Polygamy | Polyandry


A Closer Look

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CES Letter Core Question

Was Joseph Smith married (sealed) to 34 women?

One of the things that also truly disturbed me in my research was discovering the real origins of polygamy and how Joseph Smith really practiced it.

  • Joseph Smith was married to at least 34 women, as now verified in the Church’s 2014 polygamy essays.

CES Letter, Page 52

The count of 34 sealings is a good estimate. There is some debate around this number because the historical record is spotty for a number of these marriages. Additionally, Joseph referred to these "sealings" rather than "marriages."

Joseph taught that exaltation occurs to worthy couples, not single individuals, so all worthy women will need to be sealed to an eternal husband.

Many of Joseph Smith's sealings were non-sexual "eternity only" ceremonies showing that sexual relations were not the focus of his celestial marriage teachings. None of the 35 women who were sealed to the Prophet ever complained against him. Joseph cared for his plural wives assuring their material needs were met. Joseph followed the Old Testament practice of marrying many wives like Abraham, Moses, and others.


CES Letter Core Question

Was Joseph Smith married (sealed) to 11 women with living husbands?

Polyandry: Of those 34 women, 11 of them were married women of other living men.

CES Letter, Page 52

Yes, Joseph was sealed to women who were married at the time for eternity. The idea that a woman could have multiple husbands and cohabitate with them in this life isn't consistent with church teachings. In fact, there are numerous cases where the church spoke out against this, including D&C 132:63 dictated by Joseph Smith.

There is a lack of any evidence of sexual polyandry (where women had sex with multiple husbands at once). Debunking the CES letter addresses this further here.

Marinda Hyde Sealing Date
CES Letter Core Question

Did Joseph Smith secretly marry Orson Hyde's wife Marinda while Orson was on a mission to dedicate Palestine?

Among them being Apostle Orson Hyde, who was sent on his mission to dedicate Palestine when Joseph secretly married his wife, Marinda HydeChurch Historian Elder Marlin K. Jensen and unofficial apologists like FairMormon do not dispute the polyandry.

UPDATE: The Church admits the polyandry in its October 2014 Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo essay.

CES Letter, Page 52

The historical record lists two different sealing dates, one while Orson was on a mission, the other after his mission. Marinda provided a signed affidavit saying the marriage was in May 1843 (original scan here), after Orson was home from his mission. Because the affidavit is from Marinda it lends more credibility. Additionally, John D. Lee remembered that Orson gave his permission, "Hyde's wife, with his consent, was sealed to Joseph for an eternal state."

Thomas Bullock recorded the sealing as having occured in April 1842 (original scan here), a year earlier than Marinda's affidavit. Orson Hyde had been on his mission for over a year so it's extremely unlikely that Joseph sent him away so he could quickly be sealed to Marinda. Additionally, Marinda did not conceive a child until weeks after Orson Hyde returned from his mission and she remained an active Latter-day Saint throughout her life. Indications are that Marinda was sealed to Joseph for the next life only (eternity-only) due to her own choice.

Orson was a strong defender of Joseph Smith throughout his life. Just weeks after he returned from his mission, Orson asked Joseph Smith to perform his own plural ceremony. 

Dynastic Sealings

CES Letter Core Question

Are dynastic "eternity only" sealings just an apologist theory to justify polyandry as non-sexual?

The Church and apologists now attempt to justify these polyandrous marriages by theorizing that they probably didn’t include sexual relations and thus were “eternal” or “dynastic” sealings only. 

CES Letter, p. 52

Dynastic sealings are more than just a theory or an apologists attempt to justify polygamous behavior. The historical record shows that this practice occurred. 

Marriage sealings had an added sense of value and urgency during the Nauvoo era because proxy sealings and endowments for the dead were not yet part of Latter-day Saint temple practice. If one wanted to be linked in the eternities it could only be done through the marriage sealing in this life. Additionally, there was a belief among many that by being joined to the Prophet or other righteous leaders it would provide benefit in the eternities.

Andrew Jenson, author of the 1887 Historical Record article on Joseph Smith’s plural wives, wrote the following description of Joseph's sealing to Ruth Sayers.

"Sister Ruth/ Mrs. Sayers was married in her youth to Mr. Edward Sayers, a thoroughly practical horticulturist and florist, and though he was not a member of the Church, yet he willingly joined his fortune with her and they reached Nauvoo together some time in the year 1841;

While there the strongest affection sprang up between the Prophet Joseph and Mr. Sayers. The latter not attaching much importance to the/ theory of a future life insisted that his wife Ruth/ should be sealed to the Prophet for eternity, as he himself should only claim [page2—the first 3 lines of which are written over illegible erasures] her in this life. She was/ accordingly the sealed to the Prophet in Emma Smith’s presence and thus were became numbered among the Prophets plural wives. She however though she/ continued to live with Mr. Sayers / remained with her husband until his death."

Andrew Jenson Papers [ca. 1871–1942], LDS Archives

How is not having sex with a living man’s wife on earth only to take her away from him in the eternities to be one of your [Joseph] forty wives any better or any less immoral?

CES Letter, p. 52

Jim Bennett in his CES response provided a good answer here:

First, if Joseph isn’t a prophet, then the “sealing” is meaningless, which is why disbelieving husbands had no problem with their wives participating in a ceremony they thought had no efficacy. You, Jeremy, also don’t believe this sealing means anything, so why would you call it immoral if it’s an empty exercise in superstition? If you’re concerned that this is actually going to accomplish something, then you are conceding the validity of Joseph’s prophetic authority and the divine origins of plural marriage.

