“Lesson 25 Class Preparation Material: Succession in the Presidency and the Trek West,” Foundations of the Restoration Teacher Material (2019)
“Lesson 25 Class Preparation Material,” Foundations of the Restoration Teacher Material
Complete one of the following options for this section:
Watch the video “The Succession Crisis after Joseph Smith’s Murder” (8:03), and then complete the ponder activity at the end of this section.
Study the following material, and then complete the ponder activity.
A feeling of gloom settled over Nauvoo with the deaths of Joseph and Hyrum Smith. During this time of confusion, several people claimed they had the right to lead the Church. One of these people was Sidney Rigdon.
At the time of Joseph’s death, Brigham Young and other Apostles were serving missions in the eastern United States. It was not until July 16, 1844, that Brigham received a letter describing the murders of Joseph and Hyrum Smith.
When he read the letter, Brigham felt like his head was going to crack. He had never felt such despair.
His thoughts turned instantly to the priesthood. Joseph had held all the keys necessary to endow the Saints and seal them together for eternity. Without those keys, the work of the Lord could not move forward. For a moment, Brigham feared that Joseph had taken them to the grave.
Then, in a burst of revelation, Brigham remembered how Joseph had bestowed the keys on the Twelve Apostles. Bringing his hand down hard on his knee, he said, “The keys of the kingdom are right here with the church.” (Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days, vol. 1, The Standard of Truth, 1815–1846 , 559)
On August 7, 1844, the Twelve and other Church leaders gathered in council. During this meeting Sidney Rigdon, who had become disaffected from the Church, asserted that because he had previously been called and ordained as a spokesman for Joseph Smith (see Doctrine and Covenants 100:9), it was his responsibility to “see that the church is governed in a proper manner” (in History, 1838–1856 [Manuscript History of the Church], volume F-1, 295, josephsmithpapers.org).
After Sidney concluded his remarks, Brigham Young declared:
Joseph conferred upon [the] heads [of the Twelve Apostles] all the keys and powers belonging to the apostleship which he himself held before he was taken away. (Brigham Young, in History, 1838–1856, volume F-1, 296, josephsmithpapers.org)
The next day, the Saints in Nauvoo gathered to hear Sidney Rigdon make his leadership claim. After his speech, Brigham Young spoke briefly, advocating that the Quorum of the Twelve, who collectively held all the priesthood keys restored to the Prophet Joseph Smith, lead the Church for now.
As Emily [Hoyt] listened to Brigham speak, she caught herself glancing up at him to make sure it was not Joseph speaking. He had Joseph’s expression, his method of reasoning, and even the sound of his voice. …
Seven years later, Emily recorded her experience of watching Brigham speak to the Saints, testifying how much he looked and sounded like Joseph on the stand. In the years to come, dozens of Saints would add their witness to hers, describing how they saw Joseph’s prophetic mantle fall on Brigham that day. (Saints, 1:565–66)
Wilford Woodruff wrote, “If I had not seen him [Brigham] with my own eyes, there is no one that could have convinced me that it was not Joseph Smith” (in History of the Church, 7:236).
With Brigham Young’s declaration concerning Joseph’s conferral of the keys and powers of the apostleship upon the Twelve and the confirming witness of the Holy Ghost, the Saints understood the will of the Lord and sustained the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as the leaders of the restored Church of Jesus Christ.
In January 1846, amid growing persecution against the Saints, the Twelve Apostles finalized plans to leave Nauvoo and go west. In 1842 Joseph Smith had prophesied “that the Saints would continue to suffer much affliction and would be driven to the Rocky Mountains … [and make] settlements and build cities and … become a mighty people in the midst of the Rocky Mountains” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith , 517).
