The Mormon Question: Polygamy and Constitutional Conflict in Nineteenth-Century America

Sarah Barringer Gordon.

Published January 2002. Order online through The University of North Carolina Press. ISBN: 978-0-8078-4987-3.

From the Mormon Church’s public announcement of its sanction of polygamy in 1852 until its formal decision to abandon the practice in 1890, people on both sides of the “Mormon question” debated central questions of constitutional law. Did principles of religious freedom and local self-government protect Mormons’ claim to a distinct, religiously based legal order? Or was polygamy, as its opponents claimed, a new form of slavery–this time for white women in Utah? And did constitutional principles dictate that democracy and true liberty were founded on separation of church and state?

As Sarah Barringer Gordon shows, the answers to these questions finally yielded an apparent victory for antipolygamists in the late nineteenth century, but only after decades of argument, litigation, and open conflict. Victory came at a price; as attention and national resources poured into Utah in the late 1870s and 1880s, antipolygamists turned more and more to coercion and punishment in the name of freedom. They also left a legacy in constitutional law and political theory that still governs our treatment of religious life: Americans are free to believe, but they may well not be free to act on their beliefs.

Awards
2002 Best Book Award, Mormon History Association, 2002 Best Utah History Book Award, Utah Historical Society
Related Titles:

The Invention of Party Politics: Federalism, Popular Sovereignty, and Constitutional Development in Jacksonian Illinois (Dec 13, 2002)
Gerald Leonard. Published December 2002. Order online through The University of North Carolina Press. ISBN: 978-0-8078-2744-4. This ambitious work uncovers the constitutional foundations of that most essential institution of modern democracy, the political party. Taking on Richard Hofstadter’s classic The Idea of a Party System, it rejects the standard view that Martin Van Buren and other …
Sir Edward Coke and ‘The Grievances of the Commonwealth,’ 1621-1628 (Sep 19, 1979)
Stephen D. White. Published 1979. Order online through The University of North Carolina Press. ISBN: 978-0-8078-9807-9. A UNC Press Enduring Edition — UNC Press Enduring Editions use the latest in digital technology to make available again books from our distinguished backlist that were previously out of print. These editions are published unaltered from the original, and are presented in …
Heart versus Head: Judge-Made Law in Nineteenth-Century America (Sep 13, 1997)
Peter Karsten. Published September 1997. Order online through The University of North Carolina Press. ISBN: 978-0-8078-2340-8. Challenging traditional accounts of the development of American private law, Peter Karsten offers an important new perspective on the making of the rules of common law and equity in nineteenth-century courts. The central story of that era, he finds, was a struggle …
The Roots of Justice: Crime and Punishment in Alameda County, California, 1870-1910 (Sep 19, 1981)
Lawrence M. Friedman, Robert V. Percival. Published 1981. Order online through The University of North Carolina Press. ISBN: 978-0-8078-9748-5. Focusing on a single county at a time when the population grew from 24,000 to 246,000, the authors combine statistical analysis of documentary sources, contemporary newspaper accounts, and exploration in criminal case files to give a detailed …
The Transformation of Criminal Justice: Philadelphia, 1800-1880 (Nov 5, 1989)
Allen Steinberg. Published November 1989. Order online through The University of North Carolina Press. ISBN: 9-780-8078-1844-2. Allen Steinberg brings to life the court-centered criminal justice system of nineteenth-century Philadelphia, chronicles its eclipse, and contrasts it to the system — dominated by the police and public prosecutor — that replaced it. He offers a major …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *