Cleveland's Official View of Polygamy

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Dyer D. Lum

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Cleveland's "Official" View of Polygamy.

The recent official profession of faith on the sanctity of legal marriage by the president, in his message, is a suggestive one. The solicitude of our bachelor president for the sanctity of our homes, the regard for the mothers of our laud, each "secure and happy in the exclusive love of the father of her children" (or compensated in a legal equivalent therefor), and the pride with which he argues that our best citizens are "the fathers of our families" are really touching. Inferentially we are informed that the man who is not surrounded, in his single home, with his wife and children, has no "stake in the country, respect for its laws, (or) courage for its defence."

A new convert is always superzealous. Though we can hardly assume that this profession of faith is to be considered in a Pickwickian sense, we must certainly regard it as official only; and as he stated, when last visiting Buffalo to vote, that he had left the president at Washington, we are warranted by both present logic and ancient history in considering it as the official belief of the president, rather than that of the Buffalo bachelor.

On reading it, I recalled my last visit to Utah, somewhat over one year ago. I spent several weeks in Southern Utah, but will recall here only one town, Provo, the largest south of Salt Lake City. Making myself comfortable under the hospitable care of my Mormon host of the Excelsior House, I there, as in our Eastern villages, found the most enterprising of the citizens looked upon as the leading man, politically, morally, socially; leading and giving tone to " society." But there they called him Bishop instead of Squire. In Provo this individual was a Mr. S., who had lived there for years; been identified with its prosperity; had occupied high positions in the territorial legislature; had been one of a committee of three to codify the territorial statutes approved by congress; had contributed freely to its institutions; had erected a fine opera house for the Provo Dramatic Club and visiting theatrical companies; had been particularly active in securing a really fine race track, where racing was not masked as an "Agricultural and Cattle Show"; besides assistance in building up home industries, etc. Provo contained from five to six thousand inhabitants, and Mr. S. was the peer of the Squire of our towns in every respect.

But I found that on his lot were three fine residences, and in each of them was a family calling him father. I was in. a community where Mrs. Grundy threw no stones at this state of things; where plural marriage brought added social importance, to say nothing of the increased social standing, so to speak, as a wife of a patriarch in the Heavenly Zion; where every additional marriage can only be performed with the consent and presence of the other wife, or wives; where children had grown to maturity, been tenderly and lovingly reared, their fathers and mothers respected, under a system where full as much loving care was bestowed on the guidance of youth as that displayed (officially) by Grover Cleveland.

One good old lady remarked to me: "Ah! it takes a sight of grace in a man to get on as harmoniously as they do with so many added cares." As I was a married man myself, I did not feel disposed to contest the point, for I knew I would be deficient in grace. "Parental care, authority, and love," to all appearance, seemed to be regnant there.

I found in Mormondom no huge tenement houses, filled with families of overworked fathers, mothers, and children; no locality exhibiting the Avenue B side of civilization; no growing sous and daughters living and sleeping in a common family room, where the instincts of modesty are trampled upon under economic necessities and vice proffers the bread which virtue denies. No, "these are not the homes of polygamy."

I found there no polygamous mothers willing to barter their daughters' happiness, or wink at moral delinquencies, for the sake of ease; no mothers toiling for bare subsistence at starvation rates; no mothers forsaking their children to seek bread in prostitution. No, "these cheerless, crushed, and unwomanly mothers " were not the mothers of Utah.

I found there no polygamous fathers who never see their children awake on week days: no fathers doomed to a treadmill round of unremuncrative toil, to whom every added birth added wrinkles to his brow; no fathers to whom children bring the expense of "hush money"; no fathers who look on their children's coffins with that horrible complacency Christian civilization has instilled into the parental heart. No, "these are not the fathers of polygamous families."

Yet I presume Mr. S. is today an exile. Holding, as Mormons do, that cohabitation involves perpetual obligation, that the woman who gives her honor into a man's keeping has an endless claim upon him for support, and that plurality of wives, no more than plurality of children, requires a division of affection, they obstinately refuse to adopt the Eastern, and more civilized, plan in such cases made and provided by custom. Under the recent decision of Judge Zane a man may respect the law so far as to forego cohabitation, yet if he recognizes the obligation of support, if he refuses to disavow the relation, turn her adrift, and brand their children as bastards, he is criminal.

