“Chapter 2: Brigham Young: Second President of the Church,” Presidents of the Church Student Manual (2004), 20–38
“Chapter 2,” Presidents of the Church Student Manual, 20–38
He was born 1 June 1801 in Whitingham, Windham County, Vermont, to John and Abigail Howe Young.
His mother died; he began to earn his own living and eventually became a carpenter (1815).
He married Miriam Works (8 Oct. 1824).
He was baptized into the Church (14 April 1832) and ordained an elder (1832).
His wife, Miriam, died (8 Sept. 1832), leaving him to care for their two young daughters.
He married Mary Ann Angell (18 Feb. 1834).
He was a captain in the march of Zion’s Camp (May–July 1834).
He was ordained one of the original members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles by the Three Witnesses (14 Feb. 1835).
He led the Saints from Missouri to Illinois (1838–39).
He served a mission to Great Britain (Sept. 1839–July 1841).
He was sustained as President of the Quorum of the Twelve (14 Apr. 1840).
As the senior Apostle, he led the Church after the martyrdom of the Prophet Joseph Smith (1844–47).
He received the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 136; he saw the Prophet Joseph Smith in vision (14 Jan. 1847).
He led the exodus of the Saints to the Salt Lake Valley (Apr. 1847–Sept. 1848).
He returned to Winter Quarters (fall, 1847); the First Presidency was reorganized (5 Dec. 1847); he became President of the Church on 27 December 1847, at Kanesville (now Council Bluffs), Iowa.
He founded the University of Deseret (28 Feb. 1850), which later became the University of Utah.
He became governor of the Territory of Utah (20 Sept. 1850).
He laid the cornerstone for the Salt Lake Temple (6 Apr. 1853).
The Utah War; he was released as governor after an eight-year term (1857–58).
The Salt Lake Tabernacle was completed; the Union of Local Sunday Schools was organized (1867).
The railroad reached Utah (10 May 1869).
The Young Ladies Retrenchment Association was organized (28 Nov. 1869).
The St. George Utah Temple was dedicated under his direction (6 Apr. 1877).
He died in Salt Lake City, Utah (29 Aug. 1877).
Brigham Young was born four years before the Prophet Joseph Smith. He was baptized into the Church on 14 April 1832, near his home in Mendon, New York. In September of that year, shortly after the death of his wife, he traveled to Kirtland, Ohio, to meet the Prophet. Of that meeting he wrote:
“We went to his father’s house and learned that he was in the woods, chopping. We immediately repaired to the woods, where we found the Prophet, and two or three of his brothers, chopping and hauling wood. Here my joy was full at the privilege of shaking the hand of the Prophet of God, and received the sure testimony, by the Spirit of prophecy, that he was all that any man could believe him to be, as a true Prophet. He was happy to see us, and bid us welcome. We soon returned to his house, he accompanying us.
“In the evening a few of the brethren came in, and we conversed together upon the things of the kingdom. He called upon me to pray; in my prayer I spoke in tongues. As soon as we arose from our knees the brethren flocked around him, and asked his opinion concerning the gift of tongues that was upon me. He told them it was the pure Adamic language. Some said to him they expected he would condemn the gift brother Brigham had, but he said, ‘No, it is of God, and the time will come when brother Brigham Young will preside over this Church.’ The latter part of this conversation was in my absence” (Manuscript History of Brigham Young, 1801–1844, comp. Elden Jay Watson , 4–5).
Brigham Young later said, “I feel like shouting Hallelujah, all the time, when I think that I ever knew Joseph Smith, the Prophet whom the Lord raised up and ordained, and to whom he gave keys and power to build up the Kingdom of God on earth and sustain it” (Discourses of Brigham Young, sel. John A. Widtsoe , 458).
Times and circumstances rarely thrust a man into the position that Brigham Young found himself after the martyrdom of the Prophet Joseph Smith on 27 June 1844 as the Lord revealed His will concerning the succession of leadership in the developing Church and moved the Saints westward.
Brigham Young knew work, hardship, and privation. He gave the following insights into his childhood:
“At an early age I labored with my father, assisting him to clear off new land and cultivate his farm, passing through many hardships and privations incident to settling a new country” (Manuscript History of Brigham Young, 1).
“Brother Heber and I never went to school until we got into ‘Mormonism:’ that was the first of our schooling. We never had the opportunity of letters in our youth, but we had the privilege of picking up brush, chopping down trees, rolling logs, and working amongst the roots, and of getting our shins, feet, and toes bruised. The uncle of brother Merrell, who now sits in the congregation, made me the first hat that my father ever bought for me; and I was then about eleven years of age. I did not go bareheaded previous to that time, neither did I call on my father to buy me a five-dollar hat every few months, as some of my boys do. My sisters would make me what was called a Jo. Johnson cap for winter, and in summer I wore a straw hat which I frequently braided for myself. I learned to make bread, wash the dishes, milk the cows, and make butter; and can make butter, and can beat the most of the women in this community at housekeeping. Those are about all the advantages I gained in my youth. I know how to economise, for my father had to do it” (in Journal of Discourses, 5:97).
“Instead of crying over our sufferings, as some seem inclined to do, I would rather tell a good story, and leave the crying to others. I do not know that I have ever suffered; I do not realize it. Have I not gone without eating and not half clad? Yes, but that was not suffering. I was used to that in my youth. I used to work in the woods logging and driving team, summer and winter, not half clad, and with insufficient food until my stomach would ache, so that I am used to all this, and have had no suffering. As I said to the brethren the other night, the only suffering I ever realized in this Church was to preserve my temper towards my enemies. But I have even got pretty much over this” (in Journal of Discourses, 12:287).
At the age of fourteen, Brigham Young began work as an apprentice to a furniture maker and house painter. He excelled at the craft. During his apprenticeship, “he established himself as the skilled artisan who is famous in this city [Auburn, New York] for the beauty of his stairwell decorations, fanlight doorways, door frames, stair rails, louvered attic windows and, above all—fireplace mantels” (Mary Van Sickle Wait, Brigham Young in Cayuga County, 1813–1829 , 24).
“Brigham met eighteen-year-old Miriam Angeline Works, whose family lived near the pail factory [where Brigham worked] and were said to be friends of Charles Parks [Brigham’s employer]. The second child of Asa and Abigail Works, born at Aurelius on June 6 (or June 7), 1806, Miriam (sometimes referred to as Angeline) was ‘a beautiful blonde with blue eyes and wavy hair; gentle and lovable’ [Susa Young Gates and Leah D. Widtsoe, The Life Story of Brigham Young (1930), 19]. Her father, like Brigham’s, was a Revolutionary War veteran. He had moved to western New York from Worcester, Massachusetts, not far from Hopkinton where John Young had lived. Brigham and Miriam became acquainted, he walked her home, they sang together and discussed life. At the age of twenty-three Brigham borrowed a horse and carriage from William Hayden’s father, rented a house up the road, and married Miriam.
“The marriage was performed on October 5 (some sources say October 8), 1824, by Gilbert Weed, Aurelius Justice of the Peace, at the tavern of James Pine between Auburn and Bucksville” (Leonard J. Arrington, Brigham Young: American Moses , 15).
Brigham Young was a devoted husband and father. In 1829 he moved his family to Mendon, New York, which was fifteen miles from Joseph Smith’s home. There his second daughter was born and his wife contracted tuberculosis, which gradually weakened her. Loving, thoughtful, and tender—each day before work, Brigham saw to his wife’s comfort and his children’s care.
“Brigham Young once remarked that after marriage he worked for half a crown a day when he could not get more; got breakfast for his wife, himself, and the little girls, dressed the children, cleaned up the house, carried his wife to the rocking-chair by the fireplace and left her there until he could return in the evening. When he came home he cooked his own and the family’s supper, put his wife back to bed and finished up the day’s domestic labours” (Gates and Widtsoe, The Life Story of Brigham Young, 5).
On 8 September 1832 his wife, Miriam, died. She was buried in Mendon.
Brigham later married Mary Ann Angell. She had heard him preach and was very impressed. She also heard the gospel preached by Phinehas and Lorenzo Young, Brigham’s brothers, and was baptized by John P. Green, Brigham’s brother-in-law. Later she moved to Kirtland, in the spring of 1833. Shortly after he arrived in Kirtland, Brigham heard her bear her testimony and he was impressed. They were married on 18 February 1834. He was thirty-two and she was thirty.
President Brigham Young once said: “Priests had urged me to pray before I was eight years old. On this subject I had but one prevailing feeling in my mind—Lord, preserve me until I am old enough to have sound judgment, and a discreet mind ripened upon a good solid foundation of common sense” (in Journal of Discourses, 8:37).
He was moral, hardworking, and honest. He said that from his mother he learned to love and reverence the Bible: “Of my mother—she that bore me—I can say, no better woman ever lived in the world than she was. … My mother, while she lived, taught her children all the time to honor the name of the Father and Son, and to reverence the Holy Book. She said, ‘Read it, observe its precepts and apply them to your lives as far as you can. Do everything that is good; do nothing that is evil; and if you see any persons in distress, administer to their wants; never suffer anger to arise in your bosoms, for if you do, you may be overcome by evil’” (quoted in Preston Nibley, Brigham Young: The Man and His Work , 2).
“Before I embraced the Gospel, I understood pretty well what the different sects preached, but I was called an infidel because I could not embrace their dogmas. … There were some things they preached I could believe, and some I could not. … As far as their teachings were in accordance with the Bible, I could believe them, and no further” (Brigham Young, in Journal of Discourses, 18:247).
“I recollect when I was young going to hear Lorenzo Dow preach. He was esteemed a very great man by the religious folks. I, although young in years and lacking experience, had thought a great many times that I would like to hear some man who could tell me something, when he opened the Bible, about the Son of God, the will of God, what the ancients did and received, saw and heard and knew pertaining to God and heaven. So I went to hear Lorenzo Dow. He stood up some of the time, and he sat down some of the time; he was in this position and in that position, and talked two or three hours, and when he got through I asked myself, ‘What have you learned from Lorenzo Dow?’ and my answer was, ‘Nothing, nothing but morals.’ He could tell the people they should not work on the Sabbath day; they should not lie, swear, steal, commit adultery, &c., but when he came to teaching the things of God he was as dark as midnight. … I would as lief go into a swamp at midnight to learn how to paint a picture and then define its colors when there is neither moon nor stars visible and profound darkness prevails, as to go to the religious world to learn about God, heaven, hell or the faith of a Christian. But they can explain our duty as rational, moral beings, and that is good, excellent as far as it goes” (Brigham Young, in Journal of Discourses, 14:197–98).
While on a mission early in 1830, Samuel Smith sold a copy of the Book of Mormon to Phineas Young, Brigham Young’s brother. Phineas later gave it to their father and their sister Fanny. Eventually, Brigham was given the book. He reviewed it with some caution, which was his nature. An honest, practical man, Brigham would not be railroaded into anything. He studied the book for two years and then received it with all his heart. Brigham and his wife, Miriam, joined the Church. He wanted to learn more, so he sought to become as informed about the Saints and the Prophet Joseph Smith as soon as he could.
Brigham Young was an honest man seeking for truth. His criteria for judging the Church were straightforward and sound. “I watched,” he said, “to see whether good common sense was manifest; and if they had that, I wanted them to present it in accordance with the Scriptures” (in Journal of Discourses, 8:38). He said that when he received the Book of Mormon his feelings were, “‘Wait a little while; what is the doctrine of the book, and of the revelations the Lord has given? Let me apply my heart to them;’ and after I had done this, I considered it to be my right to know for myself, as much as any man on earth.
