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Category Archives: Polygamy Laws
After the Church began to openly practice polygamy the United States government began a series of anti-polygamy laws. These began with the Morrill Anti-bigamy Act, signed into law by Abraham Lincoln in 1862. It was followed by the Edmunds Act and later the Edmunds Tucker Act. States and territories also passed local laws restricting the political right of Mormons. For example, in 1885 Idaho passed a test oath law that in effect barred all Mormons in the territory from voting. This was upheld as constitutional by the United States Supreme Court in 1890.
In this post I estimate the number of men and women living in polygamy in Utah in 1880 using data from the 1880 census and other sources.
I have estimated that in 1880 there approximately 9,000 persons in polygamous marriages in Utah. About 6,500 wives and 2,500 husbands. This is approximately 25% of married Mormon women and about 13% of married Mormon men. However, the total number could easily be closer to 10,000.
I also conclude that the census data by itself is not sufficient for estimating the number of persons living in polygamy. Other data is required. This conclusion is based on the fact that the married female to married male ratio for Utah from the 1880 and 1900 census’ were outliers. However, in 1890 it was nearly 1.0 (Figure 4), which means that in 1890 nearly all women in polygamous relationships were concealing their marital status, probably to protect their husbands and children. I believe that in the 1880 census nearly two thirds of women in polygamous relationships concealed their marital status.
These results should be qualified with polygamy studies from Utah’s earlier history. It is appears that during the 1860’s quite possibly more than 50% of married LDS women in Utah were polygamous wives.
Summary: I said this post would be interesting. And it is. The LDS Church officially abandoned polygamy in 1890 due to intense government pressure. The 1890 Census Report contains detailed information on divorce that I believe captures evidence of polygamy in Utah. My previous post analyzed the marriage data (Marriage in 1890 Utah: Very Normal).
Firstly, when talking about divorce in 1890 we are dealing with a very small percentage of the population. The median divorce rate for the US was 0.23%. And it turns out that the overall divorce rate in 1890 in Utah is ordinary, right at the third quartile for US states and territories. However, when you look at divorce by age and sex it becomes much more interesting. Above age 34 Utah has the highest or second highest female divorce rate in the US–from 45 on up only Nevada is higher. But this is interesting because Nevada’s total population was 45,761 compared to Utah’s 207,905. Nevada’s male to female ratio was 1.76 and Utah’s was 1.13. Nevada was a much more difficult place for a woman to live and you would expect a higher divorce rate. But Utah?
More can be said. The male divorce rate for Utah qualifies as ordinary (falls between the first and third quartiles) for all age categories. But if you look at the difference between male and female divorce rates by age then Utah really stands out. The national trend is, overall, downward with male divorces eventually exceeding female divorces. The Utah trend is starkly upward, increasing in nearly a straight line from age 15 to 64. Overall, the female divorce rate far exceeds the male divorce rate. Not only does the divergence between the Utah male and female divorce rates increase with age, it also diverges from the national trend. Continue reading →
The Idaho Test Oath in effect made it illegal for any Mormon in the state of Idaho to vote or hold public office. This disfranchisement was achieved through a test oath that every perspective voter was required to swear to prior to being allowed to vote.
Any person “who is a member of any order, organization, or association which teaches, advises, counsels, or encourages its members or devotees, or any other persons, to commit the crime of bigamy or polygamy” was barred from voting.
This law was upheld as constitutional by the United States Supreme Court on February 3, 1890. For Court’s final decision see DAVIS V. BEASON, 133 U. S. 333 (1890).
The following was taken from Laws of the territory of Idaho: An Act for Holding Elections, 1884-1885, pp. 106-117. Only the relevant sections are quoted. The sections which are quoted are quoted in their entirety. See partof the legislation at Google Books. Continue reading →
In an effort to stamp out polygamy the US Congress passed the Edmunds-Tucker Act in 1887. This act made adultery punishable by up to three years in prison, unmarried sex was punishable by up to six months in prison, and the female vote was revoked. (Women had won the right to vote in Utah in 1870.)
The constitutionality of the anti-polygamy laws were upheld in Reynolds v. United States (Reynolds v. United States, 98 U.S. 145, 1878).
Mormon Polygamy was recently criticized in a Weekly Standard article by Stanley Kurtz (“Polygamy Versus Democracy”). Under the title “The Mormon Question” he writes, “Modern Mormonism’s success is certified by the emergence of Mitt Romney, a Mormon governor from Massachusetts…as a presidential contender.” He then goes on to speak of “Mormonism’s largely forgotten history.” Prejudice against Mormonism still lingers over the long abandoned practice of polygamy. See here for the 1890 declaration wherein the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints officially renounces the practice of polygamy.
The entire text of the Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act is given below.