The Constitution to Hang by a Thread
"When the Constitution of the United States hangs,
as it were, upon a single thread,
they will have to call for the "Mormon" Elders
to save it from utter destruction;
and they will step forth and do it."
— Brigham Young
Much has been said in the "Mormon" Church about the statement the Prophet Joseph Smith was supposed to have made about the Constitution of the United States hanging by a thread and the subsequent salvation of it by the Elders of the Church. To the knowledge of this author, that particular statement cannot be verified. However, the following statement might be the one his successors may have alluded to:
"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. (Joseph Smith, July 19, 1840; Msd 155 Bx4, Joseph Smith, Church Historians Library.)
There are many remarks from Brigham Young, John Taylor, and other authorities concerning Joseph Smith’s statement about the Constitution hanging by a thread. It is not necessary, though, to refer to all of them to establish the fact that we have been warned by our living Prophets of the inevitability of the situation.
On a number of occasions, Brigham Young referred to Joseph Smith’s statement. One of them is given in the introductory quote of this chapter — another is quoted below. In this one he is rather emphatic:
Will the Constitution be destroyed? No: it will be held inviolate by this people; and, as Joseph Smith said, "The time will come when the destiny of the nation will hang upon a single thread. At that critical juncture, this people will step forth and save it from the threatened destruction." It will be so. (JD, 7:15.)
We know there has been some dispute over the validity, or at least, the exactness of the statement. Elder Orson Hyde, one of our earlier apostles, tried to make a clarifying statement on the issue when he said,
"It is said that brother Joseph in his lifetime declared that the Elders of this Church should step forth at a particular time when the Constitution should be in danger, and rescue it, and save it. This may be so; but I do not recollect that he said exactly so. I believe he said something like this — that the time would come when the Constitution and the country would be in danger of an overthrow; and said he, ‘If the Constitution be saved at all, it will be by the Elders of this Church.’ I believe this is about the language, as nearly as I can recollect it." (JD, 6:152.)
Our current Prophet, on numerous occasions, has also spoken of this statement. In that excellent speech on the Constitution given at Brigham Young University entitled, "The Constitution A Heavenly Banner," he said,
"We are fast approaching that moment prophesied by Joseph Smith when he said, ‘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.’
"I have faith that the Constitution will be saved as prophesied by Joseph Smith. But it will not be saved in Washington. It will be saved by the citizens of this nation who love and cherish freedom. It will be saved by enlightened members of this Church — men and women who will subscribe to and abide the principles of the Constitution." (CHB, pp. 28, 30-31.)
What Is the Thread?
We might ask ourselves, "How can the Elders of the Church save the Constitution from hanging by a thread if they do not know what that thread is?" Many in the Church have discussed it, but none (at least to this author’s knowledge) have identified it. There is an answer, however. And instead of looking for something mysterious, let us look at the most obvious. And that obvious answer to the question could be found from Ezra Taft Benson. In general conference, October 1966, he gives us an idea of what that thread might be when he said, "Yes, we all love the gospel. . . . We should all strive to live according to its precepts. But the basic thread running through the gospel plan is freedom, the right of choice, of the individual. The gospel can prosper only where there is freedom." (CR, October 1966, p. 124.)
Of course — FREEDOM! Now we have it! The Constitution is all about freedom, liberty, agency, and having a government that will secure to every man a free environment where he can exercise that God-given agency. That is what the war in heaven was all about and that is what the Revolutionary War was over. President Benson equates freedom with the gospel. And we shall find, as we continue studying the subject, that the gospel and freedom are inseparably connected.
Every clause of the Constitution and the first ten amendments, the "Bill of Rights," are all threads woven into the fabric of liberty. They are constructed so that the Constitution can provide the maximum strength and security for freedom that man can devise. And when those threads of "freedom" are severed, one by one, then that Constitution will have but little to hold it together.
We may not know precisely if the Prophet Joseph Smith made the exact statement he has so often been given credit for, but it doesn’t really matter. We have the sentiments of other authorities on the subject, and those we must also respect. As President David O. McKay once said, "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!" (The Instructor, 1957, 91:34.)
We asked ourselves a question about what the thread was and we discovered it was the principle of "freedom." Now maybe we can ask ourselves a few more questions — they are: "How can the Elders save the Constitution if they do not know what it stands for?" "How will they know what to save if they haven’t read it?" "How can they know if they are saving the right principles if they are supporting government philosophies that are contrary to it?"