“I examined the matter studiously for two years before I made up my mind to receive that book. I knew it was true, as well as I knew that I could see with my eyes, or feel by the touch of my fingers, or be sensible of the demonstration of any sense. Had not this been the case, I never would have embraced it to this day; it would have all been without form or comeliness to me. I wished time sufficient to prove all things for myself” (in Journal of Discourses, 3:91).
This was not procrastination, but the caution of a man who, after finding truth, would dedicate his life to it. He said, “I could not more honestly and earnestly have prepared myself to go into eternity than I did to come into this Church; and when I had ripened everything in my mind, I drank it in, and not till then” (in Journal of Discourses, 8:38).
In 1852, President Brigham Young shared the following about his conversion: “If all the talent, tact, wisdom, and refinement of the world had been sent to me with the Book of Mormon, and had declared, in the most exalted of earthly eloquence, the truth of it, undertaking to prove it by learning and worldly wisdom, they would have been to me like the smoke which arises only to vanish away. But when I saw a man without eloquence, or talents for public speaking who could only say, ‘I know, by the power of the Holy Ghost, that the Book of Mormon is true, that Joseph Smith is a Prophet of the Lord,’ the Holy Ghost proceeding from that individual illuminated my understanding, and light, glory, and immortality were before me. I was encircled by them, filled with them, and I knew for myself that the testimony of the man was true” (in Journal of Discourses, 1:90).
He wrote that after his baptism “we returned home, about two miles, the weather being cold and snowy; and before my clothes were dry on my back [Brother Eleazer Miller] laid his hands on me and ordained me an Elder, at which I marvelled. According to the words of the Savior, I felt a humble, child-like spirit, witnessing unto me that my sins were forgiven” (Manuscript History, 1801–1844, 3).
Because of his great faith, Brigham Young enjoyed many of the gifts of the Spirit, such as revelation, prophecy, and speaking in tongues. He wrote: “A few weeks after my baptism I was at brother Kimball’s house one morning, and while family prayer was being offered up, brother Alpheus Gifford commenced speaking in tongues. Soon the Spirit came on me, and I spoke in tongues, and we thought only of the day of Pentecost, when the Apostles were clothed upon with cloven tongues of fire” (Manuscript History, 1801–1844, 3).
One of Brigham Young’s greatest challenges was public speaking, but so powerful was the effect of the Spirit upon him that he could not be still. He made the following statements about his feelings:
“When I began to speak in public, I was about as destitute of language as a man could well be. … How I have had the headache, when I had ideas to lay before the people, and not words to express them; but I was so gritty that I always tried my best” (in Journal of Discourses, 5:97).
“When I first commenced preaching, I made up my mind to declare the things that I understood, fearless of friends and threats, and regardless of caresses. They were nothing to me, for if it was my duty to rise before a congregation of strangers and say that the Lord lives, that He has revealed Himself in this our day, that he has given to us a Prophet, and brought forth the new and everlasting covenant for the restoration of Israel, and if that was all I could say, I must be just as satisfied as though I could get up and talk for hours. … Had it not been for this feeling, nothing could have induced me to have become a public speaker” (in Journal of Discourses, 4:21).
“One week [after baptism] I had the pleasure of meeting with and preaching to a large congregation. I think there were present on that occasion four experienced Elders, formerly of the Methodist and Baptist persuasions, who had received the Gospel and had been numbered with us. I expected to hear them address the people on the principles that we had just received through the servants of the Lord. They said that the Spirit of the Lord was not upon them to speak to the people, yet they had been preachers for years. I was but a child, so far as public speaking and a knowledge of the world was concerned; but the Spirit of the Lord was upon me, and I felt as though my bones would consume within me unless I spoke to the people and told them what I had seen, heard and learned—what I had experienced and rejoiced in; and the first discourse I ever delivered I occupied over an hour. I opened my mouth and the Lord filled it” (in Journal of Discourses, 13:211).
In 1834, Brigham Young served in Zion’s Camp—a group of volunteers led by the Prophet Joseph Smith to go to Missouri and help the oppressed members there. The sacrifices they made and the hardships they endured during that march provided opportunities for men such as Brigham Young to show their devotion and dedication to the gospel of Jesus Christ. The majority of men later chosen to be in the leading councils of the Church served in Zion’s Camp.
During 1836 the spirit of apostasy had filled a number of Saints at Kirtland, but Brigham Young demonstrated loyalty to the Prophet Joseph Smith which was characteristic of his entire ministry. He wrote:
“At this time the spirit of speculation, disaffection and apostacy imbibed by many of the Twelve, and which ran through all the Quorums of the Church, prevailed so extensively that it was difficult for any to see clearly the path to pursue.
“On a certain occasion several of the Twelve, the witnesses to the Book of Mormon, and others of the Authorities of the Church, held a council in the upper room of the Temple. The question before them was to ascertain how the Prophet Joseph could be deposed, and David Whitmer appointed President of the Church. Father John Smith, brother Heber C. Kimball and others were present, who were opposed to such measures. I rose up, and in a plain and forcible manner told them that Joseph was a Prophet, and I knew it, and that they might rail and slander him as much as they pleased, they could not destroy the appointment of the Prophet of God, they could only destroy their own authority, cut the thread that bound them to the Prophet and to God and sink themselves to hell. Many were highly enraged at my decided opposition to their measures, and Jacob Bump (an old pugilist) was so exasperated that he could not be still. Some of the brethren near him put their hands on him, and requested him to be quiet; but he writhed and twisted his arms and body saying, ‘How can I keep my hands off that man?’ I told him if he thought it would give him any relief he might lay them on. This meeting was broken up without the apostates being able to unite on any decided measures of opposition. This was a crisis when earth and hell seemed leagued to overthrow the Prophet and Church of God. The knees of many of the strongest men in the Church faltered.
“During this siege of darkness I stood close by Joseph, and, with all the wisdom and power God bestowed upon me, put forth my utmost energies to sustain the servant of God and unite the Quorums of the Church” (Manuscript History, 1801–1844, 15–17).
