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Lamanite

Surprising Statment By Emma Smith About Joseph

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I have been digging through Nauvoo Polygamy (Smith, 2008) and came across a statement attributed to Emma that I had never read nor heard of before.

Emma told Joseph W. Coolidge, administrator of the Smith estate, that "Joseph had abandoned plurality of wives before his death." When Coolidge, himself a polygamist, contradicted her assertion, Emma showed that she would no longer remain mute on this topic and reportedly shot back: "Then he was worthy of the death he died." [emphasis added] Ibid. pg. 238

The source for the quotation is Joseph F. Smith, Diary, Aug. 28, 1870, in Van Wagoner, Sidney Rigdon, 306n30.

I'm not a professional historian and am not sure how to accurately break this quote down. I've tried to take some cues from information released from the JSPP team on how they classify sources. (see Life on Gold Plates) So I'm wondering if I've included all the relevant factors when evaluating this quote.

  • My first concern is the length of time that has lapsed.
  • It is not a primary source so I've considered that. I'm not even sure how the information was transmitted and through whom.
  • I doubt Emma authorized and dictated the quote to Coolidge, so again an issue of provenance. (From the source I listed below who was the original source? Coolidge?)
  • I'm not sure how to determine the closeness of the relationship between Emma, Joseph, and Coolidge. Anyone know what their relationship was like in Nauvoo?

Anyway, that's where I'm at with this thing. With all the empathy I possess I think I can appreciate how Emma might have been feeling around that time in Nauvoo, and I think it's pretty well documented how she felt about polygamy. However, this quote seems to be an extreme expression that I can't say matches my beliefs about who I think Emma was and what her feelings were towards Joseph.

So yes I am working from an already biased perspective.

Big UP!

Lamanite

Edited by Lamanite

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That's a really interesting quote! I agree though that it has some issues, especially considering that Emma is to have stated at other times that JS never practiced polygamy, right? Added onto all the other issues with second hand quotes, we also have to consider how believable Emma is herself as a source.

Tough stuff. But that's what makes history so awesome!

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Why surprising?

We've known for many, many years that Emma fudged in her interview with JSIII, taking the position that JSJr neither practiced nor taught Section 132, leading JSIII and the Re-Orgs to take the official position, both in court and elsewhere, that both polygyny and related [temple] content of Nauvoo Mormonism were either BY lies or evidence that JSJr was a fallen prophet.

The Re-Orgs fairly recently [as such things are measured] gave up on the "JSJr never practiced nor taught polygyny" cant. Can't speak to whether either the branches in revolt or the CofC still flirt with the notion of fallen prophethood.

But, really, how can you expect Emma to talk about polygyny after BY and the rest left? Do you really expect her to want to open up that can of worms? Be kind to the poor woman.

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Maybe Emma was a little bitter about God telling her this...?

54 And I command mine handmaid, Emma Smith, to abide and cleave unto my servant Joseph, and to none else. But if she will not abide this commandment she shall be destroyed, saith the Lord; for I am the Lord thy God, and will destroy her if she abide not in my law.

If she didn't have a testimony of polygamy (or section 132), and shortly thereafter Joseph died, she may have assumed Joseph's death was some sort of repudiation of Section 132? :unknw:

Edited by cinepro

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Why surprising?

We've known for many, many years that Emma fudged in her interview with JSIII, taking the position that JSJr neither practiced nor taught Section 132, leading JSIII and the Re-Orgs to take the official position, both in court and elsewhere, that both polygyny and related [temple] content of Nauvoo Mormonism were either BY lies or evidence that JSJr was a fallen prophet.

The Re-Orgs fairly recently [as such things are measured] gave up on the "JSJr never practiced nor taught polygyny" cant. Can't speak to whether either the branches in revolt or the CofC still flirt with the notion of fallen prophethood.

But, really, how can you expect Emma to talk about polygyny after BY and the rest left? Do you really expect her to want to open up that can of worms? Be kind to the poor woman.

Oh I'm not being critical of her at all. At an emotional level my heart aches for her from the beginning to the end. My issue I guess is that although she struggled with Polygamy, I have always maintained that she and Joseph had an almost fairytale type of love and commitment despite polygamy. But a statement like this kind of challenges my romantic notions.

Big UP!

Lamanite

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The problem may not reside with Emma, but perhaps between Joseph Coolidge and Joseph F Smith. In playing the game telephone, especially after some years may have passed, it is quite common for accounts to not be recorded exactly as they happened. Joseph F Smith would have been looking for evidence that supported Joseph Smith as a polygamist, and Coolidge's account may have given it to him, or something close enough for him to write down as such.

When we consider JFS' treatment of his uncle Joseph Smith as an infallible person, and the rancor between the sons of Joseph and of Hyrum (especially when JS3 buried Hyrum without JFS' permission), it is possible both sides were looking for whatever evidence they could find to show their side was correct.

