Monday, July 24, 2017

The rise to power of Brigham Young

In a previous post, I discussed how the story of Amalickiah (Alma 46-49 in the Book of Mormon) is likely a story meant to teach us what to watch for in terms of the tactics that are used by those that wish to subvert, infiltrate, and come into power over a group of people.  As I mentioned earlier, Amalickiah appears to have accomplished his designs mostly undetected by the people who became his supporters.  Most of the people had no idea what actually happened.

Did something like this happen in LDS history and go mostly undetected?

Consider this letter from William Smith (Joseph Smith Jr.'s younger brother) written to Joseph's son:

"Joseph; Dear Nephew:—Several times I have taken the pen to write you on the subject of this caption, the death of the two Martyrs, and the principal causes that led to their death. But the causes have been so misunderstood and I have felt so diffident about writing the facts in the case as I understand them, that I have refrained from the task, for fear that the circumstances I have to name might throw a back [black] influence upon the character of the man whom we all esteem as the prophet of God; and the longer I have put this matter off, the more and more I have felt it impressed upon my mind that I should write.
The history and the circumstances connected with the death of your father [Joseph Smith, Jr.], and your Uncle Hyrum, are events that transpired, for the greater part while I was residing in Philadelphia in 1842–3–4, having charge of the Church in the east. But the links in the chain of circumstances that I am about to relate were occurrences that took place while I was on a visit to Nauvoo, for the purpose of attending the April Conference in 1844.
After attending the Conference held by the Church at that time, and also several of the political caucuses to nominate candidates for President of the United States, and business matters of this sort having been disposed of, (in which Lyman Wight, Brigham Young, John Taylor, Willard Richards, and H. C. KimbaI[I] were the principal speakers), I began to arrange matters to return to my family who were, as I have before stated, residing in the City of Philadelphia; and on the morning previous to my leaving Nauvoo,1
I called on your father and took breakfast with him. While seated at the table a conversation was had participated in by your mother [Emma], concerning some things that she had learned in the discharge of her mission among the Saints as one of a committee appointed by the Female Relief Society, to visit the Saints and look after the interest of the poor of [the] Church; to enquire after their occupation and financial prospect for food and means of support. In relating her report she said, that some complaint had been made to her by females whom she had visited, that John Taylor, Willard Richards, and Brigham Young had been teaching some doctrines among the Saints privately that was going to ruin the Church, unless there was a stop put to it, as it was contrary to the law and rules governing the Church. Your father remarked that he would attend to the matter as soon as he got through with his troubles with the Laws and Fosters. But mark you their conversation took place only a few days previous to your father's death. What that private teaching might have been, that those persons whom your mother named, were circulating in a clandestine manner, (since there has been so much said about a doctrine called the plural wife doctrine on this subject), I leave the reader to judge. [italics added]
One other point I wish to notice in the conversation that took place while I was eating at your father’s table, and that was, as the conversation turned upon Brigham Young, your father remarked that with regard to the charge brought against those brethren, that he expected that he would have trouble with Brigham Young, especially, and added that "should the time ever come that this man B. Young should lead the Church that he would lead it to hell." And these words I remember as plainly as though they were spoken but yesterday; as at this time I had not known that there could have been a charge of fault brought against the man. My association with this man Brigham Young for near three years previous, had been very limited, in consequence of our different localities and fields of labor.
These matters that I have thus named do not comprise the whole ground of the causes that led to your father’s death; although in part it did, as this secret evil that had crept into the Church, by means of this private teaching, gave food and material for the Expositor2 press to pour out its vials of wrath upon the head of the prophet, making him responsible for the conduct and teaching of these secret and clandestine teachers. What fixes the stain of guilt upon these parties named in this letter making them more criminally murderous, is the part that the City Council at Nauvoo took in getting up the ordinance which resulted in the destruction of the Expositor press. And I wish here to name the fact that the principal instigators in getting up that ordinance were men who feared the revelations that this organ (Expositor) was about to make of their secret and ungodly doings to the world. The persons who were most conspicuous in the work, and were the means of bringing on the scenes that finally resulted in the bloody tragedy which took place at Carthage Jail were no other than John Taylor and Willard Richards, who by constant importunities prevailed upon your father to sign his own death warrant by placing his name to that accursed ordinance which resulted in his death and the death of your Uncle Hyrum. [italics added]
To these importunities of Richards and Taylor I was a witness, and was present when Richards brought in the book containing the ordinance and asked for your father’s signature to make it a law in the City of Nauvoo. I remonstrated with Richards at the time, against my brother Joseph putting his name down in such a place, as it would most certainly result in his death. Richards, failing to secure your father’s name at this time, both he and Taylor called on your father the next morning, with feigned tears of desperation, expatiating upon the great necessity of having that Expositor removed, as a means to the further growth and prosperity not only of the City of Nauvoo, but of the cause of the Church abroad.
Thus these men, with the sophistry of their lying tongues, like wolves in sheep’s clothing, ensnared the prophet from off his watch tower, and led him as a lamb to the slaughter, they promising, also, to be his assistants in case he should fall into trouble, as a result of his name being placed to that ordinance. This accounts for the whys and the wherefores, that Taylor and Richards were both in the jail at the time your father and your uncle Hyrum were murdered. The principal reasons why these conspirators against your father’s life did not suffer the same fate that your father and your uncle Hyrum did, are, because, like cowards they hid themselves away—Taylor under a bed that was in the room where the prisoners were confined and Richards behind the door.
Thus you see, by the secret workings and secret doings of these men for years gone by, the Church was robbed of her prophet and patriarch, by a most hellish plot [a conspiracy] that had been in vogue for not only months, but years previous to the time of their deaths. When I see men whose finger stains show positive signs of their guilt in the death of the martyrs, now revelling in the spoils of the Church robbed from the innocent and unsuspecting saints, I cannot restrain my pen from writing the facts and incidents that I do know before God and man were the means of your father and uncle Hyrum’s death.
There is one more fact I will notice and that is, that however strange or great the testimony that might be brought against these men, John Taylor3 and others, in this murderous affair, the Utah Mormons would not credit it though one rose from the dead to bear witness of it, and as for the redemption of any from their blindness, who have willingly given their names in support of this great apostacy, l am in much doubt that there are many who will be saved or forsake the great error they have fallen into.
And especially do I believe this in regard to the remnants of the Smith family in Utah, whose chances for knowing the erroneous position they are in, and with ample proof from the Word of God that their whole system of church organization is founded in corruption and fraud; and still they persist in their unholy alliance with that apostate and Godforsaken people. "There are none so blind as those who will not see."
This, then, is the end of this epistle, and I conclude with many good wishes to you and to all good saints. Your brother in bonds of love. Wm. B. Smith. Kingston, Caldwell Co., Mo., March 25th, 1879. (The Saints' Herald 26 [April 15, 1879]: 117)

Next item for consideration:  Here is a video which discusses the ballistics issues related to the story of what happened in Carthage.  The presenter makes some interesting points showing that there are problems with the story given the layout of the jail, the types of guns used, and the evidence in artifacts left behind.

In the story of Amalickiah, it is interesting to observe how the servants - those who were true to the King of the Lamanites were kept from telling what had happened.

Alma 47

27 And it came to pass that Amalickiah commanded that his armies should march forth and see what had happened to the king; and when they had come to the spot, and found the king lying in his gore, Amalickiah pretended to be wroth, and said: Whosoever loved the king, let him go forth, and pursue his servants that they may be slain.
28 And it came to pass that all they who loved the king, when they heard these words, came forth and pursued after the servants of the king.
Is there a parallel to this?  Joseph Smith did not leave a written copy of the endowment.  While we do know that there were endowments given before Joseph died,  There is not exact record of what that was.  Many of those who have received the current LDS endowment may be unfamiliar with the Oath of Vengeance that was part of the endowment until changes were made and the oath was removed in the early 1930's.

"You and each of you do covenant and promise that you will pray and never cease to pray to Almighty God to avenge the blood of the prophets upon this nation, and that you will teach the same to your children and to your children's children unto the third and fourth generation."

According to Brigham Young, after Joseph delivered what apparently became the core of the LDS temple rites, Joseph told him:

"Brother Brigham, this is not arranged perfectly; however we have done the best we could under the circumstances in which we are placed. I wish you to take this matter in hand: organize and systematize all these ceremonies."  (L. John Nuttall Diary, 7 February 1877, quoted in BYU Studies 19 (Winter 1979): 159 fn. 77)

The Prophet Joseph Smith taught: “Ordinances instituted in the heavens before the foundation of the world, in the priesthood, for the salvation of men, are not to be altered or changed. All must be saved on the same principles.” (TPJS, p. 308)

The quote from Brigham Young regarding the endowment is problematic.  If the ordinances are not to be altered or changed, then why would Joseph Smith have told Brigham to change the endowment? Also, it is obvious that the oath of vengeance was added since Joseph Smith and Hyrum Smith were alive when the original would have been given.

Even after the death of Joseph Smith and before Brigham Young could come into power, there were still a few remaining obstacles to be cleared.  Samuel Smith presented one such obstacle.  William Clayton had recorded that Samuel Smith should be Joseph's successor should he and Hyrum be killed.  Samuel died only a month after Joseph and Hyrum.  The circumstances surrounding his death at age 36 caused suspicion among many.  Even Brigham Young commented on rumors that he had been responsible for his death in 1857.

Many sites have provided more information regarding the mysterious death of Samuel Smith.  One such account can be found here:

Death of Samuel Smith

Another primary obstacle was Sidney Rigdon.  Sidney had been ordained prophet, seer, and revelator in 1941 by Joseph Smith and was the only surviving member of the first presidency.  On August 3, 1844 he arrived in Nauvoo and claimed to have received a revelation to act as a Guardian of the church.  On August 8th,  Sidney was speaking to a group of saints about his role as guardian.  He was interrupted by Brigham Young who stated his opposition to Rigdon, dismissed the gathering, and asked them to reconvene in the afternoon.

Jacob Hamblin’s diary for 8 August indicates that Young’s stunning display of brinksmanship caused the audience to turn in their seats and face his commanding presence on the stand.  “I will manage this voting for Elder Rigdon,” he bellowed.  “He does not preside here.  This child (meaning himself) will manage this flock of a season.”  He then wisely dismissed the meeting, allowing Rigdon’s rhetoric to dissipate, and announced a special assembly for 2:00 pm.
In the meeting in the afternoon, Young claimed the 12 apostles had the right to preside despite D&C 107 indicating that the twelve had no jurisdiction in the church  - only in the mission field.   A cleverly worded proposition was put forth to make it appear that there was no support for Sidney Rigdon.

Fully confident, tossing off platitudes and pronouncements, Young’s afternoon address on 8 August was a remarkable assertion of the Twelve’s right to govern as well as his personal claim to be shepherd of the flock.  “For the first time since [I] became a member of the church,” Young began, “the Twelve Apostles of the Lamb, chosen by revelation, in this last dispensation of the gospel for the winding up scene, present themselves before the saints, to stand in their lot according to appointment.”  After explaining “matters so satisfactorily that every saint could see that Elijah’s mantle had truly fallen on the ‘Twelve,'”, wrote a reporter in the 2 September 1844 Times and Seasons.  Young, ever the masterful strategist, then asked, “I now want to ask each of you to tell me if you want to choose a guardian, a Prophet, evangelist, or sumthing els[e] as your head to lead you.  All that are in favor of it make it manifest by raising the right hand.”  No one did. 
In the LDS church, there is a story often told about how the Mantle of Joseph Smith came upon Brigham as he spoke and it was by this means that the people knew that Brigham Young was to be Joseph's successor.  However, there is ample evidence to support the idea that this event never happened and this this story was created many years later.

