Saturday, July 25, 2015

Early History of Mormons in Utah

When the Mormons settled in the Great Basin in 1847, the territory they proposed as the "State of Deseret" was a substantial claim.

Following the Mexican-American War, the Treaty of Hidalgo was ratified by the United States Senate on March 10, 1848, annexing land originally claimed by Mexico.

The proposed State of Deseret included what now comprises Utah and most of Nevada, pieces of Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico and California, and bits lapping over into Oregon, Idaho, and Wyoming.

Utah was eventually designated as a US Territory in 1850, with substantially reduced area.

 In 1857, President James Buchanan sent troops on the Utah expedition to bring order to the lawless Mormons and to replace Brigham Young as territorial governor with his political appointee, Alfred Cumming.

Cumming had prior political experience as the former Mayor of Augusta GA.

In response to the troop advancement, Brigham Young ordered all residents of Salt Lake City and neighboring communities to prepare their homes for burning and evacuate southward to Utah Valley and southern Utah.  Some of my ancestors wrote about filling their Salt Lake home with straw, and moving to Provo to escape from the encroachment of Johnston's Army.

Young also sent out a few units of the Utah militia to delay and harass the army. The majority he sent into the mountains to prepare defenses, or south to prepare for a scorched earth retreat.

Army wagon supply trains were captured and burned and herds or army horses and cattle run off, but no serious fighting ever occurred.

Starting late and short on supplies, the United States Army camped during the bitter winter of 1857 near Fort Bridger in Wyoming. Through the negotiations between emissary Thomas L. Kane, Young, Cumming and Johnston, control of Utah territory was peacefully transferred to Cumming, who entered an eerily vacant Salt Lake City in the spring of 1858.

By agreement with Young, Johnston's troops marched on through Salt Lake City and established a military encampment at Fort Floyd, a remote location in the hills to the southeast.

In 1862,The Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act (37th United States Congress) was a federal enactment of the United States Congress, banning bigamy and confiscating church and non-profit property in any territory of the United States over $50,000.

The act was exclusively targeted at Mormon plural marriage and the property dominance of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Utah Territory.  Lincoln chose to ignore the Morrill Act in exchange for Utah not choosing sides in the Civil War.

The Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act was amended in 1882 by the Edmunds Act, and then again in 1887 by the Edmunds–Tucker Act.

Congress passed the Edmunds act  into law on March 23, 1882, signed by president Chester A. Arthur, declaring polygamy a felony.  The Edmunds Act also prohibited "bigamous" or "unlawful cohabitation", so there was no need to prove that actual marriages had occurred before punishing these dangerous felons.

It was passed in a fit of Victorian-era reaction to the perceived immorality of polygamy, which was often compared to slavery.

Some of the provisions of the anti-Mormon legislation: 
  • Disincorporated the LDS Church and the Perpetual Emigrating Fund Company, with assets to be used for public schools in the Territory.
  • Required an anti-polygamy oath for prospective voters, jurors and public officials (in direct violation of Article VI of the US Constitution).
  • Annulled territorial laws allowing illegitimate children to inherit (thus disallowing inheritance by children of polygamous marriage).
  • Required civil marriage licenses to facilitate prosecution of polygamy.
  • Abrogated the common law spousal privilege for polygamists, thus requiring wives to testify against their husbands.
  • Disenfranchised Utah women voters, who had been enfranchised by the Territorial legislature in 1870.
  • Replaced local judges (including the previously powerful Probate Court judges) with federally appointed judges.
  • Abolished the office of Territorial superintendent of district schools, granting the Supreme Court of the Territory of Utah the right to appoint a commissioner of schools (along with other related Byzantine rules that amounted to book-burning).
Following the service of Cumming at Territorial Governor, John W. Dawson was appointed.  Dawson fled the territory and his post as governor after only three weeks, after he purportedly made "grossly improper proposals" to the Mormon widow Albina Merrill Williams, who promptly responded by thrashing him with a fire shovel.

Federal Marshals in the Utah Territory then took license to become roving polygamy hunters.

A number of these dangerous convicted felons were imprisoned in the newly constructed Utah State Penitentiary at Sugarhouse, including Mormon leader George Q. Cannon.

In February, 1889, my ancestor Peter Barton was sentenced to fifteen months' imprisonment for "unlawful cohabitation," but before having served his full term, he was pardoned, being the first "Mormon" ever pardoned by Pres. Benjamin Harrison.  My suspicion is that Barton may have been released because he was inciting to organize a Church unit among the inmates.  Barton served as Bishop of the Kaysville Ward for more than 30 years.  He also held a number of civil positions, such as justice of the peace, city recorder of Kaysville, etc. He served two terms in the Utah legislature.

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