Did Joseph Smith Really Have Concerns about the Future of the US Constitution?

A Google news search for “Mormon” today revealed an interesting LDS-related controversy in Idaho. In the Idaho Statesman, “Mormon Church Distances Itself from Idaho Gubernatorial Candidate” offers this report:

The Mormon Church says it doesn’t back Rex Rammell’s candidacy and doesn’t endorse a prophecy Rammell believes in which church founder Joseph Smith supposedly said the U.S. Constitution “will hang … by a single thread.”

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released a statement this week after Rammell, a Mormon who is challenging Republican Gov. Butch Otter in the primary election next May, announced a series of meetings for Mormon elders on the so-called “White Horse Prophecy.” The prophecy is said to have been given by Smith and says church elders will save the Constitution.

“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is politically neutral and does not endorse or promote any candidate, party or platform,” spokeswoman Kim Farah’s statement said. “Accordingly, we hope that the campaign practices of political candidates would not suggest that their candidacy is supported by or connected to the church.

“The so-called ‘White Horse Prophecy’ is based on accounts that have not been substantiated by historical research and is not embraced as Church doctrine.”

I agree that the Church should not endorse political candidates, and also agree with Kim Farah in recognizing that the “White Horse Prophecy” is highly questionable, as an excellent article from FAIRLDS.org amply documents. At the same time, I think I should remind you that there is abundant evidence that Joseph Smith did express great concern about future threats to the Constitution of the United States. That point is made in the FAIRLDS article. Another good source comes from the “I Have a Question” feature in the June 1976 Ensign, where D. Michael Stewart of the Dept. of History at Brigham Young University, Department of History tackles the question, “What do we know about the purported statement of Joseph Smith that the Constitution would hang by a thread and that the elders would save it?”:

The documents show that Joseph Smith did prophesy a number of times that the United States and the Constitution would be imperiled and that the elders would have a hand in saving them. The first known record of the prophecy dates to July 19, 1840, in Nauvoo, when the prophet spoke about the redemption of Zion. Using Doctrine & Covenants 101 as a text, he 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.)

There are also other documents in Church History files that show that five different early Saints recorded some remarks by the Prophet Joseph Smith on this same prophecy, perhaps voiced by the Prophet a number of times in a number of ways after 1840. 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.)

James Burgess related that the Prophet, while addressing the Nauvoo Legion several miles east of Nauvoo in May 1843, said 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.” (James Burgess Journal, 1818–1904, Church Archives, vol. 1—found among loose sermons.)

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 a Pioneer Day celebration in Ogden in 1871, Eliza R. Snow said, “I heard the prophet say, ‘The time will come when the government of these United States will be so nearly overthrown through its corruption, that the Constitution will hang as it were by a single hair, and the Latter-day Saints—the Elders of Israel—will step forward to its rescue and save it.” (Journal History, MSF 143 #28, July 24, 1871.)

Jedediah M. Grant, during the dark days of threatened invasion of Utah by a federal army, referred to the Prophet’s utterance as he addressed a Mormon Battalion gathering in Salt Lake City, February 6, 1855.

“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.” (Deseret News Weekly, January 19, 1870.)

On various occasions, Joseph Smith referred to the Constitution, the country, and destiny of the nation; and there is clear evidence that he anticipated future peril. Furthermore, he pronounced the prophecy at various times and places. Perhaps he himself interchanged the simile “on the brink of ruin,” “hang by a brittle thread,” “hang by a single hair,” etc., to describe the anticipated crisis. It is also clear that the redeemers or rescuers of the Constitution were to be either the Saints generally or priesthood officers specifically.

Since no particular time was given for fulfilling this prophecy, members of the Church have often wondered about its timing. The prophecy clearly indicates a single, identifiable episode yet to come. However, it is helpful for us to constantly be on guard against threats to the central elements of the Constitution. It is not wise to sit by and think that the protection of the Constitution is the problem of someone else at some other time.

