On this episode, we continue to examine the recent essays released by the Mormon church on polygamy in early church practices. The first essay told us how the church arduously stopped polygamy, but didn't talk about Joseph Smith very much. Well that's what the second essay was for. The church titled it, "Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo". The church finally came out and talked about Joe's 30 to 40 wives and it is a doooozie! This episode is packed with way more information than I initially thought it would be, when I first started researching the 3000 word essay. I hope you enjoy!
Welcome to this the seventh episode of the Naked Mormonism podcast, I'm Bryce Blankenagel and thank you for joining me. Last episode covered the first of two essays that the church released in relation to polygamy. The first essay was titled 'The Manifesto and the end of plural marriages'. This essay talked about the church's practice of muli-wivery shortly leading up to 1890 when the manifesto was released, and shortly thereafter. There were a lot of fun things to examine in it so if you missed episode6, I highly recommend going back and checking it out. It helps to provide context for today's episodes, and I may even reference it occassionally. If you only want to know about Joseph Smith's wives, this is the episode for you. We're going to read the second essay today.
Latter-day Saints believe that monogamy—the marriage of one man and one woman—is the Lord’s standing law of marriage.
The first line in and I already have a problem with what it says. Let's have a look at doctrine and covenants section 132 to see if we can verify what the essay just claimed. D&C 132 is the revelation given to Joe concerning polygamy and verse 4 says
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.
Well, if the standing law of marriage is supposedly one man to one woman, why is the revelation on polygamy claiming to be an everlasting covenant? This revelation was given through Joe, on July 1843, but even the header for this section on the lds.org website says evidence indicates that some of the principles involved in this revelation were known by the Prophet as early as 1831 so they were practicing it well before the revelation was given in written form. So how can the church possibly make the claim it just now made, that comprised the first sentence of this essay?! The standing law of marriage for the latter day saints, is polygamy that is under momentary suspension. If you want to see what I'm saying, read D&C 132 for yourself. It's right on the lds website and I have to admit, it's pretty hilarious, and kinda fucked up too. Regardless, the first line needed to be refuted, let's persist.
In biblical times, the Lord commanded some of His people to practice plural marriage—the marriage of one man and more than one woman.2 Some early members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also received and obeyed this commandment given through God’s prophets.
A common Christian apologetic to polygamy in the bible is "Well, god never explicitly commanded it, it was just a different time back then. Regardless, polygamy and polyandry are rife throughout the bible, which is unapologetic about it, and yet, polygamy is repeatedly condemned throughout the Book of Mormon. It seems like an odd paradigm of rediculousness and pots calling kettles black. The church also just claimed that polygamy was a commandment given through God's prophets in biblical times. I don't recall that anywhere in the bible. I'll have to assume that it's talking about the God of the bible here, even though Mormonism is clearly not Christianity.
I actually had a listener email me about this. I believe they were a little displeased with my conflation of Yahweh to Elohim. They mentioned that the LDS church likes to piggyback on Chrisitanity for the sake of borrowing credibility. I whole heartedly agree to this proposition. It's kind of the reason we have plagerism and patent laws, you can't legally manufacture and sell a rolex because you're stealing the credibility of the 'Rolex' name without the companies expressed written consent. But, in the same way a band can cover a classic public domain song, and sell it as their own, with very little creative initiative, Christianity has been repackaged thousands of times to sell a new product, or a new version of Jesus. That is precisely what happened with the LDS church with Christianity. Joe needed some credibility, so he told everyone that Jesus Christ and Heavenly Father (Elohim) appeared to him in the woods and gave him the exclusive rights to the only true church. This has happened countless times, where a single man goes off into the wilderness and receives revelation from god, and suddenly becomes the mouthpiece of god to guide the world to new salvation. In fact, the bible is full of prophets just like that, as is the BoM. Regardless, the distinction does need to be made that Mormonism does not hold to almost all the usual tenants of Christianity, nor does it teach that heaven is attainable only through Jesus Christ, like most liberal Christians believe now, whatever it means. I'm not going to go into detail on Mormon doctrine and perceptions of God for a little while, but I will do a fairly comprehensive analysis of the similarities and differences between Yahweh and Elohim, and Jesus and Joseph. So thank you Jimmy for that critique.
After receiving a revelation commanding him to practice plural marriage, Joseph Smith married multiple wives and introduced the practice to close associates. This principle was among the most challenging aspects of the Restoration—for Joseph personally and for other Church members. Plural marriage tested faith and provoked controversy and opposition. Few Latter-day Saints initially welcomed the restoration of a biblical practice entirely foreign to their sensibilities. But many later testified of powerful spiritual experiences that helped them overcome their hesitation and gave them courage to accept this practice.
