Popular Science Monthly/Volume 9/August 1876/Social Experiments in Utah
THE social anomaly of Utah is of interest not only to the politician and the philanthropist, but also to the scientific student of society, whose object is simply to find out how the thing works. Though not claiming to be a sociologist, I have had considerable opportunity to observe the operation of social forces among the Mormons, and in this article I wish to present some conclusions that I have formed relating chiefly to the economical aspect of the matter.
Judging from the tone of much of the Eastern press, one might conclude that most thinkers regarded Utah as an exception to the rules which govern other human societies; as we read frequent energies on its people and their progress, coupled with innocent wonder that such institutions could have produced such results. It seems to be conceded by these writers that in one part of the world a whole people may be Asiatic in religion and social type, and European in energy and intellect; at the same time going forward in wealth and culture, and backward in intellectual and moral discernment. Facts and figures may show, however, that what we should have looked for, reasoning deductively, is really there, although a little disguised at first. To treat it first in its purely economical aspects, I lay down the broad principle that, in this climate and on this soil, a polygamous community cannot get rich.
For, first, polygamy tends to the multiplication of the helpless, to make the proportion of consumers to producers unnaturally large. The political economist knows that the surplus year by year accumulated an the United States is small compared with the popular idea of it—rarely exceeding three per cent. This, funded and in turn made productive, measures the general increase of wealth. Suppose, now, some factor introduced which should consume this three per cent, of increase: it would result that the people would be pressed down upon the verge of poverty, and wealth would augment no faster than population, perhaps not so fast. Polygamy has just this effect.
True, the children are all the while growing toward the age of self-support (which in the West may be set at eighteen years); and, could all survive, this evil would in time correct itself. But, under ordinary circumstances, forty per cent, of the race die before reaching that age. So of this increase beyond monogamic rates all is a present loss, and forty per cent, an absolute loss. But this is not the worst. The ratio of consumers to producers must in any case vastly increase before any of the young become self-supporting. Hence a much smaller surplus, a smaller ratio to each of what sustains and cheers life, and less to bestow upon the weaker, who have extra needs; consequently a stronger pressure by the whole community on the means of subsistence, a sharper struggle for existence, and a considerably greater mortality among the feeble children. This in turn increases the dead loss set forth above; and thus polygamy causes the loss beyond recovery of a part of the productive energy of a people appreciably greater than is lost in monogamy. This it is, doubtless, which causes much of that large infant-mortality in Utah, which so many have noted, and which has often been mistakenly attributed to the purely physiological effects of polygamy. It is not that children are born with weaker constitutions, but that too many of them are born for the productive strength of the community to carry.
This position will be best appreciated by a comparison with any locality in the Central West—say, a rural region in Ohio. There about one-fifth of the whole community are producers. One-half are children, one-half the remainder women (whom political economy does not consider as producers), and a small proportion infirm and aged. Given freedom, monogamy, and natural conditions, this proportion will maintain itself with almost perfect constancy. There will always be a certain proportion of unmarried women. Families will average four or five children each, and the annual increase will be such as the productive capacity of the Commonwealth can carry, and leave a slight surplus to add to its funded wealth.
Now, introduce polygamy, apportion the single women, and possibly import a few more. Give every fifth man two wives and two sets of children, every tenth man three, and every fiftieth man from four to twenty—this is about the condition in Utah—and what then? In ten years, instead of one-fifth, only one sixth or seventh of the whole population will be producers; and the number of the helpless will be greater than the aggregate strength of the community can provide a proper surplus for. Inevitably, then, the whole population will press harder on the means of subsistence, there will be less abundant nourishment, and a weakening of vitality among the poorest, and, in no long time, a marked increase of mortality among the children thus imperfectly nourished; for thus does inexorable Nature restore the balance with a stern justice untempered by mercy. That Utah polygamy causes more children to be born is unquestioned; whether it would result in a greater permanent increase of the population is very doubtful. It certainly is not true that the polygamous races increase faster than the monogamous; as witness Germans and Turks, Russians and Persians, Britons and Hindoos.
