All this talk about the imminent publication of the first volume in the Joseph Smith Papers’ Journal Series has brought back a lot of memories about my time spent on the Project, especially 2004-2005 when I worked specifically on this volume. The Scriptory Book, Joseph’s 1838 journal, contains some of our only contemporary references to the Danites from a pro-Mormon source. Another important contemporary document that sheds invaluable light on the organization is the Danite Constitution. We unfortunately haven’t found the original text, so determining authorship by examining the handwriting is not an option. Scholars have speculated that either Sampson Avard or Sidney Rigdon wrote it, but it’s really too difficult to know at this point. I may at some point write a post giving a more detailed discussion about what we know about the Constitution, but for the time being here’s a transcript of it. What strikes me the most about it is the rich republican language as well as the obvious reference to the Declaration of Independence.
Whereas, in all bodies laws are necessary for the permanency, safety and well-being of society, we, the members of the society of the Daughter of Zion, do agree to regulate ourselves under such laws as, in righteousness shall be deemed necessary for the preservation of our holy religion, and of our most sacred rights, and the rights of our wives and children. But, to be explicit on the subject, it is especially our object to support and defend the rights conferred on us by our venerable sires, who purchased them with the pledges of their lives and fortunes, and their sacred honors. And now, to prove ourselves worthy of the liberty conferred on us by them, in the providence of God, we do agree to be governed by such laws as shall perpetuate these high privileges, of which we know ourselves to be the rightful possessors, and of which privileges wicked and designing men have tried to deprive us, by all manner of evil, and that purely in consequence of the tenacity we have manifested in the discharge of our duty towards our God, who had given us [those] rights and privileges, and a right in common with others, to dwell on this land. But we, not having the privileges of others allowed unto us, have determined like unto our fathers, to resist tyranny, whether it be in kings or in the people. It is all alike unto us. Our rights we must have, and our rights we shall have, in the name of Israel’s God.
“ART. 1st. All power belongs originally and legitimately to the people, and they have a right to dispose of it as they shall deem fit. But as it is inconvenient and impossible to convince the peo-[p. 102 ] ple in all cases, the legislative powers have been given by them from time to time, into the hands of a representation composed of delegates from the people themselves. This is and has been the law in both civil and religious bodies, and is the true principle.
“ART. 2d. The executive power shall be vested in the president of the whole church and his counsellors.
“ART. 3d. The legislative powers shall reside in the president and his counsellors, together with the generals and colonels of the society. By them all laws shall be made regulating the society.
“ART. 4th. All offices shall be during the life and good behaviour, or to be regulated by the law of God.
“ART. 5th. The society reserves the power of electing all its officers with the exception of the aides and clerks which the officers may need in the various stations. The nomination to go from the presidency to his second, and from the second to the third in rank, and so down through all the various grades, branch or department retains the power of electing its own particular officers.
“ART.6th. Punishment shall be administered to the guilty in accordance to the offense, and no member shall be punished without law, or by any others than those appointed by law for that purpose. The Legislature shall have power to make laws regulating punishments as in their judgment shall be wisdom and righteousness.
“ART. 7th. There shall be a secretary whose business it shall be to keep all the legislative records of the society, and also to keep a register of the names of the members of the society, also the rank of the officers. He shall also communicate the laws to the generals, as directed by laws made for the regulation of such business by the Legislature.
“ART. 8th. All officers shall be subject to the commands of the Captain General given through the Secretary of War. And so all officers shall be subject to their superiors in rank, according to laws made for that purpose.