Chapter 10: Reasons for Changing from Monarchy to Self-Government
The Change in Form of Government Caused Continual Civil War
When it is remembered that the Nephites had lived under a monarchial form of government for five hundred years and had been ruled over by righteous kings who had dispensed justice and effectively taught and enforced the commandments of the Lord, one is constrained to ask why a change was made.
The Lord who knows the end from the beginning knew that within one hundred and twenty five years He would come among the Nephites, destroy the wicked, and inaugurate a period of perfect happiness, peace and prosperity which would last for almost two hundred years. Why then did He establish for this relatively short period, a government of self-rule which He knew would cause almost continual civil war, and result in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Lamanites and Nephites?
As we shall note in succeeding chapters, right from the time the new government was established until the coming of Christ, there were continual attempts made by rebellious factions to overthrow this government and substitute something different. Many thousands died in these attempts. The Book of Mormon provides some reasons for the change made in the Nephite government. Let us examine them.
Dangers and Problems of a Monarchial System of Government
When King Mosiah proposed to the Nephite people a change in their [p. 60] form of government, they resisted the idea. Their kings had been just, had not imposed taxes, and the people were content to continue as they were. In order to convince them that a change should be made, Mosiah found it necessary to circulate among them a document explaining his reasons therefor.
A portion of that writing has been copied into the record and one of the reasons given therein is that a nation cannot always count on having righteous men for kings. Mosiah pointed out the terrible consequences which befell the people of King Noah when he became wicked. (Mosiah 29:18) He reminded them that,
. . . ye cannot dethrone an iniquitous king save it be through much contention and the shedding of much blood. (Mosiah 29:21)
Mosiah admitted that a monarchial system was better, but went on to explain that,
. . . because all men are not just it is not expedient that ye should have a king or kings to rule over you.
For behold, how much iniquity doth one wicked king cause to be committed, yea, and what great destruction! (Mosiah 29:16, 17)
The prophet Alma, in explaining his reasons for refusing to serve as king, gives this further argument against monarchies:
. . . Behold, it is not expedient that we should have a king; for thus saith the Lord; ye shall not esteem one flesh above another, or one man shall not think himself above another; therefore I say unto you it is not expedient that ye should have a king. (Mosiah 23:7)
The Most Important Reason: Self-rule Provides Greater Freedom
The scriptures explain that it is the purpose of the Lord to provide free agency for His children. A government subject to the voice of the people promotes this purpose more than any other type and it seems reasonable to conclude that this is the primary reason for establishing this system of government. In the following quote, Mosiah stated this to be one of his purposes: [p. 61]
And now I desire that this inequality should be no more in this land, especially among this my people; but I desire that this land be a land of liberty, and every man may enjoy his rights and privileges alike, so long as the Lord sees fit that we may live and inherit the land . . . . (Mosiah 29:32)
Let us note the nature of those rights and privileges which the Nephite voters acquired under their new government.
1. In the past, the kings had proclaimed the law of Moses to be the law of the land and had enforced it against their subjects. Under the new arrangement the people, by majority vote, could repeal or amend those laws, or adopt new ones in their stead. Not only could such changes be made nationally, but on a local basis as well. The majority even had the right to change their form of government back to a monarchy.
2. In the past the king inherited the right to reign, subject to the law of common consent which was nearly always granted. He also had the power to appoint priests, teachers, judges, and other functionaries of government. Under the new government the people had the right to choose their judges and administrators by ballot.
3. Each person had a right to run for public office and, if elected, to be paid for his services out of public funds.
4. The people had the power to adopt laws providing for the collection of taxes. This was perhaps the most fearsome power they possessed, and the one which caused the most temptation and trouble.
Responsibilities Accompanying Increased Rights and Privileges
When the Lord grants people increased freedom, invariably He also gives them increased duties. In this scripture Mosiah reminds the Nephite voters of this fact:
And I command you to do these things in the fear of the Lord; and I command you to do these things, and that ye have no king; that if these people commit sins and iniquities they shall be answered upon their own heads. (Mosiah 29:30)
Mosiah also told the people of the punishments they must expect if they committed sins and iniquities:
Now it is not common that the voice of the people desireth anything contrary to that which is right; but it is common for the lesser part of the [p. 62] people to desire that which is not right; therefore this shall ye observe and make it your lawto do your business by the voice of the people.