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Here's the context of the quote:

I had an interview with Jos. W. Coolidge an old "mormon", he told me some very interesting incidents of older times, the days of Nauvoo, one was this - he visited Emma Smith, wife of the Prophet Joseph, at Nauvoo. She remarked to him that Joseph had abandoned plurality of wives before his death, he replied that he thought not; she insisted that he had, Coolidge insisted that he had not, for he "knew better", "then", said she, "he was worthy of the death he died" and became very angry which ended the conversation. Joseph Smith had sealed more than wife to Jos. W. Coolidge, and he "knew" as he said, what he spoke. I record this as the testimony of a man who has not been with the Church for more than 20 years.

https://dcms.lds.org/view/action/ieViewer.do?from_proxy=true&dps_pid=IE149791&dps_dvs=1344974108060~455&dps_pid=IE149791&change_lng=en (images 73 and 74).

To me it sounds like an outburst from someone that had been provoked about a sensitive topic.

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I had heard this before and this has been discussed from fairly early times as I recall, though perhaps not widely or openly. I believe this is just one of many of the types of things Emma said and did that put emnity between Brigham Young and herself. I believe that several of the apostles called her an out right liar. And Joseph Smith .... before he died ... said "Emma may well go to hell -- but I will go in also and snatch her out" or words to that effect.

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Why give up the romantic notion? Anger can be another facet of love. Emma was obviously deeply hurt, so lashed out when the issue resurfaced.

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Yes, the quote is shocking. And I think Emma probably said it (or something like it). But I don't think she meant it. She was "very angry" according to the account. Emma was still grieving Joseph, and anger (and denial) often accompany grief. Emma loved Joseph and hated polygamy. She believed, perhaps naively, that Joseph had abandoned the doctrine of polygamy before his death. This thought had comforted her. To be suddenly confronted with the possibility that she'd been deceived probably unleashed a flood of strong emotions—anger, hurt, resentment, grief, love, hate, perhaps fear too—prompting her anguished response. But whatever harsh words she may have had for her slain husband on that occasion, she died calling his name. And Joseph always regarded her as "the choice of [his] heart." When one of his wives once complained to him about Emma, the Prophet, it is said, "turned to her and said 'If you desire my love you must never speak evil of Emma'" (see Lucy M. Wright, "Emma Hale Smith," Women's Exponent 30, no. 8, p. 59).

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The Re-Orgs fairly recently [as such things are measured] gave up on the "JSJr never practiced nor taught polygyny" cant. Can't speak to whether either the branches in revolt or the CofC still flirt with the notion of fallen prophethood.

The RLDS church, atleast some of its membership who did their history homework, began to reject the belief that JSJr never practiced polygamy in early as the start of the 20th century. Roger Launius, Don Compier and Bob Mesle have talked about this on occasion.

IIRC, the Restoration Branches reject the idea that JSJr was a fallen prophet. Community of Christ also denies JSJr fallen prophethood. Though they take a much different approach to their opinion concern JSJr than that of the Restoration Branches.

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Why give up the romantic notion? Anger can be another facet of love. Emma was obviously deeply hurt, so lashed out when the issue resurfaced.

I guess when taken in conjunction with everything else that was said and done during that chapter in Josephs and Emma's relationship it seems that maybe Emma was hurt beyond repair. At least that was my initial response to the quote. And I'm just being honest with myself when I allow for complete empathy for Emma and her unimaginable situation. And following those lines of honest evaluation I may come to the conclusion that by that point in time she may have been pushed past her limits. I think one could make a pretty good argument based on the historical record for this scenario. Conversely, one could certainly make a compelling case for the opposite.

Currently, I sit at my computer and feel completely comfortable choosing the "romantic" ending for Joseph and Emma whether or not the historical record supports it. Sometimes the blue pill suits my needs just fine.

Big UP!

Lamanite

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These types of quotes cause problems because it is so difficult to understand context. We can make all kinds of excuses or suppositions as to why Emma may have said it or something similar IF she said it at all. It may have been misquoted. There is too much that we do not know, but what is certain is that it will be misused by some in order to achieve their own agenda or support their own feelings.

I have often heard the refrain from critics that Mormons cannot run from their history. Unfortunately, what "history" we have is so little understood and what is factual is difficult to determine.

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And so did Gerald Lund when he wrote "The Work and the Glory" saga.

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Unfortunately, what "history" we have is so little understood and what is factual is difficult to determine.

Creating a picture of reality through historical evidence is fraught with challenges. Objective history is a myth. To a greater or lesser degree we are all affected by our own experience when approaching history. I think even more so when dealing with religious texts. That being said, our (Mormon) religious history is so new and well documented (comparatively speaking) that I think we can present historical records without inserting ourselves unnecessarily into the narrative.

For example I am extremely grateful for the rich historical record we have of the Prophet Joseph. From the mundane daily experience to his expansive revelations we are blessed with a record of both.

Big UP!

Lamanite

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The RLDS church, atleast some of its membership who did their history homework, began to reject the belief that JSJr never practiced polygamy in early as the start of the 20th century. Roger Launius, Don Compier and Bob Mesle have talked about this on occasion.

IIRC, the Restoration Branches reject the idea that JSJr was a fallen prophet. Community of Christ also denies JSJr fallen prophethood. Though they take a much different approach to their opinion concern JSJr than that of the Restoration Branches.

Having lived here in Indep. Mo. my entire 55 yrs....I would have to disagree with the comment that " the Restoration Branches reject the idea that JSJr was a fallen prophet. Community of Christ also denies JSJr fallen prophethood".

My personal experience has demonstrated to me that the opposite is in fact the truth. Many, if not most... of my Restorationist/CoC/Remnant church friends do in fact believe JSjr was a "fallen Prophet". However, when speaking to them these days they temper that sentiment by using this characterization of the Prophet when they say.."during the Nauvoo period...Joseph lost his spirtitual edge".

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I would believe Emma would say something like this. According to Brigham Young she tried to poison Joseph twice. I can see her thinking herself justified in doing it and thinking that way. According to Joseph Smith himself, in a personal letter to the Whitneys, people weren't safe around him when Emma was around during the times that she was most upset about plural marriage. I fully believe the story that Emma pushed Eliza Snow out the door and down the front steps based upon anecdotal evidence like this. By themselves, the stories would be doubtful in my mind. But, given the fact that Joseph Smith himself wrote in a personal letter warning that people involved in a plural marriage to Joseph could not be safe if Emma is around, makes the anecdotal stories more believable.

Edited by MormonMason

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I fully believe the story that Emma pushed Eliza Snow out the door and down the front steps based upon anecdotal evidence like this.

After reading Bushman's research into this incident I found myself doubting it ever happened and was quite angry Emma was convicted by second hand rumors. Those who lived in the house told a different story of Emma.

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I don't know if she said it, but I do know that people will say things they regret and don't really feel in the heat of anger. In the conversation Coolidge relates, he was contradicting her and pressing the issue of a subject which was very upsetting to her.

The reference is an entry in Joseph F. Smith's diary in about 1870. He is apparently referring to an event that Coolidge related to him that happened in 1846--when Coolidge related it to Joseph F. is not mentioned, but I'm sure it was not at the time it happened as Joseph F. was only about 8 years old in 1846.

More likely Coolidge related it years later and memories can be sketchy and deceiving, so I'll give Emma the benefit of the doubt that the sentiment he claims she expressed (and Joseph F. wrote down in his diary years later) is not what she actually said or even felt. I know that Emma loved Joseph very much, but their marriage was not without serious difficulties from poverty, persecutions, instability, as well as her husband's polygamous relationships.

edited to add; 1870, the time when Joseph F. put this in his diary was during a time when blackening Emma's character was encouraged and that could have coloured Coolidge's memory of the event as well.

Edited by alter idem

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And so did Gerald Lund when he wrote "The Work and the Glory" saga.

You do realize that it is a work of fiction? Right? So often I find some confuse fiction such as this for reality.

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You do realize that it is a work of fiction? Right? So often I find some confuse fiction such as this for reality.

Most definitely it was fiction based on facts and he would reference them at the end of each chapter.

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You do realize that it is a work of fiction? Right? So often I find some confuse fiction such as this for reality.

I credit Brother Lund with writing a ripping yarn that probably taught more people about the early Saints than dozens of dry institute manuals. I enjoyed them immensely and they led to my wanting to know more of the dry but factual history of the Saints.

I remember back in the 90s when the series first came out we had someone quote an incident from the book as an example in Sunday School. It was understood that this was an historical fiction account but it was mildly amusing to the teacher. He scored his points at the end of class when he said "remember to read the assignment for next week. Our readings will be from gospel of "the Work and the Glory" volume ___ chapter ___."

The class burst into laughter including the brother who shared the fictional example.

Edited by KevinG

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According to Joseph Smith himself, in a personal letter to the Whitneys, people weren't safe around him when Emma was around during the times that she was most upset about plural marriage...But, given the fact that Joseph Smith himself wrote in a personal letter warning that people involved in a plural marriage to Joseph could not be safe if Emma is around, makes the anecdotal stories more believable.

But that could be interpreted as Emma being followed by his enemies in order to find him as wasn't he in hiding at the time?

Eliza never mentioning the incident with Emma and being at school teaching IIRC supposedly the next day after a miscarriage lead me to believe that it was a rumour....

Edited by calmoriah

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I credit Brother Lund with writing a ripping yarn that probably taught more people about the early Saints than dozens of dry institute manuals. I enjoyed them immensely and they led to my wanting to know more of the dry but factual history of the Saints.

I remember back in the 90s when the series first came out we had someone quote an incident from the book as an example in Sunday School. It was understood that this was an historical fiction account but it was mildly amusing to the teacher. He scored his points at the end of class when he said "remember to read the assignment for next week. Our readings will be from gospel of "the Work and the Glory" volume ___ chapter ___."

The class burst into laughter including the brother who shared the fictional example.

I read the Work ant the Glory too. I thought it was great fiction but did realize Brother Lund did use artistic license to make it a good read.

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