FairMormon is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing well-documented answers to criticisms of LDS doctrine, belief and practice.
Joseph Smith/Prophecies/White Horse prophecy
The White Horse Prophecy
- Question: What is the "White Horse Prophecy?"
- Question: What do critics of the Church say about the "White Horse Prophecy"?
- Question: Will the U.S. Constitution eventually "hang by a thread"?
- Question: Are the "Mormons" secretly planning to eventually take over the U.S. Government?
- Question: How have Church leaders reacted to the stories of the White Horse prophecy?
- Question: Does the "White Horse Prophecy" imply Church support for some candidates over others?
The so-called 'White Horse Prophecy' is based on accounts that have not been substantiated by historical research and is not embraced as Church doctrine.
- Kim Farrah, representative from Church Public Affairs 
Question: What is the "White Horse Prophecy"?
Joseph Smith is alleged to have uttered a prophecy in 1843 alluding to the four horses in the Book of Revelation
Joseph Smith is alleged to have uttered a prophecy in 1843 alluding to the four horses in the Book of Revelation. This was recorded by two Church members, Edwin Rushton and Theodore Turley approximately ten years after Joseph's death. There is no contemporary account that was recorded during the Prophet's lifetime. According to the Book of Revelation:
1 And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals, and I heard, as it were the noise of thunder, one of the four beasts saying, Come and see. 2 And I saw, and behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer. 3 And when he had opened the second seal, I heard the second beast say, Come and see. 4 And there went out another horse that was red: and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another: and there was given unto him a great sword. 5 And when he had opened the third seal, I heard the third beast say, Come and see. And I beheld, and lo a black horse; and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand. 6 And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts say, A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny; and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine. 7 And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, Come and see. 8 And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth. Revelation 6:1-8
Alleged text of the prophecy
The following is an excerpt of the journal of Elder John J. Roberts. Roberts apparently entered it into his diary on Sunday, March 2, 1902 after returning, on February 4, 1902, from a mission to Samoa. He reported receiving it from Robert Pierce (sometimes incorrectly noted as Pace) on Friday, February 28, 1902. Thus, this account is at least second or third-hand:
...While this conversation was going on we stood by his south wicket gate in a triangle. Turning to me, [Joseph] said, “I want to tell you something of the future. I will speak in a parable like unto John the Revelator. You will go to the Rocky Mountains and you will be a great and mighty people established there, which I will call the White Horse of peace and safety.” When the Prophet said, “You will see it,” I said, “Where will you be at that time?” He said, “I shall never go there. Your enemies will continue to follow you with persecutions and they will make obnoxious laws against you in Congress to destroy the White Horse, but you will have a friend or two to defend you and throw out the worst parts of the law so they will not hurt you so much. You must continue to petition Congress all the time, but they will treat you like strangers and aliens and they will not give you your rights, but will govern you with strangers and commissioners. You will see the Constitution of the United States almost destroyed. It will hang like a thread as fine as a silk fiber.” At that time the Prophet’s countenance became sad, because as he said, “I love the Constitution; it was made by the inspiration of God; and it will be preserved and saved by the efforts of the White Horse, and by the Red Horse who will combine in its defense. The White Horse will find the mountains full of minerals and they will become rich (at this time, it must be remembered, the precious metals were not known to exist in either the Rocky Mountains or California). You will see silver piled up in the streets. You will see the gold shoveled up like sand. Gold will be of little value then, even in a mercantile capacity; for the people of the world will have something else to do in seeking for salvation. The time will come when the banks of every nation will fall and only two places will be safe where people can deposit their gold and treasure. This place will be the White Horse and England’s vaults. A terrible revolution will take place in the land of America, such as has never been seen before; for the land will be left without a Supreme Government, and every specie of wickedness will be practiced rampantly in the land. Father will be against son and son against father; mother against daughter and daughter against mother. The most terrible scenes of bloodshed, murder and rape that have ever been imagined or looked upon will take place. People will be taken from the earth and there will be peace and love only in the Rocky Mountains. This will cause many hundreds of thousands of the honest in heart of the world to gather there, not because they would be Saints, but for safety and because they will be so numerous that you will be in danger of famine, but not for want of seed, time and harvest, but because of so many to be fed. Many will come with bundles under their arms to escape the calamities for there will be no escape except only by escaping and fleeing to Zion... 
Question: What do critics of the Church say about the "White Horse Prophecy"?
Critics claim that "Mormons" have a secret plan to take over the government
It is claimed that the "White Horse" prophecy predicts the "transformation of the U.S. government into a Mormon-ruled theocracy," and that the "White Horse" prophecy "continues to be a dominant element of the faith espoused by Joseph Smith's followers" because they believe that they will be "officers and administrators" during Christ's millennial reign. It is also claimed that "Mormons thereafter will reign with Christ, and every American citizen, along with the rest of the world, will be forced to recognize Mormonism as the one true religion."
