Are any (or all) of these quotations regarding the Constitution true?

With all of the stuff out there on the white horse prophecy, frankly I am confused as to what has been said and what has not been said about latter-day Saints and the Constitution. I just got forwarded these quotations in an e-mail. Are all of them true? Some of them? This is an honest plea for help in separating the wheat from the chaff, so to speak, when it comes to prophetic statements and the Constitution. I am also open to interpretation about the meanings of these quotations.

Prophetic Warnings

1)Prophecy of Joseph Smith, according to Orson Hyde:
was that the time would come when the Constitution and the country would be in danger of an overthrow; and . . . “if the Constitution be saved at all, it will be by the Elders of this Church.” (Source: Journal of Discourses, Vol.6, p. 152, January 3, 185


2)Prophecy of Joseph Smith (March 10, 1844):
Even this nation will be on the verge of crumbling to pieces and tumbling to the ground and when the Constitution is on the brink of ruin this people will be the staff upon which the nation shall lean and they shall bear the Constitution away from the very verge of destruction. (Source: Joseph Smith Papers, LDS Church Historical Archives, Box 1, March 10, 1844; D. Michael Stewart, Ensign, Vol. 6, No. 6, June 1976, pp. 64-65)

3) from David O. McKay:
Next to being one in worshiping God, there is nothing in this world in which this Church should be more united than in upholding and defending the Constitution of the Unite States. If members of the Melchizedek Priesthood allow the U.S. Constitution to be destroyed, they not only forfeit their rights to the Priesthood, but to a place in this highest degree of glory as well.
(David O. McKay,The Instructor, Feb. 1956, p.34)

4)from Ezra Taft Benson in General Conference April 1965:
The Prophet Joseph Smith declared it will be the elders of Israel who will step forward to help save the Constitution, and not the church. Brethren, if we had done our homework and were faithful, we could step forward at this time and help save this country. The fact that most of us are unprepared to do it is an indictment we will have to bear. The longer we wait, the heavier the chains, the deeper the blood, the more the persecution, and the less we can carry out our God-given mandate and world-wide mission. The war in heaven is raging on earth today. Are you being neutralized in the battle?
(Ezra Taft Benson, CR-4/65, Era, p. 539)

5) from Boyd K. Packer in 2004:
“Will the Constitution be destroyed? No. It will be held inviolate by this people; and as Joseph Smith said “the time will come when the destiny of this nation will hang upon a single thread, and at this critical juncture, this people will step forth and save it from the threatened destruction.”
It will be so. I do not know when that day will come or how it will come to pass. I feel sure that
when it does come to pass, among those who will step forward from among this people
will be men who hold the Holy Priesthood and who carry as credentials a bachelor
or doctor of law degree. And women also, of honor. And there will be judges as well.
Others from the world outside the Church will come, as Colonel Thomas Kane
did, and bring with them their knowledge of the law to protect this people.
We may one day stand alone, but we will not change
or lower our standards, or change our course.”
(Source: “On the Shoulders of Giants”, Brigham Young University J. Reuben Clark Law Society Devotional, Saturday, 2-28-04, 6:00 p.m)

6)Harold B. Lee:
[Latter-day Saints] “devoutly believe that if [the Constitution] should be in danger of being
overthrown, their lives, if need be, are to be offered in defense of its principles.”
(Harold B. Lee, “True Patriotism-An Expression of Faith”, April 13, 1941)

7)Statement of Erastus Snow, 1885:
We were told by the prophet Joseph Smith, that the United States Government and people would undermine one principle of the Constitution after another, until its whole fabric would be torn away, and that it would become the duty of the Latter-day Saints and those in sympathy with them to rescue it from destruction, and to maintain and sustain the principles of human freedom for which our fathers
fought and bled. We look for these things to come in quick succession.
(Source: Journal of Discourses, vol. 26, p. 226, May 31, 1885)

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About Geoff B.

Geoff B has had three main careers. Some of them have overlapped. After attending Stanford University (class of 1985), he worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. In 1995, he took up his favorite and third career as father. Soon thereafter, Heavenly Father hit him over the head with a two-by-four (wielded by the Holy Ghost) and he woke up from a long sleep. Since then, he's been learning a lot about the Gospel. He still has a lot to learn. Geoff's held several Church callings: young men's president, high priest group leader, member of the bishopric, stake director of public affairs, media specialist for church public affairs, high councilman. He tries his best in his callings but usually falls short. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

13 thoughts on “Are any (or all) of these quotations regarding the Constitution true?

