Harold B. Lee

“Harold B. Lee,” in Latter-day Prophets and the United States Constitution, ed. by Donald Q. Cannon (Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1991), 144–55.

Biographical Information

Born: 28 March 1899

Ordained an Apostle: 10 April 1941

President of the Twelve: 23 January 1970

First Counselor to Joseph Fielding Smith: 23 January 1970

President of the Church: 7 July 1972–26 December 1973

Died: 26 December 1973

Relationship with the Constitution and U.S. Government

President Harold B. Lee was a champion of the Constitution and its attendant freedoms. He was one of only a few IDS Church Presidents to actually hold political office, serving on the City Commission in Salt Lake City as Commissioner of Streets and Public Improvements from 1932 to 1935, when he was called by the First Presidency to begin the Church Welfare Program. During his term as county commissioner he ran an efficient operation and saved the taxpayers a substantial amount of money. His relationship with the federal government while President of the Church was cordial and followed the pattern set by his immediate predecessors.

Themes Discussed in the Quotations

Main theme: The Constitution was established by the hands of wise men.

Minor Themes:

1. America will be saved by people who possess faith in her.

2. All nations should adopt a government similar to the U.S. government.

3. We should reflect more intently on the meaning of the Constitution.


As an Apostle

11.1. Our anxiety has been increased when we have listened to the attempts of men in high stations to stir up class hatreds that contradict the age-old constitutional guarantee of free enterprise. (True Patriotism 1; revised in Ye Are the Light of the World 174)

11.2. Indeed, it has been said by a prophet in our generation that the time would come when the destiny of this nation would hang as by a single thread, but that it would be saved by the people who possessed faith in America and in her destiny. (True Patriotism 1–2; revised in Ye Are the Light of the World 174)

11.3. To the membership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Constitution of the United States is as a tree of liberty under whose cooling branches one might find a haven from the scorching sun of turmoil and oppression and have his rights protected according to just and holy principles. To them, the Constitution was established by the hands of wise men whom God raised up for this very purpose, and they devoutly believe that if it should be in danger of being overthrown, their lives, if need be, are to be offered in defense of its principles. (See D&C 101:77–80.) (True Patriotism 2; revised in Ye Are the Light of the World 176)

11.4. May I voice a plea for all Americans to love this country with a fervor that will inspire each to so live as to merit the favor of the Almighty during this time of grave uncertainties, as well as in times to come. I would that all men could believe in the destiny of America as did the early pioneers: that it is the land of Zion; that the founders of this nation were men of inspired vision; that the Constitution as written by the inspiration of heaven must be preserved at all costs. (True Patriotism 5; revised in Ye are the Light of the World 181–82)

11.5. Some time ago there appeared in a local newspaper an account of an interview with an elderly statesman who wielded great influence in American politics. This elderly statesman, in explaining the reason for his determination and zeal, told of a statement his own father—now long since dead—had made to his four sons just before he died. This is what the father said: “America, with its government and constitution, is the greatest institution invented by the mind of man. If you let them touch a stick or stone of it, I will come back and haunt you.”

As I thought of that statement, my mind went back to our ancestors who pioneered in this dispensation an even greater constitution than that of the American nation, even the constitution of the kingdom of God, which might be said to be another definition of the gospel of Jesus Christ. As I thought of our pioneers, I was reminded of their virtues and their accomplishments and of the underlying principles that made them willing to leave all that they possessed and even willing to sacrifice their lives, if need be, to uphold and to maintain their beliefs. As I remembered that and thought of the statement of this aged American patriot, I wondered if we might not say: “The Lord help us to keep in memory our ancestors that we might be willing to uphold and sustain, by our lives and all that we possess, that for which they gave so much.” (“The Spirit of Gathering” 281; also in Ye Are the Light of the World 163–64)

11.6. Patriotism and loyalty in defense of the Constitution of the United States is constantly enjoined upon us. President McKay again this morning has made reference to the cause of liberty in his remarks. To be effective in such teaching, we must begin by inspiring in each heart the faith that the Constitution of the United States was written by inspired men whom God raised up for that very purpose.

It was Joseph Smith who has been quoted as having said that the time would come when the Constitution would hang as by a thread, and at that time when it was thus in jeopardy, the elders of this Church would step forth and save it from destruction.

