“We almost lost the U.S. Constitution and this wonderful nation that God prepared during the Civil War,” said LDS author and historian Ron L. Andersen during a session of BYU Campus Education Week.
“Lucifer succeeded [in stopping the gospel] in every prior dispensation but the Lord said this would be different,” he explained to a classroom of attendees on Aug. 21. “I will submit to you that one thing that is different in this last dispensation without fail is the United States Constitution.”
Andersen, author of Abraham Lincoln and Joseph Smith: How Two Contemporaries Changed the Face of American History, spoke on the topic “Abraham Lincoln and the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” He explained that Nephi's vision of the United States in 1 Nephi chapter 13 shows the development of America, the spread of religious freedom and the Restoration of the gospel.
Andersen quoted Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, who stated "It was a miracle that the Constitution could be drafted and ratified" ("The Divinely Inspired Constitution," February 1992, Ensign). He also said the scriptures talk about the U.S. Constitution being created “by the hands of wise men whom [the Lord] raised up unto this very purpose” (Doctrine and Covenants 101:80).
"The U.S. Constitution is a model for many countries," said Andersen. "Think about the countries where we have missionaries today. They are countries with religious freedom based on the U.S. Constitution."
The gospel went out to countries around the world because of religious freedom, he said. Lucifer was determined to stop the Constitution and destroy the United States. During the Civil War he almost succeeded.
"Lincoln somehow knew that this Constitution needed to be defended," Andersen said. When the Southern States seceded from the Union, Lincoln could have just let them go. But he didn't. Congress didn't even put up much of a fight. But Lincoln knew that to preserve the Constitution, the country could not be divided.
Andersen quoted Church President Heber J. Grant: "We honor Abraham Lincoln because we believe absolutely that God honored him and raised him to be the instrument in His hands of saving the Constitution and the Union" (Improvement Era, February 1940).
He also shared the words of Elder Reed Smoot of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles who spoke about Lincoln to the U.S. Senate on Feb. 12, 1927. "It was [Lincoln's] faith in God that made him a guide, a prophet and a seer." Somehow Lincoln knew the Constitution was in danger and what the consequences would be if we lost it, Andersen said.
One night James Murdock, a visitor to the White House, walked by President Lincoln's bedroom and heard him praying, he said. "O thou God that heard Solomon in the night that he prayed for wisdom, hear me; I cannot lead this people, I cannot guide the affairs of this nation without Thy help." That was the kind of man that was in the White House during this nation's greatest crisis, Andersen said.
Lincoln knew that maintaining the Constitution was of utmost importance, he continued. He then shared an excerpt from Lincoln's first address to Congress on July 4, 1861: "Our popular government has often been called an experiment. Two points in it our people have already settled, the successful establishing and the successful administering of it. One still remains, its successful maintenance against a formidable internal attempt to overthrow it."
As the Saints settled in the West, the country exploded into civil war. The results were devastating, said Andersen. More recent estimates indicate the casualties were around 750,000. The city of Charleston, South Carolina, was devastated. The city of Richmond, Virginia, was devastated. It was an awful war and one that was prophesied by God through His prophet.
"At the second inaugural address in March 1865 Lincoln said, 'Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away,'" said Brother Andersen. In about six weeks Lincoln was dead and within a couple months the war was officially over.
"Lincoln always felt that the end of the Civil War would bring a new birth of freedom, a new life and great good would follow," he said. "For our nation and for the gospel, he was right."