I would like to begin by wishing President Russell M. Nelson a Happy Birthday. He was born September 9, 1924, and is turning 96 years young. It is our great privilege to have a living Prophet who receives continual revelation. I am so grateful for the self-study program which prepared us for this pandemic and for all of the revelatory changes that have occurred and the direction we have received to guide us safely through the COVID-19 emergency.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, President Nelson!
When we think of events occurring in the month of September, our minds turn almost automatically to September 11, 2001 and the worst terrorist attack in our history which took almost 3,000 American lives. We all pray that we will never witness such a tragedy again.
But in a much happier vein I would like to develop a thesis centered on historical events which occurred in the month of September that were not mere coincidences, but were events which laid the foundation for the restoration of the Gospel and its furtherance.
We know that columbus sailed from Spain in August 1492 and made the effective European discovery of America on October 12, 1492. Other discoveries were, however, necessary as a prelude to the birth of the United States:
- On September 25, 1513 Vasco Nunez de Balboa first sighted the Pacific Ocean after crossing the Isthmus of Panama. This discovery led to the Spanish discovery of California by Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo on September 18, 1542.
- On September 8, 1565 the first lasting European settlement in North America was established by Spaniard, Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles, at St. Augustine, Florida. Forty-two years later, in 1607, the British established the first permanent English colony at Jamestown, Virginia.
- With its almost miraculous survival as an example, the mayflower departed from Plymouth, England, sailing to North America with 102 passengers and a small crew on September 16, 1620. These Pilgrims did not come to establish religious freedom as is so often stated, but they came to escape rule under the Church of England and to worship in their own way. They, however, did not prove very tolerant of others worshiping in their own way. Even so, they did come for religious reasons and America was soon seen as a religious haven by many Europeans who were tired of oppression in their homelands. Eventually, thirteen English colonies were settled but the majority of them had one or another state established, state recognized and state taxed religion.
- As a prelude to the declaration of independence, on September 5, 1774, fifty-six delegates from all colonies but Georgia met in the First Continental Congress at Philadelphia where they drew up a statement of grievances and actions against England and determined to reconvene if their grievances were not addressed.
- On September 9, 1776 The United States of America came officially into existence when the Second Continental Congress changed the name of the newly forming American nation from the United Colonies to the United States.
- Of course, independence had to be dearly won from the mother country. That became a reality on September 3, 1783 with the treaty of paris signed by John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and John Jay which ended the American Revolutionary War and granted the United States independence.
- The new nation was first governed under the Articles of Confederation government which was a loose confederation of states with a central government so weak it could not even meet the interest payments on its war debts. As a result of the Articles’ many deficiencies, on September 17, 1787 the Constitutional Convention meeting in Philadelphia unanimously voted to approve the United States constitution.
- In order to fulfill a promise to states reluctant to ratify the Constitution because of a desire to have specific protections of individual rights, the first United States Congress on September 25, 1789 proposed twelve amendments to the Constitution which were sent to the states. The states approved ten of the twelve amendments which became known as the Bill of Rights. It was of almost unfathomable importance that the First Amendment guaranteed freedom of religion, freedom of speech and freedom of the press. This was nearly unheard of throughout much of the world where freedom of religion was not yet even a dream.
These important events, occurring in the month of September over a period of 296 years from Columbus’s landing in America to the adoption of the Bill of Rights made possible the eventual restoration of the gospel. Even though freedom of religion was guaranteed in the Bill of Rights, we are well aware that joseph smith Jr. and members of the Church suffered much persecution over many years as a result of their religious beliefs and practices.
Of course, it was important that the United State retain its freedom. The War of 1812 pitted the United States against England in what many Americans called the Second War for Independence. During the war British warships attacked Fort McHenry in Baltimore Harbor.
Attorney Francis Scott Key witnessed by dawns’ early light on the morning of September 13, 1814 the Star-Spangled Banner yet waving. The fort was saved and on December 24, 1814 the Treaty of Ghent was signed restoring peace. In 1931 Congress adopted Francis Scott Key’s “Star Spangled Banner,” as the National Anthem.
Young Joseph Smith had just turned nine years old when the War of 1812 ended. It would be another five plus years until the First Vision. After the First Vision in the spring of 1820, it was more than three years later before Joseph, now seventeen years old, experienced a follow-up visit.
