“Joseph Smith,” in Latter-day Prophets and the United States Constitution, ed. by Donald Q. Cannon (Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1991), 1–13.
Born: 23 December 1805
Ordained an Apostle: May-June 1829
First Elder: 6 April 1830
President of the Church: 25 January 1832—27 June 1844
Murdered by a Mob: 27 June 1844
Relationship with the Constitution and U.S. Government
Joseph Smith had a very positive relationship with the U.S. Constitution, having inherited a strong love for it from his patriotic ancestors. The Prophet’s relationship with the U.S. Government, however, was not a positive one. Joseph Smith and the Saints he led had serious problems and conflicts with several state governments and with the federal government. These conflicts developed from persecution which arose against the Saints, most heavily in Missouri.
The Saints believed their constitutional rights had been violated because they had been deprived of their right to worship as they believed. The Constitution gave them these rights, but the government failed to enforce the provisions of the Constitution.
In an effort to plead this case, Joseph Smith and others traveled to Washington, D.C. in 1839, carrying with them petitions from the Saints outlining their losses and grievances. Although they met with several government leaders, their pleas for redress and help fell on deaf ears, as when President Martin Van Buren told them, “Gentlemen, your cause is just, but I can do nothing for you” (TPJS 302, compare 327).
Themes Discussed in the Quotations
Main theme: The Constitution assures rights. Minor themes:
1. The Constitution will hang by a thread.
2. All should obey the law of the land.
3. What the Constitution is and how it operates.
As the President of the Church
1.1. Let no man break the laws of the land, for he that keepeth the laws of God hath no need to break the laws of the land. (D&C 58:21)
1.2. And that law of the land which is constitutional, supporting that principle of freedom in maintaining rights and privileges, belongs to all mankind, and is justifiable before me. Therefore, I, the Lord, justify you, and your brethren of my church, in befriending that law which is the constitutional law of the land. (D&C 98:5–6)
1.3. We think it would be wise in you to try to git [sic] influence by offering to print a paper in favor of the government as you know we are all friends to the Constitution yea true friends to that Country for which our fathers bled. (PWJS 287)
1.4. And again I say unto you, those who have been scattered by their enemies, it is my will that they should continue to importune for redress, and redemption, by the hands of those who are placed as rulers and are in authority over you—
According to the laws and constitution of the people, which I [the Lord] have suffered to be established, and should be maintained for the rights and protection of all flesh, according to just and holy principles. (D&C 101:76–77)
1.5. Have mercy, O Lord, upon all the nations of the earth; have mercy upon the rulers of our land; may those principles, which were so honorably and nobly defended, namely, the Constitution of our land, by our fathers, be established forever. (D&C 109:54)
1.6. Be wise; let prudence dictate all your counsels; preserve peace with all men, if possible; stand by the Constitution of your country; observe its principles; and above all, show yourselves men of God, worthy citizens. (MFP 1:74–75)
1.7. While other men were peacefully following their vocations and extending their interests they [the Saints in Clay County] have been deprived of the right of citizenship, prevented from enjoying their own, charged with violating the sacred principles of our Constitution and laws. (MFP 1:78)
1.8. By their complying with your request to leave they [the Saints in Clay County] are surrendering some of the dearest rights guaranteed in the Constitution of our country; and that human nature can be driven to a certain extent when it will yield no further. (MFP 1:80)
1.9. The Constitution of our country [was] formed by the Fathers of liberty. . . . Exalt the standard of Democracy! Down with that of priestcraft, and let all the people say Amen! that the blood of our fathers may not cry from the ground against us. Sacred is the memory of that blood which bought for us our liberty. (HC 3:9)
1.10. Blessed be the memory of those few brethren who contended so strenuously for their constitutional rights and religious freedom, against such an overwhelming force of desperadoes! (HC 3:59)
1.11. Having an opportunity of speaking to General Wilson, I inquired of him why I was thus treated. I told him I was not aware of having done anything worthy of such treatment; that I had always been a supporter of the Constitution and of democracy. His answer was, “I know it, and that is the reason why I want to kill you, or have you killed.” (HC 3:191)
1.12. Where has the genius of the pedistal [sic] of the laws and constitution of our boasted country fled? (PWJS 419)
1.13. Hence we say, that the Constitution of the United States is a glorious standard; it is founded in the wisdom of God. It is a heavenly banner; it is to all those who are privileged with the sweets of liberty, like the cooling shades and refreshing waters of a great rock in a thirsty and weary land. It is like a great tree under whose branches men from every clime can be shielded from the burning rays of the sun. . . .
