Having studied plural marriage, reading books and articles on Joseph Smith, his wives, revelations and celestial marriages I am attempting to outline the events in Joseph Smith’s life that brought forward the Practice of Plural marriage as it defines Joseph. I do not speak as a representative of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or more commonly known as the Mormon Church. These ideas and thoughts are my own as I understand them.
Joseph before the practice of plural marriage was a complicated individual who claimed that he saw the Father and the Son, Jesus Christ at the age of 14 or 15 while inquiring in prayer which church was right. Because of the many different churches and teachings, he was confused and wanted to know which one was the Lord’s Church. He had read in the Bible if you lack wisdom let him ask of God. In the vision he was told to join none of them and that he would be the instrument in restoring the Lord’s Church. After announcing that he had seen a vision and had seen the Lord, he received persecution from the Ministers of the different Churches saying that such visions had ceased and no longer took place. After several years an angel named Moroni appeared to Joseph and showed him some metal plates that were buried in the Hill Cumorah in upper New York state. JOSEPH SMITH POLYGAMIST PROPHET – Joseph was to translate these plates which were a religious history and record of an ancient family and their descendants that was led out of Jerusalem around 600 BC. They built a ship and crossed the ocean to America, led by the hand of the Lord. Their history goes from 600 BC to 400 DC before they were destroyed by wars. Moroni was the last living prophet of these people and he appeared to Joseph as a resurrected being. After translating the plates which are known as the Book of Mormon, Joseph began to study the Bible. While reading about the ancient Patriarchs and there wives and families he must have wondered why they had more than one wife, practiced plural marriage, and why Abraham was told that his seed would be greater than the sands on the seashore. He must have prayed to the Lord for an answer, and whether the Practice was right and should be restored. The answer was recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants Section 132. This must have taken place in 1831 or 32. The revelation was not recorded until 1843. The D & C is a book of revelations the Prophet claimed to have received from the Lord.
The Prophet married Emma Smith in 1827. Between late 1835 and early 1836, the Prophet took his first plural wife Fanny Alger who was a house assistant for Emma, living in the Smith home. She was allegedly between 16 and 19 years, most likely 16. When Emma learned of the relationship and marriage Fanny was kicked out of the home. Little is known about Fanny and the marriage, Levi Hancock performed the marriage. Since little is known about this supposed plural marriage, some including Emma considered this an affair and others considered it a plural marriage. It was reported that Emma said she saw the deed through a crack in the barn wall. It is unknown if she meant she saw a sexual deed or the marriage ceremony. Joseph said he did not commit adultery – JOSEPH SMITH POLYGAMIST PROPHET IS AN INTERESTING POINT.
Emma was totally against the idea of Joseph taking more than one wife. Joseph was also reluctant to announce the practice of polygamy to his followers as the idea was repugnant to people living in this time period. Because of Emma’s feelings and not wanting to hurt her, Joseph hesitated before taking any additional wives and did not take another wife until 1841. It appears that the Prophet taught no one about plural marriage or even mentioned the subject between 1836 and 1841. The difficulties of the Fanny Alger situation seriously hampered Joseph’s enthusiasm for plural marriage. Joseph never wrote about his personal feelings about plural marriage. Everything about the subject comes from the people around him.
Because of Joseph’s reluctance to proceed stories came out from nine different witnesses saying they were told by Joseph that an angel appeared to Joseph three times between 1834 and 1842 commanding him to proceed with the practice of polygamy and on the 3rd visit the angel had a drawn sword saying he would slay Joseph if he did not proceed. There is no proof of this story other than the witnesses as Joseph was never documented for saying this while he was alive. If true it would appear that it was for the benefit of Emma to get her to accept the revelation and the Practice. It could also have been a reason for Joseph’s second plural marriage in 1841 to Louisa Beaman.
CELESTIAL – JOSEPH SMITH POLYGAMIST PROPHET
It is alleged that the Priesthood sealing Keys were restored by the Prophet Elija in 1836 in the Kirtland Temple. This made it possible for marriages to continue in the hereafter, by sealing a wife or wives to a husband and children to the parents for time and eternity. In other words, family relationships would continue in the hereafter, if those sealed by priesthood authority were righteous, having tried to keep the covenants made at baptism and the sealing ceremonies. In Joseph’s mind, there were two types of marriages or sealing ceremonies. One being for time and eternity, meaning married in this life and continuing in the hereafter. The other an eternity only sealing, binding in the hereafter, but not in effect in this life. This marriage or sealing would not be consummated and the marriage would not be recognized in the earthly realm.
