It is a well-established fact that Joseph Smith received a revelation as early as 1831 on the eternality of Plural Marriage (Celestial Marriage, Patriarchal marriage, Polygamy).
Joseph F. Smith, son of President Hyrum Smith, nephew of Joseph Smith and sixth President of the Church
“The great and glorious principle of plural marriage was first revealed to Joseph Smith in 1831, but being forbidden to make it public, or to teach it as a doctrine of the Gospel at that time, he confided the facts to only a very few of his intimate associates.” (Deseret News, May 20, 1886, Andrew Jenson, The Historical Record 6 [Salt Lake City, Utah, May 1887]: 219)
Helen Mar Kimball, plural wife of the Prophet Joseph Smith
“The Lord revealed it [plural marriage] to His prophet, Joseph Smith, as early as the year 1831.” (Whitney, Helen Mar Kimball Smith. Why We Practice Plural Marriage. Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor Office, 1884, pg. 53.)
Lucy Walker, plural wife of the Prophet Joseph Smith
Plural marriage “was revealed to the prophet in ‘31, but he did not teach it then … he received a revelation on polygamy in 1831.” (Kimball, Lucy Walker Smith. Testimony in the Temple Lot Case, part 3, page 450–51, questions 27, 53)
During the months of February and March 1831, the Prophet Joseph Smith was engaged in translating the book of Genesis.
An early pioneer, a participant in Zion’s Camp, and member of the First Quorum of the Seventy, Joseph B. Noble stated that the revelation on plural marriage was given during Joseph Smith’s translation of the Bible.
“That the Prophet Joseph told him that the doctrine of celestial marriage was revealed to him while he was engaged on the work of translation of the scriptures, but when the communication was first made the Lord stated that the time for the practice of that principle had not arrived.” (Noble, Joseph B. Centerville, Davis Co, Utah Stake conference, June 11, 1883. Quoted in Andrew Jenson, “Plural Marriage,” Historical Record 6 (July 1887): 232–33.)
The revelation on plural marriage, D&C 132, indicates that this further light and knowledge came after the Prophet inquired regarding the polygamous marriages of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and many other ancient prophets.
“Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you my servant Joseph, that inasmuch as you have inquired of my hand to know and understand wherein I, the Lord, justified my servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as also Moses, David and Solomon, my servants, as touching the principle and doctrine of their having many wives and concubines—” (D&C 132:1)
The Prophet Joseph Smith was then instructed by the Lord regarding the matter:
“Behold, and lo, I am the Lord thy God, and will answer thee as touching this matter.
Therefore, prepare thy heart to receive and obey the instructions which I am about to give unto you; for all those who have this law revealed unto them must obey the same.
For behold, I reveal unto you a new and an everlasting covenant; and if ye abide not that covenant, then are ye damned; for no one can reject this covenant and be permitted to enter into my glory”. (D&C 132:2-4)
The revelation as recorded in Doctrine and Covenants Section 132 explains that the Lord commanded these early Prophets to practice plural marriage, and that they
. . . did none other things than that which they were commanded. (D&C 132:37)
The revelation recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants gives what the Lord Himself states about His commandment:
I am the Lord thy God, and will give unto thee the law of my Holy Priesthood, as was ordained by me and my Father before the world was.
Abraham received all things, whatsoever he received, by revelation and commandment, by my word, saith the Lord, and hath entered into his exaltation and sitteth upon his throne.
Abraham received promises concerning his seed, and of the fruit of his loins–from whose loins ye are, namely my servant Joseph–which were to continue so long as they were in the world; and as touching Abraham and his seed, out of the world they should continue; both in the world and out of the world should they continue as innumerable as the stars; or, if we were to count the sand upon the seashore ye could not number them. (D&C 132:28-30)
The Lord explained to the Prophet Joseph Smith that through his obedience these same blessings Abraham received, could also be his.
“… but being forbidden to make it public, or to teach it as a doctrine of the Gospel at that time, he confided the facts to only a very few of his intimate associates”.