We say that God is true; that the Constitution of the United States is true; that the Bible is true. (TPJS 147–48)
1.14. I ask the citizens of this Republic whether such a state of things is to be suffered to pass unnoticed, and the hearts of widows, orphans, and patriots to be broken, and their wrongs left without redress? No! I invoke the genius of our Constitution. I appeal to the patriotism of Americans to stop this unlawful and unholy procedure; and pray that God may defend this nation from the dreadful effects of such outrages. (HC 3:332)
1.15. Your constitution guarantees to every citizen, even the humblest, the enjoyment of life, liberty, and property. It promises to all, religious freedom, the right to all to worship God beneath their own vine and fig tree, according to the dictates of their conscience. It guarantees to all the citizens of the several states the right to become citizens of any one of the states, and to enjoy all the rights and immunities of the citizens of the state of his adoption. (HC 4:37)
1.16. Even this Nation will be on the very verge of crumbling to peices [sic] and tumbling to the ground and when the constitution is upon the brink of ruin this people will be the Staff up[on] which the Nation shall lean and they shall bear the constitution away from the very verge of destruction. (WJS 416)
1.17. 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.—Then shall the Lord say: Go tell my servants who are the strength of mine house, my young men and middle-aged, etc., Come to the land of my vineyard and fight the battle of the Lord. Then the Kings and Queens shall come, yea the foreign saints shall come to fight for the land of my vineyard, for in this thing shall be their safety and they will have no power to choose but will come as a man fleeth from a sudden destruction. I know these things by the visions of the Almighty. (Joseph Smith Collection; from an address given 19 Jul 1840)
1.18. The Mayor, Aldermen and Councilors [of the City of Nauvoo, IL], before entering upon the duties of their office, shall take and subscribe an oath or affirmation that they will support the Constitution of the United States, and of this State and that they will well and truly perform the duties of their offices to the best of their skill and abilities. (HC 4:240)
1.19. We may continue to expect the enjoyment of all the blessings of civil and religious liberty, guaranteed by the Constitution. The citizens of Illinois have done themselves honor, in throwing the mantle of the Constitution over a persecuted and afflicted people. (TPJS 185)
1.20. I am tired of the misrepresentation, calumny and detraction, heaped upon me by wicked men; and desire and claim, only those principles guaranteed to all men by the Constitution and laws of the United States and of Illinois. (HC 5:15)
1.21. The Constitution is not a law, but it empowers the people to make laws The Constitution tells us what shall not be a lawful tender The legislature has ceded up to us the privilege of enacting such laws as are not inconsistent with the Constitution of the United States The different states, and even Congress itself, have passed many laws diametrically contrary to the Constitution of the United States.
. . . Shall we be such fools as to be governed by its laws, which are unconstitutional? No! . . . The Constitution acknowledges that the people have all power not reserved to itself. I am a lawyer, I am a big lawyer and comprehend heaven, earth and hell, to bring forth knowledge that shall cover up all lawyers, doctors and other big bodies. This is the doctrine of the Constitution, so help me God. The Constitution is not law to us, but it makes provision for us whereby we can make laws. Where it provides that no one shall be hindered from worshipping God according to his own conscience, is a law. No legislature can enact a law to prohibit it. The Constitution provides to regulate bodies of men and not individuals. (HC 5:289–90; also in TPJS 278)
1.22. In the month of May 1843. Several miles east of Nauvoo. The Nauvoo Legion was on parade and review. At the close of which Joseph Smith made some remarks upon our condition as a people and upon our future prospects contrasting our present condition with our past trials and persecutions by the hands of our enemies. Also upon the constitution and government of the United States stating that the time would come when the Constitution and Government would hand [sic] by a brittle thread and would be ready to fall into other hands but this people the Latter-day Saints will step forth and save it.
General Scott and part of his staff on the American Army was [sic] present on the occasion.
