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.

I would argue that initially, few seriously considered the prospect of “succeeding” Joseph Smith and his office in the sense of fully replacing him and his role within the church structure. In fact, current-day observers’ assumptions of a continuity of Mormon leadership (i.e. “succession”) actually cloud the real debate on the ground. The two major claimants in 1844 provide a perfect example of this: Brigham Young as president of the Quorum of the Twelve and Sidney Rigdon as member of the First Presidency of the church. Reading their positions carefully, neither claimed the right to fully succeed Joseph Smith. A blog post won’t allow for a thorough investigation, but a few quotes should suffice. Young, though likely being somewhat rhetorical, hinted that he viewed the First Presidency as dissolved and of no more efficacy upon the earth: “Here is elder Amasa Lyman and elder Sidney Rigdon; they were councillors in the first presidency, and they are councillors to the Twelve still; if they keep their places; but if either wishes to act as ‘spokesman’ for the prophet Joseph, he must go behind the veil where Joseph is.”[1] In addition, he made no attempt to immediately replace the First Presidency or Smith’s role as a prophet. At the beginning of the meeting, Young asked the saints if they wanted “a guardian, a prophet, [or] a spokesman.”[2] According to the printed minutes, “not a hand was raised” as a supporting vote.[3]

Rigdon, though disagreeing with Young on many points, agreed that Joseph Smith was irreplaceable. In his diary, Willard Richards reported Rigdon stating that “no man could be the successor of Joseph.”[4] And Orson Hyde, well after Rigdon’s excommunication from the church, recalled that Rigdon taught that “Joseph had ascended to heaven…[and] that he held the keys of the kingdom and would continue to hold them to all eternity, –that he had received the crown, and the kingdom must be built up unto him, and that no man could ever take his place.”[5] Both claimants felt that Smith’s role in events in this world extended beyond the grave. Thus initially, “succession” was actually more about a replacement of Joseph Smith’s leadership, but apparently not his spiritual authority. The question for me is how well the term “Succession Crisis” explains this nuance and complexity. I’m afraid the term provides a more teleological explanation for those used to, or familiar with the practices of later LDS leadership transitions. Initial debate does not support this assumption.

It’s important to remember that both Young and Rigdon eventually turned from their position and took steps to replace the First Presidency and office of president of the church. In fact, the need to replace Smith may have even been assumed early on. In the September 1844 edition of the Times and Seasons, editors addressed the question head-on: “Great excitement prevails throughout the world to know ‘who shall be the successor of Joseph Smith?’ In reply, we say, be patient, a little, till the proper time comes, and we will tell you all. ‘Great wheels move slow.’ At present, we can say that a special conference of the church was held in Nauvoo on the 8th ult. [Aug.], and it was carried without a discenting voice, that the ‘Twelve’ should preside over the whole church, and when any alteration in the presidency shall be required, seasonable notice will be given.”[6] While the option remained theoretically open, the sermons and actions themselves point to a different immediate position. Is it any wonder that James J. Strang gained such a strong following by arguing so strenuously for the need for a prophet, seer, and revelator?

Clearly, the above skims the surface of the arguments; the point of this post is not to analyze the various reasons of schism following Smith’s death, but simply to explore the use of the term “succession” in discussion of the Mormon past. The prominent LDS precedent of prophetic succession, combined with sociologists’ discussion of charismatic succession of religious leaders has created an academic atmosphere of discussing the “Succession” debate of the LDS Church. But, as I have illustrated above, that terminology can be misleading on certain levels.

What about “crisis”? What exactly was the “crisis” in 1844? Was it a crisis in finding a successor? Attendees of the 8 August 1844 meeting did not seem to think there was much of a crisis in finding and supporting a leader (the vote was essentially unanimous for Brigham Young and the twelve with Rigdon withdrawing his name from consideration). Was it the threat of a crisis on the church if an appropriate successor wasn’t found? Perhaps the collapse or division of the church? Was it the individual members’ crisis of faith after Smith’s death? While I believe all of these question are worth fleshing out (not in a small blog post, of course), the very existence of so many interpretations about “crisis” makes my point: the term itself is problematic and confusing, if not misleading in describing the past.

