Joseph and his brother Hyrum were not idle observers of the political landscape. They both held offices of public trust. The Prophet Joseph Smith offered the world inspired principles in relation to effective leadership in government, politics, and the public square. The beliefs he espoused can help secure freedom and liberty for all people. With all the perplexing problems and political partisanship facing the nation, perhaps this would be a good time to take a look at what the Prophet Joseph Smith had to say.
Near the end of Joseph Smith's life, the Lord commanded him to "make a solemn proclamation . . . to all the kings of the world, to the four corners thereof, . . . and to all nations of the earth" (D&C 124:2-3; revealed January 19, 1841). However, the Prophet was martyred at Carthage in 1844 before this proclamation could be made.
The year following the Prophet's death, the Quorum of the Twelve fulfilled the commandment by producing a sixteen-page proclamation addressed to rulers and people of all nations. The document contained the startling announcement that God had spoken from the heavens and had restored the gospel of Jesus Christ to the earth. It issued several warnings about future events and invited all who were interested to assist in building up the kingdom of God on the earth in preparation for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Further, the Council of the Twelve prophetically declared, "As this work progresses in its onward course, and becomes more and more an object of political and religious interest, . . . no king, ruler, or subject, no community or individual, will stand neutral. All will . . . be influenced by one spirit or the other; and will take sides either for or against the kingdom of God."(1)
Why would The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints become an object of increasing political interest? Astounding as that declaration may seem, the revelations given to the Prophet Joseph Smith regarding government will yet play a significant role in future political affairs throughout the world. Political leaders in all lands can and will yet benefit from Joseph Smith's teachings about leadership in the public square. The insights and revelations Joseph received regarding leadership in government are as interesting as they are important and timely.
Divinely Inspired Tutorials
Although he was deprived of educational opportunities in his youth, Joseph Smith was tutored in the principles of politics in a most unusual manner. From seventeen years of age, and for the following six years, Joseph was instructed by the angel Moroni on at least twenty-two separate occasions.(2) Moroni taught Joseph about the ancient inhabitants of the Americas, their politics, and social structure. Of this remarkable experience, Joseph's mother, Lucy Mack Smith, commented:
"From this time forth Joseph continued to receive instructions from time to time, and every evening we gathered our children together and gave our time up to the discussion of those things which he instructed to us. I think that we presented the most peculiar aspect of any family that ever lived upon the earth, all seated in a circle, father, mother, sons, and daughters, listening in breathless anxiety to the religious teachings of a boy eighteen years of age. . . . In the course of our evening conversations, Joseph gave us some of the most [interesting] recitals which could be imagined. He would describe the ancient inhabitants of this continent, their dress, their manner of traveling, the animals which they rode, the cities that they built, and the structure of their buildings with every particular, their mode of warfare, and their religious worship as specifically as though he had spent his life with them."(3)
Thus Joseph Smith learned by communications from heaven, from time to time, of past cultures, leaders, and governments. Two years later, while translating the Book of Mormon, Joseph learned in greater detail about ancient political philosophies and gained inspired insights into government affairs and organization. Book of Mormon authors recorded warnings about how and why kings inevitably turn into tyrants and dictators (see 2 Nephi 5:18; Mosiah 23:7-9; 29:13, 16-24, 35-36; Alma 46:9), and that the Lord would not suffer kings to reign on the American continent (see 2 Nephi 10:11).
They also described how it had been divinely decreed that God would raise a mighty nation on the American continent in the latter days which would eventually bless all humankind (1 Nephi 22:7-9). The most significant prophecy about this mighty nation is that it would be free-meaning it was to be a land of liberty and freedom (see 3 Nephi 21:4).
The conditions upon which this freedom rested were also described in precise detail. The ancients also warned that that great nation would be established on a "covenant continent." To remain free on that land, its inhabitants would be required to obey the God of the land.
The Book of Mormon describes two previous nations "swept clean" from the land for failure to keep this covenant. To avoid their fate, they wrote, we must learn from their mistakes and honor the God of the land: For behold, this is a land which is choice above all other lands; wherefore he that doth possess it shall serve God or shall be swept off; for it is the everlasting decree of God. And it is not until the fulness of iniquity among the children of the land, that they are swept off. And this cometh unto you, O ye Gentiles, that ye may know the decrees of God-that ye may repent, and not continue in your iniquities until the fulness come, that ye may not bring down the fulness of the wrath of God upon you as the inhabitants of the land have hitherto done. Behold, this is a choice land, and whatsoever nation shall possess it shall be free from bondage, and from captivity, and from all other nations under heaven, if they will but serve the God of the land, who is Jesus Christ, who hath been manifested by the things which we have written. (Ether 2:10-12; see also Ether 8:20-26; Mormon 5:9-6:22;
Joseph Smith continued receiving other divinely inspired tutorials about government and politics throughout his life, and he learned from them. Judge Daniel H. Wells, at the time a non-LDS justice of the peace in Nauvoo, observed Joseph in the courtroom; he later reminisced, "I have known legal men all my life. Joseph Smith was the best lawyer that I have ever known in all my life."(4)
Joseph's wisdom about leadership came partly from practical experience. He sought for and served in public offices throughout his life. He served as mayor of the city of Nauvoo, stood at the head of the Nauvoo Legion, and aspired to the office of the president of the United States in 1844. However, the experience he gained from serving in these public positions was further augmented by the revelations he received.
Insights about Democracy from the Book of Mormon
While translating the Book of Mormon in 1828-29, Joseph learned about the principles upon which democracy was established in ancient America. Specifically, he learned that a thriving democracy that promotes the public welfare is built on certain cardinal virtues: