Polygamy and Adultery
Polygamy, as we have mentioned at the beginning, was the issue that led to the killing of Joseph Smith. Investigation of the records shows that Joseph Smith had practiced polygamy from the early 1830s on. William Clayton was Joseph Smith’s personal secretary and scribe until Joseph’s death. Clayton’s diary has been a source for many revelations published in Doctrine and Covenants.
Revelations in Clayton’s Diary
Clayton’s diary also tells how the “revelation” on polygamy originated. Stated briefly, this teaching came about as a result of a discussion between Joseph, his brother Hyrum, and William Clayton, who wrote it down. Emma, Joseph’s wife, had been suspecting Joseph of having affairs with other women, i.e., Fanny Alger in 1831 or so, and from then on.
As Joseph was relating this to his brother Hyrum and to William in July of 1843, family life was neither very happy nor calm. Hyrum suggested that Joseph write a “revelation” in which God gives instructions for Joseph to have other wives. Joseph doubted that Emma would believe that. William Clayton, however, wrote it down and Hyrum took it to Emma. Emma, of course, did not believe it. Joseph somehow convinced her to accept it for a short time; but after Joseph’s death, Emma went into total denial of the polygamy as if it had never happened. (This is also reported on page 151 in Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith, Prophet’s Wife: “Elect Lady,” Polygamy’s Foe, written by two LDS women, Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery.) Many thought that Emma’s reasons were to protect her children and the memory of their father.
Utah LDS Church historian Andrew Jensen, in 1887, taking from the enormous files of then-secret manuscript material in the Salt Lake City Church Library, compiled the first list of 27 wives of Joseph Smith. Genealogical Archives were used to add another 21. Nauvoo Temple records were the main source.
Why Were the Church Records Altered?
Fanny Alger was Joseph Smith’s first plural wife, married to Joseph in early 1833. D&C of 1890 says that the revelation was given July 12, 1843. History of the Church, 5:500-501, also says that it was given that day, but the current D&C, Section 132, says that it was recorded July 12, 1843—implying that it could have been given at an earlier date.
This kind of altering of the records of the Church can be noticed quite often by comparing earlier printings with more recent ones. Obvious attempts were made to save some integrity, since it was known that Joseph Smith had been a polygamist a full decade before 1843.
This alteration of the records did not bolster his image, since he and the Church leaders had denied polygamy publicly but practiced it secretly. In the first edition of Doctrine and Covenants, printed in 1835, in Section 101:4 there is a denial of polygamy, calling it a “crime of fornication….” This denial of polygamy remained in the D&C until 1876, when it was removed and Section 132 was added—the section about God commanding the practice of polygamy! Section 132 is still in the D&C.
Can Women Have Multiple Living Husbands?
Joseph Smith (and later, Brigham Young as well), were even married to women who were other men’s wives. Historical records of these strange marriages are available. According to these records, nine of the first twelve polygamous wives of Joseph Smith were at the same time also married to other men, and he took at least two more married women as his wives. A few examples might be appropriate to present here:
- Prescinda Huntington Buell, wife of Norman Buell, later also a wife of Heber C. Kimball, married Norman Buell in 1827, and they had two children. Joseph married her in the fall of 1838 and had a child by her. She continued to be married to Buell as well.
- Nancy Marinda Johnson Hyde, wife of Orson Hyde, was also one of Joseph’s wives. That caused Orson Hyde to leave the Church for awhile, but he later came back. Genealogical Archives in Salt Lake City show that Nancy Hyde was sealed to Joseph Smith on July 30, 1857, years after Joseph Smith’s death.
- Zina Diantha Huntington Jacobs, later wife of Brigham Young, was married to Henry Jacobs on March 7, 1841, and seven and one-half months later to Joseph Smith on October 27, 1841. Zina never divorced her husband Henry Jacobs, but after Joseph’s death, Brigham publicly told Jacobs, “The woman you claim for a wife does not belong to you. She is a spiritual wife of brother Joseph, sealed to him. I am his proxy, and she, in his behalf, with her children, are my property. You can go where you please and get another…” (Rocky Mountain Saints by T.B.H. Stenhouse, pp. 185-86; emphasis added). Jacobs obviously accepted Brigham’s decision, for he stood as a witness when, in the Nauvoo Temple in January 1846, Zina was sealed to Brigham Young for “time,” and Joseph Smith for “eternity.”
- Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner, wife of Adam Lightner, later claimed that Joseph had told her that an angel came to him in 1834 with a drawn sword and commanded him to take her as his wife. She was then only 17. In her diary, she wrote that she was sealed and married to Joseph in the Masonic Hall in Nauvoo in 1842. She was later also married to Brigham Young while remaining married to Adam Lightner. They later moved to Utah. She remained in the Church, even though her husband never joined the Church.
Andrew Jensen did this research in 1887 to prove that Joseph Smith did practice polygamy, since the RLDS Church was denying that he ever did. (For more information on Joseph Smith and his plural wives, read In Sacred Loneliness: Plural Wives of Joseph Smith, by LDS professor Todd Compton, Signature Books 1998.) In 1838, when Oliver Cowdery had accused Joseph of these adulterous affairs, Joseph had Oliver excommunicated.
What Was the True Cause of Joseph’s Murder?
The controversy over polygamy was the underlying reason for the death of Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum. William Law’s wife had confessed that she had had an affair with Joseph. William Law left the Church and started a publication called Nauvoo Expositor. One issue was published and the second one was going to print when Joseph learned that Law was going to have his wife’s confession in that issue. Joseph had the press destroyed and the building burned. That caused his arrest and, consequently, his death, but he did not die as “a martyr,” as is claimed. John Taylor, third president of the Church, who was in the prison with Joseph and Hyrum at the time, tells the following in Gospel Kingdom, p. 360:
Joseph opened the door slightly, and snapped the pistol six successive times…afterwards [I] understood that two or three were wounded by these discharges, two of whom, I am informed, died.
The same account is also found in History of the Church, volume 6: 617-18 and on Introduction to volume 6: XLI.
It was too bad that Joseph Smith was thus killed, but he did not die as a martyr who went “as a lamb to the slaughter,” as is claimed by the LDS Church. He died in a gunfight and killed two people before he was shot.
Joseph responded as a Mason, seeking help from Masons, at the time of his death. John Taylor tells that Joseph went to the window and made the Masonic distress sign after his gun was empty, hoping that Masons, if there were any among this mob, would rescue him according to the Masonic oath, “to defend one another, right or wrong.”