You’ve probably heard of a prophecy attributed to Joseph Smith about the constitution hanging by a thread. What you may not have heard is the recorded wording of that prophecy:
Joseph Smith was once recorded as saying:
“Even this Nation will be on the very verge of crumbling to pieces and tumbling to the ground and when the constitution is upon the brink of ruin this people will be the Staff upon which the Nation shall lean and they shall bear away the constitution away from the very verge of destruction.
Smith, Joseph.” -Howard and Martha Coray Notebook, 19 July 1840.
One of the difficulties with the early sermons of the church is that if they weren’t recorded by Joseph’s scribe, clerk, or secretary, we have to rely on the notes of others and are left to wonder how precise the notes were. This is one of those instances. Since it wasn’t recorded by one of Joseph’s official scribes, we can’t be certain of the wording. Still, there were many people at the meeting where he spoke these words, and some heard it slightly differently:
Orson Hyde recorded:
“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. The question is whether it will be saved at all, or not. I do not know that it matters to us whether it is or not: the Lord will provide for and take care of his people, if we do every duty, and fear and honour him, and keep his commandments; and he will not leave us without a Constitution.” (2. Orson Hyde, Journal of Discourses, (London: Latter-day Saints Book Depot, 1858) 6:151-152)
Brigham Young was also there, and said:
“Every organization of our government, the best government in the world, is crumbling to pieces. Those who have it in their hands are the ones who are destroying it. How long will it be before the words of the prophet Joseph will be fulfilled? He said if the Constitution of the United States were saved at all it must be done by this people. It will not be many years before these words come to pass.” (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, (London: Latter-day Saints’ Book Depot, 1854-1886), 12:204-205)
Elsewhere, President Young said:
“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. With regard to the doings of our fathers and the Constitution of the United States, I have to say, they present to us a glorious prospect in the future, but one we cannot attain to until the present abuses in the Government are corrected.” (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, (London: Latter-day Saints’ Book Depot, 1854-1886), 7:14-15)
This is one of the reasons Zion will become a place of refuge. Regardless of what happens to the nation around us, we have to stand for truth, and the just people of the earth will respond to the righteous efforts of the latter-day saints.
John Taylor said:
“And then the day is not far distant when this nation will be shaken from centre to circumference. And now, you may write it down, any of you, and I will prophesy it in the name of God. And then will be fulfilled that prediction to be found in one of the revelations given through the Prophet Joseph Smith. Those who will not take up their sword to fight against their neighbor must needs flee to Zion for safety. And they will come, saying, we do not know anything of the principles of your religion, but we perceive that you are an honest community; you administer justice and righteousness, and we want to live with you and receive the protection of your laws, but as for your religion we will talk about that some other time. Will we protect such people? Yes, all honorable men. When the people shall have torn to shreds the Constitution of the United States the Elders of Israel will be found holding it up to the nations of the earth and proclaiming liberty and equal rights to all men, and extending the hand of fellowship to the oppressed of all nations.” (John Taylor, Journal of Discourses, (London: Latter-day Saints’ Book Depot, 1854-1886), 21:8)
Whatever the exact wording of the prophecy, our duty is clear. We have to stand by the principles of truth, freedom, and righteousness, and know and defend the constitution of this land so when the time comes to defend it, we can do so. There are some rough times ahead, and we need to prepare ourselves to act in righteousness.
John Taylor also said:
“If other people can afford to trample under foot the sacred institutions of this country, we cannot. And if other people trample upon the Constitution and pull it to pieces, we will gather together the pieces and rally around the old flag, or what is left of it, and proclaim liberty to the world, as Joseph Smith said we would.” (John Taylor, Journal of Discourses, (London: Latter-day Saints’ Book Depot, 1854-1886), 23:239)
George Q. Cannon put it this way:
“…the day will come–and this is another prediction of Joseph Smith’s–I want to remind you of it, my brethren and sisters, when good government, constitutional government–liberty–will be found among the Latter-day Saints, and it will be sought for in vain elsewhere; when the Constitution of this land and republican government and institutions will be upheld by this people who are now so oppressed and whose destruction is now sought so diligently. The day will come when the Constitution, and free government under it, will be sustained and preserved by this people.” (George Q. Cannon, Journal of Discourses, (London: Latter-day Saints’ Book Depot, 1854-1886), 23:104)
It appears to me that as far as we can tell, the words attributed to Joseph Smith are accurate, as many leaders of the church after him confirmed the teachings.
Elder George Q. Cannon also stated:
“I have been taught from early life that the day would come when republican institutions would be in danger in this nation and upon this continent, when, in fact, the republic would be so rent asunder by factions that there would be no stable government outside of the Latter-day Saints; and that it is their destiny as a people, to uphold constitutional government upon this land. Now, a great many people think this is a chimera of the brain; they think it folly to indulge in such an idea; but the day will come nevertheless. There are those in this congregation who will witness the time that the maintenance of true constitutional government upon this continent will be dependent upon this people, when it will have to be upheld by us.” (George Q. Cannon, Journal of Discourses, (London: Latter-day Saints’ Book Depot, 1854-1886), 23:122-123)
Ezra Taft Benson, nearly a hundred years later, spoke of the prophecy by Joseph Smith when he said:
“How then can we best befriend the Constitution in this critical hour and secure the blessings of liberty and ensure the protection and guidance of our Father in Heaven?
“First and foremost, we must be righteous.
“John Adams said, ‘Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.’ (The Works of John Adams, ed. C. F. Adams, Boston: Little, Brown Co., 1851, 4:31). If the Constitution is to have continuance, this American nation, and especially the Latter-day Saints, must be virtuous.”
“And now,” warned Moroni, “we can behold the decrees of God concerning this land, that it is a land of promise; and whatsoever nation shall possess it shall serve God, or they shall be swept off when the fulness of his wrath shall come upon them. And the fulness of his wrath cometh upon them when they are ripened in iniquity” (Ether 2:9).
“Two great American Christian civilizations—the Jaredites and the Nephites—were swept off this land because they did not “serve the God of the land, who is Jesus Christ” (Ether 2:12). What will become of our civilization?”
“I have faith that the Constitution will be saved as prophesied by Joseph Smith. But it will not be saved in Washington.. 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.” (Ezra Taft Benson, “The Constitution—A Glorious Standard,” Ensign, Sep 1987, 6 and Ezra Taft Benson, The Constitution—A Heavenly Banner)
This puts a new twist on patriotism. Latter-day saints must be more than supporters of the constitution and the righteous democracies of the world, they need to be defenders of it—insisters of it. They have to hold true to it even if the government itself doesn’t.
Of course, this doesn’t mean we have to join radical groups. It just means we should stand by principles of freedom, obey the laws of the land, seek inspiration in our voting choices, serve the God of the land, and listen carefully and consistently to the words of the living prophet. The Lord is directing the prophet, and will continue to do so. He is receiving direction from the Lord to assist us in building a people and place of refuge for the good people of the world to come to when things get rough.