Table of Contents
Pre-existence and polyandry
Second, a concept that I discovered in the Mary Elizabeth Lightner autobiographies was very useful to me when I was trying to understand the superimposition of higher upon a lower marriage. Mary wrote that Joseph Smith, when proposing to her while she was married to another man, said, "Joseph Said I was his, before I came here." Elsewhere she wrote that Smith told her that, "I [Mary] was created for him before the foundation of the Earth was laid." Certainly, if we accept Mary as a credible witness, Joseph was referring to a connection, a linking he had with Mary in the pre-existence as authorizing or requiring the polyandrous marriage.
I wrote: "he asserted that she had been sealed to him in the pre-existence." Bachman objects to my use of the work "sealed" here, as Mary never used such a word. (p. 128) However, as I have mentioned before, a summary is never simply a direct quotation. Mary never used the word "pre-existence" here either, but it is clear that that was what she was referring to. Joseph's statements to Mary Lightner show that he taught that he and Lightner were strongly linked in the pre-existence -- she had belonged to him. In fact, she was expressly created for Joseph Smith. The Mormon term "seal" came to mean "link" by the Nauvoo period, and clearly Joseph and Mary were strongly linked in the pre-existence, according to Joseph's teachings. But even if Bachman entirely disallowed the term "seal" as having absolutely no possible connection to this strong linking in the pre-existence, the strong linking in the pre-existence remains, and so my argument is not really affected.
As Bachman notes, I then proceed to look at all the available evidence that parallels this concept, from both Mormon and non-Mormon sources. Bachman objects strongly to my use of these non-Mormon sources, and strives to give the impression that I have based my whole argument on them. Actually, as I always try to do, I based my argument on sympathetic sources, the two quite authoritative references by Lightner. They alone would make my point here. We have just two autobiographical records of the eleven polyandrous marriages -- the writings of Zina Huntington Young (sketchy) and Mary Rollins Lightner. This is the best evidence we have on how Joseph proposed to his polyandrous wives; they are very important sources. Nevertheless, I believe the other, non-Mormon, sources provide valuable context and depth here.
Bachman objects to my phrase "spiritual intuition" (referring to Joseph Smith) and states flatly that I thus exclude the possibility of revelation. "But Compton doesn't entertain these or other possibilities." (p. 128.) I'm at a loss to understand how Bachman came to this conclusion, but I did not mean "spiritual intuition" to in any way exclude the possibility of inspiration or revelation. Revelation I believe comes in many ways, from lengthy visions to subtle hints, from literal, physical angelic messengers to more impressionistic inspirations. In the priesthood lesson I attended on the day I first wrote this paragraph, we discussed Brigham Young's very expansive concepts of revelation -- "all the arts and sciences in the world are from God." "From [God] has every astronomer, artist and mechanician that ever lived on the earth obtained his knowledge." So when Bachman states that I exclude revelation when using the word "spiritual" here, it is one more case of him trying to portray me as an atheist, for reasons best known only to himself. He and I might disagree on how inspiration works (I think it is a very complex question), but there is no question of my rejecting God or inspiration given to men.
Here is a case where Bachman would have been well advised to use cautious probability language -- it is manifestly unwise for a writer to make a dogmatic assertion regarding another writer's supposed belief or disbelief. I think this is a case where I have a "moderate" view of revelation and inspiration, and Bachman reacts by flatly labeling me an atheist.
I now turn to the sources that in my view provide added context to the Lightner quotes. William Hall wrote that Smith taught that "all real marriages were made in heaven before the birth of the parties." He connected this with the phrase "kindred spirits." If Hall were not so closely paralleled by Lightner here, I would not cite him. But as corroborative evidence dovetailing with Lightner he is valuable. Then I show that the phrase "kindred spirits" is attested in "conservative" Mormon literature -- first by William Smith in 1845, when he was Presiding Patriarch, then by Helen Mar Whitney in 1886 (see In Sacred Loneliness, 640).
