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

By Sarah Barringer Gordon | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5

The Erosion of Sympathy

In Utah, Reynoldschanged everything but the determination to resist. As one prominent polygamist put it, "I will not desert my wives and my children and disobey the commandments of God for the sake of accommodating the public clamor of a nation steeped in sin and ripened for the damnation of hell." The betrayal of constitutional principle, argued Mormons, bankrupted the decision, the court that issued it, and the nation that supported it. Reynolds, said the Latterday Saints Millennial Star, was "the product of base cowardice, [and] pandering to anti-Mormon fanaticism." Defiance was rendered more desperate by the erosion of the constitutional logic of resistance. But the New Dispensation was at stake, and the foul pronouncements of judges in the East could not corrode the exultation of sainthood. 1

Resistance also worked. From 1879 to 1890, the government brought only seventy-eight indictments for polygamy. Proving a second (or third or fourth) marriage in a jurisdiction that had no official registration provisions, in a church that purportedly kept no records of marriages, and in the midst of a recalcitrant population was a burden prosecutors could not meet. As a test case, Reynoldswas both indispensable and insufficient. 2

The determination to avoid compliance, combined with the shrewd activities of territorial representative George Q. Cannon in Congress, had long served the interests of the church. The end of Cannon's tenure in Washington (he served from 1872 to 1882) marked the boundary of resistance as an effective political strategy. Cannon's tireless advocacy of peaceful coexistence rested on theories of localism and respect for privacy, as well as energetic opposition to antipolygamy proposals. His aim was to make Utah all but invisible politically,

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

Table of contents

  • The Mormon Question - Polygamy and Constitutional Conflict in Nineteenth-Century America *
  • Contents *
  • Illustrations *
  • Preface *
  • Introduction - Faith and the Contested Constitution *
  • Part One - The Laws of God and the Laws of Man *
  • Chapter 1 - The Power of the Word(S) *
  • Chapter 2 - The Twin Relic of Barbarism *
  • Chapter 3 - The Logic of Resistance *
  • Part Two - Days of Judgment *
  • Chapter 4 - Law and Patriarchy at the Supreme Court *
  • Chapter 5 - The Erosion of Sympathy *
  • Chapter 6 - The Marital Economy *
  • Epilogue - The (Un)Faithful Constitution *
  • Notes *
  • Bibliography *
  • Acknowledgments *
  • Index *
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