Edmunds Act of 1882
Congress passed the Edmunds Act in 1882, also known as the Edmunds Anti-Polygamy Act, making bigamy a felony and cohabitation a misdemeanor. Bigamy is the crime of marrying another spouse while one’s first, undivorced spouse is still living. Since it was difficult to obtain evidence that such bigamous marriages had occurred, the act made cohabitation, or living together with more than one spouse, a misdemeanor. This eliminated the need to prove that a marriage had taken place. The act was primarily aimed at Mormons practicing plural marriage in Utah Territory.
In addition, the act also prohibited polygamists from voting, holding public office, and serving on juries. The act was applied not only to individuals practicing polygamy or cohabitation, but also those who believed in the doctrine of plural marriage without actually practicing it.
Ramifications of The Edmunds Act
As a result of the Edmunds Act, nearly all of the public offices in Utah Territory were vacated. Boards were formed to certify individuals who neither practiced polygamy nor professed a belief in the doctrine of plural marriage. New public officials were elected.
More than 1,300 men were prosecuted, convicted, and imprisoned under the act’s terms. Women practicing polygamy were not prosecuted; they were seen as victims. However, plural wives were, in some cases, not granted spousal privilege and jailed for refusing to testify against their husbands.
The Edmunds Act of 1882 is not to be confused with the Edmunds-Tucker Act of 1888, which targeted Mormon polygamy more directly.