The Supreme Court’s 1879 ruling on the constitutionality of anti-polygamy laws triggered an offensive in the campaign to crush Mormonism. Within days of the Court’s ruling, the Secretary of State notified U.S. ambassadors to seek the help of foreign governments to “check the organization of [this] criminal enterprise” by halting the work of missionaries and cutting off the supply of “recruits” emigrating to Utah “with the intent of violating [U.S.] laws and committing crimes.” While sympathetic, newspapers and governments generally labeled the Secretary’s request as impractical, and the matter faded from public discussion. Unnoticed by either the press or the Church, however, the Secretary’s request remained the official policy of the U.S. government throughout the 1880s. Friendly nations were prodded to follow its guidelines, and less friendly nations could carry out repressive measures knowing there would be no U.S. government interference on behalf of its Mormon citizens abroad. This paper uses state department files, newspaper accounts, and LDS mission records to examine the U.S. government’s methods in pursuing the eradication of polygamy within its borders.
Ardis E. Parshall