Joseph Smith was customizing the revelation for Emma as he dictated, knowing that Hyrum would be taking it to Emma.

This would also explain why the language towards Emma is exceptionally harsh, with the threat of destruction if she did not abide by the revelation. "But if she will not abide this commandment she shall be destroyed, saith the Lord; for I am the Lord thy God, and will destroy her if she abide not in my law."

And while apologists would likely claim this is more of a blanket statement unrelated to polygamy, it is noteworthy that God would be asking Emma to forgive Joseph for his mistakes in a revelation that we are to believe was given before Joseph took additional wives: "And again, verily I say, let mine handmaid forgive my servant Joseph his trespasses; and then shall she be forgiven her trespasses, wherein she has trespassed against me."

This is a pattern that is common in Joseph Smith’s revelations, in that they often tend to solve the problems that Joseph Smith is dealing with at that given moment. It explains why Joseph was so quickly able to get a revelation to pressure Martin Harris to sell property, destroy Hiram Page's seer stone, or to explain why he could not recreate the first 116 pages by God's command.

As I’ve mentioned in many of the previous overviews, the fact that Joseph Smith is both willing and capable to dictate material in the voice of God (or the voice of scripture) makes his mistakes all the more glaring. Once you can look at D&C 132 being open to at least the possibility that Joseph produced the revelation himself, it explains why the entire justification for polygamy is incorrect. In D&C 132, God tells Joseph why "I, the Lord, justified my servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as also Moses, David and Solomon, my servants, as touching the principle and doctrine of their having many wives and concubines"

The problem is that Abraham was never instructed to take a second wife and as has been pointed out many times before, David and Solomon's polygamy was called "abominable" in the Book of Mormon. These contradictions have long bothered critics because it just does not make sense that God would so plainly contradict His own scriptures, but when you look at the production of D&C 132 in the context of William Clayton's own words during the dictation, it helps to make sense of a lot of issues with Joseph Smith's works overall.

Problems with Joseph Smith’s Revelation on Polygamy/Plural Marriage

Before we get to the different accounts of how Joseph Smith implemented the practice of polygamy, I want to highlight some of the areas of D&C 132 that are highly problematic, and look at the church’s apologetics behind them. This is important because in many instances Joseph Smith will violate the rules of D&C 132 in his polygamous marriages.

As a member we never really spoke about D&C 132 outside of cherry picking a few verses that are now redefined to separate polygamy from the idea of celestial marriage. The problem is that if you read D&C 132 all the way through, it is a deeply troubling revelation that really shows just how abusive polygamy was and how inconsistent and incorrect the author of the revelation was in producing it.

Warnings and Threats to Emma Smith

We have to remember that this revelation was written to Emma Smith. I’m not sure if Joseph Smith ever intended this revelation to be used in the Doctrine and Covenants, but it is was clearly written to persuade Emma Smith to accept Joseph Smith’s polygamy by threatening her exaltation if she did not.

First, how the church’s essay frames it:

“In the summer of 1843, Joseph Smith dictated the revelation on marriage, a lengthy and complex text containing both glorious promises and stern warnings, some directed at Emma.”

The reality is that pretty much all of the warnings were direct at Emma. In fact, D&C 132 has 11 warnings included in it. I’m including them below with super quick commentary on each:

4 For behold, I reveal unto you a new and an everlasting covenant; and if ye abide not that covenant, then are ye damned; for no one can reject this covenant and be permitted to enter into my glory.

This is a threat directed at Emma in just the fourth verse, that if she does not abide by the revelation Joseph Smith is dictating, she will be damned.

6 And as pertaining to the new and everlasting covenant, it was instituted for the fulness of my glory; and he that receiveth a fulness thereof must and shall abide the law, or he shall be damned, saith the Lord God.

This threat is to Joseph Smith, but it really is again targeted at Emma. Basically this is stating that if Joseph Smith does not follow through with polygamy, he will be damned. Telling this to Emma puts additional pressure on her to accept the practice, just as the ‘angel with a drawn sword’ story is designed to put immense pressure on the young women being proposed to by Joseph.

