You might think that looks fairly straightforward. Webster's 1828 dictionary defined "country" to mean the region in which one resides, the territory situated in the vicinity of a city, or the whole territory of a kingdom or state. Joseph Smith lived near Palmyra in western New York in the United States. You can choose among the Webster's definitions (which remain valid today) to decide which "aborigenes" Moroni was referring to.
Our friends who promote M2C nevertheless claim that "this country" refers to Mesoamerica because, according to them, the Nephites never left the "limited geography" of Mesoamerica. They landed there and the entire Book of Mormon took place there, culminating in the final battle at Cumorah in southern Mexico.
They've written articles full of clever rhetoric and sophistry to justify their position. But it's a patently ridiculous argument, so they've persuaded our Church historians to replace "this country" with the term "the Americas."
"Moroni spoke of gold plates buried in a nearby hill. On the plates was etched the record of an ancient people who once lived in the Americas."
Moroni never said that. No original documents use the term "the Americas." It is pure revisionist history, designed solely to accommodate the current intellectual fixation on Mesoamerica and M2C.
For a fun exercise, go to the Joseph Smith Papers and search for "the Americas." You'll get 17 results. Every one of them is in the commentary and notes. You'll read things such as "For early believers, the book was not only a religious history of ancient inhabitants of the Americas..." "The idea that God would establish the New Jerusalem, or the city of Zion somewhere in the Americas stemmed from the Book of Mormon." "The Book of Mormon also prophesied that the New Jerusalem should be built up upon this land, referring to the Americas." "Jaredites: a term used in the Book of Mormon to refer to descendants and followers of Jared who departed for a "land of promise" which JS later identified as the Americas."
The last one is especially fun because Joseph never used the term "the Americas." This is putting words in Joseph's mouth for a specific modern agenda--M2C. It is not history.
You can also search "this country" on the Joseph Smith Papers website and see how Joseph and his contemporaries used the term. It always referred to a specific nation (the United States or England, depending on where the author was at the time) or a local region.
Here are some examples.
Lucy Mack Smith reported that soon after she received word that the translation was complete, three men came to ask her to show them the gold bible. She wrote, "No gentlemen said I we have <got> <no> gold bible but we have a translation of some gold plates which was sent to the world to bring the plainess of the Gospel to the children of men and to give a history of the people that used to inhabit this country."
On October 22, 1829, Joseph Smith wrote a letter to Oliver Cowdery. This is the earliest letter written by Joseph Smith that we have today. He wrote from Harmony, Pennsylvania. Oliver Cowdery was in Palmyra, NY, at the time, supervising the publication of the Book of Mormon. Among other things, Joseph wrote "there begins to be a great call for our books in this country."
In March 1831, Joseph wrote a letter from Kirtland, Ohio, to his brother Hyrum, who was in Harpursville, NY. He wrote "I think <you> had better Come into this Country immediately for the Lord has Commanded us that we Should Call the Elders of the this Chursh to gether unto this plase as soon as possable."
In 1832, Joseph Smith wrote a letter from Hiram Township, Ohio, to W.W. Phelps, who was then in Independence, Missouri. Joseph wrote about "our toils in travling from this country to Zion amidst a crooked & preverse generation."
On August 16, 1834, Joseph Smith wrote a letter from Kirtland to Lyman Wight and others who were in Liberty, Missouri. He wrote " let there be every signer obtained that can be in the State of Missouri and while they are on their Journey to this country that paradventure we may learn whithe [whether] we have friends or not in these United States."
In February 1835, when Oliver Cowdery delivered the apostolic charge to Parley P. Pratt, he said, "It is required, not merely to travel a few miles in this country, but in distant countries."
You can find more examples, but let's end with this important one.
In 1842, Joseph wrote an article titled "Church History," better known today as the Wentworth letter. In it, he reaffirmed the account of Moroni's visit that opened this blog post. He wrote, "I was also informed concerning the aboriginal inhabitants of this country, and shown who they were, and from whence they came." A few paragraphs later, when describing the Nephites, he wrote, "The remnant are the Indians that now inhabit this country."
In that same letter, he wrote about the "frontier country" and described how, when the Saints were in Missouri, "an organized banditti ranged through the country robbed us of our cattle, sheep horses..."
Despite the historical evidence, our M2C scholars, their followers, and Church historians claim that when Joseph Smith used the term "country" he really meant "the American continent," which they shorten to "the Americas." That's how they rationalize changing Church history to accommodate their modern ideas about geography.
In an amazing irony, the Saints books themselves take their title from a paragraph in the Wentworth letter that explicitly distinguishes between "continent" and "country." This is the paragraph that immediately precedes the Articles of Faith.
Our missionaries are going forth to different nations, and in Germany, Palestine, New Holland, the East Indies, and other places, the standard of truth has been erected: no unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing, persecutions may rage, mobs may combine, armies may assemble, calumny may defame, but the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear, till the purposes of God shall be accomplished and the great Jehovah shall say the work is done.
When you read all of this, it's easy to see why the M2C proponents and the Church historians who collaborate with them are changing Church history right before our eyes.
Joseph, Oliver, and all their contemporaries knew that the Book of Mormon was the history of the ancient people who lived in the country where Joseph received the plates. Moroni even told him the record was "written and deposited" not far from Joseph's home near Palmyra, NY.
Every time you read or hear the words "the Americas" in connection with Church history, think "this country." Whether you interpret it to mean the area right around Palmyra, or western New York, or even the United States as it existed in 1823 through 1842, at least you're on the same page with Joseph Smith.
Note: there are some examples of Joseph writing about "this continent," such as in Joseph's appeal to the "Green Mountain Boys" when he wrote "the Book of Mormon as the history of the aborigines of this continent," and in the Wentworth letter: "The remnant are the Indians that now inhabit this country. This book also tells us that our Savior made his appearance upon this continent after his ressurrection, that he planted the gospel here in all its fulness, and richness, and power, and blessing."
There is also Joseph Smith--History 1:34 (compiled by Joseph's scribes). "He said there was a book deposited, written upon gold plates, giving an account of the former inhabitants of this continent, and the source from whence they sprang. He also said that the fulness of the everlasting Gospel was contained in it, as delivered by the Savior to the ancient inhabitants."
Our M2C friends and historians claim these references to "this continent" mean "the Americas" and that "this country" therefore is either an error or should be interpreted to mean "the Americas." Of course, the other alternative is to use the connotation of "continent" that is consistent with "this country," such as the way Webster defined it as "a connected tract of land of great extent."
Webster's 1828 dictionary commented also that "In Spenser, continent is use [sic] for ground in general." The term can be used for "a mainland contrasted with islands."
Here's another fun exercise.
Since Moroni wrote some of the Book of Mormon (and presumably read what his father had written), maybe Moroni's own use of the term "country" should be considered when we seek to understand what he meant when he told Joseph Smith that the Book of Mormon was the history of the aborigines of "this country."
Search for "country" in the Book of Mormon itself. You'll find phrases such as "defend their country," "the freedom of his country," "defend themselves, and their families, and their lands, their country, and their rights, and their religion," "the cause of their country," "ye are also traitors to your country," "those parts of our country which he hath retained," "the safety of their country," "defend their north country," "the laws of their country," "even unto his own country," "the country which lay before us," "escaped into the country southward," "the face of this north country," and "the country was divided."