Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act

1862 federal enactment of the United States Congress

The Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act (37th United States Congress, Sess. 2., ch. 126, 12 Stat. 501) was a federal law. A very disputed subject in the 1860s the act banned men having more than one wife at the same time (bigamy). It also limited the amount of property that a church and non-profit could own in any territory of the United States to $50,000.[1] Justin Smith Morrill of Vermont sponsored it. President Abraham Lincoln signed it on July 8, 1862.



The act wanted to stop the Mormon practice of plural marriage and the property dominance of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Utah Territory. The measure had no funds allocated for enforcement. Lincoln chose not to enforce this law. Instead, Lincoln gave Brigham Young tacit permission to ignore the Morrill Act in exchange for not becoming involved with the Civil War.[2] General Patrick Edward Connor, commanding officer of the federal forces garrisoned at Fort Douglas, Utah beginning in 1862 was explicitly instructed not to confront the Mormons over this or any other issue.[2]

In 1878 the Supreme Court ruled in Reynolds v. United States that religious duty was not a suitable defense for breaking this law. Many Mormons went into hiding. The Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act was amended in 1882 by the Edmunds Act, and then again in 1887 by the Edmunds–Tucker Act. By 1904, the LDS church stopped bigamy.


  1. Statutes at Large, 37th Congress, 2nd Session, page 501. A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: US Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774 - 1875. The Library of Congress. Accessed 18 May 2006.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Firmage, Edwin Brown; Mangrum, Richard Collin (2001). Zion in the Courts: A Legal History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1830-1900. University of Illinois Press. p. 139. ISBN 978-0-252-06980-2. Having signed the Morrill Act, Lincoln reportedly compared the Mormon Church to a log he had encountered as a farmer that was "too hard to split, too wet to burn and too heavy to move, so we plow around it. That's what I intend to do with the Mormons. You go back and tell Brigham Young that if he will let me alone, I will let him alone."