Who’s the Most Important Non-Mormon in LDS History?

The Bloggernacle has been awash lately in awards: Mormon of the Year, Mormon of the Year, 1950-present, and the Boggs-Doniphan Award. This last one asked for the most influential non-Mormon on Mormonism within the last year, for either good or ill, named about Missouri’s Governor Lilburn Boggs who infamously issued an Extermination Order against the Mormons in 1838 and for Alexander Doniphan, a Missouri militia leader who refused to execute Joseph Smith and other church leaders during the same conflict.

In that same spirit, my question is: Which outsider has most influenced Latter-day Saint history, either positively or negatively?

My vote, predictably, goes to Thomas L. Kane. But I could be wrong. Who would be on your list?

35 comments for “Who’s the Most Important Non-Mormon in LDS History?

  1. Matt W.
    February 16, 2009 at 11:46 am


  2. Ray
    February 16, 2009 at 11:53 am

    I think Senator George F. Edmunds (VT) deserves consideration – although it’s hard to argue against Matt W’s response. *grin*

  3. cantinflas
    February 16, 2009 at 12:21 pm

    I know what you mean, Matt W. Do we really have to go through another one of these pedantic exercises?

  4. Matt Grow
    February 16, 2009 at 12:50 pm

    Yep, can’t argue with Matt’s thought. Ray, Senator Edmunds is a great suggestion–probably no one was more important to the anti-polygamy crusades of the second half of the nineteenth century. And, Catinflas, sorry to bore you. And, no, I don’t think you have to go through it.

    February 16, 2009 at 12:58 pm

    It’s a blog, you choose whether or not you read or participate.

    Adding to Senator Edmund’s impact, because of Edmunds actions, eventually the Supreme Court was able to find that the exercise of religion was not protected by the constitution, and only the “freedom of belief” was protected. That will soon impact all truly religious people soon.

  6. February 16, 2009 at 1:14 pm

    Edmunds didn’t percipitated the Supreme Court’s adoption of the belief action distinction, which came in 1879 under the Morrill Act. The Edmunds Act wasn’t adopted until 1882 and the Edmunds-Tucker Act was adopted in 1887. I agree, however, that he rates high on the list.

    Others might include:

    Robert N. Baskin: He was the legal mastermind of anti-Mormonism in nineteenth century Utah and provided folks like Edmunds with most of their information and ideas.

    Thomas Sharpe: The editor of the Warsaw Signal who stoked the anti-Mormonism in Illinois that eventually led to Joseph Smith’s murder.

  7. February 16, 2009 at 1:18 pm

    Hm. Joseph Smith, Sr.’s business partner in the ginseng investment? Their failure caused the Smiths to move to western New York.

    Or the people of Quincy, Illinois, who sheltered the Saints arriving from Missouri? They allowed the Saints to survive, or at least regroup as a body rather than scattering.

    The editor of the Nauvoo Expositor? He triggered the events leading to Joseph’s martyrdom. (Yeah, those events had been building, but his was the match that lit the fuse.)

    The surgeon who saved Joseph Smith’s leg, and life?

    There are lots of biggies, but I think it’s more fun to consider the little-known people who changed the course of events at critical times.

  8. cantinflas
    February 16, 2009 at 1:19 pm


    Allow me to quote John C. – “Why do you have to be so angry all the time. It’s very off-putting.”

    My previous comment was a joke. Lighten up.

  9. Marc D
    February 16, 2009 at 2:11 pm

    I thought Jesus was the head of the Mormon Church.

  10. Mark D.
    February 16, 2009 at 2:30 pm

    Of course Jesus Christ is considered the true head of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

    The point is among other things that “Mormon” wasn’t born until ~380 A.D. or thereabouts. And that in Jesus’ life time, he would have to be considered the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Early or Middle-day Saints, and so on…

  11. Matt Grow
    February 16, 2009 at 2:45 pm

    I guess we should exclude from consideration Jesus, Nephi, Abraham, Moroni, Eve, Mormon, Martin Luther . . .

    Nate: I like the suggestions of Thomas Sharpe and Robert Baskin. Can anyone comment if the Brigham Madsen edition of Robert Baskin’s Reminiscences on Early Utah is worth reading?

    Ardis: I was hoping you’d point us towards some of the little-known people who have played outsized roles in history. Wasn’t William Law the editor of the Nauvoo Expositor? Thanks for the ideas of Ginseng Guy, Dr. Nathan Smith (the JS surgeon), and the Quincyites.

    Any thoughts on the twentieth century?

  12. February 16, 2009 at 2:53 pm

    Baskin’s memiors are useful and the Madsen edition provides a cheap copy of them. The text, however, is a facimile of the original edition so it doesn’t have any critical apperatus, etc. Madsen’s introduction provides a quick over view but is otherwise pretty thin. It’s too bad, because I would very much like something that provided me with more info on Baskin.

  13. February 16, 2009 at 2:55 pm

    “Any thoughts on the twentieth century?”

    How about Robert Welch, founder of the John Birch Society?

  14. Mark Brown
    February 16, 2009 at 3:21 pm

    If a former Mormon counts as a non-Mormon, I have two suggestions:

    1. Fawn Brodie. Without No Man Knows My History, it isn’t at all clear to me that we would have Rough Stone Rolling.

    2. Ed Decker. His influence has been mostly outside of Mormonism, but I think he has had a lot of influence on how other Christians view LDS people. Churches in my neighbor hood still show The Godmakers.

