Succession crisis (Latter Day Saints)

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The succession crisis in the Latter Day Saint movement occurred after the murder of Joseph Smith, the movement's founder, on June 27, 1844.

For roughly six months after Smith's death, several people competed to take over his role, the leading contenders being Sidney Rigdon, Brigham Young, and James Strang.[1] The majority of the Latter Day Saint movement elected to follow Young's leadership, which eventually resulted in the establishment of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS Church), but several smaller Latter Day Saint churches emerged from the succession crisis. This significant event in early Latter Day Saint history precipitated several permanent schisms.


The Church of Christ was organized by a small group of men led by Joseph Smith on April 6, 1830. Between that time and Smith's murder in 1844, the administrative and ecclesiastical organization of the new church evolved from an egalitarian group of believers into an institution based on hierarchy of priesthood offices. This gradual change was driven by both the growth in church membership and the evolution of Smith's role as leader of the church.

Prior to the formal establishment of the Church of Christ, Smith held the title of "Prophet, Seer, and Revelator", a title unanimously supported by the other founding members of the church. However, as the church was "organized" rather than legally "incorporated", its property needed to be held in trust by a trustee; Smith became the church's Trustee-in-Trust.[2]

Initially, the highest leadership position in the Church of Christ was that of "elder", and church elders were sometimes called "apostles".[3] Smith's initial title in the church was "First Elder", while his friend and associate, Oliver Cowdery, was given the title "Second Elder".[4] In March 1832, Smith created a quorum of three presidents known as the First Presidency. He became president of the First Presidency, a title which became associated with the office of "President of the Church", with Sidney Rigdon and Jesse Gause serving as his counselors in the First Presidency.

On December 18, 1833, Smith created the office of "Patriarch over the Church" and ordained his father, Joseph Smith Sr., to fill the role. The "Presiding Patriarch", as the office came to be called, often presided over church meetings and was sometimes sustained at church conferences ahead of all other church officers.[5] Two months later, in Kirtland, Ohio, Smith created a High Council, a body consisting of twelve men, headed by the First Presidency. The High Council took on the role of chief judicial and legislative body of the church, handling such matters as excommunication trials and approval of all church spending.

Several months later, on July 3, 1834, the High Council of Zion was organized in Far West, Missouri.[6] This council is also known as the Presiding High Council, for it was designated to preside over the council established in Kirtland, as well as all future High Councils at the various Stakes of Zion.[7] Cases tried in the standing High Councils of outlying stakes were regularly appealed to the High Council of Zion, it being the penultimate court standing only second to the First Presidency. The Presiding High Council also provided clearance for ordinations in the standing High Councils at the Stakes of Zion.

On February 14, 1835, nearly one year after the High Council in Kirtland was organized, the Quorum of the Twelve, "or special witnesses of the name of Christ in all the world", was formed as a "Traveling Presiding High Council."[6][8] This council consisted of twelve men, called and ordained by the Three Witnesses of the Book of Mormon to the office of apostle, and appointed to oversee the missionary work of the church—meaning that their presiding role was outside of the Stakes of Zion. Thomas B. Marsh was set apart as their president. In practice, while both this group and the High Council in Zion were Presiding High Councils, their jurisdictions were divided with one as “standing” ministers over the Stakes of Zion, and the other “traveling” outside of the Stakes. Initially, the Quorum was subordinate to the High Council of Zion; for example, in 1838, when vacancies arose in the quorum, it was the Standing Presiding High Council at Far West that filled the vacancies.

When the High Council in Zion was dissolved after the church was expelled from Missouri, the headquarters of the church were moved to Nauvoo, Illinois, There, Smith formed a new Presiding High Council, led by William Marks, which supervised the High Councils of outlying stakes, under the direction of the First Presidency.

Latter Day Saint scripture finalized in 1835 indicated that the First Presidency, Quorum of the Twelve, and Standing Presiding High Council were equal in authority,[9] though remaining subordinate "under the direction of the Presidency of the Church."[10] This coequality would become a driving force for the succession of Marks to the presidency, as espoused by Smith's widow, Emma Hale Smith, as well as in modern times by historian D. Michael Quinn.[11]

The 1844 succession[edit]

At the time of his death, Smith thus held several roles: "Prophet, Seer, Revelator, and Translator", "President of the Church", "President of the First Presidency", and "Trustee-in-Trust" of the church. It was unclear if all of these offices should be held together by any one successor and it was less than explicit who such a successor should be. However, a revelation of Smith in the Doctrine and Covenants, written in 1831 and published in 1835, designates that "three Presiding High Priests ... form a quorum of the Presidency of the Church" and "the Twelve Apostles...form a quorum, equal in authority and power to the three presidents previously mentioned."

Theoretical successors[edit]

Following Smith's murder, it was not immediately clear to the Latter Day Saints who would lead the church going forward.

