Things I want to remember

Hanging by a Thread

There are several references to Joseph Smith’s prophecy that the Constitution would hang by a thread in addition to the four sources listed in the footnotes to the talk The Decline and Possible Fall of the American Republic.

Among other things, the references on this page show that Joseph Smith taught this doctrine on at least three different occasions in 1840, 1843, and 1844.

Martha Jane Knowlton

Martha Jane Knowlton reported that on July 19, 1840, Joseph Smith preached:

Even this Nation will, be on the very verge of crumbling to peices and tumbling to the ground and when the constitution is upon the brink of ruin this people will be the Staff up[on] which the Nation shall lean and they shall bear the constitution away from the very verge of destruction.

Martha Jane Coray, Notebook, n.d., CHL, July 19, 1840. See The First Fifty Years of the Relief Society, part 3.20, Eliza R. Snow, Discourse, July 24, 1871, footnote 12. See also part 3.13, Minutes of “Great Indignation Meeting,” January 13, 1870, footnote 42. Original in Joseph Smith Papers project, Discourse, circa 19 July 1840, as Reported by Martha Jane Knowlton Coray.

Parley P. Pratt

Parley P. Pratt wrote in 1841 that the prophet said, “The government is fallen and needs redeeming. It is guilty of Blood and cannot stand as it now is but will come so near desolation as to hang as it were by a single hair!!!!! Then the servants goes to the nations of the earth, and gathers the strength of the Lord’s house! A mighty army!!!!!! And this is the redemption of Zion when the saints shall have redeemed that government and reinstated it in all its purity and glory!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

George A. Smith Papers, Church Archives, Box 7, Folder 5, January 21, 1841. See the church website on the subject.

James Burgess

James Burgess later recollected that on May 6, 1843, Smith spoke “upon the constitution and government of the United States stating that the time would come when the Constitution and Government would hang by a brittle thread and would be ready to fall into other hands but this people the Latterday saints will step forth and save it.”

James Burgess, Journal, Oct. 1841–Dec. 1848, vol. 2, CHL, May 1843; see “Celebration,” Deseret News, July 13, 1854, [2]. See The First Fifty Years of the Relief Society, part 3.20, Eliza R. Snow, Discourse, July 24, 1871, footnote 12. See also part 3.13, Minutes of “Great Indignation Meeting,” January 13, 1870, footnote 42.

Goudy E. Hogan

As described in this account, it is interesting that Joseph Smith spoke of this in the April 1844 general conference, the last one before his martyrdom. It is also interesting that according to this account, not only Jackson County, Missouri and, by extension, Salt Lake City, Utah will be considered Mount Zion, but all of North and South America. This is the only account of the prophecy of which I am aware that speaks of the constitution hanging by an “untwisted thread.”

“I very frequently went with my Father from where we lived eight miles to Nauvoo to meeting and back home the same day on foot to hear the Prophet Joseph Smith and the Patriarch Hyrum and others preach with great power. I was then fourteen years old, but I was very anxious to go to meeting and listen to what the servants of the Lord had to say. On one occasion when I went with my Father to Nauvoo to meeting on April 6th, the same year of the martyrdom, while they held meeting in the grove not far from the temple, a very large congregation was gathered having come a long way on foot. I with a few other boys climbed up on some boards behind the stand that was temporary so that I could hear every word that was said. I was sitting close behind the Prophet Joseph Smith so that I nearly touched his clothes. I had not been long in the church and was somewhat superstitious and took particular notice of his manner of dress and action. I remember that he had on a light colored linen coat with a small hole in each elbow of his coat sleeve. I remember thinking that he was not a proud man and that his very noble experience inspired me with great confidence and faith that he was a great prophet of the Lord. I also remember while one was preaching the Prophet Joseph spoke to the elder that was preaching to stop speaking for a minute. Joseph the Prophet rose from his seat and said in a loud voice, owing to the large congregation that was assembled, saying he wished some of those young men on the outside of the congregation that were making disturbance by talking loud to the young ladies would not do so but wait and go to their homes and speak to them by the consent of their parents. The speaker continued his discourse and after a while the Prophet walked down from the stand and walked through the further side of the congregation where the disturbance was. Although the alley was densely crowded with people standing up, the way opened up so that he walked through and back without any hindrance where it would seem impossible for any other man to do so. Such was the respect of the people for Joseph Smith, so you can see that he was not above acting in the capacity of a deacon when it was really necessary. There was no more disturbance in that meeting. In this meeting he said that North and South America would become Mount Zion and that the constitution would hang on a single untwisted thread and that the Latter Day Saints would save it.”

“History of Goudy E. Hogan,” Typescript copy. BYU Special Collections. Harold B. Lee Library, Provo, Utah. Quoted in Remembering Joseph: personal recollections of those who knew the prophet Joseph Smith, 2003, edited by Mark L McConkie, pages 38-39, Deseret Book, Salt Lake City.

The book contains this short biography:

Hogan, Goudy E. (1829-1898). Born in Tinsprestifield, Thelemarken, Norway; baptized in 1843; as a teen sat on the stand behind the Prophet when Joseph spoke at the 1844 April conference; emigrated to Utah in 1848; ordained a high priest and bishop; buried in Richmond, Utah.

Eliza R. Snow

In addition to the quote listed in The Decline and Possible Fall of the American Republic, which came from her January 13, 1870 speech at the Great Indignation Meeting, she also referenced Joseph Smith’s prophesy in a speech she prepared for a patriotic gathering in Ogden, Utah on July 24, 1871.

“The arrival of the Pioneers in these valleys, is an event which history will repeat with emphasis to all succeeding generations. It formed the starting point—the commencement of a delightful oasis in the desert wilds of North America—of establishing a midway settlement between Eastern and Western civilization, a connecting overland link, between the rich agricultural products of the Atlantic and the undeveloped mineral treasures of the Pacific. Above all and of consequence of far greater magnitude, it was securing a foothold for the establishment of the Kingdom of God—a government of peace—a home for the exiled Saints, and for the oppressed of all nations—a reservoir of freedom and religious toleration, where the glorious flag of liberty now waves triumphantly; and where the sacred Constitution which our noble forefathers were instrumental in forming under the inspiration of the Almighty, shall be cleansed from every stain cast upon it by degenerate Executives, and be preserved inviolate. This in fulfillment of a prediction by the prophet Joseph Smith. Long before political faction had reared its hydra-head in the midst of our Republican Government—long before the intrigues of selfish, disloyal, unscrupulous, speculating, peace-destroying, office-seeking demagogues had attained to their present hideous proportions, I heard the prophet say, ‘The time will come when the Government of these United States will be so nearly overthrown through its own corruption, that the Constitution will hang, as it were, by a single hair, and the Latter-Day Saints—the Elders of Israel—will step forward to its rescue and save it.’”

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