Joseph Smith’s Views

When Joseph Smith ran for president in 1844, a pamphlet expressing his views (“General Smith’s Views”) was distributed across the nation. Probably penned by Phelps, the New York Herald described the document as “a very remarkable and original document…a more curious and unique thing has probably not been published since the time of Mohamet…” The following are some of Joseph’s positions*; they are worth reading for their striking humanity alone, born, no doubt out of his own deprivations:

  • “When the people are secure and their rights properly respected, then the four main pillars of prosperity, viz: agriculture, manufactures, navigation, and commerce, need the fostering care of government, and in so goodly a country as ours…it certainly is the highest point of subversion (sic) to protect the whole northern and southern, eastern and western, centre and circumference of the realm, by a judicious tariff.” [=import tax]
  • “I will adopt in part the language of Mr. Madison’s inaugural address, ‘To cherish peace and friendly intercourse with all nations, having correspondent dispositions; to maintain sincere neutrality towards belligerent nations; to prefer in all cases amicable discussion and reasonable accommodation of intrigues and foreign partialities, so degrading to all countries, and so baneful to free ones; to foster a spirit of independence too just to invade the rights of others, too proud to surrender their own, too liberal to indulge unworthy prejudices ourselves, and too elevated not to look down upon them in others.'”
  • “[T]o hold the union of the States as the basis of their peace and happiness; to support the constitution, which is the cement of the union, as well in its limitations as in its authorities; to respect the rights and authorities reserved to the states and to the people…to avoid the slightest interference with the rights of conscience, or the functions of religion, so wisely exempted from civil jurisdiction; to preserve in their full energy, the other salutary provisions in behalf of private and personal rights, and of the freedom of the press.”
  • [Prefaced by a lament against the corruption of the political nobility]: “Now, oh! people! people! turn unto the Lord and live; and reform this nation. Frustrate the designs of wicked men. Reduce Congress at least one half. Two Senators from a state and two members to a million of population, will do more business than the army that now occupy the halls of the National Legislature. Pay them two dollars and their board per diem; except Sundays, that is more than the farmer gets, and he lives honestly. Curtail the offices of government in pay, number and power; for the Philistine lords have shorn our nation of its goodly locks in the lap of Delilah.”
  • “Petition your state legislatures to pardon every convict in their several penitentiaries, blessing them as they go, and saying to them, in the name of the Lord, go thy way and sin no more. Advise your legislators when they make laws for larceny, burglary or any felony, to make the penalty applicable to work upon roads, public works, or any place where the culprit can be taught more wisdom and more virtue; and become more enlightened. Rigor and seclusion will never do as much to reform the propensities of man, as reason and friendship. Murder only can claim confinement or death. Let the penitentiaries be turned into seminaries of learning, where intelligence, like the angels of heaven, would banish such fragments of barbarism. Imprisonment for debt is a meaner practice than the savage tolerates with all his ferocity. ‘Amor vincit amnia.’ Love conquers all.”
  • “Petition, also, ye goodly inhabitants of the slave states, your legislators to abolish slavery by the year 1850, or now, and save the abolitionist from reproach and ruin, infamy and shame. Pray Congress to pay every man a reasonable price for his slaves out of the surplus revenue arising from the sale of public lands, and from the deduction of pay from the members of Congress. Break off the shackles from the poor black man, and hire him to labor like other human beings; for ‘an hour of virtuous liberty on earth, is worth a whole eternity of bondage!'”
  • “Abolish the practice in the army and navy of trying men by court martial for desertion; if a soldier or marine runs away, send him his wages, with this instruction, that his country will never trust him again; he has forfeited his honor. Make HONOR the standard with all men: be sure that good is rendered for evil in all cases; and the whole nation, like a kingdom of kings and priests, will rise up with righteousness; and be respected as wise and worthy on earth; and as just and holy for heaven; by Jehovah, the author of perfection.”
  • “More economy in the national and state governments, would make less taxes among the people.”
  • “For the accommodation of the people of every state and territory, let Congress shew their wisdom by granting a national bank, with branches in each state and territory, where the capital stock shall be held by the nation for the mother bank: and by the states and territories, for the branches…which several banks shall never issue any more bills than the amount of capital stock in her vaults and the interest…[t]he net gain of the mother bank shall be applied to the national revenue, and that of the branches to the states and territories’ revenues. And the bills shall be par throughout the nation, which will mercifully cure that fatal disorder known in cities as brokerage; and leave the people’s money in their own pockets.”
  • “Give every man his constitutional freedom, and the president full power to send an army to suppress mobs; and the states authority to repeal and impugn that relic of folly, which makes it necessary for the governor of a state to make the demand of the president for troops, in case of invasion or rebellion. The governor himself may be a mobber and, instead of being punished, as he should be, for murder and treason, he may destroy the very lives, rights, and property he should protect.”
  • “Oregon belongs to this government honorably, and when we have the red man’s consent, let the union spread from the east to the west sea; and if Texas petitions Congress to be adopted among the sons of liberty, give her the right hand of fellowship; and refuse not the same friendly grip to Canada and Mexico.”

