Table of Contents
The Date of Fanny Alger's Marriage
Anderson and Faulring (pp. 78-79) agree that Fanny Alger married Joseph Smith in Kirtland, but propose an 1835 date for her marriage to Joseph, rather than February or March 1833, as my book suggests. (In Sacred Loneliness, 32-33.) To do this they reject the clear witness of Mosiah Hancock reporting Levi Hancock, and assert that Benjamin Johnson is a more reliable authority on this question.
Both Mosiah and Benjamin were writing late reminiscences, Mosiah writing in 1896, Benjamin writing in 1903. Both sources are second hand, as neither Mosiah nor Benjamin witnessed the marriage of Smith and Alger. However, Mosiah, Fanny Alger's full cousin, had as his informant someone who was actually present at the marriage of Smith and Alger, his father Levi, and who in fact performed the ceremony. Furthermore, Anderson and Faulring agree that Mosiah/Levi Hancock are "no doubt correct in general circumstances of Fanny's Kirtland sealing." (p. 78). Nevertheless, they unaccountably contend that "Benjamin's recollections furnish the most reliable chronology available." (Ibid.)
They argue that Benjamin, as a teenager in Kirtland, was a first-hand witness of Kirtland polygamy circumstances, while Mosiah was very young. However, Benjamin as a teenager in Kirtland clearly heard only rumors of the Smith-Alger marriage, so he is as much a second-hand witness as Mosiah. Mosiah's source, however, his father Levi, was a first-hand witness to the Smith-Alger marriage, while Johnson had no similar "inside" source, no witness to the marriage ceremony. And the chronology of Levi clearly places the marriage of Smith-Alger back in early 1833. If Anderson and Faulring were to reject Levi/Mosiah Hancock completely, they might have a more logical case for rejecting the 1833 date.
A careful look at Benjamin Johnson's statements shows how he was dependent on rumor of the Smith-Alger marriage. "In 1835 at Kirtland I learned from my Sisters Husband Lyman R. Shirman, who was close to the Prophet and Recieved it from him. 'That the ancient order of plural marriage was again to be practiced by the Church . . ." Johnson himself was not close to Joseph Smith at this stage. "Altho there then lived with his Family a Neighbors daughter Fanny Alger . . . and it was whispered eaven then that Joseph Loved her . . ." Note that Johnson only heard rumors, whispers.
There is trouble between Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, "and whisper Said it was Relating to a girl then living in his [Smith's] Family." Once again, Johnson is reporting rumor, "whisper." "And I was afterwords told by Warren Parish That he himself & Oliver Cowdery did know that Joseph had Fanny Alger as a wife for They were Spied upon & found together." Once again, Benjamin reports what Parrish told him, which is valuable, as I have mentioned that second hand evidence can be usable. But Johnson's source, Parrish, is not bearing witness to the beginning of the Smith-Alger marriage, the ceremony.
Johnson does not contradict Mosiah/Levi Hancock. He merely reports that he, not an intimate of Joseph Smith in 1835, began to hear rumors of polygamy and rumors of Joseph's marriage to Fanny at that time. This obviously does not preclude a secret ceremony in 1833, but actually fits in with that picture. Even if Johnson had contradicted Mosiah/Levi Hancock, Mosiah and Levi, as close relatives of Fanny, and Levi with first-hand knowledge of the marriage, are witnesses closer to the truth than Johnson was. Johnson's account of the rumors and whispers of the marriage is valuable, but it does not deny Mosiah and Levi Hancock's account of the ceremony.
If you successfully discount Mosiah/Levi's credibility, you might get rid of the earlier dating for the Alger-Smith marriage, but then you lose your best evidence for a formal marriage with ceremony. So Anderson and Faulring's attempt to redate the ceremony by arguing that Mosiah/Levi are unreliable only on this point is very unconvincing.
Anderson and Faulring refer to my work as "psychohistory" (p. 71), a term associated with Fawn Brodie's Freudian style of biography, a characterization that certainly took me by surprise. Every biographer tries to get into the mind of his or her subject; every biographer tries to sympathize with his or her subject and understand how he or she thought or felt. But "psychohistory" refers to a historian who uses, in a pronounced way, a doctrinaire psychological theory to examine his or her subject. For instance, a Freudian interpretation of Luther would be psychohistory. So Anderson and Faulring's characterization of my work as psychohistory seems to me flatly incorrect.