And if the time comes that the voice of the people doth choose iniquity, then is the time that the judgments of God will come upon you; yea, then is the time he will visit you with great destruction even as he has hitherto visited this land. (Mosiah 29:26, 27)
Why Would the Lord Destroy a People for Voting Wrong?
In the foregoing scripture the Lord promises destruction if the people chose iniquity by corrupting their laws. The Nephite people appeared to realize that it would be sinful for them to do so because the record tells us that when they accepted the new form of government:
. . . they relinquished their desires for a king, and became exceedingly anxious that every man should have an equal chance throughout all the land; yea, and every man expressed a willingness to answer for his own sins. (Mosiah 29:38)
What sins could they commit under the new system which they could not commit theretofore? What sins can any people commit under a government subject to the voice of the people? It seems that today, we do not exercise our power of self-government in the fear of the Lord as Mosiah advised his people to do in the quote above. Neither do most of us suspect that we might be visited with great destruction for voting wrong. Probably we do not sense the nature of the duties and responsibilities which come with the rights and privileges of self-rule as did the Nephites. Let us try to understand their attitude and also why the Lord would destroy them for voting wrong.
The Power of Self-rule Is the Power to Alter Gods Commandments
The Nephites were aware that from the very beginning the Israelite governments, as well as their own, had enforced the Ten Commandments and imposed the penalties provided for violation. Is it not likely that they would consider it a sin to alter those laws? [p. 63]
Under king-rule they had their freedom to violate the laws of God but only at the risk of being punished for doing so. Now they have the power to repeal those laws so they can violate them without being punished. They also have the power to reduce or even eliminate the penalties.
Is it surprising that the Lord would destroy them for perverting His laws in this manner? Ponder the effect such changes would have upon the morals of the youth if the laws which punished evil were repealed, and a new set which punished good were adopted. Government being one of the most effective influences in society would then be teaching that good is evil and evil is good. It can hardly be expected that the Lord would tolerate this for long.
The Power to Tax Is the Power to Commit Plunder Through Government
It will be recalled that the righteous Nephite kings had not imposed taxes on the people but had performed their heavy duties free of charge. The new government however was endowed with the power to collect taxes with which to pay judges and other officers who would administer the affairs of state.
When it is remembered that Nephite voters had the power to make laws creating new public offices and compel the payment of public salaries, the opportunity for corruption becomes apparent. Any Nephite voter who was thinking would realize that this new political system opened up enormous opportunities for committing sins. If he could get enough people to go along with him, he could commit plunder on a grand scale and do so without fear of punishment. Perhaps the Nephites were thinking about these possibilities when they agreed to answer for the sins of their government.
To abuse the power to tax in this manner would of course be a violation of the Lords commandment, Thou shalt not steal. If the Nephites converted their government into an instrument of plunder, and if no human agency was available to punish the sin, then it would only be expected that the Lord would step in and visit them with great destruction just as He promised.
As we shall see as we discuss the activities of the new government, [p. 64] the power to tax, along with the power to create new government jobs, proved to be a temptation which hundreds of thousands of Nephites could not resist. Many attempts were made by various groups to seize control of the government and use it for these purposes.
The Power of Self-Government Is the Power to Destroy Freedom
By granting people the freedom of self-government, the Lord at the same time gives them the power to destroy that freedom. The amount of freedom in any nation depends upon the laws of that nation and how they are enforced. Gods laws protect freedom by punishing evil and protecting good. Satans laws destroy freedom by punishing good and protecting and committing evil. If the Nephites were to corrupt the purpose of their government in this manner, they would realize they were doing evil and again, since there is no human agency to punish them, it can only be expected that the Lord will punish them.
Separation of Church and State Does Nothing to Alter the Lords Commandments Concerning Government
When the Church is set up as a separate organization, it seems easy to forget that the Lords commandments and laws concerning government still apply. The following reminds us of our political accountability:
We believe that governments were instituted of God for the benefit of men; 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. (D&C 134:1)
In a nation of self-governing people, every citizen can expect to be held accountable for obeying the Lords commandments concerning government. The separation of Church and state does nothing to alter this fact. In the following chapters we shall note how well the Nephites remembered and obeyed the Lords commandments regarding government during that period when their Church was set up as a separate organization. [p. 65]