“God Must Be the Judge,” chapter 41 of Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days, Volume 1, The Standard of Truth, 1815–1846 (2018)
Chapter 41: “God Must Be the Judge”
On June 1, 1843, Addison and Louisa Pratt walked with their daughters to one of Nauvoo’s steamboat landings. Addison was leaving that day for a three-year mission to the Hawaiian Islands. In his arms he carried Anne, their youngest daughter, while her older sisters, Ellen, Frances, and Lois, followed gloomily behind, dreading their father’s departure.1
Recently, while talking with Brigham Young, Addison had spoken fondly about Hawaii and his years as a young whaler in the Pacific Ocean. Since the church had no presence on the islands, Brigham asked if Addison would be willing to open a mission there. Addison said he was willing if others would go with him. Soon after, Joseph and the Twelve called him to lead a group of elders to the islands.2
Louisa had cried for three days when she learned of Addison’s assignment. Hawaii was thousands of miles away, in a part of the world that sounded strange and dangerous. She had no home of her own in Nauvoo, no money, and few goods to barter. Her daughters would need clothes and schooling, and without Addison, she would have to provide everything for them.
As Louisa walked to the steamboat with her family, her heart still felt weak, but she had come to rejoice that Addison was worthy of his call. She was not the only woman in the city who would be alone while her husband left to preach the gospel. Missionaries were leaving in all directions that summer, and Louisa had resolved to face her trials and trust the Lord.
Addison struggled to restrain his emotions. Stepping onto the deck of the steamboat that would carry him far from his family, he raised a handkerchief to his eyes and wiped away tears. On shore, his daughters started crying as well. Frances said she did not think she would ever see him again.3
Knowing the sea as he did, Addison understood the dangers ahead of him. But when the Twelve had set him apart for his mission, they had blessed him to have power over the elements and courage in the face of tempests. If he proved faithful, they promised by the Spirit, he would return home safely to his family.4
Several days later, Emma, Joseph, and their children left Nauvoo to visit Emma’s sister in Dixon, Illinois, several days’ journey to the north. Before departing, she instructed Ann Whitney to encourage the women of the Relief Society to continue helping the poor and to assist the men in building the temple.5
Recently, Joseph had spoken to the Saints about the ordinances of the temple, teaching them that they were building it so the Lord could give them the endowment. Emma had told Ann that she had felt a deep interest in the temple since then and wanted the Relief Society to discuss what they could do to hurry the work along.
“We might speak to the temple committee,” Emma suggested, “and whatever they wished and we could, we might do.”6
With this charge, Ann called to order the first Relief Society meeting of the year and asked the women to suggest ways to help the temple effort. Some said they were willing to ask for donations and collect wool and other materials to make new clothes. Others said they were willing to knit, sew, or repair old clothes as needed. One woman suggested furnishing older women with yarn to knit socks for the temple workmen in the winter.
Polly Stringham and Louisa Beaman said they would make clothing for the workers. Mary Felshaw said she could donate soap. Philinda Stanley proposed donating flax to make linen and giving a quart of milk every day to the effort. Esther Gheen offered to donate thread of her own spinning.
“Angels are rejoicing over you!” Sister Chase testified, praising the women’s willingness to help build the house of the Lord.
Before closing the meeting, Ann urged the mothers in the room to prepare their daughters to enter the temple. Instruct them in love, she counseled, and teach them to act with sobriety and propriety within its sacred walls.7
Two hundred miles away, the Smiths’ visit with Emma’s sister was interrupted on June 21 when William Clayton and Stephen Markham arrived with alarming news. The governor of Missouri was again demanding that Joseph stand trial in Missouri, this time on the old charge of treason, and Governor Ford of Illinois had just issued another warrant for the prophet’s arrest.
“I have no fear,” Joseph said. “Missourians cannot hurt me.”8
A few days later, two men claiming to be Latter-day Saint elders knocked at the door while the family was eating dinner. Emma’s brother-in-law told them that Joseph was out in the yard, near the barn.
