Episode 94: Polygamy Controversies: Joseph Fought Polygamy?

Written by Lindsay Hansen Park on . Posted in year of polygamy

Join Lindsay as she interviews historian John Hamer about the “Joseph Fought Polygamy” claims and old RLDS polemics. This is part one in a four-part series of “Polygamy Controversies” that will air throughout the rest of the series. Links and text mentioned and read in this podcast:

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Comments (11)

  • iamse7en

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    Really good episode. These Joseph Fought Polygamy conspiracy theorists are extremely obnoxious.

    Reply

  • Lindsay

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    I’m so glad that you are doing these episodes. I think they are vitally important to the conversations that need to happen regarding polygamy. But I worry that in an effort to discredit the Price’s book, that you are throwing out the baby with the bath water. For example:

    You discuss the sexist treatment of the Utah women’s affidavits, by the Price’s. I agree, it was sexist. On the other hand, while discussing Brigham’s remembrance of a “revelation” he received in 1839-40 regarding polygamy, you discount it based on the fact that the remembrance was recorded decades after the supposed event and there is no contemporary source material to back it up. I think we also need to remember that the affidavits are not contemporary source material and that they also will contain details that are filtered through the lens of having lived the practice for several decades. Neither the affidavits nor the BY revelation are contemporary sources. We need to remember that both of them are colored. I feel like your treatment of Brigham’s “revelation” was to discount it because it was decades before it was written down, by that same measuring stick, the affidavits should could also be discounted as “exaggerated” or based on the women’s current world view. I think that Brigham probably did have an experience that he interpreted later as a polygamous revelation. But the affidavits also need to be looked at as possibly exaggerated by the length of time since the incidents had occurred and based on the change in life perspective that the women undoubtedly had. I’m not saying that to discredit the affidavits, but merely to explain that both are colored by time and both need to be treated that way.

    Finally, you and John discuss how the Cochranites did not directly lead to polygamy. You then dismiss the Cochranite theory as bunk. I agree that there is not a direct connection between Jacob Cochran and Joseph Smith. But I think there are very many indirect connections. There were quite a few Cochranite converts to the early church. They would have undoubtedly brought their world ideas and perspectives with them to Kirtland and Missouri. Much of the Cochranite language was used by JS and the early church leaders in their application of the principle. LDS plural marriage didn’t happen in a vacuum. While I disagree with the Prices that BY co-opted the Cochranite system and instituted it in the church after JS’s death or prior but without his consent, I do think that the Cochranite practice of spiritual wifery was not unknown to Joseph and did influence his institution of the principle. Joseph was a veritable sponge of the cultural influences around him. I think he was aware of the Cochranite practice based on the missionary efforts in that area and the Cochranite converts. I think his awareness of it may have contributed even minutely to Joseph’s practice of polygamy.

    I just worry that in an effort to discredit the Price’s conclusions, we are also throwing away bits of history that could lead to a better understanding of the appeal of polygamy to Joseph. I think one of the most amazing things about Joseph was his ability to pull inspiration from the world around him. I don’t want to completely dismiss bits of history that can teach us more about Joseph and the world around him, because the Prices used it to craft a misleading narrative.

    Reply

    • Lindsay Hansen Park

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      I understand the confusion but I don’t think we were throwing the “baby out with the bathwater.” We were demonstrating the conflicting ideas the Price family uses. Each source, like you just mentioned- aren’t an either/or. They all have to be weighed as to their relevance and if they stand alone or not.

      So, for example, the affidavits that were done years after the fact, don’t stand alone, like the Brigham revelation AND aren’t weighed as a single direct source of evidence like the Price family uses the revelation to be. The Price family is arguing the Brigham revelation to be the possible genesis of Brigham’s polygamy plans, which is not only myopic, but completely revisionist (both on the part of the Price family and Brigham Young).

      The affidavits are by far NOT the only narrative we have of the women telling their stories. My point in bringing them up, is only that anti-polygamy polemics use their date to discredit them completely (which is why I brought up the Brigham revelation). We have contemporaneous letters between wives, journal entries, poetry, and policy being shaped in Nauvoo. We then have journal entries as the Saints leave Nauvoo. Lousia Beaman, who was considered the most recognized first plural wife, had an entire fort named after her in ’51. So from 1840 on, we have consistent narrative from folks telling the same stories the affidavits are telling.

      There is no doubt Joseph drew from the influences around him, but the Price’s research seeks to attribute those influences onto Brigham, not Joseph. I don’t mean to dismiss the Cochranite influence, just that they brought polygamy to Brigham through Augusta Cobb. It’s a ridiculous insertion. It dismisses the story of Martha Brotherton completely and Mary Ann Angell story.
      I have no doubt the Price family did not know much about any of these women, as Connell O’Donovan and others are still bringing new information to light.

      Reply

  • Michael Surkan

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    This episode gets to the heart of what has been troubling me about LDS polygamy. As an active member I had always known Joseph had been a polygamist (albeit hazy on the details). Ironically, it was only after I left the church that I started questioning Joseph’s role. I never realized that the revelations regarding plural marriage were all made public many years after Joseph died and the corroboration for those revelations are the same people who were practicing polygamy themselves which makes it hard to put a lot of credence in what they say.

    All the contradictory statements have me confused. Emma denied that Joseph was a polygamist until she died. Even more confusingly, extensive DNA testing has not been able to prove the existence of any polygamous progeny of Joseph. On the other hand, DNA testing has conclusively dismissed many claimants of Smith heritage.

    It’s not that want to put Joseph on some sort of pedestal since I believe he pretty much fabricated all his claims. Rather, I have such a low opinion of Brigham and his ilk that I wouldn’t put anything past them.

    Reply

    • Lindsay Hansen Park

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      Don’t forget, Joseph had a terrible track record regarding live births. Also, the DNA evidence has not conclusively dismissed the claims. There is still a whole body of DNA research ongoing. (I recommend Perego’s essay in Persistence of Polygamy, Volume one).

      If the contradictions of the time confuse you, remember with every scandal there are always contradictions. (Think Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky or any other contemporary sexual scandal). Emma had a vested interest in denying polygamy. The context of her role as a prominent Victorian woman placed both her reputation and that of her children in danger should her husband have been a proven philanderer. Even worse as a polygamist. I don’t think we can overstate how controversial Mormon polygamy was seen in Nauvoo and elsewhere.

      Emma was confronted with public rumors of Joseph’s infidelity almost from the beginnings of their marriage. She set herself into a pattern of protecting her family’s reputation, as many Victorian women did in situations where a family’s virtue was called into question (remember, in this time period- the man’s behavior was projected on the entire family. He had the power, the property rights, the name, and the control). Emma also married Joseph against her parent’s wishes and had a financial stake in her husband not being jailed or murdered for polygamy. I don’t think it is very difficult, at all, to understand why Emma was completely invested in denying any trace of her husband’s polygamy. Am I saying Emma lied? Yes. And I believed she lied to herself most of all. Unfortunately, her relationship with Bidamon proved to facilitate a similar pattern, although not on the level Joseph was leveraging.

      I think if you wanted to argue the Brighamite’s role in all of this, you could argue that Brigham made an institutional support system around plural marriage that for various reasons, Joseph was never able to do. Polygamy became systematic from the Utah period and on and the first wives of husbands (usually) had more involvement than Emma did. Utah polygamists were living a technical “Multiple Monogamies” as Polygamy. Joseph Smith practiced plural marriage against Emma’s will so it was closer to extra-marital polygamy than Utah period polygamy.

      Also, if you take the view that Joseph Smith fabricated all of his claims, then you could read up on the literature that tracks powerful leaders with the “compartmentalizing and splitting” theory. Meaning, folks in power exhibit a striking capacity to compartmentalize risky, unethical or even illegal behavior, a process known as the “splitting” of part of the personality. (Research Header: POWER AND HYPOCRISY Power Increases Hypocrisy Moralizing in Reasoning, Immorality in Behavior, by Lammer).

      Reply

      • J..T.

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        Did ANY of the polygamous Utah women who provided affidavits stating they were married to Joseph lie because of their investment in polygamy? Did EVERY woman who claimed to be married to Joseph tell the truth?

        Or is it completely sexist to even ask that question?

        Reply

  • Charles

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    I am particularly interested in hearing about the evidence that Sarah Pratt was having an affair with John Bennett. I have heard Mr Hales talk about the necessity of evidence when it comes to Joseph Smith’s potential affairs, and I am curious to see what level of evidence it took to convince him that Sarah Pratt was having an affair.

    Reply

  • John Hamer in Mormon Podcasts « Saints Herald

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    […] FMH Podcast Episode 94: “Polygamy Controversies: Joseph Fought Polygamy?”. April 24, 2015. Lindsay Hansen Park and John Hamer discuss the actual historical evidence that counteracts the faith claims made by Richard and Pamela Price in their book, “Joseph Fought Polygamy”. […]

    Reply

  • Carly

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    The Argument is not compelling. You say testimony from the Joseph Smiths own family is non academic proof, yet the hearsay evidence that “proves” Joseph’s “Polygamy” is “academic” because historians can agree on it? This is a week argument. Just look at the fruits of Brigham’s life. He was non deniably evil, yet people ( anti Mormons, FLDS, and LDS!) believe him! Crazy crazy stuff. Why do you trust him? Why do you trust those who were controlled by Brigham? Why do people believe the hearsay? This is a joke. As time moves on we get further away from this period of time yet we all think we “know” more. None of us really “know” we are all speculating! We are all giving Joseph’s life our own narrations. Quinn’s, Comptons, Hales! All different narations. But that’s all they are. The Price’s naration is worth considering. They are a breath of fresh air. Joseph’s own family is worth listening to. I believe when we have allready come to a conclusion based on the narrative we choose to believe, then it doesn’t matter what other narrations are placed before us. Why do anti Mormons and LDS ect… choose to believe any “evidence” without analyzing the sources? Just remember you are interpreting information through the lenses of those who have research it.
    That info still become distorted! Can there be false affidavits? Yes! Can masses of people believe a lie? Yes!
    we are entitled to our views but please remember that’s all they are. They are not facts no matter how compelling! You don’t know and none of it is conclusive. I feel sorry for all people (anti and pro Mormon) who claim that what they conclude, is “fact”. I don’t claim that the Price naration is fact but I don’t dismiss it either. Instead I am asking myself what other evidence are we lacking? Remember the LDS church has vaulted their history. One must ask themselves what are they hiding? So please please don’t come to conclusions by assuming the “historians” have all the facts.

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  • Robin Hood

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    I have studied this subject at length for many years. I am an active member of the LDS Church and currently serve in a leadership role.
    I am thoroughly convinced that Joseph Smith did not practice polygamy. The contemporary evidence just isn’t there.
    I believe he was sealed to a number of people for dynastical reasons, and that these sealings were later interpreted as marriages, because sealings and marraige became synonymous in Utah.
    In the end it boils down to one question: “Joseph Smith; an honest man or a liar?”
    The position of the church is that he was a liar. My position is that he was a truthful man.

    Reply

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