  1. I found this from FAIR:

    http://www.fairlds.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/cobabe-whitehorse.pdf

    The key graphs are the following:

    “In summary it cannot be said that the White Horse Prophecy is accepted by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as official or binding. It also is true that nothing in the so-called prophecy is quoted or used by authorities in the Church. It is true that there is language in the so-called prophecy that is found elsewhere in historically verifiable records.
    The prophecy that contains the concept of the Constitution of the United States being challenged and then being saved by the Elders of the Church is generally accepted as a prophecy of Joseph Smith. There is evidence that the Prophet Joseph Smith repeated it more than once and was commonly understood and accepted. It has been quoted many times by leaders of the Church. It is nevertheless not part of the Church canon and is therefore not binding upon the membership of the Church.
    It is very clear that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not believe that there will be a time when the government of the United States or the world will be assumed by the Church or its members. Rather it is the clear expectation that the Constitution and the government of the United States will survive the future predicted crisis because of the support that will be given by the Elders of the Church.”

  2. I believe that the Elders have already saved the constitution twice, but I won’t say how at this time because people of a particular political slant will get over heated.

  3. Joseph Smith’s prophesy is usually used by “originalists” to attack any other political approach to the constitution.

    But Joseph Smith was anything but an “originalist” in spirit. He often revised his own revelations as he learned new truths, and the JST shows just how much he considered the Bible to be a “living” document. I doubt he would advocate a fundamentalist interpretation of the Constitution, since he thought that it too, was an inspired document. I believe he would consider the Constitution a “living” document, subject to interpretation, augmentation, and change according to the wisdom of good and inspired leaders.

    Joseph Smith saw first hand the most egregious violations against the Constitution, as his people were driven from city to city, persecuted with continual mob violence while appeals to the Constitution and federal help fell on deaf ears. Joseph Smith’s celebration of the Constitution was part of a broad appeal to government to protect the rights the LDS people had for free exercise of religion, which were being constantly violated. I believe his statements should be perceived within this local context.

    Comparing government mandates for health insurance with government apathy towards mob violence and murder is foolish in my mind. I think Joseph Smith was speaking of a much different kind of “overthrowning” of the constitution than modern LDS originalists assume.

  4. Nate, nice try but inherently contradictory.

    If the Constitution is a living document, then it means anything we want it to mean. So, the mobs in Missouri could argue that they are not violating it in any way by exterminating Mormons. In fact, it might even been “necessary and proper.”

    So, your claim that Joseph Smith saw the Constitution as both a living document while at the same time appealing for people to uphold what it says is contradictory.

    In fact, the early 19th century interpretation of the Constitution was the exact opposite of what you claim. The Constitution was designed in Philadelphia then taken to the states for ratification. Most of the states then ratified. The key issue is: what did the proponents of the Constitution, trying to convince the people of the states, to ratify, say it was? All of the available evidence, if you actually read what they said was: 1)the Constitution was a limiting document that limited federal power 2)the Constitution gave states great power and the federal government almost none and 3)the Constitution protected individual rights against the government. The people then ratified based on this promise, and *they saw the Constitution as a universally binding contract that would not change.*

    Nate, if you think the Constitution is a “living document,” I would love to make a contract with you where I pay you money and then the next day change the contract so I don’t pay you money and make the argument that our contract is a “living document” that I can change at will.

  5. It’s actually not contradictory, as I see it, Geoff.

    A living document is certainly open for interpretation, which means that it COULD have been changed or interpreted to allow for extermination of Mormons. But, like actual organisms, growth doesn’t necessarily mean chaotic growth. The Constitution itself provides its own method of change, growth, and interpretation. Therefore, change and interpretation are an integral part of the Constitution, so long as it goes through defined channels.

    The problem with the persecution of the Saints is that it was being done outside of those channels, and was therefore unConstitutional.

    Incidentally, most contracts ARE living documents. The mechanism for change is implicitly the agreement of the parties, and some contracts have explicit means of change.

    Dead documents are doomed to eventual failure, because as the parties and circumstances change, so must the agreement be able to change.

  6. I might add that an obvious exception to the general truth of living document contracts is a sale contract. But even those sometimes have means by which to change or adapt them, such as lemon laws.

  7. SR, the Constitution has its own process for change, ie, the amendment process, and the amendment process is necessarily difficult. To use one example, when people wanted to outlaw alcohol, they passed an amendment rather than having Congress simply pass a law. It was very clear until recently that the Constitution was a “living document” only in the sense that it could be changed by amendment. This was the “mutual consent” process for changing the Constitution.

  8. SR, it is important to note that when people of Nate’s political bent say “living Constitution,” they mean a Constitution that can be bent at will according to the demands for social justice of a particular time. None of the Founders, nor any of the people who ratified the Constitution, saw it this way. They set up an amendment process that would allow the Constitution to adapt through time but they also make that amendment process difficult so that it would remain a binding contract.

  9. While the Church does not accept the White Horse Prophecy, the concept of the Constitution hanging by a thread has been stated by Joseph Smith in other statements, and by many prophets and apostles since then.

    That we live in a time that Mormonism has a lot of power in federal government, is not surprising to me. LDS often are more driven to excellence and Christian service. Recent study shows we average 8 hours of service a week, while other Americans only do 4 at most. That the 2002 Olympics were saved, a lot because the Mormons volunteered thousands of hours to work it, is just standard fare.

    I believe we will have the Constitution hanging by a thread. As it is, Obama is pushing it very hard, cutting thread after thread. Whether we will save it now or later, I do not know.

  10. Geoff, I am not a constitutional scholar, but neither are most of those who are continually cry out that the constitution is being violated. On this website, I found that there were 5 different approaches for constitutional interpretation: originalism/original intent, modernism/instrumentalism, literalism-historical, literalism-contemporary, Democratic/normative reinforcement. http://www.usconstitution.net/consttop_intr.html

    Reading through these descriptions of each of these approaches, it sounds like interpreting the Constitution is a very complicated process that seeks to balance many difficult factors, which is why we leave it to judges that have years of experience. Many of those who cry out about constitutional violations are not being honest about how the constitution is actually being violated. It’s only being violated according to one specific method of interpretation. We should argue about which methods of interpretation are the best, rather than simply accusing the other side of violating, or ignoring the Constitution. No one is doing that. Some are just interpreting the Constitution differently than others.

    I seriously doubt that Joseph Smith had opinions about which of these 5 different approaches happened to be the best approach. He was concerned about pressing, practical matters: the inability of Mormons to exercise freedom of religion in a land that Constitutionally guaranteed it. He knew enough about the constitution to know that it wasn’t OK to exterminate, murder, rape, and plunder the homes of people you disagree with religiously. But beyond that, parsing the various methods of interpretation, I’m sure that wasn’t as much on his radar.

    However, if he did look into the matter, I do think that Joseph Smith’s revelatory history shows that he did not believe in slavish adherence to original intent. He believed in continual revelation, new wine in new bottles, not worshiping dead prophets, but living ones.

    The Constitution is a secular document, but I think the same principles apply. Jefferson and Madison were the secular prophets of their day, but we have secular prophets in our day. Why should we worship dead prophets and kill the living ones? Why should we put new wine in old bottles?

  11. Joseph never claimed to erase the old meaning of scripture but to give new light to support the original authors. Regardless he never forced anyone to be bound by his interpretation but those who create new meaning and rights in the constitution are in fact forcing everyone to go along with them. What makes it so offensive is they claim the words on the page demand this new meaning and everyone is now bound to comply. There is no right to another view because the original view is now declared illegal and unconstitutional.

  12. How about this Joseph Smith quote, quoted in the Ensign by Elder Oaks?

    “Its sentiments are good, but it provides no means of enforcing them. … Under its provision, a man or a people who are able to protect themselves can get along well enough; but those who have the misfortune to be weak or unpopular are left to the merciless rage of popular fury.”

    Obviously, the 14th Amendment changed things for the better, but still, it was clear Joseph Smith didn’t worship the Constitution like some modern conservatives do–in fact, he had major issues with parts of it.

    J. Reuben Clark said, about the Constitution, “We believe it must grow and develop to meet the changing needs of an advancing world.”

    For these quotes and much more regarding the Constitution from Elder Oaks, see http://www.lds.org/ensign/1992/02/the-divinely-inspired-constitution?lang=eng

    This stuff might not be as popular for purposes of email forwards, but it deserves attention.

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