Your Sunday Brunch Special: The 1880 First Presidency and the George Q. Cannon Journal

Last year, Jonathan Stapley and I reviewed the newly released initial segment of George Q. Cannon’s journals from the Church Historian’s Press. Cannon, a fixture in Utah Mormon leadership, politics, and business for the latter half of the nineteenth century, reported his activities in Church and State with interesting fidelity in what was once a closely held journal. Just recently, more of the Cannon journal was released and Cannon has a particularly frank account of deliberations among the apostles over the question of organizing a First Presidency. Brigham Young had been dead since August 1877 and the apostles had stepped up as a twelve man presidency, just as they had done in Nauvoo after Joseph Smith’s death. Remarkably for us perhaps, some of the same puzzles were still present over the question of reorganization of a First Presidency. Did they really need to proceed? Was a Presidency really needed to effectively govern? How would it be selected? Who should be president–what of the health of older apostles? Why did some apostles object to a new presidency? Who were those objectors? Cannon sheds remarkable light on these and other questions in this drama.[1]

Up until now, Wilford Woodruff’s journal was a major source of information:

Oct 9 Conference Met at 10 oclok. D O Calder Prayed. Moses Thatcher spoke 61 M[inutes], D H Wells 27. Afternoon. John Vancott Prayed. Presidet Joseph Young spoke 65 M. Was 83 years of age & 6 months. A List of 29 Missionaries was Called to Great Britain, one to Canida, 9 to Scandinavia, & 4 to the United States & 5 to the Southern States. The foregoing [are?] now in the field of labor 30 for Great Britain, 10 to Scandinavia, 1 to the Sandwich Islands, 9 to the United States, 31 to the Southern States. Joseph F Smith then spoke 22 M. Conference adjourned untill sunday 10 oclok.

The Apostle[s] then met in Council at 6 oclok and Decided to Organize the first Presidency of the Church. Wilford Woodruff Nominated John Taylor to be the Presidet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and it was Carried unanimously. Presidet John Taylor then Chose George Q Cannon as his first Councillor and Joseph F Smith as his second Councillor. It was then Moved seconded & Carried Unanimously that Wilford Woodruff Should be the Presidet of the Twelve Apostles.

Woodruff’s journal gives some outline of what took place, but it provides little detail. Cannon’s record is far more robust. It’s long, but it’s worth reading for a host of reasons, not least of which is a window into how a deep conundrum was resolved, not without doubt, not without faith, not without continuing question.

[To break up some of Cannon’s long entries, I’ve noted who he is quoting in bold type. Take note that this is not a stenographic record, it is Cannon’s day by day memory in longhand. Moreover, as is the case with any diary, it’s not terribly objective in some spots.]

[6 October 1880 • Wednesday]

Wednesday – 6 Conference met at 10 o’clock in the large Tabernacle. After the brethren had spoken President Taylor suggested the idea of adjourning till to-morrow so that we could have the afternoon for our regular council meeting. This met the minds of the brethren and conference was adjourned till 10 o’clock to-morrow. While Prest. Taylor was addressing the conference he was seized with vertigo and came very near falling. We assisted him to his seat. He was quite conscious and described his feelings as though the tabernacle were upsetting and that he had to hold on to keep himself from falling. As he sat down he requested me to speak which I did and had considerable flow of the spirit.

First Q12 Meeting:

John Taylor: Among other business which came up at our council was an inquiry on the part of Prest Taylor as to the views of the brethren respecting the views of a first presidency. He stated that this subject had been upon his mind and it had been especially impressed upon him in the researches which he had made to prepare manuscript concerning the priesthood that has been read. It was evident that there was one quorum that had not been organized and that we were in an imperfect condition without it. He felt that the Lord had accepted what we had done in the capacity of the quorum of the Twelve, and that he did not mention this matter from any personal feelings or desire to have a change for was very well content to have matters remain as they were and for himself to be associated with the quorum of the Twelve. But it was not a matter of personal feelings—it was the word of the Lord and he desired to lay this matter before them for their consideration.

Orson Pratt: Elder O Pratt expressed himself as having the same feelings respecting a First Presidency. He thought that it was a matter that we should pay attention to, and, when the spirit manifested, should be acted upon. He said he had also thought of laying before the Council the propriety of calling to the presidency a younger man when ever Prest. Taylor should pass away, that the responsibility of such a position might not bear too heavily upon the elder members of the quorum.[2]

John Taylor: Prest. Taylor said it would be time enough to consider that question when the necessity arose that would require it.

