Succession: D&C Lesson 33

What a great opportunity to engage with the scriptures we have this week in Sunday School!  Three verses of the scriptures, to be specific.  The only scriptural content for this week’s lesson is D&C 107: 22-24.  Here, let me do you a favor:

Of the Melchizedek Priesthood, three Presiding High Priests, chosen by the body, appointed and ordained to that office, and upheld by the confidence, faith, and prayer of the church, form a quorum of the Presidency of the Church.  The twelve traveling councilors are called to be the Twelve Apostles, or special witnesses of the name of Christ in all the world –— thus differing from other officers in the church in the duties of their calling.  And they form a quorum, equal in authority and power to the three presidents previously mentioned.  (D&C 107: 22-24)

Now, if the teacher in your Gospel Doctrine class asks whether you did the reading for this week, you can answer in all honesty in the affirmative.

This brief snippet of text is intended, of course, as a kind of legal basis for the claim that Brigham Young was Joseph Smith’s rightful successor as leader of the Latter-day Saints.  One might have asked for somewhat clearer guidance.  It would certainly have  been convenient had a revelation existed in something like the following words:

When the President of the Church dies, he is to be succeeded by the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

But we can’t, I suppose, have everything.  In actual fact, when it comes to finding a legalistic basis for succession claims, what Section 107 gives us is pretty nearly nothing.  The section has, in my view, two major deficiencies as an argument in favor of apostolic succession.  First, it doesn’t give the Twelve Apostles any claim to the succession that it doesn’t also give to the Seventy.  Second, if we read the section as authorizing the Apostles to run the church when there is no First Presidency, we probably ought to also read it as authorizing the Apostles to run the church when there is a First Presidency.

On the first point: the verses immediately after the excerpt chosen for this week’s lesson give the Seventy as a quorum equal standing to the Twelve Apostles and the First Presidency.  That’s the word the revelation uses: equal.  Specifically, it says that the Seventy

…form a quorum, equal in authority to that of the Twelve special witnesses or Apostles just named.  (D&C 107: 26)

This doesn’t say that the Seventy have all the power and authority necessary to succeed in the unlikely case that the First Presidency and the Twelve are all killed; it isn’t a hypothetical or conditional equality.  Instead, the section simply and flatly declares the two groups to be of equal authority in the church.  If the Twelve have power over the Seventy, and not the other way around, this is something that we know from some other source than what is written in the scriptures.

Turning to the second point, the section doesn’t say that the Twelve Apostles have all the authority necessary to fill in for the First Presidency when it dissolves.  Instead, it simply says that the Twelve are equal in authority and power to the First Presidency.  Full stop, with no conditions.  If we take this to mean that the Twelve have the right to legitimately control the church when there is no First Presidency, we ought for the sake of consistency to conclude that they also have that right when there is a First Presidency.  The First Presidency clearly also would have that right, as would the Seventy.  So the church would have three equally powerful and independent governments.

An alternative is to view this section as not being an organization chart or a handbook regarding succession.  The power and authority discussed here may not entail the right and responsibility to lead the church; it may be power and authority of another sort — although I’m not completely sure what in particular would be involved.  Ideas?

A broader point: I seem unable to find a legalistic argument for Brigham Young’s succession that I find convincing.  My reading of the history of the succession period persuades me that, out of Joseph Smith’s circle of confidantes and subordinate leaders, Brigham Young and the Twelve saw themselves as having to assume leadership primarily to assure that plural marriage would not be discarded as a doctrine and practice.  I think this is an honorable motive, both because many of these men were convinced that it was God’s will and because many of them had polygamous wives that the presumably didn’t want to abandon.  Loyalty to polygamy and, by extension, to the priesthood and temple rituals that had developed in the wake of the practice, seems to have been the decisive issue of succession for people “in the know.”  I don’t think this should be a source of any special concern, even though it probably is not entirely satisfactory as an argument for why contemporary Latter Day Saints should belong to the Utah church as opposed to, say, the Community of Christ.

For that latter task, I think we have much more powerful resources than an appeal to legalism.  Why did so many of the Saints of the time accept Brigham Young’s leadership?  I am persuaded by the many records of how they, at least, explained this choice.  They felt God’s power confirming Young’s leadership role.  Why do members of the contemporary LDS church belong to this organization rather than some competing Restoration church?  I think the only really acceptable answer has to be the same: we feel God’s power here.

If the scriptures really don’t spell out a leadership succession system, and I think they maybe don’t, that shouldn’t matter.  To see this, let’s play a counterfactual game.  Suppose that the scriptures did explicitly proclaim a succession system, but the power of God clearly and undeniably manifested support for some other alternative at the moment of Joseph’s death and in perpetuity thereafter.  What would be the right succession choice in this case?  What the scriptures say, or what God endorses by direct action?  If God speaks by power and the Holy Ghost, why should we care if we don’t have a rigorous legal argument in favor of our preferred succession alternative?

Comments

  1. Skeptical says:

    “Why do members of the contemporary LDS church belong to this organization rather than some competing Restoration church? I think the only really acceptable answer has to be the same: we feel God’s power here.”

    But they feel God’s power there. As do the Muslims in their religion.

    People of different spiritual traditions throughout history have felt God’s power in their beliefs. If that’s the only criteria for knowing what truth is, Mormonism has absolutely no more legitimate claim to being God’s one true organization than Catholicism, Judaism, Buddhism, etc. I’m positive the members of C of C have felt the Holy Spirit confirm the truthfulness of their beliefs.

    As I get older, this whole “I know it’s true” business seems fishier and fishier.

  2. J. Nelson-Seawright says:

    Skeptical, it may be fishy, but what else have you got?

    In any case, I don’t know that we necessarily ought to worry about whether other people feel the Spirit, when, or how — isn’t it enough that we do (or don’t) ourselves?

  3. Couple of thoughts:

    – The succession crisis was precipitated, not by the death of JSJ, but by the death of his clear and obvious successor: Hyrum Smith.

    – The spiritual confirmations you describe must have been central, since, I think, both Sidney Rigdon and William Marks had stronger legalistic claims to assume leadership in Joseph’s absence than BY did.

  4. Skeptical says:

    But what if I could, or do, elsewhere? What if I’m allowing myself to be limited by the feelings that seem so strong? What if I’m wearing super-uncomfortable underwear and giving up 10% of my income for something that is purely imaginary? What if it is NOT true?

    What else have I got? My own ability to think, plan, and decide. My community for support. My conviction that I should focus on improving life in the here and now rather than pointing to a wonderful afterlife where all wrongs will be righted.

    If I could feel the spirit just as much in some other place, what reason is there to stay?

    Not trying to be smart or rude….. just seriously can’t answer these questions for myself, and am running out of ways to leapfrog over my mounting doubts.

  5. J. Nelson-Seawright says:

    Skeptical, I certainly can’t answer these questions for you, either. I definitely don’t think religion ought to be a way of avoiding a focus on improving life in the here and now; very much the opposite. And community can sometimes be an argument in favor of staying Mormon, at least for some people.

    But, really, if you can feel God’s power more in some other way of life than you do within Mormonism, I can’t imagine an argument that would or should convince you to stay.

  6. Absolutely right JNS. We aren’t, and can’t be, responsible for what other people feel or say they feel. We are only accountable (and make no mistake–we are accountable to God) for the revelation and knowledge that he gives us personally.

    “People of different spiritual traditions throughout history have felt God’s power in their beliefs. If that’s the only criteria for knowing what truth is, Mormonism has absolutely no more legitimate claim to being God’s one true organization than Catholicism, Judaism, Buddhism, etc. I’m positive the members of C of C have felt the Holy Spirit confirm the truthfulness of their beliefs.”