Hyrum Smith[edit]

Contemporary statements by church leaders indicate that had the prophet's brother, Hyrum Smith, survived, he would have been the successor. Hyrum had been ordained Assistant President and Presiding Patriarch of the church, and the successor of Oliver Cowdery, who had been excommunicated.[12][13] Hyrum, however, was killed in Carthage, Illinois, alongside Joseph. Regarding Hyrum, Brigham Young stated:

"Did Joseph Smith ordain any man to take his place. He did. Who was it? It was Hyrum, but Hyrum fell a martyr before Joseph did. If Hyrum had lived he would have acted for Joseph".[14]

Samuel Smith[edit]

Following the principle of lineal succession, Smith's younger brother, Samuel Harrison Smith, was the next potential candidate in line. Sometime between June 23 and June 27, 1844, Smith reportedly stated that "if he and Hyrum were taken away, Samuel H. Smith would be his successor".[15] However, Samuel died suddenly on July 30, 1844, just a month after Joseph and Hyrum were murdered.

William Smith[edit]

The last of Joseph Smith's surviving brothers, William Smith, initially claimed the right to succeed his brothers only as Presiding Patriarch. Much later, after breaking with several Latter Day Saint factions, he exercised his own claim to the presidency of the church, with little result. William alleged that Samuel was poisoned at the behest of Young.[16] Young, however, denied any involvement,[17] noting that he did not even know of Joseph's death for three or four weeks afterwards, some time after Samuel's.[17] No physical evidence exists that suggests that Samuel was the victim of foul play.[18][19]

Children of Joseph Smith[edit]

Smith also seemed to have given indications that one of his sons would succeed him. Several church leaders later stated that on August 27, 1834, and April 22, 1839, Smith indicated his eldest son, Joseph Smith III, would be his successor.[20] At the time of his father's death, Joseph Smith III was eleven years old. Similarly, in April 1844, the elder Smith had reportedly prophesied his unborn child would be a son who was to be named "David" and would "make his mark in the world".[21] In the 1980s, Mark Hofmann forged a copy of a patriarchal blessing given to Joseph Smith III, naming the young Joseph as Smith's successor. Although this document was a forgery, it was based on contemporary reports of such a blessing.[citation needed]

Oliver Cowdery[edit]

Cowdery had been the "Second Elder" of the church after Smith, and until the time of his excommunication held the keys of the dispensation with Joseph. In addition, he was with Smith at all the important events of the early church. Like Hyrum later, Joseph had ordained Cowdery as the Assistant President of the Church and had given him authority "to assist in presiding over the whole Church and to officiate in the absence of the President".[22] However, Cowdery was excommunicated on April 12, 1838.[23]

David Whitmer[edit]

David Whitmer had been ordained President of the High Council of Zion, and Joseph had blessed him on July 7, 1834, "to be a leader or a prophet to this Church, which (ordination) was on condition that he (J. Smith) did not live to God himself".[24] Upon forming the High Council, Smith stated "if he should be taken away that he had accomplished the great work which the Lord had laid before him, and that which he had desired of the Lord, and that he now had done his duty in organizing the High Council, through which Council the will of the Lord might be known".[25] Whitmer, however, separated from the church in June 1838.[26]

Successor Prior position in church Years Major Latter Day Saint movement denominations Current membership
Sidney Rigdon Senior surviving member of the First Presidency 1844–1847 Church of Jesus Christ (Bickertonite) 15,000
Brigham Young President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles 1844–1877 The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 16,805,400
James Strang Elder
Letter of Appointment
1844–1856 Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Strangite) <1,000
Granville Hedrick No ordination record available; likely Elder 1850s–1881 Church of Christ (Temple Lot) 12,000
Church of Christ with the Elijah Message 10,000
Alpheus Cutler Member of the Presiding High Council and Council of Fifty 1853 and 1864 Church of Jesus Christ (Cutlerite) <100
Joseph Smith III (1860) Direct descendant and blessing
Lineal Successor
1860–1914 Community of Christ, formerly the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS) 250,000
Years during which claimed successor led named denomination
Became Lineal successor after death of William Smith in 1894

Immediate successors[edit]

Smith's death left a number of important church leaders, councils, and quorums – many of which had overlapping and/or evolving functions – without guidance. The claims of each of these quorums came into play at some point after Smith's death.

The highest executive council in the church was the First Presidency, of which Rigdon as the last surviving members after the deaths of the Smith brothers. As early as April 19, 1834, Joseph Smith and Cowdery had "laid hands upon bro. Sidney [Rigdon] and confirmed upon him the blessings of wisdom and knowledge to preside over the Church in the absence of brother Joseph".[29][30] In the spring of 1844, Smith had begun running a third-party candidacy to be elected president of the United States. Rigdon was nominated as Smith's vice presidential running mate and had moved to Pennsylvania to establish legal residency there (the United States Constitution dictates that electors must vote for candidates for president and vice president from separate states). Upon receiving word of Smith's death, Rigdon claimed to receive a revelation calling him to succeed Smith as "guardian" of the church, and he hurriedly returned to Nauvoo to exercise his claim.

