Joseph Smith/Alleged false prophecies/Civil War
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Joseph Smith made an 1832 prophecy of the Civil War. Critics scramble to dismiss this prophetic "hit" by various tactics, including:
- claiming a rebellion was already going on in South Carolina in 1832
- claiming the Church did not publicize the prophecy until after the Civil War started
- claiming a civil war was "inevitable," and "anyone" could have predicted it
- claiming "war was not brought to all nations" by the Civil War and/or claiming there is "no link" between the Civil War and later conflicts
- claiming slaves did not rise up against their masters in the Civil War
The critics' desperate scramble to explain away this prophecy fails on multiple grounds. It is no surprise that nineteenth-century members of the Church consistently saw the Civil War as a fulfillment of prophecy, and evidence of Joseph Smith's prophetic gifts.
The prophecy given 25 December 1832 reads:
- 1 VERILY, thus saith the Lord concerning the wars that will shortly come to pass, beginning at the rebellion of South Carolina, which will eventually terminate in the death and misery of many souls;
- 2 And the time will come that war will be poured out upon all nations, beginning at this place.
- 3 For behold, the Southern States shall be divided against the Northern States, and the Southern States will call on other nations, even the nation of Great Britain, as it is called, and they shall also call upon other nations, in order to defend themselves against other nations; and then war shall be poured out upon all nations.
- 4 And it shall come to pass, after many days, slaves shall rise up against their masters, who shall be marshaled and disciplined for war.
- 5 And it shall come to pass also that the remnants who are left of the land will marshal themselves, and shall become exceedingly angry, and shall vex the Gentiles with a sore vexation.
- 6 And thus, with the sword and by bloodshed the inhabitants of the earth shall mourn; and with famine, and plague, and earthquake, and the thunder of heaven, and the fierce and vivid lightning also, shall the inhabitants of the earth be made to feel the wrath, and indignation, and chastening hand of an Almighty God, until the consumption decreed hath made a full end of all nations;
- 7 That the cry of the saints, and of the blood of the saints, shall cease to come up into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth, from the earth, to be avenged of their enemies.
- 8 Wherefore, stand ye in holy places, and be not moved, until the day of the Lord come; for behold, it cometh quickly, saith the Lord. Amen. (DC 87:1-8)
Rebellion on-going in South Carolina?
Critics claim that Mormons "cover up the fact that the 'prophecy' was made in the midst of an earlier rebellion in December 1832. That rebellion ended quietly a few months later."
This claim, however, is false. Gil Scharffs noted that critics "are correct when they say Joseph Smith announced the Civil War prophecy when rebellion in South Carolina was threatening. A large 1832 rebellion never materialized and the threat ended a few months later."
No American statesman in 1832 believed that the doctrines of secession then talked of would result in a great civil war. None of them had the foresight to see that a great rebellion would occur, beginning in South Carolina; that it would terminate in the death and misery of many souls; that the Southern States would be divided against the Northern States; that the Southern States would call on Great Britain, and that war would eventually be poured out upon all nations. No one foresaw that this would be the result except Joseph Smith--when but twenty-seven years of age--and he saw it only by the spirit of prophecy and revelation. To be required to believe that the prophecy was merely the fortunate conjecture of a more than ordinary astute mind, requires a greater amount of credulity than to concede the inspiration of the Prophet; and then the question would still remain, why is it that sagacious minds in other generations have not paralleled this astuteness of Joseph Smith's? Why did not some of the brilliant minds in the Senate or House of Representatives in 1832 make such a prediction? There was not a lack of brilliant minds in either Senate or House at that time, yet none seemed equal to the task. 
The fact that there were rumors of war is in fact a fulfillment of prophecy itself! (Matthew 24:6-7) The question is not were there rumors of war, but the question should be, did the events take place just as Joseph Smith said they would. As soon as Joseph uttered the words "Thus saith the Lord" he was tied to the prophecy being true or false, and if the events did not happen as he said, then, and only then, could it be declared a false prophecy.