    Really? How do you know this? You only know what they claim. That should matter only as a starting point. It may cause you to seek your own answer about the truthfulness of their claims, but it can’t serve as the basis for you being “positive” about whether or not they have felt the Holy Spirit. You can only be “positive” about what the Spirit has told you, not what it has told them.

  7. Clay Whipkey says:

    “Why do members of the contemporary LDS church belong to this organization rather than some competing Restoration church? I think the only really acceptable answer has to be the same: we feel God’s power here.”

    Why are Orthodox Jews not Reform Jews? Why are Episcopalians not Catholics? Why are Sunnis not Shiites? etc. etc. My suspicion is that there are far less of those who can say comparatively that they feel God’s power “here”, than those for whom “here” is all they really know. That is to say, most adherents of most religions just haven’t really gone around doing a taste test.

    I would suspect that a God worth worshiping could be felt anywhere, and any barrier to feeling God’s power would be entirely up to you.

  8. Great post. I hadn’t looked at this scripture in a long time. I appreciate the interesting post.

    I would add one thing, JNS, to your answer to the question as to why members of the contemporary LDS church belong to this organization rather than some competing Restoration church. You said, “I think the only really acceptable answer has to be the same: we feel God’s power here.” For me in the here and now, though, it’s a two-part thing: One, yes, it’s important that I feel the God’s power here now, but, two, it’s also important to me that there was a common acclamatory consent of Brigham then. For me, the answer to the succession crisis requires both. (Is that what you are saying?)

  9. Just to steer the discussion back to the original post, I think one implication is that efforts by the Church curriculum department to sell the legalistic argument for Young’s rightful succession actually downplay the importance of the “do you feel God’s power” side of things. The transfiguration stories, along with opportunities for members to think about and share their experiences of feeling God’s power and His confirming witness should be the focus of lessons on succession. The legalistic arguments are as useless (perhaps even counterproductive) as they are weak.

  10. J. Nelson-Seawright says:

    Clay, I think you’re probably right. I certainly don’t mean to claim that many contemporary Mormons have gone about trying a bunch of different Restoration churches to find the flavor that’s best for them. But, not speaking for other communities, I do know that an awful lot of Mormons would explain the reason why they haven’t done such a thing directly in terms of their experience of God’s power within the Mormon church. Isn’t that okay?

  11. J. Nelson-Seawright says:

    Hunter, I think the tradition in conjunction with our personal experience is what makes Mormonism, so I guess you and I are basically in the same ballpark. Saying that there was a “common acclamatory consent” in favor of Young’s leadership seems to me to somewhat overstate the case, unless you mean at the “mantle of Joseph” meeting specifically. As I understand it, somewhere in the neighborhood of half the Mormons at the time of Joseph’s death didn’t end up following Brigham.

  12. Clay Whipkey says:

    “It [others’ testimonies] may cause you to seek your own answer about the truthfulness of their claims, but it can’t serve as the basis for you being “positive” about whether or not they have felt the Holy Spirit. You can only be “positive” about what the Spirit has told you, not what it has told them.”

    Fair point, but what if an individual feels the confirmations of the Spirit for conflicting ideas? Both impulses are self-owned, basically undifferentiated in color and shape. Can such a thing happen? Yes. How can one reliably figure out which impulse is to be trusted?

  13. By the way, JNS, I’ve been somewhat pleased that our Ward’s Gospel Doctrine lessons have largely avoided some of the thornier questions you’ve posed in this series over the past several weeks. My wife and I went into the Section 132 lesson very curious to hear how things would be presented; it turned into a benign lesson on strengthening marriage. And last week’s lesson (“save Jesus only”) totally avoided any sort of hagiographical presentation of Joseph Smith.

    So, for better or for worse, our Gospel Doctrine class tends to avoid actually dealing with the scriptural text. In that context, however, I’m totally OK with it.

  14. Skeptical says:

    “I would suspect that a God worth worshiping could be felt anywhere, and any barrier to feeling God’s power would be entirely up to you.”

    Exactly.

    But from an LDS standpoint, where does this place the value of temple work, the Priesthood, etc? Would that God worth worshipping deny someone entry to his kingdom because we were never able to dig up the record of their birth? Most people would answer, of course not. But then why does any soul require it? Is God really going to split up the marriages of those who weren’t sealed? If not, why does it matter that we are sealed? Either God has some serious fairness issues, or all of our talk of authority and power is fluff. If God has a body of flesh, and also has limitless power, I just can’t wrap my mind around why anything we do, as mortals, would be powerful enough to either grant or deny another soul salvation.

    #6, MCQ, good point. But I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that many people the world over report spiritual feelings just as strong as any that come up in our Testimony meetings.

    We just seem to be shrinking God into something so much smaller when we put her/him into these rigid definitions and build up a church around it.

    The crux of my issue is that I am having a hard time seeing why retaining membership in the LDS church specifically is according to God’s will. I don’t think it’s against God’s will. But why is it any better than Buddhism, Sikhism, or just plain living a good life? It might have a lot of truth, but the God it creates (one who is all-loving, all-powerful, without beginning or end) is himself too small to be limited to just that church. If all people can still access him, then why do we need the church?

    And if you come to the conclusion that the church is indeed not necessary to worship the aforementioned God, then you have to question the foundation of your beliefs about that God, since it came from that church.

    And then what are you left with?

  15. Would it be fair to judge that original succession decision by how it has played out (and is still playing out)? We’ve had more than 150 years to see if that seed would grow into a fruit-bearing tree.

    I don’t know enough about the C of C leaders to really evaluate them fairly, but those Hinckley and Monson guys were/are alright.

  16. Clay Whipkey says:

    “…I do know that an awful lot of Mormons would explain the reason why they haven’t done such a thing directly in terms of their experience of God’s power within the Mormon church. Isn’t that okay?”

    Totally. My only caveat is that I think its easy to mistake one’s comfort zone and corresponding anxiety towards unfamiliar traditions as tantamount to receiving a divine copy of Consumer Reports: Comparative Religion Edition. ;-)

    I’m totally cool with people “loving the one the’re with”. Its just the claim that “I love the one I’m with because God tells me its cooler than the one you’re with” that feels crusty. Not saying you said that, of course.

  17. Skeptical, your questions are valid and very important. I hope you are able to find answers to them. I really do. But this is a blog post about the text of section 107 of the Doctrine & Covenants, and not a platform for your issue of having difficulty “seeing why retaining membership in the LDS church specifically is according to God’s will.” If your concerns matter, and I think they do, then you should air them in a context worthy of those concerns. Doing it here, you’re liable to just get snarky comments from idiots like me telling you to get back on topic.

  18. Skeptical says:

    “Its just the claim that “I love the one I’m with because God tells me its cooler than the one you’re with” that feels crusty.”

    But isn’t that the reason to be LDS? Because it is “cooler” or truer, or more full, or whatever? If not, why be a member of any church at all? If you’re going to pick an affiliation, shouldn’t there be a good reason for it? If you’re going to just randomly pick among any of the places that make you feel good, it’s hard to argue that any is God’s “one true church”. And in our tradition, if that fails, Joseph Smith fails, and they all come tumbling down.

  19. Skeptical says:

    Oh thanks, Hunter….. I’ll just make my way over to exmormon.org then. Or, better yet, bring it up during the Sunday School lesson entitled, “No really, it’s true. Feel free to ask anything.”

  20. I think that of all the claimants to the throne, the Quorum of 12 had the best claim.

    Strangites were based upon a guy who had recently joined the Church, and did not have a major role in it.

    Sidney Rigdon was disaffected from Joseph Smith, living in Cincinnatti, against Joseph’s counsel, and Joseph was not happy that the Church had sustained him as counselor in the end.

    Most of the claimants were single individuals, rather than an entire group saying the same thing – witnesses to the entire group, per se.

  21. Would it be fair to judge that original succession decision by how it has played out (and is still playing out)? We’ve had more than 150 years to see if that seed would grow into a fruit-bearing tree.

    I don’t think this is even a very compelling case, since it can be accounted for with non-supernatural factors. The Q12, then known most commonly as the traveling High Council, superintended missionary work. That means that they were the leaders of the Church in England, and that they controlled basically the only infrastructure that remained in the church after the Nauvoo expulsion. The Utah Church flourished precisely because, under the direction of the 12, it became an immigrant Church.

  22. Back to the original post, JNS, you say, “if we read the section as authorizing the Apostles to run the church when there is no First Presidency, we probably ought to also read it as authorizing the Apostles to run the church when there is a First Presidency.” I tend to disagree. Do you not put any stock in the fact the revelation deems the members of the First Presidency “three Presiding High Priests” (emphasis on “Presiding”) chosen from among the whole Melchizedek Priesthood?

    Then again, the Twelve are called “special” witnesses, so it may be a matter of comparing adjectives.

  23. #15: Kyle

    I would be a bit wary about basing the truth of something on growth (as your post implies).

    – There are other religions which are MUCH larger than the Mormon faith. Does that make them more true?
    – There are other faiths with faster growth rates than ours. Does that make them more true?
    – Our growth has been decreasing as a percentage of total membership since the famous prediction of 270 million members implied a “stone rolling forth…”. Does that mean we’re less true than we were in the 1970’s and 1980’s when growth was much more rapid?

    So, I don’t know that “size” means we are any more or less true than the CofC or anyone else.

  24. Skeptical, feel free to bring it up in my lesson.

  25. #20,
    Rigdon was living out of state because he (being, you know, very disaffected from JSJ) was Joseph’s VP candidate, and needed to be residing in a separate state at the time. He was also the only surviving FP member, the body which was legally designated to assume control of Church-held assets in Illinois.

    William Marks was the president of the Nauvoo Stake, had a good relationship with JSJ, was well respected and trusted.

    The claim that BY originally made against Rigdon was not a claim that he (BY) was a better candidate. Rather, he claimed that nobody needed to assume power in Joseph’s stead, that the status quo was perfectly adequate. There is no need for a new prophet or church president. The keys are sufficiently distributed and held by existing quorums, and that’s all that matters.

  26. Skeptical, you’re being disingenuous. Bringing up the weighty issue of whether the Church stands or falls based on its faith claims is worthy of much study, prayer, long person-to-person discussion with sincere people you trust. If you’re not just interested in throwing out flames, you should know this. If this issue is as important to you as I hope it is, you shouldn’t think you’re going to get satisfactory answers to subtle and complicated questions in a couple of anonymous comments at a blog.

  27. J. Nelson-Seawright says:

    rameumptom, your arguments are interesting. I agree that Rigdon was in a position of tension with Joseph. This doesn’t necessarily matter for legalistic versions of succession reasoning, which is a good argument against them.

    Your list is pretty incomplete, though. The family line of succession through Joseph III ended up with a lot of support from a range of leaders. William Marks also had a good legalistic case as stake president, which was a much more important position at the time. Basically, I don’t think this kind of argument can reach a conclusion that isn’t a bit shaky… Too many alternatives, and too few rules…

    Hunter, RE presiding vs. special, interesting point. I’d emphasize the text saying that the Twelve have “equal” power and authority in comparison with the First Presidency, as in the post. But it’s true that the revelation gives the Twelve no explicit presiding role over the church. That’s one reason why this text seems just incomplete as an argument for succession.

  28. J. Nelson-Seawright says:

    Hunter, I’d appreciate it if you would back off a bit from Skeptical. People in that situation deserve a lot of love and support. I don’t know if we can really manage that here on the blog; I agree with you on that. But let’s do try to be as kind as we can.

    Skeptical, I’d be happy to talk more with you about all this; I empathize with your concerns. This thread might not be the best forum, though. You can email me; I’m roastedtomatoes over on gmail.

  29. JNS,

    That second to last paragraph sums it up as far as I am concerned. I have a couple of first hand journal accounts of the BY/Rigdon smackdown in my family history and both state that they witnessed the aura of JS descend upon BY and that the spirit told them to follow BY.

    Also #21 really hits on something. A large percentage of the Nauvoo residents and converts coming from England had personal loyalties to Q12 members who had converted them in England.

  30. bbell,
    I knew you and I would find common ground somewhere, sometime… :)

  31. JNS, OK, will do. Sorry that I was being a jerk, Skeptical.

  32. This doesn’t say that the Seventy have all the power and authority necessary to succeed in the unlikely case that the First Presidency and the Twelve are all killed;

    Although Brigham Young argued precisely that in UT.

    I think it is interesting that in Nauvoo, Brigham argued specifically that the Saints shouldn’t have a prophet or guardian to lead the Church. He argued that the Quorum of the Twelve, should lead. It wasn’t until later that he had a revelation to reorganize the First Presidency, and it was not without controversy. So really, we should point to the moment when BY reorganized the FP as the legal basis for succession in its current form (plus the various evolutions throughout the 19th and 20th centuries).

  33. Brad,

    My understanding isa that the vast majority of the English converts followed BY across the plains and that the large majority of those that stayed behind and formed the re-org churches were all american born and earlier converts then the English immigrants. This is not to say that native born Americans did not follow BY… they did in large numbers.

  34. RE: #32,
    See my #25. By the mouth of two or three witnesses…

  35. Oh sorry, I didn’t mean to imply that “growth” of the tree = growth of the church. I wouldn’t advise judging religions by their numbers. :-)

    No, I just meant that we’ve seen the different succession options play out. Again, I don’t know enough to evaluate CofC’s leadership over the past century and a half, but the path/policy the mormon church chose in selecting Brigham Young has yielded great leaders.

  36. Right, bbell. Control over the mission program, including the infrastructure (capital, real property, printing presses, etc.) meant that the Deseret Church could grow on the back of missionizing and convert immigration.

  37. Clay Whipkey says:

    Skeptical, I am also open to questions: clay dot whipkey at gmail. The last thing I’ll say about your concerns, so as not to threadjack any further, is try not to let the questions freak you out. You’ll hear a lot that there are people who ask the same questions and are happy to stay in the LDS church. What you don’t hear a lot is that it is also possible to be very happy and spiritual even if you don’t answer those questions the same way, or answer them at all. ;-)

  38. Great post, JNS.

    #20, 27: While I think it can’t be disputed that Rigdon was in some tension with JS, I’m not quite sure that it was as major as rameumpton makes it out. JS did appoint Rigdon as his Vice President candidate (granted, after two people already turned him down), but the reason Rigdon was in the East was largely so he could claim another state other than Illinois (which JS was claiming) on their presidential ticket.

  39. Clay Whipkey says:

    “No, I just meant that we’ve seen the different succession options play out. Again, I don’t know enough to evaluate CofC’s leadership over the past century and a half, but the path/policy the mormon church chose in selecting Brigham Young has yielded great leaders.”

    Any comparison would be totally subjective and useless. An examination of CofC leadership is going to reveal very different temperaments than LDS leaders, and whether or not that “proves” anything is entirely based on your own personal preference for style.

    I’ve gotten to have personal experiences with 4 different CofC apostles in the last couple years and they are all amazing people. They are also completely different than the LDS apostles I’ve experienced in person. Whether or not the differences are good or bad would be a matter of preference.

