Historians examine links between Lincoln and Mormonism





If Mormon history is a kind of rich, hearty stew, the professional historians and independent researchers gathering next week in Springfield, Ill., are like picky eaters, fishing out a carrot, potato or a morsel of beef for closer scrutiny.

Like any omnivore, some LDS Church observers prefer the flavor of all the ingredients mixed together.

Such specificity and expansiveness will be much in evidence at the annual three-day meeting of the Mormon History Association beginning Thursday in the home of Abraham Lincoln and the presidential launching pad of Barack Obama.

Naturally, several of the presentations will focus on LDS history in that region of Illinois, where the Mormons gathered in the late 1830s.

On the menu are Bryon C. Andreasen's lunch speech on "Mormon Connections to the Lincoln-Era Springfield," Morris Thurston's "General Smith Goes to Springfield: Triumph Amid a Gathering Storm" and Mary Jane Woodger's "Abraham Lincoln's Interaction with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."

And there's Michael Winder's "Pragmatic Lincoln and Moralistic Garfield: How LDS Ties Before Their Presidencies Affected Their White House Views of the Saints," and William MacKinnon's "Stephen A. Douglas, Abraham Lincoln and the Mormon Problem: The 1857 Springfield Debate."

MacKinnon argues that Douglas, once a defender of Mormonism, turned against the new faith in that debate at the insistence of one of his aggressive Chicago constituents, W.W. Drummond, a resigned Utah Supreme Court justice who was then the nation's highest-profile Mormon critic. He proposed that Utah be abolished as a political entity and that its territory be distributed among neighboring states and territories so that the 50,000 Mormons of the region would fall under the exclusive jurisdiction of Congress and the U.S. government without any form of self-government.

"Douglas' speech immediately drew Mormon enmity that lasts to this day," MacKinnon says.

The Illinois senator had no idea that Lincoln was in the audience and that he would wangle an invitation to deliver a rebuttal to Douglas two weeks later, thereby setting up the dynamic of a "debate." Lincoln's June 26 rebuttal speech is wholly unknown to historians of Mormonism and of the pre-Civil War period. ...

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