There were those who were trying to destroy the Prophet Joseph Smith and the Church who thought the death of the Prophet would also bring an end to the Church. Little did they understand the plan of the God of Israel and the purpose of the restored gospel. Early in the restoration the Lord declared:
And Israel shall be saved in mine own due time; and by the keys which I have given shall they be led, (emphasis added) and no more be confounded at all. (D&C 35:25)
When the Prophet died the keys were, at that point, held by the president of the quorum of twelve apostles – President Brigham Young. When President Young first heard of the death of the Prophet Joseph his first thoughts turned to the keys:
President Young, at the time the Prophet was killed, was in the State of New Hampshire, in company with Orson Pratt. They received the news of the Prophet’s death at Peterborough. “The first thing I thought of,” says President Young, “was whether Joseph had taken the keys of the kingdom with him from the earth. Brother Orson Pratt sat on my left; we were leaning back in our chairs. Bringing my hand down on my knee, I said, `The keys of the kingdom are right here with the Church'” (Tullidge’s Life of B. Young).
To the same great truth we have a living witness present, one whose word is held in high esteem by the Latter-day Saints–and justly so, for he has been in our midst for over half a century, a faithful witness for God, and we know that his word is true and may be relied upon–I refer to President Wilford Woodruff.
President Brigham Young, writing to Orson Spencer, who had charge of the British Mission, in giving him an account of the organization of the First Presidency at Winter Quarters, in 1848, said:
About a year before Joseph’s death he told the Twelve: “There is not one key or power to be bestowed upon this Church to lead the people into the Celestial Gate, but I have given you, showed you, and talked it over with you; the kingdom is set up, and you have the perfect pattern, and you can go and build up the kingdom, and go in at the Celestial Gate, taking your train with you” (MILLENNIAL STAR, volume 10, page 115).(1)
The Lord gave some of the saints a special witness that President Brigham Young was to be the Prophet Joseph’s successor. As the issue came up as to who was to lead the church the following events happened:
Although Brigham Young and other Apostles had received from Joseph knowledge, authority, keys, and the charge “to bear the kingdom” before some of them left Nauvoo in early April 1844 to serve in the mission field, they undoubtedly did not realize the full significance of these blessings and responsibilities. They probably did not even imagine that within months the Prophet would be killed and they would be responsible to continue the program of the Prophet Joseph Smith.
Like many others, when Brigham Young learned of the tragedy at Carthage, he was temporarily overcome with grief. Yet this grief did not precipitate in him a period of inactivity; instead, he immediately accepted the responsibility of leadership. In his first talks to the Saints in Massachusetts, and again when he returned to Nauvoo and instructed the people on the principle of succession, Brigham uttered his claim that “the keys of the kingdom are right here” and that the kingdom would roll forth.
When he arrived in Nauvoo on 6 August 1844, Brigham Young learned that Sidney Rigdon had already returned from Pittsburgh and was claiming that he should be the guardian of the Church. Sidney said that a guardian was needed because there would never be another like Joseph, that Joseph had died holding the keys of this kingdom, that Joseph still held them, and that he would continue to do so in eternity. Rigdon also predicted that the Saints would never complete the temple.
The challenge of Sidney Rigdon to the leadership of the Twelve gave that quorum an opportunity to explain to the Saints in Nauvoo what they had learned from the Prophet Joseph Smith regarding succession in the Presidency. On 7 August 1844, the morning after Brigham Young had returned, he and the other Apostles met at the home of John Taylor, who was recovering from wounds received in Carthage Jail. After discussing the claims of Sidney Rigdon, the Twelve called a meeting of all high priests for that afternoon. During that gathering in the Seventies Hall, Brigham Young said:
I have the keys and the means of obtaining the mind of God on the subject [of succession in the Presidency]. . . . Joseph conferred upon our heads [the Twelve] all the keys and powers belonging to the Apostleship which he himself held before he was taken away.
Citing a frequent instruction from the Prophet to the Twelve, Brigham Young continued, “I have laid the foundation and you must build thereon, for upon your shoulders the kingdom rests.”
The following day, 8 August 1844, the Saints gathered in the east grove at 10:00 a.m. in a special meeting called by William Marks, president of the Nauvoo Stake. “That was a day never to be forgotten,” Helen Mar Whitney remembered. “I was among the number that was obliged to stand, it being impossible for half of the congregation to be seated.” It was a cold, wet, rainy Sunday. Because the wind was blowing toward the stand, Sidney Rigdon left the stand and climbed on a wagon behind the congregation so the people could better hear his voice. The crowd of thousands turned around on their benches and faced the wagon. After Rigdon spoke for about an hour and a half, presenting his claim to the Presidency, Brigham Young spoke briefly, comforting the Saints.