While the Saints were preparing to leave Nauvoo, they also worked to complete the Nauvoo Temple. As it neared completion, thousands of Saints thronged the temple day and night to receive the endowment and sealing ordinances. Sister Sarah Rich observed:
If it had not been for the faith and knowledge that was bestowed upon us in that temple by the influence and help of the Spirit of the Lord, our journey would have been like one taking a leap in the dark. … But we had faith in our Heavenly Father, and we put our trust in Him feeling that we were His chosen people. (Sarah Rich, in Daughters in My Kingdom: The History and Work of Relief Society , 30)
Elder Robert D. Hales of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke of the Saints who were in Nauvoo at that time:
Their covenants with the Lord in the Nauvoo Temple were a protection for them during their journey westward, as it is for each of us today and throughout our lives. (Robert D. Hales, “Temple Blessings,” New Era, Feb. 2014, 4)
As persecution intensified, the Saints finalized their plans and the first large body of Saints started the journey across Iowa in February 1846. They faced severe winter weather, inadequate provisions, and disorganization. Spring brought constant rain, swollen creeks, and mud, restricting the Saints’ travel to only 300 miles (483 kilometers) in 131 days. As a result of these delays and depleted resources, Brigham Young halted the journey and established a way station called Winter Quarters. By fall, the population of Winter Quarters had swelled to over 7,000 people.
Many were sick from malnutrition and exposure, and the faith of some was being challenged. These trying circumstances made the winter of 1846–47 among the most difficult periods of Brigham Young’s life. He felt “like a father with a great family of children around [him]” and later recalled that his responsibilities pressed down upon him like a “twenty-five ton weight” (“This Shall Be Our Covenant,” Revelations in Context , 307–8; see also Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days, vol. 2, No Unhallowed Hand, 1846–1893 , 40–44, 46–51).
Under this weight, Brigham Young pled with the Lord for guidance and received a revelation constituting the “Word and Will of the Lord concerning the Camp of Israel in their journeyings to the West” (Doctrine and Covenants 136:1). As you study the following portions of this revelation, consider marking the Lord’s instructions and promises to the Saints.
President Dallin H. Oaks of the First Presidency gave an important insight into the timing of the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 136. He said:
Fundamental to any effort to receive revelation is a commitment to do all we can with our own efforts and judgment. This means we need to serve and to work.
Going forward with our service and work is an important way to qualify for revelation. In my study of the scriptures I have noted that most revelation to the children of God comes when they are on the move, not when they are sitting back in their habitations waiting for the Lord to tell them the first step to take.
For example, it is significant to note that the revelation known as “the Word and Will of the Lord concerning the Camp of Israel” (D&C 136:1) was not given in Nauvoo as the Quorum of the Twelve planned the exodus from Nauvoo; … nor was it given on the west bank of the Mississippi River. … The revelation to guide the movement of the Saints across the plains was given on January 14, 1847, when the Saints had already gone about a third of the way to the valleys of the mountains. (Dallin H. Oaks, “In His Own Time, in His Own Way,” Ensign, Aug, 2013, 22, 24)
Consider for a minute how this insight from President Oaks may apply to your own questions and decisions that affect your future.
In early April 1847, Brigham Young left Winter Quarters with the first company of Saints. They traveled 1,031 miles (1,660 kilometers) in four months and arrived in the Salt Lake Valley on July 24, 1847. Wilford Woodruff recorded that when Brigham Young saw the valley, “he was enwrapped in vision for several minutes. … When the vision had passed, he said, ‘It is enough. This is the right place. Drive on’” (in Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Wilford Woodruff , 146). By October, about 1,700 Saints had settled in Utah. However, about 10,000 others still lived along the Missouri River in Iowa and Nebraska and would travel west within the next five years (see “Sustaining a New First Presidency in 1847,” ChurchofJesusChrist.org).
For more than three years, the Twelve Apostles had led the Church in the absence of the First Presidency. In December 1847, the Apostles met in Council Bluffs, Iowa, where many of the Saints still lived. They gathered in a small log home to discuss reorganizing the First Presidency. “A great manifestation of the Holy Spirit was poured out upon those present,” and the Twelve unanimously sustained Brigham Young, the senior Apostle, as President of the Church (Autobiography of Bathsheba W. Smith, 12, Church History Library, Salt Lake City; spelling standardized; see also Saints, 2:87–89, 92–95).