Brigham Young wrote: “On the morning of December 22nd , I left Kirtland in consequence of the fury of the mob and the spirit that prevailed in the apostates, who had threatened to destroy me because I would proclaim, publicly and privately, that I knew, by the power of the Holy Ghost, that Joseph Smith was a Prophet of the Most High God, and had not transgressed and fallen as the apostates declared” (Manuscript History, 1801–1844, 23).
The cost of discipleship is often high, but so are the rewards. Consider the following statement of President Brigham Young, then President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:
“[On 10 December 1843] I attended prayer-meeting in the Assembly Room. President Joseph Smith being absent, I presided and instructed the brethren upon the necessity of following our file leader, and our Savior, in all his laws and commandments, without asking any questions why they were so” (Manuscript History, 1801–1844, 156).
Speaking about the importance of having faith and confidence in our Church leaders, President Brigham Young said:
“Though I admitted in my feelings and knew all the time that Joseph was a human being and subject to err, still it was none of my business to look after his faults.
“I repented of my unbelief, and that too, very suddenly; I repented about as quickly as I committed the error. It was not for me to question whether Joseph was dictated by the Lord at all times and under all circumstances or not. I never had the feeling for one moment, to believe that any man or set of men or beings upon the face of the whole earth had anything to do with him, for he was superior to them all, and held the keys of salvation over them. Had I not thoroughly understood this and believed it, I much doubt whether I should ever have embraced what is called ‘Mormonism.’ …
“It was not my prerogative to call him in question with regard to any act of his life. He was God’s servant, and not mine. He did not belong to the people but to the Lord, and was doing the work of the Lord. … That was my faith, and it is my faith still.
“If we have any lack of confidence in those whom the Lord has appointed to lead the people, how can we have confidence in a being whom we know nothing about? …
“How are we going to obtain implicit confidence in all the words and doings of Joseph? By one principle alone, that is, to live so that the voice of the Spirit will testify to us all the time that he is the servant of the Most High; so that we can realize as it were the Lord’s declaring that ‘Joseph is my servant, I lead him day by day whithersoever I will, and dictate him to do whatever I will; he is my mouth to the people.’ …
“… That is the preaching which you hear all the time, viz.—to live so that the voice of God’s Spirit will always be with you, and then you know that what you hear from the heads of the people is right” (in Journal of Discourses, 4:297–98).
The Prophet Joseph Smith recognized early the greatness of Brigham Young, and over the course of the years the hearts of these two giants of the Restoration were knit together. Brigham Young listened to the Prophet preach and teach, not only in session with others but also privately. The future President of the Church was taught the mysteries of godliness, was given keys and powers of administration and was trusted with sacred teachings shared initially by few others. He knew how to receive the mind and will of the Lord, was taught truth upon truth, and received revelation upon revelation and ordinance upon ordinance until all was given that was necessary for him to preside among the brethren and eventually over the Church.
In 1868, President Brigham Young said: “In my experience I never did let an opportunity pass of getting with the Prophet Joseph and of hearing him speak in public or in private, so that I might draw understanding from the fountain from which he spoke, that I might have it and bring it forth when it was needed. My own experience tells me that the great success with which the Lord has crowned my labors is owing to the fact of applying my heart to wisdom. … In the days of the Prophet Joseph, such moments were more precious to me than all the wealth of the world. No matter how great my poverty—if I had to borrow meal to feed my wife and children, I never let an opportunity pass of learning what the Prophet had to impart. This is the secret of the success of your humble servant” (in Journal of Discourses, 12:269–70).
Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball led the Saints out of the hostile influences of the Missourians into Commerce, Illinois. Many of the circumstances associated with the Missouri exodus were again encountered on 4 February 1846 when the Saints left Nauvoo, Illinois. Much like the Prophet Joseph Smith, Brigham Young was tutored by the Lord to enable him to be a powerful influence for good in strengthening the kingdom of God on earth.
Brigham Young served ten missions between the time of his conversion and the death of the Prophet Joseph Smith. In September 1839, Brigham Young, so sick he could not walk far without help, left his family to serve a two-year mission in England. While traveling on a steamboat on Lake Erie from Fairport, Ohio, to Buffalo, New York, a storm arose and hindered the progress of the ship. He recorded: “The wind rose about one o’clock in the morning. I went upon deck and felt impressed in spirit to pray to the Father, in the name of Jesus, for a forgiveness of my sins, and then I felt to command the winds to cease, and let us go safe on our journey. The winds abated, and I felt to give the glory and honor and praise to that God who rules all things” (Manuscript History, 1801–1844, 58–59).
Always for him, his greatest joy was being at home with his family. In July 1841 he was reunited at last with his wife, Mary Ann, and children at Nauvoo after his long mission to England. On 18 January 1842, he tenderly confided in his journal: “This evening I am with my wife alone by my fireside for the first time for years. We enjoy it and feel to praise the Lord” (Brigham Young’s journal 1837–45; spelling standardized).
Strong, intelligent, and resourceful, Brigham Young was given leadership responsibilities early. He was a captain in Zion’s Camp, a confidant of the Prophet Joseph Smith, one of the first Apostles to be called in this dispensation, organizer of the Missouri exodus, President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and presiding elder of the English Mission. Devoted and trusted, his loyalty to the Prophet was constant. Hardship and trials were schoolmasters that mellowed him into the controlled, compassionate prophet he became.
During the dark days of Kirtland, when apostasy ran rampant even among the Church leadership, it was Brigham Young’s unyielding firmness that became a strength to the loyal Saints. His powerful leadership led the Church during the Missouri persecutions while the Prophet Joseph and Hyrum Smith were languishing in the Liberty Jail. He led the Twelve Apostles about 200 miles into hostile Missouri so that they could leave for their mission to England from the place where the Lord’s servant said they should.