JOSEPH SMITH POLYGAMIST PROPHET – It is believed that because of Emma’s feelings, her being opposed to Joseph taking more wives, Joseph began sealing married women to him, in eternity only sealings. This would allow him to proceed with the restoration of polygamy. It would also make life easier for Emma as he would not be living with any of these women or having relations with them. This provided the way for Joseph to have married women sealed to him, whose husbands consented to a sealing that would take place after this life and thus he could comply with the command to proceed with plural marriages. These sealings were for eternity only and not consummated in this life. Also, this would allow the wives to continue living with their earthly husbands. Some of the husbands were not members of the church or they did not believe in life after death. They might also have believed in some sense that they were being sealed to the line of the prophet through their wives. All of these women were probably desirous of heavenly blessings which they felt would never materialize with their present husbands. They also liked the idea of being sealed to the Prophet as a wife in eternity. There was one woman who reported that her mother (Sylvia Lyon) told her she was a child of Joseph Smith. I do not know if this meant the mother had consummated the marriage to Joseph or whether she meant the girl was sealed to Joseph’s line through an eternity only marriage (Genetic testing has since contradicted this assertion). Other than this one girl who probably was not a child of Joseph Smith, I know of no other children from these marriages or sealings. It is believed that Joseph sealed 14 married women to him.
In the history of Mormon polygamy, Joseph Smith is alleged to have married two 14-year-old girls. There is no evidence that these marriages were ever consummated. One of these girls said her marriage was for eternity only. Brigham Young instructed polygamous men to wait until teenage wives were 18 before consummating the marriage. This policy appears to have started in Nauvoo under Joseph Smith. Also in the 19th century, it was not uncommon for men to marry girls 15 and up and sometimes 14. JOSEPH SMITH POLYGAMIST PROPHET –
After the sealings of the married women or most of the married women that were sealed to Joseph, he must have felt a greater need to promote and teach polygamy in the Church. This was possibly due to the angels drawn sword and to more fully comply with the teaching himself, so his efforts were then mainly with single women. Most of the women Joseph approached were repulsed by the idea and had to do much soul searching and praying before accepting Joseph’s proposal. There is no certifiable proof that Joseph had any children from any of his plural marriages. Accepting polygamy and then abandoning polygamy in 1890 were probably the most difficult things a member ever had to do. This required a lot of faith to follow the prophets in the Mormon Church. Joseph was murdered in 1844, so most of the marriages to single women occurred between 1842 and 1844 leaving little time to spend with each wife. Also, most of this information was obtained from affidavits from the alleged wives or people who knew Joseph intimately. There were a few women that said they had a child by Joseph Smith and had changed the name to protect the child. To date, no one has come forward with proof that they were a child of Joseph Smith, other than the children born to Joseph and Emma. Emma did not follow Brigham Young to Utah and remained in Nauvoo, Illinois. Some men who remained behind organized the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ and made Joseph Smith 111, the eldest surviving son of Joseph Smith, the first President of that Church. They claimed that Joseph Smith never practiced polygamy, that it was started by Brigham Young. They claimed this because there was no evidence that Joseph had any children by any alleged polygamous wives and because Emma denied that he practiced polygamy. There does appear to be enough evidence that the Practice of Polygamy did indeed start with Joseph Smith.
Polygamy had an ending in the Mormon Church in 1890 when Church President Wilford Woodruff issued the Manifesto ending the Practice of Polygamy and plural marriage. The President claimed he had a vision and saw what would happen to the Church if the Practice of plural marriage (polygamy) was not ended. the Government was threatening to confiscate Church properties and Holy Temples if the Church did not follow the Law of the Land. Also, the State of Deseret would not be allowed to become a State in the Union until it followed the Law of the Land. Polygamy did not die with the Manifesto as there were some marriages performed by some Church leaders in the US and Mexico after the Manifesto was issued. Also, some men divorced their polygamous wives and were rebuked by President Woodruff as he told them he did not mean for them to abandon their wives and families they already had. He said they were responsible to care for these families. Polygamy died a hard death and it was not until the early years of the 19th century that polygamy was officially dead in the Church. There were those who left the Church or were excommunicated that continued the Practice, such as the Fundamentalists in the FLDS Church and others who had formed their own groups.
What is the Church’s position on polygamy and plural marriage? Why would the Lord require polygamy and then stop the Practice? Was there any benefit to the Church for having suffered thru this experience? I believe the best answer to these questions is in the Book of Mormon, Jacob 2:27, 30.