In support of this view of “constant vigilance,” it is most instructive to note that Church leaders have seen the Constitution imperiled a number of times. Brigham Young, reflecting on the prophecy of 1868, expressed: “It would not be many years before these words come to pass.” (JD, 12:204.) President John Taylor in 1884 declared: “It may be nearer … than some of us think.” (JD, 25:350.) President J. Reuben Clark, Jr., warned in 1942: “Whether it [the Constitution] shall live or die is now in the balance.” (Conference Report, October 1942, p. 58.)

Students of history and the Constitution know that the Constitution has been imperiled a number of times in its history and has been saved a number of times both by vigorous political action and by vocal public opinion.

Thus, rather than simply wait for the one time when the Constitution shall hang by a thread, Latter-day Saints must continually be vigilant. Our commission to save the Constitution is, like salvation, a continuing task, and Church leaders have pointed out the tools available: analysis of constitutional principles, personal study of the history of our nation, reading the Constitution to children at home and in schools, teaching them self-sacrifice—the principle that makes freedom possible—teaching them their obligations as mature citizens, recognizing and resisting ideologies that threaten constitutional principles, and developing loyalty to principle rather than to men or parties.

Politicians and statesmen must grapple with tough questions, painstakingly familiarize themselves with vital issues, and be decisive; but finally, an antidote to abusive government, to corruption, and to constitutional peril lies in private character. Humble people in prayerful homes will contribute immeasurably to a lasting constitutional government. And it should be apparent that consistent efforts in these areas will prepare us both to continually protect the Constitution and to prepare us for possibly a yet future rendezvous with our Constitution’s destiny.

Constant vigilance! That rings true to me, as does the prophecy at various times that the Constitution would be in great peril, as it most surely is today in an era where men in power ignore almost every restraint on what they can decree, spend, or seize. Maybe the Latter-day Saints can do something to help out. For starters, have you written your Congressman recently? Have you sought to understand what that document is and what our Founding Fathers sought to do?

Update, Dec. 31, 2009: One commenter said that Rammel has not been using the questionable White Horse Prophecy, but simply the more attested statement from Joseph Smith about the Constitution one day hanging from a thread or being in peril. If that is correct, then Rammel may have been a victim of media misinformation. To quote Church leaders on future dangers to the Constitution is NOT the same as relying on a lengthy bogus prophecy. Are any of you close enough to Rammel to know the real story here?


Author: Jeff Lindsay

67 thoughts on “Did Joseph Smith Really Have Concerns about the Future of the US Constitution?

  1. Aren't you missing the larger issue at hand?

    The Church is now distancing itself from this prophecy because "there is not any supposed historical research to substantiate it"?

    If this were the consistent m.o. of the Church, don't you think the Church would have to distance itself from a lot more "doctrine" or dogma that is regularly taught and perpetuated?

    In the case at hand:

    A. Where was this distancing during the decades that this prophecy has been tacitly acknowleded by HQ and taught in the quorums and over the pulpit across mormondom?

    B. Why does the Church now ignore the detailed historical references found in their own records/publications, such as the one that you have indicated?

    I'm confused.

  2. it doesn't matter if Joseph Smith had concerns about the future of the US Constitution. Sadly, when you read the remarks as noted by those who heard Joseph, it seems Joseph never made clear remarks about what exactly the problems were, or how exactly the saints were going to "save" the Constitution. This ambiguity is ripe for abuse (which is exactly what you have with Mr. Rammell in Idaho. Because Joseph Smith talked so vaguely about the danger to the Constitution, it leaves open the interpretation to any Tom Dick or Sally to guess what that danger is. Thus, anyone can make up anything and say "look the Constitution is in danger, because Joseph said so." It thus becomes an abuse of the logical fallacy of appealing to authority. How can someone question Mr. Rammell unless one opens himself up to the accusation that he is going against the dear Prophet. If one questions Mr. Rammell, one questions Joseph Smith. That's an awfully abusive position to take by Mr. Rammell, and he ought to be ashamed of himself. Sadly, he is surrounded by fools who let him take on this cult of personality where he may think himself as a protector of the prophet's legacy. True latter day saints should follow the Church's counsel on this and shun Mr. Rammell, not giving him legitimacy. Sadly, the church, and most of its Mountain West members have had a history of letting abusive extremists rule the coop. Just look at how popular a certain Cleon Skousen has been, and how influential he has been within the conservative Mormon movement. His poison was so strong that it even got a prophet.

  3. The "prophecy" that Mr. Rammell relies on has been repeatedly denounced by LDS church leaders.

    In October 1918 General Conference, President Joseph F. Smith, as LDS prophet, talked about this so-called prophecy and said: "This ridiculous story . . . has been circulated about and printed and sent around as a great revelation by the Prophet Joseph Smith . . . It is simply false, that is all there is to it."

    It was also specifically refuted by Elder (later Prophet) Joseph Fielding Smith and Elder Bruce R. McConkie.

    An LDS spokeperson, in light of Mr. Rammell's comments released a statement specifically refuted the validity of the so-called prophecy.

    Given that Mr. Rammell is relying on a prophecy that an LDS prophet, as prophet, specifically refuted as have LDS general authorities and today's official LDS spokesperson, a pretty credible argument can be made that Mr. Rammell is acted as an apostate.

    He deserves the revilement he is getting over this.

  4. Just an ironic observation. In my opinion, the time the Constitution has most "hung by a thread" was the Civil War, which had more U.S. casualties and deaths than any other in our history, and which could have led to the complete facturing of our nation. The irony is, that at this time of perhaps the greatest crisis of our "nationhood", the Latter-day Saints did not seek to rescue the Constitution and our nationhood, but essentially "sat it out", along with occasional predictions by Mormons that the Civil War would be the end of the U.S. Of course, this was at a time when there was no love lost between the Church/Utah (which had recently been invaded by the U.S.) and the federal government.

  5. It appears to me that Joseph Smith's comments about the Constitution were a prediction, not a prophesy. If they were a prophesy, wouldn't he have ensured they were written in official church records so there was no doubt?

    I have attended several Christian seminars and conferences where it was stated that Christians do/will play an important role in safeguarding the American way of life. I don't consider those prophecies, just important truths.

  6. @ creek,
    You mean when large christians get together in groups they talk about how they are the glue that holds the nation together? Crazy! Interestingly that's the same thing that all groups have to say about politics. It's always, 'us against them' when it comes to any group, so you may want to think a little bit more critically about such things.

  7. I, among others here, had not realized that this was not a real prophecy of the church. It comes up in meetings so often that I had assumed that it was part of the church doctrine.

    It's so vague anyways that even if it is considered a prophecy I don't see it doing a whole lot of good and is rather ripe for abuse as we've seen in this case.

    My personal opinion is that it had more to do with Joseph's time then our own. It also is not much different then the types of things that any large orginization has to say about the US government. I.E. that the nation is headed to hell in a handbasket, and 'we' are the only ones that can stop it from happening. Coincidentally you'll here the same type of talk in any sort of large group that is politically active. Democrats, republicans, libertarians, Jehovah's witness, atheists, teachers, etc, etc, etc… Every group thinks they are the ones that can see the writing on the wall and those other yahoos, they're clueless or evil. It's in group bias and has been around since the dawn of time (as far as we can tell.)

  8. DavidH:

    I think you're wrong about Mormons sitting out the Civil War. Church leaders encouraged many young men to join the Union Army. My understanding is that many did, and sent their wages back home.

    Does anyone have any links to any facts/figures about Mormons serving in the Union army?

  9. No, the church didn't support enlisting in the Union Army. In fact, Brigham Young and many leaders rejoiced in the chaos caused by the war.

    Some context helps. Young saw the war as a form of retribution for the problems with Johnson's Army and the previous events in Missouri and Illinois.

    Still, about 400 Mormons fought in the war. Many did not support Brigham. Others were those who didn't go West. Few went East from Utah.

  10. Despite such, Brigham Young did allow for the raising of a small force to guard the overland mail route through Utah and later did send a message of loyalty to the Union once the transcontinental telegraph was in place.

