This is a review of only Volume 2. To read my review of Volume 1, click here.
Joseph Smith’s Polygamy, Volume 2: History – A Book Review
“We obeyed [the command to practice plural marriage] the best we knew how, and, no doubt, made many crooked paths in our ignorance.” Amasa M. Lyman
With the recent ruling that Utah’s anti-polygamy legislation was illegal and the LDS Church’s recent web page dealing with early Utah polygamy, polygamy in on our brains. The main criticism I have heard of the latter is that it didn’t deal with many of the sticky issues. Prominent among the sticky issues of Mormon polygamy is the clandestine nature of its practice. However, this problem was a problem of Nauvoo polygamy, not early Utah polygamy. It is the Nauvoo period of which Brian Hales is the expert.
For many faithful Mormons, learning of Joseph Smith, Jr.’s polygamy can be the precipitating factor for a faith crisis. It has just the right formula:
- The possibility of the abuse of ecclesiastical power
- Did I say sex already?
- A clandestine or secretive nature
- Teenage wives
For me personally, I have a deep interest in the beginnings of Mormon polygamy as I was one that found myself on the precipice of leaving the LDS Church due largely to Joseph Smith’s clandestine practice of polygamy. I have made my very tentative peace with Joseph’s polygamy. It’s an uncomfortable resolution.
Volume 2 of Brian Hale’s work is actually an extension of his 623-page Volume 1. Volume 1 ends with chapter 22 and Volume 2 begins with chapter 23. While Volume one does contain very in-depth tables, the index, bibliography, and appendices are all contained at the end of Volume 2.
Here are a list of issues I was hoping Brian Hales would approach in Volume 2:
- His younger brother’s (Hyrum Smith) acceptance of polygamy
- His wife’s (Emma Smith) rejection of, acceptance of, and final rejection of polygamy
- The historical context in which the revelation (Doctrine and Covenants Section 132) on polygamy was received
- The document history of Doctrine and Covenants Section 132
- Who else was involved with polygamy besides the leaders of the Nauvoo Church?
- The relationship between those who had received the Nauvoo Endowment (Quorum of the Anointed) and those who knew and practiced polygamy
- Possible children that came out of Joseph’s polygamous, and more specifically, polyandrous relationships
- Were there any monogamous sealings or were they all polygamous in nature?
- Were there any polygamous sealings in Nauvoo where the husband was sealed first to his legal wife and then later to a polygamous wife?
Volume 2 begins with addressing the plural marriage sealings of Joseph Smith from February of 1843 to July of that same year. During this short span of time, Joseph Smith might have been sealed to fourteen wives. Hales starts by chronicling, in thirty-three pages, the least documented sealings, such as Rhonda Richards, and working his way up to those that have better documentation of a sealing to Joseph Smith, such as Helen Mar Kimball – a fourteen year old wife.
Regarding the sealing of Helen Mar Kimball to Joseph Smith, Hales is not overly apologetic, nor antagonistic. Hales gives the primary documentation, of course with his interpretation of the documents, of one of the more troubling polygamous marriages of Joseph Smith. It is troubling for two major reasons:
- Helen’s age – she was 14 years old
- Possible ecclesiastical abuse on the part of Joseph Smith
Regarding the latter, Hales quotes Helen herself:
“He [Helen’s father, Heber C. Kimball] taught me the principle of Celestial marriage and having a great desire to be connected with thePophet, Joseph, he offered me to him….After which he [Joseph Smith] said to me, “If you will take this step, it will ensure your eternal salvation and exaltation and that of your father’s household and all of your kindred” (Hales, 27).
Hales doesn’t shy away from the other problematic part of Joseph Smith’s marriage to Helen Mar Kimball – her age and the possibility of conjugality. Using primary documents, Hales provides evidence for the conclusion that there was no conjugality between Joseph and the fourteen year old Helen, which I find very persuasive. Most of the evidence is derived from the Temple Lot Case and Helen’s writings. Based upon these documents, Hales asks the question of why Helen was not called to testify in the case if she lived so close to where the affidavits were being taken. If the LDS leadership was so excited with the opportunity to “prove” to the RLDS Church that Joseph Smith indeed practiced polygamy “in every sense of the term,” and Helen was such an open defender of polygamy and of her relationship to Joseph Smith, and had volunteered to testify, why wasn’t she called? His conclusion is that Helen had no conjugality with Joseph Smith. The evidence is persuasive enough, in fact, where I changed my opinion a bit on the subject. But admittedly, we are still left with the fact that Joseph Smith married a fourteen year old teenager and there is a possibility that Helen was not asked to give an affidavit because of the scandalous nature of her age at the time of her marriage to Joseph Smith (Hales, 29).
With telling the stories of the different plural marriage sealings, Hales is able to show different ways women were approached about the subject. The following are two approaches used:
- The woman was approached by Joseph Smith himself, such as with Almera Woodward Johnson Smith Barton (discussed on page 13 of volume 2).
- The woman was approached by Joseph Smith and/or others. An example of this would be Emily Patridge (discussed on page 8 of volume 2). With Emily, in particular, we also see how Joseph Smith would wait on a woman if she did not want to talk about polygamy.
OOH, LOVE HURTS SOMETIMES – ESPECIALLY IF YOU ARE EMMA
One of the unique things that Hales brings to the scholarship of Nauvoo polygamy is the idea of “eternity only” ealings. That is, Hales makes a distinction (based on excellent documentation) between “time and eternity” sealings which would have included conjugality and “eternity only” sealings, which would have included no relationship in mortality, let alone conjugality.
In late April 1842, it appears very probable that there was a huge confrontation regarding polygamy between Joseph and his legal wife, Emma Hales Smith, yet we have Ruth Vose Sayers stating that she was sealed to Joseph Smith in February 1843 in the presence of Emma Smith. How could this be? Hales proposes that this was an eternity only sealing, “and it is possible that Joseph may have introduced Emma to such sealings, emphasizing that they did not include earthly physical relations” Hales continues, “If Ruth’s recollection and affidavit are accurate, then they provide evidence that Emma accepted ‘eternity only’ plural sealings as early as 1843”(Hales, 40).
It is from the chapter on Emma’s struggle with polygamy that I read one of my favorite quotes:
“I have never seen a woman in my life, who would endure every species of fatigue and hardship, from month to month, and from year to year, with the unflinching courage, zeal, and patience, which she has ever done; for I know that which she has had to endure – she has been tossed upon the ocean of uncertaintity – she breasted the storms of persecution, and buffeted the rage of men and devils, which would have born down almost any other woman.” – Lucy Mack Smith.
TABLES AND CHARTS
Often, when I am reading history, I get lost in the details. Hales’ book helps keep things cohesive through his many tables and charts. The table on page 141, in particular, helped give a good summary of the Nauvoo leaders present when the revelation on Celestial and Plural Marriage was read on August 12, 1843. The table summarizes who was there, if they left a record of the meeting and if they married polygamously. The one question I do have though (and this deals with some of the idiosyncrasies that I get all nerdy about) is why Nauvoo High Councilor, David Fullmer, lists Dunbar Wilson as one of the men being present when the revelation was read, but Brian Hales does not include him in his list. Was Dunbar Wilson not a leader?
My second question is, do we have a record of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles being read the revelation as an entire group, or were they taught of it individually? The latter seems to be the case from what I can tell as Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, and Vinson Knight were all married polygamously in 1842.
Table 29.1 (Hales, 165) is also very helpful. It lists all the plural marriages performed prior to Joseph Smith’s death. The table includes the names of the men, the approximate date in which the men were sealed to their first polygamous wife, and the total number of wives each polygamous man had. Brigham Young, John Taylor and Hyrum Smith win, with four polygamous wives each. I think a helpful addition to the table would be a column that shows when each of the apostles were taught about polygamy.
Table C-6 and C-7 are marvelous as they give a quick reference to the Temple Lot transcripts.
EMMA VS. HYRUM IN THE OCTAGON!!
As stated earlier in my review, one of the questions I had was regarding Emma Smith’s and Hyrum Smith’s (Joseph’s younger brother) later acceptance of polygamy and who accepted it first. What does the document history show?
It appears that Hyrum accepted polygamy between May 23-26, 1843. The date of Emma’s acceptance of polygamy is a little more problematic to peg down as one has to deal with her acceptance of the “principle” vs. actual polygamous marriage dates of which Emma was cognizant. Emily Partridge gives the date of May 11, 1843 of her re-marriage to Joseph in the presence of Emma; Emily Partridge had been sealed to Joseph previously without Emma knowing (ya, that’s a problmem). So, it does appear that Emma initially accepted polygamy prior to Hyrum’s acceptance.
The other piece of the equation that Hales discusses is, from whom does Emma Smith first hear of polygamy? You’ll have to get the book to read about that one.
ELIZA R. SNOW-SMITH
No plural wife of Joseph Smith looms larger than Eliza Roxy Snow-Smith. A prominent defender of her polygamous relationship to Joseph Smith she, of course, carries her own controversy; the controversy of losing a pregnancy from being pushed down the stairs by Emma Smith. Brian Hales doesn’t shy away from this one either. Once again, using primary documents, Hales shows that this story is all based on second-hand information and there are contradictory dates and problems with how the story is portrayed with regards to the placement of the stairs; not necessarily an open and shut case.
However, I did speak with Edward Kimball, one of Signature Books editors, about the stairs incident. Could the stairs in which Eliza R. Snow-Smith was pushed down have been the stairs outside the front door of the Smith home?
THE TEMPLE ENDOWMENT AND POLYGAMY
Most of the Nauvoo polygamists had received their temple endowments prior to being introduced to the teaching of polygamy. I am not sure where this idea came from, but I have had the impression that Nauvoo polygamists were always part of the Quorum of the Anointed prior to being introduced to polygamy; almost like the Endowment was treated as a testing ground of whether or not one could be trusted with such a big secret as polygamy.
I seem to be incorrect in that Emma Smith did not receive her endowments until September 28, 1843, four months after she accepted polygamy. But this does still bother me as Joseph and Emma had been sealed only three month earlier – after many of Joseph’s other polygamous sealings. Therefore, Joseph and Emma’s sealing as well as Emma’s endowment can be interpreted as a reward for her accepting Joseph’s polygamous relationships.
The other idea I had firmly entrenched in my mind was that all sealings that occurred in Nauvoo were only polygamous sealings. Once again I was proven wrong. On March 24, 1844 Joseph Smith sealed Lorenzo Brown to his legal wife, Frances Crosby, in a monogamous eternal marriage ceremony. Benjamin F. Johnson was sealed monogamously to his legal wife by Joseph Smith (Hales, 173). Hyrum Smith sealed Rhoda Ann Marvn Fullmer to her husband, David Fullmer, monogamously (Hales, 173). David Scott, in January 1844 wrote to his daughter asking her to be present when he was sealed to her mother and his legal wife in a non-polygamous ceremony (Hales, 173). Hyrum Smith performed a monogamous sealing for Howard Coray and Martha Jane Knowlton Coray; Howard Coray in fact did not marry polygamously for nine more years (Hales, 182). Wilford Woodruff recorded in his journal on Novembe 11, 1843 that Hyrum Smith sealed Wilford to his legal wife, Pehebe W. Carter Woodruff, in a non-polygamous ceremony (Hales, 183). That being said, it appears that in general, most that did enter into polygamy during Joseph’s lifetime, were first sealed to their second wife before being sealed to their legal wife; John Taylor being an example of this. John Taylor was sealed to his first polygamous wife on December 1843, a month prior to being sealed to his legal wife (Hales, 153).
THE NAUVOO RELIEF SOCIETY
In 2011 the LDS Church published a history of the Female Relief Society entitled, Daughters in My Kingdom: The History and Work of the Relief Society. One of the criticisms that it brought was the huge lacuna in the history presented. On page 182, under the title, “Important Events in the History of Relief Society”, there is a 20-year gap between July 1847 and the year 1867. These missing years of the Relief Society are also seen in chapters 3 and 4 of the same book. Chapter 3 begins with, “On June 27, 1844…” and chapter 4 starts with, “On December 26, 1866, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles met…[and] expressed desire to reestablish the Relief Societies throughout the Church.” What happened to the Relief Society during this period of 20 years? Brian Hales offers some insight with the following second-hand documentation:
“…It was at a relief society meeting, Aunt Emma was then pre[sident] of the relief society. She (Bathsheeba) said that Aunt Emma said to the ladies present, ‘Ladies a great evil is creeping into the church, and we as honorable women should use every honorable mea[n]s to combat this evil and protect the sanctity [sic] of the people and our homes” (Mary Smith, Daughter of Apostel George A. Smith and Bathsheba Smith, February 11, 1843).
Now Hales interprets the “great evil” as being John C. Bennett’s spiritual wifery; which Hales sees as being separate from Joseph Smith’s teaching on polygamy. He then goes on to quote Bathsheba Smith, and this time Hales interprets Bathsheba’s quote as pertaining to Joseph Smith’s polygamy and not Bennett’s spiritual wifery:
“Emma Smith said in my presence, to me and others who were present upon the occasion, ‘Your husbands are going to take more wives, and unless you consent to it, you must put your foot down and keep it there.’ Much more was said in regard to plural marriage at the time by Sister Emma Smith, who seemed opposed to the principle” (Bathseba W. Smith, Affidavit, November 19, 1903).
Hales then quotes Bathsheeba Smith later saying:
“I heard it discussed a good many times by different ones and I remember Sister Emma Smith speaking about it at one time about as plain as anybody…And she said if we permitted it, our husbands would be taking more wives than one, and if we did not like [it], we should be taking a determined stand against it…She said that our husbands, – some of them, – were intending to take more wives, and if we did not put down our feet and be determined, they would do it” (Bathsheba Smith, Deposition, Temple Lot Transcript, Respondent’s Testimony, Part 3, pp. 291, 313, questions 14, 466).
Hales then quotes a second hand statement:
“Female Relief Society of Nauvoo was organized March 17th, 1842. Emma Smith Presidentess at which Aidah Clements, was a member she also worked for the Prophets family and says Emma, became very much allarmed concerning the Revelation on Celestial marraige [sic] which Joseph received, and set her hand and mind to uproot it, by counselling the sisters that if they knew of any such work a going on, to burst open dores open, &c” (John Boice and Mary Ann Barzee Boice, “Record, 1884-85,” 178-79).
What do these quotes have to do with the gap in the historical narrative presented in an official LDS publication? Hales states:
“The introduction of plural marriage may have contributed to the cessation of official Relief Society gatherings” (Hale, 126).
He then quotes Historian Jill Mulvay Derr:
“In 1841, plural marriage developed along with the fledgling Relief Society and likely contributed to its disbandment in 1844. The practice united and divided Mormon women almost simultaneously” (Jill Mulvay Derr, “Strength in Our Union’: The Making of Mormon Sisterhood, 161).
In chapter 31, Hales deals extensively with William and Jane Law. In doing so, he offers five plausible interpretations of the relationship between the Laws and Joseph Smith
- Jane Law approached Joseph Smith seeking to be sealed to him.
- Joseph Smith approached Jane Law inviting her to be sealed to him.
- Joseph Smith approached Jane Law seeking to seduce her.
- Joseph or Emma suggested a “wife swap” between the two couples. This one is a popular explanation for the cryptic statement in Doctrine & Covenants 132:51 where it instructs Emma Smith to “stay herself and partake not of that which I commanded you to offer unto her.”
- Joseph Smith secretly sealed William and Jane Law to each other, but they rebelled anyway.
All of these possibilities are backed by historical evidence. Once again, this is the strength of Hales’ work. He gives you enough primary documents to completely disagree with his conclusions.
Joseph Jackson is one of those characters in Mormon History to whom many seem to give a lot of credibility and I just don’t understand why. Hales does a great job of laying out Jackson’s relationship with Joseph (or lack thereof), once again, by using primary documentation which includes journal entries by William Clayton. It becomes quite obvious that Jackson could not have been a Nauvoo polygamist insider. Yet there are questions and inconsistencies that need answering:
- May 18, 1843 – Jackson meets Joseph Smith.
- May 23, 1843 – William Clayton records Joseph Smith’ appraisal of Jackson: “Jackson is rotten-hearted.”
- December 29, 1843 – Joseph Smith mentions Jackson, for the first time, in his journal.
- A week later (January 1844) – Journal entry notes that Jackson received a commission as an aide in the Nauvoo Legion to Lieutenant General Joseph Smith.
Do you see my confusion? Why would Joseph Smith commission Jackson as an aide in the Nauvoo Legion, if Jackson was “rotten-hearted” and an enemy to Joseph Smith as others record?
COMPILERS OF THE NAMES OF JOSEPH SMITH’S PLURAL WIVES
Hales goes through the history of the compilers (not contemporary with Joseph Smith) of the names of Joseph’s plural wives. They are:
- Vesta Pierce Crawford: In the 1940’s she identified 33 wives.
- Stanley Ivins: In the 1950s he identified 52 wives.
- Fawn Brodie: She was the first to publish a list of Joseph Smith’s plural wives. She identifies 48 wives.
- Daniel Backhman: In 1975 he identified 31 wives.
- D. Michael Quinn: In 1994 he identified 46 wives.