Cannon’s note: Woodruff objects to getting a younger man. I may here say that though there were no open expressions of dissent to this idea of Bro. Pratt’s yet Bro. Woodruff expressed privately the most decided objections to such a suggestion being carried out, and I think other members felt the same. There were present at this meeting Prest. Taylor, W. Woodruff, O. Pratt, C. C. Rich, L. Snow[,] F. D. Richards, myself, Jos. F. Smith, A Carrington, M. Thatcher, D. H. Wells and Patriarch John Smith.

Cannon remembers Taylor asking him and Franklin Richards about establishing a new First Presidency: Prest. Taylor had asked me a few days ago my feelings respecting a First Presidency[.] I told him that whenever the spirit manifested that it was right, I thought that something should be done towards its organization. I felt that our present organization was but a temporary one and would hold good only until the Lord should move upon us to organize the presidency. I afterwards learned that he had not mentioned this to any of the brethren excepting Bro. Richards and myself.

John Taylor:At this meeting, after prayer, Prest Taylor requested Bro. Pratt to give his views respecting the organization of a first presidency.

Orson Pratt. Pratt remembers Brigham being high-handed! [See note 1, infra.] He did so and while speaking very much in favor of the organization he expressed the hope that whenever it should be organized matters would not be conducted as in the days of Prest. Young. He hoped the Twelve would be more consulted than they had been by him and their opinion and judgment be more sought after.

John Taylor: Prest. Taylor said he thought the quorum of the Twelve should have their president and act as a quorum.[?]

Wilford Woodruff: Bro Woodruff said that whatever the will of the Lord in this matter should be, it ought to be carried out.

Charles C. Rich, Franklin Richards and Lorenzo Snow: Elder [Charles] Rich expressed the same views. Elder Richards did not feel satisfied as to the time when this should be done though he had often thought of this subject. Elder L[orenzo]. Snow expressed himself as feeling somewhat as Bro Richards did.

Cannon speaks on the awkwardness of the Q12 acting as First Presidency. We get some sense in which Cannon is acting as a proxy for Taylor: It being my turn I said that I felt that the church had been greatly blessed under the administration of the Twelve Apostles as Presidency and that good feelings prevailed among the Saints, yet to complete our organization we must sooner or later have a first presidency. I had in my feelings felt particularly, probably more so than many of my brethren, respecting the transaction of important business by any number less than 7 of the quorum of the Twelve and while I had the utmost confidence in my brethren and in their decisions and did not have this feeling on account of any personal motive, I had entertained it conscientiously because it was the order of the Kingdom that there should be 7 of the Twelve together to make their decisions binding.

Daniel H. Wells:Bro. Wells expressed himself that the organization was not complete without the First Presidency and he had so felt since the days of Prest. Young.

Joseph F. Smith Does not want a FP. Says Young made mistakes and overstepped his authority: Bro. Jos. F. Smith expressed himself with considerable feeling upon this subject. He said the people were satisfied with the Twelve and he did not think it would meet their minds to have a change. He hoped the Twelve would be slow in making a change. As to their authority he had no doubt of that, for if they had authority for one year they have it for a longer period. The prophet Joseph had rolled off the burden of leading the church on to the Twelve before his death.[3] He said that Prest. Young had made the remark in the St. George Temple “that the little finger of my successor will be heavier on this people than my whole body,” and said Bro Jos. F., “I felt that I did not want that time to come till I had finished my labors on this earth.” He expressed dissatisfaction with affairs during the lifetime of Prest. Young and as to the manner in which matters were carried out by him. He spoke his mind freely and having done so he said he would coincide with his brethren in such action as they might wish to take, but he thought that they should not be in a hurry upon this subject. He would like to take time to consider and pray about it.

Albert Carrington: Elder Carrington thought that the mind and will of the Lord would be manifested thro’ the president and he was willing to be led by the spirit.

Moses Thatcher and John Smith [patriarch to the church]–don’t do it now: Elder Thatcher knew that the Saints were very happy in the present state of affairs. He would like to have time to think about this and to pray about it. If this was the time to organize this quorum he was willing to join with his brethren. The tenor of his remarks, however, was not favorable to the present organization of the quorum, neither were the remarks of Patriarch Jno. Smith, who followed him.

John Taylor:Prest. Taylor said he felt that the church was not fully organized without a First Presidency though the quorum of the Twelve have the affairs in the demise of the first President, yet the First Presidency is a quorum of the priesthood and has its duties to perform as well as other quorums have. As to the acts of men what they have done or what they may do is nothing to do with the matter. The Lord has given a pattern and he is able to have his affairs brought about as he wishes. There is no danger in following the plan laid down by the Almighty. The First Presidency and the Twelve are to [two] quorums and each has its duties to perform and those duties should be performed according to the mind and will of God as it should be made known. The quorum of the Twelve hold the keys in connection with the First Presidency. He said he was not in a hurry. He wanted the brethren to act as the spirit should dictate. He felt led to speak upon this subject and now having done so, he left the matter with the Twelve.

Cannon was angry over Pratt, Joseph F. Smith, Thatcher, and John Smith’s characterization of BY’s policy/leadership and approached Pratt later: I was grieved during this meeting at the expressions which were dropped respecting Prest. Young. I felt that they were unnecessary. He was gone and had his account to settle with the Lord, who was a righteous Judge, and I felt it was not proper for us who have not yet finished our course to make remarks derogatory to him whom God had chosen and honored as prophet and had blessed in the most extraordinary manner with marks of his divine favor. The remarks that I refer to were made by Bro’s Pratt, Jos. F. Smith, M. Thatcher and Jno Smith. Upon the first opportunity which I had and this was in the stand the next day I took occasion to tell Bro Orson Pratt my feeling upon this subject, and Prest Taylor and several of the Twelve came to us while I was talking, and overheard my remarks. I was very much moved and with difficulty could control my feelings. I told him that it was not my place to reprove him but I thought it my duty to tell him my feelings. That I had been taught from childhood, that it was not my place to speak slightingly and in the spirit that was indulged in yesterday concerning the Lord’s anointed; that I did not think it any more right to talk about one of the Lord’s anointed who was dead than if he were alive. While Prest. Young was alive I never had thought an evil thought concerning him and that I did not think it proper to do so now that he was gone. I knew it was not right by my feelings and I did wish that if the brethren had such remarks to make that they would spare me the means of listening to them. I said that Prest Young had gone and would have to appear before the Judge of all and it was not for us to judge him. I believed that he would judge us and I expected if I got into the celestial kingdom that I would have to pass by him and that he would not have to pass by me[.]

Orson Pratt responds to Cannon: Bro. Pratt listened to me with attention and expressed his regrets for what he had said and said that he would be more cautious in the future[.] He said he would accept my reproof.

Cannon: I told him that it was not a reproof that I did not feel that I had any right to reprove him. I was his junior, but I wished to let him know my feelings.

Taylor: Prest. Taylor joined in the conversation about this time and expressed his own feelings as being similar to mine and hoped we would not mention such things in our council.

Saturday, Oct 9th [1880].

Lorenzo Snow on Q12 business–a fateful decision is made. The Council again met and Bro. L Snow proposed that as no names had been suggested as president of the European mission that Prest. Taylor should name the man. Prest. Taylor said that for want of a better man he would name Elder Albert Carrington for that position. Considerable conversation ensued as to the proper method of conducting that mission and concerning Bro. Carrington’s peculiarities. Bro. Carrington had been spoken to plainly respecting these matters in a former conversation and many things were repeated. Upon motion of Elder C[harles]. C. Rich the suggestion that Albert Carrington be called to preside was carried.

Moses Thatcher: Bro. Moses Thatcher spoke about the Mexican mission and the proper time for him to start. There was a steamer to leave New Orleans on the 18th of November which he would like to sail on.

Orson Pratt, back to a First Presidency: Bro. Pratt opened the subject again of organizing the quorum of the First Presidency. He felt that it was necessary that it should be organized and he was just as ready now to vote for it as he would be in the future. He had thought considerable about it since it was first mentioned and the more he thought the more clear his mind was upon the subject that this should be done.

Franklin Richards. Wait: Elder F. D. Richards was ready but would rather have Bro’s Snow & Young present[.]

Orson Pratt: To this Bro. Pratt replied that this should make no difference because if they were here other members might be absent and that it would be difficult at any time to have all the members of the council present[.]

John Taylor: Elder Taylor said that having told his feelings upon this subject he now felt relieved that he had done his duty and that it was with the brethren. He could not do it alone.

Cannon on Orson Pratt as wall flower: Bro Orson Pratt seemed very much impressed to urge this matter. I scarcely ever heard him in council speak with more earnestness than upon this. As a rule he is a man who has but little to say in the council, but he spoke with great freedom and urgency upon this question. He evidently felt deeply impressed with its importance and the necessity of acting upon it.

Taylor: Prest. Taylor said that he would request of the brethren to feel free in this matter as it was an important movement and would not put the motion to vote until it had been fully considered.

Charles C. Rich: Bro Rich said that a great many men had spoken to him on the subject. They would rather that the Twelve should continue in the presidency, yet he thought it would be proper to fill up that quorum, as we are not fully organized at present.

Woodruff: Let’s do it! Bro. Woodruff asked Prest. Taylor if he were prepared to choose his counselors should this action be taken.

Taylor ready to name counselors: He answered that he was.

Woodruff. Counselors from Q12 or not?: Bro Woodruff said that he was ready to vote now and he thought that should some of the Twelve be chosen as counselors their places could not be filled this conference, but Bro. Pratt thought that these places could be filled should any of the Twelve be chosen for he knew a number of Brethren upon whom he thought we could all agree to take the places of any who might be chosen out of the quorum of the Twelve to fill the First Presidency.

Lorenzo Snow. Wait: Bro. L[orenzo]. Snow said if a vote was called he would vote but he would rather that Bro Erastus Snow was present, however, he did not raise this as an objection.

Pratt! Bro. O. Pratt said that his absence should make no difference.

JFS really doesn’t want this to happen: Bro. Jos. F. Smith asked if there was any necessity for this at present.

Taylor: Prest. Taylor said it was a matter which should be presented to the conference now if passed upon or else to the next conference.

Pratt: Bro Pratt said: “I cannot believe but what these absent brethren will coincide with the measure.” He thought that the past three years had furnished us opportunities of knowing how Prest. Taylor would act as First President. He has been very kind in all his doings and he thought it might now be [a] relief to the Twelve to have the First Presidency organized.

Taylor: Prest. Taylor said he wanted the greatest unanimity among the brethren.

Pratt: Bro. Pratt suggested the idea of not calling the councilors from the Twelve. Bro. Carrington and Lorenzo Snow were in favor of the President suggesting his own counselors, to this Bro Pratt also assented.

Lorenzo Snow. Wait: Bro L. Snow felt that we should have a First Presidency but whether it was best now or at next conference he did not appear certain.

Cannon–get on with it: I said as I expected to start east before a great deal and will be absent till March and if an extra session should be called will be absent still longer, I am ready to take action now. I have seen that Prest Taylor’s mind has been moved upon in this direction and I don’t want that any action of mine shall have a tendency to prevent the suggestions of the spirit to him from being carried out in this or any other matter. I don’t want to bear the responsibility of not acting in this matter after what he has said. Should it now be dropped I wished to see [say?] this much that my feelings may be known. I am ready at any time to vote upon this subject.

Pratt: Bro. Pratt again repeated that he felt as I did, that he was now ready to vote.

Woodruff: Bro. Woodruff said that if Bro. Taylor’s mind is that this should be done he was ready to vote for it.

JFS: NO. Bro. J. F. Smith felt today just as he expressed himself the other evening, he would rather wait. He said he spoke his mind freely and having done so he would be guided by the voice of the quorum in its action. He said he did not think the people were expecting such a movement at present.

Thatcher: Wait! Bro. Moses Thatcher felt that he would like to have Bro. Erastus Snow present as he was one of the older members of the quorum. He did not know how he would feel on that question yet he felt that if the spirit should manifest to his brethren who are older and have more experience that now is the time to complete this organization he was ready to vote with them. He had to confess, however, that he had received no further light upon the subject in its favor since the matter was first broached though he had sought to obtain the direction of the spirit. He seemed to lean to the idea of deferring this until the April conference.

Taylor’s strategy: Prest. Taylor expressed himself as being perfectly easy on this matter. He had expressed his feelings and had nothing particularly more to say except to add that it was important that this quorum should be organized. If it is proper for the other quorums of the church to be organized it certainly is for this one.

Thatcher and JFS wilt?: Bro’s Thatcher and Jos. F Smith said if it is the will of the Lord that this should be done now they were ready and willing to do this.

Richards: Wait! Bro Richards said he had heard nothing from the brethren contrary to the organization of this quorum of the First Presidency, the only question was as to the necessity of attending to it now. He was ready to vote now, but if it was not absolutely necessary he would like the absent brethren to be present. [Erastus Snow and Brigham Young Jr were absent.]

JFS: Stop. Bro. Jos. F. thought that if it was not absolutely necessary at present that the next conference, being the annual conference would be a good time to present this subject;

Richards on Taylor’s illness: Bro. Richards alluded to Prest. Taylor’s sickness in the stand the first day of the conference and he had been deeply impressed with the thought that Prest. Taylor was urged to this by the spirit. If he should be called away he would not want to go without knowing that the church was fully organized as it should be.

Taylor: Prest. Taylor again said that he felt to leave the matter with the Twelve.

Cannon: stop hesitating. I spoke at this point and said that the responsibility was now placed upon the quorum and I as a member do not feel justified in delaying action or this matter any longer. Council adjourned till 6. p.m.

Cannon has become Taylor’s right-hand man [Taylor’s first wife was Cannon’s sister]. In the meantime I accompanied Prest. Taylor to his house and helped him to prepare his last article on priesthood to be read at the priesthood meeting to-night, his first having been read last night by myself to the priesthood meeting. I took supper with him and this occupied our time till 6 o’clock.

Next Meeting

Taylor: The subject of the first presidency was resumed. Prest. Taylor said he did [not] wish to crowd this matter upon the brethren and for his own part he would not wish to occupy the position of first President or any other position with one of the brethren dissatisfied. Yet we should do our duty and not consider what is going to transpire in the future, other men’s faults or refuse to do what was plainly our duty for fear men shall not act as we would like them to do. We should carry out the purposes of the Lord.

Woodruff on waiting: Bros Woodruff and L. Snow said they were ready to vote and would like a unanimity of feeling. The former said he would like the other brethren to have been present but he presumed they would be united with their brethren here. We have waited about as long after the death of Prest Young as we did after the death of the Prophet Joseph before organizing a First Presidency.

Taylor on Scripture as supreme-a dig at BY? Perhaps: The question being called for Prest Taylor again said he did not wish to force any person to organize this quorum before it seemed proper to him to organize this quorum. He had not any wish except to carry out the will of the Lord and his mind which is so plainly laid down in the book of Doctrine and Covenants. If there are any feelings of doubt in the minds of the brethren and they are not united he would rather let this thing rest for he was a great advocate for unity. The motion being put, Bro. Taylor said I want you all to vote your full feelings.

Vote to organize. All the brethren voted in the affirmative in favor of organizing the quorum of the First Presidency.

Woodruff: Bro. Woodruff moved that Jno. Taylor be appointed the First President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This was seconded by Elder Pratt.

Daniel H. Wells interrupts! BY never intended Taylor to be President. At this point Bro. Wells asked Prest. Taylor if it had been made manifest to him that this appointment should be made. He then went on to state that Prest. Young never expected that Bro. John Taylor would be the president of the church but he expected that his son John W. should succeed him and so he intended. In his remarks he conveyed the idea, or I thought he did that Prest Young in selecting additional counselors had done so for the purpose of preparing the way by their aid for Jno. W. Young to be president of the church.[4]

Cannon responds to Wells and brings up the old can of WORMS: I arose and said that if I were to keep silent upon this subject I would not be doing justice to myself nor to Prest. Young. I said that the change that had been made in the arrangement of the quorum of the Twelve had been done with my counsel at the suggestion of Prest. Young. Prest. Taylor’s name had been placed first because of his seniority in the apostleship, Orson Hyde and Orson Pratt both having lost their standing in the quorum, as he said, and having been ordained again Bro. Taylor was their senior and his name ought to be placed first. Upon this matter he had talked fully to me and I think I knew his mind. When these additional counselors were chosen he read their names to me, and mine was not among the number. He made some remarks to me about the omission and I told him that in holding the office of one of the Twelve Apostles I felt that I had all the honor that any human being could desire. He at that time spoke of taking these counselors out of the Twelve and ordaining other men in their places. My name was put in place of another name in the stand at the time the names were presented to the conference. I begged the President not to put my name down but he told me to do it. It may be that in the President’s secret heart he hoped that Jno. W. being his oldest son born in the covenant and the first born in the covenant in this church would prove so worthy that he might be president of the church. Of this I do not know, only it would not surprise me if he did have a feeling of this kind, for he attached great importance to the fact that John was the first born in the covenant in this dispensation, but that he ever intimated to me or in my hearing that he had entertained any such hope or design I must bear solemn testimony to the contrary. Neither by hint or word or gesture or any expression did he ever convey to me any such idea, and I did not believe that he ever did to any of his counselors. Whether he thought the [that] Prest. Taylor would succeed him or not I do not know[.] It would not surprise me and I am inclined to think that he never thought that Bro. Taylor would succeed him, for you all know that prior to Prest. Young’s death Bro. Taylor’s health was quite feeble and the probabilities were that he would outlive Bro. Taylor.[5]

Whether he expected Bro. Taylor to succeed him or not, this we know that at Mount Pleasant at a conference of the Saints he stated that in his absence Bro. Taylor would preside over the council of the apostles, thus showing that according to his mind Bro. Taylor stood next to him in the apostleship. [Cannon doesn’t give a date for this, and I’m too lazy to look it up. Mt. Pleasant is a tiny community in San Pete County, Utah, between Spanish Fork and Manti, if you know the area.]

Woodruff on the can of worms: Bro. Woodruff followed in remarks explaining how his name had been placed in the quorum ahead of Bro. Taylor’s. It was because he was an older man though Bro. Taylor was ordained before he was. For a long time he outranked Bro. Taylor but Prest. Young said it was not right, that Bro. Taylor was his senior by ordination and the names were changed. I have always been perfectly satisfied in these matters. Bro’s Pratt and Hyde were reordained into the quorum and in consequence of that reordination they fell behind the others.

Wells is diffused: Bro. Wells said it was right to have the mind of the Lord upon these matters and he was satisfied with my remarks as to President Young’s views with regard to Bro Taylor.