One difficulty that I have with the term in question is the inherent institutional approach to Mormon history “succession crisis” conveys with little thought towards the lived religion and understood doctrine of the early Latter-day Saints and their experience following the death of their leader. So often, Mormon history narrates the “survival” of the church following the death of Smith (largely ignoring the role schisms played), and attempts to explain how leadership facilitated that survival. But in looking at lived religion, an additional question should also demand our attention: how did the tumultuous time of 1844 affect the average member and how they lived and approached their religion? What role did Joseph Smith play in an individual’s faith and how did his death influence that faith? How much of a “crisis” were these years to individuals’ concept of Mormonism? How much did the average Latter Day Saint continue on with her religious faith? Did Smith’s death prevent congregants from joining together to worship? Did it stop the studying of scripture? The meaning and partaking of the sacrament?  Missionary work? In other words, how much of one’s faith and lived religion died along with Joseph Smith?

Unfortunately, the state of Mormon studies can’t easily answer these questions. We need more on-the-ground studies of how members lived and saw their religion in order to truly understand what, if any, “crisis” followed the death of Joseph Smith. For example, was there a perceived theological or doctrinal difference in those living in Nauvoo and those outside the Mormon headquarters? If so, how much of a role did Joseph Smith play in members’ day-to-day religious activity with their branch, family, or circle of fellow-worshippers? What about what they saw as institutional church membership? When members heard of Smith’s death, it appears many continued to attend local meetings and maintain relationships with fellow-Mormons, but did they question the long-term direction of the church? Was there a difference in local leadership and church-wide leadership that was reflected in some people’s faith? Again, answering these questions is not the purpose of the post, but my final question to you is this: How well does the term “succession crisis” highlight these questions and provide the framework in which to raise and answer these and other similar questions?

Calling the period following late June 1844 the period of “succession crisis,” is, in my opinion, too neat, too packaged, and ignores history’s multiplicity, both at an institutional level and at a personal level. I wish I could offer a better suggestion. I’m fairly confident that any other term suggested would equally fail to provoke new types of questions and describe the difficulties and opportunities of the church and individuals following Smith’s death (though I hold no objection for anyone trying). And quite frankly, one blog post isn’t going to change a historical term that has been in use for decades. But I would hope that as writers and consumers of history, we will think more carefully about the words and terms we use to describe the past. For I believe the better we think about and understand the words we use to describe the past, the better we will understand that past.

[1] Times and Seasons, 2 September 1844, p. 638. Amasa Lyman, in the same meeting, stated that “I have been at the back of Joseph Smith, and will be at the back of the Twelve for everlasting, and then we will be saved[.] there is no need of a President, we have a head here, the apostles are the head, this is the power that turns the key to bestow salvation through all the Land, in the way that Joseph Smith commenced it- the first one called to do the same in all the world, if Joseph Smith had any power to bear off the Kingdom of God, the Twelve have it now! I could not advocate a chosing of a President and myself a candidate; so then you know the place I occupy, is to stand to the 12 the same as I did to Brother Joseph.”

[2] Times and Seasons, 2 September 1844, p. 637 (emphasis added)

[3] Times and Seasons, 2 September 1844, p. 637.

[4] Willard Richards Diary, 7 Aug. 1844, CHL.

[5] “Speech of Elder Orson Hyde, Delivered Before the High Priests’ Quorum, in Nauvoo, April 27th 1845,” (Liverpool: James and Woodburn, 1845): 12. By the time Rigdon had formed his own church, Rigdon published an article in the newspaper that stated that Smith had transgressed by preaching the doctrine of spiritual wives, and that Rigdon was to take his place. Epistle of Samuel Bennett to the members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, as published in The Latter Day Saint’s Messenger and Advocate, vol. 1 no. 2 (1 Nov. 1844): 9–12.

[6] Times and Seasons, 2 September 1844, p. 632.

Article filed under Succession Crisis


  1. One difficulty that I have with the term in question is the inherent institutional approach to Mormon history “succession crisis” conveys with little thought towards the lived religion and understood doctrine of the early Latter-day Saints and their experience following the death of their leader.

