Proper Government, Principle 1, An In-Depth Analysis

Rod Klingler Rod Klingler

Principle One:

"Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other." You've read this quote from John Adams before, but have you read the complete letter from which it is taken? While the quote above does stand on its own quite well, the complete text gives further insight into what this Founding Father wanted us to know, and leads us into a discussion of this principle:

Original text:
From John Adams to Massachusetts Militia, 11 October 1798

To the Officers of the first Brigade of the third Division of the Militia of Massachusetts

Quincy October 11. 1798


I have received from Major General Hull and Brigadier General Walker your unanimous Address from Lexington, animated with a martial Spirit and expressed with a military Dignity, becoming your Characters and the memorable Plains, in which it was adopted.

While our Country remains untainted with the Principles and manners, which are now producing desolation in so many Parts of the World: while the [sic; she?] continues Sincere and incapable of insidious and impious Policy: We shall have the Strongest Reason to rejoice in the local destination assigned Us by Providence. But should the People of America, once become capable of that deep simulation towards one another and towards foreign nations, which assumes the Language of Justice and moderation while it is practicing Iniquity and Extravagance; and displays in the most captivating manner the charming Pictures of Candour[,] frankness & sincerity while it is rioting in rapine and Insolence: this Country will be the most miserable Habitation in the World. Because We have no Government armed with Power capable of contending with human Passions unbridled by morality and Religion. Avarice, Ambition[,] Revenge or Galantry, would break the strongest Cords of our Constitution as a Whale goes through a Net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious People. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other[.]

An Address so unanimous and firm from the officers commanding two thousand Eight hundred Men, consisting of such substantial Citizens as are able and willing at their own Expence, compleatly to arm, And cloath themselves in handsome Uniforms does honor to that Division of the Militia which has done so much honor to their Country. Oaths, in this Country, are as yet universally considered as Sacred Obligations. That which you have taken and so solemnly repeated on that venerable Spot is an ample Pledge of your sincerity, and devotion to your Country and its Government.

John Adams

In order to better understand the language of Adams' day, let's define some terms. Some of them may seem familiar, but the meanings have changed over time, so we will consult Webster's 1828 Dictionary.

A desire of preferment, or of honor; a desire of excellence or superiority
[NOTE: Webster says this word is "used in a good sense", but it is obvious from context that this was not Adams' intention. Rather, he appears to have meant ambition similar to that of the Pharisees, who "love[d] the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues" (Matthew 23:6).]

An inordinate desire of gaining and possessing wealth; covetousness; greediness or insatiable desire of gain.
Openness of heart; frankness; ingenuousness of mind; a disposition to treat subjects with fairness; freedom from tricks or disguise; sincerity.
destruction; ruin; waste
Excess of affection, passion or appetite… Excess in expenditures of property; the expending of money without necessity, or beyond what is reasonable or proper… In general, any excess or wandering from prescribed limits
Splendor of appearance… Vicious love or pretensions to love; civilities paid to females for the purpose of winning favors; hence, lewdness; debauchery.
Irreverent towards God; proceeding from or manifesting a contempt for the Supreme Being; tending to dishonor God or his laws, and bring them into contempt.
Injustice; unrighteousness
deceitful; sly; treacherous
Pride or haughtiness manifested in contemptuous and overbearing treatment of others; petulant contempt; impudence.
Pertaining to war
The militia of a country are the able bodied men organized into companies, regiments and brigades, with officers of all grades, and required by law to attend military exercises on certain days only, but at other times left to pursue their usual occupations.
Restraint of violent passions or indulgence of appetite… Calmness of mind
The act of plundering; the seizing and carrying away of things by force… Violence
The act of feigning to be that which is not; the assumption of a deceitful appearance or character… the assuming of a false character… hypocrisy.
Worthy of veneration or reverence; deserving of honor and respect

We also need to recall that the Battles of Lexington and Concord were fought in April 1775, and effectively started the Revolutionary War. Lexington and Concord are towns in Massachusetts.

With a better understanding of the language and history, let's rewrite it in modern language:


I received the letter Major General Hull and Brigadier General Walker sent me from Lexington, on your behalf. It was filled with an honorable military spirit that was truly representative of you, as well as Lexington, itself.

While certain attitudes and policies are destroying other parts of the world, the United States remains untainted. Indeed, our country is sincere, and would not enact such deceitful, treacherous, and blasphemous policies. We should rejoice in the fact that God blessed us with such a country. But if our people ever become the same brand of hypocrites, lying to each other and to the foreign nations they interact with, pretending to practice justice and restraint while they are actually sinful, living in excess, and if they ever become prideful and thieving, this will become the worst place in the world to live. This is because no government has the power to stop their people when they are wicked and immoral. Greediness, power-seeking, revenge-seeking, and self-serving immorality, would destroy our Constitution, as a whale would destroy a net. Our Constitution will only work for us as long as our people have morals and serve God. It is useless otherwise.