_______

* Poll notes that some of the resolutions adopted by the nominating convention were at odds with the Views, possibly “to offset press charges that the Views were full of Whig doctrine.”

Comments

  1. Joseph Smith:
    Protectionist, constitutionalist, federalist (except when state governors abused individual rights), voluntary abolitionist, small-government-ist, national banker, crime and punishment liberal, foreign policy dove, American patriot (from sea to shining sea).

  2. The Views were penned by Phelps with Smith’s direction and input from a variety of others in the inner circle at the time. I’ve always kind of liked them. Phelps was an anti-Mason before joining with the LDS.

  3. Stapley’s excellent post on Joseph’s other political project — “theodemocracy” — is here. As with many things Joseph, there seems to be some tension between Joseph the constitutional president and Joseph the theocratic king.

  4. Ken Winn’s Exiles in a Land of Liberty does a reasonable job of discussing that tension, Dr. RJH.

  5. Winn’s book is a good one, and one that isn’t read often enough.

    Smith’s political views ought to be seen in the context of the political debates of the time. For the most part, the positions Smith sketched in this document were consistent with the ideology of the American Whig Party. There are exceptions, of course, and this platform would certainly have seemed as eccentric in its day as Ron Paul’s would today. But it’s a basically a modest eccentric departure from the core themes of one of the two major party ideologies of the country at the time.

  6. There is quite a bit of Masonic language in Smith’s statement: “the right hand of fellowship” and the “friendly grip”, etc. I wonder if this was unconscious or designed to appeal to fellow Masons in the U.S.?

  7. Nick Literski says:

    Nice catch, jnilsson. From my research on the topic, Joseph was more than willing to make use of fraternal connections and language. He fully expected to obtain the cooperation and support of fellow Freemasons by doing so. Up until his murder, he generally received that cooperation and support. Other LDS followed this example, even well after migrating to the west. There is little reason to doubt that these references were intentionally placed to catch the attention of fellow Freemasons, and solicit their support.

  8. make the penalty applicable to work upon roads, public works

    Don’t we have a warden who does that in AZ?

  9. Oddly enough, I find this reinforces my testimony of Joseph as a prophet.

  10. Thanks, NJensen.

    And all the liberals hate him.

    Of course, some of his track record ain’t too great, either.

    But on the whole, I agree with a lot of what Joseph Smith’s platform was, except for the tariffs.

  11. I would’ve voted for him

  12. That “Shorn the goodly locks” PROVES that Joseph approved of long hair.

  13. #6 & 7 – very cool stuff. I believe he also used the Masonic cry of distress while standing in the window at Carthage with the hopes of finding a fellow mason in the mob who would intervene for him.

  14. Interesting how Joseph was ahead of his time regarding slavery. Had slavery been abolished by 1850 as he wanted, the civil war would have never happened. It is obvious from this platform that he genuinely wanted to raise the country to a higher standard of honor, love, freedom, and virtue. Unfortunately politicians don’t speak this way today.

  15. “More economy in the national and state governments, would make less taxes among the people.”

    This part of Joseph’s platform is a correct principle however unheeded since 1913. As there was no income tax in 1844, then what tax is he referencing here?

    IRS

    The roots of the IRS go back to the Civil War when President Lincoln (another Whig) and Congress, in 1862, created the position of commissioner of Internal Revenue and enacted an income tax to pay war expenses. The income tax was repealed 10 years later. Congress revived the income tax in 1894, but the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional the following year.

    16th Amendment

    In 1913, Wyoming ratified the 16th Amendment, providing the three-quarter majority of states necessary to amend the Constitution. The 16th Amendment gave Congress the authority to enact an income tax. That same year, the first Form 1040 appeared after Congress levied a tax on net personal incomes.

    (Source IRS)

    So there you have it, we can all blame Wyoming for giving the US Government the right to amend the constitution and tax us every year.

  16. 15 – actually, Ron Paul has been made fun of by certain liberal types (read Bill Maher and others) for taking that exact position.

  17. Jonathan #15, I think Joseph Smith’s goal of abolition by 1850 was really in keeping with its time, not ahead of it. The abolitionist movement in America actually predates U.S. independence, and had obviously succeeded at the state level throughout the northern U.S. by the time Joseph Smith was born. Ongoing debates regarding abolition at the time included the question of whether freed slaves should be allowed to stay in the U.S. or should be sent to colonize Africa. Joseph Smith, on this issue, took the position that freed slaves should be shipped off to Africa. Finally, it’s worth remembering that one of the motives that sparked the Civil War was fear, on the part of the south, that Abraham Lincoln might abolish slavery — even though Lincoln had promised not to. If Joseph Smith had prevailed politically and started using the presidency to urge abolitionism, one possible outcome of that might have been that the Civil War might have happened earlier than it did.

    jon #16, when there was no income tax, the government raised its funds through even more economically distorting taxes, such as import and export tariffs. We could switch back to that system today, if you want; it would wreck our economy and create massive unemployment, but at least you wouldn’t have to file a tax return.

  18. Jonathan K says:

    #18 Thanks for the clarification.

    It looks like it may have been a good thing for the church to be kicked out of the country when they were. Had they been involved in the civil war, they would have lost more members than they did crossing the plains.

  19. Although I agree with 80 percent of Joseph Smith’s political platform, and probably would have voted for him had both he and I been alive in Nov. 1844, it is nevertheless dangerous to apply political ideas of 2007 to the 1840s. A lot of the terms and language has a completely different meaning today than it did then. One small example: Joseph apparently had a non-interventionist foreign policy but also welcomed Texas as a U.S. state. Texas was Mexican territory around then, and there are many Mexicans who will point out that the invasion of Mexico was clearly not non-interventionist. So, how do you reconcile the two goals of non-interventionism and U.S. expansion toward the West, especially given that Utah was also Mexican territory in the early 1840s?

    My only point is that you need to be careful about blanket claims regarding Joseph’s politics.

    Having said that, he was certainly ahead of his time with regard to slavery.

  20. Geoff,
    No-one here is suggesting that we apply Joseph’s platform to 2007, except to point out, of course, that Joseph Smith would have denounced George Bush as a Philistine lord. Of that, I am certain.

  21. And 90% of Congress, RonanJH, including our beloved Majority Leader, but I digress.

  22. Jacob,
    I cannot believe that, sir. Harry is Joseph reincarnate.

  23. Except for the central bank part, I think Joseph’s platform is terrific, and no less applicable to today than the (older still) U.S. Constitution.

    I’m particularly enamored with his quoting of Madison: “To cherish peace and friendly intercourse with all nations, having correspondent dispositions; to maintain sincere neutrality towards belligerent nations….” We could use some of that right now.

  24. Ha! But is he a Super Best Friend?

  25. #18 I’m not advocating abolishing income tax altogether, but for a more equitable taxation system whatever that is.

    Joseph Smith seemed interest in building up Zion based on justice and equality much like Enoch. The only country I’ve ever visited which has abased the rich to lift up their impoverished into the middle class is Norway.

    On the one hand there are no super wealthy, and on the other there are no poor among them. It’s an interesting concept.

  26. “Give every man his constitutional freedom, and the president full power to send an army to suppress mobs; and the states authority to repeal and impugn that relic of folly, which makes it necessary for the governor of a state to make the demand of the president for troops, in case of invasion or rebellion. The governor himself may be a mobber and, instead of being punished, as he should be, for murder and treason, he may destroy the very lives, rights, and property he should protect.”

    Joseph Smith seemed to have demanded something like the 14th amendment. That paragraph is the most succinct repudiation of states rights that I have seen in a long time.

    Chris Cannon, take note.

  27. Jonathan (15), James Madison discusses the very idea of buying the slaves’ freedom with federal funds in a letter to Robert Evans in 1819.

    It was a great scheme, which would have turned out a lot cheaper than the civil war. Too bad that the Carolinas did not recognize that they were bound to loose.

    Joseph Smith definitely deserves credit for recognizing a good idea but as J pointed out, he was not ahead of his time. In terms of representing contemporary attitudes, that also applies to Brigham Young’s rabid racism, which was representative of a prominent set of attitudes at the time.