Many Saints testified that as Brigham Young spoke, he was transfigured into the likeness of Joseph Smith. Benjamin F. Johnson, who attended that meeting, recalled that as soon as Brigham Young started to speak,
I jumped upon my feet, for in every possible degree it was Joseph’s voice, and his person, in look, attitude, dress and appearance was Joseph himself, personified; and I knew in a moment the spirit and mantle of Joseph was upon him. . . . I saw in the transfiguration of Brigham Young, the tall, straight and portly form of the Prophet Joseph Smith, clothed in a sheen of light, covering him to his feet; and I heard the real and perfect voice of the Prophet, even to the whistle, as in years past caused by the loss of a tooth said to have been broken out by the mob at Hyrum.
Many others who gathered in the east grove on that occasion shared an experience similar to that of Benjamin F. Johnson. Nancy Tracy recalled that Brigham Young’s “voice” and “gestures” were like Joseph’s. “It seemed,” she added, “that we had him again with us.” Mary Winters remembered that after the voice of Brigham Young seemed to change so that it resembled that of Joseph Smith, people around her rose to their feet “to get a better chance to hear and see.
I and my little companion of the day, Julia Felshaw, being small of stature, stood upon the benches that we, too might behold the wonderful transformation.”
And Helen Mar Whitney attested:
I can bear witness with hundreds of others who stood that day under the sound of Brigham’s voice, of the wonderful and startling effect that it had upon us. If Joseph had risen from the dead and stood before them, it could hardly have made a deeper or more lasting impression. It was the very voice of Joseph himself. This was repeatedly spoken of by the Latter-day Saints.
For many Latter-day Saints, this experience resolved any questions they might have had regarding Brigham Young’s divine calling. After hearing the voice of Joseph as Brigham Young spoke, Zerah Pulsipher said that the people understood that “Brigham stood at the head of the twelve, therefore the church turned to him.” Helen Whitney explained, “Surely it was a most powerful and convincing testimony to them that he [Brigham Young] was the man, instead of Sidney Rigdon, that was destined to become the ‘great leader,’ and upon whose shoulders the mantle of Joseph had fallen.” John Welch, who also wrote an account of the mantle of Joseph falling on Brigham Young, concluded, “I was convinced then . . . that Brigham Young was the right man and the man chosen of God to lead the Church.”
In the afternoon meeting, Brigham Young spoke for about two hours on the subject of Church government and succession in the Presidency. One theme that he emphasized in that discussion was his unwavering loyalty to the Prophet Joseph Smith and his earnest desire to continue the program Joseph had restored. “Here is Brigham,” he declared. “Have his knees ever faltered? Have his lips ever quivered?” Then he succinctly explained the question of leadership when he said, “We have a head, and that head is the Apostleship, the spirit and power of Joseph, and we can now begin to see the necessity of Apostleship.”(2)
Elder L. Tom Perry compared the Prophet Joseph Smith and his successor President Brigham Young as follows:
The two were different. Joseph Smith–the great master prophet, creative, inspired, visionary. Brigham Young–a tough administrator, a powerful leader who made workable the visions of the Prophet Joseph Smith.(3)
About a year before the death of the Prophet Joseph Smith he received a very important revelation concerning President Young, then president of the Quroum of the Twelve Apostles:
DEAR and well-beloved brother, Brigham Young, verily thus saith the Lord unto you: My servant Brigham, it is no more required at your hand to leave your family as in times past, for your offering is acceptable to me.
I have seen your labor and toil in journeyings for my name.
I therefore command you to send my word abroad, and take especial care of your family from this time, henceforth and forever. Amen (D&C 126:1-3)
This gave President Young time to be personally tutored by the Prophet Joseph. President Young was able to be with the Prophet as he gave many of his major discourses. He was there when the Prophet gave counsel and instruction to the saints day after day. This time became a period of intense in-service for the President of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles and successor to the Prophet Joseph.
