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Political Tuesday: Declaration of Belief: Lesson 2 (1949-50)

By: Ardis E. Parshall - August 21, 2012

Lesson 2 – The Significance of the Declaration of Belief

Elder G. Homer Durham

For Tuesday, November 22, 1949

Objective: To consider different types of government in the world today, and to appreciate the basic principles contained in the “Declaration of Belief” as the culmination of the experience of the race.

The Sphere of Modern Government

Today modern government provides protection, regulation, control over various groups such as labor unions, banks, business establishments of all kinds; it regulates prices, the quality of goods, business practices, railroad rates, airline rates; it provides assistance in the form of subsidies to the farmer, to the unfortunate, the aged; it confers franchises on bus, air, rail, and shipping lines; it gives charity and assistance and relief; it provides schools, libraries, postal service, electric light plants, running water, sewage systems, sanitation systems; and, above all, modern government today determines the questions of war and peace in society – the conduct of international relations, including foreign policy and diplomacy, the shifting of armies and navies, the transfer of C-54’s and B-29’s, destroyers, cruisers, battleships. All take their part in the work of modern government.

“Governments” Within the United States

The United States Bureau of the Census in 1942 attempted to count the number of “governments” operating within the single American system. The table is as follows:

U.S. government: 1
States: 48
Counties: 3,050
Townships or Towns: 18,919
Municipalities: 16,220
School Districts: 108,579
Special Districts: 8,299

Total: 155,116

American government, with its written constitutions, both Federal and state, the Bill of Rights, the principle of limited government, pressure groups, elected representatives, and independent judiciaries – all these institutions affecting the functions listed in the foregoing paragraph through the 155,116 units totaled in the table – indicate that government is a very complex business, indeed.

Types of Government in the International Field

In the field of international relations, we perceive the outline of three or four significant international groups. They are: (1) the British Empire system, (2) the Soviet system, (3) the American system – which is linked with the British Empire system, and (4) the overall, loose, confederation of national States called the United Nations. These four prominent, overlapping, international organizations represent the chief political groups found today. Among the sixty-odd national States, these main groups and the great powers within them determine the course of war or peace, depression or prosperity.

The British Empire is perhaps the oldest existing “international organization.” It represents the skill, ingenuity, daring, and genius of the British people. Its territories are not integrated. They are far-flung in the seven seas and throughout the globe. Yet, the dominions of the British empire represent a significant grouping of mankind into a political organization generally known as the “British Commonwealth of Nations” which is a significant factor in world stability.

The Soviet system embraces not only the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics, but also the various areas under Soviet influence, such as Poland, Czechoslovakia, Roumania, Bulgaria, Outer Mongolia, and other States.

Whereas, toleration, good will, liberty for political differences are nurtured and cherished in the British Empire system, even to the extent of granting independent status to India and Pakistan (the richest portions of the Empire), the Soviet system is dominated by the desire for world revolution and the world dictatorship of the Communist party. Its objectives are well-known. This system may be said to date roughly from 1917 and the Russian revolution.

The American system consists not only of the United States and its island and Alaskan possessions, but also may be said to include the western hemisphere system of twenty-one American republics. This western hemisphere system is, next to the British empire, the oldest international organization now in existence, having political significance.

Modern International Affiliations

Since World War II, the American and British systems have been linked together by means of wartime alliances, lend-lease, joint military staffs, the British loan of 1945, and more recently and more significantly, the Marshall plan and the Economic Co-operation Act, passed by the United States Congress in 1948. This bill, called the Foreign Assistance Act of 1948, has resulted in the creation of a sixteen-nation committee in Western Europe, which has, for its object, co-operation with the United States. This committee is called “The Committee for European Economic Co-operation.” It is a very unique international organization, inasmuch as it has been called into being by an act of the American Congress. Nevertheless, the organization itself is a voluntary association of the sixteen States composing it. Within this sixteen-power association for economic co-operation, there has emerged what is called “Western Union.” Western Union is a military alliance between Great Britain, France, Holland, Belgium, and Luxembourg. When the French, British, Dutch, and Belgian colonies are taken into consideration, for example, the rich Belgian Congo in Africa with its uranium deposits (the source of atomic energy), we see the strategic significance of Western Union. When it is realized that Western Union is linked through its British member to the United States by means of the “joint chiefs-of-staff,” a military arrangement, not to mention the fact that the other four members of Western Union are part of the Marshall plan, we see how the British and American systems have linked themselves into a form of international organization.

All the principal States of the world, except the defeated powers, are members of the United Nations. The charter of the United Nations is an effort to create a general international organization for the maintenance of peace. The hopes that attend its functioning as well as its strengths and weaknesses, are matters of daily concern to all the peoples of the world.

International Organization

In addition to the mesh of local governments such as those found in the United States, and the great political groupings of international importance, there are many other small specialized organizations which help carry on the work of modern government. The United States, alone, for example, belongs to 102 international organizations in which we participate actively. This number was listed in the United States government manual for 1947. For example, we belong to four international organizations in the field of agriculture, such as the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations. We belong to eight commercial and financial organizations, such as the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development. We belong to ten international organizations in the field of commodities, such as the International Wheat and Sugar Councils; then we belong to dozens of educational, scientific, cultural, political, legal, social, health, transport, communications organizations such as the Universal Postal Union, the International Labor Organization, the Permanent Court of Arbitration, the Pan-American Union, and so forth. All of these governments, the peoples they serve, and these various international organizations, have for their purpose, at some point or other, the maintenance of peace or some phase of human welfare and benefit. How can they be used to bring about a safe, sane world?

Significance and Value of the Declaration of Belief

It is amazing that a group of Latter-day Saint frontiersmen meeting in Ohio in 1835 would adopt a Declaration of Belief regarding government and laws in general which would contain basic principles capable of motivating human behavior now, as then, through a rather complex maze of political organization. As one of the foundation aspects of Latter-day Saint political thought, the Declaration of Belief should be more thoroughly studied and appreciated. It has great significance for the national modern State system. If the current wars that plague the world are to lead to eventual peace, men must have ideals to guide them. The Declaration of Belief constitutes a “spelling out” of practical ways and means to utilize human government in such a way that they may reconcile their activities with the great ideal of a kingdom of God upon earth. It is a problem of the peoples involved, and particularly ourselves, to understand the principles and to utilize them, through these various governments and organizations which have been listed. Wherever the Church of Jesus Christ itself and its Priesthood exist, the management and direction of the Church, its functioning in its wards, stakes, and missions, its program and its missionary work throughout the world, all must understand the Declaration and uphold its principles wherever human liberty makes such action possible. No one need fear to advocate these principles. They are sound. They represent the culmination of the experience of the race. The highest ideals of Greek, Roman, and English political experience may be said to be crystallized in the Declaration of Belief. It is for us to know and understand and appreciate these principles as a people and as citizens. In upholding them, we will find common ground with our neighbors, whatever creed or religion, so long as they recognize freedom of conscience, freedom of religion, and the great principles expounded in the Declaration.

Responsibility of the Individual

Where the individual himself is concerned, each one for himself must recognize that he has persuasive powers. We must all feel free to use these persuasive powers after understanding these principles, as each of us is potentially either an advocate of slavery or liberty. And governments and laws have everything to do, nowadays, with the peace, happiness, and even the temporal salvation of mankind.

Questions for Discussion and Lesson Helps

Special Project: Assign a member of the class to go to the local public or high school library, borrow a recent copy of the United States Government Manual, and bring it to class. Have the individual assigned read the “purpose” and “functions” of a few selected Federal agencies, such as (consult the index) “The Council of Economic Advisers,” “The Atomic Energy Commission,” “The Securities and Exchange Commission,” the “Federal Security Agency,” etc.

Additional Projects: 1. Bring a convenient (preferably in color) map of the world to the class. (Again, the local public school or library can be of assistance.) Point out the various territories that fall within the orbit of British, American, Soviet power. 2. Assign three, two-minute reports to members of the class as follows: (a) Greek ideals regarding government and citizenship; (b) Roman ideals regarding government and law; (c) the ideals of English liberty. (See “Our Political Inheritance,” by Elder Durham in The Relief Society Magazine for April 1949, page 230.)

1. Of the many units of government (national, state, local) existing in our land, which ones deal with the following matters: conferring of bus franchises; regulation of banks; building of highways; provision of schools? (The answers are not printed in the lesson! How civic-minded is your class? Do they know or can they find out the answers?)

2. Have the class think this through: what units of government control the balloting and election processes? Who, or what unit of government, prepares and prints the ballots used at election time? Could this function be handled by the national government? (Think this through very carefully: What would be involved? Have someone look up the number of election districts in your county, in your state. There are approximately 135,000 such in the United States altogether. All of these have to have ballots on election day!)

3. Can the principle of the Declaration of Belief be applied at all levels of government?

4. What does the phrase, “persuasive powers” mean, as used in the closing paragraph of the lesson?

5. How should man’s persuasive powers be used? So far as the Declaration is concerned, can they be used “in ignorance” of the complexity of modern government?

6. Does this lesson throw additional meaning on the maxim stated by Joseph Smith, that no man can be saved in ignorance?



  1. I’m sorry if I missed the first entry in this series, but in what setting were these lessons intended to be taught?

    Comment by MC — August 24, 2012 @ 1:51 pm

  2. These were taught as a regular (one lesson per month) part of the Relief Society curriculum of 1949-50.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 24, 2012 @ 3:36 pm

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