Men of Destiny: Abraham Lincoln and the Prophet Joseph Smith
Lu Ann Brobst Staheli
Contemporaries by birth, Joseph Smith and Abraham Lincoln were men born of destiny to a nation ready for growth and change during a time of spiritual and political reawakening. The similarities in their lives are uncanny.
Born into poor farming families whose ancestors had arrived in America during the 1600s, both boys knew the difficult life of living on the frontier. Both experienced the loss of an older sibling, which affected each of them deeply. Lincoln did not have much of a formal education, yet he sought out books on his own. Joseph Smith also had little formal education, but he had the advantage of a father who taught school and a mother who considered the education of her children a life-calling. Not much of a reader, Joseph learned the value of scripture.
The young Lincoln had little interest in spiritual matters, even though he went to church with his parents. His mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln, told her children Bible stories, and his parents were members of the Little Mount Baptist Church. Joseph’s parents did not regularly attend church, but he was concerned with spiritual matters. Lucy Mack Smith, Joseph’s mother, taught her children from the Bible and listened to Methodist revival meetings in her search for truth. Lincoln joined no church, gave no endorsement of a specific faith or doctrine yet believed that all may be saved. Despite the religious fervor going on around him during his youth, Joseph Smith also refused to follow any form of organized religion, remaining unattached until he was directed by angels in the restoration of the Church.
Between the ages of twenty-two and twenty-five, Lincoln worked his way from surveyor, to storekeeper, postmaster, lawyer, and state politician. He wrote a document outlining his religious beliefs, a work he showed to his teacher at New Salem. The man read Lincoln’s document, then promptly threw it into the fire. In the same three year period, Joseph translated the Book of Mormon, organized the restored Church, and sent missionaries to spread the Gospel message. His ascent from farm boy to Prophet of the Lord was miraculous to some people and unbelievable to others.
No definitive proof exists that Joseph and Abraham ever met, although some anecdotal records indicate they did. It is fact that they both lived in Illinois from 1839–1844. They were both in Springfield at the same time, and records indicate Mary Todd Lincoln attended one of Joseph’s trials in that city.
Both Joseph and Abraham married women against the preferences of their new wife’s family, both had children who died, and both ran for the office of President of the United States. Each grew up to be a great leader, who would change the lives of millions, one as the leader of a church, and the other a nation. And in the end, they both died as the result of an assassin’s bullet.
Men of Destiny: Abraham Lincoln and the Prophet Joseph Smith has been organized thematically, rather than chronologically, in the hope that readers will be able to see the comparisons side-by-side of how much the lives of the Prophet Joseph Smith and Abraham Lincoln had in common, and why we continue to revere them both today.