Will the Constitution be Destroyed? Part I

Part 1: What is a Constitution?

Woven throughout Latter-day Saint doctrine is a tapestry of beliefs concerning the United States Constitution and the destiny of the Elders of Israel who will step forward to save it from its seemingly imminent destruction. There appears little consistency and homogeneity among the membership of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, however, concerning exactly how the Constitution will “hang by a thread,” and how the Elders of Israel will step forward to save it. This article, to best address these issues, is written in three segments: (1) What is a Constitution?, (2) How will the Constitution “hang by a thread?,” and (3) How will the Elders of Israel save it from its destruction?

What is a Constitution?

In its most basic form, a constitution is a declaration or decree of a sovereign individual delegating certain duties, forms, and functions in creating a limited government. In the case of a Constitutional Republic, the people are the individual sovereigns that stand as the principal and natural agents to constitute a government that reflects certain natural rights.

Is it possible for a people to recognize the transition from the state of nature to a constitutional system that defines, forms, and structures a specifically limited government? Using the United States of America as an example, Thomas Paine explains in chapter 4, “Of Constitutions,” of The Rights of Man that America was given a unique opportunity to cognitively see this transition. He wrote,

“In viewing this subject, the case and circumstances of America present themselves as in the beginning of a world; and our inquiry into the origin of government is shortened, by referring to the facts that have arisen in our own day. We have no occasion to roam for information into the obscure field of antiquity, nor hazard ourselves upon conjecture. We are brought at once to the point of seeing government begin, as if we had lived in the beginning of time. The real volume, not of history, but of facts, is directly before us, unmutilated by contrivance, or the errors of tradition.” (Paine 285)

There was no error or misguided notion in the Founders’ minds concerning what they were creating, for the Founders knew,

“That men mean distinct and separate things when they speak of constitutions and of governments, is evident; or, why are those terms distinctly and separately used? A constitution is not the act of a government, but of a people constituting a government; and government without a constitution, is power without a right.

All power exercised over a nation, must have some beginning. It must be either delegated, or assumed. There are no other sources. All delegated power is trust, and all assumed power is usurpation. Time does not alter the nature and quality of either.” (Paine 285)

A constitution is not the government or an act of the government, but is the declaration or decree of the people in constituting a specifically limited government. In other words, all delegated power to government comes as a reflection from the natural rights of the people. A constitution delegates (never abdicates) certain “duties” for government to perform, and the people may retain these duties to themselves at their will; however, “sedition and rebellion are unbecoming every citizen thus protected” in “their inherent and inalienable rights” (D&C 134:5). Any action by said government outside these specific enumerated duties constitutes usurpation and tyranny. In short, a constitution is a declaration of the people telling the government what it can do; it is not a declaration of the government telling the people what they can do.

“There is no such thing as the idea of a compact between the people on one side, and the government on the other. The compact was that of the people with each other, to produce and constitute a government. To suppose that any government can be a party in a compact with the whole people, is to suppose it to have existence before it can have a right to exist. The only instance in which a compact can take place between the people and those who exercise the government, is, that the people shall pay them, while they choose to employ them.

Government is not a trade which any man or body of men has a right to set up and exercise for his own emolument, but is altogether a trust, in right of those by whom that trust is delegated, and by whom it is always resumable. It has of itself no rights, they are altogether duties.” (Paine 288-289)

A government is a fabricated entity and has no inherent rights, for government only has enumerated duties that reflect the natural rights of the individual and principal sovereign. A constitutional government can only act in those specifically enumerated duties as explicitly granted to it in the constitution. Whatever duty is not delegated to government is reserved to the people individually or to their respective states. To solidify this principle, the Founders included the 9th and 10th Amendments in the Constitution to fully clarify the issue:

(9) The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

(10) The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

A government cannot contract with the people, because this presupposes that a government is an entity separate from the people and not a reflection of the natural rights of the individual. All duties granted to a government are delegated and are always resumable. Bruce R. McConkie spoke of this principle of constitutional government when he wrote,

“The government has no rights; it has duties only. It is ordained to serve the people. The Constitution contains the written instructions of the sovereign people to their chosen servants.” (McConkie 159)

Samuel Adams spoke of this same principle when he declared in The Rights of the Colonists that man can stay within the state of nature – in absolute liberty and freedom – for as long as he wills, and that he can – according to his will – depart from the state of nature into organized government. Many argue that a departure from the state of nature necessarily presupposes that man “gives up” certain liberties and freedom to maximize other interests, but this concept is fundamentally flawed. The reason for coming out of a state of nature is for the stated purpose of securing the individual in his natural rights. Samuel Adams declared,

“It is the greatest absurdity to suppose it in the power of one, or any number of men, at the entering into society, to renounce their essential natural rights, or the means of preserving those rights; when the grand end of civil government, from the very nature of its institution, is for the support, protection, and defense of those very rights; the principal of which, as is before observed, are Life, Liberty, and Property.”

