1 Nephi 13:17 — LeGrand Baker — War on the Seas

1 Nephi 13:17  

17. And I beheld that their mother Gentiles were gathered together upon the waters, and upon the land also, to battle against them.

Nephi’s description of the Revolutionary War is not at all the sort of thing the Prophet Joseph or any of his contemporary Americans would have written. Joseph, who was a young man when John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died, would have understood the American Revolution as a local land war.

For Americans the Revolution was mostly a land war, and would have been described by them as such. America’s navy consisted almost entirely of John Paul Jones doing some privateering off the coast of Europe and a few blockade runners on this side of the ocean trying to get into and out of American ports. The French admiral de Grass was instrumental in scaring the English navy away from Yorktown so Washington could defeat Cornwallis, but there was no actual naval engagement there.

However, that is only a part of the story. The American Revolution was the first real “world war.” What began as a skirmish in Massachusetts escalated all out of proportion. And if it had not have done so, America would never have become free. France joined America to get even with England and with the hope of absorbing the American colonies after the English lost them. Spain came into the war because France pulled her and, reluctant as she was, she had little choice. Holland (the “money bags” of the world at that time) came in because England was belligerent. Russia came in just as reluctantly, and for about the same reason.

These nations, including England, had long since divided the rest of the non-European world among themselves. Their colonies were literally scattered all over the globe, and when the mother countries went to war, so did their colonies. The result was that England found herself fighting almost all of the greatest colonial powers in Europe and fighting them all over the world. England had the world’s greatest navy, but it was not greater than the combined navies of America’s allies. For England it was a sea rather than a land war, and a devastatingly costly one at that.

Had it not been a “world war” with England’s military and economic resources spread all over the world fighting to retain her colonies, she could have concentrated all her might against the American colonies, and the United States never could have won independence. Nevertheless, even today (as in Joseph Smith’s day), Americans think of our Revelation as being only our war, fought on American soil to gain American independence.

Nephi described the American Revolutionary War that secured the environment into which the gospel could be restored as a battle that took place on the seas rather then a struggle that took place in only the thirteen colonies. In that, Nephi’s description is a much more accurate description than Joseph Smith or his American contemporaries could have been expected to write. This is one more of those little evidences that Joseph was not the original author of the Book of Mormon.

To secure their liberties, the Americans fought the American Revolution (just as Nephi had foreseen) established the Constitution and Bill of Rights, and began to spread over most of North America.

As America grew in size, its westerners worked out the final bugs in the system so that there came to be greater political, economic, and religious freedom there than ever before in recorded history. It had taken almost 2,000 years to create a perfect environment in which Joseph Smith could restore the fulness of the gospel, and then Brigham Young could lead the Saints to the safety of the Rocky Mountains.

Some historians have seen that pattern and have argued that Joseph Smith was simply a product of the times in which he lived, but from the point of view of Latter-day Saints, the environment had been carefully shaped so the Prophet Joseph could come and do his work. Looking at the past 2000 years from that prospective, even though there have been some very ugly times, in the big picture we see one of the great miracles of human history.

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