Similarly, polygamy would add from 30,000 to 40,000 children per year to the population of Massachusetts, with no increase whatever in the number of producers. In eighteen years, at least 500,000 non-producers would be added to the Commonwealth. The first result would be, as the pressure slowly increased, that children would be withdrawn from school at an earlier age, and put to severer tasks, women would more and more be forced into the field and workshop, with still a decided increase of poverty. Despite these extra exertions against it, cases of want would greatly multiply; all the weaker constitutions would encounter extra risks, because there would be both extra exactions upon them, and less surplus to provide for their extra wants; and thus the evil temporarily avoided in one direction would come around with redoubled force in another. Where monogamy, legally enforced, possibly prevents the birth of 30,000 children annually, polygamy would in time result in more than 30,000 extra deaths; there would, meantime, be less of average food, clothing, schoolbooks, cheap excursions, and healthful amusements, less of everything that makes life possible or desirable, a decided increase in the aggregate of unhappiness, and still a dead loss in the wealth of the community. That all these results are to be witnessed in Utah is the testimony of travelers of every shade of belief, though Utah is a new country, and free from many of the difficulties which would be met with in Massachusetts.
At this point a side-issue presents itself, which it may be well to consider. My observation in Utah, and comparison with Eastern communities, convince me that there is a certain normal rate of increase, beyond which it is scarcely possible for an Anglo-Saxon community to go; or, if possible, very undesirable. I mean, of course, natural increase, immigration being left out of the account. Settle a new country with nearly equal numbers of the sexes, and the population will increase very rapidly as long as the unappropriated wealth of Nature continues; it will even double, from natural causes alone, every twenty-five years, until most of the land is occupied. Then a noticeable decline in the rate of increase will ensue; and such rate will decrease with almost constant regularity as the population increases. It will be manifest in three ways: people will marry later in life, successively larger numbers will remain unmarried, and the average number of children to each family will be less. The large number of unmarried women in Massachusetts, the considerably smaller number in Indiana, and the very small number in California, are thus seen to be legitimate results of the relative ages of those communities. Of course, new inventions, enabling each producer to get more of the necessaries of life from the same amount of labor, will have a similar effect to that of unappropriated natural wealth, and this enables some of the oldest countries to still maintain a slight increase. But, ultimately, these growing communities must reach a condition in which a very considerable part of the population will remain unmarried.
Is it possible to change any part of this by artificial methods, such as law or preaching, to increase the number of marriages? I think not. And, if it were possible, no matter on what grounds of morality or expediency urged, I firmly believe it would result in a decrease of the average happiness, and ultimately in a social degeneracy. Those philanthropists who lament with such frequency the relative decrease in marriages may justly rest for a season from their jeremiads. It is not the extravagance of women, the selfishness of men, nor yet the ambition of parents and the dissipation of contemporaneous society, that causes the decline. A decided majority of those men who remain single till late in life, or permanently, are among the most prudent and economical, often carrying both qualities to an extreme. "Stingy old bachelor" has passed into a proverb. The single man who follows some legitimate business is filling his place in an old community as well as the married man. He adds one to the producers. From this evil, if it is an evil, there can be no artificial remedy in an old society; it is to be borne as a necessary consequence of the constitution of Nature, and alleviated only by each individual's mental cultivation. This principle may also be modestly commended to those enthusiastic patriots who calculate our probable population in the year 1900. One and all, they expect the percentage of increase to continue the same, which cannot possibly be. It was less from 1860 to 1870 than from 1850 to 1860; and will be still less from 1870 to 1880. The best places are seized upon, and population must now go back and fill up the odd corners left by those who had the first pick of Nature's wealth. The phenomenon of rapidly-growing States, like Illinois and Iowa, will never be witnessed again in this nation; for no such bodies of land are to be found anywhere west of longitude 96°.
It is fitting that I should here notice one powerful corrective to the natural tendency of polygamy in Utah--the non-Mormon population. It now numbers about 15,000, and includes at least four men to one woman. It is customary to divide the people of Utah into two classes, but it should be three: the Orthodox Saints, the "Hickory Mormons," or Liberals, and Gentiles. The second class consists mostly of the native young Mormons, born in the Church, but almost universally freethinkers; for Mormonism in a family never outlasts one generation. The Orthodox may safely be set at 60,000, still more than one-half the whole population—men and women devoted to Brigham Young and the priesthood, and ready to go into polygamy or anything else at his bidding. The "Hickory Mormons" are about half as numerous; and in the various proportions of the sexes between these three classes is the most curious feature of Utah. The Liberals alone are in natural social conditions, men and women being about equal in numbers; while of the Orthodox there are probably five females to four males. It is of course impossible to be numerically exact; but my observations in all the towns of the Territory, and in the mining-camps (Gentile), convince me that the following exhibit is very near the exact truth:
The census of 1870 showed a male excess of 2,056, but the great Gentile increase since that time will make it 3,000, if not more. The above table includes all ages.
