A Standard of Freedom for This Dispensation


An appreciative view of the U. S. Constitution in its 200th anniversary year.

It was the Master himself—in two 1833 revelations to the Prophet Joseph Smith—who spoke of the “principle of freedom” in these last days and related it to the U. S. Constitution:

“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 the 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.” (D&C 98:4–9.)

In 1833, Latter-day Saints in Missouri were mourning as a consequence of serious persecution and the clear denial of their constitutional rights. Even so, the Lord continued to teach his Prophet and his people how they were to respond in such circumstances. In doing so, he also made it clear that he himself influenced the establishment of the U. S. Constitution:

“And again I say unto you, those who have been scattered by their enemies, it is my will that they should continue to importune for redress, and redemption, by the hands of those who are placed as rulers and are in authority over you—

“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 101:76–80.)

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the establishment of the U. S. Constitution in Philadelphia in 1787. The Constitution marked one more step in a long line of steps that preluded the gospel’s restoration through the Prophet Joseph Smith.

Latter-day Saints have long studied the record of Nephi’s 2,500-year-old vision of events yet future to him—Columbus’s inspired discovery of a new land, colonization of that new land, and then the war for liberty that would establish a climate of religious freedom in the land so that the Lord’s word could go from there to all nations, kindreds, tongues, and peoples. (See 1 Ne. 13.)

At the appointed time, “wise men” were raised up to establish a governmental plan for the new land, a plan “justifiable” before the Lord so that “moral agency” could prevail and every man could “be accountable for his own sins in the day of judgment.” Thus was raised the standard of freedom for this dispensation—the U. S. Constitution.

Little-noticed has been the prophetic imagery used by the Prophet Joseph Smith to describe the spirit of constitutionalism that the U. S. Constitution would inspire among mankind: “It is like a great tree under whose branches men from every clime can be shielded from the burning rays of the sun.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1976, p. 147.)

For men of every clime? Yes, this is yet one more of the seemingly unending array of fulfilled prophecies that flowed from the Prophet Joseph Smith. Today, two hundred years after the establishment of the U. S. Constitution, one of the nation’s preeminent constitutional scholars can write that “the United States Constitution is the nation’s most important export … [and that] just by being first, the United States Constitution has inevitably been an influence for constitutionalism. Every nation that has a one-document constitution (or is committed in principle to having one) is inevitably following the United States precedent-model. And that applies to all but six countries.” (See complete text below.)

Several latter-day prophets of God have declared that this great tree of constitutional law is one of the meanings of what Isaiah (Isa. 2:2–3) and Micah (Micah 4:1–2) meant when they prophesied that in the “last days … out of Zion shall go forth the law.” (See President Harold B. Lee, below, quoting President George Albert Smith.) Zion, the Lord revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith, was the new world that had been reserved for prophetic purposes in the last days. (See Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 231–32.)

Why should a branching of legal and governmental systems protecting individual freedom and rights be necessary in the last days? How else could the gospel go forth to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people unless laws were such that men and women could be free to accept the restored gospel from the Lord’s authorized servants? In this context, it is clear why nations—all in their appointed season—are guided by the Lord to establish “rights and privileges” for their citizens so that the Lord may offer the gospel to those who would receive it. This opportunity, the Lord has said, eventually “belongs to all mankind.” The worldwide spread of these “rights and privileges” flows at a speed appropriate to the Lord’s purposes. It is as was said by Benjamin Franklin, one of the founders of the U. S. Constitution: “The longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth—that God governs in the affairs of men.” (Catherine Drinker Bowen, Miracle at Philadelphia, Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1986, p. 126.)

Clearly, the Lord’s designs continue to unfold. His marvelous latter-day work moves inexorably onward to fulfill its prophetic destiny. In this light, it is fitting that we focus on the “law” that the Lord has given “out of Zion” for latter-day mankind.

Such attention is not to be interpreted as Latter-day Saint endorsement of particular U. S. government leaders, their actions, or causes, or to suggest that there exists in the eyes of the Church greater value for U. S. society and people than for any other society and people; neither is it to suggest that Latter-day Saints are hereby encouraged not to sustain the governments in their own lands. The Twelfth Article of Faith is still in force until the Lord comes to reign on earth: “We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.” This principle holds true in whatever circumstances we latter-day people of the Lord find ourselves.

But Latter-day Saints everywhere can profitably reflect on the following statements of appreciation, insight, and counsel relative to the significance of the U. S. Constitution and the many others around the world that have been patterned after its principles.

From the Prophets of the Lord

The Prophet Joseph Smith:

“I am the greatest advocate of the Constitution of the United States there is on the earth.” (History of the Church, 6:56–57.)

“We say, that the Constitution of the United States is a glorious standard; it is founded in the wisdom of God. It is a heavenly banner; it is to all those who are privileged with the sweets of liberty, like the cooling shades and refreshing waters of a great rock in a thirsty and weary land. It is like a great tree under whose branches men from every clime can be shielded from the burning rays of the sun.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1938, p. 147.)

President Brigham Young:

“We believe that the Lord has been preparing that when he should bring forth his work, that, when the set time should fully come, there might be a place upon his footstool where sufficient liberty of conscience should exist, that his Saints might dwell in peace under the broad panoply of constitutional law and equal rights. In this view we consider that the men in the Revolution were inspired by the Almighty, to throw off the shackles of the mother government, with her established religion. For this cause were Adams, Jefferson, Franklin, Washington, and a host of others inspired to deeds of resistance to the acts of the King of Great Britain, who might also have been led to those aggressive acts, for aught we know, to bring to pass the purposes of God, in thus establishing a new government upon a principle of greater freedom, a basis of self-government allowing the free exercise of religious worship.” (Discourses of Brigham Young, sel. John A. Widtsoe, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1954, pp. 359–60.)

President John Taylor:

“It is true that the founders of this nation, as a preliminary step for the introduction of more correct principles and that liberty and the rights of man might be recognized, and that all men might become equal before the law of the land, had that great palladium of liberty, the Constitution of the United States, framed. This was the entering wedge for the introduction of a new era, and in it were introduced principles for the birth and organization of a new world.” (The Gospel Kingdom, sel. G. Homer Durham, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1943, p. 309.)

President Wilford Woodruff:

“As far as constitutional liberty is concerned, I will say, the God of heaven has raised up our nation, as foretold by his prophets generations ago. He inspired Columbus, and moved upon him to cross the ocean in search of this continent. … It is also well known how our forefathers found a home and an asylum in this land from the hand of persecution, and how they planted here the tree of liberty and jealously guarded it from the attempt of the mother country to uproot and destroy it. The hand of God was in this; and it is through the intervention of his providence that we enjoy today the freest and most independent government the world ever saw. And what was the object of this? It was to prepare the way for the building up of the kingdom of God in this the last dispensation of the fulness of times; and as long as the principles of constitutional liberty shall be maintained upon this land, blessings will attend the nation.” (The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, sel. G. Homer Durham, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1946, 51:801, pp. 188–89.)

President Lorenzo Snow:

“We trace the hand of the Almighty in framing the constitution of our land, and believe that the Lord raised up men purposely for the accomplishment of this object, raised them up and inspired them to frame the Constitution of the United States.” (The Teachings of Lorenzo Snow, comp. Clyde J. Williams, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1984, p. 192.)

President Joseph F. Smith:

“I hope with all my soul that the members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will be loyal in their very hearts and souls, to the principles of the Constitution of our country. From them we have derived the liberty that we enjoy. They have been the means of guaranteeing to the foreigner that has come within our gates, and to the native born, and to all the citizens of this country, the freedom and liberty that we possess. We cannot go back upon such principles as these.” (In Conference Report, Oct. 1912, p. 8.)

President Heber J. Grant:

“I counsel you, I urge you, I plead with you, never, so far as you have voice or influence, permit any departure from the principles of government on which this nation was founded, or any disregard of the freedoms which, by the inspiration of God our Father, were written into the Constitution of the United States.” (In Conference Report, Oct. 1944, p. 12.)

President George Albert Smith:

“Our Heavenly Father raised up the very men that framed the Constitution of the United States. He said He did. He gave to us the greatest Palladian of human rights that the world knows anything about, the only system whereby people could worship God according to the dictates of their consciences without, in any way, being molested when the law, itself, was in effect. Now that is what the Lord gave to us. That is the Constitution of this country. Yet, we have people who would like to change that and bring some of those forms of government that have failed absolutely to make peace and happiness and comfort any other place in the world, and exchange what God has given to us—the fullness of the earth and the riches of liberty and happiness. Yet, there are those who go around whispering and talking and saying, “Let us change this thing.” I am saying to you that to me the Constitution of the United States of America is just as much from my Heavenly Father as the Ten Commandments. When that is my feeling, I am not going to go very far away from the Constitution.” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1948, p. 182.)

President David O. McKay:

“Next to being one in worshiping God there is nothing in this world upon which this Church should be more united than in upholding and defending the Constitution of the United States.” (In Conference Report, Oct. 1939, p. 105.)

President Joseph Fielding Smith:

“It is the right of every soul to have equal and unrestricted justice before the law, equal rights to worship according to the dictates of conscience and to labor according to his individual inclinations, independently of coercion or compulsion. That this might be, the Lord has said, ‘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 101:80].” (Doctrines of Salvation, 3 vols., Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1956, 3:325.)

President Harold B. Lee:

“I have often wondered what the expression meant, that out of Zion shall go forth the law. Years ago I went with the brethren to the Idaho Falls Temple, and I heard in that inspired prayer of the First Presidency a definition of the meaning of the term ‘out of Zion shall go forth the law.’ Note what they said: ‘We thank thee that thou has revealed to us that those who gave us our constitutional form of government were men wise in thy sight and that thou didst raise them up for the very purpose of putting forth that sacred document [the Constitution of the United States—see D&C 101:80] …

“‘We pray that kings and rulers and the peoples of all nations under heaven may be persuaded of the blessings enjoyed by the people of this land by reason of their freedom under thy guidance and be constrained to adopt similar governmental systems, thus to fulfil the ancient prophecy of Isaiah that “out of Zion shall go forth the law and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.”’” (Ensign, Nov. 1971, p. 15; First Presidency quotation from Improvement Era, Oct. 1945, p. 564.)

President Spencer W. Kimball:

“The Mormon people who are citizens of [the United States of America] today are intensely loyal to its Constitution and desire in every way to promote the God-given freedoms it was designed to protect. They have had experience with the tragedy that results when those freedoms are not protected, but this only feeds their determination to do all within their power to protect these freedoms, both for themselves and others, everywhere.” (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, ed. Edward L. Kimball, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982, p. 405.)

President Ezra Taft Benson:

“I am grateful for the Constitution of this land. I am grateful that the Founding Fathers made it clear that our allegiance runs to that Constitution and the glorious eternal principles embodied therein. Our allegiance does not run to any man, to a king, or a dictator, or a president, although we revere and honor those whom we elect to high office. Our allegiance runs to the Constitution and to the principles embodied therein. …

“I am grateful that the God of heaven saw fit to put his stamp of approval upon the Constitution and to indicate that it had come into being through wise men whom he raised up unto this very purpose.” (In Conference Report, Oct. 1954, pp. 119–20.)

From Those Who Helped Create the Constitution

George Washington (1732–99), chairman of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 and subsequent first president of the United States:

“No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than the people of the United States. Every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency; and, in the important revolution just accomplished in the system of their united government the tranquil deliberation and voluntary consent of so many distinct communities from which the event has resulted cannot be compared with the means by which most governments have been established without some return of pious gratitude, along with an humble anticipation of the future blessings which the past seem to presage.” (From first inaugural address, 30 April 1789, New York City.)

James Madison, Jr. (1751–1836), fourth president of the United States, sometimes referred to as the “father of the Constitution”:

“It is impossible for the man of pious reflection not to perceive in [the Constitution] a finger of that Almighty hand which has been so frequently and signally extended to our relief in the critical stages of the revolution.” (The Federalist, ed. Henry Cabot Lodge, New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1983, no. 37, p. 222.)

Benjamin Franklin (1706–90), member of the Constitutional Convention of 1787:

“I agree to this Constitution with all its faults, if they are such; because I think a general Government necessary for us, and there is no form of Government but what may be a blessing to the people if well administered, and believe further that this is likely to be well administered for a course of years, and can only end in Despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic Government, being incapable of any other. I doubt too whether any other Convention we can obtain, may be able to make a better Constitution. For when you assemble a number of men to have the advantage of their joint wisdom, you inevitably assemble with those men all their prejudices, their passions, their errors of opinion, their local interests, and their selfish views. From such an Assembly can a perfect production be expected? It therefore astonishes me, Sir, approaching so near to perfection as it does; and I think it will astonish our enemies.” (Documentary History of the Constitution of the United States of America, 1786–1870, 5 vols., Washington, D.C.: Department of State, 1894, 2:762.)

From Others—Historians, Statesmen, and Non-U. S. Observers

William Pitt (1759–1806), British Prime Minister:

“The American Constitution] will be the wonder and admiration of all future generations, and the model of all future constitutions.” (Quoted in Harry Atwood, Our Republic, Merrimac, Mass.: Destiny Publishers, 1974, p. 62.)

William E. Gladstone (1809–98), British Prime Minister:

“The American Constitution is the most wonderful work ever struck off at a given time by the brain and purpose of man. It has had a century of trial, under the pressure of exigencies caused by an expansion unparalleled in point of rapidity and range, and its exemption from formal change, though not entire, has certainly proved the sagacity of the constructors and the stubborn strength of the fabric.” (In “Kin Beyond Sea,” North American Review, Sept.–Oct. 1878, p. 185–86.)

Alexis de Tocqueville (1805–59), French statesman:

“The principles on which the American constitutions rest—those principles of order, of the balance of powers, of true liberty, of deep and sincere respect for right—are indispensable to all republics; they ought to be common to all.” (Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 2 vols., Boston: John Allyn, 1876, 1:xviii.)

Sir John A. Macdonald (1815–91), first Prime Minister of Canada:

“I think and believe that [the U. S. Constitution] is one of the most skillful works which human intelligence ever created; [it] is one of the most perfect organizations that ever governed a free people.” (Parliamentary Debates on the Subject of the Confederation of the British North American Provinces, 3d session, Eighth Provincial Parliament of Canada, Quebec: Hunter, Rose and Co., 1865, p. 32.)

Sir Henry Maine (1822–88), English jurist and governmental historian:

“The Constitution of the United States of America is much the most important political instrument of modern times.” (Popular Government, Indianapolis, Ind.: Liberty Classics, 1976, p. 199.)

Lord Acton (1834–1902), English historian:

“Europe seemed incapable of becoming the home of free States. It was from America that the plain ideas that men ought to mind their own business, and that the nation is responsible to Heaven for the acts of State—ideas long locked in the breasts of solitary thinkers, and hidden among Latin folios,—burst forth like a conqueror upon the world they were destined to transform, under the title of the Rights of Man.” (F. A. Hayek, The Constitution of Liberty, Chicago: Henry Regnery Co., 1960, p. 176.)

Albert P. Blaustein, internationally-known scholar of the U. S. Constitution and professor of law, Rutgers—The State University School of Law:

“The United States Constitution is the nation’s most important export. It was meant to be; it has been since even before its promulgation; and it continues to be. It could not help but be …

“From the earliest days of the American revolutionary movement, its leaders were conscious that they were doing something of world-wide significance. They had convinced themselves that they were creating a new Eden, not only for America but for all of mankind. …”

“‘Until the time of the American and French Revolutions,’ explains Professor K. C. Wheare, ‘A selection or collection of fundamental principles was not usually called “the Constitution.” The Americans in 1787 declared: “We the people of the United States … do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” Since that time the practice of having a written document containing the principles of government organization has become well established and “Constitution” has come to have this meaning.’

“Thus, just by being first, the United States Constitution has inevitably been an influence for constitutionalism. Every nation that has a one-document constitution (or is committed in principle to having one) is inevitably following the United States precedent-model. And that applies to all but six countries.” (Personal papers, 1984, published in edited form in National Forum, Fall 1984, p. 14.)

John Quincy Adams (1767–1848), sixth president of the United States and son of the second president, John Adams, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. This excerpt, permeated with prophetic scriptural imagery, is from an address given 30 April 1839 titled “The Jubilee of the Constitution”:

“When the children of Israel, after forty years of wanderings in the wilderness, were about to enter upon the promised land, their leader, Moses, who was not permitted to cross the Jordan with them, just before his removal from among them, commanded that when the Lord their God should have brought them into the land, they should put the curse upon Mount Ebal, and the blessing upon Mount Gerizim. This injunction was faithfully fulfilled by his successor Joshua. Immediately after they had taken possession of the land Joshua built an altar to the Lord, of whole stone, upon Mount Ebal. And there he wrote upon the stones a copy of the law of Moses, which he had written in the presence of the children of Israel: and all Israel, and their elders and officers, and their judges, stood on the two sides of the ark of the covenant, borne by the priests and Levites, six tribes over against Mount Gerizim, and six over against Mount Ebal. And he read all the words of the law, the blessings and cursings, according to all that was written in the book of the law.

“Fellow-citizens, the ark of your covenant is the Declaration of Independence. Your Mount Ebal, is the confederacy of separate state sovereignties [the first form of U. S. government created after the Declaration of Independence but prior to the creation of the Constitution; a form that was soon discovered to be weak and inadequate], and your Mount Gerizim is the Constitution of the United States. In that scene of tremendous and awful solemnity, narrated in the Holy Scriptures, there is not a curse pronounced against the people, upon Mount Ebal, not a blessing promised them upon Mount Gerizim, which your posterity may not suffer or enjoy, from your and their adherence to, or departure from, the principles of the Declaration of Independence, practically interwoven in the Constitution of the United States. Lay up these principles, then, in your hearts, and in your souls—bind them for signs upon your hands, that they may be as frontlets between your eyes—teach them to your children, speaking of them when sitting in your houses, when walking by the way, when lying down and when rising up—write them upon the doorplates of your houses, and upon your gates—cling to them as to the issues of life—adhere to them as to the cords of your eternal salvation. So may your children’s children at the next return of this day of jubilee, after a full century of experience under your national Constitution, celebrate it again in the full enjoyment of all the blessings recognized by you in the commemoration of this day, and of all the blessings promised to the children of Israel upon Mount Gerizim, as the reward of obedience to the law of God.” (John Quincy Adams, “The Jubilee of the Constitution,” an address delivered at the fiftieth anniversary of the inauguration of George Washington, 30 Apr. 1839.)

[illustration] George Washington. (The Bettmann Archive.)

[illustration] James Madison, Jr. (The Bettmann Archive.)

[illustration] Benjamin Franklin. (The Bettman Archive.)

[photo] The Prophet Joseph Smith

[photo] William E. Gladstone. (Illustrated by Paul Mann.)

[photo] President Wilford Woodruff

[photo] Sir John A. Macdonald. (The Bettmann Archive.)

[photo] Lord Acton. (The Bettmann Archive.)

[photo] President Ezra Taft Benson

[photo] John Quincy Adams. (The Bettmann Archive.)