Joseph Smith/Polygamy

Joseph Smith and Polygamy

This page is a summary or index. More detailed information on this topic is available on the sub-pages below.

Joseph Smith and polygamy

Joseph Smith is frequently criticized for his introduction and practice of polygamy. From a Christian perspective, these attacks usually focus on arguing that polygamy is unchristian or unbiblical, and that Joseph hid the truth from the world. From a secular perspective, it is asserted that the practice of polygamy sprung from Joseph's carnal desires to marry young women. Of particular interest is the fact that Joseph was sealed to women who were already married to other men (polyandry).


Plural wives of Joseph Smith, Jr.

This collection of articles lists a number of known plural wives, with responses to critical claims related to specific plural wives of Joseph Smith, Jr.


Implementation of plural marriage

Initiation of the practice

Summary: When and how did plural marriage begin in the Church?

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The Cochranites as the source of the practice of plural marriage among Mormons?

Summary: Did another religious group from the 1830s--the "Cochranites"--act as the source for plural marriage in the LDS faith?

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Was plural marriage actually adultery before 12 July 1843?

Summary: Does Lorenzo Snow's testimony show that anyone who practiced plural marriage before the date that D&C 132 was written (12 July 1843) was guilty of adultery? Since Joseph had entered into plural marriages before that date, was Lorenzo essentially admitting that Joseph was an adulterer?

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William Marks claimed Joseph intended to abandon plural marriage

Summary: William Marks would later claim that Joseph intended to abandon plural marriage, but was killed before he was able to do so. There is scant evidence to support this claim.

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Doctrinal issues related to plural marriage

Works of Abraham

Summary: D&C 132 tells Joseph and others to "do the works of Abraham." What are the "works of Abraham?"

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No biblical mandate for plural marriage?

Summary: While sometimes forced to admit that some Old Testament figures practiced polygamy, some Christians insist that there was no biblical mandate or command to practice plural marriage.

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Does the Book of Mormon condemn polygamy?

Summary: Critics use the Book of Jacob to show that the Book of Mormon condemns the practice of polygamy, and go on to claim that Joseph Smith ignored this restriction by introducing the doctrine of plural marriage.

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Early Christians on plural marriage

Summary: There is extensive, unequivocal evidence that polygamous relationships were condoned under various circumstances by biblical prophets, despite how uncomfortable this might make a modern Christian. Elder Orson Pratt was widely viewed as the victor in a three-day debate on this very point with Reverend John P. Newman, Chaplain of the U.S. Senate, in 1870.

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Claims that polygamists are allowed to go beyond normal "bounds"

Summary: Is it true that Joseph Smith and Brigham Young admitted that the practice of polygamy meant they were "free to go beyond the normal 'bounds'" and "the normal rules governing social interaction had not applied to" Joseph?

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The Law of Adoption

Summary: Critics point to the early practice of sealing men and women as children to prominent LDS leaders as an example of changes in LDS belief.

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Critics' claimed motivations for Joseph's implementation of plural marriage

Did Joseph have "lustful motives" for practicing polygamy?

Summary: Neutral observers have long understood that this attack is probably the weakest of them all. One might reasonably hold the opinion that Joseph was wrong, but in the face of the documentary evidence it is wrong to argue that he and his associates were insincere or that they were practicing their religion only for power and to satisfy carnal desires. Those who insist that “sex is the answer” probably reveal more about their own limited perspective than they do of the minds of the early Saints.

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Did Joseph Smith send men on missions in order to "steal" their wives while they were gone?

Summary: Beginning with LDS dissident John C. Bennett, some have charged that Joseph would send men on missions in order to marry their wives. Does this claim match the historical evidence?

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Claimed mismanagement of the Lawrence estate

Summary: Joseph Smith was appointed the guardian of two daughters, Maria and Sarah Lawrence, and their inheritance. He later married them in plural marriage. The evidence shows that Joseph Smith faithfully discharged his legal duties, despite the claims made by some nineteeth-century and modern critics.

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Keeping plural marriage a secret

Joseph Smith hid polygamy from the general Church membership

Summary: It is true that Joseph did not always tell others about plural marriage. He did, however, make some attempt to teach the doctrine to the Saints. It is thus important to realize that the public preaching of polygamy—or announcing it to the general Church membership, thereby informing the public by proxy—was simply not a feasible plan. Critics of Joseph's choice want their audience to ignore the danger to him and the Saints.