    This, I think, is the most brilliant and important idea concerning the topic for over a decade.

    Well done, Rob; you’ve set a high standard.

    Comment by Ben Park — December 7, 2011 @ 10:26 am

  2. Wonderful post, Rob, and I’d definitely get behind the cause.

    A while back I had decided to transcribe and edit for publication the January 1845 Richards/Young family meeting. However, it would fit well within the documents volume you describe, and I’d gladly turn it over to you guys.

    Comment by J. Stapley — December 7, 2011 @ 10:28 am

  3. Intresting thoughts, Robin. Perhaps “potential succession crisis” is a better description. Since there was no precedent, the first transition had the potential to be a crisis. Had there been two reasonably qualified leaders there might have been a split of the main body of the Church into two groups. But while Rigdon had a legitimate claim as a member of the First Presidency, he had marginalized himself by not living in Nauvoo and was not in a general sense qualified to lead the Church — this was reflected in the lack of support for his offer to lead the Church. Had Hyrum survived Carthage (or not gone) it would have been a much different story.

    Comment by Dave — December 7, 2011 @ 11:06 am

  4. Robin, Thanks for the very thought-provoking post. When I think of the term “Succession Crisis,” I think of Mike Quinn’s article on the topic. I’ve assumed that “succession crisis” was simply a easy, shorthand way of labeling a protracted period of transition in the hierarchy and, as such, was more or less unavoidably simplistic. I don’t recall that Quinn meant anything more by the term than its potential as a jumping-off point. Do you read Quinn differently?

    Comment by Gary Bergera — December 7, 2011 @ 11:47 am

  5. An excellent summary update. Any comments on Ehat’s related thesis? I know it’s semi-tangential.

    Comment by Ben S — December 7, 2011 @ 11:57 am

  6. As I’ve been thinking about this this morning, I think that “succession” may not be all together that problematic. It is used in ways outside of this context to indicate continuity of authority (e.g., apostolic succession, where bishops succeed the apostles). This fits in with Esplin’s succession of the Twelve usage. And the succession of church authority was demonstrably not self evident for all parties. So if not a crisis, what do you think the conflict with the various parties was? Or are you limiting the discussion to 1844?

    Comment by J. Stapley — December 7, 2011 @ 12:20 pm

  7. I use the term in my work on Philadelphia because there were major battles for leadership there after JS’s death. Both Rigdon and Strang made major headway there. All kinds of issues hit the fan at that point: polygamy, Benjamin Winchester, William Smith…

    Comment by Steve Fleming — December 7, 2011 @ 1:00 pm

  8. I will compress my original comment to: COOL!

    Comment by WVS — December 7, 2011 @ 1:06 pm

  9. Dave: Good points. Another point about “crisis” is from whose perspective? The “Brighamites” came out pretty well.” Other groups like the Rigdonites and the Strangites…they certainly didn’t capture the numbers Young gained, and could conceivably see the time after 1844 a “crisis” of a loss of good and faithful members.

    Gary: I would imagine that most historians of Mormonism use “succession crisis” as a shorthand for the transition in hierarchy following Smith’s death and do not intentionally mean much past that. I think in many discussions it’s a useful and necessary approach. The point I was trying to make is that most historians (myself included) have used the term as a shortcut for an event that actually needs additional nuance and that using the term over and over may hide some of the questions we need to start asking.

    Ben S: I believe that there are many variables going into the question of theology and doctrine and claims of leadership following Smith’s death. I believe Ehat’s point of the authority to conduct temple ordinances played an important role in the Twelve’s argument, but back to my point: how well does “succession crisis” allow for nuanced discussions of the Twelve’s belief that they held the keys to temple ordinances while Rigdon or Strang or McLellin rejected various forms of those ordinances?

