Emma - Victim or Co-Conspirator?

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Not Buying It
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Emma - Victim or Co-Conspirator?

Post by Not Buying It » Mon Aug 19, 2019 5:27 am

There’s an interesting thread on Emma Smith over on Reddit (https://www.reddit.com/r/exmormon/comme ... e_bad_ass/), and it is making me re-think my feelings about Emma Smith. I had always concurred with William Law, “Emma was a full accomplice of Joseph’s crimes. She was a large, coarse woman, as deep a woman as there was, always full of schemes and smooth as oil. They were worthy of each other, she was not a particle better than he." But some of the posters on Reddit pointed out that her family cut her off once she married, Joseph moved her hundreds of miles away from anyone she knew growing up, and threatened her with destruction in D&C 132 if she didn’t submit to his polygamy scheme. Women in the 1800s had limited options, but she had even fewer.

In doing a little research before posting, I came across an led NOM thread from three years ago covering some of the same ground (viewtopic.php?t=535), and Alas made some of the same points then about the precarious position Emma was in as a woman in the 1800s.

And yet - I can’t bring myself to completely exonerate her. She knew Joseph was a fraud, as surely as anyone did. She benefited from that fraud while he was alive, and exploited that fraud when he was dead for the benefit of herself and her children. Was she in a tough spot? You bet. Did she have many options? Nope. But was she a huckster like her first husband? Well, yeah, she was. She knew the score and rather than ever come clean, she perpetuated first her husband’s fraud and then her son’s.

I will give her props though for standing up to Brigham Young. She was about the last person who ever did.

What do the rest of you think?
"The truth is elegantly simple. The lie needs complex apologia. 4 simple words: Joe made it up. It answers everything with the perfect simplicity of Occam's Razor. Every convoluted excuse withers." - Some guy on Reddit called disposazelph

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Re: Emma - Victim or Co-Conspirator?

Post by FiveFingerMnemonic » Mon Aug 19, 2019 9:15 am

This is similar to the question of whether the GA's are in the know or acting on true belief. Victims or conspirators? Lots of speculation. Perhaps Emma believed Joe's hype at least initially and became trapped in the web.

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Re: Emma - Victim or Co-Conspirator?

Post by Palerider » Mon Aug 19, 2019 9:29 am

I've gone on the same rollercoaster regarding Emma.

I want to give her the benefit of the doubt but then I read stuff like her last interview with her son, Joseph lll and I have to say she was more than willing to misrepresent the truth in order to save her son the embarrassment of having a polygamist father and to try to help keep Joseph's record clean enough to keep him attached to the Reorganized church.

Without salvaging Joseph's reputation, the Reorganized church had no reason for existing. To admit he was a polygamist was tantamount to admitting he was a predator of females and as such a complete fraud.

Therefore, she denied Joseph's polygamy knowing full well that he was up to his eyeballs in "The Principle".
"There is but one straight course, and that is to seek truth and pursue it steadily."

"Truth will ultimately prevail where there is pains to bring it to light."

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Re: Emma - Victim or Co-Conspirator?

Post by jfro18 » Mon Aug 19, 2019 9:37 am

So on a top level I'm with Dan Vogel, who kind of cut off John Dehlin's inference of this by saying that we have no evidence to show that she was a conspirator, so there's no reason to go down that path because it opens you up to so much criticism.

That said, I think it's pretty clear that she knew something was wrong, right? She sold the Book of Abraham papyrus after his death... would you sell something so incredible if you believed it was an ancient scripture? No chance in hell.

I don't know what to make of it -- she had to know things were not right, but she also probably loved him. And where was she going to go? It was just the worst possible situation imaginable for her with young kids and a husband who was out sexing up the neighborhood under the claim it was God's work flowing through him.

It's just such a mess and one that never seems to go anywhere. I need to check out the reddit thread - it's an interesting topic for sure.

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Re: Emma - Victim or Co-Conspirator?

Post by græy » Mon Aug 19, 2019 11:01 am

I'm about 70% of the way through Mormon Enigma. It has been... revealing. Emma had a horrible life, and had to feel betrayed by almost everyone in her life at some point. It started going south the moment she eloped with JS and wound up living with the in-laws in a one (or maybe it was two?) room cabin. From that point on she really never had anything more than glimpses of peace or stability.

She had to see through the veil at multiple points throughout her life. But the illusion was also keeping her surviving children with food, shelter. Exposing JS meant exposing all of them to serious repercussions.
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Re: Emma - Victim or Co-Conspirator?

Post by Rob4Hope » Mon Aug 19, 2019 11:53 am

I read Rough Stone Rolling and found it heart-breaking that Emma patroled around everywhere to keep track of her husband. Every time she didn't he was off with a new woman.

