Mormon Polygamy and the Construction of American Citizenship, 1852-1910

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2011

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Abstract

From 1852 to 1910 Congress labored to find the right instruments to eliminate polygamy among the Mormons and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints struggled to retain its claim as the most American of institutions. What these struggles reveal about the shifting role of religion in the developing definition of American citizenship is at the heart of this dissertation. By looking at developing ideas about citizenship in this particular frame, the social and political history of exclusion and inclusion comes into focus and exposes the role religion played in determining who could lay claim to citizenship and who could not, who tried and failed, who succeeded, and why. In the end, the coercive measures of the state and their own desire to join the body politic drove the Saints to unquestionably abandon the practice of polygamy, a central tenet of their faith, so that they could be accepted as American citizens.

The battle over polygamy and the rights of polygamists was not limited to the floor of the U.S. Congress or the Supreme Court, although those sources are carefully examined here. Debates over polygamy and Mormons' right to be Americans also took place in sermons, novels, newspapers, and popular periodicals. Official actions of the state and popular discourses simultaneously defined citizenship and influenced how Mormons understood their own citizenship. This dissertation is a history of the discourse generated by Mormons and their antagonists, laws passed by Congress, and court cases fought to defend or deny the civil, political and social rights of Latter-day Saints.

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Wood Crowley, Jenette (2011). Mormon Polygamy and the Construction of American Citizenship, 1852-1910. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/3950.

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