    J.: I think that’s an important point and one that I thought while writing this post. “Succession” is a word with several meanings and interpretations. And I’m with you that the term could be encompassing enough that it might not be as problematic as the original post makes it out to be. However, as I read the most common usage of the term in Mormonism and Mormon history, it has almost taken on meaning exclusive of other definitions of the word. In other words, “Succession” in Mormonism is seen as the transition from the president of the twelve to prophet, seer, revelator, and president of the church following the death of the previous prophet. I’m just not sure that that exclusive meaning can be applied to the 1844 time period. And of course I could be misinterpreting how the term is used and understood today.

    Regarding crisis: I was thinking of 1844 for this post, but I don’t know that the difficulty need be limited to that year. The understanding of lived religion with connection to the death of Joseph Smith was evident throughout much of the late 40s and even into the 50s (and I’m sure beyond). The question on many minds was essentially “what do we do now that many Mormons have left for the west [or to Voree or Texas or what have you] but I don’t agree with that group?” It left a “crisis” of sorts as to where they felt Mormonism as a community was going, but how much of a crisis was it on their own personal faith? Or to the worship or services going on in their branches? That’s the point I wanted to highlight.

    Comment by Robin — December 7, 2011 @ 1:20 pm

  10. Steve: That’s an important point. I think “crisis” was also dependent upon location. One branch may have fractured over the debate while another branch may have largely followed one leader or another. One more reason to dig deeper–as you have done–into history and what the details can tell us about this period.

    Comment by Robin — December 7, 2011 @ 1:29 pm

  11. I have wondered to what degree the non-Hancock county churches were congregational in structure. Despite missionary contact they would have been largely independent. As such they might have survived the “crisis” relatively untouched. It would be interesting to see if there was a pattern of which direction they went after 1844. Did people make individual choices or was it a community decision. How much do we know about the dispersed branches of the church after 1844 and before the Reorganization?

    Comment by Sheldon Miller — December 7, 2011 @ 1:32 pm

  12. Great post. I think it’s a crisis more in the view of the Utah LDS Church in terms of justifying their authority against other groups like the Strangites, RLDS and others.

    Comment by Clark — December 7, 2011 @ 1:45 pm

  13. I think this is a fantastic example of how the labels we use end up being more proscriptive than descriptive. The categories and conceptualizations we use in which to understand the past are not neutral apparatuses; rather, they can frame the way we view the past, interpret the evidence, and present our arguments.

    In this case, the term “succession crisis” was coined in a period dominated by social history, engaged with institutional issues, and fascinated with conflict. As a result, we continue to perpetuate a model that emphasized categorical measurement, hierarchical and ecclesiastical concern, and contested debate.

    Comment by Ben Park — December 7, 2011 @ 1:45 pm

  14. What Clark said, to a certain extent — it is clear that from the perspective of non-LDS mormon groups that this was a crisis. Reading the journals of people in Wisconsin or elsewhere outside Nauvoo at the time, it’s clear that they didn’t entirely trust Brigham Young and they loved Joseph so dearly they felt like no one could replace him. Additionally, economically it was impossible for them to pack up and go West like the group in Nauvoo. So, they put their hopes with JS III and waited (or went with Strang or others). I’d be curious to get a sense of attrition rates of membership outside Nauvoo at the time.

    Comment by Steve Evans — December 7, 2011 @ 2:48 pm

  15. Steve why do you say it was economically impossible? I thought a lot of the groups who headed west – especially the handcart companies – were hardly well off.

    Comment by Clark — December 7, 2011 @ 2:56 pm

  16. Clark, that’s true but there’s a difference between new arrivals who come with the expectation of going West vs. people who settled in the region with no such expectations.

    Comment by Steve Evans — December 7, 2011 @ 3:01 pm

  17. Well yes but not all the handcarts were people who were established. I can think of quite a few of my own relatives who ended up going west by handcarts who had been members for some time and weren’t recent immigrants.

    Admittedly most of the handcart companies *were* recent immigrants from England and Scandanavia. But even though those made up only 10% of the people going to Utah, I’m not sure the rest were exactly well off.

    Your point about being established in an area is a good one. I suspect that had more to do with things than anything else. Of course the people in Illinois felt far less established than people living elsewhere. So that probably more than wealth was the significant factor.

    I would be interested to see the economic break down in more detail. (Probably this was already done and I’ve simply forgotten it but I’m not near my library to check) I know the people in Nauvoo ended giving up a lot of their wealth.

    Comment by Clark — December 7, 2011 @ 3:20 pm

  18. The Philadelphia history, as Steve Fleming mentioned, was an interesting case study in the transition.

    I just did a quick survey of my family records on this time period in and around Nauvoo. In the instances I have on hand, original journals or histories skip from the early 1840s to about 1846 or 1847 and don’t mention the change in leadership with the exception of Nathan Tanner, who mentions being with Amasa Lyman right before Joseph Smith’s death, and says “by the perswasion of courdly brethren he went and gave himself up and went as a sheep to the slaughter and died an untimely death.”

    And that’s it. It’s curious that no one mentions the transition in leadership. It doesn’t seem to have been important enough to rate a mention in some otherwise fairly detailed accounts.

    Comment by Researcher — December 7, 2011 @ 3:41 pm

  19. Even a lot of the significant accounts about the transition were typically written later in the Utah period when perhaps the need to justify the authority of the LDS was more prominent. I know this has led some to discount the transfiguration event.

    Comment by Clark — December 7, 2011 @ 8:45 pm

  20. Mike’s article was great for its time, a real advance that helped me see the multiplicity of possible succession options. (Kind of reminded me of the prosopography of Roman emperors.) But this adds a great nuance that I never thought about before. Thanks for the great initial post.

    Comment by Kevin Barney — December 7, 2011 @ 8:53 pm

  21. Nice work, Rob. I agree enthusiastically with your (and Ben’s) point that the terminology here privileges a certain historical methodology and disadvantages others. You’ve picked a great context for showing just how critical it is to give attention to the experience of historical subjects before and during any historical inquiry.

    Comment by Ryan T. — December 7, 2011 @ 9:41 pm

  22. Great thoughts. I suspect you’ll want to think more explicitly I think (Andy Ehat and Givens/Grow in PPP have begun the discussion) about the existence of an inner circle–for whom there was never an option other than the 12–and the various strata of members with varying levels of proximity to the inner circle. And if you’re writing for an LDS audience, you’ll want to think through how to deal with the modern version of Lorenzo’s Chain, which allows people to make the syllogistic association between a spiritual validation of the Book of Mormon and the authority of the current LDS Church. I suspect Quinn’s use of the term crisis was in part an attempt, whether conscious or no, to break the flow of that syllogism. I personally agree with you that “crisis” is somewhat obfuscatory, not least on basic inferential grounds–think about the number of pretenders to power _before_ JSJ died, and the fact that there were multiple pretenders to power _after_ seems less a crisis than a continuation of the complex dynamics of a young religious movement.

    Comment by smb — December 8, 2011 @ 8:16 am

  23. think about the number of pretenders to power _before_ JSJ died, and the fact that there were multiple pretenders to power _after_ seems less a crisis than a continuation of the complex dynamics of a young religious movement.

    Yes. This.

    Comment by Ben Park — December 8, 2011 @ 8:19 am

  24. I think “crisis” sums things up pretty well. There was clearly no succession plan in place. No scripture, no revelation, nothing. And Joseph only made things worse with all that he said and did leaving multiple possibilities, including fratrilineal and patrilineal. All early succession meetings were held under auspices of Council of 50. William Marks was Emma’s choice. In the end, Brigham argued on behalf of the Twelve and that carried the day. Of course, by then Marks was gone, Samuel Smith I think had died, lots had changed. But to really understand the true nature of “crisis,” one needs to add up the total membership of the church as it stood on June 27, 1844 and compare that with how many followed Brigham west to Utah. I don’t think the church has ever faced a crisis of that magnitude since, or will ever face such a crisis in the future. Thankfully.

