More books have been written about Abraham Lincoln than most any other man except Jesus Christ himself.
What is it about this man that has captivated the interest of hundreds of millions for more than a century and a half? And what significance do his life and accomplishments hold to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?
President Heber J. Grant made the following declaration in February 1940: "Every Latter-day Saint believes that Abraham Lincoln was raised up and inspired of God, and that he reached the Presidency of the United States under the favor of our Heavenly Father. We honor Abraham Lincoln because we believe absolutely that God honored him and raised him to be the instrument in His hands of saving the Constitution and the Union."
Abraham Lincoln was a contemporary with the Prophet Joseph Smith, who organized The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints on April 6, 1830, with merely six members present in Fayette, N.Y. For five years, in fact, Abraham Lincoln and Joseph Smith lived in the same state of Illinois, Lincoln living in Springfield and the Prophet in Nauvoo, some 130 miles to the north, but there is no record of the two ever having met.
Yet they certainly knew of each other. In the eight years that the Mormons were in Illinois, there were more than 100 newspaper articles about Joseph Smith and the Mormons written in the Sangamo Journal, Springfield's local newspaper, and it is a safe assumption that Lincoln would have read at least most of them.
It is a worthy investigation to examine how the extraordinary life and contribution of Abraham Lincoln, as president of the United States, also played an unexpected supporting role in the turbulent development of the LDS Church. Lincoln's success in preserving the Union and Constitution contributed to the development and preservation of all religions in America.
By the mid-1800s, there were an estimated 4 million African slaves in America. Numerous times Abraham Lincoln expressed his fear that God was angry at the sad mistreatment of these men, women and children by slave owners and by the state and federal lawmakers who passed a bushel of grossly discriminatory laws against them. He believed that God did not approve of wealthy merchants and slave owners, driven by greed, who had taken upon themselves to carve up and weaken this "almost chosen nation" as Lincoln called it, by seceding from the Union for their own personal gain.
There are those who believe, as did Lincoln himself, that it was by divine design that we find at the helm of this nation, at its most critical hour of civil war, an awkward, self-educated backwoodsman who possessed a singularly remarkable humility and intellect — a man whom God appeared to mold into the most powerful and influential president ever to lead this land.
As president, Lincoln relied on the Judeo-Christian God of the Bible to a remarkable degree, and he repeatedly addressed the people of this nation with messages that one would expect to hear from the mouth of a prophet, not from a politician.
Of Abraham Lincoln, John Wesley Hill concludes, "Perhaps no American, save the prophets only, has put such implicit trust in God as did the Great Emancipator. Out of his personal experiences he testified he was as certain that God acts directly upon human affairs as he was of a fact apparent to the senses, such as that he was in the room where he was then speaking. He said: 'I have had so many evidences of His direction, so many instances when I have been controlled by some other power than my own will, that I cannot doubt that this power comes from above. I frequently see my way clear to a decision when I am conscious that I have not sufficient facts upon which to found it. But I cannot recall one instance in which I have followed my own judgment founded upon such a decision, where the results were unsatisfactory; whereas, in almost every instance where I have yielded to the views of others I have had occasion to regret it.'"
Lincoln had a consuming sense and conviction that God created this nation for some higher purpose and that the political events of this nation culminating in the mid-1800s had, for some time, been diverging from that destiny. He believed that this political and moral drift from the original intentions of the Founding Fathers had angered the "Living God" who authored its inception and that the Civil War was the Almighty's judgment for the nation's sins.
Of the Founding Fathers, Lincoln said, "I recollect thinking then, boy even though I was, that there must have been something more than common that those men struggled for. I am exceedingly anxious that that thing which they struggled for; that something even more than national independence; that something that held great promise to all the people of the world to all time to come; I am exceedingly anxious that this Union, the Constitution, and the liberties of the people shall be perpetuated in accordance with the original idea for which the struggle was made, and I shall be most happy indeed if I shall be an humble instrument in the hands of the Almighty, and of this, his almost chosen people, for perpetuating the object of that great struggle."
Ron Andersen is manager of field operations in the Welfare Department for the LDS Church and president of the Lincoln Leadership Society.
Lincoln Symposium scheduled March 5
The Abraham Lincoln Sesquicentennial Symposium is scheduled Saturday, March 5, from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in Salt Lake City.
The symposium, sponsored by the Lincoln Leadership Society, will feature keynote speaker President Matthew Holland, president of Utah Valley University in Orem, Utah.
Cost for the symposium is $45, which includes lunch if registration is done before March 2. Cost for couples is $80.
The event will be held at the Salt Lake Radisson Hotel, 215 W. South Temple. For more details, visit www.lincolnleadershipsociety.com.