Sunday, February 14, 2010

Congressman Emerson Etheridge of Tennessee

Emerson Etheridge was born in North Carolina in 1819. He moved to Tennessee in 1831 with his parents an became a lawyer in Dresden, Tennessee. He began his political career in 1845 when he was elected a member of the Tennessee House of Representatives.
He was in and out of the U S House of Representatives. He was a member of the Whig Party, the American Party and the Opposition Party. He was famously pro-slavery. But his connection to Mormonism was his April 2nd, 1860 speech against Polygamy. I have not been able to find online but since it fills 16 manuscript pages, I probably wouldn't include it here anyway.

At question was whether congress should have the authority to legislate against polygamy in the territories. In 1856, the Republican Party added to its platform a plank to end the "twin-relics of barbarism, polygamy and slavery." Prior to this, marriage laws belonged to the States. But anti-polygamy legislation gained wide support from both the north and south in an era when the two agreed on very little.

Emerson is a good example of the conflicted nature of southern politics. While he hated polygamy, he acknowledged that the very same arguments that supported the eradication of polygamy by federal authority could be used against slavery. In the end he voted for the anti polygamy legislation anyway.

He ended his career in Congress with the start of the Civil War. After the war he was active in Tennessee local politics including a run for governor. He died in Dresden, Tennessee in 1902.

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