In England the Twelve Apostles struggled under continual pressure from men, nature, and Satan himself. Through it all, Brigham Young demonstrated his great leadership abilities and dedication to the restored gospel. He assisted Wilford Woodruff and Willard Richards in the mass conversions in Herefordshire, preached in London, spoke in tongues, healed the sick and lame, compiled a book of hymns, published the Book of Mormon and indexed it, established on a firm foundation the first mission across the seas, and organized a system of transporting thousands of converts to America, all the while helping the Quorum of the Twelve grow into a unified, smooth-working body.
Later in Nauvoo, under the direction of the First Presidency, he presided over meetings and councils. There was no self-seeking, vainglory, or self-aggrandizement in the man. He was dedicated to supporting with all his heart the Prophet he loved.
After the death of the Prophet Joseph Smith, several men stepped forward as would-be leaders of the Church. Some members were confused as to whom to follow. But at a critical meeting held on 8 August 1844, the power of God was upon President Brigham Young, the President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. He recorded in his journal: “I arose and spoke to the people. My heart was swollen with compassion towards them and by the power of the Holy Ghost, even the spirit of the prophets. I was enabled to comfort the hearts of the Saints” (Brigham Young’s journal 1837–45, 8 Aug. 1844; spelling and punctuation standardized).
On that occasion, a vision was opened to many. Representative of the many testimonies of those who were there is that of Elder George Q. Cannon, who was fifteen years old then and who later became an Apostle and a counselor in the First Presidency: “It was the voice of Joseph himself; and not only was it the voice of Joseph which was heard; but it seemed in the eyes of the people as though it was the very person of Joseph which stood before them. A more wonderful and miraculous event than was wrought that day in the presence of that congregation we never heard of. 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. They both saw and heard with their natural eyes and ears, and then the words which were uttered came, accompanied by the convincing power of God, to their hearts, and they were filled with the Spirit and with great joy” (“Joseph Smith, the Prophet,” Juvenile Instructor, 29 Oct. 1870, 174–75).
President Wilford Woodruff, who was also a witness to the event, said: “If I had not seen him with my own eyes, there is no one that could have convinced me that it was not Joseph Smith speaking. It was as the voice and face of Joseph Smith; and anyone can testify to this who was acquainted with these two men” (quoted in J. M. Whitaker, “Priesthood and the Right of Succession,” Deseret Evening News, 12 Mar. 1892).
Brother Benjamin F. Johnson wrote of his experience: “President Rigdon was called upon to put forth his claim before the people, which he did, and after his closing remarks, which were void of all power or influence, President Brigham Young arose and spoke. I saw him arise, but as soon as he spoke I jumped upon my feet, for in every possible degree it was Joseph’s voice, and his person, in look, attitude, dress and appearance was Joseph himself, personified; and I knew in a moment the spirit and mantle of Joseph was upon him” (My Life’s Review [n.d.], 104).
After the death of the Prophet Joseph Smith, President Brigham Young became the target of harassing lawsuits and arrests. He met the challenges with restraint and humor.
In November 1845, President Young wrote that while he and some of the other brethren were in the Nauvoo Temple, “Hans C. Hanson, the doorkeeper reported that there were two officers waiting at the foot of the stairs for me. I told the brethren that I could bear to tarry here where it was warm as long as they could stay in the cold waiting for me” (in History of the Church, 7:535).
On another occasion President Young was informed that federal officers were waiting at the door of the temple so that they might arrest him. He had his coachman bring his carriage around to the front of the temple. William Miller then put on Brigham’s cap and Heber C. Kimball’s cloak, left the temple, and acted as though he were going to get into the carriage. The law officers ran up and arrested him. He protested loudly that they had the wrong man and that he was not guilty of the charges they brought against him. Believing they had Brigham Young, they carted him off to Carthage; all the while he continued to protest and claim his innocence.
Once they arrived in Carthage word soon spread that the marshal had brought in Brigham Young. There was great excitement until one man recognized William Miller. He called the marshal out, and after the marshal returned he asked Miller if his name was Young.
“He answered, ‘I never told you my name was Young, did I?’ ‘No,’ replied the marshal, ‘but one of my men professed to be acquainted with Mr. Young, and pointed you out to me to be him.’ William Backenstos was called in and he told them William Miller was not Brigham Young. Another man came, and said he could swear Miller was not Brigham Young. The marshal said he was sorry, and asked Miller his name, he replied, ‘it is William Miller’.
“The marshal left the room and soon returned accompanied by Edmonds [a lawyer] who was laughing heartily at him. Edmonds inquired if he had anything more to do with ‘Mr. Young’. The marshal replied that he did not know that he had anything further to do with Mr. Miller” (Brigham Young, in History of the Church, 7:550–51).
In 1845 the United States annexed Texas. This was considered an act of war by Mexico, which claimed most of the Texas territory. James K. Polk, president of the United States, favored expansionist views and felt that the acquisition of the Texas territory, along with the later acquisition of New Mexico and upper California, was important for the development of the country. The Congress of the United States declared war with Mexico on 12 May 1846. Soon after the declaration of war, the United States Army was charged with conquering all of this western territory.
Polk did not want the migrating Latter-day Saints to align themselves with the British in the Oregon territory or to play any antagonistic role in the expansion of the United States. The government, therefore, determined that the Saints should be invited to raise 500 volunteers to serve in the war with Mexico. This would help keep the Saints aligned with the United States. The feelings of the Saints were not as negative as the U.S. government had assumed, however. President Brigham Young recognized that this situation provided an opportunity to show loyalty to the United States and to earn desperately needed capital for the exodus. It also provided a rationale for establishing temporary settlements. President Young spoke to the Saints and tried to clear their minds of prejudice against the federal government and told them that this was the first offer they had received from the government that could benefit them. Soon many Latter-day Saints recognized the opportunity and volunteered for the battalion.