When the Prophet Joseph Smith tried to introduce the doctrine of Plural marriage, it was rejected by many of the Saints including his wife, Emma Smith.
“When the prophet “went to his dinner,” [Joseph Lee] Robinson wrote, “as it might be expected several of the first women of the church collected at the Prophet’s house with his wife [and] said thus to the prophet Joseph O mister Smith you have done it now it will never do it is all but Blassphemy you must take back what you have said to day is it is outrageous it would ruin us as a people.” So in the afternoon session Smith again took the stand, according to Robinson, and said “Brethren and Sisters I take back what we said this morning and leave it as though there had been nothing said ” ( Richard S. Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy: A History (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1986),48; citing Robinson, Journal, 23–24).
The Prophet Joseph Smith stated:
“I have tried for a number of years to get the minds of the Saints prepared to receive the things of God; but we frequently see some of them, after suffering all they have for the work of God, will fly to pieces like glass as soon as anything comes that is contrary to their traditions; they cannot stand the fire at all. How many will be able to abide a celestial law, and go through and receive their exaltation, I am unable to say, as many are called, but few are chosen”. (Smith, Joseph. Documentary History of the Church, 7 vols., (Deseret Book Co., Salt Lake City, UT, 1980), vol. 6:184).
Fearing further resistance and harmful backlash from the general Church membership, Joseph Smith began to teach the revelation on Plural marriage exclusively to his closest and most trusted friends and associates.
Nonetheless, there are literally volumes of accounts given by the early saints, testifying that the revelation on Plural Marriage was revealed by the Lord to the Prophet Joseph Smith.
One example is the testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith’s personal clerk and scribe, William Clayton, who wrote a letter in response to an inquiry about the Prophet Joseph Smith and the revelation on Celestial Marriage. Elder Clayton wrote:
“. . . . Now I say to you as I am ready to testify to all the world and on which testimony I am most willing to meet all the Latter Day Saints and all apostates in time and through all eternity. I did write the Revelation on Celestial Marriage given through the Prophet Joseph Smith on the twelve-day of July 1843. When the Revelation was written there was no one present except the prophet Joseph, his brother Hyrum and myself. It was written in the small office upstairs in the rear of the brick store which stood on the bank of the Mississippi River. It took some three hours to write it. Joseph dictated sentence by sentence and I wrote it as he dictated. After the whole was written Joseph requested me to read it slowly and carefully which I did, and he then pronounced it correct.
. . . . I again testify that the revelation on Polygamy was given through the Prophet Joseph on the 12th July 1843 and that the Prophet Joseph both taught and practiced Polygamy. I do positively know, and bear testimony to the fact” (Clayton, William. Letter Salt Lake City to Madison M. Scott 1871 Nov. 11, Church Archives).
Dennison L. Harris remembered the following testimony given by the Prophet Joseph Smith only a few months before his death:
“The same God that has thus far dictated and directed me, and inspired me and strengthened me in this work, gave me this revelation and Commandment on Celestial and Plural marriage; and the same God commanded me to obey it. He said to me that unless I accept it and introduce it and practise it, I together with my people should be damned and cut off from this time henceforth. . . . we have got to observe it, that it was an eternal principle, and that it was given to [me] by way of Commandment and not by way of instruction” (McConkie, Mark L. Remembering Joseph, p. 386).
Those who lived this principle did so with the understanding that they were preparing the way for the establishment of the Lord’s Kingdom.
You can read more inspiring stories about Joseph Smith and the introduction and practice of Plural marriage here. https://josephsmithfoundation.org/joseph-smith-polygamy/
Mormon Dissenters and Anti-Mormon outsiders conspire to frustrate the practice of Plural Marriage in Nauvoo and destroy the life and character of the Prophet Joseph Smith.
By 1843 , one of the chief proponents of plural marriage was Hyrum Smith, co-President of the Church and joint dispensation head with the Prophet Joseph Smith. On August 12, 1843, Hyrum read the revelation concerning plural marriage to the Nauvoo High Council.
