ballardcovenant coverClick to buy.“I do declare that I thought all London was afloat.”[1] So exclaimed one witness who, in August 1776, stood on the shores of New York harbor awaiting sure destruction. What the witness beheld was the largest naval fleet ever sent from one nation to another nation at that point in history. The British were coming to quash the American rebellion once and for all. They had already begun landing at Long Island, New York, just eastward across the river from New York City-George Washington’s headquarters.

What was America to do? Her cause was all but lost. Certainly General Washington, waiting in relative safety in New York City, would not walk into this British trap. Certainly he would not lead his men-his citizen-soldiers-eastward across the mile-wide East River, to meet the foe. Certainly he would not do this and trap himself on Long Island with this fearsome and lethal enemy. For the British not only outnumbered the Americans 2 to 1, and not only did the British overwhelm them in terms of skill and resources, but the Red Coats were en route to surround Long Island. Land troops rushed westward toward Washington, while state-of-the-art British war ships made their way up the East River.


And yet, inexplicably, Washington did just that. Virtually all of the Continental soldiers found themselves, at the behest of their leader, caught in the ultimate British trap. The Red Coats proceeded to brutalize the Americans at Long Island in the first major battle of the war. All the Americans could do was flee with all their might westward back toward the river in hopes of escaping back into the city. Caught! The British ships were already positioning themselves in the East River to cut off the evacuation.

At this point, it might have been said that George Washington was one of the silliest military commanders in history. Or perhaps there was something else. Perhaps George Washington was in possession of secret-a secret that would be responsible not only for liberating the Americans at Long Island, but for securing American independence and creating the greatest nation ever known to mankind.

Washington commanded a few of his soldiers to stoke the campfires and make the British believe the Americans were bedding down for the night. Confidently, the British went to bed knowing they would fully conquer the rebels-whom they called the “ramble in arms”-in the morning. In the meantime, Washington commanded his thousands of troops to prepare an evacuation across the river, using the cover of darkness.

As the British fleet raced to the scene at the river to crush any rebel evacuation attempt, a ferocious wind began pushing the British back down. A total of five ships carrying over seventy-two guns attempted-but failed-to advance up the river to cut off the Americans.[2] Washington would have a small window of opportunity to evacuate his troops from this would-be British trap. Though at first the same wind that disrupted the British was also obstructing the American effort to cross the river, a little after nine, the wind miraculously shifted to a westerly direction, facilitating the exodus with most favorable conditions.[3]

But even with the favorable wind, the night was dying fast. The rising sun would soon expose Washington’s scheme to the full view of the British. Another miracle was needed. Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, David McCullough, explains:

Troops in substantial number had still to be evacuated and at the rate things were going, it appeared day would dawn before everyone was safely removed. But again the “elements” interceded, this time in the form of pea-soup fog. It was called “a peculiar providential occurrence,” “manifestly providential,” “very favorable to the design,” “an unusual fog,” “a friendly fog,” “an American fog.” “So very dense was the atmosphere,” remembers Benjamin Tallmadge, “that I could scarcely discern a man at six yards’ distance.” And as daylight came, the fog held, covering the entire operation no less than had the night…while over on the New York side of the river there was no fog at all.[4]                    

The Americans escaped! The Revolution would live on! It was a miracle!

“That the rebel army had silently vanished in the night right under their very noses,” according to McCullough, “was almost inconceivable.” British Major Stephen Kemble wrote in his diary that “[i]n the morning, to our great astonishment, [we] found they had evacuated…and the whole escaped to…New York.” British General James Grant wrote, “We cannot yet account for their precipitate retreat.”[5]          


Indeed, Washington knew a secret. It was the secret responsible for the miracle. That secret was his knowledge of God’s covenant upon the land America.

