Saturday, January 31, 2009

Who was the greatest defender of Joseph Smith, Jr.?

Many blogs, discussion groups, and even Wikipedia assert that toward the end of Joseph Smith III's life he wavered in his belief that his father, Joseph Smith, Jr., did not teach or practice polygamy. According to a Wikipedia article on the origin of LDS polygamy, "In the end, Smith concluded that he was 'not positive nor sure that [his father] was innocent' and that if, indeed, the elder Smith had been involved, it was still a false practice." This position is used by those believing Joseph Smith, Jr. taught and practiced polygamy to diminish Joseph III's lifelong defence of his father's honor so their position can be made stronger. However, this position is just not true.

In 1913, during the last part of his 80th year and a little more than a year prior to his death, Joseph Smith III wrote the following in his memoirs:

It may be supposed at this writing (I am now nearing the close of my eightieth year), after the lapse of thirty-six years since I took the stand I did in Salt Lake City, among those people so diverse and hostile to my faith, that I should have some regrets that I had not adopted a different policy and followed, possibly, a more conciliatory course in order to make a more favorable impression. But I now record that such is not the case. Through all these years of reflection over the experiences which attended that first visit and several later ones, in which I preached at many places as opportunity offered--north, south, east, and west--and came in contact with many advocates of polygamy and plural marriage, I have entertained no wish that I had taken a less positive stand. I have never felt that any softer policy would have been wiser, for I am satisfied that I have found and occupied the only tenable ground open to me as the son of the prophet Joseph Smith, whom I believed to be innocent of responsibility for the evils they had embraced. As leader of the church reorganized, I felt sure that position was the one which could be maintained and successfully defended from the beginning of the conflict to the very end. (The Memoirs of President Joseph Smith III (1832-1914), p. 164, italics added)

Just a little over a year prior to his death, Joseph Smith III still believed his father "to be innocent of responsibility for the evils [polygamy] they [Utah LDS] had embraced." Thus, contrary to what many proclaim, he did not waiver in this position. He was firm in his belief to the end.

So, with all the information presented to him indicating his father's involvement in polygamy, how did he retain his firm belief of his father's innocence? Simply, his belief was founded in the truth because he could separate opinion from fact. As he said earlier in his memoirs:

I had made the law my study, and I had not regretted it, for I had already found that what knowledge along those lines I had acquired had been of much value to me in the work I had undertaken. I had gone into the conflict against error and false claims with a mind at least partially trained along legal lines, and I knew how to value evidence. I knew the difference between assumption and fact, and was prepared to examine whatever was presented as evidence in such a manner as to determine whether or not it was worth of the name of proof, especially in the controversy then existing between the various factions of the church. (ibid., p. 163)

Through all of his investigations, Joseph III never found a shred of credible evidence, even from the alleged plural wives, to prove his father guilty of polygamy. Thus, he remained convinced of his father's innocence to the end of his life. Indeed, Joseph Smith III was his father's greatest defender.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Was Melissa Lott Willis a plural wife of Joseph Smith, Jr.?

I have recently been reading The Memoirs of President Joseph Smith III (1832-1914) and found his statement of a conversation he had with the Lott sisters (Melissa, Mary, and Alzina) in October, 1885, at Lehi, Utah. Melissa Lott Willis was one listed on page 234 of The Historical Record 6, edited and published by Andrew Jenson, as a plural wife of Joseph Smith, Jr. A sketch of her life is found on page 119 of this work and in part states:

…on Sept 1843 she was married to Joseph Smith for time and all eternity. She spent most of the following winter in his family going to school in the so-called brick store. The Prophet's children, Joseph, Frederick and Alexander, went to same school, under the immediate watch-care of Sister Malissa. In the spring of she went back to live with her parents on the farm, where she remained until after martyrdom of her husband in Carthage Jail. Subsequently she lived with Emma, occasionally, until the exodus in 1846, when she left Nauvoo with the rest of Saints.

She is ever unflinching in her testimony of what she knows to be true, and states in the most positive terms, and without any hesitation, that she was sealed to Joseph Smith the Prophet on the above named date, and became, in the full meaning of the term, his wife according to the sacred order of celestial marriage. She further states that when she was married to Ira Jones Willes, he fully understood that he was marrying a widow of Joseph Smith, the martyred Prophet; that their association together would end with this life, and that in the morning of the resurrection she would pass from him to the society of her deceased husband.

