President John Taylor: Champion of Liberty

Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Student Study Guide, (2005), 173

The Saints faced much difficulty in the decades immediately following the death of President Brigham Young. The United States government, with the encouragement and support of many political and religious reform groups, passed laws against the practice of plural marriage. These laws began to be enforced in 1875 as reform groups launched harsh media campaigns against the Church. In spite of intense persecution by government authorities, the Church, under the capable leadership of President John Taylor, continued to grow and expand.

His Life (1808–87)


Born on November 1 at Milnthorpe, England, to James and Agnes Taylor


Age 24, married Leonora Cannon on January 28; she died in 1868


Age 27, baptized with Leonora on May 9 in Black Creek at Georgetown, Ontario, Canada


Age 30, ordained an Apostle on December 19 by Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball


Age 31–32, served a mission to England


Age 35, seriously wounded in Carthage Jail when the Prophet Joseph Smith and Hyrum Smith were killed on June 27


Age 37–38, served a second mission to England


Age 40–43, served a mission to France and Germany; had the Book of Mormon published in French and German


Age 45–48, presided over the Eastern States Mission


Age 68, led the Church as President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles after President Brigham Young’s death on August 29


Age 71, sustained as President of the Church on October 10, with Elders George Q. Cannon and Joseph F. Smith as counselors


Age 78, died July 25 in Kaysville, Utah

His Presidency (1877–87)



The Primary was organized


The Pearl of Great Price was accepted as scripture


Dedicated the temple in Logan, Utah


More Church members were sent to live in Mexico and Canada

About President John Taylor

1. “After President Brigham Young died, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, presided over by John Taylor, led the Latter-day Saints for three years. On 10 October 1880, John Taylor was sustained as President of the Church. President Taylor was a gifted writer and journalist who published a book on the Atonement and edited some of the Church’s most important periodicals, including theTimes and Seasonsand theMormon. On many occasions he displayed his courage and his deep devotion to the restored gospel, including voluntarily joining his brethren in Carthage Jail, where he was shot four times. His personal motto, ‘The kingdom of God or nothing,’ signified his loyalty to God and the Church” (Our Heritage,93).

Understanding the Reading

About President John Taylor

Periodicals(par. 1)Magazines 
Signified(par. 1)Showed 

Missionary Work

John Taylor

2. “President Taylor was committed to doing all he could to that the gospel was proclaimed to the ends of the earth. In the October 1879 general conference, he called Moses Thatcher, the Church’s newest Apostle, to begin proselyting in Mexico City, Mexico. Elder Thatcher and two other missionaries organized the first branch of the Church in Mexico City on 13 November 1879, with Dr. Plotino C. Rhodacanaty as the branch president. Dr. Rhodacanaty had been converted after reading a Spanish Book of Mormon pamphlet and writing to President Taylor for additional information about the Church.

3. “With a nucleus of twelve members and three missionaries, the restored gospel began to spread slowly among the Mexican people. On 6 April 1881, Elder Thatcher, Feramorz Young, and a Brother [Páez] hiked to a height of 15,500 feet on Mount Popocatepetl and held a brief dedication service. Kneeling before the Lord, Elder Thatcher dedicated the land of Mexico and its people that they might hear the voice of the Lord, their true shepherd.

4. “Elder Thatcher returned to Salt Lake City and recommended that additional missionaries be called to serve in Mexico. Soon several young men, including Anthony W. Ivins, a future member of the First Presidency, were laboring in Mexico City. As part of the Church’s effort in the Mexican Mission, a Spanish language edition of the Book of Mormon was published in 1886. The story of Meliton Trejo, who helped to translate the Book of Mormon and other Church literature into Spanish, demonstrates how the Lord directs his work.

