Virtually all of books and pamphlets printed by non-Mormons in the 1800s reflected the idea that Joseph Smith recruited the practice of plural marriage because he wanted to expand his sexual license. In their descriptions of the Prophet, they consistently portray him as a womanizer. Clergy and anti-Mormons wrote numerous reports during that time period with that singular message.
The earliest charges of licentiousness against Joseph Smith came from a few dissenters from the Church who asserted he was guilty of an impressive list of debaucheries. For example, John C. Bennett claimed his account was “faithful and unexaggerated” and alleged that Joseph Smith and the Latter-day Saints were guilty of “debauchery, lasciviousness, bestiality… fornication, adultery, rape [and] incest” and provided affidavits from other individuals purporting to support some of his charges. Excommunicated Nauvooan Oliver Olney criticized saying: “Hundreds are convinced of the fact that fornication and adultery [are] common in the Nauvoo… Many at this time are suffering under the stigma of being seduced.” William Law claimed that “whordoms and all manner of abominations [were] practiced under the cloak of religion” in Nauvoo. Joseph H. Jackson wrote: “Joe Smith boasted to me that he… from the commencement of his career had seduced 400 women… From my knowledge of the spiritual wife system I should think that the number of secret women in Nauvoo cannot be much less than six hundred.” These sensational accounts provided no documentation, but were accepted by many readers.
These four authors, especially John C. Bennett, have been quoted over and over in subsequent books dealing with Mormonism. They are still quoted today as being authoritative sources of information regarding Joseph Smith’s polygamy by authors who are less concerned about reliability issues. Danel Bachman observed:
The earliest writings on the subject [of Mormon polygamy] were exposés. These were characterized by vindictive, hypercritical, and moralistic judgments of the Mormons and their beliefs. Offended sensibilities burst forth in righteous indignation at the Mormon affront to American morals and the underpinnings of society. Critics felt that Americans should be warned of the dangers inherent in this cancer upon the body politic through ‘true’ accounts of the corruption and licentiousness of Joseph Smith’s followers… Occasionally such works were published by disaffected or expelled Mormons. At best, these materials distorted the facts, and, at worst, they completely departed from the truth.
Later authors echoed the earlier womanizer views of Joseph Smith. In 1852, non-Mormon John W. Gunnison wrote of how shortly before his death, the Prophet was “denounced… for licentiousness, drunkenness, and tyranny. Women impeached him of attempted seduction.” Two years later Benjamin G. Ferris shared his impression:
The most fruitful element of internal commotion… was the introduction of polygamy as one of the numerous privileges of the Saints. This extraordinary addition to the curious collection of Mormon doctrines and practices grew legitimately out of the character of Joseph himself, which was a combination of cunning and sensuality.
It [polygamy] grew out of the polluted mind of the prophet, who established it as an institution of the Church to legalize his own licentiousness, and the effect has been to diffuse the poison from a portion through nearly the whole mass.
Former Illinois State governor, Thomas Ford, provided a more intellectual view in his 1854, A History of Illinois: “It was also believed that [Joseph Smith] had announced a revelation from heaven sanctioning polygamy, by a kind of spiritual wife system whereby a man was allowed one wife in pursuance of the laws of the country and an indefinite number of others to be enjoyed in some mystical and spiritual mode; and that he himself and many of his followers had practiced upon the precepts of this revelation by seducing a large number of women.”
In his 1862 historical narrative, The City of the Saints, Sir Richard Burton penned.: “There is a prevailing idea, especially in England, and even the educated are laboring under it, that the Mormon are communists or socialist… that wives are in public, and that a woman can have as many husbands as the husband can have wives – in fact, to speak colloquially, that they ‘all pig together.’” Five years afterwards, Pomeroy Tucker asserted: “Joe Smith” [had] “forty wives all told. His children could not be enumerated with any degree of accuracy.”
Similarly critic John Hanson Beadle wrote in 1870: “It is a notorious fact, that almost from the first, the Prophet had used his powers of fascination to triumph over the virtue of his female devotees, and had anticipated polygamy in accordance with revelation, by unauthorized promiscuous intercourse. His intrigues with various women had involved the rising sect in constant trouble at Kirtland and in Missouri.” “[Polygamy] seems to have been merely the Mormon version of modern ‘free-loveism.” A decade later he added: “It is clearly proved that unlawful sexual relations were maintained by the Prophet from the very start. Unless all the women who left the Church in those early days have testified to a lie, he claimed sexual freedom for himself as long ago as 1834.”
