Has any religious community been the subject of more curiosity, controversy or misunderstanding than the Latter-day Saints? From the time pioneers settled the Salt Lake valley, Mormon culture has drawn the public eye and colored the public record — for better or for worse. Below are statements on Mormons from prominent people in history as well as modern times.
“I do not believe there was ever a religion whereof the great mass of the adherents were not honest and sincere.”
Sir Richard F. Burton, translator of Arabian Nights and agent for the East India Company
Of his visit to Salt Lake and his conversation with Brigham Young, he said, “When conversation began to flag, we rose up, shook hands, as is the custom here, all round, and took leave. The first impression left upon my mind by this short seance, and it was subsequently confirmed, was, that the prophet is no common man, and that he has none of the weakness and vanity which characterize the common uncommon man.”
Mark Twain, on his visit to Salt Lake City
“There was fascination in surreptitiously staring at every creature we took to be a Mormon. This was fairyland to us, to all intents and purposes — a land of enchantment, and goblins, and awful mystery. We felt a curiosity to ask every child how many mothers it had, and if it could tell them apart; and we experienced a thrill every time a dwelling-house door opened and shut as we passed, disclosing a glimpse of human heads and backs and shoulders — for we so longed to have a good satisfying look at a Mormon family in all its comprehensive ampleness, disposed in the customary concentric rings of its home circle.”
“You go back and tell Brigham Young that if he will let me alone I will let him alone.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Good out of evil. One must thank the genius of Brigham Young for the creation of Salt Lake City — an inestimable hospitality to the Overland Emigrants, and an efficient example to all men in the vast desert, teaching how to subdue and turn it to a habitable garden.”
Charles Dickens talking about the Liverpool emigrants going to Utah
“It is surprising to me that these people are all so cheery, and make so little of the immense distance before them.”
P. T. Barnum, in speaking with Brigham Young in Salt Lake City
“Barnum,” said Brigham Young, “what will you give to exhibit me in New York and the eastern cities?”
“Well, Mr. President,” I replied, “I’ll give you half the receipts, which I will guarantee shall be $200,000 per year, for I consider you the best show in America.”
President Warren G. Harding called Utah children “Utah’s best crop.” “I do not know when I have seen so many happy, smiling, sturdy children in so short a period of travel.”
President Franklin D. Roosevelt sent a letter to Winston Churchill about the Deseret News article noting that Clementine Churchill was related to a Mormon line and that Churchill was too.
“Hitherto I had not observed any outstanding Mormon characteristics in either of you — but I shall be looking for them from now on. I have a very high opinion of the Mormons — for they are excellent citizens.”
Filmmaker Cecil B. DeMille (in commencement address at BYU)
“I have known many members of your church — and I have never known one who was not a good citizen and a fine, wholesome person — but David O. McKay embodies, more than anyone that I have ever known, the virtues and the drawing-power of your church.
"David McKay, almost thou persuadest me to be a Mormon! And knowing what family life means to the Latter-day Saints, I cannot speak or think of President McKay without thinking too of that gracious and spirited young lady who is his wife.”
President Herbert Hoover
“I have witnessed their devotion to public service and their support of charitable efforts over our country and in foreign lands during all these years. I have witnessed the growth of the church’s communities over the world where self-reliance, devotion, resolution and integrity are a light to all mankind. Surely a great message of Christian faith has been given by the church — and it must continue.”
John F. Kennedy quoted the 11th Article of Faith in his Tabernacle Address. Also, “Tonight I speak for all Americans in expressing our gratitude to the Mormon people — for their pioneer spirit, their devotion to culture and learning, their example of industry and self-reliance. But I am particularly in their debt tonight for their successful battle to make religious liberty a living reality — for having proven to the world that different faiths of different views could flourish harmoniously in our midst.”
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher
“Yours is a most remarkable story of faith in action, and it changed the world.”
President of Taiwan Ma Ying-Jeou about the Mormon missionaries
“Their clean image elicits good feelings.”
Angela Lansbury about singing with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir
“The spirit of this place is so evident. It is all enveloping. It’s all around me. I feel buoyed up by it. This has been one of the things I felt very strongly about being here. I didn’t realize that I was going to be hit by this extraordinary spirit. I haven’t experienced this before. It’s quite unique, people doing something for the love of it.”
Walter Cronkite about performing with the Tabernacle Choir
“I hope that somewhere, Mom and Dad are proud that little Walter is performing with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. I have never been a religious person in the conventional sense, but I have felt nearer to my God the past couple of days than ever before.”
Taken from the book "Much Ado About Mormons," available at Deseret Book and Seagull Book.