Succession in the Presidency

Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Student Study Guide, (2005), 158


When the Prophet Joseph Smith was martyred, many members wondered about the destiny of the Church. Who would succeed the Prophet and lead the Church? President Spencer W. Kimball explained: “When the first succession took place, the restored church was an infant only 14 years old. There had been no prophet nor ‘open vision’ for numerous centuries. Little wonder, then, that the people should be full of questions when the bullets at Carthage terminated the life of the one in whom all these priceless blessings—the church, revelation, prophets—med to be centered. When the apostles returned from their missions, had buried their dead prophet, and considered the future, all doubt was dissipated when the senior apostle, already holding all the keys, stood forth like Moses and led the way” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1970, 119).

Succession in the Presidency

1. “When the Prophet Joseph and Hyrum Smith were murdered in Carthage Jail, many of the Quorum of the Twelve and other Church leaders were serving missions and were absent from Nauvoo. Several days passed before these men learned of the deaths. When Brigham Young heard the news, he knew that the keys of priesthood leadership were still with the Church, for these keys had been given to the Quorum of the Twelve. However, not all Church members understood who would replace Joseph Smith as the Lord’s prophet, r, and revelator.

2. “Sidney Rigdon, First Counselor in the First Presidency, arrived from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on 3 August 1844. In the year before this time, he had begun taking a course contrary to the counsel of the Prophet Joseph Smith and had become estranged from the Church. He refused to meet with the three members of the Twelve already in Nauvoo and instead spoke to a large group of the Saints assembled for their Sunday worship service. He told them of a vision he had received in which he had learned that no one could replace Joseph Smith. He said that a guardian to the Church should be appointed and that guardian should be Sidney Rigdon. Few Saints supported him.

3. “Brigham Young, President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, did not return to Nauvoo until 6 August 1844. He declared that he wanted only to know ‘what God says’ about who should lead the Church [inHistory of the Church,7:230]. The Twelve called a meeting for Thursday, 8 August 1844. Sidney Rigdon spoke in the morning session for more than one hour. He won few if any adherents to his position.

Brigham seen as Joseph

4. “Brigham Young then spoke briefly, comforting the hearts of the Saints. As Brigham spoke, George Q. Cannon remembered, ‘it was the voice of Joseph himself,’ and ‘it med in the eyes of the people as if it were the very person of Joseph which stood before them.’ William C. Staines testified that Brigham Young spoke like the voice of the Prophet Joseph. ‘I thought it was he,’ Staines said, ‘and so did thousands who heard it.’ Wilford Woodruff also recalled that wonderful moment and wrote, ‘If I had not n him with my own eyes, there is no one that could have convinced me that it was not Joseph Smith, and anyone can testify to this who was acquainted with these two men.’ [Quotations inHistory of the Church7:236.] This miraculous manifestation, n by many, made clear to the Saints that the Lord had chosen Brigham Young to succeed Joseph Smith as leader of the Church.

5. “In the afternoon session, Brigham Young again spoke, testifying that the Prophet Joseph had ordained the Apostles to hold the keys of the kingdom of God in all the world. He prophesied that those who did not follow the Twelve would not prosper and that only the Apostles would be victorious in building up the kingdom of God.

Brigham Young

6. “Following his talk, President Young asked Sidney Rigdon to talk, but he chose not to. Following remarks by William W. Phelps and Parley P. Pratt, Brigham Young spoke again. He talked of completing the Nauvoo Temple, obtaining the endowment before going into the wilderness, and the importance of the scriptures. He spoke of his love for Joseph Smith and his affection for the Prophet’s family. The Saints then voted unanimously in favor of the Twelve Apostles as leaders of the Church.

7. “While a few others would claim a right to the Presidency of the Church, for most Latter-day Saints the succession crisis was over. Brigham Young, the senior Apostle and President of the Quorum of the Twelve, was the man God had chosen to lead his people, and the people had united to sustain him” (Our Heritage,66–67).

Understanding the Reading

Succession in the Presidency

r(paragraph 1)One who can know of things past, present, and future (Mosiah 8:13–17) 
Estranged(par. 2)Alienated, separated 
Guardian(par. 2)One who guards, protects, or preserves 
Adherents(par. 3)Supporters 
Endowment(par. 6)Ordinances and covenants administered in the temple 

Studying the Reading

Do activity A as you study “Succession in the Presidency.”

Activity A iconThen and Now

  1. 1.

    Review the account of Brigham Young being chosen to lead the Church. In your notebook, write a brief journal entry as if you were there, seated on the front row.

  2. 2.

    Explain what it means to you to know that this church really is the Church of Jesus Christ and that He is the one who chooses the prophet to guide His Church.