After the First Presidency, the (Presiding) Nauvoo High Council was the church's chief non-travelling legislative and judicial council. Originally, the Council outranked the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, at least at the organized stakes. Marks, president of the Nauvoo Stake, was also president of the High Council at the time of Smith's death. Emma Hale Smith urged Marks to succeed her late husband as President and Trustee-in-Trust of the church, and articulated her argument thusly: "Now as the Twelve have no power with regard to the government of the Church in the Stakes of Zion, but the High Council have all power, so it follows that on removal of the first President, the office would devolve upon the President of the High Council in Zion, as the first President always resides there, and that is the proper place for the quorum of which he is the head; thus there would be no schism or jarring. But the Twelve would attend to their duties in the world and not meddle with the government of the church at home[,] and the High Council in Zion and the first Presidency would attend to their business in the same place."[31] However, Marks supported the claims of Rigdon.

The Quorum of the Twelve were originally ordained to be traveling ministers and had been delegated leadership of outlying areas of the world in which no "stakes" — local congregations — were established. By revelation, the Twelve, as a body, had authority equal to the First Presidency, the Presiding High Council, and the Quorum of Seventy.[32] However, as stated by Smith at a May 2, 1835 conference, "the twelve apostles have no right to go into Zion or any of its stakes where there is a regular high council established, to regulate any matter pertaining thereto."[33] In later years, however, Smith had given the Twelve a greater role in governing the church, charging them with running the organization's "temporal business"[34] and elevating their role and status far beyond the what was established in the Doctrine and Covenants. In particular, at an August 16, 1841 conference, he stated that "the time had come when the twelve should be called upon to stand in their place next to the first presidency, and attend to the settling of emegrants [sic] and the business of the church at the stakes, and assist to bear off the kingdom victorious to the nations.”[35] Furthermore, Smith stated that "the twelve should be authorized to assist in managing the affairs of th[e] kingdom in this place [Nauvoo]", followed by the church membership sustaining the Twelve "in regulating and superintending the affairs <of the Church.>"[36] In other words, for the first time, the Twelve now took a leadership role within the organized stakes, "superintending the affairs of the church" as a whole, and standing "next to the first presidency." Beyond this, Smith admitted many of the Twelve to the Council of Fifty, his closest body of political advisers, and the Anointed Quorum, his closest body of theological advisers. Young, in particular, became one of Smith's closest confidants, and occasionally took charge during the 1840s in Smith's absence.

Another possibility for succession was the Council of Fifty, a group of trusted men, some of them non-Mormon, who campaigned for Smith's 1844 run for president, and sought the establishment of a theocratic government. Rigdon had moved to Pennsylvania in order to legally run as vice president. In a meeting of the Council of Fifty in the spring of 1844, Smith told those with him, “I roll the burthen [burden] and responsibility of leading this Church off from my shoulders on to yours ... Now, round up your shoulders and stand under it like men; for the Lord is going to let me rest a while”.[37] Benjamin F. Johnson, a member of the Fifty but not the Twelve, recalled that Smith rose and spoke "in the presence of the Quorum of the Twelve and others who were encircled about him."[38] According to Wilford Woodruff, Joseph "said that the Lord had now accepted his labors and sacrifices, and did not require him any longer to carry the responsibilities and burden and bearing off of this kingdom, and turning to those around him, including the 12, he said, 'And in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ I now place it upon you my brethren of the council (of 50) and I shake my skirts clear from all responsibility from this time forth.'"

Campaigning after the death of Joseph Smith[edit]

At the time of Smith's death, Rigdon, Young, and many other church leaders were out of the state on evangelical missions for the church. Rigdon returned to Nauvoo first (August 3) and the next day announced at a public meeting that he had received a revelation appointing him "Guardian of the Church." William Marks called for a conference on August 8 to decide the issue. When Young heard about Smith's death while serving a mission in Boston, his first reaction was to ask himself “whether Joseph had taken the keys of the kingdom with him from the earth,” but he immediately felt assured that the "keys of the kingdom" rested with the church.[39]

On August 6, Young and the rest of the Twelve returned to Nauvoo; the next day, they met with Rigdon, who repeated his claim to become the guardian of the Church. Young responded, "Joseph conferred upon our heads all the keys and powers belonging to the apostleship which he himself held before he was taken away".[40] So while historically the First Presidency has previously led the Church, Young proposed an ad hoc Presidency of the Church in the Quorum of Twelve.[41] Young tried diligently to persuade the people that he alone held the rights to lead the church. He even went so far as to ride through the streets on Smith's favorite horse, which was named Joe Duncan.[41]

Conference of August 8, 1844[edit]

At the conference on August 8, Rigdon spoke first to the assembled, asking the saints to confirm his role as "guardian." To back his claim, he cited his long relationship with Smith and the fact that he was the only surviving member of the First Presidency, arguing that Smith had sent him to Pennsylvania to prevent the entire presidency from being killed in the ongoing conflict. The move to Pennsylvania also occurred so Rigdon could be Smith's running mate for president, as the vice president cannot run from the same state.

After Rigdon spoke for ninety minutes, Young called for a recess of two and a half hours. When the conference resumed, Young spoke, emphasizing the idea that no man could ever replace Smith. However, he stated that the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles had all the "keys of the priesthood" that Smith had held. He answered Rigdon’s proposal to be named "guardian" by claiming that Rigdon and Smith had become estranged in recent years. Rather than a single guardian, Young proposed that the Quorum of the Twelve be named the church's leadership. Rigdon declined an offer to rebut Young, asking W. W. Phelps to speak for him. Instead, Phelps spoke in favor of Young's proposal. The assembled church members then voted by common consent on whether or not to accept the Twelve as the new leaders over the church. The majority voted in favor of the Twelve. Those who opposed the vote were all later excommunicated from the Nauvoo church.[41]

Many of Young's followers would later reminisce that while Young spoke he looked and sounded similar to Smith, which they attributed to the power of God.[42][43][44][45][46][47][48][49] Jorgensen establishes 101 written testimonies of people who say a transformation or spiritual manifestation occurred,[50] some of whom were not in Nauvoo at the time. The exact details vary from one account to the next. There is disagreement as to whether his clothes changed, his face changed, his voice changed, or whether he just seemed like Smith in mannerism. There is disagreement between the accounts as to whether Young started talking with Smith's voice or whether his voice changed during the speech. There is disagreement as to whether everyone saw the transformation, or whether only a few people saw it. There is also disagreement as to whether this change happened directly after Rigdon's morning speech, or whether it happened in the afternoon after the recess.[51]: 21–22 

The earliest reference, provided by Quinn, is the 15 November 1844 Henry and Catharine Brooke statement referring generally to Young bearing the greatest resemblance to Smith.[52] However, Jorgensen concedes, “why were none of the accounts that record the miracle written on the day of the manifestation or shortly thereafter? It is a question that unfortunately cannot be answered definitively."[53] Van Wagoner argues there are no known contemporary records of "an explicit transfiguration, a physical metamorphosis of Brigham Young into the form and voice of Joseph Smith" and that "[w]hen 8 August 1844 is stripped of emotional overlay, there is not a shred of irrefutable contemporary evidence to support the occurrence of a mystical event either in the morning or afternoon gatherings of that day."[51] Esplin, on the other hand, argues that "[t]hough there is no contemporary diary account, the number of later retellings, many in remarkable detail argues for the reality of some such experience."[54] Sidney Rigdon denied such a metamorphosis took place, and accused Young of lying about it.[51]: 23 

Latter Day Saint organization after the conference[edit]

With the support of the majority of adherents, Young assumed leadership of the church. He met with the Twelve and members of the Anointed Quorum on August 9; Bishops Newel K. Whitney and George Miller "were appointed to settle the affairs of the late Trustee-in-Trust, Joseph Smith, and be prepared to enter upon the duties as Trustees of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."[55]

Meanwhile, Rigdon did not abandon his claims and began organizing supporters in Nauvoo. The Twelve Apostles discovered that Rigdon was undermining their authority; on September 3, 1844, Rigdon claimed "he had power and authority above the Twelve Apostles and did not consider himself amenable to their counsel".[56] The Twelve then disfellowshipped Rigdon, on grounds of "Making a Division in the Church [by] ordaining Prophet, Priests & Kings contrary to the Say [way?] of God".[57] He was excommunicated in absentia by the Common Council of the Church on September 8.[58] Rigdon, claiming that Young's supporters had threatened his life, fled from Nauvoo and established a separate sect of the church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which excommunicated Young and most of the Twelve.

At the General Conference of October 6–7, 1844, the Quorum of the Twelve presided as the church's highest authority for the first time; Young was sustained as "the president of the quorum of the Twelve, as one of the Twelve and first presidency of the church." The saints did not sustain Marks as president of the Nauvoo Stake, sustaining John Smith in his place.[59]

At this conference, Young also addressed the issue of revelation. More specifically, did revelations cease with Smith's death, or, if not, who would receive and publish them? He indicated his own uncertainty concerning the subject, concluding, "Every member has the right of receiving revelations for themselves, both male and female." Then he elaborated: "If you don't know whose right it is to give revelations, I will tell you. It is I".[60]

Claims of James J. Strang[edit]

While these events were going on in Nauvoo, another successor of Smith began to exercise his claim in the church's outlying branches in Illinois, Michigan, Indiana and Wisconsin. Although he was a recent convert (baptized in February 1844), James J. Strang posed a strong, determined, and initially quite successful challenge to the claims of Young and Rigdon. Strang was an elder in the church, charged with establishing a stake in Wisconsin should the Latter Day Saints be forced to abandon their headquarters in Nauvoo. He possessed a letter, known as the Letter of Appointment, purportedly written by Smith the month of his death and appointing Strang to be Smith's successor as church president. Strang also claimed that at the moment of Smith's death, he was visited by angels who ordained him as Smith's successor.