Observe how unequal are the social conditions. In a purely Mormon town there is often an evident surplus of women of a marriageable age. In a mining town, such as Alta, Bingham, or Ophir, there is a distressing scarcity. In one such town of my acquaintance with 1,000 inhabitants there are barely children enough for a small school, and not women enough to form a sewing-circle! Throughout the Territory the mining towns (Gentile) are some distance up in the mountains, while all the agricultural settlements (Mormon) are necessarily in the valleys. Seeing that human nature is what it is, whether the grand passion be regarded from the moral or merely physical standpoint, one might conclude that the mountaineers would descend upon the valley towns and repeat in more modern style the epic of unwived Rome and the Sabines. This has been prevented by the lack of social intercourse between the two classes, and still more by the vast differences in their education, and habits of life and thought. As time softens their prejudices, marriages "across the religion," as our local phrase has it, are becoming more frequent.
I have laid down certain general principles from which we might, reasoning deductively, expect certain results; my observation fully confirms those results. I do not know of a man whose condition has been improved by polygamy, while I could name a score it has reduced to poverty. I cite a few cases within my knowledge, giving no names, but assuring the reader that they are well known to all old residents of Utah:
A has five wives, children by all, and a civil position which gives him $200 per month. In a monogamous community a permanent position of that kind would enable a man of business ability to accumulate wealth. To A with his five wives it is only what $40 per month would be to a monogamist. Despite the great advance in the value of his real estate, he is to-day on the verge of bankruptcy, and unable to properly care for his families.
B is a man of uncommonly fine business abilities, and would anywhere in the States have long since been a millionaire. He has had five wives, and reared twenty children, besides having lost some by death. Five times in his life (so he tells me) he has had a good start; now he is practically without means, the rent of his real estate being consumed in the payment of debts incurred in caring for his family. For years at a time he was never without one or more children sick, and has been literally compelled to repudiate one of his wives, who is supported by her son. Two others have died, and by the most heroic exertions he is barely able to provide for the other two and their seven children, who are still too young to assist.
C holds a very high position in the Mormon Church, and two civil offices, all with good salaries and fine opportunities. In the early days, when the Church ruled everything, the Mormon Legislature made large grants to him of pasture-lands, timber-lands, and water-privileges, to all of which he enjoyed the exclusive right for twenty years. He has had six or seven wives, and children in proportion. Of several fine pieces of property he owns most are mortgaged to their full value, and he is often cruelly embarrassed for money. With such opportunities he should now have been ready to retire with a fortune.
D is an apostle with five wives and a good family to each. Having always been more a missionary than trader, he is now actually an object of charity. It is openly charged, and not very strenuously denied, that one of his wives died of want; all the others either support themselves or are supported by their children, the old gentleman not being able to support even one family. So runs the list. Even Brigham Young, with all his opportunities, cannot be considered very wealthy. He has repeatedly sworn in his entire property at less than half a million, and in his "answer" to the suit of Ann Eliza he put it at $600,000. I should not call that great wealth, for a man with a hundred and twenty children, grandchildren, and sons-in-law, hanging on his financial skirts. The assessed wealth of Utah does not exceed $28,000,000, of which it is known that the Gentile minority owns about one-half. This would leave the 90,000 Mormons no more than $140 each, a lower average, I believe, than in any other part of the United States. The question might well be raised in Congress, whether polygamy did not bring its own punishment to the men; and, if their case alone was to be considered, we might appropriately let it alone. An old lawyer who attends to much of their business gives me his opinion that in ten years nearly all the leading Mormons will be bankrupt.
