Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer, 2003, Excerpts
Mormons and Mormon Fundamentalists are each convinced that God regards them, and them alone, as his favored children. Both believe that Joseph Smith, who founded Mormonism in 1830, played a vital role in God’s plan for mankind. Mormon Fundamentalists passionately believe that Saints have a divine obligation to take multiple wives. Joseph Smith married at least thirty-three women, and probably as many as forty-eight.
Polygamy was, in fact, one of the most sacred credos of Joseph’s church – a tenet important enough to be canonized for the ages as Section 132 of The Doctrine and Covenants, one of Mormonism’s primary scriptural texts. Mormons esteem three books of scripture above all others: The Book of Mormon, The Doctrine and Covenants, and The Pearl of Great Price.
But even as LDS leaders publicly claimed, in 1890, to have relinquished the practice, they quietly dispatched bands of Mormons to establish polygamous colonies in Mexico and Canada, and some of the highest-ranking LDS authorities secretly continued to take multiple wives and perform plural marriages well into the twentieth century. Eventually they adopted a more pragmatic approach to American politics, emphatically rejected the practice, and actually began urging government agencies to prosecute polygamists. Having jettisoned polygamy, Mormons gradually ceased to be regarded as a crackpot sect. The LDS Church acquired the trappings of a conventional faith so successfully that it is now widely regarded to be the quintessential American religion.
Mormon Fundamentalists, however, believe that acceptance into the American mainstream came at way too high a price. They contend that the Mormon leaders made an unforgivable compromise by capitulating to the U.S. government on polygamy over a century ago.