Under the direction of Captain James Allen of the United States Army, around 500 soldiers and nearly 80 women and children began their march to Fort Leavenworth on 21 July 1846. After many trials, the group reached Mission San Diego, in California, on 29 January 1847. They had marched 2,030 miles. After arriving in California, the battalion served as occupation troops with garrison duty in the San Diego and Los Angeles areas.
When members of the battalion were outfitted, they each received supplies that included a gun and $42.00 for clothing for the year. Part of each volunteer’s pay and clothing allowance was collected by Parley P. Pratt and given to the battalion’s families in Iowa and to other Church members being evacuated from Nauvoo. After they were discharged in California, many battalion members continued to send money they earned from other jobs to their families.
In 1869, President George A. Smith, who was a counselor to President Brigham Young, spoke of how the Saints came to settle in the Salt Lake Valley: “The question is frequently asked, ‘How did you ever find this place?’ I answer, we were led to it by the inspiration of God. After the death of Joseph Smith, when it seemed as if every trouble and calamity had come upon the Saints, Brigham Young, who was President of the Twelve, then the presiding Quorum of the Church, sought the Lord to know what they should do, and where they should lead the people for safety, and while they were fasting and praying daily on this subject, President Young had a vision of Joseph Smith, who showed him the mountain that we now call Ensign Peak, immediately north of Salt Lake City, and there was an ensign fell upon that peak, and Joseph said, ‘Build under the point where the colors fall and you will prosper and have peace.’ The Pioneers had no pilot or guide, none among them had ever been in the country or knew anything about it. However, they travelled under the direction of President Young until they reached this valley” (in Journal of Discourses, 13:85).
In January 1847, President Brigham Young had a dream in which he discussed with the Prophet Joseph Smith the best way to help the Saints cross the plains (see Bruce A. VanOrden, “Revelation Clarifies Role of Twelve,” Church News, 11 Jan. 1997, 7). Three days later he presented to the Church the “Word and Will of the Lord concerning the Camp of Israel in their journeyings to the West” (D&C 136:1). It was decided that a pioneer company consisting of 144 handpicked men would travel to the Great Salt Lake Basin. This group would include mechanics, teamsters, hunters, frontiersmen, carpenters, sailors, soldiers, accountants, bricklayers, blacksmiths, wagon makers, and so forth. The actual company consisted of 143 men, 3 women, and 2 children. This group was prepared to blaze a trail that the other Saints would follow to the West. Eight men of this company were Apostles and several had served in Zion’s Camp. Some of the company started from Winter Quarters on 5 April 1847, but a majority of the group started on 16 April 1847.
This pioneer company traversed 1,100 miles from Winter Quarters, near present day Omaha, Nebraska, to the Salt Lake Valley. Wherever possible, they followed existing roads and trails. Their route followed the broad and gentle Platte River Valley for 600 miles to Fort Laramie in Wyoming. From there they crossed to the south side of the Platte and followed the Oregon Trail for almost 400 miles to Fort Bridger; then they continued south on the Reid-Donner Trail into the Salt Lake Valley. During the final phase of the trek, which was the roughest section of the trip, President Young contracted mountain fever and the company split into three groups: the vanguard, the main company, and the rear guard, which included President Young.
“The advance company of pioneers entered the Salt Lake Valley on 22 July 1847 and immediately set up a crude irrigation system to flood the land and prepare for planting. On 24 July, Brigham Young and the rear company arrived at the mouth of Emigration Canyon. Wilford Woodruff drove President Young in his carriage. They looked to the future as they gazed over the valley. Wilford Woodruff wrote, ‘Thoughts of pleasing meditations ran in rapid succession through our minds while we contemplated that not many years the house of GOD would stand upon the top of the mountains while the valleys would be converted into orchard, vineyard, gardens and fields by the inhabitants of Zion and the standard be unfurled for the nations to gather there to.’ Brigham Young said he was satisfied with the appearance of the valley as a ‘resting place for the Saints and was amply repaid for his journey’ [Wilford Woodruff journals, 24 July 1847; spelling and capitalization standardized].
“On a later occasion, Wilford Woodruff explained that when they came out of the canyon he turned the carriage so that President Young could see the whole valley. ‘While gazing upon the scene before us, he was enwrapped in vision for several minutes. He had seen the valley before in vision, and upon this occasion he saw the future glory of Zion and of Israel, as they would be, planted in the valleys of these mountains. When the vision had passed, he said, “It is enough. This is the right place. Drive on”’ [in “Pioneers’ Day,” Deseret Evening News, 26 July 1880, 2].
“… By 28 July, Brigham Young’s decision about the location of a city was firm. Between two forks of City Creek, he designated the lot where the temple would stand. The city would be laid out evenly and perfectly square from that point” (Church History in the Fulness of Times, 333). President Young named the region “Deseret,” which, in the Book of Mormon, is a honey bee (see Ether 2:3).
With authority from God, President Brigham Young led the Saints west, directed the exploration and settlement of vast areas, founded towns and cities, and made peace with the Indians. He started schools and established roadways, transportation systems, telegraph lines, irrigation, farming, industries, and mercantile institutions. He directed the ever-expanding missionary program and presided as the first territorial governor of Utah. Throughout his life he worked with such confidence that many remarked with awe that “Brother Brigham” seemed to know exactly what he was doing from the start. And he did! This master craftsman and builder had been given the perfect blueprints from which to work—nothing less than the heavenly order of the kingdom of God.
It was not his executive ability alone that endeared him to his family and the Saints. He was an exemplary father, always demonstrating kindness and concern. Working alongside the Saints and his family, he chopped wood, cut timber, made bridges, cleared land, and built roads. During the exodus he was the first up in the morning and the last to retire at night, always making the rounds to see that all were as comfortable as possible. But above all, he was a prophet of God. He could rebuke, yet love and inspire, demand and give, lead and follow. The courage and humor with which he faced trials served as an anchor and a model for the persecuted and weary Saints.
