T’is The Season: B. Carmon Hardy Lecture at Benchmark Books

By April 8, 2008

With the recent focus on the Texas polygamy raids, it seems only appropriate to share this lecture by B. Carmon Hardy which he gave at Benchmark Books April 20, 2007 on the occasion of the release of his Doing The Works of Abraham, the latest volume in the Kingdom In The West series. I was in attendance at this lecture. Unfortunately, Hardy lost his voice and was hard to make out at times. Again, thanks to Brent Brizzi for taking the time to provide these notes.

B. Carmon Hardy Lecture at Benchmark Books April 20, 2007

To get the evening started Curt started out by saying that yesterday Carmon’s voice had sounded Ok, but that he was coming down with a cold, he was interviewed by Doug Wright. Curt said someone called me this morning saying “Curt, this is Carmon” in a real raspy shallow voice. Curt said that’s not funny, but then found out that Carmon wasn’t joking. Carmon as it turns out has had a pretty serious attack of laryngitis, to help Carmon out, Curt brought in his son’s karaoke machine. Curt then brought up the series of books of which Carmon’s was the latest in the series. Asking Will Bagley (the series editor) to keep it to a minimum, Curt asked him to promise to take just a little time and give a little background on the series, 30-45 seconds worth. Will couldn’t help himself, and commenced giving a breakdown of each book, including the reasons for each book in the series, their titles and individual merits. He stated some of the reasons for the series “was to bring out the most essential, unpublished and obscure sources on Frontier Mormonism”, Curt cut him short after just a few moments commenting that Will needn’t name them all. Will took the cue and started summing up the remaining volumes more succinctly. Curt then introduced Carmon, touching upon a couple of his previous books, “Solemn Covenant, The Mormon Polygamous Passage” which won the Best Book Award from the Mormon History Association, and “Stalwarts South of the Border” a biographical sketch on Mormon Colonies from Northern Mexico. The time was then turned over to Professor Hardy, for his comments. Carmon started out by bringing up the things “that were significant, and important to him in writing the book”. He then mentioned those who had assisted him with this work, naming several individuals. His next topic for discussion was the title of the book, “Doing The Works of Abraham”, “how there was some dispute about it’s title, the director of the press didn’t want that particular title, he’d grown up in the church, and had never heard that mentioned”, Carmon responded: “Well, then you need to read the book”. Much laughter accompanied this response. Carmon went on to say that in the 19th century it was probably almost synonymous in the polygamous household, the household of Abraham, doing the “Works of Abraham”, it was stated again, and again, in sermons, writings, and letters. This he said has largely been forgotten. That’s one of the themes in the book, how the church took a dramatic turn in the 1880’s, which he said he would elaborate on more fully in a moment. He went on to say the chapter on Joseph Smith which commences the book, doesn’t really bring anything new that hasn’t been said before, but he thought it important to summarize, and bring together most of the scholarship, and there’s been a lot of it on Joseph Smith and polygamy. His feelings about Joseph, that he touches on in that chapter, he states that he thinks Joseph was more sexually aware, and sexually interested than most Mormons have been willing to admit. Secondly, I suggest to a greater degree than is usually proposed that it was his practice of polygamy that contributed substantially to his assassination and death. He said that he quotes others of the time that said the same thing. Carmon mentioned that he probably says more about the rationale that was used during the preaching of polygamy, after they arrived in the far west, a host, a battery of arguments came to be adduced in behalf of polygamy, he went on to say that most Mormons of today believe that polygamy was commanded of God, and that it carried a consequence, and a blessing that they would only experience in the hereafter. One scholar after examining the subject of polygamy said, “after all the divorce, and the consequences of living polygamy, one can wonder why they lived it, and closed the article by saying there’s no answer. It was much like Adam when asked why he sacrificed, said I know not, only that God commanded it. Carmon then stated that he didn’t believe that for a minute. Carmon mentions that he lays out in the book, that there were a whole host of arguments that were given for living polygamy, …….homes would be more stable…order in the home, they were told they would be healthier, live longer, their kids would be smarter, the government would prosper. There were a number of temporal promises, temporal gifts that were held out to those that practiced. Carmon then held out, and stated that there would certainly be some that disagree with him, but he believed that it was proposed that it was necessary to attain to the highest degree in the Celestial Kingdom, and that it was later in the 1880’s where that particular point on Celestial Marriage was not synonymous with polygamy, and that it wasn’t necessary as Utah struggled for statehood, and as one Mormon Apostle wrote shortly after the turn of the century, the practice of polygamy has never been required, it was only an incidental thing, and permitted only, not commanded. In responding to this particular argument, Carmon states that he has almost to the point of overkill in the book that it was a requirement, and that people were urged to live it, that the term Celestial Marriage before the 1880’s was synonymous with the term polygamy. At this point Carmon was having a very difficult time continuing, but wanted to add a couple more things, I might add, despite the efforts to assist Carmon by providing a microphone, it was still very difficult at times to hear, and comprehend what he was saying, for this reason I have had to omit some of his comments, rather than possibly misquote him. He mentions that in chapter eight, he says that the church took a divided road, on the one hand they began telling the public, they began telling outsiders that they were leading off from polygamy, and some even said they had already ceased this practice. When testifying before congress in the early to mid 1880’s, many of the high authorities in the church………stated that no more than 1 or 2% practiced it anymore, and that those who were practicing it were diminishing with remarkable rapidity, and it was no longer commanded. The idea was to give the impression that the church had turned it’s back on plurality. While they did that public posture to gain statehood, privately the continued to solemnize plural marriages, and to preach it. They made such an effort to publicly admit they had quit plural marriage, that many inside of the church began to believe that they had. After the manifesto they were then rewarded with statehood in 1896. All the while, however they continued to solemnize plural marriages secretly. A member of the Utah Commission wrote Grover Cleveland that as long as they could get the church to promise, again, and again, and again to quit it, the harder it’s going to be for them to go back, and that’s precisely what happened. Nevertheless, as you know secret plural marriages continued to be performed for some time. Carmon believes and states such in the end of the book that it was directly a precedent of that strong preaching, speaking in the church on behalf of plural marriage, and the promises that were given to those who lived it, combined with the secrecy of continued plural marriage…that provided a template, a foundation for the rise of fundamentalism. So maybe it was considered that we were just continuing along the same path. The other side of it is of course that the church had taken a turn, a dramatic turn, and I think by World War 1, perhaps 1910, but certainly by WW1 that the church had taken the monogamous path, and had continued that way. One last item that needs to be mentioned that I touch on in the book is that in their effort to acquire favor, and to persuade church members not to practice monogamy, (obviously he meant polygamy, but says monogamy, the church has almost completely forgotten the practice of polygamy, and those early saints who sacrificed so much, and worked so hard to live it…they were heroes, and heroines, facing all kinds of challenges and difficulties inside and outside the home. Carmon at this point again loses much of his voice, but one thing I was able to ferret out, was a comment by him “that those dear old members deserve more than to be forgotten. At this point Carmon was finished with his commentary on the book, and the discussion moved on to the question and answer period.


