“A bad dose of politics is like the measles”: A sampling of politics in LDS history

“Great Excitement [today] over the Election for a Presidet of the United States.” – President Wilford Woodruff

“… a bad dose of politics was like the measles if it set in on a man it turned his hide yellow and made him cross-eyed.” — President Heber J. Grant

We’ve just completed a tense election season. Political parties have been heavily divided and emotions high at the end of a lengthy campaign. But for Latter-day Saints, stakes have been even higher at the prospect of a Mormon president.

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I’ve looked through some items that occurred this week in Mormon history, and found much in common with today’s politics.  For example, smart phones, cable news networks, and the Internet make election information readily available today.  Wilford Woodruff also marveled at the electronic flow of election information in 1848.

The Electric telegraph has become so perfect And universal through the United States that citizens of New York recieved the returns of many of the States of the Union before they did the returns of the City itself, And before the papers went to press next morning after the Election [Wilford Woodruff, Nov 7, 1848]

Many Latter-day saints had expressed great hopes in a Romney presidency, and have said they must now look to God in the face of his loss, as Wilford Woodruff did in 1888.

From the returns of the Election it seems that the whole Country has gone republican. It does not look favorable for Utah or the Latter Day Saints But we must trust in God as we always have had to.

And when election work out favorably, the hand of God was acknowledged.

Like a tidal wave it has swept the whole country landing the Republican party high & dry. … Republicans bow humbly to the sovereign will. We all acknowledge the ha[n]d of God in it all. [Franklin D. Richards, Nov 9, 1892]

Debates can sometimes be feisty.

At 7 P.M. attended the debate … of the issues of the day. I liked Cannon very much the best. Rawlins spoke very ugly … Cannon also lost his temper and so offended Democrats they would not be still and listen, or let anyone else. [Francis M. Lyman, Nov 7, 1892]

Many stay up late into the night to wait for election results as done by Wilford Woodruff,

This is the great Election day for America. …No decision yet on the Election. … I sat up till near Midnight to learn of the Election but got Nothing Decisive. [Wilford Woodruff, Nov 6, 1888]

and Franklin D. Richards,

… after closing of the poles spent 2 hours with a number others at Dem. headquarters hearing returns as they came in from various parts of the Territory & United States. By 10 pm were satisfied that the Territory had elected JL Rawlins & the country had elected Grover Cleveland … Immense excitement in the streets nearly all night by the Democrats over their victory today all over the United states as well as in Utah. [Franklin D. Richards, Nov 8, 1892]

and Heber J. Grant.

I listened to the election returns. Off and on during the night I do not think I slept more than three hours. [Heber J. Grant, Nov 5, 1940]

Sometimes it can take a political party quite some time to concede a close race.

The Democratts Claim the Election But the republicans will not give it up. [Wilford Woodruff, Nov 7, 1884 ]

Each side accuses the other of using deceptive means, and might counter through inflammatory rhetoric.

Politics are running high. O. W. Powers is running the Democratic Party and seems to have perfectly pulled the wool over our brethrens eyes. … Powers is the chief scoundrel in Utah. Wicked, unscrupulous, bold, perfect master of political wire pulling, good judge of human nature and a faithful servant of the devil if he is not the Lucifer himself.

… May our Heavenly Father judge between us and reward him according to his deeds. [Nov 1, 1895]

Frustration can be expressed over the lack of cooperation between political parties.

[V]ice and sin will again reign rampant in our beautiful city because a few stubborn leaders of the Republican and Democratic Parties could not get together [Thomas A. Clawson, Nov 2, 1909]

When one’s party wins big, it can be very exciting as it was for this apostle in 1892,

[John Henry Smith] The World is on fire today. I went to Republican headquarters in the evening and soon learned that everything all over the land was going Democratic.

and for these apostles in 1893.

 [Franklin D. Richards] A vast & wonderful change has come over the whole political horizon of our land. This time it is the unprecedented manner in which Republicanism has rolled over the land in many States and in this Territory.

[Heber J. Grant] … telephoned to the Herald to learn the way the election had gone yesterday and was pleased and thankful to hear that the Liberals had been defeated … I think that there will be a change in the near future and that the Liberal will go to pieces

[Francis M. Lyman] I find the citizens have knocked the Liberals out in the Salt Lake city elections all but Harry Duke. [Other local towns]  have gone Republican with good prospects for Republican gains in the legislature. Is a very satisfactory vindication of Republican doctrine and methods.

The winners celebrate,

The news of the Democratic victory in the election of Grover Cleveland for president of the United States having reached Salt Lake City, a grand jollification meeting was held by the Salt Lake City Democrats, in front of the City Hall. [Andrew Jensen, Church Chronology, Nov 8, 1884]

but it can be disappointing when things don’t go one’s way.

I was at the Presidents office part of the day. Their is some sore hearts over the result of the election. [John Henry Smith, Nov 8, 1905]

“Our enemies the Liberals look very sick & sorry at the prospect.” [Franklin D. Richards, Nov 8]

Sometimes, members of the church predominately of one party must be reminded that Mormons of the other party can still be good members of the church,

[gave] the key note from the First Presidency upon division upon party lines so that it should be known that it was not wrong to be a Republican, Democrats felt that Democracy was our religion.

but accusations of apostasy because of politics still persist.

The Political Matter and things the politicians are using to influence voters are shaking Zion to the center and I fear that apostacy is stalking abroad among the Saints. [Thomas A. Clawson]

Future elections may not be as exciting for Mormons after Romney’s failed bid for the presidency.  Hosea Stout recorded his apathy in the election following Joseph Smith’s presidential candidacy.

Today was the Presidential election … however, it was with peculiar feelings that I went to the polls. I thought of the man whom we had elected as the man of our choice for president of the United States: our Beloved Prophet Joseph Smith whose voice seemed yet to sound in the air, teaching this nation the way they might be saved and the means to pursue to avoid a disunion and overthrow of our Government. [Hosea Stout, Nov 4, 1844]

Wilford Woodruff shared the same sentiments four years later,

This day decides who is Elected President of the United States for the next four years to come. I have not cast A vote for A President since this nation Shed the Blood of the Prophets Joseph And Hiram Smith Neither do I expect to. I spent the day at home while most men went to the Election.

and nearly 50 years later he recorded:

had the Election to Day. I voted for the first time in many years. It was a vary Exciting Day. [Nov 7, 1893]

Those who don’t vote the party line can sometimes surprise themselves.

My wife and I went and voted. When I came to look over the ticket that I had checked I found that I had voted for nine more Republicans than I had Democrats. It is amusing for me to pose as a Democrat, and when I come to vote at our State elections and National elections divide my vote for a larger number of Republicans than Democrats. … [Heber J. Grant, Nov 2, 1920]

There have always been concerns over voting irregularities.

Went to the polls at about noon and voted. Subsequently learned that my vote would be thrown out, as I should have used either ink or an indelible pencil, and I used a pencil with red lead. [Heber J. Grant, Nov 8, 1932]

I suspect most feel a sense of relief when the election season is finally over, as wryly described by Heber J. Grant, Nov 8, 1898,

“I am glad the war is over.”


Sources mentioned are from the individual’s diary or journal unless otherwise noted.

Clair Barrus manages Today-in-Mormon-History.

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