What the Lord has said about the Constitution


In the church, there is a common tendency to idolize the U.S. Constitution. We frequently hear that it is an inspired document and that the men who were responsible for its creation were raised up by God to this very end. Some even go so far as to believe the Constitution is a revelation from God, equal in authority and as binding upon the people as the scriptures themselves. Many U.S. LDS imagine that the government of the Lord in the Millenium will be some version of the constitutional republic created by the Founding Fathers, namely, a democratic Republic. Adding fuel to this fire is the oft-repeated “Constitution-hanging-on-a-thread” prophecy, which is attributed to Joseph Smith, though there are various versions of it, the texts of which are not canonized, but which are revered and believed by many U.S. LDS to be true. (Non-U.S. LDS are not as enamored as the U.S. LDS with the Constitution, so they don’t quote this prophecy so much.)

But what does the Lord actually say, in the canonized scriptures that we have, about the Constitution?

CONSTITUTION OF THE LAND

The Lord said, “And that law of the land which is constitutional, supporting that principle of freedom in maintaining rights and privileges, belongs to all mankind, and is justifiable before me. Therefore, I, the Lord, justify you, and your brethren of my church, in befriending that law which is the constitutional law of the land; and as pertaining to law of man, whatsoever is more or less than this, cometh of evil.” (D&C 98: 5-7)

The Lord said, “According to the laws and constitution of the people, which I have suffered to be established, and should be maintained for the rights and protection of all flesh, according to just and holy principles; that every man may act in doctrine and principle pertaining to futurity, according to the moral agency which I have given unto him, that every man may be accountable for his own sins in the day of judgment. 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.” (D&C 101: 77-80)

Joseph Smith prayed, “Have mercy, O Lord, upon all the nations of the earth; have mercy upon the rulers of our land; may those principles, which were so honorably and nobly defended, namely, the Constitution of our land, by our fathers, be established forever.” (D&C 109: 54)

That’s pretty much all that is said about it. It is mentioned in two revelations in which the Lord speaks (D&C 98 and 101) and it is mentioned in the revealed dedicatory prayer of the Kirtland Temple (D&C 109.)

There are some interesting things about these three revelations. First of all, the Constitution is never called the U.S. Constitution. It is either called “that law of the land which is constitutional,” “the constitutional law of the land,” “constitution of the people,” “Constitution of this land,” “those principles,” and “the Constitution of our land.”

Secondly, it is never implied that the Lord is referring to the entire Constitution. There are qualifiers among these revelations. In other words, the Lord is referring to that part of the Constitution that supports “that principle of freedom in maintaining rights and privileges.” He also says that “whatsoever is more or less than this,” meaning this rights and privileges part of the Constitution that supports the principle of freedom, cometh of evil. So, from the first revelation, the Lord explains that there is a part of the Constitution that is justifiable before the Lord and that belongs to all mankind, not just Americans, and that there is a part of the Constitution that is not justifiable before the Lord and that “cometh of evil.”

In the second revelation, the Lord explains that the Constitution (the part that supports the principle of freedom in maintaining rights and privileges) “should be maintained for the rights and protection of all flesh.” He also mentions the moral agency of man (which reminds me of anarchy) and then the Lord says something quite peculiar. He says, “Therefore, it is not right that any man should be in bondage one to another.” The word “therefore” means “for that reason” or “consequently.” So, the part about slavery in the Constitution obviously came of evil and was ‘not right,” but also any part of the Constitution that caused that “any man should be in bondage one to another” was “not right.”

As all forms of government force people to obey certain rules, called government laws, upon pain of death, imprisonment or property theft, government in and of itself causes all men to “be in bondage one to another.” So, pretty much the entire Constitution is in the “more or less” category that “cometh of evil.”

Finally, the dedicatory prayer refers to the Constitution of our land as “those principles,” and prays that they be established forever. The only “principles” justifiable in the Constitution are the ones referred to in the first two revelations. These are the principles that support that principle of freedom in maintaining rights and privileges; that should be maintained for the rights and protection of all flesh; that allow every man to act in doctrine and principle and according to their moral agency and their individual accountability; that are justifiable before the Lord; and that belong to all men.

So, what are these principles? We call these principles the Bill of Rights. Only the Bill of Rights fits the above description and only the Bill of Rights belongs to all mankind. It is instructive, too, that the Bill of Rights was written to protect the people specifically from the government (the rulers.) The Bill of Rights is the only part of the U.S. Constitution that is truly of the people. It is truly the Constitution of our land. Anarchy, therefore, is consistent with these revelations.

