Succession in the LDS Presidency: Past and Present

By January 3, 2018

President Thomas S. Monson, sixteenth President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, passed away last night surrounded by family in his Salt Lake City home from effects related to aging. We share our sympathy and support for his family and all those affected by his death, notably sixteen million or so Latter-day Saints.

There will be time for historical retrospectives at a later date. At this time, I thought it would be helpful to review how an LDS Church President is called and sustained by the Quorum of Twelve Apostles. This section is taken from the Mormon newsroom, I would encourage you to read the rest here. At the bottom of this post, I’ll share some helpful links on the historical development of succession in the LDS Church.

When the president of the Church passes away, the following events take place:

1. The First Presidency is automatically dissolved.

2. The two counselors in the First Presidency revert to their places of seniority in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Seniority is determined by the date on which a person was ordained to the Twelve, not by age.

3. The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, now numbering 14 and headed by the senior apostle, assumes Church leadership.

4. The senior apostle presides at a meeting of the Quorum of the Twelve to consider two alternative propositions:

    i. Should the First Presidency be reorganized at this time?

    ii. Should the Church continue to function with the Quorum of the Twelve presiding?

5. After discussion, a formal motion is made and accepted by the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

6. If a motion to reorganize the First Presidency is passed, the Quorum of the Twelve unanimously selects the new president of the Church. The new president chooses two counselors and the three of them become the new First Presidency. Throughout the history of the Church, the longest-serving apostle has always become the president of the Church when the First Presidency has been reorganized.

7. Following the reorganization of the First Presidency, the apostle who has served the second longest is sustained as the president of the Quorum of the Twelve. When the second-longest-serving apostle has also been called into the First Presidency as a counselor, the third-longest-serving apostle becomes acting president of the Twelve.

8. The president of the Quorum of the Twelve, along with the rest of the apostles, sets apart* the new president of the Church through a formal laying on of hands.

Articles on Succession in the LDS Church

Edward Leo Lyman, Succession by Seniority : The Development of Procedural Precedents, in the LDS Church

Robin Scott Jensen and Benjamin E. Park, Debating Succession, March 1846 : John E. Page, Orson Hyde, and the Trajectories of Joseph Smith’s Legacy

Ronald W. Walker, Six Days in August : Brigham Young and the Succession Crisis of 1844

Gary James Bergera, Seniority in the Twelve : The 1875 Realignment of Orson Pratt

Todd M. Compton, John Willard Young, Brigham Young, and the Development of Presidential Succession in the LDS Church

Ronald W. Walker, Grant’s Watershed: Succession in the Presidency, 1887-1889



Article filed under Announcements and Events Current Events Succession Crisis


  1. Quoted from above: 7. Throughout the history of the Church, the longest-serving apostle has always become the president of the Church when the First Presidency has been reorganized.

    Actually this is not accurate. It would be more accurate to say that “the longest-serving member of the quorum of the 12 has always become president of the Church”.

    Comment by Steven Rushing — January 3, 2018 @ 7:33 am

  2. You’re right, Steven. I was only quoting from the Mormon Newsroom. The links provided below were meant to help complicate that view.

    Comment by J Stuart — January 3, 2018 @ 7:47 am

  3. The Newsroom also didn’t mention that the counselors are not necessarily apostles. Thorpe B. Issacson was the last person to serve in the FP as a high priest, back in the ’60s.

    Comment by Left Field — January 3, 2018 @ 11:09 am

  4. I went to the original to confirm the number of the verb in item 8. You copied the newsroom and I think they got it wrong.

    I believe they should have written “The other apostles, with the president of the Quorum of the Twelve acting as voice, set apart the new president of the Church through a formal laying on of hands.”

    It would take me more time than I have to find the basis for this–buried in some conference talks about succession in the presidency, I suppose. But the difference in language goes to the issue of who holds the keys and how they are exercised when there is no president of the church

    Comment by Mark B. — January 3, 2018 @ 1:28 pm

  5. This gives the false impression that there is a vote amount the 12 as to whom will be the next President. That is decided at the time of apostolic ordination by date of such. The longest sErving becomes the President the second the prophet dies. President Nelson, by virtue of being the pesident of the 12, I the president of the church. What is to be determined is when the quorum of the First Presidency will be organized and those members set apart. There is not voting. There is no uncertainty. Period.

    Comment by Brian — January 4, 2018 @ 7:47 am

  6. I’m a little confused by your comment, Brian. Are you suggesting that President Nelson is currently the president of the Church?

    Comment by Amy T — January 4, 2018 @ 8:36 am

  7. I suspect he just means that Pres. Nelson has the appropriate keys and just hasn’t had the formality of being made President.

    Comment by Clark — January 4, 2018 @ 10:05 am

  8. This is, of course, tradition. There is nothing in scripture that sets this in stone. There is evidence, for instance, that when the aged Joseph Fielding Smith was senior apostle after David O. McKay’s death, some of the apostles favored having a younger member of the 12 installed as president. It didn’t happen, for various reasons, but we ought to keep this in mind in case we come to a situation where the next in line is mentally incapacitated (Alzheimers, for instance). There is no hard-and-fast rule that determines succession. Certainly there is no revelation on the matter. It is tradition, pure and simple, and tradition can change.

    Also, this time around, there are not 14 apostles. Since Elder Hales has not been replaced, there are only 13.

    Comment by Wally — January 4, 2018 @ 10:07 am

  9. I think Brian is implying that Pres. Nelson presides over the highest existing quorum in the church and thus is president of the church. This would be similar to BY and JT presiding over the church for a couple years before the 1st Pres. was reorganized. During both successions, there was considerable debate and opposition among Q12 of re-establishing the 1st Pres, hence the delay in reorganization.

    As Wally states, succession is only a pattern and is subject to change. The pattern evolved in the first 50 years of church history and can continue to evolve. Apostle seniority changed several times in that time frame. Of course the original seniority was based on age, then ordination. BY changed seniority to be continuous time in Q12 effectively demoting OP and OH. Seniority in Q12 was later changed/clarified to be time in Q12 and not apostolic ordination which demoted BY Jr. In the 1930’s Apostle Richard Lyman discussed having a retirement age for apostles. Under David McKay, Apostle Hugh Brown also advocated emeritus apostles–which would have included him at the time.

    With medicine prolonging life, but not necessarily health or mental state, we are bound to see more incapacitated Presidents in the future. Unfortunately, Hinkley was the exception with Kimball, ETB, Hunter, and Monson going to be the norm. The tradition can be changed to address this issue.

    Comment by Jason — January 4, 2018 @ 10:12 pm

  10. According to Joseph F. Smith during the Smoot hearings, the selection of the senior apostle to the Presidency of the Church is “merely a custom. There is no law in relation to it. It does not of necessity follow that the senior apostle would be or should be chosen as the president of the church.”

    D. Michael Quinn has cited instances in the late 1800’s of apostles recommending someone other than the senior apostle to the Presidency. At two separate times, in 1877 and 1887, for example, various apostles proposed that Joseph F. Smith be sustained as President although Smith was not the senior apostle at those times.

    Comment by Jiminy Brunswick — January 5, 2018 @ 11:03 pm

  11. On point #8, it’s the *future* president of the quorum of the 12 that acts as voice during the ordination, as the actual president is sitting in the chair being ordained.

    It’s likely that one of Pres. Nelson’s first duties will be to select men for both of the vacancies in the 12, as President Monson’s mental capacity likely did not allow him to fill Elder Hales’ position prior to his passing. While presidents Hinckley and Monson had experience with this as members of the first presidency since 1985, calling every current member of the quorum except Oaks and Nelson, Pres. Nelson does not. And that’s significant because the real ‘palace intrigue’ with succession is not who is the new President of the Church, but rather, who are the new apostles.

    Also, FTR, Elders Eyring and Uchtdorf fit into the quorum (in that order) after Holland but before Bednar.

    Comment by The Other Clark — January 10, 2018 @ 11:50 am


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