I have reconsidered a great deal while searching deeper and deeper into Mormonism, history, and teachings. It is very challenging to remain open to new ideas. This is particularly so when the object of Mormonism is to obtain further light and knowledge by conversing with the Lord through the veil.
For more than three decades I repeated and concurred with what Brigham Young said of Emma Smith:
- “To my certain knowledge, Emma Smith is one of the damnedest liars I know of on this earth; yet there is no good thing I would refuse to do for her, if she would only be a righteous woman; but she will continue in her wickedness. Not six months before the death of Joseph, he called his wife Emma into a secret council, and there he told her the truth, and called upon her to deny it if she could. He told her that the judgments of God would come upon her forthwith if she did not repent. He told her of the time she undertook to poison him, and he told her that she was a child of hell, and literally the most wicked woman on this earth, that there was not one more wicked than she. He told here where she got the poison, and how she put it in a cup of coffee; said he ‘You got that poison from so and so, and I drank it, but you could not kill me.’ When it entered his stomach he went to the door and threw it off. he spoke to her in that council in a very severe manner, and she never said one word in reply. I have witnesses of this scene all around, who can testify that I am now telling the truth. Twice she undertook to kill him. [Utah Historical Quarterly, vol. 48, Winter 1980, 82] October 1868 General Conference, also found at The Complete Discourses of Brigham Young, Vol. 4, p. 2378.
I no longer hold Brigham Young in the same high regard I used to. He is not always a reliable source for truthful history. He viewed Emma as a competitor, who threatened property he wanted. She ultimately assisted a rival church which potentially undermined the organization he headed. He NEEDED to discredit her. His campaign worked so well that apart from the few paragraphs mentioning her in the 1933 Relief Society Magazine (a woman’s publication then controlled by women) there was nothing favorable published about her by the LDS Church for more than a century after her death. It was on September 16, 1978, when the Church News ran a favorable article, Two Great Women. The other Great Woman of that article was Lucy Mack Smith, Joseph’s mother.
Brigham Young’s damnation of Emma influenced others. Brigham’s story about Emma poisoning Joseph has drifted into conventional wisdom and become “the truth” for LDS Mormonism. Acute indigestion, ulcers, food contamination, gallstones, an allergic reaction or any number of things could have caused Joseph’s symptoms. In an age without refrigeration, the conclusion it was poisoning seems hasty.
Joseph’s journals do not support Brigham’s claim because a few hours after vomiting he attended a prayer meeting. All the poison available in that day that would have been strong enough to induce immediate vomiting would not have allowed Joseph to recover to the point of attending a meeting a few hours later. This incident is discussed by Linda King Newell in Mormon Dialogue, The Emma Smith Lore Reconsidered, Vol. 17-3 (Autumn 1984) pp. 87-100.
Brigham Young’s campaign against Emma included accusations that she was responsible for Joseph’s death. He characterized her as a semi-apostate opponent to Mormonism before Joseph’s death and a renegade, wicked woman after. Her place in Mormon history has been forever marred by his campaign. Others who knew her testified of her devotion, loyalty and love of her husband, Joseph. When Joseph had another bout of stomach ailment the next month, it was Emma who nursed him back from this episode. Given his repeated stomach ailments in the immediate time frame, it is doubtful Emma poisoned him, and doubtful Joseph would accuse her of that and then trust her the following month to nurse him back to health when suffering worse symptoms.
Of all the injustices to our history, perhaps Brigham Young’s worst offense was alienating Emma from the Mormon people in a way to leave her a legacy of harsh, judgmental condemnation for nearly two centuries.
Neither Emma Smith nor Joseph’s mother, Lucy Mack Smith, had any economic, social, or personal reason to distance themselves from the body of Saints. The 18,000 or so Mormons would have cared for them, protected them, and given them assistance for the remainder of their lives. Yet both of them declined to follow Brigham Young and the twelve. The conventional LDS Mormon wisdom is that it was because of their apostasy. But LDS Mormonism uses that charge against anyone and anything that does not praise LDS leadership. It is more likely that the frequent charge of “apostasy” has been and is a cover for institutional insecurity. It is a highly charged term which closes minds and prevents rational thought.
Only by open acceptance of criticism, even inviting criticism, can a person, institution or group remain healthy. Every idea or teaching should be openly discussed, tested against scripture and common sense, weighed for its effects, and held open for refinement, correction or reconsideration.
I have come to the conclusion that Brigham Young is not reliable. If he told me the sun was shining I would want to look out a window before believing him. He may have told the truth on occasion, but other sources should be audited to see if he is corroborated before taking his word on anything. Even the LDS Church has “unequivocally condemned” him in their essay on Blacks and the Priesthood. He deserves the LDS Church’s unequivocal condemnation. He also has mine.