On May 15, 1776, shortly after the Continental Army’s initial arrival at New York, months before the British invasion, Washington prepared his men. Not only did he prepare them physically, but spiritually. He called them to the covenant. In a General Order, he declared:

Instant to be observed [on Friday the 17th] as a day of fasting, humiliation and prayer, humbly to supplicate the mercy of Almighty God, that it would please him to pardon all our manifold sins and transgressions, and to prosper the Arms of the United Colonies, and finally establish the peace and freedom of America, upon a solid and lasting foundation.[6]

Then again on July 2, Washington in another General Order would remind his men that “the fate of unborn Millions will now depend, under God, on the courage and conduct of this army…Let us therefore rely upon the goodness of the Cause, and the aid of the Supreme Being, in whose hands Victory is.”[7] Two days later, in Philadelphia, these same sentiments would be immortalized by the Continental Congress in the Declaration of Independence, which concludes, “And for support of this Declaration, with firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”

Washington was so convinced of his utter dependence upon this covenant relationship with God that he would continue to extend reminders and calls to repentance. On July 9, Washington issued another General Order in which he called for chaplains in each regiment to ensure that the soldiers “attend carefully upon religious exercises.” The order concluded with the following: “The blessing and protection of Heaven are at all times necessary but especially so in times of public distress and danger-the General hopes and trusts, that every officer and man, will endeavor so to live, and act, as becomes a good Christian soldier defending the dearest Rights and Liberties of his country.

[8] Just days before battle would commence, Washington issued yet another General Order in which he recommended the keeping of the Sabbath and pleaded with his men to shun the immoral temptations that abounded in the city, exhorting them to “endeavor to check [such behavior] and …reflect, that we can have little hopes of the blessing of Heaven on our Arms, if we insult it by our impiety and folly.”[9]

Praying WashingtonThat Washington was assured the Lord would provide in the upcoming battle is evidenced by the army’s positive response to their commander-in-chief’s spiritual encouragements. One observant New Yorker, unaccustomed to seeing a pious group of soldiers, wrote of his surprise to see how Washington’s men attended prayers “evening and morning regularly.” “On the Lord’s day,” commented the observer, “they attend public worship twice, and their deportment in the house of God is such as becomes the place.” Washington’s trusted officer, Henry Knox, wrote to his wife that he would daily “rise with or a little before the sun and immediately, with part of the regiment attend prayers, sing a psalm or read a chapter [from the Bible].”[10] They were trying diligently to keep their end of the covenant.

The faith and influence of Washington was extended through other revolutionary leaders who caught his vision and acted upon it. One such leader, Connecticut Governor Jonathon Trumbull, upon learning of Washington’s impending battle, called for nine fresh regiments to march in support of Washington (and this was in addition to the five regiments he had already sent). Trumbull’s call to arms sounded much like something Joshua might have said in the camp of Israel: “Be roused and alarmed to stand forth in our just and glorious cause. Join…march on; this shall be your warrant: play the man for God, and for the cities of our God! May the Lord of Hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, be your leader.”[11]  

The Nephites Knew

Captain Moroni raised up his constitution, even the Title of Liberty. As the banner unfurled, he had something profound to say to his nation: “Come forth in the strength of the Lord, and enter into a covenant that they will maintain their rights, and their religion, that the Lord God may bless them.”[12] As he raised the banner, Moroni provided proof to the Nephites as to why they were a covenant people living on a covenant land. “[We must] preserve our liberty as a remnant of Joseph; yea let us remember the words of Jacob, before his death.”[13]


These words of Jacob included a promise to his son Joseph, that his seed would be “a fruitful bough, even a fruitful bough by a well, whose branches run over the wall.” It was a promise of a new land across the sea from the Old World-a land of peace and prosperity. It was a Promised Land protected by “the hands of the mighty God of Jacob” and blessed with blessings “that prevailed…unto the utmost bound of the everlasting hills.” In our seminary manuals and Church curriculum, we learn of modern revelation that teaches us that this land promised to the seed of Joseph was in the New World-in the Americas. The marvelous blessing from Jacob to Joseph is found in Genesis 49.[14]

Jacob  Joseph

So important is this blessing of Joseph’s promised land, that it was first suggested by the Lord to Joseph’s great-grandfather Abraham, at the conception of his great covenant that was to bless the world. Part of that Abrahamic covenant promises that the great patriarch would be the “father of many nations” and many lands, and that “in [his] seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed.”[15]

Father Lehi understood as well. Before he crossed “over the wall” of water to the Promised Land, he sent his boys back to Jerusalem to acquire the Brass Plates. Why? Was he afraid he would not have material for Sunday School lessons in the New World? No, he was afraid his people would forget who they were, and thus forget the covenant they would need to live by. In explaining to his sons why they needed to return for the plates, he stated:

I am a descendant of Joseph who was carried captive into Egypt. And great were the covenants of the Lord which he made unto Joseph. Wherefore, Joseph truly saw our day. And he obtained a promise of the Lord, that out of the fruit of his loins the Lord God would raise up a righteous branch unto the house of Israel.[16]  

Like Captain Moroni, Lehi knew who he was. He would fulfill the prophecies and promises given to Joseph in Genesis 49. He was to possess a Promised Land. “And if it so be that they shall serve him according to the commandments” declares the Book of Mormon, “…it shall be a land of liberty unto them; wherefore, they shall never be brought down into captivity.”[17] The Book of Mormon nations were continually told: “Inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments, ye shall prosper in the land.”[18]


Why does the Book of Mormon include all this talk of a covenant land? There are at least two reasons. First, the Lord desires to show that it is this covenant upon the land that will protect and preserve the people, thus allowing them to live in liberty. When they are righteous, the blessings flow. When they are not, captivity becomes their reality. This is the constant theme and trend laced throughout the Book of Mormon. And second, the Lord wants to teach us today that America is still a covenant land, and that the rules still apply.  

The Nephites knew that without a covenant land and a covenant people in the world, the adversary would have free reign to buy up armies and navies and rule with blood and horror upon this earth. He will crush the agency of man, as was his goal from the beginning. For without full agency, man can hardly access the gospel of salvation. Satan has been successful. But God has not been idle in this fight. He would provide another promised land, as He had for the Nephites, for His latter-day children. He would not let His gospel fall victim to the adversary’s attack on liberty. That promised land was always to be the United States of America!

Consider how even a cursory review of American history reveals a consistent pattern: where goes the adversary, with its political and military tools of oppression and thus spiritual obstruction, there goes America to confront and defeat it; and where goes America to confront and defeat it, there goes the heavenly influence of the constitutional principles of liberty and free agency; and where go these divine principles, there goes man’s opportunity for personal growth and the introduction and advancement of God’s restored gospel.

Wherever America has engaged evil in the world (whether through example, diplomacy, or even war), temples have eventually followed.

It should be of little wonder that God Himself declared that He had “established” the American nation for the very purposes outlined above: for the “rights and protection of all flesh…that every man may act…according to the moral agency which I have given unto him.”[19]

So important is the United States to God’s plan, that its covenant status is clearly described in the Book of Mormon. The resurrected Christ, while administering to the Nephite nation, pronounced that latter-day America would “be set up as a free people by the power of the Father…that the covenant of the Father may be fulfilled.”[20] Nephi knew that these national covenant blessings would provide the foundation for the Restoration of the gospel in the latter days. He describes that latter-day Restoration in his concluding prophecies recorded in 1 Nephi 13. But shall we forget how Nephi began 1 Nephi 13? He understood that a foundation would first be laid before the Restoration could be launched. That foundation would be the American Covenant.

The American Covenant Restored

Nephi had a vision of latter-day America. That vision culminated in the Restoration of the gospel. But first his eyes were opened to the latter-day national covenant-makers who would make it all possible.

