Succession Crisis by the Numbers: What Would You Do?

I was recently discussing the 1844 LDS Succession Crisis with some fellow bloggers. Although as a second gen Mormon I have no pioneer ancestors, I do sometimes wonder what I would have done had I been there. The Mormon Succession Crisis was truly unplanned, resulting in confusion, bad feelings, and schism.  If you had been in Nauvoo in 1844, which faction would you have followed?

It’s easy to feel complacent about leadership succession in our current structure in the LDS church. There’s literally no room for question as it is entirely based on seniority among the apostles. God chooses successors by default, last man standing–or breathing, if not standing. There’s no voting, no campaigning. There’s not even an election like in Catholicism (and their succession model is pretty steady and predictable, but not as change-averse as our own). There are no coups, no changes to status quo. In an increasingly conservative church, this is maddening to some of us who would like to see more progressive thinking, but at least we don’t have to deal with weird left-field changes or unknown leaders assuming power. Kevin Barney, who was also in that discussion, wrote about the pros and cons of the downstream impacts from the succession crisis at BCC here.

But it could have all been very different. When the church was new, there were a lot of open questions about who should lead, and these questions led to confusion, power plays, accusations, excommunications, and schisms. There were many open questions plaguing church members.

  • Did the First Presidency outrank the Quorum of the Twelve?
  • Was the “prophetic gift” something genetic that occurred in the Smith family specifically?
  • Should one of the quorums lead in Joseph’s absence?
  • Did Joseph choose a prophetic successor based on his own prophetic gift?

The succession crisis was fueled by rumors that Joseph had, at different times, identified all of these potentials as successors (apparently he gave out succession blessings like horehound candy):

Family Members

  • Hyrum Smith. He was not only the current Assistant President of the Church [1] but he was also the Presiding Patriarch. Of course, he couldn’t succeed since he was martyred with his brother.
  • Samuel Smith. According to lineal succession, Smith’s younger brother Samuel was the next in line; however, he died suddenly and unexpectedly (and some felt suspiciously) a month after the martyrdom.
  • William Smith. Next in line after Samuel was the last surviving Smith brother, William. He only claimed the right to succeed as Presiding Patriarch, not church President, but much later revised his claim (and with little success). He also claimed that Brigham Young had poisoned his brother Samuel in his own bid to head the church. There was no evidence of foul play, and Young denied any involvement.
  • Sons of Joseph & Emma Smith. Many had heard Joseph state that his oldest son and namesake would be his successor (in 1834 and 1839), and in April of 1844, he had also prophesied that his unborn child would be named David and would lead the church as “President and King of Israel.”[2] When he died, his oldest son was still only 11 years of age, not yet ready to take on leadership of the church.

Prominent Church Figures

  • Oliver Cowdery. He had been the “Second Elder” of the church from day one and jointly held the keys of the dispensation. He had also been present at all of the major events of the church’s foundation. He was later ordained Assistant President of the Church and had authority to preside over the whole church and officiate in the absence of Joseph, but he had been excommunicated in 1838.
  • David Whitmer. Joseph had blessed him in 1834 to be a successor, but Whitmer had left the church in 1838.

Council Leadership

  • First Presidency. Because the First Presidency was the top leadership body of the church, many members felt that leadership would naturally default to them. Since Sidney Rigdon was the only remaining member of the FP (both Hyrum and Joseph having been killed), he was the obvious choice. He returned from campaigning for the Vice Presidency in Pennsylvania (under Joseph’s instruction), and he claimed he had received a revelation that he was to serve as “guardian” of the church.
  • Quorum of the Twelve. The Q12 were ordained to be traveling ministers originally but in later years had been invested with more of a governing role, and Brigham Young, as leader of the quorum, had become a particularly close confidant to Smith in his final years. Young had often taken charge in Smith’s absence during the last years of Smith’s life.
  • Nauvoo High Council. The President was William Marks, and Emma urged him to succeed her husband, but he deferred to Sidney Rigdon’s superior claim. Marks, as local leader in Nauvoo, called for a conference on August 8th to decide the issue.
  • The Council of Fifty. This was a group of men trusted by Joseph in his presidential bid. Some of them were non-Mormons. Smith had specifically said the Lord was ready to let him rest for a while and it was time for these men to step up. This statement could have caused further confusion, but nobody stepped forward to claim the role.

