John Taylor, Third President of the LDS Church, 1808-1887

By April 10, 2010

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[Biographical Sketch quoted from the register of the John Taylor Family Papers at the University of Utah.]

“John Taylor, third president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was born in Milnthorpe, Westmoreland county, England, on 1 November 1808. The son of James and Agnes Taylor, he was raised according to the principles of the Church of England until he reached the age of fifteen, at which time Taylor joined the Methodist church. He was appointed as a preacher in the church and remained as such until 1829 when he left England to join his family in Toronto, Canada. In 1833 he married Leonora Cannon. While in Toronto, Taylor joined a Methodist society consisting of men interested in the research of the scriptures. During this time Taylor was visited by Parley P. Pratt and was introduced to the teachings of the Mormon church. In 1836, along with several friends, he was baptized into the Mormon faith.

“Taylor served as presiding elder in upper Canada until 1838, when he moved to Far West, Missouri, at the request of Joseph Smith. In 1838 Taylor, along with John E. Page, Wilford Woodruff and Willard Richards, was called to the a postleship “to fill the places of those who had fallen.” While in Missouri, Taylor shared in the persecutions that were beginning to be directed against the Mormons. It was during this time that Taylor earned the title of “the Champion of Right,” a name that remained with him throughout his life.

“In 1839 Taylor and Wilford Woodruff left for a mission to Great Britain where they preached not only in England, but in Ireland, Scotland, and on the Isle of Man. While in England, Taylor published several pamphlets and tracts in which he proclaimed the doctrines of the Mormon faith and attempted to refute the challenges of other religious leaders. Taylor returned to Nauvoo, Illinois, in 1841, where he became active in church duties, publishing the Nauvoo Neighbor and serving as a city councilman and judge advocate of the Nauvoo Legion. It was also during the early 1840s that Taylor entered into the practice of polygamy.

“In 1844 Taylor was present in the Carthage jail with Joseph and Hyrum Smith and Willard Richards, when the jail was entered by an armed mob. Both Joseph and Hyrum were killed in the shooting, and Taylor was severely wounded. Following the death of Joseph Smith, Taylor remained active in church affairs, helping in the completion of the Nauvoo Temple and assisting in the move from Nauvoo to Winter Quarters in 1846. From there he left on a second mission to England where he remained until the following spring. He arrived in the Salt Lake Valley in 1847 with a company of British converts and remained for two years, helping in the building of Salt Lake City. In 1849 he left for a mission to France, where, in addition to preaching Mormon doctrine; he also published pamphlets and magazines, supervised the translation of the Book of Mormon into French and German, and helped to organize several branches of the church in France.

“While in France, Taylor made the acquaintance of Philip DeLa Mare, a French convert. Together they attempted to bring to Utah the knowledge and machinery of the sugar beet industry of France and establish such an industry in the Salt Lake Valley. The sugar-making processes in Utah, however, proved to be a failure.

“In 1854 Taylor presided over the church in the eastern United States, where he published The Mormon, a newspaper designed to answer the attacks of an anti-Mormon press. In 1857 the Utah War and the threat of invasion by Johnston’s Army necessitated the return of Taylor to the Salt Lake Valley where he was active in both church and civil government. He helped to organize and regulate church affairs and served in such capacities as a member of the Utah legislature, speaker of the House, and as a probate judge in Utah county.

“At the time of Brigham Young’s death in 1877, Taylor was president of the Twelve Apostles and in October 1880, was sustained as president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As church president, Taylor is most remembered for his stand in defense of polygamy and against federal laws designed to outlaw and eliminate the practice of plural marriage in Utah. With the passage of the Edmunds Act of 1882 and the Edmunds-Tucker Act in 1887, Taylor, to avoid persecution, lived alone at his home, the Gardo House, while his wives kept separate residences, and finally was forced to go into hiding. His last public appearance was in 1884 and all church business from then on was conducted through correspondence and private meetings with trusted church officials. John Taylor died in exile on 25 July 1887.”

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