The following is a short biography of President Brigham Young:
President Brigham Young While Joseph Smith was using his great spiritual gifts to establish the Church, another leader was being prepared for his role as the second President of the Church. Brigham Young was born in 1801. His early life was similar to the Prophet Joseph Smith’s, occurring in the harsh climate of New England, basically in poverty. His family also moved frequently in an attempt to find more suitable places to provide a living. His parents were devout Methodists. They were strict and rigid, keeping their children from such amusements as dancing or even listening to the music of a violin. The restrictions placed on the Young family probably led Brigham to a remarkable independence in his careful and long consideration about his religious commitments.His formal education was limited to about one year because of the need for the whole family to work together in clearing the forest, building homes, and planting crops. These early years taught him thrift and industry. When he was 14, his mother died of tuberculosis. At this early age he was apprenticed as a chair maker and housepainter. By the time he was 18, he was in business for himself. He was a skilled artisan, noted for the simple beauty, sturdiness, and usefulness of the articles he produced.His search for religious integrity was a long one. Fiery revivals had no appeal to attract him to join a church. He was a student of the Bible and joined small discussion groups in its study. You can see patterns of judgment, common sense, and self-reliance being developed early in the life of this leader.An event was to occur in April 1830 that changed his life. His brother Phineas was shown one of the first copies of the Book of Mormon by Joseph Smith’s brother Samuel, who startled him with the declaration: “I know this book to be a revelation from God translated by the gift and power of the Holy Ghost and that my brother, Joseph Smith Jr., is a prophet, seer, and revelator.” Phineas determined to study the book to see if it was something that would lead people away from truth. After a week, he could find none of the errors that he had expected to find and started to feel that the book was true. He lent his copy to his father, who thought it was the greatest work he had ever seen, and then to his sister, Fanny, who declared it to be a revelation. Fanny passed it on to her brother, Brigham. He was more reserved:”Says I, wait a little while; what is the doctrine of the book, and of the revelations the Lord has given? Let me apply my heart to them; and after I had done this, I considered it to be my right to know for myself, as much as any man on earth.”I examined the matter studiously, for two years, before I made up my mind to receive that book. I knew it was true, as well as I knew that I could see with my eyes, or feel by the touch of my fingers, or be sensible to the demonstration of any sense. Had not this been the case, I never would have embraced it to this day; it would have all been without form or comeliness to me. I wished time sufficient to prove all things for myself” (Deseret News Weekly, 2 Oct. 1852, 96).He later said: “I could not more honestly and earnestly have prepared myself to go into eternity, than I did to come into this church; and when I had ripened every thing in my mind, I drank it in, and not till then” (Deseret News Weekly, 16 May 1860, 82).His conversion changed his life. He became very loyal in his support of the Prophet Joseph Smith. During those dark days in 1837 when the Kirtland Bank failed, the Prophet lamented that only Heber C.
Kimball and Brigham Young, among the original Twelve, did not lift their heel against him. Elder Young demonstrated over and over again a tenacious loyalty to the Prophet Joseph Smith, exercising courage and confidence in the assignments that were given to him.The two were very different. Joseph Smith was the great inspired, visionary, prophet. Brigham Young was a tough administrator and a powerful leader who would make workable the visions of the Prophet Joseph Smith; a man of practical action; a statesman; a man decisive, vigorous, and determined. The Holy Ghost had manifest to him that Joseph Smith was indeed a prophet–in fact the spokesman for God in this dispensation of time–and that Latter-day Saint teachings were not only good or reasonable but uniquely true unto salvation. Brigham Young said:”Joseph Smith has laid the foundation of the kingdom of God in the last days; others will rear the superstructure. … “… I know that he was called of God, and this I know by the revelations of Jesus Christ to me, and by the testimony of the Holy Ghost. Had I not so learned this truth, I should never have been what is called a ‘Mormon’ ” (Deseret News Weekly, 22 Oct. 1862, 129).The training on the march of Zion’s Camp, expulsion from Missouri, the martyrdom of the Prophet–each step prepared him for the leadership role that he was required to assume in bringing the Saints west to settle in the Rocky Mountains.At the death of President Young, President George Q. Cannon, who had served as his counselor, reflected on the loss in these words:”From the greatest details connected with the organization of this Church, down to the smallest minutiae connected with the work, he has left upon it the impress of his great mind. From the organization of the Church, and the construction of Temples, the building of Tabernacles; from the creation of a provisional state government and a Territorial government, down to the small matter of directing the shape of these seats upon which we sit this day; upon all these things, as well as upon all the settlements of the Territory, the impress of his genius is apparent. … “His value has not been properly estimated by the Latter-day Saints. … There are none of us who will not feel this more and more. … The time will come when the Latter-day Saints will appreciate him as one of the greatest Prophets that ever lived” (in Preston Nibley, Brigham Young–the Man and His Works , 534, 537).Again, out of the unlearned the Lord had reared a mighty leader to be the second President of the Church.(4)
Even after the death of the Prophet Joseph Smith he appeared to President Brigham Young and instructed him as to the building up of the kingdom:
Some time after Joseph Smith’s death, he appeared to Brigham Young and gave specific and pointed instructions as to why the members of the Church must labor to acquire and keep the Spirit of the Lord. “Tell the people to be humble and faithful,” Joseph Smith counseled his successor, “and be sure to keep the Spirit of the Lord and it will lead them right.
