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In a letter to his friend John Stuart, dated March 1, 1840, Abraham Lincoln wrote that Joseph Smith had recently passed through Springfield, Illinois. In a tantalizingly brief report, Lincoln told Stuart that "Speed [another close friend] says he wrote you what Jo. Smith said about you as he passed here. We will procure the names of some of his people here and send them to you before long." The nature of Joseph's comment on Stuart can only be surmised. Joseph had spent the winter in Washington D.C., vainly seeking compensation for the Saints' losses in Missouri in 1839. He was returning to Nauvoo in the early spring when he passed through Springfield. John Stuart was Lincoln's law partner and a member of Illinois's congressional delegation. The Illinois delegation had gone out of their way to assist Joseph and his legal counselor Elias Higbee in making their case in Washington. Likely Joseph was grateful to Stuart and said so in Springfield.
This letter is a reminder that Smith and Lincoln resided in the same state for five years before Joseph's death in 1844. In 1840 Lincoln was completing his third term in the state legislature, where he was the Whig floor leader. Joseph was recovering from the Mormons' expulsion from Missouri and organizing a new gathering place in Illinois. The Prophet was a little over three years older than Lincoln, who had been born February 12, 1809. Though they probably never met face to face, the two men illustrate the possibilities for obscure men to reach great heights in the swarming confusion and institutional fluidity of antebellum America. Both were plungers and seekers, and both struggled to understand how God worked His will in human affairs. A comparison of their lives is one way to measure the accomplishments of each of these extraordinary men. Joseph, usually viewed within the Mormon context, may appear in a new light when brought onto a larger stage.
© 2005 Brigham Young University and Deseret Book Co.
Bushman, Richard L. “Joseph Smith and Abraham Lincoln,” Joseph Smith and the Doctrinal Restoration: The 34th Annual Sidney B. Sperry Symposium (Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University; Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 2005), 89-108.