The White Horse Prophecy

There are a few high-profile apocalyptic prophecies in Latter-day Saint history that have pretty shaky provenances. Perhaps foremost among them is the White Horse Prophecy. This complicated document was recently discussed at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk. What follows here is a co-post to the full discussion.

To start, what is the White Horse Prophecy?

The White Horse Prophecy isn’t easy to summarize, especially when comparing it to what you typically hear in the media. Rather than a single line or paragraph, the alleged prophecy takes up a dozen pages.

It’s the account of a man named Edwin Rushton. We don’t know for sure when it was written, but the best guess of scholars is sometime around the 1890s. The document is allegedly Rushton’s account of a vision shared by Joseph Smith in 1843.

According to the earliest-written account, Rushton witnesses the Prophet Joseph get into a scuffle with someone who insulted him in the Mansion House in 1843. Rushton sees a man named Theodore Turley go to the Prophet’s defense. As he and Turley begin to talk with Joseph, the Prophet tells them that their persecutions will continue to grow.

The story quickly turns into an apocalyptic tale. Joseph uses the imagery of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. As he paints a picture of a world racing toward destruction, the Prophet says that the Constitution will be nearly destroyed, but that it will ultimately be saved by the combination of two groups of people symbolized as a “white horse” and “red horse.”

Things get even more complicated as the prophecy weaves in talk of a lion, a unicorn, and a couple of popes. Add in references to Zion, the New Jerusalem, Rocky Mountains, and the Lost Tribes, and the scene finally winds up.

It’s a convoluted, but relatively well-known prophecy.

There are a number of issues that have led historians to question the historical basis of the prophecy. In the From the Desk post, several issues are pointed out:

The White Horse Prophecy was attributed to Joseph Smith, but never acknowledged by the Prophet or anyone else other than Edwin Rushton. No one at the time seems to have been familiar with the story, and it wasn’t committed to paper for several decades. When it was finally written down, someone revised it and made many significant changes. That revised version was then written down in the journal of John J. Roberts. Copies of his copy of a revised account of unknown authorship attributed to Rushton about a long and complicated end-times vision that may or may not have been given by Joseph Smith embracing an analogy he found laughable.

Making things more complicated, however, there are parts of the supposed prophecy that incorporate some of Joseph Smith’s statements that do have a strong provenance. For example, Martha Jane Knowlton Coray recorded in her journal that on July 19, 1840, Joseph Smith said something similar to one of the more famous statements of the White Horse Prophecy:

Then the Enemy shall come as a thief in the night and scatter the servants abroad when the seed of these 12 Olive trees are scattered abroad they will wake up the Nations of the whole Earth Eeven this Nation will be on the very verge of crumbling to peices and tumbling to the ground and when the constitution is upon the brink of ruin this people will be the Staff up[on] which the Nation shall lean and they shall bear away the constitution away from the <very> verge of destruction—Then shall the Lord say Go tell all my servants who are the strength of mine house my young men and middle aged &c Come to the Land of my vineyard and fight the battle of the Lord

Likewise, James Burgess recalled (writing sometime before the end of 1848) that Joseph Smith gave a sermon in May 1843 where he discoursed “upon the constitution and government of the United States stating that the time would come when the Constitution and Government would hang by a brittle thread and would be ready to fall into other hands but this people the Latterday Saints will step forth and save it.”

This imagery is incorporated into the White Horse Prophecy, which states that Joseph Smith said that

And you See the Constitusion of the United States almost Destroyed so that it will only be saved as it where by a thread, and that thred as fine as finest silk fiber, at this Point the Prophet countainence became Sullen for he Loved the Constitution, he said it was made By the Inspireration of God and it would be Saved By the White Horse and red Horse Combined In its defence,

As is noted in the From the Desk post,

Joseph Smith said on several occasions that the Constitution would one day hang by a thread. However, most people associate the statement with a questionable document called the White Horse Prophecy.

The post also notes that “In popular culture, you might see the story altered and simplified to say Joseph Smith prophesied that a future Mitt Romney would save a faltering government symbolized by the image of the Constitution hanging by a thread.”

Beyond the historical dubiousness of the prophecy, the Church has also directly condemned the prophecy as false and worked to distance the institution from the document. For example, during the Mitt Romney presidential campaign, a statement was issued that stated:

The so-called ‘White Horse Prophecy’ is based on accounts that have not been substantiated by historical research and is not embraced as Church doctrine.

So, while the prophecy and its history are interesting, it should be taken with a grain of salt.

For more on the White Horse Prophecy (including some pretty awesome AI artwork depicting the vision), head on over to the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk. While there, check out some of the other recently-added pages like the collection of Thomas S. Monson quotes and the history of the Kirtland Temple.

4 comments for “The White Horse Prophecy

  1. The Bear vs. Lion Prophesy: speculative, but potentially relevant in light of international events (Ukraine War & Mexico as staging ground for Chinese War preparations):

    “Elder Jesse W. Fox, Sen., received the narration from Father Taylor, the father of the late President John Taylor. The old gentleman said that at one time the Prophet Joseph was in his house conversing about the battle of Waterloo, in which Father Taylor had taken part. Suddenly the Prophet turned and said, ‘Father Taylor, you will live to see, though I will not, greater battles than that of Waterloo. The United States will go to war with Mexico, and thus gain an increase of Territory. The slave question will cause a division between the North and the South, and in these wars greater battles than Waterloo will occur. But,’ he continued, with emphasis, “‘when the great bear (Russia) lays her paw on the lion (England) the winding up scene is not far distant.’

    “These words were uttered before there was any prospect of war with Mexico, and such a thing as division in the United States was never contemplated. Vet these fierce struggles came, and though Joseph himself was slain before they occurred, Father Taylor lived to witness some of the world’s most remarkable battles.

    “The struggle between the bear and the lion has not yet happened, but as surely as Joseph the Prophet ever predicted such an event so surely will it not fail of its fulfillment.” (Juvenile Instructor vol 25, no 6, pg 162).

    So if/when Russia attacks England, we might consider the possibility of a “sign of the times.”

  2. I had always heard that the Constitution was supposed to be saved by “the Elders of Israel,” but I don’t see that in your quotes. Where did that detail come from? Did I imagine it?

  3. SDS, that’s one of the parts that has better historical documentation because it’s pulled from things that Joseph Smith actually said. Chris Blythe’s Terrible Revolution has a good section on it. (When I get a chance, I’ll post a review, but the short version is that it’s a really great book.)

  4. I’ll try to share this post should anyone bring up the White Horse Prophecy. Thanks for making it.

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