Robin Scott Jensen is employed by the Church Archives and works as an editor on the Joseph Smith Papers Project, working on Joseph Smith’s 1843-1844 journals and JS’s revelations. Robin received a master’s degree in history at BYU, writing his important thesis on early Strangite missions. He is currently pursuing a Masters of Library Science at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He has been published in the John Whitmer Historical Association Journal, BYU Studies, and The Journal of Mormon History. Robin has received many awards for his work, including “Student Researcher of the Year, 2005” for the Joseph Smith Papers.
This recent post regarding the succession crisis got me thinking about the many different contemporary arguments for the various groups/individuals after Joseph Smith’s death. Someone’s position in the church, and knowledge of and involvement in polygamy, temple ordinances, and the council of fifty all seemed to contribute to many claimants and their attempt to lead the church. However, there was one interesting and, upon reflection, obvious argument that probably played into many peoples’ discussion and reasoning over the succession crisis: biblical precedent.
While William Marks, Sidney Rigdon, or James J. Strang all had probable claims for the office of president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (with varying degrees of actual success between the latter two), the twelve apostles, under leadership of Brigham Young found that they could point to the leaders of the early Christian church following Christ’s death as the way in which the current crisis could be resolved. One such example comes from Nauvoo in 1846.
On 7 March 1846, Orson Hyde, then the leader of the saints in Nauvoo, preached a sermon against the newly-arisen prophet James J. Strang. Strang, baptized into the church less than two years previous, had claimed to receive a letter from Joseph Smith shortly before Smith’s death that appointed Strang the successor of the church. An ordination by an angel on 27 June 1844 confirmed this letter’s contents and Strang soon found an ancient set of plates, which he translated. These miraculous events and visions provided Strang the support and following he needed to make an impression on Hyde in Nauvoo. Hyde observed to Brigham Young his feelings of responsibility: “I prayed to the Lord to give me power to preserve his people from wolves.” The 7 March sermon provides a tremendous snapshot of Hyde’s argument of the succession before Brigham Young had officially become president of the church.
As you will see Hyde discusses the keys, knowledge, and death of Joseph Smith by comparing him to Jesus Christ. The keys and knowledge were not only taken up to heaven, but were left on earth with twelve (both modern and ancient) as well. However, no one is to take the martyrs’ place because they still hold the ultimate keys of the church. This doctrine (or should we call it mentality?) seemed to continue throughout Brigham Young’s life-he did not replace Joseph Smith in his calling.
I have provided two transcripts of the same excerpt. The first is a diplomatic transcription with capitalization, spelling,
superscription, [HTML won’t let me do this] and insertions (in angle brackets) as originally recorded. The second is a clear text with capitalization and spelling modernized, superscription brought to the line, and insertions silently added to the text.
this morning I shall speak on the organizat<ion of the church ? dont you> – recollect J<esus> Christ was the prest<dent> of the Ch<urch> he choose 12 Apost<tles> & they were witnesses, to go to all <the> nations & preach – by & bye the Lord was cru<cified &> asced<nded> to heaven – did he take the <keys> with him or leave them on <the> Earth – he did both – he left knowledge on Earth & took <knowledge> with hi<m>, & Kn<owledge> is power – says he to Peter, I give unto thee the Keys of the K<ingdom> of H<eaven>- when risen from the
dd<dead> hesd <he> I am he that was dd & am alive & he held the keys of heaven & hell was J<esus> C<hrist> hasany less the presd of the 12 & that distrrn. [three illegible words deleted] after he was crucd as he was bef: – yes! he had<was just as much the Prest. of that church after his ascension as he was before> suppose some man <had> risen up & sd I am to lead you- do you suppose they towold allow anor prsn to slip in, bet<ween> the Son of G<od> & the 12 apos<tles>. if the Son of God had trans<gressed> d& hurled <down> to hell, anor [?] wid have been <made> president but when he had done his duty no man cold take his place – <as I said on Tuesday> J.C. had gone into the heavens, he is the 1st- hook in the chain – the next, the 12 Apos<tels>, then the whole church – the great god wod. <then> wind up the windlass & draw all upon Jesus s.d, if I be lifted up, I will draw all men after me – no man cod. take his place – you see it in the former times= men have risen up in these last days & try to show that anor. must be put in the place of J<oseph> Smith – they say, ah J S<mith> was a good man; he died <in the faith>, & has gone to receive his sceptre & crown – if he has never lost his place how can anor take it –
This morning I shall speak on the organization of the church. Don’t you recollect Jesus Christ was the president of the Church? He chose 12 Apostles & they were witnesses, to go to all the nations & preach. By and by the Lord was crucified & ascended to heaven. Did he take the keys with him or leave them on the Earth? He did both. He left knowledge on Earth & took knowledge with him; & Knowledge is power. Says he to Peter, “I give unto thee the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven.” When risen from the dead said he: I am he that was dead & am alive; & he held the keys of heaven & hell. Was Jesus Christ any less the president of the 12 [in] that distance after he was crucified as he was before? Yes! He was just as much the President of that church after his ascension as he was before. Suppose some man had risen up & said “I am to lead you.” Do you suppose they would allow another person to slip in between the Son of God & the 12 apostles? If the Son of God had transgressed & [was] hurled down to hell, another[?] would have been made president; but when he had done his duty no man could take his place. As I said on Tuesday, Jesus Christ had gone into the heavens. He is the 1st hook in the chain; the next [are] the 12 Apostles; then the whole church. The great God would then wind up the windlass & draw all upon Jesus. [Jesus] said “if I be lifted up, I will draw all men after me.” No man could take his place. You see it in the former times. Men have risen up in these last days & try to show that another must be put in the place of Joseph Smith. They say, “ah Joseph Smith was a good man; he died in the faith, & has gone to receive his scepter & crown.” If he has never lost his place how can another take it?
 Orson Hyde to Brigham Young, 16 March 1846, Brigham Young Collection, LDS Archives.
 For the development of BY’s self-perceptions as a prophet, and the perceptions of others of him being a prophet, see Josh Probert’s Bushman Seminar paper, summarized at BCC.
 Sermon of 7 March 1846, General Minutes Collection, LDS Church Archives.