In response to a growing national trend, which had been unforeseen in the crafting of the constitution, congress drafted an act that proclaimed the only valid marriage as being between one man and one woman. This act was signed into law by a President who was, otherwise, well known for his more liberal views on civil rights. It was hotly contested, citizens saw their rights taken away, and worse, many marriages were suddenly deemed null and void.
Oh, you thought I was talking about DOMA of 1996? No, I’m talking about the Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act of 1862, signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln.
The Mormon faith was introduced to the world by Joseph Smith in the 1830s and got a lot of attention because of the idea of “Celestial Marriage,” which at that time meant that a man who wanted to make heaven needed to be married, and the more wives you had, the higher your status in heaven would be.
This view was not popular among those who were not Mormons, and apparently initially Joseph Smith’s own wife,
because the traditional view was that marriage was a holy institution between one man and one woman.
And, as people are inclined to do when they see families that aren’t constructed the way folks think they should be constructed, when Mormons came around, the general public tried their best to shoo them away. With guns.
However, these Mormons were no pansy pacifists, and they did not take kindly to being told where they could and couldn’t live. So the Mormons pulled out their knives, guns, and bayonets, and the ensuing conflicts, most notably in Illinois and Missouri, turned into fully armed battles with bloodshed and death.
All this mess eventually caught the attention of the federal government, and President James Buchanan
decided they needed to do something about it. He sent US troops to Utah,
in hopes to find out what the heck was going on and to make sure the Mormons were abiding by the US constitution. However, the Mormons feared that the troops were coming down to kill them all, so they again rose to arms. Thankfully, no blood was spilled between the Army and the Mormons , although one Mormon militia group mistook a traveling band of Pioneers from Arkansas for US troops and slaughtered all 120 men, women, and children.
Anyway, this whole conflict really sealed the deal to lawmakers that something had to be done. In fact, the newly found political party, called the Republicans, made it part of their platform that they were against, “those twin relics of barbarism: polygamy and slavery.”
(That's Elephant, from Ben Clanton's Vote For Me! btw. Repped by my agent. Just saying.)
So, when The Morrill Act was introduced under the Lincoln administration in July of 1862, it was seen as a major win for the Republican Party. In fact, coupled with the Emancipation Proclamation which Lincoln would sign six months later in January of ‘63, it sealed the deal that Lincoln was a hard-line Republican, perhaps the only hard-line Republican in history who could still win a presidential election today.
Interestingly, it does seem that President Lincoln never really intended to ENFORCE the Morrill act. He was too involved with the Civil War at the time to send any troops to drag men’s wives out of their houses. It was more likely a political move done to appease his party (so, yeah, even Lincoln did that).
Oh, but wait! This story is not done. More to come in my next post when...
SCOTUS GETS INVOLVED!!! (Preview: We find out the legal status of tomatoes.)
Pt. 2 coming tomorrow!