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chapter 2 “We Shall Then Live Together as One Great Family” Mormonism and the Public/Private Divide OrsonPratt’spublicannouncementin1852thatMormonspracticedpolygamy unnerved Americans.1 Pratt was one of the Church’s most voluble officials and overthenextfewdecadeswouldbecomethemostardentadvocateofpolygamy. InthewakeofPratt’ssermon,Mormonismbecameanational“question”almost at once. The thousands of anti-Mormon novels, tracts, essays, exposés, and speeches indicate the vehemence of national responses; with few exceptions, Americanopinionmakerspassionatelycondemnedthepractice.Overthenext forty years, anti-Mormon reformers embarked on unprecedented discursive and legal campaigns against polygamy, vilifying and eventually outlawing the practice. In the 1880s, the federal government moved to deny practitioners of polygamy many of the rights of American citizenship. Clearly, polygamy deeply disturbed the nation. Pratt’s announcement exposed a deep ideological divide between Mormons and the rest of the nation, a chasm perhaps even greater than the geographical distance between them. ByconsistentlyarticulatingthecentralityofpolygamytotheMormonproject, Mormons produced a significant challenge to emerging middle-class political culture. No other racial or religious community in the nation provoked such a prolific, vitriolic national response. Anti-Mormons objected to polygamy not simply because they found it offensive to their sexual mores and wished to protect women from its evils but also because the practice threatened some of the most central categories of nineteenth-century American political culture —publicandprivate.Anti-Mormonscontendedthatpolygamyledto“the Talbot_Text.indd 34 9/5/13 8:49 AM 35 Mormonism and the Public/Private Divide utter destruction of the home circle”2 so completely that the Mormons “can not [sic] exist in contact with republican institutions.”3 Mormonismtroubledthepublic/privatedivideinthreecentralandcontradictory ways, disavowing, reinventing, and inverting the categories of public andprivate.First,Mormonsdisavowedthepublic/privatedividebyamalgamating religion, family, civic life, economics, and government as a single entity underGod’skingdom.Pluralmarriagewascentraltothatunityandsituatedthe family in God’s political order, not the nation’s. What middle-class American politicalcultureattemptedtokeepseparatetheidealssurroundingthepractice of polygamy brought together. Ideally, the Mormon community “publicized” individualfamilies;Mormonsmade little distinctionbetweentheprivatefamily and the broad Mormon community. Second, while Church leaders made no distinction between public and private life within their own community, they reinvented the divide by imagining their whole community as a kind of private sphere writ large, the family of God, tied together by the bonds of priesthood and plural marriage. They juxtaposed this communal “private” to both a broader American “public” and to the “public” institutions of American government. Truetotheirdisavowalofthepublic/privatedivide,Mormonsalsoimagined God’sfamilyasapolity—God’spolity—inthekingdomofGod,buildingwhat I call the privatized kingdom of God in the West. An entire system of theo-political thought accompanied the practice of plural marriage in God’s privatized kingdom, and the Mormons built an entire alternative political culture, completewithitsownprivatizedpoliticalinstitutions .Inthisway,theytroubledthe public/privatedivideinathirdsense,invertingitsmeaning.Figuringtheentire communityasGod’sfamily(aswellasHispolity)atoncepublicizedthefamily, equating it with the broad Mormon polity, and constituted Church authority over the Mormon community as a private affair. In Utah, the publicized family of God was governed by a “privatized” government, the Church. Because God’sgovernmentwasprivate,Mormonsargued,itcouldandmustcoexistwith American public government embodied by the U.S. state. Mormon attempts to lay claim to American citizenship required them to position themselves as citizens in both the privatized kingdom of God and the public U.S. state. Ordering the Kingdom: Priesthood and Polygamy in the Kingdom of God Polygamy played as central a role in ordering the kingdom of God as monogamous marriage did in ordering American political culture. The practice established community boundaries, ordered God’s family, and shaped social, civic, Talbot_Text.indd 35 9/5/13 8:49 AM 36 chapter 2 political, and economic relations. The contemporary LDS Church argues that polygamywasincidentaltonineteenth-centuryMormonism.Byandlarge,they claim first that polygamy compensated for a demographic imbalance between menandwomen,andsecondthataninsignificantportionofMormonsactually engaged in the practice. More recently, it has become apparent that the second oftheseclaimsholdsmuchmorewaterthanthefirst,asnonumericalimbalance existedbetweenmenandwomeninnineteenth-centuryUtah.Historianspoint outthatnevermorethanbetween15and40percentofMormonadultsactually practiced plural marriage.4 However, a focus on practice fails to provide an accurate vision of the centrality of polygamy to Mormonism. Even though many Mormons did not actually practice plural marriage, it was still ideologically centraltohowtheyunderstoodthemselvesandtheircommunitarianmillennial project.Nineteenth-centuryAmericanwhitemiddle-classesenactedtheideology of separate spheres at least as incompletely, variously, and contentiously as Mormons enacted polygamy. Mormons were at least as committed to plural marriage as the demographic from which anti-Mormons were largely drawn, white middle-class Americans, was to the separation of public from private. Polygamy was inseparable from nineteenth-century Mormon theology; its extrication from the very fabric of nineteenth-century Mormonism is impossible .First,asarguedinthepreviouschapter,polygamyfitsintooneatlywiththe entiretheologicalsystemtobeconsideredincidentalorperipheraltoMormon theology. Orson Pratt’s public announcement of polygamy laid out God’s plan for humanity and situated the practice of plural marriage squarely within it. Moreover, as Kathryn Daynes...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780252095351
Related ISBN
9780252038082
MARC Record
OCLC
862745819
Pages
272
Launched on MUSE
2014-01-27
Language
English
Open Access
No
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