Friday, June 22, 2012

Mormon Succession Crisis Nauvoo 8 August 1844

When Joseph went to Carthage to deliver himself up to the pretended requirements of the law, two or three days previous to his assassination, he said: “I am going like a  lamb to the slaughter; but I am calm as a summer’s morning; I have a conscience void of offense towards God, and towards all men. I SHALL DIE INNOCENT, AND IT SHALL YET BE SAID OF ME—HE WAS MURDERED IN COLD BLOOD.” (D&C 135:4)
The prophet Joseph Smith had been slain. The Saints of the Church of Jesus Christ were left without an earthly leader to guide them. Joseph had left no set standard on who was to follow him in leading the Church.  This event was one of the refining fires of Mormonism. In the days following Joseph Smith's death many believed the church would fall apart and splinter. In fact, it all most did. The following is a document analysis of the primary sources describing what happened with LDS church leadership after Joseph Smith died. 
Several men stepped up to lead the Church, and each of them presented evidence that Joseph had told them to guide and lead the Church.[1] Two of the most well known for their arguments over who had the right to lead and govern the church were Sidney Rigdon and Brigham Young. Sidney Rigdon claimed he would watch over the Church as its guardian and Brigham Young advocated that the keys of governing the Church lay in the hands of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.  Each said that Joseph had left the keys of the kingdom in their hands.
Speculation arises among historians as to what actually took place on 8 August 1844. There is no doubt that something happened. Early in the morning Sidney Rigdon addressed around five thousand saints, arguing that he was inspired of God and called to be a protector over the church since Joseph was gone. The Quorum of the Twelve had only recently returned from missions abroad, and Brigham Young took over leadership of the early morning meeting. Brigham dismissed the people assembled listening to Rigdon and told them to return in the afternoon. That afternoon something happened that changed the course of history.
Some on that day recorded in diaries and journals that the mantle of Joseph Smith passed to Brigham Young. Decade’s later people would testify, recollect and swear affidavits to the effect that as Brigham Young spoke, he looked, sounded like, and mimicked Joseph to the degree that some actually thought their dear prophet had returned from the grave.
Historians differ on this because there are no first hand contemporary accounts that record what actually happened that August afternoon. However there are testimonies and affidavits by the score that affirm decades later that a transfiguration did occur.
Contemporary primary documents regarding the mantle of Joseph Smith falling on Brigham Young are limited. The few journal entries from that day say nothing about Brigham Young appearing like Joseph Smith.[2] They only state that that Brigham was chosen or that the mantle of Joseph rested on Brigham. Four of the best of these that record the mantle falling on Brigham are from Wilford Woodruff, George Laub, Zina Diantha Huntington Jacobs Smith Young, and Emily Smith Hoyt.[3] These three documents are the most contemporary documents that speak of the common mantle experience as known by most Mormons. It should be noted that most of them were not written the day of or even within a few months of the event. 

