Section

Succession Crisis

Journal Overview: BYU Studies Quarterly 53:2 (2014)

By August 11, 2014


Just a quick note to turn your attention to two fine documentary articles published in the latest issue of BYU Studies Quarterly:

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Scholarly Q&A on the Succession: Christine and Christopher Blythe

By September 9, 2013


(The following is a give-and-take with Christopher and Christine Blythe, graduate students in American religious history who specialize in the many divergent forms of Mormonism. Christopher attends Florida State University, where he is nearing completion of his PhD, and Christine recently started a master’s program at Memorial University of Newfoundland. A couple weeks ago, I highlighted two of their recent articles; today, they answer a few questions presented to them by the JI cabal. The Blythes have a documentary history of the succession period due to be published by Kofford Books next year.)

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Responses: The Blythes Take on Succession

By August 22, 2013


First of all, we hope you enjoy JI’s new look. And yes, we are aware that the “music notes” can easily catch your attention.

If the recent resurgence in Mormon schism studies did nothing more than give room for John Hamer's phenomenal images, then it has served a noble purpose.

If the recent resurgence in Mormon schism studies did nothing more than give room for John Hamer’s phenomenal images, then it has served a noble purpose indeed.

But the blog is not the only thing that was in need of a facelift recently–so was the historiography surrounding the “succession crisis.” One of the popular topics that was repeatedly researched during the rise of New Mormon History, the story of how Mormonism became/remains so prone to schism has received a lot of attention. Historians like Michael Quinn, Andrew Ehat, Ron Esplin, and many others laid the archival groundwork for much of the narrative—and that’s just for the period immediately following Joseph Smith’s death. The John Whitmer Historical Association, which sponsors an annual conference as well as a biannual journal dedicated to the various traditions that race their roots back to Joseph Smith, continues to pump out fascinating scholarship year after year. And most of the major works in Mormon history now realize they must address these schism issues—think of the recent biographies of Parley Pratt and Brigham Young—it has begun to infiltrate the mainstream of Mormon studies.

But just like any topic within the wild and still inchoate (sub)field of Mormon history, its approaches have continued to evolve. In the beginning, very few works, besides that of Danny Jorgensen, invoked a theoretical methodology in tracking what Jorgensen called “Mormon Fissiparousness.” Rather, most narratives, while grounded in ground-breaking archival research, relied on basic teleological trajectories and focussed on seemingly objective tools like facts, dates, names, and words.

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Book Review: John S. Dinger, The Nauvoo City and High Council Minutes

By November 20, 2012


Dinger, John S. ed. The Nauvoo City and High Council Minutes. Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2011. lxxxi + 616 pp. Appendixes, index. Hardback with dust jacket: $49.95; ISBN 978-1-56085-214-8.

In his preface to this volume, John S. Dinger claims, “The minutes collected in this volume are a treasure trove of material reading to the religious and secular life of the early Latter-day Saints,” and that “these two sets of documents are, I believe, two of the most important primary sources for the period” (xvi). I agree, and thus take privilege in reviewing the volume. Nauvoo is an absolutely fascinating period of Mormon history, filled with contention, innovation, conflict, dissent, and intrigue. All of these tensions come out in these important documents, as well as the mundane events that transpired in day-to-day activities.

Though the two councils in question, the City Council and High Council, were two separate bodies, they had significant overlap. Both were made up of Mormon authorities, both looked to Joseph Smith for leadership, and both seemed to merge the church/state realms that America prided itself on keeping separate (though never, in actuality, succeeded). What took place in one council likely had significance to the other, and decisions from both bodies demonstrated the LDS Church’s performance of power during the waning years of Joseph Smith’s life. What we witness in these meetings are men attempting to run the Kingdom of God on earth–no small task to take place in disestablished America. Religious sermons are offered in secular council, secular decisions are made in religious courts. Perhaps more than anything else, this collection demonstrates the permeable boundaries of church and state in Mormon Nauvoo.

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The Succession Crisis in Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet

By October 18, 2012


[Another installment in the roundtable on John Turner’s Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet.]

If the first few chapters of Turner’s excellent biography narrate the foundations of Brigham Young’s Mormon experience, as Christopher outlined Tuesday, then it is the chapters surrounding Young’s assent to the Church’s top position (chapters 4-6) where the pioneer prophet’s dominant image comes into view. The period of succession following Joseph Smith’s death in 1844 used to be one of the dominant topics in Mormon historiography in the 1980s–led by scholarship from D. Michael Quinn, Ronald Esplin, Andrew Ehat, and partly spurred by the Hoffman-forged Joseph Smith III ordination document–but has since faded to the periphery in many ways. Since the topic’s heyday, a general narrative has taken prominence: Joseph Smith left, at least publicly, a very ambiguous plan for what would happen when he was gone, leading to a handful of quasi-legitimate succession claims. Brigham Young, this narrative generally says, gained the largest number of adherents in the wake of this “crisis” due to his Nauvoo ecclesiastical duties, temple activities, and, especially, his sheer will. While there are several problems with this framework–and Rob Jensen outlined some of them here–it is still quite formidable for most purposes, especially when focusing on the leading figures. (Focusing on the average saint during the period is a completely other matter.) Turner’s Brigham Young, along with Terryl Givens and Matt Grow’s Parley P. Pratt, offer important nuance to this narrative and, importantly, extends the analysis by showing the broader ramifications of what went on between 1844 and 1847.

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The Success of “Succession Crisis”?

By December 7, 2011


Post-1844 Mormonism has been on my mind lately since beginning a documentary history project with fellow-blogger Ben Park on the “Succession Crisis.” The documentary record is rich with history that should be more widely available to scholars interested in the various interpretations of Mormonism following Joseph Smith’s death.

I’ve long paused at the term “Succession Crisis,” hesitating at the term’s capacity to depict the history it attempts to clarify. There is no doubt Mormons faced a tumultuous period following the 1844 death of Joseph Smith and his brother in Carthage, Illinois—some of that difficulty stemming from theological/doctrinal confusion. But to what extent did the church and its members undergo a “crisis” in deciding upon a path of “succession”? In trying to be conscious of the language and terminology we use, I’ve put some of my thoughts to digital paper, attempting to outline some points I think the term “Succession Crisis” reveals not just about the past, but historians’ attempt at explaining that past.

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Recent Comments

J Stuart on Eugenics and the Intellectual: “Thanks, Cassie, WVS, and Professor Mauss!”


Armand Mauss on Eugenics and the Intellectual: “Don't forget to check out the influence also of the LDS Genealogical Society, especially the work of its executive secretary James H. Anderson during the…”


wvs on Eugenics and the Intellectual: “Interesting stuff, J. All kinds of fun links to the Taylor-Galbraith efficiency movement and quack psyche.”


Cassie on Eugenics and the Intellectual: “The topic of Mormon elite interest in Eugenics is fascinating and requires additional unpacking to fully understand the reverberations of the pseudoscience on the church…”


Amanda on Eugenics and the Intellectual: “I mean...who controls which spirits go to which families? It's like we forgot everything that's been revealed about foreordination...that, just as there will be…”


RL on Eugenics and the Intellectual: “Great points Amanda. We often think Mormonism is unique in having to grapple with race or gender and belief, but we a Christian faith…”

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