The Book of Mormon
and the Constitution

Chapter 17: Individual Freedom—The Transcendent Purpose of Government

Prefatory Statement

      We have seen that the first and most fundamental lesson man can learn is that of obedience to divine law. Until he does this it is impossible for him to knowingly accomplish any purpose whatsoever. That basic truth is the starting point for the acquisition of knowledge in every discipline and applies with as much force to the study of government as to other fields. In view of this fact, we are pursuing our attempt to reach agreement that the Golden Rule should apply to the actions of government, by seeking to identify those laws which must be obeyed to achieve the purposes we seek through the agency of the state. However before proceeding to this task, it will be necessary to agree upon the purpose or purposes to be accomplished. Unless we are all willing to give priority to a single objective, or unless the various goals set for government are harmonious, it will be impossible to find a set of laws, obedience to which will accommodate everyone. An antagonism in purposes would require a sacrifice of one goal to accomplish another—a violation of the laws leading to one result in order to obey those which lead to results inconsistent therewith. Let us commence our search by noting the Lord’s purpose in establishing governments.

The Lord’s Purpose in Establishing Governments

      The scriptures indicate that the primary purpose of the Lord in establishing a government in the United States was to protect the freedom of the people. This purpose is set forth in the following quotations: [p. 116]

According to the laws and constitution of the people, which I have suffered to be established . . . that every man may act . . . according to the moral agency which I have given unto him . . . (D&C 101:77, 78)

Therefore it is not right that any man should be in bondage one to another. And for this purpose have I established the Constitution of this land, by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose, and redeemed the land by the shedding of blood. (D&C 101:79-80)

And that law of the land which is constitutional, supporting that principle of freedom in maintaining rights and privileges, belongs to all mankind, and is justifiable before me. (D&C 98:5)

      The Lord’s purpose then in establishing our laws and Constitution was to provide free agency. When it is remembered that the war in heaven was fought over this same issue, the importance of government in the Lord’s plan for man here on earth becomes more apparent.

The Purposes of the Founding Fathers

      Since the wise men who drafted and implemented the provisions of the United States Constitution did so under the inspiration of the Almighty, it can only be expected that their purposes agreed with His. These were stated in the preamble which reads as follows:

We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the Unites States of America.

      There are six different purposes enumerated in this preamble. However liberty is one of them and all of the others must be in harmony therewith. We shall now undertake to show that individual freedom is the first and foremost need and desire of all men in all countries and ages, and therefore we can make it not only the first, but the exclusive purpose of government. [p. 117]

Can All Reach Agreement on a Single Purpose for Government?

      People are so diverse in their interests and aims that it may appear impossible to pass a single set of man-made laws which serve the needs and desires of all people equally. While some are religious, others deny the existence of God; while some are devoted to much learning, others are content to remain uneducated; while some love art, music and the theatre, others prefer science, engineering or sports; while some desire palatial homes, rich food and expensive clothing, others are content with the simpler things of life.

      Furthermore any one person is subject to constant change so that his objectives and values at one point in life may be replaced by a different set later on. Do these infinitely diverse and ever-changing purposes and interests make it impossible for the members of society to reach agreement upon a single and controlling purpose for government?

It Is Logical to Require That Freedom Be the Goal of Government

      Fortunately there is a common need and desire which all share and which takes precedence over all other considerations: this is the need and desire to be free. Every person regardless of the age or country, in which he lives, desires his own liberty of action. While we may differ widely in the goals we use freedom to obtain, every person wants the freedom to carry out his own purposes whatever they may be. Thus every person with a goal will have an accompanying desire to be free to achieve it.

      Not only does every person desire freedom, but this desire takes precedence over every other consideration. To become and remain free is paramount because when a person is in bondage, he must first free himself before he can pursue any other purpose. This truism applies to partial as well as to total restraint. If servitude in any degree makes impossible the attainment of an objective, the removal of the restraint must occur before the goal can be reached. [p. 118]

Freedom May Be Made the Exclusive Purpose of Government

      Assuming that a state of freedom is transcendent above all other needs, it should constitute the supreme and controlling objective of government. No other purpose can be allowed to take precedence over it, and if any other goal is found to be in conflict therewith, or to diminish in any degree the freedom of the individual, it must be abandoned as being opposed to the paramount need and desire of all men.

