A Mormon polygamist family in 1888.
The Edmunds Act, also known as the Edmunds Anti-Polygamy Act of 1882, is a United States federal statute, signed into law on March 23, 1882 by president Chester A. Arthur, declaring polygamy a felony. The act is named for U.S. Senator George F. Edmunds of Vermont. The Edmunds Act also prohibited "bigamous" or "unlawful cohabitation" (a misdemeanor), thus removing the need to prove that actual marriages had occurred. It was passed in a wave of Victorian-era reaction to the perceived immorality of polygamy, or at least polygyny, which was often compared to slavery.
A claim was made that the law violated the constitutional prohibition on ex post facto laws; that is, polygamists were charged for polygamist marriages solemnized before passage of the statute. A challenge to the statute was framed on these and other grounds. The Supreme Court ruled, in Murphy v. Ramsey, 114 U.S. 15 (1885), that the statute was not ex post facto because convicts were charged for their continued cohabitation, not for the prior illegal marriage. Some modern scholars suggest the law may be unconstitutional for being in violation of the Free Exercise Clause, although the Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that neutral laws that happen to impinge on some religious practices are constitutional.
The Edmunds Act restrictions were enforced regardless of whether an individual was actually practicing polygamy, or merely stated a belief in the Mormon doctrine of plural marriage without actually participating in it.
All elected offices in the Utah Territory were vacated, an election board was formed to issue certificates to those who both denied a belief in polygamy and did not practice it, and new elections were held territory-wide.
More than 1,300 men were imprisoned under the terms of the Edmunds Act. It appears that women were not prosecuted, being seen as victims of the practice and not willing participants, although a number refused to testify against their husbands and some were jailed for their refusal.
- Rudger Clawson — August 1882 — a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles who was the first person convicted. He was pardoned by President Grover Cleveland mere months before his sentence was going to expire.
- William J. Flake — 1883 — one of the founders of Snowflake, Arizona, who married his second wife in 1868. Was imprisoned in the Yuma Territorial Prison in 1883. After his release, when asked which of his wives he was going to give up, he replied, "Neither. I married both in good faith and intended to support both of them." As he had already served his sentence, he could not be retried on the same charges.
- Angus M. Cannon — 1885 — a Stake President, member of the Council of Fifty and younger brother of Apostle George Q. Cannon. Cannon was sentenced to six months' imprisonment and a $900 fine. Cannon was the appellant in the case of Cannon v. United States, which was decided by the United States Supreme Court in 1885. Cannon's appeal was on the grounds that he had immediately ceased having sexual relations with the two wives he was accused of cohabiting with after polygamy was criminalized. The Court rejected Cannon's argument, holding that "[c]ompacts for sexual non-intercourse, easily made and easily broken, when the prior marriage relations continue to exist, with the occupation of the same house and table and the keeping up of the same family unity, is not a lawful substitute for the monogamous family which alone the statute tolerates."
- John Sharp — 1885 — a Bishop, member of the Council of Fifty, territorial chairman of the People's Party, director for the Union Pacific Railroad, Zion's Cooperative Mercantile Institution, Deseret Telegraph, and Deseret National Bank. Sharp initially pleaded not guilty, but withdrew his plea and pleaded guilty to the charge. He was fined $300 and court costs. As a result of pleading guilty, rather than plead not guilty as other LDS Church leaders had done, Sharp was asked by the stake high council and the First Presidency to resign as bishop of the Salt Lake Twentieth Ward, which he did on 3 November 1885. The New York Times criticised the church's removal of Sharp and suggested that it "reveals again the stubborn character of the Mormons' opposition to the law".