However, in her October, 1885, meeting with Joseph Smith III her statement was quite different, making the truth of the above suspect. From what he states, this meeting took place sometime after her sworn affidavit was published by Joseph F. Smith. According to Joseph Smith III:

In the evening we held a service in the Music Hall of the city [Lehi, Utah]. We went early to the room and were met and welcomed by a number of our own members, as well as other friends and citizens. In chatting before the services somebody came and told me that Mrs. Ira Willis was present. I referred to this woman in the early part of these Memoirs.

This news was of interest for I had frequently been told that she, who used to be Melissa Lott, claimed to have been a wife to my father and would so testify, and that I would not dare to visit and interview her for she would tell me unwelcome things. I had, of course, seen the affidavits which she and others made, published by Joseph F. Smith to bolster up his statement that Father had more wives than one.

I at once went to Mrs. Willis, was introduced, and promptly asked the privilege of calling upon her for an interview. This permission she very cordially granted. (The Memoirs of President Joseph Smith III (1832-1914), p.244)

By appointment I went to the home of Mrs. Willis at ten o'clock on the Tuesday following our meeting in the Music Hall. As I have already stated in connection with this woman, she was a daughter of Cornelius P. Lott, a man who had come to Nauvoo from the East, his family consisting of wife, sons John and baby Peter, and daughters Melissa, Martha, Mary, and Alzina. They lived in a house on the farm belonging to Father, just east of the city, and I knew them all in a general way. I was fairly well acquainted with Melissa and with her history and movements up to the time of their departure from Nauvoo, when they all emigrated to Utah.

Melissa married Ira Willis, as I have related—a kind, shrewd Yankee and most excellent man. I had heard that they had had two sons, but when I went to call on her she was living alone. One son had died as he approached manhood, and the husband and the other son had together met death in an accident occurring when they were coming down from the mountains with a load of wood. So she was left a widow and childless at the same time.

Her home was a one-room cottage, and when bidden to enter I found her sitting by the fireside preparing things for the midday meal. It was an old-fashioned fireplace such as I was used to seeing, with broad hearth and wide-throated chimney in which were the traditional hooks to support the kettles swung over the fire, the big dogs on which the logs rested, and nearby the fireshovel, tongs, and poker. Ira Willis had always been a thrifty and handy man-of-all-work and loved to make and provide many conveniences and accessories for his home. I have told how Ira Willis once released my tongue from a frosty axe by pouring warm water on the imprisoned member. He had a hearty laugh at my expense, and for several hours I nursed an extra mouthful of swollen tongue. Mother too had laughed at the occurrence when she heard of it and told me it would be well for me if I could learn some things without trying too many experiments for myself! I have never forgotten that instance and even today, as I retell the story, my stenographer and I have had a hearty laugh over the predicament of an excited boy rushing into the house with his tongue glued to a frosted axe!

I was well received by Mrs. Willis whom I knew by the old familiar name of Melissa. I told her I had a great desire to talk with her for I had been informed she knew things I would not dare to question her about. I said I wanted to know the truth, whatever it was, and believed that in answer to my questions she would be willing to tell me what she knew.

She answered that she would be glad to grant the interview, but explained that some unexpected company was coming for lunch and she would prefer if I could call in the afternoon instead, when she would be more at liberty and with leisure for a conversation. Of course this was agreeable to me, and after exchanging a few reminiscences I left her.

Returning in the afternoon I found her guests had gone, and she was ready for a chat, willing, as she said, to answer any question I would ask about conditions in Nauvoo of which she had any knowledge. I began by asking:

"Did you know of the teaching of plural marriage or polygamy at Nauvoo?"

"I had heard of it in private but not publicly."

"Did you know of any woman having been married to, my father and living with him as his wife, besides my mother?"

"No; and nothing of the kind occurred to my knowledge."

"Do you have any reason to believe such a thing took place and that my mother knew of there being another woman besides herself who was wife to my father?"

"No," quite emphatically, "I am sure she did not."

