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Conclusion PolygamycontinuestofascinateandrepelAmericans.FromtheHBOtelevision series Big Love and TLC’s reality show Sister Wives to the numerous appearances of polygamists on Oprah, Dr. Phil, Anderson Cooper 360, Good Morning America,LarryKingLive,andothertelevisiontalkandnewsprograms,millions of Americans have become acquainted with the practice of plural marriage in contemporary America.1 The 2008 raid of a fundamentalist Mormon Yearning for Zion (YFZ) Ranch in Texas, when Texas officials seized over four hundred children, received widespread news coverage and amplified public interest in polygamy. This fascination is not new; it has its roots in the Mormon question of the nineteenth century. In the nineteenth century, debates about plural marriage were central to nationaldiscussionsofcitizenship,especiallyasthosediscussionswereframed around the public/private divide. The categories of public and private were centraltonineteenth-centurymiddle-classconstructionsofAmericancitizenship , framing American political culture around male political and economic participationinthepublicsphereandaroundfemaledomesticityintheprivate sphere. The practice of plural marriage upset the distinction between public andprivateinanumberofways,andtheMormons’alternativefamilypractices denaturalizedmiddle-classconstructionsoffamilyandcitizenship.This,Ihave argued, was at the root of the Mormon question. Talbot_Text.indd 161 9/5/13 8:49 AM 162 Conclusion Pluralmarriagewascentraltoaclusterofdoctrines—celestialmarriage;the plan of salvation; priesthood and the powers of sealing, adoption, and ordinance work for the dead; and eternal increase—that Joseph Smith articulated in Nauvoo. Moreover, plural marriage continued to be preached as essential to the highest degree of exaltation until the Woodruff Manifesto of 1890. By the same token, Joseph Smith established early on the centrality of the United States in Mormon theology. The Book of Mormon suggested that the principle of religious freedom facilitated the restoration of the true church of Christ in America.Americanreligiousfreedompreparedtheway“thatthesethingsmight come forth.”2 Ideally, plural marriage knit the Mormon community together as though it were one great family. Mormons considered the entire Mormon community as God’s family, governed by the privatized kingdom of God, thereby casting Mormon marital and political affairs as private. Mormons juxtaposed this broad communal private family to both the American public and to the public institutions of American government, at the same time maintaining that they werequintessentiallyAmerican.Theydidsobyformulatingapoliticaldualism which held that Mormons could be private citizens in God’s kingdom while public citizens in the American state. The American traditions of religious liberty and local sovereignty, Mormons argued, protected their unique domestic and political arrangements. Onecontroversialoutgrowthofthewayspluralmarriageundercutthepublic /private divide wasMormonwomansuffrage.In1870,Utahgrantedwomen thevote,andfromthatpointforward,Mormonwomenarticulatedtheirvision of a polygamous republicanism. Until the 1880s, they critiqued the Victorian modeloffemaledomesticityandmalecitizenshiprootedinthepublic/private divide, arguing that polygamy actually better prepared women for citizenship than did monogamy. In the 1880s, public pressure forced them to divorce polygamyfromthecauseofwomansuffrage .Althoughtheylostthevotein1887,as aresultofanti-Mormonlegislation,Mormonwomenremainedardentsuffragists and secured the vote in the Utah State Constitution of 1896. The Mormon challenge to the public/private dichotomy had prepared the way for Mormon women to receive the vote with very little resistance from a patriarchal and supposedly despotic Church hierarchy. Between 1852 and 1890, when polygamy was openly practiced in Utah, antiMormons responded virulently to the ways plural marriage undercut the public /privatedivide.TheywroteprolificallyaboutthemultiplewaysMormonism threatened“theutterdestructionofthehomecircle”whichtheyimaginedwas at the center of American political culture.3 Anti-Mormon texts demonstrated Talbot_Text.indd 162 9/5/13 8:49 AM 163 Conclusion to a curious American public that plural marriage destroyed the family by destroying the sentiment and exclusivity of romantic love and the harmony of the domestic sphere. For anti-Mormons, in a context in which monogamous private life was imagined to create good American citizens, the consequences of polygamy were grave. Destroying the natural order and harmony of the domestic sphere destroyed the affective ties that held the nation together. Manyalsobelievedthatpolygamythreatenedthenineteenth-centuryAmerican political values of consent and contract, undermining the rights of American citizenship. In an era historians have called the “age of contract,” consent wasofparamountimportancetoconceptionsofAmericancitizenship.AsantiMormonsunderstoodit ,however,Mormonismrendereditssubjectsincapable ofconsent—toreligion,tomarriage,ortogovernment.Polygamy,asportrayed in anti-Mormon literature, denied Mormon women the power of marital consent through manipulation or outright force. Moreover, by creating despotic ruleathome,polygamyfittedmalecitizensinturntobeacquiescentsubjectsto thedespoticrule ofMormonChurchleaders.Byunderminingmaritalandpolitical consent, polygamy made Mormons simply un-American. A polygamist, therefore, could not be a good citizen of the American Republic and, furthermore ,posedathreatto thatformofgovernment.Accordingtoanti-Mormons, Mormons “can not [sic] exist in contact with republican institutions.”4 Theproblemwiththesecritiques,ofcourse,wasthatinmanyrespectsMormons were American. Most early converts had been born in the United States, and Mormonism was a faith founded on American soil that touted American valuesandasserteditscompatibilitywithAmericanrepublicanism.Anti-Mormons thus faced the task of making Mormons foreign; they did so through the tropes of race and class. Linking Mormons to Middle Eastern “Orientals” enabled anti-Mormons to illustrate not only the un-Americanness of plural marriage...

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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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