27 Wherefore, my brethren, hear me, and hearken to the word of the Lord: For there shall not any man among you have saved it be one wife, and concubines he shall have none;
30 For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise, they shall hearken unto these things. JOSEPH SMITH POLYGAMIST PROPHET
This seems to say to me that if God wants to raise up a righteous seed unto Himself, he will command the people, otherwise unless commanded by the Lord, a man should have only one wife. This suggests that one wife is the norm. Most of the leaders in the Church and many members appear to have come from this righteous seed.
Besides raising a righteous seed unto the Lord another reason for polygamy would be war. With many men being killed in war such as in Syria, there would be an abundance of single women and polygamy would provide a way to care for these women. This is happening in Syria, where some men are taking more than one wife.
MORMON CHURCH OPENS UP ABOUT IT’S HISTORY INVOLVING POLYGAMY.
Mormon polygamy church history was recently discussed in The Deseret News, a newspaper owned by the Mormon Church or more correctly, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The newspaper recently printed two articles released by the Church, on polygamy and its history. My guess is with everything found on the internet about the Church and much of it incorrect, it was time to print the truth so its members and others would know the truth and not be misinformed by articles which are incorrect. The Church abandoned the Practice of Polygamy in 1890 with the document called the Manifesto, after being pressured by the US Government and notwithstanding persecution from other Christian Churches. Also, the President and Prophet of the Church at the time said he saw in a vision what would happen to the Church if it did not stop the practice of polygamy. The Government also threatened to confiscate all Church properties and it’s Holy Temples if the Church did not stop the practice and follow the law of the land. Some say the Church abandoned the Practice so the State of Deseret could become a State in the Union.
Some members would not accept the official document from Church headquarters instructing members to take no more wives and left the Church or were excommunicated. These are the forerunners to the modern fundamentalist groups such as the FLDS and other groups who continue to practice polygamy today. Today, members found practicing polygamy are excommunicated from the Mormon Church.
I will quote somewhat from the articles and use some of my own thoughts as to what transpired regarding polygamy. Joseph Smith Jr. the Prophet and founder of the Church was endeavoring to restore Christianity as it existed at the time of Christ. He claimed that the Father and the Son appeared to him when he prayed to know which Church was right. Jesus told him to join none of the existing Churches as they had all strayed from the truth. He told Joseph he would be the instrument in restoring the Lord’s Church. He was later given the Plates of Mormon to translate by an angel named Moroni, who was the last living Prophet of the people who wrote the history contained within the Book of Mormon. The translation of these plates is known as the Book of Mormon and contain the religious history of a family and their descendants living on the American continent from 600 BC to 400 AD. This family traveled from Jerusalem to the Americas guided by the hand of the Lord about 600 BC. The Church also acknowledges there may have been other groups of people living in America at the same time. Some of the American Indians are thought to be remnants of the Book of Mormon people and their civilization was thought to be centered in Central America and into part of Mexico.
Mormon Polygamy Church History – Joseph finished translating the Plates of Mormon and while reading the Old Testament he probably wondered about the Patriarchs practice of taking more than one wife. While questioning this practice he probably went to the Lord in prayer and asked the Lord about it and felt he received an answer saying it should be restored. This revelation is recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants Section 132.
Emma Smith, his wife was totally against the idea of taking more than one wife. Joseph was also reluctant to announce the practice of polygamy to his followers as the idea was repugnant to people living in this time period. Later, Joseph said an angel appeared to him and commanded him to restore the practice of polygamy. This happened 3 times, on the third visit the angel had a drawn sword and commanded Joseph to more fully accept the Practice in the Church. Mormon polygamy church history on this is not clear, so I do not know if the above story of the angel was made up to convince Emma the original revelation was from God. The only similar story I recall in the Bible is where God commanded Abraham to slay his son on an altar to test Abraham’s faith. Was the Angel testing Joseph’s faith with the threat of removing him? The written revelation on plural or celestial marriage was professed to be from God, but it probably was not enough to convince Emma that Joseph and other men should marry additional wives. From Church history, it appears that Joseph took one plural wife around 1835 and did not take any additional wives until 1841. Then it appears that Joseph had married women sealed to him up until the last visit of the angel in 1842 after which most the marriages were to single women. The sealing’s to married women may be explained by Joseph’s reluctance to enter plural marriage because of the sorrow it would bring to his wife Emma. These sealings to married women did not make the marriages valid or legal for this life but made the marriages to be in effect in the afterlife only. Joseph may have believed that sealing’s to married women would comply with the Lord’s command without requiring him to have normal marriage relationships. None of the married women sealed to Joseph ever mentioned they had normal marriage relationships with Joseph so it appears none of these sealings or Celestial marriages were ever consummated. More about these sealing’s to married women later in this article. Since he was martyred in 1844 and most of the marriages were between 1842 and 1844 he would not have had much time to spend with any of the plural wives.
