Mormon History

Inflammatory July 4th Sermon - 1838

Fourth of July in Far West - 1838

July 4, 2007
By Sharon Lindbloom

On the 4th of July, 1838 the Mormons, gathered in Far West, Missouri, held a celebration. The following is an excerpt from former BYU historian Stephen C. LeSueur’s book, The 1838 Mormon War in Missouri, pages 49-53.

“…at their Fourth of July celebration in Far West, the Mormons staged an ostentatious display of their military force and announced their intention to resist all persecution and mob violence. Several thousand people attended the festivities. [Joseph] Smith presided over the events of the day, which included a parade of the Danite militia, a review of the military band by the Danite generals, the laying of the cornerstone of the Far West temple, and an oration by Sidney Rigdon. Rigdon’s speech represented the highlight of their celebration. …

“After seeing the Church nearly destroyed by apostates in Kirtland [Ohio], Rigdon had come to Missouri with a fierce determination to eradicate all dissent. Perhaps Mormonism’s finest orator, he could stir great excitement with his impassioned speeches. His Salt Sermon in June had spurred the Danites to expel the dissenters from Caldwell County. Now, on the Fourth of July, Sidney Rigdon prepared to announce the Mormons’ ‘declaration of independence from mobs.’

“During his speech Rigdon made the usual references to patriotism, the Founding Fathers, and liberty. He also declared his belief in the separation of church and state. Rigdon then issued a provocative warning to the enemies of the Church. After describing at length the persecution endured by the Saints over the years, he declared that they would endure it no more.

“‘We take God and all the holy angels to witness this day, that we warn all men in the name of Jesus Christ, to come on us no more forever, for from this hour, we will bear it no more, our rights shall no more be trampled on with impunity. The man or the set of men, who attempts it, does it at the expense of their lives. And that mob that comes on us to disturb us; it shall be between us and them a war of extermination, for we will follow them, till the last drop of their blood is spilled, or else they will have to exterminate us: for we will carry the seal of war to their own houses, and their own families, and one party or the other shall be utterly destroyed. –Remember it then all MEN.

“‘We will never be the aggressors, we will infringe on the rights of no people; but shall stand for our own until death. We claim our own rights, and are willing that all others shall enjoy theirs.

“‘No man shall be at liberty to come into our streets, to threaten us with mobs, for if he does, he shall atone for it before he leaves the place, neither shall he be at liberty, to vilify and slander any of us, for suffer it we will not in this place.

“‘We therefore, take all men to record this day, that we proclaim our liberty on this day, as did our fathers. And we pledge this day to one another, our fortunes, our lives, and our sacred honors, to be delivered from the persecutions which we have had to endure, for the last nine years, or nearly that. Neither will we indulge any man, or set of men, in instituting vexatious law suits against us, to cheat us out of our just rights, if they attempt it we say wo be unto them.

“‘We this day then proclaim ourselves free, with a purpose and a determination, that never can be broken, “no never! no never!! NO NEVER”!!!’

“At the conclusion the Mormon people waved their hats high above their heads and shouted, ‘Hosanna! Hosanna! Hosanna to God and the Lamb!’

“The Saints’ spontaneous, enthusiastic response to Rigdon’s speech pleased their leaders. Joseph Smith and his counselors had carefully prepared the speech and afterward had it published and distributed to their people. Smith recommended that all Church members buy a copy. ‘We are absolutely determined no longer to bear [persecution], come life or come death,’ the Prophet wrote in the August issue of the Elders’ Journal, ‘for to be mobbed any more without taking vengeance, we will not.’ …

“The evidence suggests, however, that the Mormon leaders’ fear of violence was exaggerated, even unfounded, at that time. The journals and reminiscences of the Saints do not mention any trouble with non-Mormons prior to the Fourth of July oration…

“Most Missourians were not aware of any unusual strain in their relations with the Mormons. Many believed that interaction between the two groups had become remarkably friendly. Rigdon’s warnings therefore surprised and alarmed Missouri settlers, who interpreted the speech as an open, defiant declaration of Mormon intentions to set themselves outside the law…

“Reports of Rigdon’s speech spread through the upper counties, increasing suspicions of and reviving old prejudices against the Saints. Mormon leaders had issued the statement as a defensive measure, prompted by their history of persecution. Although they wanted to frighten anyone who might threaten them, they did not intend to begin a conflict with their non-Mormon neighbors. The Missourians, believing the Mormons had no reason to fear persecution from them, interpreted Rigdon’s vigorous warnings as a threat against the citizens and law in northwestern Missouri.”

Real conflict between the Mormons and the Missourians began a short time later. Three months after Rigdon’s speech, at the height of the conflict now known as the Mormon War in Missouri, the governor of that state used the Mormons’ own words when, in response to an armed Mormon attack against a Missouri State Militia, Governor Boggs ordered, “The Mormons must be treated as enemies, and must be exterminated or driven from the State if necessary for the public peace–their outrages are beyond all description.” (LeSueur, 152)