Mormon History

United States versus the Mormon Church - 1882

The Mormon Church had long attracted critics, particularly for its support of polygamy, the condition of having more than one spouse at a time.

Early in the Civil War, some Northerners equated polygamy with slavery and supported the passage of the Morrill Act in 1862. This measure was aimed directly at the Mormons in Utah and outlawed bigamy in the territories. With the war well under way and Utah far from federal authority, the law was almost impossible to enforce.

A new tack was taken in 1870 when polygamy opponents attempted to subvert the practice by extending suffrage to women in Utah. This was not successful; the women voted and remained in plural marriages.

During the Arthur administration, Senator George F. Edmunds of Vermont took up the cause in Washington. The Edmunds Act of 1882 made "unlawful cohabitation" illegal, thus removing the need to prove that actual marriages had occurred. More than 1,300 men were imprisoned under the terms of this measure.

This was followed March 22, 1882, by an Act of Congress, commonly known as the "Edmunds Law," 22 Stat. 31, which, while providing for further punishment for polygamy and its accompanying evils, in section 7 expressly legitimates the issue of polygamous or Mormon marriages, born prior to January 1, 1883. If the territorial act of 1852 be open to the charge of shielding or countenancing polygamy, much more so is this act, which not only admits polygamous children to the right of inheritance, but actually legitimates them for all purposes. The law remained substantially in this condition, until March 3, 1887, when the Act of Congress known as the "Edmunds-Tucker Law," 24 Stat. 635, was passed, the eleventh section of which provides that

"The laws enacted by the Legislative Assembly of the Territory of Utah which provide for or recognize the capacity of illegitimate children to inherit or to be entitled to any distributive share in the estate of the father of any such illegitimate child are hereby disapproved and annulled, and no illegitimate child shall hereafter be entitled to inherit from his or her father, or to receive any distributive share in the estate of his or her father, provided that this section shall not apply to any illegitimate child born within twelve months after the passage of this act, nor to any child made legitimate by the 7th section of the act"

Here, then, is the first clear and unqualified declaration of Congress of its disapproval of the legislation of Utah recognizing the inheritable capacity of the issue of polygamous marriages, and so careful is Congress of rights acquired or existing under these laws that it excepts, by special proviso, all children declared to be legitimate by the seventh section of the act of 1882, as well as all illegitimate children born within twelve months after the passage of this act.

Read the actual Edmunds Act of 1882