  40. @32:

    I think it is interesting that in Nauvoo, Brigham argued specifically that the Saints shouldn’t have a prophet or guardian to lead the Church. He argued that the Quorum of the Twelve, should lead. It wasn’t until later that he had a revelation to reorganize the First Presidency, and it was not without controversy. So really, we should point to the moment when BY reorganized the FP as the legal basis for succession in its current form (plus the various evolutions throughout the 19th and 20th centuries).

    Why? Once the Quorum of the 12’s supreme position is solidified, wouldn’t it inherently have the authority to form a new First Presidency and delegate its keys back to that First Presidency?

  41. Not to continue a threadjack, but I think this question deserves an answer:

    “what if an individual feels the confirmations of the Spirit for conflicting ideas? Both impulses are self-owned, basically undifferentiated in color and shape. Can such a thing happen? Yes. How can one reliably figure out which impulse is to be trusted?”

    That would be a very difficult situation, and one I don’t envy, but the only way I know to approach it would be through prayer. I really believe that the Spirit would eventually resolve any conflict, actual or perceived, for anyone who sincerely and honestly approaches God with a problem like this.

    But that would be the rare case, in my experience. The real problem is that most of us are far too concerned about the legalistic, doctrinal and historical parts of the equation and give far too little emphasis to spiritual confirmation and personal revelation.

  42. JimD, that is what tend to say now; but it wasn’t particularly obvious then. Especially after having argued that a first presidency was no longer needed.

  43. wouldn’t it inherently have the authority to form a new First Presidency and delegate its keys back to that First Presidency?

    Only if one presumes that a FP is at all necessary. The initial claim that it wasn’t was grounded in a belief that JSJ still presided over the Church (in fact, not even Rigdon was really arguing against this idea, since his leadership claim was based on his position as a counselor to JSJ, still the prophet and head of the Church). For some, the reorganization of the FP was seen as an action against, not other claimants, but JSJ himself

  44. Again, two witnesses… ;)

  45. JNS et all,

    what do you think of Ehat’s arguments for legalistic succession based upon anointing, council 50, etc?

  46. J. Madsen, I generally find Ehat’s arguments compelling, with some caveats. See here (and comments).

  47. I’m at work and so I don’t have any supporting documentation to look at, but where does the role of “The Last Charge” come in? I was always under the impression that at this point the 12 felt that they as a group had all the keys to continue on, enough so that they could refute JS III’s claim of succession. I will check when I get home to be sure.

  48. JNS, I find your comment about retaining polygamy and associated doctrines intriguing. Since the practice was still pretty much underground in Nauvoo at this time, someone in the inner circle would know things others did not, and would have a vested interest, as you say, in maintaining the practice.

    I used to be skeptical about the “mantle of Joseph” stories, but the more I have read, the more I find it to be perhaps the only way, with Hyrum dead, that the majority of church members could have some sense of where to look for new leadership. Those first few weeks before Brigham and the rest of the 12 returned to Nauvoo must have been a terrible time for church members there, and trying for the lower leaders trying to hold it together.

    I know that I myself have sensed some of that in what I would consider the most unlikely of successions for me, that of Pres. Benson. I really struggled with that, until I had the occasion to see him, quite unexpectedly, at a musical recital at the Assembly Hall at Temple Square, and had a similar experience. It was something that said “Here is the Prophet of the Lord.” It was just what I needed at the time.

  49. Aaron Brown says:

    Excellent post.

    Steve Evans, am I teaching this lesson this Sunday, or are you? Are you going to be in town?

    AB

  50. Aaron Brown says:

    By the way, it might be helpful if someone (J.?) were to provide a brief bibliography on the succession issue. Other than Quinn’s famous article on the succession crisis, what are the other must read works on the topic?

    AB

  51. Aaron, see link in comment 46.

  52. I agree w Stapes that Andy Ehat’s treatment, while largely conceptual, is most true to the realities of 1844 Mormonism.
    The temple was a special kind of text and authority, and there’s no doubt that the Q12, particularly as they could guide the remaining members of the AQ, “owned” the temple after JSJ’s death.

  53. PS, and this meant that D&C 107 was obsolete in 1844.

  54. As Sam and J say, it was the insider groups of Nauvoo that determined succession, or rather the intersection of those groups. The Q12 may have been able to proof text their way ahead, with D&C 107 and 112, but that wasn’t the issue for them (or most of them). The issue was ritual power that they had received from JS and they were the only ones who could pass it on. William Marks has been my work for the past few weeks. He represents, more than any one else I think, the opposing view to the 12. He was a very interesting man. Disappointed by JS, to the extent that he could fabricate (I think) stories about Nauvoo to make a foundation for Kirtland Mormonism’s survival. And he did it, beginning with Charles Thompson, and then the Reorganization. I like him. But I don’t believe him.

    -W. V. Smith

  55. This is one of the unusual instances where I have to disagree a bit with J. Stapley and Sam MB. I think Ehat’s argument is sometimes a bit post hoc, and often a way of piling extra details on to distract from the reality that polygamy was the central succession issue for insiders. For example, the temple ordinances are obviously central to contemporary Mormonism, but that centrality is clearly a product of the succession crisis rather than a determinant of its outcome. Before the succession crisis, a lot of Mormons didn’t really know about the endowment, let alone second anointings. So how could they have chosen a leader on that basis? Up to the point of succession, access to the temple rituals was substantially correlated with information about and (especially for higher ordinances) acceptance of plural marriage. So it’s really a confounding variable, to use the jargon.

    Besides, as a legalistic argument it falls short. There’s no canon law saying that the successor is whoever had the most ordinances, or even for that matter that the successor necessarily needed to have all the temple ordinances. This is post hoc, for the very good reason that our scriptures don’t talk almost at all about succession…

    Hans, regarding the “last charge,” my understanding is that it’s historically debated whether that was to the Twelve as such, or if it was to one of the other ruling councils of the time — possibly the Quorum of the Anointed, or the Council of Fifty.

    J. Stapley #32, true, Brigham did make that argument; it’s just not supported by the text, as far as I can tell. I do understand the effort to work through legalisms, especially during the debates with Joseph III and Strang. But it seems to me that nobody especially has the intellectual high ground here, and that the argument from spiritual experience is probably the seed with greatest yield.

  56. Aaron Brown says:

    JNS, is there a juicy story behind why you didn’t do a post on Lesson 31 in this series?

    AB

  57. Yes, all these things were may be true. But I think BY was just the people’s choice to lead them from Nauvoo, and to safety. They made the right choice. He was a leader of personal power. I think this overrode all these other factors of the time.
    “Here is Brigham….” (IMO)

  58. I agree with Bob or at least his implication that the choice of Brigham Young and the 12 was an illustration of the Church’s principle of common consent. An interesting counter-factual would be what would have happened had the majority at that meeting chosen to follow Sidney or someone or something else, instead of Young.

  59. It is my understanding that there are NO contemporary accounts of BY’s transfiguration to JS, as is inferred by the SS lesson manual. All such accounts are written much later.
    Earl

  60. I would think (just a guess here) that King Saul’s succession by David is ample precedent that God appears comfortable choosing the right man for the job at the time, and equally comfortable shifting that choice when circumstances, personal failings, or acceptance by the people changes. As such, succession is a concept that would likely concern man more than God, who presumably knows how to correct mistakes if and when they should arise.

    Shall I risk another analogy? Succession in diverse groups from the Kremlin to the FP to corporations tends in good or tumultuous times to go with seniority, and during stagnation when change is needed a bolder/younger/outsider choice is made (such as Obama). It appears from the near total seniority-based succession of the FP that LDS has enjoyed thus far only good or tumultuous times, and has not yet suffered stagnation.

