Interwoven throughout the Book of Mormon are references to governmental organization and political philosophy.
Decades after the arrival of Lehi’s family in the promised land, the population grew large enough that it became necessary to establish a formal government. Up until that time, Nephi had been their teacher and leader.
The people wanted to make Nephi their king. Nephi did not like the idea of a monarchy, but he relented.
So, Nephi became king. In the beginning each king bore title of “Nephi.” Also, successor kings were direct descendants of Nephi. (2 Ne. 5: 18-20: Jac. 1:9-12)
King Benjamin, the son of King Mosiah I, was the second Nephite king to rule over Zarahemla. He was a humble and righteous man. He worked a day job to support maintain himself and his family. He refused to wallow in the trappings of wealth and power.
“I have labored with mine own hands that I might serve you, and that ye should not be laden with taxes, and that there should nothing come upon you which was grievous to be borne.” (Mos. 2:4)
He exemplified his famous quote that, “When you are in the service of others, you are in the service of God.” (Mos. 2:17)
King Benjamin’s righteous rule resulted in peace and prosperity. At that time, the law of the land guaranteed freedom of speech and worship. There was liberty and equal justice and equal opportunity for all.
At the end of his reign, King Benjamin gathered his subjects together and delivered a memorable inspiring farewell address rich in wisdom and doctrine. (Mos. 1-6)
Wicked King Noah presided over a neighboring kingdom. (Around 124 BC) He succeeded his father Zeniff, and he was succeeded by his son Limhi. Noah epitomized evil and unrighteous dominion. He was guided by a council of false priests. To support his decadence and lavish lifestyle, he imposed an unheard-of income and property tax of 20%. He is best known for burning the prophet Abinadi at the stake. (Mos. 9-22)
King Mosiah II, succeeded his father King Benjamin as king of the Nephite nation. (Around 124-91 BC) (Mos 25-29)
Reign of the Judges
Near the end of his reign, King Mosiah II surveyed his people to find out who they wanted as their next king. The “voice of the people” chose his one of his sons. However, all of his sons refused. They insisted on devoting their lives to sharing the gospel and ministering to the people. Not many men would turn down the chance of being king.
King Mosiah knew that none of the other potential appointees would have a consensus. This would lead to discord and rebellion. So, King Mosiah asked the people to reconsider whether they truly needed a king. He gave them a lecture in political philosophy.
King Mosiah II explained that if kings were always just and fair, like his father King Benjamin, there would be peace and prosperity. However, if the king turned out to be like wicked King Noah, there would be no end to iniquity and destruction.
Righteous kings are wonderful, but just one wicked king can cause endless misery. Plus, you cannot dethrone an evil king without bloodshed.
Instead, King Mosiah recommended that just and wise men be chosen to judge the people according to the laws of man and commandments of God. These judges would be elected by the “voice of the people.”
Generally, democracy works because it is not common that the majority of people will choose evil. Of course, there will always be a minority of people who will chose evil. King Mosiah warned that if the majority of people ever chose iniquity, then they would suffer the judgments of God.
In addition, as a safeguard, higher judges would be elected just in case lower judges did not follow the law or commandments. Also, as a safeguard, if a higher judge did not follow the law or commandments, then a panel of lower judges would be convened to judge the higher judge according to the law and commandments and the “voice of the people.
Righteous judges would preserve liberty and equality. Righteous judges would insure that every person enjoyed the same rights and privileges, regardless of status or wealth.
King Mosiah II was persuasive, and the people accepted his political philosophy.
They chose Alma to be their chief judge. Alma was also the high priest. Thus, the head of the church became the head of the government. (James Madison warned that this type of entanglement between church and state has a tendency to corrupt both church and state.)
But, because Alma “walked in the ways of the Lord,” and “kept the commandments,” and “judged righteously,” “there was continual peace in the land.” (Mos. 29)
The judges were paid according to the time they devoted to judging. Without adequate compensation, government officials are more vulnerable to bribes and other corruption. (Al. 11)
The council of elected judges instituted by King Mosiah II, served as the leadership of the Nephite government until the resurrected Christ visited the Nephite nation.
During Alma’s seventeenth year as chief judge, the dissenter (“Anti-Christ”) Korihor came into the land and preached against the gospel, the atonement, life after death, prophets and the “traditions of the fathers.”
At that time, the people enjoyed freedom of speech, and freedom of religion. “There was no law against a man’s belief.” A person would only be punished for crimes, like murder and robbery.