Let me cite an instance. George Q. Cannon had four wives, three of whom are still living. Since polygamy was made a crime (1862), he has not been "guilty" of marrying again with their consent. He believes that he cannot in honor disavow connections nor restrict parental love for the children they have borne him to those Congress in its wisdom may select as alone legitimate. Yet he is a fugitive for this "crime" under the recent interpretation of the law. Ex-Mayor Jennings of Salt Lake City once had two wives. The first died years ago: he remained contented with the ci-devant No. 2. Though living in the single family relation for which our bachelor president has such (officially) unbounded admiration, both of these men are disfranchised.

Judge Zane's opinion has just been officially promulgated by the United States Supreme Court, as henceforth the legally revised definition of "cohabitation." Thus, by a singular coincidence, Grover Cleveland becomes the official representative of the doctrine that "cohabitation" becomes "illicit" when you continue to support the mother of an "illegitimate" child under the alleged sanction of moral obligation. Consequently to repudiate the mother and rear the child as a bastard is now officially declared to be the straight and narrow way by which even a Mormon Elder may entertain reasonable hopes of entering into the gates of the White House.

In Utah, out of a population about three times greater than that of the State of Nevada enjoying home rule, there are twelve thousand disfranchised. But, as women are voters in Mormondom, the population of "polygamous fathers " cannot exceed four thousand. Yet their children, their neighbors and friends, have made their cause their own and returned a unanimous Mormon territorial legislature. The anti-Mormons are not shrieking for individual or "minority rights," but to force their views on nine-tenths of the people. To the Mormon, government is a central authority two thousand miles away, and known only in the character of the men 1 sent there, who are now fighting to keep their places. In ; Provo, a prominent court official loudly bewailed to me the I benumbing influence of Mormonism in depreciating the sanctity of law, yet evinces his own disregard for law by swelling his legitimate income from the sale of drugs by the illegitimate sale of spirituous liquors to Mormon youth.

But to conclude. The president winds up his (official) declaration of faith that the safety of the country lies with its legal fathers by adding these words:

Since the people upholding polygamy in our territories are reinforced by immigration from other lands, I recommend that a law be passed to prevent the importation of Mormons into the country.

Shade of Jefferson! In view of these facts: 1, That every Mormon missionary goes out on his own expense, receiving no salary; 2, That plural marriage cannot be contracted till arrival in Utah; 3, That the converts are made in Christian lands, among peoples taught to believe in the old-time sanctity of polygamous marriages, and that, through their adherence to this creed, they rise from hopeless toil to independent farmers; 4, That polygamy is not obligatory, but a matter of mutual consent, the great majority not being polygamists, and the male population being always in excess in Utah,—in view of these facts, can a law be passed which does not aim at beliefs?

If we were going to embark into the preventing business and compel obedience to our views, we would modestly suggest that a Jaw compelling fathers to marry the mothers of their children, rather than one offering a premium on disowning them, would be more creditable to the executive imagination.

But, some one asks, then you indorse polygamy? Not at all. I simply deny the moral right of law to enforce opinion, and, in this case, against the protest of a whole people. I deny the right of the sixty thousand surplus females in Massachusetts, animated with the virtuous indignation that ever inflames the elderly maiden heart on hearing that others enjoy "illicit cohabitation," to raise their shrill voices and demand the extinction of tlTose who are more fortunate or unfortunate than they.

There is but one ray of hope which will meet the demands of Law and Gospel. Let them cast off the sense of obligation, or buy the mothers off; let them adopt the customs in vogue in New York, where fornication is not a "crime"; let them proclaim their children bastards in the sight of the Lord and the Law; let them abandon the women who trusted them to the operation of the almighty law of demand and supply, —and we warrant that the nation will hear no more recommendations from the president "for such further discreet legislation as will rid the country of this blot upon its lair fame." The same sentiment moved Louis XIV. when he repealed the Edict of Nantes to drive Protestants out from France, where they offended the Catholic majority. And yet a so-called representative of Jeffersonian Democracy, two centuries later, has not risen above the cry of the crowd-made conscience, and would pose as the (official) defender of the marriage relation. He would have a legal crusade in behalf of monogamy, because the crowd-made conscience holds it alone to be right. I also believe in monogamy, but I am not willing to enforce that belief on others, or indorse a new tyrannous edict to not only drive out, but keep out, Mormons from a country that has been poetically, not officially, called "the land of the free and the borne of the brave!"

D. D. L.


  • Dyer D. Lum, “Cleveland’s Official View of Polygamy,” Liberty 3, no. 20 (December 26, 1885): 5.