A Response to Grant Palmer’s “Sexual Allegations against Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Polygamy in Nauvoo”

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Abstract: Grant H. Palmer, former LDS seminary instructor turned critic, has recently posted an essay, “Sexual Allegations against Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Polygamy in Nauvoo,” on MormonThink.com. In it, Palmer isolates ten interactions between women and Joseph Smith that Palmer alleges were inappropriate and, “have at least some plausibility of being true.” In this paper, Palmer’s analysis of these ten interactions is reviewed, revealing how poorly Palmer has represented the historical data by advancing factual inaccuracies, quoting sources without establishing their credibility, ignoring contradictory evidences, and manifesting superficial research techniques that fail to account for the latest scholarship on the topics he is discussing. Other accusations put forth by Palmer are also evaluated for correctness, showing, once again, his propensity for inadequate scholarship.

Sometime after 1999, Grant Palmer outlined his views on Joseph Smith and plural marriage up to 1835.1 More recently, he has expanded that paper and retitled it: “Sexual Allegations against Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Polygamy in Nauvoo.” His newer work contains the same material as the former essay, with added observations and allegations.

[Page 184]Recently Palmer posted the article on MormonThink, a website that is primarily antagonistic to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and reportedly submitted it for consideration to a scholarly journal.2 This essay will examine both the accepted methodology Palmer consistently neglects to employ and the errors in his analysis, which following scholarly standards could have prevented.

Weaknesses of Grant Palmer’s Methodology

Throughout Palmer’s essay, several problematic issues can be readily discerned:

1. Factual inaccuracies. For example, on page 8 he speaks of a man, “Benjamin F. Winchester,” but there is no such person. Church history participants included “Benjamin F. Johnson” and “Benjamin Winchester” but no “Benjamin F. Winchester.” This might seem a nitpicky criticism, but it is an example of how poorly Palmer’s essay has been constructed and edited. It also suggests a reliance on secondary sources rather than a consultation of the original documents.3

2. Quoting historical sources without establishing credibility of the documents. Palmer is willing to quote just about any source so long as it conveys the message he desires. Whether his source is reliable is apparently a non-issue. In this, Palmer resembles hardened anti-Mormons or uncritical apologists, both of whom are often willing to quote any persuasive voice if it reinforces their predetermined message.

[Page 185]3. Ignoring contradictory evidence. Palmer is entitled to his opinion of Joseph Smith and plural marriage. However, good scholarship requires authors to consider and address all of the evidence, even those sources that contradict the writer’s agenda. Palmer carefully ignores all contradictory evidence, but he does so at the peril of appearing overly biased and agenda-driven.

4. Ignoring the most recent scholarship. In 2013, Greg Kofford Books published Brian Hales’s three volume work Joseph Smith’s Polygamy: History and Theology. With over 1500 pages, it aims to either reference or quote every known document dealing with Joseph Smith’s polygamy. Palmer references these volumes only once, in footnote 34. A single mention in itself is not necessarily problematic. But in dealing with the individual topics in his essay, Palmer routinely ignores pertinent historical manuscripts that are discussed in those volumes and plainly identified in the bibliography. Thus, Palmer either did not read or understand a work that he cites, or he chooses to hide important details from his readers. Even if Hales’s conclusions are in error, these new publications contain data, which Palmer must address if he is to be credible.

Joseph Smith’s Reasons for Establishing Plural Marriage

Palmer begins by asking why Joseph Smith established plural marriage. He acknowledges one reason, as part of a “restitution of all things” (Acts 3:21), which restoration is mentioned in Doctrine and Covenants 132:40, 45. While Palmer is to be commended for mentioning the revelation three times in his essay, he fails to discuss the primary reason for plural marriage in Joseph Smith’s theology. Verse 17 explains the need for all the righteous to be sealed to an eternal spouse, otherwise they “remain separately and singly, without exaltation, in their saved condition, to all eternity.” Verse 63 likewise says that plural marriage is intended “for their exaltation in the eternal worlds.” Unsurprisingly, Palmer completely ignores this nonsexual dimension to Joseph’s theology of plurality, even though it deals with eternity and eternal rewards rather than [Page 186]earthly aspects of plurality. Within Joseph Smith’s teachings there is more emphasis on eternal matters than on the sexual desire to which Palmer directs our attention.

Following the tradition of Mormon fundamentalists today, Palmer writes: “Joseph Smith taught, ‘No one can reject this covenant [polygamy] and be permitted to enter into my glory. For all … must and shall abide the law, or he shall be damned, saith the Lord God’” (p. 1). Palmer is quoting a portion of D&C 132:19, though the addition of the bracketed word is misleading. Typically, such textual emendations are intended to add clarity to a citation. In this case, however, it is not clear upon what Palmer bases his gloss, save his own opinion, since he provides no documentation to support it. If an emendation is not patently obvious from elsewhere in the source text, the author has a duty to justify his reading or risk distorting his source.

Unfortunately for his reconstruction and his readers, Palmer’s bracketed commentary “[polygamy]” contradicts the first line of the verse, which promises exaltation to a worthy monogamous couple who are sealed by proper authority. “If a man marry a wife” (D&C 132:19, italics added) clearly refers to a single worthy man being sealed to a single worthy wife by proper authority. Such sealed couples “shall pass by the angels, and the gods, which are set there, to their exaltation and glory.” Nineteenth century leaders certainly understood that “a Man may Embrace the Law of Celestial Marriage in his heart & not take the Second wife & be justified before the Lord.”4 This calls Palmer’s interpretation into question.

In Part 1 of this review, we will consider Palmer’s ten claims of Joseph Smith’s alleged extra-marital sexual encounters. In Part 2, we will examine related claims and historical missteps that Palmer makes as he strives, but fails, to establish his thesis.
[Page 187]

Part 1 — Ten Claims of Alleged “Sexual Encounters”

Palmer alleges that Joseph may have confessed to “sexual encounters” (p. 4). He selectively quotes Joseph’s official account in an effort to reinforce this impression for his readers:5

I was left to all kinds of temptations, and mingling with all kinds of society, I frequently fell into many foolish errors and displayed the weakness of youth and the corruption of human nature, which I am sorry to say led me into divers temptations, to the gratification of many appetites offensive in the sight of God.6

Palmer then asks: “Could the ‘gratification of many appetites’ refer to sexual encounters with women?” (p. 4). Curiously, Palmer quotes Joseph’s answer, but hides it in footnote 7. Apparently, after publishing the quotation above, the Prophet anticipated allegations like Palmer’s, so in December 1842 he dictated an addition that permits no misunderstanding:

In making this confession, no one need suppose me guilty of any great or malignant sins: a disposition to commit such was never in my nature; but I was guilty of Levity, & sometimes associated with jovial company &c, not Consistent with that character which ought to be maintained by one who was called of God as I had been; but this will not seem very strange to any one who recollects my youth & is acquainted with my native cheerly [sic] Temperament.7

[Page 188]Lest Palmer assume that this addition was a late attempt to cover having revealed too much, we note that Joseph made essentially the same clarification to Oliver Cowdery in 1834:

During this time, as is common to most, or all youths, I fell into many vices and follies; but as my accusers are, and have been forward to accuse me of being guilty of gross and outrageous violations of the peace and good order of the community, I take the occasion to remark, that, though, as I have said above, “as is common to most, or all youths, I fell into many vices and follies,” I have not, neither can it be sustained, in truth, been guilty of wronging or injuring any man or society of men; and those imperfections to which I allude, and for which I have often had occasion to lament, were a light, and too often, vain mind, exhibiting a foolish and trifling conversation.

This being all, and the worst, that my accusers can substantiate against my moral character, I wish to add, that it is not without a deep feeling of regret that I am thus called upon in answer to my own conscience, to fulfill a duty I owe to myself, as well as to the cause of truth, in making this public confession of my former uncircumspect walk, and unchaste conversation: and more particularly, as I often acted in violation of those holy precepts which I knew came from God. But as the “Articles and Covenants” of this church are plain upon this particular point, I do not deem it important to proceed further. I only add, that (I do not, nor never have, pretended to be any other than a man “subject to passion,” and liable, without the assisting grace of the Savior, to deviate from that perfect path in which all men are commanded to walk!)8

[Page 189]One of the more remarkable statements in Palmer’s article is on page three: “it is generally unknown that he [Joseph Smith] was accused of illicit sexual conduct with a number of women from 1827 on, until his death in 1844.” One must ask if this observation remains “generally unknown” because there is scant supporting evidence or for some other reason.

Palmer discusses ten allegations that, according to his research, “have at least some plausibility of being true”:

Sexual claims made against his [Joseph Smith’s] character began only after he was married in January 1827. From 1827–1841, a number of sexual allegations are leveled against Smith, several of which I think contain so little information they are not worth mentioning. This section of the article [the following ten accounts] concentrates on the declarations that have at least some plausibility of being true. (p. 5)

Surprisingly, Palmer seems unaware — or unconcerned — that available contemporaneous evidence does not support his assertion. That is, there is at most one accusation of “illicit sexual conduct” (p. 3) (case #2 below). As explored below, this claim was made in an off-handed manner, and it was not echoed by those who could have confirmed it. After one mention, it did not resurface until decades after Joseph’s death.

We will see that Palmer’s other “evidences” (p. 28) are all likewise problematic and dubious on multiple other grounds, and they were all made after Joseph’s death.

Given that novel religious groups were often charged with sexual deviancy,9 regardless of their actual conduct, it is astonishing that Joseph Smith was not so accused simply as a matter of course. Had there been even a hint of such scandal, Joseph’s enemies would have pounced upon it. The virtual silence is a telling clue that Joseph was not seen as lecherous by [Page 190]his contemporaries until the doctrine of plural marriage was taught.

#1: Broome County Trial

Palmer’s first “declaration” of Joseph Smith’s sexual impropriety is associated with a trial in South Bainbridge, Broome County, New York (p. 5). The Prophet was arrested on 30 June 1830 and was tried the following day. Twelve witnesses were called, including Miriam and Rhoda Stowell. No trial records are extant.

Twelve years later Joseph recalled the trial and claimed that nothing was found against him: “The young women arrived and were severally examined, touching my character, and conduct in general but particularly as to my behavior towards them both in public and private, when they both bore such testimony in my favor, as left my enemies without a pretext on their account.”10 His recollection was fully corroborated in 1844 when John S. Reed — his non-Mormon attorney for the case — visited Nauvoo. Reed recalled: “Let me say to you that not one blemish nor spot was found against his character; he came from that trial, notwithstanding the mighty efforts that were made to convict him of crime by his vigilant persecutors, with his character unstained by even the appearance of guilt.”11

To summarize, Joseph was tried on charges unrelated to immorality and all accounts state he was not guilty of anything improper. Had sexual liberties been proven or even seemed plausible, contemporary anti-Mormon authors would have surely used such damning material against Joseph.

Nothing in these accounts appears to support “illicit sexual conduct.” Palmer could speculate about the reasons for the girls’ testimony and then criticize Joseph based on his speculations, but this would not be evidence.
[Page 191]

#2: Eliza Winters

Palmer’s second bit of evidence is an incident that reportedly occurred between October 1825 and June 1829, involving a woman named Eliza Winters. Testimony of the described interaction was not recorded until 1834. Palmer writes:

When Joseph and his wife Emma Hale Smith were living in Harmony in 1827–1829, Emma’s cousin, Levi Lewis, accused him of attempting “to seduce Eliza Winters,” Emma’s close friend.12 Lewis further said that he was well “acquainted with Joseph Smith Jr. and Martin Harris, and that he has heard them both say, [that] adultery was no crime. Harris said he did not blame Smith for his attempt to seduce Eliza Winters” (p. 6).13

Palmer’s presentation of the evidence is curious, if not deceptive. He states: “Levi Lewis, accused him [Joseph Smith] of attempting ‘to seduce Eliza Winters,’” and then he quotes a longer sentence containing the same quoted words as if they were separate allegation, when in fact he is just re-quoting the same sentence (see Figure 1, top of next page).

Importantly, Palmer misrepresented the quotation. According to the published version, Levi Lewis did not accuse Joseph Smith from direct personal knowledge — he does not provide us with a first-hand allegation. Instead, we read that Lewis was allegedly quoting Martin Harris. Palmer deftly transforms a dubious second-hand or third-hand account into a first-hand allegation.

There is much in this account that should make us doubt its accuracy.
[Page 192]

Figure 1: Levi Lewis affidavit citation in

Figure 1: Levi Lewis affidavit citation in E.D. Howe’s Mormonism Unvailed (1834)14

First, it seems unlikely that Martin Harris would have remained devoted to Joseph Smith as a missionary in the 1830s if he were aware of such hypocritical and immoral behavior. Joseph taught that sexual immorality was a sin next to murder in severity (Alma 39:5).15

[Page 193]Second, Eliza Winters never referred to a seduction attempt by Joseph Smith. Despite having at least two perfect opportunities to corroborate Lewis’s allegations, she failed to do so.

The first opportunity occurred in 1833 when Martin Harris accused her of having given birth to a “bastard child.” (That Martin regarded this as a damning accusation makes it even less likely that he would tolerate a dalliance by Joseph as Levi Lewis claimed.) Eliza retaliated by suing Martin in court.16 Throughout the proceedings, no one, including Eliza herself, mentioned a seduction attempt by Joseph, and the case was ultimately dismissed due to jurisdictional problems.

The second opportunity for Eliza to confirm Lewis’s charge occurred nearly fifty years later. Newspaperman Frederick G. Mather interviewed the seventy-year-old Eliza in Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania, specifically to gather derogatory statements about the Prophet from his former acquaintances. In the interview, Mather recorded Eliza saying, “Joe Smith never made a convert at Susquehanna, and also that his father-in-law became so incensed by his conduct that he threatened to shoot him if he ever returned.”17 Notwithstanding her critical attitude toward Joseph and the church he founded, Eliza did not make any accusation regarding Joseph’s personal conduct toward her or other women. Her failure to incriminate the Prophet is puzzling if the Lewis allegations were true.18

[Page 194]A third reason to doubt Levi Lewis’s account is silence from other sources. Lewis was Emma Hale Smith’s cousin, and he provided his affidavit as part of the collection amassed by Doctor Philastus Hurlbut19 and published by Eber D. Howe in the first anti-Mormon book.20 The following members of Lewis’s family also provided affidavits to Hurlbut and Howe:

  • Isaac Hale (Emma’s father),
  • Alva Hale (Emma’s brother),
  • Nathaniel Lewis (Emma’s uncle, a Methodist preacher), and
  • Sophia Lewis (wife of Levi).21

These testators were quick to condemn Joseph for eloping with Emma Smith, yet they remain utterly silent on the matter of Joseph’s supposed adulterous conduct. They would have been witnesses in the same sense as Levi was — he could only repeat information supposedly gained from a third party. Despite their interest in condemning Joseph, these other family members made no mention of Joseph’s alleged conduct, even as a matter of rumor.

A fourth reason to doubt Lewis arises from falsehoods or implausibilities in the rest of his testimony. If he perjures himself on these points, then he is a less convincing witness in other matters. We do not have the original affidavit, but the published version includes the following claims:

  • he heard Joseph admit that “God had deceived him” about the plates, so did not show them to anyone,
  • [Page 195]he heard Joseph say “he … was as good as Jesus Christ; … it was as bad to injure him as it was to injure Jesus Christ,” and
  • he saw Joseph drunk three times while writing the Book of Mormon.22

These claims simply do not hold water. Far from denying that he had shown anyone else the plates, Joseph insisted that he had and published the testimonies of eleven witnesses in every copy of the Book of Mormon. Levi’s honesty is questionable if he can blithely ignore what any Book of Mormon reader can easily discover.