In his vision, Nephi “beheld a man among the Gentiles.” Nephi declared, “I beheld the Spirit of God, that it came down and wrought upon the man; and he went forth upon the many waters, even unto the seed of my brethren, who were in the promised land.”[21] Some two thousand years later, Christopher Columbus boarded a ship for that promised land and recorded words that might cause us to wonder if somehow he had accessed Nephi’s prophecy even before it had been made available to mankind. For he declared, “Our Lord unlocked my mind, sent me upon the sea, and gave me fire for the deed. Those who heard of my enterprise called it foolish, mocked me, and laughed. But who can doubt but that the Holy Ghost inspired me?”[22]

ColumbusAstonishingly, Columbus declared that his discovery of the New World “came to pass as Jesus Christ our Savior had predicted and as He had previously announced through the mouths of His holy prophets.”[23] With the discovery completed, Columbus believed, and thus stated, that “the gospel must now be proclaimed to so many lands in such a short time.”[24] More specifically, Columbus taught that his work would lead to what he called “the recovery of God’s Holy City and Mount Zion, and…the evangelization of the isles of the Indies and of all other peoples and nations.”[25] No wonder he had been seen in vision by an ancient prophet of God.      

Nephi also beheld the latter-day settlers of the land. He saw that they “had gone forth out of captivity [and] did humble themselves before the Lord.”[26] He saw that they brought the Bible with them to the New World. Nephi declared that the book they had was “a record of the Jews, which contains the covenants of the Lord, which he hath made unto the house of Israel.”[27] In fulfillment of Nephi’s prophecy, over two thousand years later, the Pilgrims and Puritans did come to the land and they did invoke the covenant. They even referred to themselves as the “New Israel.”[28]

Pilgrims Praying

They followed the words of their inspired leader, John Winthrop, who echoed the words of Father Lehi, declaring: “Thus stands the cause between God and us, we are entered into Covenant with him for this work….if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken and so cause Him to withdraw his present help from us, we shall be made a story and a byword through the world.” Winthrop called upon his people to live the commandments that God might make them a “City upon a Hill.”[29]

Nephi’s vision extended into the American Revolution. Declared Nephi, “And I beheld that their mother Gentiles were gathered together upon the waters, and upon the land also, to battle against them. And I beheld that the power of God was with them…[they] were delivered by the power of God.”[30] The evidence of this prophetic fulfillment is overwhelming.

We discussed one such miracle at Long Island. But this was not the exception to the Revolution-this was the rule. Similar miracles (even more amazing, in some instances, than Long Island) were witnessed on the battlefields at Boston, Trenton, Princeton, Yorktown, and others. These stories have been intentionally hidden from us by secular historians-but these stories were very real to those who lived them. In the middle of the war, George Washington stood and said, as he did so often, that “Providence has heretofore saved us in remarkable manner and on this we must principally rely.”[31] Covenant words.

The Greatest Day Never Celebrated

“The smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right, which Heaven itself has ordained.”[32] With independence secured, George Washington stood in Federal Hall, New York City, and declared these covenant words while being inaugurated as the first president of the United States. The date was April 30, 1789-the day the Constitution, even that document which, according to revelation, was based in “holy principles” established to protect “moral agency” for “all flesh,”[33] came into being. But it was clearly much more than an inauguration. It was the day the covenant was officially invoked over all the land.

Washington Oath

Just before Washington invoked the national covenant through his “Smiles of Heaven” speech, he was sworn in as the first president of the United States. The details of this ceremony were profound. He called for a Bible. He raised his right arm to the square (making the sign of a covenant/oath) while placing his left hand upon the sacred book. After repeating the constitutional oath, he declared, “So help me God,” then bowed down reverently and kissed the Bible.