5. “Meliton Trejo was born in Spain and grew up without settling on any religion. He was serving in the military in the Philippines when he heard a remark about the Mormons in the Rocky Mountains and felt a strong desire to visit them. Later he became very ill and was told in a dream that he must visit Utah. When he recovered, he journeyed to Salt Lake City. He met Brigham Young and investigated the gospel. He became convinced that he had found the truth and became a member of the Church. He served a mission in Mexico and was then prepared, spiritually and intellectually, to play a major role in ing that Spanish-speaking people could read the Book of Mormon in their own language.

Indian Baptisms

6. “President Taylor also called missionaries to carry the gospel to the Indians living in the American West. Amos Wright’s labors were particularly fruitful among the Shoshone tribe residing on Wyoming’s Wind River Reservation. After having served for only a few months, Wright had baptized more than 300 Indians, including Chief Washakie. Latter-day Saint missionaries also carried the gospel to the Navajos, the Pueblos, and the Zunis living in Arizona and New Mexico. Wilford Woodruff spent a year proselyting among the Indians, including the Hopis, Apaches, and Zunis. Ammon M. Tenney assisted in baptizing more than 100 Zuni Indians.

7. “Missionaries also continued to teach the gospel in England and Europe. In 1883, German-born Thomas Biesinger, who was living in Lehi, Utah, received a call to serve in the European mission. He and Paul Hammer were sent to Prague, Czechoslovakia, then part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. The missionaries were forbidden by law to proselyte and so initiated casual conversations with people they met. These conversations often turned to the subject of religion. After working in this way for only a month, Elder Biesinger was arrested and held in prison for two months. When he gained his freedom, he had the blessing of baptizing Antonín Just, whose accusation had led to his arrest. Brother Just became the first Latter-day Saint residing in Czechoslovakia. [ Kahlile Mehr, “Enduring Believers: Czechoslovakia and the LDS Church, 1884–1990,”Journal of Mormon History(Fall 1992), 112–13.]

8. “The gospel was also preached in Polynesia. Two Hawaiians, Elders Kimo Pelio and Samuela Manoa, were sent to Samoa in 1862. They baptized about 50 people, and Elder Manoa continued to live in Samoa with his converts for the next 25 years. In 1887 Joseph H. Dean of Salt Lake City, Utah, received a call to serve a mission in Samoa. Elder Manoa and his faithful wife opened their home to Elder Dean and his wife, Florence, the first Latter-day Saints from outside Samoa they had n in more than two decades. Elder Dean soon baptized 14 people into the Church and about a month later delivered his first sermon in the Samoan language. [ R. Lanier Britsch,Unto the Islands of the Sea: A History of the Latter-day Saints in the Pacific(1986), 352–54.] Thus missionary work began anew on the island.

9. “Beginning in 1866, to prevent the spread of leprosy, Hawaiian officials took people suffering from the disease to the Kalaupapa Peninsula on the island of Molokai. In 1873 Jonathan and Kitty Napela, who were Latter-day Saints, were banished there. Only Kitty had the disease, but Jonathan, who had been sealed to her in the Salt Lake Endowment House, would not leave her there alone. Jonathan later contracted the disease, and when he was visited nine years later by a good friend, was hardly recognizable. For some time he presided over the Saints on the peninsula, who by the year 1900 numbered more than 200. Church leaders did not forget the faithful members who suffered from this debilitating disease and frequently visited the branch to care for their spiritual needs. [ Lee G. Cantwell, “The Separating Sickness,”This People(Summer 1995), 58.]” (Our Heritage,93–96).

Understanding the Reading

Missionary Work

Proselyting(par. 2)Doing missionary work 
Nucleus(par. 3)Central part about which other parts are grouped, the core 
Initiated(par. 7)Started 
Accusation(par. 7)Charges of wrongdoing 
Leprosy(par. 9)A serious skin disease 
Banished(par. 9)Driven or forced away 
Debilitating(par. 9)Crippling 

The Jubilee Conference

10. “On 6 April 1880, Church members celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the organization of the Church. They called it a Jubilee Year, as the ancient Israelites had named every fiftieth year. President Taylor forgave many of the debts owed to the Church by its needy members. The Church also contributed 300 cows and 2,000 sheep to be distributed among its ‘deserving poor.’ [ Roberts,Comprehensive History of the Church,5:592.] The Church’s Relief Society sisters donated almost 35,000 bushels of wheat to those in need. President Taylor also urged Church members to forgive individual debt, especially among the distressed. ‘It is the time of Jubilee!’ he declared [Roberts,Comprehensive History of the Church,5:593]. A spirit of forgiveness and joy was strongly felt among the Latter-day Saints.

