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Ancient American Governments in Book of Mormon Article Two

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. Monarch, Hereditary Succession "Democracy," and Tribal Federation (Confederation) receive attention here.

Reign of Kings


Monarchal Rule and Freedom

Nephi, the second legitimate leader of the group of ancient Americans who became Nephites, consecrated a king before his death to rule the people. It was the will of the people to have a king though Nephi thought it better that they should have no king, which is why he declined the title. For his service to them, the people titled their Kings Nephi I, Nephi II, and so forth, which prevailed for several hundred years before a political reformation occurred under the last king, King Mosiah who gave the people a voice in the direction of their government.

Nephi appears to have had no sons to inherit a leadership role unless he purposely never mentioned any in his record. Subsequently, consecrating a monarch for his people, Nephi separated the function of high priest or prophet from the monarchy and abdicated ecclesiastical responsibility to his brother Jacob creating a separation of religion and state. A monarchy consists of the ruling of a nation by one family usually by hereditary decree. Traditionally, monarchies have great civic authority and provide the identity of the land.

The most revered monarch of the Nephites was King Mosiah, the last king because he granted the Nephites equal status as citizens and a ruling class instead of a single monarch to guide the government. The people elected to continue with the monarchy with the desire to compel one of the sons of Mosiah to be the next king, though all declined, which provided Mosiah the opportunity to change the nature of Nephite government.



Hereditary Representative Democracy-ish

King Mosiah introduced an assembly of rulers sustained by the people from a cast of representative judges. The judges formed the authoritative group who vouchsafed, interpreted, and enforced the laws of the nation. These judges inherited their offices through what can be called a hereditary democracy because no judge ruled over the people without the consent of the majority and could be replaced depending on the will of the people. The judgeships consisted of lower and higher judges and the chief judge. The hereditary transfer prevailed in this democracy for as long as a civil government functioned among Nephites.

Though in his work, Reynolds suggests that the Nephites lacked the authority to vote the chief judges out of office, the Nephites existed in a true democracy, contrariwise. Citizens of the Nephite nation could vote for a new leader in the form of a king suggesting they could supplant the chief judge if the majority desired to do so. Also, in disagreement with Reynolds, the Nephites entertained a provision to remove a higher judge once in place by a number of lower judges to judge the chief judge of the land. Also, an assembly of lower judges arbitrated higher judges if the need arose.

The duties of the judges were to uphold the laws of the nation as prescribed by the last king and to dispense justice with equity according to sound common law relative to the established canon.

Tribal Confederation

Before Christ Tribalism

During the one hundred and twenty-first year of the reign of judges over the people of Nephi, Lachoneus II made history as the last person to hold the office and title of Chief Judge. After his inaugural year, Lachoneus, the son of Lachoneus perished at the lecherous and homicidal hands of King-men, a group of people seeking a monarchy vowed to exterminate the chief judge and install a kingdom. This group succeeded in dispatching the rightful leader but destroyed the Nephite government in the process. Tribes formed to replace the shattered institution. Even though the Nephites raged that the secret organization called the Gadianton Robbers destroyed the government, that rage was not sufficient to inspire them to reform the Judgeships. The tribal confederation occurred when the tribes of Nephites united together against a common enemy or in the name of defense; yet, the Nephites remained separate regarding their laws and customs.

After Christ Tribalism

Following the apostasy of a group of Lehites subsequent the nearly 200-year reign of peace and ecclesiocracy that tribalism commenced again starting with a group that separated calling themselves Lamanites. These "new" Lamanites crowned a king and warred with the "new" Nephites whom the record of Mormon does not indicate had a formal government. Tribalism may have prevailed through a new form of the Tribal Confederation. Regardless, there was a central governing body because General Mormon received the authority from that body to lead the armies of the Nephites.


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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