Did Lincoln Read the Book of Mormon?

Did Lincoln Read the Book of Mormon?

The story of how I ended up working against child trafficking—an industry some have called abolitionism—is long and complex. The more interesting story, perhaps, is how I have been able to deal with such a difficult thing physically, emotionally, and even spiritually. First and foremost, I have turned to the Lord, and I have had the unwavering support of a wonderful family. But there is something else I have turned to: American history.

As an undercover operative working with governments throughout the world to fight child trafficking, I fight for freedom on a daily basis. Recognizing that my favorite American heroes were asked to do far more difficult things than I must do, I have turned to them to learn how they did it. Two of these American heroes of mine are Joseph Smith and Abraham Lincoln. 

As I studied their lives, I could not help but recognize some powerful similarities between the two men: both were born a few years apart from each other, both were raised under the humblest of circumstances, and both reached an unlikely national prominence. Both their names were known for good or ill to their countrymen, both were cut down in their prime by an assassin’s bullet, and both were laid to rest in neighboring cities. But these are the least of their similarities. There was something else—something that seems almost impossible—that provided me with the inspiration I sought. It is something that places Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War into an unlikely partnership with that which I hold dearest of all—the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Lincoln’s “Conversion”

To explain this connection, I must first reveal perhaps the most important secret about Abraham Lincoln. In the middle of the war, he passed through a pivotal transformation, even a conversion. He called it “a process of crystallization” during which he “constantly prayed.” Others called it a “Damascus Road experience.”  Though at the war’s beginning, Lincoln promised not to touch slavery where it existed, and though at the beginning he did not see the conflict as God’s doing, all of that changed.

His conversion began with the death of his sweet 11-year-old son, Willie, which left an already war-humbled Lincoln completely shattered. The tragedy brought Lincoln to his knees in prayer like never before. That, and the powerful spiritual encouragement he gained through the teachings of a Christian nurse brought in to care for the family in the wake of Willie’s death, left him a changed man forever. The result: he began receiving revelations from God. He started to see the war in a different light—a spiritual light. Much to the concern of his cabinet, Lincoln began claiming, “I talk to God,” and he began believing and testifying that “God’s purpose is something different from the purpose of either party. . . . God wills this contest, and wills that it shall not end yet.”

At one point in September 1862, he even made what he called “a covenant” with God. Give us victory in this upcoming battle, he pleaded to heaven, and I will turn this war into a holy endeavor. I will begin with freeing the slaves—I will issue the Emancipation Proclamation. Sure enough, during the very battle over which Lincoln prayed and covenanted (the Battle of Antietam), one of the most astonishing miracles in American history occurred, which led to Union victory and prompted Lincoln to make good on his promise to God. It was an event that acclaimed Civil War historian James McPherson declared to be “a million to one” chance opportunity for the North. It was a miracle that played out with the simplest of tools—three cigars, an empty field, and a wandering soldier—yet it brought great things to pass.

Joseph Smith’s Civil War Prophecies

14989But this story runs so much deeper than just the conversion and the miracle. It appears that this change in Lincoln, which caused an even greater change in the national heart, is eternally tethered to powerful prophecies stemming from my other favorite hero, Joseph Smith. Indeed, in a manner quite stunning, it appears that Smith saw it all, his prophecies and visions written, documented, and hiding in plain sight. They were “hiding in plain sight” because without reading the prophecies with Civil War history in mind, it’s easy to miss. Yet the prophecies are abundant, and they become clear upon examining Lincoln’s side of the story.

Brigham Young certainly did not miss the spiritual message and connection when, in the middle of the war, he declared: “God has come out of his hiding place and has commenced to vex the nation that has rejected us, and he will vex it with a sore vexation. . . . [Joseph Smith’s] prediction is being fulfilled, and we cannot help it.”

Smith had indeed spoken of the mighty vexation that would befall the nation should the people not repent. American sin was piling up high in the land. And not just private sin being committed by individuals. It was sin being carried out by the collective—legislated and codified in the land. Slavery—the most brutal form of tyranny—was growing and spreading like a cancer.