A study of Joseph’s letters and life from this period makes it difficult to believe that Joseph would insist he was “as good as Jesus Christ.”23 Joseph’s private letters reveal him to be devout, sincere, and almost painfully aware of his dependence on God.24

The claim to have seen Joseph drunk during the translation is entertaining. If Joseph were drunk, it would make the production of the Book of Mormon more impressive. The charge sounds like little more than idle gossip designed to bias readers against Joseph as a “drunkard.”25

In sum, when all the evidence is examined, this report of an “attempted” seduction appears unconvincing and implausible. Palmer’s audience, however, will learn none of these facts.
[Page 196]

#3: Marinda Nancy Johnson

Palmer’s third “declaration” involves Marinda Nancy Johnson in conjunction with the 1832 tar and feathering of the Prophet and Sidney Rigdon (p. 7). Luke Johnson, who was not present but knew some of the participants, published this account in 1864:

In the fall of [1832], while Joseph was yet at my father’s [John Johnson’s home], a mob of forty or fifty came to his house, a few entered his room in the middle of the night, and Carnot Mason dragged Joseph out of bed by the hair of his head; he was then seized by as many as could get hold of him, and taken about forty rods from the house, stretched on a board, and tantalized in the most insulting and brutal manner; they tore off the few night clothes that he had on, for the purpose of emasculating him, and had Dr. Dennison there to perform the operation; but when the Dr. saw the Prophet stripped and stretched on the plank, his heart failed him, and he refused to operate.26

If these events were triggered in part by sexual crimes against Marinda, it is strange that Luke — her brother — was neither incensed by them, nor even mentioned them.

Concerning Luke Johnson’s account, Palmer claims in his paper:

Eli Johnson was more specific. He was troubled because Smith and Rigdon were urging his brother John Johnson to “let them have his property,”27 and was “furious because he suspected Joseph of being intimate with his sister [actually she was his sixteen year old niece], Nancy Marinda Johnson, and he was screaming for Joseph’s castration.”28 (p. 8)

[Page 197]

Figure 2: Drawing by unknown artist, published in Charles Mackay, ed., The Mormons, or Latter-day Saints; with Memoirs of the Life and Death of Joseph Smith, the American Mahomet, 4th ed. (London: Office of the National Illustrated Library, 1851), 55; 1851 edition in Hales’s possession.

Figure 2: Drawing by unknown artist, published in Charles Mackay, ed., The Mormons, or Latter-day Saints; with Memoirs of the Life and Death of Joseph Smith, the American Mahomet, 4th ed. (London: Office of the National Illustrated Library, 1851), 55; 1851 edition in Hales’s possession.

Palmer’s willingness to detail Eli Johnson’s feelings is remarkable because there is no known report from Eli. At best Palmer is extrapolating, at worst he is mindreading.29

It is probable that Palmer’s commentary is ultimately based upon a late, second-hand reference from Clark Braden, a

[Page 198]

Clark Braden

Figure 3: Clark Braden30

Church of Christ (Disciples) minister whose religious debates were reputedly free and economical with the facts.31 Braden (b. 1831) was not present in Kirtland in the 1830s, but in a debate with RLDS missionary E. L. Kelly fifty-two years later he stated: “In March 1832, Smith was stopping at Mr. Johnson’s, in Hiram, Ohio, and was mobbed. The mob was led by Eli Johnson, who blamed Smith for being too intimate with his sister Marinda.”32

Importantly, prior to this 1884 claim by a non-participant, all accounts strongly suggest that the mob members were primarily concerned with attempts to live the law of consecration in 1832. For example, “Symonds Rider … clarified” in 1868 that

Rigdon and Smith were not assaulted because of their beliefs. “The people of Hiram were liberal about religion and had not been averse to Mormon teaching,” he said afterwards. What infuriated the evildoers were [Page 199]some official documents they found, possibly a copy of the revelation outlining the “Law of Consecration and Stewardship,” which instructed new converts about “the horrid fact that a plot was laid to take their property from them and place it under the control of Smith.”33

Rigdon’s biographer theorized that Sidney was, in fact, the primary target, since he was attacked first and treated more harshly than Joseph.34 In addition, Marinda recalled in 1877: “I feel like bearing my testimony that during the whole year that Joseph was an inmate of my father’s house I never saw aught in his daily life or conversation to make me doubt his divine mission.”35 If sexual impropriety was an issue in 1832, it is strange that even hostile sources made no mention of it until 1884. It does not appear in the historical record prior to that time.

#4: Vienna Jacques

Palmer continues his list of “declarations” by presenting the case of Vienna Jacques:

While Vienna Jacques was living in Kirtland in 1833, a Mrs. Alexander quoted Polly Beswick as saying:

It was commonly reported, Jo Smith said he had a revelation to lie /with/ Vienna Jacques, who lived in his family. Polly told me, that Emma, Joseph’s wife, told her that Joseph would get up in the middle of the night and go to Vienna’s bed. Polly said Emma would get out of humor, fret and scold and flounce in the harness. Jo would shut himself up in a room and pray for a revelation. When he came [Page 200]out he would claim he had received one and state it to her, and bring her around all right.”36 (p. 9)

Research supports that “Mrs. Warner Alexander” was actually Nancy Maria Smith, daughter of William Smith (no relation to Joseph Smith) and Lydia Calkins Smith, born 1 December 1822.37 She married Justin Alexander on 4 September 1850, at Kirtland, Ohio, making her “Mrs. Justin Alexander” or “Mrs. Nancy Alexander.”38 It is not clear how or when her name was mis-transcribed, but other internal references also corroborate Nancy as the author.39

Figure 4: Signature at the bottom of the typed sheet ostensibly quoting Polly Beswick. Hales’s research supports the case for it reading “Mrs Nancy Alexander,” but whether it is her actual signature is unknown.

Figure 4: Signature at the bottom of the typed sheet ostensibly quoting Polly Beswick. Hales’s research supports the case for it reading “Mrs Nancy Alexander,” but whether it is her actual signature is unknown.

The historical record shows the Joseph Smith family living around Kirtland, Ohio, from 1831 to 1838. In 1831, Vienna traveled from her home in Boston, Massachusetts, to Kirtland. There she met the Prophet and was baptized. She stayed in Ohio for about six weeks and then rejoined her family in Boston [Page 201]and was instrumental in converting many of them.40 Vienna returned to Kirtland in early 1833 and may have stayed with the Smiths, although we are unaware of any documentation to that effect. On March 8, the Prophet received a revelation telling her to gather to Missouri (D&C 90:28–31). She apparently left in June because he addressed a July 2 letter to her in that state. These two brief periods are the only times during which Vienna and the Smiths lived in the same town.

Figure 4: Signature at the bottom of the typed sheet ostensibly quoting Polly Beswick. Hales’s research supports the case for it reading “Mrs Nancy Alexander,” but whether it is her actual signature is unknown.

Figure 5: Time periods when Vienna Jacques was in Kirtland, Ohio

Accordingly, if Nancy Alexander’s statement is true, in early 1833 Joseph Smith would have needed to accomplish one of two difficult tasks within three or four months. He would have needed to confirm Vienna Jacques’s conversion when she arrived in Kirtland, baptize her, convince her of the doctrine of polygamy and immediately marry her (although the form such a union would take is not known), while also convincing Emma to let him have a plural wife share their home. The second alternative is that Joseph succeeded in seducing the new convert and persuading Emma to allow him to conduct a physical relationship with Vienna (without a plural marriage ceremony) under their roof. Neither proposal seems likely.

As a woman possessing conservative moral values, there [Page 202]is little indication that Emma would have ever approved of her husband having sexual relations outside of marriage. Emma struggled mightily in 1843–1844 to accept plural marriage; it seems a frank affair would have been even more difficult for her in 1833. All records from the Kirtland period demonstrate that she did not then believe that God-approved plural marriage had been restored. Accordingly, she would have considered any polygamous intimacy as adultery and would not have permitted contact between the two as described by Nancy.

Palmer’s brief and uncritical reference to Vienna Jacques is another evidence of his willingness to include any potentially negative account regardless of the narrative’s credibility. One gets the impression that he is simply borrowing any critical material from secondary sources without rigorously evaluating it for his readers.

#5: A “Miss Hill”

Palmer also alleges that Joseph Smith had an inappropriate relationship in Kirtland with a woman called “Miss Hill” in a letter from William McLellin to Joseph Smith III (pp. 9–10). In this 1872 letter, McLellin claimed to reveal facts that he had been told by Emma Smith in 1847:

You will probably remember that I visited your Mother and family in 1847, and held a lengthy conversation with her, retired in the Mansion House in Nauvoo. I did not ask her to tell, but I told her some stories I had heard. And she told me whether I was properly informed. Dr. F. G. Williams practiced with me in Clay Co. Mo. during the latter part of 1838. And he told me that at your birth your father committed an act with a Miss Hill — a hired girl. Emma saw him, and spoke to him. He desisted, but Mrs. Smith refused to be satisfied. He called in Dr. Williams, O. Cowdery, and S. Rigdon to reconcile Emma. But she told them just as the circumstances took place. He found he was caught. He confessed humbly, and begged forgiveness. Emma and all forgave him. She told me this story was [Page 203]true!! Again I told her I heard that one night she missed Joseph and Fanny Alger. she went to the barn and saw him and Fanny in the barn together alone. She looked through a crack and saw the transaction!!! She told me this story too was verily true.41

Predictably, Palmer interprets this letter as recounting two separate stories, one about Joseph Smith’s involvement with “a Miss Hill” and a second regarding a relationship with Fanny Alger (see case #6, below). (One again suspects he may be merely following the lead of one of his secondary sources.42)

Four observations indicate that McLellin was telling only one story and simply became confused.

First, there is no additional evidence that Joseph Smith had a relationship with a woman named “Hill” at Kirtland or at any time in his life. Richard L. Anderson concurs: “I cannot find a possible ‘Miss Hill’ in Kirtland, nor is there any verification of the story.”43

Second, the first part of the paragraph specifies that Emma saw an interaction between Joseph and “a hired girl” identified as “Miss Hill.” In the second half of the same paragraph, McLellin states that Emma “saw him [Joseph] and Fanny in the barn together.” If there were two separate encounters, Emma apparently witnessed them both. McLellin claimed that when Emma learned of the relationship she “refused to be satisfied,” requiring immense efforts from Joseph to assuage her distress. [Page 204]That Joseph would thereafter engage in the same behavior with a second lady, only to be caught yet again by Emma, seems less likely.

Third, an interview three years later between McLellin and anti-Mormon newspaperman J. H. Beadle44 reports only one relationship. Beadle visited Independence, Missouri, in 1875 and reported:

My first call was on Dr. William E. McLellin, whose name you will find in every number of the old Millennial Star, and in many of Smith’s revelations. I found the old gentleman in pleasant quarters. …

He also informed me of the spot [in Kirtland, Ohio] where the first well authenticated case of polygamy took place,45 in which Joseph Smith was “sealed” to the hired girl. The “sealing” took place in a barn on the hay mow, and was witnessed by Mrs. Smith through a crack in the door!46

McLellin’s 1875 story spoke only of one young lady and one relationship. Specifically, he called her “a hired girl” (like “Miss Hill” in the 1872 letter) who was involved with the Prophet “in a barn” (like Fanny Alger in the 1872 letter),47 and the single interaction was witnessed by Emma. Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery hypothesize: “Perhaps, in his old age, William McLellin confused the hired girl, Fanny Alger, with Fanny Hill of John Cleland’s 1749 lewd novel and came up with the hired girl, Miss Hill.”48

Fourth, [Page 205]if McLellin had information on more than one alleged sexual impropriety, it is probable that he would have shared it in other venues than one confusing reference in his 1872 letter. J. H. Beadle would have been elated to include two allegations of Kirtland “sealings” in his published interview with McLellin, especially if both were caught in the act by Emma.

In evaluating all the available evidence, it appears that the accounts consistently refer to one affiliation between Joseph Smith and Fanny Alger in Kirtland in the mid-1830s. The minor variations in the documents are not unexpected in light of the inherent limitations of the historical record. Palmer’s audience will, on the other hand, not learn any of this.

#6: Fanny Alger

Consistent with his overall prejudices, Palmer discusses Joseph Smith’s first plural marriage as if it was an adulterous relationship (pp. 10–11). However, in a 1904 letter Mary Elizabeth Rollins reported: “Joseph the Seer … said God gave him a commandment in 1834, to take other wives besides Emma.”49 Joseph soon complied.

There is strong evidence that this was the Prophet’s first plural marriage. According to the only known account of the circumstances, which comes to us secondhand, Joseph did not approach Fanny directly to discuss a polygamous union. Instead, he enlisted the assistance of his friend Levi Hancock — who was distantly related to Fanny’s family — to serve as an intermediary and officiator. Levi’s son Mosiah wrote in 1896:

Father goes to the Father Samuel Alger — his Father’s Brother in Law and [said] “Samuel the Prophet Joseph loves your Daughter Fanny and wishes her for a wife [Page 206]what say you” — Uncle Sam Says — ”Go and talk to the old woman about it twi’ll be as She says” Father goes to his Sister and said “Clarissy, Brother Joseph the Prophet of the most high God loves Fanny and wishes her for a wife what say you” Said She “go and talk to Fanny it will be all right with me” — Father goes to Fanny and said “Fanny Brother Joseph the Prophet loves you and wishes you for a wife will you be his wife”? “I will Levi” Said She. Father takes Fanny to Joseph and said “Brother Joseph I have been successful in my mission” — Father gave her to Joseph repeating the Ceremony as Joseph repeated to him.50

Eliza R. Snow, who was “well acquainted” with Fanny, also confirmed that a plural marriage occurred when she personally added Fanny’s name to an 1886 list of Joseph Smith’s plural wives.51

As discussed above, Emma discovered the relationship and confronted Joseph. In an effort to placate her, Joseph called on Oliver Cowdery. However, Oliver apparently sided with Emma, likely concluding that the relationship did not constitute a valid union despite the performance of a priesthood ceremony. On 21 January 1838, he wrote to his brother Warren of Joseph’s “dirty, nasty, filthy, scrape.” The word “scrape” is overwritten by “affair.”52 Whether Oliver authorized the change of wording is unknown.

Regarding this first plural marriage, Palmer identifies several “problems” (p. 12):

Palmer: “(1) There is no marriage/sealing ceremony or record of the ordinance.”

[Page 207]Response: Here Palmer demonstrates ignorance of the secrecy surrounding plural ceremonies during Joseph Smith’s lifetime. A few of his sealings can be documented in records written at that time, usually in coded language. For example, Brigham Young’s journal for 6 January 1842 records: “I was taken in to the lodge J Smith was Agness.”53 The second word “was” probably stands for “wed and sealed.”54 However, the vast majority of the Prophet’s sealings were not documented contemporaneously in any way.

As discussed above, Mosiah Hancock provides a second-hand account of a marriage ceremony. Perhaps even more persuasive is the witness of two critics. After she left Joseph and Emma’s home, Fanny would stay with the Chauncey Webb family. Webb would later apostatize from the Church in Utah, and his daughter Ann Eliza Webb would marry Brigham Young, divorce him, and then embark upon a career as an anti-Mormon author and lecturer.

Yet, even though hostile to the Church, both Webb and his daughter referred to Fanny’s plural marriage as a “sealing.”55 The anachronistic use of the term “sealing” by the Webbs during the Utah period to describe a Kirtland-era plural marriage should not be used to imply that Joseph saw his marriage to Fanny as a sealed, “eternal marriage.”56 It does, however, dispel Palmer’s notion that the relationship was a mere dalliance. Eliza Jane also noted that the Alger family “considered it the highest honor to have their daughter adopted into the prophet’s family, and her mother has always claimed that she [Fanny] was sealed [Page 208]to Joseph at that time.”57 This would be a strange attitude to take if their relationship was nothing but a disgraceful affair.

Furthermore, the hostile Webbs had no reason to invent a “sealing” if they knew Fanny was really a case of adultery. The astonishing thing is that they did not think to change the story into an affair or seduction, but they probably thought that a polygamous marriage would be scandalous enough for their audience, as it doubtless was. Their critical account, however, is a valuable clue to how Fanny, her family, and Joseph understood the relationship: as a legitimate, solemnized marriage.

Palmer: “(2) A witness was not present.”

Response: While the Mosiah Hancock account does not list a witness besides his father Levi, it also does not declare there were no witnesses. Less than half of the recollections discussing plural marriages prior to the martyrdom list the names of witnesses. Palmer is making an assumption and then criticizing his assumption, not the historical evidence. Hancock is said to have performed the ceremony, so he serves as a witness of the arrangement — it was formally solemnized, and not simply an adulterous coupling that Joseph later strove to justify as a “marriage” after the fact.

Palmer: “(3) There is no text of a revelation permitting polygamous marriage. Joseph Smith may have talked about polygamy in Kirtland, but there is no evidence that he practiced it until 5 April 1841 at Nauvoo.”

Response: While section 132 was not written until 12 July 1843, multiple evidences document that Joseph learned of the [Page 209]correctness of the principle in 183158 and was commanded to establish the practice in 1834.59 The idea that a revelation had to be written before it could be followed is novel, but inaccurate. The first baptisms for the dead were performed without a written revelation authorizing such ordinances.60

Palmer: “(4) The LDS Church believes Joseph Smith received the keys to “seal” couples for eternity on 3 April 1836 not before.”

Response: We do not claim the Fanny Alger plural marriage was a sealing. Joseph possessed priesthood authority that could solemnize marriages. The first such recorded marriage occurred 24 November 1835, when the Prophet performed the monogamous wedding ceremony of Lydia Goldthwaite Bailey and Newell Knight.61 It is common nowadays to think of plural marriage as always tied to the doctrines of sealing and eternal marriage, but the two concepts are separate. The historical evidence has Joseph discussing plural marriage years prior to expressing ideas about eternal sealings.62

[Page 210]Palmer: “(5) Alger left the state and quickly rejected counsel by marrying a non-Mormon, something one would not expect from a plural wife.”

Response: Fanny Alger told Eliza Jane Webb “her reasons for leaving ‘Sister Emma.’”63 And Andrew Jenson’s notes record that Emma “made such a fuss” about Fanny.64 Palmer is entitled to his opinion, but his supposition of what should be “expected” of a plural wife who had been thrust out of the home by Emma may or may not be valid. Palmer also knows nothing of what “counsel” she received from Joseph, if any. Palmer piles one speculation upon another here to support his theories.

#7: Lucinda Harris

Palmer’s discussion of Lucinda Harris includes a brief statement from Wilhem Wyl’s anti-Mormon work (pp. 12–13).65 Wyl claims that prior to 1886 Sarah Pratt said:

Mrs. [Lucinda Pendleton Morgan] Harris was a married lady, a very good friend of mine. When Joseph had made his dastardly attempt on me, I went to Mrs. Harris to unbosom my grief to her. To my utter astonishment she said, laughing heartily: “How foolish you are! I don’t see anything so horrible in it. Why I am his mistress since four years!”66

Without troubling to evaluate the credibility of either Wyl or Sarah Pratt, Palmer’s shallow scholarship apparently [Page 211]permitted him to cite a brief statement and then move on. However, as witnesses, Sarah Pratt and Wyl are known to have made allegations that can be shown to be blatantly false.67 Both, like Palmer, seemed willing to repeat any rumor so long as it undermined Joseph Smith. Concerning Wyl’s accuracy, non-Mormon writer Thomas Gregg wrote: “The statements of the interviews [in his book] must be taken for what they are worth. While many of them are corroborated elsewhere and [corroborated] in many ways, there are others that need verification, and some that probably exist only in the mind of the narrator.”68 Biographer Richard L. Bushman provided this assessment: “He [Wyl] introduced a lot of hearsay into his account of Joseph. Personally I found all the assertions about the Prophet’s promiscuity pretty feeble. Nothing there [was] worth contending with.”69 Hales has discussed multiple additional problems with the timeline and allegations elsewhere.70

#8: Sarah Pratt

While it may seem unlikely that Grant Palmer’s historical documentation methodology could get any worse, it does. He next quotes from John C. Bennett quoting Sarah Pratt allegedly quoting Joseph Smith (p. 13):

Sister Pratt, the Lord has given you to me as one of my spiritual wives [somewhat like a concubine, or a wife for the night]. I have the blessings of Jacob granted me, as God granted holy men of old, and as I have long looked upon you with favor, and an earnest desire of [Page 212]connubial bliss, I hope you will not repulse or deny me. (p. 13; material in square brackets added by Palmer)

The dramatics in this alleged conversation appear to be Bennett’s elaborations. He refers to “spiritual wifery,” a term Joseph Smith never used except in derision.71 The revelation on celestial and plural marriage, dictated by the Prophet (now section 132), contains no mention of the words “spiritual” or “wifery.” Interestingly, Bennett did not adopt other terms like “everlasting wifery,” “celestial wifery,” “eternal wifery,” or “spiritual marriage,” which is evidence that Joseph’s teachings and Bennett’s claims were completely unrelated to each other and casts significant doubt that Joseph Smith would have ever used the term as Bennett alleged.

An additional problem with Sarah’s alleged account, as filtered through John C. Bennett, is that the evidence strongly supports that they were sexually involved with each other. In August of 1842, non-Mormon72 J. B. Backenstos, signed an affidavit charging, “Doctor John C. Bennett, with having an illicit intercourse with Mrs. Orson Pratt, and some others, when said Bennett replied that she made a first rate go, and from personal observations I should have taken said Doctor Bennett and Mrs. Pratt as man and wife, had I not known to the contrary.”73 Ebenezer Robinson similarly reported in 1890: “In the spring of 1841 Dr. Bennett had a small neat house built for Elder Orson Pratt’s family [Sarah and one male child] and commenced boarding with them. Elder Pratt was absent on [Page 213]a mission to England.”74 John D. Lee recalled: “He [John C. Bennett] became intimate with Orson Pratt’s wife, while Pratt was on a mission. That he built her a fine frame house, and lodged with her, and used her as his wife.”75 Another Nauvooan recalled that Joseph Smith tried to intervene. Mary Ettie V. Coray Smith76 related:

Orson Pratt, then, as now [1858], one of the “Twelve,’ was sent by Joseph Smith on a mission to England. During his absence, his first (i.e. his lawful) wife, Sarah, occupied a house owned by John C. Bennett, a man of some note, and at that time, quartermaster-general of the Nauvoo Legion. Sarah was an educated woman, of fine accomplishments, and attracted the attention of the Prophet Joseph, who called upon her one day, and alleged he found John C. Bennett in bed with her. As we lived but across the street from her house we heard [Page 214]the whole uproar. Sarah ordered the Prophet out of the house, and the Prophet used obscene language to her.77

Precisely what Joseph and Sarah discussed is not known; however, she later complained that Joseph made an offensive “proposal” to her.78 In a meeting of the Twelve Apostles dated 20 January 1843, Joseph Smith told Orson that Sarah “lied about me,” saying, “I never made the offer which she said I did.”79 In 1845, Orson Pratt was interviewed by Sidney Rigdon. After the interview, Rigdon concluded that Orson was “literally telling the people that all Smith said about his wife was true.” Rigdon added: “He has left on the character of his wife a stain, by this degraded condescension, that he can never wash out. … Pratt is determined to make us believe it, by virtually declaring it was true; for if he was wrong when he called Smith a liar, then his wife was guilty of the charges preferred.”80

If he was going to opine on these matters, Grant Palmer should have been aware of this data. And, had he known, he ought then have refrained from including such feeble evidence to support allegations of impropriety between Joseph Smith and Sarah Pratt without making a cogent case, which overcomes the limitations we outline above.

#9: Melissa Schindle

Palmer continues to quote John C. Bennett’s publication, History of the Saints, by reproducing an affidavit from Melissa Schindle (p. 14):

[Page 215]In the fall of 1841, she was staying one night with the widow Fuller, who has recently been married to a Mr. Warren, in the city of Nauvoo, and that Joseph Smith came into the room where she was sleeping about 10 o’clock at night, and after making a few remarks came to her bedside, and asked her if he could have the privilege of sleeping with her. She immediately replied no. He, on the receipt of the above answer told her it was the will of the Lord that he should have illicit intercourse with her, and that he never proceeded to do any thing of that kind with any woman without first having the will of the Lord on the subject; and further he told her that if she would consent to let him have such intercourse with her, she could make his house her home as long as she wished to do so, and that she should never want for anything it was in his power to assist her to — but she would not consent to it. He then told her that if she would let him sleep with her that night he would give her five dollars — but she refused all his propositions. He then told her that she must never tell of his propositions to her, for he had ALL influence in that place, and if she told he would ruin her character, and she would be under the necessity of leaving. He then went to an adjoining bed where the Widow [Fuller] was sleeping — got into bed with her and laid there until about 1 o’clock, when he got up, bid them good night, and left them, and further this deponent saith not. MELISSA (her X mark) SCHINDLE.

Subscribed and sworn to before me, this 2d day July, 1842. A. FULKERSON, J. P. (seal).81

[Page 216]Palmer evidently takes this affidavit at face value, writing that on an “1841 evening … Melissa Schindle was propositioned by Smith,” and “Melissa rejected” Joseph Smith’s offer (p. 14). However, the affidavit’s credibility is questionable on several grounds.

Schindle’s illiteracy, indicated by her signing an “X,” shows that she would have required assistance from other individuals — including, potentially, John C. Bennett — to compose the document. Two weeks after the affidavit was published, Melissa Schindle’s moral character was questioned in Nauvoo’s secular newspaper, The Wasp: “Who is Mrs. Shindle? A harlot.”82 Catherine Fuller (see case #10) was tried before the Nauvoo High Council on 25 May 1842 for immoral activity with John C. Bennett. During her trial, she accused Bennett of also sleeping with Melissa Schindle. 83 D. Michael Quinn lists her as one of Bennett’s “free-love” companions.84

The events described in the affidavit include several details that seem implausible. In 1841 Nauvoo, no man — even Joseph Smith — was likely to be allowed to wander into a room where women were already in bed sleeping at ten o’clock at night.

Schindle’s claim that Joseph Smith “told her it was the will of the Lord that he should have illicit intercourse with her” depicts him as an adulterous hypocrite, acknowledging from the onset that the relationship would have been “illicit.” Such a depiction of the Prophet contradicts the numerous other public and private evidences that Joseph taught and practiced a different moral standard.

It is also implausible that the Prophet would offer Schindle to “make his house her home” if she would acquiesce. It seems clear that Emma, the Prophet’s legal wife, would not have tolerated such an arrangement at their Nauvoo homestead. [Page 217](The Smiths did not move into the spacious Nauvoo Mansion until August of 1843.)

The offering of money, “five dollars,” is also singular. None of Joseph’s plural wives reported any promises of material benefits or financial favors to them. Plural wife Lucy Walker recalled Joseph telling her as he discussed a plural sealing with her: “I have no flattering words to offer.”85 There is simply too much here that does not add up.

#10: Catherine Warren Fuller

In her affidavit, Schindle declared that she refused Joseph Smith’s advances and then witnessed sexual relations between him and Catherine Fuller. To support this allegation, Palmer also quotes an affidavit from John C. Bennett (p. 14):

…he [John C. Bennett] has seen Joseph Smith in bed with Mrs. ______, Mrs. ______, and that he has seen him in the act of cohabitation with Mrs. ______, and Mrs. ______, all four of whom he seduced by telling him that the Lord had granted the blessing of Jacob, and that there was no sin in it — that he told him that Bates Noble married him to ____ ______, and that Brigham Young married him to ____ ______, that he had free access to Mrs. ______, Mrs. ______, and Mrs. ______, and various others.86

Bennett asserted that Joseph Smith was sleeping with seven married women, and Bennett personally witnessed relations between the Prophet and four of them. Bennett’s affidavit is remarkable for its voyeuristic features. Were Joseph behaving as described, it would be surprising if he allowed any man or woman the level of access Bennett claimed. It is also dubious to claim that the women would have permitted it. Bennett and Palmer’s reconstruction makes them passive objects or props, not realistic human beings of their time and place.
[Page 218]

Figure 6: John C. Bennett affidavit published in The Pittsburgh Morning Chronicle (29 July 1842)

Figure 6: John C. Bennett affidavit published in The Pittsburgh Morning Chronicle (29 July 1842)

Despite his many claims of being a polygamy confidant of Joseph Smith’s, an examination of Bennett’s writings [Page 219]demonstrates that he learned nothing about eternal marriage from the Prophet.

In a 28 October 1843 letter written to the Iowa Hawk Eye newspaper, Bennett reported that “This ‘marrying for eternity’ is not the ‘Spiritual Wife doctrine’ noticed in my Expose [The History of the Saints], but is an entirely new doctrine established by special Revelation.” That is, eternal marriage was “an entirely new doctrine” to Bennett. Since Joseph never taught plural marriage in Nauvoo without emphasizing its eternal nature, Bennett’s admission that he had never heard of eternal marriage in Nauvoo is a tacit admission that he never learned of plural marriage there either.

As discussed above, on 25 May 1842, Catherine was called before the Nauvoo High Council on charges of “unchaste and unvirtuous” behavior — not with Joseph Smith, but with John C. Bennett and other men:

The defendant confessed to the charge and gave the names of several others who had been guilty of having unlawful intercourse with her stating that they taught the doctrine that it was right to have free intercourse with women and that the heads of the Church also taught and practiced it which things caused her to be led away thinking it to be right but becoming convinced that it was not right and learning that the heads of the church did not believe nor practice such things she was willing to confess her sins and did repent before God for what she had done and desired earnestly that the Council would forgive her and covenanted that she would hence forth do so no more.87

In this confession Catherine directly contradicts Bennett’s accusation, acknowledging that the “heads of the church,” which would have included Joseph Smith, “did not believe [Page 220]nor practice” what Bennett described as “free intercourse.” Given that Catherine exposed Bennett and implicated Melissa Schindle in fornication with Bennett, it is perhaps not surprising that Bennett would try to discredit her, though his zeal resulted in less-than-plausible slander.

“At Least Some Plausibility”

As quoted above, Grant Palmer explained in his introduction: “a number of sexual allegations are leveled against Smith, several of which I think contain so little information they are not worth mentioning.” Instead, he chose these ten “declarations” because he believed they “have at least some plausibility of being true.” Questions of “plausibility” can be answered in different ways by observers, usually due to the individual biases they possess. Apparently, these ten allegations are the most convincing evidences Palmer could identify in the entire historical record in order to support his belief that Joseph Smith “was accused of illicit sexual conduct with a number of women from 1827 on, until his death in 1844” (p. 3). If so, then the “allegations” that were “not worth mentioning” because they were more skimpily documented must have been very dubious indeed.

Part 2 — Other Historical Claims and Errors

No Accuser Equals No Sin?

On page 16, Palmer proposes an utterly unlikely interpretation of Joseph Smith’s public teaching on 7 November 1841: “If you do not accuse each other, God will not accuse you.”88 There is no question that Bennett utilized this seduction line. Margaret Nyman testified that Chauncey Higbee, a follower of Bennett, approached her saying: “Any respectable female might indulge in sexual intercourse, and there was no [Page 221]sin in it, provided the person so indulging keep the same to herself; for there could be no sin where there was no accuser.”89

Palmer extrapolates and claims that by 7 November 1841, “this philosophy was already being practiced by Joseph Smith and John C. Bennett” (p. 16). Unfortunately for Palmer, he provides no evidence to support the tenuous claim that the Prophet did so. It seems that if John C. Bennett had known about eternal marriage and celestial sealing, he would have exploited those secret teachings rather than twisting a public statement from the Prophet. Palmer includes Joseph in his net without any documentation.

With the exception of Bennett, there are likewise no witnesses that Joseph would ever have tolerated secret sexual liaisons between unmarried individuals. On the contrary, he disciplined such behavior when it came to his attention.

Evidence or Unscholarly Propaganda?

