PRESIDENTS AND PROPHETS: THE STORY OF AMERICA'S PRESIDENTS AND THE LDS CHURCH, by Michael K. Winder, Covenant, 428 pages, oversized, $32.95

There are a number of stories about the alleged interaction between American presidents and LDS prophets — but a book has never before been published treating the subject. "Presidents and Prophets," which is long on sentiment and short on detail, is a very nice-looking book filled with interesting photos.

Since the LDS Church was not organized until 1830, the author had to greatly stretch his concept to get Presidents Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson into the Mormon sphere.

Awkwardly, the author includes excerpts of talks given by LDS general authorities about the alleged religiosity of these men, their alleged predictions of a "restoration" and the safe religious assumption that the Founding Fathers prepared the earth for the LDS faith. And we learn that temple work has been done for them.

It was a particular challenge for Winder to find a Mormon connection for the second Adams, so he repeated the story told by Josiah Quincy and Charles Francis Adams (son of John Quincy Adams) when they met Joseph Smith and took a tour of Nauvoo.

All these early presidents are said to have had "a legacy among the Mormons."

Then comes Martin Van Buren, for whom Mormons have never had a fondness, because when Smith visited him during the Mormon persecutions, he made the oft-quoted statement, "Your cause is just, but I can do nothing for you."

The chapters on William Henry Harrison and John Tyler are necessarily short, since there was no discernible connection between the presidents and the prophet. However, Winder makes much of apostles Orson Hyde and Orson Pratt, who once met Tyler and appealed for his help. Allegedly, Tyler said, "The general government cannot interfere with the laws and regulations of the states."

A string of other presidents had virtually nothing to do with the Mormons — until Abraham Lincoln had a brief meeting with George Q. Cannon and territorial delegate William H. Hooper, in which statehood was discussed.

James Buchanan committed a blunder by sending Johnston's army to Utah to put Brigham Young and the Mormons under federal control. Ulysses Grant met Brigham Young briefly, and Young said, "President Grant, this is the first time I've ever met the president of my country."

Following several Republicans, Grover Cleveland, a Democrat, approved statehood for Utah, so he is fondly remembered.

The connections drawn between modern presidents and prophets is a bit more convincing, although the alleged friendship between Lyndon Johnson and David O. McKay is highly overrated. And McKay later told Richard Nixon he "hoped" he would be successful in his race against John F. Kennedy.

President Eisenhower, of course, included an LDS apostle, Ezra Taft Benson, as a member of his cabinet, but that's a bit distant from the prophet — even though Benson would eventually become such.

President Reagan praised the Mormon Welfare plan and toured Welfare Square. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir performed at several inaugurals. And most modern presidents have paid "courtesy visits" to the LDS prophet when traveling through Salt Lake City.

But most of the alleged relationships are built on very thin strands of evidence.

In sum, this is a great idea for a book. Too bad the evidence of interaction between presidents and prophets — a collection of snippets — is so flimsy.


E-mail: dennis@desnews.com