Bachman would prefer to reject Hall completely. However, the two "conservative" references to "kindred spirits" are a problem for such a wholesale rejection. Therefore, in an interpretation seemingly out of nowhere, he ascribes the phrase found in a patriarchal blessing given by William Smith to the influence of John Bennett. This was a surprising interpretation for me, as I did not know of any connection between William Smith and Bennett at this time, July 16, 1845. I consulted the biography of Bennett by Andrew Smith, The Saintly Scoundrel: The Life and Times of Dr. John Cook Bennett, and the chapter on William Smith in Irene Bates and Gary Smith's Lost Legacy: The Mormon Office of Presiding Patriarch. I could find no connection between Smith and Bennett at this time documented in either of these places. Certainly William was a problematic leader, who was excommunicated later in the year. But when William gave the patriarchal blessing in question, he was a member in good standing, and was in fact a general authority, the presiding patriarch of the church. Bachman seems to be following the questionable policy of ascribing anything he is uncomfortable with to Bennett, even three years after Bennett had left Nauvoo.
Bachman does not mention or explain Helen Mar Whitney's use of the phrase "kindred spirits." This is a late reference (1886), but nevertheless, Helen Mar was a Nauvoo veteran, with a lifetime in the church, and had been a wife of Joseph Smith. It is extremely unlikely that Bennett could have influenced her. Her use of "kindred spirits" (explicitly used in reference to a pre- existent linking) strengthens the case for William Smith's use of the term as normative at the time. And William Smith and Helen Mar together support William Hall and Elizabeth Rollins Lightner.
The idea that certain spirits were linked/sealed in the pre-existence, far from being a doctrine known only to anti-Mormons Bennett and Hall, almost became a commonplace in Mormon thought (as the Helen Mar Whitney reference shows). Arrington and Bitton discuss the doctrine in Mormon Experience. Once again, Bachman does not mention this reference, which I cited at In Sacred Loneliness, 640.
Arrington and Bitton cite another quite early sympathetic source, John Taylor, "The Origin and Destiny of Women," in The Mormon (Aug. 29, 1857), a very interesting passage which I did not treat in In Sacred Loneliness, but probably should have. I will discuss it briefly here:
An LDS woman asked John Taylor questions on her origin and destiny.
"Lady -- whence comest thou? . . . "Knowest thou not that eternities ago, thy spirit, pure and holy, dwelt in thy Heavenly Father's bosom, and in his presence, and with thy mother, one of the Queens of heaven, surrounded by thy brother and sister spir[i]ts in the spirit world, among the Gods. That as thy spirit beheld the scenes transpiring there, and thou growing in intelligence, thou sawest worlds upon worlds organized and peopled with thy kindred spirits, took upon them tabernacles, died, were resurrected, and received their exalt[at]ion on the redeemed worlds they once dwelt upon. Thou being willing and anxious to imitate them, waiting and desirous to obtain a body, a resurrection and exaltation also, and having obtained permission, thou made a covenant with one of thy kindred spirits to be thy guardian angel while in mortality, also with two others, male and female spirits, that thou wouldst come and take a tabernacle through their lineage, and become one of their offspring. You also choose [chose] a kindred spirit whom you loved in the spirit world, (and had permission to come to this planet and take a tabernacle,) to be your head, stay, husband, and protector on the earth, and to exalt you in the eternal worlds. All these were arranged, likewise the spirits that should tabernacle through your lineage. Thou longed, thou sighed, and thou prayed to thy Father in heaven for the time to arrive when thou couldst come to this earth, which had fled and fell from where it was first organized, near the planet Kolob. Leave thy father and mother's bosoms, and all thy kindred spirits, come to earth, take a tabernacle, and imitate the deeds of those you had seen exalted before you.
At length the time arrived, and thou heard the voice of thy Father, saying, "go daughter to yonder lower world, and take upon thee a tabernacle . . . Daughter, go, and be faithful in your second estate, keep it as faithful as thou hast, thy first estate.["]
Thy spirit filled with joy and thanksgiving rejoiced in thy Father . . . Thou bade father, mother, and all, farewell and along with thy guardian angel, thou came on this terraqueous globe. [(]The spirits thou had chosen to come and tabernacle through their lineage, and your Head having left the spirit world some years previous.) Thou came a spirit pure and holy, thou hast taken upon thee a tabernacle, thou hast obeyed the truth, and thy guardian angel ministers unto thee and watches over thee. Thou hast chosen him you loved in the spirit world to be thy companion. Now, crowns, thrones, exaltations and dominions are in reserve for thee in the eternal worlds . . . That when mortality is laid in the tomb, you may go down to your grave in peace, arise in glory, and receive your everlasting reward in the resurrection of the just, along with thy Head and husband. Thou will be permitted to pass by the Gods and angels who guard the gates, and onward, upward to thy exaltation in a celestial world among the Gods. To be a Priestess Queen unto thy Heavenly Father, and a glory to thy husband and offspring, to bear the souls of men, to people other worlds, (as thou didst bear their tabernacles in mortality,) while eternity goes and eternity comes . . .
