The topic of discussion for this Constitution Monday is the fragility of the United States Constitution. The Prophet Joseph Smith prophesied numerous times that the Constitution would one day “hang by a brittle thread,” and other prophets have made statements to support his prophesies. I believe that Joseph Smith was and is a true prophet of God, and I can see by current-day events how his prophesies can come true.
Constitutional scholar Rodney K. Smith wrote a series of articles on the subject “The Constitution Hangs by a Brittle Thread,” and I found them interesting enough to share some of his thoughts. This week we will cover his article with the subheading of “Joseph Smith’s Prophecy and Our Responsibility.”
Smith began his article by quoting several people who were witnesses for the statements made by Joseph Smith. According to a 1976 Ensign article written by D. Michael Stewart of the Department History at Brigham Young University, Joseph Smith prophesied numerous times that “the United States and the Constitution would be imperiled and [would be saved]. The first known record of the prophecy dates to July 19, 1840, in Nauvoo, [Illinois], when the prophet [taught], ‘[W]hen the Constitution is on 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.” Other people claimed to hear the Prophet make this statement or similar ones with two of them being Eliza R. Snow (Constitution will hang by “a single hair”) and James Burgess (“constitution and government would hang by a brittle thread”).
Acknowledging that he is “particularly fond of the statement made by Brother Burgess,” Smith said that “we live in a time when understanding of the Constitution has become ‘brittle’, ‘hard but liable to break easily’ as defined in the Oxford Dictionary.” He continues by saying that this statement “describes the perilous predicament prevailing in America today. Understanding of the Constitution is at all-time low and is declining rapidly according to sobering recent studies.” Smith gave the following information from surveys.
38% of Americans could name all three branches of government .
26% of adult Americans could name all three branches of our national government .
One in three adult Americans could not name any branch of government outlined in Articles I-III of the Constitution.
15% of Americans knew that the First Amendment protects religious liberty.
14% knew that it protects the freedom of the press.
3% knew that the right to petition the government is protected.
37% of American could not name any of the rights guaranteed under the First Amendment.
48% of Americans were aware that the First Amendment protects the “freedom of speech.”
I am sure that you realize that none of the figures given above are above 50%. This means that most of adult Americans do not have a good knowledge of the Constitution. More Americans recognize the names of famous artists of all kinds and sports figures than know their rights under the Constitution. Smith quoted the following statement from James Madison, the Father of the Constitution: “Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives."
The fact that most American adults do not know what is in the Constitution tells us that the Constitution “hangs by a brittle thread.” We cannot protect and preserve something that we do not know and understand. This lack of knowledge among Americans is the reason why politicians continue to take away liberties and freedoms that are guaranteed by the Constitution. The most important thing that Americans can do is to study the Constitution and understand what it says.