Breaking Things in Pieces: Early Mormons and Daniel 2:44

In many of the early Mormon personal histories I am seeing an interesting conversion narrative. We know that the first LDS missionaries did not use the First Vision to introduce the gospel. The Church was formally organized in 1830 and the First Vision account did not exist in published form until 1842. The scriptural version of the First Vision was not even written until 1838. [1] Even then, the story of the boy-prophet’s theophany did not become important in restorationist efforts until the early 20th century.

Instead, the prophecy of Daniel was important to LDS preachers. Joseph Smith tied Daniel 2:44 to the Mormon Kingdom of God in 1831, and by 1835 Mormon elders were engaged in the use of Daniel typology. [2] They used this scripture to introduce the advent of the “Kingdom of God” which had rolled forth to break all other religions and political systems in pieces.

Early Mormon journals relate the importance of the Book of Daniel in their investigation of the Mormon Church. For example, Isaac C. Haight’s account shows how missionaries framed their discussion of the prophecy and related it to the Mormon Church:

“In this state of mind I was found by a preacher of the gospel by the name of Pelatiah Brown in the winter of eighteen hundred and thirty-eight. The first time I heard him preach he preached from the seventh chapter of Daniel. In his discourse he set forth the apostasy of the primitive church and finally the taking away of the priesthood, and finally the setting up of the kingdom that was to be set up in the last days with all its gifts and graces with all its power and blessings and then bore testimony that God had set up his kingdom and had again called men by revelation to preach the gospel and the baptize for the remission of sin and to lay hands on for the gift of the Holy Ghost…The spirit bore testimony to me of the truth and after close investigation I became convinced that God had set up his kingdom on the earth again and on the third day of March 1839 I and my wife were buried in the waters of baptism for the remission of sins” [3]

This Kingdom of God as prophesied by Daniel found a prominent place in the missionary tracts of the day. Parley P. Pratt’s “A Voice of Warning” contained this declaration:

“…the kingdom spoken of by Daniel is something to be organized in the last days, by the God of heaven Himself, without the aid of human institutions or the precepts of men. And, when once organized, it will never cease to roll; all the powers of earth and hell will not impede its progress, until at length the Ancient of Days shall sit, and the Lord Jesus will come in the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory, as the King of kings, and Lord of lords, and destroy all these kingdoms, and give the kingdom and the greatness of the kingdom, under the whole heaven, to the Saints.” [4]

Early LDS Hymns from the 1835 hymnal  further elucidate how the Saints interpreted Daniel 2:44. For example, “What Fair One is This?” connected the fulfillment of Daniel’s vision with elders going forth and preaching the gospel:

The elders of Israel a standard are raising,
And call on all nations to come to the same:
These elders go forth and the gospel are preaching.
And all that will hear them, they freely are teaching,
And thus is the vision of Daniel fulfilling:
The stone of the mountain will soon fill the earth.

“How Often in Sweet Meditation” also linked Daniel’s prophecy with the preaching of the Latter-day gospel. The expectation that the Mormon Kingdom of God would overcome the political systems of the world is evoked with the image of thrones being cast down:

To lift up my voice and proclaim the glad news,
First unto the Gentiles and then to the Jews…
From north, and the south, from the east and the west.
We’ll bring home our thousands in Zion to rest…
And thrones be cast down as wise Daniel proclaim’d.
And Israel shall flourish and spread far abroad,
Till earth shall be full of the knowledge of God:
And thus shall the stone of the mountain roll
forth– Extend its dominion, and fill the whole earth.

Another hymn, “The Time is Nigh, That Happy Time” proclaimed that although the nations did not yet realize it, the kingdom of God was slowly growing and would soon overcome the superstition of false religion:

The prophecies must be fulfil’d
Though earth and hell should dare oppose;
The stone out of the mountain cut,
Though unobserved, a kingdom grows.
Soon shall the blended image fall,
Brass, silver, iron, gold and clay;
And superstition’s dreadful reign,
To light and liberty give way.

Eliza R. Snow wrote several poems which took Daniel 2 as the text. “The Kingdom of God” reflected the Saints’ understanding of a developing political Kingdom which would conquer the nations of the earth:

The Kingdom of God is a kingdom of Power:
In th’ midst of oppression its sinews have grown:
All people who fight against Zion will perish—
To tread on her peace, is to forfeit your own.
The feet of the “image,” the clay and the iron,
The Kingdom of God into pieces will break:
The brass and the silver will also be broken—
Earth’s nations will tremble—her kingdoms will shake…
The Kingdom of God is a kingdom of Conquest,
To which ev’ry knee of all nations must bow.

Peter Cartright recalled hearing Joseph Smith preach in 1839, “I will show you, sir, that I will raise up a government in these United States which will overturn the present government and I will raise up a new religion that will overturn every other form of religion in the country.” [5]

I am convinced that the emphasis on Daniel 2:44 and its rhetoric of a little stone which rolls forth to break in pieces the kingdoms of the earth was pivotal in early Mormon attempts to establish a political Kingdom of God in America. Since this idea formed a significant part of the Elders’ preaching, new converts consisted largely of people who were drawn to this concept. Though some may disagree, I think that the Saints’ understanding of the breaking and subduing of other nations, political systems, and religions was non-metaphorical. (If you disagree, I’d love to hear why in the comments!) In further writings on this subject, I plan to investigate how the Danite band was conceived and influenced by this particularly Mormon slant on Daniel’s prophecy.


[1] Early accounts with limited circulation were: the Joseph Smith Letterbook account, 1832 (published 1965); and the Matthias account, 1835. The official account now found in the Pearl of Great Price was recorded in 1838.

[2] David J. Whittaker, “The Book of Daniel in Early Mormon Thought,” Provo, Utah: Maxwell Institute.

[3] Isaac C. Haight, Autobiography and Journal (1813-1846) Typescript, HBLL.

[4] Parley P. Pratt, A Voice of Warning and Instruction to All People, Containing a Declaration of the Faith and Doctrine of the Church of the Latter-day Saints, Commonly Called Mormons (New York: W. Sandford, 1837), ch. 1.

[5] W. P. Strickland, ed., Autobiography of Peter Cartright (New York: Carlton and Porter, 1857), 345.


Breaking Things in Pieces: Early Mormons and Daniel 2:44 — 10 Comments

  1. I very much enjoyed this. I remember using that passage from Daniel to motivate us as missionaries; it made us feel like we were part of something big and important, but I hadn’t thought of the political aspects of that passage until now. Thanks!

  2. I know that the earliest Mormons usually expected that the Second Coming was going to happen very soon. I wonder how much these ideas were tied up with the expectation that Jesus would soon be king of the earth.

  3. I’d be careful about extending the metaphor and rhetoric too far. The Saints always considered themselves good Americans, claimed religious and liberty rights due to Americans, and appealed to governors, the Congress, and the President for redress of grievances. They participated in elections and successfully petitioned the Illinois legislature for a charter for the city of Nauvoo. So I don’t think they took the metaphor and rhetoric as a call to work against established governments or churches — they seemed very happy to work within established political institutions to advance their own interests. Their actions seem quite separate from the rhetoric in diaries and hymnals.

  4. Dave, I disagree. Though the Saints worked within the system, they felt that the interest of the Kingdom superseded the laws of the land. In quotations, newspaper articles, exposes and journals, it is amazing just how much the Latter-day Saints identified with the Kingdom of God prophesied by Daniel which would come forth in the Last Times. In their zeal to build this kingdom, they began to separate themselves from an identity as United States citizens, freeing themselves from the country’s laws and alienating their neighbors in the process. Look at these three representative examples:

    1. Alanson Ripley stated that “as to the technical niceties of the law of the land, he did not intend to regard them; that the kingdom spoken of by the prophet Daniel had been set up, and that it was necessary every kingdom should be governed by its own laws.”

    2. George W. Robinson added that “when God spoke he must be obeyed, whether his word came in contact with the laws of the land or not; and that, as the kingdom spoken of by Daniel has been set up, its laws must be obeyed.”

    3. While still in the First Presidency later in Nauvoo, Sidney Ridgon acknowledged that a principal reason for harassment in Missouri was because the Saints would not have anything to do with the laws—“we did not break them we were above them.

  5. In December 2010, I make a blog post posting the full text of those hymns from the 1835 hymnbook for those interested in seeing how the earliest saints understood and sung about Daniel’s Visiom:

    This was, in many ways, the ‘foundational vision’ that set an important paradigm of Mormonism. I’ve been closely reading Pratt’s Voice of Warning lately. Parley openly mocks the common interpretation of the Stone being the Church:

    “Many suppose that this last kingdom alluded to, was the kingdom of God, which was organized in the days of Christ, or his apostles. But a grerter [greater] blunder could not exist; the kingdom of God set up in the days of Christ, or of his apostles, did not break in pieces any of the kingdoms of the world;”, VoW, 1837, pp.29-30

    …but expresses the Kingdom of God as something set up without human assistance, or the aid of ‘human institutions’, as in (a slightly expanded form of) the selection you presented above:

    “Suffice to say, that the kingdom spoken of by Daniel, is something to be organized in the last days by the God of Heaven himself, without the aid of human institutions, or the precepts of men. And when once organized, it will never cease to roll; all the powers of earth and hell will not impede its progress, until at length the Ancient of Days shall sit, and the Lord Jesus will come in the clouds of Heaven, with power and great glory, as King of kings, and Lord of lords, and destroy all these kingdoms, and give the kingdom and the greatness of the kingdom, under the whole Heaven, to the saints. Then there will be but one Lord, and his name one, and he shall be king over all the earth.” – VoW, 1837, pp. 31-32

    I’m not sure whether at this point Parley viewed the Kingdom as something that would be prepared and built by the Restored Church (not an ‘institution of man’ from his perspective?) , or simply be populated by it. It looks to be more of the latter, at least in the earliest expressions.

    Definitely a great topic to explore !

  6. Of course, the prophesies of Daniel were “in the air” so to speak at this time, and Mormonism was but one of a number of religious groups who saw Daniel forecasting the happenings of the 2nd great awakening.

    I found this interesting — from the founder of the American Bible Society. Here is what he had to say in 1815 when he predicted a restoration in the 1830s:

    “… which brings us to the year 1835, as a period of great joy and exultation. These several periods seem to be remarkably important in Daniel’s prophesy, and promise to be productive of extraordinary events to the Church of Christ; and particularly to be the latter times of the last times, when the great wonders related in his prophesy will be more clearly understood by events that may then happen, when the wise shall begin to understand.” [ Elias Boudinot, ‘The Second Advent, or Coming of the Messiah in Glory’]

    The church seem to fit his interpretation of Daniel quite well. It would be interesting to see how Mormonism’s use of Daniel fit into the larger context of the times.

  7. Thank you for that link, David T.
    Clair, you bring up a good point. It is important to understand that the prophecies of Daniel were being discussed in this manner by the Christian churches in the time period. What is fascinating is to note the similarities and differences in the way they and the Latter-day Saints talked about these passages. I see the Mormon “kingdom” as being much more literal–to the point of Joseph actually being crowned king. They were more comfortable with the governments being overthrown, to the point of actually aiding and abetting the process.

    From the Danite oath:
    “I will assist the Daughters of Zion in the utter destruction of apostates, and that I will assist in setting up the kingdom of Daniel in these last days, by the power of the Highest and the sword of His might.”

  8. Mark Ashurst-McGee’s 2008 dissertation on JS’s political thought is relevant here. Although he only examines through the Jackson County expulsion, his analysis of “Zion Sovereignty” shows that that early period of Mormonism was foundational for not only these later usages of Daniel, but also, as Dave notes, the Saints’ very active engagement with the American political system after 1833. When Mark gets around to publishing the diss (he intends to expand it through 1844), it will be the starting point for these discussions.

  9. “It is important to understand that the prophecies of Daniel were being discussed in this manner by the Christian churches in the time period. What is fascinating is to note the similarities and differences in the way they and the Latter-day Saints talked about these passages. I see the Mormon “kingdom” as being much more literal”

    I suspect you are right, Cheryl. The Mormons were intent on establishing a quite literal Theocratic Kingdom preparatory to the arrival of the Son of Man, that he might “have a place to lay his head.” That is, it was a necessary pre-requisite to the Second Advent. For this reason, the Mormons scouted for a literal geographical location of this kingdom, and sent ambassadors to other nations of the earth to gain their recognition of this very literal and very political kingdom.

    Grant Palmer has recently pointed out that one of the reasons William Law left the LDS Church was precisely because of this difference between the common religious view of the Kingdom of God and the 19th-century Mormon view. Law was astounded by the idea of the Mormon Theocratic Kingdom, and he flatly rejected its theocratic ethics. In his diary he stated that for Mormons, “the Kingdom must be set up *after the manner of a Kingdom* (and of course have a King)” (William Law Nauvoo Diary, June 27, 1844, in William Law: Biographical Essay, Nauvoo Diary, Correspondence, Interview, 61).

    This Theocratic Kingdom involved a priesthood which gave its lineal posessors the right to rule. In language borrowed from Colossians 3:3 we read in D&C 86:

    “8 Thus saith the Lord unto you, with whom the priesthood hath continued through the lineage of your fathers— 9 For ye are lawful heirs, according to the flesh, and have been hid from the world with Christ in God—10 Therefore your life and the priesthood have remained, and must needs remain through you and your lineage until the restoration of all things spoken by the mouths of all the holy prophets since the world began. 11 Therefore, blessed are ye if ye continue in my goodness, a light unto the Gentiles, and through this priesthood, a savior unto my people Israel.”

    I believe that by the phrase “lawful heirs” was understood “the right to rule” in the Theocratic Kingdom, which, as the literal Government of God was ultimately the only legitimate political authority on the earth. Hence, it was destined to break into pieces all other nations. Anyone who has read Parley P. Pratt’s Angel of the Prairies will likely see a similar sentiment expressed there.

    The words “the restoration of all things” in D&C 86 may bring to mind “the restoration of the gospel” to modern Mormons, but the “good news” here is likely the good news of the impending restoration of the Theocratic Kingdom, together with its social institutions and doctrines (see Mark 1:14-15 and similar. Jesus’ own “good news” is seen by some as the proclamation of a theocratic kingdom with its associated ethics, which included “violence”:

    When we consider Wilford Woodruff’s surrender of Plural Marriage, I think it helps to frame the issue in terms of theocratic ethics: it was perhaps more important, in his mind, to preserve the Theocratic Kingdom than it was to preserve any one of its social institutions, including plurality of wives. This is because as long as the Mormon Theocratic Kingdom prevailed, its contingent institutions could be easily reconstituted at a later time. However, in the absence of the the Theocratic Kingdom, these institutions would lose much of their power and purpose.

    Joe Swick

  10. Found another fun reference if you’re collecting them – in listing a short summary of important prophecies in an editorial in the Evening and the Morning Star, as part of a plea to search the scriptures ancient and modern, Phelps includes the stone cut out of the mountain. EMS 1:3, August 1832, p22 (under “To The Honorable Men of the World”, second paragraph) –

    They are they who saw the mysteries of godliness; they saw the flood before it came; they saw angels ascending and decending upon a ladder that reached from earth to heaven; they saw the stone cut out of the mountain, which filled the whole earth: they saw the Deliverer come out of Zion, and turn away ungodliness from Jacob; they saw the glory of the Lord when he showed the transfiguration of the earth on the Mount; they saw every mountain laid low and every valley exalted when the Lord was taking vengeance upon the wicked; they saw truth spring out of the earth, and righteousness look down from heaven in the last days, before the Lord came the second time, to gather his elect; they saw the end of wickedness on earth, & the sabbath of creation crowned with peace; they saw the end of the glorious thousand years, when Satan was loosed for a little season; they saw the day of judgment when all men received according to their works, and they saw the heaven and earth flee away to make room for the city of God, when the righteous receive an inheritance in eternity: And, fellow sojourners upon earth, it is your privilege to purify yourselves and come up to the same glory, and see for yourselves, and know for yourselves: Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.

    Interesting enough for context, this directly follows an editorial (“Present Age of the World”) in which Phelps calculates the age of the world since the creation, and deduces that only 9 years are left until the Great Day rolls in. “Are we ready?”, he asks.