  61. I’m inclined to agree that polygamy was a bigger issue in the succession crisis than is generally assumed. For me, the really interesting question is what would have happened had Hyrum not been killed with Joseph? The next most interesting question is what if Joseph III had been 21 when his father was killed?

  62. Earl, that is not true. I saw it with my own eyes, as did several of my in-laws.

  63. J. Nelson-Seawright says:

    Aaron, very juicy indeed. We were traveling back from Peru and I didn’t have the time. If I get a chance, I’ll circle back; I hate to leave a gap.

  64. #21: Yes, “…it became an immigrant Church.” But how many non-Americas then/or ever have been in the upper leadership of the Church?

  65. J. Nelson-Seawright says:

    Earl, it’s probably not terribly good history to dismiss the mantle of Joseph event completely on those terms. There are tons of sources for this story, some reasonably early. George Laub, for example, told the story as early as 1852, and there are some other accounts from that period. This is, to be sure, years later, and it’s possible to account for the overtly miraculous nature of some reminiscences in terms of time and distance. But it’s a bit of a leap to suggest on that basis that the people at the time didn’t have a spiritual feeling that formed the basis for the later and perhaps exaggerated recollections. There’s even a pretty contemporary source that, I think, gives us a good sense of the personal spiritual and/or emotional experiences that led the audience to support Brigham Young and to subsequently develop the full transformation account:

    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, published in the Millennial Star, Feb., 1845)

    It does seem likely that, had an obvious miracle occurred, Woodruff and many others would have mentioned it at the time. But on the other hand, if there hadn’t been a subjective experience to draw on, it seems very unlikely that dozens of people would later claim to have seen a miracle. This all seems easiest to account for if we accept that there was a subjective experience, a “chord with which all hearts beat in unison,” that later developed into the more miraculous stories we know and love, or whatever.

  66. Bob, just some of the most powerful leaders and thinkers in the Church, e.g.:

    John Taylor, George Q. Cannon, Anthon Lund, B. H. Roberts, James E. Talmage, John Widtsoe…

  67. Steve Evans says:

    Hugh B. Brown!

  68. J. Nelson-Seawright says:

    N. Eldon Tanner!

  69. Steve Evans says:

    Nephi!

  70. Researcher says:

    Marion G. Romney.

    (I’ll leave it to someone else to wonder if Canadians (and now a Mexican) are “non-Americans.”)

  71. Actually, Steve (I’m not letting you get away with anything today!), Hugh B. Brown was born in Granger, Utah (somewhere in Salt Lake County–don’t ask me where) and moved to Canada. I suppose he became a Canadian citizen (army officer and barrister and all), but I’m not sure.

    Nice try, though.

  72. Steve Evans says:

    Mark, pretty sure he did become a Canadian – as you note he served in the Canadian armed forces. In any event we are baptizing him as such.

  73. 55. Right, it was underground. But QA, Pl. Marr, Masons, C of 50, 2nd ant. – the place where all those intersected was the 12. They had a lot of strings to pull and a lot invested to do it. It made a large difference if judging by surviving journals means anything. English converts – yes their loyalty was to the 12. The tide was strong. And then, most LDS, me included, would probably say, it was pushed over the top by the Spirit.

    66. On it as usual.
    69. Ha!

    Good one, JNS

  74. I think section 107 needs to be read a little more closely. The “equality” between the three quorums exisits within a framework explicitly explained in verses 33 and 34:

    “33 The Twelve are a Traveling Presiding High Council, to officiate in the name of the Lord, under the direction of the Presidency of the Church, agreeable to the institution of heaven; to build up the church, and regulate all the affairs of the same in all nations….

    “34 The Seventy are to act in the name of the Lord, under the direction of the Twelve or the traveling high council, in building up the church and regulating all the affairs of the same in all nations….”

    The hierarchical relationship between these three quorums is quite clear. And it was clear to Brigham Young and the Twelve (and the majority of Church members): when the First Presidency ceased to exist–which they argued had occurred–the Twelve, equal in authority, could pick up right where the First Presidency left off, and no one else could. And, more specifically, the Twelve were the highest presiding quorum in the Church (as defined by D&C 107) in which a majority of its members (9 of 12) held all of the keys of the priesthood. No other quorum held as much priesthood as the Twelve did, in either doctrinal theory or practice (no Quorum was closer to Smith in the final months of his life).

    This is true despite the fact that some individuals other than the Twelve held some of the same keys. Again, D&C 107 is explicit on the “equal authority” of the Twelve which no other quorum–including the First Presidency–holds:

    “35 The Twelve [are] sent out, holding the keys, to open the door by the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ….

    “38 It is the duty of the [Twelve] to call upon the Seventy, when they need assistance, to fill the several calls for preaching and administering the gospel…. [Note that the Twelve can operate without the Seventy if they need no assistance but no where is the same mentioned of the Seventy].

    “39 It is the duty of the Twelve, in all large branches of the church, to ordain evangelical ministers, as they shall be designated unto them by revelation–….

    “58 It is the duty of the Twelve, also, to ordain and set in order all the other officers of the church….”

    No such “authority” is given to the other “equal” quorums. So the question is whether anything–any authority, any keys–would be lost if a given individual or quorum were to succeed Joseph Smith. And the answer in 1844 for all others quorums and individuals other than the Twelve (and specifically, 9 of the Twelve) would be, “Yes, something is missing. You lack some authority or key that Joseph held.”

    I’m not sure how others are using the terms “legalistic” here, but the Twelve had the most doctrinally and historically sound arguement for succession and they presented it as such–they argued that they held the keys restored to Joseph Smith and had been placed in authority next to him by the revelations of God and ordinances of the priesthood.

  75. J. Nelson-Seawright says:

    Me, I wonder if there’s a problem in your reading. Section 107 says that the Twelve have powers “under the direction of the Presidency of the Church.” If we read the parallel clause in verse 34 as limiting the authority of the Seventy, such that they don’t have a succession claim, then we have to read the clause for the Twelve in the same way. This would suggest that the authority of the Twelve expires when there is no Presidency — not that it expands to encompass the authority of the Presidency.

    The other verses you quote compound the trouble: they limit the authority of the Twelve to the “world,” as opposed to the center stakes of the church. Thus, the Twelve can ordain people in “branches” of the church, but not in Nauvoo. They are specified as preaching the gospel, but not as administering the church outside of the mission field. When the Twelve becomes the presiding entity within the church in the center stake of Zion, that’s a change that seems to be unanticipated in Section 107 or elsewhere in the D&C.

    This doesn’t mean it’s wrong that the Twelve took over, obviously. But this kind of institutional argument in favor of succession might well be a bad idea, because it’s intellectually a bit shaky around the edges.

  76. #66: Most or all of these men came to America as children.
    I believe Brown and Tanner came from a Mormon settlement just across the Canadian border (?)

  77. That the First Presidency, Quorum of the Twelve and Seventy are placed in a hierarchical structure, with the Twelve being “higher” than the Seventy, seems to me very clear in D&C 107 (March 1835). This had not changed by 1844 and should therefore be taken into account when considering your original post in which you stated that “what Section 107 gives us is pretty nearly nothing.”

