Why would a person vote to eliminate their own freedom?
I’ve been intrigued the past couple of weeks by the children of Israel, who insisted on having a king, even after the prophet Samuel warned them of the terrible consequences of this decision: Their children would suffer, they would lose control over their possessions, and they would not be empowered to object to the king’s decisions. “Ye shall cry out in that day,” he said, “because of your king which ye shall have chosen you; and the Lord will not hear you in that day” (1 Samuel 8:18).
The people ignored the warning. “Nay,” they said, “but we will have a king over us” (1 Samuel 8:19). At the Lord’s instruction, Samuel reluctantly fulfilled their request and chose a king.
In the Book of Mormon, the trend moved in the opposite direction. King Mosiah, horrified to hear about the abuses of power of King Noah, proposed to the people that the monarchy be abolished and replaced with a system of judges, chosen “by the voice of the people” (Mosiah 29:25-29).
This move toward democracy, with checks and balances to prevent any single person from gaining too much power, was a positive thing for the Nephites, partly because it gave every citizen a sense of ownership over their collective decisions. (See Mosiah 29:34.) But the shocking and tragic part of the story is how many times, in subsequent years, groups of people tried to eliminate this new system of government and choose a new king.
- In the fifth year of this new system, a man named Amlici made a bid to become king. The proposal was serious enough that an election was held. In the time leading up to this election, there was “much dispute and wonderful contentions” among the people (not wonderful as in “good,” but wonderful as in “astonishing”). In the end, Amlici lost, but unsurprisingly, he had no respect for the outcome of the election, and he instructed his people “to take up arms against their brethren.” Many lives were senselessly lost in the battles that followed. (See Alma 2.)
- Fourteen years later, a man named Amalickiah convinced a large number of people to support him in an attempted coup. Many of those who supported him were elected officials (“lower judges”), who were motivated by his promises “that if they would support him and establish him to be their king that he would make them rulers over the people.” In response to this imminent threat, Captain Moroni created the Title of Liberty and rallied his people to defend their country. (See Alma 46.)
- Six years later, a group of people proposed some changes to the law, which would “overthrow the free government and…establish a king over the land.” The chief judge, Pahoran, opposed these changes, and the people voted not to adopt them, but the dangerous fact remained that a sizable group among them wanted to eliminate democracy. “Those who were in favor of kings were those of high birth, and they sought to be kings; and they were supported by those who sought power and authority over the people.” (See Alma 51.)
- Five years later, there was a violent insurrection. Pahoran was forced to flee the capitol, and the king-men appointed a man named Pachus to be king. Captain Moroni had to bring troops to reinstate Pahoran as chief judge and reestablish the rightful government. (See Alma 61, 62.)
Why did Mormon, who told us that “a hundredth part of the proceedings of this people” could not be included in his book, choose to describe these events? (See Words of Mormon 1:5, Helaman 3:14, 3 Nephi 5:8.) Maybe because they are relevant to us.
Ezra Taft Benson said:
The Book of Mormon…was written for our day. The Nephites never had the book; neither did the Lamanites of ancient times. It was meant for us…. Under the inspiration of God, who sees all things from the beginning, [Mormon] abridged centuries of records, choosing the stories, speeches, and events that would be most helpful to us.“The Book of Mormon—Keystone of Our Religion,” General Conference, October 1986
As I’ve followed the hearings held by the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the United States Capitol, I’ve been alarmed and disturbed by the actions taken by government officials in the United States in an attempt to undermine the lawful processes of government. I’m personally less concerned about the actions of any individual and more concerned about what these events indicate about our collective commitment to government by the people.
No one is proposing that we establish a monarchy, of course, but our laws and institutions have certainly been weakened by leaders trying to hang on to power at all cost, instead of deferring to the voice of the people. Like the Nephites, we must be careful not to elevate into positions of authority those who would abuse that authority and prioritize their own status over the welfare of the nation.
Today, I will communicate with my elected representatives. I will strive to influence them to make decisions which preserve and strengthen our system of government and preserve our fundamental freedoms.