Elder Ezra Taft Benson
Saturday Morning Session, April 1968
We live in a time of crisis. Never since the period of the Civil War has this nation faced
such critical days. Americans are destroying America.
Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints--the Mormon
--"that governments were instituted of God for the benefit of man; and that he holds men
accountable for their acts in relation to them, both in making laws and administering them, for
the good and safety of society."
--"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."
--"that all governments necessarily require civil officers and magistrates to enforce the
laws of the same; and that such as will administer the law in equity and justice should be sought
for and upheld by the voice of the people. . . ."
--"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;
and that sedition and rebellion are unbecoming every citizen thus protected, and should be
punished accordingly. . . ." (D&C 134:1-3, 5.)
No people can maintain freedom unless their political institutions are founded upon faith
in God and belief in the existence of moral law. God has endowed, men with certain inalienable
rights, and no legislature and no majority, however great, may morally limit or destroy these. The
function of government is to protect life, liberty, and property, and anything more or less than
this is usurpation and oppression.
Breakdown of law and order
The Constitution of the United States was prepared and adopted by courageous men
acting under inspiration from the Almighty. It is a solemn contract between the peoples of the
states of this nation that all officers of government are under duty to obey. The eternal moral laws
expressed therein must be adhered to or individual liberty will perish. It is the responsibility of
government to punish crime and provide for the administration of justice and to protect the right
and control of property.
But today these basic principles and concepts are being flaunted, disregarded, and
challenged, even by men in high places. Through the exercise of political expediency, the
government is condoning the breakdown of law and order.
Law enforcement in America is at the point of crisis. A recent Life Line broadcast warned
that "in Chicago, 64 men quit the police force in one month. Baltimore has 360 police vacancies.
Washington, D.C., is 230 men short of its authorized complement. And cities all over the country
are desperately seeking recruits.
"Police aren't striking; they're quitting, and it is understandable. They're being
demoralized by the hostile attitudes of the politically minded Supreme Court. They're being
demoralized by a weird penal system which frees hardened criminals almost as fast as they're
arrested. . . . Policemen are demoralized by slanted news reporting, distorted facts which show
police activities from the criminal's side And they're being demoralized by an avalanche of new
laws, which are making it even harder to convict the guilty.
"San Diego Police Chief Wesley B. Sharp warns that: 'If there isn't a change, the increase
in crime will lead to anarchy and criminals will control the nation.'" (Life Line Freedom Talk No.
53, February 22, 1968.)
Qualification for civil liberty
Edmund Burke, the great English statesman, explained that "men are qualified for civil
liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites,--in
proportion as their love of justice is above their rapacity,--in proportion as their soundness and
sobriety of understanding is above their vanity and presumption,--in proportion as they are more
disposed to listen to the counsels of the wise and good, in preference to the flattery of knaves.
Society cannot exist, unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere;
and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without. It is ordained in the eternal
constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their
fetters." (The Writings and Speeches of Edmund Burke Vol. 4, pp. 51-52.)
I do not believe the greatest threat to our future is from bombs or guided missiles. I do not
think our civilization will die that way. I think it will die when we no longer care, when the
spiritual forces that make us wish to be right and noble die in the hearts of men, when we
disregard the importance of law and order.
If American freedom is lost, if America is destroyed, if our blood-bought freedom is
surrendered, it will be because of Americans. What's more, it will probably not be only the work
of subversive and criminal Americans. The Benedict Arnolds will not be the only ones to forfeit
"At what point, then, is the approach of danger to be expected?" asked Abraham Lincoln,
and he answered, "If it ever reaches us, it must spring up among us. It cannot come from abroad.
If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher; as a nation of freemen, we
must live through all time or die by suicide." (Springfield, Illinois, January 27, 1837.)
If America is destroyed, it may be by Americans who salute the flag, sing the national
anthem, march in patriotic parades, cheer Fourth of July speakers--normally good Americans,
but Americans who fail to comprehend what is required to keep our country strong and
free--Americans who have been lulled away into a false security.
Erosion of national morality
Great nations are never conquered from outside unless they are rotten inside. Our greatest
national problem today is erosion, not the erosion of the soil, but erosion of the national
morality--erosion of traditional enforcement of law and order.
Theodore Roosevelt said: "The things that will destroy America are prosperity at any
price, peace at any price, safety first instead of duty first, and love of soft living and the
get-rich-quick theory of life." (Quoted in The Red Carpet, p. 315.)
In this blessed land we have exalted security, comfort, and ease above freedom. If we
dwelled at length on the many things that are disturbing in the life of America today, we might
well become discouraged. I mention only a few of the reported startling evidences of our national
illness, our moral erosion.
