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Lincoln's evolution from foe to friend of Mormons

Published November 25, 2011 10:48 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Mormons were not especially pleased when Abraham Lincoln won the U.S. presidency some 151 years ago.A few months after the election, a Deseret News editorial compared Lincoln to James Buchanan, the hated president who sent troops to the territory to unseat Brigham Young as governor.The reason for such Mormon hostility to Lincoln was twofold, according to Doug Gibson's blog in Ogden's Standard-Examiner. First, the Republican Party platform linked slavery and polygamy as the "twin relics of barbarism."Second, Gibson explains, Mormons viewed the creation of the United States as a divine mandate. With Lincoln, they feared the destruction of the union, which would undermine God's purposes.The Deseret News wrote, according to Gibson, "He [Lincoln] is fully adrift on the current of radical fanaticism" and further described the president as having been "coerced by the insanity of radicals."A few years after Lincoln's election, however, he had won over the Mormons with his "extraordinary diplomatic skills."According to historian George U. Hubbard, writing in the spring 1963 issue of the Utah Historical Quarterly, which Gibson quotes, Lincoln "bypassed federal officials and instead directly asked Brigham Young to supply an armed force to protect telegraph and mail lines from Indians."Next, the president settled a dispute between LDS leaders and other leadership of the Utah territory by removing the "anti-Mormon governor" from office.Lincoln also approached the rebellious Mormons with openness and respect, Ted Widmer wrote last week in The New York Times."Instead of ordering an invasion, Lincoln ordered information. Specifically, he asked the Library of Congress to send him a pile of books about Mormonism, so that the aggregator-in-chief could better understand them," Widmer writes. "These included The Book of Mormon ... and three other early studies of the Mormons, with extensive, lurid chapters covering their polygamy."The reading convinced Lincoln that the best decision "was to do nothing."Widmer writes that Lincoln told an emissary from Utah: "You go back and tell Brigham Young that if he will let me alone, I will let him alone."When Lincoln was assassinated, the Mormons held a giant memorial service in the Salt Lake Tabernacle and invited their critics to join with them, Gibson writes. "Abraham Lincoln has been a revered figure in the Mormon faith ever since."Peggy Fletcher Stack