- Lorenzo Snow — 1885 — an Apostle of the church at the time. In late 1885, Snow was indicted by a federal grand jury for three counts of unlawful cohabitation. According to his indictments, Snow had lived with more than one woman for three years. The jury delivered one indictment for each of these years, and Snow was convicted on each count. After conviction he filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in the federal district court which convicted him. The petition was denied, but federal law guaranteed him an appeal to the United States Supreme Court. In Ex Parte Snow the Supreme Court invalidated Snow's second and third convictions for unlawful cohabitation. It found that unlawful cohabitation was a "continuing offense," and thus that Snow was at most guilty of one such offense for cohabiting continuously with more than one woman for three years. Snow became President of the LDS Church in 1898.
- Abraham H. Cannon — 1886 — a member of the First Council of the Seventy of the Church and son of Apostle George Q. Cannon. Cannon was convicted of unlawful cohabitation in 1886 and sentenced to six months' imprisonment, which he served in full. In 1889 he became an Apostle of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
- George Q. Cannon — 1888 — an Apostle of the church and former non-voting delegate for the Utah Territory in the United States Congress, prior to passage of the Edmunds Act. Cannon surrendered himself to authorities and pleaded guilty at trial to a charges of unlawful cohabitation. As a result, Cannon served nearly six months in Utah's federal penitentiary.
- Heber J. Grant — 1899 — an Apostle of the church at the time. Grant pleaded guilty to unlawful cohabitation and paid a $100 fine. Grant became President of the LDS Church in 1918.
- Joseph F. Smith — 1906 — President of the LDS Church. Smith was brought to trial on a charge of unlawful cohabitation with four women in addition to his lawful wife; he pleaded guilty and was fined $300, the maximum penalty then permitted under the law.
- Utah War (1857–1858)
- Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act (1862)
- Poland Act (1874)
- Reynolds v. United States (1879)
- Edmunds–Tucker Act (1887)
- LDS Church v. United States (1890)
- 1890 Manifesto
- Smoot Hearings (1903–1907)
- Second Manifesto (1904)
- History of civil marriage in the U.S.
- George F. Edmunds
- ex post facto law
- Cohabitation in the United States
- Sugar House Prison (Utah)
- Zion's Central Board of Trade
- U.S.History.com, Edmunds Anti-Polygamy Act of 1882.
- About Mormons, Anti-Polygamy Legislation. Accessed 2008.03.26.
- See, for example, the language quoted in Davis v. Beason ("pernicious to the best interests of society", "actions regarded by general consent as properly the subjects of punitive legislation").
- See also "The Anti-Polygamy Law; Its Constitutionality Upheld by the Supreme Court", The New York Times, March 24, 1885, p. 3.
- Vazquez, Richard A. (Fall 2001), "The Practice of Polygamy: Legitimate Free Exercise of Religion or Legitimate Public Menace? Revising Reynolds in Light of Modern Constitutional Jurisprudence", New York University Journal of Legislation and Public Policy (New York University School of Law) 5 (1): 225–253, retrieved 2014-02-24
- E.g., Employment Division v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872 (1990).
- "The Anti-Polygamy Law; Ex-Delegate Cannon's Sentence Affirmed. The Supreme Court Upholds the Decisions of the Territorial Judges; Opinions in Other Cases", New York Times, 1885-12-15.
- 116 U.S. 55 (1885).
- "Mormon Bishop Sharp.; He Tells About His Plural Marriages, Pleads Guilty, and is Fined", New York Times, 1885-09-25, p. 5.
- J. Max Anderson (1979). The Polygamy Story: Fiction and Fact (Salt Lake City, Utah: Publishers Press) ch. 2.
- "A Mormon Bishop Deposed", New York Times, 1886-09-05, p. 6.
- 120 U.S. 274 (1887)
- Cannon, Joseph A.; Fish, Rick (1994), "Cannon, George Q.", in Powell, Allan Kent, Utah History Encyclopedia, Salt Lake City, Utah: University of Utah Press, ISBN 0874804256, OCLC 30473917
- Salt Lake Daily Tribune, 1899-09-09.
- Deseret Evening News, November 23, 1906; Salt Lake Tribune, November 24, 1906.
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