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A Foreign Kingdom

Mormons and Polygamy in American Political Culture, 1852-1890

Christine Talbot

Publication Year: 2013

The years from 1852 to 1890 marked a controversial period in Mormonism, when the church's official embrace of polygamy put it at odds with wider American culture. In this study, Christine Talbot explores the controversial era, discussing how plural marriage generated decades of cultural and political conflict over competing definitions of legitimate marriage, family structure, and American identity. In particular, Talbot examines "the Mormon question" with attention to how it constructed ideas about American citizenship around the presumed separation of the public and private spheres. Contrary to the prevailing notion of man as political actor, woman as domestic keeper, and religious conscience as entirely private, Mormons enfranchised women and framed religious practice as a political act. The way Mormonism undermined the public/private divide led white, middle-class Americans to respond by attacking not just Mormon sexual and marital norms but also Mormons' very fitness as American citizens.

Published by: University of Illinois Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5


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pp. 6-7

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pp. vii-viii

Many people have helped this manuscript come to fruition, and I owe all of them gratitude. First, I thank the professors at the University of Michigan who nurtured this project through its beginning stages. Mar?a E. Montoya?s faith in me and the project, her outstanding feedback, her straightforward advice, and her general goodwill have made this project much better than it otherwise ...

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pp. 1-18

In the 1830s, a young American named Joseph Smith founded a new religion that would come to be called The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly known as the Mormons. As the Church developed, the practice of plural marriage became central to Mormon theology. Mormons practiced ?the principle? in secret from the 1830s until 1852, when its public announcement ...

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1. “That These Things Might Come Forth”: Early Mormonism and the American Republic

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pp. 19-33

In the spring of 1820, a fourteen-year-old New England farm boy retired to the woods to seek guidance from God. The fervent religious sentiment stirred up by the Second Great Awakening had confused young Joseph Smith, Jr. God an-swered his youthful prayer with a series of visions over the next several years?visions that gave rise to the largest religion ever founded on American soil.1 ...

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2. “We Shall Then Live Together as One Great Family”: Mormonism and the Public/Private Divide

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pp. 34-62

Orson Pratt?s public announcement in 1852 that Mormons practiced polygamy unnerved Americans.1 Pratt was one of the Church?s most voluble officials and over the next few decades would become the most ardent advocate of polygamy. In the wake of Pratt?s sermon, Mormonism became a national ?question? almost at once. The thousands of anti-Mormon novels, tracts, essays, expos?s, and ...

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3. “More the Companion and Much Less the Subordinate”: Polygamy and Mormon Woman’s Citizenship

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pp. 63-82

...?Utah is the land of marvels. She gives us, first polygamy, which seems to be an outrage against ?woman?s rights,? and then offers to the nation a ?female suf-frage bill.? . . . Was there ever a greater anomaly known in the history of a soci-ety??1 With this statement a writer for the Phrenological Journal articulated what most nineteenth-century Americans understood to be the paradox of Mormon ...

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4. “The Utter Destruction of the Home Circle”: Polygamy and the Perversion of the Private Sphere

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pp. 83-104

The ways that Mormon marriage systems undermined the public/private divide were not lost on the rest of the nation. In response to the Mormon challenge, a phalanx of domestic novels, expos?s, travel narratives, cartoons, magazine ar-ticles, political treatises, and other anti-Mormon writings assaulted the practice of polygamy in a campaign to safeguard that divide. This chapter examines how ...

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5. “They Can Not Exist in Contact with Republican Institutions”: Consent, Contract, and Citizenship under “Polygamic Theocracy”

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pp. 105-128

In the imaginations of anti-Mormons and many of their contemporaries, the importance of the private sphere to public life could not be overestimated: the virtue, liberty, and very existence of America depended on proper American homes. Early on, anti-Mormon literature trumpeted the threat of Mormonism to the American home. However, in later decades connecting plural marriage ...

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6. “The Foulest Ulcer on the Body of Our Nation”: Race, Class, and Contagion in Anti-Mormon

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pp. 129-146

In 1866, a writer for Frank Leslie?s Illustrated Newspaper called Mormonism ?a great anomaly in American history.?1 Plural marriage, this writer contended, made Mormonism an anomaly in national culture that Americans simply could not tolerate. In their unrelenting attempts to cast the Mormon anomaly out of the American body politic, anti-Mormons most often turned to some of the ...

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7. “Suffer a Surrender . . . ? No, Never!”: The End of Plural Marriage

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pp. 147-160

The anti-polygamy reform ?crusade? that emerged in the late 1870s and 1880s was stimulated, in part, by a grassroots women?s anti-polygamy movement launched in Utah that quickly became a national movement.1 In the early 1880s, a local Utah organization turned national, the Ladies Anti-Polygamy Society, was part of a successful campaign to prevent polygamist George Q. Cannon ...

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pp. 161-168

Polygamy continues to fascinate and repel Americans. From the HBO television series Big Love and TLC?s reality show Sister Wives to the numerous appear-ances of polygamists on Oprah, Dr. Phil, Anderson Cooper 360, Good Morning America, Larry King Live, and other television talk and news programs, millions of Americans have become acquainted with the practice of plural marriage in ...


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pp. 169-214


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pp. 215-254


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pp. 255-262

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About the Author, Production Notes

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pp. 272-273

Christine Talbot is an assistant professor of women’s studies at the University of Northern Colorado.

E-ISBN-13: 9780252095351
Print-ISBN-13: 9780252038082

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2013