July 8, 1862: Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act

The Republican party platform of  1856 had the following resolution:

Resolved: That the Constitution confers upon Congress sovereign powers over the Territories of the United States for their government; and that in the exercise of this power, it is both the right and the imperative duty of Congress to prohibit in the Territories those twin relics of barbarism — Polygamy, and Slavery.

After the Republicans took control of Congress in 1860, they acted against both polygamy and slavery.   Sponsored by one of the legislative powerhouses of the day, Senator Justin Smith Morill (R. Vt.), the Morill Anti- bigamy Act sailed through Congress and was signed President Lincoln on July 8, 1862.   Thereafter Lincoln, acting with his usual wisdom, ignored the Act, instructing General Patrick Edward Connor, commander of Federal troops at Fort Douglas, Utah, not to confront the Mormon leadership over the Act or for any other reason.  Lincoln had made clear to Brigham Young that so long as the Mormons in Utah stayed loyal to the Union, he would leave them alone.  Young had no intention for the Latter Day Saints to get involved in the immense blood letting on the side of the Confederacy, so a bargain was struck.  This tacit understanding remained in force as long as Lincoln lived. 

The constitutionality of the Morill Anti-bigamy Act was upheld by the United States Supreme Court in Reynolds v. United States, 98 US 145 (1878).  The Court rejected the assertion of the Defendant that the Act violated the First Amendment: (more…)