Second, these are consenting adults. Jedidiah M. Grant, Heber J. Grant’s father and my greatgreat- grandfather, stood proxy for Joseph Smith when he married my great-greatgrandmother, Rachel R. Ivins, who was sealed to the Prophet after his death. To say Joseph is going to “take her away” is to presume that neither Jedidiah nor Rachel agreed to this arrangement. While that certainly seems strange to us, everyone involved made that decision of their own volition, so nobody was being “taken away” from anybody else.

If you want to argue that girls like Helen Mar Kimball, who was 14 at the time of her dynastic, non-sexual sealing, were too young to consent to such a thing, you’re still Nancy Marinda Johnson Hyde Perhaps sealed to, but never married to Joseph Smith conceding that Joseph’s authority would result in her being married to Joseph Smith after she died, and, again, conceding that God  sanctioned plural marriage in the first place and will honor it in the life to come.

A Faithful Reply to the CES Letter, P. 171-172

Heber & Vilate Kimball's Abrahamic Test
CES Letter Core Question

If Joseph's polygamous/polyandrous marriages were innocuous "dynastic sealings" why was Apostle Heber C. Kimball so troubled by Joseph's request to be sealed to his wife?

During the summer of 1841, Joseph Smith tested Helen Mar Kimball’s father, Apostle Heber C. Kimball, by asking Heber to give his wife, Vilate – Helen’s mother – to Joseph:

...shortly after Heber's return from England, he was introduced to the doctrine of plural marriage directly through a startling test—a sacrifice that shook his very being and challenged his faith to the ultimate. He had already sacrificed homes, possessions, friends, relatives, all worldly rewards, peace, and tranquility for the Restoration. Nothing was left to place on the altar save his life, his children, and his wife. Then came the Abrahamic test. Joseph demanded for himself what to Heber was the unthinkable, his Vilate. Totally crushed spiritually and emotionally, Heber touched neither food nor water for three days and three nights and continually sought confirmation and comfort from God. On the evening of the third day, some kind of assurance came, and Heber took Vilate to the upper room of Joseph's store on Water Street. The Prophet wept at this act of faith, devotion, and obedience. Joseph had never intended to take Vilate. It was all a test.— HEBER C. KIMBALL: MORMON PATRIARCH AND PIONEER, P.93

If Joseph’s polygamous/polyandrous marriages are innocuous “dynastic sealings” meant for the afterlife, as the Church and apologists are now theorizing, and Joseph wanted to “dynastically link” himself to the Kimball family, why was Apostle Heber C. Kimball so troubled by Joseph’s command for his wife that he “touched neither food nor water for three days and three nights”?

CES Letter, p. 52-53

Heber C Kimball

It's clear from the red text in the quote that it was an Abrahamic test. Part of the quote says, "the Prophet wept at this act of faith, devotion, and obedience, Joseph never intended to take Vilate. It was all a test." Some marriage proposals were Abrahamic tests like this Heber C. Kimball example, some were dynastic like the Ruth Vose Sayers example, and some were for time and eternity.

Teenage Sealings

CES Letter Core Question

Was Joseph Smith sealed to seven teenage women? Was the sealing to Helen Mar Kimball, age 14, shocking by 19th century standards?

Out of the 34 women, 7 of them were teenage girls as young as 14-years-old. Joseph was 37-years-old when he married 14-year-old Helen Mar Kimball, twenty-three years his junior. Even by 19th century standards, this is shocking.

CES Letter, p. 53

Observations today claiming that marriages to fourteen-year-olds in the 1840s were scandalous are manifestations of “presentism,” where currents standards are superimposed upon other times.

A review of marital patterns in the United States during the nineteenth century shows that the average female age for first marriages was around twenty. However, weddings to women as young as sixteen were not uncommon and as young as fourteen were eyebrow-raising, but not shameful or shocking.

An 1846 article in the Millennial Star spoke of a sixteen year old girl in England who was married by a priest without any apparent problem.

A study from eighteenth-century Andover, Massachusetts, showed that one third of the women wed before their twenty-first birthday. One sampling from the 1850 U. S. census of 879 marriages showed that more than forty percent of the wives were under the age of twenty.

William Clark (of the Lewis and Clark expedition) wed sixteen-year-old Julia Hancock in 1808. Jesse Hale, brother to Emma Hale Smith, the Prophet’s wife, married Mary McKune when she was fifteen and he was twenty-three. Martin Harris, one of the Three Witnesses of the Book of Mormon, married his wife Lucy when she was only fifteen. Illinois Governor Thomas Ford (1842–1846), the state official who forced the Prophet to appear at Carthage where he was murdered, married Frances Hambaugh in 1828; she was fifteen and he was twenty-eight.

LDS scholar Gregory L. Smith explained:

It is significant that none of Joseph's contemporaries complained about the age differences between polygamous or monogamous marriage partners. This was simply part of their environment and culture; it is unfair to judge nineteenth century members by twenty-first century social standards. . . . Joseph Smith's polygamous marriages to young women may seem difficult to understand or explain today, but in his own time such age differences were not typically an obstacle to marriage. The plural marriages were unusual, to say the least; the younger ages of the brides were much less so. Critics do not provide this perspective because they wish to shock the audience and have them judge Joseph by the standards of the modern era, rather than his own time.

