Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery discuss Emma Smtih's polygamy denials in her "last testimony."

Linda King Newell

Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery, Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith, Prophet's Wife, "Elect Lady," Polygamy's Foe, 1804-1879 (New York, NY: Doubleday, 1984), 301

Linda King Newell, Valeen Tippetts Avery
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The original notes of the interview are still extant. They include two pages of questions written in ink in Joseph's hand and were most likely the questions prepared earlier at the Herald ofices. Two questions at the end are in pencil, suggesting that they were added during the interview. The notes also include eight pages of answers written again in Joseph's hand, but in pencil. They show signs of being written in haste as Emma spoke and have additions between the lines, some words abbreviated, and others crossed out. Basically the version which was eventually printed after Emma's death, and from which the following summary is taken, is true to the handwritten notes. The published questions and answers do appear in a reordered and more organized form.

Apparently Joseph eased into the conversation with the more benign subjects, asking about Emma's marriage to his father, the translation and publication of the Book of Mormon, and the deaths of her first three children. Emma's sons listed twenty-six questions, Lewis asked another one; of those, only six were about plural marriage. Emma's conflicting loyalties were to the truth and to her sons. Her answers indicate that she chose her words in an attempt to satisfy both. Joseph was either not aware of her selective terminology or he chose not to recognize it.

"What about the revelation on polygamy? Did Joseph Smith have anything like it? What of spiritual wifery?" "There was no revelation on either polygamy or spiritual wives." Emma easily denounced the old John Bennett term. The question had not been about "patriarchal marriage" or the "new and everlasting covenant" or any of the other code words for the system early church leaders instigated. Her answer continued, "There were some rumors of something of the sort which I asked my husband. He assured me that all there was of it was, that, in a chat about plural wives, he had said, 'Well such a system might possibly be, if everybody was agreed to it, and would behave as they should; but they would not; and, besides, it was contrary to the will of heaven.'" She continued, "No such thing as polygamy, or spiritual wifery, was taught, publicly or privately, before my husband's death, that I have now, or ever had any knowledge of."

"Did he not have other wives than yourself?"

"He had no other wife but me; nor did he to my knowledge ever have." The answer is partly in keeping with Emma's view, if she believed Joseph when he told her he would "forsake all for her." It is also true in a legal sense, for no plural marriage could be seen as legal in the eyes of the law.

Joseph pressed her more closely. "Did he not hold marital relations with women other than yourself?"

"He did not have improper relations with any woman that ever came to my knowledge." Years earlier Emma had established that she did not pretend to have knowledge of anything she did not witness herself. The choice of "improper relations" rather than "marital relations" also indicates that she may have been sidestepping her sons' questions very adeptly.

"Was there nothing about spiritual wives that you recollect?" they asked.

"At one time my husband came to me and asked me if I had heard certain rumors about spiritual marriage, or anything of the kind; and assured me that if I had, that they were without foundation; that there was no such doctrine, and never should be with his knowledge, or consent. I know that he had no other wife or wives than myself, in any sense, either spiritual or otherwise." Joseph, in recording the interview, could possibly have been given strength to the answer (and his argument) by adding the phrases emphasized in the reply without foreseeing the potential injury to his mother's reputation by doing so.

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