The other day I was perusing Brian Hales’s website. He has authored several books on Mormon polygamy—Setting the Record Straight: Mormon Fundamentalism, Modern Polygamy and Mormon Fundamentalism: The Generations After the Manifesto, and a forthcoming two-volume Joseph Smith’s Polygamy: History and Theology. His website includes a page titled
“Dan Vogel as an Accuser” http://www.josephsmithspolygamy.com/26Accusers/DanVogel.html
On this page, he briefly criticizes my use of some early sources. Ironically, it is accusatory of me and implies that I have intentionally misused these sources. So I decided to respond to him here (and on another board) and invite him via email to comment if he wishes. I’ll quote each paragraph of his critique along with his footnote and then respond.
While no writer or researcher claims perfect accuracy in his or her published works, It appears that Daniel Vogel goes beyond available evidence resulting in assertions that consistently seem to portray Joseph Smith in a negative light.
The accusation of going “beyond available evidence” is one of Hales’ favorite apologetic strategies. For example, he thinks historians go beyond the evidence when they use secondhand or hearsay testimony or make reasonable inferences from the evidence. He believes that he is not obligated to deal with evidence unless it’s both firsthand and explicit. This has lead Hales to adopt the extreme apologetic position that Joseph Smith didn’t have sex with any of the twelve married women he polyandrously married because he personally thinks Joseph Smith wouldn’t have done that, and he defends his position by accusing those who believe otherwise of “going beyond available evidence”. However, because there was no stated restriction on such marriages, shouldn’t Hales see his own theory as going beyond the evidence? He thinks he is simply demanding that his opponents produce explicit evidence of Joseph Smith having sexual relations with married women, but he is doing more than that. He is asserting a position as well, based on an inference--which is that these marriages were for eternity only. The problem is which inference is more reasonable? And which is based on unfounded assumptions about what a prophet can and cannot do? Actually, no one was saying anything about Joseph Smith having sex with his wives—it was an unspoken assumption—until Hales felt the need to defend Joseph Smith by making an imaginary distinction in Joseph Smith’s behavior towards the married and unmarried women he married.
Vogel misquotes a statement allegedly from Martin Harris, stating that Levi Lewis accused Joseph Smith of trying to seduce Eliza Winters, rather than correctly citing the statement as Lewis purportedly quoting Martin Harris. This error transforms a dubious account into a firsthand allegation.
 Dan Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2002, 4:296 and Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet, Salt Lake City: Signature Book, 2004, 178; see also Richard S. Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy: A History. Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1989, 4; George D. Smith, Nauvoo Polygamy: “… but we called it celestial marriage”, Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2008, 29; Grant H. Palmer, “Sexual allegations against Joseph Smith, 1829-1835,” undated [after 1999], unpublished manuscript, Michael Marquardt Collection, Marriot Library Special Collections, University of Utah, photocopy in possession of the author, page one.
Levi Lewis’s statement appears in Early Mormon Documents, but the comment that Hales refers to is from my biography. The other sources are irrelevant to his examination of my work. Here is the statement in my biography to which Hales alludes:
Perhaps the testimony of Levi Lewis, son of Nathaniel Lewis, provides a clue as to Joseph Jr.’s early beliefs on marriage. Lewis, whose wife Sophia was present when Emma lost her infant, remembered hearing both Joseph and Martin Harris say that “adultery was no crime.” While this may be exaggerated, Lewis more specifically accused Joseph of attempting to “seduce” Eliza Winters, a close friend of Emma, and claimed that on at least one occasion Martin Harris defended Joseph’s behavior toward the seventeen year old by saying “he did not blame Smith for his (Smith’s) attempt to seduce Eliza Winters &c.”9
Obviously if Lewis is reporting Harris’s defense, Lewis was among those who knew of the allegations against Joseph Smith. The fact that he was reporting Harris’s defense means that he was making such an allegation himself, and that Harris didn’t deny it. The bolded words show that contrary to Hales’s assertion I did attribute the words to Harris, as reported by Lewis. There was no attempt by me to portray the Lewis source as a firsthand account. That doesn’t mean Lewis’s statement isn’t historically useful. It was published and Harris (or Joseph Smith for that matter) had plenty of opportunity to deny it.
In addition concerning Eliza Winters, Vogel asserts that in an interview decades later she did not "confirm or deny" the Levi Lewis allegation, when in fact, available evidence does not disclose whether the incident was even discussed. Here Vogel goes beyond the evidence in his assertion.
 Dan Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2002, 4:346.