In November 1843, Hyrum introduced the revelation on Celestial marriage to William Law, second counselor to the Prophet Joseph Smith, but Law was reluctant to accept it. He later wrote in his diary:
“…polygamy was of the Devil and [Smith] should put it down”.
“The doctrine of Polygamy paralyzes the nerves chills the currents of the heart and drives the brain to almost to madness” ( William Law Diary, June 7, 1844, quoted in Cook, William Law, 55).
Another church leader, Nauvoo High Council president, William Marks, became deeply conflicted as well.
The continued doubts of Law and the growing descent of Marks towards the revelation on Plural marriage led to a bitter feud and open conflict with the Prophet Joseph Smith.
On January 8, 1844, Joseph Smith removed Law from the First Presidency. On April 18, 1844, Law and his wife were excommunicated from the church, along with his brother Wilson, a brigadier general in the Nauvoo Legion. Also excommunicated was Robert D Foster, a local doctor who also became resistant to the doctrine.
As hostility increased, William law and other dissenters plotted to expose the secret of plural marriage in Nauvoo to the law and to public opinion.
To this end, the Nauvoo Expositor was created to be an instrument to fight polygamy and other doctrines.
In May 1844, William Law and Robert Foster brought a legal suit against Joseph Smith in the Carthage court for living in adultery with one of his plural wives, Maria Lawrence.
Refuting the charge of adultery, the prophet Joseph Smith wrote:
“I had not been married scarcely five minutes, and made one proclamation of the Gospel, before it was reported that I had seven wives. I mean to live and proclaim the truth as long as I can.
This new holy prophet [William Law] has gone to Carthage and swore that I had told him that I was guilty of adultery. This spiritual wifeism! Why, a man dares not speak or wink, for fear of being accused of this.
A man asked me whether the commandment was given that a man may have seven wives; and now the new prophet has charged me with adultery. I never had any fuss with these men until that Female Relief Society brought out the paper against adulterers and adulteresses.
Dr. Goforth was invited into the Laws’ clique, and Dr. Foster and the clique were dissatisfied with that document, and they rush away and leave the Church, and conspire to take away my life; and because I will not countenance such wickedness,[ they proclaim that I have been a true prophet, but that I am now a fallen prophet
…What a thing it is for a man to be accused of committing adultery, and having seven wives, when I can only find one” (History of the Church Volume 6, 410-411).
In light of the circumstances under which they were spoken, Joseph’s words were carefully chosen in order to protect the Saints from mounting tensions and incitement to violence.
Public denials of plural Marriage
Keeping the revelation and practice of plural marriage secret and out of public view was a matter of life or death for the Saints. Joseph Bates Noble performed the first plural marriage of Joseph Smith on April 5, 1841, to Louisa Beaman. The Prophet dictated the words of the ceremony to Noble, and later cautioned him,
“In revealing this to you, I have placed my life in your hands, therefore do not in an evil hour betray me to my enemies” ( Joseph B Noble, affidavit, June 26 1869).
Reflecting back on the events in Nauvoo Apostle Orson Hyde related:
“What would it have done for us, if they had known that many of us had more than one wife when we lived in Illinois? They would have broken us up, doubtless, worse than they did” (Orson Hyde, “The Marriage Relations,” 6 October 1854, Journal of Discourses 2:75).
In order for faithful Mormon leaders to deny plural marriage publicly with a clear conscience, they developed a code for speaking using double meanings.
“Anyone who will read carefully the denials, as they are termed… will see clearly that they denounce adultery, fornication, brutal lust, and the teachings of plurality of wives by those who were not commanded to do so” (George A Smith to Joseph Smith III, October 9, 1869, Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints Archives).
Many have criticized or been concerned by the secrecy with which the Prophet Joseph Smith instituted plural marriage without appreciating the realities of the dangers involved.
