Why Mormons Hated Republicans in the 1800′s

By: Mormon Heretic
November 1, 2010

Cartoon from 1800's depicting Mormons and Catholics attacking the Capitol

Don’t forget to vote tomorrow.  With the election tomorrow, I thought I should do a sort of political post.  But you know me, I like history too, so I can’t resist.  Mormons fascination with the Republican party seems so strange.  The Republican Party was specifically founded in 1856 to rid the country of the “twin relics of barbarism:  slavery and polygamy.” They were the most powerful anti-Mormons in the country.

Last year, I read Sarah Baringer Gordon’s book,  The Mormon Question.  Gordon has degrees in both Law and Religion.  In her book, she looked at Constitutional theory and the arguments before the Supreme Court and Congress as the government made many attempts to shut down polygamy.

After the Civil War and slavery was abolished, the Republicans set their eyes on the other twin: polygamy.  Gordon says this seems to be the forgotten twin by American historians.  Gordon printed many editorial cartoons about Mormons in the 1800′s–none of them flattering.  In one cartoon, the blot of Mormonism is all over the Statue of Libery, and Uncle Sam tells a man that he needs to dip into the bucket of “Extreme Measures” to fix the blot.

photo of Jailed Polygamists in 1800's

It did take some extreme measures.  I’ve mentioned some of these in my previous post on the Anti-Polygamy Raids.  Mormons weren’t allowed to vote, or serve on juries (in order to secure polygamy convictions.)  The were rounded up and prosecuted, the church was disincorporated, and property was confiscated.  Leading the charge was the Republican Party.  The did everything they could to make comparisons to slavery, even referring to polygamist wives as white slaves.

Southern Democrats, while not particularly fond of polygamy, saw the parallels with slavery and made efforts to defeat anti-polygamy legislation.  The attorney who argued the case for Utah in the Supreme Court was a prominent Democrat.  While it was hard for the church to find supporters, there was more help from Democrats.  It’s funny to me that Republicans today are against “big government”, yet the Patriot Act and anti-polygamy legislation are big government intrusions into personal freedoms.

Separation of church and state was a very interesting constitutional concept.  The original framers of the Constitution wanted a relatively weak federal government.  While the Bill of Rights established that there could be no religion enforced by the federal government, states were free to establish religion.  Massachusetts didn’t abolish it’s state religion until 1820!  Many colonies were set up as religious colonies.  These colonies didn’t want the federal government to meddle in their affairs, but they didn’t have a problem with state governments cozying up with a religious denomination.  Thomas Jefferson of Virginia was wary of religion, and helped set up Virginia as a secular state.  Virginia became a model for other states.

Gordon mentions that many anti-polygamy rhetoric did not accurately depict polygamy practices, but there were very effective in rallying anti-polygamists to their cause.  They often did this by writing novels about what they thought polygamy must be like.  Even the first Sherlock Holmes novel dealt with polygamy.

I remember an old Bugs Bunny cartoon, where he says, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!”  It seems like that is exactly what the Mormons have done.  The Republican charge to end polygamy won in 1890, and the majority of Utah Mormons have now joined their one-time adversary. I see many similarities between the heavy-handed tactics of the late 1800′s and the current Patriot Act and Republican use of government.  I suspect few Mormon Republicans are aware of this dubious relationship from history.  I wonder how Mormon Republicans view this news that the Republicans were the first vocal anti-polygamist (anti-Mormons).  No wonder there is still distrust of Mitt Romney among Republicans.  I wonder if Jon Huntsman will get the same treatment if he runs?

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21 Responses to Why Mormons Hated Republicans in the 1800′s

  1. Stephen Marsh on November 1, 2010 at 5:27 AM

    Yes! I was just talking about this yesterday how all Mormons used to be Democrats. ;)

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  2. Jeff Spector on November 1, 2010 at 6:29 AM

    It’s that consistent conservative track record that members must like……. Perhaps they were behind prohibition as well?

    And what’s even funnier, is that most members would claim that those anti-polygamy Republicans were right along. Especially, our modern LDS women.

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  3. Dan on November 1, 2010 at 7:18 AM

    MH,

    The original framers of the Constitution wanted a relatively weak federal government.

