LDS duo on list of top 100 in nation
Smith and Young are among tally of most influential Americans
By Carrie A. Moore
Deseret Morning News
As scholars continue to examine the impact of America's homegrown
religious figures, a panel of historians has placed both Joseph Smith
and Brigham Young on its list of the 100 Most Influential Americans of
The list is the cover story in the December issue of Atlantic
magazine, and ranks Joseph Smith — "the founder of Mormonism,
America's most famous homegrown faith" — at No. 52, and his successor
as LDS Church president — Brigham Young — at No. 74.
"What Joseph Smith founded, Young preserved," the magazine
said, "leading the Mormons to their promised land." (See the list at
The top four people on the list are all past U.S. presidents,
in order: Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and
Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Though the list is dominated by presidents, America's Founding
Fathers and politicians, Joseph Smith and Brigham Young join Mary
Baker Eddy — the founder of Christian Science (No. 86) and theologians
Jonathan Edwards (No. 90) and Lyman Beecher (No. 91, father of Harriet
Beecher Stowe, No. 41) as those most recognized for their religious
Martin Luther King Jr., a black minister, was the only
religious leader in the top 10, listed at No. 8. While the magazine
notes that no one did more to further racial equality, King's
religious role wasn't mentioned specifically, though the church served
as his bully pulpit for social change.
William Lloyd Garrison, also a preacher whose newspaper, "The
Liberator," became "the voice of abolition" in the 19th century,
The 10 historians who came up with the list — four of them
Pulitzer Prize winners — also cast votes for other religious figures
who failed to make the list, including Catholic Bishop Fulton Sheen,
missionary and Methodist leader Francis Asbury, 19th century
evangelist Dwight Moody and his 20th century counterpart, Billy
Many of the panelists are political historians, but at least
two of them have written about or researched the early history of The
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, according to Jan Shipps,
president of the American Society of Church History and a longtime
scholar of Mormonism.
Mark Noll, a professor of history at the University of Notre
Dame, preceded Shipps as president of ASCH and specializes in
religious history. Gordon Wood, professor of history at Brown
University, presented a keynote lecture on the early history of the
LDS Church at the Mormon History Association more than two decades
ago, she said.
Joseph Smith, Brigham Young and Mary Baker Eddy were selected
because they led indigenous American religions, Shipps said. "I think
they should all appear there, but I think there are other (religious
figures) that should also appear," including Asbury, John Winthrop,
Roger Williams and William Penn.
King's listing was appropriate, she said, though "you can't
think of him as anything other than a religious figure. He made civil
rights a religious mantra. That's the biggest movement to come out of
the black church." Other luminaries listed without reference to their
religious influence include Ralph Waldo Emerson (No. 33), William
Jennings Bryant (No. 36), John Dewey (No. 40) and William James (No.
62), Shipps said.
While Joseph Smith is a certainty, if she were casting a
ballot, "I'm not sure that I would have kept Brigham Young if I'd had
to choose between him and Roger Williams." She'd also choose Penn over
Eddy. "The Christian Science movement was important for a long time,
but it's really pretty small now."
Shipps said Graham is "clearly a more important figure in 20th
century America than Elvis Presley," who ranked 66th. "I know rock and
roll was important, but so was Billy Graham. They were drawing the
same kinds of huge crowds."
When asked if he was surprised by the listing of Joseph Smith
and Brigham Young, Richard E. Turley Jr., managing director of the LDS
Church's family and church history department, said, "Yes and no. Yes,
in the sense that I sometimes wonder whether people are as familiar
with (them) and their importance as they ought to be. No, in that we
see a growing understanding of their significance."
Had the list been compiled a decade ago, Turley said it's
likely that "one or both would have appeared, but there's no question
that with passage of time, their significance becomes better
understood by historians in general in the U.S., and this was a list
created by historians."
Unlike Graham, whose ministry has only spanned recent decades,
the two early LDS leaders have had "a dramatic impact for more than a
century and a half that continues not only in the United States, but
worldwide," Turley said. "There are many who make a significant impact
for a period of time, but the historical impact of that person is
measured not by the moment, but by the passage of time."
He said the LDS Church's yearlong bicentennial commemoration of
Joseph Smith's birth in 2005 "certainly had something to do with it"
and predicted scholarly attention to the founding of the LDS faith —
which now numbers more than 12 million worldwide — will continue to