--There is a decline of U.S. morals and moral fiber, a turning to pleasure and away from
hard work and high standards of the past.
--There is a growing worry in our universities over cheating in examinations.
--Nationwide juvenile delinquencies show an eight-fold increase since 1950.
--There is a 500-million dollar smut industry in this country causing youngsters to
wrestle with standards of value.
--America is the biggest market for narcotics.
--Although we consider ourselves a people who believe in law and order, we have seen
much evidence of the passion of the mob.
--Riots have occurred in 137 different cities and towns in 33 months, resulting in 120
deaths, including 12 police officers slain; 3,623 other persons injured; 28,932 arrested; and
hundreds of millions of dollars property damage.
--Crime in the United States is up 88 percent in seven years, rising nearly nine times
faster than population, up 16 percent per year, according to the FBI. Crime costs some $20
billion a year, and less than 21 percent of reported crimes result in arrests and less than one-third
of those in convictions.
--In the midst of a cold war and preparation for a possible shooting war of survival, we
have faced 651 strikes at missile bases in six years.
--The United States government has racked up a shameful record of 31 treasury deficits
in the past 35 years.
--The sky-rocketing cost of the welfare state increased in 8 years from 6.9 billion to 20.3
billion dollars in 1961 and stood at 87 billion 578 million in 1966.
--There are over 7,700,000 people on relief in federal, state, and local programs.
--During the past 33 years our budget has increased 20 times over, and our national debt
has increased from $16 billion to an admitted $324 billion; adding accrued liabilities payable in
the future, our real indebtedness exceeds $1 trillion, or an average indebtedness of $5,200 for
every man, woman, and child in the United States.
--Our present federal debt is equal to a first mortgage of $10,000 on all owned homes in
the country and is reported to exceed the combined debt of all countries of the world. Annual
interest on the soaring national debt is over $15 billion--only defense and welfare are higher.
--American currencies are weaker than those of Germany and Japan, who were defeated
in World War II.
--Inflation has struck a serious blow to the value of the American dollar.
--We continue to move in the direction of more federal intervention, more concentration
of power, more spending, more taxing, more paternalism, more state-ism.
The present shocking situation was summed up succinctly by J. Edgar Hoover in the
April 1967 FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin in these words:
"Morality, integrity, law and order and other cherished principles of our great heritage are
battling for survival in many communities today. They are under constant attack from degrading
and corrupting influences which, if not halted, will sweep away every vestige of decency and
order remaining in our society."
Responsibility for chaos
A recent issue of the well-known and highly respected Babson's Washington Forecast
Letter carried a four-page special supplement, which concluded as follows:
"Who are we to indict for sparking this chaos in America? Are the prime defendants the
Stokely Carmichaels, the H. Rap Browns, the hippies, the draftcard burners, the peaceniks, the
juvenile delinquents, the rabble-rousers, the Commies who have gained respectability as honest
dissenters? Certainly, most of these could be brought before the bar of justice to answer charges
of law violations and they should be.
"However, there is a stronger, truer bill of indictment which may be drawn against those
who have invited the bloody blackmail of America by permitting, even encouraging, mounting
And then the article names of men of national prominence and continues: "These men of
power, prestige, and great influence in the political structure of America have permitted the
concept of 'freedom of speech' to be expanded to include subversion, intimidation, sedition, and
incitement to riot; they have condoned the distortion of 'academic freedom' to encompass the
adulteration of young minds with Communist doctrine and the disintegration of a
well-disciplined educational system; they have allowed 'freedom of assembly' to mushroom into
disruption of peaceful activity, mob rule, riot, and insurrection.
"Unless those in authority in the United States can be influenced to abandon the suicidal
course on which they have embarked--or unless they can be replaced by men who will--we
cannot hope to restore in our nation the kind of domestic peace and order which has made our
many generations proud to be Americans . . . living in a land of freedom, security, opportunity,
and justice under law.
"The crisis we now face is the most serious, the most dangerous, in the history of our
country. Each of us must diligently employ our influence and our effort--in speech, letters, and
at the ballot box--to help set straight the way."
The facts are clear. Our problem centers in Washington, D.C. And this applies to the
administration of both political parties. In the words of James Madison, Since the general
civilization of mankind, I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of freedom of the
people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power, than by violent and sudden
usurpations." (Elliot's Debates, Vol. 3, p. 87.)
If America is to withstand these influences and trends, there must be a renewal of the
spirit of our forefathers, an appreciation of the American way of life, a strengthening of muscle
and sinew and the character of the nation. America needs guts as well as guns. National character
is the core of national defense.