Moments later Emma and the family heard a commotion outside. Rushing to the door, they saw the men pointing cocked pistols at Joseph’s chest. One man held Joseph by the collar. “If you stir one inch,” he snarled, “I’ll shoot you!”
“Shoot away!” Joseph said, baring his chest. “I am not afraid of your pistols.”
Stephen Markham ran outside and charged toward the men. Startled, they turned their guns on him but quickly turned them back to Joseph, jabbing the barrels into his ribs. “Stand still!” they shouted at Stephen.
They wrestled Joseph into the back of their wagon and held him there. “Gentlemen,” Joseph said, “I wish to obtain a writ of habeas corpus.” The writ would allow a local judge to rule on whether Joseph’s arrest was legal.
“Damn you!” they said, once again striking him in the ribs with their pistols. “You shan’t have one!”
Stephen sprang at the wagon and seized the horses by their bits as Emma rushed into the house and grabbed Joseph’s coat and hat. At that instant, Joseph saw a man passing by the house. “These men are kidnapping me!” he cried out. When the man kept walking, Joseph turned to Stephen and told him to get help.
“Go!” he shouted.9
Joseph’s captors were law enforcement officers from Illinois and Missouri. That afternoon they locked him in a nearby tavern and refused to let him see a lawyer. Acting quickly, Stephen reported Joseph’s mistreatment to local authorities, who soon had the officers arrested for kidnapping and abuse. Stephen then helped to secure a writ of habeas corpus from a nearby court official. The writ required Joseph to attend a hearing sixty miles away.
When they found out the judge was not in town, Joseph, his captors, and his captors’ captors set out to find another court that could sort out the legal mess.10
In Nauvoo, Wilson Law and Hyrum learned of Joseph’s capture and enlisted more than a hundred men to rescue him. They sent some men up the river on a steamer while they ordered others to ride on horseback in every direction and search for the prophet.
When his first two rescuers came into sight, Joseph was relieved. “I am not going to Missouri this time,” he told his captors. “These are my boys.” Soon the two rescuers became twenty—and then more. They turned the party toward Nauvoo, where they believed the municipal court could rule on the legality of the warrant.11
By midday the prophet approached the city, flanked by a few lawmen and his rescuers on horseback. Emma, who had already returned to Nauvoo with the children, rode out with Hyrum to meet Joseph as the Nauvoo Brass Band played patriotic songs and people fired guns and cannons in celebration. A parade of carriages soon joined them, drawn by horses decorated with prairie flowers.
Crowds lined both sides of the street to cheer the prophet’s safe return as the procession passed in front of them, winding its way slowly to Joseph’s home. When it arrived, Lucy Smith embraced her son, and his children rushed out of the house to see him.
“Pa,” said seven-year-old Frederick, “the Missourians won’t take you again, will they?”
“I am out of the hands of the Missourians again, thank God,” Joseph said, climbing atop a fence to address the hundreds of Saints who had gathered around him. “I thank you all for your kindness and love to me,” he cried. “I bless you all in the name of Jesus Christ.”12
As expected, the Nauvoo court declared Joseph’s arrest illegal. Outraged, the two arresting officers demanded that the governor challenge the ruling. But Governor Ford refused to interfere with the court’s decision, angering the Saints’ critics across the state. They began to fear that Joseph would once again escape prosecution.13
Meanwhile, hundreds of Saints continued to gather to Nauvoo and its neighboring stakes. In the eastern state of Connecticut, a young woman named Jane Manning boarded a canal boat with her mother, several siblings, and other members of her branch to begin their journey to Nauvoo. Leading them was Charles Wandell, a missionary who served as their branch president.
Unlike the other members of their branch, all of whom were white, Jane and her family were free black Saints. Jane had been born and raised in Connecticut and had worked most of her life for a wealthy white couple. She had joined a Christian church, but she quickly grew dissatisfied with it.
When she learned that a Latter-day Saint elder was preaching in the area, she decided she wanted to hear him. Her pastor told her not to attend the sermon, but Jane went anyway and was convinced that she had found the true gospel. The largest branch in the area was only a few miles away, and she was baptized and confirmed the following Sunday.14
Jane had been an eager new convert. Three weeks after her baptism, the gift of tongues had come upon her while she prayed. Now, a year later, she and her family were gathering to Zion.15
On the canal, Jane and her family traveled without incident across New York. From there they expected to travel with their branch south through Ohio and on to Illinois, but canal officials refused to let the Mannings continue on their journey until they paid their travel fare.
Jane was confused. She thought her family would not have to pay until they reached Ohio. Why did they have to pay now? None of the white members of her branch were required to pay their fares in advance.
The Mannings counted their money, but they did not yet have enough to pay for the journey. They turned to Elder Wandell for assistance, but he refused to help them.
As the boat pulled away and disappeared from sight, Jane and her family had almost no money and more than eight hundred miles between them and Nauvoo. With nothing but her feet to carry her west, Jane resolved to lead the small company to Zion.16
On the morning of July 12, William Clayton was in Joseph’s office when the prophet and Hyrum entered. “If you will write the revelation,” Hyrum told Joseph, “I will take and read it to Emma, and I believe I can convince her of its truth, and you will hereafter have peace.”
“You do not know Emma as well as I do,” Joseph said. That spring and summer, he had been sealed to additional women, including a few whom Emma had personally selected.17 Yet helping Joseph choose wives had not made obeying the principle easy for Emma.
“The doctrine is so plain,” Hyrum said. “I can convince any reasonable man or woman of its truth, purity, and heavenly origin.”
“We will see,” Joseph said. He asked William to take out paper and write as he spoke the word of the Lord.18
Much of the revelation was already known to Joseph. It described the new and everlasting covenant of eternal marriage, along with associated blessings and promises. It also revealed the terms governing plural marriage, which Joseph had learned while translating the Bible in 1831. The remainder of the revelation was new counsel for him and Emma, addressing their questions and current struggles with plural marriage.
The Lord revealed that for a marriage to continue beyond the grave, the man and woman must marry by priesthood authority, have their covenant sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise, and remain faithful to their covenant. Those who met these conditions would inherit glorious blessings of exaltation.19
“Then shall they be gods, because they have no end,” the Lord declared. “Then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them.”20
The Lord went on to speak about plural marriage and His covenant to bless Abraham with an innumerable posterity for his faithfulness.21 From the beginning, the Lord had ordained marriage between one man and one woman to fulfill His plan. Sometimes, however, the Lord authorized plural marriage as a way to raise up children in righteous families and bring about their exaltation.22
Although the revelation was directed to the Saints, it ended with counsel for Emma about Joseph’s plural wives. “Let mine handmaid, Emma Smith, receive all those that have been given unto my servant Joseph,” the Lord instructed. He commanded her to forgive Joseph, stay with him, and keep her covenants, promising to bless and multiply her and give her reason to rejoice if she did. He also warned her of the dire consequences that befell those who broke their covenants and disobeyed the law of the Lord.23
When Joseph finished dictating the revelation, William had filled ten pages. He put down the pen and read the revelation back to Joseph. The prophet said it was correct, and Hyrum took it to Emma.24
Hyrum returned to Joseph’s office later that day and told his brother that he had never been talked to more severely in his life. When he read the revelation to Emma, she had become angry and rejected it.
“I told you you did not know Emma as well as I did,” Joseph said quietly. He folded the revelation and put it in his pocket.25
The next day, Joseph and Emma spent hours in heart-wrenching discussion. Sometime before noon, Joseph called William Clayton into the room to help mediate between them. Both Joseph and Emma seemed caught in an impossible dilemma. Each loved and cared deeply for the other and wanted to honor the eternal covenant they had made. But their struggle to keep the Lord’s commandment was splitting them apart.26
Emma seemed especially worried about the future. What if Joseph’s enemies found out about plural marriage? Would he go to prison again? Would he be killed? She and the children depended on Joseph for support, but the family’s finances were entwined with the church’s. How would they get by if something happened to him?