Prophetic Leader

  • James Strang. He had been baptized only a few months prior to the martyrdom, but he was considered a strong candidate for succession because he claimed a prophetic call and to have visions and commune with angels. He also claimed the gift of translation (having translated ancient plates he found). Brigham Young never claimed to be prophetic instead clarifying to the Saints in the Times & Seasons newspaper: “You no longer have a prophet, but you have apostles.” Strang held a Letter of Appointment allegedly penned by Joseph Smith in the month of his death appointing him as successor. The evidence regarding the letter was inconclusive; Smith did write to Strang at the time noted, the postmark on the letter was confirmed, but some experts claimed the letter was forged. The letter is still in a collection at Yale University. Strang did not have name recognition in Nauvoo as he lived in Wisconsin. He mainly exercised his claim in Michigan, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin, and at one time had support from members of the Smith family (whose loyalties seemed to change from month to month) as well as Martin Harris. [5]

In Nauvoo, at least, it initially boiled down to Rigdon’s claim vs. Young’s claim, and Young had been more visible to them in recent months due to the presidential bid that had required Rigdon to be out of state. So, like hip hop gangs in the movies, they settled this by competitive street dance off. Well, kind of–Rigdon & Young each campaigned in front of the assembled Saints on August 8, 1844 (at the meeting set up by Marks)–they campaigned the heck out of it in the few days prior. Young rode Joseph Smith’s horse through town, as a demonstration of his replacing the beloved leader (“See? Even his horse likes me! Make Nauvoo great again!”).[4] Rigdon pointed out that he alone was set apart as a “prophet, seer, and revelator” unlike the apostles, and he alone as a member of the First Presidency was a decision maker whereas they were not. He pitched Young and the Quorum of the Twelve as a substantial downgrade: unqualified functionaries, not prophetic leaders like him.

From the Wikipedia page:

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

There were a lot of excommunications going on at this time in the struggle for a successor. On September 8, the Common Council of the Church under the leadership of Newel K. Whitney (of the infamous tobacco stained upstairs floors) excommunicated Sidney Rigdon in absentia; he, in turn, excommunicated the members of the Quorum of the Twelve.

While exact numbers of church members at that time are not known, there were roughly 25,000. If you took 25 typical Nauvoo Mormons in 1844, here’s where they would have ended up:

  • 10 would have followed Brigham Young and decided to go west in 1847.
  • 1 would have followed Sidney Rigdon who founded the Church of Jesus Christ (aka Rigdonites, later Bickertonites, aka The Church of Jesus Christ).
  • 2 would have followed Strang, possibly relocating to Wisconsin or one of the other areas in the northern midwest.
  • 5 would have stayed behind to pin their hopes on the Smith Family’s leadership waiting for Joseph III to be old enough to take control, under the trust of Marks and other local leaders as well as his mother Emma’s guidance.
  • 7 would have left the church and returned to their old faiths or followed other leaders.

Even after the conference, Brigham Young’s position as President was tenuous as there was no precedent. He was well-known in Nauvoo and seen as a leader, and those whom Joseph had inaugurated into the still secretive doctrine of plural marriage knew that Brigham was also in the know (whereas Rigdon was opposed to it, and James Strang hadn’t been to Nauvoo and wasn’t involved in it). Those who despised polygamy (or who were only aware of Smith’s public denials) were less likely to be happy with Young. Even among the Quorum of the Twelve, there was disagreement about the succession–even three years later!

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

Which brings me back to my original question: what would you have done if you were around in 1844?

  • Would you follow Brigham Young and the twelve to the west, accepting polygamy as part of the bargain?
  • Would you consider Ridgon’s authority superior and followed him to Pennsylvania when he claimed the twelve tried to harm him?
  • Would you believe Strang’s claim to the prophetic mantle was most compelling?
  • Would you stay in Nauvoo, waiting until Joseph’s son reached his age of majority?
  • Would you leave the movement with so much confusion?

Personally, I think I would have found Rigdon’s claim most compelling until he deferred to Phelps at the conference (and Phelps supported Young). At that point I would have given up and been one of the 7 who walked away. How about you?

Discuss.

[1] or was it Assistant TO the President? h/t Dwight Schrute.

[2] David Hyrum Smith was born November 17, 1844 and was active in the RLDS church, but did not lead it. He was a strong opponent of polygamy as was his older brother Joseph III. Joseph & Emma had twins, a male & female, who died in infancy, and an adopted daughter (Julia Murdock Smith) who lived to age 49 but was not considered for succession; her male twin died in infancy due to exposure after the mob attack on the Smith home in 1832. All other Smith children were male.

[3] From my discussion with historian John Hamer: “There’s very little hope of calculating meaningful numbers. The LDS Church today is a very organized, corporate entity that holds deeds to ward houses wherever there are congregations, and which operates a centralized membership database and archives. This is a very different situation than the early church in 1844, which was a largely vernacular, informal, amateur affair, that had no proprietary control over local branches, which were almost universally holding cottage meetings.

The situation in the schism is not that there were suddenly multiple, discrete, corporate entities, which gained custody of different branch and individual membership certificates. The way I see it is that for many years there was still one church that had multiple headquarters organizations. For a local member in Bloomington, Illinois, they may well have thought of the Twelve as the lawful successors for a time, and then perhaps James Strang, and then looked to the New Organization (the proto-RLDS organization) before ultimately setting John E. Page and Granville Hedrick.

Membership numbers in the movement continue to be problematic. Are we counting everyone in all the branches in North America and Europe who had been baptized between 1830 and 1844 and not been either excommunicated by a church court or formally withdrawn their membership to get to the total? If we have a different standard of only counting people who considered themselves Mormon at the time, or people who were actively attending a branch, how could we calculate such a thing? You can probably count the people who immigrated to Utah, but you’d need to subtract anyone who went to Utah but converted after June of 1844.

I think it’s safe to say that a majority of those gathered to Nauvoo followed Brigham Young west and that this represented a minority of those who had been baptized 1830-1844; whether it represents a majority of those who were “really, really active” is difficult to define and the answer is likely, in my view, to remain unclear.”

[4] The well known story about Young’s face taking on the appearance of Smith at the August conference is not recorded in any contemporary accounts but emerged decades later in the Salt Lake valley as individuals looked back on that day.

[5] Shades of Denver Snuffer?

Comments

  1. Aussie Mormon says:

    I’d be praying mighty hard, and hope I get an answer.
    However as we’re meant to study things out in our minds first, it’d be tricky.

    A modern version to consider.
    You rock up to sacrament meeting one day and your bishop reads out a letter from the Q12 saying that they no longer sustain the President of the First Presidency as President of the Church.
    Do you follow the Q12? Do you follow the President? Do you see what the other two members of the First Presidency do? Do you see what the Qs of the 70 do?

  2. One family among my ancestors was split between Young and Lyman Wight, the majority following his relatively tiny group to Texas. So I can see how the decision of close family & friends would play a role.

  3. Really interesting. The numbers make it vivid for me (10 following BY, 1 following Rigdon, etc).

    Putting oneself in that place is of course impossible and hypothetical. I would hope for clear direction (of the study and prayer sort). Lacking that, I suspect I would have found the Quorum position logical, sensible, conservative. Unless I were astute enough to understand it as a power play by Brigham Young and therefore understood the debate as BY vs Rigdon as individuals. In a face-off as individuals I’d probably side with Rigdon. Except that as an actual descendant of Heber C. Kimball perhaps I’d ask Kimball. Except that I’m a descendant through Ann Alice Gheen who was in Nauvoo but didn’t become a (plural) wife to Kimball until a month later, in a marriage performed by Brigham Young. The inside political possibilities leave my mind swirling.

