In October 1975, with the advent of the bicentennial of the United States, many of the talks from General Conference were focused on the theme of the Divine Origin of the United States.
Elder Paul Dunn spoke of the connection between the founding of the United States and the Restoration of the Gospel. He emphasized that the United States was founded as a land of liberty precisely so that a restoration could occur:
You and I know, and you and I alone really know, the reason for this blessed and beautiful land. In a world where men have given up on this most vital question, we know the purpose of America.
For this country did not end in Philadelphia, even if Horace Greeley did mean that city when he urged us to “go west.” It was a new land, fresh, clean, unspoiled with a past. America included the frontier. In 1805 the Prophet Joseph Smith was born, and he grew up toward adolescence just like the new land. He fitted it. He was young, clean, unspoiled—a lad without a past, kneeling in a grove. This pristine land—this innocent young man—and thus the Lord reached out and kept his promise. He established his conditions over centuries; you see, God has time. His plan made it possible for the holy priesthood and the Church to be restored upon the earth—the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ—but only in America.
Can you understand the way God has worked? And if you do, will you join me this day in committing yourself to preach the message of the Lord’s glorious achievement in America and to teach it as missionaries wherever the opportunity allows? This is a time when you and I can afford to be patriotic, in the best sense of that term. There is reason to be proud that we live in an established land that has been conditioned by the Lord so that his gospel could be restored. The purpose of America was to provide a setting wherein that was possible. All else takes its power from that one great, central purpose. …
First, there was selecting and bringing the people. The next step was establishing a free nation. The third was inspiring a divine constitution. The fourth was opening the American frontier, new land, fresh and clean. The fifth step was calling young Joseph Smith to become a prophet in such a little time, God’s prophet, seer, and revelator, and later his martyr.
It appears to me that Latter-day Saints revere the constitution and the founding of the nation for a wide variety of reasons, but one of the most important is that this is the land of restoration. We recognize that link between the ideals of the Constitution and the conditions needed to allow a fertile ground for religious flourishing. We understand that no other conditions could have allowed for the restoration to survive and thrive.
It is difficult to imagine the restoration happening today. With 24-hour news coverage and an increasingly secular and skeptical populace, it would be difficult for a visionary like Joseph Smith to be taken seriously. Likewise, it is difficult to imagine a restoration even 50 years before Joseph Smith. The transportation revolution on the eerie canal and the Mississippi had not yet occurred. And in that setting, a visionary would have been excluded like a Roger Williams or Anne Hutchinson. Under such conditions, a restoration would have been on tenuous grounds.
Truly, the Lord understood what he was doing when he restored the Gospel. He found a people prepared for a restoration.
There has never been a mythical period of utopian righteousness in the United States or elsewhere (Enoch’s society excepted). The same generation of restoration was also the generation of the martyrdom. Likewise, the generation that produced Christ’s twelve also produced the conditions of cruxcifiction. Yet, the generations after the founding were fertiel soil for a religious movement because the people hungered for spiritual salvation and longed to find truth. Today, I worry that we have moved so far from those moorings.
Elder Marrion G. Romney began his talk about the destiny of America with an increasingly important question and an increasingly urgent plea:
“Among the questions frequently raised in connection with our upcoming national bicentennial is “Can we maintain our basic freedoms, peace, and prosperity for another 200 years?”
The answer to this question is yes, if we shall individually repent and conform to the laws of the God of this land, who is Jesus Christ.”
More and more, we urgently need to hearken to that invitation and warning.