10. Joseph Fielding Smith
“Joseph Fielding Smith,” in Latter-day Prophets and the United States Constitution, ed. by Donald Q. Cannon (Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1991), 134–43.
Chapter 10: Joseph Fielding Smith
Born: 19 July 1876
Ordained an Apostle: 7 April 1910
Acting President of the Twelve: 30 September 1950
President of the Twelve: 9 April 1951
Additional Counselor in the First Presidency: 29 October 1965
President of the Church: 23 January 1970—2 July 1972
Died: 2 July 1972
Relationship with the Constitution and U.S. Government
Joseph Fielding Smith strongly valued the U.S. Constitution. He was especially aware of the relationship between the restoration of the Church and the establishment of a free system of government under the American Constitution.
Joseph Fielding Smith was not very involved in politics, possibly because his extensive Church service left him little time for such activity. During his short term as President, relations between the LDS Church and Washington, D.C. were very favorable.
Themes Discussed in the Quotations
Main theme: We should uphold constitutional law.
1. The Constitution is the greatest governmental document ever adopted by society.
2. We should be familiar with every part of the Constitution.
As an Apostle
10.1. I believe that the fundamental things in our government, in the Constitution of the United States, are here to endure. Moreover, I believe that it is the business and responsibility of Latter-day Saints to uphold and sustain these sacred principles which bear the stamp of approval of God himself, and we should be loyal unto them. (CR [Apr 1935] 97)
10.2. All loyal citizens of the United States are very proud and jealous of their form of government. Especially is this true of Latter-day Saints. They have been taught that the Lord “established the Constitution of this land, by the hand of wise men” whom he raised up for this very purpose [D&C 101:80]. (The Progress of Man 240–41)
10.3. Under the “Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union between the States,” the union had no President, no supreme court, and consisted of one house of congress made up of delegates elected by the legislatures of the states, whose jurisdiction was greatly limited. There were so many defects and restrictions in the Federation that the wise men in the nation readily perceived that something more nearly perfect, more powerful and binding upon the colonies, was necessary if the union was to be preserved. . . .
The Constitution is the greatest document, so far as we know, ever adopted by organized society for their government, outside of the kingdom of God. It furnishes the nation a system of checks and balances for their protection so that any one department of the government, cannot, without losing its sacred foundations, be overcome or subordinated by another. (The Progress of Man 293, 295–96)
10.4. The people should with jealous care guard against the time ever coming when any one of these three branches may surrender its rights to any other, or be swallowed up and overcome by some other branch of the government. Today there are many who advocate the destruction of these safeguards given us by the framers of the Constitution who were men inspired to make this document as near to the fundamental doctrines of the kingdom of God as it was possible under the circumstances for it to be. (The Progress of Man 297)
10.5. The wisdom of these provisions in the Constitution which protect the liberties and inherent rights of the citizens, should be apparent to all. They should be guarded and protected with a jealous care. The Constitution is our assurance against anarchy and despotism. Every Latter-day Saint should be familiar with every part of this great document. Such knowledge is essential to an understanding of the significance of the word of the Lord in the Doctrine and Covenants.
With this provision of the Constitution, that there should be no religious test, and that every person should have the right to worship according to the dictates of conscience, the fulness of religious liberty was born. This principle, we may see from a study of the past, has been of gradual growth and development since the days of the emancipation of the people from religious tyranny at the time of the Protestant revolution. It took several centuries for the seed to develop and bring forth the fully developed fruit which it did when the government of the United States was formed. In this way the Lord prepared the way for the restoration of the Gospel with all its keys and powers in a humble way in the Dispensation of the Fulness of Times. It would be wrong to say that it was impossible for the Lord to establish his work had not religious freedom come and been guaranteed as we find it in our Constitution. But it is a fact, nevertheless, that he, in his infinite wisdom, prepared the way, commencing several hundred years ago and working through brave and humble men, many of whom became martyrs to the cause of truth, when darkness ruled supreme over the face of the earth. (The Progress of Man 298–99)
10.6. From the very beginning of this latter-day work we have been taught that the Constitution of the United States was and still is an inspired document Such it was when it came forth from the hands of the framers. Above all peoples on the face of the earth the Latter-day Saints should uphold, defend and cherish this sacred document. It has been predicted that the time will come when it will be threatened with destruction, and when that time comes the true Latter-day Saints will rally to its support.
Our attitude should be based on the word of the Lord given us for our guidance until the time shall come when the authority of the Redeemer shall be fully established in the earth. (The Progress of Man 299–300)
10.7. Since the Constitution was based upon correct principles founded, as the Prophet Joseph Smith has said, “on the wisdom of God” [TPJS 147], as he saw fit to give it to our fathers, we above all peoples on the earth should rally to its support in time of need and rejoice in its great protecting influence. (The Progress of Man 301–02)
10.8. The attitude of the members of the Church towards the Constitution of the United States and the fundamental principles of our Government has always been one of loyalty. Even in the days of our greatest tribulation, the Latter-day Saints have defended and sustained these sacred principles. Never have they lifted their hands or their voices against the fundamental principles upon which our nation with its liberty and freedom is based. It is well understood by all that the Constitution was given by inspiration of the Almighty to honorable and wise men raised up for this purpose. The character of our government has always been defended and sustained. The Prophet Joseph Smith, while suffering unjustly at the hands of officials who had sworn to uphold and defend the sacred principles of the Constitution, and who had violated their oath in the vilest manner, and who heaped upon him and his companions in tribulation cruelties which only fiends could inflict, wrote to the Saints to defend and sustain the constitutional law of the land and to be loyal to the fundamental principles of our government. (The Progress of Man 335)
10.9. Many great and glorious principles are contained within the constitution of our country. We do not say that it is perfect, but it is perfect so far as it pertains to the rights and privileges of the children of men. But there is a nucleus of a government, formed since that of the United States, which is perfect in its nature, having emanated from a Being who is perfect. (Orson Pratt quoted in The Progress of Man All)
10.10. Some may enquire, is it right—is it lawful for another government to be organized within the United States, of a theocratical nature? Yes, perfectly so! Does not the constitution of our country guarantee to all religious societies the right of forming any ecclesiastical government they like? Certainly it does, and every intelligent man knows this to be the fact.
The nucleus of such a government is formed, and its laws have emanated from the throne of God, and it is perfect, having come from a pure fountain, but does this make us independent of the laws of the United States?
No, this new government does not come in contact with the government of the United States. In keeping our covenants and observing our religious laws and ceremonies, or the laws that God has given to the children of men, we are not required to violate the principles of right that are contained in the constitution and laws of the United States. (Orson Pratt quoted in The Progress of Man 417–18)
10.11. It was for this purpose, then, that a republic was organized upon this continent to prepare the way for a kingdom which shall have dominion over all the earth to the ends thereof. (Orson Pratt quoted in The Progress of Man 420)
10.12. No nation has been more greatly blessed than has the United States. We live in a land which has been called choice above all other lands by divine pronouncement. The Lord has watched over it with a jealous care and has commanded its people to serve him lest his wrath be kindled against them and his blessings be withdrawn. Our government came into existence through divine guidance. The inspiration of the Lord rested upon the patriots who established it, and inspired them through the dark days of their struggle for independence and through the critical period which followed that struggle when they framed our glorious Constitution which guarantees to all the self-evident truth proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence, “that all men are created equal: that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights: that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” That is to say, it is the right of every soul to have equal and unrestricted justice before the law, equal rights to worship according to the dictates of conscience and to labor according to the individual inclinations, independently of coercion or compulsion. That this might be, the Lord has said, “I established the Constitution of this land, by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose and redeemed the land by the shedding of blood” (D&C 101:80).
The founders of this nation were men of humble faith. Many of them saw in vision a glorious destiny for our government, provided we would faithfully continue in the path of justice and right with contrite spirits and humble hearts, accepting the divine truths which are found in the Holy Scriptures. The appeal of these men has echoed down the passing years with prophetic warning to the succeeding generations, pleading with them to be true to all these standards which lay at the foundation of our government. This country was founded as a Christian nation, with the acceptance of Jesus Christ as the Redeemer of the world. (“Blessed Is the Nation Whose God Is the Lord” 274)
10.13. The art of printing along with the other inventions and discoveries which preceded the coming of Moroni and the restoration of the Gospel, had to be revealed before the Church could be established in the earth. The framing of the American Constitution, we well know, was by divine inspiration. And thus, revealing line upon line and precept upon precept, the Lord prepared the way for the restoration of His work in fulness in the earth. (The Signs of the Times 157)
10.14. I thought it would not be amiss or out of order to say something about the Constitution, to give a little history of it perhaps briefly; for I am convinced that the people generally of the United States have not studied it. Many of them have never read it, and some know nothing concerning what it is all about. (“Founded in the Wisdom of God” 370)
10.15. Now in this statement from The Deseret News we read: “We stand for the Constitution of the United States with its three departments of government as therein set forth, each one fully independent in its own field.” I hope that every member of the Church subscribes to that declaration—also to The Deseret News. The preamble to the Constitution does not begin, “I, the king”; nor does it begin, “I, the President of the United States.” It reads:
We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
It is “We the people.”
It was understood that the people would govern; of course, it would have to be by representation, but the control of government would be in the hands of the people. As we read in the Book of Mormon, when the righteous rule, everything is well. King Mosiah gave up his throne with the idea that the people would have a republic, and he called attention to the dangers of a kingdom and a centralized government and the dangers that would arise should the wicked rule. The Lord has taught us to choose wise men and just men, and that was the understanding on the part of these men who formed the Constitution of the United States
. . . I wish to read another statement. The English statesman, James Bryce, in his excellent work, The American Common-wealthy has said:
The Constitution of 1789 deserves the veneration with which the Americans have been accustomed to regard it. It is true that many criticisms have been passed upon its arrangement, upon its omissions, upon its artificial character of some of the institutions it creates, . . . Yet after all deductions it ranks above every other constitution for the intrinsic excellence of its scheme, its adaptation to the circumstances of the people, the simplicity, brevity, and precision of its language, its judicious mixture of definiteness in principle with elasticity in detail. (The American Commonwealth, vol. 1, p 25.) (“Founded in the Wisdom of God” 412–14)
10.16. The statement has been made that the Prophet [Joseph Smith] said the time would come when this Constitution would hang as by a thread, and this is true. There has been some confusion, however, as to just what he said following this. I think that Elder Orson Hyde has given us a correct interpretation wherein he says that the Prophet said the Constitution would be in danger. Said Orson Hyde:
I believe he said something like this—that the time would come when the Constitution and the country would be in danger of an overthrow; and said he: ‘If the Constitution be saved at all, it will be by the Elders of this Church.’ I believe this is about the language, as nearly as I can recollect it (JD 6:152).
Now I tell you it is time the people of the United States were waking up with the understanding that if they don’t save the Constitution from the dangers that threaten it, we will have a change of government. (“Founded in the Wisdom of God” 416)
10.17. They were also advised that they were to uphold the constitutional law of the land, for it has been established by the will of God, therefore we are justified “in befriending that law which is the constitutional law of the land; and as pertaining to law of man, whatsoever is more or less than this cometh of evil” [D&C 98:6–7].
When we abide in the law which the Lord has approved, then we are free. It was his mighty hand which directed the founders of the government of the United States and gave this nation the constitution in the beginning. . . . The constitutional law was given by inspiration for the purpose of protecting the rights of the citizens of the country. The Lord delights in freedom. (Church History and Modern Revelation 1:433)
10.18. All of this had to be before the establishment of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints upon the earth. These things took place in Europe before the discovery of America. After America was discovered liberty upon this land received an impetus which the old world could not give to it; and through the shedding of blood, the land was redeemed (the Lord has said it [D&C 101:80]) and freedom proclaimed in the constitution of the country, so that all peoples of the earth could find a place of refuge in America, the Land of Promise. When that was accomplished, the time had come for the bringing forth and establishing of the gospel of Jesus Christ upon the earth. (Doctrines of Salvation 1:179)
10.19. What of our own country? The Lord raised up honorable men to make it a land of freedom, and he declared: “It is not right that any man should be in bondage one to another. And for this purpose have I established the Constitution of this land, by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose, and redeemed the land by the shedding of blood” [D&C 101:79–80]. (Doctrines of Salvation 3:273)
10.20. Our duty is to keep the commandments of the Lord, to walk uprightly, to defend every principle of truth, to sustain and uphold the Constitution of this great country, to remember the Declaration of Independence, for, as we heard this morning from our President, upon these principles our country was based. (Take Heed to Yourselves! 164)
As the President of the Church
10.21. The Lord has said, “I established the Constitution of this land, by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose, and redeemed the land by the shedding of blood” [D&C 101:80]. (Seek Ye Earnestly 158)