“John Taylor-Third President of the Church,” Presidents of the Church Teacher Manual Religion 345 (2005), 37–50
“John Taylor-Third President of the Church,” Presidents of the Church Teacher Manual Religion 345, 37–50
Third President of the Church
Part 1: The Early Years
John Taylor was born on November 1, 1808, in Milnthorpe, Westmoreland, England, to James and Agnes Taylor. He was the second of 10 children. When John Taylor was born, Joseph Smith was almost three years old, Brigham Young was seven years old, and Wilford Woodruff was almost two years old. John Taylor was almost 12 years old when the First Vision occurred, and he was a young man of 21 when the Book of Mormon was published.
Events, Highlights, and Teachings
John Taylor was foreordained to lead the Church.
Ask students if they know where President John Taylor was born. Explain that John Taylor was born to James and Agnes Taylor on November 1, 1808, in Milnthorpe, Westmoreland, England. He was raised in a family of 10 children, having seven brothers and two sisters. He was the only prophet of this dispensation born outside the United States.
Invite students to turn to Jeremiah 1:5, and ask a student to read it. Ask:
What do we learn in this scripture about Heavenly Father’s knowledge of His children before their birth?
How might God’s foreknowledge apply to a man like John Taylor and to other leaders of the Church?
Share the following statement of the Prophet Joseph Smith:
“Every man who has a calling to minister to the inhabitants of the world was ordained to that very purpose in the Grand Council of heaven before this world was” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith , 365).
As a young man, John Taylor learned to work hard, and he developed a deep reverence for God.
Ask students to identify a habit, attitude, or goal they had early in their life that has continued to influence them.
Explain that when John Taylor was 11, his father relocated the family to a small farm in Hale, Westmoreland, England. John attended school there and farmed for three years. At the age of 14 he was apprenticed to a cooper in Liverpool and began to learn to make barrels and casks. When that business failed about a year later, he moved to Penrith, Cumberland, where he learned to be a wood turner. Over the next five years he became a master of wood turning.
Explain that John Taylor’s hard work and early experiences served him well throughout his life. In addition to working hard and developing physical skills, he grew spiritually and prepared himself to receive the restored gospel. Read the following, and invite students to look for qualities in John Taylor that prepared him for the gospel:
“In childhood and youth he … had a deep reverence for God; with him it was an intuition, and he dreaded nothing so much as offending Him.
“When about sixteen he heard the Methodist doctrines taught, and as he perceived more spiritual light and force in their teachings than in … the Church of England, he became a Methodist. He was strictly sincere in his religious faith, and very zealous to learn what he then considered to be the truth. Believing that ‘every good and perfect gift proceedeth from the Lord,’ he prayed frequently in private. Most of his leisure hours were spent in reading the Bible, works on theology and in prayer. For the latter purpose he usually resorted to secluded places in the woods and fields. The missionary spirit about this time began to develop in him. He induced a number of boys about his own age to join with him in secret prayer, but they generally soon forsook him” (B. H. Roberts, Life of John Taylor , 26–27).
John Taylor moved to Canada and embraced the restored gospel.
Ask students to share how they or their family was introduced to the gospel. Explain that John Taylor was 16 years old when he left the Church of England and joined the Methodist Church. In 1830 the family of James and Agnes Taylor moved to Toronto, Canada, while John Taylor remained in Great Britain to settle family affairs. He rejoined the family in 1832. Upon his arrival in Canada, John Taylor met and married Leonora Cannon and continued activity with the Methodists. They and a number of people in Toronto studied the New Testament to identify more fully the characteristics of the ancient Church. In time, they concluded that all churches fell short of the true Church, but they recognized that they did not have authority to restore the true Church.
In the spring of 1836, Elder Parley P. Pratt, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, went to Toronto to preach the gospel. When Elder Pratt first visited John Taylor, he found him polite but uninterested. Throughout the city, ministers and city officials rejected Elder Pratt’s requests for a place to preach. After some time, with no apparent hope of success, he decided to leave Toronto and stopped at the Taylor home to say farewell. At that time, John Taylor’s neighbor felt impressed to offer to feed and house Elder Pratt and allow him to hold meetings. Elder Pratt accepted the offer and soon began to preach to John Taylor and the friends with whom he had been studying the Bible.
The group was delighted with Elder Pratt’s teachings regarding faith, repentance, baptism, the gift of the Holy Ghost, and many other concepts with which they were familiar. However, when he spoke of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon, many in the group refused to investigate further.
Share the following statement of John Taylor to the group:
“We are here, ostensibly in search of truth. Hitherto we have fully investigated other creeds and doctrines and proven them false. Why should we fear to investigate Mormonism? This gentleman, Mr. Pratt, has brought to us many doctrines that correspond with our own views. We have endured a great deal and made many sacrifices for our religious convictions. We have prayed to God to send us a messenger, if He has a true Church on earth. Mr. Pratt has come to us under circumstances that are peculiar; and there is one thing that commends him to our consideration; he has come amongst us without purse or scrip, as the ancient apostles traveled; and none of us are able to refute his doctrine by scripture or logic. I desire to investigate his doctrines and claims to authority, and shall be very glad if some of my friends will unite with me in this investigation. But if no one will unite with me, be assured I shall make the investigation alone. If I find his religion true, I shall accept it, no matter what the consequences may be; and if false, then I shall expose it” (in Roberts, Life of John Taylor, 37–38).
Explain that after this bold declaration, John Taylor began to study the gospel even more intensely. Then share the following information:
“After this, John Taylor began the investigation of Mormonism in earnest. He wrote down eight sermons which Apostle Pratt preached, and compared them with the scripture. He also investigated the evidences of the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants. ‘I made a regular business of it for three weeks,’ he says, ‘and followed Brother Parley from place to place.’ The result of his thorough investigation was conviction; and on the 9th of May, 1836, himself and wife were baptized. ‘I have never doubted any principle of Mormonism since,’ was the comment he made in relating, when well advanced in life, how he came to accept the gospel” (Roberts, Life of John Taylor, 38).
How did a study of the Bible prepare John Taylor for Elder Pratt’s message?
How can scripture study help prepare you to receive greater truth?
How can you follow John Taylor’s example in seeking after and defending the truth?
John Taylor’s conversion blessed the lives of his friends and acquaintances.
Ask students to relate experiences they have had or know of in which a new investigator or convert to the Church helped share the message of the restored gospel with friends.
Explain that before his baptism, John Taylor accompanied Elder Parley P. Pratt on his first visit to the countryside around Toronto, Canada. Elder Pratt recalled, “We called at a Mr. Joseph Fielding’s, an acquaintance and friend of Mr. Taylor’s” (Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt , 128). Joseph Fielding and his sisters, Mary and Mercy, soon joined the Church. Mary Fielding later became the wife of Hyrum Smith; the mother of Joseph F. Smith, the sixth President of the Church; and the grandmother of Joseph Fielding Smith, the tenth President of the Church.
Ask: How can sharing the gospel with even one person have a great effect?
John Taylor defended the Prophet Joseph Smith.
Ask students to imagine what they would do if they discovered that the missionaries who taught them were some time later struggling with their own testimonies. Ask what they would say to these former missionaries.
Share with students that in March 1837 John Taylor visited Kirtland, Ohio, to meet the Prophet Joseph Smith. At that time an economic panic had caused many businesses and financial institutions to fail. The people in Kirtland did not escape this economic disaster, and many Church members blamed the Prophet for their financial losses. A spirit of criticism and apostasy prevailed in Kirtland. Review and discuss with students “He Was an Advocate for the Prophet Joseph Smith” in the student manual (pp. 42–43).
Ask students: How did John Taylor help Elder Parley P. Pratt overcome his struggle? Have students review Doctrine and Covenants 1:38as they discuss the following questions:
What are the dangers of speaking evil of the Lord’s prophet?
Why should we especially strive to follow the prophet during times of adversity?
John Taylor’s motto was “The kingdom of God or nothing!”
Ask students if any of them have a personal or family motto. Have them share their mottos with the class.
Ask: How can a motto help us focus on our lifelong goals?
Write on the board The kingdom of God or nothing! and explain that this was John Taylor’s motto. Ask: What does this motto tell you about John Taylor?
Ask them to ponder for a few moments and create a worthwhile motto. It may include part of one of their favorite scriptures. Invite students to share their mottos.
John Taylor showed great courage in preaching the gospel.
Ask students if they have ever been in a position where they felt uncomfortable or threatened in sharing the gospel. Inform them that John Taylor was in such a position while preparing to preach the gospel near Columbus, Ohio, in 1837. When Church members learned that local citizens intended to tar and feather him after a meeting, John Taylor was advised to cancel the meeting; however, he was even more determined to preach. Share the following concerning his experience:
John Taylor began by speaking briefly about the American traditions of liberty and about the privilege of having the “right to think, to speak, to write; the right to say who shall govern … , and the right to worship God” earned by “noble sires, who, rather than bow to the behests of a tyrant, pledged their lives, fortunes and sacred honors to burst those fetters, enjoy freedom themselves, bequeath it to their posterity, or die in the attempt.” Then he declared:
“‘I have been informed that you purpose to tar and feather me, for my religious opinions. Is this the boon you have inherited from your fathers? Is this the blessing they purchased with their dearest hearts’ blood—this your liberty? If so, you now have a victim, and we will have an offering to the goddess of liberty.’ Here he tore open his vest and said: ‘Gentlemen come on with your tar and feathers, your victim is ready; and ye shades of the venerable patriots, gaze upon the deeds of your degenerate sons! Come on, gentlemen! Come on, I say, I am ready!’
“No one moved, no one spoke. He stood there drawn to his full height, calm but defiant—the master of the situation.
“After a pause of some moments he continued his remarks and preached with great boldness and power for some three hours.
“At the conclusion of his discourse, he was waited upon by some of the leading citizens of the place who expressed their pleasure at what they had heard, and disclaimed, in behalf of the people, any intention of tarring and feathering him; but the brethren still insisted that such was the intention of the crowd, and that the tar and feathers had been provided; but they had been awed into silence by the boldness of Elder Taylor” (Roberts, Life of John Taylor, 54–55).