Although the Lord commanded the adoption—and later the cessation—of plural marriage in the latter days, He did not give exact instructions on how to obey the commandment. Significant social and cultural changes often include misunderstandings and difficulties. Church leaders and members experienced these challenges as they heeded the command to practice plural marriage and again later as they worked to discontinue it after Church President Wilford Woodruff issued an inspired statement (Not revelation, but 'inspired statement') known as the Manifesto in 1890, which led to the end of plural marriage in the Church. Through it all, Church leaders and members sought to follow God’s will.
Many details about the early practice of plural marriage are unknown. Plural marriage was introduced among the early Saints incrementally, and participants were asked to keep their actions confidential. They did not discuss their experiences publicly or in writing until after the Latter-day Saints had moved to Utah and Church leaders had publicly acknowledged the practice. The historical record of early plural marriage is therefore thin: few records of the time provide details, and later reminiscences are not always reliable. Some ambiguity will always accompany our knowledge about this issue. Like the participants, we “see through a glass, darkly” and are asked to walk by faith.3
The Beginnings of Plural Marriage in the Church
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.4 The revelation, recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 132, states that Joseph prayed to know why God justified Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, and Solomon in having many wives. The Lord responded that He had commanded them to enter into the practice.5
Latter-day Saints understood that they were living in the latter days, in what the revelations called the “dispensation of the fulness of times.”6 Ancient principles—such as prophets, priesthood, and temples—would be restored to the earth. Plural marriage was one of those ancient principles.
Remember how I pointed out when it called the manifesto an "inspired statement" instead of revelation? That's because the Church left the loophole open when they released the manifesto 1 and 2. There was never any divine revelation that renounced polygamy as a sin, or said that it shouldn't be practiced, that's because it was an ancient commandment given to the ancient Judeo-Christian prophets, and it was restored to the earth by a revelation through Joseph Smith. If they officially renounce polygamy, any little credibility that Joe has left, goes out with the bath water, and the claim of 'restoring' the original gospel to the earth becomes completely moot. In my little bit of research for this podcast, I have come to a conclusion. The church has a very strong public relations department, and they're really good at trying not to overstep any boundaries. Well, unfortunately, Joe didn't share these sentiments. He was abraisive, polarizing, and literally did whatever the fuck he wanted and called it revelation from god. I honestly think that Joseph Smith is the most challenging thing to happen to the church. His repeated flaunting of, what most considered, christian morals and teachings has made him the worst part of Mormon history. If the church could somehow renounce Joe and still survive, it would be the best thing for them, and it would make PR a lot easier, because they wouldn't have to answer for his crimes. And when I say crimes, I don't mean the word lightly, Joe was a criminal and a societal pariah throughout many times in his life, so much so that people wanted him dead to the point that they shot him like a rat in a cage, in carthage jail. Of course, he killed two others at the same time because somebody smuggled a pistol in to him, but still, he was hated by anybody that didn't follow him or his teachings. But that was just a little aside that I wanted to mention, it doesn't really have a lot to do with the letter itself.
Polygamy had been permitted for millennia in many cultures and religions, but, with few exceptions, was rejected in Western cultures.7 In Joseph Smith’s time, monogamy was the only legal form of marriage in the United States. Joseph knew the practice of plural marriage would stir up public ire. After receiving the commandment, he taught a few associates about it, but he did not spread this teaching widely in the 1830s.8
Hmmm, he knew polygamy would stir up public ire? What might possibly lead him to that conclusion? Possibly because it was considered a babarous act in 'western cultures', sharing equivalent moral standing with cannibalism, scalping, and infanticide. Now, I don't necessarily agree, but I do believe that polygamy, as we understand it in the context found in the early Mormon church, is a tell-tale sign of a less developed society. I think that polyandry can be practiced in a non-barbarous manner, but when polygamy is insconced in a mesongynistic and patriarchal society, that's a sure sign of a horny cult leader snatching up all the pussy he can.
When God commands a difficult task, He sometimes sends additional messengers to encourage His people to obey. (That sounds a little mafia like) Consistent with this pattern, Joseph told associates that an angel appeared to him three times between 1834 and 1842 and commanded him to proceed with plural marriage when he hesitated to move forward. During the third and final appearance, the angel came with a drawn sword, threatening Joseph with destruction unless he went forward and obeyed the commandment fully.9
Let's just take a step back for a second and examine that. The first revelation through Joe we can find that talks about plural marriages, is actually from July 17, 1831. This is an excerpt from a document that was recovered in 1974 concerning some interesting early Mormon doctrine. I'll just read the most pertinent part for now.