By constituting a government, the individual principal and sovereign never “gives up” his natural rights. Man only enters society for the purpose of securing these rights. What then is the individual seeking protection from? The answer is three-fold: (1) from other individuals or minorities, (2) from the onslaught of the majority (majoritarianism), and (3) from the government itself. A Constitutional Republic, in this case, must use natural law and natural rights as its basic foundation whereupon it secures the individual from the encroachment of these three dangers. Otherwise, if positive law – as established solely by the majority’s consent, and having no connection to a natural principle – is used as the basic foundation, then the individual is at the mercy of the majority and the second threat expressed here is left unaddressed.

It is the ultimate premise of a Constitutional Republic – as built on natural law – to declare that all natural rights come from our Creator. The Declaration of Independence declares,

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

In a Constitutional Republic built on natural law, it is impossible to renounce one’s natural rights, because these rights are endowed by the Creator and not through the individual, the majority, the government, or through any other source. As such, according to Samuel Adams,

“If men, through fear, fraud, or mistake, should in terms renounce or give up any essential natural right, the eternal law of reason and the grand end of society would absolutely vacate such renunciation. The right to freedom being the gift of God Almighty, it is not in the power of man to alienate this gift and voluntarily become a slave.”

A constitution is the manner in which a sovereign man establishes a system of government in reflection of his natural rights, for by creating government, man establishes an arbiter to judge in certain matters pertaining to life, liberty, and property. Samuel Adams concluded,

“In the state of nature every man is, under God, judge and sole judge of his own rights and of the injuries done him. By entering into society he agrees to an arbiter or indifferent judge between him and his neighbors; but he no more renounces his original right than by taking a cause out of the ordinary course of law, and leaving the decision to referees or indifferent arbitrators.”

Given the above, a bill or law is “unconstitutional” if it violates the natural rights of the individual, because when a man-made law (i.e. a positive law) no longer reflects a natural principle, law, or right, it is, as Thomas Paine stated, usurpatory and tyrannical. It matters not what process, vote count, or signature is placed to the law, if the positive law violates the individual’s natural rights then it is – by definition – unconstitutional.

Limits to a Constitutional Government

The government’s only tool to accomplish its duty is the use of coercion upon the criminal who violates a principal’s natural rights. While a constitutional government reflects the natural rights of the individual, a good and just government – because it can only fulfill its duty through force and coercion – is restricted to matters concerning the actual infringement of life, liberty, and property. Coercion can only be used against those who have proven themselves incapable of self-government, through violating the natural rights of another.

However, even within the infringement of life, liberty, and property, government does not have full reign to secure these rights through coercion. This is because coercion alone is inadequate to solve certain issues pertaining to the infringement of life, liberty, and property, for some violations of natural rights must be left to the moral self-government of the individual to maintain equal justice for all.

Conclusion

A constitution is a document or declaration of an individual constituting a government that can only reflect the natural rights of the individual. Any laws, rules, regulations, or statutes enacted by a constitutional government that violate the principal’s natural rights and “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” are, by definition, unconstitutional, usurpatory, and tyrannical.

Two principles of sound constitutional governments are addressed by Thomas Paine and Samuel Adams. While Thomas Paine points out that a constitutional government is an entity and a tool of the people and can never be separated from or made a master over them, Samuel Adams explains that no individual can – whether through “fear, fraud, or mistake” – give up his natural rights. These rights are a gift from God and are not within the power of man to renounce, vacate, or abandon. When Samuel Adams’ principle is applied to a constitutional government, then no enacted law, rule, regulation, statute, or amendment of the constitution or government can violate the rights of an individual through a majority’s consent – even if the individual is consciously willing to give up his own rights.

While it is government’s duty to secure life, liberty, and property, it does this through the establishment of justice by punishing the active infringement of life, liberty, and property. However, if by securing justice and one person’s natural rights the government necessarily infringes on another’s natural rights, then the government – as an arbiter – is powerless to act and the issue is left to the moral self-government of the parties involved, and their Creator.

Special thanks to my friend and colleague Christopher Hurtado for his editing prowess.

Works Cited

 

  • MacConkie, Bruce R. Mormon Doctrine. Salt Lake City, UT: Bookcraft, 1979. Print.
  • Paine, Thomas, Michael Foot, and Isaac Kramnick. Thomas Paine Reader. Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin, 1987. Print.

16 comments

  1. This paragraph is vague and presents an ambiguous exception to the principle that the rest of the article is trying to maintain:

    “However, even within the infringement of life, liberty, and property, government does not have full reign to secure these rights through coercion. This is because coercion alone is inadequate to solve certain issues pertaining to the infringement of life, liberty, and property, for some violations of natural rights must be left to the moral self-government of the individual to maintain equal justice for all.”

    Do you have an example of what you mean? What principle needs to be understood in order to reconcile this exception?

  2. “Any laws, rules, regulations, or statutes enacted by a constitutional government that violate the principal’s natural rights and “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” are”

    VOID!!!!!

    and we should not be obeying them. It is our right and our duty!!

  3. The government is an artifice, it has no life, it cannot breathe, eat, pick up a book. It is different from you and me. It cannot interact with flesh and blood men and women.

    Which is why they make us all corporations with the Social Security number.

    “Inasmuch as every government is an artificial person, an abstraction, and a creature of the mind only, a government can interface only with artificial persons. The imaginary, having neither actuality nor substance, is foreclosed from creating and attaining parity with the tangible. The legal manifestation of this is that no government, as well as any law, agency, aspect, court, etc. can concern itself with anything other than corporate, artificial persons and the contracts between them.” — S.C.R. 1795, Penhallow v Doane’s Administrators (3 U.S. 54; 1 L.Ed. 57; 3 Dall. 54), Supreme Court of the United States 1795

  4. Sorry if this is a duplicate but I don’t see that it posted previously and thought perhaps my session had timed out.
    This article is great because it answers a question I have long had. I am new to this site and I am liking what I hear very much. It always bothered me to hear in church that we believe in upholding and obeying the law….stated generically and without qualification. There is never an explanation of what is considered legitimate law. I always wondered if I would have been considered apostate for not obeying a law that I knew was totally wrong. For example “It is illegal to hide a Jew in your attic. All Jews must be reported immediately so they can be collected and transported to their nearest incineration center.”. That kind of thinking makes reason stare. Or would Daniel have been excommunicated for making the church look bad when he refused to bow to the Babylonian Idols or continued to pray in the open where all could see him in defiance of an unjust law? I have heard people answer that question (unsure themselves) that some members in Nazi Germany were excommunicated for refusing to obey and standing up against the Nazi’s. I did some looking into it and found that this was done at a low level without the appropriate authorization from the higher levels and therefore reversed as soon as the Brethren heard of it. If this is the case it supports the articles position and that when the light is shined upon the matter the Brethren will stand with liberty.
    BUT……. what would have happened if a member had stood against Saul and Kingship in ancient Israel. Could there not have been a person who would have sided with the Lord that a King should not have been setup and spent his time promoting liberty, the dissolution of the kingship and a return to the form of government that the Lord had setup? Wouldn’t a person who did this , while standing for correct principles, be considered apostate and potentially excommunicated? just some questions and I am curious what you guys think.

  5. @Dimitri, The 12th Article of Faith is a general statement of belief, not the last word concerning our duty towards government. Just as many people very easily find exceptions to “Thou shalt not kill,” there are exceptions to this article (see D&C section 134 and note the phrases “while protected in their inherent and inalienable rights” and “thus protected” in verse 5). For example:

    • Moses mother hid her son from authorities who would have killed him.
    • Moses defied the government of Pharaoh and freed Israel.
    • Moses killed the Egyptian taskmaster in defense of his fellow Hebrew.
    • David refused to surrender to Saul’s troops.
    • Elijah openly challenged Ahab and Jezebel.
    • Daniel prayed despite the law against it and was thrown in the lion’s den.
    • Shadrach Meshach and Abednego refused to obey the law to worship idols in Babylon and were thrown in the fiery furnace.
    • Nephi cut off the head of his government, Laban, so he could obtain the brass plates.
    • John the Baptist publicly excoriated King Herod for his infidelity.
    • Jesus shucked corn and healed on the Sabbath, and taught that people should not subject themselves any longer to the carnal commandments of the Law of Moses.
    • Peter and the other Apostles refused to stop preaching on the streets of Jerusalem.
    • Paul continued to preach when the civil authorities ordered him not to
    • The modern church defied the law against polygamy correctly holding that the law was unconstitutional.
    • The British subjects in America defied their own government and went to war with them.