- Todd Compton: In 1996 he identified 33 wives.
- Lyndon Cook: In 2004 he identified 37 wives.
- Richard Bushman: In 2005 he identified 32 wives.
- Gary James Bergera: In 2005 he identified 36 wives.
- H. Michael Marquardt: In 2005 he identified 26 wives.
- Lisle G. Brown: In 2006 he identified 42 wives.
- George D. Smith: In 2006 he identified 33 wives.
- Brian Hales: In 2012 he identified 35 wives.
INTERESTING RANDOM STUFF
- When speaking to modern-day members at Church, most seem surprised that many members during the Nauvoo period saw plurality of wives as being synonymous with Celestial Marriage. On page 166, Hales presents an 1844 affidavit from Navooan, Nathan Tanner, in which Tanner states “…teach the doctrine of Celestial Marriage or plurality of wives…”
- When I started reading this book, I had a question regarding posthumous sealings during the life of Joseph Smith. And to my delight, Hales tackled that question.
- Eliza Maria Partridge received no personal witness of the need to enter plurality at the time of her sealing to Joseph Smith.
- Hales deals with the manuscipt evidence and history of Doctrine and Covenants 132.
- Here is a fun random quote: “And I do declare in the presance [sic] of God and these witnesses that I chose Him above all others, if it is not my privelage to be sealed to Jesus Christ…” – Augusta Adams Cobb on her sealing to Joseph Smith. What the heck she meant, I don’t know.
- Who was the first baby born from a sealed polygamous marriage? Adelber Kimball, son of Heber C. Kimball and Sarah Peak Kimball (Hales, pg. 174).
- Joseph Smith married Austin Cowles’ daugher, Elvira, polygamously in June, 1843, even though Austin Cowles was opposed to polygamy (Hales, 144). Did Cowles know about this or was he unaware?
- It appears that as early as 1841, some of the Twelve Apostles were taught about polygamy. Hales includes in this list the following: Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, George A. Smith, Willard Richards, and Orson Pratt (Hales, 207). However, they were probably not the first men to be taught the principle; the historical record indicating that the first men to be taught about polygamy were Joseph Bates Noble (1840) and Cyrus Wheelock (1840-early 1841) (see chapter 9 of volume 1).
- In August 12, 1843 the revelation on polygamy was read to the Nauvoo High Council. This is two years after at least six of the Twelve Apostles had been taught about it.
- Eliza R. Snow began using the name Eliza R. Snow Smith, towards the end of her life and never used the last name Young, despite marrying Brigham Young after Joseph Smith’s death (Hales, 258).
- After Joseph Smith died, twenty-nine women were sealed to him posthumasouly in the Nauvoo Temple (Hales, 271).
- Lorenzo Snow had Fanny Alger sealed to Joseph Smith in a proxy sealing in the Salt Lake Temple in 1899 (Hales, 275).
- On December 23, 1843 Mary Fielding Smith (wife of Hyrum Smith) performed women’s ordinance work under the direction of Emma Smith (Hales, 448).
The appendices in volume two are a treasure trove. I found Appendix B and C and H especially useful. Appendix B gives a quick reference for evidences of pural marriages for each of Joseph Smith’s plural wives. Appendix C looks at the different databases dealing with plural marriage in Nauvoo with photos and primary documents in the handwriting of people like Benjamin Johnson. Appendix H gives a quick chronology of notable events in LDS Church History. These types of quick chronological histories help me reframe things as I tend to get so engrossed in the details of a certain history, that I lose the broader view of things. Page 443 of Appendix H had something I found super interesting. The first proxy sealing to have occurred was on May 29, 1843 when Hyrum Smith was sealed to his deceased wife, Jerusha, with his live wife, Mary Fielding Smith, acting as proxy.
One of the criticisms I do have is Hales’ use of the word “restoration” in the context of plural marriage. Regardless where one sits on the Mormon faith spectrum, I believe a more neutral term should be used in a scholarly discussion of such a heated and emotional subject. In speaking of Joseph Smith restoring plural marriage, one can be put-off if one is not a traditional-believing Mormon.
Another criticism I have is Hales’ interpretation of Lucy Walker’s quoting Joseph Smith saying, “that it [plural marriage] would be an everlasting blessing to my father’s house, and form a chain that could never be broken, worlds without end”(Hales, 18). Hales states the following on page 22:
“A closer reading shows that it was the “principle” of sealing the human family into a chain, not Lucy’s marriage to the Prophet, that constituted the source of the “blessing to [her] father’s house.” Joseph was referring to the sealing authority that allows families to be bound together into a “chain” composed of sealings of parents to children back to Adam, which brings eternal blessings” (Hales, 22).
