“Wilford Woodruff,” in Latter-day Prophets and the United States Constitution, ed. by Donald Q. Cannon (Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1991), 71–79.
Chapter 4: Wilford Woodruff
Born: 1 March 1807
Ordained an Apostle: 26 April 1839
President of the Twelve: 10 October 1880
President of the Church: 7 April 1889–2 September 1898
Died: 2 September 1898
Relationship with the Constitution and the U.S. Government
Born at Avon, Hartford, Connecticut, Wilford Woodruff developed a love for the U.S. Constitution that rivaled that of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. During his tenure as Church President he continued the struggle with the U.S. government over the issue of polygamy. He realized that this struggle would probably destroy the Church, and consequently he inquired of the Lord about the problem. In 1890 President Woodruff issued the Manifesto (Official Declaration 1), thus bringing to a close the practice of polygamy, or at least signaling the beginning of its end. This move made statehood and a flourishing two-party system possible for Utah.
Themes Discussed in the Quotations
Main Theme: The Constitution ensures freedom of worship.
As an Apostle
4.1. But O!! America America!! whose land is choice above that of all the footstool of God, whose constitution was framed by the Spirit of inspiration & whose Government was established by the hand of Omnipotent power. (WW, 2:42)
4.2. The Saints feel dispose [sic] to exercise those rights which the Constitution & Laws of the United States guarrentee [sic] unto us equal with all other citizens in attending the elections & voting for whom we please. (WW, 2:182)
4.3. But says the mob what dangerous powers. But the constitution of the United States nor of this state is not dangerous against good men but bad men, the breakers of the law.
Shall we longer bear these cruelties which have been bearing upon us for the last ten years in the face of heaven & in open violation of the constitution & laws of these United States & of this State? May God forbid. I will not bear it. (WW, 2:253)
4.4. The benefits of the constitution & law is [sic] for all alike & the great [E]loheem [sic] God has given me the privilege of having the benefits of the constitution. (WW, 2:253–54)
4.5. I am glad and my soul rejoices in these things, and I believe that the people are ready to shoulder their guns and walk unto these kanyons [sic] and line them from here to Fort Bridger in defence of the Constitution of the United States and the rights which both the laws of God and man guarentee [sic] to us. (JH [27 Sep 1857], 4; also in “Remarks,” 246; from an address given at the Bowery, Salt Lake City, 27 Sep 1857)
4.6. The Lord . . . has spoken concerning our Government and Constitution, and he has said—”Ye are justified in maintaining the Constitution and laws of the land, for they make you free, and the Gospel maketh you free; and you shall seek to sustain good and wise men for rulers, and whatsoever is more or less than this cometh of evil.” . . . The laws of Heaven command us not to uphold and sustain men, except they are good men, who will sustain the Constitution of our country; and we are fulfilling the revelations in this respect as in many others, and we are carrying out the requirements of the Constitution of the United States. (JD, 7:104)
4.7. A great deal has been said about the form of government, and the constitution under which we live. They have been the praise of all Americans, and perhaps of people living in other portions of the earth. We consider that we have been blessed as a nation in possessing the freedom and privileges guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States. They have been a rich legacy from our fathers. We consider our form of government superior to any other on the earth. It guarantees to us “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” And while the inhabitant of many other government have been tyrannically bound up, and their minds controlled in certain channels, and they have been deprived of the right of liberty of speech and of many other rights called by freemen, ours had guaranteed unto us all the liberty that can be enjoyed by man. Still, I have many times thought that we, as American Citizens, have not prized the gifts and blessings guaranteed to us by the Constitution of our country. For the last few years, especially the Constitution, at times, has been looked upon as a matter of the smallest consequence. In some respects, however, it has been a blessing to us as a people, and it is to the whole nation, as far as it is carried out. But in order to fully receive its blessings we have to honor its precepts. (JD, 12:275)
4.8. We live in a land and under a constitution which guarantees the right to worship God according to the dictates of conscience to every sect, party, name and denomination under heaven, then why should we be so narrow-minded as to hate or seek to persecute or kill our neighbor because he differs from us in religion? (JD, 17:194)
4.9. Give every inhabitant of the earth the right to worship God according to the dictates of their [sic] own conscience. This is a principle which we believe in as Latter-day Saints, we ever have believed in it, and it is a principle which even the laws of our country, the constitution of our government holds out to all of its citizens. We say to all men, “Enjoy your religion, worship God according to the dictates of your own conscience.” We ask the same right as the children of God. We claim this by the Constitution and laws of our country, and upon this principle we have embraced the fulness of the everlasting Gospel of Jesus Christ. (JD, 22:341–42)