    In today’s church, as I have previously opined, I think it would be a good move for the Quorum to consider itself (or a larger group, such as to include the 70s) as a pool from which the next president is chosen. Rather than follow a strict order of ordination succession. However, while such a move is easy to imagine and would, I think, be easily accepted, it is inconceivable that the 21c Quorum would do anything like that without the full cooperation and support of whoever is president of the Quorum at that time, thus avoiding anything like a succession crisis.

  4. Excellent stuff here. Thanks for putting it together.

    One thing I’d like to see included is an analysis of Section 107, which proclaims the equal authority between the quorums of the First Presidency and the Twelve. What it does not, however, is specify that the FP dissolves upon the death of the president of the Church, which makes things a tad murkier. Had 107 said that clearly, there’d be little room for argument that the 12 were to take over the church until a new FP was organized.

  5. jaxjensen says:

    Your post didn’t say anything about BY appearing as Jo. Smith during the ‘debate’ in Nauvoo. This story is always told in SS, making us think the choice was obvious because revelation WAS received. Is that story true? If so then I suppose following BY would be an easy choice IF you were in Nauvoo to witness it.

    If not true, or not present, I’d think I would just sit on my hands until something forced me to choose. To anyone who asked I’d say I was still awaiting my witness. If it never came I suppose I’d move into the nicest abandoned house available and keep living in Illinois.

  6. Did I know about polygamy?

    If I thought it was spurious rumor, I probably would have gone with Brigham Young.

    If I were friends with Emma or some other women who had been involved, or if I had other evidence that polygamy was in fact real and Brigham supported it — then I think my first choice would have been to stay as close to the “status quo” as possible and stay in Nauvoo with Emma, waiting for the Smith sons to grow up.

    My next choice would be to do the same in Kirtland — in my family history I have many members who crossed the plains from Nauvoo, but there’s a whole other branch who had never left Kirtland and didn’t go west. I might have gone back and joined them.

    After that I would have been attracted to the Strangeite charisma, and I would have gone there.

  7. Michael H says:

    Strang all the way—The Book of the Law of the Lord had chiasmus.

  8. It’s true that people didn’t immediately talk about Brigham Young taking on the appearance of Joseph, but it’s incorrect to say that these accounts “emerged decades later.” A number of sources hint at the experience soon after, and explicit descriptions were recorded within just a few years. I think it’s worthwhile to explore/debate why people didn’t describe their experiences in full detail right away, but when you read people’s first-hand accounts what is clear is that this was a defining moment for them, and they made great sacrifices to follow what they felt was a divine manifestation. https://byustudies.byu.edu/content/mantle-prophet-joseph-passes-brother-brigham-collective-spiritual-witness

  9. P. Harbon says:

    I don’t know to what extent if at all D. Michael Quinn’s article on the succession crisis was referenced for this but I highly recommend his in depth work on this subject.

  10. jaxjensen: See footnote [4] about the BY appearance changing thing. Also JMS’ comment and link.

  11. jaxjensen says:

    Skipped the footnotes… Thanks!

  12. I think doctrinally Sidney Rigdon has it in the bag. Sole member of the First Presidency out weighs one Apostle in my mind. But, one he said that he was going back East, I probably would have changed my mind. Back East is where the mobs were.

  13. It was a tricky thing, Brigham Young was right that he held a rightful claim and Sidney Rigdon did not, since Sidney was not given all the keys like Brigham Young and the twelve were. But since the full extent of Joseph’s private teachings were not meant to be made public, Brigham had to make his appeal through other avenues as well. William Marks was the only other person with an immediate rightful claim to succession by an appeal to authority, but as mentioned supported Sidney Rigdon instead, perhaps not fully understanding what he had been given or just didn’t feel right about making a claim. Brigham was therefore the only one left with a rightful claim possessing all the keys of the kingdom.

