Not long ago I searched online and found Historical Record 6, edited and published by Andrew Jenson. I read for the first time the original statements made by some of the alleged plural wives of Joseph Smith, Jr. and others having "knowledge" of these events. The interesting thing about these statements is that they make up the core of evidence used by the Utah LDS Church and most historians to "prove" that Joseph taught and practiced polygamy. Without these statements, they have no substantial argument. Thus, in this post I wish to discuss a little of the background of these statements and make some observations regarding them.
Joseph was killed in 1844, but the first recorded statements regarding his alleged polygamist activities were made in 1869. So, if Joseph was the designer and promoter of polygamy within the LDS Church, why did the Utah LDS Church, after 25 years, try to obtain evidence of his alleged polygamist activities? I believe the answer is that they had none. All who discuss the subject of Joseph and polygamy agree that Joseph never publicly taught or practiced polygamy. Thus, no evidence existed from him on this issue. In addition, all agree that Brigham Young and other leaders acknowledged that they themselves secretly practiced polygamy in Nauvoo and justified their actions by saying Joseph instituted this practice within the church. They taught this idea to those they led west and in 1852 produced a revelation, allegedly from Joseph, authorizing the practice of celestial marriage or polygamy. Because the members of the Utah LDS Church trusted their leaders, they believed them when they said that Joseph started polygamy in the church. Thus, at that time the leaders had no need to try to prove this idea. However, beginning in the 1860s when Joseph's sons came to Utah as ministers of the Reorganized Church to preach against polygamy and to prove false the polygamy accusations against their father, the Utah LDS Church had to scramble to obtain evidence to support their position that Joseph practiced polygamy. (See Joseph Smith Fought Polygamy, Joseph the Martyr's Testimony of Innocence Upheld by His Son, Joseph Smith III.)
In the statements found in Historical Record 6, there are only a six witnesses that I consider key to proving whether Joseph practiced or taught polygamy. They are key witnesses because they were in positions to have had first hand knowledge of the truth of this matter. The rest of the witnesses based their testimonies on things that they allegedly heard Joseph say or that others said about him. While this might be corroborating evidence for the key witness' testimonies, of itself the corroborating statements don't prove Joseph was a polygamist. If key witness testimony doesn't hold up as true, then corroborating testimony doesn't matter. In addition, since Joseph couldn't defend against these allegations, to be fair and prevent lying, the testimony of a key witness should have corroborating testimony from at least one other credible witness. I consider four of the key witnesses to be Eliza Roxy Snow, Eliza M. Partridge, Emily D. Partridge, and Lucy Walker because they alleged that they were plural wives of Joseph. Emily D. Partridge, and Lucy Walker also gave testimony to this effect in the Temple Lot Suit. The other two key witnesses are William Clayton and Joseph C. Kingsbury. Clayton allegedly recorded the celestial marriage revelation as Joseph spoke it and Kingsbury copied it the next day. Only Kingsbury gave testimony in the Temple Lot Suit regarding his involvement with the revelation. (A PDF file of all their Temple Lot Suit testimonies is also online.)
When I first read all the polygamy statements from Historical Record 6, I was amazed how clear, articulate, and detailed they were, considering they were made anywhere from 25 to 40 years after the reported events (the last statements were made in the mid-1880s). I found it amazing because I can barely remember the events of last week let alone 25 to 40 years ago—even those events that were life changing. When I compare the allegations of Emily D. Partridge, Lucy Walker, and Joseph C. Kingsbury published in Historical Record 6 with their testimonies in the Temple Lot Suit, their allegations broke down under cross examination. While in the polygamy statements their recollections of events 25 to 40 years earlier were clear, articulate, and detailed, their statements under cross examination in the Temple Lot Suit a few years later were vague, rambling, and contradictory. Their testimonies in the Temple Lot Suit clearly don't support their previous statements published in Historical Record 6. How can this be? My answer is that the original statements were false and as such didn't hold up under cross examination in a court of law.
William Clayton didn't testify in the Temple Lot Suit. However, in his statement published in Historical Record 6 he said, "The copy [of the celestial marriage revelation] made by Joseph C. Kingsbury is a true and correct copy of the original in every respect." Since Kingsbury's testimony in the Temple Lot Suit under cross examination clearly showed that his original allegations were false, William Clayton's above allegation has to be false, making his entire statement published in Historical Record 6 also false.
Eliza Roxy Snow also didn't testify in the Temple Lot Suit. In her statement in Historical Record 6 she said, " It is a fact that Sister Emma, of her own free will and choice, gave her husband four wives, two of whom are now living [Eliza being one] and ... she taught them the doctrine of plural marriage and urged them to accept it." Historical Record 6 also shows Eliza Snow and Joseph Smith were married 6/28/1842. However, as an officer of the Ladies Relief Society in Nauvoo, Eliza signed the following statement which was printed October 1, 1842 in the Times and Seasons (an LDS Church paper printed in Nauvoo): "We the undersigned members of the ladies' relief society, and married females do certify and declare that we know of no system of marriage being practiced in the church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints save the one contained in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants.... Emma Smith, President. Eliza R. Snow, Secretary" (Times and Seasons 3 [October 1, 1842]: 940). In the same October 1, 1842 Times and Seasons, p. 939, Joseph stated, "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.... We have given the above rule of marriage as the only one practiced in this church." Obviously, since Eliza didn't know of any other system of marriage other than "one man should have one wife" three months after her purported plural marriage to Joseph, her 1879 statement in Historical Record 6 was not true. Her statement in 1842 is considered more reliable, because of its closeness to the event, than the one made by her 37 years later. In addition, in 1879 she was living in a plural marriage with Brigham Young and as such could have been influenced to support his position that Joseph started polygamy in the church. For more information on the contradictory statements of Eliza Snow, read Joseph Smith Fought Polygamy, Chapter 10.
In Historical Record 6 an affidavit signed by Eliza M. Partridge stated "on the 11th day of May, 1843, at the City of Nauvoo, County of Hancock, State of Illinois, she was married or sealed to Joseph Smith, President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, by James Adams, a High Priest in said Church, ... in the presence of Emma (Hale) Smith and Emily D. Partridge." She gives no other particulars of the marriage. Eliza M. Partridge didn't testify in the Temple Lot Suit. So for her statement to be considered true, it must be validated by other credible means. Her statement is corroborated by the statements of Emily Dow Partridge, Lovina Walker, and William Clayton in the same section of Historical Record 6. However, I don't believe Emily Dow Partridge and William Clayton to be credible witnesses for the reasons given above. In Historical Record 6 Lovina Walker testified that in 1846 Emma Smith told her that she witnessed Joseph's marriage to Eliza and gave her consent to it. However, throughout Emma's life, she gave consistent testimony to various people at different times until her dying day that she was Joseph's only wife. Because Lovina Walker's one time testimony conflicts with Emma's life long testimony who was in a position to know the truth, I can't give credibility to Lovina's testimony. As a result, I don't believe Eliza's three corroborating witnesses to be credible and their statements shouldn't be used to corroborate Eliza's statement. Thus, I believe Eliza's statement that she was a plural wife of Joseph must be discarded because it lacks credible corroboration.
To me it is obvious that the statements of the key witnesses published in Historical Record 6 are not true. And if the statements of the key witnesses are not true, then the statements of the other witnesses published in Historical Record 6 can't be used to corroborate their testimony, making this entire body of evidence inadequate in proving Joseph taught and practiced polygamy. Thus, in my opinion the position of the Utah LDS Church and historians that Joseph taught and practiced polygamy, based on this body of evidence, is false.