In the 1870s, Reverend T. De Witt Talmage denounced Mormonism as “an organized filth built on polygamy.” In her 1876 book, LDS excommunicant Ann Eliza Webb Young claimed: “After Joseph’s declaration annulling all gentile marriages, the greatest promiscuity was practiced, and, indeed, all sense of morality seemed to have been lost by a portion at least of the church. Shocking as all this may appear, women that were sealed to Joseph at that time are more highly respected than any others.”
In 1882, Jennie Anderson Froiseth penned: “Those who have studied closely the early history of Mormonism declare that polygamy was latent in it from its very conception, and that the practice and the revelation were no mere accidents or after thoughts on the part of the natural-born libertine who propagated them… Joseph Smith, while in Nauvoo had entered into criminal relations with a number of his female disciples, and the scandal became so notorious as to threaten his influence and compromise him as a leader and teacher of religion, when he pretended to have had a revelation from Heaven commanding the Saints to adopt what is termed, ‘The order of celestial or plural wives.’”
Four year afterwards, in 1886, Wilhelm Ritter von Wymetal, writing under the pen name Wilhelm Wyl, wrote a mean-spirited and poorly documented exposé entitled: Mormon Portraits, or the Truth About Mormon Leaders From 1830 to 1886 that states:
It is now a well established historical fact that the origin of Mormon polygamy, or ‘celestial marriage,’ was nothing but the unbounded and ungoverned passion of the prophet for the other sex.
That was [Joseph Smith’s] motto as to all manner of enjoyment – money, power, women – where is the rest of it?
There were in Nauvoo… a young merchant and his wife whom he dearly loved. She bore to him several children, but became fascinated with Joe and with his claims to ‘exalt’ any woman who would yield to his wishes and become his ‘wife.’ The husband was sent on a mission, and during his absence Joseph ‘gathered’ the wife to his embraces, and she was ‘sealed’ one of his harem.
Joseph finally demanded the wives of all the twelve apostles that were at home then in Nauvoo. And why not? Were the ‘apostles’ not his slaves, his property, including all they had?
In a small house in Nauvoo, consisting only of two rooms, dwelt two men and their wives. Each man and wife occupied one room. These couples having got some inkling of the new order of things, came to the conclusion that they might as well live up to their privileges. They accordingly exchanged partners, and lived in this condition for several weeks, when former relations were resumed.
Wyl also asserted that “there is abundant testimony that [the ‘exchange of wives’] was practiced there [in Nauvoo] frequently.”
In his 1914 expose entitled, The True Origin of Mormon Polygamy, Charles A. Shook, asserted:
[Joseph Smith] was the author and originator of that polygamic system which has been one of the foulest blots upon our national escutcheon… The evidence all unite in proving that the foul doctrine of Mormon polygamy was conceived in the lustful brain of Joseph Smith… It can no longer be successfully maintained that Mormon polygamy was an after-thought, first conceived of and practiced at Nauvoo, for the facts that have leaked out all tend to show that it was one of the first principles of the Mormon faith that entered into Smith's mind…. That Smith had in mind the introduction of polygamy into the church, when he was pretending to translate the Book of Mormon, is proved by the qualifying clause of the passage prohibitive of polygamy in that book, "For if I will, saith the Lord of hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise they shall hearken unto these things." This qualifying clause was, without doubt, intended to be a suggestion to the believers in the Book of Mormon that God might, at some future time, command his people to practice plural wifery… There was a generally prevailing opinion, even before the year 1840, that the Mormons were guilty of practicing polygamy or licentiousness.
This smattering of excerpts illustrates the types of claims made against Joseph Smith after his death. Accusations such as these can be multiplied into the hundreds or thousands.
Replying to public criticisms regarding polygamy, Mormon Church leaders sometimes sought to discredit the authors. However, fewer than two dozen "defenses" were published by Church leaders during the entire nineteenth century. During this same period, participants in Nauvoo polygamy, individuals who heard Joseph Smith personally teach the subject, would sometimes pen recollections, but these remained unpublished.
The discrepancy between unpublished views of participants and published views of antagonists created challenges for readers throughout the 1800s. Inquirers seeking to accurately understand the LDS practice of polygamy were confronted with aggressive allegations from printed anti-Mormon sources that Joseph Smith was a womanizer. However, the view held by thousands of Latter-day Saint polygamists, that Joseph Smith was a prophet-restorer, was largely unknown and unavailable.