    The role of the Quorum of the Twelve had only increased in the intervening 9+ years to the point where they were not merely travelling high priests assigned to labor in the “world” but were placed next to the First Presidency in authority over the whole Church. So while their assignment in 1835 is specifically in “branches” and the “world,” their inclusion in D&C 107 as one of the “equal” presiding quorums that acts directly under the direction of the First Presidency anticipates their fuller role in the kingdom, a role which Joseph Smith recognized and enabled through his conveyance of authority to the Twelve by both ordinance and instruction. This “advancing” or “development” of the Quorum of the Twelve is well attested; one example from 1841:

    “President Joseph Smith now arriving proceeded to state to the conference at considerable length, the object of their present meeting, and in addition to what President [Brigham] Young had stated in the morning, said 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 emigrants and the business of the church at the stakes….” Times and Seasons 2 (1 September 1841): 521-22.

    When do you think Smith began to anticipate a “time” when the Twelve were to “attend to . . . the business of the church at the stakes,” a time when the Twelve were to “stand in their place next to the first presidency”? And what made it “their place” to stand next to the First Presidency if not D&C 107? It remarkable that in the developments of Nauvoo Joseph did not contradict or alter the revelation of 1835 but only fulfilled it more: the Twelve still maintained their assignment to the “world” (read mission field) but now were to act under the direction of the First Presidency to regulate the affairs of the stakes as well.

    I don’t think it can be reasonably claimed that this type of “institutional argument” is intellectually unsound because it’s historically founded and historically sound. It’s exactly what Joseph Smith’s revelations and actions pointed to, and it’s what Brigham Young recognized and argued (successfully, I hasten to add) immediately upon hearing of Joseph’s murder.

  78. Bob, What’s your point?

  79. Me, I think what you are missing is these vs. in 107:

    36 The standing high councils, at the stakes of Zion, form a quorum equal in authority in the affairs of the church, in all their decisions, to the quorum of the presidency, or to the traveling high council.

    37 The high council in Zion form a quorum equal in authority in the affairs of the church, in all their decisions, to the councils of the Twelve at the stakes of Zion.

    If it were so obvious at the time, why was there so much confusion and controversy?

    Look, as both JNS and other have said, there was a compelling argument for many to follow the Twelve. I’m glad some of my ancestors did. But, there were apperently compelling reason for many not to as well.

  80. #78: IMO, these men were not non-American upper Church leaders. But then, if Utah had remained part of Mexico…..

  81. Well, I was waiting for the stake high councils to be mentioned, but I don’t see how they really change anything. In 1835, the high councils of the stakes of Zion (non-Independence stakes such as Kirtland) had the same authority in their stakes to do what the Twelve were to do (again, in 1835) in the branches or in the world (non-stake units): to ordain officers and regulate the afairs of the same.
    Likewise for the stake in Zion (Independence). D&C 107 is not saying that the Kirtland Stake High Council or the Zion Stake High Council could act completely independantly of the First Presidency. Decisions of the high councils of any stake could/can be appealed to higher councils, the First Presidency being the highest (from which there is no appeal). But that merely describes things in 1835 when the time had not yet come for the Twelve to take their place next to the First Presidency which intent is clearly stated in D&C 107.

    Again, I’m not sure how you think this is pertinent to the question of whether D&C 107 has anything significant bearing on the 1844 succession debate. I merely disagree with J. that it doesn’t.

    The 1841 conference declaration of the Prophet pertains to both D&C 107 and the succession question; it connects them, really. There is no declaration by Joseph in 1835 or 1844 or anywhere in between that the stakes are next to the First Presidency; but in 1835 and 1841 and 1844 (the Last Charge) there are statements (and actions in the later years) that do place the Twelve there. I’m saying Brigham’s understanding and claim to succession by the Twelve was and is both intellectually sound and historically defensible.

    Just to be clear, I’m not saying that there wasn’t confusion and discord about succession in 1844 or that there weren’t compelling reason to do something other than follow Brigham and the Twelve. I am saying that D&C 107 is more pertinent to the question than the OP states or implies and that this view can be reasonably defended from the historical record.

  82. J. Nelson-Seawright says:

    Me, I don’t think the section isn’t pertinent, just that it can’t answer the question, and that the typical interpretations of the text to favor Young’s succession tend to ignore problematic features of the text. I agree that the Twelve were important in the church, both in formal scriptural authority and in Nauvoo practice. This was obviously important for succession. It just doesn’t decide the question.

  83. Me,

    But that merely describes things in 1835 when the time had not yet come for the Twelve to take their place next to the First Presidency which intent is clearly stated in D&C 107.

    I’m not an expert on the textual history (though I have heard that 107 is comprised of several revelations), but are you suggesting that the relevant verses (from the SS lesson RE: Q12 in equal authority to the FP) came at a significantly later date than the 1835 stuff? I’m not asking flippantly, I just don’t quite see the reasoning.

  84. J. Nelson-Seawright says:

    Brad, Woodford’s thesis on the D&C textual history says that verses 59 and on are from an 1831 revelation. But all of the verses that have been talked about here come from the 1835 part of the revelation. None of the section is later than 1835.

  85. Hey! I’m from Granger, Utah!(#71). “Somewhere in Salt Lake County–don’t ask me where” indeed! It was also the home of former Governor Norm Bangerter and his brother, (and former GA) William Grant Bangerter.

    Okay, it wasn’t the Center Place in Zion, but you could see it from Granger.

  86. Re giving the Canadian baptism to HBB:

    “[Hugh B.] Brown, reflecting on his mixed Canadian-American background, found it difficult to declare a first loyalty; he had been an officer in the Canadian armed forces, had been a Utah state commissioner and candidate for the United States Senate, and had practiced law in both countries. While he had willingly become a Canadian citizen with his family, he had as willingly become a naturalized, repatriated American.” The Oft-Crossed Border

  87. #84 JNS: I wish i could be more help with specifics, but I think Harper’s recent “Making Sense of the Doctrine and Covenants” goes into the makeup of the revelation more specifically. IIRC, only about a dozen or two verses (possibly starting with 59) are from an 1831 revelation, with the rest that follows as 1835 commentary. Don’t have a copy of the book, though; sorry.

    Also, Rob Jensen is the man to ask on this. He gave a little info on the section in comment 42 here: http://www.juvenileinstructor.org/forthcoming-and-recently-published-books-on-mormon-and-utah-history/

  88. JNS, I’ve really been enjoying these posts on the D&C lessons, thanks for posting them.

  89. Hey, I want to threadjack too! (this rudeness is not directed at any one person)

    Ben, Ben, my friend. In response to your number 38, my less-than-witty retort is that I wouldn’t make too much of a positive JS/Rigdon relationship because Rigdon was eventually chosen as a VP candidate. The continually rocky relationship is pretty easy to document. Also, I’m not aware of two rejections prior to Rigdon. The tantalizing truth is that JS’s first choice, JAB, actually accepted the nomination, but word of that acceptance only came after Richards had recinded the offer. Someone who should have known better perpetuated (possibly created?) the myth that JAB declined the offer based on a non-American birth.

  90. Brad, J.’s right, nothing past 1835. My point is that one can’t merely quote D&C 107:22-24 and say “That’s it. There’s really nothing here pertinent to succession.” I simply disagree with the assertion to that effect. D&C 107 has much more meaning to it than originally stated.

    In 1835, though the quorums are desribed as “equal” in authority, they are also clearly placed in a hierarchy with the First Presidency being highest in authority, the Quorum of the Twelve under them, with the Seventy assisting the Twelve, and with the stake high councils being “equal” to them all (the Seventy are absent from verse 36 but I think it’s reasonably inferred that they are included) and the stake high council in Zion being equal to all the stake high councils.

    We know that the Twelve in D&C 107 are not placed over the stakes but without them. We also know that Joseph in 1841 says the Twelve are now to take their place next to the First Presidency and be over the stakes (that’s how I interpret them attending to the “business” of the stakes). Cleary, the precedent for the 1841 action is the 1835 revelation. Joseph is fulfilling the divine pattern.

