Hyrum fell first, and as the eldest brother led the way. Joseph died moments later. Today is the anniversary of their martyrdom.
Exactly as the angel foretold, the name of Joseph Smith is “had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues, or that it should be both good and evil spoken of among all people.” (JS-H 1:33.) Just as the Lord affirmed to Joseph in Liberty Jail, “fools shall have thee in derision, and hell shall rage against thee; While the pure in heart, and the wise, and the noble, and the virtuous, shall seek counsel, and authority, and blessings constantly from under thy hand.” (D&C 122:1-2.)
The evil spoken of Joseph now comes from the LDS Church, which claims him as their founder. It comes from Brian Hales, who claims to be an accurate biographer. It comes from anti-Mormons, and Christian ministers, and fundamentalists who have created a caricature they claim to be Joseph. There is little difference between these people and William Law, Charles Ivins, Francis Higbee, Chauncey Higbee, Robert Foster and Charles Foster who published the Nauvoo Expositor.
It would be good if some (or all) of those who claim Joseph was a sexual predator and adulterer for impregnating another man’s wife, were to apologize and acknowledge there is no compelling proof Joseph ever had sexual relations with any other woman other than Emma Smith. Even the putative last suspected daughter, Josephine Lyons, is now ruled out as his descendant. I have not read any apology for the false accusation that he was the father from Hales, the church, or any of his accusers.
In the aftermath of John Bennett’s misconduct, Joseph pursued an effort to track down what had happened in Nauvoo. By May 21, 1842, the high council met and, “[A] charge [was] [preferred] against Chauncey L. Higbee by George Miller for unchaste and un-virtuous conduct with the widow [Sarah] Miller, and others.” (Nauvoo City and High Council Minutes, p. 414, all as in original.) In the trial, “Three witness[es] testified that he had seduced [several women] and at different times [had] been guilty of unchaste and unvirtuous conduct with them and taught the doctrine that it was right to have free intercourse with women if it was kept secret &c and also taught that Joseph Smith authorised him to practice these things &c” (Id., pp. 414-415, as in original.)
On May 25 the charge was preferred “against Ms. Catherine Warren by George Miller for unchaste and unvirtuous conduct with John C. Bennett and others. The defendant confessed to the charge and gave the names of several other [men] who had been guilty having unlawful intercourse with her[,] stating they taught the doctrine that it was right to have free intercourse with women and that the heads of the Church also taught and practiced it[,] …learning that the heads of the church did not believe of [the] practice [of] such things[,] she was willing to confess her sins and did repent before God for what she had done and desired earnestly that the Council would forgive her.”(Id., p. 417, as in original.) She furnished the identities of the several men involved, resulting in more church court proceedings to stop the spread of Bennett’s mischief.
On September 3, 1842, “[A] charge was preferred against Gustavius Hills by Elisha Everett[,] one of the teachers of the Church[,] for illicit intercourse with a certain woman by the name of Mary Clift by which she was with child[,] and for teaching the said Mary Clift that that the heads of the Church practiced such conduct & that time would come when men would have more wives than one &c” (Id., p. 424, as in original.)
The next day, September 4, 1842, “Esther Smith gave evidence that [the] defendant [Gustavius Hills] told her that it was lawful for people to have illicit intercourse if they only held their peac[e] & that the time would it was agreeable to the practice of some of the leading men or heads of the Church.” (Id., p. 425, as in original.)
Yet more courts were held as the effort to round up those who were involved in this practice. John Bennett, in response to the treatment given him by the church, set out to tell another story in which he was the hero and Joseph was the villain. He wrote, lectured and campaigned against Mormonism, first to salvage his reputation, but ultimately as his profession.
Joseph left a record of public and private actions taken in opposing the plural wife system. These included: “I preached in the grove and pronounced a curse upon all adulterers and fornicators, and unvirtuous persons and those who have made use of my name to carry on their iniquitous designs.” (Joseph Smith (Sermon at the Grove; Apr 10, 1842)
Then there is the obviously altered Joseph Smith journal for Thursday 5th October 1843, which confirms there was an effort to alter documents to conform to later events and practices:
(ORIGINAL) Evening at home and walked up and down the street with my scribe. Gave inst[r]uction to try those who were preaching teaching or practicing the doctrin of plurality of wives. on this Law. Joseph forbids it. and the practice ther[e]of— No man shall have but one wife.
(REVISED) Evening at home and walked up and down the street with my scribe. Gave inst[r]uction to try those who were preaching teaching or practicing the doctrin of plurality of wives. on this law for according to the law i hold the keys of this power in the last days, for there is never but one on earth at a time on whom the power? and the keys are conferred – and I have continually said Joseph forbids it. and the practice ther[e]of No man shall have but one wife at a time unless the Lord directs otherwise
Someone revised the content at a later date. Once revised at a later date, it was “on” again, and perhaps retroactively “on” since the original alterations were not possible to detect until the Joseph Smith Papers project made the original available for public view.
There was a published denunciation of polygamy in early February 1844 in the newspaper edited by Joseph:
“As we have lately been credibly informed, that an Elder of the Church of Jesus Christ, of Latter-day Saints, by the name of Hiram Brown, has been preaching Polygamy, and other false and corrupt doctrines, in the county of Lapeer, state of Michigan. This is to notify him and the Church in general, that he has been cut off from the church, for his iniquity; and he is further notified to appear at the Special Conference, on the 6th of April next, to make answer to these charges.” (Joseph Smith & Hyrum Smith, Times and Seasons Vol. 5 (February 1, 1844).)
The Relief Society later put out a more detailed document titled A Voice of Innocence from Nauvoo that offered an even stronger denial of plural marriage. It was penned by W. W. Phelps at the request of Joseph Smith. The document was presented to a general meeting of the church at which Joseph presided in March 1844, three months before he was killed:
“A vast assembly of Saints met at the Temple of the Lord at nine o’clock a. m., by a special appointment of President Joseph Smith, for the purpose of advancing the progress of the Temple, &c. The Patriarch, Hyrum Smith, was present; also of the Twelve Apostles Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Parley P. Pratt, Orson Pratt, Willard Richards, Wilford Woodruff, John Taylor, and George A. Smith; also the temple committee and about eight thousand Saints….[later in the meeting] an article was also read by W. W. Phelps, entitled, A Voice of innocence from Nauvoo, and all the assembly said ‘Amen’ twice.” (DHC 6:236, p 241.)
I tire of hearing Joseph’s name associated with evil. Particularly from those who claim to honor him as a prophet. On this day I would defend his honor and affirm he is exactly who and what he claimed. He was a virtuous man, in love with his wife Emma, and opposed to adultery, immorality and dishonesty.