As a people, Mormons are not afraid to see their chrism in the dead and take them as their own. We take heroes and poets. God has inspired many and their words and examples are a balm to the Church. Sometimes, even, we have changed enough to accept our enemies as friends.
Most of us will remember C. S. Lewis – Maxwell’s muse. Friberg’s portrait of General Washington praying at Valley Forge adorns many of our offices and homes. Woodruff’s night vision of the Founders and his research culminated in one of the enduring symbols of 19th century temple work; but Abraham Lincoln is one who we needed to heal us.
While the April 1914 Relief Society curriculum proclaimed that Abraham Lincoln merited our respect and love, our 19th century progenitors viewed him with antipathy. At the cusp of the Civil War our leaders felt the press of the federal government and the coming war was welcomed as a diversion for them. The leaders of the Church were even cheered by the early success of the confederacy (1). In 1861, President Young was ambivalent over Lincoln:
[The President] remarked that Abel Lincoln was no friend to Christ, particularly, he had never raised his voice in our favor when he was aware that we were being persecuted. He was acquainted with Joseph & Hyrum, and had been a Master Freemason, and that time would show what course he would pursue. (2)
Later that year Brigham confessed that he believed that Lincoln was hostile to the Mormons (3) and in the Spring of 1862 Brigham told H. C. Kimball that though “sagacious,” Lincoln was a wicked man (4).
The antipathy was apparently mutual. As cited in Allen and Leonard’s, The Story of the Latter-day Saints (pg. 313) Lincoln once told a visitor from Utah that the Mormons were like some logs in the fields of his youth, “too hard to split, too wet to burn, and too heavy to move,” and added “You go back and tell Brigham Young that if he will let me alone I will let him alone.”
After Lincoln ordered an army from California to Utah, Brigham told Willford Woodruff:
I pray daily that the Lord will take away the reigns of Government of the wicked rulers & put it into the hands of wise good [men]. I will see the day when those wicked rulers [are] wiped out…I do and always have supported the Constitution but I am not in league with such Cursed scoundrels as Abe Lincoln and his Minions…The feelings of Abe Lincoln is that Buchannan tried to destroy the mormons & Could not. Now I will try my hand at it. (5)
Ultimately, Lincoln was murdered and the Saints moved on. After a generation we forgot the pain and exalted Lincoln into the pantheon of greatness. When I first considered this transition, I thought of 100 years after the Civil War. I thought of the civil rights movement and of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Perhaps, in time, we will distill from Dr. King’s work the oil that will restore us. We will forget any allegiance to antiquated and unrighteous traditions. We will claim him and his work as our own and we will all be free.
- Fred C. Collier, The Office Journal of President Brigham Young, 1858-1863, Book D, (Hannah: Collier’s Publishing Co., 2006), pg. 285
- ibid. pg. 220.
- ibid. pg. 277-278.
- ibid. pg. 362.
- Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, vol. 5, pg. 606