For over three years after the death of the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Church was led by the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. After much discussion and prayer, it was finally moved and approved that Brigham Young be sustained as President of the Church and that he nominate two counselors to serve with him in the First Presidency. On 7 December 1847, during general conference at Kanesville, Iowa, Brigham Young was readily sustained as the second President of the Church, with Heber C. Kimball and Willard Richards as his counselors.
President Brigham Young had identified the site of the Salt Lake Temple in 1847, shortly after arriving in the valley. Under his direction, the cornerstones of the Salt Lake Temple were laid on 6 April 1853. That same day, during general conference, he said: “Five years ago last July I was here, and saw in the Spirit the Temple not ten feet from where we have laid the Chief Corner Stone. I have not inquired what kind of a Temple we should build. Why? Because it was represented before me. I have never looked upon that ground, but the vision of it was there. I see it as plainly as if it was in reality before me” (in Journal of Discourses, 1:133).
Construction on the temple was delayed during the time Johnston’s Army was approaching the Salt Lake Valley, and only limited construction could be performed during the many years the Church was experiencing substantial persecution for its practice of plural marriage. President Young insisted that only the best materials and craftsmanship be used in the temple’s construction, and he sensed that he would not live long enough to dedicate it. Exactly forty years from the day the cornerstones were laid, President Wilford Woodruff, the fourth President of the Church, had that responsibility.
President Woodruff directed the laying of the capstone of the Salt Lake Temple in April 1892. Fifty thousand Latter-day Saints filled Temple Square and the adjoining streets on that occasion. On 6 April 1893, with the work completed on the inside of the temple, the dedicatory ceremonies commenced. “President Woodruff saw in the events of the day the fulfillment of a prophetic dream. He told the Saints that many years before in a [dream] Brigham Young had given him the keys of the temple and told him to dedicate it to the Lord. In his opening remarks President Woodruff prophesied that from that time the power of Satan would be broken and his power over the Saints diminished, and there would be an increased interest in the gospel message. [See Matthias F. Cowley, Wilford Woodruff (1964), 582–83.]” (Church History in the Fulness of Times, 445). Truly, the “mountain of the Lord’s house” was firmly established in the tops of the mountains (see Isaiah 2:2).
President Brigham Young believed that a large structure was needed that could hold a significant number of the Saints at one time. A pattern for a large, dome-shaped house of worship was vivid in his mind. President Young called into his office Henry Grow, who was a master mechanic and an experienced millwright. President Young had recently seen him complete a wooden arch bridge, with no center supports, over the Jordan River. With the assistance of the Church architect, William H. Folsom, the construction of the Tabernacle began during the spring of 1863.
The Tabernacle would become one of the largest buildings of its kind in the world, measuring 150 feet wide, 250 feet long, and 80 feet high on the outside. By the fall of 1867, the Tabernacle and its organ was completed enough to be used at the October conference. By 1870, the organ and many of the inside fixtures were finished. The gallery was started in 1870. President John Taylor, who was President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, dedicated the completed Tabernacle at the October conference in 1875.
President Brigham Young’s practicality is most often stressed, but that practicality was grounded firmly in the spiritual roots of the Restoration, of the kingdom of God, of Zion, and of celestial glory. He said of his younger days: “I wanted to thunder and roar out the Gospel to the nations. It burned in my bones like fire pent up. … Nothing would satisfy me but to cry abroad in the world, what the Lord was doing in the latter days” (in Journal of Discourses, 1:313).
As the prophet, seer, and revelator, his desire continued to burn with perhaps even more intensity. He was determined to do everything possible to bring to fruition all that the Lord wanted done in the last days. He said:
“The Prophet Joseph Smith has laid the foundation of the kingdom of God in the last days; others will rear the superstructure. …
“… I know that he was called of God, and this I know by the revelations of Jesus Christ to me, and by the testimony of the Holy Ghost. Had I not so learned this truth, I should never have been what is called a ‘Mormon,’ neither should I have been here to-day” (in Journal of Discourses, 9:364–65).
President Young insisted on continuing the expenditure of time and money to complete the Nauvoo Temple. Some of the Saints thought this impractical since it was apparent that the Saints would not be able to enjoy the temple for very long. But President Young knew that from that temple, even though it would be used only briefly, would come the power necessary for the Saints to make the sacrifices and endure the hardships required during the exodus. By completing the temple, he demonstrated a balance and blend of the practical, the spiritual, and the perspective of the eternal.
“There were those, of course, who criticized Brigham Young’s intimate involvement with secular and temporal pursuits—his concern with fencing farms, with negotiating contracts for selling grain, his mobilizing workers to build the transcontinental railroad—but his point of view was that temporal and spiritual concerns were indissoluble. In wearing many different hats—prophet, businessman, governor, and family patriarch—he saw his task and goal to be to promote the temporal and spiritual welfare of his people. In his view, he was the Lord’s steward in using all human resources—public and private, church and state—to create an economic and social order where all God’s children under his care might live in peace and prosperity. …
“Contemporary observers whom we have a right to respect—persons of education and experience and standing who traveled to Utah to observe him—emphasized three characteristics: his self-confidence, his sincerity, and his good common sense. Fitz Hugh Ludlow, a nationally known writer and artistic critic, found that Brigham Young had ‘absolute certainty of himself and his own opinions’ [The Heart of a Continent (1870), 368]. Governor Young, he wrote, was convinced that he was doing God’s work, and that if he and other mortals did all they could to establish the kingdom, God would see to the rest. This helps us to understand the governor’s firmness, his calmness, and his unshakeable optimism in the face of seemingly impossible circumstances” (Leonard J. Arrington and Ronald K. Esplin, “Building a Commonwealth: The Secular Leadership of Brigham Young,” Utah Historical Quarterly, summer 1977, 219–20).
