For your Independence Day reading pleasure, here is a classic Nephi Anderson essay from the Improvement Era. Among other things, it reflects a time when the question posed in the title was not nearly as easy for American Mormons and non-Mormons to answer as it is today.
Are We Americans?
By Nephi Anderson, Superintendent of Schools, Box Elder County, Utah.
Improvement Era, Oct. 1900
Are we “Mormons” Americans? Are we Americans at heart-in spirit and in truth? What is our belief regarding America and her destiny? Have we shown ourselves to be Americans?
May I answer these questions? I read in the introduction to Julian Hawthorne’s “History of the United States,” this expression:
“I take the view that the American nation is the embodiment and vehicle of a divine purpose to emancipate and enlighten the human race.”
Had Mr. Hawthorne purposely extracted the essence of “Mormon” belief regarding America, he could not have stated it better. What the historian expresses as an opinion, “Mormonism” teaches as a divine truth.
He who shapes all human events to his own glorious purpose had a hand in the formation of the American republic. God’s Spirit moved upon the restless, untiring Columbus, and led him westward. The time had come for the establishing of political and religious liberty in the earth. The Old World lay rankly overgrown with the weeds of despotism, bigotry, and superstition. A virgin soil must be had in which to plant the precious tree of liberty, that it might get growth before the enemy should come to sow his tares. Then the same Spirit of God moved upon the Pilgrims, implanting in their hearts the love of liberty, and strengthening them in their resolutions to seek and establish it. God gave strength to the armies of liberty, and sat in the councils of the republic. Slowly, carefully, shapen by the hand of God, this nation arose pure and strong, and there was now a spot on the earth where the purposes of God could be consummated. And now came the celestial messengers from heaven bearing another precious tree to plant in the garden prepared for it; and that was the pure Gospel of Jesus Christ, revealed again from heaven in its ancient strength and power and purity, given into the keeping of citizens of the American republic.
As to past history, this is what “Mormonism” has taught me. Is there anything un-American in the doctrine?
The Book of Mormon (a record claimed by the Mormons to be a divine history of ancient America) contains many references to this land. Let me quote a few:
“Behold, this is a choice land, and whatsoever nation shall possess it shall be free from bondage and from captivity, and from all other nations under heaven, if they will but serve the God of the land, who is Jesus Christ.”
“Behold this land, saith God, shall be a land of thy inheritance, and the Gentiles shall be blessed upon the land. And this land shall be a land of liberty to the Gentiles, and there shall be no kings upon the land who shall raise up unto the Gentiles; and I will fortify this land against all other nations. * * * For he that raiseth up a king against me shall perish, for, I, the Lord, the King of heaven will be their king, and I will be a light unto them forever that hear my words.”
The italics in the above quotation are mine.
In the book of Doctrine and Covenants claimed by us to contain the revelations of God to The Church in this age, we find this:
“It is not right that any man should be in bondage one to another. And for this purpose have I established the Constitution of this land [the United States] by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose, and redeemed the land by the shedding of blood.”
If there be an American religion, “Mormonism” must be that one. No other religious system makes such claims for America as does “Mormonism.” No other religion has made America such holy ground by its teachings and history. The “Mormons” have placed America along with Palestine and made the Holy Land to share its honors with the Zion of the West. The Book of Mormon teaches that Jesus visited the ancient inhabitants of this continent, walked and talked with them and taught them the principles of the Gospel. The Lord’s feet have pressed American soil.
We “Mormons” claim an American prophet. All other religions look to other lands for theirs. The founders of the Christian sects were German, or Scotch, or Swiss. The founder of “Mormonism,” through God, was an American, a descendant of the Pilgrims. Other religionists limit angels’ visits to a far eastern land. We claim that the West also has been sanctified by the presence of heavenly beings. Others confine apostles and inspired men to a past age, and an Old World nation. We say that God has raised up American apostles, and the inspiration of the Almighty can be and is given to Americans.
Are we Americans? Across the American continent have the stirring scenes of our history been enacted. Beginning in New York, The Church, in its infancy, removed to Ohio, and from there to Missouri. Driven from lands purchased from the general government, we next settled in Illinois, where a flourishing city arose. From Nauvoo went the exodus of a people across the prairies of the West. We were often advised to get out from under the United States’ jurisdiction, but always did we say, “No; this government is our government, and under its constitutional laws we wish to live. Though officials might abuse them yet are they God-given.” Picture, then, the moving of a nation into the wilderness, seeking a home, they knew not where. Then remember that at this point there came a call from the United States for five hundred volunteers to fight the battles of their country. The men were obtained, and women and children drove the ox teams on alone. Never was there a more difficult march of infantry than was performed by the “Mormon” Battalion from Fort Leavenworth to San Diego in the war with Mexico. Yet, reader, go to your book-shelf, take down all your United States histories, and see if you can find even a mention of that wonderful expedition.
Here in the desert valleys of the Rocky Mountains, we have built a great American commonwealth. Converts to “Mormonism” who come to America from abroad soon lose their national characteristics and blend into the one American life. And are they brought into a bondage to a “Mormon hierarchy,” as is so often claimed? Let me quote what the Lord says to The Church on this point in the Doctrine and Covenants:
“No power can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the Priesthood [the governing power in The Church] only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; by kindness and pure knowledge which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile, reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost, and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love towards him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be an enemy; that he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death.”
We are inseparably connected with America. Her destiny is ours. We believe that here the latter day Zion will be erected, on whose towers will shine the glory of God. America is the land of Zion. “From Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” The golden age of the world is coming. Then justice will take the bandage from her eyes, and every wrong thing will be righted. America will get her share of glory and honor, and in that share the “Mormons” will have a part.