Newly discovered First Presidency Letter Clarifies Mormon Position on Civil Government

October 28, 1838,

Dear fellow Saints,

As many of you know, Governor Boggs issued an executive order yesterday relating to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Missouri Executive Order 44 reads, in part, “The Mormons must be treated as enemies, and must be exterminated or driven from the state if necessary for the public peace–their outrages are beyond all description.” As a result, the armed forces of our Great State have been ordered to murder all of our men, women, and children or drive us from the state.

We want you to know, brethren, that we share your concern over this order. Many of us did not vote for Governor Boggs, and some of us participate actively in a different political party. In the most recent election, we worked hard for other candidates, and we must now face the disappointment of being on the losing side. We remind you, though, of the 12th Article of Faith that the Lord will soon reveal to us: “We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.”

The Lord requires His people to be good citizens of the governments that we live beneath. Governments are ordained of God. Latter-day Saints do not protest. We are not civil disobedients or conscientious objectors. We do not carry signs, march in demonstrations, or speak evil of the Lord’s anointed in our civil governments. This is how the world acts. Our knowledge of the Gospel calls us to a higher standard. We hope that no Saints participated in last week’s “March on Jefferson” to protest Governor Boggs’ election. If they did, it was as private citizens and not as representatives of our faith.

Those who oppose things like murdering children and seizing property are invited to participate fully in the legitimate activities of government. Members of the Church should feel free to write their representatives on a state and national level and ask them to change these policies. And we hope that all members of the Church will vote in the upcoming elections. Once a fair election has concluded, however, it is our duty to accept the results and be good citizens of whatever government the Lord has graciously provided us with.

We encourage all Latter-day Saints to cooperate with the civil authorities involved in the act of exterminating them. To do otherwise would be to violate the sacred premises of our faith. In four years, should any of us remain alive, we will work hard to elect a government that will be less committed to the ideals of genocide and religious cleansing. In the meantime, remember the Lord’s commandment: ““We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.”

Sincerely Yours,

Joseph Smith, Jr.
Sidney Rigdon
Hyrum Smith


  1. The comments I can already imagine… (grabs popcorn)

  2. I didn’t vote for Donald Trump. But the comparison here is just silly. When Trump orders genocide, we can loop back around to Governor Boggs.

  3. What about when he orders torture?

  4. This is funny. A very artful troll. Enjoy the fallout!

  5. enhanced interrogation =/= torture
    Waterboarding =/= torture
    Trump as president = torture

  6. Marc, I think the point of the post is that if you wait until someone orders genocide, you might be a wee bit late to do anything but run for your life.

  7. What if President Trump’s exclusion of innocent Muslims from war-torn regions results in death, torture, dismemberment, loss, and devastating trauma for hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands of people who otherwise would have lived relatively safe, stable, productive lives in the United States under current policies. Will you turn your back and say, “Not my problem”? Do you think that’s what Jesus would do?

  8. I see what you’re doing there. But . . .
    Copying my comment from a previous discussion about the 12th Article of Faith:

    The 12th Article of Faith is something of a red herring. True it contains the word “obeying”, but that doesn’t mean strict obedience to every law all the time. There are numerous counter-examples, immigration laws being just one in a long list. Rather, in modern terminology I would read it more like “subject to” or “pay attention to” or even “hearken to”.

    I think the easiest way to understand the 12th AoF is by positing the opposite, the contra statement. It isn’t “we believe in breaking the law”—nobody would think that or suggest it. Rather, the contra statement that is negated by the 12th AoF is something like “we believe in establishing the kingdom of God on earth”. This is the real alternative. Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, Mormons in Nauvoo, and Mormons in Utah territory, were all accused of separating from the state. Whatever you think of who was right and who was wrong, the very fact of the Utah War demonstrates that kingdom building was a serious question. President James Buchanan sent U.S. forces to the Utah Territory in 1857-1858 to exert control and federal authority, concerned about Brigham Young (then territorial governor) running a theocracy, with ecclesiastical leaders elected to political office and receiving administrative appointments, Mormons dominating the legislature and the courts, Mormons using ecclesiastical courts rather than the territorial and federal court system, the practice of polygamy, and more.

    Talmage cites the cessation of polygamy as an illustration of the suspension of “Divine law” (Talmage’s term) in favor of secular law, i.e., an illustration of “obeying the law.” But consider what that really means in historical context. Federal statutes declared the practice unlawful beginning in 1862. The Church claimed these laws were unconstitutional and appealed, and ultimately lost. Reynolds v. United States was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1878. President Wilford Woodruff issued the Manifesto that Talmage points to as concession to secular law in 1890, 12 years after Reynolds, and we know that polygamy did not end even then. In the meantime, Church leaders were imprisoned, others went into hiding, Church property was confiscated, and the LDS Church was dissolved (by the Edmunds-Tucker Act of 1887). In other words, there was 30 years of more or less open disobedience.

  9. Some members on my Facebook feed compared Hillary to Hitler when she called for gun restrictions. The memes were ridiculous.