Pratt on can of worms: Bro. Pratt said so far as he was concerned he was perfectly satisfied with the action of the council of the presidency of the quorum of the Twelve and respecting the question before us he felt that it was the right of Bro. Taylor to occupy the position of President of the church. He did not see the necessity of again calling upon the Lord, for it has been made known very plain to us that we should have a First Presidency and as to whose right it was that also was plain. As to being put back in the quorum he was satisfied when it was explained to him; his only feelings were that these were withheld from him until some six months after action was taken.

Taylor on can of worms: Prest. Taylor stated that there never was a time since these affairs took place that his mind had not been clear in regard to them. He knew his position; and although his name had not stood in its proper place, he had no feelings upon the subject being perfectly satisfied that all was and would be right, yet it was very clear to him what his position was in the quorum of the Twelve.[6]

Taylor on counselors–diffusion of JFS: The question on Elder Woodruff’s motion was then called and carried unanimously. Prest. Taylor said he was prepared to name his counselors and being requested to do so named me as his first and Jos. F. Smith as his second.

Cannon on his own surprise at being named first counselor. The mention of my name was a great surprise to me. As I had been nominated again for Congress and would be absent this winter and probably half at least of the next two years I had felt free in expressing my feelings upon the subject of the first presidency and in favor of it, not thinking for a moment that my name would be mentioned for this position and feeling satisfied that no one could expect me under the circumstances of having any personal ambition in connection with this matter. I could scarcely express my feelings. Before the names of the counselors were called I had a presentiment that my name would be mentioned and I trembled all over. My nerves twitched all over my body and I could scarcely control myself. When my name was mentioned I rose to my feet and begged of the brethren to excuse me from filling that position. I told them that I would much rather remain in the quorum of the Twelve. I could think of at least 12 or 13 men who could fill that position, in my opinion, better than I could. My agitation was extreme and I was completely overcome.[7]

Taylor. The counselors are sustained separately, Woodruff named pres. of Q12: Prest. Taylor said it was not a matter of personal choice. Several of the brethren also spoke very kindly approving of the nomination and it was carried unanimously on motion of Bro. Woodruff. Elder Pratt moved that Bro. Jos. F. Smith be the second counselor and that was carried unanimously. Elder Wilford Woodruff was unanimously sustained as president of the quorum of the Twelve, and then

Taylor on filling new vacancies in Q12: F. M. Lyman and John Henry Smith, both would be fateful appointments. Prest. Taylor asked for the privilege of naming two members of the quorum of the Twelve. He nominated Elders Francis M. Lyman and Jno Henry Smith who were unamously [unanimously] sustained. Other names were mentioned for the other vacancy but Prest. Taylor said that we would defer taking any action upon this for the present and the council adjourned to attend the priesthood meeting at the Assembly Hall.

New Presidency sustained at the conference priesthood meeting. At that meeting I read the article on priesthood prepared by Prest. Taylor and Bro. Pratt at the request of Prest. Taylor presented the subject of the organization of the First Presidency to the priesthood meeting and proposed the names of the First Presidency and the two new members of the Twelve to the meeting for their votes. They were sustained unanimously and so far as known there was a universal expression of satisfaction among the elders and all the priesthood of and the saints at the organization of the quorum and at the appointment of the two new members of the quorum of the Twelve.

[1] Joseph Smith had learned to distrust the apostles during the Kirtland and Missouri troubles. Brigham made it a mission to show Smith that the quorum could rise up, be unified, trusted, and supportive subordinates for whatever Joseph Smith had in mind. Young accomplished that feat by making the quorum into an egalitarian group that respected each member’s opinion and direction. They grew to support each other and Young became facilitator rather than dictator. It worked, at least for most of the quorum. The experience of the mission to England forged a cohesive mutually loyal group. There were a few apostles who didn’t experience this unification but they weren’t the real problem after Smith’s murder. The bubble for Young was the egalitarian unity of the quorum. They couldn’t all be equal leaders, but that meant a reforging of the team. It was a difficult task and the major hurdle was polygamy. Who was now the “one” in charge [D&C 132:7]? Parley Pratt, Orson Pratt, John Taylor saw the whole quorum as the “one” now, while others put Smith’s old plans ahead of anything Young might come up with. Think of the Potter stories here. Remember the Secret Keeper spell? When the secret keeper dies, everyone who was folded into the secret became a secret keeping quorum. [You saw what I did there, right?] Young needed to establish his role as the “one.” He did this in finality by getting a majority to agree to make him “first” president. It was a struggle, and he had to do it when Parley and John were out of town and Orson was overwhelmed. Taylor learned from Young. It’s probably important to note that Young, nor his selected counselors (Heber Kimball, Willard Richards) were in any way “set apart” or ordained. The same would be true of Taylor. That rite only appeared with Lorenzo Snow’s presidency.