Regarding the practice of polygamy, the Book of Mormon says if God wants to raise up a righteous seed unto Himself, he will command the people, otherwise unless commanded by the Lord, a man should have only one wife. (Jacob 2:27-30) This suggests one wife is the norm unless commanded otherwise by the Lord.
Unfortunately, Joseph did not keep a diary or a record of his actions or thoughts on his personal life. Most of the information on his plural wives came from the diaries of women he allegedly married and close friends. It was said Joseph had around 30 or more plural wives. Most of the women Joseph approached were repulsed by the idea and had to do much soul searching and praying before accepting Joseph’s proposal, some refused his proposal. The revelation on polygamy or celestial marriages made it possible for marriages to continue in the hereafter, by sealing a wife or wives to a husband and children to the parents for time and for eternity. In other words, the family relationships would continue in the hereafter if those sealed by Priesthood authority were worthy and had tried to keep the covenants they made with the Lord in the sealing ceremony and at baptism. In Joseph’s mind, there were two types of marriages or sealings. One being for time and eternity, meaning married in this life and also being married in the hereafter. The other marriage was a sealing for eternity only. In other words, this marriage would not be consummated or effective in this life and would take place only in the hereafter. It is believed Joseph sealed some married women to him because of Emma being so opposed to polygamy. Mormon Polygamy Church History – It was easier for her to accept Joseph sealing women to him who were married and where these sealings would not be consummated in this life and where there would be no legal marriage. These sealings were with women who were married and whose husbands did not object to a sealing that would take place after this life. These marriages or sealing’s were done with the consent of the husbands. The husbands continuing in their marriages living with their wives. Most of the husbands were not members of the church or did not believe in life after death and had no objection to a sealing taking place after death. There were a few sealing’s with women whose husbands were members of the Church, and that is puzzling why the husbands would give permission for their wives to be sealed to Joseph in the hereafter. Perhaps they felt they would be sealed to the Prophets line through their wives. All of these women, on the other hand, were desirous of heavenly blessings which they felt would never materialize with their present husbands. They also liked the idea of being sealed to the Prophet as a wife in eternity. There was one woman, (Josephine Lyon) who reported that her mother, (Sylvia Lyon) told her she was a child of Joseph Smith. I do not know if this meant the mother had consummated her marriage to Joseph or whether she meant the girl was sealed to Joseph’s line through an eternity only marriage, the woman was not clear on this point. Critics use this story as proof that Joseph consummated a marriage with a married woman. (Genetic testing has since contradicted this assertion) Other than this one girl who probably was not a literal child of Joseph Smith, I know of no other children from these marriages. Joseph reportedly had 14 married women sealed to him in eternity only marriages. The Mormon Polygamy Church History is varied in many ways as recorded history is absent of many details.
In the history of Mormon polygamy, Joseph Smith is also alleged to have married two 14-year-old girls. There is no evidence that these marriages were ever consummated. One of the 14-year-old girls said that the marriage was for eternity only, intimating Joseph never consummated the marriage with her.
Brigham Young instructed polygamous men to wait until wives were 18 before consummating marriages with teens under 18. This policy appears to have started in Nauvoo, Ill. under Joseph Smith. I might mention outside of the church it was common for men to marry teenage girls 15 and up and sometimes 14 in the 19th century.
Accepting the practice of polygamy and later accepting the Manifesto abandoning the Practice, was one of the most difficult things a member was ever required to do. This required a lot of faith and diligence in following and believing in the Prophets of the Mormon Church as representatives of the Lord. Brigham Young said when he first heard about polygamy he desired the grave. Others felt similarly and usually professed an answer to prayer before entering the practice. Some of the Prophet’s wives claimed to receive divine manifestations they were to be sealed to the Prophet.
Despite the controversial nature of plural marriage in the fledgling church’s early years, it did indeed ‘raise up seed’ unto God. A substantial number of today’s members and leaders descend through faithful Latter-day Saints who practiced plural marriage. The challenge of introducing a principal as controversial as plural marriage is almost impossible to overstate. A spiritual witness of its truthfulness allowed Joseph and other Latter-day Saints to accept this principle.
Concerning marriages or sealings in the afterlife, Mormons might ask how you would interpret the following scripture. (1st Corr 11:11) ” Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.” Mormons believe there are three degrees or levels in Heaven. The Lord lives at the highest level.
The Church did not openly admit to practicing polygamy until after arriving in the Salt Lake Valley in 1852. If you would like more information and would like to read the articles click here. If you would like more information on Mormon polygamy church history and background, the different groups and their beliefs and practices click here to buy or preview the author’s award-winning Pulitzer nominated book.