Wilford Woodruff is known not only as a president of the Church, but also as an avid diarist.  The event as recorded by Wilford Woodruff seems to follow the others of the time in simply mentioning that there was no doubt that the mantle of Joseph Smith rested upon Brigham Young. Most of the records of the time seem to state the event similarly. This leads to the view that this account is historically accurate. The authenticity of the document should not be in question. The Millennial Star was a Mormon periodical for over a hundred years cataloging the growth of Mormonism. The Millennial Star fills in many holes that would exist without it.  The document is written within a year the document can be seen as a contemporary account of what transpired the previous August.[4]
Another account although somewhat reflective that still fits within the timeframe of contemporary for this study is the Journal of George Laub. This journal was written in 1845. George Laub is not noted within LDS history for his apostasy or his leadership. George Laub is demonstrative of the average Latter-day Saint. His journal helps to give the reader a fuller understanding of what was transpiring in the everyday life of early Mormons.  The reliability of the journal is not in doubt. The document differs from that of Woodruff’s letter in the millennial star because Laub actually mentions that when Brigham rose and spoke that he appeared as Joseph and that his voice sounded like Joseph’s. Being reflective to some degree the historicity of the document can be questioned.[5]  There are also some that think the document currently archived as Laub’s journal is a rewrite of an earlier journal.
Zina Diantha Huntington Jacobs Smith Young diary for the purpose of this study is also considered contemporary. Zina was married to Henry Jacobs, Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. Zina was the third relief society president of the Church. Zina had beautiful penmanship and her vocabulary identifies that she was educated to some degree.  Zina writes that the mantle passed to Brigham Young, saying that Brigham looked and sounded like Joseph. An important thing to note is that she said that all witnessed the transfiguration and that thousands of people would testify that it happened. This leads me to conclude that the Zina record of the event might be more reflective than contemporary even though it is said to have been recorded when the even happened. There is also the concern that when she wrote her journal she was married to Brigham and this might have influenced her recollection.[6]
Emily Smith Hoyt also records the events of the mantle passing to Joseph Smith but since they are written in 1851 are more reflective than contemporary but are still closer to the actual time of the event than many later accounts. Emily’s handwriting was easier to read than many others but there were places where what was written was difficult to make out. Emily says that when she heard Brigham speak that if she had not handled Joseph’s body with her own hands she would thought Joseph had risen from the grave to speak to the saints.[7]
Reflective primary accounts are far more numerous than the contemporary ones.  This work will only cover a few of those accounts.  The accounts that were examined are those of George Romney, Benjamin Franklin Johnson, Orson Hyde and George Q. Cannon. Reflective accounts in general should be given a certain degree of skepticism before they are regarded as accurate.[8] There are times when the event the person recalls is simply something they wish they would have experienced or an experience that is later embellished.[9]
Of interest are the later accounts of Wilford Woodruff. In two later accounts Woodruff mentions that Brigham Young looked and sounded like Joseph. Both of these later two reflective accounts differ from Woodruff’s journal and letter in the millennial star. They differ inasmuch as in the later two accounts, Woodruff mentions much more than that the mantle of Joseph simply fell on Brigham.[10] [11]The documents are authentic. The historicity of the documents however is questionable.[12].  Despite this the chances that Woodruff is being duplicitous are slight. Woodruff kept detailed journals for most of his life recording the things that happened, and it would be unlikely he would pervert his own history with fabricating another man’s deeds. Other than feeling that it was the right time to share his experience, there is no evidence to suggest why his later accounts expand what happened that day.
George Q. Cannon, a lad of seventeen at the time, later recalled that he heard the voice of Joseph Smith in Brigham Young and that the people assembled also saw Brigham appear to be like Joseph.  Cannon records a feeling of gloom felt by most of the people in the congregation before the manifestation took place. After the transfiguration the congregation knew who was to lead them and felt joy in their hearts. No evidence exists that he was trying to lead people astray, but as to the reliability of the account, there is the problem that the congregation did not choose Brigham then as the prophet or president of the Church. The congregation did sustain the quorum of the twelve however.[13]
Benjamin Franklin Johnson’s account is a testimony more than anything else. His handwriting was easy to read but his spelling of some words was not standardized which made it hard to figure out what he was writing. While this does not totally discredit the recollection by any means, there is the doubt that lingers that perhaps he is simply wishing that he had seen what others had. Or that the spiritual feeling he received concerning Brigham was something more than it was. Many of the Nauvoo Saints later recalled the transfiguration and Benjamin perhaps wanted to join in that happy group. [14][15]
Orson Hyde also bears witness years after the fact that he recalls the events in Nauvoo and that Brigham not only spoke and looked liked Joseph, but that he also mimicked his hand gestures and Joseph’s stature which was quite different than that of Brigham. There are no perceivable doubts as to the authenticity of the document from which Hyde’s comment’s were taken. The reliability of Hyde’s remarks like others, who followed Brigham, can only be questioned as supporting the person he choose to follow.[16]
There are many other reflective accounts that bare similarities to each other. This large number of witnesses cannot be rejected out of hand. In a court of law the testimony of witnesses no matter how long after the fact, bears weight. In a court of law having three or four witnesses who bare similar testimony years after the fact would be noteworthy, but to have over a hundred recorded witnesses’ bear the same testimony of what happened simply cannot be ignored.[17] While the reflective accounts taken individually may be criticized, taken as a whole, they cannot be rejected. [18]
Secondary sources regarding the day of 8 August 1844 regard the event in one of two ways. One conclusion is that no miracle occurred because of the lack of contemporary primary accounts recording it. The second conclusion is that the event was too sacred and many people did not feel free to talk or write about it until much later. This second view also notes the abundance of primary reflective accounts as witness that something did happen.
The most well articulated of the secondary accounts presented was that of Lynne Jorgensen. “The Mantle of the Prophet Joseph Passes to Brother Brigham: A collective Spiritual Witness,” contained a plethora of sources describing what transpired on that day. Jorgensen provides the reader with over a hundred and twenty different accounts of what transpired on that day. He briefly summarizes a few of the accounts but lists all of the others in an appendix. This is an invaluable asset to anyone making a study of the transfiguration of Brigham Young. It allows the reader to judge for himself the accounts of those who testified to what happened. Jorgensen also provides in depth footnotes that allow the reader to further research the documents on their own.
Richard S. Van Wagoner took the position that Brigham merely mimicked Joseph and later forced people to testify that a miracle had occurred. Van Wagoner concludes that the transfiguration account as understood by most Latter-Day Saints is nothing more than the effects of the propaganda of the Church put out in the nineteenth century. Van Wagoner also cites that the censorship and changes made to early Church documents throws the question of reliability into the fray.[19] Van Wagoner concludes that Brigham simply beat Sidney Rigdon in a bid to control the Church. He also concludes that the later recollections of hundreds of people was nothing more than a fable that became a faith promoting rumor that eventually became the accepted truth.