Your division of the Militia is honorably represented by such a firm, united, letter, from these officers who command 2800 of America's best citizens, who are willing and able to arm and handsomely uniform themselves at their own expense, and you do honor to your country. We still hold oaths sacred in this country. The oath you have taken to defend our country, and to which you have recommitted yourselves there in Lexington, truly signifies your sincerity and devotion to our country and government.

John Adams

Truly, our country was blessed to have a restrained government in its earliest days, but we have become everything the Founding Fathers warned us not to become. By 'we' I do not mean individuals, of course, for there are some righteous among us, but I mean American culture, the general attitudes and practices of our day, and especially our leaders. You will recall that Ezra Taft Benson's first principle specifies that our "political institutions" must be founded on faith in God and belief in moral law. Can you even use the words hypocrite, liar, immoral, prideful, or thieving, without describing nearly every person or practice in our government today? The phrases "lolita express," "civil forfeiture," and "millionaire socialist" are perfect illustrations of some of these things.

Without a belief in moral law, you end up with the "Law of Thelema", which says, "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law". This is a Satanic doctrine that leads people to do horrifying things because they do not believe there will be eternal consequences for their actions. Understanding that we will be held accountable for our actions keeps us humble, and causes us to seek equity in all we do, for, as the scriptures clearly indicate, we will receive from God only what we have given to others.

Prophets also have warned us against who we have become, precisely because our land was a gift to righteous men, with the specific promise of God's guidance and protection as long as we remained moral and God-fearing:

"And he had sworn in his wrath unto the brother of Jared, that whoso should possess this land of promise, from that time henceforth and forever, should serve him, the true and only God, or they should be swept off when the fulness of his wrath should come upon them."
–Ether 2:8, Book of Mormon

"Behold, it is expedient that much should be done among this people, because of the hardness of their hearts, and the deafness of their ears, and the blindness of their minds, and the stiffness of their necks; nevertheless, God is exceedingly merciful unto them, and has not as yet swept them off from the face of the land."
–Jarom 1:3, Book of Mormon

Just like the Nephites, we only exist as a country because of God's mercy. But our destruction is imminent if we do not change–repent both personally and as a country, and return to the Constitution–before it is too late. Even then, your personal standing with God hangs in the balance based on what you do, right now, in the fight for freedom.

"There is no excuse that can compensate for the loss of liberty."
–Ezra Taft Benson, Our Immediate Responsibility. BYU Devotional, October 25, 1966. (Audio | Text)

"“Don’t you have faith in America?” say others. But America is made up of people – and only righteous patriotic people work to preserve their freedom. The American people’s blessings are conditioned on righteousness and nothing else."
–Ezra Taft Benson, Our Immediate Responsibility.

“Some may say, “I have faith the Lord will turn [our enemies] away.” What ground have we to hope this? Have I any good reason to say to my Father in heaven, “fight my battles,” when he has given me the sword to wield, the arm and the brain that I can fight for myself? Can I ask Him to fight my battles and sit quietly down waiting for Him to do so? I cannot. I can pray the people to harken to wisdom, to listen to counsel; but to ask God to do for me that which I can do for myself is preposterous to my mind.”
–Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 12:241.

"We know, as do no other people, that the Constitution of the United States is inspired – established by men whom the Lord raised up for that very purpose. We cannot – we must not – shirk our sacred responsibility to rise up in defense of our God-given freedom."
–Ezra Taft Benson, Our Immediate Responsibility.

We have been warned again and again and again. The Lords spokesman has consistently raised his voice of warning about the loss of our freedom. Now he that has ears, let him hear, and ye who praise the Lord, learn to also follow His spokesman.

I know not what course others may take, but as for me and my house, we will strive to walk with the Prophet. And the Prophet has said that:

“No greater immediate responsibility rests upon the members of the church, upon all citizens of this republic and of neighboring republics than to protect the freedom vouchsafe by the Constitution of the United States.” (The Instructor, August 1953.)

In this mighty struggle each of you has a part. Be on the right side. Stand up and be counted. If you get discouraged, remember the words of Edward Everett Hale, when he said:

“I am only one, but I am one.

I can’t do everything, but I can do something.

What I can do, that I ought to do,

And what I ought to do,

By the grace of God, I shall do!”

–Ezra Taft Benson, Our Immediate Responsibility.

"Alexander Hamilton, a soldier turned statesman… wrote that “it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force” (The Federalist, no. 1, p. 33)."

–As quoted by David B. Haight in Ethics and Honesty, October 1987 General Conference