    There are obviously times when it is not right to “obey the government”. I think it is between you and the Lord what you decide you will not follow. Bruce R. McConkie wrote a good chapter on this entitled “The Church and Civil Power” in his book A New Witness for the Articles of Faith

    Our Republic: The Church and Government – Sustaining Just Law

  6. Micah said “I think it is between you and the Lord what you decide you will not follow”

    I guess this statement just doesn’t quite ring true to me. It seems if we went by that standard there would be chaos in the church. With every man becoming “a law unto himself” and bring chaos in the name of what they felt God had told them was right. Some members have been deceived in the past for listening to the “wrong” sources of for their revelation. What I am looking for is a real standard to judge lawful from unlawful laws from a gospel perspective that removes my subjective prejudice to follow whatever benefits me most. I think on this site somewhere I read or heard on one of their podcasts that there is such a standard but that it is usually glossed over and not really delved into. If it was delved into and out in the open, perhaps many of the countries who let us in now because “we believe in being subject to kings, etc” might think twice about letting us in their borders to tell their people that only laws protecting their God given rights need be followed and all others should be resisted as duty wouldn’t go over so well. Maybe the brethren let that one sit to be examined by those who are looking but not shining a bright light on it. I mean if we preached this what government in Africa or South America or even Europe would allow to preach this gospel? Maybe its like when Abraham told the Egyptians that Sariah was his sister. Technically true(spiritually, and int eh gospel). But he didn’t volunteer or bring attention to the fact that she was also his wife because it would have gotten him killed.
    I just want a standard I can look at to be sure I am not overstepping my bounds or going down the wrong course.

  7. There are plenty of unlawful laws today. Can the acts of the legislature that violate the “Supreme Law of the Land”, much less the laws of God, be counted?

    If our laws are not in harmony with God’s, we are violating his laws. The unfortunate fact is that the righteous suffer with the wicked. Determining what laws are and are not evil is easy, determining when you will not stand to have your rights violated further is more difficult. It’s what the founders did.

    Nothing had ever stopped people from following the wrong spirit, people come in and out of the church all the time. For them it is chaos, but our decisions are always between us and the Lord. If you wind up making a foolish or evil choice, you will be accountable. If you wind up making a good choice because you are in tune with the spirit, you will be rewarded. I’m not sure what doesn’t ring true about that. I don’t think you should be afraid to seek revelation, that’s what we’ve been commanded to do.

    There will be no concrete standard that never deviates, except the true spirit of revelation as Christ said to Peter. God has commanded “Thou shalt not kill,” and at other times he has commanded “Thou shalt utterly destroy.”

    The standard to judge the world is by the teachings of the scriptures, the prophets and apostles.

    1. I wouldn’t make a statement as broad as your last sentence.
      The Standard for the truth is the word of the Lord and personal revelation.
      “The teachings of the prophets and apostles” is not a standard of truth but their personal opinions which may be erroneous.

    2. Thanks Micah I appreciate your points. I do believe that personal revelation is key and I am not afraid to seek or receive it. However I am painfully aware that my imperfections make me prone to rationalize or modify the word due to natural man instincts. I could pretend I am the exception to this but I know now that it would be folly to convince myself of this. I also want the Iron Rod to hold to when I may or may not be getting deceived. That’s why I am trying to find and seek out any revealed scripture or prophetic utterance about this topic so that I can weigh my impressions against the word of the Lord’s anointed. I find it a valuable check to keep myself from going down the wrong path.

      On the points about the apparent contradiction between “Thou shalt not kill” and “Thou shalt utterly destroy”. My understanding of this is that the Lord never really said “Thou shalt not kill” but that a correct translation of the Hebrew should have read “Thou shalt not murder”. That makes a big difference. To kill in self defense to protect yourself or your family in their inherent rights to life is not murder and is justified if absolutely necessary. However we must remember that the Lord (and whatever sanctioned structure of government he allows to enact judgment between defense and murder) decides who is guilty or guiltless(due process).