            It is interesting to note that Jorgensen and Van Wagoner both use many of the same document come

away with different perceptions.[20] In concluding what did happen that day the ends of that meeting should

be noted. Brigham spoke that the Saints and the Church should be under the guidance of the quorum of the

twelve. The congregation in attendance almost unanimously affirmed that the Church should be led by the

quorum of the twelve. This is nothing short of a miracle since the general body of the Church had no idea

what Joseph had truly said regarding who was to lead following his death.



[1] There were eight possible answers concerning who was to guide the church: 1) A member of the First Presidency, 2) a secrete appointment by Joseph of who would succeed him, 3) the Associate President, 4) the Patriarch of the Church, 5) The Council of Fifty, 6) The Quorum of the Twelve, 7) by three priesthood councils, and 8) by a blood descendent of Joseph. These eight methods of succession were listed by D. Michael Quinn, “The Mormon Succession Crisis of 1844,” Brigham Young University Studies 16 (Winter 1976) 187-233

[2] The diaries of Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Willard Richards, and Wilford Woodruff all made entries in their diaries on 8 Aug 1844 made no reference to Brigham sounding like Joseph or looking like him. They did make notes though of the comments made by the speakers or the results of the voting. This at first was a cause of concern, but when taken in the light that many people do not record or talk about sacred events that transpire. The author sought to find and read these records but did not have time.

[3] The handwriting and vocabulary used in all of the primary accounts whether, reflective or contemporary, suggest that they were written in the time period, and are authentic in that respect.

[4] “On the second day after our arrival August 8th, 1844, we met in a special conference, all the quorums, authorities, and members of the Church that could assemble in Nauvoo. They were addressed by elder Brigham Young, the president of the quorum of the twelve. It was evident to the Saints that the mantle of Joseph had fallen upon him, the road that he pointed out could be seen so plainly, that none need err therein; the spirit of wisdom and counsel attended all his teachings, he struck upon a chord, with which all hearts beat in unison.” Wilford Woodruff, "To the Officers and Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in the British Islands," Millennial Star 5 (February 1845): 138.

