Idaho history: Fred Dubois was a U.S. marshal and two-term U.S. senator

Fred Thomas Dubois was a controversial U.S. senator from Idaho, remembered today for his anti-Mormonism and relentless pursuit of polygamist members of the LDS church in the 1880s.

Fred Dubois was born in Palestine, Crawford County, Ill. on May 6, 1851. His father, Jesse Kilgore Dubois, was elected to the first of two terms in the Illinois legislature in 1834. When chosen state auditor in 1856, he moved his family to Springfield, the capital city, and in 1858 had a house built in the same neighborhood as his political ally Abraham Lincoln, his wife, Mary, and their four sons.

Fred was 8 years old in 1859 when the Dubois family moved into their new home, now restored and preserved by the National Park Service as part of the Lincoln Home National Historic Site. The Lincoln boys were neighbors and near enough in age to Fred and his brother Jesse Jr. that they were surely playmates. Willie Lincoln was 9, and Tad Lincoln was 6, and when another boy was born to the Dubois family, his parents named him Lincoln.

Fred Dubois attended Springfield public schools and graduated from Yale College in 1872. In 1875-76 he served as secretary of the Illinois Board of Railway and Warehouse Commission before moving to Idaho Territory with his doctor brother, Jesse Dubois Jr. in 1880. Fred served as U.S. marshal of Idaho from 1882 to 1886. He later wrote of his time as marshal: “I became absolutely obsessed with the Mormon problem. The government was determined to stamp out polygamy and I felt I was the agent of the government and the people of the United States, and that the duty devolved upon me to see that the laws of the land were obeyed by the Mormon people in respect to their practices.”

In September 1879, before Dubois arrived in Idaho, the Independent Anti-Mormon Party of Oneida County was organized in Franklin, and in 1884 he revived it. The Anti-Mormon Test Oath, adopted by the Idaho legislature on Dec. 23, 1884, excluded Mormons from holding office in Idaho Territory. On Feb. 3, 1885, it was extended to prevent Mormons from voting or serving on juries. On May 9, 1885, Marshal Dubois raided the largely Mormon town of Paris in an effort to put the Idaho Anti-Mormon Test Oath into effect. These raids were conducted by U.S. marshals in other Western states with substantial Mormon populations. Polygamist men captured were tried, and if found guilty were sent to prison for terms ranging from 3 to 3 1/2 years.

In December 1887, five Mormon men from southeastern Idaho, convicted of plural marriage, were sent to the United States Penitentiary at Sioux Falls, Dakota Territory, probably because the territorial penitentiary in Boise was overcrowded. They were the first Mormon men from Idaho sent to another territory to serve their time, and no doubt felt that they were martyrs to their religious beliefs. They were torn between obeying what they regarded as the laws of God or the laws of man. The Mormon Church had first publicly acknowledged polygamy as official doctrine in 1852, generating widespread moral indignation that contributed greatly to a rising tide of anti-Mormonism.

After his time as marshal, Fred Dubois had an active career in Idaho politics. In 1886, he ran as a Republican to defeat Democratic incumbent John Haley as congressional delegate from Idaho Territory. When Idaho achieved statehood in July 1890, U.S. senators were elected by state legislatures not by direct vote of the people. This did not change until passage of the 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1913. Dubois served in the U.S. Senate for two full six-year terms, first as a Republican and then as a Democrat, when that party took control of the Idaho Legislature. He is the only person in Idaho history to serve in Congress as a member of each of the two major political parties.

Fred Thomas Dubois died in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 14, 1930. He is buried in Grove City Cemetery in Blackfoot.

Arthur Hart writes this column on Idaho history for the Idaho Statesman each Sunday. Email histnart@gmail.com.