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Mormon Discussion: 342: Nancy Rigdon and the Happiness Letter

There are multiple examples of Joseph Smith’s manipulation of vulnerable women in order to pressure them into a polygamous relationships.  The Partridge sisters, Lucy Walker, Fanny Alger, The Lawrence Sisters.  Today we share the story of Nancy Rigdon and the Happiness Letter.  Nancy, Daughter of Early Church Leader Sidney Rigdon is a prime example of the mechanisms and manipulation that Joseph Smith would use on Young girls in order to pressure them into an intimate relationship.  Joining me are Chris Smith and Jonathan Streeter as they run us through the data and help us get the full context of this story and its surrounding events.Please check out the resources below.


Joseph Smith meeting the Rigdon’s and giving Nancy a blessing

Messenger and Advocate Rumors of impropriety between Joseph Smith and Rigdon Girl

Orson Pratt stating that Joseph taught Polygamy in 1832 while living with Johnsons at their Farm

Rumors of affair between Agnes Smith (Widow of the Prophet’s Brother Don Carlos) and Joseph Smith.  They were later sealed January of 1842, before the relief society was created.

Times & Season Vol 3 Pg 291 (left hand column showing Conference Minutes regarding Marth Brotherton being locked in a room)

Martha Brotherton Affidavit

Emma Smith’s redaction of encouragement to accept private teachings over public ones

Nancy Marinda Johnson Hyde commanded to live with others

1904 Letter by brother John Rigdon -Claimed that Joseph Smith mentioned that he had made a proposal to Nancy Rigdon and she turned around and spoke out about it.

Chris Smith: Playing Lamanite: Ecstatic Performance of American Indian Identity in Early Mormon Ohio

John C Bennett sharing the Happiness Letter with the public

John C Bennett’s expose “The History of the Saints” (Left hand Column)

Discussion by Bennett which includes info on the Nancy Rigdon affair (third column from the left)

The Happiness Letter within the History of the Church

Gerrit Dirkmaat’s refutation of the Happiness Letter’s provenance

Additional context and quotes around the Happiness Letter by Van Hale

Excellent discussion of JST translation of Roman 7

Discussion of Romans 7 and the Happiness Letter

William Mcclellin letter to Joseph SMith III affirming that Emma knew about Josephs polygamy

Grant Palmer and the sexual accusations against Joseph Smith pre-nauvoo (Mormon Stories Podcast)

Brian Hales refutation of Grant Palmer’s perspective (Mormon Discussion Podcast)

Brian Hales’ Interpreter article refuting Grant Palmer (formerly Search results for the famous Happiness Quote

High Council minutes the looking into the sexual indiscretions of women in Nauvoo

2nd source for High Council minutes

Brigham Young’s journal where he used a quasi-masonic cipher to record Joseph’s WAS (Wedded And Sealed) ceremony to Agnes on Jan 6 1842

William C Smith’s assertion of Joseph Smith and Nancy Rigdon having issues in Kirtland

Account of Joseph demanding that Brigham Young drop charges against William Smith in John C Bennet Affair

Devery Anderson’s Sunstone article (Includes a few sections on the Nancy Rigdon affair)

Jonathan Streeter’s Sunstone Presentation on the Happiness Letter (YouTube)

Jonathan Streeter & Chris Smith’s Sunstone presentation on the Happiness Letter (Audio Only)

November 1841 sermon that what we think is sin is not sin

Brigham Young sealed Martha Brotherton to himself with proxy

“Illicit Intercourse,” Plural Marriage, and the Nauvoo Stake High Council, 1840-1844

William McClellin letter to Joseph Smith III affirming that Emma knew about Josephs relationships with women

Ebenezer Robinson’s memoirs includes a brief discussion of the November sermon about sin not being sin

Happiness Letter quoted in LDS official sources
   2      3      4     5     6

From the testimony of Catherine Fuller: (Quote where William suggest Catherine not get married and grant his sexual requests and he would continue to supply her sustenance)
“[William Smith] has also been to my house on the 27th of last month being the day I was married and proposed unlawful connexion but I refused and told him that it was contrary to the teaching of Joseph on the stand. He answered that Joseph was obliged to teach to the contrary on the stand to keep down prejudice and keep peace at home First W. Smith insisted very much that I should not marry and proposed to supply me with food &c if I should remain unmarried and grant his requests”

From the testimony of Sarah Miller:
“Some two or three weeks since, in consequence of Bro Joseph Smiths teachings to the singers, I began to be alarmed concerning myself, & certain teachings which I had recevd from Chauncy L. Higby, & questioned him about his teaching, for I was pretty well persuaded from Joseph[’s] public teachings that Chaney had been telling falsehood.– but Chauncy said that that Joseph Now taught as he did th[r]ough necessity, on acount of the prejudices of the people, & his own family particlarly as they had not become full believers in the doctrine.”