Strang's claim appealed to many Latter Day Saints who had been attracted to the early church's doctrines of continuing revelation through the mouth of a living prophet. In the August 8, 1844, conference, Young had emphasized that no single man could replace Smith as prophet. Young subsequently used the Times and Seasons newspaper to announce to the church, "You no longer have a prophet, but you have apostles." Strang, by contrast, announced that there was, indeed, a new Mormon prophet to succeed Smith. Strang claimed to commune with angels and that he found and translated supposedly ancient records engraved upon metal plates, just as Smith had.

Some prominent Latter Day Saints believed in the Letter of Appointment and accepted Strang as the church's second "Prophet, Seer, Revelator, and Translator." One such follower was William Smith, Joseph's last surviving brother; he had asked to be ordained Presiding Patriarch in May 1845 and subsequently claimed that his ordination meant he should be the President of the Church, because of Hyrum Smith's position as both Presiding Patriarch and Associate President. Others included Book of Mormon witness Martin Harris, former Nauvoo Stake President William Marks, Second Bishop of the Church and church trustee-in-trust George Miller, Apostle John E. Page, former Apostle William E. M'Lellin, and John C. Bennett (excommunicated by Joseph Smith).

Strang's newspaper printed a statement allegedly signed by William Smith; Joseph Smith's mother, Lucy Mack Smith; and three of Joseph's sisters, certifying that "the Smith family do believe in the appointment of J. J. Strang." However, Smith's mother addressed the saints at the October 1844 General Conference and stated that she hoped all her children would accompany the saints to the West, and if they did she would go. Young then said: "We have extended the helping hand to Mother Smith. She has the best carriage in the city, and, while she lives, shall ride in it when and where she pleases".[61] Whether she shifted her support from Young to Strang in the year following that October Conference is a matter of debate; what is certain is that she never made it to Utah, staying instead with her daughter-in-law, Emma, in Nauvoo until her death in the summer of 1856.

Strang established his separate church organization in Voree, Wisconsin, and called upon the Latter Day Saints to gather there. He and his hierarchy were excommunicated by the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in Nauvoo and vice versa. By 1850, Strang and most of his followers had relocated to Beaver Island, Michigan, where Strang was shot by dissenters on June 16, 1856, and died shortly thereafter. Most of his followers then joined with Joseph Smith III and the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS Church; now called the Community of Christ).

Sidney Rigdon and The Church of Jesus Christ[edit]

Prior to the death of Joseph Smith, the First Presidency had made nearly all the major decisions and led the church both naturally and spiritually. On June 1, 1841, Sidney Rigdon had been ordained by Joseph Smith as a "Prophet, Seer and Revelator"[41][62]—which was one of the same ecclesiastical titles held by Smith. The Church of Jesus Christ maintains that as First Counselor to Smith, Rigdon should naturally have been the leader of the church after Smith's death.[63] With this understanding, The Church of Jesus Christ actively opposes the opinion that the Quorum of Twelve had the right to lead the church. The position of The Church of Jesus Christ is that Rigdon should have been allowed to be what he claimed to be—a "guardian" over the church until proper proceedings could decide the next church president.[41] The Church of Jesus Christ maintains the proceedings which decided Brigham Young to lead the church were a violation of proper proceedings of the church.[64]

On December 27, 1847, when Young organized a new First Presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve only had seven of its twelve members present to represent a council to decide the presidency.[65] William Smith, John E. Page, and Lyman Wight had previously denounced the proceedings and were not present. John Taylor and Parley P. Pratt were in the Salt Lake Valley and could not have known of the proceedings.[64] This left just seven present, a majority of one meaning Young would have to vote for himself in order to gain a majority quorum vote in favor of his leadership. Young chose two of the other apostles, Heber C. Kimball and Willard Richards, as his counselors in the First Presidency. This left only four members of the Quorum of the Twelve present to vote in favor of creation of the new First Presidency: Orson Hyde, Wilford Woodruff, George A. Smith, and Orson Pratt. The Church of Jesus Christ views this action as a violation of church law compromising the authority of Sidney Rigdon without a majority quorum vote.[64] The LDS Church actively opposes this view of the proceedings.[66]

After his excommunication by the Common Council of the Church and under serious persecution, Rigdon returned to Pennsylvania. The actual authority of the Common Council of the Church to execute this action is a controversial topic between many organizations within the Latter Day Saint movement. Rigdon had been stationed in Pennsylvania in order to run for vice president along with Joseph Smith. Rigdon toured the eastern branches of the church in late 1844 and early 1845, gathering leaders to his cause. He was joined by former members of the First Presidency, John C. Bennett and William Law and also by former Apostle William E. M'Lellin.

