The Mormon cases present a fascinating study of diversity and conformity in the United States in the nineteenth century. From their beginning the Mormons were a gathered people. Almost immediately, from their origins in New York, the Mormons challenged the legal systems in the nation and the states where they resided to protect or at least tolerate their idiosyncracies. Mormon belief and practice came to include communal economics, theocratic government, and most challenging and offensive of all to the larger national community, a radically different marital and social practice—polygamous marriage.
Mormon history began in New York and continued briefly in Ohio where Mormons first gathered. Mormons experienced their most savage suppression in Missouri, where the Governor, Lilburn Boggs, finally issued an extermination order and the “Mormon war” finally saw Mormons driven into Illinois to seek refuge and a new community. After the community initially welcomed Mormon refugees, the abrasiveness of a people who were so incapable of assimilation into the existing society led to conflict again, culminating in the murder of Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, and his brother Hyrum. The Mormon exodus to the Great Basin of the American West followed, under the direction of Brigham Young, one of this nation's leading colonizers. But the story of free exercise of religion among the Mormons in nineteenth century America had just begun.