Why the elders of this Church? Would it be sacrilegious to paraphrase the words of the Apostle Peter, and say that the Constitution of the United States could be saved by the elders of this Church because this Church and this Church alone has the words of eternal life? We alone know by revelation as to how the Constitution came into being, and we, alone, know by revelation the destiny of this nation. The preservation of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” can be guaranteed upon no other basis than upon a sincere faith and testimony of the divinity of these teachings. (“Faith—An Effective Weapon Against Wickedness in Men and Nations” 912–13)

11.7. The question is now whether or not we can make a Republican form of government work, not merely for America but for the world, as all other nations under Heaven may be persuaded of the blessings of freedom enjoyed by the people of this land and to adopt similar governmental systems, thus fulfilling the ancient prophecy of Isaiah “that out of Zion might go forth the law and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” [Isa 2:3]. (“‘I Dare You to Believe’” 4)

11.8. In such a system, the individual is told in effect, “You are free to make your life what you will, and we will try to see that you are rewarded for worthwhile service.” These lofty concepts did not spring from governments, but from the Creator Himself, penned into tenets for a stabilized government by men whom God raised up for this very purpose. The basic principles underlying these concepts of human government are contained in that great state paper, the Constitution of the United States of America. Written into the Constitution as we have it today are three prime safeguards:

1. There are unique restraints on power that governmental authority may exercise upon citizens, embodied in what is known as the Bill of Rights.

2. There is outlined a division of power between the federal and state governments.

3. There is defined a distinct separation of power among three branches of government—the executive, the legislative, and the judicial—in such a way as to provide checks and balances to control the exercise of governmental power.

In the wisdom of the Almighty, this ensign of liberty was raised to the nations to fulfill an ancient prophecy that “out of Zion [should] go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” (Isa 2:3). How could this be? The answer is clear: through the Constitution, kings and rulers and the peoples of all nations under heaven may be informed of the blessings enjoyed by the people of this land of Zion by reason of their freedom under Divine guidance, and be constrained to adopt similar governmental systems and thus fulfill the ancient law to which I have already referred.

My visits to underprivileged countries and among subjugated peoples who have placed their trust in governments of dominating men, rather than in governments of constitutional law, have shown me the importance and the great blessed privilege that is ours to live in this country where the basic law of the Constitution safeguards us in our God-given rights. (Ye Are the Light of the World 232–33; from a memorial service for President John F. Kennedy, Salt Lake City, UT, 25 Nov 1963)

11.9. The kingdom of God must be a continuing revolution against the norms of the society that fall below the standards that are set for us in the gospel of Jesus Christ. In the field of public life, it must be a continuing revolution against proposals that contradict the fundamental principles as laid down in the Constitution of the United States, which was written by men whom God raised up for this very purpose. If we remember that, we will be in the forefront of every battle against the things that are tearing down our society. (“Keep Your Lamp Lighted” 104)

11.10. Brethren of the priesthood, if we will be united and let our light shine, and not hide our light under a bushel but exercise it righteously, and let our priesthood callings be an eternal revolution against the norms of society or against any proposals that fall below the standards as set forth in the gospel of Jesus Christ or as laid down by the Constitution of the United States written by inspired men, then we will be a force in the world that will be “the marvelous work and wonder” which the Lord said the kingdom of God was to be. (“Keep Your Lamp Lighted” 104)

11.11. We would hope that we might be instrumental in developing statesmen—men not only with unsurpassed excellence of training in the law, but also with an unwavering faith that the Constitution of the United States was divinely inspired and written by men whom God raised up for this very purpose [D&C 101:80].

Teachers, hold up before your students the prophetic statement of the Prophet Joseph Smith—that if and when our inspired Constitution should hang as by a thread, there would be prepared, well-qualified defenders of the faith of our fathers, the elders of this church, who would step forth and save the Constitution from destruction. (Ye Are the Light of the World 118; from the inauguration of President Dallin H. Oaks, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT, 12 Nov 1971)

11.12. May we keep always a deep sense of gratitude for our pioneer heritage, a love for this country, and a deep-seated reverence for the Constitution of the United States, to the end that we will never forget our civic and political obligations. (Ye Are the Light of the World 120; from the inauguration of President Dallin H. Oaks, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT, 12 Nov 1971)

11.13. The Constitution of the United States has been mentioned several times by speakers in this conference as the basis of wise decisions in fundamental principles as applied to all matters pertaining to law and order, because it was framed by men whom God raised up for this very purpose. But in addition to that inspired document, we must always keep in mind that the greatest weapons that can be forged against any false philosophy are the positive teachings of the gospel of Jesus Christ. (“A Time of Decision” 32)