Few have cared to notice what biblical passage Washington chose to place his hand upon.In fact, historians and commentators, if they choose to note anything about the particular scripture, simply muse at why a deliberate man like Washington, who knew posterity would be watching, did not choose a more important scripture. For the scripture he chose seems irrelevant to most-just some Old Testament babble. In a move almost too astonishing to believe, Washington had placed his hand directly upon Genesis 49-his fingers literally laying upon the words “Joseph is a fruitful bough, whose branches run over the wall…”[34]

It was the same covenant and prophecy Father Lehi recognized as the purpose of his migration to the Promised Land. It was the same covenant and prophecy Captain Moroni directly referenced as he raised the Title of Liberty, while invoking the national covenant. George Washington did the same thing. Like Moroni, he invoked the covenant using language that was undeniably covenant language, then he hoisted up America’s Title of Liberty (indeed, it marked the day the Constitution came into effect), and then he referenced the exact same ancient prophecy that speaks of America and her covenant.

After the ceremony, Washington descended to the street to be greeted by throngs of Americans. He then led a procession through the streets of New York City. The newly elected congressmen and senators followed close behind. They entered St. Paul’s Chapel. The first joint session of congress commenced. It consisted of a prayer in a church.      

Many secularists believe today that such government-sponsored invocations to God are unconstitutional-that they violate the separation of church and state. But they are wrong. The Founders understood the great difference between “separation of church and state” and “separation of God and state.” The former is a righteous principle that keeps the government out of religious denominations and religious denominations out of the government. The latter, however, leaves us vulnerable and unprotected. It exposes us to the designs of the Evil One.

As Ronald Reagan declared, “Freedom prospers only where the blessings of God are avidly sought and humbly expected.” Quoting William Penn, Reagan continued, “If we will not be governed by God, we must be governed by tyrants.”[35] As evidenced through their words and deeds, the Founding Fathers understood this point clearly.

If secularists are correct, then they would have to admit that the Constitution was violated on April 30, 1789. They would have to make the outrageous claim that on the very day the Constitution was activated, it was simultaneously violated by the very people who brought it to light. Are they willing to say that?

Perhaps we should turn our hearts to the Founders of the nation who understood truth. Or we can ignore them to our own national demise.

Where Do We Go from Here?

Today we face serious trouble in this nation. Our economic collapse calls for a new domestic policy. Real threats from hateful terrorist nations and groups call for a new foreign policy. We can debate and discuss policy options all day long (and we should), but it means absolutely nothing if we ignore what the founders left for us-even the key to national salvation. That key is God and covenant. They understood it. They used it to defeat the most powerful military force on the planet, which had landed on their shores (talk about serious trouble!). They used it to create the most powerful and prosperous nation the world has ever known. Against all odds, it worked for them! And, even against all odds, it will work for us today to accomplish our righteous national goals.

So here we are over 200 years later. Next week, we have choices to make that will affect the direction of this nation. It is bigger than one man or one party. This is not about politics-it is about the salvation of this nation and the covenant that built it. The main questions Americans should ask themselves as they enter the polling place are, Which option brings this nation closer to God and covenant? Which potential leaders will more likely turn the nation to righteousness, thus allowing us to merit the covenant blessings from the God of this land? If we can’t get this part right, no policy plans or initiatives will matter anyway.

President Gordon B. Hinckley once issued the following warning to the nation. In light of what American history teaches us, there can be no better national counsel than this:

For a good while there has been going on in this nation a process that I have termed the secularization of America….we as a nation are forsaking the Almighty, and I fear that He will begin to forsake us. We are shutting the door against the God whose sons and daughters we are….Future blessings will come only as we deserve them. Can we expect peace and prosperity, harmony and goodwill, when we turn our backs on the Source of strength? If we are to continue to have the freedoms that evolved within the structure that was the inspiration of the Almighty to our Founding Fathers, we must return to the God who is their true Author….God bless America, for it is His creation. [36]

This article was adapted for Meridian Magazine from the author’s work, Volume I: Establishment, Discovery and Revolution and Volume II: The Constitution, The Civil War, and the Fight to Preserve the Covenant Today

Timothy Ballard is the best-selling author of The Covenant: One Nation Under God. His new book The Covenant, Lincoln, and the War releases this month. Ballard also wrote The American Covenant series, which details the religious history of America using the light and perspective of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.