Q: What is your take on the purported revelations of John Taylor to establish an underground church?

A. Well of course he doesn’t say he’s going to establish an underground church, he simply said that they should continue to honor, I think that was in September of 1886…I do not know for sure, but I think the evidence is he wrote it! John W. Taylor, his son, said he saw it, and that it appeared to be in the handwriting of his father…the language, the handwriting, looks very genuine to me, so I cannot say that I know that it’s true, but I think there are good grounds…unintelligible…and I provide a copy of it in the book.

Q: I have read some passages from the book in the last couple of days, and Mary, my wife and I are puzzled about one of the phenomena, that took place during a place that you discuss in the book. A kind of cognitive dissonance, where the leaders of the church were kind of publicly doing everything they could to tought the benefits of plural marriage, specifically in some places, the benefit of ascetivism, and purity even to the point of suggesting that conception needed to occur without arousal, and I’ve never been able to figure out how to do that (laughter), and I have twelve kids, so I wonder what was really going on, were they really, were these men holding their noses, did they have like sheets and veils, were they really sort of like circumcising the women, metaphorically, um what was really going on?

A. Well, it’s a very appropriate question, one that I do address…because the church did preach that lust, lasciviousness, sensual pleasure should not be a motivation for conjugal relationships. And I indicate that they are here teaching a very early Christian tenent, …the rest unintelligible, at this point someone asks him to put the mike up to his mouth. Then he said that Brigham Young at one point said, “I think we’re all natural, and that we ought to be natural”, and Parley P. Pratt, once condemned those who were too puritanical in regard to sex. This is characteristic of Mormonism as you may know, it’s kind of like the Constitution and the Bible, you can find whatever you want, if you look for it. But, my sense is that the consensus, the rhetorical position was that sex should be only for reproduction, and after that you should not have sex until a child was born and weaned. Someone then hollered out 50 years without sex! Carmon responded, in the 1880’s there’s a wonderful quote by someone that sent a letter to the Deseret News: “Most Mormons are rigorous in this regard, he said a Mormon with four or five wives has less sex in 20 years, than the average monogamous does in two. (Chuckles and laughter). Carmon then took a short break, then said that Orson Hyde commented that he was pretty sure that 99 times out of 100 that when Mormons had sex they had it for pleasure…That this preaching, this rhetoric was essential to an understanding of how they viewed polygamy, it was an ideal, and maybe it was that…may be how they could purify themselves. That if they had sex for purely to have children, that they might eliminate the jealousy, the reason women become jealous in the polygamous world…that if every woman knew the mission was to have children, there would be less jealosy, less divorces, some said it would help to eliminate the curse of Eve. It’s a wonderful subject, and I don’t treat if fully or adequately, but I appreciate the question because I think it’s (unintelligible).