As the President of the Church

11.14. I concluded by calling attention to the prophecy of Joseph Smith that “the constitution would hang as by a thread.” I then pointed out that the basic principles of the three separate and independent branches of government were being threatened in the demands of the present Senate investigation. I then read a statement of President J. Reuben Clark, Jr., pointing this out that if either the executive, the legislative, or the judicial were to presume to make the law, enforce it, and then pass judgement, we would approach tyranny. At least the audience heard and listened to this last statement. I finally said that if the basic principles laid down in the Constitution were to be threatened, as is now a possibility, that we might come to [such] a time as when Abraham bargained with the Lord to save Sodom and Gomorrah from destruction, if he could find some righteous souls. Similarly, if such a downfall of the Constitution were imminent, the righteousness of this people might again importune the Almighty to save it because of their pleadings. (Goates 531–32)

11.15. We are living in a time of great crisis. The country is torn with scandal and with criticism, with faultfinding and condemnation. There are those who have downgraded the image of this nation as probably never before in the history of the country. It is so easy to clamber onto the bandwagon and to join the extremists in condemnation, little realizing that when they commit their actions, they are not just tearing down a man; they are tearing down a nation, and they are striking at the underpinnings of one of the greatest of all the nations of all the world—a nation that was founded upon an inspired declaration we call the Constitution of the United States. The Lord said it was written by men whom He raised up for that very purpose, and that Constitution stands today as a model to all nations to pattern their lives [D&C 101:77, 80]. (Ye Are the Light of the World 340)

11.16. Some time ago the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve were engaged in a meeting of serious import, and I said something at that time unpremeditated, but I couldn’t have said it better had I taken a month to prepare it. I said: . . .

. . . We should not be concerned about finding out what is wrong with America, but we should be finding what is right about America and should be speaking optimistically and enthusiastically about America. (Ye Are the Light of the World 341–42)

11.17. Men may fail in this country, earthquakes may come, seas may heave beyond their bounds, there may be great drought, disaster, and hardship, but this nation, founded on principles laid down by men whom God raised up, will never fail. This is the cradle of humanity, where life on this earth began in the Garden of Eden. This is the place of the new Jerusalem. This is the place that the Lord said is favored above all other nations in all the world. This is the place where the Savior will come to His temple. This is the favored land in all the world. Yes, I repeat, men may fail, but this nation won’t fail. I have faith in America; you and I must have faith in America, if we understand the teachings of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We are living in a day when we must pay heed to these challenges.

I plead with you not to preach pessimism. Preach that this is the greatest country in all the world. This is the favored land. This is the land of our forefathers. It is the nation that will stand despite whatever trials or crises it may yet have to pass through. (Ye Are the Light of the World 350–51)

11.18. We urge members of the Church and all Americans to begin now to reflect more intently on the meaning and importance of the Constitution, and of adherence to its principles. (“News of the Church” 90)

11.19. I have faith in the future of this promised land of America and in its institutions of representative government, but more than that, I have faith in you, the youth of America, to build even more securely on the foundations laid by the faith and devotion of your pioneer fathers. That you as the youth of the Church would have an important part to play in preserving the ideals of this great country as quoted by one who was very close to him. I quote the words of Eliza R. Snow: “I heard the Prophet Joseph Smith say ‘that the time would come when this nation would so far depart from its original purity, its glory, and its love of freedom and the protection of civil and religious rights, that the Constitution of our country would hang, as it were, by a thread.’ He also said that this people, the sons of Zion, would rise up and save the Constitution and bear it off triumphantly.” (Eliza R. Snow, 1870, Women of Mormondom by Tullidge.)

So today is no time for youth to whimper the refrain of the defeated and retire to the fancied security of the regimented state. Today is the day for youth to gird themselves with the armor of peace, having as their weapons “the shield of faith . . . and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Eph 6:16–17.) (Decisions for Successful Living 209)

11.20. Youth must never forget that this the government of the United States was established “According to the laws and constitution of the people, which (God) has suffered to be established. . . . That every man may act in doctrine and principle . . . according to the moral agency which (God) has given unto him, that every man may be accountable for his own sins in the day of judgment. Therefore, it is not right that any man should be in bondage one to another.” It was to accomplish this lofty purpose basic to all liberty that God “established the Constitution of this land by the hands of wise men whom (he) raised up unto this very purpose.” (D&C 101:77–80.) Contained within the principles of that great heaven-inspired document is the message of this Church to the world in this fateful hour. Except the spirit of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and principles contained within the Constitution of the United States are inherent in world plans now being formulated, they are but building on sand and the Lord is not in that building. (Decisions for Successful Living 217)