History Lesson and the D&C 87 (Civil War Prophecy?)

History Lesson and the D&C 87 (Civil War Prophecy?)

When talking about Joseph Smith's prophecies many Latter-day Saints point to Doctrine and Covenants 87, the so called Civil War prophecy which was written on December 25, 1832. What most Mormons do not talk about is the historical setting of this particular LDS revelation.

By the early 1830's politicians knew that slavery was going to be an issue. Even when the Constitution of the United States of America was being written and approved the slavery issue became a great disagreement between the northern and southern states, as a result, the "Great Compromise". The Constitution that gave birth to America would count a slave as "three-fifths" a person (1).

The slavery question continued to haunt the United States. The Missouri Compromise in 1820 is a clear example. Missouri would be admitted as a slave state, while Maine (then a part of Massachusetts) was made a separate state. This would allow an equal balance of free and slave states in the U.S. Senate. Also, slavery would be prohibited north of the 36 degree 30 minute line of the Lousiana Purchase (2). At the time John Quincy Adams would forewarn that the problem was the "title page to a great tragic volume." Thomas Jefferson more eloquently said, "We have a wolf by the ears, and we can neither safely hold him, nor safely let him go." (3)

An issue between southern and northern states would again boil with the passing of the 1828 and 1832 tariffs on imported manufactured goods. The tariffs were favored by the northern states and backed by then President Andrew Jackson. The northern states (free states) would benefit the most from the collected duties with improved roads. The northern states were much less dependant on imported manufactured goods and the south was in the opposite position. The south would carry the brunt of the tariffs. The southern states depended on the importation of manufactured products, while trading and selling raw material from the sweat of its slave labor force. The 1828 tariff was a indirect and divisive political attack on the southern states.

In 1828, the South Carolina legislature responded to the tariff by formally and publicly denouncing the added duties. Such a response was not at all that uncommon for the time, however the legislature went further by publishing the "Exposition and Protest" (4). This publication was anonymously authored by South Carolina statesman and then current Vice President John C. Calhoun.

Tension built as South Carolina raised its voice in protest of the 1828 tariff. The protest reached its peak in 1832 after the passing of the 1832 tariff. This same year John Calhoun resigned from the Vice Presidency of the United States and inspired an unprecedented "Ordinance of Nullification" (5,6). In November 1832, a nullification convention was held in Charleston, South Carolina, which defiantly nullified the federal tariffs within its borders (7).

President Andrew Jackson responded to the nullification with harsh words, declaring that South Carolina's actions were "incompatible with the existence of the Union, contradicted expressly by the Constitution, unauthorized by its spirit, inconsistent with every principle on which it was founded and destructive of the great object for which it was formed." (8) Jackson even went to Congress to obtain a force bill that would give him power to send federal troops into South Carolina to collect the tariffs (9). South Carolina responded defensively by preparing for a military showdown organizing volunteers into regiments to prepare for war and succession if needed (10).

Are the words of Joseph Smith very prophetic with this historical setting? South Carolina was preparing for war at the exact same time Joseph Smith penned the D&C 87 "revelation". From a historical perspective Joseph Smith was not making a prophecy at all, only repeating what many people and politicians were thinking and alluding to at the time -- slavery was going to divide the Union. The division was only a matter of time. History clearly shows us that the most vocal and ardent defender of slavery was South Carolina.

Let's take a look at D&C 87 for a minute. The LDS "revelation" states that " 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." (emphasis mine)

Joseph Smith wrote D&C 87 in December 1832. The Civil War did not begin until April 1861, almost thirty years later. Is this what Joseph Smith means by "shortly"?

Then D&C 87:2 states, "And the time will come that war will be poured out upon *all* nations, beginning at this place".

Although the Civil War did involve some other countries on minor ways, it by far did not spread to other nations, and certainly not "all" nations. The next verse clearly shows that Joseph Smith was wrong about prophesying the Civil War.

Then D&C 87 states, "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 call upon other nations; and then war shall be poured out upon all nations."

This prediction is clearly wrong about the civil war. Great Britain's role in the Civil War was minor at best. Britain supplied some equipment to the Confederacy during the war, but limited this capacity in fear that the northern states would retaliate. During the Civil War Great Britain traded with both the northern and southern States, and Great Britain never declared war on either.

In my view, history presents the setting for Joseph Smith's Doctrine and Covenants 87, it was not a "revelation" but rather an observation. Nevertheless, Joseph Smith's own words do not bear truth. War did not pour itself out on "all nations" from South Carolina. The closest humanity has come to a world war was World War I and II. World War I started in Europe with the assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand. World War II started with Hitler in Germany. Joseph Smith didn't even get the right continent, nor time frame.

As Abraham Lincoln once said, "Fellow Citizens, we cannot escape history....." (Second Annual Message to Congress, December 1, 1862). We also cannot escape the truth.


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References for Post:

1. US Constitution, Article 1, Section 2.

2. A Pursuit of Liberty, A History of the American People, by R. Jackson et al., Wadsworth Publishing Company, Belmont California, 1990, pg. 317.

3. 1001 Things Eveyone Should Know About American History, by John A Garraty, Doubleday, New York, pg. 27.

4. A Pursuit of Liberty... pg. 323.

5. The Timetable of History, by Bernard Grun, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1991, pg. 396.

6. 1001 Things Everyone ... pg. 27.

7. Secret and Sacred, The Diaries of James Henry Hammond, a Southern Slaveholder, edited by Carol Bleser, Oxford University Press, 1988, pg. 10.

8. A Pursiut of Liberty ... pg. 324.

9. ibid. ... pg. 324.

10.Secret and Sacred .... pg. 10.

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