The Mormon Times reports on the remarks of historian William P. MacKinnon at the recent MHA meetings. MacKinnon summarized his paper, “Stephen A. Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, and the Mormon Problem: The 1857 Debate.” Relying on what he admitted to be “rumors and reports,” Douglas supported the use of military force to “to remove Brigham Young and all his followers from office.”
In his own remarks, Lincoln did not provide his own answer to “the Mormon Problem,” but criticized Douglas. Keep in mind that Douglas’s proposed solution to the vexing slavery question was popular sovereignty: let the voters of the state or territory in question decide to permit or bar slavery. So here was the tricky question the canny Lincoln posed to Douglas: “If the people of Utah shall peacefully form a state constitution tolerating polygamy, will the democracy admit them into the Union? These questions, so far as I know, (Douglas) never answers. It might require democracy to answer them either way.”
In the end it was democracy that ended the slavery question, in the form of the 13th Amendment: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” Ending polygamy wasn’t quite so simple.