  15. John Buffington
    February 16, 2009 at 3:55 pm

    I say Judge Joseph Buffington


    because he is undoubtably a relative, and this is as close to pioneer stock as I will ever be…

  16. February 16, 2009 at 3:55 pm

    Jesus was a Mormon… (bg)

    Mark, Decker?!? I could see the Tanners but Decker? Yes the Godmakers have been influential among some. But I think overall it’s been limited.

  17. John Buffington
    February 16, 2009 at 3:56 pm

    can someone fix the link? so it will go to the judge buffington who refused to move to utah, not the scandal-ridden one?


  18. Matt Grow
    February 16, 2009 at 3:58 pm

    Joseph Buffington seems interesting enough (though admittedly I have an interest in Pennsylvania judges), but does he have a connection with Mormonism?

  19. Matt Grow
    February 16, 2009 at 4:06 pm

    OK, I get it now. Apparently, fixing the link is beyond my technical abilities.

    But here’s the key part: “Buffington was elected as a Whig to the Twenty-eighth and Twenty-ninth Congresses. He was not a candidate for renomination in 1846. He was appointed president judge of the eighteenth district in 1849 and served until 1851. He declined the appointment as chief justice of the Utah Territory tendered by President Millard Fillmore in 1852. He was judge of the tenth district of Pennsylvania from 1855 until his retirement in 1871.”

  20. John Buffington
    February 16, 2009 at 4:09 pm

    Yes, the first Justice Joseph Buffington refused to serve as Chief Justice of Utah when requested by Millard Fillmore. Unfortunately , there are two justice Joseph Buffington’s, and the link points to the wrong one. So not only is he a relative, he was hostile to the church and refused to move to Utah. As a teen in seminary, I liked pointing out my family connection that is even mentioned in the Barrett book (dating myself) Kinda makes on proud….

  21. February 16, 2009 at 5:06 pm

    Buffington may not have been hostile to the church at all. He may merely have been smart, and/or honest. No one could make even a modest living in the Utah economy (inflated by the enormous cost of freighting everything) at the stipends set for appointed positions by Congress. Those who accepted appointment in Utah did so either because they didn’t understand that fact, or because they expected to make more money through graft, or anticipated returning East almost immediately as Utah’s congressional delegate, or planned on a short-term Utah appointment as the stepping stone to greater political appointments in some place they would rather live.

    That could very well be the reason Buffington turned down the appointment. Virtually all other competent men did the same.

  22. NOYDMB
    February 16, 2009 at 6:50 pm

    If you thought my comment was angry, you need to grow some thicker skin. You’ll know when you see me angry {g}. (note the use of visual “joke marker” as it is difficult for me to hear the jocular inflection in your voice as you type.)

  23. Mark D.
    February 16, 2009 at 7:02 pm

    One should mention President James Buchanan, the man ultimately responsible for the Utah War.

  24. February 16, 2009 at 7:32 pm

    I vote Adam and Eve jointly.

  25. February 16, 2009 at 8:46 pm

    If we’re talking who’s who in anti-Mormonism, I don’t think anyone beats the Howe/Hurlbut tandem. The Spaulding Theory of Book of Mormon origins dominated alternate explanations for the book well into the 20th century. And then there’s the whole treasure digging bit revealed in the affidavits. Not only did it contribute to JS’s efforts to write “official” histories, which continue to dominate how the Church narrates its past, but treasure seeking, magic, and seerstones continue to be one of the most controversial aspects of JS’s life. Although some of these ideas pre-dated Mormonism Unvailed, it can’t be denied that the book popularized them and provided a model for anti-Mormon books for another century.

  26. February 16, 2009 at 10:56 pm

    Steve Martin.

    Almost all modern Mormons have lost at least a little sleep while trying to reconcile their belief that he is a Mormon with the seeming lack of a membership record.

  27. queuno
    February 16, 2009 at 11:11 pm

    Martin van Buren?

  28. Ranbato
    February 17, 2009 at 8:40 am


  29. John Mansfield
    February 17, 2009 at 10:22 am

    We’ve had a quarter century or so of the Church anxiously proclaiming that we really are Christians: adding Jesus name to the title of the Book of Mormon, new logo with Jesus’ name in larger type, requests that reporters just call our organization “The Church of Jesus Christ.” Whoever triggered the “Mormons aren’t Christians” idea has been very influential on the Church.

  30. Rameumptom
    February 17, 2009 at 11:00 am

    Abraham Lincoln, whose “twin relics of barbarism” led to the anti-polygamy issues.

  31. February 17, 2009 at 11:58 am

    Link fixed, order restored.

  32. Mark D.
    February 17, 2009 at 12:22 pm

    Rameumpton, “twin relics of barbarism” was a part of a plank from the Republican Party platform in 1854. Do you have any evidence that Abraham Lincoln authored, specifically endorsed, or used that precise language?

    If I were to guess, Lincoln would have been reluctant to take on polygamy when slavery was a much more pressing issue. And indeed that supposition appears to be well reflected in his later comments on the issue.

  33. Mark D.
    February 17, 2009 at 12:27 pm

    Correction: That should be the 1856 Republican Party platform.

  34. Keith
    February 17, 2009 at 12:59 pm

    Jim McMahon. He has confirmed, for a notable number of members, the notion that there still are miracles in modernity and that the Lord of hosts fights our battles on football fields.

  35. February 17, 2009 at 1:35 pm

    @Mark D. & Rameumpton: One can find a short overview on Lincoln’s stance on polygamy here: http://alincolnblog.blogspot.com/2008/10/lincoln-and-mormons.html

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