Utah Policy was to Wait to Begin Sexual Relations with Young Plural Wives. While we have no firsthand accounts outlining the Prophet’s counsel on marriages to women in their teens, it is probable that the marriage patterns established in Utah by Brigham Young were based upon teachings he had received from the Prophet. Young taught polygamous husbands that young wives should be allowed to mature physically before beginning a family with them. One study showed that the average age for plural wives married in one area of Utah was around twenty. Eugene E. Campbell described Brigham’s instructions given in Utah: 

One of the more distressing developments was the number of men asking Young for permission to marry girls too young to bear children. To one man at Fort Supply, Young explained, ‘I don't object to your taking sisters named in your letter to wife if they are not too young and their parents and your president and all connected are satisfied, but I do not want children to be married to men before an age which their mothers can generally best determine.’ Writing to another man in Spanish Fork, he said, ‘Go ahead and marry them, but leave the children to grow.’ A third man in Alpine City was instructed, ‘It is your privilege to take more wives, but set a good example to the people, and leave the children long enough with their parents to get their growth, strength and maturity.’ To Louis Robinson, head of the church at Fort Bridger, Young advised, ‘Take good women, but let the children grow, then they will be able to bear children after a few years without injury.’ Another man in Santa Clara was told that it would be wise to marry an Indian girl but only if she were mature. Still another man wanted Young to counsel him concerning a sister who proposed to give him her twelve-year-old daughter. For example, C. C. Rich took a bride of fourteen years though he did not live with her until she was eighteen years old.

A few accounts of brides as young as fourteen can be identified in historical documents dating back to the pre-1900s. Stephanie Coontz, author of Marriage, a History, acknowledged that “in the area of classic patriarchy . . . girls are married at very young ages.”

More Debunking CES Letter details can be found here.

Helen Mar Kimball

CES Letter Core Question

Why did Helen feel all of the agony and anguish if this was an innocuous "Dynastic Linking" and sealing for the afterlife?

UPDATE: The Church now admits that Joseph Smith married Helen Mar Kimball “several months before her 15th birthday” in its October 2014 Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo essay.

Joseph took 14-year-old Helen Mar Kimball’s hand in marriage after his disturbing Abrahamic test on her father, Heber, while promising Helen and her family eternal salvation and exaltation if she accepted:

Just previous to my father’s starting upon his last mission but one, to the Eastern States, he taught me the principle of Celestial marriage, and having a great desire to be connected with the Prophet Joseph, he offered me to him; this I afterwards learned from the Prophet’s own mouth. My father had but one Ewe lamb, but willingly laid her upon the alter: how cruel this seemed to the mother whose heartstrings were already stretched until they were ready to snap asunder, for he had taken Sarah Noon to wife and she thought she had made sufficient sacrifice, but the Lord required more. I will pass over the temptations which I had during the twenty four hours after my father introduced to me the principle and asked me if I would be sealed to Joseph, who came next morning and with my parents I heard him teach and explain the principle of Celestial marriage - after which he said to me, ‘If you will take this step, it will ensure your eternal salvation and exaltation and that of your father’s household and all of your kindred.’

This promise was so great that I willingly gave myself to purchase so glorious a reward. None but God and angels could see my mother’s bleeding heart – when Joseph asked her if she was willing, she replied, ‘If Helen is willing, I have nothing more to say.’ She had witnessed the sufferings of others, who were older and who better understood the step they were taking, and to see her child, who had scarcely seen her fifteenth summer, following in the same thorny path, in her mind she saw the misery which was as sure to come as the sun was to rise and set; but it was all hidden from me.

Why all the agony and anguish if this was an innocuous “Dynastic Linking” and sealing for the afterlife? Why did it seem “cruel” to Vilate, “whose heartstrings were already stretched”?

CES Letter, Pages 53-54

Helen Mar Kimball Polygam
Helen Mar Kimball Joseph Smith Todd Compton


Helen wrote more than any other woman in the 19th century supporting Joseph and plural marriage. Whatever happened with her and Joseph did not cause her to lose faith in Joseph or plural marriage. Additionally, award-winning historian Todd Compton said, "there is absolutely no evidence that there was any sexuality in the marriage" between Joseph and Helen Mar Kimball. 

Polygamy Not "Innocuous"

The question being raised is why would it be a struggle if it was just an "innocuous" eternal linking? A synonym for innocuous is "painless." Polygamy was far from a "painless" thing for Vilate and Helen to accept. There is a real lack of empathy essentially calling their experience "painless." Whether in the life or next, they, like many, struggled with the idea of polygamy.  

Additionally, Heber had already taken Sarah Noon as a second wife and Vilate thought "she had made a sufficient sacrifice." Thus, Vilate saw first-hand some of the struggles that come with practicing polygamy.

The exact nature of Helen's and Joseph sealing isn't known except that there is no evidence of sexuality. Brian Hales put forward that it may have been a time and eternity sealing that followed the precedent in Utah where no sexual relations were practiced until she would have been of age.

Eternal Connection

There is no question the Kimballs sought to be united with Joseph through having Helen sealed to him.  Helen Mar Kimball is quoted in the CES Letter as saying her father had a great desire to be connected with the Prophet Joseph.

Historian and BYU professor Spencer Fluhman provides a full article detailing Helen Mar Kimball that can be found here. Fluhman said, "No Saint of the 1840s was sealed to his or her own ancestors through vicarious ordinances; later Church Presidents would add intergenerational sealing to temple practice. Their absence in Nauvoo helps explain Heber Kimball’s actions with regard to his daughter."

Promise of Eternal Exaltation

Brian Hales said, "This quotation is sometimes cited by critics as solid evidence that the Prophet promised exaltation to at least one of his plural wives and her family if they would agree to the marriage. Typically omitted from such accounts is the fact that one year later Helen clarified that she may not have understood everything correctly: “I confess that I was too young or too ‘foolish’ to comprehend and appreciate all” that Joseph Smith then taught." Additionally, it's entirely possible Joseph could have found better ways to discuss and communicate this practice with others. We know that he wasn't perfect and found this topic difficult to discuss.


If Dynastic, why be Sealed to Multiple Family Members?
CES Letter Core Question

If some of these marriages were non-sexual “dynastic” “eternal” sealings only, as theorized by the Church and apologists, why would Joseph need to be sealed to a mother and daughter set?

If some of these marriages were non-sexual “dynastic” “eternal” sealings only, as theorized by the Church and apologists, why would Joseph need to be sealed to a mother and daughter set? The mother would be sealed to the daughter and would become part of Joseph’s afterlife family through the sealing to her mother.

CES Letter, Page 54

Women in the Smith Home: "Foster Daughters"

For many, the term "foster daughters" triggers an incorrect modern perception where a parent is legally entrusted by the state to care for a child. This doesn't accurately represent the relationship of these women with the Smith family and isn't a term used in the 1840s. These women worked in the Smith home as hired help and were not small children.

  • Maria (age 19) and Sarah (age 17) Lawrence - Sarah and Maria's father Edward passed away in 1840 and in 1842 the Lawrence sisters began living with the Smiths, perhaps as hired help like Emily and Eliza. Emma chose Maria and Sarah as wives for Joseph.
  • Eliza (age 22) & Emily (age 19) Partridge - The Partridges sisters were hired by Smiths as maids after their father Bishop Edward Partridge died in 1840. They were sealed to the Prophet in 1843 when Eliza was 22 and Emily was 19. 
  • Lucy Walker (age 17) - Lucy's mother died in 1842 and her father was very ill at the time. Since she was one of ten children, Joseph and family took her in. Lucy and Joseph were sealed in 1843 after Lucy described an angelic visitation. Lucy also remembered the Prophet explaining that their sealing would help “form a chain that could never be broken, worlds without end.” 

Mother/ Daughter Sealing. Why be Sealed to Daughter Sylvia?

The mother/daughter set the CES Letter is referring to is Patty Bartlett and Sylvia Sessions Lyon. Patty & Sylvia were two of the estimated 14 polyandrous marriages for eternity only. 

The CES Letter raises the point that Sylvia could still have been linked to her mother Patty and the Prophet through their sealing. It's clear that there is a difference in a relationship between a husband and wife and father and daughter.

Debunking further addresses this here


Joseph Sealing to Emma - One of the First Civil to Eternal Marriages
Joseph and Emma Love Letters
CES Letter Core Question

Why was “elect lady” Emma the 23rd wife to be sealed to Joseph?

CES Letter, Page 54

It's misleading say that Joseph "married/sealed to at least 22 other women before finally being sealed to his first legal wife, Emma." Reading that one will likely get the false impression that Joseph had little regard for Emma, he didn't feel their sealing was a priority, or both. This is a false representation. Joseph loved Emma and expressed this love in nearly every letter he wrote. Emma also loved Joseph.

In fact, Joseph and Emma were the third couple in the church that was sealed for eternity after having been already civilly married. The Lord reveals things "line upon line" and the church didn't practice eternally sealing already civilly married couples until 1842-3.  Also sealed at this same time were "Mormon stalwarts, James and Harriet Denton Adam (m. 1809). Both couples were sealed during the meeting of Smith's Quorum of the Annointed, scene of the earliest endowment ceremonies." Gary Bergera Dialogue Magazine. Michael Quinn added, "these men and women of the Holy Order were a select group, a religious elite within the Church, yet plural marriage was a minority practice among them." Quinn BYU Studies.

Parent to Child Sealings - Not Performed Yet
Joseph Smith and Children Liz Lemon Swindle
CES Letter Core Question

Joseph died without being sealed to his children or to his parents. If a primary motive of these “sealings” was to be connected in the afterlife, why was Joseph sealed to others and not his own family?

Further, Joseph died without being sealed to his children or to his parents. If a primary motive of these “sealings” was to be connected in the afterlife, as claimed by the Church and apologists, what does it say about Joseph’s priorities and motives to be sealed to a non-related and already married woman (Patty Sessions) and her 23-year-old already married daughter (Sylvia Sessions) than it was to be sealed to his own parents and to his own children?

CES Letter, Page 54

As described above, the only type of sealing that occurred during Joseph Smith's lifetime was a marriage sealing. Child-parent sealings were only performed in temples and the Nauvoo temple didn't open until 1846 after Joseph died. Thus, It's highly misleading to imply that Joseph wasn't sealed to his own family because other women were a priority. This creates the false impression that he cared far more being with other women than his own family. Joseph had tremendous love for his parents, wife and children. Without a doubt, Joseph and his family would have been sealed if the temple had been completed in his lifetime. This practice became much more frequent in 1877 in the St. George Utah temple and again in 1893.

D&C on Marriage - 1835 Edition

CES Letter Core Question

Was Joseph a polygamist by 1835? Did Joseph defy the 1835 D&C by adding plural wives?

The following 1835 edition of Doctrine & Covenants revelations bans polygamy:


“Inasmuch as this Church of Christ has been reproached with the crime of fornication, and polygamy: we declare that we believe, that one man should have one wife; and one woman, but one husband, except in case of death, when either is at liberty to marry again.”


