Joseph Smith/Alleged false prophecies/Government to be overthrown and wasted

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On 6 May 1843, Joseph Smith said:

'I prophecy in the name of the Lord God of Israel, unless the United States redress the wrongs committed upon the Saints in the state of Missouri and punish the crimes committed by her officers that in a few years the government will be utterly overthrown and wasted, and there will not be so much as a potsherd left for their wickedness in permitting the murder of men, women and children, and the wholesale plunder and extermination of thousands of her citizens to go unpunished, thereby perpetrating a foul and corroding blot upon the fair fame of this great republic, the very thought of which would have caused the high-minded and patriotic framers of the Constitution of the United States to hide their faces with shame. Judge [Stephen A. Douglas], you will aspire to the Presidency of the United States; and if you ever turn your hand against me or the Latter-day Saints, you will feel the weight of the hand of the Almighty upon you; and you will live to see and know that I have testified the truth to you; for the conversation of this day will stick to you through life.[1]

Since it is more than 150 years since this prophecy was uttered, and because the US government still exists, it is claimed that this is a false prophecy.

To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here


Joseph Smith's prophecy may yet have a future fulfillment. However, the prophecy has already been amply fulfilled by events in Missouri and the United States soon after Joseph's death.

Detailed Analysis

This prophecy has been fulfilled in one, or more, of at least four ways:

  1. the prophecy's fulfillment is yet in the future
  2. the prophecy was fulfilled and the government spared because sufficient redress was provided
  3. the prophecy was fulfilled by the events of the Civil War and in particular the effects of the war on Missouri
  4. the prophecy was attenuated somewhat by the government's partial redress provided the Saints

We will consider each below.

#1: Timeframe?

The prophecy's fulfillment may yet be in the future. Critics have no grounds to declare how long it must take for this prophecy's fulfillment. Bible-believing critics may be guilty of a double standard if they await Biblical prophecies of more than 2000 years' standing, while insisting that the "few years" in Joseph's prophecy has expired.

#2: Redress provided?

Another school of thought holds that the United States did provide some redress to the Saints: "Though persecution and troubles continued to follow the Saints on account of their dealings with the government, eventually they were able to find a home in Utah, and were allowed to thrive as a community."[2] As one author noted:

The prophecy as worded is obviously a conditional one. The United States did redress the Latter-day Saints to some extent for wrongs committed against them and thus the harshness of the fate of Missouri (or the United States) was reduced. The United States inviting the Saints to volunteer five hundred men to help in the 1846 war with Mexico might be considered partial redress because it provided desperately needed funds for the Latter-day Saints to finance the pioneer trek to Utah. President Polk at this time also promised Latter-day Saints safety as they travelled through Indian lands to the west. When the personal papers of James K. Polk, the U.S. president who asked Latter-day Saints to form a Mormon Battalion, were recently opened, it was found that he considered his action to help the Latter-day Saints. The granting of territorial status to the Mormons might also be considered a partial redress for wrongs.[3]

#3: The Civil War

Others believe that insufficient redress was provided, and that this prophecy has been fulfilled by the Civil War and its attendant events.

3a: Missouri

Missouri suffered greatly during the Civil War. Over 1,200 distinct battles or skirmishes were fought on Missouri soil; only Tennessee and Virginia saw more action on their soil.

Between 1862 and 1864, the western parts of Missouri endured guerrilla warfare. Although guerrilla warfare occurred throughout much of the state, most of the incidents occurred in northern Missouri and were characterized by ambushes of individuals or families in rural areas. These incidents were particularly nefarious because their vigilante nature was outside the command and control of either side and often pitted neighbor against neighbor.

Among the more notorious incidents of guerrilla warfare were the Sacking of Osceola, burning of Platte City and the Centralia Massacre.

