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Elder Tad R. Callister: The Founding Fathers — Coincidence or providence?

Elder Tad R. Callister: The Founding Fathers — Coincidence or providence?

Did the Founding Fathers coincidentally and conveniently appear on the scene at the same time or were they raised up by God at a specific time for a divine purpose? F. W. Boreham, a Baptist minister and author, gave us some profound insights on how God directs and influences the destiny of nations: 

“(In 1809) men were following, with bated breath, the march of Napoleon, and waiting with feverish impatience for latest news of the wars. And all the while in their own homes, babies were being born. But who could think about babies? Everybody was thinking about battles. … In one year, lying midway between Trafalgar and Waterloo, there stole into the world a host of heroes! During that one year, 1809, Mr. (William) Gladstone was born in Liverpool; Alfred Tennyson at the Somersby rectory; and … Abraham Lincoln drew his first breath at Old Kentucky. Music was enriched by the advent of Felix Mendelssohn in Hamburg. … But nobody thought of babies. Everybody was thinking of battles. Yet … which of the battles of 1809 mattered more than the babies of 1809? …

“We fancy that God can only manage His world by big battalions abroad, when all the while He is doing it by beautiful babies at home. When a wrong wants righting, or a work wants doing, or a truth wants preaching, or a continent wants opening, God sends a baby into the world to do it.”

And thus, God provided for the establishment of America with the births of the Founding Fathers, perhaps the most extraordinary group of men to be born at one time and in one place. The Lord himself declared: “And for this purpose have I established the Constitution of this land, by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose” (Doctrine and Covenants 101:80; emphasis added). In other words, their births were providential, not coincidental. 

Elder Tad R. Callister

Elder Tad R. Callister

Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

President Wilford Woodruff concurred: “I am going to bear my testimony … that those men who laid the foundation of this American government and signed the Declaration of Independence were the best spirits the God of heaven could find on the face of the earth. They were choice spirits. … General Washington and all the men that labored for this purpose were inspired of the Lord.”

The 18th-century British statesman William Pitt said of the Founding Fathers: “I must declare and avow, that in all my reading and observation … that for solidarity of reasoning, force of sagacity, and wisdom of conclusion, under such a complication of difficult circumstance, no nation, or body of men, can stand in preference to the general Congress at Philadelphia.”

Similar observations have been made by numerous historians who marveled at this incredible assembly of pragmatic and brilliant visionaries. One of them was Barbara W. Tuchman, who noted: “It would be invaluable if we could know what produced this burst of talent from a base of only two and a half million inhabitants.”

But we do know what produced this burst of talent. It was not a series of random births, or “a lucky concatenation of genes.” Rather it was pursuant to God’s master plan for America. No doubt the words of Mordecai to Queen Esther, who saved her people, are applicable here, “And who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14).

Their births were providential, not coincidental.

But God was not passionately interested in the discovery and establishment of America as a political entity alone — that was the means, not the end. The ultimate goal was to provide a forum where His Church could be restored in its fulness to the earth and then be taken to all the world. That was the crowning aim in God’s blessing of America.

No doubt Thomas Jefferson, one of the Founding Fathers, sensed this ultimate purpose when he made this remarkable prophecy in 1820, the same year Joseph Smith received the First Vision: “If the freedom of religion, guaranteed to us by law in theory, can ever rise in practice under the overbearing inquisition of public opinion, truth will prevail over fanaticism, and the genuine doctrines of Jesus, so long perverted by his pseudo-priests (the apostasy), will again be restored to their original purity. This reformation will advance with the other improvements of the human mind, but too late for me to witness it.

Jefferson died in 1826. Four years later the gospel was restored — just as he prophesied. The Founding Fathers were the divinely appointed advance guard that made this Restoration possible. How grateful we should be for their inspired contribution to our country and Church.

— Elder Tad R. Callister is an emeritus General Authority Seventy and former Sunday School general president.

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