Mormonism and polygamy/Lamanites to become "white and delightsome" through polygamous marriage
- Critics claim that the Church “suppressed” a revelation given to Joseph Smith in 1831 which encouraged the implementation of polygamy by intermarriage with the Indians in order to make them a “white and delightsome” people.
There is no evidence that the instructions contained in the revelation regarding intermarriage with the Native Americans were actually implemented. There is no contemporary evidence, other than that provided by Booth, that anyone was even aware of the revelation at the time that it was supposed to have been given. The only evidence that a revelation was even given is the 1861 document by W. W. Phelps, which he recalled word-for-word from memory 30 years later at a time when the Church was actively and publicly justifying the practice of polygamy.
It is also interesting to note that the typical critical argument against polygamy is that a revelation on polygamy was not received until 1843 and that prior to that time that Joseph Smith was living in adultery with his plural wives. Yet, in this case, the critics are perfectly content to argue the case for a revelation on polygamy actually existing in 1831 as long as it can be tied to making the Native Americans a "white and delightsome" people. While there is evidence that Joseph was discussing plural marriage by 1831, it is difficult to believe that Phelps' text is an exact rendition of any revelation Joseph may have shared with him.
Is there an 1831 revelation?
Critics claim that the church "suppressed" a 1831 revelation in which the Church was commanded to make the Indians a “white and delightsome” people through polygamous intermarriage. The basis for this claim is a letter written by W. W. Phelps in 1861 (30 years after the revelation was said to have been given) in which he recounts from memory some of Joseph's comments in Independence, Missouri, on 17 July 1831. At present, the only evidence that an 1831 revelation was given is the 1861 document written by Phelps.
According to critics, Joseph Fielding Smith, who was Church historian at the time, stated that the principle of plural marriage was revealed to Joseph Smith in a revelation given in July 1831. Critic Fawn Brodie claims that Joseph Fielding Smith told her about the revelation but would not allow her to see it. Critics conclude that the “real reason” that the revelation was not released was because it commanded Church members to marry the Indians in order to make them a “white and delightsome” people.
W. W. Phelps 1861 recollection of the revelation
In 1861, 30 years after it was said to have been given, W. W. Phelps wrote from memory his recollection of what he claimed was the revelation given in 1831 by the Prophet:
- Part of a revelation by Joseph Smith Jr. given over the boundary, west of Jackson Co. Missouri, on Sunday morning, July 17, 1831, when Seven Elders, viz: Joseph Smith, Jr., Oliver Cowdery, W. W. Phelps, Martin Harris, Joseph Coe, Ziba Peterson, and Joshua Lewis united their hearts in prayer, in a private place, to inquire of the Lord who should preach the first sermon to the remnants of the Lamanites and Nephites, and the people of that Section, that should assemble that day in the Indian country, to hear the gospel, and the revelations according to the Book of Mormon.
- Among the company, there being neither pen, ink or paper, Joseph remarked that the Lord could preserve his words as he had ever done, till the time appointed, and proceeded:
- Verily, verily, saith the Lord your Redeemer, even Jesus Christ, the light and the life of the world, ye can not discerne with your natural eyes, the design and the purpose of your Lord and your God, in bringing you thus far into the wilderness for a trial of your faith, and to be especial witnesses, to bear testimony of this land, upon which the Zion of God shall be built up in the last days, when it is redeemed. …
- [I]t is my will, that in time, ye should take unto you wives of the Lamanites and Nephites, that their posterity may become white, delightsome, and Just, for even now their females are more virtuous than the gentiles.
- Gird up your loins and be prepared for the mighty work of the Lord to prepare the world for my second coming to meet the tribes of Israel according to the predictions of all the holy prophets since the beginning; …
- Be patient, therefore, possessing your souls in peace and love, and keep the faith that is now delivered unto you for the gathering of scattered Israel, and lo, I am with you, though ye cannot see me, till I come: even so. Amen.
Does the 1831 "revelation" talk about polygamy?