    Some of the original framers of the Constitution wanted a relatively weak federal government. Others of the original framers of the Constitution wanted a relatively strong federal government.

    Thomas Jefferson of Virginia was wary of religion, and helped set up Virginia as a secular state. Virginia became a model for other states.

    Back up just a bit. Thomas Jefferson was inspired by Roger Williams who founded Rogue’s Island, or later Rhode Island. Roger Williams is the first one to posit that there ought to be separation between a secular man made state and God’s religion. He said:

    “[W]hen they have opened a gap in the hedge or wall of separation between the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world, God hath ever broke down the wall itself, removed the Candlestick, etc., and made His Garden a wilderness as it is this day. And that therefore if He will ever please to restore His garden and Paradise again, it must of necessity be walled in peculiarly unto Himself from the world, and all that be saved out of the world are to be transplanted out of the wilderness of the World.” [Roger Williams, “Mr. Cotton’s Letter,” Roger Williams: His Contribution to the American Tradition, Perry Miller (New York: Atheneum, 1962), 98.

    However, your point that Virginia would become a model for other states is a good point. Rhode Island’s influence was not as strong as the most populated state in the early Union, Virginia.

    As for today’s Mormons and their strong ties to the Republican party, it should be noted that today’s Republican party is not the same as that of the 1800s. The Civil Rights Act shifted political support around. Southern Democrats became the heart of today’s Republican party. It’s amazing what a shift happened in the last 40 years. Martin Luther King Jr was a Republican. He would not be one today. Today’s Republicans get about maybe 10% of African American votes, a total shock for the party that freed African Americans from slavery. What does it say that Mormons now tie themselves with this Republican party? It’s not the same one that hated them 100 years ago.

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  4. PaulM on November 1, 2010 at 7:22 AM

    Does the phenomenon of African-Americans aligning with the Dems perplex you to an equal degree? Which is more surprising? Do you believe we ought to still be free to practice polygamy and do you think Church leadership of the past 75 years would agree?

    Frankly, this phenomenon is not much of a head-scratcher for anyone who takes the time to study the evolution of both groups. The hierarchy of values advocated by both groups has changed over the years such that in today’s political climate the Reps better represent the values held by a majority of Mormons than do the Dems. Politics is little more than “the authoritative allocation of values” so aligning with the party with the means and the will to make one’s values official public policy is a rational decision. The “mystery” alluded to in the OP is merely a reflection of his own misalignment with a majority of Mormons over values.

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  5. Cory on November 1, 2010 at 7:31 AM

    I don’t think that’s a fair assessment at all. By the same logic, why would anyone want to be Democrat, after all, it was that party that supported slavery. I don’t think one can pin the generations past support for something on that party’s current incarnation.

    Regarding the comparison between early Republican’s anti-poligamy movement and the Patriot Act (something this Republican has come to see as entirely too much government intrusion); one may see parallels in a former stance and a current one, but often those are superficial. I was just in a discussion with someone about the seeming parallels between Joseph Smith and Mohammed. Yes, there are circumstances that are similar, but, once one starts doing an actual comparison, incredible differences emerge. One could hardly compare Nancy Drew with Nancy Pelosi despite both of them having the same number of arms, legs, fingers and toes as well as sharing the same first name.

    Did the early Republican party profess a more limited government, reduction of the national debt and free market policies. If those ideas existed as a major political stance, it wasn’t in the Republican party at the time, but it certainly is now.

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  6. Christopher on November 1, 2010 at 7:48 AM

    Jonathan Moyer’s 2009 dissertation, “Dancing with the Devil: The Making of the Mormon-Republican Pact,” is essential reading for anyone interested in the topic:

    http://www.juvenileinstructor.org/mormonism-and-the-republican-party/

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  7. Glenn on November 1, 2010 at 9:24 AM

    Great post. All very good head scratchers. Not to mention the glaring contradictions between Capitalist-America and United Order-Zion — or even the pacificistic “defend your own turf but don’t ever invade or brag about your own number-one-ness” messages of the BoM. The power of culture.