This passage has many points that deserve comment, including a strong "guardian angel" teaching. In the section that is of most interest in the present context, the premortal spirit arranges exactly and precisely her most important relationships in the next life: guardian angel, parents, husband, children. These were formal arrangements: "thou made a covenant with"; "All these were arranged."
In the passage about the husband -- "You also choose [chose] a kindred spirit whom you loved in the spirit world, (and had permission to come to this planet and take a tabernacle,) to be your head, stay, husband, and protector on the earth, and to exalt you in the eternal worlds." -- the crucial phrase, "kindred spirit," shows up prominently again, and is repeated over and over. We also have the emotional bond ("whom you loved") in the pre-existence, as well as the formal, ritualized connection, arrangement, covenant. John Taylor, of course, was part of the inner polygamy circle in Nauvoo. 1857 is only thirteen years after Joseph Smith's death.
Bachman writes that "it appears that the doctrine of 'kindred spirits' is Hall's." (p. 129.) This idea clearly must be rejected. In his haste to portray me as relying primarily on anti-Mormon sources, he did not follow the path of evidence in sympathetic sources.
Finally, Bachman considers the use of the terminology "spiritual wife" or "spiritual marriage" in relation to Nauvoo polygamy. This is an interesting discussion, including many valuable pieces of evidence, but it does not really support Bachman's main argument. The logical thread is hard to follow, but it appears to be: Compton believes Joseph Smith had a concept of "spiritual wives." He equates this with the non-Mormon "spiritual wife" doctrine as described in Dixon's 1868 book Spiritual Wives. However, Bachman argues that Compton made a major miscalculation, because the "spiritual wife" doctrine in Nauvoo came from Bennett and Joseph Jackson. Bachman asserts that Compton has "taken the bait" of Bennett and Jackson -- which implies that Compton is a something of a disciple of John C. Bennett. By association, this implies that Compton is something of an amoral atheist.
This argument is flawed from many angles. As far as how I feel about being characterized, however loosely, as a disciple of Bennett -- obviously, this insinuation is so wildly extremist that it undercuts itself completely. In fact, I view Bennett negatively. However, he is a historical source that must be looked at, though with a great deal of caution.
This argument is also strange because Bennett, to my knowledge, never really tackled the issue of Mormon polyandry. The main things I used from him were his short list of wives and his account of Marinda Hyde's involvement in the proposal of marriage to Nancy Rigdon, both of which are plentifully paralleled in sympathetic sources. I don't know where in my book Bachman can point to my referring to Bennett in relation to polyandry. I do not remember making any major point relating to the term "spiritual wives" in relation to Mormon polyandry. I looked through my notes for the polyandry section of my prologue (639-41), but found no reference to Bennett. "Buckeye's Lament," which Bachman quoted in his thesis, does refer to "spiritual marriage" (In Sacred Loneliness, 22), but I did not comment on the term at all. William Hepworth Dixon's book, Spiritual Wives, obviously refers to spiritual wives, but again, I do not comment on the term. (In Sacred Loneliness, 20-21.)
So Bachman's theory that I took Bennett's term "spiritual marriage" then used it to make the jump to wider, non-Mormon "spiritual marriage" is flatly wrong. First of all, I never even mentioned Bennett's use of the term "spiritual marriage." It is unfortunate that Bachman made such a vehement critique here with so little evidence for his case.
Bachman asserts that I also took the "bait" of anti-Mormon Joseph Jackson with regard to the term "spiritual wife." He quotes a very interesting passage from Jackson in this connection. (p. 131.) However, I did not even consider this quote in my book, to the best of my recollection. In fact, on page 634, I refer to Jackson as "perhaps the worst of the sensationalists" not exactly the glowing adulation of a disciple who has taken Jackson's "bait." If I did not even quote Jackson in this connection, it is absurd to portray me as his disciple.