I James Burgess was present and testify to the above. (WJS 279; from James Burgess Notebook, LDS Church Archives)
1.23. I prophesy in the name of the Lord God of Israel, unless the United States redress the wrongs committed upon the Saints in the state of Missouri and punish the crimes committed by her officers that in a few years the government will be utterly overthrown and wasted, and there will not be so much as a potsherd left, for their wickedness in permitting the murder of men, women and children, and the wholesale plunder and extermination of thousands of her citizens to go unpunished, thereby perpetrating a foul and corroding blot upon the fair fame of this great republic, the very thought of which would have caused the High-minded and patriotic framers of the Constitution of the United States to hide their faces with shame. (TPJS 302–03)
1.24. I want you to hear and learn, O Israel, this day, what is for the happiness and peace of this city and people. If our enemies are determined to oppress us and deprive us of our constitutional rights and privileges as they have done, and if the authorities that are on the earth will not sustain us in our rights, nor give us that protection which the laws and constitution of the United States and of this state guarantee unto us, then we will claim them from a higher power—from heaven—yea, from God Almighty. (Discourses Delivered by Presidents Joseph Smith and Brigham Young 1; also in HC 5:466; WJS 217)
1.25. If we have to give up our chartered rights, privileges, and freedom, which our fathers fought, bled, and died for, and which the constitution of the United States and of this state guarantee unto us, we will do it only at the point of the sword and bayonet. (Discourses Delivered by Presidents Joseph Smith and Brigham Young 4; also in HC 5:468; WJS 218–19)
1.26. We have not enjoyed unmolested those rights which the constitution of the U.S.A. and our Charters grant. (Discourses Delivered by Presidents Joseph Smith and Brigham Young 4; also in HC 5:469; WJS 219)
1.27. Shall we longer bear these cruelties which have been heaped upon us for the last ten years in the face of heaven, and in open violation of the constitution and law of these United States and of this state? God forbid! I will not bear it. If they take away my rights, I will fight for them manfully and righteously until I am used up. We have done nothing against the rights of others. (Discourses Delivered by Presidents Joseph Smith and Brigham Young 5; also in HC 5:471; WJS 220)
1.28. The benefits of the constitution and laws are alike for all; and the great Eloheim has given me the privilege of having the benefits of the constitution and the writ of habeas corpus. (Discourses Delivered by Presidents Joseph Smith and Brigham Young 5; also in HC 5:471; WJS 221)
1.29. [Governor Ford] is sworn to support the Constitution of the United States and also of this State [Illinois], and these constitutions guarantee religious as well as civil liberty to all religious societies whatever. (TPJS 311)
1.30. I am the greatest advocate of the Constitution of the United States there is on the earth. In my feelings I am always ready to die for the protection of the weak and oppressed in their just rights. The only fault I find with the Constitution is, it is not broad enough to cover the whole ground.
Although it provides that all men shall enjoy religious freedom, yet it does not provide the manner by which that freedom can be preserved, nor for the punishment of Government officers who refuse to protect the people in their religious rights, or punish those mobs, states, or communities who interfere with the rights of the people on account of their religion. Its sentiments are good, but it provides no means of enforcing them. It has but this one fault. 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.
The Constitution should contain a provision that every officer of the Government who should neglect or refuse to extend the protection guaranteed in the Constitution should be subject to capital punishment; and then the president of the United States would not say, “Your cause is just, but I can do nothing for you.” (HC 6:56–57; also in TPJS 326–27)
1.31. We believe in enjoying the constitutional privilege and right of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own consciences. (HC 6:92)
1.32. I would admonish you, . . . to read in the 8th section and 1st article of the Constitution of the United States, the first, fourteenth and seventeenth “specific” and not very “limited powers” of the Federal Government, what can be done to protect the lives, property, and rights of a virtuous people, when the administrators of the law and law-makers are unbought by bribes. . . . And God, who cooled the heat of a Nebuchadnezzar’s furnace or shut the mouths of lions for the honor of a Daniel, will raise your mind above the narrow notion that the General Government has no power, to the sublime idea that Congress, with the President as Executor, is as almighty in its sphere as Jehovah is in his. (HC 6:160)
1.33. The Constitution, when it says, “We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, ensure 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,” meant just what it said without reference to color or condition, ad infinitum. (HC 6:198)
1.34. The aspirations and expectations of a virtuous people, environed with so wise, so liberal, so deep, so broad, and so high a charter of equal rights as appears in said Constitution, ought to be treated by those to whom the administration of the laws is entrusted with as much sanctity as the prayers of the Saints are treated in heaven, that love, confidence, and union, like the sun, moon, and stars, should bear witness,
“For ever singing as they shine,
The hand that made us is Divine!”. . .