Researchers writing about Joseph Smith’s polygamy today must resist the temptation to preferentially cite published documents because of the comparative ease and accessibility. The message of the published and unpublished caches of documents is generally very different. Writers, who rely on printed publications to the exclusion unpublished documents, will undoubtedly struggle to maintain balance and a tone of objectivity, if that is their intention.
Naturalists will find the nineteenth-century published versions of Joseph Smith's polygamy to directly corrolate with their preexisting biases. The unpublished views and experiences of Nauvoo polygamists will invariably collide with the naturalistic interpretation.
Non-LDS historian Jan Shipps observed:
The LDS Church has always represented the ‘new and everlasting covenant of marriage’ as a divinely revealed principle whose practice the Latter-day Saints espoused for religious reasons. For many years, however, the religious dimensions of plurality were practically ignored in scholarly studies of Mormonism. Employing naturalistic explanation instead, scholars either described polygamy as an extension of the physical desires of Mormon leaders, most especially Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, or they pictured plural marriage as a pragmatic solution to problems that a supposed surplus of female converts posed to the LDS community.
The most influential and widely distributed interpretation of Joseph Smith’s involvement with plural marriage was written by Fawn Brodie in her 1945 biography No Man Knows My History. She asserted that Joseph was a hypocrite capable of producing “profound theological arguments,” but not following the moral principles they contained: “The facility with which profound theological arguments were handled is evidence of the unusual plasticity of Joseph’s mind. But this facility was entirely verbal. The essence of the great spiritual and moral truths with which he dealt to agilely did not penetrate into his consciousness.”
Evaluating the Prophet’s plural marriages, Brodie posited: “If in 1835, after eight years of marriage to a woman somewhat his senior, Joseph began to yearn for variety and adventure, he must soon have realized that for a prophet it is easier to change marriage laws than to contravene them. Since the wrong was but a wrong in the world, and the world lay in his hand, he might easily make it right.” She also adds: “Joseph was not given to self-searching or he might have been troubled by the intensity of his preoccupation with the nature of adultery.”
Brodie’s naturalisitic approach is not without its critics. Her biographer, Newell Bringhurst wrote: “She speculated on Joseph Smith’s motives for entering and endorsing polygamy. She believed that he came to view monogamy as an intolerably circumscribed way of life.” LDS historian Marvin S. Hill wrote: “With regard to plural marriage, where Brodie is so confident that the real Joseph Smith, the pleasure lover and sensualist, shows through, there is no evidence in his writings to suggest that he thought of it in other than religious terms. Had Brodie seen more of what is in the archives she might have hesitated before adopting her thesis of intentional fraud.” Charles L. Cohen, Professor of History and Religious Studies at UW-Madison, and Director of the Lubar Institute for the Study of the Abrahamic Religions, assessed: “Brodie’s insight that Smith’s life must have become sexually stale… rests on inference rather than evidence.”
Another author, Stanley P. Hirshson, seemed to agree with Brodie, writing in 1969 that with respect to “pretty girls”: “Smith worshipped them and considered his hours with them as perhaps the most satisfying of his life.” Similarly, Louis J. Kern wrote: “From 1832 on, Smith was involved in incessant imbroglios growing out of his sexual behavior… The records of the church for the period 1830-40, however, indicate a practice less organized – probably a form of spiritual wifery.” “His [Joseph Smith’s] paranoid tendencies made him unusually susceptible to these opportunities. He found it easy to persuade women that cohabitation with a prophet of God was not a sin; but rather an assurance of divine grace. He found himself able to twist the scriptures so as to justify these irregularities.”
Richard Van Wagoner, author of the popular selling Mormon Polygamy: a History, attributed the development of polygamy as one of “Smith’s Nauvoo doctrinal innovations.” In his 1997 book In Sacred Loneliness, Todd Compton describes Joseph Smith as “charismatic,” with an “enormous psychic presence” who “experimented with plural marriage” as he “developed the principle of sealing ordinances.” Even more recently, Ken Clark, a commentator on Helen Whitney’s 2007 PBS special, The Mormons, remarked: “I came to the conclusion [Joseph Smith’s] sexual desire drove the practice and that he found a way to sanctify it, to make it respectable, and to couch it in scriptural terms with revelations of convenience.”