Tim will be speaking this Saturday evening, November 3, at 7:30 PM, San Moritz Clubhouse, 966 W. Powder Hill Road, Midvale, UT. Free Admission.  


[1] David McCullough, 1776, 134, 148.

[2] McCullough, 1776, 184.

 [3] David McCullough, “What the Fog Wrought,” What If? The World’s Foremost Military Authorities Imagine What Might Have Been, James Cowley, ed., 197.

 [4] McCullough, “What the Fog Wrought,” 198; McCullough, 1776, 191.  

 [5] McCullough, 1776, 191-192.

 [6] Bennett, The Spirit of America, 393.

 [7] Novak, Washington’s God, 71.

 [8] Bennett, The Spirit of America, 390.

 [9] Novak, Washington’s God, 89.

 [10] McCullough, 1776, 123, 147.

 [11] Jonathon Trumbull, as quoted in Marshall and Manuel, 394.

[12] Alma 46:20.

[13] Alma 46:24.

[14] For more information on how this prophecy connects to the New World, see LDS Church Old Testament Student Manuel, Second Edition, Revised (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1981), 98-99; LDS Church Old Testament Seminary Student Study Guide (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2002), 40-41.

[15] See Genesis 17:1-10; 26:1-5, 24; 28:1-4, 10-14; 35:9-13; 48:3-4; Leviticus 26:42; Acts 3:25; Bible Dictionary, “Abraham, Covenant of.”

 [16] 2 Ne. 3:4-5; Nephi also stated his knowledge that he was s descendant of Joseph in 2 Ne. 4:1-2.

[17] 2 Nephi 1:7.

[18] 2 Nephi 1:20; See also 1 Nephi 13:16; 2 Nephi 10:10-12; and Ether 2: 8-12.

 [19] D&C 101:77-80

[20] 3 Nephi 21:4.

[21] 1 Nephi 13:12

 [22] Columbus, as quoted in Jacob Wasserman, Columbus, Don Quixote of the Seas, translated by Delno C. West and August Kling (Gainseville, FL: 1991).

 [23] Columbus, as quoted in Christopher Columbus, Libro de las profecias , translated by Delno C. West and August Kling (Gainseville, FL: 1991).  

 [24] Christopher Columbus, as quoted in Steven Waldman, Founding Faith: Providence, Politics and the Birth of Religious Freedom in America (New York: Random House, 2008), 4.

 [25] Carol Delaney (2006), “Columbus’s Ultimate Goal: Jerusalem.” Comparative Studies in Society and History,48, p. 268.

[26] 1 Nephi 13:16.

[27] 1 Nephi 13:23.

[28] See William J. Bennett, The Spirit of America (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1997), 366.

[29] John Winthrop, “A Model of Christian Charity,” Winthrop Papers, 1498-1649, Vol. 2 (Boston: The Massachusetts Historical Society), 282-95; See also H. Sheldon Smith et al, American Christianity, An Historical Interpretation with Representative Documents, Vol.1: 1607-1820 (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1960), 102.

[30] See 1 Nephi 13:17-19.

 [31] George Washington (January 22, 1777), as quoted in Waldman, Founding Faith, 70.

[32] George Washington’s First Inaugural Address, April 30, 1789, as quoted in Bennett, The Spirit of America, 381-382.

[33] See Doctrine and Covenants 101:77-80.

[34] See Bruce Feiler, America’s Prophet (New York: HarperCollins, 2009), 78.

 [35] As quoted in Paul Kengor, God and Ronald Reagan, 227.

 [36] Gordon B Hinckley, Standing for Something (New York: Times Books, Random House, Inc., 2000), xviii, xxiii, xxv.