Mormonism and government/19th century Mormons' attitude toward the United States government

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19th century Mormons' attitude toward the United States government

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Question: Were 19th century Mormons "anti-American"?

Latter-day Saints in the 19th century had lost faith in the United States government to redress their wrongs

It is claimed that nineteenth century Mormons were "anti-American." Latter-day Saints were not "anti-American," but they were not happy with the United States government.

Brigham Young, 1 August 1852:

I am at the defiance of the rulers of the greatest nation on the earth, with the United States all put together, to produce a more loyal people than the Latter-day Saints. Have they, as a people, broken any law? No, they have not. Have the United States? Yes! they have trampled the Constitution under their feet with impunity, and ridden recklessly over all law, to persecute and drive this people. [1]

Question: Did John Taylor believe that there was no longer a separation between Church and State?

Taylor is pointing out that no one among the Saints has secular solutions to the problems which face them

John Taylor said "We used to have a difference between Church and State, but it is all one now. Thank God, we have no more temporal and spiritual! We have got Church and State together" [2] Was Taylor stating the the Church had taken over secular responsibilities?

Taylor is not gloating that there is no more secular power in Utah territory. Rather, he is pointing out that no one among the Saints has secular solutions to the problems which face them—which might be frightening, but is also a blessing, since they can now trust God and their faith in all matters, not just the purely "religious." Their right to self-government, far from their enemies, means that they can make the decision as they think best.

The historical setting is one in which Johnson's army was en route to menace the Saints. A larger section of Taylor's discourse helps us appreciate his intent:

Now, let me ask how we are going to stand, except we are guided by the revelations of God? And let me further ask how you are going to get the revelations of God, except you live your religion and obey those set over you? Let me further ask, What is the use professing to be the people of God if we do not live our religion and magnify our calling?

I speak of these things merely for argument's sake....

For instance, there is an army coming up here. Can any of you tell what will be the result, except the proper authorities dictate? Do you know what will be the best? But suppose we get through with this, and I suppose that some of you may begin to guess for this year: but can you for next? Is there a man here that can tell how and where to hide his family and his grain? Are there any in this congregation who know anything about it and that give counsel to this people either for present or coming emergencies? This is bringing things to a focus. Now, you wise men, or men of education and literary attainments, or philosophers, speak and display your wisdom. If you cannot, and if we have not any knowledge in this matter, what next? Why, we have got to be dependent upon the authority that is over us; and if we cannot submit, how can we be governed by it?

This principle pervades all, whether in a civil or military capacity or in any other capacity. We used to have a difference between Church and State, but it is all one now. Thank God, we have no more temporal and spiritual! We have got Church and State together, and we used to talk of baptism and repentance, and we used to whip out sectarian priests with their own Bible, and we thought that we were tremendous fellows.

But in what part of the Bible do you find what we are to do this year or the next? This will be part of a new Bible, for when it takes place it will be written, and then that will be a Bible, and then the world will find that we shall have a "Mormon Bible."

Men have been opposed to the Book of Mormon because it was a new Bible. The poor fools did not know that wherever there was a true Church there was revelation, and that wherever there was revelation there was the word of God to man and materials to make Bibles of. (emphasis added)

Taylor's remark that "we have got Church and State together" becomes more understandable when viewed in context. He points out that previously, the Saints would speak of religious subjects, and apply revelation to them, and were delighted that they could "whip out sectarian priests" who denied on-going prophetic revelation. But now, says Taylor, we have moved beyond that point. We are now in a situation in which we will not benefit from revelation only in religious matters. The Saints are alone, unpopular, and soon to be the victims of an approaching army.

Taylor offers to let secular wisdom—wise men, men of education, philosophers, etc.—solve the secular problems that now face the Saints. If they cannot do it (and Taylor and his audience apparently believe that they cannot) then the only other option is to fall back on revelation—but this will not be revelation about what the world would call purely "religious matters," but it will be applied to a temporal emergency.

Question: Did Joseph Smith claim that all governments and religions other than Mormonism would eventually be destroyed form the earth?

Joseph Smith stated that there "will be wicked men on the earth during the thousand years" of the millennium

The critical book One Nation under Gods claims the following:

"As for other governments and religions, according to Joseph Smith, they 'must eventually be destroyed from the earth.'" (page xx-xxi (hardback edition))

"As for all non-Mormon (i.e. heathen) nations, according to Joseph Smith, they 'must eventually be destroyed from the earth.'" (page xiv-xvii (paperback edition))

This quote is the closing sentence of a paragraph in which the author of One Nation Under Gods asserts that "Mormons [after the return of Christ] will reign with Christ, and every American citizen, along with the rest of the world, will be forced to recognize Mormonism as the one true religion."

Take a look at the full quote from the cited source (History of the Church 5:212), in context (the portion shown in bold is the portion of the quote that the author used):

While at conversation at Judge Adams' during the evening, I said, Christ and the resurrected Saints will reign over the earth during the thousand years. They will not probably dwell upon the earth, but will visit it when they please, or when it is necessary to govern it. There will be wicked men on the earth during the thousand years. The heathen nations who do not come up to worship will be visited with the judgments of God, and must eventually be destroyed from the earth.

