Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Laws Against Polygamy - 1862 (Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act)

This is an off-shoot from the Reed Smoot hearing testimonies that I have been churning through.  Some of the conversations in the hearing deal with the laws against polygamy enacted by the United States Congress.  So, I wanted to have these readily available for review.

Other posts in this series:

Some History and Backgound to this Bill:

There is some historical evidence that Joseph Smith knew about the doctrine of plural marriage prior to its acknowledgment and being recorded in 1843.  Joseph began the practice of polygamy around 1835 (when he married Fanny Alger plurally), which would be a little after the time when he was going through the Bible and retranslating it, and would put the Saints in both Kirtland, Ohio and Missouri - not Nauvoo, Illinois.  This time frame also matches with the heading in Section 132 of the Doctrine and Covenants which says that the prophet knew of this doctrine since 1831 (reference:  LDS D&C Section 132).  However, this section was not officially added to the D&C until 1876, by Brigham Young.  Prior to this time, the section known to the Community of Christ Church today as Section 111 was included (reference:  CofC D&C Section 111) as the scripture on marriage.

After the Mormons had made their way to the Salt Lake Valley in 1847, the practice of polygamy continued, but it was not broadcast.  However, that all changed in Salt Lake on August 29, 1852, when Apostle Orson Pratt gave a talk entitled "Celestial Marriage," which announced officially to the country that the Mormons were practicing polygamy (Journal of Discourses, Vol 1, pg. 53 - here).  This declaration was done with the approval of Brigham Young.  At this time, there was no longer the hush and whisper method of containing this practice.  It was now freely and openly admitted, logically backed up with scriptures to justify its practice as a religious institution, and practiced openly in the Territory.

In 1856, the Republican party selected as its national platform the abolishment of the "twin relics of barbarism - polygamy and slavery."  This was the platform that Abraham Lincoln ran on, and it shows the concern of the politicians and the citizens of the country to this growing problem in Utah.

Mormons in the State of Deseret (Territory of Utah) were desperately trying to become a State in the Union so that they could officially legalize polygamy in the State.  It was however, very clear, that one of the main reasons their petitions for statehood were rejected by Congress was due to the practice of polygamy - because it undermined the concept of marriage, an institution that is necessary for a free society.

Many in Washington considered the practice of polygamy and refusal of Brigham Young to deal with it as a rebellion against the Government of the United States.  Because of this, the "Mormon Rebellion" had to be stopped, and military plans were drawn up.  At the urging of many Washington politicians in Buchanan's administration, President James Buchanan sent out troops to replace Brigham Young as the Territorial governor.  The Federal Government in Washingon, D.C., was going to force the hand of the Mormons to obey and honor the correct form of government.  Here is the reaction of Brigham (New York Times article: November 19, 1857) when he was informed that an army was on its way to Utah. 

On April 6, 1858, President Buchanan, issued a proclamation "Respecting the Rebellion and Mormon Troubles in the Territory of Utah." This was in response to Brigham Young's reaction to the troops headed to Utah, and the burning of supply wagons for the army by Mormon raiders.  The Mormons were labeled as terrorists and subversive. They were told that they were given every opportunity to live within the government of a free nation, but refused and rebelled against it.  Every appointed official in Utah could not accomplish their job for fear of retribution and possibly assassination by the commnity. (United States Statutes at Large, Vol. 11, pages 796-798).

     "The great mass of those settlers [pioneers in Utah], acting under the influence of leaders to whom they seem to have surrendered their judgment, refuse to be controlled by any other authority ... the hatred of that misguided people for the just and legal authority of the government had become so intense that they resolved to measure their military strength with that of the Union ... While the troops of the United States were on their march, a train of baggage-wagons, which happened to be unprotected, was attacked and destroyed by a portion of the Mormon forces, and the provisions and stores with which the train was laden were wantonly burnt ... In short, their present attitude is one of decided and unreserved enmity to the United States and to all their loyal citizens.

     "Fellow-citizens of Utah ! this is rebellion against the government to which you owe allegiance.  It is levying war against the United States, and involves you in the guilt of treason ... it is mere madness to suppose that, with your limited resources, you can successfully resist the force of this great and powerful nation ... Do not decieve yourselves nor try to mislead others by propagating the idea that this is a crusade against your religion ... [I offer] to the inhabitants of Utah, who shall submit to the laws, a free pardon for the seditions and treasons heretofore by them committed."
From the "History of Salt Lake City" comes this quote:
"Burning the supplies of an army of the United States, sent by the Government to put down an incipient rebellion, was declared to be an extraordinary overt act of actual war, while the proclamation of Governor Young was considered as a veritable declaration of war as from an independent power.  A terrible wrath was aroused against the Mormon Utah."
Brigham Young's words on to U.S. Captain Van Vliet on this occasion give pause:
"We are aware that such will be the case; but when those troops arive they will find Utah a desert.  Every house will be burned to the ground, every tree cut down and every field left waste.  We have three years' provisions on hand, which we will 'cache,' and then take to the mountains and bid defiance to all the powers of the government"  (History of Salt Lake City, pg. 175 - both quotes).

The reconstituted Nauvoo Legion, led by Major Lot Smith, did delay the approach of the army until June 1858, by capturing and buring supply caravans destined for the main body of the army.  The entire series of events with references can be found at under Utah War.  This military move was known later as "Buchanan's blunder."  The Mormon leaders and people believed that the Federal Government was finally willing, and able, to carry out plans to completely destroy them, where they had failed before in Missouri and Illinois.  The Salt Lake Temple foundations were buried to hide it from the army (a farmer's field was placed over the top of it for a disguise).  In the end, the army moved in, Camp Floyd was created for the housing of the troops (on the western side of Utah Lake), and after approximately a year, the military left and returned back East.

This military intervention, and many discussions with Mormon leaders both in Utah and Washington D.C., did nothing to disuade them from the practice of polygamy.

That's the background, now the law.

First up is what is known as the Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act - sponsored by Representative Justin Smith Morrill of Vermont.  It was introduced to the House of Representatives in the spring of 1860, where it passed.  It was sent over to the Senate, but did not make it out before Congress adjourned.  With the start of the 36th Congress in 1862, the Southern States were not represented, and this led to an easier passage of the bill; by a vote of 37 to 2, it passed the Senate.

This bill was signed into law on July 1, 1862, by President Abraham Lincoln.  Because of the timing of the bill (rebellion of the South causing the Civil War), distance of the Mormons from everyone else (railroads didn't connect in Utah until 1869), and the general attitude of "let sleeping dogs lie," this law was not enforced at all.  It was a bill created without teeth, and became a law that was ignored by the Mormons.  However, Brigham Young was still concerned when he learned of its passage, so he wanted to know the intentions of President Lincoln in relation to this bill.
"When Brigham Young sent Deseret News assistant editor T.B.H. Stenhouse to Washington, D.C., to ascertain Lincoln's plans for the Mormons, the president told him:
'Stenhouse, when I was a boy on the farm in Illinois there was a great deal of timber on the farms which we had to clear away.  Occasionally we would come to a log which had fallen down.  It was too hard to split, too wet to burn and too heavy to move, so we plowed around it.  That's what I intend to do with the Mormons.  You go back and tell Brigham Young that if he will let me alone, I will let him alone.'"   (Church History in the Fullness of Times, pg. 383).
That is exactly what happened.  This law was not enforced.  No officers were appointed to enforce the law and no funds for enforcement were allotted.

I find it interesting that they used the phrases "State of Deseret" and "spiritual marriage" in the text of the bill itself.  That tells me that they did understand, at least a little, what was going on out in the desert.  It is a little confusing why they would want to label and punish polygamy as the crime of bigamy because they are two different crimes.  Mormons knew they weren't practicing bigamy (marrying another spouse without the first one knowing), they were practicing polygamy where everything was above board.

Here's my quick and dirty summary of the law (which has 3 sections):

Section 1:  Defines the marriage of more than one living woman to a man (or living man to a woman) as bigamy and punishable by a $500 fine and imprisonment of up to 5 years.

Section 2:  Disincorporates the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints due to the fact that this corporation helped establish and shield the polygamous practices occurring in the Territory.  Also any other laws or acts passed by the legislature of the so-called State of Deseret (Territory of Utah) which supported polygamy are automatically annulled.