    I think I would have followed BY, but part of me thinks I would have been sympathetic to Marks and Emma and strongly considered staying behind with them for a time.

  14. Why not add Emma as a potential successor? Like the others, you could pontificate as to why/why not. Certainly Shaker precedent was known, so a female church leader was a possibility. She had a type of ecclesiastical authority and (unlike others) touched the gold plates. Many would say that she wasn’t a PH holder, but today a strong debate has emerged about it. Lucy was also still alive and possessed the PoGP relics. You could argue Lucy might have been a contender as well.

  15. J. Stapley says:

    The real thing was the temple. Rigdon was already on the out with JS (he tried to drop him from the FP already), and he hadn’t participated in the full temple liturgy, whereas the Q12 were pretty much managing the temple. BY and most of the Q12 were out of town on missions, Rigdon was mostly just out of town. The other thing was Britain. There were essentially more Mormons in England than the US (at least within a couple of years). They were all team Q12.

  16. This is certainly a very interesting discussion with lots of implications for the present. There’s also a very interesting podcast on the succession crisis and Brigham Young’s role in it over at Radio Free Mormon podcast at Mormon Discussions. Very well researched and eye opening.

  17. Other Bridget says:

    I probably would have stayed in Nauvoo and put my eggs in the Marks/Emma/Smith son basket.

    Thank you for illustrating this topic by the numbers. It really brings it to life!

  18. Coming back after a Sunday School lesson on this topic, I’m reacting negatively to what seems to be the prevailing Sunday School-level wisdom that God decides who lives and who dies and the timing/sequence. I don’t believe it. Hence negative.

    On the other hand, I find it very interesting and even provocative to reframe the interventionist God story as one of God ensuring the continuation of temple ordinances and polygamy. “Provocative” in part because I have very different views about the temple and about polygamy.

  19. “Was the “prophetic gift” something genetic that occurred in the Smith family specifically?”

    Midichlorians.

  20. J. Stapley for the win. The keys of the priesthood are directly linked to temple ordinances. The fulness of the priesthood ordinance was necessary. Only the Q. of 12 had access. Rigdon did not.

  21. felixfabulous says:

    Thank you for the great post, Angela C. I would also recommend the two part podcast by Radio Free Mormon on this topic. D&C 107 and the teachings of Joseph Smith contemplated something different than we have today. There was a system of checks and balances and the Church Patriarch held a lot of the keys and considerable authority in the Church. The Twelve really consolidated power. The current organization has a lot of advantages for administrative ease (things would move slowly with a whole bunch of quorums with equal power and authority as laid out in D&C 107). However, we have lost any checks and balances and there is no avenue for dissent. Also interesting that 1. The Twelve were really reluctant to appoint Brigham as the new Church President because many saw this as directly countering D&C 107 and they needed a new revelation to move forward; 2. This was such an issue that John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff were reluctant to organize the First Presidency right away, they both waited several years. 3. The main takeaway from Lorenzo Snow’s experience in the Salt Lake Temple was to organize the First Presidency right away and not wait. John Hatch’s article in the Journal of Mormon History on this is really interesting. The account of the vision of Christ is a third-hand account given 30 years after the fact and a lot less credible than many would believe.

  22. J. Stapley for the win. The fulness of the priesthood ordinance was necessary. Q. of 12 had access to it and could administer temple ordinances. Rigdon did not.

  23. Setting aside the spiritual questions, I would want to get out of the Midwest for adventure in the wilderness, but I don’t like heat, so I guess Strang, up in the pineries of Wisconsin, would be the logical choice.