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Joseph Smith hiding plural marriages from his first wife, Emma

Summary: Joseph Smith did not always disclose his plural marriages to his first wife, Emma. How might we understand his decision?

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Did Joseph write secret "love letters" to any of his polygamous wives?

Summary: Is it true that on 18 August 1842 Joseph Smith wrote a “love letter” to Sarah Ann Whitney requesting a secret rendezvous or "tryst?" Joseph had been sealed to Sarah Ann three weeks prior to this time. What does this letter actually say?

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Legality of polygamy

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“Thou Shalt not Lie” and Denials of Polygamy: FAQ

—Brian C. Hales' site (Click here for full article)


Entering into plural marriage

Why was Joseph sealed to young women?

Summary: Critics argue that Joseph Smith's polygamous marriages to young women are evidence that he was immoral, perhaps even a pedophile.

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Fanny Alger

Summary: With a lone exception, there is no account after Joseph’s death of Emma admitting Joseph’s plural marriages in any source. The reported exception is recorded in a newspaper article and two letters written by excommunicated Latter-day Saint apostle William E. McLellin. The former apostle claimed to have visited Emma in 1847 and to have discussed Joseph’s relationship with Fanny Alger. McLellin also reported a tale he had heard about Joseph and Fanny Alger in which they were allegedly observed by Emma together in the barn.

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Women locked in a room

Summary: Were women locked in a room while Joseph attempted to persuade them?

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Did Joseph Smith coerce women to marry him?

Summary: Some have claimed that Joseph applied significant pressure on women to be married to him.

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Did women turn Joseph down?

Summary: Some have claimed that significant pressure was put on women to practice plural marriage in Nauvoo. Did any of these women resist or refuse? What were the consequences of doing so?

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Does the fact that Joseph Smith did not "multiply and replenish the earth" through his plural wives contradict a commandment given in Doctrine and Covenants 132:63?

Summary: Joseph Smith does not appear to have produced any children by his plural wives, except for Emma, yet, Doctrine and Covenants 132:63 states, "But if one or either of the ten virgins, after she is espoused, shall be with another man, she has committed adultery, and shall be destroyed; for they are given unto him to multiply and replenish the earth, according to my commandment, and to fulfil the promise which was given by my Father before the foundation of the world, and for their exaltation in the eternal worlds, that they may bear the souls of men." Why did Joseph practice polygamy, if it was not for the purpose of multiplying and replenishing the earth?

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Joseph Smith and polyandry

Joseph Smith was sealed to women who were married to men who were still living. Some of these men were even active members of the Church.

Why would Joseph Smith be sealed to other men's wives?

Summary: Why would Joseph Smith be sealed to other men's wives? Were these marriages for time or only for eternity? Were these marriages consumated? Why did these women continue to live with the husbands after being sealed to Joseph Smith?

Joseph's polyandrous marriages

Summary: Nothing in plural marriage mystifies—or troubles—members of the Church more than Joseph's polyandrous sealings. Marriage to multiple wives may seem strange, but at least it intrudes on our historical awareness, while many remain unaware of polyandry's existence in LDS history. But, most critical accounts do not provide all the facts. When we understand what these marriages consisted of—and what they did not consist of—they are much less strange.

Was Joseph sealed for eternity to women without the knowledge or consent of their living husband?

Summary: It is claimed that Joseph was sealed or married to women who were married to other men without the knowledge or consent of their husbands.

Did Joseph have any children through polygamous marriages?

Summary: Is there evidence of any children through Joseph's polyandrous marriages?

Did Joseph Smith send men on missions in order to "steal" their wives while they were gone?

Summary: Beginning with LDS dissident John C. Bennett, some have charged that Joseph would send men on missions in order to marry their wives. Does this claim match the historical evidence?

Did women turn Joseph down when he proposed marriage?

Summary: Some critics have claimed that significant pressure was put on women to practice plural marriage in Nauvoo. Did any of these women resist or refuse? What were the consequences of doing so?

Divine manifestations to plural wives and families

Summary: Did those who entered into plural marriage do so simply because Joseph Smith (or another Church leader) "told them to"? Is this an example of "blind obedience"?

