Joseph F. Smith

“Joseph F. Smith,” in Latter-day Prophets and the United States Constitution, ed. by Donald Q. Cannon (Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1991), 84–90.

Biographical Information

Born: 13 November 1838

Ordained an Apostle and Counselor to the First Presidency: 1 July 1866

Member of the Quorum of the Twelve: 8 October 1867

Second Counselor to John Taylor: 10 October 1880

Second Counselor to Wilford Woodruff: 7 April 1889

Second Counselor to Lorenzo Snow: 13 September 1898

First Counselor to Lorenzo Snow: 6 October 1901

President of the Church: 17 October 1901 -19 November 1918

Died: 19 November 1918

Relationship with the Constitution and U.S. Government

Joseph F. Smith was the first second-generation LDS Church President, and he inherited a love for the Constitution from his forebears. His relationship with the federal government centered on the issue of polygamy. He testified at the Smoot Hearing in Washington, D.C. in support of Reed Smoot’s being seated as a senator from Utah. (The government was trying to determine if the Church had really stopped practicing polygamy.) Smoot was eventually seated.

President Joseph F. Smith also presided over the Church during World War I, when thousands of Latter-day Saints served in the armed forces. This military service was generally regarded as a positive sign of Mormon loyalty and patriotism.

Themes Discussed in the Quotations

Main theme: We should be loyal to the Constitution.

Minor themes:

1. This government was established by the Lord in preparation for the restoration of the gospel. 2. The Constitution will hang by a thread, and the Latter-day Saints will come to the rescue.


As an Apostle

6.1. The Lord Almighty has prepared the way for the coming forth of the kingdom of God in this dispensation by establishing the republican government of the United States; a government affording the widest liberty and the greatest freedom to man that has ever been known to exist among men, outside of those governed by the direct communication of heaven. It was part of the design of the Almighty when He influenced our fathers to leave the old world and come to this continent; He had a hand in the establishment of this government; He inspired the framers of the Constitution and the fathers of this nation to contend for their liberties; and he did this upon natural principles, that the way might be prepared, and that it might be possible for Him to establish His kingdom upon the earth, no more to be thrown down. (JD 22:44–45)

6.2. We are told . . . that no man need break the laws of the land who will keep the laws of God The law of the land, which all have no need to break, is that law which is the Constitutional law of the land, and that is as God himself has defined it. And whatsoever is more or less than this cometh of evil. Now it seems to me that this makes this matter so clear that it is not possible for any man who professes to be a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to make any mistake, or to be in doubt as to the course he should pursue under the command of God in relation to the observance of the laws of the land. I maintain that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has ever been faithful to the constitutional laws of our country I ask myself, What law have you broken? What constitutional law have you not observed? I am bound not only by allegiance to the government of the United States, but by the actual command of God Almighty, to observe and obey every constitutional law of the land, and without hesitancy I declare to this congregation that I have never violated, nor transgressed any law, I am not amenable to any penalties of the law, because I have endeavored from my youth up to be a law-abiding citizen, and not only so, but to be a peacemaker, a preacher of righteousness, and not only to preach righteousness by word, but by example—If lawmakers have a mind to violate their oath, break their covenants and their faith with the people, and depart from the provisions of the Constitution where is the law human or divine, which binds me, as an individual, to outwardly and openly proclaim my acceptance of their acts? (JD 23:70–71)

As the President of the Church

6.3. The legislation against polygamy by Congress, and the endeavors of the church to resist those enactments on the ground of their conflict with the first Amendment to the Constitution, are pretty well known to the American public. It is not so generally known that the final decision of the Supreme Court of the United States that the anti-polygamy laws were not in contravention of the Constitution was the chief reason for the change of attitude on the part of the church leaders. (“The ‘Mormonism’ of To- Day” 451)

6.4. By revelation to Joseph Smith, the Prophet, the Lord declared that he had established the Constitution of the United States through “wise men raised up unto this very purpose” [D&C 101:80]. It is also our belief that God has blessed and prospered this nation, and given unto it power to enforce the divine decrees concerning the land of Zion, that free institutions might not perish from the earth. Cherishing such convictions, we have no place in our hearts for disloyal sentiments. (“An Address” 489; also in MFP 4:150)

