Joseph Smith's "capital" idea

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As I was working through the very final set of revisions on The Accidental Terrorist, I had to hunt down the original source of a well-known Joseph Smith quote on the topic of the accuracy of the Bible. I found what I was looking for in his History of the Church, but I also found a nearby paragraph that was equally interesting.

Joseph was obviously frustrated by the persecution he and his people had been suffering, and was perhaps even more frustrated by his inability to get protection or redress from the courts, or even much sympathy from President Martin Van Buren in a face-to-face 1840 meeting. In Volume VI, Chapter 3 of History of the Church, he wrote:

The Constitution should contain a provision that every officer of the Government who should neglect or refuse to extend the protection guaranteed in the Constitution should be subject to capital punishment; and then the president of the United States would not say, "Your cause is just, but I can do nothing for you," a governor issue exterminating orders, or judges say, "The men ought to have the protection of law, but it won't please the mob; the men must die, anyhow, to satisfy the clamor of the rabble; they must be hung, or Missouri be damned to all eternity." Executive writs could be issued when they ought to be, and not be made instruments of cruelty to oppress the innocent, and persecute men whose religion is unpopular.

Think about that for a minute. The death penalty for failing to protect everyone's rights under the Constitution. Can you imagine the irony had Joseph's fancy become an actual amendment? Can you imagine the implications for the attorney generals and county clerks who refused to issue marriage certificates to same-sex couples? Can you imagine the implications for district attorneys who failed to indict white officers for shooting black civilians?

Clearly this is a ridiculous idea. But I find it fascinating that Mormonism's founder felt disenfranchised enough to commit it to paper. I wonder what he would have made of the civil rights fights of our day? Would he have realized his church should really be on the same side as today's crusaders for equality?

Probably not. But it's fun to think about. Probably as fun as it was for him to think about men like Van Buren or Governor Lilburn Boggs of Missouri swinging from a hangman's rope.

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This page contains a single entry by William Shunn published on August 6, 2015 3:22 PM.

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