[2] The problem of age and Taylor was prominent given Taylor’s episode in the conference session. Taylor died in 1887, largely incapacitated during that year. It came up again when Woodruff was in line after Taylor’s death. Once again, the apostles hesitated to establish a new presidency. There was uncertainty. A young Heber J. Grant saw in Woodruff a troubling tendency: a lack of energetic leadership and suspect physical vigor. For both Taylor and Woodruff, Cannon became a powerful man behind the throne. Grant became suspicious of him as did one of the new apostles appointed at the October 1880 conference, John Henry Smith. When things came to a boil, Cannon was once again shocked and hurt over what he saw as doing his duty, keeping secrets where they needed to be kept, in large part a hangover of the “raid.” [Polygamy is everywhere, people.]

[3] JFS refers to the “last charge,” a legend from an unrecorded incident at a March 26, 1844 meeting of the “Council of Fifty” in Nauvoo. JFS was, of course, not present. The “charge” probably didn’t mean what JFS thought it meant, or what legend made it in what I call the “apostolic cycle.” If you read my book on section 132, you’ll get a few more details. It’ll be coming eventually.

[4] Daniel H. Wells was a counselor to Brigham Young. After Young’s death, Wells was considered a “counselor” to the Twelve. It’s probably useful to note here that Taylor never approved of Young’s expansion of the First Presidency in numbers of counselors. Wells had some uncomfortable insight into Brigham’s idea about succession. In that, Young followed Joseph Smith who had settled on a concept of dynasty. In Cannon’s rebuttal of Wells, he notes a very important feature of John Willard Young’s relationship to Brigham. John was BY’s eldest son born in the covenant. Early leaders placed deep value on the power of sealing in terms of its durability and its position re inheritance of authority and blessing. Despite Cannon’s dismissal, it’s quite possible that Wells had a better handle on Young’s thinking over John W. Young. Cannon’s marginalization of Wells is somewhat uncharitable. The story is more complicated.

[5] Cannon left out that Young and Taylor were fairly consistent antagonists and at St. George in 1877, Young became so abrasive that he and Taylor nearly went their separate ways. As Lorenzo Snow told it, he was the one who got Taylor to knuckle under. At the next balance point in succession (1900) where JFS was put ahead of Brigham Young Jr, Snow told the story of the conflict.

[6] The question of order of senority among the apostles had a number of nuances, extending from the first quorum in 1835, organized by birth order. Young sorted the group by ordination order finally (hence moving Hyde and Orson Pratt behind as noted). Lorenzo Snow resorted by date of induction into the Quorum of the Twelve since some men had been ordained prior to induction.

[7] Cannon doesn’t mention JFS. They were never very close perhaps partly because of Smith’s prickly disposition, partly because Cannon didn’t think much of JFS as a leader. Grant thought that Cannon purposely marginalized JFS in various ways, and even his cousin (and later a counselor) John Henry Smith (chosen as an apostle above) did not think much of JFS, characterizing him as a blunt, course man without ability (ironically in a speech backhanding Cannon).


  1. Jason K. says:

    Fascinating stuff, WVS. A very gripping Sunday brunch reading indeed!

  2. Great stuff. Better than reading the journals myself (heretical as that might be).
    Boo for the “if you read my book” tease in footnote 3.

  3. “Cannon … brings up the old can of WORMS.” I almost laughed out loud in church when I read that. What fascinating material, WVS, and nicely framed, although perhaps you needed a click-bait title, since these topics are discussed with some frequency in the Bloggernacle.

  4. J. Stapley says:

    Excellent editorial work. Really enjoyed reading through this.

  5. So interesting! I wonder what made JFS change his mind. He seemed adamantly opposed, then next thing you know he’s voting in favor. I will be naming my next child Jno.

  6. Kevin Barney says:

    Fascinating read! A few thoughts:

    Thanks for the editorial introductions; they made the long text readable.

    It’s a shame that they didn’t take Pratt’s suggestion about a younger man more seriously. I don’t know how sustainable our gerontocracy is over the long haul.

    An interesting political move to put JFS into the First Presidency.

    This illustrates why our succession system is unlikely to be adjusted anytime soon. The whole thing was so fraught that now that there is an accepted procedure nobody’s going to want ot change it. The only hope is a president abdicating, which strikes me as extremely unlikely

  7. Darrow, the record is obviously incomplete but in Cannon’s mind at least, those in favor seem far more earnest than the foot draggers. And more than once people told JFS to keep his opinions to himself.