Lucy Walker was seventeen at the time and parentless. To me the statement seems more to be ecclesiastical manipulation. But in this, we find the strength of Hale’s work. He provides us with the primary documents that allows one to develop evidences and conclusions other than what he does.
Sometimes within the text it becomes confusing when he is quoting from the same person, but from two different time periods on the same subject matter. A clearer delineation needs to be made so as not to appear that Hales is purposefully being deceitful, which he is not.
On page 39 Hales attempts to show Joseph Smith condemning “spiritual wifery” but is falls flat for me. Hales argues that Joseph used the term “spiritual wifery” exclusively when speaking of the shenanigans of John C. Bennett. To quote Hales:
“He [Joseph Smith] could make this point because in his teachings, ‘spiritual wifery’ and ‘celestial marriage’ were vastly different practices…”
The difficulty is with the term “spiritual wifery” as it is used by others, faithful to Joseph Smith’s polygamy, to explain Joseph Smith’s polygamy as well as what John C. Bennett was doing in Nauvoo. Hales admits this as being a problem. For example, on page 197, Emily Partridge is quoted as saying, “In the days of Nauvoo the holy order of celestial marriage was in its infancy; it was not taught puclicly, consequently the people generally did not know of it…Spiritual wives, as we were then termed, were not very numerous in those days, and a spritual baby was a rarity indeed.” Hales then quotes Heber C. Kimball: “If you oppose what is called the ‘spiritual wife doctrine,’ the Patriarchal Order, which is of God, that course will corrode you with a spirit of apostacy.”
On pages 158 to 160, Hales addresses Joseph Smith “testing” John Taylor by asking for John Taylor’s wife’s hand in marriage. In his (Hales) construction of the event(s), Hales brings up Michael Quinn’s response to one of Hales’ papers. The reader gets absolutely lost at this point. It is just simply unclear what the point is and specifically there seems to be an assumption that the reader knows to what Quinn was responding at the 2012 Mormon History Association’s annual meeting.
Joseph’s use of subterfuge in the practice of polygamy disturbs many. Hales attempts to use the scriptural account of Abraham, Sarah and Kink Abimelech (Abr. 2:22-25 & Gen. 12:10-12) to show that at times deception is justified. The problem is, that while this may satiate the Bible-believing Christian, it does nothing to satisfy the atheist or secularist. In footnote 15 of page 194, Hales points out the problems that all the subterfuge caused. Here he quotes an 1887 letter to President John Taylor from a newspaperman and future apostle, Charles W. Penrose:
“the endless subterfuges and prevarications which our present condition impose…threaten to make our rising generation a race of deceivers.”
Another problem I see, is Hales using Dennison Lott Harris as a source regarding Joseph’s frustration with plural marriage. The problem? The very oldest that Harris could have been when Joseph disclosed his frustration, was nineteen years old. The other problem? Harris was not a Nauvoo polygamist. So, why would Joseph have confided this to a nineteen year old non-polygamist? The third problem? Harris’ statement is when he was fifty-six years old, thirty-seven years after the martyrdom.
Hales has raised the bar regarding scholarship as it pertains to Nauvoo polygamy. The biggest contribution that he has given, is the idea of time-only plural marriages, eternity-only plural marriages, and time & eternity marriages. I highly recommend this book, but to whom?
This book is not for the casual reader of Mormon history. It deals so much with the idiosycraties of Nauvoo polygamy that I would recommend a more general history at first. Perhaps starting with Richard Bushman’s Rough Stone Rolling as an example. One needs to have an idea of the key player in Nauvoo before diving deep into the quagmire of Nauvoo polygamy.