Such question can be very sobering indeed. How can we uphold and defend that which we do not know and understand? Not only are we to help preserve this great document but we are to be "united" in so doing. Are we united?
Some members are willing to study the document and its principles while attending church, yet others of the Church reject the thought of discussing the Constitution in church meetings, saying it is a political issue — even though it has been preached, countless times, in general conference.
One may wonder if the Lord is pleased with that type of apathetic attitude concerning the sacred document which He caused to be established by wise men, and which prophets have testified of as divine.
In general conference, October 1987, President Benson expressed his testimony about the faithful who love and work to uphold the principles in the Constitution. He said, "I testify that the God of heaven sent some of His choicest spirits to lay the foundation of this government, and He has now sent other choice spirits to help preserve it." (General Conference, October 1987; Ensign, November 1987, p. 7.)
At this time, we might ask ourselves a couple more questions: "Where do we fit into this scenario?" And, "Do we measure up to God’s expectations of us in this matter of upholding and defending the Constitution?" In the next few chapters we will be examining this sacred document and our duty in relation to it.
"And I tell you further, Elders of Israel, that you do not know the day of your visitation, neither do you understand the signs of the times, for if you did you would be awake to these things. Every organization of our government, the best government in the world, is crumbling to pieces. Those who have it in their hands are the ones who are destroying it. How long will it be before the words of the prophet Joseph will be fulfilled? He said if the Constitution of the United States were saved at all it must be done by this people." (Brigham Young; JD, 12:204; see also JD, 2:182 and JD, 8:324.)
"God will have a free people, and while we have a duty to perform to preach the Gospel, we have another to perform, that is, to stand up in the defense of human rights — in the defense of our own rights, the rights of our children, and in defense of the rights of this nation and of all men, no matter who they may be, and God being our helper to maintain those principles and to lift up a standard for the honorable of this and other nations to flock to, that they may be free from the tyranny and oppression that is sought to be crowded upon them. This is a duty we have to perform, and in the name of Israel’s God we will do it. . . . And if other people trample upon the Constitution and pull it to pieces, we will gather together the pieces and rally around the old flag, or what is left of it, and proclaim liberty to the world, as Joseph Smith said we would." (John Taylor; JD, 23:239; see also JD, 20:357.)
"Now, I say if our rulers and governors become corrupt and attempt to trample those principles under their feet; though the nation itself might go to pieces, yet it is beyond the power of man to destroy the principles of the Constitution. They may destroy one another, yet the principles contained in that instrument will live, and the God of heaven will maintain them until Jesus Christ comes in the clouds of heaven to set up His throne in Jerusalem, and to reign on the earth a thousand years." (Wilford Woodruff; JD 22:346.)
"It is my conviction that the Elders of Israel, widely spread over the nation will, at the crucial time, successfully rally the righteous of our country and provide the necessary balance of strength to save the institutions of constitutional government." (Ezra Taft Benson; CR, October 1961, p.70; The American Heritage of Freedom - A Plan of God, p. 4.)
"When Justice is satisfied, and the blood of martyrs atoned for, the guardian angel of America will return to his station, resume his charge, and restore the Constitution of our country to the respect and veneration of the people; for it was given by the inspiration of our God." (Orson Hyde; JD, 6:369.)
"The only way for safety to the people of the government of the United States is to repent of their sins, turn away from all their iniquities, receive the Gospel of the Son of God and become citizens of that kingdom which is to endure for ever; then all the great and glorious principles incorporated in this great republic will be incorporated in the kingdom of God and be preserved. I mean the principles of civil and religious liberty, especially, and all other good principles that are contained in that great instrument framed by our forefathers will be incorporated in the kingdom of God; and only in this manner can all that is good in this and in foreign governments be preserved." (Orson Pratt; JD, 13:125-126.)
"I tell you that there are boys growing up in these mountains who have the principles of human liberty grounded deep in their hearts, and they will maintain them, not only for themselves, but for others. God speed the day, I say — if the nation pursues its downward course and tears up these fundamental principles of government which have made them strong — when the Constitution may be rescued and all men and women shall be free again." (Moses Thatcher; JD, 26:334-335.)