Brigham Young remembered one council “where Joseph undertook to teach the brethren and sisters”. William Law declared,
“If an angel from heaven was to reveal to me that a man should have more than one wife, and if it were in my power I would kill him” (Brigham Young, “A Few Words of Doctrine,” October 8, 1861, Brigham Young Papers, LDS Church Archives).
William Clayton later wrote:
“When assailed by their enemies and accused of practicing things which were really not countenanced in the Church, they were justified in denying those imputations and at the same time avoiding the avowal of such doctrine as were not yet intended for the world… Polygamy in the ordinary and Asiatic sense of the term, never was and is not now a tenet of the Latter-day Saints. That which Joseph and Hyrum denounced… was altogether different to the order of celestial marriage including a plurality of wives… Joseph and Hyrum were consistent in their action against the false doctrines of polygamy and spiritual wifeism, instigated by the devil and advocated by men who did not comprehend sound doctrine nor the purity of the celestial marriage which God revealed for the holiest of purposes” ( William Clayton affidavit in “Joseph Smith and Celestial Marriage,” Deseret News, May 20, 1886, 2).
The events preceding the Martyrdom of the Prophet Joseph Smith and Hyrum Smith.
On Friday, June 7, 1844, dissenters from the Church published the one and only issue of the Nauvoo Expositor. The paper condemned the doctrine of plural wives which it called “abominations and whoredoms” (Nauvoo Expositor, June 7, 1844).
On Saturday, June 8, and the following Monday, June 10, the Nauvoo City Council convened to determine a course of action.
With the sanction of the city council, Joseph Smith ordered a marshal, with the assistance of the Nauvoo Legion, to destroy the printing press. On Monday evening, June 10, the marshal and his posse of approximately 100 men removed the press and type that had produced the newspaper and burned all the copies of the first issue. (Joseph Smith, “Proclamation, June 11, 1844,” Joseph Smith Papers)
The destruction of the Expositor led to intense public outcry from surrounding communities. The situation became so heated that Joseph and Hyrum feared for their lives. However, the Prophet received a revelation directing him in the course he should take to preserve his life.
“The way is open,” he declared. “It is clear to my mind what to do. All they want is Hyrum and myself; then tell everybody to go about their business, and not to collect in groups, but to scatter about. There is no doubt they will come here and search for us. Let them search; they will not harm you in person or property, and not even a hair of your head. We will cross the river tonight, and go away to the West.”
Hyrum informed the Saints in Nauvoo of the revelation to Joseph, saying:
“The Lord has warned him to flee to the Rocky Mountains to save his life.”
The Prophet’s intention was to organize an exploring expedition to go to the West and find a location for the Saints to settle, then return to Nauvoo after the prevailing emotions and feelings had settled down.
On June 22, 1844, Joseph, Hyrum, and bodyguard Porter Rockwell left Nauvoo and crossed the Mississippi River to the Iowa side, to prepare for their escape.
Evidence indicates that Joseph Smith did not necessarily have to die when he did. A major reason why he was martyred June 27, 1844, was because many of the Saints did not sustain him in this action. Emma and others encouraged Joseph to return and stand trial.
Joseph Smith turned his steps toward Carthage and martyrdom with the sad comment, “If my life is of no value to my friends, it is of none to myself.”
He returned to Nauvoo and then went to Carthage, along with his brother and other church leaders, with the repeated declaration: “I am going like a lamb to the slaughter”.
Years later Brigham Young spoke to the Saints in Salt Lake City about the Prophet’s decision. “If Brother Joseph Smith had been led by the Spirit he had, he would never /have given himself up and gone to Carthage, explained, “but he would have gone right to these mountains, and would have been alive today to lead this people.” The lesson the Saints should have learned from the Prophet’s death, President Young stressed, was that “the sheep must follow the shepherd, not the shepherd follow the sheep” (Journal of Charles W. Walker, Brigham Young University Library, under date of March 21, 1858.).
The Prophet Joseph Smith and the early Saints who practiced plural marriage are still under attack today, just as they were during the early Nauvoo period in which they lived.
