I am writing this letter in response to two excellent (though opposing) articles on polygamy published in the Sun Advocate on June 6. The fruits of polygamy can best be measured by polygamy's effect on the first Mormon family who practiced it: Joseph and Emma Smith. Plural marriage (as Joseph called it) was devastating to his first wife Emma. Though Joseph in speeches and church publications continually denied the doctrine and practice of plural marriage, Emma strongly suspected her husband of practicing it and she enlisted support from other anti-polygamy women to spy on him.
In February of 1843 Emma became aware that Joseph had taken her best friend, Eliza R. Snow, as a plural wife. Emma became so enraged that she pushed Eliza down the stairs at their home with a broomstick causing Eliza to have a miscarriage. Now the cat was out of the bag and it became Joseph's top priority to convince Emma she should accept polygamy. In official LDS history, on the morning of the July 12, 1843 Hyrum (Joseph's brother) said to Joseph, "If you will write the revelation on celestial marriage, I will take it and read it to Emma, and I believe I can convince her of its truth, and you will hereafter have peace." Joseph smiled and remarked, "You do not know Emma as well as I do.". . . Hyrum then took the revelation to read to Emma. . . . When he came back, Joseph asked how he had succeeded. Hyrum replied that he had never received a more severe talking to in his life. After the revelation was written Emma teased, and urgently entreated Joseph for the privilege of destroying the revelation. Joseph became so weary of her teasing and to get rid of her annoyance, he told her she might destroy it and she did so. Of course Joseph knew he could "re-write it at any time." (History of the Church, introduction to vol. 5).
Later after Joseph promised Emma she would be a queen and a priestess if she accepted plural marriage Emma briefly accepted plural marriage. Temple records, church history and the personal journals of the women involved show that nine of Joseph's first 12 wives were women then currently married to other men and reassigned to Joseph. Emma battled her feelings that plural marriage was an evil practice and even though she consented to Joseph's marriages, Emily Partridge (one of Joseph's wives) wrote in her journal: "from the very hour we were married to Joseph, Emma became our bitter enemy."
Official LDS history shows that Joseph Smith as mayor of Nauvoo ordered the destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor (a newspaper that was making public, the secret-sacred plural marriage life of Joseph Smith). Joseph and his brother Hyrum were arrested on charge of treason (of course freedom of the press was/is a Constitutionally protected right) and taken to Carthage jail (History of the Church, vol. 6, p.38). Joseph's plural marriages and what many considered a treasonous act of destroying a free press had so angered the people that a mob formed at the jail and Joseph and Hyrum were killed in what can best be described as a gun fight in which Joseph Smith killed two men. Official LDS history records that when the mob approached the door to the room where Joseph and Hyrum were being held, Joseph; "approached the door, and pulling the six-shooter left by Brother Whellock from his pocket, opened the door slightly, and snapped the pistol six successive times, only three of the barrels, however, were discharged. Two or three (mobsters) were wounded by these discharges, two of whom died." (History of the Church, vol. 7, pp.102-3).
Emma later wrote, "it was the secret doctrines that got Joseph and Hyrum killed." Emma left the church after Joseph's death and claimed the authority of the church rested in her son, whom she used to start a new church called "The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." Obviously this church left out the practice of plural marriage and most of the other secret/sacred doctrines of Mormonism. I know this doesn't sound much like the romance fiction novels/movies now being published about the Joseph Smith era. But it's time for someone to throw some light on the true origins and nature of polygamy and its disastrous consequences.