Religious minorities, like Mormons, were often treated just as badly, and there was no legal recourse for the oppressed. Wicked men had hijacked the divinely given principles of the Constitution. Something needed to change fast because not only was slavery abounding in the land, but temples were being confiscated and burned, or their building was not permitted in the promised land created for their very existence. The Lord had a plan to fix this problem, and He revealed it to His prophet.

As Smith was facing false charges and witnessing the persecution of his people, he inquired of God as to what he should do. God’s counsel for him is found in Doctrine and Covenants, Section 101. First, the Lord acknowledges that He ultimately had inspired the Constitution (verses 76–80), then He instructed Joseph Smith to seek redress from the judge (verse 86). If that did not work, he was told to go to the governor (verse 87). Finally, if the governor failed him, he was told to go to the president of the United States (verse 88). Should that not work, the Lord revealed a most frightening contingency:

“And if the president heed them not, then will the Lord arise and come forth out of his hiding place, and in his fury vex the nation; and in his hot displeasure, and his fierce anger, in his time, will cut off those wicked, unfaithful, and unjust stewards, and appoint them their portion among hypocrites, and unbelievers” (verses 89–90).

The Lord was speaking directly about Joseph Smith’s generation when He declared that “there shall be men standing in that generation, that shall not pass until they see an overwhelming scourge; for a desolating sickness shall cover the land.” The Lord then described this scourge in part, leaving little room to imagine what He was referring to: “And they will take up the sword, one against another, and they will kill one another” (D&C 45:28–33).

Indeed, Joseph Smith knew the war was coming. Among a vast number of similar prophecies Smith and others revealed concerning the war, one revelation even noted where the first shots of the war would be fired: South Carolina (D&C 87:1–5).

As prophet, Smith knew what he had to do. In an effort to do as the Lord commanded, he went to the judge, the governor, and the president and practically shouted to them of the need to repel slavery and bring protection to religious minorities. He warned that if they did not listen, “they shall be broken up as a government.”  They refused to listen.

The 13th & 14th Amendments

Knowing the calamities that would befall the nation should it continue in grave sin, Joseph Smith even ran for the presidency of the United States in 1844 to give voice to his concerns. His platform would represent the solution to the national crises: the eradication of slavery and the end to what Smith called “the states’ rights doctrine”—a constitutional theory that allowed states (like Missouri) to ignore the Bill of Rights and persecute Mormons and other minorities without consequence. “The states’ rights doctrine,” declared Smith, “are what feed mobs. They are a dead carcass, a stink and they shall ascend up as a stink offering in the nose of the Almighty.”8 What Joseph Smith the candidate was seeking is what we finally got—in essence, he was asking for the 13th Amendment (eradication of slavery) and the 14th Amendment (the tempering of the states’ rights doctrine). Smith was very candid about his belief that the Constitution needed amending: “the Constitution is . . . not broad enough to cover the whole ground,” he declared.f

He also knew that the nation could choose these solutions on its own, or it could wait for the Lord to unleash the frightening prophecies that would bring national humility and lead to the required national repentance. In short, America could turn to God and create the 13th and 14th Amendments peacefully, or God would bring them about the hard way: through a scourge and vexation upon the land. 

The national choice was symbolically revealed on June 27, 1844, at 5 p.m. While in the middle of his presidential campaign against slavery and “the states’ rights doctrine”—indeed, at the height of his warnings to the nation—Joseph Smith was killed. Not only was he martyred, but as a budding politician entering the national stage, he was assassinated. The murder was followed by silence from the state and the nation. Shortly thereafter, the temple was burned to the ground. Again, silence and apathy followed. As was its right, America at large had chosen to ignore God’s prophet.

As was His right, God would then mete out the consequences of that decision.  With the prophet and his brother dead, the temple in ashes, and the Saints being hauled out of America, the Lord revealed to Brigham Young:

“Thy brethren have rejected you and your testimony, even the nation that has driven you out; And now cometh the day of their calamity, even the days of sorrow. . . . For they killed the prophets, and them that were sent unto them; and they have shed innocent blood, which crieth from the ground against them” (D&C 136:34–36, emphasis added). 

The Civil War came. And it worked. It brought to bear the precise fruit indicated by the prophecies—it brought humility, repentance, and the 13th and 14th Amendments. And it fulfilled one incredibly specific prophecy Smith gave concerning Jackson County, Missouri—a fulfillment almost too shocking to believe (D&C 121:11–24).