      So considered we may establish freedom not only as the supreme, but the exclusive purpose of government. If freedom exists, every other achievement within the power of man is made possible, while without it every other goal is beyond reach. Thus regardless of differences in religious beliefs, culture, background and experience, the transcendent purpose which all people have for government is in complete harmony with the Lord’s.

The Elements of Freedom

      Since every person desires freedom, every person desires those possessions without which the exercise of freedom is impossible. They are:

1.       Life and some degree of physical and mental health and strength.

2.       Liberty of action or the absence of restraint and coercion.

3.       Knowledge of those laws which must be obeyed to achieve one’s goals.

4.       The right and control of property.

      Let us observe that each of these four possessions is indispensable to the exercise of freedom and that each person wants his own protected against injury and loss.


      To strive toward any goal demands some degree of physical health and strength. Therefore the desire for life is at least as strong as the desire to accomplish goals. Every person wants bodily health and strength not only because it means freedom from pain and suffering, but [p. 119] also because the greater the vigor of mind and body, the more able he is to exercise freedom and accomplish his purposes.

      Of course there are those abnormal individuals who intentionally abuse and injure their bodies and some even take measures to bring their existence to an end. But even such people want to determine for themselves when and by what means they shall suffer or terminate their lives. They would strenuously object if others undertook to make these decisions for them.

      Also, since every person desires to be born with a disease-free body and wants the care, support and protection during infancy and childhood which only the family can properly provide, every rational person knows that illicit sex relations are evil and harmful. They are primarily responsible for destroying the family unit and transmitting disease and misery.

      And so throughout history, moral man has recognized that such crimes as murder, mayhem, assault, battery and adultery are evil and should be prohibited and punished. They are so regarded because they injure and destroy life—that element of freedom which everyone desires and wants protected. In view of this, each person wants government to enforce laws which protect his life against injury and destruction.

Freedom from Restraint and Coercion

      Another desire which all share is freedom from control and regimentation. When a person is restrained or coerced, he is compelled to fulfill the purposes of those using the compulsion rather than his own; consequently he cannot exercise freedom.

      Admittedly, there are those who prefer to have others direct their lives in some areas, thus saving them the trouble of thinking and making decisions. It is very common for people to subject their time and talents to the direction and control of others in exchange for money or property. And this should be their privilege. They should have the right to bargain with anyone they choose and determine which of their activities and what portion of their time is subject to supervision by others.

      But even though some desire relief from self-supervision with its accompanying responsibilities, the desire to be free from coercion and restraint is universal. Everyone objects to being enslaved and wants protection against those who would place him in bondage, thus preventing [p. 120] him from accomplishing his purposes.

      From this we may conclude that every person favors the enforcement of laws which prevent his enslavement.


      The third element of freedom mentioned is knowledge—sufficient knowledge of facts and laws to enable one to achieve his purposes. It will be remembered that law reigns in every area in which intelligence can be used and that no goal can be reached without complying with that law upon which the desired result depends. But one cannot obey a law of which he is ignorant; therefor, a knowledge of law is indispensable to the exercise of freedom. Also the desire for it will be somewhat proportional to the desire for freedom.

      That this desire varies from person to person is admitted. But everyone objects to being deceived or having the knowledge he does possess corrupted by falsehood. If one bases his actions on false principles and erroneous information, his efforts are futile, his failure certain and the exercise of freedom frustrated. Therefore every person wants to be protected against deception. He wants laws enforced which will forbid and punish lying and deception.

The Right and Control of Property

      The fourth element of freedom, the right and control of property, requires a more extensive discussion than do the other three because the need for it may not be as easily recognized. However, an accurate understanding of the nature of this right and its relationship to the other three, will demonstrate that without it there is no freedom.

      Property consists of the earth’s raw materials and energy which have been organized into usable products such as food, clothing and shelter. Unless one is free to acquire and utilize these forms of wealth, his existence ceases, and it is of the greatest importance to recognize that if he must depend upon others for sustenance, he is not free. He is subject to the direction and control of those who support him and will do nearly anything they command merely to stay alive. [p. 121]

      And it matters not whether it be an individual or an organization such as government which feeds him. His subservience is as certain as his desire for life. When this fact is recognized, it is plainly seen that the right to acquire, own, and control property is as essential to the exercise of freedom as life itself.

      Not only must one own and control his own sustenance to be free, but he must have the right and control of property to accomplish his every purpose. Property is the means to all ends because no goal of any consequence can be achieved unless one is free to use property to aid him in reaching it.

      It is with property that we build our homes and support families; acquire a farm, an office, a factory, machinery and tools and enter the occupation of our choice. We utilize property to construct churches and exercise freedom of religion; obtain a printing press, a lecture hall, a radio or television station and exercise freedom of press and speech. We gain an education by using property to pay for instruction and to support ourselves while we learn. Not any of these freedoms can be exercised without the right and control of property.

      Let us also recognize that it is with property that we purchase the skill, experience and labor of others by which we accomplish objectives beyond our own ability, time and talents.

      While men differ widely in the amount of property they desire to own and control, everyone wants enough to sustain life and enable him to achieve his purposes. Therefore everyone wants his property protected against theft and destruction. He wants government to adopt and enforce any laws necessary for these purposes.

The Mutual Dependence of the Elements of Freedom One upon Another

      In the foregoing discussion it has been observed that the freedom elements are closely interrelated and mutually dependent one upon another. This fact seems sufficiently important to merit special attention. If it be true that not one of these four possessions is usable unless the other three are present, the necessity of government protecting them all becomes most apparent. Viewed in this light each possession is equally important. No three of them is of value unless the fourth is present. [p. 122]

      There is no difficulty in recognizing that the other elements are valueless without life. It is also clear that without liberty or knowledge the other elements would be unusable. But the right and control of property is equally necessary for without it, life cannot be sustained, liberty exercised, nor knowledge utilized.

      Let it also be recognized that a partial denial of the right and control of property diminishes the value of the others accordingly. Since a loss of property reduces one’s ability to carry out his purposes, the utility of life, liberty and knowledge is reduced in like manner.

Scriptural Support for the Protection of the Freedom Elements

      The scriptures support the foregoing conclusions. The Ten Commandments together with their related statutes not only provide for punishing the destruction of the elements of freedom, but also for compelling those responsible for such injuries to make restitution.

      These principles are also reiterated in modern day scriptures:

We believe that no government can exist in peace, except such laws are framed and held inviolate as will secure to each individual the free exercise of conscience, the right and control of property, and the protection of life. (D&C 134:2)

We believe that the commission of crime should be punished according to the nature of the offense; that murder, treason, robbery, theft, mad breach of the general peace, in all respects, should be punished according to their criminality and their tendency to evil among men . . . (D&C 134:8)

The Constitution Adopted to Protect the Rights of Man

      The central purpose for the adoption of our constitutional system of government was the protection of the rights of man. Those who established it did so under the assumption that each individual possesses certain unalienable rights and that governments are formed to secure them. The essence of this rights of man philosophy is expressed in the Declaration of Independence in these words: [p. 123]

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men . . .

      While this statement specifically identifies some of man’s rights, by its very wording it does not presume to list them all. However, the fact that life and liberty are named, necessarily implies that the other two elements of freedom—property and knowledge—are among them. This is so because the four elements are indivisible and inseparable. Not one of them is usable unless the other three are also present.

      But even though the Declaration of Independence does not specifically list property as one of the unalienable rights of man, the Constitution does so as is indicated in the 5th amendment:

No person shall . . . be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

      From the foregoing quote it is apparent that those who founded the American system of government regarded the protection of property equally as important as the protection of life and liberty. It is observed that although the element of knowledge is not mentioned in the fifth amendment, the right to the free exchange of knowledge is protected by the first amendment which says:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

The Necessity of Recognizing That Every Right Is Represented by a Corresponding Duty

      It is assumed that all people will agree that the protection of the four elements of freedom should be the transcendent purpose of government. However the natural laws which must be obeyed to achieve this goal will be much more readily discernible if we first recognize that every human right is represented by a human duty, and that governments can protect rights only by enforcing those duties. Therefore in the following chapter we will identify those duties which must be enforced to protect rights. [p. 124]

We believe that all men are bound to sustain and uphold the respective governments in which they reside, while protected in their inherent and inalienable rights by the laws of such governments; . . . [p. 125]

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