51 Verily, I say unto you: A commandment I give unto mine handmaid, Emma Smith, your wife, whom I have given unto you, that she stay herself and partake not of that which I commanded you to offer unto her; for I did it, saith the Lord, to prove you all, as I did Abraham, and that I might require an offering at your hand, by covenant and sacrifice.

This is a threat directly at Emma Smith that she should “partake not of that which I commanded you to offer unto her.” There is speculation as to what that offer was as noted above, with some accounts that it was an offer to let Emma Smith have another man, and some apologists contend it might have been an offer for divorce. Whatever the reason, Joseph Smith here is rescinding the offer within this revelation under the premise of a commandment from God.

52 And let mine handmaid, Emma Smith, receive all those that have been given unto my servant Joseph, and who are virtuous and pure before me; and those who are not pure, and have said they were pure, shall be destroyed, saith the Lord God.

This is a threat that is not pointed at Emma or indirectly at her through Joseph, but one that is stating that any of Joseph Smith’s polygamous or polyandrous wives that claimed to be pure but are not pure will be destroyed. I’m not sure why this will be of much comfort to Emma Smith, but I suppose this is Joseph Smith’s way of saying that he’s only going to marry and have sex with the purest of women.

54 And I command mine handmaid, Emma Smith, to abide and cleave unto my servant Joseph, and to none else. But if she will not abide this commandment she shall be destroyed, saith the Lord; for I am the Lord thy God, and will destroy her if she abide not in my law.

This is the most famous of the direct threats to Emma Smith, with Joseph Smith telling his wife in the voice of God that she will be destroyed if she does not abide in the new and everlasting covenant, which was without question considered to be polygamy at this time.

I want to make this point right now: If the “new and everlasting covenant” was merely celestial marriage as the church today wants to claim, there would be no need to threaten Emma’s exaltation if she did not abide by it. Every early leader absolutely believed the “new and everlasting covenant” was plural marriage/polygamy including Joseph Smith, and all of the apologetics trying to redefine the phrase only comes out of necessity.

55 But if she will not abide this commandment, then shall my servant Joseph do all things for her, even as he hath said; and I will bless him and multiply him and give unto him an hundred-fold in this world, of fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, houses and lands, wives and children, and crowns of eternal lives in the eternal worlds.

This is not a threat on Emma’s life or exaltation as the last verse, but it is a threat that tells Emma either she starts allowing Joseph Smith to take extra wives with sexual relations, or God is going to give him “an hundred-fold in this world.”
The irony here is that Joseph Smith is already married to about 20 women at this point, many of whom are Emma’s friends. So this might have been a much better commandment before he started marrying wives behind Emma’s back.

56 And again, verily I say, let mine handmaid forgive my servant Joseph his trespasses; and then shall she be forgiven her trespasses, wherein she has trespassed against me; and I, the Lord thy God, will bless her, and multiply her, and make her heart to rejoice.

Again, this commandment is a threat to Emma that if she does not forgive Joseph Smith for marrying and having sex with other women behind her back, her unrelated sins will not be forgiven. When you realize this is being written off the cuff by Joseph Smith, this makes a lot more sense, because you wouldn’t think God would withhold forgiveness of Emma’s sins until she is on board with her husband having sex with almost at least a dozen women behind her back.

This also ties into the 1841 teachings above, where Joseph Smith states that if he is not accused of sin, he will not accuse anyone else of sin. In other words, if Emma plays along here, Joseph Smith says that God will also play along and forgive her sins.

57 And again, I say, let not my servant Joseph put his property out of his hands, lest an enemy come and destroy him; for Satan seeketh to destroy; for I am the Lord thy God, and he is my servant; and behold, and lo, I am with him, as I was with Abraham, thy father, even unto his exaltation and glory.

This is a fascinating verse because on the very same day that D&C 132 was recorded, July 12, 1843, Joseph Smith wrote a deed to Emma Smith for property and money in Nauvoo. You can see the deed at the Joseph Smith Papers Project, but it’s fascinating that on the same day that Joseph Smith writes a warning to “let not my servant Joseph put his property out of his hands,” Emma Smith is awarded property by Joseph Smith.

