Monday, November 11, 2019
The Best Evidence For Joseph's Monogamy
There is a general attitude, among both the Brighamites and the secular world, that people such as myself who believe that the Prophet Joseph Smith was a monogamist simply don’t care what the historical evidence says – the evidence in question being merely that a lot of people said Joseph had multiple wives. Meanwhile, the search for something more conclusive – either a genetic link to a child born of a polygamous marriage, or a document authorizing polygamy written in Joseph’s own hand – has turned up empty on both counts.
But even lacking such supports for their own claims, these people still manage to wave away any protestations that Joseph might have told the truth about having no wife but Emma. Cite any piece of history that favors the prophet’s honesty, and they’ll just ignore it and say something like “your only evidence is a closed mind.” And curiously enough, TBMs who deride us for not following the consensus of secular scholars on this matter are still perfectly willing to reject the secular consensus that the Book of Mormon is a work of fiction.
While I could go on at length about the contradictory alibis – how the people who claim that Joseph had instructed them to take many wives changed their stories often enough to thoroughly discredit themselves – or how all the children born to the alleged plural marriages have been turned out, after genetic testing, to not be Joseph’s, I think that there’s one oft-overlooked point that might be the best piece of evidence for Joseph’s monogamy.
None of the women who claimed to be Joseph’s wives ever became anti-Mormons.
Now, this isn’t the case with all of his alleged wives. There were plenty of women, such as Fanny Alger and Agnes Moulton Coolbrith, who are included in lists of Joseph’s wives, and who later left the church. But for them, all the evidence is second-hand – rumors, essentially – and the women themselves never said anything about being married to Joseph Smith.
The women who actually made such claims for themselves, like Eliza R. Snow and Helen Mar Kimball, were all, by that time, the plural wives of Brigham Young and the other higher-ups in the Utah Church. Furthermore, they didn’t go public with their stories until the 1870s, when the doctrine of polygamy was under attack from the Reorganized Church and the Brighamites needed to gather up evidence to defend it.
These women’s affidavits were used to bolster the Utah Church’s claims during the Temple Lot Suit, in which the Utah Church and the Reorganized Church each argued that it was the rightful continuation of the religion that Joseph Smith had founded. Judge John F. Philipps, approaching the matter as an impartial fact-finder, rejected the evidence for polygamy as unreliable and sided with the RLDS.
These disputes might have gone very differently if even one woman had had a polygamous relationship with Joseph Smith, came away from it feeling hurt and abused, and gone public about her bad experience with Mormonism. But this never happened.
The same cannot be said about Brigham Young and his harem. Even among Brighamite apologists, there’s no concealing the fact that some of Brigham’s wives eventually became bitter toward him and the Church and turned into enemies of Mormonism. That is certainly what happened with many of Brigham Young's wives, such as Ann Eliza Webb, who became a minor celebrity with her caustic memoir Wife No. 19.
Granted, there were plenty of non-Mormons and ex-Mormons who accused Joseph of polygamy back in the Nauvoo days, but it's one thing to spew calumnies against someone you hate, and quite another thing to denounce an embarrassing relationship of which you were once a part. There were women who did the latter for Brigham, but not for Joseph, and this seems, in my mind, to be one of the strongest evidences for Joseph's monogamy.
Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball each had more than forty wives; each produced at least as many children, and both endured vitriolic denunciations from former wives who had become grossly dissatisfied with the whole business. Joseph, according to the LDS church, also had dozens of wives, and yet those relationships produced zero children, and zero angry exes.
As I see it, the simplest way to account for that evidence is to conclude that Joseph simply wasn’t doing what Brigham and Heber were doing. Or in other words, that Joseph told the truth.
And for those of us who, like myself, believe that Joseph was a messenger of Christ and that the Lord chooses honest men to do his labors, that shouldn’t be a conclusion that we need to feel shy about.
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