It has come to my attention that Brian Hales has commented on my article Keeping a Secret: Freemasonry, Polygamy, and the Nauvoo Relief Society, 1842-1844 which was published in the Fall 2013 issue of Journal of Mormon History. Brian’s comments appear in the Letters to the Editor section in JMH 40, no. 3 [Summer 2014]. In order to give a timely response to his remarks I reproduce them here, with my responses given in bold italics. Please join in with your observations as well!
Cheryl L. Bruno is to be complimented for trying to connect the dots regarding the introduction of secret polygamy teachings to Nauvoo Church members in the early 1840s in her article “Keeping a Secret: Freemasonry, Polygamy, and the Nauvoo Relief Society, 1842–44” (Journal of Mormon History 39, no. 4 [Fall 2013]: 158–81).
CB: Thank you, Brian!
However, her timeline for Emma Smith’s introduction to plural marriage is problematic.
Bruno writes that “Emma became aware of the extent of her husband’s involvement in plural marriage on April 29, 1842” (173–74). To support this chronology, Bruno observes that, on April 29, Joseph’s journal records: “[It] was made manifest[,] a conspiracy against the peace of his househould.”
CB: This reading of Joseph’s journal entry was first made by Valeen Tippets Avery, with whom I agree.
“J.C.B.” is written lightly in the margin by scribe Willard Richards. Observers might speculate that, on that date, John C. Bennett and/or one of his followers visited Emma and accused Joseph of “spiritual wifery,” which would have exposed the Prophet’s plural marriage activities to her. This interpretation seems rather extreme, based as it is on very limited and ambiguous historical data.
CB: “Observers might speculate that…” This sentence introduces a straw man argument, and is not in the least what I “speculate” in my article. In fact, I did not mention John C. Bennett at all in connection with Emma’s discovery that her husband was practicing polygamy. I did observe, as Avery did, that “this knowledge may be why no Relief Society meeting was held the following week, and why Emma was absent at the second.” I also noted that in the following meetings, Joseph kept cautioning the sisters against intolerance and Emma responded by denouncing any “violation of the laws of virtue.”
In response, Joseph would have resolutely denied any involvement with Bennett’s immoralities.
CB: This strongly tempts me to engage Brian’s straw man polemic, though John C. Bennett has no place whatsoever in my argument. I should resist. But…how do we know that Joseph would have resolutely denied involvement with Bennett’s immoralities? Perhaps because at the time he was denying any and all involvement with plural marriage, including those which were later documented?
Available evidence strongly supports that Bennett, a known adulterer throughout the 1830s, never learned of the celestial marriage doctrines from the Prophet and simply continued his debaucheries upon arriving in Nauvoo using several seduction techniques including references to “spiritual wifery.” Bennett’s most common rationalization was to tell the women that if they kept the relations secret, there was no sin in it. Margaret Nyman described Bennett’s teaching as related by his follower Chauncey Higbee: “Any respectable female might indulge in sexual intercourse, and there was no sin in it, provided the person so indulging keep the same to herself; for there could be no sin where there was no accuser.”
CB: What “available evidence” supports the idea that Bennett did not learn of celestial marriage doctrines from the Prophet? Even the term “spiritual wife” – often attributed to John Bennett—was a term commonly used by wives of the Prophet to describe their own relationship. Further and not insignificantly, it seems that “Bennett’s most common rationalization” is at the very least extrapolated from a teaching attributed to Joseph Smith. In his history we find the following for Nov 7, 1841: “I charged the Saints not to follow the example of the adversary in accusing the brethren, and said “if you do not accuse each other God will not accuse you. If you have no accuser you will enter heaven; and if you will follow the Revelations and instructions which God gives you through me, I will take you into heaven as my back load. If you will not accuse me, I will not accuse you. If you will throw a cloak of charity over my sins, I will over yours— for charity covereth a multitude of sins. What many people call sin is not sin; I do many things to break down superstition, and I will break it down:” (History, 1838–1856, volume C-1 Addenda. Joseph Smith Papers website). Note that Bennett first arrived in Nauvoo in September of 1840 – plenty of time to hear this teaching from the mouth of Joseph Smith.
Regardless, Bruno confidently employs the April 29, 1842, dating scheme throughout her article, which bolsters her premise of a smoldering conflict over polygamy between Joseph and Emma during the remainder of 1842. According to Bruno, “Each seemed determined to use the Relief Society to promulgate their views. From the beginning, Emma Smith apparently considered the society an opportunity to oppose her husband’s teachings about plural marriage” (169–70).
CB: My conclusions on this point have nothing to do with John C. Bennett, whom I did not mention in connection with Joseph and Emma’s conflict. The conclusion that Emma found out about the full extent of Joseph’s polygamy in April of 1842 may “bolster” my argument that the Smiths used the Relief Society as a forum for their power struggle, but the primary evidence for this comes not from the date but from their own words as reported in the Relief Society minutes. After all, Emma must have been aware, on some level, of Joseph’s indiscretions since she discovered Joseph and Fanny together in the barn in the [mid-1830’s].