In 1863 following the Lawrence Massacre in Kansas, Union General Thomas Ewing, Jr. accused farmers in rural Missouri of either instigating the attack or supporting it. He issued General Order No. 11 which forced the evacuation of all residents of rural areas of the four counties (Jackson, Cass, Bates and Vernon) south of the Missouri River on the Kansas border to leave their property, which was then burned. The order applied to farmers regardless of loyalty, although those who could prove their loyalty to the Union could stay in designated towns and those who could not were exiled entirely.[4]

LDS readers will recognize that Jackson county was notorious for its treatment of the Saints, and it was among those counties from which inhabitants were evacuated and a "scorched earth" policy implemented. The commanding general ordered his men not to engage in looting or other depredations, but he proved unable to effectively control his soldiers, who were mostly Kansans eager to exact any revenge possible upon their Missouri neighbors. Animals and other property were stolen or destroyed, and houses, barns and outbuildings burnt to the ground. The area affected quickly became a devastated "no-man's-land", with only charred chimneys and burnt stubble remaining where once-fertile farms had stood.[5]

If one read's Joseph's prophecy as referring at least partly to the government of Missouri, then it was fulfilled dramatically. Nothing remained in many areas, and government in some areas broke down almost completely as various factions struggled for control.

3b: United States

In 1840, William Henry Harrison was elected as president on the Whig ticket. He was to die within a month of taking office, succeeded by Vice-President John Tyler who was in office when Joseph made his prophecy in May 1843. The Whig party was to fracture along pro- and anti-slavery lines, and by 1854 the northern Whigs left the party to join the new Republican party. Others were later to join the Constitutional Union party, dedicated to the avoidance of civil war. Following the Civil War, the Whigs in the south tried to regroup, but were soon absorbed into the Democratic party.[6]

Thus, in the US government of Joseph's day, the Whigs had won the presidency and controlled the Senate. The Whigs were to be destroyed as a political power, never to recover. The United States government was to be destroyed, since the secession of the South arguably remade the American political order. Eleven states formed their own government as the Confederate States of America, and two states (Missouri and Kentucky) were split between pro-Union and pro-Confederate factions. Even following the war, the Reconstruction era undertook the abolishment of the Confederacy, the reestablishment of Southern representation in the Congress, and a revamping of the United States constitution to change the relationship of the states to the federal government.

Chief among the constitutional changes was the Fourteenth Amendment, which made all citizens of the states citizens of the United States. Thus:

No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

This was a fundamental alteration of the government of the United States, and would have helped resolve many of the Saints' difficulties, had it been in place before the Civil War. Joseph Smith would complain:

I am the greatest advocate of the Constitution of the United States there is on the earth. In my feelings I am always ready to die for the protection of the weak and oppressed in their just rights. The only fault I find with the Constitution is, it is not broad enough to cover the whole ground.
Although it provides that all men shall enjoy religious freedom, yet it does not provide the manner by which that freedom can be preserved, nor for the punishment of Government officers who refuse to protect the people in their religious rights, or punish those mobs, states, or communities who interfere with the rights of the people on account of their religion. Its sentiments are good, but it provides no means of enforcing them. It has but this one fault. Under its provision, a man or a people who are able to protect themselves can get along well enough; but those who have the misfortune to be weak or unpopular are left to the merciless rage of popular fury.[7]

The fourteenth amendment gave the federal government the power to enforce defense if the states failed to do so. As George A. Smith noted:

That is the situation we were in in Missouri when Governor Dunklin declared that the constitution and laws of Missouri could not be enforced so as to protect this people. It was virtually declaring us independent of that State, and acknowledging our right to protect ourselves in that capacity.[8]

G.A. Smith notes that Missouri could refuse to protect the Saints, and the federal government could not intervene. The 14th amendment altered this state of affairs. Elias Higbee's words to Congress would likewise insist that "I told them first, that I represented a suffering people, who had been deprived, together with myself, of their rights in Missouri; who numbered something like fifteen thousand souls; and not only they, but many others were deprived of the rights guaranteed to them by the Constitution of the United States."[9]

On this view, the United States government was remade following the Civil War. The old order was gone.

LDS members' views

During the Civil War, members of the Church clearly saw the conflict as a fulfillment of Joseph's prophecy. As one federal governor wrote in 1862, "Brigham Young and other preachers are constantly inculcating in the minds of the crowded audiences who sit beneath their teachings every Sabbath that the United States is of no consequence, that it lies in ruins, and that the prophecy of Joseph Smith is being fulfilled to the letter."[10] Thus, the secession of the South and the start of the Civil War was regarded as fulfillment of prophecy. As one author noted:

Mormon leaders consistently expressed their feelings that the war had been brought on by the wickedness of the United States, which had rejected Mormonism and permitted the death of the prophet of God and his servants. Because no effort had been made to punish the guilty or to prevent recurrences, the Mormons saw no reason to wonder at secession and dismemberment of such a union. Although the waste of lives was lamentable, a war between the states would avenge the death of Joseph Smith.
The Saints seemed especially gratified that Jackson County was a war zone and that Missouri would suffer the penalty of its cruelties to the Mormons.[11]

After the war, B.H. Roberts linked Joseph's prophecy to the Civil War, since it also forms part of the prophecy given to Stephen Douglas. Noted Roberts:

It would be mere conjecture, of course, to say what the result would have been had Stephen A. Douglas been true to the Saints--the people of his friend Joseph Smith. But certainly had he been elected in 1860 the Southern States would have had no such excuse for their great movement of secession as they at least persuaded themselves they had in the election of Abraham Lincoln. And had Mr. Douglas in the event of his election followed the counsel given to the government and people of the United States by Joseph Smith in respect to the question of slavery, that evil might have been abolished without the effusion of blood, and no place found in the history of the United States for that horrible conflict known as the American civil war.[12]

Thus, Roberts too saw the Civil War and its surrounding events as fulfillment of Joseph's prophecy.

#4: Partial redress?

As a possible combination or synthesis of the above, Joseph Smith’s prophecy was fulfilled because the United States suffered the penalty of the prophecy to the same degree or extent she failed to meet the conditions of the prophecy.

As noted above, the United States did provide the financial means for the Saints to travel west, as well as grant protection to them as they passed through Indian lands. This financial assistance and protection was at least a partial redress for the wrongs committed upon the Saints in the State of Missouri. But it clearly was not enough, for the United States government was “utterly overthrown and wasted” in eleven southern states between 1860 and 1861. After these southern states had seceded from the Union, they rejected the US Constitution and wrote their own constitution for a new government and a new nation, “The Confederate States of America.” Then they established their own congress, and elected their own President, Jefferson Davis. By the time these southern states had finished, there was not even a “potsherd left” of the U.S. government within the Confederacy.

But why wasn’t the United States government “utterly overthrown and wasted” in all of the states? Surely this was one possible outcome if the Confederacy had won the Civil War. However, during the course of the war, the United States government implemented Order Number 11, which punished at least some of those officers of the State of Missouri who had committed crimes against the Latter-day Saints. This partial punishment of the Missourian officers and the partial redress to the Saints was enough to mitigate or soften the penalty of the prophecy, so that the US government was not finally “utterly overthrown and wasted” in all of the states. In fact, it was soon after the implementation of Order Number 11 in 1863 that the course of the Civil War favored the Union, not the Confederacy.

In the end, the United States suffered the penalty of the prophecy in part because she failed to meet the conditions of the prophecy in part. As such, Joseph Smith’s prophecy was fulfilled.


  1. Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 5:394. Volume 5 link
  2. David Ferguson, "Miraculous Events in Early Church History," FairMormon link
  3. Gilbert W. Scharffs, The Truth about ‘The God Makers’ (Salt Lake City, Utah: Publishers Press, 1989; republished by Bookcraft, 1994), chapter 15. Full text FairMormon link ISBN 088494963X. off-site
  4. "Missouri in the American Civil War," Wikipedia (accessed 3 January 2009) off-site.
  5. "General Order No. 11," Wikipedia (accessed 3 January 2009) off-site.
  6. "Whig Party (United States)," Wikipedia (accessed 3 January 2009) off-site
  7. Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 6:56–57. Volume 6 link
  8. George A. Smith, "Difficulties With Which the Church Has Had to Contend in Its Establishment in Utah," (10 September 1861) Journal of Discourses 9:110.
  9. Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 4:81. Volume 4 link
  10. Stephen S. Harding; cited in Eugene. E. Campbell, Establishing Zion: The Mormon Church in the American West, 1847-1869 (Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books, 1988), 291.
  11. Eugene. E. Campbell, Establishing Zion: The Mormon Church in the American West, 1847-1869 (Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books, 1988), 291.
  12. Brigham H. Roberts, "The Evidence Of Prophecy," in New Witnesses for God, 3 Vols., (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1909[1895, 1903]), 1:311. ISBN 0962254541.

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