“Thou shalt love thy wife with all thy heart, and shall cleave unto her and none else.”


“Wherefore, it is lawful that he should have one wife, and they twain shall be one flesh, and all this that the earth might answer the end of its creation.”
Joseph Smith was already a polygamist when these revelations were introduced into the 1835 edition of the Doctrine & Covenants and Joseph publicly taught that the doctrine of the Church was monogamy. Nevertheless, Joseph continued secretly marrying multiple women and girls as these revelations/scriptures remained in force.

CES Letter, Pages 54-55

More details coming

Debunking does a preliminary analysis here

A full analysis can be found at Brian C. Hales, Joseph Smith’s Polygamy: History and Theology, 3 vols., Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2013, 1: 154-82

Polgyamy Denials

The Public

Dishonesty in public sermons, 1835 D&C 101:4, (addressed in D&C 1835 section) denials by Joseph Smith that he was practicing polygamy, 

CES Letter, Page 56


Consider the following denial made by Joseph Smith to Latter-day Saints in Nauvoo in May 1844 – a mere few weeks before his death:

...What a thing it is for a man to be accused of committing adultery, and having seven wives, when I can only find one. I am the same man, and as innocent as I was fourteen years ago; and I can prove them all perjurers.

It is a matter of historical fact that Joseph had secretly taken over 30 plural wives by May 1844 when he made the above denial that he was ever a polygamist.

If you go to FamilySearch.org – an LDS-owned genealogy website – you can clearly see that Joseph Smith had many wives (click to expand on Joseph’s wives). The Church’s October 2014 Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo essay acknowledges that Joseph Smith was a polygamist. The facts speak for themselves – from 100% LDS sources – that Joseph Smith was dishonest.

CES Letter, Page 57

Brian Hales further addresses the denials here on the Joseph Smith's Polygamy website.

Historian Richard Bushman said, "Joseph never recorded his feelings about plural marriage... but surely he realized that plural marriage would inflict terrible damage... for the world at large, plural marriage would confirm their worst fears. Sexual excess was considered the all too common fruit of pretended revelation. Joseph's enemies would delight in one more evidence of a revelator's antinomian transgressions. He also risked prosecution under Illinois's antibigamy law."

Without a doubt Joseph knew polygamy would risk the his own life and the life of his followers. Sarah M. Kimball recalled Joseph’s sentiment in 1842: “He [Joseph] said in teaching this [polygamy] he realized that he jeopardized his life; but God had revealed it to him many years before as a privilege with a blessing, now God had revealed it again and instructed him to teach it with commandment as the Church could travel (progress) no farther without the introduction of this principle."

Louisa Beaman likewise reported that Joseph said, “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.”

It was a challenging predicament. Keep it a secret, or run the risk of losing your life. Given this challenging situation, Joseph and others in the church chose to publicly deny the practice of polygamy.

More details can be found in this article by Gregory D. Smith https://www.fairmormon.org/archive/publications/polygamy-prophets-and-prevarication#head08

Reason For Expositor Destruction
CES Letter Core Question

Did Joseph destroy the Nauvoo Expositor because it dared to expose his private polygamous behavior?

In fact, Joseph’s desire to keep this part of his life a secret is what ultimately contributed to his death when he ordered the destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor, which dared publicly expose his private behavior in June 1844. This event initiated a chain of events that ultimately led to his death at the Carthage jail.

CES Letter, Page 57

Once again, the CES Letter applies a false reason for Joseph's actions. Historian Richard Bushman said the reason for the destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor was "because it threatened to bring the countryside down on the Mormons." Things were very intense in Nauvoo in May and June 1844. Charles Foster told Joseph Smith that William's Law's associate Joseph Jackson had plans to kill him. 

Anti-Mormon newspaper editor Thomas Sharp said on May 29, 1844 "We have seen and heard enough to convince us that Joe Smith is not safe out of Nauvoo, and we would not be surprised to hear of his death by violent means in a short time... the feeling of this country is now lashed to its utmost pitch, and it will break forth in fury upon the slightest provocation.”

Richard Bushman said that William Law and:

the dissenters proceeded with their campaign to pull down Joseph Smith, even though they must have known the revelation his faults would provoke his enemies in surrounding towns. An exposé of evil doings in Nauvoo would fan the flames in Warsaw. The dissenters obtained a press in May, issued a prospectus, and on June 7, 1844, published a thousand copies of the one and only issue of the Nauvoo Expositor... At the city council meeting the next day, Joseph argued the paper was a "nuisance, a greater nuisance than a dead carcass." The term "nuisance" came from a passage in Blackstone the he would use to justify suppression of the paper. The Expositor was a "nuisance" because it threatened to bring the countryside down on the Mormons. "It is not safe that such things should exist, on account of the mob spirit which they tend to produce." Joseph would later quote Blackstone to Governor Thomas Ford to prove the city council acted legally."


The Church

The Saints did not know what was going on behind the scenes as polygamy did not become common knowledge until 1852 when Brigham Young revealed it in Utah. Joseph Smith did everything he could to keep the practice secret from the Church and the public (already addressed).

CES Letter, Page 57

This claim that "Joseph Smith did everything he could to keep the practice secret from the church is patently false. Historian George D. Smith said of Nauvoo polygamy: "thirty polygamous husbands from 1841 up to Joseph Smith's death on June 27,1844, had married a total of 114 legal and plural wives, who had borne 132 children." 

