July 3, 2008

"We contemplate the emancipation of the world": Pratt's 4th of July Oration

For a condensed version, click here.

Parley P. Pratt
July 4, 1853

On November 8, 1851 Parley P. Pratt, his pregnant wife Phoebe, and Rufus C. Allen set foot in Valparaiso, Chile; the first LDS missionaries to serve in South America.[1] Four months later a downtrodden trio would return to the United States of America with a new-found appreciation for the freedom of their homeland. Pratt's gospel knowledge, writing ability, charisma and missionary zeal were not enough to establish the gospel in Chile, which now contains one of the fastest-growing populations of Latter-day Saints in the world.[2] After a hellish voyage on a small cargo ship, they arrived in Chile where three weeks later Phoebe gave birth to a son, Omner, who died of consumption. Inflation due to the current gold rush in California made things very difficult as they attempted to preach without purse or scrip. Difficulty with the language also hampered the work, but perhaps the biggest impediment to missionary work was the combination of Church and state in nineteenth-century Chile. The constitution of the factionally-unstable area had declared the Catholic Church to be the state church. All other religious proselyting, publishing, or meeting was prohibited.[3] The "hungry, weary, lonesome, and disconsolate" missionaries arrived back in Salt Lake City on October 18, 1852.[4]

During 4th of July celebration of 1853 Elder Pratt's seemingly-failed mission was on his mind as he gave a stirring sermon on freedom, the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution, "contemplating, not only the direct bearing of those actions of our fathers in setting a nation free, but the indirect bearing and influences of such movements upon the whole world of mankind—upon the destiny of the race of which we form a part." Parley's comments give us a glimpse of his own personal views on government, America, freedom, and the gospel. He suggested that freedom in America could leaven even the "despotic nations" of the entire world:

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 in any way deprived of the common rights of man. It was doubtless dictated by the spirit of eternal wisdom, and has thus far proved itself adequate to the wants of the nation, and to the wants of all mankind that have seen fit to attach themselves to it, to come under its protection, and share in its blessings. 
As Ralph C. Hancock explained in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism:
While LDS scripture reinforces the traditional Christian duty of "respect and deference" to civil laws and governments in general as "instituted of God for the benefit of man" (D&C 134:1, 6), Latter-day Saints attach special significance to the Constitution of the United States of America. They believe that the Lord "established the Constitution of this land, by the hands of wise men whom [he] raised up unto this very purpose" (D&C 101:80).[5]
Importantly, this view of divine inspiration underlying the Constitution is (or perhaps should be) tempered in LDS thought as being mediated through fallible humans, thus existing as something of a neccessary lesser law until the Millennial reign of Christ when He will rule as King. Likely recalling his experiences in Chile, Parley said it must be certain in the minds of any who express belief in the Bible, all of Christendom, that "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." Despite all of the trouble, ignorance, bloodshed (which Parley met with firsthand in Chile, and  later when he was murdered), he believed eventually "the darkness which has covered the earth will be chased away, light will prevail, liberty triumph, 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."

Such great things would grow out of the small seed of freedom planted in the Constitution; which, in the meantime, would be in the hands of imperfect humans as Hancock explains:
This understanding...invites the inference that new needs and circumstances might require the continued exercise of inspired human wisdom by statesmen and citizens alike. LDS leaders have taught that the Constitution is not to be considered perfect and complete in every detail...but as subject to development and adaptation...President Brigham Young explained that the Constitution "is a progressive—a gradual work"; the founders "laid the foundation, and it was for after generations to rear the superstructure upon it" (JD 7:13-15).[6]
Pratt seems to get at the root of a crucial issue in his next comments: the difference between the document on one hand, and the Government (and thus, the interpretation of the document) on the other. The Latter-day Saints had experienced difficulty with the U.S. government, feeling their religious and civil rights were abused before they were forced from Nauvoo:
The great question, as has been before observed today more than once [...regards] 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 carried 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.
The principles in the Constitution, then, "embrace eternal truths, principles of eternal liberty" for all people, even "the great, fundamental eternal principles of liberty to rational beings," which Parley listed as "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."

Parley opined on the unlikely story that is America; the few versus the many, the external pressure and internal faction, the hardships in providing for their well-being without the "modern" conveniences of railroad, steamboat and telegraph. Seeing how far America had come, Parley exclaimed "Our hearts beat high for liberty"; millions throughout the nation "dwelling securely under the same banner are...now...assembled to celebrate the day on which freedom dawned," the 4th of July. 

Parley recalled his personal experiences with people of many nations: the Chinese people "from the most despotic government on the earth" he met in California, the "downtrodden people" of the "ancient mother country" during his mission to England, and especially those he met during his mission to Chile where he had "seen our brethren of mankind at war with each other." He recoiled at the establishment of a state religion there, thus allowing Chileans to be "trammeled by priestcraft, by a yoke of bondage, first enforced upon them by the sword in the days of Cortez and Pizarro, and afterwards riveted by the traditions of three centuries. They know not how to appreciate liberty, they know not how to throw off the yoke that goads their neck." Still, Parley emphasized, "mankind are progressive beings," and though they were Catholics by force of state and tradition, "who will blame them?" The shackles could be tossed off, and people around the world would love to hear about and live under the cause of freedom. He believed America could provide an example for the world as a city set on a hill that cannot be hid; encouraging not violent revolutions, which Parley said have been tried in vain, but peaceful emancipation under the influence of God:
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, and the free occupation of the free elements of life. 
In considering the Eastern countries, especially China, Parley didn't believe that a wholesale change in government would be forthcoming, but that the changes would come
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 other words the Eastern Hemisphere, and take their stand together...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 begin to discriminate, and use faculties with which they are naturally endowed.
He wasn't advocating a migration en masse lest the world, like a ship with the cargo placed on one side, would be liable to tip over, but believed the influence of those who migrated to America would then
"overturn those institutions which they could not conquer in their own country." Thus, the small beginning from (according to Pratt) America's "first pioneer" Columbus, to the Founding Fathers, to the Latter-day Church sending missionaries through the nations as prophesied in Isaiah 18, the cause of freedom would leaven the world. Parley clarified he did not expect to spread to other countries and "compel them to be American citizens," but that truth and freedom would be an "indirect influence" so overwhelming, self-evident and good, that the other nations would bow to the ensign.

Triumphantly, Parley declared the change would be
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 the idea properly, that is: The earth shall be full of knowledge, light, liberty, brotherly kindness and friendship...darkness will flee away, oppression will be known no more, and men will employ blacksmiths to beat up their old weapons of war into plowshares and pruning hooks. 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. 
Considering his comments to be only "partial ideas," Parley felt these principles included "all the practical truths in the universe that are within the grasp of mortal man" and that learning of them "may reach into immortality." He concluded:
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 (JD 1:137-143).[7]




Footnotes:

[1]
Painting: Christ in America by Minerva Teichert (1888-1976).

Joseph Ball appears to have been the first missionary called to serve in South America in 1841. No record of Ball's having served this mission exists, however. See Joseph Smith, Jr., History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ed. B.H. Roberts, 2nd ed., rev., 7 vols. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1971), 4:413. Information on Pratt's mission to Chile is from A. Delbert Palmer, Mark L. Grover, "Hoping to Establish a Presence: Parley P. Pratt's 1851 Mission to Chile," BYU Studies 38:4 (1999), 115-138.


[2]
1999-2000 Church Almanac (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1999), 299.


[3]
Normally missionaries in other countries such as the United States or Great Britain could temporally find employ if donations weren't forthcoming. The inflated over-burdened economy of Chile, due to the gold rush in America, made this practically impossible; at one point Pratt reports they resorted to "picking up gold and silver coin in the street, but even that is becoming scarce, and is now poor picking" (see Palmer, Grover, 122). For more on preaching without purse or scrip, see "Without Purse or Pig" and "Brigham's Bottomless Trunk." Chile being under rule of Spain, the Roman Catholic Church was financially supported by the state and guaranteed dominance by the prohibition of all other religions. Even after the political break with Spain in 1818 the Church maintained control; the first three constitutions in the factionally-unstable Chile declared the Catholic Church to be the state church. For more on the nuanced political background and climate, see Palmer, Grover, 126-127.


[4]
Palmer, Grover, 129.


[5]
Ralph C. Hancock, "Constitution of the United States of America," Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 1.


[6]
ibid. Take, for instance, Hugh Nibley's comments:

Politics, as practiced on earth, belongs to the ways of men...The moral is clear: the children of God can work well with the men of the world, and bestow great blessings by their services--but there comes a time when one must draw the line and make a choice between the two governments. Such a choice was forced on the Mormons very early, and a very hard choice it was, but they did not flinch before it. "We will go along with you as far as we can; but where we can't we won't;" and no hard feelings (Nibley, "Beyond Politics." BYU Studies 15:1, [1974], pp. 4-5). 
[7]

An excellent study on the Millennial expectations of the Latter-day Saints is Grant Underwood's The Millenarian World of Early Mormonism. Parley believed that the timing of the second coming of Christ was not particularly fixed beyond mankind's ability to affect it. See "Can We Hasten or Delay the Second Coming?" for a brief look at various LDS perspectives on the issue. For a good launchpad on LDS views of the Constitution and political science see the sources compiled at Education for Eternity.For more on "Americanism" and the LDS Church, see "How 'American' Is the Church?"

3 comments:

Kristen said...

This is a very well put-together post. I'm impressed by the footnotes as well and loved the Nibley quote.

Are you aware of other experiences similar (or not) to Parley's of missionaries who were the first to go into other countries?

LifeOnaPlate said...

I believe we have journal accounts from many missionaries who opened various areas of the world, yes.

Lance & Caetie said...

Remember our 4th of July in Miliwakay? I only got truly homesick one day my whole mission, and that was it! What did we do to cure it? We go play hoops in the hood as the only two white doods filled with a park of hundreds of people. Now THAT was a 4th to remember! Thanks for the compliment on my family, bro. Yes, you are my brother in Christ, but you are also my brother in many other things...Music (foo fighters, jim carey's vanilla ice, etc.), hoops, and comedy. Oh yeah, check these out.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Icb_tRTnA4g

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0A7tLVIsuNw

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