  28. Hellmut #27, you’re right — in the terms of the debate of his time Joseph Smith was certainly not a state’s rights supporter.

    jon #26, I think the Scandinavian models are interesting, as well. But it’s worth pointing out that Norway has an income tax that’s like ours but more so.

  29. Kevin Barney says:

    I didn’t understand the bit about saving the abolitionist from reproach, etc. What was that about? (Does it mean reproach, infamy and shame for previously having failed in their cause? If so, it seems like a very odd thing to say.)

  30. I didn’t understand the bit about saving the abolitionist from reproach, etc. What was that about?

    Here is the exact passage:

    and save the abolitionist from reproach and ruin, infamy and shame.

    One would have to look at the exact terms of the contemporary debate. Here is a hypothesis, which may be wrong: freeing a slave is theft and therefore deserves reproach, buying all the slaves would ruin the abolitionists, they would be infamous as law breakers, and shamed as ineffectual.

    Therefore the federal government has to foot the bill.

  31. JNS (#18),

    It is pretty difficult for any tax regime to be economically distorting when it only accounts for two or three percent of GDP.

    It does remind me of an interesting conversion I saw recently, from the net income tax rate to the equivalent tariff on personal income:

    25% 33% tariff
    50% 100% tariff
    80% 400% tariff

  32. But Larry O’Donnell said Joseph Smith was pro-slavery. It must be true because I saw it on TV.

    I wonder if Mike Huckabee is channeling Joseph – free the convicts, protect US industry, neutral foreign policy, Christ-centered politics. Now, if he would only see that Jesus and Satan really are brothers.

  33. Mark D., actually, not so. A tariff can completely distort an economy while producing no revenue whatsoever. To take a clear if somewhat exaggerated example, imagine a 300,000% tariff on imported electronics. Clearly, this tariff would generate little if any revenue, since nobody would buy imported electronics. Yet the tariff would certainly distort the economy, creating a sudden, artificial market for U.S.-brand electronics — which would be economically viable even at much lower quality and manufacturing productivity rates than are prevalent on the international market. Export tariffs can be even more disruptive.

  34. Texas won its from Mexico in 1836.

  35. “and refuse not the same friendly grip to Canada and Mexico.”

    I guess voluntary union would be cheaper than building/maintaining a wall.

  36. JNS,

    Admitted. By “pretty” difficult I meant any rational tax regime designed to collect two or three percent of GDP. Rational meaning at the lowest rate that collects the specified amount of revenue, rather than the highest one.

  37. Whoa, for a moment I thought I was reading Ron Paul’s 2008 platform.

    Certainly way different than Mitt Romney’s. I wonder if most church members today who support Romney would vote for Joseph Smith today? Likely not.

  38. #38 I’d be fine with Romney or Paul. I’m not terribly committed to either. I like the “to hell with it all” approach of Paul, and also admire the work the system to achieve the desired result aspect of it from Romney.

    I think much of the Paul support comes from the “to hell with politics” feeling that is causing a lot of us to get fed up…

  39. 36: On the contrary – voluntary union with Mexico would be extremely expensive. The recent unification of Germany provides an excellent case study. After observing the economic consequences of German unification, the South Korean government backed off into a serious “go-slow” mode with regard to the prospect of eventual unification with the North.

  40. I wonder if Mike Huckabee is channeling Joseph – free the convicts, protect US industry, neutral foreign policy, Christ-centered politics. Now, if he would only see that Jesus and Satan really are brothers.

    Clair, that must the funniest remark that I read all year.

  41. JNS “I think the Scandinavian models are interesting, as well. But it’s worth pointing out that Norway has an income tax that’s like ours but more so”.

    After hitting the “Add my comment” button I thought about the much higher income tax rate in Norway.

    There is a more uniform (across the board)application of the tax code. There are no loopholes for hiding wealth while your neighbor scavanges for crumbs. That is the part of the model which is interesting.

    Granted it’s a more socialist model but seems to work over there.

  42. JNS “I think the Scandinavian models are interesting, as well. But it’s worth pointing out that Norway has an income tax that’s like ours but more so”.

    After hitting the “Add my comment” button I thought about the much higher income tax rate in Norway.

    There is a more uniform (across the board)application of the tax code. There are no loopholes for hiding wealth while your neighbor scavanges for crumbs. That is the part of the model which is interesting.

    Granted it’s a more socialist model but seems to work over there.

  43. Joseph Smith was of the wisest of men, especially considering the little schooling he had. His platform is genius. He believed and acted upon everything he said. He did die for his beliefs, but more importantly he lived for his beliefs. How cool!?!

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