Hey guys, so in the last episode, we talked about the Utah War. In the next episode, we’re going to talk about the Church during the Civil War, but before we do that, I think it’s important to lay some groundwork and talk about Joseph Smith’s controversial Civil War prophecy. So, that’s what we’re going to explore today. Don’t touch that dial!
Alright, let’s set the stage. In 1832, “An excessively high tariff favoring northern manufactures had set off a ‘rebellion’: a South Carolina convention had unilaterally nullified the tariff and forbade its collection. President Andrew Jackson, refusing to acknowledge this assertion of state power, called out troops. By Christmas 1832, a military confrontation appeared imminent.”
While Joseph Smith was praying about the situation on Christmas, he received the revelation now known as Doctrine and Covenants section 87, which is only 8 verses long. So what I want you to do, if you’re not familiar with this section, is to pause and read it real quick, and then we’ll talk more about it.
Alright, verse 1. Sometimes prophecy is not fulfilled in the way we might expect. The Civil War did not begin because of the 1832 nullification crisis. And yet, Joseph stuck to his guns on this. More than a decade later, at an April 1843 conference, he reaffirmed that South Carolina was still the appointed place where bloodshed would begin. And he was right. South Carolina was the first state to secede from the Union, and in 1861, the first shots of the Civil War were fired at Fort Sumter in South Carolina.
Verses 2 & 3: Some people interpret this to mean that the Civil War will spark or directly grow into a world war, but I want to remind you that, as per verse 1, this revelation is not just about the Civil War. It’s about multiple wars (plural) that will ultimately culminate with the end of all nations. And we’re not given a strict timeline as to how this will all play out chronologically. As the Civil War was about to start in 1861, the Millennial Star reported,
“What the length of the period may be before all these things be fulfilled we cannot say; but this we can say, and verily know, that the rebellion of South Carolina is the beginning of wars which will surely ‘terminate in the death and misery of many souls …’”.
The division between the southern and northern states does seem to apply to the Civil War. The South did call on Great Britain for help. Some critics of this prophecy point out that the British did not actually come to the aid of the Confederacy. That’s partially true. The British were formally neutral, though there was some stuff going on under the table to help the Confederacy. But either way, the prophecy only says that the South will “call on” them, not that the British would respond. This is a point Orson Pratt noted in 1854, years before the Civil War broke out.
Hindsight is always 20/20, but it seems to me that the rest of verse 3 applies pretty darn well to World War I and II. As an interesting side note, in 1862, Orson Pratt published in the Millennial Star that “after many days, when the demon of war shall have exhausted his strength and madness upon American soil, … he will remove his headquarters to the banks of the Rhine.” The Rhine River cuts right through Germany and western Europe, a region soon embroiled in the Franco-Prussian war, as well as both World War I and II.
Verse 4 talks about slaves rising up against their masters and being marshaled for war. “By the time the [Civil] war ended in 1865, about 180,000 Black men had served as soldiers in the U.S. Army. This was about 10 percent of the total Union fighting force. Most—about 90,000—were former (or ‘contraband’) enslaved people from the Confederate states.” It sounds like the Civil War fulfilled this portion of the prophecy. However, some interpret this verse more broadly than others. For example, you can pause and read what Joseph L. Wirthlin said in general conference in October 1958.
Verse 5 talks about remnants vexing Gentiles. This is one of the more vague verses in this prophecy. To “vex” just means “to irritate” or “to make angry by little provocations.” According to the Joseph Smith Papers Project, “‘Remnants’ refers to the scattered descendants of ancient Israelites still found on the earth. The Book of Mormon uses the singular ‘remnant’ to refer specifically to descendants of the family of Lehi but the plural ‘remnants’ when discussing all descendants of Israel scattered throughout the world.”
Verse 6 gets especially apocalyptic, adding famine, plague, and a bunch of natural disasters to the list of things to scourge the earth before the end of all nations and the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, as mentioned in verse 8.
Now, some might point out that this revelation was not canonized as scripture until 1876, years after the Civil War. That is true, but plenty of people knew about (and expected the fulfillment of) this revelation long before that time. Joseph allowed several people to make written copies of the revelation. It was published as part of the 1851 Pearl of Great Price — still a decade before the Civil War — and in Orson Pratt’s 1854 work, “The Seer.” Here’s what George Q. Cannon said about it. Here’s what Wilford Woodruff said about it. Here’s what Orson Pratt said about it. And here’s a story about Jedediah Grant using it during his mission around 1840. A lot of people knew about it and considered it true long before it was canonized.
In 1861 after the Civil War broke out, a Philadelphia newspaper published the revelation and commented, “In view of our present troubles, this prediction seems to be in progress of fulfillment, whether Joseph Smith was a humbug or not …. Have we not had a prophet among us?” Decide for yourself. Was it a prophecy or simply a lucky guess? Latter-day Saints view this prophecy as largely fulfilled by the Civil War and subsequent wars, and we expect it to continue to be fulfilled as time goes on. Check out the resources and notes in the YouTube description for more info on this subject. This essay is particularly insightful. Watch some of our other videos while you’re here, and have a great day.
- Doctrine and Covenants 87: http://bit.ly/3G4S5wZ
- Doctrine and Covenants 130: http://bit.ly/3NXeo9G
- “‘Have We Not Had a Prophet Among Us?’: Joseph Smith’s Civil War Prophecy,” by Scott C. Esplin (BYU Studies): http://bit.ly/3tmTEip
- “Peace and War” by Jed Woodworth in “Revelations in Context”: http://bit.ly/3Tsc8bV
- “Joseph Smith’s 1832 prophecy of the Civil War,” by FAIR: http://bit.ly/3El1eQH
- Here’s a copy of the revelation in John Barrowman’s diary, written Feb. 12, 1854: http://bit.ly/3g5cyas
- Suggested literature:
- “Rough Stone Rolling,” by Richard Bushman, pg 191-192.
- “Making Sense of the Doctrine & Covenants,” by Steven C. Harper, pgs. 310-312, 474-476.
- “The Church and the Civil War,” by David F. Boone, in “Nineteenth-Century Saints at War,” pgs. 115-120