Korihor caused civil unrest wherever he went, and so, like the proverbial “hot potato,” he was sent the land of Gideon. When he started trouble in Gideon he was brought before their high priest and chief judge Giddonah. He questioned Korihor about his beliefs and teachings. Frustrated, Giddonah, sent Korihor to the governor over all the land, chief judge and chief priest Alma.
Korihor led many astray and ignited social unrest. Korihor was brought before the Ammon, one of the sons of Mosiah the high priest, for “disturbing the peace.” Ammon “deported” him to the land of Jerson, where the converted Lamanites settled.
Alma confronted Korihor, and they got into a “debate.” Korihor insisted on a “sign from God,” and God granted his wish by striking him “dumb.”
Because of Korihor and others, dissent and apostasy increased. This led to civil unrest.
After confronting Korihor, Alma decided to resign as chief judge. This allowed him to lead a mission to reclaim the apostate Zoramites and the dissenting Nephites.
Mormon explained, “And now, as the preaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just – yea, it had had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them – therefore alma thought it was expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God.” (Al. 31:5) (“The pen is mightier than the sword.”) (Al. 30)
Civil Disobedience, Insurrection, and War
In Alma’s fifth year as chief judge, Amlici, started a grass roots movement to democratically eliminate the judges, “by the voice of the people,” and return the government to a monarchy. Of course, wanted to be elected king.
As this movement gained popularity, the people of faith were worried. If the majority elected Amlici as king, he would abolish freedom of worship in his effort to destroy the church. Amlici had enough followers to force a referendum. The righteous voters prevailed, and Amlici lost the election.
Typically, Amlici did not concede defeat. Instead, his followers anointed him king anyway. He then ordered his followers to arm themselves and to prepare to overturn the government by force.
Amlici’s followers became known as “Amlicites” and “Kingmen.” The majority of the people became known as “Nephites” or the “people of God.” They were also called “Freemen.” (Al. 2)
Since the Nephites were now weakened by internal dissent and insurrection, the Lamanites decided to take advantage of the situation by attacking them. This started a major prolonged war.
The Nephite nation was in an existential struggle for survival. They were fighting insurrection from within and war from without.
Captain Moroni was appointed military commander-in-chief by the chief judges and the “voice of the people.” Moroni raised the “Title of Liberty.” “Desperate times call for desperate measures.” He was given the authority to execute anyone who refused to enter into a covenant to support the free democratic judicial government, and freedom of speech and religion for all. Not surprisingly, “few denied the covenant of freedom.” (Al. 46)
Because of the insurrection, the Governor Pahorah was immobilized. Captain Moroni left off fighting the Lamanites, and he bought his army into the capital to finish crush the insurrection once and for all. The governing ruling council of elected judges was restored, and Captain Moroni won the Lamanite War. (Al. 51)
Government Collapse, Anarchy, and Tribal Chiefs
After the resurrected Christ appeared, the Nephites lived in peace and prosperity for over a century.
“And it came to pass that there was no contention in the land, because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people.
“And there were no envyings, nor strifes, nor tumults, [no serious crime or immorality]; surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God.
“Neither were there Lamanites, nor any manner of -ites; but they were in one, the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God.
“And how blessed were they! For the Lord did bless them in all their doings; yea, even they were blessed and prospered until an hundred and ten years had passed away; and the first generation from Christ had passed away, and there was no contention in all the land.” (4 Ne. 1)
About the fourth generation after Christ, “secret combinations” and “Gadianton robbers” infected the “body politic.” The chief judge was murdered, and the government collapsed. Anarchy prevailed. Family tribes and clans filled the vacuum.
“And the people were divided one against another; and they did separate one from another into tribes, every man according to his family and his kindred and friends; and thus they did destroy the government of the land.
“And every tribe did appoint a chief or a leader over them; and thus they became tribes and leaders of tribes.
“They were not united as to their laws, and their manner of government, for they were established according to the minds of those who were their chiefs and their leaders. . . their hearts were turned from the Lord their God, and they did stone the prophets and did cast them out from among them.” (3 Ne. 7)
Ultimately, this weakened the Nephite nation so much that they were utterly destroyed. (3 Ne. 7)
The political philosophy and governmental history in the Book of Mormon are complex and realistic. Joseph Smith could not have invented this. He did not have any training or experience in political philosophy, governmental organization, or politics. Moreover, the political history is interwoven with the complex military history and religious history, and all the ancient and modern literary devices.
Number 23 of 27 Articles. (Other Articles: http://www.londonedition.net)