6.5. We love our country and pray for the perpetuity of its government, we support its institutions, we venerate the Constitution. (“Magazine Slanders Confuted” 724; also in MFP 4:229)

6.6. I hope with all my soul that the members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will be loyal in their very hearts and souls, to the principles of the Constitution of our country. From them we have derived the liberty that we enjoy. They have been the means of guaranteeing to the foreigner that has come within our gates, and to the native born, and to all the citizens of this country, the freedom and liberty that we possess. We cannot go back upon such principles as these. We may go back upon those who fail to execute the law as they should. We may be dissatisfied with the decision of judges, and may desire to have them removed out of their places. But the law provides ways and means for all these things to be done under the Constitution of our country, and it is better for us to abide the evils that we have than to fly to greater evils that we know not what the results will be . . . .

These principles that I propose to read to you are the foundation and basic principles of the Constitution of our country, and are eternal, enduring forevermore, and cannot be changed or ignored with impunity:

“And God spake all these words, saying, I am the Lord thy God which hath brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” . . .

“Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image of any likeness of anything that is in heaven above or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.”

“Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them nor serve them.” . . .

“Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.” . . .

“Six days shall thou labor and do all thy work.” . . .

“Honor thy father and thy mother.” . . . . . .”Thou shalt not kill.” . . . “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” . . . “Thou shalt not steal.”

“Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.”

“Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neightbor’s wife, nor his man-servant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor anything that is thy neighbor’s” [Ex 20:1–6].

Now, these are the commandments of God, the principles contained in these commandments of the great Eternal are the principles that underlie the Constitution of our country and all just laws. (“The Mexican Trouble—Loyalty to the Constitution” 98–101)

6.7. Joseph Smith, the prophet, was inspired to affirm and ratify this truth, and he further predicted that the time would come, when the Constitution of our country would hang as it were by a thread, and that the Latter-day Saints above all other people in the world would come to the rescue of that great and glorious palladium of our liberty. We cannot brook the thought of it being torn into shreds, or destroyed, or trampled under foot and ignored by men. We cannot tolerate the sentiment, at one time expressed, by a man, high in authority in the nation. He said: “The Constitution be damned; the popular sentiment of the people is the Constitution!” That is the sentiment of anarchism that has spread to a certain extent, and is spreading over “the land of liberty and home of the brave.” We do not tolerate it. Latter-day Saints cannot tolerate such a spirit as this. It is anarchy. It means destruction. It is the spirit of mobocracy, and the Lord knows we have suffered enough from mobocracy, and we do not want any more of it. Our people from Mexico are suffering from the effects of that same spirit. We do not want any more of it, and we cannot afford to yield to that spirit or contribute to it in the least degree. We should stand with a front like flint against every spirit or species of contempt or disrespect for the Constitution of our country and the constitutional laws of our land. (“The Mexican Trouble—Loyalty to the Constitution” 101–02)

6.8. I wish to say this, there isn’t a feeling in my soul, nor in any fibre of my being that is disloyal to the government of the United States or to the desire that we have in our souls to maintain the principles of individual and National liberty, justice and freedom that have been established in the Constitution of our country. I believe in the Constitution of the United States. I believe in the principles which that instrument promulgates—the freedom of mankind to do right, to worship God according to the dictates of their own conscience, freedom to pursue their way in peace and to observe and maintain their rights, their freedom, their liberties, and justly recognize and equally preserve and defend their rights, freedom and liberty of their neighbors and of their fellow beings—and of all God’s creatures. I believe that the Constitution of the United States was and still is an inspired instrument. The Lord God Almighty inspired the minds that framed it, and I believe it ought to be most sacredly preserved. It is worthy of the defense and should be upheld by all the people of our land. (“Thrift and Economy” 634–35)

6.9. It was part of the design of the Almighty when He influenced the fathers to leave the old world and come to this continent; He had a hand in the establishment of this government; He inspired the framers of the Constitution and the fathers of this nation to contend for their liberty. (“The Constitution Is an Inspired Document” 644)