It would appear this is part of what Emma Smith wanted to accept what Joseph Smith was doing, and she absolutely got it against Joseph Smith’s wishes in D&C 132 that she not take it. And it’s a lot of property as well. It looks like a word salad the deed so feel free to skip the following quote, but from the deed:

“…assigns for ever All those tracts or parcels of land, situate and being in the County of Hancock and State of Illinois and described on the plot of the City of Nauvoo as being Lot number three in Block number ninety three also Lot number four in Block number ninety four also Lots number one, two and three in Block number ninety five Also Block number [p. 400] ninety six Also Block number ninety seven Also Block number ninety eight also Lots number one and two in Block number ninety nine Also Lot number four in Block number one hundred and four Also Lots number two and three in Block number one hundred and nine Also Block number one hundred and ten. Also Lot number three in Block number one hundred and Eleven. Also Lot number three in Block number one hundred and twelve Also Lots number three and four in Block number one hundred and thirteen Also Lots number one, two and three in Block number one hundred and Sixteen. Also Block number one hundred and twenty eight. Also Block number one hundred and twenty nine Also Lots number one, two, and four in Block number one hundred and thirty one Also Lots number one, two, and four in Block number one hundred and thirty five. Also Lots number two, three, and four in Block number one hundred and thirty six Also Block number one hundred and thirty seven. Also Lot number four in Block number one hundred and forty two. Also Lot number three in Block number one hundred and forty three Also Block number one hundred and forty four Also Lot number one in Block number one hundred and forty five Also Lot number three in Block number one hundred <and> forty seven Also Block number one hundred and fifty five. Also Lot number two in block number one hundred and fifty nine And also Lot number one in Block number one hundred and sixty. Together with all and singular the appurtenances thereunto belonging or in any wise appertaining To have and to hold the above described premises unto the said Emma Smith…” (Joseph Smith Papers Project)

As I said, it is fascinating to see on the same day that Joseph Smith commands Emma not to take property from Joseph Smith that she takes quite a bit of property from Joseph Smith. This is also another example where Joseph Smith is writing revelations that are very concerned with Joseph Smith’s money, property, and authority.

63 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…

This is the second warning that is not directed at Emma Smith, unless the accounts that Emma wanted to have another man if Joseph was to continue his relationships with so many women. It certainly would be one way to keep her from wanting that, since God is explicitly telling her that women will be destroyed for being with another man even as men can be with as many women as they want under the new and everlasting covenant.

64 And again, verily, verily, I say unto you, if any man have a wife, who holds the keys of this power, and he teaches unto her the law of my priesthood, as pertaining to these things, then shall she believe and administer unto him, or she shall be destroyed, saith the Lord your God; for I will destroy her; for I will magnify my name upon all those who receive and abide in my law.

Again this threat is directed at not just Emma Smith, but any other woman who does not allow her husband to marry and have sex with other women. But since this is being written explicitly for Emma, I’m counting this as a threat towards her since she would be included in this verse.

65 Therefore, it shall be lawful in me, if she receive not this law, for him to receive all things whatsoever I, the Lord his God, will give unto him, because she did not believe and administer unto him according to my word; and she then becomes the transgressor; and he is exempt from the law of Sarah, who administered unto Abraham according to the law when I commanded Abraham to take Hagar to wife.

This is again a warning to Emma, telling her that if she does not accept Joseph Smith’s polygamous marriages, she becomes the transgressor. In other words, Joseph Smith has written a loophole into D&C 132 that allows him to marry and have sex with women even if his beloved Emma rejects his proposals, and it actually puts the fault from the one entering into these unlawful relationships back to the faithful spouse.

It’s pretty stunning that the Law of Sarah, mentioned just four verses earlier, is not only obliterated in verse 65, but that D&C 132 labels the woman who does not consent as the ‘transgressor.’ I just can’t believe I never read this as a member, because it’s absolutely horrifying.

Sorry for the long section here just to detail these warnings contained in D&C 132, but of the 11 threats or warnings here, 8 are directed at Emma Smith, two of them are ambiguous or indirectly at Emma Smith, and just 1 is clearly not directed at her.

In other words, when the church states that D&C 132 is a “lengthy and complex text containing both glorious promises and stern warnings, some directed at Emma,” they are being willfully misleading. They are almost entirely directed at Emma, and they go beyond stern warnings. They are outright threats of destruction if she does not accept Joseph Smith’s polygamy.