“Be careful and not turn away the small still voice; it will teach them what to do and where to go; it will yield the fruits of the kingdom. Tell the brethren to keep their hearts open to conviction, so that when the Holy Ghost comes to them, their hearts will be ready to receive it. They can tell the Spirit of the Lord from all other spirits; it will whisper peace and joy to their souls; it will take malice, hatred, strife and all evil from their hearts; and their whole desire will be to do good, bring forth righteousness and build up the kingdom of God. Tell the brethren if they will follow the Spirit of the Lord, they will go right. Be sure to tell the people to keep the Spirit of the Lord; and if they will, they will find themselves just as they were organized by our Father in Heaven before they came into the world. Our Father in Heaven organized the human family, but they are all disorganized and in great confusion.
“Joseph then showed me the pattern,” President Young continued, “how they were in the beginning. This I cannot describe, but I saw it, and saw where the Priesthood had been taken from the earth and how it must be joined together, so that there would be a perfect chain from Father Adam to his latest posterity. Joseph again said, ‘Tell the people to be sure to keep the Spirit of the Lord and follow it, and it will lead them just right.'”(5)
President Brigham Young continued the building of God’s Kingdom on earth. The Prophet Joseph Smith was faithful in laying the foundation of a great work. Those who followed held the keys and were faithful in building upon that foundation. Their motto was, The Kingdom of God or nothing:
But with us it is the Kingdom of God, or nothing; and we will maintain it, or die in trying–though we shall not die in trying. It is comforting to many to be assured that we shall not die in trying, but we shall live in trying. We shall maintain the Kingdom of God, living. (6)
I know that our first aim and object should be, the kingdom of God or nothing. I believe it is the desire of this people as a rule, that this kingdom shall roll forth until it shall cover the whole earth.(7)
And I would say to all Israel, there is not one soul of us who can afford to compromise one of the revelations or one of the commandments which God has committed to our charge. No man can afford to do this who is called of God to build up this kingdom. We can afford, however, to meet the consequences, whatever they may be. And I would say to all present this day, we should have, and that we have as much comfort, as much hope and as much cause to trust in God, and have received as much encouragement, by the overruling hand of Almighty God in our behalf, to go on magnifying our calling and to be true and faithful to every commandment which God has given unto us, as the people of any other generation had in their day; and for one I can say, “It is the kingdom of God or nothing” for me, and I am willing to risk the consequences.(8)
Our motto should be “The kingdom of God or nothing.” May we be faithful in all of our labors, having the motto indelibly stamped upon our hearts, “The kingdom of God or nothing.” (8 April 1880, CR, p. 82.)(9)
As the Prophet Joseph Smith once counseled so it came to pass. He counseled to stay with the majority of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles and the records of the Church:
I will give you a key that will never rust,–if you will stay with the majority of the Twelve Apostles, and the records of the Church, you will never be led astray.(10)
1. (Brian H. Stuy, ed., Collected Discourses, 5 vols. [Burbank, Calif., and Woodland Hills, Ut.: B.H.S. Publishing, 1987-1992], 2: .)
(Susan Easton Black and Larry C. Porter, eds., Lion of the Lord [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1995], 112.)
3. (Scholars Urged To Spread Light of Gospel , LDS Church News, 1995, 09/23/95 .)
4. “By the Hands of His Prophets,” Ensign, August 1998
5. (Robert L. Millet, Selected Writings of Robert L. Millet: Gospel Scholars Series [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 2000], 428.)
6. (Preston Nibley, Brigham Young: The Man and His Work, 4th ed.[Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1960], 312.)
7. (9798elder John W. Taylor, Conference Report, April 1899, Second Day–Morning Session .)
8. (Wilford Woodruff, The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, edited by G. Homer Durham [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1969], 83.)
9. (Lorenzo Snow, The Teachings of Lorenzo Snow, edited by Clyde J. Williams [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1984], 177.)
10. Compiled by Dr. Milton V. Backman, Jr., In Cooperation with Keith W. Perkins. Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University. Writings of Early Latter-day Saints , copyright 1996 by BYU Department of Church History and Doctrine, All rights reserved. (543)