Joseph Smith's Prophecy of War

something silly here

Led by Senator John C. Calhoun, former Vice President and ardent nullificationist, the state legislature of South Carolina had declared null and void the Tarriff Act[?] of 1828. In response, President Andrew Jackson threatened privately to hang Calhoun, and publicly declared South Carolina's actions "treason." Soon thereafter, he requested that his allies in Congress pass the Force Bill, which authorized the federal government to use troops to enforce tarriff collection. To further ready the union for the impending confrontation, Jackson resupplied and refortified the forts in South Carolina, and sent a fleet of cutters towards the rebellious state's shores. [1]

On December 25, 1832, near the height of this crisis, Joseph Smith received an apocalyptic revelation from his home in Kirtland:

Revelation and prophecy on war, given through Joseph Smith, December 25, 1832. History of the Church 1:301-2.

1) Verily, thus saith the Lord concerning the wars that will shortly come to pass, beginning at the rebellion of South Carolina, which will eventually terminate in the death and misery of many souls;
2) And the time will come that war will be poured out upon all nations, beginning at this place.
3) For behold, the Southern States shall be divided against the Northern States, and the Southern States will call on other nations, even the nation of Great Britain, as it is called, and they shall also call upon other nations, in order to defend themselves against other nations; and then war shall be poured out upon all nations.
4) And it shall come to pass, after many days, slaves shall rise up against their masters, who shall be marshaled and disciplined for war.
5) And it shall come to pass also that the remnants who are left of the land will marshal themselves, and shall become exceedingly angry, and shall vex the Gentiles with a sore vexation.
6) And thus, with the sword and by bloodshed the inhabitants of the earth shall mourn; and with famine, and plague, and earthquake, and the thunder of heaven, and the fierce and vivid lightning also, shall the inhabitants of the earth be made to feel the wrath, and indignation, and chastening hand of an Almighty God, until the consumption decreed hath made a full end of all nations;
7) That the cry of the saints, and of the blood of the saints, shall cease to come up into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth, from the earth, to be avenged of their enemies.
8) Wherefore, stand ye in holy places, and be not moved, until the day of the Lord come; for behold, it cometh quickly, saith the Lord. Amen.[2]
Fortunately for the Union, Senator Henry Clay helped forge a compromise bill, which would eventually reduce tarriffs to their 1816 level. In gratitude, South Carolina repealed their nullification of the old tarriff. But in a symbolic gesture, they then nullified the now superfluous force bill. For the time being, the Union was spared.[3]

Joseph Smith didn't lose confidence in his revelation [insert 1844? quote?], and neither did his followers. By 1851 they were ready to publish it in the Doctrine and Covenants. [need a clearer history of the publication of the prophecy] So when the first shots of the Civil War were fired on April 12, 1861, the Mormons were eager to declare this revelation as unassailable evidence of Joseph Smith's prophetic calling.

[Who was predicting war in 1832? Speculating? Hoping for?]

[Note: Add link to Wilford Woodruff's similar revelation.]

Defenders of the 1832 revelation invariably seem to point to a few lucky guesses, while either ignoring unfulfilled portions or claiming future fulfillment. If we were to make a list of everything predicted, it would look something like this:

  1. Wars will shortly come to pass.
  2. It will begin in South Carolina.
  3. It will bring death and misery to many souls.
  4. War will be poured out on all nations, beginning at this place.
  5. Southern States divided against Northern States.
  6. Southern States to call upon Great Britain.
  7. "They" will call upon other nations, to defend themselves against attacks by other nations.
  8. War to be poured out on all nations. [separate because its appearance here implies a chronology of events]
  9. Slaves to rise up against masters.
  10. Citizens of the southern states [presumably the Confederate States of America] to be disciplined for war.
  11. Indians ["remnants," in the revelation] to rise up and vex Gentiles.
  12. All nations to be destroyed by famine, plague, earthquakes, and lightning of an apparently supernatural nature.
Let us take each of these in turn:

1) Wars will shortly come to pass

Thirty years, in my mind, is not "shortly." Some will point to 2 Peter 3:8 ("One day is with the Lord as a thousand years. . ."), and indicate that the Lord uses the word "shortly" far differently than we mortals do. While I can see the appeal of this argument, I think it does a disservice to the LDS concept of deity, making the Lord appear disingenuous. After all, he was speaking to a man, and in honest communication people use terms the way they expect them to be understood. Say a speaker knows that the listener understands "shortly" as meaning, "Within months at most," and then justifies using the word to refer to a span of decades because -- from a geological standpoint -- a decade is but an instant. While the speaker is technically correct, we cannot credit him as being honest, since he deliberately allowed himself to be misunderstood.

This brings up the question: How did Joseph Smith understand the term being used? Given the condition of the Nullification Crisis at the time, and assuming that no further clarification was given to Smith at the time of the revelation, it is easy to imagine that Smith believed that the prophesied war would commence "shortly" on a human scale. [XC]

2) It will begin in South Carolina

Indeed, the Civil War did start in South Carolina. But the war that many northerners were expecting (and some southerners were fighting tooth and nail for) was also expected to begin in South Carolina. I will demonstrate later on that at the time of the revelation, this was a reasonable prediction for him to make at the time. [Need to show that the economic and political influences which caused the rebellion in 1832 continued on until the 1860s. I'm trying to remember if S.Carolina was more dedicated to slavery than the other states.]

