By:   President Ezra Taft Benson

From an address delivered at a BYU devotional held Tuesday, 16 September 
1986, in commemoration of the bicentennial of the Constitution of the 
United States.

        On the 17th day of September,  1987, we commemorate the two-
hundredth birthday of the Constitutional Convention, which gave birth 
to the document that Gladestone said is, "the most wonderful work ever 
struck off at a given time by the brain and purpose of man." (1)
	I heartily endorse this assessment, and I would like to pay 
honor - honor to the document itself, honor to the men who framed it, 
and honor to the God who inspired it and made possible its coming 
	To understand the significance of the Constitution, we must first
understand some basic, eternal principles.  These principles have their
beginning in the premortal councils of heaven.

Some Basic Principles

	The first basic principle is agency.   The central issue in the
premortal council was:  Shall the children of God have untrammeled
agency to choose the course they should follow, whether good or evil,
or shall they be coerced and forced to be obedient?  Christ and all who
followed Him stood for the former proposition- freedom of choice;  Satan
stood for the latter- coercion and force.
	Look back in retrospect on almost six thousand years of human
history!  Freedom's moments have been infrequent and exceptional.  We
must appreciate that we live in one of  history's most exceptional
moments-in a nation and a time of unprecedented freedom.  Freedom as
we know it has been experienced by perhaps less than 1 percent of the
human family.

	The second basic principle concerns the function and proper
role of government.   These are the principles that in my opinion, 
proclaim the proper role of government in the domestic affairs of the 
	"[I] 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"
	"[I] 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 conscience, the right and control of property, and the
protection of life".
	"[I] believe that all men are bound to sustain and uphold the
respective governments in which they reside, while protected in their
inherent and inalienable rights by the laws of such governments."  
(D&C 134:1-2,5)
	In other words, the most important single function of government
is to secure the rights and freedoms of individual citizens.

	The third important principle pertains to the source of basic
human rights.  Rights are either God-given as part of the divine plan, or
they are granted by government as part of the political plan.
	If we accept the premise that human rights are granted by
government, then we must be willing to accept the corollary that they
can be denied by government.  I, for one, shall never accept that
premise.  We must ever keep in mind the inspired words of  Thomas
Jefferson, as found in the Declaration of Independence:
	"We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are 
created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain 
inalienable Rights; that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit 
of happiness; that to secure these rights, Governments are instituted 
among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."

	The fourth basic principle we must understand it that people are
superior to the governments they form.   Since God created people with
certain inalienable rights, and they, in turn, created government to help
secure and safeguard those rights, it follows that the people are
superior to the creature they created.

	The fifth and final principle that is basic to our understanding 
of the Constitution is that governments should have only limited powers.   
The important thing to keep in mind is that the people who have created
their government can give to that government only such powers as they,
themselves, have in the first place.  Obviously, they cannot give that
which they do not possess.
	By deriving its just powers from the governed, government
becomes primarily a mechanism for defense against bodily harm, theft,
and involuntary servitude.  It cannot claim the power to redistribute
money or property nor to force reluctant citizens to perform acts of
charity against their will.  Government is created by the people.  The
creature cannot exceed the creator.

God Raised Up Wise Men

	With these basic principles firmly in mind, let us now turn to 
a discussion of the inspired document we call the Constitution.  My
purpose is not to recite the events that led to the American Revolution 
- we are all familiar with these.  But I would say this:  History is 
not an accident.  Events are foreknown to God.  His superintending 
influence is behind the actions of His righteous children.
	Long before America was even discovered, the Lord was moving 
and shaping events that would lead to the coming forth of the remarkable 
form of  government established by the Constitution.   America had to 
be free and independent to fulfill this destiny. I commend to you as 
excellent reading on this subject Elder Mark E. Peterson's book The 
Great Prologue (Salt Lake City; Deseret Book Co., 1975).  As expressed 
so eloquently by John Adams before the signing of the Declaration, 
"There's a Divinity which shapes our ends." (2)  Though mortal eyes and
minds cannot fathom the end from the beginning, God does.
	In a revelation to the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Savior declared, 
"I established the Constitution of this land, by the hands of wise men 
whom I raised unto this very purpose." (D&C 101:80)  These were not 
ordinary men, but men chosen and held in  reserve by the Lord for this 
very purpose.
	Shortly after President Spencer W. Kimball became President of
the Church, he assigned me to go into the vault of the St. George Temple
and check the early records.  As I did so, I realized the fulfillment 
of a dream I had had ever since learning of the visit of the Founding 
Fathers to the St. George Temple.  I saw with mine own eyes the record 
of the work which was done for the Founding Fathers of this great nation,
beginning with George Washington.
	Think of it, the Founding Fathers of this nation, those great men,
appeared within those sacred walls and had their vicarious work done
for them.  President Wilford Woodruff spoke of it in these words:  
"Before I left St. George, the spirits of the dead gathered around me,
wanting to know why we did not redeem them.  Said they, 'You have had 
the use of the Endowment House for a number of years, and yet nothing 
has ever been done for us.  We laid the foundation of the government 
you now enjoy, and we never apostatized from it, but we remained true 
to in and were faithful to God.'  These were the signers of the 
Declaration of Independence and they waited on me for two days and two 
nights.  I straightway went into the baptismal fond and called upon 
Brother McAllister to baptize me for the signers of the Declaration of
Independence, and fifty other eminent men." (3)
These noble spirits came there with divine permission - evidence that 
this work of salvation goes forward on both sides of the veil.  At a 
later conference, in April 1898, after he became President of the Church, 
President Woodruff declared that "those men who laid the foundation of 
this American government and signed the Declaration of  Independence 
were the best spirits the God of Heaven could find on the face of the 
earth.  They were choice spirits . . . [and] were inspired of the Lord."
        But we honor more than those who brought forth the Constitution.  
We honor the Lord, who revealed it.  God himself has borne witness to 
the fact that He is please with the final product of the work of these 
great patriots.  In a revelation to the Prophet Joseph Smith on 6 August 
1833, the Savior admonished: "I, the Lord, justify you, and your brethren 
of my church, in befriending that law which is the constitutional law 
of the land."  (D&C 98:6)
        In the Kirtland Temple dedicatory prayer given on 27 March 1836, 
the Lord directed Joseph to say: "May those principles, which were so
honorably and nobly defended, namely, the Constitution of our land, by
our fathers, be established forever." (D&C 109:54.)
        A few years later, Joseph Smith, while unjustly incarcerated 
in a cold and depressing cell of Liberty Jail at Clay County, Missouri, 
frequently bore his testimony of the document's divinity:  "The 
Constitution of the United States is a glorious standard; it is founded 
in the wisdom of God.  It is a heavenly banner." (5)
        How this document accomplished all of this merits our further