Verily I say unto you that the wisdom of man in his fallen state, knoweth not the purposes and the privileges of my holy priesthood. but ye shall know when ye receive a fulness by reason of the anointing: For it 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.
This document was very tightly concealed in the church history archives, with only a few copies held by higher ups in the priesthood, until knowledge of it was realized and persistence to aquire it was made. Unfortunately, nobody had any way to record the exact revelation as it was given, when it was given. However, the document that's available, is basically a recollection soon after it happened, by one of the 8 people in the room. Not only that, but there was a newspaper article reporting a similar revelation barely six months after it was supposedly given, so there are concurring evidences of this being the first documented declaration of plural marriage. It didn't really sound like he was under angelic duress when he said that. In fact, it sounded like he was quite pleased with himself for coming up with the idea to start turning the native americans into caucasians, cuz that is totally a thing.
The inference that this was a declaration of polygamy is noted by the fact that every man in the room was married at the time, and William Wines Phelps recorded this about the incident:
About three years after this was given, I asked brother Joseph [Smith, Jr.] privately, how "we," that were mentioned in the revelation could take wives from the "natives"—as we were all married men? He replied instantly "In th[e] same manner that Abraham took Hagar and Katurah [Keturah]; and Jacob took Rachel Bilhah and Zilpah: by revelation—the saints of the Lord are always directed by revelation."10
That's so fantastic. You see, the one thing I love about the mormon church, is it's documentation. What I mean is, when you try to examine a lot of religions and their foundations, it's easy to get lost in all the bias that inherently exists when researching any historical topic through a retrospective lense. Luckily for us, the church was born during an age of press freedom and nearly obsessive documenting of events. Not only can we read what the reported history is, but we can also see what the people that were actually there said, quoted in verbatim. This allows us to strip off, at least some of the bias that exists throughout the recorded history, even if my analysis of the history, has a bias of it's own, at least the facts get through.
Anyway, as for the other instances that the essay eluded to between 1834 and 1842, we'll talk about those when we get to the polygamy motherload episodes.
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.10 Little is known about this marriage, and nothing is known about the conversations between Joseph and Emma regarding Alger. 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.
Ooooh kay. There was some interesting information couched in that last paragraph. Fanny Alger is the first girl we have evidence of, as being a plural wife to Joe, but there were a lot of allegations of Joe getting frisky with a lot of girls, starting with Emma's best friend Eliza Winters in 1827. Now of course the evidence is a little sparse, but I intend to cover it in the storyline. But, there are some quotes by Joe and those around him that seem to substantiate Joe flirting with his wife's bff right after they were married. Let's not kid ourselves, Joe wasn't the pious, MoMo do-gooder that most Mormon's picture him as. He was a genius alpha male with a prophet complex; and high sexual vitality, and often times agression, usually accompany that personality type. Any assertion of Joe's chastity, at any time during his career, completely falls apart, and is simply wrong, and that's exactly what the church claimed in the last paragraph.
Plural Marriage and Eternal Marriage
The same revelation that taught of plural marriage was part of a larger revelation given to Joseph Smith—that marriage could last beyond death and that eternal marriage was essential to inheriting the fulness that God desires for His children. (This refers to D&C 132, which has all kinds of revelations in it, including telling Emma that she can't cheat on Joe, but he can plural marry as many wives as he wants. Diabolical isn't it?) As early as 1840, Joseph Smith privately taught Apostle Parley P. Pratt that the “heavenly order” allowed Pratt and his wife to be together “for time and all eternity.”11 Joseph also taught that men like Pratt—who had remarried following the death of his first wife—could be married (or sealed) to their wives for eternity, under the proper conditions. (More from section 132)
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.13 Marriages performed by priesthood authority could link loved ones to each other for eternity, on condition of righteousness; marriages performed without this authority would end at death.
Any Never-Mormon listeners should know this is refferring to the Mormon temple marriages and being "sealed" to your spouse. When two true believing mormons are in love, and want to bewed each other, they have to start the process by having a clean sexual record. That means one of two things. Either they are virgins getting married, which must inevitably end in the worst possible, anti-climatic, and massively dissatisfying apex of just, an overplayed biological act that, ends up terminating the best day your eternity. And I do mean it when I refer to Mormon marriage day as the best day of ones eternity because that's the biggest part about marriage in the church. It lasts FOREVER!!! Or, it could also mean that you and your fiance talk to your bishop about all the deep-DARK-NASTY-SLIMY shit you've done together in the bedroom. Please don't think I'm exaggerating when I say the bishop asks you for details and determines your level of needed repentence, based off what you report in this meeting. Things that should be completely between a couple and nobody else, are discussed in a room full to the brim with palpable shame, and the punishment that follows usually involves; not taking the sacrament in church, which basically marks you as shameful to all the people sitting around you, release from church duties, revocation of temple recommend, or a whole host of other things all involving overwhelming shame.