I went to several Sunstone sessions this past Summer in which Hales was one of the panelists. On more than one occasion I heard him say (I’m paraphrasing here), “When we look at all the historical records, Joseph Smith comes out looking okay and all we really have to deal with is our discomfort with polygamy itself.” While I undestand from where he is coming, I do disagree a bit and Hales provides me with the documentation that allows me to disagree; that is the great strength of his scholarship. However, Hales’ books thus far have made me look at my pre-conceived notions and assumption regarding Joseph Smith’s polygamy and has caused a paradigm shift in my views. Richard Bushman was correct when he stated: “Polygamy is an interesting thing because it serves as a Rorschach test. People project onto Joseph Smith and polygamists their own sense about human nature.” What I have learned through my studies is that we must never stop asking questions. Or as Zina Peterson, BYU professor and daughter of Hugh Nibley, put it:
“…My dad use to say that if you ever come to an answer to a question that tries to stop all the other questions, you aren’t thinking hard enough. Because any answer that puts a stop to other questions is just cheating. It’s just a bully. It’s not actually giving you any knowledge …”(Dr. Zina Peterson, Mormon Matters podcast, episode 163; 21:26)
A good scholarly book will not only answer questions, but will lead the reader to more. This is what Brian Hales’ work on Joseph Smith’s polygamy has done for me so far.
…now onto volume 3.
Excellent and thorough review Michael.
Great review. Sounds like Hales did his best to put lipstick on this pig. Everything about Nauvoo polygamy is deplorable. And even if one believes the practice was condoned by God, there is no denying Joseph did not practice it properly, meaning in compliance with D&C 132. He was supposed to be marrying virgins with Emma’s consent and producing offspring. Not marrying in secret, running around with other men’s wives and failing to produce children (that we know of anyway). Can’t wait to see this doctrine restored someday.
Thanks for the review. I am rereading your “issues” your were hoping to be addressed at the top, trying to figure out if you meant Hyrum to be Joseph’s older brother, as he was. It sounds like you wrote Hyrum was his younger brother. Not a big deal. Again, enjoyed the review. I started with volume 3. When I finish it I will read 1 & 2.
You know, the effort that Hales put into his research is impressive. Ditto with the effort that was put into this review.
But I have yet to find anyone, no matter how well-researched, who can convince me that Joseph Smith was a liar. Who can provide contemporary, primary sources of Joseph’s willingness to lie, either in word or act. To say one thing, and do another. Or to be secretive.
I’ve yet to see any evidence, affidavits or otherwise, of Joseph’s polygamy that were recorded before polygamy was threatened from the outside. God is pretty heavy into record-keeping. It just doesn’t seem congruent that He would have such a meticulous record of the loss of the 116, (which Joseph published!), and yet not a word of Joseph’s failing to carry out the supposed command of polygamy.
As far as I understand (and I’d love to see hard evidence otherwise) every affidavit or statement we have are from people who had powerful conflicts of interest: i.e. stood to lose home & hearth, or were under heavy pressure from beloved church leaders who were currently practicing polygamy. In a court of law, witnesses who have strong motives outside of the pursuit of truth to answer a certain way are looked at with a great deal of suspicion, if not dismissed entirely.
The simple fact is this: we have D&C 3. Joseph was OPEN with his failings. He used that mistake to teach the Saints. He said, boldly and clearly, “I made this my rule: when the Lord commands, do it.” This was before the principles behind 132 were supposedly first received. How on earth could Joseph continue with the Book of Mormon, continue prophesying, leading the people and so clearly carrying the prophetic mantle if he was under condemnation? It makes no sense, when God moved so quickly, made the consequences so immediate and clear, with the 116 pages, and got on Joseph’s case in section 3.
There are two underlying beliefs to choose from:
Joseph Smith was a liar.
The evidence for this would be his practicing of polygamy, and the coverups and secrecy surrounding it.
Joseph Smith was an honest man.
We have account after account after account where Joseph’s integrity, his honesty, was unblemished. It saved him time after time in the spurious charges brought against him.
“Thou shalt not lie” is a pretty big deal to God. Joseph is our dispensation head. Dishonesty isn’t something he could participate in, and still stand in favor before God. God doesn’t command us to do things that require dishonesty. LDS historians have fallen all over themselves to build a case for why polygamy was okay, and to convince everyone that Joseph did, in fact, practice it. But it just doesn’t add up. The practice of polygamy reaped horrific deformities in Mormon culture–in social discourse, in a lack of open and clear communication, in the utter lack of a basic level of trust between brothers and sisters, in the constant and deep fear of exposure and attack. How was that God’s will for His people?
I choose to believe that Joseph was an honest man. And that opens up a whole host of other questions. 🙂
Annalea, I’m confused. Are you saying that Joseph Smith didn’t practice polygamy (i.e. it was introduced by Brigham Young and Joseph Smith’s reputation was sullied)? Or that Joseph never lied about it?