Faith of the Latter Day Saints in Governments and Laws in General
Jan. 22, 1840
For as much as many false rumors are abroad in the world concerning myself and the faith which I profess, and that my belief with regard to earthly governments and laws in general may not be misinterpreted nor misunderstood, I have thought proper to present for your consideration and for the consideration of the public (if you will do me the favor), through your valuable and interesting paper, my opinions concerning the same.
First, I believe that governments were instituted of God for the benefit of man and that he holds men accountable for their acts in relation to them, either in making laws or administering them for the good and safety of society.
Secondly, I believe that no government can exist in peace, except such laws are framed and held inviolate as will secure to each individual the free exercise of conscience, the right and control of property, and the protection of life
Third, I believe that all governments necessarily require civil officers and magistrates to enforce the laws of the same; and that such as will administer the law in equity and justice should be sought for and upheld by the voice of the people (if a republic), or the will of the sovereign.
Fourth, I believe that religion is instituted of God; and that men are amenable to him, and to him only, for the exercise of it, unless their religious opinion prompts them to infringe upon the rights and liberty of others; but I do not believe that human law has a right to interfere in prescribing rules of worship to bind the consciences of men, nor dictate forms for public or private devotion; that the civil magistrate should restrain crime, but never control conscience; should punish guilt, but never suppress the freedom of the soul.
Fifth, I 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, and should be punished accordingly; and that all governments have a right to enact such laws as in their own judgments are best calculated to secure the public interest at the same time, however, holding sacred the freedom of conscience.
Sixth, I believe that every man should be honored in his station, rulers and magistrates as such, being placed for the protection of the innocent and the punishment of the guilty; and that to the law all men owe respect and deference, as without them peace and harmony would be supplanted by anarchy and terror; human laws being instituted for the express purpose of regulating our interests as individuals and nations, between man and man; and divine laws given of heaven, prescribing rules on spiritual concerns, for faith and worship both to be answered by man to his maker.
Seventh, I believe that rulers, states and governments have a right, and are bound to enact laws for the protection of all citizens in the free exercise of their religious belief. But I do not believe that they have a right in justice to deprive citizens of this privilege, or proscribe them in their opinions, so long as a regard and reverence is shown to the laws and such religious opinions do not justify sedition nor conspiracy.
Eighth, I believe that the commission of crime should be punished according to the nature of the offense; that murder, treason, robbery, theft, and the breach of the general peace, in all respects, should be punished according to their criminality and their tendency to evil among men, by the laws of that government in which the offense is committed; and for the public peace and tranquility all men should step forward and use their ability in bringing offenders against good laws to punishment.
Ninth, I do not believe it just to mingle religious influence with civil government, whereby one religious society is fostered and another proscribed in its spiritual privileges, and the individual rights of its members, as citizens, denied.
Tenth, I believe that all religious societies have a right to deal with their members for disorderly conduct, according to the rules and regulations of such societies; provided that such dealings be for fellowship and good standing; but I do not believe that any religious society has authority to try men on the right of property or life, to take from them this world’s goods, or put them in jeopardy either life or limb, neither to inflict any physical punishment upon them. They can only excommunicate them from their society, and withdraw from their fellowship.
Eleventh, I believe that men should appeal to the civil law for redress of all wrongs and grievances, where personal abuse is inflicted or the right of property or character infringed, where such laws exist as will protect the same; but believe that all men are justified in defending themselves, their friends, and property, and the government, from the unlawful assaults and encroachments of all persons in times of exigencies, where immediate appeal cannot be made to the laws, and relief afforded.
Twelfth, I believe it just to preach the gospel to the nations of the earth, and warn the righteous to save themselves from the corruptions of the world; but I do not believe it right to interfere with bond-servants, neither preach the gospel to, nor baptize them contrary to the will and wish of their masters, nor to meddle with or influence them in the least to cause them to be dissatisfied with their situations in this life, thereby jeopardizing the lives of men; such interference I believe to be unlawful and unjust, and dangerous to the peace of every government allowing human beings to be held in servitude.
Thirteenth, It has been reported by some vicious or designing characters that the church of Latter Day Saints believe in having their property in common, and also the leaders of said church controls said property. This is a base fabrication without the least shadow or coloring of anything to make it out of, but on the contrary, no person’s feelings can be more repugnant to such a principle than mine. Every person in this church has a right to control his own property, and is not required to do anything except by his own free voluntary act, that he may impart to the poor according to the requirement of the gospel, “Give to him that asketh thee and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away” (Math. 5:42).
I believe in living a virtuous, upright, and holy life before God and feel it my duty to persuade all men in my power to do the same. That they may cease to do evil, and learn to do well, and break off their sins by righteousness. I close this by subscribing myself your most obedient servant.
Joseph Smith Jr
Notes: The sentiments set forth in the following thirteen articles are Joseph Smith’s personal affirmation of a statement on law and Church government, written by Oliver Cowdery in 1835, and published that same year in the Messenger and Advocate and the Doctrine and Covenants. (Compare D&C 134.)