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Ancient American Governments in Book of Mormon Article One

Updated on September 19, 2022
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Leaders of integrity or infamy found in The Book of Mormon provide the fodder for spiritual growth and self-improvement. It was made for us.

Nephite Governments

In Ancient America, the Nephite society transitioned through several types of governments with only one of them relatable to the republicanism of the United States, it being a political stretch to do so. The freedom and liberty referred to in the record centered around preventing harm to Nephite families and communities and the right to worship God according to the desires of the people. Freedom of religion is not a new concept but it is enumerated in many free societies.


Noel B Reynolds of BYU stated in his work entitled Government and Legal History in the Book of Mormon, that

The Nephites were ruled by hereditary kings from 550 to 91 B.C. when the rule changed to a reign of judges. After the coming of Christ, two centuries of peace under the government of his Church were followed by a breakdown of society into tribal units and finally by the destruction of the Nephites. (para. 2)

Where Reynolds conducted an academic study of the types of governments for the entire record of The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ, this article focuses on the Nephite society in particular. (Lamanite, Jaredite, and other groups mentioned in the record are excluded.) From Reynolds's description, there existed four major governmental types among the Nephites, with one divided into three subcategories for the purposes of this article:

  • Theocracy
    • Patriarchal Theocracy
    • Theocratic Protectorate
    • Ecclesiocracy or Organizational Theocracy
  • Monarchy
  • Hereditary Succession “Democracy”
  • Tribal Federation (or Confederation)

Each of these government types provided different protections to Nephite citizens and served a purpose for the people regarding their religious and civil liberties. This is not a work of academia connected to an organization; consequently, the content is the author’s own. This work consists of two major parts and several sub-portions. One part is regarding types of governments within Nephite society. The other is a juxtaposition of ancient American democracy and modern American republicanism.



Within a theocracy, all power of the government emanates from a divine fount. Categorically, all of Nephite law and governance came from that source because the government essentially birthed from the right of succession starting with Lehi, the patriarch of the family. Nevertheless, theocratic power describes three of the types of governments listed in this article.

Patriarchal Theocracy

The Nephite nation began with Lehi, the patriarchal leader of his family, and followers who journeyed into the Arabian desert following a vision he received in conjunction with a revelation to preach to the citizens of Jerusalem of its imminent destruction if they failed to comply. Following Lehi’s missionary efforts, God commanded him to leave Jerusalem before its destruction.

Lehi described to his family that God commanded him to take them and eventually another family and individual into the wilderness so that He, God, could provide a land of promise or inheritance of safety. In agreeing to accompany Lehi, his children, friends, and servants submitted to his rule as their prophet and patriarchal leader of a combined group of families and servants. Lehi became the progenitor though there are several lines of descent referred to in the record of The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ.

A patriarch is the male leader of the community or clan. A patriarchal theocracy is the head of the community or clan under the appointment of divinity; therefore, abiding by the principles outlined in a religion. Among the Nephites, the doctrine was based on the Law of Moses as revealed to Lehi and recorded in the Bronze Plates Lehi’s sons obtained before journeying to the ancient Americas.

The drama-rich relationships of Lehi’s sons bent to the will of their patriarch. As antagonistic an environment as it was for the people of Lehi, they existed as a united group—even if in name only—until the death of Lehi. By right of heredity, the rule of the family group then fell to the oldest son, Laman. Unfortunately for Laman, God chose Nephi to lead the group because of his obedience to his father as a prophet, and his loyalty in obtaining the divine vision of the future of the Lehites similar to God choosing Judah over Ruben as the birthright son of Israel/Jacob.

Theocratic Protectorate

Following the death of Lehi, the Lehites split into two major groups of people. One followed the divine appointment of Nephi as the designated patriarch of the Lehites, and the other followed the hereditary custom of the first-born succession of patriarchal power. Nephi became the protector of his people following a series of events that effectively ended the possibility of him being an operative patriarch. His group of Lehites fled, taking with them the sacred records and items associated with the patriarchal ruler of the clan which caused a blood feud permanently separating them from Laman and his Lehites groups for centuries.

Nephi’s protectorate formed a nation of Nephites beholden to his leadership and authority because the people viewed him as the rightful heir and as a prophet of God. He refused to take on the position of a King as the new Nephite citizens desired, and therefore, became a theocratic leader. Theocratic protectorate defined here consists of a state or nation under the protection of God with a representative. Nephi, being the prophet of this group and its leader civilly appeared to be a governor or chancellor.

It is important to mention that Nephi did serve as the patriarch and prophet-ruler of the people of Lehi before the group split into the Lamanites and the Nephites.


The resurrected Jesus Christ visited the people of Lehi toward the end of 34 AD for three days. The governments during the time were tribal confederations at the time of His introduction to the people. During His time with the Lehites, Jesus Christ organized The Church of Jesus Christ among them, which became the religious and civil authority of the people, the Ecclesiocracy that governed all the children of Lehi, Lamanites, and Nephites, and another group called Mulekites for almost two centuries.

An Ecclesiocracy is the rule of a nation by a religious organization, in this case, under the direction of Jesus Christ. The first ecclesiarch was interestingly a man named Nephi. He led as a part of a Council of Twelve men who were also apostolic disciples of Jesus Christ among the Nephites. This Lehite-Mulekite union ruled by the church lived what modern saints called the law of consecration—the citizens’ practiced spiritual communism as opposed to political communism. Voluntarily, the citizen shared their property for the benefit of society, each having an equal opportunity to possess an inheritance and develop socially within a community of fraternal love.


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2018 Rodric Anthony Johnson


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