Section 135 A Tribute to the Martyrs

Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual, (2002), 348–350


Historical Background

On Tuesday, 25 June 1844, Joseph and Hyrum Smith presented themselves to the authorities in Illinois to be arrested on a charge of treason. Governor Thomas Ford that morning assembled the state militia and told them that Joseph and Hyrum Smith were “dangerous men in the community, and guilty of all that they might have alleged against them, still they were in the hands of the law” (History of the Church, 6:563). John Taylor and Willard Richards, members of the Quorum of the Twelve, were allowed to stay with Joseph and Hyrum in Carthage Jail.

On Wednesday, 26 June, Governor Ford met with Joseph Smith and said that the armed mob had not been called up by him and that he would see that the prisoners were protected (see History of the Church, 6:577–78).

On Thursday, 27 June, Governor Ford went to Nauvoo, where he berated the Saints in a public speech and had his troops brandish their swords. The Governor and the troops left Nauvoo about 6:30 P.M.

At about 5:00 P.M., while the Governor and his troops were making their threatening show in Nauvoo, a mob rushed Carthage Jail. The mob was made up mainly of Carthage Greys, members of the local militia that was in charge of guarding the Prophet. (Many towns in the American West at that time had militias that could be called up by the civil authorities in times of emergency, like national guard or reserve units of the military today.) Hyrum Smith was struck by a bullet in the face, and by several other bullets, and fell to the floor, saying “I am a dead man!” John Taylor was shot in several places in his body and rolled under the bed. Joseph Smith was shot in the back from inside the jail and in the chest from outside. He fell dead out the window. (See History of the Church, 6:602–18.)

John Taylor and Willard Richards were eyewitnesses to the Martyrdom, and each wrote an account of the events. The account contained in Doctrine and Covenants 135 “was written by Elder John Taylor who offered his life with his beloved brethren in this tragedy in Carthage, Illinois. President Taylor was severely wounded and carried the balls with which he was wounded to his grave. His devotion and willingness and that of his companion, Willard Richards, bear a strong testimony of their conviction and integrity to the truth of the mission of the Prophet Joseph Smith.” (Smith and Sjodahl, Commentary, p. 855; see also History of the Church, 6:629–631; “Praise to the Man,” Hymns, no. 27.)

Notes and Commentary

D&C 135:1. Was It Necessary That Hyrum Seal His Testimony with His Blood?

President Joseph Fielding Smith, grandson of Hyrum Smith, explained:

“The Prophet Joseph Smith conferred upon Hyrum Smith all the keys, authority and gifts of the priesthood which he, the Prophet, held, and which were formerly held by Oliver Cowdery. The Lord also revealed to Hyrum Smith all that was necessary to make him completely and to the full degree, a witness with his brother Joseph, as a prophet, seer, revelator and president of the Church, and to stand through all time and eternity at the head of this dispensation with his brother Joseph, a witness for Jesus Christ.

“Thus, we see, Hyrum Smith became a president of the Church with Joseph Smith, which place Oliver Cowdery might have held had he not wavered and fallen from his exalted station. I am firmly of the opinion that had Oliver Cowdery remained true to his covenants and obligations as a witness with Joseph Smith, and retained his authority and place, he, and not Hyrum Smith, would have gone with Joseph Smith as a prisoner and to martyrdom at Carthage.

“The sealing of the testimony through the shedding of blood would not have been complete in the death of the Prophet Joseph Smith alone; it required the death of Hyrum Smith who jointly held the keys of this dispensation. It was needful that these martyrs seal their testimony with their blood, that they ‘might be honored and the wicked might be condemned.’” (Doctrines of Salvation, 1:218–19; see also D&C 136:39; Hebrews 9:16–17).

death masks of Joseph and Hyrum Smith

The death masks of Joseph Smith (left) and his brother Hyrum (right)

D&C 135:2. Why Did Willard Richards Escape Injury?

“Dr. Richards’ escape was miraculous; he being a very large man, and in the midst of a shower of balls, yet he stood unscathed, with the exception of a ball which grazed the tip end of the lower part of his left ear. His escape fulfilled literally a prophecy which Joseph made over a year previously, that the time would come that the balls would fly around him like hail, and he should see his friends fall on the right and on the left, but that there should not be a hole in his garment.” (History of the Church, 6:619.)

D&C 135:3. Joseph Smith Has Done More for the Salvation of Men Than Anyone Other Than Jesus

This bold statement has caused some critics of the Church to say that the Saints think more of Joseph Smith than they do of the Savior. Such critics ignore the fact that the Saints look to the Prophet with reverence because of what he did for their understanding of Jesus Christ and His mission.

When one thinks about such prophets and leaders as Adam, Moses, Isaiah, Abraham, and Nephi, is it justifiable to say that Joseph Smith did more than any of these for the salvation of humanity? Likely the Prophet Joseph Smith was not greater than they were in righteousness or commitment, but only Jesus has done more for the salvation of God’s children than did the Prophet, as is evident in the following list of some of the things he did under the direction of the Lord:

He taught correct concepts about the nature of the Father and Son.

He translated and published the Book of Mormon by the power of God.

He was the means by which the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods were restored.

He organized the Church of Jesus Christ again on the earth under the direction of the Savior.

He revealed the true meaning of Zion, its location in the last days, and the laws by which it shall be governed.

He received over a hundred revelations and published them in the Doctrine and Covenants.

He worked on a translation of the Bible, restoring lost scripture and correcting erroneous translations.

He established settlements of the Saints, teaching them principles of social order, city planning, economics, and so on, in addition to teaching them spiritual principles.

He restored the keys and knowledge of temple ordinances for both the living and the dead.

He received keys of restoration from Moses, Elias, and Elijah.

He started a missionary program that has involved tens of thousands of missionaries and resulted in millions of converts in countries all over the world.

He translated by inspiration of God papyri from Egypt, containing some of the writings of Abraham.

The Lord revealed through the Prophet Joseph Smith many principles and concepts of the gospel which had been lost or corrupted over the centuries. The Prophet Joseph Smith then:

Explained man’s relationship to God.

Explained the differences between the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods.

Explained the different offices of the priesthood, the duties of each, and the manner in which they are organized.

Set forth the proper organization, name, and purpose of the Church of Jesus Christ.

Taught that our life on earth is a probation, a time to work out our individual salvation.

Received a revelation of the three degrees of glory and what we must do to prepare to live once again with God.

Explained the nature and order of the Resurrection.

Showed how saving ordinances can be performed vicariously for those who did not receive them in mortality.

Set forth the principles on which Zion will be built, the nature of the Millennium, and the kingdom of God and how it will eventually be established on earth.

Added to our knowledge of the Apostasy and why it came.

Pointed out the fulfillment of various prophecies.

Announced the coming of Elijah, and explained his mission.

Taught that marriage is intended to be eternal and that the family unit continues beyond the grave.

Served as an example of the role of a living prophet.

Restored the principle of priesthood administration to the sick.

Built temples and revealed temple ordinances for the living and the dead.

Brought forth the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the writings in the Pearl of Great Price.

Set down the duties of Church members and the laws by which the Church is governed.

Taught the doctrine of common consent.

Explained the role of Satan in the gospel plan.

Gave the Saints the Lord’s principles by which we can avoid being deceived in this life.

Taught the true nature of the Atonement of Christ and its relationship to the principles of justice and mercy.

Explained the meaning of the sacrament.

Explained the nature of spiritual gifts and the role of the Holy Ghost.

Clarified the role of women in the kingdom of God.

Received the revelation of the oath and covenant of the priesthood.

Emphasized the necessity of missionary work in the Lord’s plan.

Received the Word of Wisdom.

Instituted the law of tithing, the law of consecration, and the law of sacrifice and obedience.

All of these accomplishments were done under the direction of Jesus Christ and ultimately the credit belongs to Him. But Joseph Smith was His chosen instrument in bringing all these things to pass. This is why we can rightly say that the Prophet did more for the salvation of humanity than anyone except the Savior Himself.

D&C 135:3. In What Way Does the Book of Mormon Contain the Fulness of the Everlasting Gospel?

See Notes and Commentary for Doctrine and Covenants 20:9.

D&C 135:5. What Is a Testator? Why Is Death Required to Put a Testament in Force?

A testator is one who leaves a will or testament. The will is valid only after the testator’s death. While the testator lives, the will has no legal power. In the gospel context a testator is someone who provides to mankind a witness of God’s covenants. The Prophet Joseph Smith’s testament was that God had revealed through him the sealing power by which “all covenants, contracts, bonds, obligations, oaths, vows, performances, connections, associations,” shall be in force and recognized as valid in the eternal worlds (D&C 132:7). The death of the testator places a seal of truth on the testament.

The Lord revealed to President Brigham Young that it was necessary for the Prophet to seal his testimony with his blood (see D&C 136:39). Elder Joseph Fielding Smith taught: “The shedding of their blood also bound that testimony upon an unbelieving world and this testimony will stand at the judgment seat as a witness against all men who have rejected their words of eternal life” (“The Martyrs,” Improvement Era, June 1944, p. 365).

Hyrum and Joseph Smith

“In death they were not separated” (D&C 135:3).