On April 6, 1845 — fifteen years after the original organization of the church — Rigdon presided over a General Conference of Rigdonite Latter Day Saints in Pittsburgh, establishing a new hierarchy. He himself was sustained as President of the Church. The new Quorum of the Twelve Apostles consisted of: William E. M'Lellin, George W. Robinson, Benjamin Winchester, James Blakeslee, Josiah Ells, Hugh Herringshaw, David L. Lathrop, Jeremiah Hatch Jr., E.R. Swackhammer, William Small, Samuel Bennett. Carvel Rigdon became Presiding Patriarch, and a Standing High Council, Quorum of the Seventy, Presiding Bishopric, and other quorum presidencies were established. In addition, Rigdon called seventy-three men and boys to a "Grand Council," perhaps an adaptation of the Council of Fifty. Also at the conference, the new church organization formally returned its name to the 1830 church's original name, the "Church of Christ." After this group disorganized, William Bickerton re-organized the church today known as The Church of Jesus Christ.

Aftermath and reorganization[edit]

The majority of Latter Day Saints in the Nauvoo area accepted the leadership of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, either immediately or within the following two decades. In 1846, this group was forced to leave their homes and the newly built Mormon temple in Nauvoo because of mounting conflict and persecutions (the temple was destroyed two years later, in October 1848). The saints began to migrate west, though slowly at first because of the harsh winters; the wagon trains halted at Winter Quarters, Nebraska before eventually leaving to settle in the Great Basin in what is now Utah.

In 1847, Brigham Young and the other Apostles formed a new First Presidency. Young, who had already been sustained as the President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, thus became the president of what is now known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), the largest sect of Mormonism by a factor of fifty (with 16,118,169 members worldwide, as of December 31, 2017).[67] His two counselors were Heber C. Kimball and Willard Richards, the latter of whom was present when Joseph Smith was killed. Young's succession became a precedent without exception within the sect based in Utah; with the death of each president, the First Presidency is dissolved and one member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles becomes the new president. Members of the LDS Church are asked to sustain the new prophet and his counselors at a solemn assembly during the next General Conference.

Sidney Rigdon's church dissolved a few years after its organization, but it was reorganized as The Church of Jesus Christ in 1862, which still exists. They view Young's assumption of power as a violation of church law compromising the authority of Sidney Rigdon without a majority quorum vote.[64]

James J. Strang's leadership was based predominantly on his own claim to be a prophet called by God. When he was mortally wounded by assassins in 1856, he refused to name a successor, leaving the matter in God's hands. When no prophet appeared, the bulk of his church dissolved, though a few loyal congregations remain today.[citation needed]

Many of the Latter Day Saints who remained in the Midwest, including Strang, believed that one or more of Joseph Smith's sons would eventually lead the church. The church had published a revelation in 1841 stating "I say unto my servant Joseph, In thee, and in thy seed, shall the kindred of the earth be blessed",[68] and this was widely interpreted as endorsing the concept of Lineal Succession. Accounts written after Smith's death indicate that Smith set apart his son as his successor at certain private meetings and public gatherings, including Liberty[69] and Nauvoo.[70] Within the years following Smith's murder, Brigham Young apparently made earnest entreaties to his sons, Joseph Smith III and David Hyrum Smith, to join his church's hierarchy in Utah, which may represent some recognition by Young of the patrilineal right of succession for Smith’s sons. Both Smiths, however, were profoundly opposed to a number of practices of the church in Utah, especially plural marriage, and refused to join with them.

Eventually, many Latter Day Saints in the Midwest coalesced behind the leadership of Jason W. Briggs, Zenas H. Gurley, William Marks and others. In the late 1850s, they proposed a more solid church structure, sometimes referred to in contemporary sources as the New Organization, and like other Latter Day Saint groups asked Joseph Smith III to be their president. Smith III refused to lead any church unless he felt inspired to do so. By 1860, he reported that he had received such inspiration and became Prophet/President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints on April 6. Smith III stated at that conference in Amboy, Illinois:

I would say to you, brethren, as I hope you may be, and in faith I trust you are, as a people that God has promised his blessings upon, I came not here of myself, but by the influence of the Spirit. For some time past I have received manifestations pointing to the position which I am about to assume. I wish to say that I have come here not to be dictated by any men or set of men. I have come in obedience to a power not my own, and shall be dictated by the power that sent me.[71]

Joseph Smith's widow Emma, as well as Joseph III's two brothers, affiliated with this organization. A decade later the group added the word Reorganized to the official church name to distinguish it from the much larger group in Utah. For a time until the start of the twentieth century, leaders of both this group and the Utah group were Smith first cousins. The church is now referred to as the Community of Christ.