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  8. mh on November 1, 2010 at 10:01 AM

    dan, you will have to correct sarah gordon about virginia. I was paraphrasing what she said. it does seem that virginia had more impact then rhode island did.

    yes, I am equally perplexed as to why black people tend to support the democratic party. democrats were definitely pro-slavery in the civil war, and there is more than a bit of irony to see black people support democrats.

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  9. Mike S on November 1, 2010 at 10:40 AM

    Even without historical comparisons, it is somewhat “odd” that Mormons seem to choose the Republican party to such a degree.

    - The “United Order” where all things are held in common and “surplus” from the rich is essentially redistributed to the poor is much closer to the Democratic platform than the Republican.

    - The claim of the early Church where people should be free to live how they see fit with minimal imposition of morals by the government also aligns more closely with the Democratic party.

    - The concept that we claimed with polygamy where marriage should be able to be defined by the participants, and not by someone else, also more closely aligned with the Democratic party

    - The Church also has massive intrusion into all aspects of its members’ lives, including trying to determine things as simple as what color shirts its members wear on Sundays or how many earrings they have. So the argument for a “smaller” government with less regulation is also diametrically opposed to this.

    - Glenn Beck is a Republican. We should run from him as fast as we can :-)

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  10. Jared L. on November 1, 2010 at 10:55 AM

    It will be interesting to see where the Republican party is going right now.

    “Glenn Beck is a Republican.”

    Is he? With the Tea Party, Constitution Party, and other far-right groups the GOP has become splintered in my mind. What does it mean to be a Republican anymore? Will most Mormons still consider themselves Republicans in the near future or with other group(s)?

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  11. N. on November 1, 2010 at 10:56 AM

    It’s funny to me that Republicans today are against “big government”, yet the Patriot Act and anti-polygamy legislation are big government intrusions into personal freedoms.

    It’s funny to me that you don’t realize that the Patriot Act was an almost unanimous law enacted by beloved, and much ballyhoo’d bipartisanship. For example, only 1 of 100 Senators voted against it.

    I see many similarities between the heavy-handed tactics of the late 1800′s and the current Patriot Act and Republican use of government.

    I also see many similarities in the heavy handed tactics of todays Democrats’ use of government in addition to the Republicans’. I see similarities in the current President’s continued defense of executive branch super-powers, warrantless wiretaps, spying on citizens, increased restrictions on travel, continued support for 2 wars and legal loopholes like Guantanamo Bay.

    I suspect few Mormon Republicans are aware of this dubious relationship from history.

    I suspect you haven’t thought through your analogy sufficiently, and are gut-reacting using your political preconceptions.
    ObligatoryDisclaimer: I’m not a Republican, nor have I been. Before I get ad-hominem’d or straw-man’d.

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  12. Mark N. on November 1, 2010 at 3:23 PM

    “Gordon mentions that many anti-polygamy rhetoric did not accurately depict polygamy practices, but there were very effective in rallying anti-polygamists to their cause.”

    Dang. Glenn Beck was born a century too late.

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  13. Mike S on November 1, 2010 at 3:27 PM

    “Gordon mentions that many anti-polygamy rhetoric did not accurately depict polygamy practices, but there were very effective in rallying anti-polygamists to their cause.”

    I think many would argue the same point today with regards to the Church and Prop 8, just in reverse.

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  14. Beansdude on November 1, 2010 at 3:53 PM

    Wherever you look in our political history you can find inconsistencies, but I would agree that the Conservative/Republican talking points of today seem to be especially hypocritical. (great comments Mike S. and Glenn) I’m surprised by the fact that many religious Christians seem to flock to the Republican party or one of it’s splinter groups, even with the many inconsistencies between Christian principals and conservative politics. It seems at times that the Gospel of Capitalism has trumped the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

    For example: The LDS community that I live in has embraced the current conservative anti-immigrant sentiment whole heartedly, despite lessons to the contrary in the BofM. (Alma 27, Alma 35, etc.) While the healthcare debate raged last year, I heard lots of anti healthcare reform talk coming from the religious right and from my fellow ward members, but hardly any talk about the various calls from Jesus himself that we care for the poor, sick and afflicted. I guess we Mormons might be willing to go give a priesthood blessing to someone who is sick, as long as it does not cost any of our tax dollars.

