Appendix 4: Declaration on Government and Law, circa August 1835 [D&C 134]

  • Source Note
  • Historical Introduction

Document Transcript

Of Governments and Laws in General.
That our belief, with regard to earthly governments and laws in general, may not be misinterpreted nor misunderstood, we have thought proper to present, at the close of this volume, our opinion concerning the same.
1 We believe that Governments were instituted of God for the benefit of man, and that he holds men accountable for their acts in relation to them, either in making laws or administering them, for the good and safety of society.
2 We believe that no Government can exist, in peace, except such laws are framed and held inviolate as will secure to each individual the free exercise of con[s]cience, the right and control of property and the protection of life.
3 We believe that all Governments necessarily require civil officers and magistrates to enforce the laws of the same, and that such as will administer the law in equity and justice should be sought for and upheld by the voice of the people, (if a Republic,) or the will of the Sovereign.
4 We believe that religion is instituted of God, and that men are amenable to him and to him only for the exercise of it, unless their religious opinion prompts them to infringe upon the rights and liberties of others; but we do not believe that human law has a right to interfere in prescribing rules of worship to bind the consciences of men, nor dictate forms for public or private devotion; that the civil magistrate should restrain crime, but never control conscience; should punish guilt, but never surpress the freedom of the soul.
5 We believe that all men are bound to sustain and uphold the respective Governments in which they reside, while protected in their inherent and unalienable rights by the laws of such Governments, and that sedition and rebellion are unbecoming every citizen thus protected, and should be punished accordingly; and that all Governments have a right to enact such laws as in their own judgments are best calculated to secure the public interest, at the same time, however, holding sacred the freedom of conscience.
6 We believe that every man should be honored in his station: rulers and magistrates as such—being placed for the protection of the innocent and the punishment of the guilty; and that to the laws all men owe respect and deference, as without [p. 252] them peace and harmony would be supplanted by anarchy and terror: human laws being instituted for the express purpose of regulating our interests as individuals and nations, between man and man, and divine laws, given of heaven, prescribing rules on spiritual concerns, for faith and worship, both to be answered by man to his Maker.
7 We believe that Rulers, States and Governments have a right, and are bound to enact laws for the protection of all citizens in the free exercise of their religious belief; but we do not believe that they have a right, in justice, to deprive citizens of this privilege, or proscribe them in their opinions, so long as a regard and reverence is shown to the laws, and such religious opinions do not justify sedition nor conspiracy.
8 We believe that the commission of crime should be punished according to the nature of the offence: that murder, treason, robbery, theft and the breach of the general peace, in all respects, should be punished according to their criminality and their tendency to evil among men, by the laws of that Government in which the offence is committed: and for the public peace and tranquility, all men should step forward and use their ability in bringing offenders, against good laws, to punishment.
9 We do not believe it just to mingle religious influence with civil Government, whereby one religious society is fostered and another proscribed in its spiritual privileges, and the individual rights of its members, as citizens, denied.
10 We believe that all religious societies have a right to deal with their members for disorderly conduct according to the rules and regulations of such societies, provided that such dealing be for fellowship and good standing; but we do not believe that any religious society has authority to try men on the right of property or life, to take from them this world’s goods, or put them in jeopardy either life or limb, neither to inflict any physical punishment upon them,—they can only excommunicate them from their society and withdraw from their fellowship.
11 We believe that men should appeal to the civil law for redress of all wrongs and grievances, where personal abuse is inflicted, or the right of property or character infringed, where such laws exist as will protect the same; but we believe that all men are justified in defending themselves, their friends and property, and the Government, from the unlawful assaults and encroachments of all persons, in times of exigencies, where immediate appeal cannot be made to the laws, and relief afforded.
12 We believe it just to preach the gospel to the nations of [p. 253] the earth, and warn the righteous to save themselves from the corruption of the world; but we do not believe it right to interfere with bond-servants, neither preach the gospel to, nor them, contrary to the will and wish of their masters, nor to meddle with, or influence them in the least to cause them to be dissatisfied with their situations in this life, thereby jeopardizing the lives of men: such interference we believe to be unlawful and unjust, and dangerous to the peace of every Government allowing human beings to be held in servitude. [remainder of page blank] [p. 254]


  1. 1

    Church leaders presented the failure of the government to enforce these laws as a crisis of dire proportions. In a petition sent to Governor Dunklin, they wrote, “Believing, with all honorable men, that whenever that fatal hour shall arrive that the poorest citizen’s person, property, or rights and privileges, shall be trampled upon by a lawless mob with impunity, that moment a dagger is plunged into the heart of the Constitution, and the Union must tremble! Assuring ourselves that no republican will suffer the liberty of the press; the freedom of speech, and the liberty of conscience, to be silenced by a mob, without raising a helping hand, to save his country from disgrace.” (“To His Excellency, Daniel Dunklin,” The Evening and the Morning Star, Dec. 1833, 115.)  

    The Evening and the Morning Star. Independence, MO, June 1832–July 1833; Kirtland, OH, Dec. 1833–Sept. 1834.

  2. 2

    A petition church leaders sent to Governor Dunklin expressed the relationship between government’s duties to ensure citizens’ rights and citizens’ duties to uphold the law. The petition explained that the Saints had patiently endured and upheld law while waiting for the government of Missouri to fulfill its duty of protection and stated, “We solicit assistance to obtain our rights; holding ourselves amenable to the laws of our country whenever we transgress them.” (“To His Excellency, Daniel Dunklin,” The Evening and the Morning Star, Dec. 1833, 115.)  

    The Evening and the Morning Star. Independence, MO, June 1832–July 1833; Kirtland, OH, Dec. 1833–Sept. 1834.

  3. 3

    Cowdery made specific complaint in his December 1833 article that, in “open violation of the Constitution,” Missouri residents were allowed to “persecute, even unto death a fellow-being for his religion.” (Oliver Cowdery, “To the Patrons of the Evening and Morning Star,” The Evening and the Morning Star, Dec. 1833, 113.)  

    The Evening and the Morning Star. Independence, MO, June 1832–July 1833; Kirtland, OH, Dec. 1833–Sept. 1834.

  4. 4

    Revelations from December 1833 and June 1834 commanded the Saints to seek redress through legal means and by establishing goodwill with neighboring inhabitants. (Revelation, 16–17 Dec. 1833 [D&C 101:76–88]; Revelation, 22 June 1834 [D&C 105:25].)