The happiness letter was not published until Dec, 1855 within the Church.  When we find strong congruences between other sermons and documents that match the rhetoric and theology and ideas in the happiness letter around the same time as its authorship, such seems to strongly indicate that the ideas in the happiness letter were taught pervasively to the early leaders of the church privately.  If the happiness letter is a private letter between smith and Nancy Rigdon, why are multiple leaders teaching its concepts abroad? Multiple leaders should not be quoting specific language from a private letter on multiple occasions unless either the letter wasn’t private or the rhetoric wasn’t unique.

Example 1 of Pervasive Teachings of the Happiness Letter Theology
When Apostle George Q. Cannon preached: “I think that God has created us to be happy” in July 1874,6 he was also apparently referencing the still-uncited 1842 letter’s words (not published in Utah since 1855): “Happiness is the object and design of our existence …”7

Example 2 of Pervasive Teachings of the Happiness Letter Theology
Apostle John Taylor was also referencing the above (again without attribution) in his March 1872 sermon which referred to “revelation adapted to the peculiar circumstances in which they were placed,” followed nine pages later by his paraphrase about “revelation adapted peculiarly to the position that we occupy.”

Example 3 of Pervasive Teachings of the Happiness Letter Theology
“In October 1850, Orson Pratt’s Divine Authority of the Book of Mormon referred to “new revelation adapted to the peculiar condition of himself as an individual, and varied at sundry times, according to the change of circumstances …”

Example 4 of Pervasive Teachings of the Happiness Letter Theology
D. Michael Quinn
“Not until five years later did the Deseret News include in its serialization of “Joseph Smith’s History” the 1842 text that Apostle Pratt was obviously paraphrasing: “This is the principle on which the government of Heaven is conducted, by revelation adapted to the circumstances in which the children of the kingdom are placed.”4”

Example 5 of Pervasive Teachings of the Happiness Letter Theology
D. Michael Quinn
six years before J. Golden Kimball quoted from the “Happiness” letter in general conference, the Improvement Era of April 1920 printed Apostle David O. McKay’s sermon which announced: The guiding spirit of life was manifest from the beginning of his [Joseph Smith’s] ministry and confirms his wonderful declaration that God had spoken to him. In his own words[,] it is this: Whatever God requires is right, no matter what it is, although we may not see the reason thereof until long after the events transpire.8

Example 6 of Pervasive Teachings of the Happiness Letter Theology
Benjamin Johnson:
(From Johnsons autobiography)
He looked at me, oh, so calmly, and said, “Brother Benjamin, you will never see that day, but you shall see the day you will know it is true, and you will fulfill the law and greatly rejoice in it.” And he said, “At this morning’s meeting, I will preach you a sermon that no one but you will understand. And furthermore, I will promise you that when you open your mouth to your sister, it shall be filled.”
At the meeting he read the Parable of the Talents, and showed plainly that to him that hath shall be given more, and from him that had but one should be taken that he seemed to have, and given to him who had ten. This, so far as I could understand, might relate to families.”

Example 7 of Pervasive Teachings of the Happiness Letter Theology
Willard Richards writing to his wife prior to happiness letter – citing the earliest similar rhetoric to the happiness letter and even calling it a grand secret

Intimation of Teaching the keeping of Secrets
“Prest. Smith said all proceedings that regard difficulties should be kept among the members— as to the Institution, its objects are charitable— none can object to telling the good— the evil withhold— hoped all would feel themselves bound to observe this rule.”


14 thoughts on “Mormon Discussion: 342: Nancy Rigdon and the Happiness Letter”

  1. Very powerful. Just when you think you know most everything about Joseph Smith, this discussion of the “Happiness Letter” comes along. No question that Joseph Smith was a manipulative sexual predator. Nancy Rigdon was a true whistle blower in her time.

