Brigham Young

Melinda-Blog-Image-Brigham-YoungA word today in praise of Brother Brigham (d. August 29, 1877). Brigham Young was a man of his times, and those times were, by all measures, rough. With an iron will he and the Saints endured the martyrdom of the Prophet Joseph Smith, finished the Nauvoo temple sufficiently that ordinance work could go forward there, and then worked day and night so that the Saints could be endowed and sealed there before their departure into the wilderness. In the semi-desert of the Great Basin, Brigham Young and his followers planted their crops and commanded them to grow with irrigation water channeled from the rivers and lakes, then raised up more temples, and sought for Zion.

Recent assessments of his long and imposing career, even by sympathetic writers, have shown that not everything Brigham said or did turned out for the best. His racism towards blacks and his paternalism towards the Indians of the valley did damage that is rightly acknowledged as such today. He was human and bounded, as all humans are, by the horizon of his understanding and the atmosphere of the world he inhabited. But today let us also avow that he was a beloved prophet to his people and accept the responsibility we incur with that avowal to seek by the (still partial) light that we have today the good and the true in his teachings.

He was a remarkable man at a remarkable moment. As the Deseret Evening News stated upon the announcement of his death on this date in 1877, he “rescued thousands from poverty and raised them to independence, opened the deserts of these mountains to colonization, preached the gospel of salvation to many nations, declared the counsel of heaven to the inhabitants of the earth, prepared the way in the Temples of God for the redemption of hosts of the dead, [and] organized and consolidated the order of the everlasting Priesthood.”

Brigham Young recognized that he had a rare and historic opportunity—the chance to build a community from the ground up in an unspoiled environment. He met his moment with vision. No prophet in Latter-day Saint tradition has a stronger record than he of teaching the Saints their stewardship over creation. He preached a communitarian ethic (he called it “filialty”) of  virtue, frugality, and industry. To the first settlers of Logan, Cache Valley, he commented on how remarkable it was “to see people from so many nations joining hearts and hands to build cities, gather the poor, preach the Gospel, cultivate the earth and do whatsoever is necessary to be done to accomplish what the Lord designed in the beginning of this creation…. With all our weaknesses and imperfections, there is more brotherly kindness here than in any other country…. It is the work of the invisible hand of that Being we call our Father.” (Journal of Discourses 8:77–78.)

Echoing the book of Isaiah, Brigham Young taught that the content of human character would be revealed in our treatment of the created world. Our external environment will thus reflect our internal values.

I do not wish the brethren to cut all the timber to put it into log-houses. Erect saw-mills and make lumber, which will be far better than building log-houses. We have no timber to waste.

You are here commencing anew[.] The soil, the air, the water are all pure and healthy. Do not suffer them to become polluted with wickedness. Strive to preserve the elements from being contaminated by the filthy, wicked conduct and sayings of those who pervert the intelligence God has bestowed upon the human family (Journal of Discourses 8:79).

Brigham saw clearly a connection between our moral attitudes and the health of the created order. And he was worried, rightly so, that greed and avarice would eventually scar the land and dull the conscience of his people. Since his time, much has been lost that was once pristine in the world. But there is still more to loose, or conversely, still much to save, and even more to reclaim of the creations we have blighted. May the people of God love His creation even as they love themselves, for an injury to one is an injury to the other. So taught Brother Brigham.




Mormon Lectionary Project

The Feast of Brigham Young

Isaiah 5:1–10; Psalm 24:1–5; Matthew 6:19–34; Romans 8:19–23; D&C 59:16-21

The Collect: O God, Creator of the Heavens and the Earth, who by the hand of thy servant Brigham Young led thy people into the wilderness that they might build Zion; lead also our hearts, through repentance and the reception of thy grace, to newness of life. Let us work and build with consecrated hands, dwelling peaceably in the earth, so to make it beautiful, even as thou and thy Son together with the Holy Spirit dwell in One, the beauty of holiness. Amen.

Hymn: Gonna Build a Mountain by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony NewleyThis song, though much performed, has not often received its due as the spiritual anthem that it is, and it’s best rendition, I believe, is still in the future.

Gonna build a mountain from a little hill
Gonna build me a mountain, least I hope I will.
Gonna build a mountain.
Gonna build it high.
I don’t know how I’m gonna do it.
I only know I’m gonna try.

Gonna build me a daydream.
From a little hope.
Gonna push that daydream.
Up the mountain slope.
Gonna build a daydream.
Gonna see it through.
Gonna build a mountain and a daydream.
Gonna make them both come true.

Gonna build a heaven.
From a little hell.
Gonna build me a heaven.
And I know darn well.
If I build my mountain with a lot of care.
And take my daydream up the mountain.
And heaven will be waiting there.

When I build that heaven as I will someday.
And the Lord sends Gabriel to take me away.
What a fine young son to take my place.
I’ll leave a son in my heaven on earth.
With the good Lord’s praise.



  1. Cache Country?

  2. “A word today in praise of Brother Brigham (d. August 29, 1877). Brigham Young was a man of his times, and those times were, by all measures, rough.”

    If only the Church would allow us all to be men of our times like it allows our former leaders to be men of theirs.

  3. Thanks, Owen, for the spell check! Fixed.

  4. Nothing to add to the post, except to say that I’m pleased that you’ve included Brother Brigham in this lectionary project. I have to think that some part of his multi-faceted personality would smile down on this.