4.10. We live in a government raised up by the God of heaven. We have a constitution that was given by inspiration from God to man. I believe it is the best human form of government that was ever given to the human family. Now, I say if our rulers and governors become corrupt and attempt to trample those principles under their feet; though the nation itself might go to pieces, yet it is beyond the power of man to destroy the principles of the constitution. They may destroy one another, yet the principles contained in that instrument will live, and the God of heaven will maintain them until Jesus Christ comes in the clouds of heaven to set up His throne in Jerusalem, and to reign on the earth a thousand years. (JD, 22:346)
4.11. The Prophet Joseph Smith had said the time would come when the principles of the Constitution would be forsaken and that instrument would be rent asunder, and this people would then step forward and rescue it from entire destruction. (JH [6 Apr 1882], 3)
4.12. The Lord inspired the men that framed the Constitution of our country, and has guarded the nation from its foundation, in order to prepare free people in which to establish his kingdom. Columbus was inspired of God to persevere as he did to discover this continent, and thus prepare the way for a class of people upon whom the Spirit of the Lord moved to follow; and when they were oppressed hard enough they declared themselves independent, and by the help of God they established and have maintained the government which God gave our forefathers, which is one of the best constitutional governments ever known among men. (JD, 23:81; also in “The Constitution Is an Inspired Document,” 644)
4.13. I have heard Joseph Smith say that if he were emperor of the whole world, holding the destinies of all men in his hands, he would defend the religious rights of every man, whether his religion was right or wrong. And especially ought this to be the case in this American nation, the constitution of which guarantees to all people the right to worship God according to the dictates of their own conscience. This is the broad platform upon which our government has been founded. I have looked upon the Constitution of the United States as one of the best instruments ever devised by man for the government of the inhabitants of the earth.(JD, 24:237)
4.14. We have an anxiety to honor God and keep His commandments, and to honor our country and the Constitution of our Government. That Constitution we believe was given by revelation, and whatever laws are passed agreeable to it we desire to honor. It guarantees to all men the right to enjoy their religion, to worship God according to the dictates of their conscience. (JD, 24:243)
4.15. I would to God that the rulers of our land—the President of the United States, the Congress of the United States, the Supreme Court of the United States—would learn the responsibility the God of heaven will hold them to in the administration of those glorious principles laid down in the Constitution of the government of this country. The God of heaven will hold this nation, as well as all other nations, responsible for the manner in which these principles are used. If they misuse them, it will be their loss. If they trample the Constitution under foot; if they undertake to deprive any portion of citizens of the rights the Constitution guarantees unto them, they will be held responsible, and will have to pay the bill. When innocent blood is shed, it costs something; and I would to God that our nation could understand the blessings they enjoy. There is no nation on the face of the earth that has the same liberty that is guaranteed to us by the Constitution of our country. (JD, 25:11)
4.16. I feel to bear my testimony to these things. They are true. God is with this people. And we say to our nation—maintain the Constitution and we are satisfied. Give us the rights of that Constitution and we are satisfied. It is an instrument inspired by the power of God. Our forefathers were inspired when they framed it. Yet it is marvelous to reflect upon some principles that have been laid down—perhaps I ought not to allude to these things, but I am only expressing my own reflections—even by the supreme court of the United States. In effect it has said that we may think as we please, but must not act. I would ask, in the name of the Lord, was that all Thomas Jefferson, and others had in their minds when they framed the clause in reference to religious liberty? What about men acting? If it was only intended that men should think and not act, why not say so in the instrument? Why should it be stated that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” [U.S. Constitution Amendment I] if men were not to be allowed to act? Why, in the exercise of their religion, men must act: and it is straining points, it is overstepping the bounds of the Constitution to pass laws taking away the rights and privileges of any people because of their religion—because they happen to differ from their neighbors. Where will such a course land our government? I will tell you what it will do. It will rend the government in twain like unto a potter’s vessel. It will lay the nation in the dust. It will overthrow the government. When they get through with the Mormons there will be somebody else to deal with. The Constitution is good enough for anybody. It is good enough for the Latter-day Saints. We have no principles but what are in accord with the Constitution of the United States and the laws of God. We are perfectly willing to trust ourselves and our interests in the hands of God, and to leave our nation in His hands also; for God will judge our nation; He will judge us; He will judge all the children of men and He will judge righteous judgment. What men sow they will reap. What measure they mete, it shall be measured to them again.
I pray God to bless this nation. I pray God to give our legislators wisdom, that they may maintain the Constitutional principles of the government, the only government on the face of God’s earth where the Lord could have established His Church and Kingdom. (JD, 25:210–11)
As the President of the Church
4.17. There is absolutely nothing in the Mormon’s religion inconsistent with the most patriotic devotion to the government of the United States. Revelation and the commandments of the church require that the Constitution and the laws of the land be upheld. It is also part of our belief that the time will come when the country will be distracted and general lawlessness prevail. Then the Mormon people will step forward and take an active part in rescuing the nation from ruin. (“President Woodruff States the Facts,” 788)
4.18. As far as constitutional liberty is concerned, I will say, the God of heaven has raised up our nation, as foretold by His Prophets generations ago. . . . It is also well known how our forefathers found a home and an asylum in this land from the hand of persecution, and how they planted here the tree of liberty and jealously guarded it from the attempt of the mother country to uproot and destroy it. The hand of God was in this; and it is through the intervention of His providence that we enjoy to-day the freest and most independent government the world ever saw. And what was the object of this? It was to prepare the way for the building up of the kingdom of God in this the last dispensation of the fullness of times; and as long as the principles of constitutional liberty shall be maintained upon this land, blessings will attend the nation. (“Discourse by President Wilford Woodruff,” 801–02)
4.19. We declare that there is nothing in the ceremony of the Endowment, or in any doctrine, tenet, obligation or injunction of this Church, either private or public, which is hostile or intended to be hostile to the Government of the United States. On the contrary, its members are under divine commandment to revere the Constitution as a heaven-inspired instrument and obey as supreme all laws made in pursuance of its provisions. (“Official Declaration,” 34; also in MFP, 3:185)
4.20. We thank thee, O God of Israel, that thou didst raise up patriotic men to lay the foundation of this great American government. Thou didst inspire them to frame a good constitution and laws which guarantee to all of the inhabitants of the land equal rights and privileges to worship thee according to the dictates of their own consciences. Bless the officers, both judicial and executive. Confer abundant favors upon the President, his Cabinet, and Congress. Enlightened and guided by thy Spirit may they maintain and uphold the glorious principles of human liberty. . . .
Show unto them that we are their friends, that we love liberty, that we will join with them in upholding the rights of the people, the Constitution and laws of our country; and give unto us and our children an increased disposition to always be loyal, and to do everything in our power to maintain Constitutional rights and the freedom of all within the confines of this great Republic. (Prayer Offered at the Dedication of the Temple of the Lord, 10–11)
4.21. Thou knowest all hearts and art our witness that in the misunderstandings and differences that have occurred, the people of these mountain vales have been loyal upholders of the constitution of our country and those republican institutions which Thou didst inspire the fathers of the nation to institute and establish. We desire, our Father, to maintain them inviolate. And now that we have acquired, through Thy blessing, the power to aid in their preservation, we pray Thee to bless us so to do and to secure that liberty to others which we prize for ourselves. (Inaugural Address, 1)
4.22. I am going to bear my testimony to this assembly, if I never do it again in my life, that those men who laid the foundation of this American government and signed the Declaration of Independence were the best spirits the God of heaven could find on the face of the earth. They were choice spirits, not wicked men. General Washington and all the men that labored for the purpose were inspired of the Lord. Another thing I am going to say here, because I have a right to say it. Every one of those men that signed the Declaration of Independence, with General Washington, called upon me, as an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, in the Temple at St. George, two consecutive nights, and demanded at my hands that I should go forth and attend to the ordinances of the House of God for them. Would those spirits have called upon me, as an elder in Israel, to perform that work if they had not been noble spirits before God? (CR [Apr. 1898], 89–90)