The Second Reconstruction
Southern Anti-Polygamy and the Limits of Religious Freedom
Southerners discussed various options of how to best rid themselves of the so-called Mormon menace. Their debates about whether federal legislation and law enforcement, Christian missions and education, or more aggressive tactics (including violence) would best solve the Mormon problem said much about southerners’ general orientations toward the public sphere, and spoke to underlying questions of how to structure a modern social, political, and legal order that could accommodate genuine pluralism and balance community values on the one hand and minority rights and religious freedom on the other. In a reversal from their antebellum alliance with Mormons on the basis of local rights and popular sovereignty, by the 1880s southerners’ horror with plural marriage was so profound that most southern Democrats joined northern reformers and Republicans in embracing judicial activism and coercive federal measures against Mormons. The anti-polygamy campaign thus served as an early, modest impetus for sectional reunion.
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