    He could have rebelled and hurt the Union. But, he did not.

  11. I remember reading that Ezra Taft Benson in the 1960s, as an apostle, explained in COnference that the single thread, exposed but not broken, is the franchise to vote.

  12. Maybe Joseph Smith was worried that one day, the leaders of the LDS church would seek to impose their faith upon the lives of others, and by doing so, would endanger the very foundations of the Constitution.

  13. I find it highly ironic that one Mormon, aka Harry Reid, is very involved with causing the Constitution to 'hang by a thread', and other Mormons are now supposed to save it.

    Both parties remind me of Gadianton Robbers.

    Dan – I'm glad you care about the poor. I trust you're giving a substantial portion of your own income to help them. So do I. The problem comes in when you want to FORCE people to take care of the poor. You have no right to do that. Neither does our government. It's call stealing. And making one group of people work, against their will, to support another group of people is called slavery.

    Government is not the appropriate vehicle for charity. Period.


  14. The thing I always find funny is that everyone who appeals to the idea of the saints saving the Constitution tends to have a rather narrow idiosyncratic view of what the Constitution says and means. Often I think they are the ones the Constitution needs saving from!

    Likewise I've read folks who hear about this and see it as some Mormon threat to turn the nation into a theocracy which seems to fly against the very idea of the Constitution and saving it. But given some of the right wing wackos (and occasional left wing wacko) who take such odd interpretations of the Constitution this is somewhat unsurprising even if it goes against the typical Mormon understanding.

  15. Anonymous- I'll see your Smith and raise you a Ballard, Clark, Nibley (Charles) and Benson…all quotes in Gen.Conf…all after your 1918 quote.

    Simply Google: "ezra taft benson hanging by a thread" Click on the very first link: emp.byui.edu/…/CONSTITUTIONHANGINGBYATHREAD.DOC

    Remember, that the newer the leader, the more correct the interpretation, right?

    I'm seeing a troubling recent pattern in that every time a long standing doctrine/dogma receives publicity in the outside world, HQ denies/distances.

    Wouldn't it be great if HQ would simply come out as definitively on so many other "doctrines" as they have now done so on this one.

    p.s. Lindsay, what say you?

    p.p.s. I think Rammell is a tool, and is using religion to propel his political chances.

  16. umkay. I personally just see it as the Church trying to separate themselves from this goof called Rammel, and as some of these posts have made clear, the whole "prophecy" deal is not very clear. It is up for interpretation.

    Just because certain members seem to believe certain things about it and teach it doesn't make it part of the accepted canon or doctrine of the Church. I have personally not heard it taught in the few wards I've been to, though I wouldn't rule out that it has been.

    I'm not about to harp on a little PR thing as a reason to attack the Church. I see it as a bit foolish.

  17. Oh, and I'd like to see just how those conference addresses used such a quote in context before making any definitive judgments as to whether they are being pronounced as doctrine. There has to be unanimity among the First Presidency and the twelve, if I am not mistaken, for something to become doctrine. Surely there has not been unanimity on just what this statement or prediction by Joseph Smith was meant to be or convey in totality.

  18. Jayleen,

    No one is forcing anyone to participate being a citizen of this country. You are free to choose to participate or to leave and join another country. When you are a member, a citizen, of this country, you are bound (yes that means FORCED) by the rules, laws, governances, etc. that the citizens of this country set up. That means you are forced to obey the laws of the road, the laws governing crime, the laws governing taxation, etc. Don't cry over being "forced" to participate in something in this country when that's just the very nature of being a citizen of a country. The wonderful thing about a democracy is that we all get to choose representatives who will do what we ask. The weakness of a democracy is that not everyone gets what they want. So if a segment of the citizenship wishes to create a national health care system, according to the rules set forth in the nation-state, all citizens are required to participate at some level. If you don't like it you have two options. Convince enough of the population for your position, or leave. But don't cry about being forced to do something. That's simply the nature of being a citizen. Frankly I tire of having citizens of this country of ours be so selfish and so spoiled that they cry about their freedom while being served all these wonderful services by their government which they are never thankful for. It is such a sad spectacle to see. But I accept that a certain segment of the population, of the citizenship will always act this way. I don't have much of a choice in the matter, but I accept reality. I only wish others would be more accepting of reality around them.

  19. The problem, as has been pointed out, is that Joseph Smith was so vague that any yahoo with a grievance can use it to claim the constitution is hanging by a thread. Didn't Timothy McVeigh feel much the same way?

  20. Tony- I agree that repetition does make doctrine. In fact, my favorite HQ pronouncement is now the May 4, 2007, official declaration that, “not everything a leader says is doctrine.”

    However, with this particular admittedly inconsequential “doctrine”, my experience is that it has been taught and discussed every time the US-Constitution or Founding-of-the-US comes up. It seems that HQ would have known that the masses still viewed this as something to espouse. See the quotes in the Google search I provided; it seems to pervade the collective mindset, from the top down.

    I suppose I am still stinging from Hinckley’s “I don’t know that we teach that” moment regarding a core tenet of Mormon doctrine.

    I should be conditioned to the "he was speaking as a man" syndrome, however, since McConkie’s “…forget everything I said…we were wrong” moment regarding Blacks and the Priesthood.

    We also now have FAIR’s John Gee saying that the Book of Abraham is not core to Mormon doctrine.

    The great thing really to come of all this is that, with the exception of a few core tenets/doctrine/ordinances, I can believe what I deem “fit”. As long, of course, as I don’t teach or promote it. See September Six.

    It seems though that HQ backpedaling and distancing is occurring more frequently.

    Always interesting.

    p.s. What say you re: the new Gospel Principles definition of an Apostle: now changed to “a special witness of the name of Jesus Christ” ?

  21. Considering what has just happened in Congress with Health Care being pushed through Christmas Eve by bribing certain states; Nebraska comes to mind as one lop-sided deal, we are in the process of losing our country!!!

    Check out NWO, Agenda 21, Wildlands Project, and then look at some you-tube Tea Party videos of 9/12 March on Washington D.C., and you will see we are in a Second Revolution.

    Rex was hoping to wake up his LDS brethren. Obviously they still wish to be the silent majority, and don't believe in fighting for our inalienable rights.

    Time to look past the small issues, and look at the big picture. Does Rex believe in the Constitution of the United States? Does he support State's Rights? Smaller government? Lower taxes? Will he refuse to accept the "chains" of stimulus money?

    If so he's a patriot! Freedom for 2010!

  22. Elder William R. Bradford used this exact phrase "Constitution will hang by a thread" when addressing missionaries in the Canada Vancouver Mission, March, 2003.

  23. The sad truth is that this bit of folklore has even been accepted by some of the General Authorities.

    Still, the most statement was by President Joseph F. Smith (while serving as prophet) in General Conference who said it simply wasn't true.

  24. See, now this is what I love about the gospel and the way that revelation is set up. Everything is clear and concise and you never have to worry about getting conflicting stories from the general authorities!

    Oh, wait…

  25. While the so-called "White Horse Prophecy" is much disputed, Joseph Smith did in fact declare that "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 . . . the constitution away from the very verge of destruction" (see Constitution to Hang by a Thread for additional information and context).

    Concerning the idea that the Elders of Israel will have a hand in saving the constitution from the "verge of destruction", in Rex E. Lee's January 15, 1991 devotional address at BYU he stated the following: "A final area of constitutional interest unique to Latter-day Saints finds its source in the well-known 'hanging by a thread' statements by the Prophet Joseph Smith. Similar statements have been reiterated by no fewer than six of his successors, including the current prophet. In a forthcoming book to be published by the Religious Studies Center, Professor Donald Cannon lists over forty instances in which these seven presidents have either used the 'thread' metaphor or something like it. But in none of those quotations cited by Professor Cannon has any Church leader ever been very specific as to the metaphor's meaning.

    Unfortunately, some members of the Church have been all too ready to offer their own explanations. The only thing consistent about these explanations is that in each instance, it was the Church member's own unresolved, often very private, grievance that supplied evidence that the thread was beginning to fray, sometimes beyond repair" (see The Constitution and the Restoration).

  26. Interesting discussion. I appreciate all of your input and remain wholly undecided. The vague prophecy could be interpreted a number of ways, but I like to think that we all need to do our part to support the constitution by electing good people to congress. Also, if the congress does represent us, the people, then we (as a nation) need to live the principles we want to see upheld. Unfortunately, there really are way too many US citizens (not to mention illegals) who don't have any core beliefs. People who are ok with gay marriage, abortion, porn, drug use, etc. It's not at all perfect, but the state of the government may actually represent the state of the people as a whole. That's where Latter-Day Saints need to rise up and take a stand for principles of righteousness. That's how I believe we will work to save the constitution and the nation.

  27. Supporting gay marriage does not mean one is against the Constitution. Being against gay marriage does not mean one is also against the Constitution. We live in a country where we have a Constitution that is changing over time. That can and is a good thing.

  28. @ mitch,
    you beat me to it. I grow so tired of people claiming the constitution protects thing x(insert whatever absurd, generalized, phobic comment here) and that people with an alternate opinion on such subject are trying to undermine the constitution. It reminds me a whole lot of this article http://www.theonion.com/content/news/area_man_passionate_defender_of Keep in mind that this is a satirical article (some folks are not familiar with the Onion and assume it to be a real newspaper. That satire pretty much sums up all my frustrations and feelings on the subject. Hopefully I haven't crossed any lines by linking it. If so then the OP is free to delete it.

  29. Jarad,

    "Unfortunately, there really are way too many US citizens (not to mention illegals) who don't have any core beliefs"

    What the hell does that mean? Who doesn't have core beliefs? What are core beliefs? Seriously, talk about condescending!

  30. I think 'not having core beliefs' means having a different opinion then oneself. This goes along great with the 'illegals' part that was in there. Because obviously anything that is different then me is scary and dangerous!

  31. Here is my take:

    We have statements about the constitution and nation in great peril.

    I haven't seen anything about the "White Horse".

    Perhaps the church is doing to things:
    1. Distance from this jerk trying to use this for his campaign.
    2. Distance from statements that are involve some "white horse"?

    Just a thought. Maybe there is some ambiguous statement by an early church leader about a white horse… if so, I guess we better all abandon faith and go to worship Dawkins. (Just Kidding)

    The point is, none of this matters.

  32. Check facts. Rex Rammell made no mention of "White Horse Prophecy" in his statements. He quoted what he believed to be a prophecy of Jospeh Smith. The media called it "White Horse Prophecy". Let's put the blame where the blame lies.

  33. If Rammel IS NOT using the White Horse Prophecy but just the well-substantiated statements about the Constitution one day hanging by a thread, then that changes things a great deal. Honestly, I was really puzzled about why he or anyone else would use that strange, bizarre, and unofficial document, when it's primary value for a modern politician would be just that single sentence about hanging by a thread, a sentence that has much more credibility than the White Horse Prophecy itself. So if the MEDIA have put words in Rammels mouth and are distorting his message by linking it to a repudiated, bogus prophecy, then shame on them. Anyone here close enough to Rammel to know?

    A real problem for our day is that the credibility of major media sources is hanging by a thread, or maybe the thread has snapped.

  34. There's some confusion here.

    The key issue is the validity of the "hang by a thread" and the "elders of the church saving the Constitution" concepts.

    Have those been repeated repeatedly in the church? Sure.

    But, are they supported by historical evidence that Joseph Smith prophesied that? No.

    That is the point of folklore . . it has been stated over and over — often by high church officials. But, it has never been officially accepted. And, President Joseph F. Smith — in General Conference as prophet — said it is false.

    Understand that has been reiterated over and over again. But, repetition does not make something valid. The only revelations from Joseph Smith that are deemed authoritative are the ones in the scriptures.

  35. Also remember that the church pr spokesman just last week publicly and directly refuted the statement — presumably with the First Presidency's approval.