George D. Smith championed the naturalistic perspective in his 2008 Nauvoo Polygamy: “… but we called it celestial marriage” (Salt Lake City: Signature Books) by portraying Joseph Smith’s plural marriage as a purely secular phenomenon: “Joseph Smith initiated a social system that appealed to deeply held human concerns. People want to be counted among the elite, the initiated few, the chosen of God or, as Joseph promised, to be given the unheard of opportunity to become as gods themselves. Some women yearn to marry powerful men; some men seek the comforts of several women.” George Smith describes plural marriage as “the thinly veiled restoration of an ancient patriarchal order,” a “marital innovation,” and as a “new sexual morality.” Plural unions are referred to as “romantic interests,” “adventuresome marital arrangements,” “communal relationships,” “extracurricular romances,” “theological philanderings,” and simply, “entanglements.” The revelation on eternal marriage (D&C 132) is characterized as either a “message [of] an all powerful being or merely wishful thinking on the part of his earthly servant.” He writes: “It is easy to imagine that most men who entered polygamy did so in a cursory way.”
Without any doubt, hundreds of writers over the past decades have accused Joseph Smith of womanizing behaviors in conjunction with the establishment of plural marriage. The number of allegations, both specific and non-specific is impressive.
What remains to be determined is the validity of the accusations.
 John C. Bennett, The History of the Saints: Or an Exposé of Joe Smith and Mormonism. Boston: Leland & Whiting, 1842, 225, 257.
 Oliver H. Olney, The Absurdities of Mormonism Portrayed: A Brief Sketch, Hancock, Co: Illinois, March 3, 1843, 16.
 The Nauvoo Expositor, Nauvoo, Illinois, n.p., June 7, 1844, 1-4.
 Joseph H. Jackson, A Narrative of the Adventures and Experiences of Joseph H. Jackson in Nauvoo, Exposing the Depths of Mormon Villainy (1844); reprinted for Karl Yost, Morrison, Illinois, 1960, 13, 25.
 Danel Bachman, "A Study of the Mormon Practice of Plural Marriage before the Death of Joseph Smith." M.A. thesis, Purdue University, 1975, 1-2.
 John W. Gunnison, The Mormons, or Latter-Day Saints, in the Valley of the Great Salt Lake. Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo, 1852, 122. See also Lemuel G. Bradeburg comments in a letter to the New York Herald dated Dec. 10, 1851, to President Millard Fillmore. (The Spiritual Wife Doctrine of the Mormons, proved from the report of the judges of the Utah Territory to the President of the United States. Given entire from the New York Herald, of January the 10th, 1852, Cheltenham, England: n.p., 1852, 11-12.)
 Benjamin G. Ferris, Utah and the Mormons, The History, Government, Doctrines, Customs, and Prospects of the Latter-day Saints. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1854, 113.
 Benjamin G. Ferris, Utah and the Mormons, The History, Government, Doctrines, Customs, and Prospects of the Latter-day Saints. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1854, 235.
 Thomas Ford, History of Illinois From Its Commencement as a State in 1818 to 1847, reprint Urbana: University of Illinois Pres, 1995, 229; original Chicago: S. G. Griggs & Co., 1854
 Richard F. Burton, The City of the Saints, and Across the Rocky Mountains to California, 1860. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1862, reprint Niwot, Colorado: University of Colorado, 1990, 426. See also Anonymous, A Plea for Polygamy: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, New York: Panurge Press, 1929, 229.
 Pomeroy Tucker, The Origin, Rise, and Progress of Mormonism. New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1867, 171. Only one child has been identified (Josephine Lyon) with references to possibly one or two more; see volume one chapter ten.
 John Hanson Beadle, Life in Utah: Or, the Mysteries and Crimes of Mormonism. Philadelphia: National Publishing Co., 1870, 339-40.
 John Hanson Beadle, Life in Utah: Or, the Mysteries and Crimes of Mormonism. Philadelphia: National Publishing Co., 1870, 341.
 John Hanson Beadle, Western Wilds, The Men Who Redeem Them, Cincinnati: Jones Brothers, 1881, 540.
 Quoted in Davis Bitton, "Mormon Polygamy: A Review Article." Journal of Mormon History 4 (1977): 101; no reference or date given.
 Ann Eliza Webb Young, Wife Number 19, or, The Story of a Life in Bondage, Being a Complete Exposé of Mormonism, and Revealing Sorrows, Sacrifices and Sufferings of Women in Polygamy. Hartford: Dustin, Gilman, and Co., 1876, 71.
 Jennie Anderson Froiseth, The Women of Mormonism; Or, the Story of Polygamy as told by the Victims Themselves. Detroit, Mich.: C.G.G. Paine, 1882, 33.
 Wyl, W., pseud. [Wilhelm Ritter von Wymetal]. Mormon Portraits, or the Truth About Mormon Leaders From 1830 to 1886. Salt Lake City: Tribune Printing and Publishing Co., 1886, 53.