It is very difficult for me to think about Joseph Smith’s “beloved Emma” knowing that her husband is married to many women behind her back including those who have lived in their home and her best friends at church. This comes years after Joseph Smith was caught in a sexual relationship with Fanny Alger, and Emma’s trust is crushed again by her husband’s infidelity. In response, Joseph Smith sends his brother to her with a claimed revelation from God stating that she will be destroyed if she does not comply fully and forgive Joseph Smith for everything he has put her through.

At this point Emma has to either accept Joseph Smith’s claims of revelations, or she has to risk her exaltation. Joseph Smith’s claimed revelation also makes clear that until Emma Smith accepts Joseph Smith’s polygamy, they will be separated at death. What a horrible position to put his “beloved Emma” in, and all the while Joseph Smith has been doing it behind her back anyway.

These are the verses that are rarely discussed in the church’s lessons because they are absolutely abhorrent in the context of how D&C 132 was produced and the fact that Joseph Smith had already violated almost every aspect of the claimed revelation before he even dictated it, and that is what I want to quickly cover next.

Problems with Polyandrous Marriages and the Text of D&C 132

As I mentioned above, Joseph Smith engaged in polyandrous marriages, which means that he was marrying women who were already married to other men. Of Joseph Smith’s eleven polyandrous wives, eight were married to faithful members of the church.

The text of D&C 132 presents a few problems for Joseph Smith. First, the text specifically states that the man must “espouse a virgin.” From D&C 132:


61 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 Joseph Smith married eleven women who were already married to other men, then he is espousing women who are not virgins. This violates D&C 132 right off the bat. Furthermore, the church’s essay goes to great lengths to state that “most if not all of the first husbands seem to have continued living in the same household with their wives during Joseph’s lifetime.”

This becomes a problem with verse 41 of D&C 132, which explicitly states that if a woman marries into polygamy under the “new and everlasting covenant” and then has sex with another man, she will be destroyed:


41 And as ye have asked concerning adultery, verily, verily, I say unto you, if a man receiveth a wife in the new and everlasting covenant, and if she be with another man, and I have not appointed unto her by the holy anointing, she hath committed adultery and shall be destroyed.

In other words, Zina Huntington was pregnant when Joseph Smith finally convinced her to marry him. (I will write more on her in the next overview) From this point Zina is now in the “new and everlasting covenant” with Joseph Smith in a polyandrous marriage, but she lives at home with her civilly legal, but not “new and everlasting covenant” husband, Henry Jacobs. According to D&C 132, “if she be with another man (her legal husband, Henry Jacobs), and I have not appointed unto her by the holy anointing, she hath committed adultery and shall be destroyed.”

This is a horrifying part of the revelation, because in this case Joseph Smith is condemning these women to be destroyed if they live with their legal and lawful husbands following their “new and everlasting covenant” marriage to Joseph Smith.

Furthermore, and this is where polyandry goes from awful to abominable, in a polyandrous marriage the children of the wife are sealed to the husband in the “new and everlasting covenant.” In other words, when Joseph Smith married Zina Huntington Jacobs, who was pregnant with her legal husband Henry’s child, the moment she entered into a polyandrous relationship with Joseph Smith, her child was then sealed to Zina and Joseph – not to that child’s actual father, Henry.

As I said at the beginning, polygamy is an area where you can both show that the church is not true, but that you can show the unique church doctrines are not good. This is a terrible doctrine and one that continues today, where the First Presidency can cancel a sealing of one marriage so that the member can marry into another sealing. In that case, the children are then taken from one spouse and given to another in the eyes of the God as the church sees it.

This is a terrible, horrible, abhorrent practice that makes absolutely no sense from a loving God. Not only does a wife have to marry Joseph Smith in addition to her legal husband that she might actually love, but their kids are then given to and sealed to Joseph Smith in the eyes of God - not to their actual father. It is horrific and no amount of “it’ll work out in the end” can change that.

Not only is Joseph Smith violating D&C 132 by marrying and having sex with women who are not virgins, the theology behind it is also absolutely terrible. This is another example where you can see how Joseph Smith making it up as he went along really comes back to haunt him, as he puts these rules in the voice of God to convince his ‘beloved Emma’ as he is currently violating almost every one of them in real life.

