War upon Superstitious Women
[Lysander Spooner, (unsigned)]
Most men feel either pity, contempt, or abhorrence for the absurdities and errors of all the other religions than their own. And they are especially incredulous as to the sanctity and sincerity of those men who make their godliness profitable to the attainment of wealth, of high places in Church or State, or to increase the number of their wives. And although we cannot look into the hearts of each and every one of such men, and know precisely how much sin or superstition there may be in each case, we doubt if the class, as a whole, have been credited with any more hypocrisy, avarice, ambition, or unchastity than they were really guilty of. And if they alone were the sufferers from religious persecutions, we doubtless might not cry our eyes out in bewailing their fate. But it is quite another thing to visit either our contempt or detestation upon the ignorant and superstitious victims, whether male or female, of these religious imposters. If their religious errors cannot be corrected by reason, they must be suffered to take their course. They are no subject for legislation.
That women are naturally more credulous and superstitious than men, and more easily carried by their superstitions into wild and unnatural conduct, ma be admitted. But of their sincerity there is, unless in very exceptional cases, no reasonable doubt. And their sincerity, if nothing else, should be their protection. When, for example women crush and crucify their natural affections—their natural desires to become wives and mothers—in order to serve God, as they think, and save their souls, by lives of labor for the sick, the wounded, and the orphan, the law-maker, who, instead of according to these women the respect and protection which their sincerity deserves, would seek to oppress them in order to gain favor with the bigots and tyrants of other religions, is not only a political villain, he is also an inhuman wretch.
We have been led into these remarks by a well written, and strongly written, pamphlet on “The Mormon Problem: By a Citizen of Massachusetts;” protesting against the persecution now carried on against the Mormons by Congress and the Courts.
We look upon this war upon the Mormons as being, not a war upon the vices, or supposed vices, of Brigham Young, or Heber Kimball, or other Mormon men—who, for the purposes of this argument, may be admitted to be selfish, ambitious, and lascivious hypocrites—but against their victims, the sincere and superstitious women, who have been deluded into the idea that one masculine Mormon saint can secure the eternal salvation of ten or twenty Mormon women, if they will so far put their trust in him as to become his wives in this world.
However vicious or sensual a Mormon man may be supposed to be, who wishes to take to himself ten or twenty wives, the wives themselves cannot be suspected of becoming wives from any similar motives. It is utterly contrary to the nature of women to suppose that, in this country, if not in any other, any woman would, from sensual and vicious motives, consent to become one of the ten or twenty wives of one man. Nothing more unnatural than this can be conceived of, as the act of a vicious or lascivious woman. But the Mormon women are not vicious. However the sincerity and morality of the polygamous men may have been doubted, nobody, so far as we know, has ever doubted the sincerity and chastity of the Mormon women. Nothing, therefore, but religious superstition can account for their being willing to enter into polygamous marriages.
Such being the fact, the war of Congress upon polygamy is not a war upon sensual or vicious men, or sensual or vicious women. If Congress wee really waging an honest war against unchaste men, or even unchaste women, or even religious hypocrites and imposters, they would not need to go to Utah to find them. And the fact that they do go to Utah to find them—passing by the hundreds of thousands of vicious persons of both sexes at home, and the religious hypocrites that are not supposed to be very scarce anywhere—is the proof of their hypocrisy; and of their design to make political capital for themselves, by currying favor with bigots and hypocrites, rather than to promote chastity on the part of either men or women.
If all the polygamous women of Utah had been common prostitutes, we have no reason to suppose that the lawmakers at Washington would have ever had their religious sensibilities disturbed on account of them. Or if the polygamous men of Utah had been rich merchants and bankers in New York, each of them having one wife and one family of children whom he lived with openly, and a half dozen other women, with children, whom he supported secretly, we do not think that this immorality would have so aroused the pious hypocrites at Washington as to induce them to get up a political crusade to put it down.
Congress has just as much right to inquire into, and prescribe, the chastity, the private morals, and the religious sincerity of all other men and women, throughout the country, as it has to do it in Utah.
If the Mormon women are in any way restrained of their liberty, or forced into, or compelled to remain in, their polygamous marriages, against their wills they ought to be protected against all wrongs of that kind. But to make war upon them, because they think they are serving God, and securing their salvation, by being “sealed,” as they call it, to a masculine saint, or to one whom they believe to be a saint, who can take them to heaven under his wing, is making war upon them, not for their vices or their crimes, but for their superstitions and delusions. And this, we repeat, is not the act of virtuous and honest legislators, but of canting bigots, sniveling hypocrites, and unprincipled politicians.
The pamphlet above named has especial interest for its exposure of he whiffling, wriggling, squirming, quibbling, prevaricating, pettifogging practices of the Supreme Court of the United States. That court concedes of course the authority of the first amendment to the Constitution, viz., that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” But they are sorely perplexed to understand what can be meant by “the free exercise of religion.” They guess it must have been something that Mr. Madison or Mr. Jefferson once talked about in Virginia. They are quite sure it cannot mean any liberty to disobey a law of Congress! for that would be denying the authority of the Government! Consequently, if Congress forbids Mormon women to save their souls in the way their religion teaches, they must be restrained, not from “the free exercise of their religion,” but from disobeying the law of Congress!
How perfectly clear it is that this court knows all about “the free exercise of their religion!” And how determined they are to maintain it against any infringement by any law of Congress! What a glorious thing it is for a people to have such a guardian of their religious freedom! How could we have any religious freedom, if it were not for Congresses and Supreme Courts!
When we get rid of Congresses and Supreme Courts, as we no doubt sometime will, it I to be hoped that men will learn that there is but one single kind of legal freedom; and that that is simply the natural freedom of each individual to do whatever he will with himself and his property, for his body here, and his soul hereafter, so long as he does not trespass upon the equal freedom of any other person. It is to be hoped that they will sometime learn that this one natural freedom comprehends all of men’s moral freedom, commercial freedom, political freedom, and all the other freedoms (if there are any others), to which every human being is by nature entitled. Until men learn this—and especially until they learn that moral, social, religious, industrial, commercial, and political freedom mean freedom from the laws of Congresses, and the decisions of Supreme Courts—it is very clear that they are to have no legal freedom at all.—Lysander Spooner (Liberty 1, 24 (July 22, 1882) 2.)
- Lysander Spooner, “War upon Superstitious Women,” Liberty 1, no. 24 (July 22, 1882): 2.