Every once in a while a book comes along that makes you think: “why hasn’t this book ever been written before, and why didn’t I write this book?” “President and Prophets” is one of those books.
Author Michael K. Winder is one of those young LDS people who seem to be everywhere at once. He is a member of the West Valley City Council, the VP of Winder Farms and a former CES instructor. He has written a big, engaging book that covers each U.S. president’s exposure (or lack of exposure to the Church). The book is filled with great photographs and drawings and will make a perfect coffee table addition for the holidays.
Here are some of the things I learned in this book:
–Joseph Smith and Brigham Young both admired Andrew Jackson’s presidency, and publicly extolled the seventh U.S. president, even though Jackson did nothing to help the Saints during the persecution in Missouri.
–Fellow Democrat Martin Van Buren treated the Saints even worse than I had thought. Politicians in Illinois and Missouri saw him as an active opponent of the Mormons and tried to get him to run again in 1844, promising support if he would wipe out the Mormons. Joseph Smith had nothing but disdain for Van Buren, calling him “His Majesty” and said: “to come directly to the point, he is so much a fop or a fool…we could find no place to put truth into him.” Joseph Smith also compared him to a dog but said dogs at least had loyalty to their masters. After his second unsuccessful meeting with Van Buren, Joseph Smith said, “may he never be elected again to any office of trust or power,” and after one term as president, Van Buren was ousted as the Democratic candidate and never held a prominent position again. Van Buren was so despised by the first generation of Saints that Wilford Woodruff purposefully left him off the list of presidents for whom he did temple work at the Saint George temple. Van Buren’s temple work was completed 76 years after the U.S. president’s death.
–Most presidents from Pierce in 1853 until McKinley in 1897 treated the Latter-day Saints with disdain or active hostility. One notable exception was Lincoln, who was preoccupied by the Civil War and mostly decided to leave the Utah Saints alone. Winder points out that Lincoln and Joseph Smith met and Lincoln said the prophet “is an admirer of mine.” Lincoln checked out the Book of Mormon from the Library of Congress (the author even includes a copy of the page from the Library of Congress ledger!) and read several books on the Saints. Lincoln signed the first antipolygamy law in 1862, but avoided enforcing it.
–Once polygamy was ended, hostility toward the Church immediately subsided. It is remarkable to compare the attitude of many presidents, who in effect declared war on the Church, to that of McKinley, who began to seek the Church as a political ally.
–Teddy Roosevelt was the first president to openly associate himself with the Church and praise the virtues of the members. He was the first U.S. president to speak in the Tabernacle, and in 1911, he wrote a letter, published by “Collier’s,” refuting anti-Mormon charges. Many Church leaders saw Roosevelt as the president most receptive to the restored Gospel, and Elder Reed Smoot, who was a friend of TR’s, did TR’s temple work in 1925.
–Presidents from Roosevelt to the present day have been mostly friendly to the Church. The author argues that in the last 60 years or so Republican presidents have for the most part had better relations with the Church that Democrats. This may have something to do with President Grant’s disdain for FDR, which I discuss here.
But I should be clear: modern Democratic presidents have also been mostly friendly to the Church and certainly respectful of the prophets. LBJ, for example, treated President McKay as if he were his own father, consulted with him often and said, “I always feel better after I have been in his (President McKay’s) presence.”
–The author argues that President Reagan “had the most positive relationship with the Church of any American President to date.” Reagan appointed many Mormons to high-level positions, visited Utah regularly, loved the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and read and quoted from the Book of Mormon upon occasion.
There are literally hundreds of other tidbits in this book. Anybody interested in politics and/or history will find this book fascinating. I heartily recommend it.