Another peculiar effect of polygamy I advance, with the suggestion that it may be due somewhat to other causes. As families increase so rapidly in size, amounting in some instances within my knowledge to fifty children of one man, there must be a vast increase in the number of deaths; the father then must suffer an amount of domestic affliction terrible to contemplate, or undergo a progressive hardening of sensibility more to be deplored, even down to a point where the death of an offspring ceases to afflict. To use an awkward commercial phrase, can a man with fifty children, reasonably certain to follow fifteen or twenty to the grave, afford to mourn the death of each one? More than one bishop has a considerable graveyard filled with his own dead. One is said to have seventeen children buried in one row—the longest grave not over four feet. One within my knowledge has thirty-two children living and nineteen dead. Whatever might be the result under happier circumstances, I can only say this of the Mormons: No people in my ken regard death so little, especially the death of young children. They claim that this indifference is a product of their faith, "Death is but a step to a higher sphere;" but I apprehend a lively religious faith, even to the point of belief that an infant is in paradise, does not have that effect. I can understand that something of the same result might follow an excessively large family anywhere; and on this point, too, my observation in Utah convinces me that there is a certain normal size for a family, best attained and very rarely exceeded in monogamy, and that an increase beyond it is productive of misery rather than domestic happiness.
A very curious and subtile effect of polygamy is a tendency toward extreme reticence, habitual concealment of the feelings. It is often said by the Mormon preachers, and daily observation confirms it, that no people in the world keep their feelings and thoughts to themselves so well as the Mormons. Your host may be torn by internal torments, but you will' sit at his table many a day ere you discover it. This might be well enough, perhaps, but with it is closely connected an habitual deceit, which, of certain kinds, is all but universal in Utah. Its genesis is partly to be sought in polygamy. A man with more than one wife necessarily lives a lie, pretending an equal affection which he cannot possibly feel; and a policy of concealment is absolutely necessary to maintain peace. Going daily or weekly from one wife to another, he must preserve a determined reticence as to all that passed with the first, or resort to deceit. The wife, too, has her reasons for concealment or prevarication; it never would do to reveal her actual feelings if she means to retain her share of his affections. Whether this, continued through all the months of ante-natal growth, has a marked effect on the offspring, is a question for another branch of science; but certainly that or something else has affected the children of Utah. Deceit is a habit which easily extends from one thing to many, and the effects of this continual falsehood in polygamy are only evil and that continually. The polygamous nations are universally more deceitful in their social relations than the monogamous.
With this is to be connected another method in which polygamy prevents the accumulation of wealth. It tends to the dissipation of social energy. The father to more than one family cannot possibly he a father to either. No man can duplicate himself; and he who begins by having three families and three homes, ends by having none. To this must be added the constant fear, of late years in Utah, of interference by the Government; and thus has been added a new and fearful element of uncertainty to the affairs of life. One result has been to engender suspicion, and a general lack of the monogamic feeling of fixedness; and these in turn prevent large organizations for business. Whatever be the true theory, as things are now, it must be admitted that the family is the cement of the civil structure—the unit, so to speak, from which are successively built up the school-district, township, county, State, and nation—and that without the unit of organization the higher forms could not be evolved. Whatever, then, introduces an element of uncertainty into the family, weakens social cohesion and lessens the ability for organization. Accordingly, we see that no polygamous people ever established a republic or even a remote approach to one; and that in Utah every kind of organization, for business or politics, is headed and managed by the priesthood. Without them it could not have been organized at all. Social cohesion is the one indispensable element in a republic: that a people may practise self-government it is necessary that an overwhelming majority should be able to trust each other, transact business, and regulate their conduct without any government at all. Their social cohesion is certainly weaker among a polygamous people, and must in some way be supplemented; accordingly, theocracy is their natural form of government, and with it springs up a paternalism which aims to take care of the affairs of everybody.
The result of these forces working together gives us the clew to the whole history of Utah. For twenty years the priesthood was absolute spiritually and temporally; the cited before the High Council, as promptly resigned, and the Church nominee was declared elected. A few dissenters in the Thirteenth Ward of Salt Lake City combined with non-Mormons and elected Bishop Woolley to the City Council. He was cited before the School of the Prophets, and subjected to savage abuse by Brigham Young, humbly apologized for his presumption, and resigned; and the regular nominee took the seat. It was the last attempt of that nature inside the Church. That patriotic class of religionists who want an amendment declaring ours a "Christian Protestant Government" would have been delighted with the state of Utah; it was a "religious government" in the broadest sense of the words. The modified theocracy set up in New England by the Puritans was red-republican communism in comparison.directed everything and governed everybody; every detail of private life was regulated by "counsel;" every public act of the citizen was the subject of some law. Inside the Church proper were three organized governments: the ecclesiastical, the civil, and the financial and industrial. The civil government of the Territory, under the organic act of Utah, passed by Congress, September 9, 1850, was scarcely known except as a convenience by which the Church carried out decrees previously agreed upon in the School of the Prophets. The incumbents of the various offices made elective by the congressional act were first appointed by the Church; the Mormon people then cast a unanimous vote for them under the supervision of the priesthood, every voter's ballot being put on record. Only two instances are known to have occurred of an attempt at political reform. In one of the southern districts some young Mormons nominated a candidate not on the Church ticket and elected him to the Legislature. Reaching the city he was promptly
Here and there an individual grew restive under this régime, but took good care to say nothing openly; for of all reformers those who strive to rescue men from a mental slavery receive the bitterest opposition from those they seek to aid. If such found the condition intolerable, they quietly slipped out of the Territory and sought a community where public opinion was not so oppressively unanimous. If, as sometimes happened, one failed in the attempt, there was a "man missing—supposed to have been killed by the Indians"—as duly reported in the Church paper. As to the fate of these missing men we are mostly without legal proof, but find a number of candid statements in various sermons preached by the heads of the Church. As instance the following from Brigham Young:
Of course, if we should see this quotation in a hostile report, we should reject it at once as a fabrication; but it is in the "Journal of Discourses," with a score of similar passages, the whole book being published by the Mormon Church and indorsed on the title-page by Brigham Young and his councilors. The curious reader may find the doctrine of killing apostates explained and commended in that work, viz.: vol. i., pp. 72, 73, 82, 83; vol. ii., pp. 165, 166, et seq.; vol. iii., pp. 226, 234, 235, 237, 241, 246, 247, 279, and in many other passages.
The results of this peculiar system of securing unanimity were curious indeed—well worth the study of the sociologist. The society became perfectly homogeneous. All traces of mental independence vanished. The people even ceased to care for it apparently. A rigid paternalism governed every detail of the social organism under the guise of what was called "counsel by the priesthood." There was counsel to sell and counsel to buy, to go abroad or remain at home, to build a house, open a farm, buy a cow, or take another wife. The remnants of individualism which the people had brought with them from their native lands seem to have completely died out as early as 1855. Natural selection of course operated powerfully in aid of this tendency, coupled with the isolated condition of the country. From one to three thousand fresh converts arrived every year; those who could not submit at once and completely, slipped out of the Territory as soon as possible, and the residuary mass settled into a condition of unchanging homogeneity. That class of thinkers who maintain that government should take care of the people's business, finances, and morals, by prohibitory enactments as to foreign goods and native whiskey, would have been amazed to see how thoroughly Utah had carried out this policy. All the business of the people was regulated by the rulers; paper-money was issued by the city under the direction of the Church; nobody could sell liquor without the consent of Brigham, and the distance from markets created a protective tariff 200 per cent. heavier than a Congress of Greeleys and Careys would have dared to impose. Stranger still, the system was, as to the objects aimed at, a perfect success: a whole community voluntarily abdicated each man his personal sovereignty, and were taken care of by their priestly advisers with a cruel kindness which the ordinary American need not hope to comprehend. Even the desire for independence died out. An original thought came to be regarded as a sin to be repented of, confessed, and put away. Each successive and abortive attempt at something better resulted in making the population still more submissive. Where vigorous preaching had been necessary in 1850, a move of the hand was sufficient in 1860; where argument was still employed in 1860, a hint was enough in 1868. Toward the close of this period, and before the disturbing Gentile invasion, business took me on a lengthy tour through the remote settlements, where the results of over-government showed themselves most completely in the perversion or stupefaction of the mental faculties. I heard men maintain with vehemence