The footnote to the previous excerpt from my book reads:
9. Levi Lewis, statement, in “Mormonism,” Susquehanna Register and Northern Pennsylvanian 9 (1 May 1834): 1 (EMD 4:296 97). Elizabeth neither confirmed nor denied Lewis’s accusation when interviewed in 1880. See [Frederick G. Mather], “The Early Mormons. Joe Smith Operates at Susquehanna,” Binghamton Republican, 29 July 1880 (EMD 4:346 60). She married Elisha Squires (d. 1871) in 1837 and was still living with her only son, Stanley, in Oakland in 1887 (Rhamanthus M. Stocker, Centennial History of Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania [Philadelphia: R. T. Peck and Co., 1887], 557; see also EMD 4:346).
Whether or not Lewis’s report was discussed, Winters didn’t take the opportunity to deny what Lewis so famously reported in 1833, just as Harris and Joseph Smith didn’t. Since writing this it was discovered that Harris accused Winters of having a “bastard child” in a public meeting in Nov. 1832, and she was unsuccessful in suing Harris (see BYU Studies 45/4 : 113-16). This might explain her reluctance in broaching the subject.
Regarding another accusation, Vogel writes: “His [Joseph Smith’s] July 1830 trial in South Bainbridge included testimony accusing him of improper conduct with two of Josiah Stowell’s daughters, Miriam and Rhoda.” In fact, no trial records are extant and I have been unable to identify any “testimony accusing him of improper conduct” matching Vogel’s description. This error carries the potential of turning non-evidence into evidence.
 Dan Vogel, ed., Early Mormon Documents, Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1996, 4:206 fn 9; Vogel seems certain regarding the daughters identities and it appears that he is probably correct, but no records naming them as participants have been found. See Jessee, Dean C., ed. The Papers of Joseph Smith: Volume 1, Autobiographical and Historical Writings. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1989, 254, n. 2.
The problem here is that I did not claim a trial record existed, or that the information came from a trial record. This is what I said:
Of possible relevance to Joseph Smith’s early concept of complex marriage is a report from Harmony, Pennsylvania, that he and his scribe Martin Harris said “adultery was no crime” and that as early as 1828 he was already pursuing extramarital affairs (V.A.4, LEVI LEWIS STATEMENT, 1834). In June 1829 Smith’s dictation would include discussion of adultery versus God-inspired plural marriage (Jacob 2:30). His July 1830 trial in South Bainbridge included testimony accusing him of improper conduct with two of Josiah Stowell’s daughters, Miriam and Rhoda (see I.A.15, JOSEPH SMITH HISTORY, 1839, 45). In 1844, while publicly denying apostate accusations of secret polygamy, he admitted that similar charges on his character had been made as early as 1827. "I had not been married scarcely five minutes, and made one proclamation of the Gospel," Smith recalled, "before it was reported that I had seven wives" (Smith 1948, 6:410).
Note that I referenced Joseph Smith’s 1838-39 History, where it says:
After a few more such attempts, the court was detained for a time, in order that two young women (daughters to Mr Stoal<wel>150 with whom I had at times kept Company; might be sent for, in order, if possible to elicit something from them which might be made a pretext against me. The young Ladies arrived and were severally examined, touching my character, and conduct in general but particularly as to my behaviour towards them both in publick and private, when they both bore such testimony in my favor, as left my enemies without a pretext on their account.
You don’t have to be a genius to figure out the nature of the prosecution’s questioning. Although not explicitly stated, there is no attempt to disguise or hide what is obviously being implied.
Note also that this interpretation is supported by Joseph Smith’s own public confession in 1844: "I had not been married scarcely five minutes, and made one proclamation of the Gospel," Smith recalled, "before it was reported that I had seven wives" (Smith 1948, 6:410). This quote from History of the Church 6:410 was among the items discussed by Hales and me in a series of emails in 2009.
On February 1, 2009, Hales wrote to ask why “in Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet (pages 513-14), you mention the charges of being a ‘disorderly person’ etc. but don’t mention any actually [actual] testimony accusing Joseph Smith of improper conduct with the two girls.”
Evidently Hales was reading my footnote in EMD as a claim that the trial record included the charge of Joseph Smith’s improper conduct with Stowell’s daughters, despite my reference to Joseph Smith’s 1838-39 History.
On February 10, 2009, I responded:
I don't have any source besides Joseph Smith's History. I think the idea of calling two females to testify of Joseph Smith's behavior “both in public and private” in the hope of impugning Joseph Smith's character implies very strongly there was a sexual element to the accusations. Although he wasn't explicit, I don't think Joseph Smith was hiding that aspect of the story, especially since he was exonerated. His 1844 confession that he was accused of polygamy shortly after his marriage in South Bainbridge shows that such accusations were being made since 1827 in the town where Stowell lived. I think that is the simplest reading of these texts, and any other interpretation is going to sound strained or lawyerly.