3) It will bring death and misery to many souls

True, the Civil War did bring with it a great deal of misery and suffering. But Smith was predicting a war, and death and misery have always been a part of war. While B. H. Roberts thoroughly demonstrated the extent of the suffering [XD], he doesn't claim that we should be doubly impressed by this second fulfilled revelation. To beat up a straw man for a moment, doing so would be like me making the prediction that Saddam Hussein will die, -- shortly -- that his heart will cease beating, and that he will stop breathing, and then claim three separate valid predictions. They're too interrelated. So when it comes time to count the hits and misses, I'm going to count the fact of the Civil War and the death and misery as a single prophecy, not two.

4) War will be poured out on all nations, beginning at this place

[I can't say for sure what Joseph Smith was trying to convey in this sentence. Perhaps these wars were to be caused by the southern rebellion, or simply happen afterwards. I think verse 3 supports the former interpretation, but this could be disputed.]

Southern States divided against Northern States

[Again, need to explain the economic influences that made such a division between the states possible]

Southern States to call upon Great Britain "They" will call upon other nations, to defend themselves against attacks by other nations

It is unclear whether "they" refers to Great Britain or to the Confederacy.

War to be poured out on all nations

This may seem like a repetition of item #4. In fact, it is very repetitious, implying that verses 1 and 2 are giving a general overview of the future events, and verses 3 through 7 outline a more specific chronology of events.

Slaves to rise up against masters

Citizens of the southern states to be disciplined for war Indians to rise up and vex Gentiles All nations to be destroyed by famine, plague, earthquakes, and lightning of an apparently supernatural nature

A discussion of this subject would be incomplete without discussing the apparent chronology outlined by the revelation. There are three reasons to assume that the revelation was meant to be fulfilled in the order in which it is written. First, if the revelation was meant to outline an unordered list of future events, the repetition of my item #4 ("War will be poured out upon all nations") would have been entirely unnecessary. Second, verse 4 explicitly ties the events of verse 3 and 4 through the phrase, "after many days." Third, there is nothing in the text to indicate that it should be read in any other way.

So what am I getting at? My, but you readers are impatient. If we assume that the revelation details events in chronological order, war must have been "poured out upon all nations" before [1877?], the end of Southern Reconstruction. For after the beginning of the predicted all-consuming war, the masters of the now rebellious slaves shall be "punished for war," and official sanctions against the South were dropped in ********. There is nothing within the text itself demanding that we must -- or implying that we might -- suddenly jump forward fifty years to World Wars I and II, then backwards to the slave rebellion, then forward again to some unspecified future time for the "end of all nations."

In fact, the situation is worse than I've portrayed. Chronologically, the slave rebellions should not have occurred until long after war had been poured out on all nations (v. 3-4).

The prophecy becomes even less amazing when it is noted that, at the time of the prophecy, newspapers were already reporting that South Carolina was already in rebellion. Richard Packham was kind enough to provide me with the following:

"We have just terminated an election which it is feared may be the last that will be held under the present form of government, and may, we might say must [xx-unclear] our ablest men in our nation, have voiced their misgivings. In this brief interval, since that election commenced, the probabilites of dismemberment [of the union] have increased, and our dangers thickened.

.... At the present moment, when the public eye is turned to gaze with deep intensity upon the proceedings of South Carolina, it is peculiarly fitting that we should look around and survey the character and full extent of all the dangers that beset us....

[long discussion of the nullification controversy]

The 'engendering of strifes' and 'dissolving the most endearing relations in life' is not in the climax of his [Governor Lumpkin's of South Carolina] mischiefs - for it aims at once at armed resistance and civil war.... and gathering up into the attitude of defiance, bids the Union to come on if it durst. That such is the meaning of Governor Lumpkin, and that he intends to resort to arms in repelling the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court cannot reasonably be questioned; for he presses upon the Legislature the policy of the organizing a [sic] more efficient militia, and recommends the incorporation of volunteer companies throughout the State - for what purpose? - to afford (we quote his words) - 'a rallying point, in case of sudden alarm from ANY quarter, foreign or DOMESTIC.' ...

A few months more will test the permanency of our institutions, and decide the problem whether man is capable of self-government; - for in a few months time, unless some signal interposition shall arrest the course of events in both the States [Georgia and South Carolina], our national existence is at an end, and Fuit [Latin: "it has been"] may be inscribed over the halls of the Capitol." [XX

This was published in Painesville, Ohio, less than ten miles away from Kirtland, and a mere four days prior to the revelation.

