From the Archives: “American Independence Declared Over Again”

By July 4, 2011

John Adams imagined that America would always celebrate July 1776 as the beginning point of American freedom, but he was off a few days. “The Second Day of July 1776,” he wrote, “will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty.” If Adams was mistaken on the exact date, he was prescient concerning the celebrations. “It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade with shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.” Witnessing the pompous proceedings that surround Independence day—especially here in Utah County—reminds me that Adams was certainly at least half-right.

But Adams underestimated the power of the written document. July 2nd, the date that Adams felt would be celebrated, was when the Second Continental Congress declared independence from Britain. But it was July 4th that Congress ratified Thomas Jefferson’s document that spelled out that declaration—after much revision, Jefferson was oft to remind anyone who would listen. America chose to celebrate the written, not the oral, announcement of independence. Adams would always regret this decision; had he known the importance that would be attached to the document, he certainly wouldn’t have passed off the responsibility to Jefferson. Adams was bitter about a lot of things later in life, especially his role in America’s collective memory, but the debate over America’s birth was near the top of his bitterness.

Indeed, the Declaration of Independence as a text continued to have a significant role in American culture, as Pauline Maier demonstrated decades ago. Various groups and movements invoked the document in their own pleas for rights and progress. When Mormons fought over their American-ness, they too took part in this tradition. What follows was an anonymous editorial—most certainly written by Parley Pratt—that exemplifies how Mormons interpreted and framed their experiences in a way that placed them in the lineage of Thomas Jefferson and the other American Founders, thereby validating their reaction to perceived vigilantism and mobocracy. It was published in the March 1845 issue of The Prophet, the Saints’ New York periodical.

American Independence Declared Over Again; with Amendments to suit the times

When in the course of the divine economy it becomes necessary for one people to seperate themselves from the religious and political fellowship which has once bound them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth that just and equal standing to which God and nature has designed them, a decent respect for the opinions of others would seem to require them to show the causes which impel them to show the causes which impel them to seperation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that the “Mormons,” in common with all others, are possessed of certain inaleniable rights; among which, are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, including the right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences; and in short, to believe and teach that which in their judgment appears to be true and reasonable.

These rights are guaranteed to them in common with all American citizens, by the sacred constitution, and laws of the general and State governments.

All the officers of which are bound by the most solemn and sacred oaths to render equal justice and protection to every citizen.

With these self-evident facts before their eyes, the rulers and people of these United States have utterly refused, and entirely neglected to protect the mormons in their rights; and have thus violated every sacred principle of their laws and constitution, without the least regard to justice, honor or even the oath of office…

Think of it—O ye free born sons of American liberty!…

Think of it, O man! A nation turned pirates, robbers, and murderers!

Rulers, people, priests and religionists, verily guilty of the crime of murdering men, women, and children, and of robbing, plundering, and driving a people who are their own citizens and kindred, and only differ from others in faith and worship.

In all these proceedings, Americans have utterly made void the most sacred constitutions, laws, and charters made by themselves.

They have openly disregarded the most solemn oaths of office.

They have destroyed the liberty won by the sweat, blood, tears and prayers of their ancestors.

They have trampled under foot all that was dear and sacred to humanity.

They have become the open and avowed enemies of their country, and of all the rights of man both human and divine.

They are drunken with the blood of the Saints, with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus.

In short, they have forfeited all claim to the political and religious fellowship of their fellowmen, and even to the mercy of God; being like Judas, guilty of betraying and ofshedding the blood of the innocent.

We, therefore, withdraw entirely from all fellowship, whether political or religious, with any of the rulers, priests, or people who are thus manifestly guilty of murder, treason, and other crimes.

And we hereby solemnly declare that Mormons and all other good citizens are, and by right out to be  free and independent of such outlaws; and trusting to the protection of heaven, as well as to the justice and virtue of our course, we shall esteem all such rulers, priests, and people, from this time forth and forever, as we esteem all other pirates, robbers, and murderers; enemies in war, and in peace snakes in the grass. And whether in peace or war, doomed to the just and speedy vengeance of a righteous God, who, before many days, will visit this nation with thunder and with earthquake, and with a great noise, and with storm and tempest and flame of devouring fire. And when it comes remember what it is for, for we have told you before it is fulfilled.