Zina Diantha Huntington Jacobs

Summary: A collection of articles about Zina.

Why weren't Joseph's polyandrous wives "destroyed" as specified in Doctrine and Covenants 132 verse 63

Summary: Doctrine and Covenants 132:63 states, "But if one or either of the ten virgins, after she is espoused, shall be with another man, she has committed adultery, and shall be destroyed." Since Joseph Smith was sealed to the wives of other men, why were they not "destroyed?"
See also Brian Hales' discussion: FAQ: Joseph Smith and Polyandry
Few things are more confusing to observers than Joseph Smith’s sealings to legally married women. Due to limitations in the number and types of documents available, understanding what transpired is difficult. The topic itself is very complex. Nevertheless, sufficient evidence is available to discern why these sealings took place and whether sexual polyandry occurred. (Link)
Did Joseph Smith’s Plural Marriages Include Sexual Relations?
The answer is yes or no, depending upon the type of plural marriage Joseph and the woman entered into. Those that were for this life and the next (called “time and eternity”) could include sexual relations. Those that were limited to the next life (“eternity only”) did not. Overall, evidence supports sexual relations in less than half of Joseph Smith’s polygamous unions, and available documents indicate that such relations were infrequent. (Link)
Sexual Relations are Documented In Less than Half of Joseph Smith’s Plural Marriages
Kathryn Daynes observed that any assertion that most of Joseph Smith’s plural marriages included sexual relations is “a conclusion that goes beyond documentary evidence.”[1] (Link)
Children from Joseph Smith’s Plural Marriages


Emma Smith and polygamy

Emma Smith's reaction to Joseph Smith's plural marriages

Summary: Critics contend that Emma Hale Smith either did not approve of the Prophet Joseph Smith having plural wives or know of the revelation concerning celestial marriage(s).

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Joseph Smith hiding plural marriages from his first wife, Emma

Summary: Joseph Smith did not always disclose his plural marriages to his first wife, Emma. How might we understand his decision?

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Children of Joseph Smith by polygamous marriages

Did Joseph Smith father any children through polygamous marriages?

Summary: Is it possible that Joseph Smith fathered children with some of his plural wives, and that he covered up the evidence of pregnancies? Did Joseph Smith have intimate relations with other men’s wives to whom he had been sealed, and did any children result from these unions? DNA testing has so far proven these allegations to be false.

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See also Brian Hales' discussion: Did Joseph Smith’s Plural Marriages Include Sexual Relations?
The answer is yes or no, depending upon the type of plural marriage Joseph and the woman entered into. Those that were for this life and the next (called “time and eternity”) could include sexual relations. Those that were limited to the next life (“eternity only”) did not. Overall, evidence supports sexual relations in less than half of Joseph Smith’s polygamous unions, and available documents indicate that such relations were infrequent. (Link)
Sexual Relations are Documented In Less than Half of Joseph Smith’s Plural Marriages
Kathryn Daynes observed that any assertion that most of Joseph Smith’s plural marriages included sexual relations is “a conclusion that goes beyond documentary evidence.”[2] (Link)
Children from Joseph Smith’s Plural Marriages


Mormonism and divorce in the nineteenth century

Divorce in the 19th century

Summary: Some members of the Church remarried without obtaining a formal legal divorce. Critics of the Church try to make this seem dishonest and adulterous, when it was in fact the norm for the period, especially on the frontier and among the poor. Critics are not honest about the legal realities faced by nineteenth century Americans.

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Remarrying without civil divorce

Summary: Some critics like to emphasize that some LDS members did not receive civil divorces before remarrying—either monogamously or polygamously. They either state or imply that this shows the Saints' cavalier attitude toward the law.

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Illegal marriages in Ohio?

Summary: Critics charge that Joseph Smith performed monogamous marriages for time of already-married members, violating Ohio law in Kirtland. Such claims are false and represent a misunderstanding about the marriage and divorce law of the day.

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Notes

  1. Kathryn M. Daynes, More Wives than One: Transformation of the Mormon Marriage System, 1840–1910 (Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 2001), 29. ISBN 0252026810.
  2. Kathryn M. Daynes, More Wives than One: Transformation of the Mormon Marriage System, 1840–1910 (Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 2001), 29. ISBN 0252026810.