CHRISTINE TALBOT. A Foreign Kingdom: Mormons and Polygamy in American Political Culture, 1852–1890


Polygamy, Early Mormonism, American Political Culture


One could forgive a sigh at the appearance of yet another work on nineteenth-century Mormon polygamy. With all the pages documenting the Latter-day Saints' novel family arrangements and often-frenzied reactions to them, it would take a good book to warrant attention in so crowded a field. Christine Talbot's A Foreign Kingdom: Mormons and Polygamy in American Political Culture, 1852–1890 is just such a book and does indeed contribute to our understanding of the practice's meanings in the larger narrative of nineteenth-century American politics. The significance of her study does not, however, inhere, as she claims, in a broader reading of Mormon or anti-Mormon sources or in greater attention to regional variations within anti-Mormon writing (p. 14). Previous studies have added those layers and, besides, Talbot is aware of her own focus on those mostly northern Protestants who led the anti-polygamy campaign. Certainly her claim that “[n]o other racial or religious community in the nation provoked such a prolific, vitriolic national response” will spark debate (p. 34). And though her conclusion calls attention to the ironies in the Mormons' cultural sojourn, especially with regard to minority sensibilities regarding marriage, those early polygamists were never quite progressive liberals. They saw themselves mainly as throwbacks (to the Old Testament) who preserved a holier, ancient way, not necessarily as symbols of an unfettered civic future. These critiques notwithstanding, she has indeed read widely in both Mormon and anti-Mormon sources and has ably and readably narrated the main stories involved. Those familiar with the struggle over polygamy will not find significant detail added, per se, given that much of the book's descriptive portions are familiar in their trajectory and particulars. In that sense, Talbot's book suffers from a quirk of timing, perhaps, appearing at the end of a historiographical flow covering similar terrain.

Original Publication Citation

A Foreign Kingdom: Mormons and Polygamy in American Political Culture 1852-1890, by Christine Talbot, in American Historical Review 120, no. 1 (February 2015): 249.

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

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The American Historical Review




Family, Home, and Social Sciences



University Standing at Time of Publication

Associate Professor