There were several other Latter Day Saint branches in Bloomington, Crow Creek, Half Moon Prairie, and Eagle Creek, Illinois, and Vermillion, Indiana, each left leaderless after the 1844 succession crisis. In 1863, these groups united under the leadership of Granville Hedrick. This group inherited the name "Church of Christ" and became known popularly as the Hedrickites. Today, this small church has ownership of a large portion of the temple site in Independence, Missouri, and its members are commonly known as the Temple Lot Mormons.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ See the chart later in the article for a more complete list of successor claimants
  2. ^ Flanders, Robert Bruce (1975). Nauvoo: Kingdom on the Mississippi. Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press. p. 124. ISBN 9780252005619. OCLC 12060364.
  3. ^ "Articles and Covenants of the Church of Christ", Painesville Telegraph, April 19, 1831.
  4. ^ Doctrine and Covenants 20:2–3
  5. ^ Bates, Irene M.; Smith, E. Gary (2003) [1996]. Lost Legacy: The Mormon Office of Presiding Patriarch. Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press. ISBN 9780252071157. OCLC 53077386. Archived from the original on 2011-06-09. Retrieved 2008-06-02.
  6. ^ a b Smith, Joseph; Smith, Heman C.; Edwards, F. Henry (1967) [1896]. "Chapter 18: 1834 Activities in Missouri". History of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Vol. 1. Independence, Mo: Herald House. p. 503. ISBN 9780830900756. OCLC 2313751. Online reprint by
  7. ^ Doctrine and Covenants 107:37
  8. ^ Doctrine and Covenants 107:23–33
  9. ^ Doctrine and Covenants 107:21–24, 36–37
  10. ^ Doctrine and Covenants 107:33
  11. ^ D. Michael, Quinn (1994). Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power. Salt Lake City: Signature Books.
  12. ^ Times and Seasons, 2 (1 June 1841): 128
  13. ^ Doctrine and Covenants 124:94–95
  14. ^ Times and Seasons, 5 [Oct. 15, 1844]: 683
  15. ^ Smith, An Intimate Chronicle, p. 138; William Clayton Diary, typescript, 12 July 1844, original in First Presidency's Archives
  16. ^ William Smith, "Mormonism: A Letter from William Smith, Brother of Joseph the Prophet", New York Tribune, 1857-05-19. Online reprint by (Dale R. Broadhurst)
  17. ^ a b Brigham, Young (July 1857). "Journal of Discourses". {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help). volumes 5:77 and 8:69. Retrieved on 23 June 2009.
  18. ^ Quinn 1994, pp. 152–153
  19. ^ "Was Joseph Smith's brother Samuel murdered?",, Rethinking Mormonism, archived from the original on 2008-08-07, retrieved 2009-06-23[unreliable source?]
  20. ^ Roger Launius, Joseph Smith III: Pragmatic Prophet
  21. ^ Valery Tippetts Avery, From Mission to Madness: The Last Son of the Mormon Prophet
  22. ^ Manuscript History of the Church, Book A-1, p. 11, LDS Church Archives
  23. ^ Cannon and Cook, Far West Record, pp. 162–171
  24. ^ Cannon and Cook, Far West Record, p. 151
  25. ^ Cannon and Cook, Far West Record, pp. 71–72
  26. ^ David Whitmer was not excommunicated. (David Whitmer, An Address to all Believers in Christ, 1887, p. 8; Ebbie L. V. Richardson, "David Whitmer, A Witness to the Divine Authenticity of The Book of Mormon," Provo: Brigham Young University, Master's Thesis, August 1952, p. 71; Autobiography of Ebenezer Robinson, p. 134; Ebenezer Robinson, "Items of Personal History of the Editor," The Return, Davis City, Iowa: Church of Christ, Vol. 1, No. 9, September 1889, pp. 134-135. Cannon and Cook, Far West Record, pp. 123-125.)
  27. ^ As of December 31, 2021, per: "Statistical Report",, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2 April 2022
  28. ^ Church statistics at the end of each year are traditionally released during the following year's April General Conference, rather than being continuously updated throughout eah year.
  29. ^ Joseph Smith Diary, 19 April 1834, LDS Church Archives
  30. ^ Jessee, Papers of Joseph Smith, vol. 2, pp. 31–32
  31. ^ Dinger, John S. (2014). "" A Mean Conspirator" or" The Noblest of Men": William Marks's Expulsion from Nauvoo". The John Whitmer Historical Association Journal. 34 (2): 12–38. JSTOR 43200595 – via JSTOR.
  32. ^ Doctrine and Covenants 107:24
  33. ^ Minutes of a Grand High Council, 2 May 1835, in Patriarchal Blessing Book, p. 2, LDS Church Archives
  34. ^ Wilford Woodruff Diary, 8 October 1841, LDS Church Archives
  35. ^ "Times and Seasons, volume 2, 1 September 1841: 521–22" (PDF).
  36. ^ "Special Conference of the Church, Minutes, Nauvoo, Hancock Co., IL, 16 Aug. 1841; handwriting of Elias Smith; two pages; Historian's Office, General Church Minutes, CHL".
  37. ^ undated Certificate of the Twelve, Brigham Young Papers
  38. ^ Autobiography of Benjamin F. Johnson, p. 96
  39. ^ MHBY-1, 171
  40. ^ Smith, History of the Church, 7:224-230
  41. ^ a b c d e McKiernan, F. Mark (1979) [1971]. The Voice of One Crying in the Wilderness: Sidney Rigdon, Religious Reformer. Independence, Missouri: Herald House. p. 56. ISBN 9780830902415. OCLC 5436337.