Section 3:  No religious corporation may own more that $50,000 worth of real estate in a Territory of the United States.  Any real estate owned by such corporations that come in conflict with this law are forfeited and escheat to the United States.

Below is quoted the law in its entirety - it's actually short compared to some laws I've read.

The Statutes at Large, Treaties, and Proclamations, of the United States of America
From December 5, 1859, to March 3, 1863
Volume XII [12] - reference below, pages 501-502

July 1, 1862
Chapter CXXVI [126] - An Act to punish and prevent the Practice of Polygamy in the Territories of the United States and other Places, and disapproving and annulling certain Acts of the Legislative Assembly of Territory of Utah.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That every person having a husband or wife living, who shall marry any other person, whether married or single, in a Territory of the United States, or other place over which the United States have exclusive jurisdiction, shall, except in the cases specified in the proviso section, be adjudged guilty of bigamy, and, upon conviction thereof, shall be punished by a fine not exceeding five hundred dollars, and by imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years:  Provided, nevertheless, That this section shall not extend to any person by reason of any former marriage whose husband or wife by such marriage shall have been absent for five successive years without being known to such person within that time to be living; nor to any person by reason of any former marriage which shall have been dissolved by the decree of a competent court; nor to any person by reason of any former marriage which shall have been annulled or pronounced void by the sentence or decree of a competent court on the ground of the nullity of the marriage contract.
     Sec. 2.  And be it further enacted, That the following ordinance of the provisional government of the State of Deseret, so called, namely: "An ordinance incorporating the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints," passed February eight, in the year eighteen hundred and fifty-one, and adopted, reenacted, and made valid by the governor and legislative assembly of the Territory of Utah by an act passed January nineteen, in the year eighteen hundred and fifty-five, entitled "An act in relation to the compilation and revision of the laws and resolutions in force in Utah Territory, their publication, and distribution," and all other acts and parts of acts heretofore passed by the said legislative assembly of the Territory of Utah, which establish, support, maintain, shield, or countenance polygamy, be, and the same hereby are, disapproved and annulled:  Provided, That this act shall be so limited and construed as not to affect or interfere with the right or property legally acquired under the ordinance heretofore mentioned, nor with the right "to worship God according to the dictates of conscience," but only to annul all acts and laws which establish, maintain, protect, or countenance the practice of polygamy, evasively called spiritual marriage, however disguised by legal or ecclesiastical solemnities, sacraments, ceremonies, consecrations, or other contrivances.
     Sec. 3.  And be it further enacted, That is shall not be lawful for any corporation or association for religious or charitable purposes to acquire of hold real estate in any Territory of the United States during the existence of the territorial government of a greater value than fifty thousand dollars; and all real estate acquired or held by any such corporation or association contrary to the provisions of this act shall be forfeted and escheat to the United States:  Provided, That existing vested rights in real estate shall not be impaired by the provisions of this section.

APPROVED, July 1, 1862


  1. Andy, do you have any theories about what Morrill's motivations were when he proposed this bill? IE, what his personal beef was that would motivate him to pitch this bill? Also, do you think there any connections with the Edmunds Act also being proposed by a Vermont citizen? Thanks for stating yourself as Pro-Mormon!

  2. I had a hard time finding anything that satisfied this question fully.

    "Perhaps he may have felt, as possibly his colleague Senator Edmunds did twenty years later, a certain sense of responsibility to attack and destroy the evils of Mormonism because its prophet and founder Joseph Smith, as well as his successor Brigham Young, was a native of Vermont."

    The Life and Services of Justin Smith Morrill by William B. Parker, pg. 82

    He served on the Committee on Territories, and as a member had ready access to the documents, reports, and history for Utah. I read a few of the talks he gave in the House, and he was relentless and unforgiving in his pursuit of a goal; once it was identified, he would hunt it down with vigor.

    The speech of his that gained him the most stature surrounding polygamy was given February 23, 1857, in the House of Representatives and entitled: "Utah Territory and Its Laws - Polygamy and Its License"

    He really went after the Church in this speech. His foundation was a report to Congress made in 1851 on what was happening in the Territory of Utah. There were some very unflattering things said in that report concerning the Church, its leaders (Brigham Young speaking ill of politicians in Washington, etc.), and the practices/doctrines of the Church (theories on the Danites, slavery, polygamy, Indians, etc.), and Rep. Morrill skillfully used all of these to his advantage.

    Mr. Parker (the book above), had this to say about the affect of the speech on the country:

    "It was a solid weighty speech, and as it became widely distributed served as the armory for many an attack on the Mormon power."

    Joseph Fielding Smith, in the book "The Life of Joseph Fielding Smith" had this to say about this period of time:

    "... the most vindictive of them against the Mormons often were the Vermonters. President George Q. Cannon, who served as Utah's territorial delegate to Congress, observed that while the state of Vermont had produced several of the Church's leaders, including Joseph and Hyrum Smith, Brigham Young, Erastus Snow, Heber C. Kimball and others, it had also produced some of the Church's most vicious enemies, including Senators Justin Morrill, George F. Edmunds, and Luke P. Poland, Representative Dudley Chase Haskell, President Chester Arthur, and other political opportunists, who had authored, co-sponsored, signed, or otherwise promoted the hateful anti-polygamy laws." (Pg. 43)

    Again Joseph Fielding Smith adds a little more light to the issue (at least from an LDS perspective) in the book, Essentials in Church History, pp. 431-32:

    "While many states were endeavoring to get out of the Union, the "Mormons" were petitioning Congress to get in. This privilege of state government was denied them. The denial was very largely due to the hostile attitudes of the new officials, Governor Stephen S. Harding, and two of the territorial judges, Charles B. Waite and Thomas J. Drake, who were decidedly unfriendly to the people of the territory."

    "The 'Anti-Bigamy Law' -- Instead of granting statehood in answer to the petition of the people of Utah, Congress passed an 'anti-bigamy law' in opposition to the practice of plural marriage. It was presented to the house of representatives by Justin R. Morrill of Vermont, but was instigated by Governor Harding and Judges Waite and Drake."

    I'm not sure what conclusion to draw from all of this. I believe Rep. Morrill saw the documentation about Utah, had conversations with the political leaders (Harding, Waite, and Drake), was upset that polygamy was continuing (perhaps he saw this as a political opportunity?), and acted a kind of spokesperson for the Republican party platform for eliminating this "relic of barbarism." I believe that his knowing Church leaders (Joseph and Brigham) were from Vermont only made him more interested in pursuing this.

    It's not much -- but that what I found.


    1. I admire your dedication to share the facts and truth about the church, excellent job; great effort in researching and inspired by the holy ghost makes you a winner for your quest and stand of the gospel, I believe that in this last dispensation there were many valiant spirits; "The Noble and Great ones" whom Heavenly Father reserved to defend the truthfulness of the gospel until the fulness of time comes, as I remember one of my favorite stories in the book of Mormon the "Allegory of The Olive Tree" that the lord for the last time working with His servants in the vine yard. my the Lord Jesus Christ be with your cause.

  3. If you could would you site all your sources for your articles about, The Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act of 1862,The Edmunds Act, and the Edmunds-Tucker Act

    1. Simeon, sorry for the delay in responding.

      I did not create a bibliography for my sources, many are just embedded in the blog itself. However, here is a brief overview of what I used:

      1862 - Morrill Act:

      LDS Scriptures (
      Community of Christ Scriptures (
      Journal of Discourses
      Google search engine
      New York Times historical archive search (for newspaper articles about the Mormons in the 1850s/1860s).
      United States Statutes at Large (volume 11)
      History of Salt Lake City (Edward W. Tullidge, published 1886)

      1882 - Edmunds Act

      I have a list of the sources I used on this blog post in the comments at the bottom of that post. I hope this is sufficient.

      1887 - Edmunds-Tucker Act

      The Life of John Taylor (B.H. Roberts)
      Popular History of Utah (Orson F. Whitney)
      Messages of the First Presidency (James R. Clark)
      Wilford Woodruff: History of His Life and Labors (Matthias Cowley)
      U.S. Supreme Court (
      Under The Prophet In Utah (Frank J. Cannon)
      United States Statutes at Large, volume 24

      Right at the beginning of the post I did on the 1890 manifesto, is a list of sources (some of which are the same as above).