The question you have to ask yourself is this: Is Joseph Smith in violation of D&C 132 and a fallen prophet, or was he using the voice of God to convince Emma of polygamy knowing that he was secretly breaking all of the rules he was creating to convince Emma that the practice is virtuous and right?


The Concept of Adultery in D&C 132

Clearly the idea of adultery is being redefined through polygamy, but the following verses are kind of interesting all things considered:

43 And if her husband be with another woman, and he was under a avow, he hath broken his vow and hath committed adultery.

44 And if she hath not committed adultery, but is innocent and hath not broken her vow, and she knoweth it, and I reveal it unto you, my servant Joseph, then shall you have power, by the power of my Holy Priesthood, to take her and give her unto him that hath not committed adultery but hath been faithful; for he shall be made ruler over many.


Joseph Smith made a vow to Emma Smith at their wedding to be faithful, and he broke that with Fanny Alger. Years later Joseph Smith would break that vow with many women behind Emma’s back, and there is simply no way around this basic fact.

And that makes verse 44 all the more egregious. The voice of God is saying that if a man breaks his vow but the woman has not, she can go to Joseph and be given to another. So effectively in Emma’s case she would go to Joseph, say that Joseph broke his vow, and then be asked to be given to another. But then D&C 132 also says she will be destroyed for doing so.

Do you see how problematic this revelation is? This is also where Joseph F. Smith’s very troubling statement originates from. Here is Joseph F. Smith from Doctrines and Salvation:


“When the wife is faithful and desires to obey the divine law and the husband is rebellious, or unwilling to obey the will of the Lord, if she maintains her integrity to the best of her ability, she will be given to another husband in eternity and will receive all the blessings of the celestial kingdom.” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, Vol. 3, Pg. 23, 24. Pub. 195)

This doctrine by Joseph F. Smith is directly reflecting D&C 132 and causes a lot of stress for people who are mixed faith marriages, because in the church’s teachings if a man leaves the church, the wife will then be “given to another husband in eternity.” As we will see in future overviews, the doctrines and practices that come from polygamy will influence almost every aspect of the church, and this is a perfect example of that.

Contradictions with the Book of Mormon and Earlier Revelations

Beyond all of the problems with the text of D&C 132 itself, this revelation directly contradicts both the Book of Mormon and earlier revelations from Joseph Smith. I want to make this crystal clear – it is irreconcilable.

First, here is the very plain and straightforward text from the Book of Mormon in Jacob 2:


23 But the word of God burdens me because of your grosser crimes. For behold, thus saith the Lord: This people begin to wax in iniquity; they understand not the scriptures, for they seek to excuse themselves in committing whoredoms, because of the things which were written concerning David, and Solomon his son.

24 Behold, David and Solomon truly had many wives and concubines, which thing was abominable before me, saith the Lord.


Now compare to D&C 132:

1 Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you my servant Joseph, that inasmuch as you have inquired of my hand to know and understand wherein I, the Lord, justified my servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as also Moses, David and Solomon, my servants, as touching the principle and doctrine of their having many wives and concubines

38 David also received many wives and concubines, and also Solomon and Moses my servants, as also many others of my servants, from the beginning of creation until this time; and in nothing did they sin save in those things which they received not of me.

39 David’s wives and concubines were given unto him of me, by the hand of Nathan, my servant, and others of the prophets who had the keys of this power; and in none of these things did he sin against me save in the case of Uriah and his wife; and, therefore he hath fallen from his exaltation, and received his portion; and he shall not inherit them out of the world, for I gave them unto another, saith the Lord.’


You cannot reconcile this – in the Book of Mormon God says they are committing whoredoms and that the practice is abominable, and then in D&C 132 he says “in nothing did they sin” and that those wives and concubines where “given unto him of me… and in none of these things did he sin against me…”

In other words, in the Book of Mormon God is directly calling David’s wives abominable, and in the D&C God is saying that not only was it completely legitimate, but that God was the one who gave them to him.