    So when Joseph dies and Brigham claims that the Twelve stand next to the First Presidency, with no one or no quorum between them, he was on solid precedent, both doctrinally (by binding revelation) and practically (though Joseph’s actions in the last years and months of life). No quorum or individual had higher authority and standing within the priesthood than Brigham Young and the Twelve (the Twelve here being spoken of collectively as three did not have all of the keys–William Smith, John Page, and Lyman Wight, who, coincidentally or not, each left the Church after Joseph’s death).

    Brigham specifically alluded or referred to section 107:24 during the 8 Aug 1844 meeting, at least to the understanding of Joseph Fielding:

    “…he [Brigham Young] had much Liberty and the Power of the Spirit in speaking and at the said Meeting he shewd that Rigdon if he were to take his Place as Councellor to Joseph he must go beyond the Vail where he was gone, and the Saints soon began to see how things were and that the 12 must now hold the Keys of Power and Authority according to the Revelation which says the 12 are equal with the first Presidency [D&C 107] before this he asked the Church if they wished to choos themselvs a Guardian, but they did not raise their Hands, and it was now no hard thing determing who should lead the Church it was also shewn that Joseph had told the 12 after he had instructed them in all things that on them would rest the Responsibility and the Care of the Church in Case he should be taken away [the Last Charge]…” (Ehat, “‘They Might Have Known That He Was Not a Fallen Prophet’–The Nauvoo Journal of Joseph Fielding, BYU Studies 19:2:155.)

    J. said he thought quoting more verses from section 107, Joseph Smith’s 1841 conference declaration, and referring to the conveyance of keys via temple ordinances, the closeness of the Twelve to Joseph in the final years and months of his life, and the Last Charge is “intellectually shaky.”

    I, of course, disagree with this assessment. I think it’s exactly what the historical record taken in totality and in context shows: the Twelve and the majority of the Saints understood the course of action outlined or implied from 1835 to 1844 and acted accordingly; and those whose claims they rejected in 1844 were the ones on intellectually shaky ground.

  91. Me, the argument remains, to my ears, intellectually shaky. The problem is that you’re reading both the 1835 text and the 1841 statement from the point of view of a “divine pattern” that I don’t think became evident until 1844 or later. The Twelve may have stood “next to” the First Presidency, but so also did the stake leadership in Nauvoo. Some parts of 107 suggest hierarchy among the various leading quorums, which would in turn suggest that dissolution of the First Presidency would leave all of the other quorums bereft of instructions and paralyzed. Other parts specifically deny hierarchy (equal in authority), which would allow succession but create a risk of chaos whenever more than one quorum exists. But, here’s the key thing: nothing in 107 says anything about succession. The Twelve are certainly important, but you can’t make an inference from important to God’s chosen successor. We lack the logical rule that permits this. Because there isn’t such a rule, legalistic succession arguments that I’m familiar with all seem to boil down to some kind of question begging.

  92. Alex: I did not say that there was no tension, in fact I said that the tension could not be disputed. But, the fact that JS did have Rigdon as his running mate as well as initiate him into the C50 does show that there was some alliance in spring 1844.

    And Bennet in fact did decline the nomination, in a letter to Willard Richards on 14 April 1844. The other person who declined was Colonel Solomon Copeland, of Paris, Tennessee. Rigdon was then appointed on May 6.

    Do you have contrary evidence?

  93. J.,
    I haven’t followed this discussion too closely, but wouldn’t the events described in the New Testament tend to lead some to assume some successive power being invested in the modern 12. This isn’t to say that the hierarchy in both organizations was organized similarly (or, in the case of the original twelve, even organized), but the New Testament text does tend to care about Peter, James, and John in a manner that it doesn’t seem to care about the other apostles. I don’t know that this is a slam dunk indicating that the 12 were the obvious choice in succession (I rather doubt it is, to be honest), but I do think it might indicate that those who see a tendency toward succession being invested in the 12 are not pulling it entirely out of the air.

  94. The (still unpublished) D&C 112 could have played a role if it had had more circulation. It offers more equality in terms of FP and 12. Of course, Marsh was out of it, but Young would have naturally taken that spot. It was copied a lot, so perhaps it played a bit of a role. JS certainly gave fairly large local authority to the 12 following their British mission. Much of his private church steering was with the 12. The high council had become mostly judiciary. The Kirtland model was going, going, gone.

  95. I neglected to mention too the 3 lost revelations of Jan 1838 further marginalized high councils I think.

  96. Ben (#92),

    Ben, please forgive me. I assumed that you were the same Ben that I have known for many years, and consequently wrote in a manner that probably came off as informal and caustic. I did not mean to offend. I should not take any more space in this post, given that I have contributed nothing and only waylaid the conversation, but I will try to briefly respond to your question.

    First, however, let me say that we will just need to disagree about how close Rigdon and JS were in spring 1844. I do not see an “alliance” in any form as likely at that time. I only wrote that perhaps you were “[making] too much” of the apparent positive nature of the relationship because you had offered a similarly-worded warning to 20 and 27 about making too much of a strain.

    Re. James Arlington Bennet: You are correct about Copeland, but Bennet did *not* decline the nomination in the 14 April 1844 letter to Richards that you cite. On the contrary, he offered to accept it (in his own self-deprecating way). Both the idea that he declined, and the myth that he based his rejection on a claim of his Irish birth, come from a misreading of that letter by Lyndon Cook. The actual events are far more interesting, and I will not take the time to recite them here, but I would be happy to email a summary to you. I explained the situation briefly in an extremely forgettable MHA paper on Bennet’s correspondence with JS and Richards in Sacramento a couple years back.

    But to give the pertinent quote, from an image in front of me of the original sent version of the letter you cite, Bennet said first: “I would just say that I wish for no nomination for Vice President of the U States, or other Civic Station” This, coupled with a statement on the previous page that he considered JS’s bid for the presidency a “wild goose Chase”, would certainly give the impression that he was rejecting the nomination. At least, if one did not read the rest of the letter. Bennet followed the quote about wishing for no nomination with an explanation that he was, in fact, a New York-born fellow, along with an explanation of why he himself had propagated the myth that eventually made it to Richards, prompting the earlier letter from Richards revoking the offer for Bennet to be a V.P. candidate. Bennet then wrote: “If therefore it will serve your purpose (not mine,) you are at liberty to use my name for any office you may think proper- If my name associated with Josephs will add any thing to the Cause it is at your Service, not however with any view of arrivi[n]g at a Successful result, but merely for Effect-” (I have eliminated one stricken false start and neglected to underline one word because I don’t know how to do that with this authoring tool).

    Apologies again to you and the OP.

  97. John C., there’s no doubt that succession for the 12 was a realistic possibility, and I’m sure that Mormon readings of the New Testament played a role in that.

  98. Alex: If I would have know it was you, I would have deferred already to your judgement :)

    I was relying on past historian’s interpretation of the letter, obviously, and I trust your judgement :)

  99. Ben,

    No, my bad. Having just come from reading comments by another “Alex” on another active post I should be aware of the pitfalls of using these nicely-anonymous single name monikers. Let alone I was consciously goading you when you were making a good point. Humblest apologies my friend. :-)

  100. A last thought here.

    A successful legalistic argument for succession would have to have basically the following syllogistic structure:

    1. Condition X is true of entity 1.

    2. Any entity for which condition X is true has the right to succeed to the Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when that presidency becomes vacant.

    3. Therefore, entity 1 has the right to succeed to the Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when that presidency becomes vacant.

