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chapter 7 “Suffer a Surrender . . . ? No, Never!” The End of Plural Marriage 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 launchedinUtahthatquicklybecameanationalmovement.1 Intheearly1880s, a local Utah organization turned national, the Ladies Anti-Polygamy Society, was part of a successful campaign to prevent polygamist George Q. Cannon fromassumingofficeasUtah’sterritorialrepresentativetoCongress.Thatcampaign brought broad prominence to anti-polygamy reform campaigns in a nation already prepared for anti-polygamy activism by decades of anti-Mormon discourse. Women’s reform associations like the Women’s Christian Temperance Union jumped on the anti-polygamy bandwagon. Public lectures from the likes of Kate Field, Anna Dickenson, and the prophet Brigham Young’s former wife, Ann Eliza Young, abounded, and mass meetings, organized by a varietyofwomen’sreformorganizations,collectedsignaturesforthehundreds of anti-polygamy petitions that flooded the U.S. Congress. These petitions were often presented to Congress along with speeches from reformers like Jennie Froiseth, Angie Newman, and again Kate Field entreating federal officials to use what Field called the “dynamite of law” to put teeth into federal anti-polygamy legislation.2 Talbot_Text.indd 147 9/5/13 8:49 AM 148 chapter 7 Bringing Utah “Into Its Republican Relations with the Great Republic that Surrounds It”3 By the time reform campaigns against polygamy emerged in the late 1870s, legislation against polygamy had proved a dismal failure. In 1874, Congress passedthePolandAct,whichassertedmorefederalpowerovertheUtahcourt system.4 This act shifted jurisdiction over polygamy cases from territorial to federal courts and put in place new procedures for selecting jurors that Congress hoped would result in more convictions. While the Poland Act ensured that juries serving in polygamy cases would not be stacked with Mormons, it failed to address the difficulties already encountered under the Morrill Act in identifying the practitioners of plural marriage with sufficient evidence to prosecute them. Utah did not require marriages to be registered with the state, so proof of more than one marriage was often difficult to come by. Moreover, Mormonshadmanagedtosuccessfullyprotectthemselvesagainstprosecution for the crime of plural marriage; very few men had been convicted.5 In October 1875, prominent Mormon George Reynolds was indicted for polygamy and convicted under the Morrill Act. The Utah Supreme Court upheld his conviction, so Reynolds, with the support of Church officials hoping to prove the unconstitutionality of anti-polygamy legislation, appealed his case to the United States Supreme Court. The landmark decision in Reynolds v. United States, handed down in 1879, upheld the constitutionality of federal anti-polygamy legislation. With a burgeoning anti-polygamy reform movement behind it, the case wrote into the canon of American law the conclusions anti-Mormon literature had been forwarding for decades.6 The legal issues in the trial related to jury selection and witness testimony in the lower courts, but for Mormons the larger agenda of the case was to establish the unconstitutionality of the Morrill Act on grounds ofreligiousfreedom.Upholdingtheconstitutionalityofanti-polygamylegislation ,ChiefJusticeMorrisonWaitearguedthemajorityopinion.Hecontended that while Congress could not legislate religious belief, according to a Virginia law “Congress was left free to reach actions which were in violation of social dutiesorsubversiveofgoodorder.”7 Topermitacitizento“excusehispractices . . .becauseofhisreligiousbelief”wouldbe“topermiteverycitizentobecome a law unto himself.”8 ThechallengeforWaitewastoarticulatehowpluralmarriageconstitutedan act against public order. Waite rested his opinion on decades of anti-Mormon literature that had produced a vision of the implications of polygamy for public life and governmental principles. Like anti-Mormons before him, Waite Talbot_Text.indd 148 9/5/13 8:49 AM 149 The End of Plural Marriage argued the primal significance of marriage: “Upon [marriage] society may be said to be built, and out of its fruits spring social relations and social obligations and duties, with which government is necessarily required to deal.” Marriage was, “in most civilized nations,” within the purview of the state, “a civil contract, and usually regulated by law.” But for Waite, as for the anti-Mormons before him, marriage was a compelling state interest not just as the basis of social relationships but as the foundation of government principles as well: “[A]ccording as monogamous or polygamous marriages are allowed, do we find the principles on which the government of the people, to a greater or less extent, rests.” Polygamy leads to patriarchy in the home and to patriarchal rule in communities which, according to the Chief Justice, “fetters the people in stationary despotism, while that principle cannot long exist in connection with monogamy.”9 Following the logic of decades of anti-Mormon rhetoric, the court tied polygamy inextricably...

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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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