    Comment by Aaron — December 8, 2011 @ 8:29 am

  25. Aaron: I don’t think anyone is saying that the ecclesiastical situation wasn’t a “crisis.” I think what Rob is trying to say is that summarizing the entire period as a succession “crisis,” however, is giving priority to the institutional issues. For many members of the Church prior to JS’s death, ecclesiastical control was just not that big of an issue. (Especially for those located outside of the Church’s headquarters–which was a majority.) JS was an important figure for restoring the gospel, but his position of head of the Church did not hold much importance in how they lived their religion day-to-day. Thus, the succession debates, in theory, were not as crucial to an average member as they were to leaders of the Church battling over power.

    The fascinating thing is how BY and the Q12 made the succession question one of immense importance to average members. They did this, first, through the temple, and later through the Exodus. The succession’s importance to common saints was not inherent in Joseph’s death–it had to be enforced.

    Comment by Ben Park — December 8, 2011 @ 9:48 am

  26. Robin, It’ll be very interesting to see what you come up with, and especially what term/terms you find more helpful in describing the situation facing both hierarchy and members during the months following Joseph’s death. Are you thinking of a stand-alone essay/monograph or a treatment that will be part of a larger project?

    Ben, When you write (#25) that the majority of Church members were located “outside of the Church’s headquarters,” do you mean by “headquarters” the various “inner circles” or the physical confines of Nauvoo?

    Comment by Gary Bergera — December 8, 2011 @ 11:11 am

  27. Gary: We’re still in the planning stages, so it’s hard to say what the final product will look like. It will certainly be documentary-based, meaning we’ll have some introductory material in which we’ll explore some of these issues, but for the most part, it’s a way in which the documents can speak for themselves.

    Comment by Robin — December 8, 2011 @ 12:15 pm

  28. Ben: while it’s true that the majority of the members were outside of the Nauvoo area (I did a tally with the map thing that David and I put together and still haven’t published, and I estimate that there were 8 to 10,000 outside of Nauvoo in the US; add that to the British Saints, and it’s more than there were in the Nauvoo area). It’s also true that these people weren’t interacting with JS.

    However, for Philadelphia, the hierarchy played a major role in how people there experienced Mormonism. There were major fights in Philadelphia, and the various factions continually appealed to Nauvoo. Various members of the 12 (particularly John E. Page) located there at different times and Page got mixed up in the fighting. I get the sense that it was a major headache for JS who kept affirming that the 12 were in charge.

    So the issue of leadership from Nauvoo was a major issue there. While I’ve done less on other areas, I get the sense that Philadelphia was not unique. The pattern seems to be like this: early Mormonism in the the US was very unorganized, often led by young ambitious missionaries who were essentially on their own. The successful ones would get converts and make branches and complain about how little help they were getting. A lot of these guys tended to be relatively well educated (I want to write a paper about this but there seem to have been a class of autodidacts in the US, kids who did well in school and didn’t want to be farmers. They would get jobs as school teachers, clerks, or lawyers, and when they converted to Mormonism these guys tended to be the missionaries). The fact that they were autonomous and better educated seemed to bug Brigham Young.

    This all came to a head at a conference in Boston in 1843 (HC 6:11-30; I guess it’s from Woodruff’s journal, I haven’t looked it up). BY balls out all the elders saying they took all the money and were insubordinate: “Many elders seek to build themselves up, and not the work of the Lord.”

    “We do not profess to be polished stones like Elders Almon W. Babbitt, George J. Adams, James Blakeslee, Eli P. Maginn &c.” said Heber C. Kimball. Anyway, fun stuff.

    All hell broke loose on the eastern church after JS’s death largely through the actions of William Smith. All up and down the Northeast, William went through the branches unceremoniously seducing women (old, young, married, single) and then slandering and excommunicating any women that complained (really ugly stuff). He started this before JS died, but it really took off after. JS’s death seemed to create a leadership vacuum that William took advantage of. Young was able to to stop it, but not after tremendous damage was done.

    So these are some of the ways the hierarchy effected the everyday lives of the members.

    I’m curious to know more of what it was like in Britain.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — December 8, 2011 @ 12:41 pm

  29. Steve: I’d love to see you finish and publish your work proving that Philadelphia wasn’t unique. I could be persuaded, but not yet.

    And you really need to write that article on the young aspiring missionaries. Sounds like great stuff.