"Now, Melissa, I have been told that there were women, other than my mother, who were married to my father and lived with him as his wife, and that my mother knew it. How about it?"

She answered rather tremulously, "If there was anything of that kind going on you may be sure that your mother knew nothing about it."

I then asked her what was her opinion of my mother's character for truth and veracity. She replied that she considered my mother one of the noblest women in the world, and that she had known her well and knew her to be as good and truthful a woman as ever lived.

"Then you think I would be justified in believing what my mother told me?"

"Yes, indeed, for she would not lie to you."

"Well, Melissa, my mother told me that my father had never had any wife other than herself, had never had any connection with any other woman as a wife, and was never married to any woman other than herself, with her consent or knowledge, or in any manner whatsoever. Do you consider I am justified in believing her?"

Without hesitation she answered, "If your mother told you any such thing as that you may depend upon what she said and feel sure she was telling the truth, and that she knew nothing about any such state of affairs. Yes, you would be entirely justified in believing her."

Our conversation continued for some time. Finally I asked, plainly, "Melissa, will you tell me just what was your relation to my father, if any?"

She arose, went to a shelf, and returned with a Bible which she opened at the family record pages and showed me a line written there in a scrawling handwriting:

"Married my daughter Melissa to Prophet Joseph Smith—" giving the date, which I seem to remember as late in 1843.

I looked closely at the handwriting and examined the book and other entries carefully. Then I asked:

"Who were present when this marriage took place—if marriage it may be called?"

"No one but your father and myself."

"Was my mother there?"

"No, sir."

"Was there no witness there?"

"No, sir."

"Where did it occur?"

"At the house on the farm."

"And my mother knew nothing about it, before or after?"

"No, sir."

"Did you ever live with my father as his wife, in the Mansion House in Nauvoo, as has been claimed?"

"No, sir."

"Did you ever live with him as his wife anywhere?" I persisted.

At this point she began to cry, and said, "No, I never did; but you have no business asking me such questions. I had a great regard and respect for both your father and your mother. I do not like to talk about these things."

"Well, Melissa, I have repeatedly been told that you have stated that you were married to my father and lived with him as his wife and that my mother knew of it. Now you tell me you never did live with him as his wife although claiming: to have been married to him. You tell me there was no one present at that purported marriage except the three of you and that my mother knew nothing about such an alliance. Frankly, I am at a loss to know just what you would have me believe about you."

I was about to make still closer inquiries in order to find out if she ever had any relations of any sort with my father other than the ordinary relations that may properly exist between such persons under the usual conditions of social procedure, when just then there came a rap on the door, and in walked her sisters Mary and Alzina.

Alzina lived rather near Melissa, but Mary, the older, was living some twenty-five or thirty miles away. Hearing I was in Lehi she had hitched up her team andt come to see me, stopping at Alzina's on the way and bringing her along.

They expressed great pleasure in meeting me again, and I was glad to see them. Our talk was general for a while, for their entrance had changed my line of inquiry somewhat. Then, urged to put to Melissa a question of importance, I asked:

"Melissa, do you know where I can find a brother or a sister, child or children of my father, born to him by some woman other than my mother—in Illinois, Utah, or anywhere else?"

She answered that she did not, whereupon Mary broke in and said:

"No, Brother Joseph, for there isn't any!”

Then she went on to say, "For twelve years I have made it my business to run down every rumor I have heard about the existence of children born to the Prophet by those women who were reputed to have been his wives. I have traveled a good many miles here and there for the purpose of finding out the truth about such statements, and not in one single instance have I ever found them substantiated or any evidence presented that had the least bit of truth in it. I have never been able to find a single child which could possibly have been born to Joseph Smith in plural marriage."

At this juncture Alzina snapped in with an explosive and characteristic exclamation:

"No, Brother Joseph, there is none, and what's more, I don't believe there ever was any chance for one!"

The earnestness of her manner and the snap with which she pointed her remark caused a ripple of laughter among us, in which, however, Melissa did not join. Noticing this, I turned to her and said:

"Melissa, how about it? You hear what your sisters are saying?"

Tears began to trickle down her face as she said, "Yes, Brother Joseph, I hear them."

"Well, what do you say? Can I believe as they do?"

