Thursday, November 13, 2014

True or False: Constitution on a Thread

It’s no surprise that Utah Mormons tend to be conservative. We believe in religious values, traditional families, and in owning large hotel franchises. Mitt Romney is Mormon, Glenn Beck is Mormon, and Utah hasn’t voted for a Democrat in a presidential election since 19641. (I know some of you are furiously googling right now to prove me wrong about 1964. Sorry, but it’s true.)  Utah has long been a very patriotic state, and Mormon leaders have preached time and again about the inspired founding of this country. 

Chief among the things Mormons consider divine about America is the United States Constitution. No less than 10 out of the 24 candidates listed in the Utah Voter Pamphlet last election claimed to be defending the Constitution from attack and/or ran as a Constitution Party candidate2 (for those of you still in shock about the 1964 election, you can take comfort in the fact that none of those candidates who swore to defend the Constitution were Democrats). It’s no surprise then that a prophecy attributed to Joseph Smith about the Constitution has long been circulated among Church members. But did Joseph Smith really give this prophecy? Looks like it’s time to play...

Today’s Question: Did Joseph Smith really give a prophecy about the Constitution saying that “the time would come when the constitution and government would hang 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?”3

I remember hearing this prophecy as a youth and being pumped up and ready to step forward and rescue the Constitution from the evil clutches of modern-day politicians. In my young mind it was a rousing revelation and in my mind I could see the Constitution hanging by that thread as clearly as if I were looking at a Jon McNaughton painting (if you didn’t get that last reference, look it up and realize how genius it was). But was there any truth to the story? Or was it just a yarn spun by some conservative Mormon in time gone by? What do you think?

or False?

And the answer is…


              Now, it’s actually more like true-ish, so take it with a grain of salt. It’s true that Joseph Smith did give a prophecy about the future of the Constitution, but there are many versions of the prophecy recorded by several different witnesses at several different times. The one listed above is the most popular telling, and comes from the journal of James Burgess, a member of the Church who said Joseph gave the prophecy during a meeting of the Nauvoo legion. Eliza R. Snow recorded a similar version, although hers says the Constitution will hang by “a single hair” and it would be “the Elders of Israel” who would step forward to its rescue and save it.4 

              On one occasion, Orson Hyde came forward and gave his version of the prophecy: “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 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.”5

              Other versions exist as well, from various journals and eyewitness accounts, each with their own subtle differences in wording. The central idea remains the same, but it is unclear which version should be the “official” one, or whether the Prophet actually dictated the prophecy on multiple occasions in front of different witnesses who simply recorded the version they heard him speak. But if you want the most accurate account, it’s probably best to look to the first recorded version of the prophecy, found in the Joseph Smith papers in the LDS Church Archives. In it Joseph says “Even this nation will be on the verge of crumbling to pieces and tumbling to the ground and when the Constitution is on the brink of ruin 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.”6

              So there you have it. While the prophecy is still up to interpretation as to what exactly the threat to the Constitution is supposed to be and how exactly the Latter-day Saints are to save it, you can rest assured that this prophecy is the real thing. Latter-day Saints do have the responsibility to protect the Constitution and preserve our great American government. In today’s society, when the worst thing a person can be is ethnocentric, it isn’t really cool to believe in and love the Constitution. But we Mormons shouldn’t forget God’s words in Doctrine and Covenants section 108, verses 79-80:

 “Therefore, it is not right that any man should be in bondage one to another. And for this purpose have I established the Constitution of this land, by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose, and redeemed the land by the shedding of blood.”
Ezra Taft Benson approved those words, as well as the prophecy given by Joseph Smith. He said:

 “I have faith that the Constitution will be saved as prophesied by Joseph Smith. It will be saved by the righteous citizens of this nation who love and cherish freedom. It will be saved by enlightened members of this Church—among others—men and women who understand and abide the principles of the Constitution. I reverence the Constitution of the United States as a sacred document. To me its words are akin to the revelations of God, for God has placed His stamp of approval upon it.”7

 Now I’m not saying we’re all going to face an inevitable catastrophe where the country will be on the verge of absolute Communism and then the Latter-day Saints will step forward and majestically rebuke the commies as we dust off the Constitution and bring it forth for the world to see as all freedom-loving people burst forth into applause. I doubt it will be that dramatic. Maybe it will, but I think that assumption misses the point. I think it’s more important that each of us is informed and politically active. We should do our part to protect our freedoms and to maintain the Constitution’s basic principles of balanced and fair government for all. 

        Remember that the next time you have the opportunity vote. After all, we wouldn’t want a repeat of 1964, would we?

              Do you have a Mormon myth you want me to investigate? A famous anecdote you want to see debunked or confirmed? Let me know in the comments below. Thanks for reading!

1.      "Over the Decades, How States Have Shifted." The New York Times. The New York Times, 14 Oct. 2012. Web. 13 Nov. 2014.
2.      Cox, Spencer J. Utah Voter Information Pamphlet. Salt Lake City: Utah State Capitol, 2014. Print.
3.      Stewart, D. Michael. "I Have a Question." Ensign June 1976: n. pag. Web. 13 Nov. 2014. <>.
4.      See 1976 Ensign “I Have a Question.”
5.      Hyde, Orson. "Self-Government—Constitution of the United States—Church Government, Etc." Journal of Discourses 6 (n.d.): 150-58. Web. 13 Nov. 2014. <>.
6.      See 1976 Ensign “I Have a Question.”
7.      Benson, Ezra Taft. "Our Divine Constitution." Ensign Nov. 1987: n. pag. Web. 13 Nov. 2014. <>.

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