    Comment by Ben Park — December 8, 2011 @ 1:13 pm

  30. Philadelphia was certainly extreme, but I get the sense they were just on the far end of problems that other places also experienced. Anyway, I’d be interested to get your take on the Boston conference that I mentioned.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — December 8, 2011 @ 1:17 pm

  31. When I read the text concerning the Boston conference debates, I mostly see an amalgamation of multiple different congregations following their own patterns of leadership, together showing the limits of the headquarters’s reach. Definitely needs a closer look, though.

    Comment by Ben Park — December 8, 2011 @ 1:24 pm

  32. I would add one more thing. The gathering policy really effected people. The 12 say over and over that to ignore it was to defy priesthood authority. Gathering had a big impact of people live as it meant that they had either left, they were planning on leaving, they felt bad that they couldn’t leave, or they were defying church authorities. No doubt this could all be ambiguous in practice, but my research suggests that it really affected people in one way or another.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — December 8, 2011 @ 1:50 pm

  33. All this to say that your assessment “multiple different congregations following their own patterns of leadership, together showing the limits of the headquarters’s reach,” is correct in my view, I just think your statement “For many members of the Church prior to JS’s death, ecclesiastical control was just not that big of an issue. (Especially for those located outside of the Church’s headquarters–which was a majority” is somewhat overstating things.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — December 8, 2011 @ 2:09 pm

  34. Very interesting post. The use of historical labels as a rhetorical device has always, and continues to, fascinate me. As some of the comments have pointed out they are ideologically loaded terms. I think the idea of a ‘succession crisis’ is used in two ways rhetorically. One as mentioned is by the RLDS and those who want to use it to say it was not obvious that Brigham was to be the successor to Joseph Smith and to undermine Young’s claims. The second one is used by LDS as it creates the impression of their being a problem or ‘crisis’ that was resolved by the meeting in which Brigham Young was transfigured into looking like Joseph Smith (which I think is almost certainly a myth). This seems like a powerful solution to the problem of succession. The perception of crisis serves to highlight the divine intervention of God in solving the crisis.

    However, crises, like historical revolutions, may or may not have really happened in the past. In the end its all in the eye of the beholder and what kind of story we want to use the past to tell.

    Comment by Jake — December 8, 2011 @ 3:28 pm

  35. Steve, just to second my question. Do you know the economic demographics of members outside of Nauvoo?

    Jake I’m not about to totally discount the transfiguration event although I don’t know how many people it happened for. I do agree though that it was the casting of the transfiguration narrative with the notion of a crisis this resolved that was key in Utah for a kind of justification.

    I think that thinking of the crisis as primarily a latter way of thinking the earlier events. That’s not to say one couldn’t describe it legitimately as a crisis. But what it reminds me of are some of the historical narrative of the great depression where crucial events and crises weren’t seen as such at the time. We just recognize the significance of events in hindsight.

    Comment by Clark — December 8, 2011 @ 4:47 pm

  36. Clark, if your asking me, I did try to get an economic breakdown for the Mormon in the Philadelphia area. It’s my sense that those who were better off had an easier time moving to the center. Though some rich people did take a while to move. Reports from the late 1840s and 1850s said that the Mormons in Philadelphia were very poor. By that time many of the original converts had left and many who were then in the city were either more recent converts or immigrants. Wealthier immigrants could afford to travel straight to Utah, while the poorer ones had to stop and work to save up money before they could move on. I get the sense that there were clusters of the immigrants throughout the US in the 1850s. In Pennsylvania, many went to the coal mines. Whole branches sprung up in coal mining towns.

    Ultimately, though these poorer Mormons struggled, I’m not aware of anyone who could not earn enough money to move on. Sometimes it took a year or more to move to the next place (like Cincinnati or St. Louis), but I’m not aware of anyone whose financial condition made it so they couldn’t move on eventually.

    Other factors kept people from moving like health (a lot of older people tended not to migrate) or family relations, or loss of enthusiasm.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — December 8, 2011 @ 5:34 pm

  37. Thanks Steve. What a great thread.

    Comment by Clark — December 8, 2011 @ 8:50 pm


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