Article filed under Categories of Periodization: Origins Cultural History From the Archives


  1. Excellent document!

    And I’m curious, what makes you so sure that the editorial is by Parley Pratt?

    Comment by Nathaniel — July 4, 2011 @ 8:47 am

  2. Nathaniel: a few reasons. First, and perhaps foremost, Pratt was serving as editor of the newspaper at the time, and most of the unsigned editorials were written by him. Second, the language closely matches Parley’s other writings, especially concerning the persecution narrative. (David G could tell us more about that.) And third, the concept and hubris is just classic Parley—it just fits his intellectual and styalistic penchant.

    But if anyone has solid evidence to the contrary, I’m very willing to hear it.

    Comment by Ben Park — July 4, 2011 @ 9:24 am

  3. Fabulous stuff Ben. I couldn’t help but smirk during testimony meeting yesterday with the endless laurels of American purity were offered, remembering the numerous times our American government and people have sought to put the light of Mormonism out once and for all.

    Comment by Tod Robbins — July 4, 2011 @ 10:21 am

  4. You convinced me, Ben. His autobiography is on my “to read” list, so thanks for the useful input.

    Comment by Nathaniel — July 4, 2011 @ 11:32 am

  5. Nathaniel: when you read his Autobiography, make sure to read the roundtable I put together on JI a couple years back on that text. Lots of great stuff in there. It was published in the winter issue of Journal of Mormon History this year, but can also be found here.

    Comment by Ben Park — July 4, 2011 @ 12:14 pm

  6. The Paul and the Patrick Henry of Mormonism…

    Comment by Ryan T. — July 4, 2011 @ 4:30 pm

  7. Thanks for posting this, Ben. I hadn’t seen it previously (btw, is The Prophet, or for that matter, The Mormon, available in a researcher-friendly format, i.e., in a medium that doesn’t require visiting HBLL or CHL?). I agree that it reads very much like Pratt, and he hit on providential separatism during this period in his other writings.

    Comment by David G. — July 4, 2011 @ 8:54 pm

  8. David: Unfortunately, I don’t know of any medium for the peripheral newspapers besides the CHL or HBLL. I just took advantage of the CHL’s great scanning machines a couple years ago and copied all the editorials that caught my interest.

    Comment by Ben Park — July 4, 2011 @ 9:31 pm

  9. I have almost — not yet quite — finished transcribing every article in the three-year run of The Mormon. When I’ve finished, I’ll post it somewhere. Not as good, perhaps, as searchable images, but I don’t know how to work with those.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 4, 2011 @ 9:39 pm

  10. Thanks, Ben. Ardis, that’s great news. I look forward to seeing your transcriptions.

    Comment by David G. — July 4, 2011 @ 10:10 pm

  11. Thanks for the link, Ben. I’ll definitely go over it.

    Comment by Nathaniel — July 5, 2011 @ 3:15 am

  12. Ardis, you rock!! [BTW, I’m in Utah starting July 12th, and hope to run into Ardis on my weekly visits to the CHL & other libraries along the Wasatch Front].

    My reaction to the post was just like David’s–except that I knew that (last I looked) the Prophet wasn’t available even at the HBLL. Last year I started collecting the images of the Prophet, but ran out of time before I could get the whole run.

    Of course, it is the Juvenile Instructor (1866-1970) that is the biggest hole in LDS periodicals available electronically.

    Comment by Kent Larsen — July 5, 2011 @ 10:40 pm

  13. This does sound like classic Parley P Pratt: “enemies in war, and in peace snakes in the grass.” In 1845 the Saints were working to finish the Nauvoo Temple while they prepared for their exodus westward the following February, escaping the nation that had allowed a mob to murder Joseph and Hyrum while in state custody and failed to even punish those who committed the crime. It was the war with Mexico that turned their destination into a US territory. But for that war, the Mexican army would have been preoccupied with a Texas-style creation of the California Bear Flag Republic, while the Mormons established an independent nation in a region Mexico had not bothered to occupy or garrison.

    Comment by Raymond Takashi Swenson — July 7, 2011 @ 8:01 am

  14. Kent, the CHL is currently digitizing the Instructor with the Internet Archive.

    Comment by J. Stapley — July 7, 2011 @ 12:37 pm


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