More evidence that the Kirtland Saints were expecting an imminent war comes from The Evening and Morning Star's January 1833 publication:

"In addition to the above tribulations, South Carolina has rebelled ... Gen. Jackson has ordered several companies of Artillery to Charleston, and issued a Proclamation, urging submission and declaring such moves as that of S. Carolina Treason" [XY]

Addendum: A critique of Kerry Shirts' A War on the Critics of Joseph Smith

Kerry Shirts is nothing if not confident. When he defends a position, it is the only position any reasonable person could possibly take. Those who would disagree with his pronouncements are stupid, intellectually lazy or dishonest, and nothing less than the tools of Satan. His "War on the Critics of Joseph Smith" is in keeping with his uncompromisingly uncompromising style.
I challenge critics to refute history. That is what they apparently have the brass to do these days denying any fulfillment of Joseph Smith's Civil War Prophecy. History destroys the critics of Joseph Smith on this one. What the critics have failed to do is read their American History on this one. Now this is literally, and in each and every sense of the word, lazy, silly, and unexcusable. There are over 42,000 websites dealing with the Civil War on the Internet. Surely it is time to learn just a smidgin of American History! - A War Against the Critics of Joseph Smith's Civil War Prophecy by Kerry Shirts
So Mr. Shirts takes it upon himself to educate his readers on American history, by cut-and-pasting several pages of information on the Civil War from sources on the Internet. After much study, prayer, and squinting, I finally discerned the purpose of this broadside: To demonstrate conclusively, beyond a shadow of a doubt, to even the unrepentantly skeptical, that the Civil War did in fact start in South Carolina!

You can understand my confusion. Certainly, the Civil War could be traced to the Confederacy firing upon Fort Sumter, South Carolina. In fact, I've never heard anyone seriously dispute the fact. So I'm still at a loss to explain why Mr. Shirts spent so long trying to prove something which, as far as I know, isn't seriously questioned. It would have been far, far more relevant had he added even one quote by a critical source, trying to prove that the Civil War started somewhere else.

Instead, Shirts criticizes critics for "ignoring" the fact that Smith got this item correct. Not for "denying" it, which would have given his cutting and pasting some purpose. My response is that the critics of the Church don't ignore it per se. We just don't see it as particularly stunning. First, there were only so many southern states to choose from. Only eleven states seceded from the Union during the Civil War. Of those, Texas, Arkansas, and Florida did not exist as states at the time Smith made his predictions. Finally, of the remaining eight states, South Carolina was the most noisily rebellious of the southern states. In fact, South Carolina was being threatened with federal troops immediately prior to the revelation.

Shirts also laments that we critics ignore other crucial "hits." For example, despite Great Britain's eventual neutrality in the War, the Confederacy did attempt to garner Britain's support. "The whole point," Shirts proclaims, "is that [the British] were appealed to, even if they decided to remain neutral."

But that is not the point. The actual text of the revelation insists that, not only would the southern states call upon Great Britain, but that "they shall also call upon other nations, in order to defend themselves against other nations; and then war shall be poured out upon all nations. (v.3)" Shirts doesn't just need to demonstrate that the Confederacy asked for assistance from Britain. He needs to show that they were being attacked by other nations, that those other nations were attacked in turn by the allies of the South, and that they then began attacking each other until there were no nations left on the Earth. Famines, plagues, and lightnings would also be helpful.


1) American History: A Survey (Sixth Edition) pg 289-294, by Richard N. Current, T. Harry Williams, Frank Freidel, and Alan Brinkley.
2) Doctrine and Covenants Section 87.
3) American History: A Survey pg 294.
XC) According to H. Michael Marquardt's fascinating book, The Joseph Smith Revelations: Text and Commentary, Smith did not see his revelations as word-for-word dictations from above, but his interpretation of "impressions" he received. Hence, he was willing to make changes in the wording and meaning of revelations at later dates. So if Smith wrote down "shortly" without clarification, then it is likely that he believed that it would occur within a very narrow timeframe, the way he expected others to understand it.
XX) Painesville Telegraph, December 21, 1832. According to Mr. Packham, "I got my photocopy for a one dollar contribution to Proclaiming the Message Ministries, PO Box 500, Grand River, OH 44045." [I still need to verify the text, if possible].
XY) The Evening and the Morning Star, vol. 1, issue 8
As cited in Jerald and Sandra Tanner's Changing World of Mormonism, Chapter 14. The full texts of The Evening and Morning Star are available at To avoid being accused of taking these quotes out of context, the relevant text is here:


In addition to the above tribulations, South Carolina has rebelled against the laws of the Untied States; held a state convention, and passed ordinances, the same as declaring herself an independent nation, and, more than all, "Resolved, That this Convention do recommend to the people of South Carolina the observance of Thursday the 31st day of January next, as a day of fasting, humiliation and prayer, on which they are invited to implore the blessings of Almighty God on the efforts that are made to restore liberty and happiness to our beloved State."

And General Jackson has ordered several companies of Artillery to Charleston, and issued a Proclamation, urging submission, and declaring such moves as that of S. Carolina TREASON. He closes thus: "May the Great Ruler of nations grant that the signal blessings with which he has favored ours, may not, by the madness of party or personal ambition, be disregarded and lost; and may His wise Providence bring those who have produced this crisis, to see their folly, before they feel the misery of civil strife; and inspire a returning veneration for that Union, which if, we dare to penetrate His designs, he has chosen as the only means of attaining the high destinies to which we may reasonably aspire."

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