In the hardback edition, the author asserts that Joseph Smith stated "other governments and religions" must be destroyed. In the paperback edition, this is changed to "all non-Mormon" nations." While the quote does say something about nations being destroyed, it says nothing about governments or religions or "non-Mormon nations" being destroyed. Note that the author must equate the term "non-Mormon" with the word "heathen" in order to make his comparision. The terms nations and governments are not always synonymous, particularly in a religious sense. A nation is best described as "a group of people," whereas a government is always political in nature. Thus, Jesus could refer to "nations" being gathered before the Son of God and being judged, even though a full analysis of the passage is speaking of an individual judgment of people, not a judgment of political bodies. (See Matthew 25:31-46, particularly vs. 32.)

Further, Joseph Smith does not speak of anyone being "forced to recognize Mormonism as the one true religion." That editorial assertion is made by the author of ONUG, without any support from the quote. In fact, Joseph Smith stated that there "will be wicked men on the earth during the thousand years." If religious recognition by force was expected by Joseph, it seems inconsistent for him to acknowledge that he expected wicked men to still live during the Millennium.

Question: Did Brigham Young indicate in a speech in 1857 that the American government would fall to the Mormons?

There is nothing of the violent apocalyptic or animus targeted at the United States in general in this address

In Brigham's speech on July 24, 1857, he said that "This American Continent will be Zion...for it is so spoken of by the Prophets." It is claimed that this means that the "godless American government's moving against them signaled the beginning of their Armageddon scenario" and would result in Brigham's "ascendancy" to rule the Kingdom of God on earth. However, there is nothing of the violent apocalyptic or animus targeted at the United States in general in this address.

As is often the case, the critics provide only a small snippet of text, which distorts what is being said. A more complete section shows Brigham's intent (italics represent the material quoted by Denton):

I am decidedly in favour of practical religion—of every-day useful life. And if I to-day attend to what devolves upon me to do, and then do that which presents itself to-morrow, and so on, when eternity comes I will be prepared to enter on the things of [p.4] eternity. But I would not be prepared for that sphere of action, unless I could manage the things that are now within my reach. You must all learn to do this....

You hear brethren talk of coming to Zion to enjoy the blessings of this land; but do you not see that it is the shortsightedness of men which causes their disappointment when they arrive here? They read in the Bible, in the Book of Mormon, and Book of Doctrine and Covenants, about Zion, and what it is to be; but brother Park and others could not realize, before they came here, that they were the ones to help to build up Zion. They gather here with the spirit of Zion resting upon them, and expecting to find Zion in its glory, whereas their own doctrine should teach them that they are coming here to make Zion.

We can make Zion, or we can make Babylon, just as we please. We can make just what we please of this place. The people can make Zion: they can make a heaven within themselves. When people gather here, they should come with a determination to make Zion within themselves, with the resolution that "I will carry myself full of the Spirit of Zion wherever I go; and this is the way in which I will control evil spirits; for I mean that my spirit shall have control over evil:" and do you not see that such a course will make Zion?

This American continent will be Zion; for it is so spoken of by the prophets. Jerusalem will be rebuilt and will be the place of gathering, and the tribe of Judah will gather there; but this continent of America is the land of Zion.[3]

Clearly, Brigham is not talking about an apocalyptic confrontation with the U.S. government. He is insisting that the western hemisphere's destiny is to be "Zion," which can only come when people "make Zion in [them]selves," "control evil spirits," "control over evil." Their individual choices govern the kind of society which they will have.

That Brigham is not speaking in an anti-American vein is clear, given his attitude toward Americans in the same speech:

It is an ignorant excitement which causes some people in the States to feel and act as they do. Who is there, of all who are really acquainted with our proceedings and will let good reason and good sense operate, that has one word to say against us? No one....

There is not an honest man in the United States or in the world but what, if he could hear this doctrine taught without knowing that it was a "Mormon" who was teaching it, would drink down these principles....

As I have said before, I have often gone incog., and taught persons the Gospel, and they would drink down its principles as eagerly as a thirsty ox would drink water; but an ignorant prejudice causes all the trouble. The excitement among the priests, and directed by politicians, raises this erroneous prejudice and hue-and-cry....

In regard to troops coming here, as has been rumored, should 1,500 or 2,000 come, what will you see? You will see that they will ask us to make their soldiers behave themselves, until they can get out of this place, which they will do as soon as possible. They are not coming here to fight us; though, if they were to, I should pray that the Lord would bring those here that mobbed us in days gone by, and just let us look at them. But no; the priests, and some editors and politicians wish to have innocent soldiers sent here to fight us. Let [p.6] them bring those priests, editors, and politicians who have howled so long about us, and we will attend to their cases. But I pray that I may never witness such scenes as I have in the midst of this people. If they will let us alone, we will preach the Gospel; and if they do not, we will do it, and we will build up Zion, if all the devils in hell howl. Let us know that we have to build up Zion until the Spirit of peace shall overrule our country.

Brigham is not fond of corrupt politicians or religious leaders who feel threatened by his doctrine and visited violent persecution on the Saints. But he is hardly hostile and expecting an apocalyptic confrontation between the Mormons and the United States—in this speech, he suspects that there will be no violence and the army will soon leave. He prays that he will never see scenes of violence again—a strange wish if he is anticipating an apocalyptic final battle with the evil United States.

Brigham's solution is to "build up Zion" so that there may be peace, and (as he indicated earlier) this starts with an internal control and reformation of the self. He makes clear the type of society he hopes to have:

Look at St. Louis. More murders have been committed there in almost any few days than have been committed in this Territory since it was organized. It is customary there to have murders committed almost daily; but we, above all other people, ought never to have such a crime committed in our midst; and we never have had, so far as the Latter-day Saints are concerned.


  1. Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 1:361.
  2. John Taylor, Journal of Discourses 5:266.
  3. Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 5:3-4.