When I read it, the word CODEPENDENT came blasting through. Emma was, at least IMHO, co-dependent with her husband. From that unhealthy place, she tried to salvage his reputation and the church, let alone her children.

I lean toward her being a victim, but in a most unfortunate way. I think she was broken long before she ever got to Kirtland, let alone after. She believed in marriage and in spite of that, she tried. But that doesn't justify her lies where she denied polygamy happening.

Did she sink into depression and denial so far that she lost touch with reality? That is the only way I can attribute her lies to anything other than wilful deceipt.

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Re: Emma - Victim or Co-Conspirator?

Post by wtfluff » Mon Aug 19, 2019 12:08 pm

Emma is one piece of the puzzle that I think about doing more research on every once in a while, but haven't yet done so, and I honestly hope I don't.

But... With what I've come to know about polygamy from the portion of In Sacred Loneliness I got through, and from the Year of Polygamy Podcast, I don't see how any woman would truly be a co-conspirator in Joseph's "exploits" and truly "benefit" from it in any way.

Did she lie through her teeth to survive? I wouldn't doubt that one bit. Lying is completely "baked in" to the LD$-Inc. system. The current leadership continue to lie through their teeth constantly to perpetuate the corporation.
Faith does not give you the answers, it just stops you asking the questions. -Frater Ravus

Keep the company of those who seek the truth - run from those who have found it -Václav Havel

Brilliant.

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Re: Emma - Victim or Co-Conspirator?

Post by Hagoth » Mon Aug 19, 2019 3:08 pm

I suspect that if Joseph and Emma showed up as speakers in your Sacrament Meeting tjey would be very disappointing in just about every aspect, compared to the propogqndized versions of them that have been communicated to the membership.
“The easy confidence with which I know another man's religion is folly teaches me to suspect that my own is also.” -Mark Twain

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Re: Emma - Victim or Co-Conspirator?

Post by alas » Mon Aug 19, 2019 5:49 pm

I think she was more victim than conspirator. Unlike many who discredit her because she lied about polygamy. I excuse Emma for “lying” about polygamy because if polygamy was never of God, then Joseph didn’t practice polygamy because he just committed adultery. If you look at how he practiced polygamy, it was not really polygamy because he never acted married to any of the women he had affairs with. Because he kept his relationships secret, they were really affairs, not marriages. He didn’t obey the rules stated in D & C because he didn’t have Emma’s permission. He himself stated that marriages had to be done in public, then he had secret ceremonies. If one of his affairs got the woman or girl pregnant, he would not have been recognized as the father because people didn’t know it was a marriage, and recognition of the father is the whole purpose of marriage.

So, from Emma’s view point, it was not polygamy, but adultery. She didn’t lie, she stated the facts as she saw them, not as Brigham saw them or we have been trained to see them.

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Re: Emma - Victim or Co-Conspirator?

Post by Not Buying It » Tue Aug 20, 2019 6:13 am

alas wrote:
Mon Aug 19, 2019 5:49 pm
I think she was more victim than conspirator. Unlike many who discredit her because she lied about polygamy. I excuse Emma for “lying” about polygamy because if polygamy was never of God, then Joseph didn’t practice polygamy because he just committed adultery. If you look at how he practiced polygamy, it was not really polygamy because he never acted married to any of the women he had affairs with. Because he kept his relationships secret, they were really affairs, not marriages. He didn’t obey the rules stated in D & C because he didn’t have Emma’s permission. He himself stated that marriages had to be done in public, then he had secret ceremonies. If one of his affairs got the woman or girl pregnant, he would not have been recognized as the father because people didn’t know it was a marriage, and recognition of the father is the whole purpose of marriage.

So, from Emma’s view point, it was not polygamy, but adultery. She didn’t lie, she stated the facts as she saw them, not as Brigham saw them or we have been trained to see them.
You have some good points, Joseph never really practiced polygamy because he was never married to the other women in any meaningful sense of the term. And yet, I can’t bring myself to fully see Emma as a victim. I don’t want to downplay her precarious position in life - just being a woman in those days was precarious enough - yet she was heavily involved with not just one, but two sham bogus churches. I suppose it is possible she still always believed in her husband’s prophetic mission (I’ve known people who were just that gullible), but based on what I know of Emma, I find it highly unlikely. And William Law’s assessment of her carries weight with me, he was close friends with both Joseph and Emma, and he thought she was just as bad as he was, “always full of schemes and smooth as oil”.

After all, think about how different things might have been if after Joseph’s death she had come clean - she’d seen enough over the years to know what a con man he was, if she had published an expose things might have been very different for the Church. Sure, Brigham would have disputed and dismissed anything she said, and might even have went his buddy Porter Rockwell to visit her, but how powerful it would have been to have an account of all of Joseph’s shenanigans from his wife who witnessed them.