Orson Pratt

11. “The last day of the April 1880 Jubilee general conference was very moving. Eleven of the Twelve Apostles bore their testimonies in the concluding session. Orson Pratt, one of the original members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, spoke about the time when the entire Church had met in the Peter Whitmer Sr. home in Fayette, New York. He recalled the trials, the gatherings, the persecutions, and the afflictions of the Latter-day Saints and felt thankful that he was still ‘numbered with this people.’ Then he bore testimony ‘concerning the great work which the Lord our God has been doing during the last fifty years’ [Roberts,Comprehensive History of the Church,5:590-91]. Elder Pratt had only a few months left to live and felt joyful that he had endured to the end as a faithful Latter-day Saint.

12. “Two years before the Jubilee celebration, President John Taylor had authorized the establishment of an organization to provide religious instruction to children. The first Primary was begun in Farmington, Utah, about 15 miles north of Salt Lake City, and by the mid-1880s, a Primary had been organized in almost all Latter-day Saint settlements. The Primary has grown to include millions of children throughout the world, who are blessed by the gospel instruction, music, and associations they enjoy each week” (Our Heritage,96).

Understanding the Reading

The Jubilee Conference

Moving(par. 11)Emotionally powerful 
Associations(par. 12)Friendships 

Persecution Continues

13. “While working on the translation of the Bible in the early 1830s, the Prophet Joseph Smith became troubled by the fact that Abraham, Jacob, David, and other Old Testament leaders had more than one wife. The Prophet prayed for understanding and learned that at certain times, for specific purposes, following divinely given laws, plural marriage was approved and directedby God. Joseph Smith also learned that with divine approval, some Latter-day Saints would soon be chosen by priesthood authority to marry more than one wife. A number of Latter-day Saints practiced plural marriage in Nauvoo, but a public announcement of this doctrine and practice was not made until the August 1852 general conference in Salt Lake City. At that conference, Elder Orson Pratt, as directed by President Brigham Young, announced that the practice of a man having more than one wife was part of the Lord’s restitution of all things (Acts 3:19–21).

14. “Many of America’s religious and political leaders became very angry when they learned that Latter-day Saints living in Utah were encouraging a marriage system that they considered immoral and unchristian. A great political crusade was launched against the Church and its members. The United States Congress passed legislation that curbed the freedom of the Latter-day Saints and hurt the Church economically. This legislation ultimately caused officers to arrest and imprison men who had more than one wife and to deny them the right to vote, the right to privacy in their homes, and the enjoyment of other civil liberties. Hundreds of faithful Latter-day Saint men and a few women served time in prisons located in Utah, Idaho, Arizona, Nebraska, Michigan, and South Dakota.

15. “Persecution also became intense for many who accepted callings to preach the gospel, especially in the southern United States. For example, in July 1878 Elder Joseph Standing was brutally murdered while laboring near Rome, Georgia. His companion, the future Apostle Rudger Clawson, only narrowly escaped death. The Saints in Salt Lake City were very affected by the news of Elder Standing’s murder, and thousands of people attended his funeral in the Salt Lake Tabernacle.

16. “Elders John Gibbs, William Berry, William Jones, and Henry Thompson traveled throughout much of Tennes attempting to change the public’s perception of the Church. They rested one Sabbath morning in August 1884 at the James Condor home near Cane Creek in Tennes. As Elder Gibbs studied the scriptures looking for a text for his sermon, a mob burst through the forest and began shooting. Elders Gibbs and Berry were killed. Elder Gibbs, a schoolteacher, left a wife and three children mourning his death. Sister Gibbs remained a widow for 43 years and became a midwife to support her children. She died faithful in the gospel, anticipating a joyful reunion with her husband. Brigham Henry Roberts, the acting mission president at the time of the murders, risked his life by going in disguise to exhume the bodies of Gibbs and Berry. He returned the bodies to Utah, where many wards held memorial services in honor of the two elders.