She drew a deep breath, as if making a sudden decision, and then, with a sigh with lips trembling:

"Yes; you can believe that they are telling you the truth. There was no chance for any children."

Mary then explained in more detail about certain places she had gone to make inquiries directly of the persons involved (whom she named) and to see the women and the children who, it was stated, were wives and offspring of the Prophet. She said in every instance she proved the report false, either as to the woman claiming to be such a wife or as to children being there as claimed.

I thanked her and the other girls for the statements they had made. Our conversation on this and other topics continued for some time. We recalled many incidents of old times, and I learned from them of the deaths of their parents and the whereabouts and fortunes of others of the family.

I left these sisters feeling well repaid for my persistence in obtaining the interview with Mrs. Willis. In spite of what I had been told, she had neither been able to "face me down" nor to convince me that my father had done reprehensible things which I would be unwilling to believe. Instead, I left her presence and that of her sisters with my previous convictions more firmly established, if such a thing were possible. The interview had convinced me that the statement made in an affidavit of this Melissa Lott Willis, published by Joseph F. Smith along with others of similar import, to the effect that she had been married to Joseph Smith, was not true, provided the word married be construed as conveying the right of living together as man and wife, a relation she had unequivocally denied in my presence. I was convinced that wherever the word married or sealed occurred in such testimonials regarding my father it meant nothing more than that possibly those women had gone through some ceremony or covenant which they intended as an arrangement for association in the world to come, and could by no means have any reference whatever to marital rights in the flesh.

I was also convinced from the statements of Mrs. Willis that the entry in the Bible which she showed to me was a line written by her father, or some other person, recording an untruth. When I asked her in plain language how it happened she had not lived with my father as his wife if she had really been married to him, she had answered in equally plain language, that she had not lived with him in that manner because it was not right that she should do so.

I had made up my mind when I went to Utah that whenever and wherever I found opportunity I would converse with those women who had claimed, or were reputed, to be wives of my father— wives in polygamy, plural marriage, celestial, sealed, or any kind of arrangement—and in so doing I would subject them to as severe a cross examination as was within my power, to get as near as possible to the actual truth of the circumstances and the reports. It was for this reason I had called upon this woman, and I should have questioned her still further and in a more specific manner had not the entrance of her sisters turned the trend of conversation in a measure.

After my visit south, to Beaver, we passed through Lehi again on our way back to Salt Lake City, at which time I tried to have another conversation with Mrs. Willis, but learned she was not at home. I knew it would have been entirely useless to question her in the presence of an elder of their church as she would either evade my questions or refuse utterly to answer. Indeed, it is possible she may have been so far under domination and surveillance as to have stated, in such a contingency, that which was not true. As it was, I felt I had secured truthful statements from her, for she had betrayed some real depths of emotion as we conversed. She had stated that I might believe what my mother had told me for she regarded my mother as an honest, upright woman who was absolutely truthful. She had also stated that notwithstanding the "marriage" entry scribbled in her Bible, purported to be written by her father, she had not lived with Joseph Smith as his wife, believing it was "not right" to do so, and further, that he had never urged her to do so. I had also learned from her and her sisters that so far as their knowledge went there had been no issue of any polygamous marriages made by Joseph Smith, such as had been alleged. (The Memoirs of President Joseph Smith III (1832-1914), pp. 245-246)

Obviously, Melissa Lott Willis was not "unflinching in her testimony of what she knows to be true ... that she was sealed to Joseph Smith the Prophet ... in the full meaning of the term [and was] his wife according to the sacred order of celestial marriage." However, I firmly believe she told the truth to Joseph III. It’s easy to lie to someone who doesn’t know the truth, but almost impossible to lie to someone who does. According to Joseph III, he was “fairly well acquainted with Melissa and with her history and movements up to the time of their departure from Nauvoo….” He knew her and the truth of what happened and didn’t happen in his home. In addition, her sisters, who knew her and her life well, were also present at the interview. As a result Melissa couldn’t lie to them. She had to tell them the truth—and she did!