It was because of this fact that the Lord made known to Joseph Smith this revelation stating that wars would shortly come to pass, beginning with the rebellion of South Carolina, which would eventually terminate in war being poured out upon all nations and in the death and misery of many souls. It may have been an easy thing in 1832, or even 1831, for someone to predict that there would come a division of the Northern States and the Southern States, for even then there were rumblings, and South Carolina had shown the spirit of rebellion. It was not, however, within the power of man to predict in the detail which the Lord revealed to Joseph Smith, what was shortly to come to pass as an outgrowth of the Civil War and the pouring out of war upon all nations. It must be conceded that no one, except Joseph Smith, ever entered into such detail in relation to this conflict or stated with such assurance that the time would come when all nations would be involved in war, The revelation begins with these words: "Verily, thus saith the Lord, concerning the wars that will shortly come to pass beginning at the rebellion of South Carolina, which will eventually terminate in the death and misery of many souls; and the time will come that war will be poured out upon all nations, beginning at this place." This, certainly, is a bold prediction which no one, other than Joseph Smith, dared to make. 
Spreading the prophecy
Does this mean that the Church quietly shelved the prophecy for several years?
Joseph Smith reiterated the prophecy in 1842, and added more detail:
- 12 I prophesy, in the name of the Lord God, that the commencement of the difficulties which will cause much bloodshed previous to the coming of the Son of Man will be in South Carolina.
- 13 It may probably arise through the slave question. This a voice declared to me, while I was praying earnestly on the subject, December 25th, 1832. (DC 130:12-13)
Orson Pratt testified that he began preaching the prophecy soon after it was given. In 1870, he said:
- I went forth before my beard was gray, before my hair began to turn white, when I was a youth of nineteen, now I am fifty-eight, and from that time on I published these tidings among the inhabitants of the earth. I carried forth the written revelation, foretelling this great contest, some twenty-eight years before the war commenced. This prophecy has been printed and circulated extensively in this and other nations and languages. It pointed out the place where it should commence in South Carolina. That which I declared over the New England States, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and many other parts in the East, when but a boy, came to pass twenty-eight years after the revelation was given.
- When they were talking about a war commencing down here in Kansas, I told them that was not the place; I also told them that the revelation had designated South Carolina, "and," said I, "you have no need to think that the Kansas war is going to be the war that is to be so terribly destructive in its character and nature. No, it must commence at the place the Lord has designated by revelation."
- What did they have to say to me? They thought it was a Mormon humbug, and laughed me to scorn, and they looked upon that revelation as they do upon all others that God has given in these latter days—as without divine authority. But behold and lo! in process of time it came to pass, again establishing the divinity of this work, and giving another proof that God is in this work, and is performing that which He spoke by the mouths of the ancient prophets, as recorded in the Book of Mormon before any Church of Latter-day Saints was in existence.
Thus, Orson Pratt indicates that not only did he preach regarding Joseph's prophesy in 1832, but that he was ridiculed for it. He would also remember:
- Now I am aware that it is almost impossible for even some of the Latter-day Saints to get that confidence and that strong faith in the events which God intends to accomplish on this land in the future to believe in such a thing, to say nothing about outsiders, that do not believe a word of it. Outsiders do not believe it any more than they believed me when I was a boy and took that revelation which was given in 1832, and carried it forth among many towns and cities and told them there was to be a great and terrible war between the North and the South, and read to them the revelation. Did they believe it? Would they consider that there was any truth in it? Not in the least, "that is a Mormon humbug" they would say. "What! this great and powerful nation of ours to be divided one part against the other and many hundreds of thousands of souls to be destroyed by civil wars!" Not a word of it would they believe. They do not believe what is still in the future. (Orson Pratt, December 27, 1868. Journal of Discourses 12:344)
The Church also printed the prophecy in the Pearl of Great Price in 1851, and continued to publicize it until the Civil War. Clearly, they did not keep it "under wraps" until the Civil War became inevitable.
