Joseph Smith and Polygamy

Joseph Smith and Polygamy

A reader says this: “I ran across an interesting website which claims that Joseph Smith did not institute polygamy as practiced by Brigham Young and others after Joseph Smith was murdered. According to this Brigham Young was influenced by a group called the Cochranites who had a form of polygamy. Here is the url to the main page of the site:

Joseph Smith Fought Polygamy:”

JJ: I’ve also come across this site recently and downloaded the writings and read them. Even though I have studied many Mormon materials over the years this is the first credible argument I have seen that Joseph Smith did not promote polygamy.

Their argument is that plural marriage existed as a conspiracy among members of the twelve apostles led by Brigham Young and the purported testimonies that Joseph practiced and authorized polygamy never even surfaced until years later when they were securely settled in Utah.

Joseph was killed in 1844, but polygamy was not officially introduced to the church until 1852, eight years after his death. The writings purport that the authorities felt they needed the sanction of Joseph Smith to make polygamy credible among the faithful so they used their powerful authority to convince many people to write affidavits to the effect that Joseph had many secret wives and taught the doctrine.

One thing that has always made me question the orthodox history is that it cannot be proven, even through DNA, that Joseph fathered even one child to any of his supposed thirty plus wives, except his first. I believe Emma gave birth about nine times so they were both quite fertile.

One incident that is in the historical accounts that bothered me more than any other was that Joseph was supposed to have attempted to make Sarah Pratt a spiritual wife while her husband Orson was on a mission to England.

Consequently, I found this story by Joseph’s son Joseph III to be very interesting:

    Joseph Smith III, son of the Martyr, interviewed Sarah Pratt on one of his visits to Salt Lake City. That interview was published in two issues of the Saints’ Herald. Joseph III reported:

    I was visiting in the home of a retired physician named Benedict…. In conversation with him and his wife, I mentioned Elder Orson Pratt, then deceased, and asked them if they knew the woman who was his wife when he lived in Nauvoo, and whether or not she were still living.

    They said, “Why, yes; she lives with some sons of hers only about two blocks from here, and we know her well.”

    For certain reasons which I believed to be good, I was desirous of having a talk with Mrs. Pratt, whom I had known at Nauvoo. So I asked Doctor Benedict if he would go with me to call upon her. He consented to do so, and after lunch we repaired to the house and I was presented to the lady…. The latter part of my conversation with her revolved around the matters I had had particularly in mind when I sought the interview. I asked her, “Sister Pratt, will you allow me to ask you some rather personal and delicate questions?”

    “You may ask me any questions proper for a lady to hear and answer,” she replied.

    I assured her I would use no language a lady should not hear and did not wish to ask any improper question or one she might not answer in the presence of Dr. Benedict who was with me. But I told her I felt there were some which referred to my father and herself which only she could answer. I asked her to consider the circumstances in which I was placed. I was the son of the Prophet; had been baptized by him; was a member, though a young one, at the time of his death, and thought that I had understood, in part at least, the principles the church taught and believed. But following his death certain things were said about him, his teaching and practice, which were at variance with what I had known and believed about him and about the doctrines he presented. Naturally I wanted to know the truth about these matters, for I assured her I would much rather meet here in this life whatever of truth might be revealed about those things, even though it were adverse to what I believed to be his character, than to wait until after I had passed to the other side and there be confronted with it and compelled to alter my position should such revealment prove I had been in error. She told me to proceed and the following conversation took place.

    “Did you know my father in Nauvoo?”

    “Yes, I knew him well.”

    “Were you acquainted with his general deportment in society, especially towards women?”


    “Did you ever know him to be guilty of any impropriety in speech or conduct towards women in society or elsewhere?”

    “No, sir, never. Your father was always a gentleman, and I never heard any language from him or saw any conduct of his that was not proper and respectful.”

    “Did he ever visit you or at your house?”

    “He did.”

    “Did he ever at such times or at any other time or place make improper overtures to you, or proposals of an improper nature-begging your pardon for the apparent indelicacy of this question?”

    To this Mrs. Pratt replied, quietly but firmly, “No, Joseph; your father never said an improper word to me in his life. He knew better.”

    “Sister Pratt, it has been frequently told that he behaved improperly in your presence, and I have been told that I dare not come to you and and ask you about your relations with him, for fear you would tell me things which would be unwelcome to me.”

    “You need have no such fear,” she repeated. “Your father was never guilty of an action or proposal of an improper nature in my house, towards me, or in my presence, at any time or place. There is no truth in the reports that have been circulated about him in this regard. He was always the Christian gentleman, and a noble man.”

    That I thanked Mrs. Pratt very warmly for her testimony in these matters my readers may be very sure. I had constantly heard it charged that my father had been guilty of improper conduct toward Elder Pratt’s wife, and I had long before made up my mind that if I ever had an opportunity I would find out the truth from her.

    The result [of this interview] was very gratifying to me, especially as she had made her short, clear-cut statements freely, just as I have recorded, in the presence of Dr. Benedict.

    It may be added that mingled with my pleasure was a degree of astonishment that such stories as had been told about her and her relations with Father should have gotten out and been so widely circulated and yet never met with a public refutation from her. However, I expressed my appreciation of her kind reception and her statements, and at the close of our interview, which lasted about an hour and a half, left her with good wishes.

    Doctor Benedict and I passed from her presence into the street in a silence which was not broken until we had gone some distance. Then suddenly he stopped, pulled off his hat, looked all around carefully, and raising his hand emphatically, said:

    “My God! What damned liars these people are! Here for years I have been told that your father had Mrs. Pratt for one of his spiritual wives and was guilty of improper relations with her. Now I hear from her own lips, in unmistakable language, that it was not true. What liars! What liars!”

    …I was glad that before she died I had her testimony, and that it had proved, as had been proved many times before, that such charges made against my father were untrue.

    …I have conscientiously traced statements made by various individuals inculpating my father in this wrongdoing, and in every instance I have failed to find evidence worthy to be called proof. It strikes me now, as it has for many, many years, that honorable men and women should absolve me from blame for pursuing the course I have taken, in steadfastly refusing to believe, simply because persons entangled in the evil meshes [of polygamy] wished to involve him in their wrongdoing, that my father was a bad man and responsible for doctrines which he himself pronounced to be ‘false and corrupt.’”

    (Taken from Saints’ Herald, January 15, 1935, 80; January 22, 1935, 109-110)

Reader Question: How is it possible that a being of high estate such as Lucifer is not aware he is in error?

They are aware of what they have done. They just think they have a better way than their Master.

Perhaps you are asking why they do not see their mistake. The answer is that each of us can only go by our experience and faith in those further along the path than ourselves. Sometimes an entity will not trust the voice of one higher than himself and must learn through additional hard experience.

The knowledge of what they have done comes down from the hierarchy. If it is the true hierarchy then even the lowest can know the mistakes of the higher. The average seeker can be misled by a wayward brother, but he can be corrected by one advanced in wisdom, or through his own soul.

Reader: Explain the difference between saying, “You are stupid” and “That was a stupid thing that you did.”

Labeling a thing a person does as stupid is not as judgmental as labeling the actual person as stupid, but in most cases it would still be an example of a negative judgment.

The reason is that the word “stupid” itself is a word casting a negative judgment that may or may not be true. One can, out of the blue, label something brilliant as stupid.

It is always best to avoid inflammatory judgmental words and stick to the facts. Whereas a word like “stupid” can be entirely wrong, true facts are never wrong and do not cast a negative judgment.

For instance:   “You made a mistake when you said that Pi is 3.15. It is really 3.14.”

Usually, when a mistake is made it is a negative judgment to call either the person or what he does “stupid” or some other similar word. Give the person the facts and let him correct and judge for himself how “stupid” the mistake was.

“If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.” — Vincent Van Gough

May 30, 2007

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