The Transfiguration of Brigham Young: Mormon Folklore?

It is also worth noting here that the people did not choose Brigham Young as president that day.  Rather, if there were a decision made by the people, it was that the twelve would lead the church.
The twelve published an epistle one week later claiming there was no single leader:

“You are now without a prophet present with you in the flesh to guide you. … Let no man presume for a moment that [Joseph Smith’s] place will be filled by another; for, remember he stands in his own place, and always will.” (Times and Seasons 5 (15 Aug. 1844): 618, quoted in Van Wagoner, 14)

One month later, Brigham Young convened a court to excommunicate Sidney Rigdon.  Sidney Rigdon did not believe that Brigham Young had the right to do so and refused to attend.  William Marks, who was the current stake president in Nauvoo  -- who did have the right and authority to convene a court -- supported this claim and laid out the following additional points.

1- The court was not proceeding according to the protocol provided in modern revelation
2- Straws must be drawn to see who defends the character of the accused and makes sure he gets a fair trial
3- It is improper to bring up old charges that Rigdon has already been tried for and found innocent of
4- The First Presidency of the Church always presides over the church
5- It does not become unorganized or dissolved when one or two members die
6- Any member of the quorum can conduct business when the other two are not present
7- The First Presidency has “power and responsibility” no other quorum has. They preside over the quorum of the Twelve
8- The quorum of the 12 are a traveling missionary quorum that has no right to preside in an established stake of Zion (with no authority to organize the First Presidency)
9- He personally helped Joseph Ordain Sidney to be a Prophet Seer and Revelator
10- A person must be a prophet seer and revelator in order to ordain another person to be a prophet seer and revelator (Marks could not have ordained Sidney himself, he could only participate in the circle while Joseph performed the ordinance)
11- Marks was aware of every ordination and Sidney was the only living person was ordained to be a prophet seer and revelator
12- A “prophet, priest and king” does not have the same authority as a “prophet seer and revelator” and does not have the right to receive the oracles for the church
13- Sidney was equal with Joseph in holding the Keys and Authority of the Kingdom
14- Sidney has sustained his authority and has not lost it through transgression
15- Sidney is the one to receive the oracles from brother Joseph and give them to the church
16- If Sidney is cut off from the church, there will be no one to obtain revelations for the church
17- Continuous revelation was essential to guide the church
18- The kingdom cannot be built without revelation

It was't until three years later that a vote was taken at Winter Quarters to appoint Brigham Young as president of the church and head of the first presidency.  On December 5, 1847; the twelve met at Orson Hyde's home in Kanesville, Iowa and after much discussion the apostles voted to sustain Brigham Young as President of a newly created first presidency.  He then chose his counselors.  D&C 107:22 indicates that the three presidents should be chosen by the membership of the church.  The twelve apostles did not have the authority to do so without the member's consent.

It is interesting, because it seems that Brigham Young himself understood that this was how it was supposed to work:

"Perhaps it may make some of you stumble, were I to ask you a question—Does a man’s being a Prophet in this Church prove that he shall be the President of it? I answer, no! A man may be a Prophet, Seer, and Revelator, and it may have nothing to do with his being the president of the Church. Suffice it to say, that Joseph was the president of the Church, as long as he lived: the people chose to have it so. He always filled that responsible station by the voice of the people. Can you find any revelation appointing him the President of the Church? The keys of the Priesthood were committed to Joseph, to build up the Kingdom of God on the earth, and were not to be taken from him in time or in eternity; but when he was called to preside over the Church, it was by the voice of the people; though he held the keys of the Priesthood, independent of their voice.” (Journal of Discourses 1:133 Emphasis added.)

I wish to acknowledge that parts of this article are speculative in nature.  However, it should also be noted by the reader that many parts presented here are factual and documented. 
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