So once the couple is prepared and has a sexually clean slate, they both have to be temple recommend holders. A large percentage of TBM's, that remain consistently active in the church, have these temple membership cards as basic proof of being able to perform temple duties. One of the contigent requirements for having a temple recommend is having paid a "full and honest tithe", meaning you are completely caught up on any back tithing and are planning on continuing to pay this the entire time you hold the recommend. And of course, they have tithing settlement at the end of the year which pretty much amounts to the bishop auditing you to make sure you are indeed paying 10 percent of your income. If you don't essentially settle up and can't answer yes to the "Is this a full and honest tithe?" question, the temple recommend is revoked until you catch up.... Do you see the cycle of indoctrination?
So, on with our temple recommend holding, hypothetical 'to be married' couple. Upon arriving at wedding day, the couple goes in to the temple, along with any family that holds a temple recommend, and performs the marriage ceremony, which is coupled with the sealing ceremony. That last part is the key to the whole 'eternity' part of the marriage, and that is why I brought this whole thing up. It said, in the last paragraph, that Joe taught an individual named Parley P. Pratt that he would be married to his dead wife in heaven, once he died, but the lord would allow for him to marry and be sealed again while on earth and take another wife with him into eternity.
This is the way that the church still practices polygamy today. Any man that is married, AND SEALED, to a wife, gets her up in heaven forever. It doesn't matter how many times he has been married, he gets all the women he married, even if he divorced them.
This also illustrates why so many non-mormons don't like to attend mormon weddings. Often times, the non-mormon family members wait out in the parking lot of the temple while the marriage ceremony is performed for, paying customers only, and the newlyweds come out of the church with a smug fuckin grin on their face knowing that they are with each other for eternity, and they get to muddy-fuck, that clean slate they've been working for so long to keep unblemished. But to the friends and family that have been waiting in the parking lot for an hour, they just get to see the after effects and the reception. No watching the bride walk down the aisle to be given away by her father, no ring swap, no kids running around and being annoying, no "You may now kiss the bride", no crowd with soggy tissues, they get nothing! I never noticed this in my family, probably because we were all devoutly mormon, but I have heard it being a major point of contention with mixed faith families. These situations are probably made worse when a member of a chrisitian family, leaves their faith to convert to mormonism, just to get married in the temple, all because the TBM bride/groom to be, had a Joseph Smith stick marinating waaay too far up their anus.
Anyway, that was just a couple of points I wanted to make, and a little insight I wanted to give, about the day-to-day church doctrine, any never-mormon listeners. Let's get back to the letter to see what else pisses me off.
Marriage performed by priesthood authority meant that the procreation of children and perpetuation of families would continue into the eternities. Joseph Smith’s revelation on marriage declared that the “continuation of the seeds forever and ever” helped to fulfill God’s purposes for His children.15 This promise was given to all couples who were married by priesthood authority and were faithful to their covenants.
That was the churches way of telling everybody about the whole marriage is FOREVER thing. Not that marriage ends at death, nor that marriage lasts any significant amount of time like the age of the universe (13.7 BY and beyond). IT LASTS FOREVER. Throughout the entirety of the cosmos and the creation and destruction of countless universes, if you subscribe to a multiverse theory anyway, YOU'RE STUCK WITH THE SAME PERSON!!! Can anybody really imagine that? Our brains haven't evolved to truly comprehend one million yet, and Mormons believe that they will be married to the same person for countless millions and billions and trillions of earth years?? I'm sorry if I sound riled up or if this rant sounds pointless, but I'm just a little displeased that I used to believe in this patently absurd nonesense! I seriously cannot make heads or tails of, what I used to consider fact, and what I considered to be part of my faith and, therefore exempt from factual analysis. (time capsule story if it feels right)
Plural Marriage in Nauvoo
For much of Western history, family “interest”—economic, political, and social considerations—dominated the choice of spouse. Parents had the power to arrange marriages or forestall unions of which they disapproved. (Kinda like Isaac Hale tried to do with Joe and Emma's marriage) By the late 1700s, romance and personal choice began to rival these traditional motives and practices.16 By Joseph Smith’s time, many couples insisted on marrying for love, as he and Emma did when they eloped against her parents’ wishes. (Well, I didn't think they would just come out and own up to that but okay)
Latter-day Saints’ motives for plural marriage were often more religious than economic or romantic. Besides the desire to be obedient, a strong incentive was the hope of living in God’s presence with family members. In the revelation on marriage, the Lord promised participants “crowns of eternal lives” and “exaltation in the eternal worlds.”17 Men and women, parents and children, ancestors and progeny were to be “sealed” to each other—their commitment lasting into the eternities, consistent with Jesus’s promise that priesthood ordinances performed on earth could be “bound in heaven.”
This referres to the bible scripture that's almost solely used to justify temple sealings.
Matthew 18:18 Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
I remember studying temple ordinances in sunday school class, and this scripture reference was given to me when I asked why people had to be sealed in the temple. It made sense when I was 11, and it doesn't make sense now... I must be getting dumber or something....
The first plural marriage in Nauvoo took place when Louisa Beaman and Joseph Smith were sealed in April 1841. (For some reason it didn't even talk about the marriages before 1841, it just conveniently skipped over those) Joseph married many additional wives and authorized other Latter-day Saints to practice plural marriage. The practice spread slowly at first. By June 1844, when Joseph died, approximately 29 men and 50 women had entered into plural marriage, in addition to Joseph and his wives. (If we add Joe to that statistic, it becomes 30 men and possibly 90 women. No doubt, Joe was top dawg in the community when it came to having lots of chicks) When the Saints entered the Salt Lake Valley in 1847, at least 196 men and 521 women had entered into plural marriages.20 Participants in these early plural marriages pledged to keep their involvement confidential, though they anticipated a time when the practice would be publicly acknowledged.
This, among other motivations, is pretty much why they moved to God-forsaken Salt Lake in the first place, because nobody wanted to settle it, and they knew nobody would bother them way out there. But, they obviously were practicing it as a commandment from God and knew that He would provide a way for them to follow his commandments, even if it was illegal at the time.
Nevertheless, rumors spread. A few men unscrupulously used these rumors to seduce women to join them in an unauthorized practice sometimes referred to as “spiritual wifery.” When this was discovered, the men were cut off from the Church.21 The rumors prompted members and leaders to issue carefully worded denials that denounced spiritual wifery and polygamy but were silent about what Joseph Smith and others saw as divinely mandated “celestial” plural marriage.22 The statements emphasized that the Church practiced no marital law other than monogamy while implicitly leaving open the possibility that individuals, under direction of God’s living prophet, might do so.
That was the LDS.org way of saying what I said last episode. The spiritual wifery being unauthorized, and the "statements emphasized that the church only practiced monogamy", is referring to the first and second manifesto that we covered. And it even said in this last paragraph that "individuals under direction of God's living prophet might do so"(meaning polygamize). And it's still open TODAY!! That it just said, in so many words, that people today can practice polygamy if it is authorized! Let me reitterate my position on polyandry. I don't have a problem with it, if it's consentual! But when it comes to a system engineered for a single alpha male having a stable of broodmares that he arbitrarily controls, that isn't informed consent and it's downright fuckin wrong! When we get deep into polygamy, we will read some testimonies of women that were practicing it, and hopefully that will offer some insight into the reality of polygamy. Just keep in mind that the church never forbade polygamy, it just put it on hold for a while....
Joseph Smith and Plural Marriage
During the era in which plural marriage was practiced, Latter-day Saints distinguished between sealings for time and eternity and sealings for eternity only. Sealings for time and eternity included commitments and relationships during this life, generally including the possibility of sexual relations. Eternity-only sealings indicated relationships in the next life alone.
I don't know where the church is getting that claim from. I doubt that the records indicate a distinction between "time and eternity" and just "eternity" for that purpose. It may have some scribal shortcuts, because "eternity" kind of includes "time" in it, so it's just dually implicit to say "time and eternity" and therefore understandable if some scribes truncated the term. That was a baseless claim made with no evidence for or against it, at least no evidence I have come across, it's merely twisting the meaning to make things look better than they actually are. The church frequently does this when it has to talk about the historical Joseph.
Evidence indicates that Joseph Smith participated in both types of sealings. The exact number of women to whom he was sealed in his lifetime is unknown because the evidence is fragmentary.24 Some of the women who were sealed to Joseph Smith later testified that their marriages were for time and eternity, while others indicated that their relationships were for eternity alone.25
Most of those sealed to Joseph Smith were between 20 and 40 years of age at the time of their sealing to him. The oldest, Fanny Young, was 56 years old. The youngest was Helen Mar Kimball, daughter of Joseph’s close friends Heber C. and Vilate Murray Kimball, who was sealed to Joseph several months before her 15th birthday. Marriage at such an age, inappropriate by today’s standards, was legal in that era, and some women married in their mid-teens.26 Helen Mar Kimball spoke of her sealing to Joseph as being “for eternity alone,” suggesting that the relationship did not involve sexual relations.27 After Joseph’s death, Helen remarried and became an articulate defender of him and of plural marriage.
Hmmmm, they just made another factual assertion, so let's look at the facts. One thing I love about examining church history is the relatively recent nature of everything about it. We're still living in the same country, under the same government, that the LDS church was birthed under, and that doesn't happen with most other religions. When you have to register your car, you must have a license, proof of insurance, proof of ownership, and proof of current address. Once you have everything, you have to go to a U.S. Government building in person so they can record that you, in fact, do exist, and you are, indeed, the person that rightfully owns the car you're registering. Well, I just listed one fairly mundane task and 2 private companies and 3, possibly more, government agencies know who you are beyond a shadow of a doubt, and know where you live, and those records exist from that point on.
The reason I bring this up, is, even in the 1830's and 40's the government kept really good records of simple statistics. Like the Singulate Mean age at Marriage or SMAM. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov puts the average marriage age for women between 22.6 and 23.4 years old. The earliest divorce rate I could find was from the 1850's and it put the average rate of divorce at 1.2 per 1000 marriages meaning that not many old people were getting divorced and married which would skew the marriage age statistic toward an older mean age. People were just waiting to get married, much like they are now. And statutory laws were going up all over the country at this time. Maryland among many other states, started passing their individual statutory laws in 1790 making 18 the usual legal age of marriage. Obviously, American society has been relatively conciencious of our maturing age, and by extension the average age of our marriages, have been a social barometer often based on how civilized any given region is, in combination with other societal pressures. The letter said that some women married in their mid-teens, yes some did. Some even do now, age is an interesting statistic to analyze marriage by. What I'm more interested in, is the point where statistics and, legality breakdown, when one man has 40 wives and more than one quarter of them were under 18. At what point, does a person stop being a holy man, and starts to be classified as a serial childfucker? Even muslims consider muhammed's marriage to 9 year old Aesha a holy matrimony. So why should mormonism be any different. Even some biblical scholars, especially Mormon ones, think Jesus had a harom of wives that were just called his followers or 'Train' in the bible.
The point I'm trying to make is history is rife with religious fanatics doing their own unique version of this. It's a piece we can add to the psychological profile we're trying to construct around, this white-hot, ball of charisma that is Joseph Smith. What Joe did in his lifetime, wasn't new by any standards. It was unique, and apparently catchy, because look at the size of it, but the whole thing had been done before by many people, just like him.
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.29 Neither these women nor Joseph explained much about these sealings, though several women said they were for eternity alone.30 Other women left no records, making it unknown whether their sealings were for time and eternity or were for eternity alone.
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.31 These ties extended both vertically, from parent to child, and horizontally, from one family to another. Today such eternal bonds are achieved through the temple marriages of individuals who are also sealed to their own birth families, in this way linking families together. 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 (We'll have to take a look at that. I'm sure SOMETHING is out there. There has to be some dood that was pissed that Joe was gettin frisky with already married women)
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.
When you read D&C 132 51-57, Joe doesn't seem very apologetic about things. In fact, 'The lord thy god' kind of weighs in on a fight between the two of them and helps Joe out of the argument. Let's just read that excerpt
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.
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.
53 For I am the Lord thy God, and ye shall obey my voice; and I give unto my servant Joseph that he shall be made ruler over many things; for he hath been faithful over a few things, and from henceforth I will strengthen him.
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.
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.
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 torejoice.
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 Satanseeketh 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.
I almost wonder if this was God's response to Joe cheating on Emma and their subsequent meltdown after that. He basically said from God's perspective that he can fuck as many people as he wants because it's a commandment of God, but Emma can't, even though he told her that she could earlier. It's kind of hard to piece everything together, simply based off the revelation that Joe gave, but I think a general reconstruction, of the fight, can be summed up like that.
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.34 After this rebuke, according to this interpretation, Joseph returned primarily to sealings with single women. (And with married women, and with virgin teenagers, too)
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.35
The women who united with Joseph Smith in plural marriage risked reputation and self-respect in being associated with a principle so foreign to their culture and so easily misunderstood by others. “I made a greater sacrifice than to give my life,” said Zina Huntington Jacobs, “for I never anticipated again to be looked upon as an honorable woman.” Nevertheless, she wrote, “I searched the scripture & by humble prayer to my Heavenly Father I obtained a testimony for myself.”36 After Joseph’s death, most of the women sealed to him moved to Utah with the Saints, remained faithful Church members, and defended both plural marriage and Joseph.