Anderson and Faulring certainly look as if they are trying to paint me into the same corner with Brodie. Their description of my purported "naturalistic tendencies" would also put me in Brodie's camp. I find this extremely odd, given my repeated critiques of Brodie, and my stark ideological variances from Brodie (both in the matter of Freud and the matter of God).
The Lawrence sisters and William Law
Anderson and Faulring take me to task for "undervaluing" a paper by Gordon Madsen on legal issues connected with Joseph Smith and the Lawrence sisters. (p. 91.) Here I faced great difficulties. I was lucky enough to be present at Madsen's 1996 MHA presentation, and obtained a copy of his handout, and tried to take notes during his presentation. However, this was not easy, because Madsen, an attorney, was dealing with technical legal issues, and as a non-lawyer, I did not understand everything he said immediately. Sometimes he was commenting on legal documents shown on an overhead projector, and some of these were not on the handout. (And in the dark it was not easy to take notes.) At the end of the presentation, I talked to Madsen, and told him I'd like to get together and go over the material more fully. He did not look enthusiastic, but gave me his card. He said the article was going to be published in the Journal of Mormon History. I called him in the following days, leaving a message on his machine. But he did not return my call, to the best of my knowledge. (I was staying with relatives in Salt Lake City.)
This was not an ideal situation for me. Evidently he did not want to share his research with me further. But I think every scholar has the complete right to work on his material till he feels that he is ready to share it with the world in organized, polished fashion, so I did not feel comfortable calling him up again and demanding all of his documents and rough drafts. I had no alternative but to wait for the Journal of Mormon History paper. When that did not appear before my book went to press, I tried to use my notes for Madsen's paper as best I could, for In Sacred Loneliness. (Madsen's paper still has not been published at the time of writing.)
Under these circumstances, how can Anderson and Faulring criticize me for not fully reporting the findings of an unpublished paper? I did the best I could with what Madsen was willing to make public in a limited, oral presentation. (And I welcomed his technically knowledgeable evaluation of the Lawrence situation, and the documents he presented. I could have easily left them out, as Madsen's paper was not published.) But I straightforwardly wrote, "I have followed Madsen as closely as possible from my notes, but do not have his written argument and citations." (In Sacred Loneliness, 742.)
As for William Law, once again, Anderson and Faulring seem to suggest that William Law's memories were entirely false and deceptive, and I should not have referred to them at all. In fact, Law was in Nauvoo; he knew Joseph Smith and the Lawrence sisters. His memories of the events in question deserve to be looked at and assessed. Anderson and Faulring's suggestion that Law's memories are all true or all false is problematic to me. People may make factual errors in their memories, yet the memories can still have validity in some ways. (And it is wrong to completely demonize William Law; for a view of his humanity, see In Sacred Loneliness, 405.)
In summary, Anderson and Faulring in all fairness should have commended me for knowing about Madsen's work and trying to use it as much as I could under difficult circumstances. But until Madsen actually publishes his work, it is absurd to critique me for not using it adequately.
Did Emma Know of Joseph Smith's Marriages?
I did not focus on Emma in my book. Newell and Avery have written an excellent full- length biography of her, so I did not feel the need to write a chapter on her. Nevertheless, she is a character in my book, so I did mention and discuss her at some points, though she is not a focus.
Based on the evidence we have, my conclusion is that Joseph Smith generally did not tell Emma before he married a plural wife. Anderson and Faulring apparently take the position that Joseph Smith often consulted with Emma before marrying plural wives. (pp. 84-86, especially 85- 86, "the Prophet surely sought Emma's consent in taking other wives.")