Despite this explanation, Hales responded on February 12, 2009: “The footnote seems to indicate that manuscript documentation for ‘testimony accusing him of improper conduct’ during the trial actually exists, so I wanted to be sure and have a look at it.”
On February 24, 2009, I replied: “I didn't intend to imply some other source besides Joseph Smith's account. If I had one, I would have cited it for sure.”
On March 1, 2009, Hales wrote:
I appreciate the clarification on your footnote. For me, it seems that the wording indicates that testimony actually exists, rather than it is just assumed to exist.
This is obviously an unlikely reading of my footnote, but to insist on his reading even after his error was pointed out is stubborn and dishonest. Hales continued: “I’m sure you agree that antagonists and protagonists must guard against going beyond the evidence in our claims. I expect my upcoming books will be scrutinized for such things.” Oddly, Hales is oblivious to the fact that his interpretation of my statement goes beyond what I actually said, and that it rests on personal reading. Regardless, with this inane defense he manages to avoid discussion of what Joseph Smith’s History states.
But our discussion didn’t end here. Hales moved from this to another inane and unlikely interpretation of Joseph Smith’s 1844 statement.
On March 5, 2009, Hales wrote:
I had a question. You wrote that “His [Joseph Smith’s] 1844 confession that he was accused of polygamy shortly after his marriage in South Bainbridge shows that such accusations were being made since 1827.” Joseph Smith’s actual quotation indicates the accusation of polygamy came after he started proclaiming the gospel: “I had not been married scarcely five minutes, and made one proclamation of the Gospel, before it was reported that I had seven wives.” It is hard to know what Joseph Smith meant by “proclamation of the Gospel.” But this doesn’t appear to be a confession that he was accused of polygamy five minutes after he was married. Rather, five minutes after he first proclaimed the gospel he was accused. Without knowing what he meant, the exact chronology is unclear and claiming Joseph Smith confessed to polygamy accusations in 1827 seems to go beyond the evidence. I hope you won’t excuse this as simply “apologetic rhetoric” because it seems to be a valid observation.
On March 11, 2009, I responded:
Of course, any text deconstructs when one demands more precision from it than circumstances of its creation can warrant. I think Joseph Smith’s 1844 statement is intentionally hyperbolic and exaggerated. But it quite clearly refers to the New York period. Even your reading of five minutes after proclaiming the gospel alludes to his 1830 trials since he said it was for that reason that he was tried—“I was visited by a constable, and arrested by him on a warrant, on the charge of being a disorderly person, of setting the country in an uproar by preaching the Book of Mormon, etc.” (DHC 1:88). This [reading] ties in with Joseph Smith’s 1844 statement. Contrary to your reading, it can be read as follows:
“I had not been married scarcely five minutes [before it was reported that I had seven wives], and made one proclamation of the Gospel, before it was [again] reported that I had seven wives.”
The two events were separated by three years, but the Stowell sisters were at both events. It won’t due to simply argue that Joseph Smith’s 1844 statement isn’t precise, and therefore it is unusable. That’s quibbling.
It can be seen from the foregoing that Hale’s attempt to escape the implications of Joseph Smith’s 1844 statement IS simple “apologetic rhetoric” and polemic and that my use of it is based on reasonable historical inference.
Problems such as these demonstrate that interpretive accounts, whether antagonistic and apologetic, must be referenced to the actual historical documents in order to avoid misunderstanding.
The only thing Hales succeeded in demonstrating is that readers of his critiques need not trust his judgment, because they are liable to be incomplete, misrepresentative, and violate the rule of charity, which states that in debate you must respond to your opponents argument in its strongest form. Blake Ostler praised the authors of The New Mormon Challenge for observing this rule:
In all of my a dealings with these good men, I have been impressed by their charity and kindness. My assessment is that they are genuinely good people and I like them. In addition, the authors are in fact among the finest Evangelical scholars. It is refreshing to deal with Evanglicals who engage the presumption of the rule of charity. That is, rather than attack a caricature of Mormonism, these authors have made an informed and good-faith attempt to present our arguments and beliefs in their strongest form. They present their best take on Mormonism and then honestly assess problems that arise given these beliefs. Thus, their arguments are worthy of both respect and considered response.
It comes down to a simple rule—“critique others as you would have them critique you.”