White Horse Prophecy

Timeline of the White Horse Prophecy

December 1833

Joseph Smith[BIO] receives a revelation that the U.S. Constitution was established by God.[1]

July 1840

Martha Jane Knowlton Coray[BIO] recorded that Joseph Smith said that the U.S. Constitution will be "on the brink of ruin" and be saved by the Latter-day Saint people.[2]

June 27, 1844

Joseph Smith and Hyrum Smith[BIO] are murdered in Carthage Jail, Illinois.[3]

July 1854

Brigham Young[BIO] recalls that Joseph Smith taught "the time will come when the destiny of the nation will hang upon a single thread. At that critical juncture, this people will step forth and save it from the threatened destruction."[4]

circa 1848–1904

James Burgess[BIO] appends a May 1843 entry to his journal that states that Joseph Smith taught the U.S. Constitution "would hang by a brittle thread."[5]

circa 1898–1902

John J. Roberts[BIO] copies Edwin Rushton's account of the "White Horse Prophecy" which Rushton claims he witnessed in May of 1843.[6]

December 1904

Edwin Rushton dies in Salt Lake City.[7]

1906

C. C. Anderson[BIO] reprints John J. Roberts's journal entry in a book.[8]

October 1912

President Joseph F. Smith,[BIO] in the October 1912 General Conference, says Joseph Smith taught that "the Constitution of our country would hang as it were by a thread."[9]

October 1918

In the October 1918 General Conference, Joseph F. Smith condemned the White Horse Prophecy as a "ridiculous story" and not a true prophecy of Joseph Smith.[10]

What is the White Horse Prophecy?

It's a prophecy Joseph Smith[BIO] allegedly gave on or about May 7, 1843.[11] The prophecy was an elaborate apocalyptic vision that describes global turmoil and war and used symbolic colored horses (white, pale, red, and black) to represent different elements of the vision.[12]

It also referenced the idea that the U.S. Constitution will "hang by a thread"[13] though Joseph Smith reportedly taught this idea several years before the appearance of the White Horse Prophecy.[14]

Did Joseph Smith actually give the White Horse Prophecy?

Probably not. Researchers have dismissed the authenticity of the prophecy,[15] as have Church leaders,[16] although there are some elements of the prophecy that are teachings from Joseph Smith.[17]

There are no corroborating historical records referencing the prophecy from pioneer-era or early Utah publications or journals[18] nor any record contemporary with Joseph Smith.

Sources for the White Horse Prophecy

Date

Source Name

Source Information

Undated but estimated to be no earlier than 1885 and no later than 1902.[19]

"original source" or "Manuscript 3771"[20]

  • In the handwriting of Edwin Rushton[BIO] who claimed to have been present when Joseph Smith gave the alleged prophecy.[21]

  • The unsteady writing suggests that the document was written by Rushton in his older years.[22]

  • A stamp bears the name "C. N. Christensen,"[BIO][23]

Undated but estimated to be no earlier than 1868 and no later than 1902.[24]

"revised source" or "Manuscript 7897"[25]

  • Possibly in the handwriting of A. G. Giauque.[BIO]

  • Signed by Edwin Rushton.

  • Next to Rushton's signature are the words "witness signature A.G. Giauque."[26]

March 2, 1902 [27]

"hearsay source" found in John J. Roberts, Reminiscences and Diaries, 1898-1902.[28]

  • He reported receiving it from Robert Pierce on February 28, 1902.[29]

Edwin Rushton, originator of Manuscript 3771.

What are the actual contents of the White Horse Prophecy?

The White Horse Prophecy gave multiple predictions,[30] from a "terrible revolution" to the Messiah coming.[31][32] Some of the other predictions included:

  • The Constitution of the United States will be almost destroyed and will hang like a thread.[33]

  • The "White Horse" will send out elders to gather "the honest in heart" from among the "Pale House" (people of the United States).[34]

  • The whole of the United States will be made the Zion of God.[35]

Did the belief that the U.S. Constitution would one day "hang by a thread" originate with the White Horse Prophecy?

No. James Burgess recalled Joseph Smith predicting the Constitution would hang by a "brittle thread."[36] This teaching from Joseph Smith was corroborated by Brigham Young,[37] Orson Hyde,[38] and Eliza R. Snow.[39]

Why is the prophecy so well known despite it probably being fake?

The press has brought the White Horse Prophecy up on several occasions when Latter-day Saints have run for political office.[40]

Church leaders have referenced the teaching that the U.S. Constitution would be in danger,[41][42] which Joseph probably did teach.[43]

Does the White Horse Prophecy mean that a Mormon is going to run for president and take over the United States?

No. There's nothing in the prophecy that says anything like that.[44]

Do members of the Church plan on some sort of political revolution? Does the "constitution hanging by a thread" mean that Church members think the government needs to be overthrown?

No. The Church affirms only peaceful political activities, not violent activities such as overthrowing a democratically elected government.[45]

Does the prophecy promote violence?

No, not really. The prophecy is about war and destruction, and refers to warring countries (France, England, Russia, and others) but does not call Latter-day Saints to be violent.[46]

The "white horse" (Latter-day Saints) is said to draw people from all nations because "they would not <take up> the sword against their neighbors."[47]

Have any other prophets or apostles referenced the White Horse Prophecy?

Yes, but only to denounce it.[48]

However, Church leaders have referenced the teaching that the U.S. Constitution will "hang by a thread."[49] This teaching is included in the prophecy, but Joseph Smith also taught it several years before.[50]

Has the Church made any official statements related to the prophecy?

No, the Church has never issued a specific official statement about the White Horse Prophecy, but Church leaders have condemned it in General Conference[51] and in other contexts.[52]

Some People Say . . .

"Joseph Smith taught the Constitution will hang by a thread and be saved by the Elders of Zion."

— overheard in Sunday School

The Facts

  • The "White Horse Prophecy" was first documented in 1898.

  • It has been condemned as fictional by various Church leaders.

  • The White Horse Prophecy contains an element about the constitution "hanging by a thread".

  • Historical records indicate Joseph Smith did teach that the constitution would "hang by a thread".

  • The White Horse Prophecy teaches that the Latter-day Saints would not take up "swords against their neighbors".

Our Take

First impressions of "the White Horse prophecy" might be alarming. Did Joseph give this “apocalyptic” prophecy? Has it been used to support “American-centric” or militant ideals? Is there some weird secret doctrine that tells Mormons to take over the world?

It turns out, Joseph Smith probably didn't give the "White Horse Prophecy" or at the very least, not the version which was recorded decades later by Edwin Rushton. That account was recorded in 1898, 54 years after Joseph’s death, and has been condemned by multiple Church leaders.

But the constitution “hanging by a thread” idea can still feel uncomfortable, especially when coupled with it being saved by the “Elders of Israel"—and the historical record indicates that Joseph Smith taught those ideas. At the time, the Saints had been driven from their homes and experienced government-sponsored persecution, which may have impacted their views on religious freedoms as protected by the constitution.

Today, the Church encourages civic engagement from its members, supports democracy and the peaceful transfer of power, and denounces riots and usurpations. While making sense of the political history of our religion, we can remember the Gospel teaches a message of peace.

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Footnotes