The ideal in all polygamy was that the first wife would be consulted by the husband, would be asked for her permission, then would either give it or withhold it, which theoretically she had power to do. When she gave it, there was a ritual in which the first wife placed the hand of the plural wife into the hand of her husband. In practice this system was sometimes used, and the husband consulted with his first wife's feelings before marrying a new wife. There are occasions in which she did not agree, so he did not marry the plural wife. For an example of this kind of sensitivity, see the story of Franklin Weaver. Sometimes the first wife actually encouraged the husband to take a plural wife.
However, if a wife withheld her permission, she might be viewed as rebelling against the priesthood, so in some situations it was difficult for a wife to withhold permission, even when she wanted to. Many women gave permission for further wives only grudgingly. In some cases, the husband simply married without letting his first wife or previous wives know. The classic example of this was Heber C. Kimball, who said, at his first wife Vilate's funeral, "I have taken 40 wives & many without her knowledge."
In the case of Joseph Smith, in only four cases do we have evidence that Emma knew about the marriages before they were solemnized: the Lawrence sisters (In Sacred Loneliness, 743); possibly Eliza R. Snow; and possibly Melissa Lott. The Partridge sisters are a special case, for there were two marriages ceremonies for each of them. First Joseph married them without Emma's knowledge, then, when Emma selected them to marry Joseph, they resolemnized the marriages. So though Emma gave her permission for them to marry Joseph, they are nevertheless a solid example of Joseph marrying without Emma's knowledge.
In five of the six marriages above (counting the second Partridge marriages), Emma was reportedly present at the marriages. In no other plural marriages do we have evidence that Emma was present when Joseph's marriages were solemnized. For example, Emma does not figure in the accounts of the Fanny Alger marriage ceremony. She enters the picture only as an angry wife demanding that Fanny leave her house, possibly when Fanny was pregnant, not accepting her as a plural wife. She is also not present at the very secret marriage of Joseph Smith to Louisa Beaman in Nauvoo.
If we had evidence that Emma was present at other marriages, this would bolster Anderson and Faulring's apparent arguments that Emma usually knew and agreed to Joseph Smith's marriages. But the lack of any positive evidence for her permission, and her conspicuous absence in any marriage ceremonies except the three (not counting the duplicative Partridge ceremonies) mentioned above, and her anger when she did discover evidence of a relationship, suggest that she was not part of the inner polygamy circle, except in the cases of the Partridges (for the second ceremonies) and the Lawrences, Snow (possibly), Melissa Lott (possibly),.
When Heber C. Kimball married his first plural wife, he did so without informing his first wife Vilate, despite his deep love for her. It is significant that he did this under the explicit instruction of Joseph Smith, "for fear that she [Vilate] would not receive the principle." This shows that for Joseph Smith, if the husband suspected that a first wife would not receive a plural wife, the husband was morally justified in marrying the plural wife without the first wife's knowledge.
When Joseph asks Newel and Elizabeth Whitney, and Sarah Ann Whitney Smith to meet him secretly soon after he had married Sarah Ann (and again, Emma does not figure in the accounts of the ceremony), he specifically enjoins them to come when Emma is not present. He wrote, "the only thing to be careful of; is to find out when Emma comes then you cannot be safe, but when she is not here, there is the most perfect safty . . ." (See In Sacred Loneliness, 350.) In my view, this passage, combined with the fact that Emma was not present during Sarah Ann's marriage to Joseph, suggests that Emma was not part of the inner circle that knew of Sarah Ann's marriage to Joseph.
If Anderson and Faulring can find positive evidence that shows Emma was present during more plural marriage ceremonies, this would strengthen their position.
Positive and Negative Evidence for Polygamy
Anderson and Faulring describe In Sacred Loneliness as pure negativity, and accuse me of mounting a single-minded "campaign" [p. 70] against polygamy. In such a situation, one would expect them to marshal information from other sources to show that polygamy was not as bad as I have described it. However, Anderson and Faulring follow the curious strategy of showing my book's negativity by adducing positive evidence for polygamy from the pages of In Sacred Loneliness itself. For instance, they quote (p. 71) a supposed negative comment on polygamy from In Sacred Loneliness: Orson Whitney followed his grandfather and father "in accepting the onerous burden of polygamy" (In Sacred Loneliness, 531.) Actually, this is an example of Anderson and Faulring taking a very neutral statement in In Sacred Loneliness and portraying it as negative. Polygamy, good or bad, was an onerous burden for husbands, both financially, emotionally, and from a standpoint of dividing time. To combat this supposed negative statement, they write, "Actually, Orson married his second wife with the consent of the first and lived in the normative dual-wife pattern in Utah." Anderson and Faulring continue: "In fact, Compton describes how well this two- household system worked through the fairness of Horace Whitney, Orson's father, and the considerate sisterhood of his wives (see [In Sacred Loneliness] p. 513)." If I were pursuing a "campaign" against polygamy and Mormon polygamists, why would I include this "positive" information in my book?
Anderson and Faulring quote a number of positive statements about polygamy from In Sacred Loneliness on p. 98. Again, this does not fit in with their characterization of my book as driven by pure negativity.
In my treatment of Emily Partridge and Brigham Young, Anderson and Faulring accuse me of using "selective evidence" (p. 97) to portray that difficult relationship as worse than it really was. Yet they mention Brigham's providing Emily homes to live in (all well attested in my chapter), and end with Emily's statement at Brigham death: "I believe President Young has done his whole duty towards Joseph Smith's family. They have sometimes felt that their lot was hard, but no blame or censure rests upon him." (p. 98, quoting In Sacred Loneliness, 423.) Once again, Anderson and Faulring cite their "contrary evidence" from In Sacred Loneliness itself.
Anderson and Faulring assert that In Sacred Loneliness "avoids a detailed discussion of the deeply religious and moral principles undergirding the implementation of Mormon plural marriage. Compton's presentation offers little that could be considered faithful or sympathetic understanding of the doctrinal foundations of the practice." (p. 99). Once again, Anderson and Faulring seem to portray me as far over in the Brodie secularist camp. But then the careful reader may very well scratch his head, for on p. 68, Anderson and Faulring write, "Compton recognizes that deep spiritual conviction was at the base of reestablishing the marriage system of the ancient patriarchs." (They then quote from In Sacred Loneliness, 312.) The flat contradiction between these two quotes is especially striking. And just two pages after p. 99, we read, ". . . personal revelation through promptings and visions . . . induced the men and women around the Prophet to accept plural marriage." This would be a good place for Anderson and Faulring to list such promptings and visions that I had left out because of my supposed "naturalistic"/atheist viewpoint. But Anderson and Faulring do not need to -- for reasons that obviously contradict their "naturalistic" portrayal of me, I often included references to such passages. Anderson and Faulring continue: "Many of their spiritual verifications are quoted by the author, whose industry and honesty are admirable in liberally presenting the words of these early Saints."
What is my explanation of these (frequent) positive statements about polygamy in a book that often looks at its limitations? I continue to agree with my main thesis -- by definition, a polygamous husband is divided (emotionally, and in respect to his time and resources) -- more and more, depending on the extent of his polygamy. Yet when extraordinary, Christlike people practiced it, it did not prevent them from being extraordinary and Christlike. (At the same time, many flawed people, male and female, practiced it, with often tragic results. Some polygamous men, I felt, would have been successful monogamous husbands, but the strains of polygamy caused them to divide themselves in ways that were not fair to some of their wives.)
My short answer is: I included many of those positive things about polygamy in my book because I was trying to be a balanced historian. I think this is one more example of Anderson and Faulring misunderstanding, and being intolerant of, a moderate position.
Anderson and Faulring object to my providing a "road-map" to the reader too often, especially with reference to the central theme of my book. I regret that these statements of my thesis seemed too heavy-handed to Anderson and Faulring and readers similar to them. However, all authors will remember times when readers did not understand the thesis of a paper, or in fact, did not understand that the paper even had an overarching thesis. So I wanted to make clear what the organizing interpretation of my book was. I did not want my book to be seen as mere "compilation" history. Certainly, if I had been a better writer, I might have expressed my thesis in ways that Anderson and Faulring might have found more acceptable. But on the other hand, structurally, I think it is entirely justified to state one's central theme, then refer to it from time to time. I do not think I drag it in when it has no connection to the content of the biography in question.