Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
A Foreign Kingdom

A Foreign Kingdom: Mormons and Polygamy in American Political Culture, 1852-1890

CHRISTINE TALBOT
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 272
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5406/j.ctt3fh48r
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    A Foreign Kingdom
    Book Description:

    The years from 1852 to 1890 marked a controversial period in Mormonism, when the church's official embrace of polygamy put it at odds with wider American culture. In this study, Christine Talbot explores the controversial era, discussing how plural marriage generated decades of cultural and political conflict over competing definitions of legitimate marriage, family structure, and American identity. In particular, Talbot examines "the Mormon question" with attention to how it constructed ideas about American citizenship around the presumed separation of the public and private spheres. Contrary to the prevailing notion of man as political actor, woman as domestic keeper, and religious conscience as entirely private, Mormons enfranchised women and framed religious practice as a political act. The way Mormonism undermined the public/private divide led white, middle-class Americans to respond by attacking not just Mormon sexual and marital norms but also Mormons' very fitness as American citizens.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09535-1
    Subjects: Religion, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)

    In the 1830s, a young American named Joseph Smith founded a new religion that would come to be called The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly known as the Mormons. As the Church developed, the practice of plural marriage became central to Mormon theology. Mormons practiced “the principle” in secret from the 1830s until 1852, when its public announcement launched Mormonism onto the national stage. This book explores the national controversy following that announcement. It maps two parallel and opposed ideological paradigms—Mormon and anti-Mormon—during Mormonism’s most controversial period, from 1852 to 1890, when Mormon Church leadership...

  5. CHAPTER 1 “That These Things Might Come Forth”: Early Mormonism and the American Republic
    (pp. 19-33)

    In the spring of 1820, a fourteen-year-old New England farm boy retired to the woods to seek guidance from God. The fervent religious sentiment stirred up by the Second Great Awakening had confused young Joseph Smith, Jr. God answered his youthful prayer with a series of visions over the next several years—visions that gave rise to the largest religion ever founded on American soil.¹ Before his death in 1844, Smith would articulate a broad cluster of controversial doctrines and practices that placed Mormons at odds with other Americans throughout the nineteenth century. In 1852, eight years after Smith’s death,...

  6. CHAPTER 2 “We Shall Then Live Together as One Great Family”: Mormonism and the Public/Private Divide
    (pp. 34-62)

    Orson Pratt’s public announcement in 1852 that Mormons practiced polygamy unnerved Americans.¹ Pratt was one of the Church’s most voluble officials and over the next few decades would become the most ardent advocate of polygamy. In the wake of Pratt’s sermon, Mormonism became a national “question” almost at once. The thousands of anti-Mormon novels, tracts, essays, exposés, and speeches indicate the vehemence of national responses; with few exceptions, American opinion makers passionately condemned the practice. Over the next forty years, anti-Mormon reformers embarked on unprecedented discursive and legal campaigns against polygamy, vilifying and eventually outlawing the practice. In the 1880s,...

  7. CHAPTER 3 “More the Companion and Much Less the Subordinate”: Polygamy and Mormon Woman’s Citizenship
    (pp. 63-82)

    “Utah is the land of marvels. She gives us, first polygamy, which seems to be an outrage against ‘woman’s rights,’ and then offers to the nation a ‘female suffrage bill.’ . . . Was there ever a greater anomaly known in the history of a society?”¹ With this statement a writer for thePhrenological Journalarticulated what most nineteenth-century Americans understood to be the paradox of Mormon woman’s suffrage, a paradox with which scholars have been wrestling ever since. How did a community which understood itself to be avowedly patriarchal, instituted a marriage system it called “patriarchal marriage,” referred to...

  8. CHAPTER 4 “The Utter Destruction of the Home Circle”: Polygamy and the Perversion of the Private Sphere
    (pp. 83-104)

    The ways that Mormon marriage systems undermined the public/private divide were not lost on the rest of the nation. In response to the Mormon challenge, a phalanx of domestic novels, exposés, travel narratives, cartoons, magazine articles, political treatises, and other anti-Mormon writings assaulted the practice of polygamy in a campaign to safeguard that divide. This chapter examines how and in what ways anti-Mormon literature held in place their particular vision of the sanctity of the private sphere, an ideal anti-Mormons thought to be central to American national culture. White middle-class Americans mostly from the North produced volumes of anti-Mormon literature...

  9. CHAPTER 5 “They Can Not Exist in Contact with Republican Institutions”: Consent, Contract, and Citizenship under “Polygamic Theocracy”
    (pp. 105-128)

    In the imaginations of anti-Mormons and many of their contemporaries, the importance of the private sphere to public life could not be overestimated: the virtue, liberty, and very existence of America depended on proper American homes. Early on, anti-Mormon literature trumpeted the threat of Mormonism to the American home. However, in later decades connecting plural marriage to the destruction of the American home and the practice of plural marriage to theocratic government in Utah was a major tour de force for anti-Mormon literature. Over the 1870s and 1880s, anti-Mormons began concentrating their attentions on showing how the practice of polygamy...

  10. CHAPTER 6 “The Foulest Ulcer on the Body of Our Nation”: Race, Class, and Contagion in Anti-Mormon Literature
    (pp. 129-146)

    In 1866, a writer forFrank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspapercalled Mormonism “a great anomaly in American history.”¹ Plural marriage, this writer contended, made Mormonism an anomaly in national culture that Americans simply could not tolerate. In their unrelenting attempts to cast the Mormon anomaly out of the American body politic, anti-Mormons most often turned to some of the most powerfully charged sources of fear and prejudice in the nineteenth century, race and class. Nativist attitudes along with prejudice toward immigrant poorer classes came with a ready-made set of tropes, images, analogies, and allusions to apply to Mormonism and manufacture deeply...

  11. CHAPTER 7 “Suffer a Surrender . . . ? No, Never!”: The End of Plural Marriage
    (pp. 147-160)

    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 launched in Utah that quickly became a national movement.¹ In the early 1880s, a local Utah organization turned national, the Ladies Anti-Polygamy Society, was part of a successful campaign to prevent polygamist George Q. Cannon from assuming office as Utah’s territorial representative to Congress. That campaign 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...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 161-168)

    Polygamy continues to fascinate and repel Americans. From the HBO television seriesBig Loveand TLC’s reality showSister Wivesto the numerous appearances of polygamists onOprah, Dr. Phil, Anderson Cooper 360, Good Morning America, Larry King Live, and other television talk and news programs, 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...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 169-214)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 215-254)
  15. Index
    (pp. 255-262)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 263-264)