On September 21, 1823, as Joseph lay awake in his bedroom, he began to pray. As he did so, a light appeared and grew brighter, and then he saw an angel standing in the air. The angel identified himself as Moroni and calling Joseph by name told him that God had a work for him to do. He also spoke of gold plates buried in a hill not far away. Those plates contained a record of an ancient people and gave an account of Jesus Christ visiting and teaching them the fullness of the gospel. With the plates were seer stones, or the Urim and Thummim, to aid in translation of the ancient writings.
Joseph was to take care of the plates and show them to no one without being instructed to do so. Moroni left and reappeared giving the same message again, then departed and reappeared for a third time. Moroni also told Joseph to tell his father of the visitations.
The next day, September 22, as they worked in the field, Joseph Sr. noticed that Joseph had stopped working and looked pale. He was told to go home. As Joseph attempted to cross a fence, he collapsed to the ground. As he lay there, he saw Moroni standing above him asking why he had not told his father. Moroni then repeated the message of the previous night.
When Joseph told his father, he replied, “It was a vision from God. Attend to it.” Setting out immediately for the hill, he soon located the place where the plates were hidden beneath a boulder. He pried the rock off a stone box and saw the gold plates, seer stones and a breastplate. As he reached for the plates, he felt a shock go through him. He reached twice more and was shocked each time.
Turning, he saw Moroni for the fifth time in two days who told Joseph he needed to purify his heart and strengthen his mind. He was also instructed to return the twenty-second day of September each year until he was prepared for having the plates entrusted to him.
On each annual visit, Joseph received further instructions until September 22, 1827 when Joseph did receive the plates. He could now begin the translation and initiate the restoration of the gospel.
There was no other place in the world at that time so nearly prepared for publishing the book of mormon or preaching the gospel. Freedom of the press and freedom of religion made possible the restoration of the gospel.
Since 1827 there have been other significant events which occurred in the month of September. Following the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith in June of 1844, the Quorum of the Twelve, with Brigham Young as President of the Quorum, stated on September 9, 1845 their intention to move Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to the Rocky Mountains to establish a refuge for the Saints.
On September 17, 1846 the last remaining Saints were driven from Nauvoo in the Battle of Nauvoo. They soon joined with other Saints preparing for the trek beyond the Rocky Mountains.
After our pioneer ancestors successfully established settlements in Deseret, the Congress of the United States granted territorial status and renamed the Saints kingdom, Utah. On September 9, 1850 Brigham Young was appointed governor of Utah Territory by President Millard Fillmore.
In 1856 a unique immigration plan was implemented in order to hasten the coming of the Saints from far and wide to Utah. The handcart experiment which began in 1856 ended on September 24, 1860 when the last pioneers to cross the plains by handcart arrived in Salt Lake City. Between 1856 and 1860 ten companies came to Utah by handcart, including the ill-fated Willie and Martin Companies of 1856 which suffered so terribly in early storms in present day Wyoming.
Another landmark September day was September 24, 1890 when Wilford Woodruff issued the Manifesto designed to end polygamy and pave the way for Utah’s eventual admission into the Union in 1896. The Manifesto is today, Declaration 1 in the Doctrine and Covenants.
Another declaration inscribed in today’s Doctrine and Covenants is the Proclamation to the World on the Family that was issued on September 23, 1995.
Few months have been so significant as the month of September has been in preparing the world for the restoration of the Gospel and advancing the gospel to its place of significance in the world today. As we think about it, September seems to have held a special place in God’s eternal plan.
May we always be thankful for the opportunities opened to the inhabitants of the United States through the sacrifices of many patriots over hundreds of years which made possible the restoration of the gospel and then over time, the taking of the gospel to the world.
On September 16th brad clayton will be sworn in as the National President of the National Society of Sons of Utah Pioneers. You can look forward to Brad’s President’s Messages beginning October 1. Until then, remain well, enjoy this special month, and be engaged in preserving the precious legacy of our ancestors.
I would be remiss, in closing my final President’s Message, if I did not thank the membership of this great organization so much for this singular privilege and honor of serving as your National President for the year 2020. Thanks for your helpful support and encouragement. Brad has earned the same degree of support.