  42. ^ Harper 1996[page needed]
  43. ^ Lynne Watkins Jorgensen, "The Mantle of the Prophet Joseph Smith Passes to Brother Brigham: One Hundred Twenty-one Testimonies of a Collective Spiritual Witness" in John W. Welch (ed.), 2005. Opening the Heavens: Accounts of Divine Manifestations, 1820-1844, Provo, Utah: BYU Press, pp. 374-480
  44. ^ Eugene English, "George Laub Nauvoo Diary," BYU Studies, 18 [Winter 1978]: 167 ("Now when President Young arose to address the congregation his voice was the voice of Bro[ther] Joseph and his face appeared as Joseph's face & should I have not seen his face but heard his voice I should have declared that it was Joseph")
  45. ^ William Burton Diary, May 1845. LDS Church Archives ("But their [Joseph Smith and Hyrum Smith's] places were filed by others much better than I once supposed they could have been, the spirit of Joseph appeared to rest upon Brigham")
  46. ^ Benjamin F. Johnson, My Life's Review [Independence, 1928], p. 103-104 ("But as soon as he spoke I jumped upon my feet, for in every possible degree it was Joseph's voice, and his person, in look, attitude, dress and appearance; [it] was Joseph himself, personified and I knew in a moment the spirit and mantle of Joseph was upon him")
  47. ^ Life Story of Mosiah Hancock, p. 23, BYU Library ("Although only a boy, I saw the mantle of the Prophet Joseph rest upon Brigham Young; and he arose lion-like to the occasion and led the people forth")
  48. ^ Wilford Woodruff, Deseret News, 15 March 1892 ("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")
  49. ^ George Q. Cannon, Juvenile Instructor, 22 [29 October 1870]: 174-175 ("When Brigham Young spoke it was with the voice of Joseph himself; and not only was it the voice of Joseph which was heard, but it seemed in the eyes of the people as though it was the every person of Joseph which stood before them").
  50. ^ Jorgensen, Lynne Watkins. "The Mantle of the Prophet Joseph Passes to Brother Brigham" (PDF). BYU Studies. 36 (4): 131.[permanent dead link] 2nd paragraph
  51. ^ a b c Van Wagoner, Richard S. (Winter 1995). "The Making of a Mormon Myth: The 1844 Transfiguration of Brigham Young". Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. 28 (4): 1–24. doi:10.2307/45226132. JSTOR 45226132.
  52. ^ Quinn 1994, p. 166
  53. ^ Jorgensen, Lynne Watkins. "The Mantle of the Prophet Joseph Passes to Brother Brigham" (PDF). BYU Studies. 36 (4): 136.[permanent dead link]
  54. ^ Esplin, Ronald K. (Summer 1981). "Joseph, Brigham and the Twelve: A Succession of Continuity". BYU Studies. 21 (3): 301–341.
  55. ^ Smith, History of the Church, 7:247
  56. ^ Smith, History of the Church, 7:267
  57. ^ George A. Smith Diary, Sept. 3, 1844, LDS Church Archives
  58. ^ Times and Seasons, 5 [Sept. 15, Oct. 1, 15, 1844]: 647-655, 660-667, 685-687
  59. ^ Times and Seasons, 5 [1 November 1844]: 692
  60. ^ Times and Seasons, Vol. V, pp. 682–683
  61. ^ Millennial Star, Vol. VII, p. 23
  62. ^ Earlier, on March 27, 1836, at the dedication of the Kirtland Temple, Joseph Smith had asked the members of the church to accept the members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve as "prophets, seers, and revelators": see B.H. Roberts (ed), History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 2:417; see also Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate 2:277 Archived 2007-10-26 at the Wayback Machine.
  63. ^ A History of The Church of Jesus Christ: Volume 2. Monongahela, PA: The Church of Jesus Christ. 2002.
  64. ^ a b c d Calabrese, Joseph (1973). The Divine Continuity of The Church of Jesus Christ. Bridgewater, MI: The Church of Jesus Christ.
  65. ^ Nine members of the Quorum were in attendance, but only seven of the individuals were members of the Quorum on June 27, 1844, when Joseph Smith had died. Two members of the Quorum—Amasa M. Lyman and Ezra T. Benson—had been added by Young since Smith's death.
  66. ^ The LDS Church maintains that Rigdon was validly excommunicated from the church by the Common Council of the Church on September 8, 1844: see History of the Church 7:268-69. The LDS Church further maintains that William Smith had been disfellowshipped and replaced in the Quorum by Amasa M. Lyman and that John E. Page had been excommunicated and replaced in the Quorum by Ezra T. Benson. Because Lyman and Benson were present at the 1847 reorganization, the LDS Church claims that nine of the nine present members of the Quorum voted in favor of reorganizing Young's First Presidency, which constituted a three-quarters majority vote of the Quorum.
  67. ^ "Worldwide Statistics". Mormon Newsroom. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. April 2018.
  68. ^ Covenant 107:18c (Strangite)
  69. ^ Joseph Smith III and the Restoration Herald House; 1952, p. 13
  70. ^ Autumn Leaves, Vol 1; p. 202
  71. ^ True Latter Day Saints’ Herald, vol. 1, pp. 102–104


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