Appreciation for American system
Could many of our ills today have resulted from our failure to train a strong citizenry
from the only source we have--the boys and girls of each community? Have they grown up to
believe in politics without principle, pleasure without conscience, knowledge without effort,
wealth without work, business without morality, science without humanity, worship without
In recent months a nationwide survey of high school and college students has been
conducted. The U.S. Junior Chamber of Commerce reveals that 41 percent believe that freedom
of the press should be canceled; 53 percent believe in government ownership of banks, railroads,
and steel companies; 62 percent said that the government bad the responsibility to provide jobs;
62 percent thought a worker should not produce all that he can; 61 percent rejected the profit
incentive as necessary to the survival of free enterprise; 84 percent denied that patriotism is vital
and plays an important part in our lives. (Bookmaker News, Vol. 10, Nov. 1, 1965.)
Letters that come to my desk from worried parents deeply concerned by what is being
taught to their children in the schools are shocking, to say the least.
We can never survive unless our young people understand and appreciate our American
system, which has given more of the good things of life than any other system in the
world--unless they have a dedication that exceeds the dedication of the enemy. Character must
become important in this country again. The old essentials of honesty, self-respect, loyalty, and
support for law and order must be taught the younger generation.
Right to be uncommon
I appeal to people everywhere, young and old, to heed these words of Dean Alfange:
"I do not choose to be a common man. It is my right to be uncommon. I seek opportunity
to develop whatever talents God gave me--not security. I do not wish to be a kept citizen,
humbled and dulled by having the state look after me. I want to take the calculated risk; to dream
and to build, to fail and to succeed. I refuse to barter incentive for a dole. I prefer the challenges
of life to the guaranteed existence; the thrill of fulfillment to the stale calm of utopia. I will not
trade freedom for beneficence nor my dignity for a handout. I will never cower before any earthly
master nor bend to any threat. It is my heritage to stand erect, proud and unafraid; to think and act
myself, enjoy the bend fit of my creations and to face the world boldly and say--'This, with
God's help, I have done.' All this is what it means to be an American"
Those of us conscious of the seriousness of the situation must act, and act now. It has
been said that it takes something spectacular to get folks excited, like a burning house. Nobody
notices one that is simply decaying. But in America today we not only have decaying but burning
before our very eyes. How much we need hearts today who will respond to the inspiring words of
the poet, John Greenleaf Whittier:
"Where's the manly spirit
Of the true-hearted and the unshackled gone?
Sons of old freemen, do we inherit their name alone?
"Is the old Pilgrim spirit quenched within us?
Stoops the proud manhood of our souls so low,
That Mammon's lure or Party's wile can win us to silence now?
"Now, when our land to ruin's brink is verging,
In God's name let us speak while there is time;
Now, when the padlocks for our lips are forging,
Silence is crime."
Our priceless heritage is threatened today as never before in our lifetime: from without by
the forces of Godless Communism, and at home by our complacency and by the insidious forces
of the Socialist-Communist conspiracy, with the help of those who would abandon the ancient
landmarks set by our fathers and take us down the road to destruction. It was Alexander
Hamilton who warned that "nothing is more common than for a free people, in times of heat and
violence, to gratify momentary passions, by letting into the government, principles and
precedents which afterwards prove fatal to themselves." (Alexander Hamilton and the Founding
of the Nation, p. 462.)
Serious and concerned citizens everywhere are asking, "Can we cope with these
threatening realities?" Yes, we can; if we would allow the local police to do their job, they could
handle the rioting and looting. Yes, we can, if we have the courage and wisdom to return to basic
concepts, to recall the spirit of the founding fathers and accept wholeheartedly these words of
Thomas Paine, whose writings helped so much to stir people to action during the days of the
American Revolution when he said:
"These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot
will in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it NOW, deserves the
love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this
consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain
too cheap, we esteem too lightly; 'tis dearness only that gives everything its value. Heaven knows
how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed, if so celestial an article
as FREEDOM should not be highly rated." (The Political Words of Thomas Paine, p. 55.)
The way of safety
As American citizens who love freedom, we must return to a respect for national
morality--respect for law and order. There is no other way of safety for us and our posterity. The
hour is late; the time is short. We must begin now, in earnest, and invite God's blessings on our
The United States should be a bastion of real freedom. We should not support the world's
greatest evil, the Godless, Socialist-Communist conspiracy that seeks to destroy all we hold dear
as a great Christian nation and to promote insidiously the breakdown of law and order and the
erosion of our morality.
With God's help we must return to those basic concepts, those eternal verities, the rule of
law and order upon which this nation was established. With an aroused citizenry and the help of
Almighty God it can be accomplished. God grant it may be so, I humbly pray in the name of
Jesus Christ. Amen.