Conscience is a principle of man’s being which is subject to education. Its light is derived from predisposition engendered by parentage, and from individual training. There is probably no man in the world without a conscience, yet men’s ideas of right and wrong are as various as their countenances.

People of one nation, or who are kindred in race, may have many views in common on general principles in relation to what constitutes crime; as for instance, the people of all civilized nations, as a general rule, understand murder, theft, robbery, incendiarism, etc., to be in their very nature criminal; yet such is the influence of temperament and disposition, inherent by nature and acquired by education and association, that each individual views the various faults and crimes incident to human life with a degree of intensity peculiar to himself. This is illustrated in nearly all criminal prosecutions conducted in the courts of civilized nations. Two or more witnesses having beheld the perpetration of the same crime, frequently not only disagree in the details of their testimony respecting it, but also in regard to the degree of its heinousness.

Persons born in the foul-tainted atmosphere of crime, and reared under the tutelage of thieves and blackguards, can commit deeds of violence, cruelty and shame, apparently without a particle of remorse, the bare recital of which causes others more fortunately circumstanced to stand aghast and wonder why conscience does not interfere to save men from such atrocities. Many persons endowed with a high moral nature, possessing moderate culture, will not lend themselves to utter the little white lies which enter so largely into the manufacture of the spicy jokes of the humorist. The conscience of such people revolts at every species of exaggeration. The humorist, on the other hand, thinking his fun to be perfectly harmless, looks upon their prudery as utter foolishness. Thus men of one race and color, even of one nation, disagree in relation to the degree of virtue or vice contained in the actions which go to make up the sum of human life.

If these differences exist between people of one race and nation, how much more between those of different races? Witness the implacable spirit of hatred, injustice, cruelty, treachery, revenge and indiscriminate destructiveness of the American savage. He lifts the avenging arm alike against the innocent and the guilty. If wronged by one of another tribe or race, he never investigates as to individual innocence or guilt, but with blind, unrelenting fury, with tomahawk, scalping knife and faggot, murders, tortures and destroys, wherever he meets any of the race or tribe that have incurred his vengeance. The piteous appeals of women for mercy, the affrighted cries of the innocent babes call forth no pity from his ferocious, blood-thirsty heart. As the shrieks of the tortured victims rend the air, he claps his hands with glee, gloating with ferocious malignity over the dreadful sufferings of his enemy. Pity is a sentiment almost unknown to him. A savage warrior seen by his comrades to drop one tear of sympathy over a tortured enemy, would be hooted into obscurity, and ever afterwards denominated a squaw. Wicked, ignorant, groveling, ferocious as he is, we cannot say that the voice of conscience is dead within him. While facing the certainty of being tortured by burning faggots, knowing that all the agonies of a lingering death awaited him, he has been known to refuse to secure his own liberty by the betrayal of his friends. Indeed, Indian warriors, before being contaminated by contact with vicious pale-faces, are known to have been honest, sincere, truthful, earnest, self-denying, patriotic and heroic, so far as their duties to their friends, families and country, or tribe, were concerned. Let is be remembered that his barbarous and savage acts of cruelty were never committed in violation of his conscience. He was tutored to think it an act of virtue to torture his enemy, one of duty to scalp him; in fact, the more scalps, the greater the warrior whose prowess obtained them; the more unrelenting, ferocious and cruel, the greater the fear of his enemies and the consequent respect and admiration of his friends. Seeing nothing wrong in such acts, he performed them freely to gratify his ambition and thirst for revenge.

We might speak of the crime of cannibalism, practiced without the least compunction of conscience by the South Sea Islanders and others, and multiply instances of this kind without number, demonstrating that birth and education make all men’s consciences what they are; but enough has been said on this subject.

If the light of conscience is inadequate to keep many people, even in civilized communities, from crime, what can we hope or expect it will accomplish in the breasts of unenlightened savages? How great, then, is the need of a more perfect law than that of conscience; a law, in short, adapted to all people in all conditions who dwell on the face of the earth. But who among men are intellectually, morally and spiritually capacitated to create such a law? Infinite wisdom alone is adequate to such a task. This perfect law is found in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Infidelity will object to this statement, and proudly point to civilization as the potent cure for immorality, the great eradicator of crime.

Rome, in the days of her pride and her glory, swayed the scepter of power over the whole world. She was the mighty mistress of every land and every sea. Her statesmen were the greatest, her warriors the mightiest, her philosophers the most profound, her orators incomparable, and therefore her civilization far in advance of that of the rest of the world. Did the civilization of Rome keep her from murdering the innocent; from plundering the weak and unfortunate; from assassination, adultery, incendariasm, infanticide, whoredom and sodomy? No! The recorded deeds of her great ones will ever remain on the page of history to shock, disgust and horrify mankind. As with dissolute Rome, so with the heathen cities and nations that arose and fell before and after her. They generally arose on the principle of “might makes right.” Their foundations were laid with the sword, and their structures reared in blood. They were mostly maintained and perpetuated by violence, ruled over by tyrants, and brought to ruin and final decay and dissolution by flagrant and awful corruption; yet in their turn they had each stood in the vanguard of civilization, and boastingly pointed to their superior enlightenment. Civilization unenlightened by the laws of God was always powerless to harmonize, purify, perfect and perpetuate any nation, kingdom or community. The sad fate of Babylon, Tyre, Egypt, Sidon, Rome, Greece, etc., bear incontrovertible testimony to the fact.

That enlightened state of society which gives political and religious freedom to all; preserves to every man alike freedom in the legitimate pursuit of happiness; protects the helpless against the intolerance and rapacity of the powerful; maintains order; punishes guilt; executes justice tempered with mercy; provides for the poor; frowns down intemperance, debauchery, and kindred voices, etc., is in a great measure the result of obedience to the following laws of God, as contained in the Old Testament, and maintained in the divine teachings on the Son of God, viz: “Thou shalt commit no murder.” “Whosoever sheds man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed.” “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” “Thou shalt love they neighbor as thyself.” “Thou shalt not bear false witness.” “Thou shalt not steal.” “Honor they father and thy mother.” “Love your enemies.” “Do good to them that hate you.” “Pray for those who despitefully use you.” “Covet not they neighbor’s goods.” “Return good for evil.” “Be not contentious.” “Forgive thy brother seventy times seven.” “Visit the widow and the fatherless.” “Have charity.” “Be long-suffering and forbearing.” “He that looketh upon a woman to lust after her hath already committed adultery in his heart.” “Be ye therefore perfect even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect,” etc.

Nations enlightened in part by these eternal principles, whose foremost men possessed consciences educated up to such laws, never inflicted torture upon their fellow-man; never invented the thumb-screw, the rack, or the gibbet; never built dungeons in the name of Jesus, in which to incarcerate their brethren for opinion’s sake; never lit the fires of Smithfield, nor established the Inquisition of Spain. Infuriated bigots, invested with a little brief authority, with the same pious fury that crowned Jesus with thorns, that mocked, derided, abused, insulted, and crucified Him, have invented these engines of torture, and inflicted those unspeakable agonies upon their fellows, and that, too, with the Bible in their hands. The pious Jews, who crowning act of infamy was their murder of that inoffensive Being whose every act should have called forth their everlasting gratitude, prided themselves on possessing the records of inspiration, which said: “Thou shalt not steal.” “Thou shalt not bear false witness.” “Thou shalt do no murder.” In the same manner the proud, profligate, sensual, bigoted, murderous transgressors of every law of God in later times, have persecuted thousands to the death from century to century in the name of that very Christ who has said: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” “Do good to them that hate you.” Men or nations entirely actuated by the pure principles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, will tolerate all religions, uphold all in their political rights, use persuasion instead of force, kindness instead of wrath, blessings instead of cursing. They will promote peace, instruct the ignorant, reclaim the erring, comfort the mourner, feed the hungry, visit and minister to the afflicted, extend peace and righteousness and truth as far as possible, and having lived out a righteous and irreproachable existence on earth, will peacefully pass to a better world, to live in endless and eternal day with the hosts of heaven, sanctified, glorified, exalted and immortalized, where ignorance, inhumanity, oppression and misrule never can come, worlds without end.

Nephi Pratt

[Journal History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, July 14, 1884, 7-9]
[Millennial Star, July 14, 1884]

[transcribed and proofread by David Grow, May 2006]


Return to histories of Nephi Pratt