“While the Mormon outposts were being established, numerous towns were springing up on favorable sites on the canyon streams adjacent to Salt Lake Valley. Gradually one valley after another received its portion of colonists, the growth being mainly southward during the first period, as the climate in that direction was thought to be more favorable for agriculture than that northward. … During the first ten years in the Basin, 100 towns were established. The settlements clustered mainly east and south of the Great Salt Lake, of the Jordan River, and of Utah Lake, with a line of communities running in a southwest direction from Juab County [in the middle west of the state] to the southwest corner of Utah. Besides these main groups of colonies, a number of Mormons were living in Sanpete County [in the middle of the state] and in [other] outposts. …
“Thus within ten years after the Saints had arrived in the Great West, they had opened colonization activities in a frontier country extending 1,000 miles from north to south and 800 miles from east to west. Brigham Young’s plan of preempting the West was being realized. …
“During the thirty years of his residence in the Basin, the Mormon leader, Brigham Young, successfully founded and witnessed the development of communities in almost every valley of the present state of Utah, as well as many in southern Idaho, Arizona, and Nevada. Most of the towns built by the Mormons were within a rectangular district 500 miles long by 400 miles wide, omitting the Arizona settlements. However, some were as distant as 1,000 miles east of Salt Lake City in Iowa and Nebraska; San Bernardino[, California,] was about 750 miles southwest of the parent colony, while Fort Lemhi was located in northern Idaho. The total Mormon population at the time of Brigham’s death (1877) was approximately 140,000” (Milton R. Hunter, Brigham Young, the Colonizer , 354–55, 357).
The Perpetual Emigrating Fund was established in 1849 to assist those Saints who needed financial help as they gathered to the West from many places throughout the world. In an 1853 general epistle to the Church, the First Presidency stated: “With the blessings of Providence, most, or all of these funds will be brought forth to the assistance of the emigration of the poor, one year hence. Therefore let not the Saints stay their hands, but let books be opened, and donations be received by the Presidents of all the various missions of the Latter-day Saints upon the whole earth, to help the Perpetual Emigrating Fund, and the Saints to come home. And let all who can, come without delay, and not wait to be helped by these funds, but leave them to help those who cannot help themselves” (in James R. Clark, comp., Messages of the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6 vols. [1965–75], 2:116).
“[Brigham Young] sent out exploring parties to select favorable sites for the new colonies and often chose the sites himself. He sent balanced groups of industrial and agricultural workers to found these new communities. Brigham personally supervised the laying out of many of the towns into surveyed square blocks with wide streets and the alloting of farming lands and city lots to the Saints.
“While he was founding colonies he also provided his followers with civil government, with social institutions for their education and enjoyment, and with the necessary equipment for their economic independence and prosperity. On March 12, 1849, he was elected the Provisional Governor of the ‘State of Deseret’. The following year, September 28, 1850, Utah was made a territory with Brigham as the governor. This position he held until 1858, when he was replaced by Alfred Cumming. While acting as governor, as well as throughout his entire career in Utah as President of the Mormon Church, Brigham Young deserves much credit for the success of federal Indian agents, federal surveys across the Basin, the building of the transcontinental railway, and the construction of the telegraph.
“All of the Mormon colonization accomplishments were made possible partially by adding thousands of colonists to his ranks which he did by sending missionaries to various parts of the United States as well as to Europe, Canada, Hispanic America, India, Australia, and the Islands of the Pacific. He was able to fuse this heterogenous mass of humanity, representing several different races, into a harmonious social unit” (Hunter, Brigham Young, the Colonizer, 358–59).
“While building homes, developing farms and establishing themselves a government, the Mormon colonists did not neglect the finer side of life. Education, religion, art, drama, and music were fostered for the social development of the people. The Saints built their own theaters and trained their children in the various sciences and in music. Simultaneously with the erection of private dwellings, each group of colonists through cooperative effort constructed a public hall which was used as a church house, a school house, and a place in which dances and dramas were conducted. In October, 1847, the first pioneer group opened a school in an old military tent. Even while these frontiersmen were struggling to construct their first shelters in the Salt Lake Valley, this school was conducted daily. Only two years elapsed before Governor Young signed an act, passed by the first legislative Assembly of the State of Deseret, incorporating a university, later known as the University of Utah.
“As early as 1850 the Salt Lake Musical and Dramatic Association was formed, conducting its earlier performances in the Temple Square Bowery. Later, 1852, the Social Hall was built. It was one of the first theaters erected west of the Missouri River. Ten years later the Salt Lake Theatre replaced the Social Hall” (Hunter, Brigham Young, the Colonizer, 359–60).
One of Brigham Young’s daughters wrote: “Father realized that this people, being almost completely shut off from contacts with the outside world, must themselves provide the means for their cultural uplift and entertainment. He must have felt that arduous task was fully justified, for years after the [Salt Lake] theatre was built he said, ‘If I were placed on a cannibal island and given a task of civilizing its people, I should straightway build a theatre for the purpose’” (Clarissa Young Spencer with Mabel Harmer, Brigham Young at Home , 147).
President Brigham Young’s sense of humor endeared him to his followers and showed that he did not take himself too seriously. When his sons were caught donating some props (without permission) for a play written by their friends, President Young said to the theater manager, “These boys have a play. They call it ‘The Robbers of the Rocky Mountains.’ I don’t know much about the mountains, but they certainly made a clean job of my old barn. Give them a date at the Theatre” (quoted in Spencer and Harmer, Brigham Young at Home, 160).
The quality for which the Latter-day Saints most honored and revered President Young was the love that showed in his concern for each one of them, even from the early days of his leadership. On the plains, at a stopping place named Hickory Grove, he was out in the rain all day arranging wagons, helping to pitch tents, chopping wood, and in every way seeing that all were comfortable. Later, in Utah, he insisted in meeting every wagon train or handcart company he could, and he would not leave until every soul had a place to stay and a job assignment by which he or she could be secure.
President Brigham Young led the Church for thirty-three years. He knew the divinity and destiny of the work. He brought the Church west and helped establish a base from which the kingdom of God might continue to go forth and fill the earth.