Some of them actually became Brigham Young's wives, after Joe died, probably because they had nowhere else to go. That's why they went to Utah with the saints. That paragraph ended with an assertion that they defended both plural marriage and Joseph. Of course they did, does anybody really think that these abused women would speak out against their cult? When has that ever happened? They would be thrown out of the society or even possibly killed. Anybody, with any sense of self preservation, did NOT speak out against the church or Brigham Young, or they got a visit from Good ol' Porter Rockwell and the Danites.
Joseph and Emma
Plural marriage was difficult for all involved. For Joseph Smith’s wife Emma, it was an excruciating ordeal. Records of Emma’s reactions to plural marriage are sparse; she left no firsthand accounts, making it impossible to reconstruct her thoughts. Joseph and Emma loved and respected each other deeply. After he had entered into plural marriage, he poured out his feelings in his journal for his “beloved Emma,” whom he described as “undaunted, firm and unwavering, unchangeable, affectionate Emma.” After Joseph’s death, Emma kept a lock of his hair in a locket she wore around her neck.
I almost missed that the first two times I read this through, but her carrying a lock of Joe's hair is SOOOPER occult! It could just be cute and symbolic of him, but human hair is used in plenty of occult rites and rituals, usually concerning a spell or a hex that has something to do with the person whose hair it is. We know that Joe loved his occult practices and I wouldn't put this past him. Let me clearify, there is no record of this, and I'm doing nothing but speculating here. But, I wonder if Joe didn't tell Emma something vague like I'll always be with you in my hair, or something like that. No, that's rediculous. But we know that Joe was methodical in his occult practices to ensure their authenticity so is it so hard to imagine that he told Emma that Joe's eternity spell might not work unless she keeps some part of him with her until she dies? We know Emma was a faithful in keeping Joe's secrets, even on her death bed, so we can reasonably assume that she believed everything Joe said. And if Joe said, that he would have to be always with her, for her salvation to stick, that would offer reasonable explanation of why she had the lock of hair. Maybe I'm reading too deeply into it, or maybe I'm just offering a plausible alternative as to why such a small detail, would be recorded in Mormon histroy.
Emma approved, at least for a time, of four of Joseph Smith’s plural marriages in Nauvoo, and she accepted all four of those wives into her household. She may have approved of other marriages as well. (There were also some that she didn't approve of, which was manifest by her making some of the girls lives a living hell, once they moved in) But Emma likely did not know about all of Joseph’s sealings.40 She vacillated in her view of plural marriage, at some points supporting it and at other times denouncing 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.41 The revelation instructed women and men that they must obey God’s law and commands in order to receive the fulness of His glory. (D&C 132, which we'll read in it's entirety to kick off the full polygamy episodes)
The revelation on marriage required that a wife give her consent before her husband could enter into plural marriage.42 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.43 After Emma opposed plural marriage, 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. Because of Joseph’s early death and Emma’s decision to remain in Nauvoo and not discuss plural marriage after the Church moved west, many aspects of their story remain known only to the two of them.
That's why I was trying to reconstruct the fight Joe and Emma had about polygamy using D&C 132. A lot of good information can be easily ascertained upon rigid examination and a little inference.
