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History of Polygamy, Utah

Taken from the Utah History Encyclopedia (Links Added)
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Reactions from outside the church to statements about polygamy were immediate and negative. In 1854 the Republican party termed polygamy and slavery the "twin relics of barbarism." In 1862 the United States Congress passed the Morrill Act, which prohibited plural marriage in the territories, disincorporated the Mormon Church, and restricted the church's ownership of property. The nation was in the midst of the Civil War, however, and the law was not enforced. In 1867 the Utah Territorial Legislature asked Congress to repeal the Morrill Act. Instead of doing that, the House Judiciary Committee asked why the law was not being enforced, and the Cullom Bill, an attempt to strengthen the Morrill Act, was introduced. Although it did not pass, most of its provisions later became law. Out of a number of other bills introduced during the 1870s against polygamy, only the Poland Act passed, in 1874. It gave district courts all civil and criminal jurisdiction and limited the probate courts to matters of estate settlement, guardianship, and divorce.

The Mormons continued to practice polygamy despite these laws, since they believed that the practice were protected by the freedom of religion clause in the Bill of Rights. To test the constitutionality of the laws, George Reynolds, Brigham Young's private secretary, agreed to be tried. In 1879 the case reached the Supreme Court, which upheld the Morrill Act: "Laws are made for the government of actions, and while they cannot interfere with mere religious belief and opinion, they may with practices."


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