    Sometimes over-argument on political issues actually hurts the point you are trying to make. It turns off people who you may very well be able to persuade.

  10. Michael, I love your work and essays and am a long-time fan. So help me out here. The problem that I see here is this: the idea of Trump ordering genocide (which is presumably fueling this OP) is… a slippery slope argument. A logical fallacy. Speculation. It’s possible, yes, but is it probable? (Maybe it is?) I think he’s a disgusting man and a misogynist, and yes, vindictive and racist. But even so, this reminds me of the arguments for and against gay marriage being legislated. Conservatives, generally speaking, argued a slippery slope there as well: that passing that would lead to the moral downfall of our country and polygamy being okay again and moral decay and craziness. And maybe it will, who knows? But that’s the point: who knows? So my question is, how is this not a slippery slope argument and an unjust comparison? I don’t feel like the LDS Church would do this, nor do I think that (in light of Christiankimball’s comment) this is what would be asked of us anyway.

  11. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    As part of the Mark Hofmann Collection, the alternative facts presented in this letter are presented to the general membership of the Church for canonization. All those who can sustain these facts please signify by the usual sign.

  12. Pretty funny. You appear to have an incomplete sentence at the beginning of the next-to-last paragraph. That aside, what do we do when Trump ignores the strong support, even among Republicans, for environmental protections and immediately begins undoing 50 years of progress in cleaning up our air and water? Who benefits from this? Certainly not the average citizen, whose health has improved because of these measures. The beneficiaries are the Koch brothers and their ilk, billionaires and large corporations who want to be able to pollute at will. Conservatives who think Trump is really out to help the little guy should look carefully at his edicts and figure out who really benefits. He has already killed a program that would have kicked back some money to mortgage holders from an excess in a federal fund through rate decreases. His proposed tax cuts will primarily benefit the ultra-wealthy. If you think inequality in this country was bad under Obama, who tried to put a dent in it but was obstructed time and again by the GOP, just wait until you see what happens when Trump and the supply-siders keep their promises and funnel even more wealth to the top. The GOP was already the party of the wealthy. It has just taken a major step further in that direction.

  13. Bryan, start with the assumption that this post is not about Donald Trump, but about the way that some Mormons are currently using the 12th AoF in responding to recent marches and protests. See where that goes.

  14. Protesting the election of an individual is different from protesting the illegal/immoral acts of that individual in his position of office. A common argument I saw against the women’s march was, “He’s been president less than 24 hours, what rights has he taken away from you?” Timing the protest before Trump had any opportunity to use (let alone abuse) any powers of his office was questionable. People will look at this and say you’re just doing the typical Trump is Boggs/Hitler in utero, but just because you believe someone will commit murder in the future doesn’t mean you can charge them with murder today (the Minority Report dilemma).

    Besides, like christiankimball mentioned, we have a tolerance for civil disobedience *if* members think it will benefit the church. Sometimes it’s just a matter of smuggling church publication materials into a country that’s prohibited it (East Germany per Monson’s story) or members here in the U.S. gleefully discussing how “volunteers” in Russia are undercover missionaries who’d find ways around the new religious legal restrictions. If members think they are doing it in the service of “the kingdom of God,” it’s amazing how liberal they become. As of right now, many Mormon political conservatives trust Trump because they believe he holds values consistent with the church, encouraged by the support previous church leaders have given him (Beck, Robert Oaks). Deseret News articles going remotely anti-Trump are heavily criticized (like the one talking about Mormon women involving themselves in the march). Only a rebuke by sitting church leaders would convince members to oppose Trump, and (as in the Muslim ban statement during the election) even that might not be enough.

  15. I very much enjoyed this, Mike. To other readers: you’ll enjoy it much more, I think, if you relax and don’t try so hard to map this onto specific current events. It’s the principle that rules in this post, not whether the post accurately describes any potential real-life illustration. (Hint: It doesn’t.)

  16. I really don’t understand the line of argument that says “Sure he says he’s going to (insert terrible thing here), but let’s wait until he is in the process of actually doing it before we jump to conclusions.” It’s like saying “sure it looks like a wolf, sure it claims it’s a wolf, but I won’t start running till its teeth are on my throat.”

    The attitude is particularly baffling given his executive orders over the past few days.

  17. Ardis, one thing I’ve noticed about Latter-day Saints is that they often are allergic to irony and unable to figure out satire. (My wife’s mission president once said, “Sarcasm is of the Devil.” To use ’90s missionary parlance, his tenure was…less effective.)

    This can extend to conservatives in general (although some of the funniest people in history have had fundamentally conservative streaks, mostly because they were misanthropes), but it’s especially the case with Mormons. Maybe it’s because the shibboleth against watching R-rated movies means that entertainment aimed at a level above 13-year-olds is off-limits. In general, there’s a tendency to cultivate a childlike attitude toward life, when many of the problems of the world are things that require Grown-Ass Women and Men.

