It was oddly coincidental to read “The Second Relic of Barbarism: The Crusade against Mormon Polygamy, 1862-1890” because my daughter and I have been watching the HBO series Big Love.
This is a fictional story about a Mormon polygamist family, and we just finished with season one. Yeah, it’s an exaggerated soap opera but it does make references to the origins of Mormon polygamy so the background in this article helped me learn more about it.
In this article Carl explains the history of the government’s attack on the Mormons in Utah. Mormon religious practices weren’t really the problem, the problem was that they had a lot of power in the Utah territory and the government wanted the power. As noted in the article:
“The crusade against polygamy was in essence a crusade against Mormondom because the United States government perceived it as a powerful rival and competitor in the Utah territory. There was not enough room for two governments, when at least one of them wished to exercise monopolistic control. Even though only 2% of the Church membership practiced plural marriages during the era, polygamy was used as the major focus of attack. Time and again, authorities within the federal government made it plain that what they were really after was the power of the Mormon Church.”Those in power merely made good use of the bigotry people had against those who chose to practice polygamy. As is usually the case in matters like this, the hypocrisy of the control freaks reeked. The Mormons caustically (and rightly) pointed out that the objection to polygamy was "not to a man's having more than one woman, but to his calling more than one woman his wife."
The libertarians spoke out against the government’s persecution of the Mormons and added that the state had no business interfering in marriage at all. In 1882 Lysander Spooner wrote an editorial in Liberty, where he said:
"If Congress were really waging an honest war against unchaste men, or even unchaste women, or even religious hypocrites and impostors, they would not need to go to Utah to find them. And the fact that they do go to Utah to find them—passing by hundred of thousands of vicious persons of both sexes at home, and the religious hypocrites that are not supposed to be very scarce anywhere—is the proof of their hypocrisy; and of their design to make political capital for themselves, by currying favor with bigots and hypocrites, rather than to promote chastity on the part of either men or women."Also in Liberty, Gertrude Kelly (a female individualist anarchist I have heard of for the first time) said the Mormons "have a right to any system of marriage that suits them, that they maintain at their own cost, and that they do not force upon others."
Libertarians also pointed out that government legislation is not the moral way to go about changing people’s minds. Gertrude Kelly again:
"The Christian rushes to the ballot, and, if necessary to the bullet, to force his system down the Mormon's throat."I like this lady.
You can read the details of the 30 year battle between the Mormons and the government in Issue 13.
Meanwhile, I'm going to go watch what happens to Bill Henrickson and his crew in Season 2!