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Introduction 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 pluralmarriagebecamecentraltoMormontheology.Mormonspracticed“the principle” in secret from the 1830s until 1852, when its public announcement launchedMormonismontothenationalstage.Thisbookexploresthenational controversy following that announcement. It maps two parallel and opposed ideological paradigms—Mormon and anti-Mormon—during Mormonism’s most controversial period, from 1852 to 1890, when Mormon Church leadership publicly endorsed plural marriage.1 Polygamy generated decades of cultural conflict that contemporaries referred to, broadly, as “the Mormon question.” The conflict was more than a simplecondemnationofsexualandmaritalpracticesunacceptabletoVictorian norms. Rather, it was a contest over the very meaning of Americanness. Advocates on both sides formulated what it meant to be American, each in very different ways. The Mormon question generated national discussions about gender, family, and the nature of citizenship that would define the parameters of membership in the late-nineteenth-century American body politic. Essential to understanding the Mormon question are the conceptual categories of public and private. Over the nineteenth century, white middle-class northern Protestants regarded the separation of public and private spheres as Talbot_Text.indd 1 9/5/13 8:49 AM 2 Introduction central to the meaning of Americanness. They invested considerable political capital in distinguishing between private citizens and public government as well as between the private home and the world outside it. Polygamy destabilized these public/private divides in ways that dissociated family and gender relations from American citizenship. For Mormons, citizenship did not depend on the proper ordering of public and private. The Mormon question itself denaturalized and demonstrated the vulnerability of the public/private divide.MormonssubvertedthisandstillclaimedmembershipinanAmerican body politic. This endangered the middle-class grounding of Americanism in the separation of public from private in family, gender relations, and government . The Mormon subversion of the public/private divide, I argue, was at the center of the Mormon question. Anti-Mormons responded virulently, asserting and reaffirming the public/private divide over and against one of its most powerful challenges. Manynineteenth-centuryutopianandreligiousmovementsexperimentedin variouskindsofcommunitarianlivingsimilarinmanyrespectstotheMormons. Thesemovementsexperimentedwithavarietyofalternativeeconomic,sexual, and filial structures that also challenged contemporary gendered structures of power. For example, John Humphrey Noyes experimented in group marriage and conceived of his community in Oneida as an “enlarged family,” while the Shakers lived in celibate communities of adults they too called families.2 Later inthecentury,freeloveadvocatessuchasMaryNicholsandVictoriaWoodhull critiqued marriage from the standpoint of individual sexual rights and experimented with a kind of sexual libertarianism based on pursuing individual happiness .3 However,mostofthesemovementsremainednationalannoyancesand none attracted the attention and vehement cultural and legislative campaigns theMormonsdid.The Mormonquestionbecameanationalquestionbecause Mormonsoccupiedawesternterritoryandexercisedrealpoliticalpower.They dominated government in Utah. Moreover, Mormons were a much larger and more rapidly growing community than other utopian experiments. For these reasons, only Mormonism became a “question” worthy of the significant national attention that permanently altered both its character and the key role of public and private in shaping the American body politic. The relativeisolationoftheAmerican West was another factor that allowed the Mormon question to become a national question. Because of the geographic distance between the actual practice of polygamy and its detractors, anti-Mormons often made wild and unfounded claims about the nature of pluralmarriage.Moreover,becausethefederalgovernmenthadunprecedented jurisdiction over western territories, the region was of particular importance Talbot_Text.indd 2 9/5/13 8:49 AM 3 Introduction in the consolidation of national and political culture.4 In the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, the South had been central to national debates about themeaning ofcitizenship.5 Inaneraofpoliticalconflictoverstates’rightsand nationalloyalties,Reconstructionhadassertedthepowerofthefederalgovernmentoverthestatesandestablishedthattheshapeofthebodypoliticwouldbe “determined by the authority of a sovereign people, a community of citizens, that formed a single, united nation.”6 As the disenfranchisement of black men resolved the “Negro question” in the South, debates over national definitions of citizenship shifted westward during the 1870s, and new questions emerged as the nation wrestled with the political status of Mexicans, American Indians , Chinese immigrants, and Mormons. Some historians have characterized the Mormon question as a continuation of the processes of Reconstruction in the West.7 In this regard, the West provided a federalized location for the consolidation of national political culture and a place to work out questions of national belonging. The West also provided a place in which the Mormons could determine the role of plural marriage in their communitarian project. AsMormonsarticulatedthetheologicalandpoliticalparadigmsthatencircled thepracticeofpluralmarriage,theystakednewground—theological,political, and filial—that reconfigured relations among the individual, the family, the kingdom of God, and the nation. At...


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