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  15. Glenn on November 1, 2010 at 4:08 PM

    Beansdude, I hear you. I was wondering about this yesterday during church, and I’m always asking myself if I am being too “uppity” or unfair (because usually I am). Maybe it isn’t the principle of charity or “healthcare for the poor” that certain members are having a problem with — maybe instead it is the idea that “the government” is the agency forcing that charity, or whatever — especially if they view the government as some kind of worldly inefficient hanging-by-a-thread-mammon-mobile. So perhaps instead of comparing it to a priesthood blessing to the sick, fast offerings might be a better parallel — something like “Mormons might be willing to go give fast offering dollars to their bishop for a family who is hungry as long as it is not more tax dollars to uncle sam for the same type of thing.”

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  16. Thomas on November 1, 2010 at 5:02 PM

    I wonder if the reason Mormons, with their experience of the United Order, should look askance at redistributive socialism, is because the thinking is “if we, the Saints, couldn’t make it work, the party of Tammany Hall sure as heck can’t.”

    I wonder, also, if the issue may be cultural affinities. Because Mormons (like African-Americans and Jews) tend to have, on average, a strong sense of “tribe,” once a tipping point was reached — once Mormons become noticeably drawn towards one party rather than the other — the rest tended to follow. And since the power base of the Democratic Party over the past century was increasingly urban, the rural and suburban Utah landscape was not any more likely to follow it than Kansas was. Once Mormons got to be more than 60-40 Republican — there went the neighborhood.

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  17. Thomas on November 1, 2010 at 5:04 PM

    “For example: The LDS community that I live in has embraced the current conservative anti-immigrant sentiment whole heartedly, despite lessons to the contrary in the BofM.”

    There is a certain arrogance, and a less than perfect fidelity to truth, in characterizations like “anti-immigrant.”

    There’s a certain Christian chap named Benedict who had this to say (I thought it was pretty reasonable):

    The Church recognizes this right in every human person, in its dual aspect of the possibility to leave one’s country and the possibility to enter another country to look for better conditions of life” At the same time, States have the right to regulate migration flows and to defend their own frontiers, always guaranteeing the respect due to the dignity of each and every human person. Immigrants, moreover, have the duty to integrate into the host Country, respecting its laws and its national identity. The challenge is to combine the welcome due to every human being, especially when in need, with a reckoning of what is necessary for both the local inhabitants and the new arrivals to live a dignified and peaceful life.”

    A challenge, indeed. Hard enough, without people throwing around cartoonish lines like “anti-immigrant” at everyone who wants something other than completely open borders (which would ruin the country tout suite.)

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  18. Aaron L on November 1, 2010 at 7:30 PM

    As they should, most people align themselves with the current values of a given political party versus what they used to be. As noted above, what it meant to be republican democrat has changed wildly, and will likely do so again. It is interesting to note the shift that has taken place with both the mormons and the blacks.

    It seems that many mormons are OK with being socially liberal, but only so far as they are the ones outside of what is considered socially acceptable.

    Fiscal issues, particularly as it pertains to welfare and caring for the poor are a different animal altogether. I don’t think that there are many mormons, even the republican ones that are against caring for the needy. Many (myself included) just don’t think that government intervention is effective. It tends to disincentivize people from helping themselves and ultimately does more to prevent people from rising above a certain level of poverty.

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  19. Mark N. on November 2, 2010 at 12:09 AM

    French lesson of the day:

    Tout de suite.

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  20. Thomas on November 2, 2010 at 11:36 AM

    A person whose French is self-taught from The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Learning French may be excused the odd dropped preposition.

    I could’ve just said “toot sweet.”

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  21. Dallas on December 17, 2010 at 8:46 PM

    I don’t see why people have to go around hating Mormons so much. I know a lot of Mormons that are really fun people to be around. They, unlike many other people, have a great respect for life and themselves and others around them. People just tend to only see bad things or things that happened in the past with them. So really, if your going off about Mormons or any other religion, you should look at yourself. Does that make you any better of a person to judge them like that?

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