Instead, she perpetuated his scam and sought to use it to bring her children to power in another break off church. Instead of helping to expose Joseph for the sham con man he was, she capitalized on it.
"The truth is elegantly simple. The lie needs complex apologia. 4 simple words: Joe made it up. It answers everything with the perfect simplicity of Occam's Razor. Every convoluted excuse withers." - Some guy on Reddit called disposazelph

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Re: Emma - Victim or Co-Conspirator?

Post by alas » Tue Aug 20, 2019 8:48 am

Not Buying It wrote:
Tue Aug 20, 2019 6:13 am
alas wrote:
Mon Aug 19, 2019 5:49 pm
I think she was more victim than conspirator. Unlike many who discredit her because she lied about polygamy. I excuse Emma for “lying” about polygamy because if polygamy was never of God, then Joseph didn’t practice polygamy because he just committed adultery. If you look at how he practiced polygamy, it was not really polygamy because he never acted married to any of the women he had affairs with. Because he kept his relationships secret, they were really affairs, not marriages. He didn’t obey the rules stated in D & C because he didn’t have Emma’s permission. He himself stated that marriages had to be done in public, then he had secret ceremonies. If one of his affairs got the woman or girl pregnant, he would not have been recognized as the father because people didn’t know it was a marriage, and recognition of the father is the whole purpose of marriage.

So, from Emma’s view point, it was not polygamy, but adultery. She didn’t lie, she stated the facts as she saw them, not as Brigham saw them or we have been trained to see them.
You have some good points, Joseph never really practiced polygamy because he was never married to the other women in any meaningful sense of the term. And yet, I can’t bring myself to fully see Emma as a victim. I don’t want to downplay her precarious position in life - just being a woman in those days was precarious enough - yet she was heavily involved with not just one, but two sham bogus churches. I suppose it is possible she still always believed in her husband’s prophetic mission (I’ve known people who were just that gullible), but based on what I know of Emma, I find it highly unlikely. And William Law’s assessment of her carries weight with me, he was close friends with both Joseph and Emma, and he thought she was just as bad as he was, “always full of schemes and smooth as oil”.

After all, think about how different things might have been if after Joseph’s death she had come clean - she’d seen enough over the years to know what a con man he was, if she had published an expose things might have been very different for the Church. Sure, Brigham would have disputed and dismissed anything she said, and might even have went his buddy Porter Rockwell to visit her, but how powerful it would have been to have an account of all of Joseph’s shenanigans from his wife who witnessed them.

Instead, she perpetuated his scam and sought to use it to bring her children to power in another break off church. Instead of helping to expose Joseph for the sham con man he was, she capitalized on it.
I understand and agree with your statements. How could she still believe he was really a prophet?!?! There are some signs that she really believed his crap, but sometimes I wonder how she could have been so stupid and gullible as to continue to believe his crap after she saw what he was using his position for. So, I can see this point of view.

But then let’s look at William Law. He hated polygamy and he saw that it meant that Joseph was not a prophet. He felt profoundly betrayed. And angry! He knew Emma hated polygamy as much as he did. But she did not stand up to Joseph and publicly condemn him as “not a prophet”. So, no matter Emma’s reasons, he felt betrayed by her too. So, of course he felt she was just as bad as Joseph. William looked to her to publicly say that Joseph was a fallen prophet or just a con man. Because just like we look at it and say “how could she still believe he was a prophet after 33 counts of adultery,” he expected her to turn on her husband and she didn’t. So, he hated her, whether she really believed Joseph was a prophet or just felt helpless to stand up to him.

So, I take William Law’s condemnation of Emma as proof that he felt betrayed because she didn’t condemn Joseph as a fraud, but not as proof that Emma knew he was.

I am still undecided as to whether Emma was just blinded by her situation and did not dare see the truth, or whether she knew that joseph’s Prophet status was worth money and used it for gain. Emotionally abused women are often very blind to the truth.

So, I am in the middle and could argue both ways. But lean towards she was more victim than co conspirator. Some of her behavior fits more victim than crook.

But some of the arguments against Emma are bogus and motivated by the same feelings of betrayal that I think William was guilty of. She SHOULD have seen through Joseph’s lies and told the world he was a fraud. But what if she honestly did not see through Joseph’s lies?

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Re: Emma - Victim or Co-Conspirator?

Post by Corsair » Tue Aug 20, 2019 8:56 am

It's really suspicious because the institutional LDS church has this love-hate relationship with Emma. She just drops out of the picture after Joseph's death. Her children and her second marriage are never mentioned despite her obvious position as the first President of the Relief Society. "Mormon Enigma" should have been a faith promoting book, and was certainly written by faithful LDS women. But the facts speak for themselves while also hinting at much more problematic issues.

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Re: Emma - Victim or Co-Conspirator?

Post by Yobispo » Wed Aug 21, 2019 8:56 am

She reminds me a little of the wife in a new True Crime podcast called The Clearing. The husband had been murdering people and abusing his family his whole life. When he and his wife were old and worn down he was finally caught. In the show, they talk about how she was saying to herself that she had to get out but didn't know how. She had to be 65+ by then, worn down from life.
Obvious time period differences aside, many women are trapped in circumstances they can't see a way out of. Emma was one of his first BoM scribes, so she knew. She knew about the women, and had it rubbed in her face many times, including in holy writ. I say she was a co-conspirator, but if I were the judge I'd let her off the hook because she was also very trapped. Both things are true, which sounds a lot more like real life than a simple black and white scenario.

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Re: Emma - Victim or Co-Conspirator?

Post by Not Buying It » Wed Aug 21, 2019 10:03 am

Many of you make a lot of good points about Emma as a victim, I think there are some good arguments to be made to that effect. Alas has a good point about why William Law felt the way he did about Emma. And Yobispo makes a good point, it's a false dichotomy to make it sound either/or anyway.

Sure wish she would have written an expose though. Even if she had waited until he was dead and then disavowed him, it could have had a real impact.
"The truth is elegantly simple. The lie needs complex apologia. 4 simple words: Joe made it up. It answers everything with the perfect simplicity of Occam's Razor. Every convoluted excuse withers." - Some guy on Reddit called disposazelph

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Re: Emma - Victim or Co-Conspirator?

Post by Journey » Wed Aug 21, 2019 2:46 pm

Isn't it all just different shade of gray?

Sometimes in these situations I am reminded of what human beings do to their thinking in order to survive or to protect themselves or their families, especially children, including the Stockholm syndrome or the notorious kapos of the WWII camps.
Not Buying It wrote:
Wed Aug 21, 2019 10:03 am
Many of you make a lot of good points about Emma as a victim, I think there are some good arguments to be made to that effect. Alas has a good point about why William Law felt the way he did about Emma. And Yobispo makes a good point, it's a false dichotomy to make it sound either/or anyway.

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Re: Emma - Victim or Co-Conspirator?

Post by Gatorbait » Fri Aug 23, 2019 2:33 pm

Pretty hard to make a judgement based on dozens of stories about Joseph's flings with girls, single and married women and a few grandma types thrown in for a smoke screen or the like.

If Joseph Smith had affairs- and you can call them whatever you'd like- it is hard for me to imagine that Emma did not know about them. Nauvoo was a pretty small town and Emma was the Relief Society Pres. Someone is going to blab. Someone would crack. No way they are going to just zippitty-doo-daw along and act like things are copacetic with him out and about threatening angels with flaming swords unless your daughter goes to bed with me and the like. She knew. She had to know.

Yet, maybe Emma was so sick of talking about polygamy, affairs, adultery and the like that she just stopped trying to fake it and just denied it. Who knows?

One thing I do feel strongly about is this- Emma went through a lot of grief. She lost babies- some in infancy and some a bit older- but that would be rough. Those of you who have gone through that understand. Tough sledding to the nth degree. Can't imagine how rough she had it. So, even though I don't like hearing about Emma much, because I think there is so much conjecture that it's difficult to get the truth, I do give her some slack. She got a crook deal in the end because Brigham Young villianized her. I'm not sure why, but he did a good job of it, and she never really recovered until her generation was dead and buried- if then.
"You're not supposed to be blind with patriotism that you can't face reality. Wrong is wrong, no matter who does it or who says it" Malcolm X

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Re: Emma - Victim or Co-Conspirator?

Post by Palerider » Fri Aug 23, 2019 7:25 pm

Gatorbait wrote:
Fri Aug 23, 2019 2:33 pm
She got a crook deal in the end because Brigham Young villianized her. I'm not sure why, but he did a good job of it, and she never really recovered until her generation was dead and buried- if then.
Pretty sure there are at least two maybe three main reasons Emma got a raw deal from Brigham.

1. She refused to support him as he took over church leadership. What better sign that he was the new chosen leader than to have the support of the widow of Joseph?
Not having it pulled members away from him that he needed.

2. One reason she refused was because she new he was a polygamist and that as the new "king" he would want to take her as a plural wife as he did numerous other previous wives of Joseph. She wasn't having any part of that.

3. When Joseph died, Brigham practically raided his office and many of his personal belongings and effects, claiming them for the church. He shut Emma out of that process and she either had to secret out what she could get or settle for what Brigham left her. Yes....she hated Brigham with a passion and he made her pay for it by ruining her reputation.
"There is but one straight course, and that is to seek truth and pursue it steadily."

"Truth will ultimately prevail where there is pains to bring it to light."

George Washington

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