The Voice of the People as the Voice of God: Missouri and the Dangers of Democracy

Ultimately, the Mormon disaster in Missouri in the 1830s, culminating with the Mormon War of 1838 and the expulsion of the Saints under a vicious extermination order, was a result of democracy. The state of Missouri was not operating as a constitutional republic under the rule of law in the manner envisioned by the Founding Fathers, but had essentially become a democracy, as far as the Mormons were concerned – quite the opposite of what the Founding Fathers were seeking. In a democracy, the voice of the people is the voice of God: vox populi = vox Dei. And when the people speak, it’s usually time to run for your life if you’re not writing the script.

A sober reminder about the dangers of democracy comes from this excerpt from Richard Bushman’s marvelous biography of Joseph Smith, Rough Stone Rolling (p. 344):

After their experience in Jackson and Clay counties, the Mormons felt they must ask nearby settlers for permission to move in. They requested meeting in Ray County, where the desired lands were located, to present their case. Without hesitation, the Ray citizens said no. Mormon migration would “retard the prosperity of the county, check further emigration of any class except Mormons, and disturb the peace.” With no assurance of protection, the Mormons had to pull back. Before they left Clay, they wrote the governor about their “fear lest the inhabitants will rise up to mob us, in other places, or in other Counties.” They wanted to know whether the governor would “quell these mobs, and help us obtain a location.”

Governor Dunklin was less sympathetic than when they had appealed to him during the Jackson County riots. Again he told them to use the courts for redress, but, he admitted, “there are cases, sometimes, of individual outrage which may be so popular as to render the action of courts of justice nugatory, in endeavoring to afford a remedy.” He suggested that the Saints themselves must be at fault for the citizens’ enmity, but could not say why. As the Mormons said, “not one solitary instance of crime” had been lodged against them in either Jackson or Clay courts. The governor noted somewhat diffidently, “Your neighbors accuse your people, of holding illicit communications with the Indians, and of being opposed to slavery,” for which he had no evidence. He was helpless to offer a solution. “All can say to you is, that in this Republic, the vox populi is the vox Dei.”

Sorry, Governor Dunklin (and ditto for his successor, Governor Boggs) – that’s no republic you described. It’s mob rule – the ultimate expression of pure democracy. And the most dangerous form of government.

As an aside, the establishment of “democracy” in Iraq has resulted in the most severe persecution of Christians that that ancient land has seen in centuries. Christians from the oldest continually operating Christian communities are now fleeing, after centuries of being able to abide and worship with some degree of freedom.

Please, let’s don’t “democratize” any more nations. Or at least let someone else pay for it – we are about to collapse in debt over here from our global democracy efforts. And when collapse happens, when our economy and infrastructure and support systems fail, I fear that all we will be left with is democracy in the streets. But we will be building Zion even then, and where Zion can flourish, there will be hope and relief and care for the poor and needy of all races and backgrounds and faith, if we are prepared. (This is why we must have food storage and lots of it: to feed the hungry in our neighborhoods and cities. There will be many we can bless if we prepare.)

Do not lose faith when the collapse comes, but turn to the Lord with renewed hope, as the Saints in Missouri did in their darkest days, and go forth to build or rebuild Zion. We are on the winning team if we follow Jesus Christ, though we may yet have our Missouris and Liberty Jails.


Author: Jeff Lindsay

5 thoughts on “The Voice of the People as the Voice of God: Missouri and the Dangers of Democracy

  1. A common argument for getting rid of the Electoral College is that if it is such a good thing, why aren’t we promoting it in Iraq, Afghanistan, and in other developing democratic governments? The answer, of course, is that we should promote our democratic republic form of government, since democracy alone simply means that 51% of the people have the right to enslave and confiscate the property of the other 49%.

    The U.S. government was established to create a constant tug-of-war between the rights of the individual and the rights of society; the rights of the minority and the rights of the majority. A pure democracy concerns itself only with the wishes of the majority, which our Founders understood was just as much tyranny as having an autocratic dictatorship or monarchy.

    Unpopular religions (i.e. the Mormons in the 19th Century) can only survive in societies that respect the interests of the minority; trying to balance those with the interests of the majority.

  2. I personaly believe that our efforts towards “global democracy” are really nothing more than fulfilling god’s word that no nation or people should live in bondage and that they cannot be saved in that state. I would also hardly believe that this global work of freeing people is making us poor or hurting our cause.

    Those of us who support the efforts to destroy tyranny and decry against evil dictators are blessed as a nation- one who serves God by serving his fellow being. The end result of democracy is ultimate freedom and I would hate to see any nation not have that ability.

  3. But how is that democracy to be implemented? Remember the devil’s plan to “save” us all–a good thing right? Ah, but he sought to “destroy the agency of man” in doing it. Simply because a man has good intentions does not mean that those intentions are practicable or desirable at a given time.

    Joseph Smith once wrote to the Abolitionists that “God would carry out his work” in his own time. Unfortunately it took a civil war to do it. Does that mean that the fighters of the U.S. Civil war were “blessed” because they were carrying out God’s will? Hardly. I am reminded of Isaiah 7 where he refers to the King of the Assyrians as the axe in the hands of the almighty–unconscious of his role in the plan. Cyrus of Persia is another example.

    Let us take care not to fall into simplistic dichotomies when in fact the situation on the ground is far more complex, where no answer is a good answer.

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