Men imprisoned for polygamy at the state penitentiary in 1888.
When the Mormons began to openly practice polygamy in 1852, they lived in the rural West, far from the reaches of the federal government.
However, as the government’s influence and control began to expand farther and father west, the issue of polygamy and the Mormons became a hot political topic. It became so hot that the Republicans called slavery and polygamy the "twin relics of barbarism”—and accused Democrats of supporting both.
So private citizens and the government crusaded to end polygamy—mostly through laws. Congress passed a series of laws:
Federal marshals arrested many men, who spent time in prison. Other polygamists went into hiding, including LDS church president John Taylor.
The wives of J. W. Summerhays: Sarah Berrett, Melissa Parker, and Hilda Johnson.
Perhaps more serious than the imprisonment of individuals, the acts threatened to bankrupt the LDS church and polygamy was preventing Utah from becoming a state.
In 1890 the Supreme Court ruled in 1890 that the government could indeed seize church property—including temples. With no options left, church president Wilford Woodruff issued a “Manifesto” advising Mormons not to take part in any illegal marriages.
This Manifesto put the rest of the country at ease. Utah could then move toward statehood, which it achieved in 1896.
The Manifesto was not very clear, especially for those already in plural marriages. And despite the church’s “advice” not to do it, many people continued to enter into polygamy.
When Americans realized polygamy was continuing, the controversy heated up again. The U.S. Senate refused to seat Reed Smoot, a Mormon apostle who had been elected senator. The long debate over Smoot was big news all over the country.
In 1904 church president Joseph F. Smith issued a more specific and binding decree about polygamy. Among other things, the decree stated that anyone caught entering or performing a plural marriage after 1904 would be subject to excommunication.
Today the practice of polygamy in the United States is continued by groups that are not associated with the LDS church. They are known as FLDS groups, meaning Fundamental Latter-day Saints.