Melissa Lott Willis was not a plural wife of Joseph Smith, Jr. At most, according to Joseph Smith III, she “had gone through some ceremony or covenant which [she] intended as an arrangement for association in the world to come….” Obviously there was not enough evidence to even conclude Joseph Smith, Jr. was involved in such a ceremony, nor was it the belief of Joseph III, according to this statement, that he was. Thus, the affidavit of Melissa Lott Willis which Joseph F. Smith published is false regarding her plural marriage to Joseph Smith, Jr. Since The Historical Record account of Melissa Lott Willis’ plural marriage to Joseph Smith, Jr. was based on this affidavit, it too is false.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Is DNA proving Joseph Smith was not a polygamist?

According to an article in Deseret News, six of twelve children that Joseph Smith, Jr. allegedly fathered by plural wives have been proven by DNA not to be his children. This is too substantial of a number (half) to be ignored and has great implications in proving that Joseph didn't practice polygamy. It is interesting, though, that Web sites promoting Joseph Smith as a polygamist either ignore these findings or state they only prove that he didn't have children by these plural wives--not that he didn't have plural wives. However, the fact of the matter is that presently these findings strongly suggest that Joseph Smith did not practice polygamy.

So, how will not having any children by alleged plural wives prove that Joseph didn't practice polygamy? To answer this question, we must first understand one of the basic purposes of practicing polygamy in the early LDS Church. According to the article on Women and Polygamy at the Mormon Polygamy Web site, "...one of the stated purposes of polygamy was to 'raise up seed unto the Lord....'" In addition Todd Compton, a noted author regarding Joseph Smith and polygamy, in an article for the Signature Books Library, The Four Major Periods of Mormon Polygamy, states "There [in Nauvoo] he [Joseph Smith, Jr.] combined restorationist biblical polygamy with the idea that one gained a higher status in the next life based on the quantity of wives and offspring in this life. This gave the religious rationale for large plural families in later Mormonism." Also, "with very few exceptions ... polygamy was oriented toward childbearing." It would appear, then, that having children was an objective of plural marriage. Further evidence supporting this purpose of polygamy is found in the Utah LDS interpretation of Book of Mormon scripture. The Utah LDS Book of Mormon, Jacob 2:30, states: "For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise they shall hearken unto these things." The Utah LDS Church interprets this scripture to mean that if the Lord is going to raise up a people unto Him, then He will command them to practice polygamy. Again, the implication is that the purpose of polygamy is to procreate so that the Lord can have a righteous people. However, the most important evidence supporting this position is Utah LDS Church law about celestial marriage (polygamy). According to the Utah LDS Church, a revelation on celestial marriage (Section 132 of the Utah LDS Doctrine and Covenants) was written by Joseph in 1843, but God had revealed to him the principles and doctrines of this revelation as early as 1831. In part this document states, "for they [plural wives] are given unto him [the husband] to multiply and replenish the earth, according to my commandment..." (Utah LDS Doctrine and Covenants 132:63). Thus from the above references, including the law upon which celestial marriage was based in the Utah LDS Church, it is clear that a basic purpose of plural marriage was to procreate.

As stated above, the Utah LDS Church alleges that Joseph was the one through whom God gave the celestial marriage law. If this is true, Joseph would have known from the revelation that procreation was a part of that law. And as the prophet and leader of the Church, he would have been obliged to obey that law of God to the fullest extent. If he didn't, he would lead his people away from God's promise that in eternity they would "be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them" (Utah LDS Doctrine and Covenants 132:20).

Therefore, if the Utah LDS Church and Community of Christ Church and most historians are correct that Joseph taught and practiced polygamy, he would have necessarily tried to father children by polygamous wives. This is true because, as shown above, procreation was a purpose of celestial marriage. And Joseph, as prophet and leader of the Church, knew the law and would have tried to obey it. In addition, the number of children he fathered with Emma (9 children born from 1828 to 1844) shows he had the ability to procreate during the time period that the Utah LDS Church alleges he knew about the doctrine of celestial marriage. Thus, if Joseph practiced polygamy, because of the law of celestial marriage, he would have fathered children by his polygamous wives. Half of the children alleged to have been fathered by Joseph and polygamous wives were proven by DNA not to be his children. Considering that procreation was a purpose of celestial marriage, these DNA results are strong evidence that Joseph didn't practice polygamy. And one day, when DNA evidence proves Joseph didn't father any children outside of his union with Emma, Joseph will be proven innocent of practicing polygamy.