Next Anarchism/Anarchy article: Anarchy does not require perfect people

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21 Comments

  1. Thanks for answering my question. In D&C 101 the Lord does state:

    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.

    I assume by shedding of blood he is speaking of the Atonement and not any subsequent wars surrounding the birth of this nation. To be honest if it is an oversight as to why people believe the Constitution is inspired, I can see why. Seeing as how he is speaking to Joseph Smith in the US, then one can surmise that He is speaking of the US Constitution and the “founding fathers” of this nation. With that being said, I think we are leaps and bounds beyond anything those men had envisioned for this nation and I am not speaking in a positive way.

    Great post!

  2. I think it is readily apparent that the Constitution is inspired of God, but not the whole thing. I’ve always assumed that the shedding of blood referred to those who fought in the American Revolutionary War to break ties with the British, but maybe I’m wrong in that. Maybe you are right and the Lord is referring to the Atonement. Thanks for your comment.

  3. Ah, I apologize I misunderstood what you were saying about the document being inspired. I should have paid more attention the last paragraph. I personally don’t believe Christ will be King in the sense of how we view kings now. I certainly don’t think it will even resemble any type of government other than what exists in the church today, maybe I’m wrong…who knows…God does, that’s who. Also, I guess it’s really in how one might interpret “redeemed the land”. Does the Lord mean redeemed from sin, or redeemed from the Lamanites back into the possession of the Lord’s called and chosen? Inquiring minds want to know.

  4. Interesting post. For a number of years, the notion that the Constitution is inspired caused me a great deal of mental anguish. I couldn’t reconcile the 3/5 Compromise and the enshrinement of slavery in the Constitution with the notion that it was completely inspired of God.

    The distinction you make between the entire constitution and “laws that are Constitutional” is an important one, and one that is, I think, often lost on our members.

    And I like your emphasis on the Bill of Rights. It’s interesting that so many of our members seem to have problems with the Bill of Rights (namely, completely free speech and separation of church and state), when it is the most important aspect for everyday people of the Constitution.

  5. Digging up an old thread but just found the site and have been reading through all day. Andrew, the term “Seperation of church and state” is so often misquoted and mis-used most people have no idea what (or where) it came from. It is NOT in the Constitution or Bill of Rights and does not mean that the Church and the State should in fact be completely separate. It was quoted to a church by Jefferson in a letter and the context was that the Government could not tell a church how to run things and that the Church cannot be the government (as was the case in most of Europe). It says nothing about any influence by the Church.
    http://www.usconstitution.net/jeffwall.html
    “Thomas Jefferson was a man of deep religious conviction – his conviction was that religion was a very personal matter, one which the government had no business getting involved in. He was vilified by his political opponents for his role in the passage of the 1786 Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom and for his criticism of such biblical truths as the Great Flood and the theological age of the Earth. As president, he discontinued the practice started by his predecessors George Washington and John Adams of proclaiming days of fasting and thanksgiving. He was a staunch believer in the separation of church and state.

    Jefferson wrote a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802 to answer a letter from them written in October 1801. A copy of the Danbury letter is available here. The Danbury Baptists were a religious minority in Connecticut, and they complained that in their state, the religious liberties they enjoyed were not seen as immutable rights, but as privileges granted by the legislature – as “favors granted.” Jefferson’s reply did not address their concerns about problems with state establishment of religion – only of establishment on the national level. The letter contains the phrase “wall of separation between church and state,” which led to the short-hand for the Establishment Clause that we use today: “Separation of church and state.”

    The letter was the subject of intense scrutiny by Jefferson, and he consulted a couple of New England politicians to assure that his words would not offend while still conveying his message: it was not the place of the Congress or the Executive to do anything that might be misconstrued as the establishment of religion.

    Note: The bracketed section in the second paragraph was been blocked off for deletion in the final draft of the letter sent to the Danbury Baptists, though it was not actually deleted in his draft of the letter. It is included here for completeness. Reflecting upon his knowledge that the letter was far from a mere personal correspondence, Jefferson deleted the block, he noted in the margin, to avoid offending members of his party in the eastern states.

    This is a transcript of the letter as stored online at the Library of Congress, and reflects Jefferson’s spelling and punctuation.”

