Church History
Thomas L. and Elizabeth Kane
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“Thomas L. and Elizabeth Kane,” Church History Topics

“Thomas L. and Elizabeth Kane”

Thomas L. and Elizabeth Kane

In the summer of 1846, Thomas L. Kane, the 24-year-old son of a prominent federal judge from Philadelphia, visited several of the Latter-day Saints’ makeshift camps in Iowa Territory. The Saints had been forced to leave their city of Nauvoo, Illinois, and Kane believed they had been unjustly persecuted for their religion in a land that purportedly claimed to protect religious liberty. He became convinced of the Latter-day Saints’ sincerity and sympathized with their plight. Although he did not share their religious faith, Kane decided to stand up for the Latter-day Saints. For the next three decades, he served as the Latter-day Saints’ most influential outside advocate and adviser, working with U.S. government officials to secure religious and political rights in behalf of the Saints. He also worked toward social reforms, including expanded opportunities and rights for women and the abolition of slavery.1

Thomas Kane

Portrait of Thomas L. Kane.

Courtesy of the Church History Department

Kane had become familiar with the Saints through newspaper reports and by attending a meeting in Philadelphia, and he had used his political connections to help convince United States president James K. Polk to commission a battalion of Latter-day Saint soldiers for the Mexican-American War. Brigham Young offered services of Latter-day Saint men in hopes that their pay could help cover the costs of migrating to the West.2 While staying with the Saints in the camps, Kane fell gravely ill, and Latter-day Saints nursed him back to health. Before leaving, Kane received a patriarchal blessing that promised him that his name would be held “in honorable remembrance” by the Saints “to all generations.”3 After returning to Philadelphia, Kane embarked on a wide-ranging public relations campaign on behalf of the Latter-day Saints.

Kane’s intervention helped the Saints at several key moments. In 1850 his influence with United States president Millard Fillmore resulted in Brigham Young being appointed the first governor of territorial Utah. Seven years later when tensions escalated between the federal government and the people of Utah, Kane obtained an unofficial commission from U.S. president James L. Buchanan to travel to Utah and negotiate peace. He traveled at his own expense and at considerable danger to reach Utah and then diplomatically conferred with Young and U.S. Army officials to avert armed conflict.4

A few years later, motivated by his antislavery ideals, Kane fought in the American Civil War. Afterward, he continued to advise Brigham Young and other Church leaders. During the winter of 1872–73, Kane traveled to Utah along with his wife, Elizabeth Dennistoun Wood Kane, and two of their sons. They hoped that Kane’s health, which had always been poor and had been further complicated by injuries and disease during the Civil War, would be helped by southern Utah’s temperate climate. Elizabeth, who had harbored suspicions of the Latter-day Saints because of their practice of plural marriage, was impressed by the women of southern Utah.5 She wrote Twelve Mormon Homes, a book that provided a rare look into and defense of Latter-day Saint family life by an outside observer. During the next decade, Thomas continued to defend Latter-day Saints from political attacks, wrote Brigham Young’s will, and advocated for Latter-day Saint settlements in Mexico, even traveling to that country during a civil war to scout possible locations. When he died in 1883, one of his final requests was for Elizabeth to send a fond farewell to his “dear Mormon friends.”6

Elizabeth Kane

Photograph of Elizabeth Dennistoun Wood Kane.

Courtesy of the Church History Department

Related Topics: Mexican-American War, Mormon Battalion, Utah War