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chapter 4 “The Utter Destruction of the Home Circle” Polygamy and the Perversion of the Private Sphere ThewaysthatMormonmarriagesystemsunderminedthepublic/privatedivide were not lost on the rest of the nation. In response to the Mormon challenge, a phalanx of domestic novels, exposés, travel narratives, cartoons, magazine articles ,politicaltreatises,andotheranti-Mormonwritingsassaultedthepractice ofpolygamyinacampaigntosafeguardthatdivide.Thischapterexamineshow andinwhatwaysanti-Mormonliteratureheldinplacetheirparticularvisionof thesanctityofthe private sphere,anidealanti-Mormonsthoughttobecentral to American national culture. White middle-class Americans mostly from the North produced volumes of anti-Mormon literature that asserted a middleclass identity rooted in a culture of private sentimentality separated from the public world.1 Anti-Mormon literature worked to entrench the categories of public and private in the nineteenth-century imagination chiefly by depicting Mormon households as cautionary tales, showing the domestic chaos and political tyranny anti-Mormons believed ensued when Americans betrayed their most treasured ideals. Projections of proper domestic life along with the configurations of gender andpublicandprivatethataccompaniedthemwerecentraltonineteenth-centuryexpansionistnationbuilding .2 Especiallyinthemid-nineteenthcentury,in the wake of challenges from many directions, marriage became a kind of lightningrodthatattracteddebatesaboutwhoexactlyconstituted “thepeople.”This was particularly true in the contexts of westward expansion, Reconstruction, andimmigration,asconflictseruptedoverthecitizenshipstatusofformerslave Talbot_Text.indd 83 9/5/13 8:49 AM 84 chapter 4 families as well as American Indian, Chicano/a, and Asian families.3 In the late nineteenth century, the private family unit constituted by monogamous marriage became a central mechanism through which difference was to be either assimilated into the nation or barred from it. Lengthy debates about proper marriageandfamilyconfigurationsarticulatedthewhitemiddle-classassumption that only certain kinds of families could legitimately give rise to American citizens. Americans crafted an increasingly complex body of domestic law to establish their vision of the private sphere.4 Deviation from a white, singlehousehold ,Christian,monogamousfamilymodelcouldvariouslyandcategoricallydisqualifytheheadofadeviantfamilyfromtherightsandprivilegesoffull citizenship.5 Campaigns against Mormonism were an important piece of the attempt to homogenize family structure around heterosexual monogamy and the ideology of separate spheres and place it at the core of national identity. Avarietyofwhitemiddle-classAmericansproducedanti-Mormonliterature for a variety of reasons. The economics of the print industry motivated much nineteenth-centuryanti-Mormonliterature.Novelists,pulpwriters,andtravelers to Utah sought to sell copy and cash in on the libidinous potential of plural marriage and sexuality in the West. Other more serious concerns generally accompaniedeconomicmotivations .Someproducersofanti-Mormonliterature, for instance, were active in campaigns for the federalization of marriage law. The Mormon question provided a case study to illustrate why an institution as important to the nation as marriage should be wrested from local control and placed under federal purview. Other writers were motivated by a desire to protect women’s virtue from the deleterious effects of industrial and social upheaval.6 For these constituents, campaigns against plural marriage served as a means by which to assert moral authority. Political concerns motivated still other anti-Mormons who saw Mormonism as a political theocracy upheld by polygamy that would open the door, beginning at the state level, to political despotism. Former Utah government officials led this campaign by publishing anti-Mormon tracts and exposés that linked polygamy with theocracy and urged political reform in Utah. No matter their specific cause, nearly all antiMormons identified plural marriage as central to the trouble with Mormonism ,andnearlyallrootedtheircriticismsoftheMormonsintheinappropriate practice of private and public life. The Origins of Anti-Polygamy Anti-Mormonism did not begin with Orson Pratt’s 1852 announcement of the practice of polygamy. Rather, it emerged almost coterminously with the Talbot_Text.indd 84 9/5/13 8:49 AM 85 Polygamy and the Perversion of the Private Sphere Churchitself.Fromthe1830suntilthemid-1850s,mostanti-Mormonliterature focused on four central issues: the validity of Joseph Smith as a prophet, the authenticity of the Book of Mormon, the practice of plural marriage, and the secrecy of Mormon temple ordinances. All four themes, as the titles of early anti-Mormon tracts indicate, served both to prove Mormonism as a fraud and to warn an American public of religious deceit and imposture. With titles and subtitleslike Delusions, Mormonism Unvailed [sic]; or A Faithful Account of that Singular Imposition and Delusion, Mormonism Dissected, and Knavery Exposed, early anti-Mormon tracts claimed to be “Disclosing the Depths of Mormon Villainy Practiced in Nauvoo.”7 These early works established a long-standing trend in anti-Mormonism of which later anti-Mormons made much use: a fundamental conviction that among the Mormons all was not as it seemed.8 Before 1852, discussions of plural marriage in anti-Mormon literature were largelylimitedtoapostateanti-MormonssuchasJohnC.Bennettwhohadbeen privately aware of the practice before defecting from the Church. During the 1840s, anti-Mormon publications from former members censured polygamy...


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