Many who have not obtained a witness of the eternality of Plural Marriage for themselves, are among those who are not only critical, but are also often quick to condemn the Prophet Joseph Smith, who is the Lord’s anointed.
Joseph Smith said that the practice of this principle would be the hardest trial the Saints would ever have to test their faith.
“It was not his work, but that of the Almighty, and he said it would cause the damnation of all who entered into it with impure motives, and none who acted unrighteously could stand, the trial would be so great; and there would be but few men who would be capable of being saviors upon Mount Zion” (Women’s Exponent, vol. 10, no11, 1 November 1881, p. 83).
Emma Smith humbly received this important principle and gave to Joseph Smith three young women to wife, who had been living with her and her family, until she lost the Spirit and her heart became hardened (Eliza R Snow, Women’s Exponent).
Throughout her lifetime, Emma publicly denied knowledge of her husband’s involvement in the practice of polygamy and denied on her deathbed that the practice had ever occurred. Emma stated,
“No such thing as polygamy, or spiritual wifery, was taught, publicly or privately, before my husband’s death, that I have now, or ever had any knowledge of …. He had no other wife but me; nor did he to my knowledge ever have” (History of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, volume 3, pp. 355–56).
“Emma deceived her children and denied to everyone that the Prophet had ever received a revelation on celestial marriage, or had ever practiced it” (Women’s Exponent, vol. 10, no11, 1 November 1881, p. 83).
Some of those who apostatized from the Church also denied the revelation on Celestial and Plural marriage but supported a form of religion originally taught by Joseph Smith. They still considered themselves part of the “original church” and began forming themselves into a “reorganized” Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Many of the Latter Day Saints who joined the RLDS Church in Nauvoo Illionois had broken with Brigham Young because of their opposition to polygamy.
Emma’s continuing public denial of the practice seemed to lend strength to their cause, and opposition to polygamy became a tenet of the RLDS Church. Over the years, many RLDS Church historians have continued to state that the practice originated with Brigham Young
Joseph Smith III was only 11 years old at the time of his father’s death, still some believed Joseph Smith III should be his father’s successor. These individuals waited for young Joseph to take up the mantle of the RLDS Church. Finally, at a conference on April 6, 1860, in Amboy Illinois , Joseph Smith III formally accepted the leadership of what was then known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. William Marks, former stake president of Nauvoo, served as Smith III’s counselor in the reorganized First Presidency.
Joseph Smith III worked unceasingly to dissociate his father from the practice of celestial plural marriage, a principle for which the Prophet Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum were slain for advocating. Still he declared that polygamy was neither taught nor practiced by his father. He preached:
“There is but one principle by the leaders of any faction of this people that I hold in utter abhorrence; that is a principle (polygamy) taught by Brigham Young and those believing in him… I have been told that my father taught such doctrines. I have never believed it and never can believe it. If such things were done, then I believe they never were done by divine authority. I believe my father was a good man, and a good man never could have promulgated such doctrines” (“Mormon” 1860, 103).
Beginning in 1880, Helen Mar Kimball Smith, plural wife of the Prophet Joseph Smith, took to pen and paper to defend the Prophet Joseph from the antipolygamy crusade of Joseph Smith III and the RLDS Church. She wrote:
“A thousand and one opinions are being daily expressed concerning the polygamous “Mormons” and their destiny…. Every principle which the Lord reveals for the exaltation of mankind may be perverted which leads to degradation and even to everlasting damnation. There always has been and always will be those who pervert the ways of the Lord. The Tares must grow with the wheat until the harvest. The conflict is between them and our God, who has never forsaken His people; but He does not expect us to sit quietly down and fold our hands in idleness, while our enemies are publishing their outrageous falsehoods to blind the eyes of week and credulous to the most glorious truths of heaven and to throw ignominy and dishonor upon our people, more especially the women and the innocent children, who are as much farther advanced in the ways of God and the order of Heaven, as our slanderers are on the road to perdition, but to use every honorable means to defend ourselves against their vile attacks”
…there are too many of the Prophet’s wives still living in Utah-as well as hundreds of other witnesses- who can testify to the hypocrisy of those men, who like William Marks, apostasized… and afterwards volunteered their services to help Emma Smith, she having, according to her own acknowledgment, founded the Josephite church to help avenge herself upon Brigham Young” (Women’s Exponent, 1 November 1881).