Holding Marriage Contracts Valid and Fulfilled

In the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants, we discussed above the section that rejects polygamy, but there’s another line that is completely destroyed by D&C 132. From the original 1835 Doctrine and Covenants:

“All legal contracts of marriage made before a person is baptized into this church, should be held sacred and fulfilled.” (1835 Doctrine and Covenants, Section 101)

Compare that to D&C 132:

7 “All covenants, contracts, bonds, obligations, oaths, vows, performances, connections, associations, or expectations, that are not made and entered into and sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise… are of no efficacy, virtue, or force in and after the resurrection from the dead; for all contracts that are not made unto this end have an end when men are dead.”

To be clear, the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants states that the church will hold all legal contracts of marriage as sacred and fulfilled, but D&C 132 says those same legal contracts “end when men are dead.”

While apologists could contend that marriages have the “til death do us part” clause, this is simply not how any Christian religion believes their families will be after death. This is an area where Joseph Smith is creating a problem to sell you the solution, but it absolutely contradicts the spirit of holding “legal contracts of marriage… sacred and fulfilled.”


Earlier Revelations are Unaware of Any 1831 Revelation on Polygamy/Plural Marriage

Now I want to quickly note two of Joseph Smith’s earlier revelations that contradict D&C 132:

D&C 42:22 (Written in 1831) 22 Thou shalt love thy wife with all thy heart, and shalt cleave unto her and none else.

D&C 49:16 (Written in 1831) 16 Wherefore, it is lawful that he should have one wife, and they twain shall be one flesh, and all this that the earth might answer the end of its creation


Both of these revelations, written in 1831 when we are told by the church that Joseph Smith had polygamy revealed to him, are explicit in having one wife and that one “shalt cleave unto her and none else.”

I don’t know how much clearer this gets. Just like the First Vision and priesthood restorations, we can see the earlier teachings that are supposedly directly from God are 100% contradicting Joseph Smith’s later evolution in theology. If the revelation on polygamy was given to Joseph Smith in 1831, why does he seem completely unaware of it until the 1840s?

Furthermore, these revelations were first edited and compiled in 1835, which is both after Joseph Smith supposedly was given the revelation on polygamy and when he had already had an affair with Fanny Alger. If Joseph Smith had truly received a revelation from God, then why did he not make any changes to these revelations in 1835? We know that Joseph Smith was willing to alter revelations as we illustrated in the priesthood restoration overview, which is a clear indicator that Joseph Smith never changed these revelations because he did not develop the doctrine or revelation of polygamy before 1835.

This is what happens when you are willing to change scriptures to fit your needs at a given time, and we highlighted this in our Book of Mormon overviews as Joseph Smith changed Isaiah to retrofit a prophecy about the Charles Anthon visit or, in the case of D&C 132, claimed that Abraham was commanded to enter into polygamy by God when it simply did not happen.

D&C 132 states that “mine house is a house of order, saith the Lord God, and not a house of confusion,” and yet this same God, via Joseph Smith, has contradictions throughout the scriptures, revelations, and doctrines of the church. As I stated above, this requires us to answer this question: Is God this inconsistent and contradictory within the scriptures, or is Joseph Smith writing in the name of God to convince others that he is a prophet of God? I believe in these overviews we have made it crystal clear that it’s the latter, and D&C 132 only reinforces that belief.


The Law of Sarah

We are going to cover many of the problems with D&C 132 in our third polygamy overview as we look at some of the ways Joseph Smith proposed to other women, but I want to cover how ridiculous the “Law of Sarah” is very quickly. From the church’s essay:

“The revelation on marriage required that a wife give her consent before her husband could enter into plural marriage.4 Nevertheless, toward the end of the revelation, the Lord said that if the first wife “receive not this law”—the command to practice plural marriage—the husband would be “exempt from the law of Sarah,” presumably the requirement that the husband gain the consent of the first wife before marrying additional women. After Emma opposed plural marriage (and before, since Joseph never asked early on and just married women behind her back), Joseph was placed in an agonizing dilemma, forced to choose between the will of God and the will of his beloved Emma. He may have thought Emma’s rejection of plural marriage exempted him from the law of Sarah. Her decision to “receive not this law” permitted him to marry additional wives without her consent”

This really sums of the Law of Sarah nicely. In D&C 132, verse 61 makes clear that the first wife must give consent before her husband can marry and have sex with other women, but in penultimate verse Joseph Smith realizes that he has to give himself an out, so he creates the idea of a “Law of Sarah” which basically says that if Emma doesn’t agree to this revelation, Joseph Smith can just do it anyway. From D&C 132:

61 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.

