Smith's political ideal
Early Latter Day Saints (Mormons) were typically Jacksonian Democrats and were highly involved in representative republican political processes. According to historian Marvin S. Hill, "the Latter-day Saints saw the maelstrom of competing faiths and social institutions in the early nineteenth century as evidence of social upheaval and found confirmation in the rioting and violence that characterized Jacksonian America." Smith wrote in 1842 that earthly governments "have failed in all their attempts to promote eternal peace and happiness...[Even the United States] is rent, from center to circumference, with party strife, political intrigues, and sectional interest."
Smith's belief was that only a government led by deity could banish the destructiveness of unlimited faction and bring order and happiness to the earth. Mormon Apostle Orson Pratt stated in 1855, the government of God "is a government of union." Smith believed that a theodemocratic polity would be the literal fulfillment of Christ's prayer in the Gospel of Matthew, "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven."
Further, Smith taught that the Kingdom of God, which he called the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, would hold dominion in the last days over all other kingdoms as foretold in the Book of Daniel. Smith stated in May 1844, "I calculate to be one of the instruments of setting up the kingdom of Daniel by the word of the Lord, and I intend to lay a foundation that will revolutionize the world...It will not be by sword or gun that this kingdom will roll on: the power of truth is such that all nations will be under the necessity of obeying the Gospel."
In 1859, LDS President Brigham Young equated the terms "republican theocracy" and "democratic theocracy", and expressed his understanding of them when he taught, "The kingdom that the Almighty will set up in the latter days will have its officers, and those officers will be peace. Every man that officiates in a public capacity will be filled with the Spirit of God, with the light of God, with the power of God, and will understand right from wrong, truth from error, light from darkness, that which tends to life and that which tends to death.... They will say... '[T]he Lord does not, neither will we control you in the least in the exercise of your agency. We place the principles of life before you. Do as you please, and we will protect you in your rights....'"
The theodemocratic system was to be based on principles extant in the United States Constitution, and held sacred the will of the people and individual rights. Indeed, the United States and the Constitution in particular were revered by Smith and his followers. However, in a theodemocratic system, God was to be the ultimate power and would give law to the people which they would be free to accept or reject, presumably based on republican principles. Somewhat analogous to a federal system within a theodemocracy, sovereignty would reside jointly with the people and with God. Various inconsistencies exist in this framework, such as how humans could resist the laws of an all-powerful God, or how citizens could be assured that the authority of God rather than the humans interpreting His will was being exercised. While Christ would be the "king of kings" and "lord of lords," He would only intermittently reside on Earth and the government would largely be left in the hands of mortal men.
Young explained that a theodemocracy would consist of "many officers and branches...as there are now to that of the United States." It is known that the Council of Fifty, which Smith organized in Nauvoo, Illinois in 1844, was meant to be the central municipal body within such a system. The Council was led by Smith and included many members of the LDS central leadership. However it also included several prominent non-Mormons. Full consensus was required for the Council to pass any measures, and each participant was encouraged and in fact commanded to fully speak their minds on all issues brought before the body. Debate would continue until consensus could be reached. However, if consensus could not be reached, then Smith would "seek the will of the Lord" and break the deadlock through divine revelation.
On the day of the council's organization, John Taylor, Willard Richards, William W. Phelps, and Parley P. Pratt were appointed a committee to "draft a constitution which should be perfect, and embrace those principles which the constitution of the United States lacked." Joseph Smith and other council members criticized the U.S. Constitution for not protecting liberty with enough vigor. After the council's committee reported its draft of the constitution, Smith instructed the council to "let the constitution alone." He then dictated a revelation: "Verily thus saith the Lord, ye are my constitution, and I am your God, and ye are my spokesmen. From henceforth do as I shall command you. Saith the Lord."
Although theodemocracy was envisioned to be a unifying force which would minimize faction, it should not be viewed as a repudiation of the individualistic principles underlying American Liberalism. According to James T. McHugh, Mormon theology was "comfortable...with [the] human-centric vision of both the Protestant Reformation and the liberal Enlightenment..." Smith's political ideal still held sacred Mormon beliefs in the immutability of individual moral agency. This required most importantly religious freedom and other basic liberties for all people.
Therefore, such a government was never meant to be imposed on the unwilling, nor to be monoreligious. Instead, Smith believed that theodemocracy would be freely chosen by all, whether or not they were Latter-day Saints. This would be especially true when secular governments had dissolved and given way to universal anarchy and violence in the days preceding the Millennium. In fact, Smith and his successors believed that in the religiously pluralistic society which would continue even after Christ's return, theodemocracy demanded the representation of non-Mormons by non-Mormons.
Theodemocracy is a separate concept from the ideal Mormon community of Zion. Zion was not itself a political system, but rather an association of the righteous. Theodemocracy in turn was not a religious organization, but a governmental system which would potentially include people of many religious denominations and be institutionally separate from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Even in a government led by God, Smith seemed to support separation of function between church and state. Nevertheless, while civil and ecclesiastical governments were meant to retain their individual and divided spheres of power in a theodemocratic system, leaders of the LDS Church would have important and even dominant secular roles within the political superstructure.