  2. Bill, Chris and Jonathan, thank you for the detailed and thoughtful discussion. It is interesting to me that a letter dictated by J Smith (then denied), is also deemed worthless by the Mormon church apologetics, only to be quoted so often by Mormon leaders as a J Smith revelation from God. The spiral of deceit is robust.

  3. This is a top notch podcast Bill, Jonathan and Chris. Also, the resource links are excellent and cover this subject quite well. All of you should be pleased with the work you have put into this podcast. I particular like the tackling of the contents of the Happiness Letter done by Jonathan and how it relates to being a coercive tool used by a sexual predator, Joseph Smith.

    I would suggest Marinda Johnson Hyde was a broken person by the time she had moved into the Robinson household. Orson Hyde was a bully and I would not be surprised if Marinda Hyde was an abused woman. I think we see this kind of thing in many of these women, I know my heart has gone out to them as I have studied their lives.

    To show how Smith’s abuse was complete with Marinda Hyde. Smith fleeced her family in Hiram and Kirtland Ohio, and then attacked her father when he refused to sell his last lot of property in Kirtland. John Johnson is buried in the Kirtland Temple cemetery, and I always feel respect for him when I visit his grave-site, that he finally stood up to Joseph Smith.

    About Emma Smith. William Law did not think much of Emma Smith, in fact in an interview with William Wyl, Law said this about Joseph and Emma Smith: “They were worthy of each other, she was not a particle better than he.” I also think other women like Eliza Snow and Elizabeth Durfee not only relayed Smith’s advances, but assisted Smith in breaking down these women so they could be abused. Nauvoo was a mess.

  4. Pretty Damning, isn’t it.
    Although not much different than any other abusive person out there today. Perhaps this should be made into a study case. How to detect an abusive, manipulative person… Interesting that these behaviors seem to be human natural instincts.

    On the flip side, if I were to play devil’s advocate… Joseph Smith was trying to restore the true gospel to it’s fullness (which included peace and love unto all – aka polygamy & polyandry). Unfortunately, true happiness has been thwarted due to our old world views since we are so uptight and bigoted.

    Yes, this makes more sense, Joseph Smith certainly has done more for humanity at large save it be Jesus Christ alone. I suppose the slogan: Life is short, have an affair certainly applies.

  5. Thank you, Bill Reel, Chris Smith and Jonathan Streeter, especially Jonathan Streeter.

    I’ve been sitting here trying to express my feelings after listening to this, but I can’t. I will say I really admire Nancy Rigdon; but not her father. It seems that men always care more for other men than they do for their daughters, or their wives.

  6. Thank you Bill, Chris, and Jonathan for your knowledge and expertise regarding the “Happiness Letter.” Excellent!

    This presentation is absolutely captivating and you provided a no-stone-left-unturned approach. Long, for sure, but worth every listening moment. Just when you think you have heard it all when it comes to JS & early Mormonism this type of expose’ surfaces and you wonder why this historical information was never discussed in seminary, SS, and gospel doctrine class—LOL.

    I am very interested in learning more about John C Bennett.

    1. Lisa,

      A couple of articles that are excellent and free: Andrew F. Smith, “John Cook Bennett’s Nauvoo,” The John Whitmer Historical Association 2002 Nauvoo Conference Special Edition (Nauvoo: John Whitmer Historical Society, 2002, p. 111

      Gary James Bergera, “John C. Bennett, Joseph Smith, and the Beginnings of Mormon Plural Marriage in Nauvoo,” John Whitmer Historical Association Journal 25 (2005): p. 52

      Both are found in this Google drive link. Look for the 2002 Special Issue and then the 2005 Issue

  7. This is an excellent presentation. I wish we had better documentation for Joseph’s meeting with the Rigdon family, although I think it very likely happened. I think Stephen Markham was also active in besmirching Sarah Pratt. It would be interesting to do a podcast on her. Four bits for the research and presentation.

  8. The Backyard Professor

    Fantastic work you guys. I watched your You Tube presentation, and now here is all the documentation with additional stuff! I shall be reading this material a lot in the next few weeks since its going to be directly relevant to my book review of Charles Harrell “This is My Doctrine” Im putting it online at Dr. Shades Message Boards Please forgive if I wasn’t supposed to put outside links up. Im new here.

  9. Excellent podcast – I had didn’t know the majority of this. I love the research and time you take, please provide more podcasts like this. It would be really interesting to hear in detail about each of Joseph’s brides.

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