To sum up, I did not make any argument based on the term "spiritual wife" in my prologue; that term is entirely incidental to my argument. So any statement that I took the "bait" of Bennett and Jackson is unfortunate, to say the least.
However, Bachman is also wrong on another important point. There is good evidence that mainstream Mormons in Nauvoo did use the term "spiritual wife" to refer to polygamy. Helen Mar Whitney, who certainly knew Nauvoo polygamy first-hand, wrote, "At the time [in Nauvoo] spiritual wife was the title by which every woman who entered into this order was called, for it was taught and practiced as a spiritual order." (Quoted in In Sacred Loneliness, 632.) Helen Mar here makes a very general statement ("every woman") and provides a rationale for the term. Emily Partridge Young referred to a "spiritual child." In 1855, Heber C. Kimball referred to the "spiritual wife doctrine the Patriarchal Order, which is of God." On June 12, 1844, Joseph Fielding (the brother of Mary Fielding, who married Hyrum Smith and was the mother of Joseph Fielding Smith) wrote in his journal: “I often preach to my Wife and endeavor to inspire her with Faith her Mind has been troubled at some things in the Church the Subject of Spiritual Wives[n. 49] so much talked [about] at this time.” The modern editor of the journal, Andrew Ehat, in his note 49, writes, “Here Joseph Fielding speaks of the term ‘Spiritual Wives’ in a positive sense as used in Times and Seasons 5 (15 November 1844): 715, rather than in the usual negative sense.”[86a]
Thus, in the opinion of conservative scholar, Andrew Ehat, orthodox Mormons used the term “Spiritual Wives” positively at time, negatively at times. It was not simply a term used by John C. Bennett. Fielding is writing long after Bennett left Nauvoo, and while Joseph Smith was alive. Further, two of Fielding's sisters had married Hyrum Smith, so he certainly knew about polygamy.
So even on this issue, Mormon polygamy was not a world apart from the "spiritual wife" movement in America, as Anderson and Faulring and Bachman tend to portray it.
Finally, other respected historians of polygamy have also followed my argument on the linking of pre-existence and Joseph Smith's marriages to married women. For instance, Andrew Ehat wrote in his talk, "Pseudo-Polyandry: Explaining Mormon Polygyny's Paradoxical Companion," that one of the purposes of Joseph Smith's polygamy was "to establish on earth marriage covenants which were entered into by men and women before they were born." Bachman, strangely enough, vehemently attacks this section of my prologue when conservative scholars have made the same argument and drawn the same conclusion.
Accusations of Editing Out Non-Tragic Elements of Women's Lives
One of Bachman's odd criticisms of In Sacred Loneliness is that I intentionally made these women's lives more tragic than they really were, that I edited anything positive out of their lives. E.g., p. 116: "Although I am not in a position to contradict the thesis because I have not researched the lives of these women, I nonetheless have the impression that the harsh and painful side of their lives was intentionally emphasized." Again, on p. 137: "His nearly exclusive emphasis on the harsh and difficult lives he portrays raises the question as to whether he has allowed his bias to filter out contrary positive evidence."
Obviously, I did not do this. I suppose you could say that I did highlight dramatic moments, as all biographers do, and that dramatic moments often result from conflict and tragedy. Another factor is that these women's lives were often very difficult because they lost more children than women do today. Another factor was their health care level, which was so primitive, compared to ours. Another factor was the persecution history of Mormons before they came to Utah. Another factor was the pioneering life itself. Polygamy was another significant factor, and since the book is about polygamy, I look carefully at evidence relating to polygamy.
Nevertheless, Bachman's suggestion that I have edited out anything positive in my book leaves me perplexed. There is an enormous amount of "positive" material in my book. A quick, random culling of my subheadings, which summarize the following sections, will show this. I did not avoid striking "tragic" phrases in selecting subheadings, but I was very open to positive phrases. Many headings were simply neutral ("Salt Lake City"); ("Heber C. Kimball").
Some examples of positive headings:
"The Lord Heard Her Supplication," referring to a spiritual experience connected with polygamy. From the same chapter, Louisa Beaman: "O How Precious Is a Sisters Kindness."
"But They Were Not Alone," referring to a spiritual experience recorded by Elvira Cowles. "Kind Wife and Affectionate Mother."
"Never So Happy" "I Drank of the Pure Water" from the Rhoda Richards chapter.
If I was slanted toward extreme negativity, would I have included a heading like this: "My Faith Encreased in This Church"? (Desdemona Fullmer chapter)
"Heaven and Angels Not Very Far Off" (Helen Mar Kimball refers to her mother singing).
"It Is a Grand School," in a section in which I quote positive things Lucy Walker said about polygamy.
Here's one heading that shows I had a biographer's eye for the dramatic: "Shootout on the Colorado."
Two headings from Emily Partridge reflect Missouri experiences: "All Seemed So Strange," and "Stars as Thick as Snowflakes." The latter poetic phrase reflects a spiritual experience Emily had in the midst of persecutions.
"She Donated Every Dollar She Earned," refers to Ruth Vose's donation of money to the Kirtland Temple.
"She Saw Her Body as It Lay," refers to a spiritual experience that Martha McBride had.
In the Sarah Ann Whitney chapter, here are two headings: "Cloud of Glory," and "A Halo of Light Encircled Us," referring to spiritual experiences the Whitney family had. Between them, "Just Barely Able to Crawl Around," refers to a period of sickness in Nauvoo.
Here is a touch of humor: "Lost in Central Utah." Notice how positive this whole page, referring to Eliza R. Snow's administration as Relief Society President, is. (p. 336) Also in Eliza's chapter: "The Glory of God on the Prairie." The whole Eliza chapter is quite free from tragedy, yet I give her life a substantial treatment. Of course, the life and writings of Eliza Snow, one of the least tragic and problematic wives, was the catalyst for my book.
The last heading in my book, "Let the First Thing You Say Be 'Hallelujah!'" refers to a positive, non-naturalistic view of death.
Once again, I am not saying that all my headings were bright and cheery. But there is a balance. Bachman's implication that I have malevolently edited out all positive material in these lives is incorrect. Bachman is clearly uncomfortable with the tragedy in these lives (as if all Mormons' lives should be saccharine sweet, untouched by shadows or serious problems), but I believe that often these women's spirituality was shown most powerfully when they were facing experiences that they found incomprehensibly painful. Bachman's hinting that a good Latter-day Saint historian should edit out the tragic from a woman's own record would produce a sentimental, even dishonest, kind of history. It even seems to brand these woman as somehow to blame for their tragic lives, and is deeply unsympathetic to what these women endured.
There were some women whose lives seemed on the balance more tragic than positive. I think of Louisa Beaman, the Partridge sisters, Helen Mar Kimball. Nevertheless, no life is entirely tragic, just as no life is entirely rosy, so fair-minded readers will find "positive" elements in these chapters, just as I found positive elements in the documents that allowed me to reconstruct their lives. For Helen Mar, I think of how happy she was after her marriage to Horace Whitney, when they were crossing Iowa, In Sacred Loneliness, 506, especially the end of the quote at the top of the page. Earlier, I discussed her idyllic childhood and how intensely she loved her parents (487-90). By the way, some see Heber unsympathetically, and he certainly was not a perfect human being, but this part of the chapter shows my respect for Heber, his humor, his love for his children. Stanley Kimball says that much that we love in J. Golden Kimball -- his humor, his earthiness -- came from his father.
Later in Helen Mar's life, many of her children died, including one son by apparent suicide. Naturally, these were intense, traumatic experiences for Helen, and a biographer would be irresponsible if he or she did not reflect them adequately. Nevertheless, I also reflected how proud she was of her children in her later life, and their real successes. See my account of Orson's development into a young man (In Sacred Loneliness, 519). One of many happy social gatherings I describe in my pages is the "surprise" on Helen (p. 525). Another paragraph on p. 532, first full paragraph, describes positive achievements of her children. Though the paragraph also reflects problems the children were dealing with, the positive elements are certainly there.
Other women did not have such overwhelmingly tragic lives as the Partridges and Helen Mar. I think of Elvira Cowles Holmes, for instance. And incidentally, I went out of my way in that chapter to portray the positive experience in polygamy that her three daughters had. I could have very easily left their stories out of my Elvira chapter, especially after Elvira died.