New West Politics ran a story this week about the political race for Wyoming’s U.S. House seat. Two candidates are running neck-in-neck, but the Republican congressional candidate, Cynthia Lummis, hopes to add the Mormon vote to her support base. Mormons make up 10% of the voting Wyoming public.
Ms. Lummis is a conservative life-long Missouri Synod Lutheran, but she investigated Mormonism — up to the point of baptism — two times while in college. She had many LDS friends then, and, according to the New West Politics article, she hopes that history, coupled with her conservative politics, will win the day.
But, as the article mentioned, the LDS vote is not “monolithic.” Church leaders in Wyoming say there is a strong minority of Mormon Democrats in the state, and the Church allows people to vote their consciences.
Former House majority whip Alan Stauffer, who is LDS, talked to New West Politics briefly about the history of Mormon party allegiances.
“In the 1800s, Mormons were almost universally Democrats, Stauffer said. ‘That’s because Abraham Lincoln and the Republican Party turned on the church back in Illinois,’ he said. Republicans loudly opposed what were called ‘the twin relics of barbarism –slavery and polygamy,’ Stauffer said.”
Stop and think about this for a minute. As reported, Mr. Stauffer says early Mormons were Democrats because Lincoln and the Republican party “turned” on the LDS Church by opposing slavery and polygamy.
As with many other issues, the early Mormon position on slavery is contradictory. It is widely believed today that Joseph Smith opposed slavery, and he did – sometimes. But he also supported it. In July, 1838 Joseph wrote in the Elders’ Journal:
“In obedience to our promise, we give the following answers to questions, which were asked in the last number of the Journal…
“Question 13th. Are the Mormons abolitionists?
“Answer. No, unless delivering the people from priestcraft and the priests from the power of Satan, should be considered such. But we do not believe in setting the Negroes free.” (Elders’ Journal, volume 1, number 3, 36, 43)
As for polygamy, it’s hard to understand how the Republican party “turned” on the LDS Church in its opposition to the practice. Polygamy had been illegal in Illinois since February 12, 1833 (see Richard S. Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy: A History, 18, 26). The Republican party opposed polygamy in order to uphold the law.
But frustration with the Republican party was not the only reason early Mormons were “almost universally Democrats.” This story illustrates another factor. A few days before an election in 1843, Joseph Smith’s brother, Hyrum, publicly announced that he had received a revelation from God, which stated that the Democratic candidate, Joseph Hoge, should receive the Mormon vote (see Fawn Brodie, No Man Knows My History, 353). The day before the election Joseph told his people,
“Brother Hyrum tells me this morning that he has had a testimony to the effect it would be better for the people to vote for Hoge; and I never knew Hyrum to say he ever had a revelation and it failed. let God speak and all men hold their peace.” (History of the Church, 5:526)
Hoge won the election (by 700 votes), thanks to the more than 2,000 Mormons (almost all of the Nauvoo electorate) who voted for him.
Early Mormons remained Democrats (according to Mr. Stauffer in New West Politics) until Utah got serious about obtaining statehood. Then,
“When statehood for Utah finally seemed possible in the 1890s, Mormon leaders knew the U.S. Congress wouldn’t want to admit a one-party territory to statehood. So they simply divided the population in half, Stauffer said, going door to door and telling one family they were now Republicans, the next family Democrats, and so on.”
Not exactly the American Way, but that was then. Things are different today. The LDS Church is now politically neutral and simply instructs Church members to vote for whichever candidate is most compatible with LDS gospel principles (see First Presidency Letter, Church News, September 27, 2008, 7).