Dialogue Journal, Nauvoo Roots of Mormon Polygamy, 1841-46: A Preliminary Demographic Report; p. 137

The church sought to keep the practice private because of the inflammatory nature. Early church member George A. Smith remembered: “In 1843 the law on celestial marriage was written, but not published, and was known only to perhaps one or two hundred persons.” Polygamy became public knowledge in 1852 once the Saints had moved west.

The Moral Argument

The secrecy of the marriages and the private and public denials by Joseph Smith are not congruent with honest behavior. 

CES Letter, Page 57


Now, does the fact that Joseph Smith practiced polygamy and polyandry while denying and lying to Emma, the Saints, and the world over the course of 10+ years of his life prove that he was a false prophet? That the Church is false? No, it doesn’t.

What it does prove, however, is that Joseph Smith’s pattern of behavior or modus operandi for a period of at least 10 years of his adult life was to keep secrets, to be deceptive, and to be dishonest – both privately and publicly.

It’s when you take this snapshot of Joseph’s character and start looking into the Book of Abraham, the Kinderhook Plates, the Book of Mormon, the multiple First Vision accounts, Priesthood Restoration, and so on that you begin to see a very disturbing pattern and picture.

CES Letter, Pages 58-59

Is it immoral to lie if your life is in danger? The CES Letter is making a moral argument here but leaving out a key part of the story.

Debunking the CES Letter addresses this further here.

More details coming

1842 Affidavit Denying "Spiritual Wifery"

CES Letter Core Question

Did Joseph coerce 31 people so lie on his behalf swearing that he didn't practice polygamy in a sworn affidavit?

In an attempt to influence and abate public rumors of his secret polygamy, Joseph asked 31 witnesses to sign an affidavit published in the LDS October 1, 1842 Times and Seasons stating that Joseph did not practice polygamy. Pointing to the above-mentioned D&C 101:4 scripture, these witnesses claimed the following:

“...we know of no other rule or system of marriage than the one published from the Book of Doctrine and Covenants (The CES Letter omits this subsequent text in red: and we give this certificate to show that Dr. J. C. Bennett's "secret wife system” is a creature of his own make as we know of no such society in this place not never did.”

The problem with this affidavit is that it was signed by several people who were secret polygamists or who knew that Joseph was a polygamist at the time they signed the affidavit. In fact, Eliza R. Snow, one of the signers of this affidavit, was Joseph Smith’s plural wife. Joseph and Eliza had been married 3 months earlier, on June 29, 1842. Two Apostles and future prophets, John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff, were also aware of Joseph’s polygamy behind the scenes when they signed the affidavit. Another signer, Bishop Whitney, had personally married his daughter Sarah Ann Whitney to Joseph as a plural wife a few months earlier on July 27, 1842. Whitney’s wife and Sarah’s mother Elizabeth (also a signer) witnessed the ceremony.

What does it say about Joseph Smith and his character to include his plural wife and associates – who knew about his secret polygamy/polyandry – to lie and perjure in a sworn public affidavit that Joseph was not a polygamist?

CES Letter, Page 58

Eliza Snow on John C. Bennett

The CES Letter misrepresents this episode and misleads readers by not providing provide the full Times and Seasons quote.  The remainder of the quote is in red which clarifies that the 31 individuals were denying any association with to John C. Bennett's "secret wife system." Additionally, there is no evidence Joseph was involved in this publication. If fact, much of his journal shows he spent time at home and was attending to Emma who was sick. John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff ran the Times and Seasons starting in January 1842 which was published twice a month. 

Years later Eliza R. Snow wrote to Joseph F. Smith explaining the intent of those that signed the statement. (See image above)

Debunking provides further details surrounding this episode here

Fanny Alger

CES Letter Core Question

Was Joseph's relationship with Fanny Alger a "dirty, nasty, filty, affair"?


  • An illegal (not illegal, addressed later) marriage to Fanny Alger, which was described by Oliver Cowdery (his opinion) as a “dirty, nasty, filthy affair” – Rough Stone Rolling, p.323

William McLellin reported a conversation he had with Emma Smith in 1847, which account is accepted by both LDS and non-LDS historians, describing how Emma discovered her husband’s affair with Fanny Alger:

One night she [Emma] missed Joseph and Fanny Alger. She went to the barn and saw him and Fanny in the barn together alone. She looked through a crack and saw the transaction!!! She told me this story too was verily true.

CES Letter, Page 56

Was Fanny Married to Joseph?

The historical record for polygamy documents is spotty. However, there are several accounts that indicate Fanny was married to Joseph Smith. Fanny's father Samuel, mother Clarissa, brother John and sister Clarissa were all Latter-day Saints and joined the church in Utah. Fanny's brother John and mother Clarissa both believed Fanny married Joseph.

  • "John Olger . . . toald me his Sister was Seald to Joseph in Curtlin, this he Said to me in 1868" (John Hawley Autobiography, January 1885).
  • "Fanny Alger’s mother says Fanny was sealed to Joseph by Oliver Cowdery in Kirtland in 1835-or 6" (Eliza Jane Webb to Mary E. Bond, 24 April 1876) Note: Eliza was out of the church at this time which gives this quote added credibility.

