Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A Law against teaching polygamy in Tennessee

Sometimes my personal interests take me in random directions. For example today research ...

Several months ago in the New York Times dated February 28, 1885 I found the following article.

Nashville, Tenn., Feb 27. - The killing of Elder Gibbs and Berry, Mormon missionaries from Utah, and John R. Hudson and Martin Conder, Mormon converts, on Cane Creek, Lewis County, last August, caused Senator Kercheval to introduce a bill in the State Senate to define and punish the crime of teaching the doctrine of polygamy. The Senate to-day passed it by a vote of 25 to 2. The measure provides that a violation of the act shall be punished by a fine of $500 and imprisonment not to exceed three years, at the discretion of the court. Several Mormon Elders are at work in the State.

It was interesting but not much there. Nut just last week in Andrew Jenson's Church Chronology is the following entry.

1885 Apr 9: The Tennessee Legislature passed a law forbidding the teaching of polygamy in that State

OK, so the dates don't match. That isn't a big deal, is it? One of the should be right. So I figure I'll go lookup the actual record from the Tennessee Legislative history. A quick search online turned up .... nothing. Well, not nothing. I found indexes for Tennessee legislation from 1796 to 1850. And the State Archives have legislation online from 1955 to the present. But nowhere could I find 1885. Sounds like I need to make a trip to Archives in person. Fortunately for me it is a short lunch hour trip. Maybe next week when I'm back in Nashville.

So I thought what about this senator Kercheval? He might be a lead. Turns out Thomas A Kercheval was a State Senator from 1865 - 1869. He was Mayor of Nashville three times; from 1871-74, 1875-83, 1886-88 but from 1883 to 1886 he was not a state senator nor was he Mayor. So how could he have sposored a bill in 1885? This is getting strange


Ardis Parshall said...

Interesting. I can understand a delay between introduction and passage of a bill ... but not the conflict in the dates of the senator's term.

It may seem -- may be -- trivial, but sometimes the best stories come from checking out trivia that no one else has recognized as somehow "off." Looking forward to the sequel.

Last Lemming said...

I can't help you with the Senator's term. Perhaps it was a son of Thomas Kerchaval who has fallen into internet obscurity.

Apparently, they wasted no time in enforcing the law, as this post illustrates.

Amy said...

Thanks for looking that up, Last Lemming. :-)

I'm trying to remember where I've read about John Morgan lobbying at the state capitol against the bill. I could have read it one of four places: here, my blog, Bessie's blog, or John Morgan's bio. (Wish my memory was a little better!)

There's nothing in the Southern States Mission installments prior to the one LL linked to.

The Morgan bio notes that the bill was passed in April 1885, but does not give a date. The book notes that anti-polygamy sentiment was at a fever pitch across the entire country, and the Saints were making monumental efforts with public relations.

The book also devotes a chapter to a debate John Morgan carried on with a Major G.C. Connor in the pages of the Chattanooga Daily Commercial. The debate culminated in a face-to-face meeting at James Hall, Chattanooga, on October 31, 1885.

BruceCrow said...

You are right. So many of the most interesting things I have learned began as something that was somehow "off".

It isn't uncommon for sons to take on a fathers empty seat, even today. I know the book in which I will find the answer. It just isn't online.

I didn't write about it here yet. So try the other two.

Thanks for the notes from John Morgan's bio. It will help me put them in context.

Justin said...

The biographies may be incorrect about Kercheval's service in the Tennessee Senate.

I created a simple timeline for the bill (based on Tennessee Senate records):

Jan. 14, 1885: Senate Bill 65 introduced by Sen. Kercheval (SJ 137)

Jan. 20: SB 65 passes second reading and is referred to the Judiciary Committee (SJ 186-87)

Jan. 22: Judiciary Committee returns SB 65 with recommendation that it lie on the table (SJ 196-97)

Feb. 27: SB 65 passes third reading in Senate, 25-2 (HB Ramsey and WJ Smith of Shelby: no) (SJ 358-59)

Apr. 9: Senate receives House message indicating House passage of SB 65 (SJ 635)

Governor signs SB 65 (SJ 644)

Senate Journal, 1885 (Google books features incorrect title)

Acts, 1885

BruceCrow said...

Justin, you rock!!

The date difference was between the passing and the signing into law. That makes sense.

I'm still up in the air about whether I have the wrong Kercheval or that the biographies for him are wrong.

Justin said...

FWIW, the Tennessee Senate Journal for 1885 identifies him as "T.A. Kercheval" (p. 4).

BruceCrow said...

For those who may still be wondering, a hard copy of Kercheval's biography on file with the State Archives confirms that he was a State Senator in 1885, when the bill was introduced. The online Bio was wrong. Lesson learned. Don't rely entirely on on-line sources. Verify!