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 unalienable 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.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Happy Birthday, America!

                    Tomorrow we will celebrate the birthday of our great nation.  Last year I wrote about the difference between celebrating Independence Day or just observing the Fourth of July.  This year I feel a need to write about the men who performed extra-ordinary deeds in discovering, founding, and organizing the United States of America.  I believe that our younger generations have not been taught properly the importance of these men - and the women who supported them - and the events they shared.  I believe that each of these men became great because they were led by God in the best performances of their lives.  They each exhibited great "human virtues such as courage, reason, and strength of character" in their roles in the establishment of the United States of America.

                    I want to start with Christopher Columbus because he played a very important role in what eventually became the establishment of our great nation.  Columbus was a God-fearing man as well as a "scientifically-oriented" sailor.   People in the time of Columbus called the Atlantic Ocean "the Sea of Darkness" because they "believed that huge, dangerous sea-dragons lived there."  They also believed that the ocean sloped downward and that people could go so far down the "hill" that it would be impossible to go back to the top.  The people considered the sea to be a "dangerous and terrifying place."

                    Columbus was convinced that the world was a sphere and that he could find a shortcut to Asia in order to avoid traveling through country controlled by the Ottoman Turks.  After many years of searching for sponsors for his mission, he finally convinced Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand of Spain to fund and support his journey.    Columbus eventually acquired three ships - the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria - and crews for the ships. 

Columbus, an Italian, captained the Santa Maria while two Spanish brothers captained the other two ships.  The crews of all three ships were Spanish.  The ships left Spain on August 3, 1492, and about one month later the Spanish sailors (approximately ninety) became anxious because they had been at sea so long without finding land.   Columbus did not disclose to the men how far the ships had traveled, but the men continued to become more anxious.  "Threatened with mutiny by his crew, Columbus was forced to promise his captains on October 9 that if they failed to sight land within three days, they would all turn about and head back to Spain" (Bennett, America, p 4). 

                    The sailors soon started to see land-based birds, coastal seaweed, and other signs of land.  The three ships landed on an island in the Caribbean Sea (named San Salvador - Spanish for Holy Savior) on October 12, 1492, - the date we now celebrate as Columbus Day (Lunenfeld, World Book Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, 860).

                    Why did Columbus choose three days?  Why didn't he choose two days or five days?  Was he simply guessing or did he have divine knowledge?  I believe that he was being guided by divine revelation.  "And I looked and beheld a man among the Gentiles, who was separated from the seed of my brethren by the many waters; and I beheld the Spirit of God, that it came down and wrought upon the man; and he went forth upon the many waters, even unto the seed of my brethren, who were in the promised land" (Book of Mormon - Another Testament of Jesus Christ, 1 Nephi 13:12).

                    We know that the Spirit of God does not interact with wicked men; therefore, we know that Christopher Columbus was a good man.  We also know that Columbus had a great impact on the history of the Western Hemisphere.  His search for a westward route to Asia changed the ideas of Europeans about the world and led to contact - good and bad - between Europe and America.  The Native Americans were freedom-loving people who exhibited personal liberty, and this new idea of man governing himself formed the foundation of the American Revolution and influenced the structure of the government for the future United States of America.

                    The Puritans and Pilgrims were also led to the Americas by the Spirit of God in order to enjoy freedom of religion.  "And it came to pass that I beheld the Spirit of God, that it wrought upon other Gentiles; and they went forth out of captivity, upon the many waters.
                    "And it came to pass that I beheld many multitudes of the Gentiles upon the land of promise" (Book of Mormon - Another Testament of Jesus Christ, 1 Nephi 13:13-14).

                    The people who came to the Americas worshipped God, and God continued to bless them.  "And I beheld the Spirit of the Lord, that it was upon the Gentiles, and they did prosper and obtain the land for their inheritance; ….
"And it came to pass that I, Nephi, beheld that the Gentiles who had gone forth out of captivity did humble themselves before the Lord; and the power of the Lord was with them.
                    "And I beheld that their mother Gentiles were gathered together upon the waters, and upon the land also, to battle against them.
                    "And I beheld that the power of God was with them, and also that the wrath of God was upon all those that were gathered together against them to battle.
                    "And I, Nephi, beheld that the Gentiles that had gone out of captivity were delivered by the power of God out of the hands of all other nations.
                    "And it came to pass that I, Nephi, beheld that they did prosper in the land…." (Book of Mormon - Another Testament of Jesus Christ, 1 Nephi 13:15-20).

                    There were many brave and courageous men and women who played major roles in the fight for American independence, and there were hundreds, maybe thousands, more who played minor but important roles.  I consider George Washington to have been the star performer. He was raised up by God and chosen by his peers to lead the colonial army because the people trusted him and would follow him.  He led the American army - a bunch of volunteers dressed in rags - against the strongest and best-equipped navy and army forces in the world at the time and won.  This was no small achievement!  In fact, I consider it to be a grand miracle!  There were times when General Washington placed his life in danger while leading his men.  There are reports that he had two horses shot out from under him and that he had bullet holes through his hat and his jacket but was not hurt.  He was offered the opportunity to be the king of this new nation, but forcefully rejected the idea.  [This is particularly interesting because Nephi prophesied hundreds of years previously that "this land shall be a land of liberty unto the Gentiles, and there shall be no kings upon the land" (Book of Mormon - Another Testament of Jesus Christ, 2 Nephi 10:11).]  The Constitutional Convention happened because George Washington was willing to attend it and later became the "president" of it.  He was unanimously elected to be the first President of the United States of America.  He was a great man who was surrounded by other great and honorable men and women.

                    Several miracles happened to help the Americans win the battle for independence.  When the Americans were trapped in New York, fog rolled in and covered their retreat across the river to safety.  The Americans crossed an ice-choked river and surprised the enemy on Christmas Day.  When the British army was cornered at Yorktown, weather conditions arose that kept the navy from rescuing them and thus causing them to surrender.

                    Heavenly Father raised up George Washington and his associates in order that they could establish independence and liberty in this land; He also inspired the writers of the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution to prepare the land and its people for the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  God decreed that America would be His latter-day base of operations for His church.  Nearly two thousand years before the founding of the United States of America, our Savior Jesus Christ visited this promised land and told the ancient inhabitants of the land:  "For it is wisdom in the Father that they should be established in this land, and be set up as a free people by the power of the Father, that these things might come forth" (Book of Mormon - Another Testament of Jesus Christ, 3 Nephi 21:4).

                     We know that our Founding Fathers believed and trusted in God because the Declaration of Independence affirms this knowledge.  "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."

                    God inspired the Prophet Joseph Smith to write:  "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 conscience, the right and control of property, and the protection of life" (Doctrine and Covenants 134:2).  The three great gifts of God to mankind were decreed by God:  life, liberty, and property (the pursuit of happiness).

                    Thomas Jefferson and his associates concluded the Declaration of Independence with these words:  "And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor."  The Signers knew that their Declaration would demand great sacrifice, but they signed it any way.

                     Nephi recorded that the Founders "were delivered by the power of God out of the hands of all other nations" (Book of Mormon - Another Testament of Jesus Christ, 1 Nephi 13:19).  The Prophet Joseph Smith recorded the following words of the Lord:  "And for this purpose have I established the Constitution of this land, by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose, and redeemed the land by the shedding of blood" (Doctrine and Covenants 101:80).

                    The years between 1783 and 1787 were not easy years due to the fact that the Articles of Confederation were not adequate to govern the new nation.  Delegates were appointed to attend the Constitutional Convention, and the attendees spent four hot, miserable months in Philadelphia before the new Constitution was completed.  Nearly ten more months passed before the required nine states ratified it.

The new document was described by Gladstone as being "the most wonderful work ever struck off at a given time by the brain and purpose of man" (William Gladstone, North American Review, Sept.-Oct. 1878, p. 185).

The Prophet Joseph Smith called it "a glorious standard … a heavenly banner" (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith, 1938, p. 147).

The delegates understood that they had been the recipients of heavenly inspiration.  James Madison - known as the father of the Constitution - wrote:  "It is impossible for the man of pious reflection not to perceive in it a finger of that Almighty hand which has been so frequently and signally extended to our relief in the critical stages of the revolution" (The Federalist, no. 37).

                    Alexander Hamilton, originator of The Federalist papers and author of fifty-one of the essays, said:  "For my own part, I sincerely esteem it a system, which without the finger of God, never could have been suggested and agreed upon by such a diversity of interest" (Essays on the Constitution of the United States, ed. Paul L. Ford, 1892, pp 251-252).

                    In his first inaugural address in 1789, President George Washington said, "No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the invisible hand, which conducts the affairs of men, more than the people of the United States.  Every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency" (First Inaugural Address, 30 April 1789).

                    The new Constitution received the approval of God.  When the Kirtland (Ohio) Temple was dedicated, the Prophet Joseph Smith gave the dedicatory prayer - previously dictated by the Lord:  "May those principles, which were so honorably and nobly defended, namely, the Constitution of our land, by our fathers, be established forever" (Doctrine and Covenants 109:54).

                    The men and women who discovered, founded, and established our nation were good and honorable people.  We know that they were great people for two different reasons:  1) Nephi saw them in vision and saw them following the Spirit of God; and 
2) They recognized the importance of temple work and wanted their work to be done.

                    President Ezra Taft Benson  shared the following experience.  "Shortly after President Spencer W. Kimball became President of the Church [The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints], 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 my 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."

                    The Founding Fathers appeared to President Wilford Woodruff, and he shared his experience with these words quoted by President Benson:  "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 it and were faithful to God'" (The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, sel. G. Homer Durham, p. 160).

                    President Woodruff spoke about his experience in General Conference in the Fall of 1877 and stated:  "Two weeks before I left St. George, the spirits of the dead gathered around me, wanting to know why we did not redeem them.  … 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 font and called upon Brother McAllister to baptize me for the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and fifty other eminent men, making one hundred in all, including John Wesley, Columbus, and others."

                   The following is another version of President Woodruff's experience: "These were the Founding Fathers, and they waited on me for two days and two nights.  I thought it very singular, that notwithstanding so much work had been done, and yet nothing had been done for them.  The thought never entered my heart, from the fact, I suppose, that heretofore our minds were reaching after our more immediate friends and relatives.  I straightway went into the baptismal font and called upon brother McCallister to baptize me for the signers of the Declaration, and fifty other eminent men, making one hundred in all, including John Wesley, Columbus, and others; I then baptized him for every President of the United States, except three; and when their cause is just, somebody will do the work for them" (source unknown).

                    After President Woodruff became the President of the Church, he declared that "those men who laid the foundation of this American government 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" (in Conference Report, April 1898, p. 89).

                    After relating the words of President Wilford Woodruff, President Benson added:  "Unfortunately, we as a nation have apostatized in various degrees from different Constitutional principles as proclaimed by the inspired founders.  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' (19 July 1840, as recorded by Martha Jane Knowlton Coray; ms. in Church Historian's Office, Salt Lake City).

                    "For centuries our forefathers suffered and sacrificed that we might be the recipients of the blessings of freedom.  If they were willing to sacrifice so much to establish us as a free people, should we not be willing to do the same to maintain that freedom for ourselves and for future generations?

                    "Only in this foreordained land, under its God-inspired Constitution and the resulting environment of freedom, was it possible to have established the restored church.  It is our responsibility to see that this freedom is perpetuated so that the Church may more easily flourish in the future."

                    The Lord said, "Therefore, I, the Lord, justify you, and your brethren of my church, in befriending that law which is the constitutional law of the land" (Doctrine and Covenants 98:6).

                    The men and women who labored over hundreds of years to discover, found, and organize our nation were choice people who followed inspiration from God.  We should honor them for their extra-ordinary accomplishments.  They are the reason why we can celebrate the founding of America.  We can thank them for their efforts by protecting and defending the nation they founded as well as truly celebrating Independence Day.  My hope and prayer is that the United States of America can always remain "the land of the free and the home of the brave."  Happy Birthday, America!



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