Q: I hesitate to say this because in this group I sometimes I think I may get stoned for saying it. I’ve been a member of the church for the last half of my life, and Todd Compton wrote “In Sacred Loneliness”, claims in the Tribune he really liked your book, and claimed it was one of the best histories of Mormon polygamy, that’s what he said in today’s newspapers. Do you like Todd Compton’s book, “In Sacred Loneliness”?

A. Very much, I reviewed his book, and he was one of the critics that reviewed my book before it went to press. (I’m not sure about that statement, but I think I heard the answer right).

Q. I liked his book two, but there was one thing in there I had a question about. And if you don’t know the answer I think with all this knowledge here, maybe we can save your voice and all answer our own questions too. Todd Compton’s book In Sacred Loneliness, about three weeks before Joseph was martyred, he met his Stake President William Marks on the street, and he said Brother Marks we are all a ruined people, I asked how so? “He said, the doctrine of polygamy or spiritual wife that has been taught and practiced among us will prove our destruction, and overthrow. I have been deceived said he in reference to it’s practice, it’s wrong, a curse to mankind, and we’ll have to leave the United States soon, unless the practice is put to a stop in the church”.

Continued question: I’ve talked to many people about this Brother Marks comments about this, and Joseph saying that it’s wrong, and that we shouldn’t be practicing polygamy 3 weeks before he was martyred. Do any of the rest of us know anymore about this?

A. Joseph often denied this, because he needed to keep it secret

Q. This is to his Stake President though???

A. A Stake President who even before this, as I recall, Marks was one of three men who refused to accept the 1843 revelation…In 1844 three weeks before Joseph was asassinated, Joseph knew Marks was against him, that might have been his motivation

Comment by questioner: If that’s the case then Joseph lied to him. Why would Joseph say, its wrong, I was deceived, and it’ll ruin the church, why would he say that if that’s not what he truly felt?

Comment by Will Bagley in response to the above question: Michael Quinn put forth rather skillfully, that Joseph had seen the light, and shortly before the martyrdom, that he’d taken a wrong direction on polygamy, the temple rites, and the whole package, and it’s a very compelling argument, there’s certainly collective evidence that would support, but it would be a renounciation of doctrine that he’d been formulating over a number of years, and it seems to me that it certainly would have played well with Emma, it would have played well with many others, but he had 30 plus wives, who had made great sacrifice, and how he could turn his back on this doctrine at this point is problematic. But you can point to odd evidence…It’s one of those issues that’s hard for an historian to say absolutely know, this is the way it was. But again, Smith some would say had made a career out of telling people what they wanted to hear, or he was a brilliant natural psychologist, he understood human nature profoundly. And I think that he was doing his best to accomodate a host of reactions, a very traumatic doctrine to the standard Christian in American belief, but I do not believe myself that he had really turned his back on what is so fundamental to the doctrine.

Another comment by the same person who asked a previous question, this individual had brought a sheaf of papers with him, and it appeared wanted to ask several more questions, as he kept raising his hand to be called on. Carmon has apparently dealt with this before, and was able to move on, in spite of the hijack attempts from this individual: Maybe he wasn’t deceived like you said. Satan is the great deceiver.

Will: Well you could argue that too. (laughter)

Curt: Cuts in at this point, and says I think we can leave that one alone, have we answered your question?

Further comment: Well I’m not sure.

Q. How do you deal with the issue that Todd Compton brings up In Sacred Loneliness of polyandry? Do you address it in your book?

A: I acknowledge it, and cite Todd, other than that I do not explore it, though I am fully persuaded that what was it eleven of the thirty three, about a third of his wives were already married, and I know of one explanation that has sometimes been given in the polyandrous relationships was that the womans husband was out of favor in the church…Some unintelligible comments here…Unless you opt, as I do for a more naturalistic explanation, that he was attracted to the women, I don’t say that in the book, but I think it needs to be acknowledged.