In the end, slavery would be done away with. And temples would survive.

But it is the way in which the prophecy was fulfilled that represents the most amazing part of this story of God, country, and scripture. I believed Joseph Smith was a prophet before I discovered the truth about the Civil War. But seeing how his prophecies were fulfilled to the letter has bolstered my personal testimony of him. Furthermore, I always felt Abraham Lincoln was an inspired man. But seeing what he did relative to Joseph Smith’s words and revelations puts him in the realm of other inspired men like Christopher Columbus and George Washington.

Lincoln and the Book of Mormon

14990In 1862, Lincoln’s conversion really heated up. What exactly was he being converted to? He was learning what Joseph Smith knew. He began seeing the Civil War the way Joseph Smith and Brigham Young saw it. Lincoln surprised the nation with the Emancipation Proclamation in the wake of his conversion and that powerful battlefield miracle. But the most important thing to understand is that the Proclamation represented the beginning of national repentance; it was the initial link in a chain of events that would lead to the 13th and 14th Amendments—to the end of slavery and to the constitutionally binding protection of temples in the land. “In giving freedom to the slave,” pronounced Lincoln, “we assure freedom to the free.” Lincoln was fulfilling Joseph Smith’s prophecies and bringing forth the national solutions the prophet had sought.

As a result of his conversion, Lincoln started to believe that God actually wanted this war in the land. Let us not take this for granted. It is a most bizarre thing for a president of the United States to believe—bizarre, that is, until coupled with the promises and prophecies of Joseph Smith. Lincoln was only saying what Joseph Smith had said. “And insomuch as we know that by His divine law, nations, like individuals, are subjected to punishments and chastisements in this world,” declared Lincoln, “may we not justly fear that the awful calamity of civil war which now desolates the land may be but a punishment inflicted upon us for our presumptuous sins, to the needful end of our national reformation as a whole people?” 

Smith of course had read such things in the Book of Mormon—the story of the covenant land of America. The story tells of how, in a covenant land, a wicked people may expect the humbling power of national calamities to befall them: “Except the Lord doth chasten his people with many afflictions, yea except he doth visit them with death and with terror . . . they will not remember him” (Helaman 12:3).

Similarly, Lincoln declared to the nation: “It behooves us, then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness . . . let us then rest humbly in the hope authorized by the Divine teachings, that the united cry of the nation will be heard on high, and answered with blessings no less than the pardon of our national sins, and the restoration of our now divided and suffering country.”

Something must have influenced Lincoln to see America like the prophet Joseph did—to see America like an ancient Nephite prophet had.

Right in the middle of his conversion, while Willie was dying, while the Christian nurse was teaching, while he was passing through what he called his “process of crystallization,” Lincoln had a copy of the Book of Mormon, which he himself had requested from the Library of Congress. Having kept it for nearly eight months, Lincoln finally returned it to the Library a mere seven days after issuing his first draft of the Emancipation Proclamation to his cabinet. Was this merely a coincidence? Did Lincoln begin to insert Book of Mormon principles—even Book of Mormon language—into his speeches and policies? After having the book, did he actually change his opinion on Mormons and begin to treat them more kindly than any American president up until that time? The evidence seems to add up to the affirmative, suggesting that the Book of Mormon had influenced the president. This might have been at least partially responsible for the fundamental shift in American policy during the war: the eradication of slavery and the constitutional protection for God’s people. Or, as Lincoln declared at Gettysburg, “under God . . . a new birth of freedom.” 

The Lincoln Hypothesis

While I know I would not be able to prove my hypothesis beyond a reasonable doubt, I had already discovered too much evidence to be able to ignore the possibilities. 

As it turns out, the same first edition copy of the Book of Mormon Lincoln had checked out is likely the copy the Library of Congress still possesses. Does the book have answers? It’s just a quick trip to Washington, D.C., to find out.  

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Timothy Ballard explores the crucial role that President Lincoln played to bring this nation closer to heaven. We love this fascinating read from Deseret Book. Who knew that our doctrine and Lincoln's political decisions could have been so intertwined? Grab your copy at deseretbook.com.
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