Fanny's cousin Mosiah Hancock provided this account: 

  • "Father goes to the Father Samuel Alger—his Father’s Brother in Law and [said] 'Samuel the Prophet Joseph loves your Daughter Fanny and wishes her for a wife what say you'—Uncle Sam Says—'Go and talk to the old woman about it twi’ll be as She says' Father goes to his Sister and said 'Clarissy, Brother Joseph the Prophet of the most high God loves Fanny and wishes her for a wife what say you' Said She 'go and talk to Fanny it will be all right with me'—Father goes to Fanny and said 'Fanny Brother Joseph the Prophet loves you and wishes you for a wife will you be his wife'? 'I will Levi' Said She" (Mosiah Hancock, 1896).

Additionally, Fanny was sealed to Joseph by proxy on April 4, 1899 under the direction of President Lorenzo Snow (Salt Lake Temple Sealing Records, Book D, 243, GS film, 184,590, LDS Family History Library)

Much has been written about Fanny Alger. Brian Hales has written the most. Click here for his analysis of Fanny Alger and polygamy.


Here is how the official church book Saints described the relationship:

"During the years Joseph lived in Kirtland, a young woman named Fanny Alger worked in the Smith home. Joseph knew her family well and trusted them. Her parents were faithful Saints who had joined the church in its first year. Her uncle, Levi Hancock, had marched in the Camp of Israel.

Following the Lord’s command, Joseph proposed marriage to Fanny with the help of Levi and the approval of her parents. Fanny accepted Joseph’s teachings and his proposal, and her uncle performed the ceremony.

Since the time had not come to teach plural marriage in the church, Joseph and Fanny kept their marriage private, as the angel had instructed. But rumors spread among some people in Kirtland. By the fall of 1836, Fanny had moved away.

Oliver was deeply critical of Joseph’s relationship with Fanny, although how much he knew about it is unclear. What Emma knew about the marriage is also uncertain. In time, Fanny married another man and lived apart from the main body of the Saints. Later in life, she received a letter from her brother asking about her plural marriage to Joseph.

“That is all a matter of our own,” Fanny wrote back, “and I have nothing to communicate.”

Saints, Chapter 25

Joseph's Authority to Marry
CES Letter Core Question

Was Joseph's marriage to Fanny "illegal under both the laws of the land and under any theory of divine authority?

LDS polygamy apologists further discuss Emma’s disturbing discovery and the aftermath here.

CES Letter, Page 56

Joseph's union with Fanny was a marriage but not a sealing. Joseph had authority to marry Fanny.  Attorney M. Scott Bradshaw reviewed the pertinent statutes in Ohio, then concluded: “Joseph was indeed within his statutory rights in assuming the authority to solemnize marriages. Moreover, he was correct when he stated that performing marriage was his ‘religious privilege.’ Ohio’s marriage statute and the history and evolution of such laws in other states provided clear grounds for these conclusions.” 

"Joseph Smith's Performance of Marriages in Ohio," BYU Studies Volume 39, no. 4: 23-69

Angel with a Sword Accounts

Joseph Smith Angel Sword
CES Letter Core Question

Did Joseph Smith pressure women into marrying him by telling them that an angel would kill him if they didn't?

Some of the marriages to these women included promises by Joseph of eternal life to the girls and their families, or threats that he (Joseph) was going to be slain by an angel with a drawn sword if the girls didn’t marry him.

CES Letter, Page 55

Next Quote From Bulleted List

Threats that Joseph would be slain by an angel with a drawn sword if they did not enter into the union (Zina Huntington, Almera Woodard Johnson, Mary Lightner 33)

CES Letter, Page 56

Next Quote, Ch. 13 on Zina Huntington

CES Letter, Page 115

Next Quote, From Ch. 13 "Other" Section

That God sent an angel with a drawn sword threatening Joseph?

CES Letter, Page 124

Next Quote, From Ch. 14 "Conclusion"

this god actually threatened Joseph’s life with one of his angels with a sword if a newly married pregnant woman didn’t agree to Joseph’s marriage proposal?

CES Letter, Page 128

This description of the angel story is misleading. There are 23 accounts of the angel visitation, none of the accounts say that Joseph pressured women into marrying him by telling them that the angel would kill him if that person didn't marry him. The consistent story of the accounts shared is that a reluctant Joseph was told by an angel that he needed to start practicing plural marriage.

For a full analysis and all 23 accounts see:

“Encouraging Joseph Smith to Practice Plural Marriage:The Accounts of the Angel with a Drawn Sword,” Mormon Historical Studies  11, no. 2 (Fall 2010): 2339.

D&C 132

See Laura Hales analysis of D&C 132

Joseph F. Smith

"When the revelation was written, in 1843, it was for a special purpose, by the request of the Patriarch Hyrum Smith, and was not then designed to go forth to the church or to the world. It is most probable that had it been then written with a view to its going out as a doctrine of the church, it would have been presented in a somewhat different form. There are personalities [Emma Smith specifically] contained in a part of it which are not relevant to the principle itself, but rather to the circumstances which necessitated its being written at that time. Joseph Smith, on the day it was written, expressly declared that there was a great deal more connected with the doctrine which would be revealed in due time, but this was sufficient for the occasion, and was made to suffice for the time."

Joseph F. Smith, in Journal of Discourses, 20:29 (July 7, 1878).

Was Polygamy Practiced Consistent With D&C 132?


  • Joseph married 11 women who were already married. Multiple husbands = Polyandry. (Note: addressed in separate section)
  • Unions without the knowledge or consent of the husband, in cases of polyandry.
  • (Note: addressed in separate section on polyandry)
  • These married women continued to live as husband and wife with their first husband after marrying Joseph.
  • (Note: addressed in separate section on polyandry)
  • A union with Apostle Orson Hyde’s wife while he was on a mission (Marinda Hyde).
  • (Note: the Abrahamic test is addressed in separate section on the Hydes)
  • A union with a newlywed and pregnant woman (Zina Huntington). (
  • (Note: addressed in separate section)
  • Threats that Joseph would be slain by an angel with a drawn sword if they did not enter into the union (Zina Huntington, Almera Woodard Johnson, Mary Lightner).
  • (Note: addressed in separate section on accounts of Angel and the sword)
  • (Note: addressed in separate section on virgins)
  • Unions without the knowledge or consent of first wife Emma, including to teenagers who worked with Emma in the Smith home such as the Partridge sisters and the Lawrence girls.
  • (Note: addressed in separate section on consent)
  • Promises of salvation and exaltation for the girls and/or their entire families. (Note: addressed in separate section)

CES Letter, Page 55-56

Joseph's practice of plural marriage was consistent with the D&C 132 revelation. The author employs the fallacy of composition to this section in assuming that facets of polygamy, like the desire to raise kids, must be applied to everything.

The CES Letter provides a redundant list here of eight instances where he feels the practice of polygamy was inconsistent with D&C 132. Each of these points is addressed elsewhere in the response.

Is the only reason for polygamy to have kids?

D&C 132 is unequivocal on the point that polygamy is permitted only (read the verse it doesnt say "only") “to multiply and replenish the earth” and “bear the souls of men.” This would be consistent with the Book of Mormon prohibition on polygamy except in the case where God commands it to “raise up seed.”

CES Letter, Page 55

Next Quote

D&C 132:63 very clearly states that the only purpose of polygamy is to “multiply and replenish the earth” and “bear the souls of men.” Why did Joseph marry women who were already married? These women were obviously not virgins, which violated D&C 132:61. Zina Huntington had been married seven and a half months and was about six months pregnant with her first husband’s baby at the time she married Joseph; clearly she didn’t need any more help to “bear the souls of men.”

CES Letter, Page 57

The Doctrine and Covenants provides multiple reasons for polygamy.

  1. As part of the “restitution of all things” prophesied in Acts 3:19–21 (D&C 132:40, 45).
  2. To provide a customized trial for the Saints of that time and place (see D&C 132:32, 51).
  3. To provide bodies for noble premortal spirits by “multiplying and replenishing the earth” (D&C 132:63).
  4. To allow all worthy women to be sealed to an eternal husband “for their exaltation in the eternal worlds” (D&C 132:63, 16–17).

More Debunking details can be found here.

The author employs the fallacy of composition to this section in assuming that facets of polygamy, like the desire to raise kids, must be applied to everything.


Joseph and Emma 1843 revelation on marriage by anthony sweat

The CES Letter claims that Joseph violated D&C 132:61 & 65 by not telling Emma about plural marriage. It's unclear how much Emma knew about the plural marriages. Joseph and Emma had a discussion in the aftermath of her discovery of his first plural marriage to Fanny Alger. The details of that conversation aren't known but it's clear that Emma would not give her consent.

Additionally, to say that Emma was unaware of "most" of Joseph's marriages is an Argument From Silence, which is a logical fallacy. It means the author has formed a conclusion based upon the absence of documents rather than actual documents.

Should Polygamous Wives be Virgins?

Brian Hales addressed this point elsewhere:

D&C 132:61–63 are the only verses in the entire revelation (of 66 verses) to mention “virgins.” These verses do not state that plural wives must only be virgins. We are not told if the verses equally apply to worthy non-virgins, like widows, divorcees, or repentant unmarried women. Yet, Van Allen takes the narrow view that since virgins are mentioned, that is the only possibility that can be considered. A closer reading of the section demonstrates that women who are being sealed are usually referred to as a “wife” (vv. 15, 18, 19, 26, 34, 41) and worthiness is always implied or specifically stated (v. 19). The most important verses, D&C 132:19–20, speak of a “man” who marries a “wife.”

Lending Clarity to Confusion, (2015): 18-19

Further Debunking CES Letter insights on these verses can be found here.

CES Letter Comparison of Joseph to Warren Jeffs

Megyn Kelly interviewed Warren Jeff's daughter in 2017. She describes his mistreatment and molestation.

Was Joseph Smith accused of molestation by his daughter like Jeffs? In fact, did any of Joseph's family members or women sealed to him accuse him of misconduct? The answer is no. While both practiced polygamy, Joseph was not vile and twisted like Jeffs.

Associating Joseph Smith with Warren Jeffs is a negative propaganda technique referred to as "Guilt by Association." Warren Jeffs did terrible things and linking Smith and Jeffs is designed to elicit a distasteful emotional response.

This propaganda tactic is regularly used in political dialogue. Obama is like Stalin, Trump is like Hitler, Mitt Romney is a Wall Street robber like Gordon Gekko. All inflammatory associations. 

The Salt Lake Tribune proves a cursory comparison of Jeffs and Smith in this article

An additional debunking CES response contrasting Smith and Jeffs can be found here.

Joseph Smith and Warren Jeffs

Chart of Joseph's Sealings

The CES Letter polygamy section ends with a re-purposed list all of the women Joseph Smith was sealed to. Rather than look a one-dimensional list of names one can find biographies of all of the women at https://josephsmithspolygamy.org/plural-wives-overview/ . This provides much more context to who these women were and the nature of their relationship with Joseph. These are wonderful women.


CES Letter, Page 60