Brigham Young and the First Solemn Assembly
Contributed By Aubrey Eyre, Church News staff writer
August 8, 1844, is a day forever marked in history for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. On this day, then-Elder Brigham Young stood before a gathering of Saints in Nauvoo and conducted the first meeting of what is now known as the solemn assembly.
The meeting was the second gathering of the Saints that day, but according to historical Church documents, it was the only official gathering of the Church that day, as it was led by seven of the then Twelve Apostles.
Earlier in the day, Sidney Rigdon had gathered many of the Saints in Nauvoo in a grove with the purpose of having them cast their votes in favor of him succeeding the Prophet Joseph Smith as prophet of the Church.
Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum Smith had been murdered on June 27 of that same year in Carthage jail. For the several weeks following their deaths, the Church floundered for leadership as the Twelve Apostles, who were spread around the country, made their way back to Nauvoo to fulfill their role in determining the continuing leadership of the Church.
As the only remaining member of the then-dissolved First Presidency, Sidney Rigdon had made claims and moves to establish himself as leader or “guardian” of the Church in Joseph Smith’s place. However, all his actions to do so were done without consulting the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
When he was about to call for a vote at the morning gathering on August 8, Brigham Young unexpectedly appeared behind the crowd of Saints and began speaking with loud authority that diverted their attention to him.
Although no official Church record of the gathering or the words spoken there exists, many firsthand accounts by those present that day record the day’s events.
“‘I will manage this voting for Elder Rigdon,’ Young said. ‘He does not preside here. This child [Young himself] will manage this flock for a season,’” reads the account of Jacob Hamblin, as cited by BYU Studies.
Following his dismissal of Sidney Rigdon’s gathering and claim to authority, Brigham Young called the Saints to gather that same afternoon to discuss the rightful succession of Church leadership. At the afternoon gathering—with “Rigdon and Young and at least seven members of the Twelve” present and with high priests “seated nearby to the right,” Seventies at the front, Aaronic Priesthood holders at the rear, elders to the right of the Seventies, and sisters to their left —Brigham Young spoke to a congregation of six thousand or more Saints. This meeting, according to BYU Studies, was the first of what would later be called a solemn assembly, “the Church’s highest authority on matters of teaching and doctrine.”
The events of August 8 would later be described by many Saints, including President George Q. Cannon of the First Presidency and other Church leaders, as a miraculous confirmation of the leadership the Lord exercises over His Church.
Recalling the manner in which Brigham Young addressed the congregation that day, President Cannon—whose General Authority service first as an Apostle didn’t start until 1860—said that when he spoke, it was as if “Joseph had risen from the dead and again spoken in their hearing.”
Later, when describing the importance of that day in helping the Church to establish the Lord’s chosen pattern for the succession of prophets, Brigham Young said, “The Church was of one heart and one mind” on that day.
On August 8, 1844, “The Lord gave His people a testimony that left no room for doubt as to who was the man He had chosen to lead them” (“Joseph Smith, the Prophet,” Juvenile Instructor, Oct. 29, 1870, 174–75).
This day in history, though it marks a period of uncertainty for the Church, also established the beginning of a pattern set by the Lord to help relieve Saints of uncertainty following the death of a prophet. As a Church News viewpoint stated earlier this year following the death of President Thomas S. Monson, “Through clear process and ‘firmly established precedents,’ the Lord has ensured that the kingdom will continue to ‘roll on’ (see D&C 65:2) following the death of a Church President.”