Unfortunately, the only accounts of the alleged prophecy were provided second-hand years after the Prophet's death, and cannot be corroborated with other contemporary sources. However, based upon the information that is extant, one can see that the prediction is that Latter-day Saints would support and uphold the government, not take over the government. It is absolutely clear that this is not a prophecy that is considered in any way true or binding on the membership of the Church. Those who would try to hold the Church to their interpretation of this so-called prophecy do so improperly and without any verifiable reason to do so. This so-called "prophecy" has been repeatedly disavowed by the authorities of the Church and it is not a common topic of discussion among the members today.
Question: Will the U.S. Constitution eventually "hang by a thread"?
This concept of the Constitution "hanging by a thread" has been improperly associated with the White Horse prophecy
Occasionally heard among Church members are references to the Constitution "hanging by a thread' during the last days. This concept of the Constitution "hanging by a thread" has been improperly, and sometimes uniquely, associated with the White Horse prophecy. The implication is that the Constitution will be close to destruction and that the "White Horse" and the "Red Horse" will step in to save it. This is often misinterpreted to mean that a man on a white horse will step in to save the Constitution.  This was the reference that was often applied to Mitt Romney by his detractors during his run for the U.S. Presidency in 2008.
So what references have Church leaders made to the Constitution "hanging by a thread?" Brigham Young said:
Will the Constitution be destroyed? No: it will be held inviolate by this people; and, as Joseph Smith said, "The time will come when the destiny of the nation will hang upon a single thread. At that critical juncture, this people will step forth and save it from the threatened destruction." It will be so.
With regard to the doings of our fathers and the Constitution of the United States, I have to say, they present to us a glorious prospect in the future, but one we cannot attain to until the present abuses in the Government are corrected.
Orson Hyde said,
It is said that brother Joseph in his lifetime declared that the Elders of this Church should step forth at a particular time when the Constitution should be in danger, and rescue it, and save it. This may be so; but I do not recollect that he said exactly so. I believe he said something like this—that the time would come when the Constitution and the country would be in danger of an overthrow; and said he, If the Constitution be saved at all, it will be by the Elders of this Church. I believe this is about the language, as nearly as I can recollect it.
Brigham Young and Orson Hyde both clearly state that the Constitution will be in grave danger of being destroyed. If the constitution is to be preserved it will be because the "Elders" of the Church will step forward and provide the support that will help to preserve the Constitution. The Elders of the Church will always be in support of the constitution, and will not ever be in a position to replace or supplant the constitutional principles in that document. Note that this belief has nothing to do with the so-called "White Horse" prophecy, but in fact preceded the date claimed for that prophecy.
The concern for the Constitution of the United States of America is a real and valid concern of the authorities and membership of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Because it was included as part of the White Horse does not give the White Horse any sort of credibility. It is an entirely separate concern.
Question: Are the "Mormons" secretly planning to eventually take over the U.S. Government?
Such accusations are ridiculous: Latter-day Saints have no secret plans to take over the U.S. Government
The White Horse Prophecy has been used extensively by critics to imply that Latter-day Saints have a "secret agenda" to take over the United States government. These accusations have been made for years, particularly when a Latter-day Saint runs for president.
Some of the accusations have even bordered on the ridiculous. Consider this bit of absurdity from William Schnoebelen:
He told me that there was a council room up there [in the Washington Temple] which was an exact replica of the Oval Office of the White House. He told me they even had all the radio and telemetry equipment in place, hidden beneath a dome on top of the temple. He said that from this council room, the prophet could run the nation just as easily as he could from the White House itself. He also claimed that these electronic devices on the roof were so strong that airlines had to avoid flying right over the temple or their instruments might be thrown off.
Question: How have Church leaders reacted to the stories of the White Horse prophecy?
Authorities of the Church have denounced portions of the account
Authorities of the Church have denounced portions of the account. In General Conference in October 1918 Joseph Fielding Smith made the following comments:
I have discovered that people have copies of a purported vision by the Prophet Joseph Smith given in Nauvoo, and some people are circulating this supposed vision, or revelation, or conversation which the prophet is reported to have held with a number of individuals in the city of Nauvoo. I want to say to you, my brethren and sisters, that if you understand the Church articles and covenants, if you will read the scriptures and become familiar with those things which are recorded in the revelations from the Lord, it will not be necessary for you to ask any questions in regard to the authenticity or otherwise of any purported revelation, vision, or manifestation that proceeds out of darkness, concocted in some corner, surreptitiously presented, and not coming through the proper channels of the Church. Let me add that when a revelation comes for the guidance of this people, you may be sure that it will not be presented in some mysterious manner contrary to the order of the Church. It will go forth in such form that the people will understand that it comes from those who are in authority, for it will be sent either to the presidents of stakes and the bishops of the wards over the signatures of the presiding authorities, Or it will be published in some of the regular papers or magazines under the control and direction of the Church or it will be presented before such a gathering as this, at a general conference. It will not spring up in some distant part of the Church and be in the hands of some obscure individual without authority, and thus be circulated among the Latter-day Saints. Now, you may remember this. 
The White Horse Prophecy, in any of its variant forms, has never been submitted, or even considered, for such a process that would be required to make it canon or binding on the Church membership. It simply has not occurred.
Joseph Fielding Smith's father and President of the Church, Joseph F. Smith, followed immediately after his speech and said:
The ridiculous story about the "red horse," and "the black horse," and "the white horse," and a lot of trash that has been circulated about and printed and sent around as a great revelation given by the Prophet Joseph Smith, is a matter that was gotten up, I understand, some ten years after the death of the Prophet Joseph Smith, by two of our brethren who put together some broken sentences from the Prophet that they may have heard from time to time, and formulated this so-called revelation out of it, and it was never spoken by the prophet in the manner in which they have put it forth. It is simply false; that is all there is to it. 
Elder Bruce R McConkie also comments on the “prophecy” in his book Mormon Doctrine:
From time to time, accounts of various supposed visions, revelations, and prophecies are spread forth by and among the Latter-day Saints, who should know better than to believe or spread such false information. One of these false and deceptive documents that has cropped up again and again for over a century is the so-called White Horse Prophecy. This supposed prophecy purports to be a long and detailed account by the Prophet Joseph Smith concerning the wars, turmoils, and difficulties which should exist in the last days. 
Note that the substance of the condemnation is that some thoughts or sentences from one source or another may have been put together to form this so-called revelation. The memory of the men involved may not have been sufficient to remember all that occurred in the short conversation they reportedly had with the Prophet. It is likely that they had parts from here and parts from there that formed the basis of their memory of the event. Note also that it is the descriptions of the various horses and what they represent that are condemned as false. In addition, the details of the last days are also declared false.
It is clear that the text of the White Horse Prophecy as reported by Theodore Turley and Edwin Rushton and recorded in the diary of John J. Roberts is not accepted as verified, binding prophecy by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It has never been accepted and it has been soundly denounced. No authority of the Church has ever spoken in support of this document—not once.
Question: Does the "White Horse Prophecy" imply Church support for some candidates over others?
The Church has disavowed any belief in the validity of the so-called White Horse prophecy
The Church has disavowed any belief in the validity of the so-called White Horse prophecy, and the prophecy's authenticity is suspicious on numerous historical grounds.
In December 2009, Church Public Affairs released a statement which read:
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is politically neutral and does not endorse or promote any candidate, party or platform. Accordingly, we hope that the campaign practices of political candidates would not suggest that their candidacy is supported by or connected to the church.
"The so-called 'White Horse Prophecy' is based on accounts that have not been substantiated by historical research and is not embraced as Church doctrine. 
- Kim Farrah, spokeswoman for LDS public affairs, cited in "LDS Church issues statement on Rex Rammell," Rexburg Standard Journal (17h21, 24 December 2009).
- John J. Roberts, "Reminiscences and Diaries 1898-1902", Microfilm Manuscript, Church History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah. For the complete text, see Cobabe, below.
- Richard Abanes, One Nation Under Gods: A History of the Mormon Church (New York: Four Walls Eight Windows, 2003), xvii-xxi ( Index of claims ); William Schnoebelen, "Mitt Romney and the Mormon Plan for America," Cutting Edge Ministeries, 2007. http://www.cuttingedge.org/news/n2226.cfm
- George Cobabe, "The White Horse Prophecy," (Redding, CA: FAIR, 2004).
- Brigham Young, "Celebration of the Fourth of July", Journal of Discourses 7:15 (July 4, 1854)
- Orson Hyde, "Self-Government, etc.", Journal of Discourses 6:152 (Jan. 3, 1858)
- William Schnoebelen, "Mitt Romney and the Mormon Plan for America," Cutting Edge Ministeries, 2007. http://www.cuttingedge.org/news/n2226.cfm
- Joseph F[ielding]. Smith, Jr., Conference Report (October 1918). Note that Joseph F. Smith, Jr. is typically referred to as "Joseph Fielding Smith," to distinguish him from his father, the 6th president of the Church, cited in the next footnote.
- Joseph F. Smith, Conference Report (October 1918).
- Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2nd edition, (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966), 835. GL direct link
- Kim Farrah, spokeswoman for LDS public affairs, cited in "LDS Church issues statement on Rex Rammell," Rexburg Standard Journal (17h21, 24 December 2009).