Mormons and the Law

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date



The legalization of Utah embodies the complex relationship between law, politics, and religion in the nineteenth century. Joseph Smith’s frequent legal problems led Mormons to distrust the American legal system. After examining three major cases that demonstrate how secular law and lawyers affected early Mormonism, this chapter explores Mormonism’s retreat to the Great Basin and the waning influence of lawyers under Brigham Young’s direction. Later, pressure from Congress and territorial judges over polygamy convinced church leaders to reverse course and acquire legal expertise. Debates over Mormon distinctiveness and religious rights flowed into legal channels so that, by Utah statehood in 1896, lawyers were permanent fixtures in the new state’s administrative structure. The immediate effects of the legalization of Utah included the diminished focus on women in the antipolygamy crusade as well as the creation of connective threads between Saints and Gentiles through the professional bar that initiated political as well as legal avenues for cooperation.


law, politics, polygamy, statehood, lawyers, women, antilawyerism, Gentiles, federal government, Utah

Publication Title

The Oxford Handbook of Mormonism