“Lesson 25: Joseph Smith Confers the Keys of the Kingdom on Members of the Twelve and Delivers the King Follett Discourse,” Latter-day Saint History: 1815–1846 Teacher Material (2018)
“Lesson 25,” Latter-day Saint History: 1815–1846 Teacher Material
In January 1844, Joseph Smith declared his candidacy for president of the United States. In March 1844, Joseph formed the Council of Fifty, an organization created to assist with “the establishment of the Lord’s kingdom on earth” (Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days, Volume 1, The Standard of Truth, 1815–1846 , 518). The council met frequently to manage the Prophet’s presidential campaign and the exploration of other possible settlements for the Saints. Also in the spring of 1844, Joseph met with nine of the Twelve Apostles and sealed, or conferred, upon them all of the priesthood keys necessary to carry on the Lord’s work. In the Prophet’s final general conference address, known as the King Follett discourse, he taught about humankind’s potential to become like God.
- January 29, 1844
Joseph Smith declared his candidacy for the presidency of the United States of America.
- March 11, 1844
Joseph Smith organized the Council of Fifty.
- Spring 1844
Joseph Smith bestowed the keys of the kingdom of God on members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
- April 7, 1844
Joseph Smith delivered the King Follett discourse.
Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days, Volume 1, The Standard of Truth, 1815–1846 (2018), chapters 42–43
Display the accompanying image, and explain that this image is a flier that was published in a Church newspaper in New York in 1844 to express support for Joseph Smith’s candidacy for president of the United States of America.
Based on your reading of Saints: Volume 1, what are some important events that contributed to Joseph Smith’s decision to run for president of the United States?
If necessary, remind students that in November and December 1839, Joseph Smith and Elias Higbee met with leaders of the United States government, including President Martin Van Buren, to seek redress for the abuse and losses the Saints had experienced in Missouri. The president told them, “I can do nothing for you, gentlemen. If I were to, I should go against the whole state of Missouri, and that state would go against me at the next election” (in The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Volume 7: September 1839–January 1841, ed. Matthew C. Godfrey and others , 260). In November 1843, a year before the next presidential election, Joseph Smith wrote to five presidential candidates, “hoping to learn if they would support the Saints’ efforts to recoup their losses in Missouri” (Saints: Volume 1, 513). Three candidates wrote back, but none pledged to help the Saints.
Invite a student to read the following statement by the Prophet Joseph Smith (1805–44) aloud. Ask the class to listen for what Joseph Smith said about his decision to become a presidential candidate.
“I would not have suffered my name to have been used by my friends on any wise as president of the United States or candidate for that office if I and my friends could have had the privilege of enjoying our religious and civil rights as American citizen[s], even those rights which the Constitution guarantee[s] unto all her citizens alike. But this we as a people have been denied from the beginning. Persecution has rolled upon our heads from time to time from portions of the United States like peals of thunder because of our religion, and no portion of the government as yet has stepped forward for our relief, and under view of these things I feel it to be my right and privilege to obtain what influence and power I can lawfully in the United States for the protection of injured innocence” (in The Words of Joseph Smith, comp. and ed. Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook , 320; spelling, capitalization, and punctuation standardized; see also Manuscript History of the Church, vol. E-1, p. 1886, josephsmithpapers.org).
How might this statement help us better understand Joseph Smith’s reasons for becoming a presidential candidate?
Explain that today the Church uses the terms religious liberty or religious freedom to refer to “the right to ‘exercise’ or live [one’s] religion without interference from government or others, except when necessary to protect health and safety” (“What do we mean when we talk about religious freedom?” Answers to Common Questions, religiousfreedom.ChurchofJesusChrist.org). Approximately six months before Joseph Smith was nominated as a presidential candidate, he gave a speech in Nauvoo that outlined his feelings about religious freedom. Invite a student to read aloud the following statement by the Prophet Joseph Smith from that speech.
“If it has been demonstrated that I have been willing to die for a ‘Mormon,’ I am bold to declare before Heaven that I am just as ready to die in defending the rights of a Presbyterian, a Baptist, or a good man of any other denomination; for the same principle which would trample upon the rights of the Latter-day Saints would trample upon the rights of the Roman Catholics, or of any other denomination who may be unpopular and too weak to defend themselves.
“It is a love of liberty which inspires my soul—civil and religious liberty to the whole of the human race” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith , 345).
What stands out to you in this statement?
What principle can we learn from the Prophet’s example and teachings about religious liberty? (After students respond, write the following principle on the board: A love of liberty can inspire us to help protect the civil and religious liberty of all people.)
Why do you think it is important for us to help protect the civil and religious liberty of all people?
Explain that on March 11, 1844, Joseph Smith organized a group of men to help oversee the building up of the kingdom of God on the earth and the protection of the Saints and their religious liberties. This group became known as the Council of Fifty. They met frequently that spring to help manage the Prophet’s presidential campaign and discuss efforts to find another place where the Saints could settle and worship without persecution from others. In April 1844, missionaries, including members of the Quorum of the Twelve, were called to preach the gospel and build support for Joseph Smith’s presidential candidacy throughout the United States. Before they left on their missions, the Apostles met frequently with the Prophet.
Display the accompanying image of Joseph Smith meeting with members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in Nauvoo. Explain that in the spring of 1844, the Prophet met with nine members of the quorum and gave them a special charge. (Three Apostles who were not present were possibly less faithful at that time; each apostatized within a few years.) (See Alexander L. Baugh and Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, “‘I Roll the Burthen and Responsibility of Leading This Church Off from My Shoulders on to Yours’: The 1844/1845 Declaration of the Quorum of the Twelve Regarding Apostolic Succession,” BYU Studies, vol. 49, no. 3 , 13–14.)
Divide the class into small groups, and give each student a copy of the accompanying handout, “Joseph Smith Charges the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to Continue the Work of the Kingdom.” Ask students to read the handout together and discuss their answers to the questions on the handout.
After sufficient time, ask students to summarize the truths we can learn from President Woodruff’s account. Students may identify several truths, including the following: The Prophet Joseph Smith conferred the keys of the kingdom of God upon members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
Why might the Prophet Joseph Smith have felt an urgency to confer the keys of the kingdom of God upon the Apostles? (The keys are necessary to direct the work of God on earth, and Joseph was concerned that the keys would be lost if he died without conferring them on others.)
What impact does this event have on the Church today? (If necessary, help students understand that these keys are exercised today under the direction of the President of the Church by members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to govern and direct the Church and to authorize the performance of priesthood ordinances necessary for our salvation and exaltation.)
Explain that in 1844 Joseph Smith faced increasing opposition—including from some Church members.
Based on your reading of chapter 42 of Saints: Volume 1, why did William Law, Joseph Smith’s counselor in the First Presidency, begin to oppose the Prophet? (When William Law asked to be sealed to his wife, Jane, the Lord revealed to Joseph Smith that William could not receive the ordinance at that time because he was guilty of adultery. William became angry and began secretly meeting with other dissenters to plot against the Prophet’s life. [See Saints: Volume 1, 511–12.])
What assistance did two young men named Denison Harris and Robert Scott provide to the Prophet Joseph Smith at this time? (They attended William Law’s secret meetings and reported helpful information to the Prophet [see Saints: Volume 1, 522].)
Explain that although a small group of Church members opposed Joseph Smith and claimed he was a fallen prophet, most Church members continued to sustain him. On April 7, 1844, Joseph Smith gave a speech at a general conference in Nauvoo. At the beginning of his address, the Prophet referred to Church member King Follett, who had died a few weeks earlier. Consequently, this talk is often referred to as the King Follett discourse.
Display the following excerpts of the Prophet Joseph Smith’s teachings from the King Follett discourse. Invite several students to take turns reading these paragraphs aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for truths Joseph Smith taught.
“There are but a very few beings in the world who understand rightly the character of God. The great majority of mankind do not comprehend anything … as it respects their relationship to God. They do not know, neither do they understand the nature of that relationship. …
“God Himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret. If the veil were rent today, and the great God who holds this world in its orbit, and who upholds all worlds and all things by His power, was to make Himself visible,—I say, if you were to see Him today, you would see Him like a man in form—like yourselves in all the person, image, and very form as a man. …
“… Having a knowledge of God, we begin to know how to approach Him, and how to ask so as to receive an answer. When we understand the character of God, and know how to come to Him, He begins to unfold the heavens to us, and to tell us all about it. When we are ready to come to Him, He is ready to come to us. …
“… Here, then, is eternal life—to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be gods yourselves, and to be kings and priests to God, … by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one; from grace to grace, from exaltation to exaltation, until you attain to the resurrection of the dead, and are able to dwell in everlasting burnings [celestial glory], and to sit in glory, as do those who sit enthroned in everlasting power” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith , 39–41, 221).
What truths can we learn from these teachings? (Students may identify several truths, including the following: Heavenly Father is an exalted man and is like us in image and form. By progressing from one small degree to another we can eventually become like God.)
Why do you think it is important to know that our Heavenly Father is an exalted or perfected man and is like us in image and form?
How might knowing that we can progress from one small degree to another and eventually become like God affect the choices we make?
What are some ways the gospel of Jesus Christ helps us to progress from one small degree to another? (List students’ answers on the board. Students may mention that the gospel of Jesus Christ makes it possible for us to overcome our weaknesses and sins as we exercise faith in Jesus Christ and plead for His help, repent of our sins, and obey His commandments.)
When have you felt Heavenly Father help you progress from one small degree to another to become a little more like Him?
Testify that by progressing from one small degree to another we can eventually become like God. Invite students to act on the truths you have discussed by choosing one way they will seek to become more like Heavenly Father and writing a plan outlining how they will do that.
Invite students to prepare for the next class by reading chapter 44 of Saints: Volume 1.