    Seriously, though, my answer is Q12, but their claim probably sounds truest to me because I’ve grown up with it. It was not an easy question, and I empathize with all the saints that had to answer it for themselves, no matter what their ultimate conclusion.

  24. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    It’s unclear to me how persuasive BY’s argument about the Q12 having all of the priesthood keys would have been to the general membership (well, the general membership in Nauvoo, not including the many members in other US regions, or England). Priesthood keys are something that we have latched onto in the contemporary Church (though still widely misunderstood), but I’m just not sure how much weight/significance/meaning the concept would have had at the time of the Crisis. The Church was still in a charismatic stage, and BY would have been a prominent individual in Nauvoo, and given charismatic authority by those who knew him, knew his role, and recognized the work he was doing. This is why Rigdon’s absence was significant. Also significant, again, is that there were many members who were outside of Nauvoo who wouldn’t have known BY (or maybe even know ABOUT him). This explains why, following Angela’s numbers, 60% of folks did not follow BY to the West.

  25. I don’t like heat, so I guess Strang, up in the pineries of Wisconsin, would be the logical choice.

    I can assure you that it’s quite hot – high 80s and 90s – in the summer in “the pineries of Wisconsin,” and very humid and home to 90% of the world’s mosquitoes as well. Much as I love my home in the state next door, it’s not ALWAYS winter here.

    Although I’m probably biased by the way things turned out, it’s always seemed to me that the 12 had the best claim. I was surprised to hear that anyone followed Strang (much less that there are still Strangites); he must have been quite charismatic in a time of great confusion. I like to think that I would have gone to the valley.

    Frankly, it’s also possible that if it hadn’t been for the deep antipathy between Emma and Brigham, she would have taken her family west as well. At this remove it’s hard to tell how much of that antipathy was driven by plural marriage, or if they would have despised each other even without it. Certainly both were strong people who didn’t suffer fools gladly.

  26. J Stapley: “The real thing was the temple. Rigdon was already on the out with JS (he tried to drop him from the FP already), and he hadn’t participated in the full temple liturgy, whereas the Q12 were pretty much managing the temple.” While that’s true, the underlying feature of the temple was participation in polygamy, and I can state with firmness that I would never have participated in that. Also, I know women weren’t originally endowed (they started later than the men), so I’m not sure how many of the women at this time actually were involved in the temple or would follow that. Perhaps you can elaborate on that.

    I quite agree with you that the influx of British converts was the real deal sealer for BY’s claim, although that wasn’t necessarily binding in Nauvoo. I think Rigdon basically threw it away. Failure of leadership. BY was polarizing, but he was politically smart.

    Emma’s claim was probably equally strong, but undermined by polygamy as much as anyone else.

  27. I wonder how many of the 10 would have followed Brigham if they had known about the polygamy being practiced on the sly while being denied in public.

  28. J. Stapley says:

    I’m not so certain about Rigdon. JS really did try to kick him out of the FP, and he really was out of Nauvoo, basically in the dog house. He was ultimately excommunicate by the Q12 for producing his own temple rituals, so I think the temple had more currency than marriage. As I remember about half of the temple Quorum was female by the time JS died. But when we look at the temple proper, which was absolutely part of this dynamic (succession was still in play at the end of 1845), the vast majority of folks who participated there were not polygamists. There were 1,097 marriage sealings, There were 30ish plural husbands during JS’s life, and (as I remember) 100ish by the time of the temple.

  29. J. Stapley says:

    ..but I also think that, perhaps more importantly, the Temple was the focal point of the community for years. They had sacrificed to build it, and so it was an important piece of the puzzle beyond the details of the liturgy.

  30. Good point, New Iconoclast. I know what an upper-Midwest summer can be like. I spent three of them in Minnesota. Still prefer it to Texas, so Lyman Wight is out. Utah is a closer call.

  31. J Stapley: Thanks so much for the additional information. Fascinating!

  32. I think Joseph had come to see Sidney as unreliable. Not so much disloyal, but incapable, really, and the succession crisis kind of proved him right. I feel an enormous amount of sympathy for Rigdon. The man endured a lot.

