The annual Mormon History Association meetings are underway in Springfield, Illinois. The Deseret News reports on the address of the outgoing MHA President, historian Kathryn Daynes of BYU. She spoke on the varied experience of 19th-century Mormons who struggled, under increasing pressure from the federal government, to give up the practice of polygamy.
Daynes studied the cases of about 1,000 Mormons who were convicted in the latter 19th century of unlawful cohabitation in violation of the federal government's law cracking down on plural marriage in the Utah Territory.
Those convicted, after paying penalties or serving sentences, were required to promise to obey the law in the future. Most refused, but about 10 percent did promise, Daynes said.
Mormon resistance was a problem, but vagueness regarding the contours of the laws involved and of how the enforcement effort was undertaken were also part of the problem.
Part of their problem was trying to figure out what the law meant, Daynes said.
She gave the example of Orson P. Arnold, the superintendent of the street railway in Salt Lake City. After his first offense, he was arrested again and charged with three counts. These stemmed in part from his visiting his plural wife to care for their sick child by taking him out for a carriage ride.
No doubt a fuller account is available in Daynes' book More Wives Than One: The Transformation of the Mormon Marriage System, 1840-1910.
Originally posted with comments at Beliefnet.