Joseph and Emma wept as they spoke, but by the end of the day they had worked through their problems. To provide Emma additional financial security, Joseph deeded some property to her and their children.27 And after that fall, he entered into no more plural marriages.28
At the end of August 1843, the Smiths moved into a two-story home near the river. Called the Nauvoo Mansion, the new home was large enough to accommodate their four children, Joseph’s aging mother, and the people who worked for and boarded with them. Joseph planned to use much of the house as a hotel.29
Several weeks later, as summer turned to autumn in Nauvoo, Jane Manning and her family arrived at Joseph and Emma’s door looking for the prophet and a place to stay. “Come in!” Emma told the weary group. Joseph showed them where they could sleep that night and found chairs for everyone.
“You have been the head of this little band, haven’t you?” Joseph said to Jane. “I would like you to relate your experience in your travels.”
Jane told Joseph and Emma about their long journey from New York. “We walked until our shoes were worn out and our feet became sore and cracked open and bled,” she said. “We asked God the Eternal Father to heal our feet, and our prayers were answered and our feet were healed.”
They had slept beneath the stars or in barns near the road. Along the way, some men had threatened to throw them in jail because they did not have “free papers,” or documents proving that they were not runaway slaves.30 At another time, they had to cross a deep stream without a bridge. They endured dark nights and frosty mornings and helped others when they could. Not far from Nauvoo, they had blessed a sick child, and the child was healed by their faith.
“We went on our way,” Jane said of their journey, “rejoicing, singing hymns, and thanking God for His infinite goodness and mercy to us.”
“God bless you,” Joseph said. “You are among friends now.”
The Mannings stayed in the Smith home for a week. During that time, Jane searched for a trunk she had shipped to Nauvoo, but as far as she could tell it had been lost or stolen along the way. Her family members, meanwhile, found places to work and live and soon moved out.
One morning, Joseph noticed that Jane was crying and asked her why. “The folks have all gone and got themselves homes,” she said, “and I have got none.”
“You have a home right here if you want it,” Joseph assured her. He took Jane to see Emma and explained the situation. “She has no home,” he said. “Haven’t you a home for her?”
“Yes, if she wants one,” Emma said.
Jane quickly became a part of the busy household, and the other family members and boarders welcomed her. Her trunk never turned up, but Joseph and Emma soon provided her with new clothes from the store.31
That fall, as her family settled into their new house, Emma became increasingly troubled over plural marriage.32 In His revelation to her thirteen years earlier, the Lord had promised to crown her with righteousness if she honored her covenants and kept the commandments continually. “Except thou do this,” He had said, “where I am you cannot come.”33
Emma wanted to keep the covenants she had made with Joseph and the Lord. But plural marriage often seemed too much to bear. Although she had allowed some of Joseph’s plural wives into her household, she resented their presence and sometimes made life unpleasant for them.34
Eventually, Emma demanded that Emily and Eliza Partridge leave the house for good. With Joseph at her side, Emma called the sisters into her room and told them that they had to end their relationships with him at once.35
Feeling cast off, Emily left the room, angry at Emma and Joseph. “When the Lord commands,” she told herself, “His word is not to be trifled with.” She intended to do as Emma wished, but she refused to break her marriage covenant.
Joseph followed the sisters out of the room and found Emily downstairs. “How do you feel, Emily?” he asked.
“I expect I feel as anybody would under the circumstances,” she said, glancing at Joseph. He looked like he was ready to sink into the earth, and Emily felt sorry for him. She wanted to say something more, but he left the room before she could speak.36
Decades later, when Emily was an old woman, she reflected on these painful days. By then, she better understood Emma’s complicated feelings about plural marriage and the pain it caused her.37
“I know it was hard for Emma, and any woman, to enter plural marriage in those days,” she wrote, “and I do not know as anybody would have done any better than Emma did under the circumstances.”38
“God must be the judge,” she concluded, “not I.”39