65 Therefore, it shall be lawful in me, if she receive not this law, for him to receive all things whatsoever I, the Lord his God, will give unto him, because she did not believe and administer unto him according to my word; and she then becomes the transgressor; and he is exempt from the law of Sarah, who administered unto Abraham according to the law when I commanded Abraham to take Hagar to wife.


I’m not sure how much more obvious it can get that this revelation is being written by a man who is trying to justify his practice of polygamy to his wife. Beyond the threats of destruction, the scolding for not obeying God, and the incorrect Bible references (God did not command Abraham to take Hagar, Sarah did), Joseph Smith here is going to tell her that her voice does not matter in any possible way.

Verse 65 is basically saying to his “beloved Emma” that ‘I’m asking you to give me permission to marry and have sex with a bunch of younger women, because if you don’t I’m just going to do it behind your back anyway and it will then be you who is at fault.’ It is awful, terrible, and such a perfect example of how women are viewed in the church. They are secondary to men in every measureable way, and in polygamy this was unquestionably so.

The church’s essay constantly tries to frame Joseph Smith as the victim, which is even more insane when you read this overview along with the next two. When they write “Joseph was placed in an agonizing dilemma, forced to choose between the will of God and the will of his beloved Emma,” it is absolutely shameless. Joseph Smith is not the victim here, and the church’s entire essay is framed to make the reader think that Joseph Smith was trying to be the perfect husband while also obeying God’s commandments. The problem is that once you dig into the history behind D&C 132, you realize quickly that it is not God’s commandment but Joseph Smith using the voice of God to command others.


Conclusion of the First Part of the Polygamy Overview

We still have a lot to cover with polygamy, so I hope you’ll continue with me to part two. In the second overview, I will cover some of the proposals that Joseph Smith made to show the pressures and promises that he was using to convince young women to marry him, and the agony he put families through by asking men for their wives or daughters.

While I realize my tone in this overview is more negative than the previous overviews, I hope you can understand why. Polygamy is not normal, it is not righteous, and the history is clear that it was an abuse of authority by Joseph Smith.

I cannot even imagine the pain and suffering that Emma Smith was put through, knowing that her husband continued to be unfaithful years after the Fanny Alger affair, and I wonder if she ever knew how many of her friends were married to her husband behind her back. If a member saw this happening with any other political or religious leader, they would recoil with disgust. This is simply not the way that a loving God would command their prophet to act, and, preemptively answering the apologetic response that I can’t know what God would want, I’ll be clear that this is not a version of God that is deserving of my love or worship.

Polygamy is disgraceful and the next overview is only going to illustrate that in more detail, so if you felt uncomfortable in this section it’s only going to get worse. I’m sorry for those reading this that do not want to have that knot in their stomach reading about church history, but, as my family has said over the years when dealing with a bad situation that is unfortunately real, “it is what it is.”

I also want to finish this first overview by stating something that will be important to remember as you read the next two overviews on polygamy: Joseph Smith was the one who inquired about polygamy. From the very first verse of D&C 132:


Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you my servant Joseph, that inasmuch as you have inquired of my hand to know and understand wherein I, the Lord, justified my servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as also Moses, David and Solomon, my servants, as touching the principle and doctrine of their having many wives and concubines (D&C 132:1)

Joseph Smith was the one who initiated this subject with God - not the other way around as it is often taught. As you read the accounts of how Joseph Smith is telling these young women that God commanded them to marry Joseph, please remember that Joseph himself admits in D&C 132 that polygamy was his idea. This might seem like a small thing, but I believe it is an important detail, especially given the quote at the beginning of this overview highlighting how other self-proclaimed prophets used their authority to initiate polyagmous/sexual relations with their young followers.

In the next two overviews, I am going to look at some of the records we have of how Joseph Smith proposed to other women, how the church tried to cover up polygamy with “carefully worded denials,” and we will get into the story of the angel with a drawn sword who was concerned about Joseph Smith having sex with other women, but never returned to correct how women, blacks, and Native Americans were being treated and labeled by the church.

Next section: Joseph Smith and Polygamy: Part 2, the Proposals

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