Q: Why don’t you include it in the book?

CH: Because, I don’t know that it’s true. (There was more said, but I couldn’t make it out).

At this point in the discussion, one lady who could have been my mother, (speaking testimony wise), felt it necessary to bear her testimony of Joseph Smith, using the oft-quoted section of the D&C by John Taylor, “That no man has done more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it”. Apparently, she felt that Joseph’s reputation had been besmirched, and she was coming to his defense.

CH: Well that’s ok, and you’re certainly entitled to your opinion.

Q: You kind of skimmed over the award of the justification of polygamy, and that is, isn’t it human nature, in order to explain this the extramarital affair, that he had, and this is documented…in order to justify it to your followers and the way that you would justify it would be to come up with the idea of polygamy, which had nothing to do with personality??? (not sure if I’m hearing that right), and the way he would have to go back to the old testament to come up with it.

CH: There’s a wonderful quote by Samuel Bowles??? Editor of the ???republican newspaper, one of the foremost newspapers in the United States, of it’s time, in the 1860’s to the 1870’s. Samuel came out and wrote about the Mormons, he said, his conclusion was that religion was the main reason for polygamy. It was the excuse of the men, and the way the women reconciled themselves to it, it was the excuse of the men, and the reconciliation of the women.

Q: CH: responding: He asked if I held back some of my remarks, to please the Mormons?

CH: Yes, but it wasn’t to please the Mormons…It’s one of the things you’re trained to do as a historian, to be as honest and objective as you can, and to try to refrain from putting yourself too much into the work, it’s impossible, and I’m sure that I’m in there, that my remarks are limited, and hopefully aren’t too many. He then gave an example of an Athenian General who lost a great battle at sea, they fired him, and then he wrote the history, and wrote it as objectively and as fairly as he could, even though no doubt he hurt greatly because of what the Athenians had done to him.

At this point Curt Bench took over and said that there was obviously a variety of viewpoints here, people from different positions and so on. He also said that it was nice to have a variety of people. and he was glad that Carmon had tried to keep himself out of the process. Curt commented that many people who read Carmon’s book won’t be able to see Carmon’s position as they read the it. Curt thanked his customers, and said that he doesn’t care where they come from, be it Colorado City, or 47 E. South Temple, that it was good that they could all come, and that his store was open to all. That books open up the marketplace of ideas, He thanked Carmon again for coming up from Southern California, mentioned that there were refreshments, and again thanked everyone for showing. That was pretty much the end of it.


  1. Excellent. Thanks Jared and Brent.

    Comment by Christopher — April 8, 2008 @ 10:24 pm

  2. I really enjoyed Hardy’s books and I like that he refrained from explicitly stating his opinion that JS was simply committing adultery. That shows, at least to me, that Hardy has sympathy for his subject and like any good historian was not interested in sensationalizing history.

    Comment by David G. — April 9, 2008 @ 1:04 am

  3. Jared, and the others involved with this site have really done a great job. Sorry, for my lack of editing. I had to cringe a few times as I read through what I had written.

    Comment by Brent — April 9, 2008 @ 6:17 am

  4. Ack! One… Long… Paragraph!

    Comment by Chris — April 9, 2008 @ 11:30 am

  5. #4, Better than NO long paragraph, right? 🙂

    #2 David, I agree. That was one of the highlights of the lecture for me. Part of what he said which is not reported here was that at that point in the discussion he described himself as a secular humanist. I have appreciated when I read Hardy that I feel like I can’t tell what side of the issue he’s on.

    I wonder what he meant in his remark that he thinks a naturalistic explanation “needs” to be acknowledged. I wonder if he was speaking personally or if he felt that that type of interpretation should become the standard interpretation in future treatments of polygamy.

    Comment by Jared T — April 9, 2008 @ 12:21 pm

  6. Jared: That’s a good question. I read that statement as simply saying that the naturalistic explanation should be acknowledged, but not necessarily privileged, which he obviously does not in his text.

    Comment by David G. — April 9, 2008 @ 12:44 pm

  7. David, I can definitely see that. Good point. I was reading “acknowldege” to mean accepted as fact rather than just to take notice of the explanation.

    Comment by Jared T — April 9, 2008 @ 2:04 pm

  8. Thanks for this, Jared and Brent. I appreciate Hardy’s approach to the subject. I also appreciate the fun discussion of “different views” during the Q&A.

    Comment by Ben — April 9, 2008 @ 2:54 pm

  9. This was great to read. Thanks.

    Comment by kris — April 10, 2008 @ 8:55 am


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