      When he ordered the Israelites to the wipe out the inhabitants of the land he made comments about their abominations and their guilt. I really believe that the Lord loves his children all equally and will not order such a fate for anyone lightly. For the Hebrews to enact the sentence he had decreed would hardly be the same as killing for gain or pride etc. Even when the Lord does the destruction himself he usually makes some kind of statement about their extreme wickedness or guilt. Anyway that’s what I understand about it. It is not a contradiction to me.
      Polygamy – the Lord explains in D&C that it is used occasionally at his discretion and not chosen or entered into of our own design. His purposes are his own and he is wiser than us. He prefers us to have one wife but will command exceptions in certain times for purposes that are his own. Bottom-line it is not our call it is his(Or the Lord’s anointed etc).

      1. I’ve enjoyed your comments as well. I understand wanting to harmonize your views with the prophets and being hesitant to trust your own revelation. That’s one of the reasons I put a website together collecting quotes about this topic. Maybe it will be helpful to you as well. I think the Lord expects us to do the best we can, and if we stumble or make a mistake, he holds out His arm of repentance and will be lenient if our intentions were good, but out judgment was faulty. I also believe when it is critical for us to receive revelation, and we have been living right, we will know what we should do.

        http://www.ourrepubliconline.com/OurRepublic/

        About killing and murder, I agree, but will say that Joseph Smith used that argument to make the same point about the necessity of revelation: “God said, ‘Thou shalt not kill;’ at another time He said, ‘Thou shalt utterly destroy.’ This is the principle on which the government of heaven is conducted–by revelation adapted to the circumstances in which the children of the kingdom are placed. Whatever God requires is right, no matter what it is, although we may not see the reason thereof till long after the events transpire.” (TPJS p. 256).

        The 12th Article of Faith must be reconciled with other scripture. If we repeat the 12th all the time at the neglect of other revealed word, we may get a skewed view of our duty.

        http://www.ourrepubliconline.com/OurRepublic/Article/15

        In my opinion the righteous will not have to fight (the blood spilling kind), but the secret combinations will turn on themselves and they will unleash horrors that kill millions (see John Taylor’s dream) and the government will collapse because Satan is fighting Satan, and the righteous will be in Zion and will be the only people that will not be at war.

    3. “Dallin H. Oaks explains: “Revelations from God . . . are not constant. We believe in continuing revelation, not continuous revelation. We are often left to work out problems without the dictation or specific direction of the Spirit.”[14] Thus the current prophet can clarify, correct or change any previous teachings.[15]

      However, once a doctrine has been accepted by the church by “common consent”, it becomes part of the Standard Works, and then takes precedence over any other revelation.[16] Members of the LDS church only consider themselves bound by doctrine found in the Standard Works.[17] Also, though it is not considered scripture, Latter-day Saints also believe the United States Constitution to be a divinely inspired document.”[18][19] [Wikipedia/Revelation (Latter Day Saints)/Inspired vs infallible]

      The standard works are the doctrine of the LDS Church. Other teachings are subject to critique and change by the leaders of the LDS Church. The Constitution of the United States is considered inspired, but not considered to be scripture.

  8. I agree, the standard is the living oracles.

    True, the church disobeyed the unconstitutional law for a time, but eventually President Woodruff was commanded to write the Manifesto, wherein he expressed to the government his intent, as the Leader of the Church, to submit to the law which had by then been upheld by the court of last resort to as constitutional, both in word, and indeed, by the raising of the endowment house and the reprimand of those still continuing the illegal practice without Church sanction.

    It is helpful to consider a distinction between a law and a commandment. A law may be taken to mean, “the way things are”; the commandment then would mean, “what we should do about it.”

    Defining the law is the legislative power of government, deciding what to do about it is our responsibility.

  9. Read how Captain Moroni deals with bad government in Alma, chapter 60. Also, the reference to D&C 134:5. “We believe that all men are bound to sustain and uphold the respective governments in which they reside, while protected in their inherent and inalienable rights by the laws of such governments; and that sedition and rebellion are unbecoming every citizen thus protected…”, the reference to avoid rebellion and sedition is conditional. It’s still a tough call which is why we must have the influence of the Holy Gost in our lives.

  10. To the author:
    this article constitutes a good attempt of defining “constitutiion”, yet have you consider what the Lord have said about it?
    DC109:54
    …may those principles, which were so honorably and nobly defended, namely, the Constitution of our land…
    Constitution is principles of justice. The right to life,liberty,property.
    US Constitution in not principles – it’s a document. So when the Lord speaks about Constitution He doesn’t necessarily refer to US Constitution but to principles of justice.

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