I will adopt in part the language of Mr. Madison’s inaugural address: “. . . to hold the union of the States as the basis of their peace and happiness; to support the Constitution, which is the cement of the Union, as well in its limitations as in its authorities.” (Powers and Policy of the Government 6, 10–11; also in HC 6:198,201)
1.35. I would not have suffered my name to have been used by my friends on anywise as President of the United States, or candidate for that office, if I and my friends could have had the privilege of enjoying our religious and civil rights as American citizens, even those rights which the Constitution guarantees unto all her citizens alike. (HC 6:210)
1.36. If I lose my life in a good cause I am willing to be sacrificed on the altar of virtue, righteousness and truth, in maintaining the laws and Constitution of the United States, if need be, for the general good of mankind. (HC 6:211; also in TPJS 332; WJS 320)
1.37. The constitution expects every man to do his duty; and when he fails the law urges him; or should he do too much, the same master rebukes him. (HC 6:220)
1.38. Joseph commenced the organization of a Council for the purpose of taking into consideration the necessary steps to obtain redress for the wrongs which had been inflicted upon us by our persecutors, and also the best manner to settle our people in some distant and unoccupied territory; where we could enjoy our civil and religious rights, without being subject to constant oppression and mobocracy, under the protection of our own laws, subject to the Constitution. (Young, “History of Brigham Young” 328)
1.39. To the Honorable the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress Assembled:
Your memorialist, a free-born citizen of these United States, respectfully showeth that from his infancy his soul has been filled with the most intense and philanthropic interest for the welfare of his native country; and being fired with an ardor which floods cannot quench, crowns cannot conquer, nor diplomatic intrigue corrupt, to see those principles which emanated from the bosoms of the fathers of seventy-six, and which cost the noblest talents and richest blood of the nation, maintained inviolate and perpetuated to future generations; and the proud eagle of American freedom soar triumphant over every party prejudice and local sinistry, and spread her golden pinions over every member of the human family, who shall stretch forth their hands for succor from the lion’s paw or the oppressor’s grasp; and firmly trusting in the God of liberty, that He has designed universal peace and goodwill, union, and brotherly love to all the great family of man, your memorialist asks your honorable body to pass the following . . . Ordinance for the Protection of the Citizens of the United States Emigrating to the Territories, and for the Extension of the Principles of Universal Liberty. (HC 6:275)
1.40. Joseph Smith has offered and does hereby offer these United States, to show his loyalty to our Confederate Union and the Constitution of our Republic. (HC 6:276)
1.41. Judge Thomas has been here and given his advice in the case, which I shall strictly follow until I hear from your Excellency, and in all cases shall adhere to the Constitution and laws. (HC 6:480)
1.42. We have never violated the laws of our country. (HC 6:498)
1.43. Come, all ye lovers of liberty, break the oppressor’s rod, loose the iron grasp of mobocracy, and bring to condign punishment all those who trample under foot the glorious Constitution and the people’s rights. (HC 6:499)
1.44. Genl. J. Smith . . . briefly explained the object of the mob and showed that they waged a war of extermination upon us because of our religion. He called upon all the volunteers who felt to support the constitution from the Rocky Mountains to the* Atlantic Ocean to come with their arms, ammunition & defend the constitution. (WJS 383–84)
1.45. We have ever held ourselves amenable to the law . . .. I am ever ready to conform to and support the laws and Constitution, even at the expense of my life. I have never in the least offered any resistance to law or lawful process, which is a well-known fact to the general public. (HC 6:526)
1.46. We have never gone contrary to constitutional law, so far as we have been able to learn it. (HC 6:539)
1.47. If there is trouble in the country, neither I nor my people made it, and all that we have ever done, after much endurance on our part, is to maintain and uphold the constitution and institutions of our country, and to protect an injured, innocent, and persecuted people against misrule and mob violence. (TPJS 385–86)
1.48. 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 the nation will hang upon a single thread. At that critical juncture, this people will step forth and save it from the threatened destruction.” It will be so. (JD 7:15; quoted by Brigham Young)
1.49. We are friendly to our country, and when we speak of the flag of our Union, we love it, and we love the rights the Constitution guarantees to every citizen. What did the Prophet Joseph say? When the Constitution shall be tottering we shall be the people to save it from the hand of the foe. (Tyler 350; quoted by Jedediah M. Grant)
1.50. It is said that brother Joseph in his lifetime declared that the Elders of this Church should step forth at a particular time when the Constitution should be in danger, and rescue it, and save it. This may be so; but I do not recollect that he said exactly so. I believe he [Joseph] 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; quoted by Orson Hyde)
1.51. My sisters, My remarks in conclusion will be brief. I heard the prophet Joseph Smith say if the people rose up and mobbed us and the authorities countenanced it, they would have mobs to their hearts’ content. I heard him say that the time would come when this nation would so far depart from its original purity, its glory, and its love for freedom and its protection of civil rights and religious rights, that the Constitution of our country would hang as it were by a thread. He said, also, that this people, the sons of Zion, would rise up and save the Constitution and bear it off triumphantly. (Snow, Eliza R. 556)
1.52. And then you would have “further truths from the teachings of the Prop/