Orson Pratt also included the full prophecy from December 1832 on the front page of his publication The Seer in April 1854, with interpretation and editorial comment for 6 pages. There are also many extant manuscript copies of the prophecy, in the handwriting of men who left the church before Joseph Smith died, and some who didn't (WW Phelps, Thomas Bullock, Willard Richards [who died before the Civil War], Edward Partridge, Algernon Sidney Gilbert, Frederick G. Williams).
Robert Woodford's Ph.D. thesis also located a an article in a Philadelphia paper quoting the revelation from 1851, with comments, from May 1861; it was reprinted in England a month later:
- Philadelphia Sunday Mercury, Sunday May 5, 1861
- A MORMON PROPHECY
- We have in our possession a pamphlet, published at Liverpool, in 1851, containing a selection from the ‘revelations, translations and narratives’ of Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism. The following prophecy is here said to have been made by Smith, on the 25th of December, 1832. In view of our present troubles, this prediction seems to be in progress of fulfilment, whether Joe Smith was a humbug or not:
- ‘A REVELATION AND PROPHECY BY THE PROPHET, SEER, AND REVELATOR, JOSEPH SMITH. Verily thus saith the Lord…. Amen [complete text quoted]’
- The war began in South Carolina. Insurrections of slaves are already dreaded. Famine will certainly afflict some Southern communities. The interference of Great Britain, on account of the want of cotton, is not improbable, if the war is protracted. In the meantime, a general war in Europe appears to be imminent. Have we not had a prophet among us?
Clearly, members of the Church did not hide the prophecy, and spread it far and wide among themselves and among others from the 1830s until its fulfillment in the 1860s.
Anyone could have predicted it?
So, was the prophecy "so obvious" that anyone could have predicted it? The critics must prove this contention.
Where is the evidence that most Americans were predicting a Civil War between 1832-1851? Why was Orson Pratt ridiculed if this was obvious to everyone? This seems a desperate attempt by the critics to dismiss a "hit" by Joseph. Everything can look obvious in retrospect if one doesn't know history.
There is, in fact, good contemporary evidence that this prophecy was mocked by prominent authors only 4 years before the Civil War began. A newspaper article from 1857 reported a garbled version of the prophecy, but the author's scorn is clear:
- New beauties are being revealed in the Mormon faith almost every day, and new prophecies of Joe Smith fulfilled. When any event of state occurs, or any remarkable circumstance happens, some of the Mormon apostles find a prophecy of Joseph’s (probably dated twenty-five years ago), which has just been fulfilled by the occurrence. These prophecies are never spoken of until after the occurrence. The fact is, the leaders frame the prophecy themselves after its fulfillment. Joe Smith did at one time prophecy that before the year 1860, the Union would be divided, the havoc of war spread over our glorious Republic, battles be fought whose equal was never before known, father would be arrayed against son, and brother against brother, and that our glorious Republic would be stained with human blood from North to South, the Constitution be trampled upon, and the Government fall to the ground; and then would the little band of Mormons rear the standard of their creed aloft, and proclaim to the world that the millennial year had been ushered in, and the reign of Christ begun. (emphasis added)
- But methinks the Mormons can entertain but little hope of the fulfillment of that prophecy, as the Union has stood the strongest test and did not even shake. But when I shall see the above prophecy come to pass, I shall probably then change my mind about the truth of the revelation. At present, I see no chance of its verification within the time specified.
Death and Misery of Many Souls
Significantly, the prophesy warns of "the death and misery of many souls." The Civil War was, indeed, a bloody war, resulting in about 204,000 battle casualties plus another 225,000 military personnel who died of disease. This number actually well exceeds the American battle deaths (128,000) in World War I. In World War II, there were 396,637 battle deaths. 