[5] “Now after the death of Br. Joseph & Hyrum, Sidney Rigdon having A mision appointed him by Joseph to Pittsburg before his death. Now after his death Sidney came in all the hast in him to Nauvoo from Pittsburg to claime the presidency of the church, him not knowing that Joseph Sent him out of the way to get rd of him. Now when he returned to Nauvoo he called all the people to gether to choos them a guardian, as he Expressed himself. Now, Said he, the Church is 14 years old and it was the duty of the church to choose a guardien & preached there for Two days on that subject of guardinism & the Lords way was not as man’s ways, But as the heavens are hier than the earth So are the Lords ways above mans ways, etc. Just about the time that the Vote was to be taken for him to be president & guardien, But as the Lord would have the Twelve to come home & I felt to praise God to See Bro Brigham Young walk upon the stand then. Positive Revelations of Rigdon’s ware only guess So, & he thinks So & hoap so, while the lord had told him how to proseed before according to his one [own] mouth & after wards ony Suposed them so. Now when President Young arose to address the congregation his Voice was the Voice of Bro. Joseph and his face appeared as Joseph’s face, & Should I not have seen his face but herd his Voice I Should have declared that it was Joseph.” George Laub, George Laub’s Journal, 1845-46, holograph, 90-91, microfilm, LDS Archives, Salt Lake City

[6] “I went to meeting in the afternoon, Thanks be to Him who reigns on high, the majority of the Twelve are here Brigham Young spoke and the Church voted that the 12 should act in the office of there calling next to Joseph or the three first presidents. Never can it be told in words what the saints suffered in those days of trial; but the sweet spirit—the comforter—did not forsake them; and when the twelve returned, the mantle of Joseph fell upon Brigham. When I approached the stand (on the occasion when Sidney Rigdon was striving for the guardianship of the Church), President Young was speaking. It was the voice of Joseph Smith—not that of Brigham Young. His very person was changed. The mantle was truly given to another. There was no doubting this in the minds of that vast assembly. All witnessed the transfiguration, and even to-day thousands bear testimony thereof. I closed my eyes. I could have exclaimed, I know that is Joseph Smith’s voice! Yet I knew he had gone. But the same spirit was with the people; the comforter remained.” Zina Diantha Huntington Young, Diaries 1844-1845, August 8, 1844, holograph, LDS Church Archives, Salt Lake City

[7] “We were summoned over the river again and went to hear what was wanted. Brigham Young then President of the twelve had returned home. The people were convened in the Old Bowry where Joseph had last spoken to the people. Sydney Rigdon made a speech and claimed to have authority to lead the Church others had similar claims. None appeared reasonable to me. The last one arose. It was the then, President of the twelve Brigham Young. He spoke to the people altogether in a different style from any of those, who had preceeded him. A crowd of witnessses arose after B. Y. had sat down and testified to the truth of what he had said. President B. Y. arose from his seat the second time and addressed the audience. I had been well acquainted with Joseph the latter part of his life. We had been at his home many times and Joseph, Hiram and families felt at home with us. [Emily writes of events leading to martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum.] ... But the God of Heaven who had said it was his business to provide for his saints, sent President B. Young home just in time, and clothed him not with "the mantle of Elijah," but the spirit and power which had rested on Joseph. I was an eye, and ear, witness. The manner of reasoning, the expression of the countenance, the sound of the voice thrilled my whole soul. My own eyes had beheld Joseph’s murdered body. My own hands, had felt death’s icy coldness on his once noble forehead. I knew that Joseph was dead. And yet I often startled and involuntarily looked at the stand to see if it was not Joseph. It was not, it was Brigham Young and if any one doubts the right of Brigham to manage affairs for the Saints, all I have to say to them is this. Get the spirit of God and know for yourselves. The Lord will provide for his own. Has the word of the Lord ever failed. Br Young will not live forever clothed with mortality. But He who rules in heaven and on earth will control all things by the counsel of his own will. Saints will live.” Emily Smith Hoyt, Reminiscenses and Diaries 1851-1893, holograph, 20-21, microfilm, LDS Church Archives, Salt Lake City

[8] There are some who would argue that the reflective accounts of the transfiguration of Brigham Young were nothing but a hoax. The people who bore testimony simply were acting on the orders of Brigham to promote this myth. Sidney Rigdon commented on this fact in a letter to Brigham on 6 Dec 1870. The author does not believe god fearing men and women would be willing to swear an affidavit to the truth of the transfiguration if it was merely brother Brigham forcing them to tell about a faith promoting rumor of his own devising. Furthermore these people did more than say that this happened they bore the truth of the transfiguration with their lives. They followed Brigham Young across the prairie. They spent the rest of their lives living their testimonies.

[9] This embellishment is much the same way that a fisherman’s fish gets bigger with each telling of the story or that the fisherman caught more fish each time he recollects the story.

[10] “I know this work is of God. I know Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. I have heard two or three of the brethren testify about Brother Young in Nauvoo. Every man and every woman in that assembly, which perhaps might number thousands, could bear the same testimony. I was there, the Twelve were there, and a good many others, and all can bear the same testimony. The question might be asked why the appearance of Joseph Smith given to Brigham Young was. Because here was Sidney Rigdon and other men rising up and claiming to be the leaders of the Church; and men stood, as it were, on a pivot, not knowing which way to turn. But just as quick as Brigham Young rose in that assembly, his face was that of Joseph Smith—the mantle of Joseph had fallen upon him, the power of God that was upon Joseph Smith was upon him; he had the voice of Joseph, and it was the voice of the shepherd. There was not a person in that assembly, Rigdon, himself, not excepted, but was satisfied in his own mind that Brigham was the proper leader of the people, for he would not have his name presented, by his own consent, after that sermon was delivered. There was a reason for this in the mind of God: it convinced the people. They saw and heard for themselves, and it was by the power of God” Wilford Woodruff, "Remarks," Deseret News, May 22, 1872

[11]“ I do not know if there is any one present here tonight but myself who was there at that conference. There are but few living who were present on that occasion... and when Brigham arose and commenced speaking, as has been said, if my eyes had not been so I could see, if I had not seen him with my own eyes, there is no one that could have convinced me that it was not Joseph Smith.” Wilford Woodruff, "Priesthood and the Right of Succession," Deseret News Semi-Weekly, March 15, 1892, 3

[12] They are questionable because there is concern why they were not evident in the earlier account.

[13] George Q. Cannon, Juvenile Instructor 5 (October 29, 1870): 174-75

[14] Benjamin is to be credited, in that he mentions that he did not share it out of concern regarding the sacredness of the event. He did not feel he should share it in public and did not until many others had done so.

[15] Benjamin F. Johnson to George S. Gibbs, 1903, LDS Church Archives, Salt Lake City

[16] Orson Hyde, "Remarks," Deseret News Semi-Weekly, November 16, 1869

[17] However the distance from the when the event occurred should be taken into consideration. Contemporary accounts are important because they are viewing the event metaphorically speaking from only a few feet away. Reflective accounts especially years later can be viewing the event from a hundred feet away or even thousands of feet away. With this distance opportunity exists for the event to be misremembered. Memories of eyewitnesses can over tine become contaminated, lost, destroyed or made to produce results that lead to incorrect conclusions. There is in the criminal justice system speculation that eyewitness accounts should be considered as evidence.

[18] It is noteworthy to also consider that there are no contemporary primary documents asserting that Jesus was the Christ. The accounts of all four gospels were written reflectively decades after the events transpired. This does in no way mean that Jesus was not the messiah. There were simply other things (like survival) going on that were more important than writing down what had transpired. Oral tradition was sufficient during that time.

[19] It is hard for the author to know with any certainty if the documents he was analyzing had been doctored or censored in anyway. There were no obvious marks in any of the documents that suggested that such a thing had happened.

[20] This leaves the researcher in a position to determine the truth of what happened. There are many differing accounts from both sides that use the same evidence in different ways to support their conclusions. To paraphrase the Apostle James, if you don’t know what to do or think ask God. God will give you the truth of what has happened. For the person who truly seeks to understand what happened on that August day there is nothing left to do but ask Deity what truly transpired.

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