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of the Collection

John Taylor, October 10, 1852

Reflections on Government and War

Shortly after his return from missionary labors in France, Germany, and Great Britain, John Taylor gave this sermon in the five-year-old city of Salt Lake. The sermon gives insight into the climate of the times and the sense of possibility Latter-day Saints felt as they began to create their own communities in the Rocky Mountain region.

Intelligence and the Gospel

It is with peculiar pleasure that I arise this morning to address the congregation of Saints who are thus assembled. I have had many peculiar reflections while attending this conference. I have listened with delight to the intelligence and wisdom which has been poured before this people. [It] embraces intelligence of all kinds: principles that relate to this world and principles also that relate to the world to come, and I know from my experience among men and the associations I have had with [the] human family in different nations that you could not find among any other class of people the same wisdom, the same intelligence, the same knowledge of things that are calculated to promote either the temporal, spiritual, or eternal happiness of the human family.

It is something that draws us to God. It is something that brings blessings from God, that puts us in [the] way of following after Him. And these very principles that we possess—the first principles [of the] gospel, namely baptism [and the] laying on [of] hands [for the] gift [of the] Holy Spirit—are some of the first leading causes of that intelligence which governs us in other matters.

Conversation with a French Communist

I remember talking with [the] editor of [a] newspaper in [the] city of Paris that came to visit me, and after laying before him the first principles [of the] gospel and telling him the order of our church, after I had got through, says he, “Mr. Taylor, do you perhaps know [of any] other way than baptism to save and redeem the world, to renovate the human family?”

“No, sir, I know of [no] other plan and principle; it is [what] God revealed to us. [It] has been one of [the] first steps building up His kingdom. And [God has revealed that] if men adhere to these first principles and obey them that they shall receive the gift of Holy Ghost, that there shall be a communion, a union and communion, between them and Heavenly Father, and that then they shall be prepared through the intelligence which will flow from Him to [them] and understand other principles.”

“Well,” says he, “I wish you success, Mr. Taylor, but I am afraid you won’t succeed.” 

“Well,” says I, “you will try to establish a system in the earth”—he was associated with a body of people called the communist[s],1 spread extensively in France—said I, “You have been trying without God to ameliorate the condition of [the] human family. You have been trying to regenerate mankind to produce a better state of things among the world, but what have you done with all your efforts? You have been striving to raise up a political dynasty that will benefit and bless the human family and be better [than] anything heretofore. [But] where are the fruits of your labors? Can you point them out?”

No. For scattered here and there, when political reformation [has] taken place, things [are] as bad now as they were before their efforts.

“But sir,” says I, “we have commenced to fear God, to keep His commandments and obey His laws. We have obeyed this thing that we call the gospel and been baptized in [the] name of Jesus in remission of sins and received the gift of Holy Ghost. And we have got at present time a territorial government of our own legislature [to] make our own laws, have built up a large city—this was some time ago—made several other similar ones, produced a great change in the desert, and provided for [our] wants. And [a] great people are now sending out means to gather the people to that place we are from. [We are] prospered, independent, and happy.

“We have done the thing you have been seeking to do and have not been able to. We have accomplished the very thing you have tried to do but could not qualify [to do], not by seeking to do it.

“God has done it. We give Him the glory. [But] you have [been] seeking to do it without Him and have failed and will fail.” 

“Well,” says he. “I can’t deny what you say,” says he. “They are living facts before me; I can’t deny your assertions. You [have] got independent territory, [the] means to gather the poor, possess the spirit of philanthropy, but your baptism, etc., is [a] mystery to me.”

 Give the World Something to See

A French gentleman with whom I traveled from New Orleans to St. Louis—says he, “Mr. Taylor, [a] great many associations [of] communist parties and others have drawn up very nice plans on paper [of] what [they are] going to do, but you have done something. . . . All [the] time, [I] told them I wanted something to look at. You have presented a spectacle for people to gaze [upon]. If I had time, nothing [would] give me more pleasure [than] to visit Salt Lake City.”

And [there is] nothing that produces a greater influence upon [the] mind of [a] reflecting man than to know the position that we keep in a temporal point of view. Nothing abroad that I know of produced a greater effect, [as I was] preaching all over yonder.

The world have been preached to death. Missionaries [are] all over, but there has been so many of them spreading abroad, circulating every kind of information, [that] people got sick of it. [It] appears nonsense [to them]. The world are desirous to see certain principles of intelligence and wisdom, [but] they have sought it in vain in [the] religious world. They see [the] same point of view as we do: folly and nonsense, nothing in it to satisfy the capacious desires of [the] intelligent mind—and they want to see something else. 

If an Alien Came to Earth

Let a man arrive in this world ignorant . . . [of the] grand prejudices of man as they are taught and [of] customs and usages. What [would he] think of it?

Suppose [he] wanted to know anything about God. Where [should he] go to get his intelligence?

Could you point him out to any place in [the] world [to] go [for] it?

Suppose he arrive here from some other planets of God somewhere. What information [is there] concerning Him [here]?

He would have to read over whole volumes of divinity, . . . wade through the masses [of] Presbytery, Universalism, Catholicism, Jumperism,2 Quakerism, and all other –isms. . . .

And if he [had] been accustomed to [a] world of order where he came from, if things [were] governed upon correct principles there, and he came here—saw nations confused, churches in array against each other, men in [conflict] with [their] fellow [men] and each one trying to tread upon [the] neck of another—what [would] be his feelings?

[He would] say [there was] not much of [the] order of God. If he had been accustomed to correct government, . . . I think he would want to go back to his own planet.

Reflections on War and Power

The world presents before us a scene of confusion, and I may well ask why it is. Why has there been war after war and calamity after calamity? Why [does] nation rush against nation in mad confusion and sweep off and destroy a human family from the earth? Why is it that there has been groans and misery and ruin? Why has these things overspread the earth?

It is because man has forsaken God. He has trusted to his own intelligence, in his own regency, has forgotten God and has set to rule himself. . . .

Men have tried governments, have tried kings, have tried emperors, have tried philosophers, statesmen, politicians, and every sort of man has tried to ameliorate the condition of mankind—and what have they done? They have tried republic[an] government[s], monarchial governments, despotic governments; they have tried every sort and division of governments compounded of those three different kinds—but what have they done? Have [they] done anything? Certain[ly] [they] have not.

If you notice the position of [the] world as it now exists, what is it you see? The world divided up nationally into [a] variety of nations, and each nation has its own peculiar interest to maintain without any respect for the general good of others. . . .

The governments of [the] earth—to use the mildest terms—watch each other like bandit[s] . . . going abroad plundering each other like robbers. I am not speaking without understanding, using these terms. I will witness, for instance, the dealing of England with China.3

What [did] they do?

Gave a great company certain power to trade, put them in possession of exclusive privilege. [This company] could furnish an army assisted by England, conquered regions over, brought them into bondage, [and] made slaves of them.

What then?

[They] set them to work to raise poison instead of bread: opium.

What then?

They went to sell this to the Chinese [in exchange] for tea. And because the Chinese were not long[ing] to be poisoned, [they] passed a law that none of this should come into their land and destroyed it the same as Bostonians did the tea. They destroyed it and [were] not willing to have any contraband enter there.

What did [the British do] then?

They sent [an] immense army over to kill them—and after [having] killed them, made them pay an immense amount for doing it. This is the end of all that monopoly [and] trade.

[And] what good [was] accomplished by it? That the people in England might be blessed with that article: tea. [The] great end of that whole matter, of all this distress and misery, [was] that the few, or [one] land, might have tea.

Now I come to the United States.4 In America here, some little time ago, one of our presidents wanted to make a name of himself. “I presumed now,” says General [Zachary] Taylor, “[if] you go and enter into certain disputed territory”—Texas—“they won’t stand it and . . . they will fight, [but] we are able to wipe them out, and we will get the Californias of it.” This is [the] way things [were] done, in plain language. [It is now] talked of in other ways, [a] nice gloss [put] over it and [the] injuries received. . . .

Suppose half [a] dozen large men go into a man’s house [with] big sticks and take out pork, cheese, and butter and sit down in that house and eat. What [do you] think of them? You must call them honorable because [they’ve] got big sticks.

What is the reason of all these changes of states and states falling into other hands, to [other] powers possessing different governments, [that has] taken place from time to time? The reason is because the men have had the power of it.

Like [the] pious men [of the] West that were [driven] from England because of its piety oath,5 [who] wanted to get a pitch of land [in the] western valleys [but] didn’t know how [to] accomplish it without making a kind of vote of it.

One of them gets up [and] says, “I move the earth [is] the Lord’s [and] the fullness thereof.”

“I second the motion,” says the other.

“All agreed to this, signify for [it] by holding up right hands!”

All hands went up.

Another made a motion. Says he, “I move the earth be given to the saints of [the] Most High.” It was carried immediately.

Another got up. “I move that we are the saints of Most High.”

“I second the motion,” says [an]other.

And it was moved and carried that they were saints [of the] Most High.

“So turn out, you Indians!”—and let them possess your valleys.

We need not enter into all of the Indian interactions here. [They are] nothing more than the interactions going on among all the nations.

I mention these things to show the position of [the] human family. Kings are making conquest to grasp possessions and wading up to the neck [in] blood to do it—and they die and are damned and don’t possess it.

[There is] no possession that a man can have that he doesn’t receive from God that can benefit him at all in [the] world to come.

God’s Work in Embryo

You can see here among this people a specimen in embryo, the state of what things [shall] be hereafter. Here is a spirit of union, peace, [and] order—a spirit of intelligence, such intelligence [you] meet with nowhere else, because in their passions [they] reject and despise God [and] seek not for His wisdom. And if we have any, either [as it] relates to this world or [the] world to come, . . . it is that [which has] been communicated to us by the Great Elohim. . . .

If any people [are] blessed, we are blessed—and if we are, let’s be careful how we use or abuse them. We have [the] oracles of God in [our] midst. [A] prophet, seer, [and] revelator stands between God and us. [The] organization of [the] Church [is] complete according to [a] pattern [which] exists in [the] heavens. And when it is carried out, as it [has] commenced and spreads and spreads and spreads until it fills the world—“thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Brethren, God bless you. In [the] name of Jesus, amen.


[1] Though the term communist later became associated with the philosophy of Karl Marx, in the 1850s it also referred to those who advocated communal living in intentional communities and other peaceful means of social reform.

[2] A nickname for some ecstatic Methodists in Wales and Ireland who were known for their practice of jumping for joy when they felt the Spirit.

[3] The Opium War between England and China began in 1839 when the Chinese government refused to legalize opium and seized large quantities that Britain’s East India Company had imported. By 1842, Britain had used its military power to impose a treaty that made China pay the war costs, open to more trade including the drug trade, and surrender other rights.

[4] In this passage, John Taylor critiques the 1846–48 Mexican-American War. Though James K. Polk was U.S. president at the time of the war, General Zachary Taylor’s role in the war led to his election as the next American president.

[5] Possibly a reference to the 1640 Et Cetera Oath in England, which was designed to enforce support for the state Church and to root out Puritan influence. Some English Puritans migrated to North America looking for freedom and then came into conflict with native peoples in the Americas, who preferred not to give up their own freedoms.