 Wyl, W., pseud. [Wilhelm Ritter von Wymetal]. Mormon Portraits, or the Truth About Mormon Leaders From 1830 to 1886. Salt Lake City: Tribune Printing and Publishing Co., 1886, 146.
 Wyl, W., pseud. [Wilhelm Ritter von Wymetal]. Mormon Portraits, or the Truth About Mormon Leaders From 1830 to 1886. Salt Lake City: Tribune Printing and Publishing Co., 1886, 69.
 Wyl, W., pseud. [Wilhelm Ritter von Wymetal]. Mormon Portraits, or the Truth About Mormon Leaders From 1830 to 1886. Salt Lake City: Tribune Printing and Publishing Co., 1886, 70.
 Wyl, W., pseud. [Wilhelm Ritter von Wymetal]. Mormon Portraits, or the Truth About Mormon Leaders From 1830 to 1886. Salt Lake City: Tribune Printing and Publishing Co., 1886, 68.
 “The Mormons in Nauvoo: Three Letters from William Law on Mormonism,” The Daily Tribune, Salt Lake City, July 3, 1887.
 Charles A. Shook, The True Origin of Mormon Polygamy, Cincinnati: Standard Publishing, 1914, iv, 14, 39, 40, 45.
 Jan Shipps, "The Principle Revoked: A Closer Look at the Demise of Plural Marriage." Journal of Mormon History 11 (1984): 65-66.
 Fawn M. Brodie, No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith, the Mormon Prophet, 2nd rev. ed. New York, 1971, 70.
 Emma Hale Smith, born July 10, 1804, was almost eighteen months earlier than Joseph Smith (born December 23, 1805).
 Fawn M. Brodie, No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith, the Mormon Prophet, 2nd rev. ed. New York, 1971, 187.
 Fawn M. Brodie, No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith, the Mormon Prophet, 2nd rev. ed. New York, 1971, 297.
 Newell G. Bringhurst, Fawn McKay Brodie: A Biographer’s Life, Norman: U. of Oklahoma, 1999, 88.
 Marvin S. Hill, "Brodie Revisited: A Reappraisal." Dialogue, A Journal of Mormon Thought, 7 (Winter 1972) 4: 76.
 Charles. L. Cohen, “No Man Knows My Psychology: Fawn Brodie, Joseph Smith, and Psychoanalysis,” BYUS, 44 (2005) 1: 67.
 Stanley P. Hirshson, The Lion of the Lord, a Biography of Brigham Young, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1969, 222. Hirshson provides no supportive evidence for his assessment.
 Louis J. Kern, An Ordered Love: The Sex Roles and Sexuality in Victorian Utopias--The Shakers, the Mormons and the Oneida Community. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press, 1981, 140-41.
 Harry M. Beardsley in his 1931 Joseph Smith and His Mormon Empire, New York: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1931, 300.
 Richard S. Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy: A History. 2nd ed., 2nd ed., Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1989, 56.
 Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith. Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1997, 595.
 Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith. Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1997, 228
 Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith. Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1997, 2. Stanley S. Ivins also considered plural marriage an “experiment.” (Stanley S. Ivins, "Notes on Mormon Polygamy." Utah Historical Quarterly 35 (Fall 1976):312. Alma G. Allred in his review of In Sacred Loneliness, critiqued: “Although Compton includes familiar stories that have tended to emphasize the religious aspects of plural marriage, he dilutes this information with personal speculation that constantly questions the propriety of Joseph Smith’s actions and suggests that this doctrine was founded in Joseph Smith’s fertile mind rather than in revelation from God.” (“Variations on a Theme,” http://www.shields-research.org/Reviews/Rvw-Sacred_Loneliness_Allred.htm [accessed March 25, 2007].)
 Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith. Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1997, 10; see also 20, 28, 495.
 Ken Clark, quoted in Helen Whitney, The Mormons, PBS Home Video, 2007
 George D. Smith, Nauvoo Polygamy: “… but we called it celestial marriage”, Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2008, 407.
 George D. Smith, Nauvoo Polygamy: “… but we called it celestial marriage”, Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2008, 212, 280, 359.
 George D. Smith, Nauvoo Polygamy: “… but we called it celestial marriage”, Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2008, 225, 237, 242, 247, 261, and 334.
 George D. Smith, Nauvoo Polygamy: “… but we called it celestial marriage”, Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2008, 214.
 George D. Smith, Nauvoo Polygamy: “… but we called it celestial marriage”, Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2008, 289.