  18. Trump *has* promised to sign a bill that would strip away my civil rights (First Amendment Defense Act). Yes, its not genocide, but surely promising to sign a bill that would let people fire or evict you for just existing calls for more action than waiting for the next election.

  19. Agreed, APM. The … less effectiveness … released into the universe by that unfortunate tendency may be offset by the patience and virtue of bloggers who tolerate unrelated, irrelevant, stale commentary that entirely ignores the post, even after repeated notification. Or maybe not. I moderate that junk chez moi.

  20. Rigel Hawthorne says:

    Call me a curmudgeon, but I do not find humor in this. It satirizes the real life hardships which were a great source of pain to the survivors and their immediate descendants, which may be our two or three-generations back ancestors. It mocks the names of the members of the period’s first presidency with their attachment to the satire.

  21. “Ardis, one thing I’ve noticed about Latter-day Saints is that they often are allergic to irony and unable to figure out satire………..Maybe it’s because the shibboleth against watching R-rated movies means that entertainment aimed at a level above 13-year-olds is off-limits. In general, there’s a tendency to cultivate a childlike attitude toward life, when many of the problems of the world are things that require Grown-Ass Women and Men.”

    “Agreed, APM. The … less effectiveness … released into the universe by that unfortunate tendency may be offset by the patience and virtue of bloggers who tolerate unrelated, irrelevant, stale commentary that entirely ignores the post, even after repeated notification.”

    Lovely. Thanks for the patience and virtue of all who tolerate our childlike comments.

    Ardis, I am actually a big fan of your blog.

  22. Jared vdH says:

    Jax, how is waterboarding not torture? We defined waterboarding as torture during WWII when the Japanese did it to American GIs. We defined waterboarding as torture during the Vietnam war with the Viet Cong did it to American GIs.

    Is waterboarding not torture only when it’s Americans administering it?

  23. How can this letter be authentic? It is dated 1838 and quotes the 12th Article of Faith. The Articles of Faith weren’t published until 1842 as part of the Wentworth Letter.

  24. ^^^

  25. Marc, I’m glad you like Keepa. I try very hard to provide historical value for readers who take the trouble to read Keepa, even when they might disagree with my reasons for telling a particular story.

    I love childlike comments, almost universally. Not so keen on childish comments, or on comments that rip into a writer for not writing in a way they expect or understand or appreciate (whichever is the case with individual commenters). That’s another way Michael Austin is channeling Jonathan Swift.

  26. Aussie Mormon says:

    I’m not sure it’s a good idea to present this an an authentic letter. With the media like they are today, and people that don’t spend 2 minutes fact checking, people are going to get the wrong idea about what point you’re trying to get across.

  27. The very fact that Americans can and do freely march and protest gives the lie to the comparisons of America to North Korea or Nazi Germany or Trump to King Noah or Governor Boggs.

    Latter-day Saints live in almost every country in the world either as vistors or citizens, and there are countries without freedom of speech and assembly as we know them in the U.S.
    In which countries would BCC recommend that Church members practice active hostility and disobedience towards the government?

  28. BCC conscience says:

    Ohhh, that’s rich…
    Comparing protestors of a pro life president to mornings protesting Missourians killing Mormon children….
    Yeah, some forger really didn’t think this one through…

  29. Kevin Barney says:

    Michael, this was brill. Well done.

  30. An elegant piece. Thank you.

  31. This is excellent, Michael. This in particular is great: “We encourage all Latter-day Saints to cooperate with the civil authorities involved in the act of exterminating them.”

  32. I remember when I started following this blog. I was genuinely intrigued by the discussions that were had about all aspects of the church.

    Sure didn’t think it would become the same as my Facebook feed….

  33. Ardis and APM are exactly right.

  34. We always have power. We have the ability to judge and to act on that judgment. We can act, or be acted upon. When we judge unrighteously, we can perceive ourselves as victims. When we see ourselves as victims, we loose the very core power of the agency we have been given, by believing ourselves to be acted upon.
    The Anti-Nephi-Lehites did the very thing you parody, but, they did it righteously, and in the choice preserved their divinely given power. Given there are some unique circumstances in their choice, but they chose to suffer themselves to be dealt with according to the Lamanites desires, kind of like DC 98.
    So, in your “brill” post, you demean some beautiful principles. In the Marchers demonstrations, they lose a lot of their power.
    In todays world we seem to celebrate those who chose to lose their power, rather than celebrate those who chose to use it righteously. In so doing, we lose some of ours.

  35. “In the Marchers demonstrations, they lose a lot of their power.”

    Rand is literally calling good evil, and evil good, and cloaking it in a thin veneer of scripture. I never thought I’d see the day when so many self-righteous Mormons opposed basic fundamental principals of our Constitution.

  36. Sigh again says:

    That was *principles. Darn autocorrect.

  37. I saw pound sand on us all being subjects of any type of government.
    Also that letter saying we are SUBJECTS is Joseph Smith’s or perhaps all the then church leaderships position. It was not given as revelation. Yet in this other letter it is referred to as

%d bloggers like this: