Prophetic Destiny of the American Constitution


I will express my ideas, or a few of them in regard to the Constitution of our own country, and its political principles, of their effects, and of the results of the movements which give rise to that Constitution. The longer I live, and the more acquainted I am with men and things, the more I realize that these movements, and particularly that instrument called the Constitution of American Liberty, was certainly dictated by the spirit of wisdom, by a spirit of unparalleled liberality, and by a spirit of political utility. And if that Constitution be carried out by a just and wise administration, it is calculated to benefit not only all the people that are born under its particular jurisdiction, but all the people of the earth, of whatever nation, kindred, tongue, religion, or tradition, that may seek to take a shelter under its banner. It seems broad enough, and large enough, to receive and protect all that may be deprived in any way of the common rights of man. It was doubtless dictated by the spirit of eternal wisdom, and has thus far proven itself adequate to the wants of the nation, and to the wants of all mankind that seem fit to attach themselves to it, to come under its protection, and share in its blessings.

The great question, as has been before observed to-day more than once, is, not the operations of the instruments, the beauty of the writing, the formation of the language, or the principle of liberty guaranteed therein, but the administration of those principles. For instance, paper itself cannot enforce its own precepts; and unhallowed principles in the people, or in the rulers which they choose, may pervert any form of government, however sacred, true, and liberal. They may overthrow and destroy the practical working of those very principles, which are so true, and so dear to us, and in which we so rejoice. It is the living administration, after all, that is the government, although a good form opens the way for good results, if curried out; but if not carried out, the form becomes a dead letter. Much depends on the feeling and action of the people in their choice of men and measures, and much depends on the administration of those they may choose.

In the principles of the Constitution formed by our fathers, and handed down to their children, and those who should see fit to adopt this country as theirs, there is no difficulty, that is, in the laws and instruments themselves. They embrace eternal truths, principles of eternal liberty, not the principles of one peculiar country, or the sectional interest of any particular people, but the great, fundamental, eternal principles of liberty to rational beings—liberty of conscience, liberty to do business, liberty to increase in intelligence and in improvement, in the comforts, conveniences, and elegances of this life, and in the intellectual principles that tend to progress in all lives.

The more I contemplate our country, the providences which have attended it, the principles upon which it is governed, the principles upon which the Constitution is founded, and the practical working of it when properly carried out; the more I look at the spirit of our institutions ; and the more I contemplate the circumstances of mankind in general; the more I realize that which before I had scarcely thought of, that which even the largest capacity had failed to grasp—the greatness of the destiny of those principles. One thing is certain, in the minds of all Christians who admit tho truth of the Bible, and who have perused its pages, and that is, there is a day coming when all mankind upon this earth will be free. When they will no longer be shackled, either by ignorance, by religious or political bondage, by tyranny, by oppression, by priestcraft, kingcraft, or any other kind of craft, but when all will positively have the knowledge of the truth, and freely enjoy it with their neighbors. However they may do in other points, these points are clearly developed in that good Book which Christendom acknowledges. This is the destiny that the Prophets of old have predicted in regard to the race of mortals upon the earth. Whatever principles of darkness have united to obscure ages and generations; whatever of wrong and blood-shed might prevail; whatever of corruption, deception, or superstition might enslave the mind of man, and chain down his body; however the earth might be drenched in the blood of millions ; however many might be the futile struggles of nations or individuals for liberty; yet, in the final result, the darkness which has covered the earth will be chased away, light will prevail, liberty trinmph, mankind be free, the nations be brethren, and none have need to say to his neighbor, “Know ye the Lord,” or the truth, which is just the same thing; for all will know Him, from the least to the greatest. If such is to be the final result, how natural it is for men to look at the workings of the causes that will bring it about, and to contemplate the great things that are growing out of so little, comparatively speaking. When a single individual conceived a big thought, and formed a grand design of taking an unbeaten track, and penetrating the unexplored seas of the West, who could have contemplated the result that has grown out of it in about 300 and odd years?:

On the other hand, when a few colonies, weak and feeble, settled on these western shores, called New England, when all the grain they had in their possession, in a little while after they landed, might have been measured in a pint cup, who then could have contemplated the result? Or when a few small colonies, weak and far separated from each other by dreary miles, without the aid of steam cars, or steam boats, or the convenience of the telegraph to convey news from place to place with lightning speed, were united, and by their representatives made this Declaration we have heard to-day, and pledged themselves, though few in number—only between two and three millions, to defend and carry it out, who could have contemplated the result even of that’? And when these few colonies were once set free to manage their own affairs, and, having achieved that which they so bravely’ undertook to accomplish, and establish! liberty, they came together to establish a capital that should be central and convenient for the colonies that were then strewed along the shores—at that’ time who could have contemplated a nation that would stretch its dominions and settlements from Maine to: Florida, and from the north east, washed by the Atlantic, to the very interior of the continent then unknown to civilized man? and that the shores of the Pacific would have formed our western limits, its seas been whitened with our sails, and the unnumbered millions of Asia influenced by our institutions?

Our hearts beat high for liberty. The valleys of the mountains, the back bone of the American Continent, are peopled with 20 or 30 millions of free people scattered over the land, and dwelling securely under the same banner, and now are we assembled to celebrate the day on which freedom dawned.

Who can realize the present and future bearing of this? Mine eyes have beheld the down trodden people of our ancient mother country—England. I have contemplated the working of European nations, not after the hearing of the ear only, but mine eyes have beheld it. I have also beheld a portion of the great Pacific, and seen our brethren of mankind at war with each other in Spanish America, for I have crossed the equator, and been far along the western shores of the Pacific. I have also seen thousands of people of Asia, from the most despotic government on the earth, swarming upon our western shores, dwelling under the common banner of freedom—I mean the Chinese.

We have heard something to day about the prospects of annexation, or enlargement of the dominions of the Constitution of America. The principle of annexation of large countries is not important, but the influence of our institutions, the pattern we set, the working of these institutions, and their influence abroad will bring about the same results precisely, whether it is particularly by annexation or not. The Spanish American, who is he? He possesses a country and resources almost unbounded. Put that country and its resources with the United States, with the Canadas, and I will guarantee that every man that now stands upon the earth could be sustained by these resources, if the rest of the world were to sink. …

…When we contemplate the designs of the country, and its influence, we contemplate not merely our own liberty, happiness, and progress, nationally and individually, but we contemplate the emancipation of the world, the flowing of the nations to this fountain, and to the occupation of these elements, blending together in one common brotherhood. They will thus seek deliverance from oppression, not in the style of revolution, but by voluntarily emerging into freedom, I and the free occupation of the free elements of life. In contemplating the fulfilment of things so dourly developed by the Prophets, I do not view it as do many, who suppose a revolution should take place in France, in Austria, in Germany, and the other nations, and that one revolution following another, would gradually emancipate mankind in every nation, and give progress to the principles of freedom, to liberty of thought and action, and to the free circulation of intelligence. We have seen it tried, and tried in vain. The people are not able to throw off those fetters of bondage, and that heavy yoke. Circumstances are against them. But Providence opens the way wherein’ they may liberate themselves—I mean the first and best spirits from all countries under the heavens. They may leave the old constitutions to crumble down in their own rottenness, and emerge from them, and come out where they may enjoy sufficient of the elements upon free, good, and equitable principles: operate upon those elements, and increase their numbers and powers by the union of the best spirits of all nations of the earth.

On the one hand the Chinese emerges from the institutions of ages almost immemorial, from the antiquated creeds and regulations that he thought every man in the world had been governed by for thousands of years, lie emerges from that superstitious government, and lands upon these shores, and learns principles of freedom faster than he does tho English language— his old traditions are swept away, and he is a man. But take that whole nation, and they could not be brought to think of liberty as we do; take from ten to a thousand individuals and put them where they may think, and they will think; and as they think, their old traditions will vanish one by one. At the same time the Spanish American follows, and all the other nations in the train; the barriers will be broken, and they will begin to emerge into freedom. In short, all people of the earth, though they cannot master their tyrants at home at one fell swoop, and burst asunder their chains and the fetters of priestcraft that have bound them down, and trammelled the free circulation of thought, yet one by one, family by family, can flow out from those countries, to where they have a right to the elements to sustain them. What is to be the result in the end? They will step on the other side of the big ship called the world, or in ether words the Eastern Hemisphere, and take their stand together, at least upon general principles, if not upon particular items, and begin to think. It will be a long time, of course, before all things will settle into a state of harmony; it will be a long time before many will begin to think at all. They will ultimately begin to think, and think until they form habits of thinking, and perhaps after a while they will learn to think truly. Men who are not in the habit of thinking are as apt to think wrong as to think right, but when the habit is once formed they will begin to discriminate, and use faculties with which they are naturally endowed. When they emigrate to this land, the first thing they think of is to improve the elements, and provide for themselves the means of subsistence.

But the stepping of the people on this side of the ship, or on the land shadowing with wings, in such numbers, would, to use a figure, almost turn tho world over; they would, in other words, overbalance it, the same as a ship would be overbalanced by the shifting of the cargo from one side of the vessel to the other.

You take the people from the Eastern Hemisphere, and put them on the western, far away from tyranny and oppression, and let them use their individual exertions to improve themselves, mentally and nationally, and their influence will ultimately overbalance the world, they will overturn those institutions- which they could not conquer in their own country.

Hence we contemplate that small beginning made by the American pioneers, by Columbus as the first pioneer, and by our fathers the pioneers of religion and liberty; we contemplate how that influence has spread I and increased in the earth, influencing the feelings of individuals as well as national institutions, until among all the nations of the earth, a sufficient number are gathered together, and the elements sufficiently developed that I now lie unoccupied, and sufficient light is infused for them to comprehend, to contemplate, and interchange with each other the blessings of Providence, until by and by the rest of the world is overwhelmed, that it is obliged to bow to their superior greatness. “Do you mean that we shall return again to our fathers’ land, and ‘compel them to be American citizens?” No. But two hundred millions of people on the American continent, dignified by the principles of American freedom, Europe must bow, by the indirect influence which must necessarily be exercised on those despotic nations.

Suffice it to say the continent is discovered, the elements for life and happiness are known to exist, and are partly developed, and constitutions and governments formed, and principles beginning to be instituted and developed, and influences are at work of such magnitude and greatness, that language is inadequate to express the probable result; we can only borrow the language of the Prophets, which is also insufficient to convey tho idea properly, that is, The earth shall be full of knowledge, light, liberty, brotherly kindness and friendship; none will have need to teach his neighbor to know the Lord, but all will know Him from the least to the greatest; darkness will flee away, oppression will be known no more, and men will employ blacksmiths to beat up their old weapons of war into ploughshares and pruninghooks. Their occupation will be to develop the inexhaustible resources of nature, improve the intellect, and lay hold of the Spirit of the Lord, and live by it. The world will be renovated both politically and religiously.

These are but partial ideas. To view the subject in its true light, would lead the mind to contemplate all the practical truths in the universe, that are within the grasp of mortal man ; indeed it may reach into immortality. We will acknowledge the hand of God in the movements of men, and in the development of minds, the result of which will be the fulfillment of what the Prophet has spoken—the renovation of our race, and the establishment of a universal Kingdom of God, in which His will will be done on earth as it is done in Heaven.

Source: An excerpt from an oration delivered by Parley P. Pratt, at Great Salt Lake City, 1853, on the anniversary of the 4th of July, 1776 as found in Journal of Discourses: Vol I, p. 138-39. Parley Parker Pratt served as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 1835 until his death in 1857.

They Were Believers is researched, compiled, edited and formatted for the Internet (with occasional commentary and explanatory notes) by Steve Farrell, Founder and Editor-In-Chief of Self-Educated American.

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