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Religion Library: Mormonism

Exploration and Conquest

Written by: Stephen Taysom

Plural marriage was an important theological institution, and was essentially required of high-ranking Mormons, but most Mormons living in Utah did not practice it. Conflicts between the U.S. government and the LDS Church over this practice reached their peak in the 1880s, when Church leaders spent years hiding from U.S. Marshals sent to arrest them. Hundreds of Mormon men spent time in prison for practicing plural marriage before the practice was officially abandoned in 1890.

Popular lore notwithstanding, Mormon dominance in Utah remained strong, but not absolute, throughout the 19th century. Brigham Young was appointed territorial governor in 1850, but approximately half of the territorial officers were non-Mormons appointed by the federal government. Young was removed as governor in 1857 as part of an action by U.S. President James Buchanan to quell what he believed to be a rebellion in Utah against non-Mormon territorial officials and judges. In 1869, the completed transcontinental railroad brought increasing numbers of outsiders into the Mormon stronghold. All of these events indicate that, even during the early years of Utah's existence, a non-Mormon presence made itself felt in the territory.

Mormonism has also enjoyed dominance in areas outside of Utah. Despite the fact that the proposed boundaries of the state of Deseret were greatly truncated, Mormon cultural influence has been strong in parts of western Wyoming, southeastern Idaho, Arizona, and California. Mormonism is a global faith, but it continues to maintain its greatest strongholds in the traditional Mormon culture regions of the American west.

Study Questions:
1.     Why did Illinois appear to be a promising settlement for the Mormons?
2.     Describe Utah, as a territory, when the Mormons settled in it.
3.     When did polygamy reach its peak within Mormonism? Why was it abandoned?


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