  33. Single Sister says:

    Given my modern mindset I doubt it would have been Brigham Young given my visceral reaction to him now. However, since I would have had a different mindset – and i didn’t know about Polygamy as a regular member (I don’t think?) – I probably would have gone with Bro. Brigham. YIKES.

  34. A question for the historians among us — Was plural marriage known, known about, talked about, in the general population (e.g., Bennett’s allegations in 1842, D&C 132 in 1843, the Nauvoo Expositor in 1844)? Enough so that the succession discussion could have been seen by ordinary members as in any part a referendum on plural marriage? Would the 40% who went with the Quorum and Brigham Young have known they were choosing the plural marriage path? (As well as the legitimacy of the Quorum, and Brigham Young, and the temple and temple ordinances?)

  35. Good question, Christian – perhaps someone more current on Nauvoo resident journal histories than I could elaborate. However, my impression has been that there was enough smoke, many people must have suspected that there was fire. The differentiation was made in the minds of the Saints (who were in on it) between what Bennett was accusing (and practicing himself) and what the leaders were secretly teaching, and there was a difference. There may have been some idea that a vote for the Twelve was a vote for plural marriage. However, the main sense one gets from contemporary accounts was that the apostles were there, better-organized, on the spot, and that Young stepped up and took charge. No one else did so with firmness and confidence, at a time of sorrow, confusion, perceived danger, and uncertainty. They followed Brigham primarily because he led. By the time the hubbub died down, many were already committed to the course, and continued in it.

    A number of accounts that we have are not contemporaneous, and people do have a tendency to justify to themselves the actions that they took. So, consciously or not, the later accounts of “Why I Went West with Brother Brigham” may not be accurate reflections of the Nauvoo-era state of mind.

  36. My several greats grandfather Theodore Turley followed Brigham at the time of the succession crisis and I would like to believe I would have followed in his footsteps. Theodore was called to served as a missionary with the Twelve in the British Isles, was a member of the Far West High Council, a loyal supporter of Joseph as he struggled through legal difficulties, one of the few who was married as a polygamist (3 additional wives in his case) in Nauvoo in early 1844 before Joseph died. While I have mixed feelings about polygamy I cannot ignore my own family’s legacy since I am the offspring of Theodore’s son Isaac (8th child of first marriage to Frances and only 7 years old when Joseph died) and Isaac’s second wife Clara. Theodore knew Brigham and Joseph equally well as he served closely with both of them. He also knew each of the other claimants called out in Angela’s list. I’ll have to look more deeply into the records we have of what he wrote concerning the succession – if anything – but given that he was part of the leadership in Winter Quarters and eventually moved West there’s no question what he decided.

  37. I would hope that I lived near enough to know the contenders personally and that I had a strong ability to understand the Spirit. I do not believe academic argument could decide this. Only fasting and prayer and a personal direction received through the Holy Ghost.

  38. Beverly in DC says:

    Angela, I mentioned the statistics about 10/25 people following Brigham Young today in Sunday School and I got challenged for my sources. Can you tell me more about the numbers please? I tried to google a bit and found that the population of Nauvoo in 1844 and that there were about 25,000 members of the church. Does that line up with what you were talking about?

  39. Not a Cougar says:

    Angela, I second Beverly in DC’s request. Can you provide a link to the 10 of 25 number?

  40. christiankimball says:

    Third (on numbers).
    I haven’t exhausted my resources, but the numbers are hard to come by. LDS/Brighamite narratives naturally tend toward talking about the exodus as though it’s everyone (meaning everyone who counts for subsequent events). And Community of Christ narratives that I know about treat the next decade or so as a period of disorganization, so there’s not a lot of “us” to talk about. The Strangites seem to be the best organized of those who didn’t go West, but I don’t have access to records or history (don’t even know if such a thing exists).