Joseph Smith was no stranger to issues of freedom, religious or otherwise.
By 1843, the year before he died, the issue was key to his religious and political thinking, so much so that he wrote to every candidate running for U.S. president and asked if they would protect the rights of Latter-day Saints.
The responses, in Joseph’s perspective, were unsatisfactory, so he mounted a presidential campaign of his own. His platform was centered on religious and civil freedoms for all.
Some of his thoughts on freedom are below, as well as a compilation of quotes from others.
Using Doctrine & Covenants 101 as a text, Joseph said:
“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.” (Joseph Smith Papers, LDS Church Historical Archives, Box 1, March 10, 1844.)
Parley P. Pratt wrote in 1841 that the prophet said . . .
“The government is fallen and needs redeeming. It is guilty of Blood and cannot stand as it now is but will come so near desolation as to hang as it were by a single hair!!!!! Then the servants goes [sic] to the nations of the earth, and gathers the strength of the Lord’s house! A mighty army!!!!!! And this is the redemption of Zion when the saints shall have redeemed that government and reinstated it in all its purity and glory!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” (George A. Smith Papers, Church Archives, Box 7, Folder 5, January 21, 1841.)
Orson Hyde recalled that the Prophet predicted that
“the time would come that 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, 6:150.)
In Latter-day Prophets and the United States Constitution, a publication from BYU Religious Studies Center, Joseph Smith’s relationship with the Constitution and U.S. Government is discussed.
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).
Main theme: The Constitution assures rights.
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.
Jordan Clive writes his thoughts about this topic in The Freedom Experiment — A Mormon Perspective on American Independence.
The Fourth of July means a lot to me, but it did not dawn on me until this morning just how foreign my reasons would seem to most people- even my closest (non-Mormon) friends. I believe Mormons understand the value of religious freedom for everyone better than anyone and that is what occupied my mind today.