and the Founding Fathers
Latter-day Saints have long been regarded by people outside their faith as among the most patriotic citizens of the nations in which they reside. Nowhere does this perception exist more strongly than in the United States of America. Yale University humanities professor Harold Bloom is typical of non-Mormon intellectuals and academics in his description of Latter-day Saints as the "most American" of all religions (The American Religion, Simon & Schuster, 1992). During the 20th and 21st Centuries Latter-day Saints have typically been over-represented among U.S. Senators, Representatives and Governors.
And yet, there were no Latter-day Saints among America's "Founding Fathers." The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was founded on 6 April 1830, a full 54 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and 43 years after the Constitutional Convention of 1787. There were Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Quakers, Dutch Reformed, Lutherans, Huguenots, Methodists and even a Unitarian and a few Catholics among the nation's Founding Fathers... but there were no Mormons.
Nor did the Founding Fathers have the opportunity to join the Church when it was finally organized in 1830. All but one of the Founding Fathers had died by then. Charles Carroll of Maryland was the last surviving signer of the Decaration of Independence to pass away: on 14 November 1832. He was a 93-year-old Catholic living in Baltimore, Maryland at the time the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was organized, and he died before Latter-day Saint missionaries went to his city.
Suffice it say, Latter-day Saints did not have an opportunity to participate in the founding events of the new nation, and the Founding Fathers never had the opportunity to become Latter-day Saints. (How the Founding Fathers would have viewed the Saints is another question altogether. Over 90% of the Founding Fathers remained faithfully within the denominations of their birth throughout their lifetime and never converted religously.)
And yet... Interestingly enough, that isn't quite the end of the story. Although it should be emphasized that Latter-day Saints do not teach and never have taught that America's Founding Fathers were members of their church or were in any way "Mormons," the Founding Fathers played a key part in an interesting event in Mormon history.
Wilford Woodruff, the fourth President of the Church, recounted a vision in which many of the signers of the Declaration of Independence appeared to him and asked that their baptisms and temple work be performed for them in the St. George Temple. On 6 September 1877 Pres. Woodruff recorded:
The spirits of the dead gathered around me, wanting to know why we did not redeem them. Said they, 'You have had the use of the Endowment House for a number of years, and yet nothing has ever been done for us. We laid the foundation of the government you now enjoy, and we . . . remained true to it and were faithful to God.' These were the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and they waited on me for two days and two nights. I thought it very singular, that notwithstanding so much work had been done, and yet nothing had been done for them. The thought never entered my heart, from the fact, I suppose, that heretofore our minds were reaching after our more immediate friends and relatives. I straightway went into the baptismal font and called upon Brother McAllister to baptize me for the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and fifty other eminent men, making one hundred in all, including John Wesley, Columbus, and others. I then baptized him for every President of the United States, except three; and when their cause is just, somebody will do the work for them.
Note that Pres. Woodruff recorded that he performed posthumous ordinances for approximately 100 individuals, but does not state how many appeared to him in the vision. Presumably many notable historical figures that he admired were included in the rituals without having been among those who personally appeared to him. These posthumous baptisms (1 Corinthians 15:29; 1 Peter 3:19; 1 Peter 4:6) are largely regarded by non-members as inconsequential or as simply a way that Latter-day Saints remember and honor the deceased. For Latter-day Saints, the ordinances are regared as vital for allowing people who passed away without hearing the Christian gospel and receiving baptism the opportunity to do so - if they choose to accept it.
Latter-day Saints today regard the Founding Fathers as among the most important, most ethical individuals in history. They believe that the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution are divinely intended documents which were "inspired" (although not the revealed Word of God in the same sense as the New Testament and other scriptures). Although Latter-day Saints generally feel that the Founding Fathers are people with whom they feel a kinship in terms of morality and philosophy, and they feel that it was important that ordinances be performed for them posthumously, they do not identify these individuals as members of their church. Lists of "Famous Mormons" and other sources of information about notable and influential Latter-day Saints refer only to people who were adherents during their mortal lifetime on Earth. Such lists never include people for whom posthumous ordinances have been performed. Anyway, it is the intention of the Church to perform these such ordinances for everybody, so it would be entirely irrelevant to consider such information in that context.
[Sources include: Journal of Discourses, 19:228-29; The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, sel. G. Homer Durham, 1946, 160-61; "Wilford Woodruff: Fourth President of the Church:, chapter in Presidents of the Church; Robert S. Dunn, "The Constitution, Our Inspired Heritage", in Meridian Magazine, 11 July 2002; "Encircled in the Arms of His Love", October 2002 General Conference address by Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.]
- Episcopalian Founding Fathers
- Congregationalist Founding Fathers
- Presbyterian Founding Fathers
- Methodist Founding Fathers
- Quaker Founding Fathers
- Lutheran Founding Fathers
- Huguenot Founding Fathers