Trial and Spiritual Witness
Years later in Utah, participants in Nauvoo plural marriage discussed their motives for entering into the practice. God declared in the Book of Mormon that monogamy was the standard; at times, however, He commanded plural marriage so His people could “raise up seed unto [Him].”44 Plural marriage did result in an increased number of children born to believing parents. (Uh, yea. The catholic church has long since proven that big families tend to follow the same religion and perpetuate more members by sheer breeding force. Now add in the polygamy lifestyle, and you boost numbers like Enron did)
Some Saints also saw plural marriage as a redemptive process of sacrifice and spiritual refinement. According to Helen Mar Kimball, Joseph Smith stated that “the practice of this principle would be the hardest trial the Saints would ever have to test their faith.” Though it was one of the “severest” trials of her life, she testified that it had also been “one of the greatest blessings.”46 Her father, Heber C. Kimball, agreed. “I never felt more sorrowful,” he said of the moment he learned of plural marriage in 1841. “I wept days. … I had a good wife. I was satisfied.”47
The decision to accept such a wrenching trial usually came only after earnest prayer and intense soul-searching. Brigham Young said that, upon learning of plural marriage, “it was the first time in my life that I had desired the grave.”48 “I had to pray unceasingly,” he said, “and I had to exercise faith and the Lord revealed to me the truth of it and that satisfied me.” (Bloody Brigham does tend to play a bit of a historical victim, which is made apparent throughout some of his writings. God commands polygamy, and he doesn't want to do it, but he does it anyway, because that's what god wants. Just like he didn't really want to kill 120 men, women, children, and BABIES, that were just passersby, and steal all their stuff, and THEN, send a bill to the government for having to deal with the situation, but he did because it's what God would have wanted. Holy fuck I cannot WAIT to talk about the Mountain Meadows Massacre) Heber C. Kimball found comfort only after his wife Vilate had a visionary experience attesting to the rightness of plural marriage. “She told me,” Vilate’s daughter later recalled, “she never saw so happy a man as father was when she described the vision and told him she was satisfied and knew it was from God.”50
Lucy Walker recalled her inner turmoil when Joseph Smith invited her to become his wife. “Every feeling of my soul revolted against it,” she wrote. Yet, after several restless nights on her knees in prayer, she found relief as her room “filled with a holy influence” akin to “brilliant sunshine.” She said, “My soul was filled with a calm sweet peace that I never knew,” and “supreme happiness took possession of my whole being.” (Okay, imma be immature for a second here, but that was some 50 shades of grey shit right there, 'Filled with a holy influence'? 'supreme happines took possession of my whole being'??!! That doesn't sound like normal Mormon speak to me, but I guess times are different now. If LDS women talked like that these days, the church would attract a whole new generation of beavis and butthead mentality guys, laughing at all the inuendo!! Digression over)
Not all had such experiences. Some Latter-day Saints rejected the principle of plural marriage and left the Church, while others declined to enter the practice but remained faithful.52Nevertheless, for many women and men, initial revulsion and anguish was followed by struggle, resolution, and ultimately, light and peace. Sacred experiences enabled the Saints to move forward in faith.53
The challenge of introducing a principle as controversial as plural marriage is almost impossible to overstate. A spiritual witness of its truthfulness allowed Joseph Smith and other Latter-day Saints to accept this principle. Difficult as it was, the introduction of plural marriage in Nauvoo did indeed “raise up seed” unto God. A substantial number of today’s members descend through faithful Latter-day Saints who practiced plural marriage.
Church members no longer practice plural marriage.54 Consistent with Joseph Smith’s teachings, the Church permits a man whose wife has died to be sealed to another woman when he remarries. Moreover, members are permitted to perform ordinances on behalf of deceased men and women who married more than once on earth, sealing them to all of the spouses to whom they were legally married. The precise nature of these relationships in the next life is not known, and many family relationships will be sorted out in the life to come. Latter-day Saints are encouraged to trust in our wise Heavenly Father, who loves His children and does all things for their growth and salvation.
So, that was the end. That was the essay that sparked so much PR controversy for the church.
I often say, when I'm doing this research, that the worst thing for the LDS church is Joseph Smith. You see, most cult-like empires that have been created in the past, die with the person that created the cult in the first place. But, once in a while, you come accross one that was organized well enough, that it can't help but perpetuate through the remaining members, once the founder dies, or looses a gunfight like in Joe's case. Plenty of examples exist of one person rising to power, but their tenure at the top of their newly created empire, doesn't always last long enough for the structure of the cult to keep everything together.
In this respect, the LDS church has excelled where most have failed. All along the way, Joe was setting up an entire hierarchy to run the finer points of the administration. Not only that, but the power of prophet and chief executive, passes on to the next person in line as part of the doctrine. I remember hearing a story of some more recent prophet lying in the hospital about to die, and as soon as he did, one of the apostles looked to the most senior apostle, and said something along the lines of "What would the new prophet have us do?" There is literally no down time from one leader to the next, which has proved to be a successful power structure for almost 185 years now. Where other governing bodies usually die during power transition, the church doesn't have to deal with any of that confusing period of down time. I think this is a small key to why it has been so successful for so long, and power struggles are unheard of in the church today. Joe did a great job of setting this thing up for success, but he was still a man with alpha male urges and tendencies. So while the church tells Joe's story like he was a pious seer with an unfiltered pipeline to God's will, the truth of what he really was seems to shine through, and the church is having a harder and harder time hiding it from the prying curiousity of the internet using public.
The true character of Joe will be revealed throughout our journey into the history of the church, and everything he did, can't be concealed by the church's, watered down, PR friendly historical analysis anymore. I hope you will join me as we continue on with the history of the church in coming episodes. Next episode is all about David Whitmer, just like planned, and then the narrative will be taking off. Talk at ya next time on the NAMO Podcast.
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