From Publishers Weekly
While numerous studies have examined life in plural marriage, this is the first to explore how the Mormon practice of polygamy transformed the U.S. legal system. Gordon, a professor of law and history at the University of Pennsylvania, deftly handles complicated issues of religion, states' rights, constitutional theory and the separation of church and state. When Mormons fled to Utah in the 1840s, they brought with them a deep suspicion of "local sovereignty," feeling that individual states had persecuted them terribly while a weak federal government did nothing to protect them. In Utah, however, they turned this local sovereignty principle to their own advantage, publicly revealing their polygamous society in 1852 and taking measures to ensure the seamless fusion of church and state. Anti-polygamist legislators, novelists and activists were galvanized to subdue both the Mormons' political power and their polygamous unions even if this meant reversing longstanding constitutional precedent by centralizing power in the federal government rather than the states. Gordon does an outstanding job of clarifying complex legal issues and demonstrating change over time. At no point was the anti-polygamists' eventual victory a foregone conclusion; as this study shows, the Mormons had powerful legal precedent on their side, and they proved to be tenacious opponents until they abandoned the struggle in 1890. Gordon is a fine scholar whose penetrating research and interdisciplinary approach break new ground in the fields of Mormon studies and legal history.
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Sarah Barringer Gordon has written an important interdisciplinary study that provides new perspectives on the impact of the Mormon practice of plural marriage on American constitutional thought. (David J. Whittaker, Curator of Western and Mormon Manuscripts, Brigham Young University)