17. “Missionaries in other areas were beaten until blood ran down their backs, and many carried the scars of these whippings to their graves. It was not an easy time to be a member of the Church.

18. “Many Church leaders went into hiding to avoid arrest by federal officers searching for men with more than one wife. Families feared late-night intrusions by these officers. President George Q. Cannon, Lorenzo Snow, Rudger Clawson, Brigham Henry Roberts, George Reynolds, and many others were sent to prison, where they passed the time by writing books, teaching school, and composing letters to their families. President John Taylor was forced to live in exile in Kaysville, Utah, about 20 miles north of Salt Lake City, where he died on 25 July 1887. He was a man of faith and courage who devoted his life to his testimony of Jesus Christ and to the establishment of God’s kingdom on the earth” (Our Heritage,97–98).

Understanding the Reading

Persecution Continues

Restitution(par. 13)Restoration 
Crusade(par. 14)Campaign in support of a cause 
Legislation(par. 14)Laws 
Curbed(par. 14)Stopped 
Civil liberties(par. 14)Freedoms and fundamental rights granted by law 
Midwife(par. 16)A woman who helps women deliver their babies 
Exhume(par. 16)Remove from the grave 
Intrusions(par. 18)Illegal entries 
Exile(par. 18)Hiding 

The Teachings and Testimony of John Taylor

John Taylor

19. “Do you have prayers in your family? … And when you do, do you go through the operation like the guiding of a piece of machinery, or do you bow in meekness and with a sincere desire to k the blessing of God upon you and your household? That is the way that we ought to do, and cultivate a spirit of devotion and trust in God, dedicating ourselves to him, and king his blessings” (inJournal of Discourses,21:118).

20. “If you do not magnify your callings, God will hold you responsible for those whom you might have saved had you done your duty” (inJournal of Discourses,20:23).

21. “There are events in the future, and not very far ahead, that will require all our faith, all our energy, all our confidence, all our trust in God, to enable us to withstand the influences that will be brought to bear against us. … We cannot trust in our intelligence; we cannot trust in our wealth; … we must trust alone in the living God to guide us, to direct us, to lead us, to teach us and to instruct us” (quoted in Joseph Fielding Smith,Essentials in Church History,23rd ed. [1969], 479).

22. “There is nothing that makes things go so well among the saints of God as living their religion and keeping the commandments of God, and when they don’t do that, then things go awkward and cross and every other way; but the right way; but when they live their religion and keep the commandments, ‘their peace flows as a river, and their righteousness as the waves of the seas’” (inJournal of Discourses,26:71).

23. “If any man wishes to introduce peace into his family or among his friends, let him cultivate it in his own bosom; for sterling peace can only be had according to the legitimate rule and authority of heaven, and obedience to its laws” (The Gospel Kingdom: Selections from the Writings and Discourses of John Taylor,sel. G. Homer Durham [1943], 319).

24. “A man cannot speak aright unless he speaks under the inspiration of the Almighty; and then the people cannot hear aright, nor understand aright unless they have a portion of the same Spirit” (Gospel Kingdom,337–38).

25. In an April 1885 letter read in general conference, the First Presidency stated: “We solemnly testify to the Latter-day Saints and to the world, as we have done so often in the past, that God has established His Zion, and His work will roll forth, and that all those who fight against it will perish” (in James R. Clark, comp.,Messages of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,6 vols. [1965–75], 3:12).

26. “I feel an anxious desire to deliver this testimony. I feel the word of the Lord like fire in my bones and am desirous to have an opportunity of proclaiming to you those blessings that you are looking for, that you may rejoice with us in those glorious things which God has revealed for the salvation of the world in the last days” (in B. H. Roberts,The Life of John Taylor(1963), 78).

Understanding the Reading

The Teachings and Testimony of John Taylor

Operation(par. 19)Process 
Cultivate(par. 19)Develop 
Bosom(par. 23)Heart 
Sterling(par. 23)Pure, genuine 
Legitimate(par. 23)Legal, lawful 
Aright(par. 24)Correctly 

A Change in Reorganizing the First Presidency

When President Brigham Young died, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles led the Church under the direction of their quorum president, John Taylor. The First Presidency was reorganized and then sustained in general conference in October 1880.

First Presidency

When President Taylor died, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles again presided over the Church, with Wilford Woodruff as President of the Quorum. Two years later, during the April 1889 general conference, the First Presidency was reorganized, with Wilford Woodruff sustained as President of the Church.

Almost six years before President Woodruff died, he met privately with President Lorenzo Snow, the President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. “With much feeling and energy,” President Woodruff told President Snow: “I have an important request to make of you which I want you to fulfill. A few months ago while on a visit to St. George I came near dying. I have no lease of my life, and know not how soon I may be called away, and when I go I want you, Brother Snow, not to delay, but to organize the First Presidency.” President Woodruff wanted him to consider this as a revelation (“Memorandum in the Handwriting of President Lorenzo Snow,”Elders’ Journal,Dec 1, 1906, 110–11).

After President Woodruff’s death on September 2, 1898, as President Snow was walking through one of the temple hallways, the Savior appeared before him. He was told that he was to succeed President Woodruff. He was instructed “to go right ahead and reorganize the First Presidency of the Church at once and not wait as had been done after the death of the previous presidents” (in LeRoi C. Snow, “Remarkable Manifestation to Lorenzo Snow,”Church News,Apr. 2, 1938, 8). The day following President Woodruff’s funeral, the Apostles met and sustained Lorenzo Snow as President of the Church. To this day, new presidents of the Church are sustained within a short period after the death of the previous president.

Studying the Reading

Do activity A or B and activity C or D as you study “President John Taylor.”

Activity A iconWrite a News Report

From 1860 to 1900, political and religious groups in the United States persecuted the Saints and tried to destroy the Church. Despite these trials, missionary and temple work continued to progress. Based on your reading of “President John Taylor,” write a newspaper article describing the growth of the Church that occurred during his presidency. In your article, address the following questions:

  1. 1.

    In which countries of the world did the missionaries find new success?

  2. 2.

    What work was being done on temples at this time?

  3. 3.

    How many Church members do you predict there will be 40 years from now?

  4. 4.

    Why do you think people try to stop the work of the Lord from progressing?

Activity B iconReasons for Rejoicing

From what you learn in paragraphs 10–11, complete the following assignments:

  1. 1.

    Explain why President John Taylor called the year 1880 the “Jubilee Year.”

  2. 2.

    List the ways the Church had changed from 1830 to 1880.

  3. 3.

    List what the Church and the members did to show their happiness.

  4. 4.

    List at least two ways the Church has grown in your lifetime and explain why you feel to rejoice in the gospel.

Activity C iconThe Life and Presidency of John Taylor

  1. 1.

    StudyDoctrine and Covenants 118:1, 6;124:127–29;135heading, 1–2; 138:53–56. List what you learn about President Taylor from each of those passages.

  2. 2.

    From the information in the chart on President Taylor’s life and presidency (pp. 173–74) and paragraphs 1, 12, and 18, answer the following questions:

    1. a.

      How old was John Taylor when he was baptized? When he was wounded at Carthage Jail? When President Brigham Young died? When he died?

    2. b.

      What was his position in the Church when the Primary was organized?

    3. c.

      What two important events happened at the October 1880 general conference?

Activity D iconFollow His Example

For each of paragraphs 19–26, write something that a member of the Church might do today to apply the teachings and counsel of President John Taylor.