  5. Wonderful addition to the lectionary! Thank you! I think it was perfect for you to focus on this particular aspect of Brigham Young’s long leadership — his respectful view toward the creation and natural environment in this part of the world. Though he was surely in favor of development, my sense from things I’ve read was that he had early insight into issues of sustainable living, which is a topic that we Mormons culturally have blatantly ignored for a long time now as we have joined “the world” — adopting temporally and very geographically bound conservative political ideologies that have reigned in the United States for the last half century — in viewing our environment, land, and labor as things to be exploited at will to aggregate wealth to ourselves individually, often justified by saying that we’re only doing so for the benefit of our families (by which we mean our literal biological descendants, our children and grandchildren, and not the human family more universally, which is, I think, how Brigham Young would have looked at it), not bothering to think about the sustainability or environmental impact of our actions.

    We could learn a lot from studying and understanding the communitarian impulses that really animated Brigham Young. It is true that the approach to communitarianism that he took ultimately did not work very well in practice, but that was merely the iteration of the concept that he implemented and is not, by long measure, the final word on the value of the communitarian principles underlying Brigham Young’s vision, a vision firmly rooted in latter-day revelations collected in the Doctrine and Covenants pertaining to building up the Kingdom of God and Zion and the stewardship expected of disciples of Jesus Christ.

    Mormonism owes a lot to the work and mission of the prophet Brigham Young!

  6. Agreed, john f. For brevity’s sake, I didn’t unpack much the idea of sin and environmental degradation. But it is there in the original teachings of Joseph Smith, and Brigham Young obviously took them to heart and spoke out about the very practical ways he saw those principles applying to the Saints as they built their new mountain home.

    George Handley has just published a trenchant post on this very subject over at Home Waters. He details the ways that environmental degradation reveals the moral pollution that Brigham Young is speaking about.

  7. That is such a good, valuable post by George Handley — perfect to illustrate this issue, and perfectly in the spirit of Brigham Young.

  8. Thanks, Morgan, for a fine, balanced assessment. This is perfect for the lectionary project! And a well-deserved HT to George Handley.

  9. J. Stapley says:

    Moving stuff in there. I have great respect for BY, builder of the temple.

  10. Personally, I find more concern with some of the things BY did and said than the inspiration derived from selected instances in his life. I’ll try to stay positive, but it’s tough to block out of my mind some things.

  11. , used to have a different impression of Brigham Young until I read American Moses by Leonard Arrington. I came away with a far more positive impression. A lot has come out since that has given us more information (both pro and con), but Arrington’s portrayal of him, particularly his attempts to follow Joseph Smith is something I’ve taken with me through the years and has never completely left me.

  12. Greg N, I appreciate your sentiment, and I think I get where it’s coming from. I wrote this post partly as an exercise to school my own feelings about BY.

    This may be easy for me to say, because I have never been personally hindered by anything he ever did, and he’s blood (I’m his great, great, great, great, nephew), but I believe the principle is sound that anyone who has been wronged will find peace and the power to move forward in positive ways by acknowledging whatever went wrong, naming it, seeing it for what it was, and then letting go of it as often as the pain resurges. To forgive means not to forget, but to turn our attention from a preoccupation with past wounds to a focus on what we can do to make the world better and safer and more just for our having lived in it.

    Most people are not pure evil or pure good. Each of us take our turns at being at odds with our own purported values and ideals. So, just as our treatment of the environment is a reflection of our inner heart, so is our ability to clothe other’s reputations in charity a reflection of our commitment to the Lord who promised, “if ye forgive men their trespasses, so will your Father also forgive you your trespasses.”

    I hope this doesn’t sound too sanctimonious. Like I say, I’m the one who needed to write this entry in the way I did.

  13. Cameron N. says:

    I suspect that Brigham was speaking with dual meaning (as prophets and the Lord Himself often do) when using the word ‘pollution,’ but I dislike how it is so often interpreted to focus on the contemporary meaning of the word rather than the scriptural, spiritual one. It seems to me a more likely interpretation skews toward the other side of meaning.

  14. Thanks for this, Morgan.

    I’m not sure the Church could have survived without the Lion of the Lord during those hellish times. It’s easy to judge him from the relative luxury of our modern time. Yes, he had his issues, especially based on our time but even in his own, but I try always to remember that I would have run screaming from the responsibilities he shouldered daily – and that, at the most basic level, he was a good, caring person.

  15. This was lovely. Thank you. And it helped brighten my perspective of Brother Brigham.

  16. Amen.

    Perhaps because the site of Brigham’s home in Mendon, New York is within our ward boundaries, or perhaps because his neighbor and best friend there, Heber Kimball, is an ancestor, I’ve always had a great soft spot for him, but especially for the Brigham of the early New York years, seeing visions on the night the prophet retrieved the plates, without even knowing anything about mormonism, listening to the Elders from Pennsylvania, driving down to Pennsylvania in the dead of winter to further investigate this strange sect, receiving the gift of tongues, caring for and burying his wife, Miriam, in the Tomlinson Corners cemetery, walking across the ice of Lake Ontario to preach the gospel in Canada, and eventually picking up to gather to Ohio. There is much to admire (and much that is troubling, too) about the later years, but I’ve always been drawn to these early years. (Remarkably, the Mendon branch was one of the few branches of the church where every member of the branch stayed in the church until their death.)

  17. That’s wonderful perspective on him that you share, JKC. Thank you.

  18. Dennis D. Picard says:

    Not too many weeks ago I made a trip to Vermont to visit Brigham’s birth place and see some of the three monuments for him. What a wonderful location. It seems a shame more folks don’t visit the “cradle” so to speak

  19. Funny how songs with bad grammar never make it into the hymnbook. :P

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