Halfway through the article, Palmer summarizes:

Improper sexual advances relating to the Stowell daughters, Eliza Winters, Marinda Nancy Johnson, Vienna Jacques, Miss Hill, Fanny Alger, Lucinda Harris, Sarah Pratt, Melissa Schindle, and Catherine Fuller Warren were made against the character of Joseph Smith from 1827–1841. (p. 16)

Palmer apparently believes his interpretations regarding these alleged interactions, but our closer look reveals that none of them constitute a credible report of sexual immorality.

Expanding his case with innuendo, Palmer writes:

Additionally, of the thirty-three women listed by Todd Compton as being plural wives of Joseph Smith, twelve do not have an officiator, ceremony or witness to their marriage/sealing. Fanny Alger and Mrs. Lucinda [Page 222]Harris, who we have already discussed, fall into this category in the 1830s; Mrs. Sylvia Sessions, Mrs. Elizabeth Durfee, Mrs. Sarah Cleveland, and widow Delcena Johnson, in 1842; and single women, Flora Ann Woodworth, Sarah and Maria Lawrence, Hannah Ells, Olive Frost and Nancy Winchester, in 1843. Is inadequate record keeping the problem, or are some of these women — especially the married ones — sexual consent relationships? (p. 16)

It appears Palmer simply performed a superficial review of these women and then drew his extreme conclusion. If he had dug a little further he would have learned that documentation exists showing that Levi Hancock performed the marriage of Fanny Alger; Andrew Jenson documented a sealing between the Prophet and Sylvia Sessions; Emma Smith participated in the sealings of Sarah and Maria Lawrence; and valid eternal marriage ceremonies were attested for Olive Frost (by Mary Ann Frost), Elizabeth Davis [Durfee] (by Eliza R. Snow), Sarah Cleveland (by John L. Smith), Hannah Ells (by William Clayton), Nancy Winchester (by Eliza R. Snow), Delcena Johnson (by Benjamin F. Johnson), and Flora Ann Woodworth (by Helen Mar Whitney). The volume of evidence Palmer needed to ignore to arrive at his conclusion is impressive.90

Joseph Smith’s “Tremendous Power Over Church Members”?

Palmer’s version of Joseph Smith’s polygamy becomes more entertaining as he asserts:

Claiming heavenly sealing keys to “bind and loose” gave Smith tremendous power over church members. He used it as an inducement to persuade at least three and probably four young females to accept his proposals between mid-July 1842 and mid-May 1843. Sarah Ann Whitney, Helen Mar Kimball, Lucy Walker and perhaps Flora Woodworth — all between the ages [Page 223]of fourteen and seventeen[ — ]were persuaded by this approach. (pp. 17–18.)

Specifically, Palmer asserts: “Newel K. Whitney, Sarah Ann’s father was promised by Smith to receive ‘eternal life to all your house, both old and young,’ by having Sarah Ann marry him” (p. 18). In fact, Palmer misrepresents the statement:

Verily thus saith the Lord unto my servant N. K. Whitney the thing that my servant Joseph Smith has made known unto you and your family and which you have agreed upon is right in mine eyes and shall be crowned upon your heads with honor and immortality and eternal life to all your house both old and young because of the lineage of my priesthood saith the Lord it shall be upon you and upon your children after you from generation to generation By virtue of the Holy promise which I now make unto you saith the Lord.91

Palmer affirms that the “thing” capable of bringing “honor and immortality and eternal life to all your house both old and young … and upon your children after you from generation to generation” is Joseph’s plural marriage to Sarah, which is an incomplete interpretation. He ignores the other factor at play in Joseph’s communications with the Whitney’s: the eternal marriage sealing of Newel and Elizabeth Whitney on 21 August 1842. Three days prior to their sealing, Joseph wrote them urgently of “one thing I want to see you for it is to git the fulness of my blessings sealed upon our heads.” Joseph praised the Whitneys “for I know the goodness of your hearts, and [Page 224]that you will do the will of the Lord, when it is made known to you.”92

Plural marriage is thus a token of the Whitneys’ willingness to obey God, but their complete commitment and the eternal sealing that it permits seems to us the more likely source of the promised blessings.

Helen Mar Kimball’s father arranged for her to be sealed to Joseph Smith. Palmer writes: “He [Joseph Smith] told Helen Mar Kimball in front of her father, Heber C. Kimball, that: ‘If you will take this step, it will ensure your eternal salvation & exaltation and that of your father’s household & all of your kindred’” (p. 18).93 Palmer forgets to include Helen’s other comment regarding the teachings she heard that day: “I confess that I was too young or too ’foolish’ to comprehend and appreciate all” that Joseph Smith taught.94 Contemporaneous evidence from more mature family members who were better positioned to “comprehend and appreciate” the Prophet’s promises to Helen demonstrates that she did, in fact, misunderstand the blessings predicated on this sealing.95

Palmer misrepresents still another relationship: “Lucy Walker, like the other two girls was told by Smith that by marrying him, ‘that it would prove an everlasting blessing to my father’s house’” (p. 18). A closer look at the entire quote shows that it is the principle of sealing, not Lucy’s specific marriage to Joseph that would bring blessings: “He [Joseph Smith] fully explained to me the principle of plural or celestial marriage. He said this principle was again to be restored for the benefit of the human family, that it would prove an everlasting blessing to [Page 225]my father’s house, and form a chain that could never be broken, worlds without end.”96

Sending Men on Missions?

By quoting secondary sources such as Todd Compton, Palmer asserts:

A second method Smith used to get females to say yes to his proposals was to send family males on a mission that might or did object to his advances. … Smith directly approached young Lucy Walker only after sending her father, John Walker, on a mission. He also sent Horace Whitney on a mission because he felt that Horace was too close to his sister Sarah Ann, and would oppose the marriage.97 Smith married Marinda Nancy Johnson Hyde, a year before her husband Orson, an Apostle, returned from his mission. (p. 19)

A closer look reveals that John Walker was sent on a mission to help his health. Lucy recalled: “The Prophet came to our rescue. He said: ‘If you remain here, Brother Walker, you will soon follow your wife. You must have a change of scene, a change of climate.’ … [M]y father sought to comfort us by saying two years would soon pass away, then with renewed health” 98 and upon his return he was told and approved of the marriage. Similarly, Horace Whitney approved of Sarah’s sealing upon learning of it after his mission was finished.

Two separate sealing dates for Joseph Smith’s marriage to Marinda Nancy Johnson are available. Joseph Smith’s journal contains a list of plural marriages in the handwriting of Thomas Bullock is found written after the 14 July 1843 entry: “Apri 42 marinda Johnson to Joseph Smith,” well over a year [Page 226]after Orson had left on his mission to Palestine.99 However, the second sealing date of “May 1843” was written on an affidavit she personally signed. The significance of the two dates is unknown, but as evidence that the Prophet would send a woman’s family members on missions in order to marry her, these cases are not impressive. If Orson had been sent away so Joseph could marry his wife, why did Joseph wait at least a year before proceeding? And, why does Palmer emphasize the amount of time remaining on Orson’s mission, instead of the amount of time that had elapsed before the marriage? His choice shades the account to Joseph’s disadvantage.

Angel with a Sword

Palmer writes that Joseph Smith told Zina Huntington: “The angel will slay me with a sword if you don’t accept my proposal” (p. 19). This entertaining fabrication is not supported by any known account of Joseph Smith’s visit with the angel.100 In fact, Zina testified that Joseph never spoke to her until the sealing. Zina explained: “My brother Dimick told me what Joseph had told him” regarding plural marriage, and she reported: “Joseph did not come until afterwards. … I received it from Joseph through my brother Dimick.”101 Importantly, Mary Elizabeth Rollins stated that the angel did not appear with a sword until “early February” of 1842 — this was months after Joseph’s sealing to Zina, so a claim about a sword to Zina appears anachronistic.102

[Page 227]Throughout Palmer’s discussion, he seems unaware of Joseph’s open condemnation of a “plurality of husbands.” That is, at no time could a woman have two husbands according to God’s laws.103 In the cases of Zina Huntington (legal wife of Henry Jacobs) and Mary Elizabeth Rollins (legal wife of Adam Lightner), the women chose Joseph over their civils spouses in “eternity only” sealings that begin after death.104

Joseph H. Jackson?

Just when we thought Palmer’s documentation could not get any worse, he quotes Joseph H. Jackson:

For example, he [Joseph Smith] asked Joseph Jackson for help in winning over Jane Law in January of 1844, stating that Smith: “Informed me he had been endeavoring for some two months, to get Mrs. William Law for a spiritual wife. He said that he had used every argument in his power to convince her of the correctness of his doctrine, but could not succeed.”105 (pp. 20–21)

Joseph H. Jackson published an extraordinary account of his alleged interactions with Joseph Smith, including those with William and Jane Law in 1844.106 However, the historical record demonstrates that Jackson had few opportunities for [Page 228]private conversations with the Prophet. Jackson lied when he introduced himself as a “Catholic priest,” on 18 May 1843.107 Two days later, William Clayton recorded Joseph remarking, “Jackson appears a fine and noble fellow but is reduced in circumstances.” Apparently Jackson immediately disappointed the Prophet’s expectations. Only three days later, Joseph told Clayton, “Jackson is rotten hearted.” This gives the supposed Catholic priest no more than a five-day window without Joseph’s distrust.108

It appears that Joseph Jackson sought to marry Lovina Smith, daughter of Hyrum Smith, but was rebuffed by both Hyrum and Joseph. One month before his death the Prophet exclaimed: “Jackson has committed murder, robbery, and perjury; and I can prove it by half-a-dozen witnesses.”109 Given how closely Joseph guarded the secret of plural marriage in Nauvoo, it is extraordinary to claim that he would unveil everything less than a week after first meeting Jackson.

Slandering Women Who Refused Plural Proposals?

Palmer seems to believe John C. Bennett’s claim that if a woman refused a plural proposal, Joseph Smith would ruin her reputation (p. 22).110 History records that Joseph was turned down by seven women. His preferred response was to quietly let the matter rest. No evidence of retaliatory excommunications or other vengeful reactions have been found, although twice he sought to counteract allegations he considered untrue.

[Page 229]Benjamin F. Johnson wrote of one rejection, relating that the Prophet “asked me for my youngest sister, Esther M. I told him she was promised in marriage to my wife’s brother. He said, ‘Well, let them marry, for it will all come right.’”111 Esther and her future husband were married by Almon Babbit in Nauvoo on 4 April 1844.112

In another case, on 15 September 1843, William Clayton recorded an incident regarding Lydia Moon: “He [Joseph Smith] finally asked if I would not give Lydia Moon to him I said I would so far as I had any thing to do in it. He requested me to talk to her.”113 Two days later, Clayton wrote: “I had some talk with Lydia. She seems to receive it kindly but says she has promised her mother not to marry while her mother lives and she thinks she won’t.”114 Lydia was not sealed to Joseph.

Another unsuccessful proposal occurred with Sarah Granger Kimball, who was legally married to non-Mormon Hiram Kimball:

Early in 1842, Joseph Smith taught me the principle of marriage for eternity, and the doctrine of plural marriage. He said that in teaching this he realized that he jeopardized his life; but God had revealed it to him many years before as a privilege with blessings, now God had revealed it again and instructed him to teach with commandment, as the Church could travel (progress) no further without the introduction of this principle. I asked him to teach it to some one else. He looked at me reprovingly and said, “Will you tell me who to teach it to? God required me to teach it to you, and leave you with the responsibility of believing or disbelieving.” He said, “I will not cease to pray for you, [Page 230]and if you will seek unto God in prayer, you will not be led into temptation.”115

After this snub, Sarah Kimball sent Joseph on his way. His only response was to encourage her and to pray for her.

Cordelia C. Morley recounted a similar situation: “In the spring of forty-four, plural marriage was introduced to me by my parents from Joseph Smith, asking their consent and a request to me to be his wife. Imagine if you can my feelings, to be a plural wife, something I never thought I ever could. I knew nothing of such religion and could not accept it. Neither did I.”116 However, Cordelia had second thoughts and was sealed to the Prophet after his death. 117

Rachel Ivins also turned Joseph down, but she was later sealed to him by proxy in the Endowment House in Salt Lake City on 29 November 1855.118

All five of these rejections came and went, unknown to most in Nauvoo. According to available records, these women suffered no consequences at Joseph Smith’s hand, directly or indirectly, for spurning him. Had the woman not personally recounted the events afterwards, knowledge of the proposals would have likely been lost to later generations.

However, Joseph’s interactions with two women, Sarah Pratt and Nancy Rigdon, demonstrate that he would defend himself against claims he considered to be false.119 Joseph likely proposed plural marriage to Nancy, but she declined.120 While [Page 231]she did not publicly accuse the Prophet, she also did not keep the episode secret. One account claimed that “she like a fool had to go & blab it.”121 Months later John C. Bennett broadcast his version of the episode in a letter to the Sangamo Journal.122 Joseph publicly denied Bennett’s account, and within weeks Nancy denounced Bennett’s claims in a statement made through her father, Sidney Rigdon.123

Joseph likewise publicly refuted Sarah Pratt’s accusations (see discussion above, Part 1, Claim #8). He later confided to Orson Pratt, Sarah’s husband that Sarah “lied about me.”124 Orson would eventually conclude that Joseph had told the truth.125

When we review Joseph Smith’s actions in the cases of Nancy Rigdon and Sarah Pratt and compare them to his reactions upon being rebuffed by Esther M. Johnson, Lydia Moon, Sarah Granger Kimball, Cordelia C. Morley, and Rachel Ivins, the historical data make it clear that if Nancy and Sarah had kept silent concerning Joseph Smith’s discussion of plurality, the public scandals that followed would have almost certainly been avoided.

Helen Mar Kimball — Consummated Plural Marriage?

Without any supporting evidence, Palmer asserts:

Helen [Mar Kimball] thought she had married Smith “for eternity alone” but soon found out differently. She said Joseph protected her from the attention of young men, and that her marriage was “more than ceremony,” [Page 232]suggesting that she did have or would have a sexual relationship with Smith. (p. 13)

In fact there is no evidence that the sealing between Joseph and Helen was intended or said to be “for eternity only.” However, several observations argue that Joseph’s sealing to Helen Mar Kimball was never consummated. Heber C. Kimball requested that Joseph be sealed to his daughter, to which Helen agreed.126 There is no historical data suggesting that the Prophet initiated or actively sought this plural union.

In 1892, depositions seeking to discover if Joseph Smith practiced sexual polygamy were sought for litigation between the RLDS Church and the Church of Christ (Temple Lot). Helen Mar Kimball was not called to testify, even though she lived nearby and had written two books defending plural marriage. Instead, three wives who lived further away were summoned, and all affirmed sexual relations with the Prophet in their plural marriages. The most likely reason for Helen’s absence was her inability to offer the required testimony of a sealing with a sexual dimension.

While we have no firsthand accounts of the Prophet’s counsel on marriages to women in their teens, a pattern which began in Nauvoo and was carried over into Utah is instructive. This protocol taught that polygamous husbands should allow young wives to physically mature before beginning a family with them. Eugene E. Campbell described Brigham’s latter instructions:

To one man at Fort Supply, Young explained, “I don’t object to your taking sisters named in your letter to wife if they are not too young and their parents and your president and all connected are satisfied, but I do not want children to be married to men before an age which their mothers can generally best determine.” Writing to another man in Spanish Fork, he said, “Go [Page 233]ahead and marry them, but leave the children to grow.” … To Louis Robinson, head of the church at Fort Bridger, Young advised, “Take good women, but let the children grow, then they will be able to bear children after a few years without injury.”127

“Multiply and Replenish the Earth”

Palmer seems obsessed with the fact that some of Joseph Smith’s plural marriages included sexual relations (pp. 22–28). In fact, to “multiply and replenish the earth” was a lesser reason for the establishment of plural marriage. God explained to the Nephites that He might “command” plural marriage in order to “raise up seed” to Him (Jacob 2:30). Hales has made all known documentation of sexuality in twelve of the plural marriages available in print and online.128

At present, there is evidence of two or three children fathered by Joseph Smith via plurality. Even if that number were doubled, it would still represent a surprisingly small number of children if sexual relations occurred often. The Prophet was virile, having fathered eight children with Emma despite long periods of time apart and challenging schedules.