In the months immediately preceding the martyrdom of Joseph Smith on 26 March 1844, the Prophet announced to a gathering of trusted brethren that he had conferred all the keys and powers that he held on selected members of the Twelve, assuring continuity in the leadership of the Church after his impending death. Mosiah Hancock remembered the Prophet’s speech from a frame in front of his mansion–where he said:
“Brethren, the Lord Almighty has this day revealed to me something I never comprehended before! That is–I have friends who have at a respectful distance been ready to ward off the blows of the adversary. (He brought his hand down on my father’s head [Levi Hancock] as he was acting as body-guard to the Prophet) While others have pretended to be my friends, and have crept into my bosom and become vipers, and have been my most deadly enemies. I wish you to be obedient to these true men as you have promised.
ARE YOU WILLING TO DIE FOR ME?’ Yes! was the shout. ‘”You have said you are willing to die for me–‘. Then he drew his sword and cried, ‘I WILL DIE FOR YOU! If this people cannot have their rights, my blood shall run upon the ground like water’.
“When the Prophet had his hand upon my father’s head, I said to myself, ‘I trust that I will be as true to young Joseph [Joseph III], the Prophet’s son, as my father is to his father’. Afterwards at home, I told my father of my thoughts, and he said, ‘No, Mosiah, for God has shown to Brother Joseph that his son, Joseph, will be the means of drawing many people away from this Church after him. Brother Joseph gave us to understand that it was our duty to follow the Twelve.‘” (Autobiography of Mosiah Hancock)
Mariner W, Merrill, member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 1889 recalled a conversation he had with President John Taylor,
“The last time I met President John Taylor he said to me: I may never see you again and I want to tell you that I have seen the Prophet Joseph who said that the Lord did not want his people to be concerned about the [federal polygamy] raid or inquire when it would cease, ‘I will stop it in my own due time,’ said the Lord. Joseph Smith, however, said it made him sad to see his own son (Joseph Smith Jr. [the third], who was then traveling through the territory preaching against the Church) trying to tear down what he had given his life to establish” (Diaries of Abraham H Cannon 7 July 1897, page 228).
Throughout the remainder of his life, Joseph Smith III never abandoned his opposition to plural marriage.
Richard and Pamela Price and the Reorganized Church
Richard and Pamele Price began their study of Polygamy and the Mormon church in 1950. According to their statement in the Preface of their book, Joseph Smith Fought Polygamy, they admit:
“In Our research on this subject, we were encouraged by letters to Pamela from the Prophet Israel A. Smith, president of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints”.
My investigation into the motivates of Richard and Pamela Price led me to a Review of their book and research. One of their readers wrote:
“I really was hoping this book contained well researched and documentation that would prove that Joseph Smith never lived polygamy. But unfortunately, Prices’ book is really just an attempt to rewrite history to fit their own conclusions. There are occasional bits and pieces of interesting information, but all in all this book is not only poorly written, but the historical methodology is horrendous. They can’t keep their timelines straight, their interpretations of scriptural passages are anachronistic and untenable, and the different parts of the theory are not even internally self consistent. The Prices’ work reflects a desperate need to vindicate Joseph Smith, and nothing more. This book was very disappointing and I cannot recommend it”.
During the 1970s and 1980s, however, numerous historians, among them Reorganized Church historian Richard P. Howard, probed deeper into the origins of plural marriage, demonstrating beyond reasonable doubt Joseph Smith’s central role in developing the doctrine during the Nauvoo experience and offering frameworks for understanding it.