that Jesus Christ was a practical polygamist; that the Gentile world was to be utterly desolated before 1890, and the remnant submit to the Mormon priesthood; that a republican government was a rebellion against God, in that men sought to govern themselves without counsel of an inspired priesthood and a prophet divinely appointed; and that a man could not obtain honorable rank in heaven unless he had children on earth. I heard women protest that they would not live as the one wife of a man if possible to go into polygamy; that there was no exaltation in heaven to an unmarried woman; that it was a deadly sin to refuse to enter polygamy; and that a woman or man who voluntarily remained unmarried would be a servant to the Saints to all eternity. Both sexes accepted as a religious verity that slavery and polygamy were established by direct command of God; that the Government was at war with the Almighty in the abolition of one and disapproval of the other; and that the mass of the people of the United States were scoundrels who deserved death, and would soon be visited with all the plagues of the Apocalypse. And these people did not seem to be aware that they were insane. They argued earnestly and swore fluently in defense of their religion, quoted the Bible voluminously in favor of slavery and concubinage, and declaimed about the Prince of Peace, the way of salvation, and control of passion, till they were black in the face with anger. At the autumn conference that year Brigham pronounced the fiat—"No trade with outsiders;" and at a wave of his hand all the commercial relations of 75,000 people were changed in a day; a dozen mercantile firms had their business destroyed, and were driven from the country. Some of them could not even dispose of their stock on hand, and were forced into bankruptcy. That autumn I visited one settlement, near Salt Lake City, where a cane-mill was run night and day on custom-work. A year afterward I passed that way again; the cane-mill was resting in idleness, and the people hauling their cane miles away to another settlement. The owner of the mill had apostatized; the word from the Tabernacle had gone forth, "Drop him!" and for the first, and I hope the last, time in my life I got sight of that unique theological phenomenon—an apostate cane-mill.
Whether the moral condition was then tolerably good or very bad cannot be determined satisfactorily. There was such a dead calm upon the surface of society, and such a singular reticence among all classes, that only the most atrocious cases ever came to light—often those were not known or suspected until some of the parties had apostatized. No account was ever given in the Mormon papers of any crimes committed in the remote settlements, and so complete was the surveillance of the secret police that a case of seduction was almost immediately discovered and settled by having the parties married at once, a previous marriage of the man being no hinderance. Of two strangers visiting the Territory, one would say: "These are the most orderly, law-abiding, and happy people on earth;" the other: "There is neither liberty nor law—neither honest, earnest thought nor vigorous happiness; there is a centralized despotism, and Brigham Young is king." Possibly some idea of the moral tone may be gained by noting the prominent characters chosen for the offices, and presumably representing the priesthood and people. John D. Lee, as well known then as now as the wholesale murderer of Mountain Meadows, only a few months after that awful crime came to represent Iron County in the Legislature, received the encomiums due a faithful public servant, and went home with a young wife, "sealed" to him by Brigham Young. His colleague in murder, Isaac C. Haight, was also his colleague in the Legislature, and was in like manner rewarded with a young wife. Both these men continued high in office in the Mormon Church until the United States marshals chased them into the mountains. Robert T. Burton, who murdered four of the "Morisites" after their surrender, was rewarded with the offices of collector, sheriff, and bishop, and two extra wives given him. Bill Hickman, who confesses to twenty murders, was a member of the Legislature, and had during his career ten wives. Samuel Smith, Bishop of Boxelder, rejoices, presumably, in the ownership of six wives, of whom two are his brother's daughters. It is not conclusive that these men represented the average moral tone, as they were appointed by Brigham before being elected by the voters; nevertheless, I do not remember having heard the appointment spoken of with disapprobation by the people. I visited both Haight and Lee at their homes in Southern Utah, and, while the latter was under some popular condemnation, the former was a leading citizen of Toquerville. Polygamy, like slavery, is necessarily the practice of a minority—a select aristocracy; but in both cases it is to be noted that the great majority who could not enjoy its benefits, if any, were its most ardent defenders. Could this social and political condition have continued three generations, then would the future scientist have found in Utah an entirely new variety of our species—Saxons without a constitutional government, Britons with no consciousness of a personal sovereignty, Americans lacking even the wish for a republic; wives willing to share a husband's heart, maidens looking for an "exaltation" in polygamy, and children with blood relationship so mixed that no "heraldry Harvey" could ever have succeeded in tracing the circulation. From a scientific standpoint, it \a almost a pity the Gentile could not have left Utah untouched for a century—it would have been such an interesting experiment. With the Gentile invasion and establishment of United States authority, the experiment practically comes to an end; but, let it be dealt with as wisely and mercifully as it may, the break-up must be attended with fearful suffering.