[Feb. 12] Two hundred years ago today, both Abe Lincoln and Charlie Darwin were born, Lincoln to hard-shell Baptists in a log cabin near Hodgenville, Kent., and Darwin to a mostly Unitarian family in Shrewsbury, Shropshire, England. Both ultimately let go of religion, with neither one affiliated with a church when he died.
Their bicentennial birthday parties are low-key affairs here in the Beehive State (except for a few university celebrations, such as the Humanists of Utah's Darwin Day event featured in this week's Five Spot)—not surprising since, during their time, both either acted or espoused views that rubbed many of the Utah faithful the wrong way.
Both men were also contemporaries of LDS Church founder Joseph Smith. And, it should be noted, some Mormons believe with a surety that Lincoln and Smith had occasion to meet in Illinois, which, nowadays, gives rise to many good vibes toward Lincoln. Some draw comparisons between Abe and Jo, suggesting they each had divine missions.
But this latter-day Lincoln love may be misplaced. Lincoln was mostly wary of the Mormons of his time. His Republican Party believed that slavery and polygamy were the "twin relics of barbarism." We know what he did about slavery, and as for the Mormon multi-wife tradition, he did sign an anti-polygamy bill in 1862 and went on to establish Fort Douglas, ordering federal troops to keep an eye on what he once called a "strange, new sect."
Lincoln compared Mormons to the obstinate logs in the fields he remembered from his youth. Sometimes a log was "too hard to split, too wet to burn, and too heavy to move," so he plowed around it. That was the message he had for the Mormons back in Utah: "You go back and tell Brigham Young that if he will let me alone, I will let him alone," Lincoln conveyed to Thomas B.H. Stenhouse, an LDS representative to Washington, in 1863.
Many Mormons now seem to deify Lincoln, ostensibly for letting them be, never mind him comparing them to unmovable logs. And they're quick to point out that in 1840, while in the Illinois legislature, Lincoln did vote for the Nauvoo Charter.
Before the "log" speech, however, Brigham Young was distrustful of Lincoln (calling him "King Abraham") since, as an Illinois state representative, Lincoln did nothing to help Mormons during their troubles in Nauvoo. And Lincoln went on to send three federal judges to Utah, two of whom were anti-Mormon.
But blood atonement was so 19th century, and all can be forgiven when it comes to dead presidents. According to Lynn Arave in a Mormon Times September 2008 posting, on the first centennial of Lincoln's birthday, Lincoln was presidentially sealed in the temple, along with his wife and his first girlfriend (yes, even Lincoln can enjoy Big Love in the afterlife!):
On Lincoln's 100th birthday in 1909, former apostle Matthias F. Cowley participated as proxy in a Salt Lake Temple sealing for President Lincoln and his wife, Mary Todd. Lincoln was then sealed to his former sweetheart, Ann Mayes Rutledge, too. Rutledge's untimely death from a typhoid fever in 1835 at age 22 broke Lincoln's heart.On a related note, on this day in 1870, women gained the right to vote in the Utah Territory (but not to hold office). So now you have at least three good reasons to head to the bar. (Jerre Wroble)