An Esthetic View of Polygamy

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An Esthetic View of Polygamy  (1886) 
From Popular Science Monthly Volume 29, October 1886 Popular Miscellany


An Æsthetic View of Polygamy.—Mr. George Ticknor Curtis, in his argument in the Supreme Court of the United States in the case of Lorenzo Snow, plaintiff in error, takes a view of Mormon polygamy that we do not remember to have before observed to be insisted upon in the States. By this view the relation to all but a single wife is purely spiritual, and one simply of care-taking, with recollections only of past more intimate ties. The idea of it is given in the testimony of Harriet Snow, who was married to Snow in Nauvoo in 1846, and had never been divorced. She said: "He was not my husband in 1884, according to the general term of husband. He did not live with me as a wife. He had arranged for my support, and I drew it as common. In 1884 I looked upon him as my companion, the husband of my youth. In 1884 the marriage relation did not continue as it was in my young days. I was an old lady in 1884. I call myself a married lady. I was sealed to the defendant for time and for eternity. When a lady gets so that she can not bear children, then she is released from some of her duties as a wife. I mean that he is my companion, but not husband." According to Mr. Curtis's argument, Snow had duties to discharge toward Harriet and the other women similarly situated toward him, which duties, the attorney continues, "are natural, are of moral obligation, of perpetual obligation, and are duties which, when we consider how and when they were assumed, and how they have become woven into the texture of his life, it would be barbaric to punish." The question is, in fact, surrounded with more and greater embarrassments than the urgers of summary legislation to put down polygamy have apparently been ready to consider. The women, who profess to have acted conscientiously, are entitled to protection and provision whatever laws may be enacted. They have a right to be placed where they can be supported and can live respectably. The problem is one of the same kind as that which troubles Christian missionaries when they make converts in polygamous countries, and which so dignified and able a body as the Convocation of Canterbury has this year substantially confessed itself unable to solve. It is really more complicated than this; for the condition among the Mormons is one that has grown up under our own neglect and tolerance, while we might have met it in the beginning and prevented its development if we had had the nerve to do so.