In a 19th-century Utah newspaper, a wise and thoughtful satirist argued that the polygamy â€œproblemâ€ had wrongly been characterized as a numbers issueâ€”how many wives a man hadâ€”rather than a quantity issueâ€”how much wife a man had. The satirist offered this ingenious answer under the heading,
â€œA New Solution of the Mormon Problemâ€
â€œThere is something so unfair about all anti-polygamous bills heretofore introduced into Congress, that they have failed to become laws. They have all taken cognizance of number instead of quantity. For instance, if a man had two wives whose collective weight was 150 pounds, he was to be punished for it, while another man might have 200 pounds of wife and remain unpunished. The absurdity of this is apparent. The following, which we have drawn up at great pains, we would respectfully submit to our National Legislators for their consideration, with the firm belief that if it becomes a law, it will restrain the practice of Brighamy and solve the heretofore troublesome Mormon Problem:
â€œAn Act to produce an equal and fair distribution of wife material throughout the United States.
â€œBe it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress assembled, That every male citizen of the United States who shall have attained the age of puberty shall be allowed one hundred and fifty pounds of wife.
â€œSec. 2. That every person who has more than the above named quantity of wife, shall pay a tax of one dollar per annum for every pound in excess of the prescribed quantity.
â€œSec. 3. That every person who possesses less than the aforementioned quantity of wife shall receive fifty cents per pound per annum for every pound he is deficient. This amount to be paid from the proceeds of the surplus wife tax as provided for in the previous section.
â€œSec. 4. That the weight to be used for wife weighing shall be Troy weight as provided for other jewels, gold, etc.
â€œSec. 5. That all acts and parts of acts conflicting herewith are hereby repealed.
â€œNow, if the above should become law, the greedy fellow who had, say, two wives, each one weighing five hundred pounds, would have to pay a tax of $850.00 per year, whilst the unfortunate bachelor who was unable to procure a wife at all, would be somewhat recompensed for his loss by receiving $75.00 a year from the man who had his share of wife, thus to a great extent equalizing the wife matter. It would also serve as a great check on polygamy as there are but few men who are able to pay so heavy a tax on wives, and those who are willing to, surely ought to be allowed to keep them.â€
The satiristâ€™s concern for the â€œunfortunate bachelorâ€ in Utah was not entirely unfounded. Kathryn M. Daynes argues that â€œplural marriage dramatically altered the nature of the marriage market in nineteenth-century Utah. It turned what would have been a slight marriage squeeze against women into a significant marriage squeeze against men. Nevertheless, a high proportion of men married relatively young and nearly all married eventually.â€ (â€œSingle Men in a Polygamous Society: Male Marriage Patterns in Manti, Utah,â€ Journal of Mormon History 24 (Spring 1998): 89-111).
Besides the billâ€™s potential for solving the polygamy â€œproblem,â€ it might also promote exercise and good health among women, a sort of Word of Wisdom tax. Even still it is inherently biased in favor of small women irrespective of polygamy or monogamy. A monogamist with a plus size wife would still have to pay the tax. It is also inherently sexist in that it does not provide equal incentive for men to be physically fit. Should the bill have passed, it may have turned Mormon men into a bunch of overweight monogamist-patriarchs exercising unrighteous-personal-trainer-type-dominion over their wives in an effort to claim a wife tax rebate.
Other potential strengths and weaknesses? How would you vote?