Here are some figures concerning another war (World War I).
Authoritative tables give the grand total of all armies mobilized at 59,176,864. Direct military deaths out of this number are set down as 7,781,806; the wounded at 18,681,257; prisoners and missing 7,080,580; making a total of direct military casualties of 33,434,443. This is only a statement of military casualties however. The same authority sets down the number of civilians as being greater from famine, disease, and massacres than those who fell in the military operations. Of these two classes are named: civilians who were killed by direct military causes, and those who died from indirect causes. Of the first class the number was 100,082; and the second--those who died from indirect causes, among the Armenians, Syrians, Jews, and Greeks--massacred or starved by the Turks--are numbered at 4,000,000. The deaths numbered beyond the normal mortality of influenza and pneumonia induced by the war is placed at 4,000,000. The Serbians who died through diseases, or massacre, numbered 1,085,441. Making the total of deaths in these two classes 9,085,441, so that with military deaths and civilian deaths, resulting from the war, make a grand total of 16,967,329 deaths. And of the more than 18,000,000 who were wounded in battle 30% or about 6,000,000, were made permanent human wrecks. 
War was not brought to all nations?
Following the Civil War the nations, in their great alarm because of the new methods of warfare which were being developed and their fear of other nations, entered into alliances and secret agreements in order to protect themselves from other nations. At the outbreak of the World War, these alliances had reached proportions never before known, and during the war other alliances were made until nearly every nation on the earth had taken sides with the Triple Alliance or the Triple Entente. It was during the period of the World War, 1914-1918, Great Britain made her appeal to the nations to come to the defense of the standard of Democracy. Her pleadings were heard round the world. And what is still more remarkable, the entire procedure conforms exactly to the prediction made by Joseph Smith, viz: "they shall also call upon other nations in order to defend themselves against other nations." A plurality of nations aligned and allied on both sides of the deadly conflict. 
This revelation was not just about the American Civil War. The revelation makes that very clear by first stating in verse one, "thus saith the Lord concerning the wars that will shortly come to pass." Notice that the word used is wars (plural), not war (singular), thereby "suggesting not one war but a continuum of conflict. Thus, like chapter 24 of Matthew, this scripture covered things both imminent and distant."  Of course, in our own time, we could add the war in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq, civil wars in Central America, Lebanon, the British-Argentine conflict, Desert Storm, etc.
In our several Indian uprisings since the close of the Civil War, many see the fulfillment of that part of the prophecy which declares that the "remnants who are left of the land [the American Indians] will marshal themselves, and shall become exceeding angry, and shall vex the Gentiles with a sore vexation." 
World history since 1861 demonstrates that armed conflict widened and persisted since the American Civil War. There is nothing in the prophecy that claims that the Civil War must be the direct cause of on-going war, merely that on-going war will occur. And, it will happen after "Great Britain" "shall...call upon other nations, in order to defend themselves":
- 2 And the time will come that war will be poured out upon all nations, beginning at this place.
- 3 For behold, the Southern States shall be divided against the Northern States, and the Southern States will call on other nations, even the nation of Great Britain, as it is called, and they shall also call upon other nations, in order to defend themselves against other nations; and then war shall be poured out upon all nations. (DC 87:2-3)
This is an excellent description of WW I and II, during which war was "poured out" into global battles. And, since WW II war and strife has not ceased.
An on-line database of armed conflict demonstrates that there has not been a single year since the end of the Civil War in which a war or armed conflict did not begin, and many of these wars lasted for multiple years (or even, in some cases) decades. (Click here to download a PDF from this on-line database listing the wars from 1865-1950.)
Slaves did not rebel
In the part taken by negroes in the war between the states, many see the fulfillment of the prediction of the revelation that "slaves shall rise up against their masters, who shall be marshaled and disciplined for war;" for of the 2,653,000 soldiers enlisted on the side of the Union, 186,397 were colored, and many of them saw active service in the field against their former masters.  However, the prophecy does not tie slave rebellions directly to the Civil War. After discussing the call on other nations for assistance, the prophecy reads:
- 4 And it shall come to pass, after many days, slaves shall rise up against their masters, who shall be marshaled and disciplined for war.(DC 87:4)
The phrase "it came to pass," and related forms generally indicates a transition in subject or time. The prophecy is clear that the revolt of slaves will come "after many days," which in scriptural language (remember Jesus' second coming was "near," and "even at the door") generally suggests a fairly long period of time.
The prophecy also could refer to past race riots in the U.S. and other countries, uprisings in African nations against their governments, the liberation of peoples under dictatorships throughout the world, or some future liberation of those forced to fight against their will for totalitarian regimes.
Other accounts of the prophecy from LDS leaders
The contemporary evidence is complemented by accounts given later by LDS leaders and members:
- I copied a revelation more than twenty-five years ago, in which it is stated that war should be in the south and in the north, and that nation after nation would become embroiled in the tumult and excitement, until war should be poured out upon the whole earth, and that this war would commence at the rebellion of South Carolina, and that times should be such that every man who did not flee to Zion would have to take up the sword against his neighbor or against his brother. These things are beginning to be made manifest, but the end is not yet; but it will come, and that too much sooner than the world of mankind anticipate, and all those things spoken by the mouths of his Prophets will be fulfilled. (Wilford Woodruff, (July 27, 1862) Journal of Discourses 10:13.)
- The Lord has led this people out of bondage with a high hand and an outstretched arm. No man acquainted with the history of this people is ignorant of the almighty power of God that has been manifested in the organization, growth and present condition of the Church, though they may be unable naturally to account for it. And the more we grow and prosper, the more our enemies are angry with us. They are angry with us because we told them, thirty years ago, that calamity would come upon this nation. Their anger still increases, while they are drinking of the bitter cup; and at the same time the Saints are increasing in numbers, in faith, in hope, in wealth and in power. I have talked with men who professed to be gentlemen and dispensers of life and salvation to the people, who, Pharaoh-like, declared that they would rather be damned than believe that Joseph Smith was a true Prophet of God. I promised them they should have their choice. (Brigham Young, (September 28, 1862) Journal of Discourses 10:4.)
- We are under no necessity of sending forth the Elders of Israel in the condition that we have hitherto had to do; in fact, it would not be safe for a man to shoulder his valise and tramp through the States as the Elders used to do. Bloodshed, robbery, murder, jay-hawking (a polite name for robbery,) stalks abroad throughout the land, and the only chance for safety is for every man to pass along about his business and be silent; this is the case in many parts of the country. The fact that Joseph Smith predicted the present trouble and state of affairs—prophesied the result of mobbing the Saints in Missouri and elsewhere, enrages them; instead of the fulfillment of that prophecy making the people of the country friendly to us, it makes them bloodthirsty, more filled with hell, more eager to waste and destroy and crush out the last remaining particle of truth that may exist on the face of the land. (George A. Smith, (April 6, 1863) Journal of Discourses 10:144.)
- These things ought to be a warning to us. We comfort our souls sometimes on the fulfillment of the prophecies of God. We say "Mormonism" must be true because Joseph Smith prophesied thus and so concerning a division of this nation, and that the calamities which are now causing it to mourn should commence in South Carolina. That is true, he did prophecy that, and did foretell the events that have since transpired, and did tell where the commencement of those difficulties should originate. Well, if this is true, are not other things true? If it is true that the Lord has revealed a certain amount of truth in relation to these matters, is it not as true that He has revealed other truths in which we are as individuals interested; and if it is true that God has commenced to deal with other nations as He is doing with this until war and desolation shall spread through the earth, it is just as true that we ought to be very careful what we are doing to secure the favor of God and to fulfill our destiny upon the earth in a manner which will meet his designs. (John Taylor, (October 25, 1863) Journal of Discourses 10:278.)
For further discussion on the Saints' attitude to the Civil War, both before and after its outbreak, see Attitude of Saints to Civil War prophecy.
Every student of United States history is acquainted with the facts establishing a complete fulfilment of this prophecy. In 1861, more than twenty-eight years after the foregoing prediction was recorded, and ten years after its publication in England, the Civil War broke out. It is known the Confederate States solicited aid of Great Britain. While no open alliance between the Southern States and the English government was effected, British influence gave indirect assistance and substantial encouragement to the South, and this in such a way as to produce serious international complications. Vessels were built and equipped at British ports in the interests of the Confederacy; and the results of this violation of the laws of neutrality cost Great Britain fifteen and a half millions of dollars, which sum was awarded the United States at the Geneva arbitration in settlement of the Alabama claims. The Confederacy appointed commissioners to Great Britain and France; these appointees were forcibly taken by United States officers from the British steamer on which they had embarked. This act, which the United States government had to admit as overt, threatened for a time to precipitate a war between this nation and Great Britain. 
- [note] The God Makers, 224, lines 21-24; cited by Gilbert W. Scharffs, The Truth about ‘The God Makers’ (Salt Lake City, Utah: Publishers Press, 1989; republished by Bookcraft, 1994), Chapter 15. Full text FAIR link ISBN 088494963X. direct off-site
- [note] Gilbert W. Scharffs, The Truth about ‘The God Makers’ (Salt Lake City, Utah: Publishers Press, 1989; republished by Bookcraft, 1994), Chapter 15. Full text FAIR link ISBN 088494963X. direct off-site
- [note] B.H. Roberts, New Witnesses for God, Vol. 1 (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1909), 319.
- [note] Joseph Fielding Smith, Church History and Modern Revelation: Being a Course of Study for the Melchizedek Priesthood Quorums for the Years 1947-1950, Vol. 2, (Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1947), 123.
- [note] Orson Pratt, (10 April 1870) Journal of Discourses 13:135.
- [note] Paul H. Peterson, "Civil War Prophecy," in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 4 vols., edited by Daniel H. Ludlow, (New York, Macmillan Publishing, 1992), 1:288. off-site off-site direct off-site
- [note] Editor [Orson Pratt], "A Revelation and Prophecy by the Prophet, Seer, and Revelator, Joseph Smith," The Seer 2/4 (April 1854): 241–247.
- [note] Robert Woodford, The Historical Development of the Doctrine and Covenants, Ph.D. Dissertation, Brigham Young University, 1974, 1104–1124.
- [note] Woodford, "The Historical Development of the Doctrine and Covenants," 1110, 1111 (figures 12 and 13) [figures contain photocopy of the masthead of each newspaper, and the article itself].
- [note] "O.P.M.," "Mormonism and its Origin, Number 4," The Golden Era San Francisco (18 October 1857). [Thanks to Ted Jones for this reference.]
- [note] Neal A. Maxwell, Sermons Not Spoken (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1985), 66.
- [note] B.H. Roberts, Comprehensive History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Vol. 1, (Orem, Utah: Sonos Publishing, 1991), 302.
- [note] Joseph Fielding Smith, Church History and Modern Revelation: Being a Course of Study for the Melchizedek Priesthood Quorums for the Years 1947-1950, Vol. 2, (Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1947), 125.
- [note] Neal A. Maxwell, Sermons Not Spoken (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1985), 66.
- [note] B.H. Roberts, Comprehensive History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Vol. 1, (Orem, Utah: Sonos Publishing, 1991), 303.
- [note] B.H. Roberts, Comprehensive History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Vol. 1, (Orem, Utah: Sonos Publishing, 1991), 302-303.
- [note] "American Civil War: Slavery during the war," wikipedia.org (accessed 15 Jan 2009) off-site
- [note] James E. Talmage, A Study of the Articles of Faith (Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1978), 25-26.