    The basic problem is that out scriptures don’t provide statement #2. They just don’t ever specify the traits (authority, faithfulness, temple ordinances, proximity to Joseph Smith, blood relationship to Joseph Smith, angelic ordination, acceptance of polygamy, etc.) that would qualify a person or group to succeed. As a result, there is always a missing step in the argument.

    People advancing legalistic arguments (for instance, in this thread Me, who I think has put this kind of argument as clearly, forcefully, and persuasively as I’ve seen) are reduced to emphatically urging various versions of claim #1 in the syllogism and then asserting the conclusion. The problem is simply that, without claim #2, no possible version of claim #1 can logically imply claim #3.

    For example, it has been urged that the Twelve were “next to” the First Presidency in a way that no other group was. I don’t think this is right, in that I think there were other groups that were independently “next to” the First Presidency. But, even if it were to be definitively proven, it still wouldn’t imply a right to succession. (An executive assistant is typically “next to” a CEO, in geography, in communication flows, and often in informal power networks. Yet we wouldn’t generally expect an executive assistant to claim a right to succession as CEO.) For all our scriptures tell us, it might be the case that God’s rule is to recruit new prophets from outside the hierarchy, or to leapfrog the Twelve from some other part of the hierarchy. Because we lack the logical rule linking position “next to” the First Presidency with a right to succession, no conclusion on these grounds can ever reasonably be drawn. The arguments boil down eventually to banging shoes on tables…

  101. Steve Evans says:

    John C./JNS, the problem with relying on a q12 succession based on a reading of the N.T. is that the text doesn’t provide for a new President/Prophet of the Church, just the governing by the 12.

  102. Steve, and not by the president of the 12, at that — just Apostles in general; Paul did whatever he wanted, even when Peter disagreed…

  103. Steve Evans says:

    Just so. So, like anything else, it’s a prooftext.

  104. That said, regarding the question of public acceptance of apostolic leadership after Joseph’s death, I’m sure that the New Testament played a substantial role in making the possibility seem credible.

  105. J made my point. Based on an very simplified NT reading, Apostles were a better bet for church leadership than stake presidencies or high councils.

  106. Joseph was no MBA graduate. I read the whole priesthood and governance sections as a mashup of overlapping authority. This is why Brigham Young eviscerated the Aaronic Priesthood as soon as he took over because it was so redundant (among other reasons). (As an aside, we have all of the leftovers of the original Aaronic Priesthood in the Temple ceremony, now and forever more a priesthood of boys, mainly.)

    Likewise the Seventies. I really loved the old idea of Seventies not being High Priests, a result that gave us the likes of B. H. Roberts and J. Golden Kimball, two of the most revered and best, because they were not management material. They were, however, basically not usable, managerially, because they were not Church management material. That proved absolutely intractable in terms of Church governance. It is a body equal to the other two but made up of people with no management experience. Who would have even considered that? As the church grew larger and more help was needed, the question remained, what to do.

    They tried the non-scriptural assistants to the quorum of the 12, but that was too non-scriptural. The seventies were scriptural but prohibited from being management material. So they changed that part of the scriptures, by revelation, to allow the enlargement of the Seventies with former High Priests.

    So, defacto, the 12 have the power because the senior apostle always is and becomes the president of the Church, so he always has control. The Seventy are always subject to the Twelve because they can be fired by the Twelve but not the other way around.

    As I see it, much of the reorganization of the priesthood has been in response to Joseph’s inexperience as a manager. He had no opportunity to train except on the job. This is why, mainly, we have the modern assertion that the present prophet takes precedence over all other prophets, particularly Joseph Smith, particularly when it comes to organizational revelation. (Unfortunately this has been extended to doctrinal issues as well, I think, which is a real mistake. Organization, well OK, but leave eternal progression in place, Gordon B. Hinckley)

  107. Seriously, why is not what was done, and is still being done, the standard ? While good minds can differ on what should been done. Hasn’t the correct way (or the answer) of succession been established by estoppel?

  108. A more Machiavellian view of the Church disorganization: Keep them confused and the one at the top will maintain power.

  109. #108: More Machiavellian would be to pick as your replacement, a guy who everyone feared or hated.

  110. I think the requirement for “proof” and “logic” is overrated.

    Why? Because, in this existence, we are dealing with both the material and the immaterial. (Where the immaterial would include things like values and judgment. )

    So “proof” has its limits. How would an appearance by God prove that his definition of “love your neighbor” is correct? How would the application of “consequences” and “responsibility” mean that He has the correct balance of trade-offs to share with you?

    We have to trust that He is using the material world to move people in a good direction.

  111. Every time a President of the church dies, church members crow about politics never play a role in the choosing of the next leader like happens in other churches. That may be true now, but its obvious it didn’t start out that way. This has been a very interesting conversation and I have learned a lot.

  112. Sorry to pop in so late. Everyone has probably already had the lesson today (I was a substitute). However, a couple of points:

    1) A complete collection of accounts of the “mantle” of Joseph passing to Brigham is at:

    Lynne Watkins Jorgensen and BYU Studies staff, “The Mantle of the Prophet Joseph Passes to Brother Brigham: A Collective Spiritual Witness,” BYU Studies 36/4:131

    http://contentdm.lib.byu.edu/cdm4/document.php?CISOROOT=/byustudies&CISOPTR=2445&REC=13 guest

    2) I look at it organically rather than legalistically. I heard Richard Bushman once describe D&C 107 as creating a great luxuriant bush of organizations. Every gardener knows that you usually have to prune a bush to get it to grow in an orderly way. Over the following years the parallel and overlapping wealth of quorums created by D&C 107 was pruned by experience and revelation. Previous comments and research like the excellent Quinn article describe how Joseph step by step moved the Twelve into a preeminent position as the majority of that group proved themselves through events such as the removal from Missouri and the mission to England. These actions by Joseph (culminating with the “last charge” in early 1844 referred to above) have to be treated as essential revealed refinements on the D&C 107 structure to make a complete “legalistic” argument for the primacy of the Twelve.

  113. JNS- Sorry haven’t read comments yet, but am in this lesson now. Anyway, Ehat’s thesis was about why Brigham would be ideal via hindsight. Ie- he was in all the annointed quorums. I was wondering if you’d read it and what your thoughts were. (It is also interesting, because when Ehat wrote it, the Hoffman forgeries were considered true.)

  114. Matt W., I have read the thesis — someone lent me a clandestine copy at one point several years back. The low visibility of the thesis, and the fact that I don’t own a copy, make it hard to talk specifics at this late date. My feeling, though, is that Ehat’s argument has two thrusts. One is a pragmatic argument about why Brigham’s succession was retroactively reasonable, and his leadership successful — and I think the connection of the Twelve to the temple ordinances is certainly part of the story here, although it perhaps undersells the importance of polygamy as the basic network of relationships and power that supported both the temple ordinances and the Twelve’s increased importance in Nauvoo.

    The second line of argumentation in Ehat’s work is a set of claims about why the majority of Nauvoo Saints sustained Brigham as the church leader. Ehat argues that the Twelve’s connection with temple work was key to mass acceptance at the time, but I’d guess that’s an overstatement. I’m not sure that the Nauvoo masses in general knew about the connections, and in any case they had other good reasons to support Young and the Twelve. Those reasons were perhaps more ad hoc and sometimes even political: while there were spiritual experiences, there was also the fact that Young was in many very visible ways a more capable and stable leader than, for example, Sidney Rigdon. These sorts of criteria seem to me to probably be the best explanation for the acceptance of the Twelve at the time; more complex, legalistic arguments about custodianship of ordinances and priesthood keys seem less viscerally persuasive and far more difficult to work out for the average Nauvoo Saint who knew relatively little about everything that was going on.

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