This week I wrote an article about Mormons and Boulder City Politics (Click Here).
In the article, I mentioned some of the early political and religious persecution that Mormons faced in Missouri in 1838. Among those that were driven from their homes in the freezing cold as part of Governor Boggs Extermination Order was one of my great grandfathers, John Telford. Below is an except from his history:
"At one time during this distressing period when he and all of his family except Robert were down in bed with chills and fever, the mob came and ordered them out of their home. The victims of this fever were very ill, but John and his wife were fortunate that their worst time occurred on alternate days so when one was too sick to get up it was possible for the other to help take care of the children. On the day that the mob came John was so helpless and ill that it aroused the sympathy of one member of the mob who objected to the heartless treatment imposed upon them by the mobbers and interceded for them, and got the mob to consent to let them remain in their home until the following day, but when the morning came conditions were even worse and neither John nor his wife were able to get up when the mob returned. This only added to the fury of the men and they threatened to burn the family with the house unless they would denounce Joseph Smith as an imposter. This they refused to do although the mobbers devised every means to get them to discredit the Prophet. When their efforts failed they prepared to carry out their inhumane threats, but the man who had interceded for them on the previous day defied the mob and carried the family out of the house, against the blasphemous threats of the mobbers. He helped them to get away in safety by marching with his gun between their wagon and the anger crazed mob for a mile while their home and their crops and all their possessions were consumed by fire, Even the great stacks of sacked wheat that was piled in the yard during the harvest was also burned by the infuriated mob."
Reading this account has always brought me grief for the suffering caused to my forefathers because of the fear and prejudice of these early frontiersmen, but it was discussing this with my Father that I discovered something that I had not known about Mormons and politics in his home state. Idaho's constitution specifically denied Mormons the right to vote, hold office, or serve on a jury. It was in the year 1889 that Idaho drafted their constitution. In order to ensure that congress approved their petition to become a state they felt the need to distance themselves from Mormons. At the time Mormons were not very popular due to their practice of polygamy. In fact the United States had passed the Edmunds Act in 1882 that specifically bared polygamist, people cohabiting and anyone belonging to an organization that promoted polygamy or cohabitation from voting or holding office. Since Mormons belong to an organization that promoted polygamy they all were restricted from voting, even though only 1% of them actually practiced polygamy. The Idaho constitution followed suit, except it added the word celestial marriage to polygamy.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints officially stopped the practice of polygamy by an official declaration by Prophet Wilford Woodruff in 1890. At this point, under the Edmunds Act they could vote, however in Idaho it was still in question. In 1908, it was taken to the Idaho supreme court in (Toncray vs. Budge) and determined that celestial marriage was not polygamy but anyone who had a monogamous marriage in the temple, and since Mormons encouraged people to marry in the temple, it applied to all Mormons. Therefore if you were Mormon, you could not vote. They even expanded that it applied to all who are, or ever were, Mormon. This was done because the fear that people would denounce the church, vote, and then go back. I could not find how extensively this provision was enforced and when exactly it stopped. (Some claim it stopped when the test act, the act relating to making people sign a statement that they were not Mormon, was repealed in 1892, however Toncray vs. Budge came after this time, so it clearly was still upheld, at least in the courts.) It was clear that the anti-discrimination laws passed in the 60's would have likely put an end to the practice, if it hadn't already stopped.
In 1982 a Mormon and Native American Larry Echo Hawk was voted into the Idaho State Legislature, it was by no means the first time a Mormon was elected, but what made it different was that also on the ballot was the Idaho Remove Voter Disqualification Amendment. It proposed removing the language that barred Mormons from voting. Part of the reason was that Mormons who served in the state always had a hard time promising to defend the state constitution that barred them from voting or holding office. It passed 65% to 35%, with over a third of the population voting to leave the language barring Mormons from voting on the books.
Sometimes I don't the fight for our freedoms as seriously as I should. The years where we didn't allow people to vote because of race, gender or religion seemed so far in the past that I have generally felt removed from those experiences, but 1982 or even the 1908, wasn't that long ago and we need to stay engaged to ensure it doesn't happen again to any group of people, no matter how small and strange or how large and influential they appear to be.