A note written by W. W. Phelps in the 1861 document implies that marriage with the Indians coincided with Joseph Smith's planned intent to institute polygamy.
- About three years after this was given, I asked brother Joseph, privately, how "we," that were mentioned in the revelation could take wives of the "natives" as we were all married men? He replied instantly "In the same manner that Abraham took Hagar and Keturah; and Jacob took Rachel, Bilhah and Zilpah; by revelation—the saints of the Lord are always directed by revelation."
It is important to note that Phelp's wrote his note 30 years after the revelation was said to have been given, after polygamy had been openly practiced for a number of years.
The only contemporary report of a possible revelation on marriage with the Indians was written in a letter to the Ohio Star on 8 December, 1831 by Ezra Booth, who had apostatized from the Church. This letter was republished in Eber D. Howe's anti-Mormon book Mormonism Unvailed. Booth states that,
- ...it has been made known by revelation, that it will be pleasing to the Lord, should they form a matrimonial alliance with the natives; and by this means the Elders, who comply with the thing so pleasing to the Lord, and for which the Lord has promised to bless those who do it abundantly, gain a residence in the Indian territory, independent of the agent...
Booth makes no mention of polygamy, and instead implies that the "matrimonial alliance" was for the purpose of gaining "residence" in the Indian territory. One would think that if Booth, given his opposition to the Church at the time, had been aware of something as controversial as a proposal that polygamy be instituted among the Indians, that he would have been highly motivated to proclaim this in a public forum. In fact, Booth actually states that in order to marry one of the natives, that one elder needed to be "free from his wife." Booth does go on to say:
- ...It has been made known to one, who has left his wife in the State of New York, that he is entirely free from his wife, and he is at pleasure to take him a wife from among the Lamanites. It was easily perceived that this permission was perfectly suited to his desires. I have frequently heard him state that the Lord had made it known to him, that he is as free from his wife as from any other woman; and the only crime I have ever heard alleged against her is, she is violently opposed to Mormonism. But before this contemplated marriage can be carried into effect, he must return to the State of New York and settle his business, for fear, should he return after that affair had taken place, the civil authority would apprehend him as a criminal.(emphasis added)
This quote implies that it was not to be a polygamous union.
Were the Indians to become "white and delightsome" through marriage?
There are quotes from Church leaders indicating that they believed that the Indians were becoming "white and delightsome." However, it was always implied that the process of becoming "white and delightsome" was to be achieved through the power of God—not through intermarriage. Critics cite a statement made by Spencer W. Kimball in the October 1960 General Conference, 15 years before he became president of the Church:
- I saw a striking contrast in the progress of the Indian people today ... they are fast becoming a white and delightsome people.... For years they have been growing delightsome, and they are now becoming white and delightsome, as they were promised.... The children in the home placement program in Utah are often lighter than their brothers and sisters in the hogans on the reservation.
Although this is an interesting statement by President Kimball, it has nothing whatsoever to do with polygamy or intermarriage with the Indians. It is simply President Kimball’s own observation that he felt that the Indians were becoming a “white and delightsome” people through the power of God. Then-Elder Kimball was likely unaware that Joseph Smith had edited the Book of Mormon text in 1837 to say "pure and delightsome," possibly to counter the idea that the change referred to was predominantly physical, rather than spiritual. This change was lost in future LDS versions of the Book of Mormon until 1981. (See here for more information).
- [note] The source is said to be a letter from Joseph Fielding Smith to J. W. A. Baily dated September 5, 1935.
- [note] Fawn M. Brodie, No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1945), 184, footnote. ( Index of claims )
- [note] Ezra Booth letter, Ohio Star (Ravenna, Ohio), 8 December 1831.
- [note] Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, OH, 1834), 220. (Affidavits examined)
- [note] David Whittaker, "Mormons and Native Americans: A Historical and Bibliographical Introduction," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 18 no. 4 (Winter 1985), 33–60. off-site
- [note] Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, OH, 1834), 220. (Affidavits examined)
- [note] Improvement Era, December 1960, pp. 922-23.