A review of the child-bearing chronology of Joseph Smith’s wives after his death and their remarriages demonstrates impressive fertility in several of the women. Most of them married within two years after the martyrdom and prior to the Saints leaving for the West. Three of the women became pregnant within weeks after remarrying. Sarah Ann Whitney, who was sealed to Joseph Smith for twenty-three months, married Heber C. Kimball on 17 March 1845, and, based on the birth date of their first child, became pregnant approximately June 15.129 She bore Heber Kimball seven children between [Page 234]1846 and 1858. Lucy Walker, who was sealed to the Prophet for fourteen months, also married Kimball. About three months after their 8 February 1845 marriage, she became pregnant.130 She gave birth to nine of Kimball’s children between 1846 and 1864. Malissa Lott, who was sealed to Joseph Smith in September 1843, married Ira Jones Willes on 13 May 1849. Their first child was born 22 April 1850, with conception occurring approximately 30 July 1849 (or eleven weeks after the wedding ceremony). Seven Willes children were born between 1850 and 1863. Emily Partridge bore Brigham Young seven offspring between 1845 and 1862. Her sister Eliza married Amasa Lyman, and together they had five children between 1844 and 1860. Several other plural wives, including Louisa Beaman, Martha McBride, and Nancy Winchester, also remarried and became pregnant. In light of the obvious fertility of many of Joseph Smith’s plural wives (and Joseph himself with Emma), it seems that they either bore him children who are unknown today or that sexual relations in the marriages did not occur often.

Conclusion: Unsubstantiated Opinion and Poor Documentation

Grant Palmer is certainly entitled to his opinion of Joseph Smith and plural marriage. However, it is important for observers to discern whether his opinion is based upon documented history or simply his own notions. Palmer is not entitled to pass off his opinions — most poorly grounded, and some utterly fanciful — as historical fact.

Throughout his paper, Palmer consistently succumbs to a weakness found in similar antagonistic writings — he portrays Joseph Smith as a blatant hypocrite and depicts Church members as such gullible dupes that they remain blissfully unaware of what Joseph was up to. In doing so, Palmer enters the realm of historical fiction. To assume that Joseph Smith could have blithely transgressed his own theological teachings without disillusioning followers like Brigham Young, John [Page 235]Taylor, Eliza R. Snow, Zina Huntington, and many others is unrealistic. Joseph spent a good part of his life under intense scrutiny. Most of his closest followers were too perceptive to be bamboozled and too religious to become accomplices in a deliberate deception.131 Even Fawn Brodie admitted, “The best evidence of the magnetism of the Mormon religion was that it could attract men with the quality of Brigham Young, whose tremendous energy and shrewd intelligence were not easily directed by any influence outside himself.”132

Our review of Palmer’s methodology reveals a reconstruction filled with implausibilities and abysmally poor evidentiary support, which undermines the accuracy of most of his conclusions. There seems to be little doubt that Grant Palmer believes his version of Joseph Smith’s polygamy, but there seems to be equally little reason that anyone else should.[Page 236]

1. Grant H. Palmer, “Sexual Allegations against Joseph Smith, 1829–1835,” typescript, n.d. [after 1999], UU_Accn0900, H. Michael Marquardt Collection, Marriott Library. Photocopy in possession of Brian C. Hales.

2. Numerous non-LDS media outlets have noted the bias of the “anti-Mormon website called MormonThink.” John Johnson, “UK Judge to Mormon Leader: Defend Your Religion in Court,” Newser, 5 February 2014, http://www.newser.com/story/181832/uk-judge-to-mormon-leader-defend-your-religion-in-court.html. For further examples, see “How Does the News Media View MormonThink.com?” FairMormon Answers Wiki, accessed 23 September 2014, http://en.fairmormon.org/Criticism_of_Mormonism/Websites/MormonThink/Media_coverage_of_MormonThink.

3. Van Wagoner likewise cites this source as “Benjamin F. Winchester.” Richard S. Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy: A History (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1989), 4.

4. Brigham Young, cited in Scott G. Kenny, ed., Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 9 vols. (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1985), 7:31 (24 September 1871).

5. Comparable tactics are used in the similarly flawed and equally ideologically driven account found in George D. Smith, Nauvoo Polygamy: … but we called it celestial marriage” (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2008), 15–20.

6. “History of Joseph Smith,” Times and Seasons 3/11 (1 April 1842): 749.

7. “History, 1838–1856, volume A-1 [23 December 1805–30 August 1834],” The Joseph Smith Papers, Addenda, Note C • 1820–1823, accessed 24 September 2014, http://josephsmithpapers.org/paperSummary/history-1838-1856-volume-a-1-23-december-1805-30-august-1834?p=5#!/paperSummary/history-1838-1856-volume-a-1-23-december-1805-30-august-1834&p=139.

8. Joseph Smith to Oliver Cowdery, Messenger and Advocate 1/3 (December 1834): 40, emphasis added.

9. See, for example, Orson Hyde, 1832 mission journal for date, typescript, American Collection, Box 8670, M 82, Vol. 11, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University or “From the Boston Patriot,” National Intelligencer, 13 November 1819.

10. “History of Joseph Smith — continued,” Times and Seasons 4/3 (15 December 1842): 41.

11. John S. Reed, “Some of the Remarks of John S. Reed, Esq., as Delivered Before the State Convention,” Times and Seasons 5/11 (1 June 1844): 550–51.

12. Affidavit of Levi Lewis, 20 March 1834; reproduced in Susquehanna Register and Northern Pennsylvanian (1 May 1834): 1. The original affidavit is not extant.

13. “Mormonism,” Susquehanna Register and Northern Pennsylvanian (1 May 1834): 1.

14. Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, Ohio: Telegraph Press, 1834), 268–69.

15. Alma taught his son that breaking the law of chastity was “an abomination in the sight of the Lord; yea, most abominable above all sins save it be the shedding of innocent blood or denying the Holy Ghost” (Alma 39:5). This interpretation was specifically taught by Apostles Orson Pratt and Heber C. Kimball. Orson Pratt, “Celestial Marriage” The Seer 1/1 (January 1853): 27; Heber C. Kimball, in Journal of Discourses, 4:175. For an alternative view that Alma 39:5 was not primarily referring to sexual immorality, see Michael R. Ash, “The Sin ‘Next to Murder’: An Alternative Interpretation,” Sunstone (November 2006): 34–43; Bruce W. Jorgensen, “Scriptural Chastity Lessons: Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife; Corianton and the Harlot Isabel,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 32/1 (Spring 1999): 7–34, esp. 19–28; and Brant A. Gardner, Second Witness: Analytical & Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, Volume Four: Alma (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2011): 527–28.

16. Mark B. Nelson and Steven C. Harper, “The Imprisonment of Martin Harris in 1833,” Brigham Young University Studies 45 (Fall 2006): 114–15.

17. Quoted in Dan Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, 5 vols. (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1996–2004), 4:358; see also 4:314, 4:297n3.

18. Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, 4:346. Dan Vogel characterizes her apparent silence on the topic as “an accusation she neither confirmed nor denied.” It seems likely that if Winters had denied the accusation, Mather would not have included Joseph’s exoneration in his article, as it did not suit his purpose of disparaging the Mormon prophet. Regardless, while Vogel’s assessment may be technically true, there is no way of knowing whether the subject was even mentioned. Vogel treats Lewis’s report as somewhat credible. See Dan Vogel, Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2004), 178, 619; Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, 4:296–97.

19. “Doctor” was not a title; it was Hurlbut’s first given name. The Smiths had early legal trouble with a Hurlbut family, but it is not known if Doctor Hurlbut was related to them. See Jeffrey N. Walker, “Joseph Smith’s Introduction to the Law: The 1819 Hurlbut Case,” Mormon Historical Studies 11/1 (Spring 2010): 129–30.

20. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed.

21. Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, 4:281–98.

22. We have only excerpts published in “Mormonism,” Susquehanna Register, and Northern Pennsylvanian 9 (1 May 1834): 1; republished in Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, 268–69; cited in Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, 4:296–97.

23. Compare Joseph’s remarks cited in note 8 above.

24. See remarks in this vein in Paul H. Peterson, “Understanding Joseph: A Review of Published Documentary Sources,” in Joseph Smith: The Prophet, the Man, eds. Susan Easton Black and Charles D. Tate (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 1988), 110.

25. As Vogel notes, Methodists regarded any use of liquor by a minister as grounds for dismissal; these accusations from a Methodist family are clearly intended to portray Joseph as someone unsuited for the ministry. Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, 4:297.

26. “History of Luke Johnson,” Millennial Star 26 (1864): 834.

27. S. F. Whitney (Newel’s brother), in Arthur B. Deming, ed., Naked Truths About Mormonism (Oakland, Calif: by author, 1888), 1. Eliphaz Johnson was John Johnson’s brother, not his son.

28. Edmund L. Kelley and Clark Braden, Public Discussion of the Issues between the RLDS Church and the Church of Christ (Disciples) Held in Kirtland, Ohio, Beginning February 12, and Closing March 8, 1884 between E. L. Kelley, of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and Clark Braden, of the Church of Christ (Lamoni, Iowa: Herald Publishing House, 1913), 202, square bracket addition by Palmer.

29. It is possible that Palmer is relying instead on another secondary source, Fawn Brodie who popularized this interpretation of the 1832 mobbing. See Fawn Brodie, No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith, 2nd rev. ed. (New York: Vintage Books, 1995), 119. Richard S. Van Wagoner echoed this interpretation. Mormon Polygamy: A History, 4–5.

30. George Washington Smith, A History of Southern Illinois: A Narrative Account of Its Historical Progress, Its People, And Its Principal Interests (Chicago and New York: Lewis Publishing, 1912), 389.

31. Nathaniel S. Haynes, “Biography of Clark Braden,” accessed 13 February 2008, http://www.mun.ca/rels/restmov/texts/nhaynes/hdcib/BRADEN01.htm.

32. Kelley and Braden, Public Discussion of the Issues, 202. See Wayne A. Ham, “Truth Affirmed, Error Denied: The Great Debates of the Early Reorganization,” John Whitmer Historical Association Journal 7 (1987): 8.

33. Richard S. Van Wagoner, Sidney Rigdon: A Portrait of Religious Excess (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 2005), 114–15; citing Symonds Ryder, “Letter to A. S. Hayden,” 1 February 1868.

34. Van Wagoner, Sidney Rigdon: A Portrait of Religious Excess, 108–18.

35. Edward W. Tullidge, The Women of Mormondom (New York: n.p., 1877), 404.

36. Palmer cites: “Mrs. Warner [sic] Alexander, Statement [1886], original in Stanley A. Kimball Papers, Southern Illinois University; typescript in Linda King Newell Collection, MS 447, Special Collections, Marriott Library, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah. The editorial marks /…/ indicate [sic] words added.”

37. Brian C. Hales, Joseph Smith’s Polygamy: History and Theology 3 vols. (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2013), 1:48–50.

38. Ancestral File, accessed 16 May 2009, http://www.familysearch.org.

39. The account was apparently published as an article entitled: “Mrs. Alexander’s Statement,” but the available copy is cropped, hiding any information about its source or date of publication. At the bottom is a handwritten name: “Mrs Nancy Alexander.” A. B. Deming Papers, Utah State Historical Society, PAM 9687; reportedly copies of pamphlets from the Chicago Historical Society.

40. Jerri W. Hurd, “Vienna Jacques: The Other Woman in the Doctrine and Covenants,” 2, unpublished manuscript, Linda King Newell Collection, MS 447, Box 4, fd 1, Marriott Library, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah.

41. William E. McLellin in a July 1872 letter to the Smith’s eldest son, Joseph III, Community of Christ Archives; copy Church History Library, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah (hereafter Church History Library). A typescript of the entire letter is found in Stan Larson and Samuel J. Passey, eds., The William E. McLellin Papers, 1854–1880 (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2007), 488–89. See also Robert D. Hutchins, “Joseph Smith III: Moderate Mormon” (master’s thesis, Brigham Young University, 1977), 79–81.

42. Mormon Polygamy, 4–5, esp. 5n7. Van Wagoner treats the “Miss Hill” and Fanny Alger accounts as two different events, just as Palmer does.

43. Richard L. Anderson to Dawn Comfort, 9–15 May 1998, copy of letter in Scott H. Faulring Papers, Box 93, fds 1–3, (ACCN_2316), Marriott Library, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah.

44. Beadle had previously authored an anti-Mormon work: John Hanson Beadle, Life in Utah: Or, the Mysteries and Crimes of Mormonism (Philadelphia: National Publishing, 1870).

45. McLellin and Beadle were then in Missouri. McLellin would have been describing the location hundreds of miles away in Kirtland, Ohio, not guiding Beadle to the actual geographic “spot” where Joseph and Fanny were spied upon.

46. J. H. Beadle, “Jackson County,” Salt Lake Tribune, 6 October 1875, 4; emphasis added.

47. Beadle, “Jackson County,” 4.

48. Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery, Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith (Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company, 1984), 66.

49. Mary E. Lightner to A. M. Chase, letter dated 20 April 1904, quoted in J. D. Stead, Doctrines and Dogmas of Brighamism Exposed ([Lamoni, Iowa]:RLDS Church, 1911), 218–19. See also “Record Book of Mary R. L. Rollins, MS 748, Church History Library; The Life and Testimony of Mary Lightner (n.p., n.d. [Salt Lake City: Pioneer Press]), 10.

50. Levi Ward Hancock, autobiography with additions in 1896 by Mosiah Hancock, 63, Church History Library; cited portion written by Mosiah, MS 570, microfilm.

51. First List of Plural Wives, Document 1, in Andrew Jenson Papers, MS 17956, Box 49, fd 16, Church History Library.

52. Oliver Cowdery, letter to Warren A. Cowdery (Oliver’s brother), 21 January 1838, letterbook, Huntington Library, San Marino, California.

53. Brigham Young’s journal, 6 January 1842, Church History Library.

54. See discussion in Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1997), 153.

55. Ann Eliza would have observed none of the Fanny incident first hand, since she was not born until 1844. The Webbs’ accounts are perhaps best seen as two versions of the same perspective.

56. See discussion in Palmer’s point #4 in main text below.

57. Ann Eliza Webb Young, Wife No. 19, or the Story of a Life in Bondage, Being a Complete Exposé of Mormonism, and Revealing the Sorrows, Sacrifices and Sufferings of Women in Polygamy (Hartford, Conn.: Custin, Gilman & Company, 1876), 66–67; discussed by Danel W. Bachman, “A Study of the Mormon Practice of Polygamy before the Death of Joseph Smith,” (master’s thesis, Purdue University, 1975), 83n102; see also Eliza J. Webb [Eliza Jane Churchill Webb], Lockport, New York, to Mary Bond, letters dated 24 April 1876 and 4 May 1876, Myron H. Bond Collection, P21, f11, RLDS Archives; cited by Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 34 and commentary in Todd Compton, “A Trajectory of Plurality: An Overview of Joseph Smith’s Thirty-Three Plural Wives,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 29/2 (Summer 1996): 30.

58. See Orson Pratt, “Report of Elders Orson Pratt and Joseph F. Smith,” Millennial Star 40 (16 December 1878): 788; “W. W. Phelps to Brigham Young, letter dated 12 August 1861, Young Collection, Church History Library; copy of holograph in possession of Brian C. Hales.

59. Mary Elizabeth Rollins, 8 February 1902 statement, MS 1132, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University; Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner, “Remarks” at Brigham Young University, 14 April 1905, Vault MSS 363, fd 6, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Special Collections.

60. See Alexander L. Baugh, “‘For This Ordinance Belongeth to My House’: The Practice of Baptism for the Dead Outside the Nauvoo Temple,” Mormon Historical Studies 3/1 (2002): 47–58.

61. See William G. Hartley, “Newel and Lydia Bailey Knight’s Kirtland Love Story and Historic Wedding,” Brigham Young University Studies 39/4 (2000): 6–22; M. Scott Bradshaw, “Joseph Smith’s Performance of Marriages in Ohio,” Brigham Young University Studies 39/4 (2000): 23–68; Gregory Prince, Power from on High (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1995), 182.

62. Regarding the 1831 knowledge of the correctness of plural marriage, see note 58. The first mention of marriage lasting beyond the grave comes from W.W. Phelps in 1835. W.W. Phelps to Sally Phelps, letter dated 26 May 1835, Journal History, Church History Library. Joseph did not teach eternal marriage publicly until 1841. See http://josephsmithspolygamy.org/history-2/kirtland-polygamy/. At that time, nothing was mentioned regarding the need for a “sealing” or special marriage ceremony.

63. Eliza J. Webb [Eliza Jane Churchill Webb], Lockport, New York, to Mary Bond, 4 May 1876, Biographical Folder Collection, P21, f11, item 9, Community of Christ Archives.

64. Andrew Jenson Papers, MS 17956, Box 49, fd 16, Doc. 10, Church History Library.

65. W[ilhem] Wyl [pseud. for Wilhelm Ritter von Wymetal], Mormon Portraits, or the Truth about Mormon Leaders from 1830 to 1886, Joseph Smith the Prophet, His Family and His Friends: A Study Based on Fact and Documents (Salt Lake City: Tribune Printing and Publishing, 1886).

66. Wyl, Mormon Portraits, 60, emphasis deleted.

67. Hales, Joseph Smith’s Polygamy, 1:64–65.

68. Thomas Gregg, The Prophet of Palmyra: Mormonism Reviewed and Examined in the Life, Character, and Career of Its Founder (New York: John B. Alden, 1890), 504.

69. Email correspondence between Richard L. Bushman and Brian Hales, 23 August 2007.

70. Hales, Joseph Smith’s Polygamy, 1:58–67.

71. See Andrew F. Ehat, and Lyndon W. Cook, eds., The Words of Joseph Smith: The Contemporary Accounts of the Nauvoo Discourses of the Prophet Joseph Smith (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Religious Studies Center, 1980), 257, 357.

72. On Backenstos’s status as a non-Mormon, see Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Knopf, 2005), 477.

73. “Affidavit of J. B. Backenstos,” Affidavits and Certificates, Disproving the Statements and Affidavits Contained in John C. Bennett’s Letters, Nauvoo, Illinois, Aug. 31, 1842. These affidavits have been listed as an “Extra” and were printed as a single, two-sided sheet on the Church’s printing press. Catherine Fuller testified J. B. Backenstos had approached her along with Bennett.

74. Ebenezer Robinson, The Return (St. Louis) 1/11 (November 1890): 362.

75. John D. Lee, Mormonism Unveiled (St. Louis: Byron, Brand, 1877), 148.

76. Mary is a notoriously unreliable source, so her witness alone would be worth little. It is included here as a potentially confirming voice, though it is difficult to rely upon her for matters about which she provides the only evidence. One nineteenth century member who left the Church and wrote an anti-Mormon work said of Mary: “Much has already been written on this subject much that is in accordance with facts, and much that is exaggerated and false. Hitherto, with but one exception [Mrs. Ettie V. Smith is footnoted as the author referred to] that of a lady who wrote very many years ago, and who in her writings, so mixed up fiction with what was true, that it was difficult to determine where the one ended and the other began no woman who really was a Mormon and lived in Polygamy ever wrote the history of her own personal experience. Books have been published, and narratives have appeared in the magazines and journals, purporting to be written by Mormon wives; it is, however, perhaps, unnecessary for me to state that, notwithstanding such narratives may be imposed upon the Gentile world as genuine, that they were written by persons outside the Mormon faith would in a moment be detected by any intelligent Saint who took the trouble to peruse them.” Mrs. T.B.H. [Fanny] Stenhouse, “Tell It All”: The Story of a Life’s Experience in Mormonism (Hartford, Conn.: A.D. Worthington & Company, 1875 [1874]), 618.

77. Nelson Winch Green, Fifteen Years among the Mormons: Being the Narrative of Mrs. Mary Ettie V. Smith (New York: D.W. Evans, 1860, Kessinger Publishing rpt.), 31.

78. Wyl, Mormon Portraits, 61.

79. Minutes of the Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1835–1893 (Salt Lake City: Privately Published, 2010), 15 (entry for 20 January 1843); see also New Mormon Studies: A Comprehensive Resource Library, CD-ROM (Salt Lake City: Smith Research Associates, 1998); Richard S. Van Wagoner, “Sarah M. Pratt: The Shaping of an Apostate” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 19 (Summer 1986): 80.

80. Sydney Rigdon, “Tour East,” Messenger and Advocate of the Church of Christ, Pittsburgh, December 1845, 1.

81. John C. Bennett, letter dated 27 June 1842, “Bennett’s Second and Third Letters,” Sangamo Journal, Springfield, Ill., 15 July 1842. Reproduced in Bennett’s History of the Saints: or, An Exposé of Joe Smith and Mormonism (Boston: Leland & Whiting, 1842), 253–54, https://archive.org/details/historysaints00benngoog.

82. The Wasp, “Extra” edition, Wednesday, 27 July 1842. The Wasp names her “Shindle,” while Bennett’s Sangamo Journal and History of the Saints account uses “Schindle” (see note 81 above).

83. Catherine Fuller testimony before the Nauvoo High Council, 25 May 1842; copy of holograph in Valeen Tippitts Avery Collection, Utah State University, Logan, Utah. See further discussion on pp. 219–20 below.

84. D. Michael Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1994), 536.

85. Quote in Lyman Omer Littlefield, Reminiscences of Latter-day Saints: Giving an Account of Much Individual Suffering Endured for Religious Conscience (Logan, Utah: Utah Journal Co., 1888), 47.

86. John C. Bennett affidavit published in The Pittsburgh Morning Chronicle, 29 July 1842.

87. Nauvoo Stake High Council Minutes, 1839 October–1845 October, LR 3102 22: Church History Library. Printed in Fred Collier, The Nauvoo High Council Minute Books of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Hanna, Utah: Collier’s Publishing, 2005), 57–58.

88. Joseph Smith, 7 November 1841 discourse; reproduced in History of the Church, 4:445.

89. “Testimony of Margaret J. Nyman v. Chauncey L. Higbee, before the High Council of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in the city of Nauvoo, May 21, 1842,” Millennial Star 23 (12 October 1861): 657.

90. See Hales, Joseph Smith’s Polygamy, 1:323–41.

91. H. Michael Marquardt, The Joseph Smith Revelations with Text and Commentary (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1999), 315. See also Joseph Smith, An American Prophet’s Record: The Diaries and Journals of Joseph Smith, vol. 1, Significant Mormon Diaries Series, ed. Scott Faulring (Salt Lake City: Signature Books in association with Smith Research Associates, 1989), 165–66, citing copies in Church History Library. Also in George D. Smith, Revelations in Addition to Those Found in the LDS Edition of the D&C, in New Mormon Studies: A Comprehensive Resource Library, CD-ROM (Salt Lake City: Smith Research Associates, 1998).

92. Joseph Smith, letter to Newel K. Whitney, Elizabeth Ann Whitney, etc., 18 August 1842, Church History Library. Reproduced in Dean C. Jessee, ed., The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1984), 539–40.

93. Palmer is quoting Helen Mar Kimball Smith Whitney, “Autobiography, 30 March 1881,” MS 744, Church History Library.

94. Helen Mar Whitney, Plural Marriage as Taught by the Prophet Joseph: A Reply to Joseph Smith, Editor of the Lamoni Iowa “Herald” (Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor Office, 1882), 16.

95. Hales, Joseph Smith’s Polygamy, 2:28–29; Hales, 3:198–203.

96. Quoted in Littlefield, Reminiscences of Latter-day Saints, 46; see also testimony in Andrew Jenson, “Plural Marriage,” Historical Record 6 (July 1887): 229–30.

97. Palmer references Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 349.

98. Lucy Walker Kimball, “Statement,” typescript, MS 9827, 4, Church History Library; see also Littlefield, Reminiscences of Latter-day Saints, 43–44.

99. Photograph of holograph in Richard E. Turley, Jr., Selected Collections from the Archives of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 2002), 1: DVD 20.

100. Brian C. Hales, “Encouraging Joseph Smith to Practice Plural Marriage: The Accounts of the Angel with a Drawn Sword,” Mormon Historical Studies 11/2 (Fall 2010): 55–71.

101. Zina D. H. Young, Interviewed by John W. Wight, 1 October 1898, “Evidence from Zina D. Huntington-Young,” Saints’ Herald 52/2 (11 January 1905): 28–30. Also in Stead, Doctrines and Dogmas of Brighamism Exposed, 212–14.

102. “Statement” signed Feb. 8, 1902, Vesta Crawford Papers, MS 125, Box 1, fd 11, Marriott Library, University of Utah. Original owned by Mrs. Nell Osborne, Salt Lake City. See also Juanita Brooks Papers, USHS, MSB103, Box16, fd 13; Mary E. Lightner to A. M. Chase, 20 April 1904, quoted in Stead, Doctrines and Dogmas of Brighamism Exposed, 218–19. 2–3.

103. Hales, Joseph Smith’s Polygamy, 1:375–90.

104. Hales, Joseph Smith’s Polygamy, 1:431, 434–441.

105. Joseph H. Jackson, A Narrative of the Adventures and Experience of Joseph H. Jackson in Nauvoo (Warsaw [Ill.]: np, August 1844), 19.

106. Jackson’s account, while intriguing, is full of egotistical assertions and gross inaccuracies, hence raising questions regarding credibility. For example, he states that at one point Joseph Smith said to him that “he thought his wife loved me more than she did him.” Jackson, A Narrative of the Adventures and Experiences of Joseph H. Jackson in Nauvoo, 10. He also made the outlandish claim that “From my knowledge of the spiritual wife system I should think that the number of secret women in Nauvoo cannot be much less than six hundred” (25).

107. History of the Church, 5:394.

108. Smith, ed., An Intimate Chronicle: The Journals of William Clayton, 6, (23 May 1843). Due to his purported involvement in the death of Joseph Smith, a broadside entitled A Proclamation was issued on 27 September 1844 offering a reward of two hundred dollars for the apprehension of Levi William, Thomas C. Sharp, and Joseph H. Jackson. Chad J. Flake and Larry W. Draper, A Mormon Bibliography 1830–1930: Books, Pamphlets, Periodicals, and Broadsides Relating to the First Century of Mormonism, 2nd ed. (Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2004), 1:539, #4198a.)

109. Ehat and Cook, The Words of Joseph Smith, 376.

110. Bennett, The History of the Saints, 231 (Sarah Pratt) and 253 (Widow Fuller).

111. Benjamin F. Johnson, My Life’s Review (Mesa: 21st Century Printing, n.d.), 96.

112. Lyndon W. Cook, comp. Nauvoo Deaths and Marriages, 1839–1845 (Orem, Utah: Grandin, 1994), 97.

113. Smith, ed. An Intimate Chronicle: The Journals of William Clayton, 120.

114. Smith, ed. An Intimate Chronicle: The Journals of William Clayton, 120.

115. Jenson, “Plural Marriage,” Historical Record 6 (July 1887): 232.

116. Cordelia Morley Cox, autobiography, holograph, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, 4.

117. Cordelia Morley Cox, autobiography, 4.

118. Thomas Milton Tinney, The Royal Family of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Jr. (Salt Lake City: Tinney-Greene Family Organization, 1973), 12 (handwritten entry).

119. Several authors have published reconstructions of these historical events. However, new evidence and observations indicate that traditional interpretations are incomplete. See Hales, Joseph Smith’s Polygamy, 1:413–42, 475–546.

120. Our research suggests that Joseph Smith approached Nancy Rigdon in early 1842 with the hope that she would respond favorably and through the process, her father, Sidney (Joseph’s counselor in the First Presidency) would also accept and support the practice. His dictated letter to Nancy, which begins, “Happiness is object and design of our existence,” may have been written to influence and teach Sidney as much as to convince Nancy.

121. John W. Rigdon, letter to “Arthur Willing, Elder,” 20 February 1904 (written from Brooklyn, New York), MS 14595, pp. 7–8, Church History Library.

122. John C. Bennett in “Bennett’s Second and Third Letters.”

123. Sidney Rigdon letter written 27 August 1842, “Editor of the Wasp,” The Wasp, 3 September 1842, 4.

124. Minutes of the Quorum of the Twelve, 20 January 1843. Cited on New Mormon Studies: A Comprehensive Resource Library.

125. Rigdon, “Tour East.”

126. Helen Mar Kimball Smith Whitney, “Autobiography, 30 March 1881,” MS 744, Church History Library.

127. Eugene E. Campbell, Establishing Zion: The Mormon Church in the American West 1847–1869 (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1988), 198n5.

128. Hales, Joseph Smith’s Polygamy, 1:379–92. See sources online at http://josephsmithspolygamy.org/faq/sexuality-2/.

129. Sarah’s first child, David Kimball, was born 8 March 1846.

130. Rachel Sylvia Kimball was born 28 January 1846; assuming a full term birth, conception occurred on approximately 7 May 1845.

131. See discussion in Joseph Smith’s Polygamy, 3:263–273.

132. Brodie, No Man Knows My History, 126–27. Joseph Johnson writing in 1885 disagreed: “He [Brigham Young] must have been an idiot, or thought he was addressing idiots.” Joseph Johnson, The Great Mormon Fraud (Manchester: Butterworth and Nodal, 1885), 17.

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About Brian C. Hales

Brian C. Hales, is the author of six books dealing with polygamy, most recently the three-volume, Joseph Smith’s Polygamy: History and Theology (Greg Kofford Books, 2013). His Modern Polygamy and Mormon Fundamentalism: The Generations after the Manifesto received the “Best Book of 2007 Award” from the John Whitmer Historical Association. He has presented at numerous meetings and symposia and published articles in The Journal of Mormon History, Mormon Historical Studies, and Dialogue as well as contributing chapters to The Persistence of Polygamy series. Brian works as an anesthesiologist at the Davis Hospital and Medical Center in Layton, Utah, and has served as the President of the Utah Medical Association.

About Gregory L. Smith

Gregory L. Smith studied research physiology and English at the University of Alberta but escaped into medical school before earning his bachelor’s degree. He was an associate editor of the Mormon Studies Review at BYU’s Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship from 2011–2012. He works as a rural family doctor providing cradle-to-grave care.

29 thoughts on “A Response to Grant Palmer’s “Sexual Allegations against Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Polygamy in Nauvoo”

  1. I think female voices are also important in their own defense against Grant’s claims (and Benson’s, Packham, Dehlin, etc. etc. etc.
    Helen Mar Kimball:
    “Men, or creatures in human form, who insult and tyrannize over helpless women and children, seeking to goad us to desperation and drive our people…They know in their hearts that their accusations against this people are false, and that they themselves stand guilty before God and man of the iniquities they seek to lay at our doors…The daughters of Zion must awake…We have learned this lesson well, that we need not look for justice from them, nor for mercy from men whose hearts are adamant. ..”

    “..no one but myself is responsible for my actions.”

    “It was among the grand designs of the Gods that woman should be equal with man…Mormons…are neither slaves nor toys… we are not so ignorant of matters pertaining to the women of the world as they appear to be concerning us, and this religion called ‘Mormonism’—a religion which we have espoused and cling to because we love its principles, which require all to live godly in Christ Jesus and keep themselves pure and unspotted from the world, the angels will bear witness…I am a stronger advocate of …the celestial order of marriage, and rejoice more exceedingly in the goodness of God to me and my house….”
    “Could those who look down upon plural wives and cast a stigma upon them and their offspring realize the lamentable…condition of many women in the world, veritable slaves who dare not express their feelings for fear of the lash of ‘public opinion,’ they might change their minds respecting ‘Mormon’ women, who are anything but dupes or slaves.”

    “Liberty is necessary to make life endurable, and if I have ever been deprived of that boon under the laws and government of God’s kingdom, I have remained in blissful ignorance to this day, and can say, as God is my witness, it is this Gospel that has made me free.”

    “…The debt she has paid, and it is the plan of the Almighty to make of His noble daughters queens instead of serfs, that woman may reign

    “The soul-destroying crimes that are fostered in the midst of Christian civilization, are breaking more hearts and causing them to put an end to their dreary and wretched existence, than all the alleged heart-burnings endured by plural wives…”

  2. What was the purpose of polygamy? Even if one accepts that the number of women who had sexual relations with Smith was small where are the children. ? For those women who were sealed to him but with whom he did not have sexual relations with, what happened to them? Did they marry someone else later?

  3. I appreciate the response, though I’m not so much in love with the personal attacks embedded within it.

    I did not intend any “personal attacks.” I apologize. All I can see that might be construed as that is to say that you have “misunderstanding,” “missing,” and “underplaying” certain bits of data. That isn’t intended as an attack; it’s only describing how I see your argument. Again, my apologies.

    I did find a)-f) to be a useful chain of thought.

    I’m glad. This is the argument that the paper makes, though I’ve here been a bit more pedantic about it. 🙂

    In the future I would encourage you not to make too many assumptions about the commenters with whom you engage.

    Again, I’m not sure what you’re referring to here. In rereading what I wrote, perhaps you think I was saying that you were among those for whom: “But, Palmer does have his audience and devotees….This has not kept his fans from fulsome praise. There is no theory so bizarre, or so shaky, that someone (sometimes many someones) won’t believe it.”

    I’m here speaking in general terms of Palmer’s work, not about you specifically. I apologize if it gave that impression.


  4. Hi Watcher,

    Thanks for the comments.

    I apologize for “mystifying” you regarding whether D&C 132:19-20 refers to polygamy or monogamy. Your comments reflect the common fundamentalist view that polygamy must be commanded in those verses someplace. Actually, Mormon fundamentalists seldom quote those verses and when they do, the almost always add brackets or an asterisk, or a footnote somewhere to clarify that even though the words do not specify plural marriage, they are certain that exaltation requires it.

    My responses have consistently pointed out that the verbiage is plain and unambiguous, offering exaltation and godhood in a monogamous setting when a worthy “man marries a wife” by proper authority.

    However, you astutely point out that the original question was about a “plurality of wives” (V. 1). But I disagree that the Lord’s answer that follows must be restricted just to polygamy. Fundamentalists often assume that everything that follows Joseph’s question in verse 1 deals strictly with polygamy. In 1833 when Joseph Smith asked the Lord concerning the use of tobacco during Church meetings (see JD 12:157-58), the Lord responded by giving the Saints a general health code we now call the “Word of Wisdom” (D&C 89). Joseph asked a specific question and received a general answer that included a discussion of tobacco use (one verse), but was not limited strictly to it.

    Similarly, Joseph asked about a plurality of wives and received an answer that dealt, not only with polygamy, but with the entire New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage, which includes plural marriage but is not limited to it. Plural marriage itself is not mentioned until verse 34.

    Polygamists today want the New and Everlasting Covenant to be strictly plural marriage or always to require plural marriage. It is just isn’t true. I really like Apostle Joseph F. Smith’s 1878 teaching:

    “There is a great deal said about our plural marriage… It is a principle that pertains to eternal life, in other words, to endless lives, or eternal increase. It is a law of the Gospel pertaining to the celestial kingdom, APPLICABLE TO ALL GOSPEL DISPENSATIONS, WHEN COMMANDED AND NOT OTHERWISE, AND NEITHER ACCEPTABLE TO GOD OR BINDING ON M
    AN UNLESS GIVEN BY COMMANDMENT” (JD 20:26; caps added).

    So here Joseph F. Smith says polygamy is a “law” but only “when commanded.” So, when it is NOT commanded, it is not a law. Since plurality can be commanded, it can be revoked, (see D&C 56:4, 58:32; Jacob 2:30), which happened in 1890. Elder Smith states polygamy is not “binding” unless “given by commandment.” Also, it is not required of “all gospel dispensations.” This is exactly what I believe.

    Your reference to D&C 84:57 suggest that maybe you would like to read a previous article of mine here.


    It seems that many critics want the Church to be wrong so they can be right without it. One problem with their approach is that their criticisms do not help the kingdom to roll forth. Joseph taught in 1831 that “The keys of the kingdom of God are committed unto man on the earth, and from thence shall the gospel roll forth unto the ends of the earth, as the stone which is cut out of the mountain without hands shall roll forth, until it has filled the whole earth” (D&C 65:2).

    Church members are not perfect, but there are many who are holy and are fulfilling God’s requests. This I know–please do not claim otherwise. The Kingdom is rolling forth and we can help. Joseph taught: “Let the Saints remember that great things depend on their individual exertion, and that they are called to be co-workers with us and the Holy Spirit in accomplishing the great work of the last days” (TPJS 178). Being a coworker requires more than criticism, but a humble willingness to serve as God’s representatives direct “whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same” (D&C 1:38).

    Fundamentalists generally do not do this. They focus on polygamy, and may add the law of consecration, as if those practices were magic and would remove the need for valid authority (see D&C 132:18) and their responsibilities to be missionaries (see D&C 88:81, 84:76) etc. At the final day, I believe they will be disappointed. The Prophet explained: “The disappointment of hopes and expectations at the resurrection would be indescribably dreadful” (TPJS 325). How can we avoid this? By making VALID covenants and keeping them.

    As you said, you are not a fundamentalist so it is possible that much of what I have written above may not apply. Forgive me if that is the case.

    Take Care,

    Brian Hales

    • It seems as though Watcher got under your skin a bit. I appreciate your detailed response especially that fabulous quote from Joseph F Smith.

      This is the part of Watchers comment I had the most trouble with:

      Indeed, from a broad, contextual reading of the revelation, the most plausible interpretation favors the likeliness of the text in verse 19 referring to a polygamous man taking another wife, or a monogamous man that is preparing to take his first polygamous wife.

      This seems a particularly forced interpretation for it seems like the most obvious interpretation would be instructing a monogamous man with a legal marriage to undertake an eternal marriage. Did Watcher not think that the first wife needed to be sealed in this covenant but that a man just skipped over his first wife and started eternal covenants with his second wife?
      As you say, there is a clear effort to force the text to meet an agenda.

    • Thank you for your response Brian.

      No need to apologize. I am mystified by many things, not just your views on polygamy.

      First, let me say that I enjoyed your debate with Cheryl Bruno at Sunstone this year. I was impressed with the level of patience, restraint and charity you used in your remarks despite her aggressive remarks during the debate.

      You probably don’t remember me, but I was the commenter that mentioned Brigham’s dream in which he asked the prophet Joseph to explain about the law of adoption, which, in my opinion, demonstrates that Brigham Young was as mystified with the law of adoption as I was with your assumption that verse 19 of section 132 “clearly refers to a single worthy man being sealed to a single worthy wife by proper authority.”

      Your interpretation of Section 132 reminds me of an article and a presentation done by Valarie Hudson, another LDS feminist that you have locked horns with in time past.

      She stated the following:

      “Now, as to the first part of D&C 132, verses 3 to 33, we have a reiteration that you must marry, and you must marry in the temple in order for your marriage to be effective in the hereafter and in order for you to be exalted.”

      She used the following quote from Hyrum M. Smith’s early commentary on the Doctrine and Covenant, as the foundation for her assessment:

      “The Revelation [Section 132] is divided into two parts. The first part, comprising verses 3 to 33, deals mainly with the principle of celestial marriage, or marriage for time and all eternity, and the second, comprising the remaining verses, deals with plural marriage.”

      You will notice that both interpretations above fall short of claiming that verses 3 to 33 categorically exclude the practice of polygamy and only have to do with monogamy.

      True enough, they are claiming that the main topic of these verses has to do with celestial marriage for time and eternity, while the remaining verses of the revelation focus primarily on polygamy, but they are not suggesting that polygamous marriages or the topic of polygamy are being excluded in those verses.

      They are not ruling out that both polygamous and monogamous marriages can be sealed in temples as celestial marriages for time and eternity.

      IMO the above interpretations are not congruent with how Brigham Young interpreted those verses. For that reason I don’t think someone could reasonably say that those interpretations are “clear” to the objective reader that has the advantage of Brigham Youngs teachings for context.

      Furthermore, it appears to me that you and Gregory are taking the previous axioms shown above, which have previously been taught in the modern corporate church, and narrowed the interpretation of verses 3-33, verse 19 in particular, to the topic of monogamy.

      I believe that narrow interpretation is even less “clear” to readers, than the interpretations postulated by Hudson and Smith.

      I am curious to know how many other LDS scholars truly believe that verse 19 is exclusively referring to single men and single women.

      I am also curious about Louis Midgley’s comment:

      “I wondered about the few paragraphs leading up to Part I.”

      Brother Midgley, can you please clarify what it is that you wondered about so that the authors of the article could respond to you?

      Brian, I appreciate the quote from President Joseph F. Smith, however, his administration and his doctrinal worldview took place after Official Declaration 1.

      It seems to me that the teachings of Brigham Young, the “prophet” that cannoned Section 132 would hold a little more weight in understanding what Section 132 is saying. Here are just a few of his declarations on the matter that we are all familiar with:

      “The only men who become Gods, even the Sons of God, are those who enter into polygamy.”- Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, v. 11, p. 269

      “[A] man who did not have but one wife in the Resurrection that woman will not be his but [be] taken from him & given to another.” Wilford Woodruff Journel 7:152 (See JD 16:160-171)

      “Now, where a man in this church says, ‘I don’t want but one wife, I will live my religion with one.’ He will perhaps be saved in the Celestial Kingdom; but when he gets there he will not find himself in possession of any wife at all…. and he will remain single forever and ever.” Brigham Young, Deseret News, September 17, 1873

      “Now if any of you will deny the plurality of wives and continue to do so, I promise that you will be damned; and I will go still further, and say that this revelation, or any other revelation that the Lord had given, and deny it in your feelings, and I promise that you will be damned.” Brigham Young, Deseret News, November 14, 1855

      Regarding the following statement:

      “It seems that many critics want the Church to be wrong so they can be right without it. One problem with their approach is that their criticisms do not help the kingdom to roll forth. Joseph taught in 1831 that “The keys of the kingdom of God are committed unto man on the earth, and from thence shall the gospel roll forth unto the ends of the earth, as the stone which is cut out of the mountain without hands shall roll forth, until it has filled the whole earth” (D&C 65:2).

      I am sorry you feel that I am not helping the kingdom to roll forth. And you are correct. I am not helping the kingdom that Daniel prophesied about to roll forth because it has not yet begun to roll forth.

      You have grossly misinterpreted the inspired prophetic dream that is contained in section 65. The dream is speaking about a future event, when those anointed servants with whom the keys of the kingdom were committed to, will return the to the Lord’s vineyard to usher in the fulness and fulfill the prophecy in Daniel. (See section 101, 103 & Jacob 5:70)

      If you will visit the prophecy of Daniel and read about the rolling forth of the kingdom that is alluded to in section 65, you will find that when the kingdom begins rolling forth, it will do so in POWER and it will smite the kingdoms of the world and “brake them to Pieces” (Dan 2:34-35, 44-45)

      It is true that the restored church was given the opportunity to begin fulfilling the prophecy in Daniel in February of 1843:

      “But verily I say unto you, that I have decreed a decree which my people shall realize, inasmuch as they hearken from this very hour unto the counsel which I, the Lord their God, shall give unto them.
      6 Behold they shall, for I have decreed it, begin to prevail against mine enemies from this very hour.
      7 And by hearkening to observe all the words which I, the Lord their God, shall speak unto them, they shall never cease to prevail until the kingdoms of the world are subdued under my feet, and the earth is given unto the saints, to possess it forever and ever.
      8 But inasmuch as they keep not my commandments, and hearken not to observe all my words, the kingdoms of the world shall prevail against them.
      9 For they were set to be a light unto the world, and to be the saviors of men;
      10 And inasmuch as they are not the saviors of men, they are as salt that has lost its savor, and is thenceforth good for nothing but to be cast out and trodden under foot of men.” (Section 103)

      Brian, do you honestly believe that the LDS church has been prevailing over the kingdoms of the world for the last 180 years or do you think the kingdoms of the world have been prevailing over the saints?

      Has the LDS Church been breaking the kingdoms of the world to pieces for nearly two centuries?

      Apparently Joseph Smith thought that the kingdom that Daniel prophesied about did not begin to emerge victorious in 1834.

      Here is a statement he made in 1844, shortly before his death, showing that he realized that the foundation to be laid for the rolling forth of that kingdom, would be a later time, and that he would be an instrument in laying that foundation:

      “I calculate to be one of the instruments of setting up the kingdom of Daniel by the word of the Lord, and I intend to lay a foundation that will revolutionize the whole world.” History of the Church, 6:364–65; from a discourse given by Joseph Smith on May 12, 1844, in Nauvoo, Illinois; reported by Thomas Bullock.

      Let me assure you Brian that I am as anxious as you for the kingdom to roll forth victorious.

      Again, I appreciate all of the research that went into the article. I learned some interesting and helpful things from reading it. I would encourage you to consider removing your claim that verse 19 in section 132 is clearly referring to a single man and single woman, I believe it diminishes from the credibility of the article.

    • In the same way Nephi doesn’t mention camels in the text about the journey through Arabia (no need to mention the obvious) why would we need an extensive discourse type revelation (132) about a man marrying one wife? Everyone was crystal clear on that. I propose the reason for the extensive legalistic revelation is precisely because it was intended to drive home the idea and concept of polygamy. There was simply no need to beat folks over the head about monogamy.

      Why not just embrace our past? What’s wrong with that? I’m not a polygamist or a fundamentalist but I can be objective about our history. Often our best defenders go into revisionist history mode to fit their modern day sensibilities. Discovering that 132 is about polygamy (or there would be no need for it) does zero damage to a testimony of the restoration.

      • D&C 132 is about polygamy, but is not ONLY about polygamy. Ideas about eternal marriage/sealing are also in there. Many researchers believe it is an amalgamation of three separate revelations, each dealing with a different set of questions and answers

        The fact that readers can come to different conclusions is potentially evidence of this.

  5. “At best Palmer is extrapolating, at worst he is mindreading.” While I think this criticism holds some water, I worry that the authors are similarly guilty of this kind of historical thinking.

    Their response to complaints about Vienna Jacques makes assertions about what Emma would and would not do based on their assessment of her character. The claims aren’t supported with facts and it fails to adequately deal with the Vienna Jacques example.

    • We cite Emma’s reaction to plural marriage in Kirtland in our discussion of the Fanny Alger/Miss Hill matter.

      I am not aware of any contemporary evidence that suggests that her reaction to the reported Vienna Jacques matter would have been different. Do you? Even in Nauvoo, she was reluctant at best regarding plural marriage.

      We know precisely how Emma reacted in 1843 when presented with a revelation sanctioning plural marriage. She did not then react as Polly Beswick claimed she did with Vienna Jacques. I no of know reason to think that she was _more mellow_ on the matter in Kirtland, especially when coupled with the Fanny Alger evidence. It simply doesn’t match her reaction contemporaneously, or later when the exact scenario which Beswick reports occurred.

      Hales deals with the matter in great detail in Joseph Smith’s Polygamy: History 1:48-53.

      • I understand you point, what I’m saying is that her behavior in 1843 is not evidence of her behavior in 1833. Nowhere does Beswick say that Emma was “tolerating” it, merely that Smith would have “revelations” in response to Emma’s anger.

        Obviously there is room for doubt of the account, but I don’t think asserting that she would react in the same way a decade earlier accounts for all the possibilities. It does not close the door on the accusation, not by a mile.

        A sample theory: Perhaps previous experiences with polygamy and/or infidelity slowly caused Emma stand up to Joseph with more firmness.

        • I think you’re missing part of the argument when you write:

          her behavior in 1843 is not evidence of her behavior in 1833.

          We are not claiming that 1844 behavior alone is evidence for 1833. We are, instead, proposing the following reasoning:

          a) there is no evidence from any point in her life that Emma Smith winked at or tolerated sexual impropriety.
          b) Emma grew up in a straight-laced culture, among religiously conservative family (she was related to a Methodist minister, and her family strongly disapproved of Joseph’s religious pretensions). There is nothing in her upbringing or culture to encourage her to view adultery lightly, or with any degree of tolerance.
          c) Ample evidence exists of Emma’s strong-mindedness, independence of thought, and powerful personality. This was not a woman who was a doormat. (She would go against her family’s wishes to marry Joseph, and stuck with him despite their continued hostility. That is not the act of a woman to be trifled with, especially if Joseph repeatedly betrayed her trust, given how much she had risked for him.)
          d) Circa 1835, Emma learned of Joseph’s relationship with Fanny Alger, and was not pleased, and did not permit Fanny to remain in the house. She also involved Oliver Cowdery.
          e) Between 1841-1844, Emma was generally opposed to plural marriage, with brief periods of relatively reluctant support.
          f) In 1843, Joseph wrote the revelation regarding plural marriage, with the express purpose of convincing Emma to support plural marriage (at Hyrum’s request). Joseph told Hyrum that it would not succeed, and he proved to be correct.

          Thus, the 1843 behavior is part of the reasoning, but it is not the only part. It is one data point among many.

          Given the above data, the Vienna Jacques claim asks us to believe that at some point in 1833, Emma was somewhat troubled by Joseph’s acts (with no evidence of even a marriage ceremony to dignify the goings-on). Joseph was (in the Beswick telling) repeatedly unfaithful to Emma, and Joseph could quiet Emma down merely by claiming a revelation.

          Now, you could read the evidence as you suggest. I think it less plausible. I think the _only_ reason to read it that way is to rescue the Beswick account regarding Vienna. (And, as we detail, there are other problems with it too, from a time-frame perspective, for example.) [For how implausible this is, it’s worth noting that George D’ Smith’s book on plural marriage omits this story entirely, even though he tries to make the same case that Palmer does about Joseph’s early sexual escapades.]

          I think you’re misreading and underplaying the available evidence when you say:

          Nowhere does Beswick say that Emma was “tolerating” it, merely that Smith would have “revelations” in response to Emma’s anger.

          What you miss is that as a result, this would mollify Emma. The relevant lines read:

          Jo would shut himself up in a room and pray for a revelation. When he came out he would claim he had received one and state it to her, and bring her around all right. (pp. 199-200, italics added.

          That’s the whole point of the story: Joseph is claimed to do this repeatedly, and all Emma does is “get out of humor, fret and scold and flounce in the harness.”

          [Aside: Beswick’s tale won’t hold water at all unless she can explain why no one else had heard or knew of this, and why Emma didn’t pitch a fit–she must explain the silence about this issue if she is to have any credibility at all. Yet, implicit in the tale is the idea that no wife of the time would put up with such behavior without raising a stink. So, she must explain that too. I wonder if we can’t detect some of the “bedroom farce” style writing in the anti-Mormon anti-polygamy polemics of the latter half of the 19th century. The statement dates from 1886, so I think there’s probably been a great deal of environmental influence on the tale and how it is told–this is precisely the sort of thing which the audience has by now grown accustomed to associating with Mormon wives, whom those in the east could never believe were not oppressed drudges resigned to their lot. They even built a “rescue house” for such women in Salt Lake, only to have it rarely used. Easterners complained that the women would stop plural marriage if they could–so the Mormons called their bluff, gave women the vote, and the women supported it en masse. I think this late-dated tale tells us far more about the attitudes of the Saints’ critics and society as large than it does about the 1833 it purports to treat. And, all these factors play into how I interpret it–a good example of how hard it is to be explicit about everything one has encountered on a topic when writing history. To a great degree, we must simply decide whether we trust a historian’s impressions–even an amateur one, like me. The author can do his best to put the data out there, but even then his interpretation will draw on many influences that simply can’t be cited, partly because of the volume, and partly because he probably isn’t aware of them all, or couldn’t consciously label the specific things that have combined into the bouillabaisse that is his conclusions. 🙂 ]

          Beswick’s Emma doesn’t have her make a public issue of it–yet, with the Fanny Alger event, Emma calls in the highest authority in the Church besides Joseph: Oliver Cowdery. And, why didn’t Emma raise the issue of past behavior with Oliver? If she’s going to try to make Joseph stop, why doesn’t she lay out the on-going, repeated nature of the crimes, so that she can show that this is a long pattern of behavior, and she has been patient or Christian long enough? This would allow her to show Cowdery that this isn’t a momentary indiscretion; this is a deep-seated problem.

          That’s all negative evidence, but it is strange that if she was going to involve Oliver, she wouldn’t lay all the facts out to him. And, Oliver doesn’t seem to have agreed with Joseph–witness his letter to his brother. But, Oliver says nothing about any other incident besides Fanny. So, you have two witnesses who both had clear motive and opportunity to mention Vienna, and yet they don’t. I am suspicious of theories that require people to act in illogical ways, especially when the logical way would have been very much to their advantage.

          So, Beswick’s Emma gets grumpy and scolds until Joseph “bring[s] her around” with a revelation, and this happens repeatedly. The Emma of documented history finds out about Fanny, puts her out of the house, involves Oliver Cowdery, and it even comes to the attention of the high council. Now, maybe you’re right–maybe she’d had a great change of heart and awakening, as you say: “Perhaps previous experiences with polygamy and/or infidelity slowly caused Emma stand up to Joseph with more firmness.” There is a great deal that lies hidden in that “Perhaps!” 🙂

          Could Emma have had a change of mind/heart within 2 years after repeatedly being a doormat regarding Vienna? Anything is, in some sense, possible. But, there is no evidence for it happening, and a great deal about her behavior and character that makes this unlikely in the extreme, it seems to me. But, as I noted, we all interpret data with our own biases and lenses. Those anxious to condemn Joseph may find your suggestion plausible–all one can ask is that all the issues be pointed out to those who wish to make up their minds based on evidence, rather than other motives.

          As we wrote:

          As a woman possessing conservative moral values, there is little indication that Emma would have ever approved of her husband having sexual relations outside of marriage. Emma struggled mightily in 1843–1844 to accept plural marriage; it seems a frank affair would have been even more difficult for her in 1833. All records from the Kirtland period demonstrate that she did not then believe that God-approved plural marriage had been restored. Accordingly, she would have considered any polygamous intimacy as adultery and would not have permitted contact between the two as described by Nancy.

          Note the word “Accordingly”–this is a clear signal that we are here drawing an inference or conclusion from the evidence. This is how history must be done–one takes fragmentary data, and does one’s best to assemble a story that explains the data.

          There can be no “proof” in such matters; all one can talk about is possibilities and plausibilities. I think a study of Emma’s life, together with the other problems in the late, second- or third-hand Beswick account, make it very, very, unlikely.

          But, Palmer does have his audience and devotees. After all, he is persuaded that Joseph got some ideas from a German tale, ETA Hoffmann’s Der goldne Topf. As far as I can tell, the only real evidence for this was the forged Salamander Letter. This has not kept his fans from fulsome praise. There is no theory so bizarre, or so shaky, that someone (sometimes many someones) won’t believe it.

          Readers will have to decide for themselves if our theories are an example of this phenomenon, or if they make good sense of the evidence. That’s all any writers about historical matters can ask. (All I can say personally is that I have made a good faith effort, and I think Brian has too. I’ve changed my mind on some things in the last 10 years I’ve studied the topic, and I expect if you talk to me in 10 years, I may have changed some things again.)

          But, Palmer’s readers won’t get the chance to assess the reasonableness of his theories compared to the evidence, because he doesn’t even acknowledge the data that might lead one to see it differently.

          It’s not like the case hadn’t been made before now–he has easy access to such arguments, should he wish to address them.

          • I appreciate the response, though I’m not so much in love with the personal attacks embedded within it.

            I did find a)-f) to be a useful chain of thought.

            In the future I would encourage you not to make too many assumptions about the commenters with whom you engage.

  6. Enjoyed the podcast reading on Stitcher. Sure glad Palmer is not on the LDS payroll these days. Great research by Brian and Greg. Those who want to find something bad to hang on Joseph will laud Palmer’s recycling job, so he knows his market. I do know of LDS who left the Church over these allegations, but it would have helped if they looked at both sides of the story before exiting.

  7. Grant Palmer’s latest effort says so much more about Grant Palmer than anything about the Prophet Joseph Smith. Thank you for highlighting the errors and shortcomings of Palmer’s newest attack on the Prophet.

  8. This is great work. Thank you! I actually learned some interesting, new things about one of my ancestors.

    I especially enjoyed the conclusion. Some of the recently reviewed critics (like Runnells and Wunderli) seem to follow the same problematic pattern and approach to history. Ultimately, as was stated, they’re presenting historical fiction as fact.

    It appears no one has or will succeed in credibly portraying Joseph Smith as an insincere fraud, guilty of duping his followers. A scholarly, comprehensive analysis of the history and data simply doesn’t support such a conclusion. Such negative, unfounded opinions and beliefs about Joseph Smith and Mormonism are most unfortunate. I hope those who have fallen victim to such poor scholarship will seriously reconsider their conclusions. Thanks again to Dr. Hales and Dr. Smith.

  9. Excellent deconstruction of the facts. It is methodical and thorough and leaves a strong sense of respect for people who hold a different opinion while explaining the rigor that should be expected from both sides.
    My only critique is that it started a bit weak. It took a bit of reading before getting to impressive examples of flawed analysis and a shallow reader might abandon the article after a few paragraphs thinking there were only very minor concerns.
    And Brother Hales I love your three volume set on polygamy. Any reader who enjoys the meticulous and detailed writing of this article will enjoy that series as well. I especially love your honesty about historical issues and fearlessness in diving into every thorny issue while maintaining a steady faith in the overall character of our founding leaders.

    • I also thought I saw a rather limp opening section, what G, above, calls “weak.” but I could not figure out how to correct the problem without major changes, which seemed unnecessary, given what follows, which devastates Grant Palmer’s speculation.

      • Yeah, intros are always hard. When you know an area well, it’s hard to know what readers will come to the topic with, and how much background/spade work you need to do.

        Discerning readers may wish to just skip to “Part 1”. 🙂

      • Grant Palmer couragously and with some degree of self-sacrifice wrote the truth regarding the false doctrine of polygamy, and how it was manipulated onto the early church through Joseph Smith and his select inner circle. Palmer’s thorough research illuminates just how this insidious evil was inflicted on the innocent who thought they were following the Lord when they humbly submitted themselves to their prophet, who stated he had received this revelation from God. “I am the same yesterday, today, and forever” are the words of the Lord. Grant Palmer couragously stepped forward to share with us what can happen when we fail to acknowledge God first and foremost and that He will not reverse Himself with respect to eternal laws and principles.

  10. There is a tremendous amount of research presented in this essay which I appreciate very much.

    While I agree with much of the essay and do not consider Grant Palmer to be overwhelmingly credible as an LDS historian, I feel that there are some questionable declarations and assumptions in the essay which I would appreciate a response to.

    1. You take issue with Grant’s interpretation of the word “covenant” in verse 19, wherein he uses brackets to clarify that it refers to “polygamy”. You then make the assertion that the first line of the verse is “clearly” referring to a single worthy man being sealed to a single worthy wife by proper authority:

    “Unfortunately for his reconstruction and his readers, Palmer’s bracketed commentary “[polygamy]” contradicts the first line of the verse, which promises exaltation to a worthy monogamous couple who are sealed by proper authority. “If a man marry a wife” (D&C 132:19, italics added) clearly refers to a single worthy man being sealed to a single worthy wife by proper authority.”

    I am mystified by your dogmatic conclusion. To me, the phrase “If a man marry a wife..” could just as easily be referring to a polygamous man that marries a wife, as to a monogamous man that marries a wife.

    Secondly, verses 4&5 arguably define the term “new and an everlasting covenant” and “new and everlasting covenant” as specifically referring to a celestial marriage form of polygamy.

    I believe the beginning passages of the revelation lay the foundation for the primary topic of the entire revelation and should be viewed that way. Indeed, from a broad, contextual reading of the revelation, the most plausible interpretation favors the likeliness of the text in verse 19 referring to a polygamous man taking another wife, or a monogamous man that is preparing to take his first polygamous wife.

    I understand that it has become popular among some LDS apologists to accept a revisionist interpretation of section 132 which suggests that much of what follows the foundational explanation of why the revelation was received and what the revelation is going to address, in verses 1&2, curiously has nothing to do with the topic of polygamy, but rather with eternal monogamy.

    I find that interpretation problematic and unlikely.

    I respect a person’s choice in viewing the narrative that way, however, to state that verse 19 is “clearly” referring to a monogamous man is quite an assumption to make, as if everyone would agree with that supposition that is not a fundamentalist.

    I certainly don’t agree with that assumption. I think it is logical and historically congruent, to assume that the primary topic of the entire revelation is based in the topic of polygamy as prefaced in the first two verses.

    For this reason, I feel it is disingenuous and even deceptive to assume in the essay that anyone interpreting the passages differently than you “is following the tradition of Mormon fundamentalists”

    I am certainly not a Mormon fundamentalist in the sense you are using the term, but I still accept a literal reading of the text that is consistent with how Brigham Young and fundamentalists in his tradition have interpreted it.

    2. You make the following declaration:

    “Nineteenth century leaders certainly understood that “a Man may Embrace the Law of Celestial Marriage in his heart & not take the Second wife & be justified before the Lord.”4 This calls Palmer’s interpretation into question.”

    It seems to me that the above statement is ambiguous, misleading and probably even irrelevant.

    When the Saints were failing in their attempt at the commandment of consecration, and the Lord declared them to be under condemnation. at that time He made it clear that believing in a revealed principle in ones mind without living it was not acceptable. It was not enough to “say”, one must “do”:

    “And they shall remain under this condemnation until they repent and remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon and the former commandments which I have given them, not only to say, but to do according to that which I have written—” (D&C 84:57)

    As the two of you are well aware, Brigham Young initially agreed with the above declaration from the Lord and he taught that one needed to live the principle of polygamy, not just believe it. (In later years he may have softened on the issue).

    The fact that there may have been some 19th century leaders that erroneously believed that one can give lip service to a revealed law that God has commanded the Saints to live, without having to live it, (without serious consequences) only shows how some leaders of the church departed from the word of God.

    3. Now that the Church is making a greater effort in their historical essays to distance themselves from the doctrine of mandatory celestial polygamy to obtain the highest salvation, I find it intriguing that apologists continue to take section 132 so seriously and dissect the passages therein to attempt to defend the faith.

    Hopefully it is only a matter of time before the church acknowledges the many theological inconsistencies and contradiction in section 132 and begins printing the D&C without it.

    It seems nonsensical to me that the Lord would reveal Section 132 to Joseph Smith with a commandment to live a new principal, but not command him to publicly publish and canonize it, yet, many decades later have Brigham Young insert it into the D&C without a revelation authorizing him to do so. Section 132 blatantly contradicted three other revelations in the D&C when Brigham Young had it canonized.

    Lastly, I must say that I loved the following statement:

    “The claim to have seen Joseph drunk during the translation is entertaining. If Joseph were drunk, it would make the production of the Book of Mormon more impressive…” LOL

    That is certainly a quotable.

    IMO it is not unrealistic to suspect that Noah may have received a revelation or two while being somewhat inebriated. LOL

  11. After his initial Paul Pry, Jr. misadventure, which he has yet to adequately explain, Grant Palmer could have stuck with some harmless hobby. Brian Hales and Greg Smith have done a fine job of exposing the flaws in Palmer’s essay. It is indeed sad to see Palmer the act the pigeon by again succumbing to his own tricks.

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