The LDS Church's abandonment of plural marriage in 1890 may be the most recognized milestone in the faith's relations with the outsiders they once called "gentiles." But it wasn't the only one, or necessarily the most important.

The year before, under intense federal pressure, LDS leaders publicly renounced their long-held belief that the church was "an independent, temporal kingdom of God."

"Polygamy died with a bang, the political kingdom of God with a whimper," historian Klaus J. Hansen wrote.

During the 40 years after Brigham Young brought the Saints to "the tops of the mountains," polygamy was the rhetorical cudgel used by the church's enemies at home and in Congress to inflame anti-Mormon sentiment.

But long before that, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints stood accused of being "un-American" for its refusal to separate politics, education and business from religion. All were one in the Mormon Kingdom of God.

The Mormons' renunciation of American pluralism not only fueled the persecutions that drove them westward, but it also placed them at bitter odds with the federal government soon after Utah became a federal territory in 1850. The next year, four federal appointees fled the territory, their efforts to perform their duties frustrated at every turn by Young and his shadow government. They were the first of at least 16 federal officials to prematurely abandon their posts during the next 12 years.

"Let them send who they will, and it does not diminish my influence one particle," Young said.

He was right, of course. Not even a federal army sent in 1857 was able to humble the resolute Saints, who believed they were being watched over and led from on high.

It was not until the transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869 that significant numbers of non-Mormons began to arrive in the territory and Utah's Great Divide quickly became a yawning chasm, churning with vitriol. It was everywhere, in public discourse, on reams of newsprint, in sometimes violent confrontations.

An anti-Mormon Liberal Party was formed in 1870 to oppose the church's People's Party. The antagonists jousted over the merits of republican and theocratic systems, with plural marriage the centerpiece of the debate. At the same time, evangelical Protestant groups waged a relentless campaign against the Mormons in an effort to bring them to "Christianity" and "Americanism."

"This increasingly bitter confrontation would be waged for 20 years over polygamy, an issue of morality that would, as with slavery, make the outcome certain," historian David L. Bigler wrote in 1998.

By 1907, according to the late historian Marvin S. Hill, the Mormons' quest for refuge had become a quest for acceptance. And the price was high.

"Before they could secure a more tranquil place for their society within the confines of the American Republic," Hill wrote, "they would have to give up their unique political party, their plural marriages, their army and their loyalties to a theocratic political kingdom."

In the 20th century, scholars have noted the LDS Church sought assimilation by the broader culture and, in the later decades of the 1900s, a retrenchment that emphasized personal commitment, self-sacrifice and a separateness from the society at large perhaps best exemplified by temple worship.


"It is as though the Mormons spent the first half of the 20th century striving to become more like Episcopalians, only to reverse course with the approach of the 21st century and begin emulating Southern Baptists instead," LDS sociologist Armand L. Mauss wrote.

The earliest efforts to bring together the Mormons and their neighbors occurred in the business community, particularly with organization of the Commercial Club and the Chamber of Commerce in Salt Lake City in 1887, according to Brigham Young University historian Thomas G. Alexander. With few exceptions, he said, that pattern has persisted.

Alexander believes the period between the 1920s and the death of LDS Church President David O. McKay in 1970 was probably the most culturally harmonious in Utah history. For example, McKay would meet for breakfast each Tuesday at Lamb's Cafe with Salt Lake Tribune Publisher John F. Fitzpatrick and the Chamber's Gus P. Backman to discuss city and state affairs. Succeeding Tribune Publisher Jack Gallivan continued the cooperative spirit.

However, that spirit began to ebb during the 1970s, a time that corresponds with increasing political division between Mormons and non-Mormons. Up to that time, the two political parties, with Mormons in both camps, held roughly equal power in Utah.

"I believe that the movement of the Republican Party to the right since the early 1970s has exacerbated the Mormon-neighbor split in Salt Lake City and in Utah," Alexander said. "We have tended to elect [GOP] moderates like Norman Bangerter and Michael Leavitt to the governorship, but activists subservient to extremely right-wing groups like the Eagle Forum tend to dominate the party's policy formation."

At the same time, Alexander said, the Democratic Party in Utah has become dominated by non-Mormons and inactive Mormons, notwithstanding such exceptions as former Congressman Wayne Owens and former Salt Lake City Mayor Ted Wilson.

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