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Posted: 5:43 PM- WASHINGTON - In November 1861, President Lincoln went to the Library of Congress and checked out a few books, including the Book of Mormon. During the next few weeks, Lincoln, preparing to name Utah's new territorial governor, borrowed three more books on Mormons.
Fifty years later, when Utah Sen. Reed Smoot, a Mormon, cancelled his honeymoon to return to Washington and help pass a needed treaty, President Hoover invited the newlyweds to spend their first two weeks as a married couple at the White House.
While questions still persist about the potential election of a Mormon to the White House, a new book explores the sometimes close relationship Mormons have enjoyed with the occupants of the executive mansion since the founding of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Mike Winder, a West Valley City councilman and self-described history buff, researched ties between the Mormon community and the White House for "Presidents and Prophets, the story of America's presidents and the LDS Church."
Winder, a Mormon himself who has six other published works, launched his study of the interactions between Mormons and the presidents long before Mitt Romney was glad-handing his way through Iowa and New Hampshire. But the author admits the book could boost the Mormon ex-governor of Massachusetts' chances, especially given the hesitancy of some Americans about voting for a Mormon.
"Mitt's really not mentioned in the book but the timing couldn't be better because it provides an historical context for Mitt," says Winder, a Romney supporter who, truth be told, only mentions Romney once in the 43 chapters.
Polls have shown that a sizable number of Protestant evangelical voters are wary of casting their support for a Mormon to be president, but Winder's book notes page after page that Mormons have served as counselors and confidants of presidents, and many occupants of the White House have looked fondly at Mormons and Utah.
And that's why Winder says he wrote the picture-laden, coffee-table style book.
"The curiosity of what outsiders think of us and the patriotic feelings that Latter-day Saints have toward presidents and the founding fathers combine to make this an interesting book," he says. "But Mitt's candidacy, and the historical context and background that this would provide is the icing on the cake."
Backed by research at presidential libraries, the Library of Congress, Salt Lake City's two daily newspapers and the LDS Church in-house magazine and newspaper, Winder discovered a long history of exchanges between the LDS Church and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
During President Warren G. Harding's presidency, for example, the chief executive dialed up Smoot late one night and begged him to give his wife, Florence, a priesthood blessing that Smoot had talked about once before.
President Reagan was a big fan of the Mormon welfare system, telling White House advisers once that, "You know, there is a program that comes very close to being the most ideal way dealing with those who are poor and unfortunate; and that is the Mormon Welfare Program," Winder's book says.
In 2004, President Bush presented current LDS President Gordon B. Hinckley with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, saying this "wise and patriotic man" deserves the nation's highest civil honor.
Winder extrapolates a bit in the first few chapters to explore the connections between presidents and the LDS Church before the church was founded in 1830 by Joseph Smith.
Winder says his book could be viewed as faith promoting, but that he did include some anecdotes that may not look favorable. That includes when then-church president Heber J. Grant openly endorsed Franklin Delano Roosevelt's opponent in 1936, but Utahns overwhelmingly voted for Roosevelt's third term anyway.
Winder lists about every major Mormon who held an appointed position in the presidential administrations, noting that President Nixon, for example, had two Mormon high priests in his Cabinet, George Romney (Housing and Urban Development) and David Kennedy (Treasury).
Discovering these facts was a "five year labor of love," Winder says, adding that he hopes this enlightens Mormons and non-Mormons alike to the historical relationship between the LDS community and the commanders in chief.
"From Joseph Smith on forward there were apostles and prophets and leaders of the LDS faith sent to Washington to curry favor with the White House," Winder says.
Winder says the original publication date was next spring, but Romney's candidacy and the hope of making it a must-have Christmas gift pushed up the printing.
Mormons and the White House Facts from the new book, "Presidents and Prophets," by Utahn Mike Winder
John Tyler As a former President, Tyler is impressed by a young Mormon missionary playing the piano in a Richmond music store. He invites the boy to teach his daughters piano lessons. In this way, young Karl G. Maeser- a future president of BYU - financed his mission in Virginia.
James Buchanan Not only did Buchanan send 2,400 troops to Utah to replace Brigham Young as governor, but he tried in vain to scheme with the Russians to force-colonize the Mormons to Alaska. As a parting shot, Buchanan chopped the Utah Territory in half two days before leaving office (thereby creating Nevada).
Abraham Lincoln Lincoln checked out the Book of Mormon from the Library of Congress, returning it eight months later. As a young legislator in Illinois, Lincoln helped get the Nauvoo Charter approved, giving immense power and independence to the city of Nauvoo. Lincoln boasted to friends, "Joseph Smith is an admirer of mine."
Theodore Roosevelt Helped Mormon apostle and newly elected Sen. Reed Smoot keep his seat in the Senate, became the first President to speak in the Tabernacle on Temple Square, and as a former President wrote an open letter to Collier's -a national magazine-defending the LDS Church.
Warren G. Harding One of Harding's closest advisors was apostle-senator Reed Smoot from Utah. Smoot shared a Book of Mormon, and Harding called him in the middle of the night to see if he could come administer to the ill First Lady, which he did.
Franklin D. Roosevelt Upon seeing a Deseret News article detailing the Churchills' genealogical link with the Mormons, FDR wrote to Winston Churchill and his wife, "Hitherto I had not observed any outstanding Mormon characteristics in either of you-but I shall be looking for them from now on."