  8. Kevin, JFS and Taylor were closer than Cannon’s recollections might suggest. They worked together on a number things. That JFS was sometimes an extremist (apostle is an appendage to high priest for example) didn’t seem to bother Taylor that much. It did Cannon. Pratt backed down when Cannon came at him over Young. JFS did not.

  9. Amy T: we need to collaborate.

  10. Paul in Miss says:

    What a great read, thanks!

  11. I like all of this detail. I believe that we members need more examples of leaders struggling with issues.
    One thing that concerns me is the Brigham Young hero worshiping. I get that we should speak no evil of the Lord’s anointed, but there as to be a way to do an honest evaluation of an imperfect, righteous person without it counting as speaking evil. It does make sense to be concerned that with Brigham Young as a role model that the wrong examples would be taken by future presidents of the church. So having some analysis of the situation, by the twelve does seem reasonable.

  12. What great information. The average member would be shocked to read this. I just heard the wife of a member of the stake presidency tell our ward that she knows Thomas Monson walks and talks with Jesus on a regular basis. I understand that members would rather believe this is what happens. It makes blind obedience that much easier. It kind of irks me that the brethren just don’t come out and say that it does not work that way. I missed the part in these minutes where Jesus showed up and told them exactly what to do.

    It seems to me that they operate a lot like bishoprics that I have been part of. Different people expressing their opinions and then coming to a consensus. This might not be earth shattering news to anyone reading this post, but believe me the majority of your fellow members do not want to think of the prophet and the quorum of the twelve making decisions in this matter.

    Wouldn’t it be fun to have detailed minutes like these of the current personalities we have in there right now discussing prop 8, writing the essays, etc? I bet the dynamics shift hard when a very strong person like BKP dies. That void has to be filled by someone.

  13. Thanks for this WVS. It is great.

  14. Franklin says:

    Thanks for this, WVS. Fascinating behind-the-scenes look at a pivotal moment in Church history. And Zach, I agree. Apparently, when Heber J. Grant was asked how many times Jesus had appeared to Church leaders since Joseph Smith, he answered, none. John Hatch cited this in his fine JMH piece on Christ’s purported appearance to Lorenzo Snow in the Salt Lake Temple. Now, of course, since BKP’s injunction to never ask the question, we will never know whether any of the Apostles have had a personal visitation. Things like that are now officially off limits and the Apostles are off the hook in terms of even talking about it. So myths inevitably fill up the empty space.

  15. Aussie Mormon says:

    Many apostles have hinted at having had visitations without outright saying it.

  16. charlene says:

    Myth alert–IIRC I heard a story when the Oakland Temple was built with the relief of Jesus and the disciples, that Pres. McKay said it was a perfect likeness of Jesus, as he had seen Him.

  17. Diana Windley says:

    Fascinating! I appreciate getting a glimpse into the early days of the Church. As a whole, I think we tend to simplify and sanitize Church history for our own comfort. I would rather be shown the not-so-comfortable truth.

  18. Anon for this one says:


    Your bishopric comment was spot on, although the 12 debates go at a higher level! I had the opportunity to read some minutes (not as recent, since all participants have passed, but still involving personalities all of us know) on a priesthood organization topic. The discussion was respectful, but strong-willed, with scriptural, doctrinal and practical arguments all being made on the topic. The debaters (for lack of a better word) were two of THE strongest members of the 12 during that time. I was impressed at the arguments, the respect for each other and eventually the deference to the President of the 12. The decision ultimately was no decision since the brethren were not united on the point. I can say it went on for several full pages, and it was a direct transcript.

  19. This was really fascinating! What were Carrington’s “peculiarities” (other than the whole adultery thing that they didn’t find out about until later)?

    It is a little odd seeing him involved in meetings like this.

  20. whizzbang says:

    @ Franklin, just to clarify Pres. Grant didn’t know of any visitation, that doesn’t mean there any though. In fact Elder George F. Richards of the Twelve said he saw Christ in March of 1906 and made reference to it in his Oct. 1946 conference address. Pres. Grant may not have known about this visitation, as he had passed by then but he did know about Pres. Cannon saying he saw Christ when the SLC Temple was dedication in 1893. Pres. Grant certaintly knew about Elder Melvin J. Ballard seeing Christ when he wrote Pres. Grant a letter just after his call in 1919, saying as such. I think like John Hatch that Pres. Grant probably forgot about these experiences and who knows what others of the brethren saw Christ. We know Elder Rulon S. Wells of the Seventy saw Christ and made mention of it in his April 1940 conference address, and Pres. Grant would have been there, maybe he told him about earlier. Plus he claimed to have seen him. Others have suggested that perhaps Pres. Grant was not talking about Christ but the Father, as all these visions are of Christ and not the Father.

%d bloggers like this: