The reason I read the book was out of curiosity. Having been LDS myself, I was quite interested in seeing how the Book of Mormon would possibly fit within the story of Lincoln and the Civil War. It wasn’t too bad, when taking in mind this was only a thesis. The author takes us along on his journey of discovery, and while there were many interesting parts, most of the evidence was indirect and circumstantial, and thin at best. Even though Lincoln checked out a copy of the Book of Mormon, and it was in his possession for many months, this didn’t change his stance on the Mormons from what I know. He just let them be, as he certainly had bigger problems to worry about.
Another part that could have been kept out of the book (in my opinion), were the personal experiences the author shares about his work for the CIA in eradicating modern day slavery. Despite the great work he is able to accomplish by freeing modern day slaves, and bringing the perpetrators to justice, it almost came across as if he was trying to draw a direct parallel between himself and Lincoln, which, in my opinion, came across as a bit arrogant. It was a part of the book that could have been left out completely, as it didn’t add much to his thesis and was probably only added to create a(n emotional) bridge between our time and Lincoln’s, so that the reader would connect better to his (Lincoln’s) story.
Having read James M. McPherson’s ‘Battle Cry of Freedom’ earlier (which was great!), this book certainly made me want to learn more about Abraham Lincoln, as it felt like much of Lincoln’s life, character and motivations were either overlooked or weren’t explored to a satisfy-able depth.
Another thing that bothered me about this thesis, was the lack of information of the LDS community, at the time, regarding their position on slavery and servitude. From my own studies it would appear that (some of) the LDS people at the time considered certain races to be of lesser stature and that they would perhaps be better off in a capacity of servitude. Brigham Young, while addressing the Utah Territorial Legislature on January 5th, 1852, said:
“It has long since ceased to become a query with me, who were the most amenable to the laws of righteousness: those who through the instrumentality of human power brought into servitude human beings, who naturally were their own equals, or those acting upon the principle of nature’s law, brought into this position or situation, those who were naturally designed for that purpose, and whose capacities are more befitting that, than any other station in society. Thus, while servitude may and should exist, and that too upon those, who are naturally designed to occupy the position of “servant of servants.” Yet we should not fail into the other extreme, and make them as beasts of the field, regarding not the humanity which attaches to the colored race: nor yet elevate them, as some seem disposed, to an equality with those whom Nature and Nature’s God has indicated to be their masters, their superiors;”
This, in my opinion, would contradict the theory that while the Latter-Day Saints were safely tucked away in the mountains (Utah), the rest of the country (i.e. all the states, North and South) would have to wage war in order for them to humble themselves, and ‘repent’ (‘National Repentance’ is what the author calls it) of the sin of slavery, as it would appear the Latter-Day saints weren’t entirely blameless here (despite their own persecution before they headed west) when looking at their own idea’s and beliefs about slavery at the time.
This would seem like an important topic that perhaps should have been included in the narrative, as it would paint a more honest picture about the LDS Church and people in regard to the question of slavery and emancipation.
Reading about Lincoln’s change of heart was very interesting and enjoyable. When your son dies in the middle of a most horrible civil war, it would cause most men (and women) to take a long hard look at themselves, God, and the meaning of it all. Whether or not the Book of Mormon (pretty much the main selling point of the book) actually made a difference in Lincoln’s life remains unknown. The book does not provide a definitive answer to that question. All it offers are speculations based on Lincoln’t actions and writings afterwards. So who knows.