Bruno also theorizes that the “meeting of the Relief Society on March 30, 1842, began with ‘the house full to overflowing,’ as sisters gathered to observe the power struggle between the Prophet and his wife” (170).
CB: This is not merely a supposition or “theory” of mine, but is drawn from the primary evidence which I cite. The expression “the house full to overflowing” is found in the Relief Society minutes for that date. As mentioned above, the Smiths’ acerbic words to each other are also reported in the minutes.
The earliest documentable date for Emma’s awareness of eternal plural marriage is May of 1843, when she participated in four of her husband’s polygamous sealings (to Emily and Eliza Partridge and Sarah and Maria Lawrence). Emma undoubtedly learned about its principles earlier than this point, but her actions indicate that it was only weeks, not months or years, earlier. Joseph successfully kept his own brother, Hyrum Smith, and William Law, second counselor in the First Presidency, unaware of plural marriage until mid-1843, so asserting an earlier date for Emma requires reliable historical evidence.
CB: This is indeed the earliest “documentable date” for Emma’s participation in plural marriage. But her awareness probably grew incrementally, beginning from the date of the Fanny Alger affair. Joseph never admitted to committing adultery with Fanny. So what do you suppose his explanation to Emma might have been?
Accordingly, if Emma did not learn about the practice of plural marriage until May 1843, there would have been no “power struggle” (170) or “wrestle” (174) in 1842 between Emma and Joseph over polygamy that Relief Society members or other Latter-day Saints would have witnessed (168, 170).
CB: Again, the idea that the Smiths “wrestled” over this issue does not depend upon the exact date that Emma became aware of Joseph’s polygamy, which I place on or before April 1842. Joseph’s journal records some type of altercation between himself and his “househould” which it took him some energy to resolve; and this may or may not have centered on polygamy. Power dynamics are nonetheless readily apparent in Joseph’s and Emma’s public words to each other, which the reader may study either in the Relief Society minutes, or as quoted in the pages of my article. Especially juicy is the exchange where Joseph requests the President and Society to “hold your tongues” as a matter of policy, and Emma responds by observing that “sin must not be covered,” the guilty “must reform,” and that “she wanted none in this Society who had violated the laws of virtue.”
Bruno provides some intriguing observations regarding the interactions between the establishment of Masonry, the organization of the Relief Society, and the unfolding of polygamy in Nauvoo in the early 1840s. However, the chronology she has adopted regarding key events may be problematic and might affect the accuracy of some of her conclusions.
CB: The conclusions I make about “key events” are supported by additional evidence which Brian here fails to note. I find it puzzling that Brian wishes to delay the date of Emma’s awareness of Joseph’s polygamy until May 1843, given that such accusations had already been made public through the local newspapers.
Brian C. Hales
CB: The quote as cited in my paper follows the language reported in the Millennial Star: “A conspiracy against the peace of my family was made manifest, and it gave me some trouble to counteract the design of certain base individuals, and restore peace. The Lord makes manifest to me many things, which it is not wisdom for me to make public.”
Here is the quote as it appears in the Manuscript History of the Church, image of original on Joseph Smith papers website: “Friday 29. A conspiracy against the peace of my household was made manifest, and it gave me some trouble to counteract the design of certain base individuals, and restore peace. The Lord makes manifest to me many things, which /it\ is /not\ wisdom for me to make public until others can witness the proof of them.”
The Joseph Smith journal penned by Willard Richards (The Book of the Law of the Lord) is more contemporary and reports simply as follows: “Friday 29 was made manifest a conspiracy again[s]t the peace of his househould.” [J.C.B written lightly next to this sentence.]
If polygamy was indeed the source of the disturbance of the peace of the Smith household, we might expect to find some disturbing polygamous activity happening at the time. A glance at Brian’s website shows that one of the Prophet’s most problematic marriages occurred in April of 1842–to Marinda Nancy Johnson, wife of Orson Hyde. Accusations about polygamy among Joseph Smith and the Twelve peppered the local papers in the month of April. Whether or not John C. Bennett was involved in notifying her, Emma would have had to have been living under a rock not to have been suspicious of her husband’s involvement in extramarital activity at the time.
 Testimony of Margaret J. Nyman v. Chauncey L. Higbee, before the High Council of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in the city of Nauvoo, May 21, 1842, Millennial Star 23 (October 12, 1861): 657. See also Brian C. Hales, Joseph Smith’s Polygamy: History and Theology, 3 vols. (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2013), 1:515–93.
 Bruno incorrectly identifies Maria Lawrence as “Catherine.” Emily Dow Partridge Young, “Incidents in the life of a Mormon girl,” n.d., Ms 5220, 186, LDS Church History Library. The exact date of Joseph’s sealings to the Lawrence sisters is unknown, but it seems reasonable that it was chronologically close to the Partridge sealings.
 On May 26, 1843, William Clayton recorded: “Hyrum received the doctrine of priesthood.” George D. Smith, ed., An Intimate Chronicle: The Journals of William Clayton.(Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1995), 106; William Law, Affidavit dated July 17, 1885, qtd. in Charles A. Shook, The True Origin of Mormon Polygamy(Cincinnati: Standard Publishing, 1914) 126.