Major Provisions of the Constitution

	The Constitution consists of seven separate articles.  The first
three establish the three branches of our government-the legislative, 
the  executive, and the judicial.  The fourth article describes matters
pertaining to states, most significantly the guarantee of a republican 
form of government to every state of the Union.  Article 5 defines the
amendment procedure of the document, a deliberately difficult process
that should be clearly understood by every citizen.  Article 6 covers
several miscellaneous items, including a definition of the supreme law of
the land, namely, the Constitution itself.  Article 7, the last, explains 
how the Constitution is to be ratified.
	Now to look at some of the major provisions of the document
itself.  Many principles could be examined, but I mention five as being
crucial to the preservation of our freedom.  If we understand the
workability of these, we have taken the first step in defending our
	The major provisions of the Constitution are as follows:

First: Sovereignty lies in the people themselves.
	Every governmental system has a sovereign, one or several 
        who possess all the executive, legislative, and judicial 
        powers.  The sovereign may be an individual, a group, or 
        the people themselves.
	The Founding Fathers believed in common law, which holds 
        that true sovereignty rests with the people.  Believing 
        this to be in accord with truth, they inserted this 
        imperative in the Declaration of Independence:  "To secure
        these rights {life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness],
        Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their
        powers for the consent of the governed."

Second:  To safeguard these rights, the Founding Fathers provided for
the separation of powers among the three branches of government-the
legislative, the executive and the judicial.
	Each was to be independent of the other, yet each was 
        to work in  a unified relationship.  As the great 
        constitutionalist President J. Reuben Clark, Jr., noted:  
        "It is this union of independence and dependence of these 
        branches- legislative, executive and judicial- and of
        the governmental functions possessed by each of them, that 
        constitutes the marvelous genius of this unrivalled 
        document. . . . It was here that the divine inspiration 
        came.  It was truly a miracle." (6)
	The use of checks and balances was deliberately designed, 
        first, to make it difficult for a minority or the people 
        to control the government, and, second, to place restraint 
        on the government itself. 

Third:  The powers the people granted to the three branches of
government were specifically limited.    
        The Founding Fathers well understood human nature and 
        its tendency to exercise unrighteous dominion when given 
        authority.  A Constitution was therefore designed to 
        limit government to certain enumerated functions, beyond 
        which was tyranny.

Fourth:  Our Constitutional government is based on the principle of
	The principle of representation means that we have 
        delegated to an elected official the power to represent 
        us.  The Constitution provides for both direct represent
        -ation and indirect representation.  Both forms or 
        representation provide a tempering influence on pure 
        democracy.  The intent was to protect the individual's 
        and the minority's rights to life, liberty and the fruits 
        of their labors- property.  These rights were not to
        be subject to majority vote.

Fifth:  The Constitution was designed to work with only a moral and
righteous people.    
	"Our constitution," said John Adams (first vice-president
        and second president of the United States), "was made 
        only for a moral and religious people.  It is wholly 
        i8nadequate to the government of any other." (7)

The Constitution Requires Loyalty and Support

	This, then, is the ingenious and inspired document created by
these good and wise men for the benefit and blessing of future
	It is now two hundred years since the Constitution was written. 
Have we been beneficiaries of the gift entrusted to us?  Have we valued
and protected the principles laid down by this great document?
	At this bicentennial celebration we must, with sadness, say that
we have not always been wise in keeping the trust of our Founding
Fathers.  For the past two centuries, those who do not prize freedom
have chipped away at our Constitution until today we face a crisis of
great dimensions.  We are fast approaching that moment prophesied by
Joseph Smith when he said:
	"Even this nation will be on the very verge of crumbling to 
pieces and tumbling to the ground, and when the Constitution is upon the 
brink of ruin, this people will be the staff upon which the nation shall 
lean, and they shall bear the Constitution away from the very verge of
destruction." (8)
	Will we be prepared?  Will we be among those who will "bear the
Constitution away from the very verge of destruction"?  If we desire to
be numbered among those who will, here are some things we must do:
	1.  We must be righteous and moral.  We must live the gospel
principles- all of them.  We have no right to expect a higher degree of
morality from those who represent us than what we ourselves exhibit. 
To live a  higher law means we will not seek to receive what we have
not earned by our own labor.  It means we will remember that government 
owes us nothing.  It means we will keep the laws of the land.  It means 
we will look to God as our Lawgiver and the Source of our liberty.
	2. We must learn the principles of the Constitution and then
abide by its precepts. Have we read the Constitution and pondered it?  
Are we aware of its principles?  Could we defend it?  Can we recognize 
when a law is constitutionally unsound?
	I quote Abraham Lincoln:
	"Let [the Constitution] be taught in schools, in seminaries, 
        in colleges; let it be written in primers, spelling-books,
        and in almanacs; let it be preached from the pulpit, 
        proclaimed in legislative halls, and enforced in courts 
        of justice.  And, in short, let become the political 
        religion of the  nation." (9)
	3.  We must become involved in civic affairs.  As citizens of
this republic, we cannot do our duty and be spectators.  It is vital 
that we follow this counsel form the Lord: "Honest men and wise men 
should be sought for diligently, and good men and wise men ye should 
observe to uphold; otherwise whatsoever is less than these cometh of 
evil."  (D&C 98:10)
	Note the qualities that the Lord demands in those who are to
represent us.  They must be good, wise, and honest.  We must be
concerted in our desires and efforts to see men and women represent
us who possess all three of these qualities- goodness, wisdom, and
	4.  We must make our influence felt by our vote, our letters, 
and our advice.  We must be wisely informed and let others know how we 
feel.  We must take part in local precinct meetings and select delegates 
who will truly represent our feelings.
	I have faith that the Constitution will be saved as prophesied 
by Joseph Smith.  It will be saved by the citizens of this nation who 
love and cherish freedom.  It will be saved by enlightened members of 
this church- men and women who will subscribe to and abide the principles
of the Constitution.
	I reverence the Constitution of  the United States as a sacred
document.  To me its works are akin to the revelations of God, for God
has placed His stamp of approval on the Constitution of this land.  I 
testify that the God of heaven sent some of His choicest spirits to lay 
the foundation of this government, and He has sent other choice spirits 
to preserve it.  
	We, the blessed beneficiaries, face difficult days in this beloved
land, "a land which is choice above all other lands."  (Ether 2:10)  It 
may also cost us blood before we are through.  It is my conviction, 
however, that when the Lord comes, the Stars and Stripes will be floating 
on the breeze over this people.  May it be so, and may God give us the 
faith and the courage exhibited by those patriots who pledged their lives, 
their fortunes, and their sacred honor that we might be free, in the 
name of Jesus Christ, amen.

	1. William Ewart Gladstone:  Life and Public Services, ed.
Thomas W. Handford (Chicago: The Dominican Co., 1899), p. 323

	2.  As quoted in  The Works of Daniel Webster,  6 vols., 4th ed.
(Boston: Charles C. Little and James Brown, 1851), 1:133.

	3.  Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, sel. G. Homer Durham (Salt
Lake City:  Bookcraft, 1946), pp. 160-61.

	4.  In Conference Report, April 1898, p. 89.

	5.  History of the Church of Jesus Christ of  Latter-day Saints,
ed. B.H. Roberts, 7 vols., 2nd ed. Rev. (Salt Lake City: The  Church of
Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1932-51), 3:304

	6.  Church News, 29 Nov. 1952, p. 12

	7.  As quoted by John R. Howe, Jr.,  The Changing Political
Thought of  John Adams (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Univ. Press, 1966), 
p. 185.
	8.  19 July 1840, as recorded by Martha Jane Knowlton Coray,
MS, Historical Department, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day

	9.  Complete Works of Abraham Lincoln,  ed. John G. Nicolay
and John Hay, 12 vol. (New York;  Francis D. Tandy Co., 1905), 1:43.

My Thoughts!

Remember, President Benson is a Prophet of God.  I feel that the last 
4 points have been neglected by the Saints.  We work on point #1 - Live 
a Moral and Righteous life.  But what about points #2-4?  When was the 
last time your even read the Constitution, Declaration of Independence,
the Federalist Papers, ect..  Have you ever read them?  Why not? 

When was the last time you attended your neighborhood caucus meeting,
attended a city counsel meeting, wrote a letter to you congressman?

We have been told to do so. We must be involved in all area's of politics 
if we are to keep this great country great. 

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