I read this blog post on Sunday, and it’s been weighing on my mind ever since. The premise: that Joseph Smith did not, in fact, practice polygamy.
I mean, EVERYBODY agrees that he did. Even the Mormons will admit that he did… if they know about it– and a lot don’t. We can argue about his motives, or whether or not he consummated these unions, but pretty much the only people saying that Joseph didn’t practice polygamy at all are Joseph and Emma, right?
Well, to my surprise, apparently not. What I read on Sunday threw me for a loop. And to my surprise (please don’t read too much into this), as I read, I found myself feeling wistful and hopeful. I wanted it to be true.
Weird, right? I mean, I am the first to condemn Joseph Smith as a liar, a charlatan, a fraud, and any other epithet you care to attach. And yet, I found myself really hoping and wishing that Joseph Smith had indeed been the object of a Brighamite smear campaign.
I think it has something to do with how I revered and idolized Joseph Smith as a child, and how angry I was when I found out about the glass-looking, money-digging, womanizing stuff. I felt like a dupe. It’s embarrassing. Analogy: it’s like if Hitler had been my favorite painter, and then one day somebody said, “Hey, ever heard of the Holocaust?” Obviously that would be a whole new level of ignorance, but you catch my gist.
I felt compelled to re-evaluate what I knew about Joseph Smith and polygamy, and I soon found myself back where I’d started: Joseph Smith practiced polygamy. While it’s true that the lack of contemporaneous accounts of it is somewhat alarming, the variety and sheer volume of witnesses lead me to believe that he did indeed con a whole lot of ladies (and some young girls) into marrying him.
That said, I’m not ready to close my re-investigation just yet. I find the relative lack of contemporaneous firsthand accounts unsettling. I am very much interested in learning more about the origin of D&C 132. I’m still planning to read the book referenced in the blog post. And I learned that some of the evidence that I had considered damning against Joseph was taken out of context. So maybe it’s a little of both. Maybe Joseph practiced polygamy in Nauvoo, and the extent of his polygamy was exaggerated. (Or maybe there are another 34 wives that we don’t know about yet. )
Joseph Smith is still a mystery to me. I still don’t know what made him tick, or why he did the things he did. As much as I wish I could just not care, I can’t. His life affected mine profoundly, after all. Besides, for all his many, MANY foibles, he was an interesting SOB.