  6. The important part is this…

    The Lord said, “According to the laws and constitution of the people, which I have suffered to be established

    “which I have suffered to be established”

    suffered definitions:

    to submit to or be forced to endure
    to put up with especially as inevitable or unavoidable
    to allow especially by reason of indifference
    to sustain loss or damage

    It is not God’s will that we live under the constitution and flag of the united states but rather under the banner and law of ZION. But God has allowed it, even suffered it to be so since his children would not come unto him fully. Just like the children of Israel who forsook the higher law to receive a carnal law, the gentiles forsook Zion for the Constitution of the USA. Yet since in this last dispensation ZION has not established, and time has elapsed, the children of Lehi – Lamanites will receive the blessings their fathers obtained for them through their diligent prayers and be given the knowlege and power to establish ZION with any gentiles that are left after the Lord brings his judgements upon them.

  7. I am a defender of the US constitution . I see a few misconceptions which have been taught by the enforced priestcraft we call public education (Alma 1:12).
    Yes very correct it is the principles of the Constitution which the Lord is justifying not the whole document. As you speak of constitutions and governments set this straight in your mind. No constitution, bill of rights or declaration or any government or man produced entity gave anybody any rights. At best men write down and proclaim that they have rights which others have no right to remove from them. The US Bill of Rights is a good example of that.
    Please do not fall into the false belief that the framers of the US constitution validated or approved of slavery. A right that has to be given by government edict is not a right. It is a license. A license is like we heard of those Catholic indulgences. It is permission given by the government to do something which otherwise is wrong to do or contrary to God’s law. It is obvious that no government anywhere has the right [they are just people and will be judged by God as such] to sanction conduct which would otherwise be evil. But the reality is that when a government says an activity can be engaged in if one has a license, the government has decreed that act unlawful.
    The constitution was written with the understanding that slavery was wrong and the only way to allow it o continue was to give a license to practice it for a set time after which the US Federal government through Congress could abolish it by passing an act. A right which can be voted away never was a right. Slavery was specifically designated as not a right. But rather was given a temporary stay of execution.
    And this brings up a very important question for those of you living in the USA. Is it evil to drive a car if you harm no one? Is is wrong to try and cure someone of a disease? Is it wrong to operate a business where you cut someone’s hair or give them a perm? It is evil to carry a gun for self defense? Then why do the governments of the states require licenses for these activities? Where I live they have many cars and many roads. Yet there is no requirement to have a license to drive. Are the drivers horrible and dangerous here? I have lived for years at a time in six of the various states in the USA. No the drivers here are about the same as in the US.

  8. I appreciated reading this. Well I read it a long time ago, but am commenting now. Back when I read it, I was able to clear up some confusion and bad feelings left from incorrect and idolatrous teachings.
    My mother in particular repeatedly reinforced an idea that had been hinted at over the course of my upbringing by some priesthood leaders. That idea was that the civil war was God’s punishment for having murdered the prophet. Like I said my mother went as far as to deny that the issue of slavery had anything to do with it. Now I am aware that slavery in reality probably had little to do with man’s reasons for the war. But it always bothered me while growing up to be told that God didn’t care much about the issue of slavery either. This article was sweet to soul, because among other things, it touches on the real reasons behind the constitution. “for the rights and protection of all flesh” Even if one’s statist idolatry should extend as deep as to claim that Africans did not not have full souls until the law of the land later gave them the vote, they would have to agree that they were at least flesh. “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.” (D&C 101: 77-80)
    Some even while claiming to have a sound understanding of the principles of liberty not only worship the works of man through the document of the constitution rather than worshiping God through upholding those principles outlined therein, but they also place Joseph Smith above other flesh.
    The claim that God allowed the bloody scenes of the civil war to come about as a punishment to the people solely for the murder of the prophet fails to take into account a few things. 1.) The blood of Joseph and Hyrum was not on everyone’s hands. A certain group of conspiring men worked to bring about the martyrdom. They would not have achieved success without the cooperation of close friends to Joseph. One of the actual groups implicit in carrying out the killings that day, the Carthage “Greys” have been compared in their motivation to the “Old South” (http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3945/is_200407/ai_n9408752/pg_12/) It was wealthy and powerful men who drove the actions against the mormons. If the civil war was only God’s punishment for the killing of his prophet why did it result in the deaths of so many parties which were not involved even indirectly in the crime?
    2.) The rejection of the prophet was upon the heads of the saints. For rejecting the principles God gave us through Joseph Smith the early saints were turned over to the buffetings of satan. So that should take care of that. Again why involve the rest of the nation and so many people, black and white, who had never even heard of The prophet.
    Okay so many white people did get a chance to hear of the prophet. And if the nation was guilty of rejecting him it would have been in the form of a vote. But General Smith never did get far in his campaigning due to the murder plot that ended his life. And if we are to correlate the civil war and the assassination of Joseph at all then we can not disconnect that judgment from the choice to continue slavery. In General Smith’s Views of the Power and Policy of the Government of the United States, Brother Joseph lays out his platform as threefold: Closure of prisons, Restoration of a national bank, and surprise, surprise…Liberation of slaves.
    This is a fascinating read I have pdf files of the original document if anyone is interested. I can’t recall where I downloaded it from in its entirety but it is out there if you want to look it up.

  9. Great insight! Thank you for the article.
    Since I discovered the idea of voluntary society, I’ve had a hard time understanding the meaning of these three passages relating to constitution. It was mainly due me supposing that any opinion voiced by the prophet from the Gen.Conf. pulpit is “official”. Once I suspended this paradigm, I was able to read the Scriptures with a more criticallly-minded approach, rather than relying on the interpretation of others.
    I entirely agree with this article. I can’t help but wonder why the Lord is so intentionally cryptic in His wording. Instead of calling it “the fundamental law”, He calls it “the constitutional law” as if it had anything to do with the US Constitution, thus confusing even the mind of president E.T.Benson, or “causing to stumble” as evidenced here:
    http://lds.org/ldsorg/v/index.jsp?hideNav=1&locale=0&sourceId=632e79356427b010VgnVCM1000004d82620a____&vgnextoid=2354fccf2b7db010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD
    I’m asking the Lord to give me the correct understanding of these passages.
    Why do we need to assume that in any of these passages the Lord had the document called the US Constitution or any parts thereof in mind? I think that the following two excerpts cause many to associate the passages with US Constitution:
    A. “According to the laws and constitution of the people, which I have suffered to be established, and should be maintained for the rights and protection of all flesh” and
    B.”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”
    The use of the word “establish”, the capitalized “Constitution” as well as mention of “wise men” all combine to hint in the minds of some at the US Constitution and the Founding Fathers.
    But my line of reasoning is this: to establish means to reach a stage where something is no longer shaky but firm.
    The US Constitution on the whole doesn’t establish just principles but rather undermines them by Article 1 section 8 and the very fact that it was forced upon people who didnt necessarily consent to be subjected to taxation, imposts, duties etc.
    To establish just principles using “wise men” means to use those men to influence the minds of those around them with the ideas of liberty for an extended period of time until the point was reached when the Lord can proclaim that those principles are established.
    Thus, those “wise men” mentioned are not exclusively the signatories of the Declaration of Independence and/or Constitution but they comprise all valiant folks who influenced by their word and/or writing the people of America.
    Any thoughts are appreciated.
    Cheers.

  10. Today, as I was reading Lysander Spooner’s essay “The Unconstitutionality of Slavery”, I stumbled upon a paragraph which reminded me of this thread.
    Spooner maintains that there is a difference between “constitutional law” and “written constitution”. I cannot help but be convinced that the Lord had this distinction in mind.
    The quote (page 14):
    …constitutional law, under any form of government, consists only of those principles of the written constitution, that are consistent with natural law, and man’s natural rights [‘original grant’]; and that any other principles, that may be expressed by the letter of any constitution, are void and not law…
    This is another proof that “constitutional law” and “US constitution” are two separate notions.

  11. I like that.

  12. Well said. I appreciate the clarification and perspective in this post. Excellent!

  13. Dear LDSA, I would like to submit this article to ldsliberty.org with minor redaction (omitting the references to anarchy – I don’t want to give them meat yet). Also I don’t want to mention the author (and his website, for the same reason). I know you don’t mind, but is there any new insights you picked up over the last year, you’d like to share before I go ahead?

  14. Be my guest. My mind has been focussed in other areas of the gospel during the last year, so I haven’t gotten any new insights into this post’s topic.

  15. […] left. You whorish workers of inequity appealed to our desire for community with the concept of “We The People” but we now realize that “w – e” were divided by the wHORe in the first place. A whore is […]

  16. I have a question to pose to anyone who would care to answer it:

    There is a recent post over at Wheat and Tares that quotes D&C 98:4-10.

    And now, verily I say unto you concerning the laws of the land, it is my will that my people should observe to do all things whatsoever I command them.

    And that law of the land which is constitutional, supporting that principle of freedom in maintaining rights and privileges, belongs to all mankind, and is justifiable before me.

    Therefore, I, the Lord, justify you, and your brethren of my church, in befriending that law which is the constitutional law of the land;

    And as pertaining to law of man, whatsoever is more or less than this, cometh of evil.

    I, the Lord God, make you free, therefore ye are free indeed; and the law also maketh you free.

    Nevertheless, when the wicked rule the people mourn.

    Wherefore, honest men and wise men should be sought for diligently, and good men and wise men ye should observe to uphold; otherwise whatsoever is less than these cometh of evil.

    (Btw, since my post above mentions D&C 98:5-7, I’m putting this question here.)

    Now, my question concerns the latter part of this scripture, which says:

    i | the lord god | make you free | therefore | ye are free indeed |

    and the law also maketh you free | nevertheless | when the wicked rule | the people mourn | wherefore | honest men | and wise men | should be sought for diligently | and good men | and wise men | ye should observe to uphold | otherwise | whatsoever is less than these | cometh of evil |

    Everybody in the church believes that when the Lord says that “honest men and wise men should be sought for diligently and good men and wise men ye should observe to uphold,” that He is talking of voting in political elections. My question is:

    Is this the only way to interpret this scripture?

    I ask because I came up with an interpretation that really goes against the grain.

  17. I’ve always thought that:

    nevertheless
    when the wicked rule
    the people mourn

    worked for both state and church rulers. Meaning — a man or woman who has entered into the gospel has been made free. With that freedom, we are free to organize churches, affiliations, organizations, etc. that have “rulership” status.

    The point of the “nevertheless” is to say that even though the gospel has made a man or a woman free — setting up leadership hierarchies with wicked men ruling them will bring those same people back out of freedom, and into bondage [making them mourn].

    wherefore

    meaning, what follows is explained by the fact that when wicked men rule, the people mourn …

    honest men and wise men
    should be sought for
    diligently
    and good men and wise men
    ye should observe to uphold
    otherwise
    whatsoever is less than these
    cometh of evil

    if I applied this to the state [instead of just the church] — then it would definitely convince me not to vote in pretty much every election that’s taking place this year.

    Because there isn’t one honest and wise candidate who has been diligently sought after by the LDS people that I would be able to uphold with my vote.

    Even if there was an honest and wise statist running for an office — if he or she sought after the candidacy by their own will and volition [meaning they weren’t sought after by the LDS people], then they are “less than these” and “come of evil”.

  18. That works just fine, too.

  19. Curiosity got the better of me and so I broke apart section 98 into its component phrases to see what kind of flow would appear. I put it online here. As far as I could tell, there appear to be nine groupings in the text. They are the following:

    1. verse 1 to verse 3
    2. verse 4 to verse 7
    3. verse 8 to verse 17
    4. verse 18
    5. verse 19 to verse 22
    6. verse 23 to verse 27
    7. verse 28 to verse 32
    8. verse 33 to verse 38
    9. verse 39 to the end (verse 48)

    The whole revelation seems encapsulated by group 1 and group 4, namely, that we are not to fear or worry, all will be alright, just keep the Lord’s sayings and He’ll take care of us, even if we die. That seems to be the theme of the revelation.

    The only part of the revelation that seems to me to be directed at the laws of men is group 2. The rest of the revelation concerns the laws of the Lord and encouraging the people to observe them.

    Perhaps I will put all this into a post, along with Justin’s words above. It might be a timely post considering the election that is coming up.

  20. Okay, taking a second look at D&C 98, I noticed two voices in the revelation. So, I’ve colored one of the voices red and the other black and made appropriate indentations to more easily show the voice switch. Also, I’ve re-ordered the groups, so that they are now the following:

    1. DAC 98:1 or D&C 98:1-3
    2. DAC 98:2 or D&C 98:4-7
    3. DAC 98:3 or D&C 98:8-18
    4. DAC 98:4 or D&C 98:19-21
    5. DAC 98:5 or D&C 98:22
    6. DAC 98:6 or D&C 98:23-27
    7. DAC 98:7 or D&C 98:28-32
    8. DAC 98:8 or D&C 98:33-38
    9. DAC 98:9 or D&C 98:39-48

    I wonder how many other revelations of Joseph Smith manifest two voices? Btw, I’ll probably end up changing the red to some other color. Red is kind of hard on the eyes.

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