Ask: Why do you think the crowd decided not to tar and feather John Taylor?
Invite students to share experiences that they or friends or family members have had where they stood boldly for their beliefs.
John Taylor was ordained an Apostle and called to serve a mission to England.
John Taylor was ordained an Apostle in December 1838, and in the late summer of 1839 he left his home to serve a mission to Great Britain with other members of the Quorum of the Twelve. While there, Elder Taylor taught in Ireland, Scotland, Liverpool (England), and surrounding areas. In the Isle of Man he had the privilege of teaching in the town where his wife (Leonora Cannon) was born.
Wherever he taught, John Taylor helped people understand that the restored Church was a fulfillment of prophecy. Ask a student to read John Taylor’s statement in “He Gave a Mission Report to the British Saints” in the student manual (p. 46). Emphasize his gratitude for the gospel and the privilege of teaching it. Invite class members to express similar feelings they may have had at the conclusion of their missions.
John Taylor witnessed the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith.
Invite students to read and ponder Doctrine and Covenants 135:1–3. Ask them why they think it is important to have an eyewitness account of the death of the Prophet Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum. Invite a student to read the following account by John Taylor:
“I was sitting at one of the front windows of the jail, when I saw a number of men, with painted faces, coming around the corner of the jail, and aiming towards the stairs. The other brethren had seen the same, for, as I went to the door, I found Brother Hyrum Smith and Dr. Richards already leaning against it. … While in this position, the mob, who had come upstairs and tried to open the door, probably thought it was locked and fired a ball through the keyhole. At this Dr. Richards and Brother Hyrum leaped back from the door, with their faces towards it. Almost instantly another ball passed through the panel of the door, and struck Brother Hyrum on the left side of the nose, entering his face and head. At the same instant, another ball from outside entered his back. … Immediately, when the ball struck him, he fell flat on his back, crying as he fell, ‘I am a dead man!’ He never moved afterwards.
“I shall never forget the deep feeling of sympathy and regard manifested in the countenance of Brother Joseph as he drew nigh to Hyrum, and, leaning over him, exclaimed, ‘Oh! my poor, dear brother Hyrum!’ He, however, instantly arose, and with a firm, quick step, and a determined expression of countenance, approached the door, and pulling the six-shooter left by Brother Wheelock from his pocket, opened the door slightly, and snapped the pistol six successive times. … I had in my hands a large, strong hickory stick, brought there by Brother Markham and left by him, which I had [seized] as soon as I saw the mob approach; and while Brother Joseph was firing the pistol, I stood close behind him. As soon as he had discharged it he stepped back, and I immediately took his place next to the door, while he occupied the one I had done while he was shooting. Brother Richards, at this time, had a knotty walking-stick in his hands belonging to me, and stood next to Brother Joseph a little farther from the door, in an oblique direction, apparently to avoid the rake of the fire from the door. The firing of Brother Joseph made our assailants pause for a moment. Very soon after, however, they pushed the door some distance open, and protruded and discharged their guns into the room, when I parried them off with my stick, giving another direction to the balls.
“It certainly was a terrible scene. Streams of fire as thick as my arm passed by me as these men fired, and, unarmed as we were, it looked like certain death. I remember feeling as though my time had come, but I do not know when, in any critical position, I was more calm, unruffled, energetic, and acted with more promptness and decision. It certainly was far from pleasant to be so near the muzzles of those firearms as they belched forth their liquid flames and deadly balls. While I was engaged in parrying the guns, Brother Joseph said, ‘That’s right, Brother Taylor, parry them off as well as you can.’ These were the last words I ever heard him speak on earth. …
“After parrying the guns for some time, which now protruded farther and farther into the room, and seeing no hope of escape or protection there, as we were now unarmed, it occurred to me that we might have some friends outside, and that there might be some chance of escape in that direction, but here there seemed to be none. … I made a spring for the window which was right in front of the jail door, where the mob was standing, and also exposed to the fire of the Carthage Greys, who were stationed some ten or twelve rods off [about 180 feet]. The weather was hot; we all of us had our coats off, and the window was raised to admit air. As I reached the window, and was on the point of leaping out, I was struck by a ball from the door about midway of my thigh, which struck the bone and flattened out almost to the size of a quarter of a dollar, and then passed on through the fleshy part to within about half an inch of the outside. … I fell upon the window sill, and cried out, ‘I am shot!’ Not possessing any power to move, I felt myself falling outside of the window, but immediately I fell inside, from some, at that time, unknown cause. … As soon as I felt the power of motion I crawled under the bed, which was in a corner of the room, not far from the window where I received my wound. While on my way and under the bed, I was wounded in three other places; one ball entered a little below the left knee, and never was extracted; another entered the forepart of my left arm, a little above the wrist, and, passing down by the joint, lodged in the fleshy part of my hand, about midway, a little above the upper joint of my little finger. Another struck me on the fleshy part of my left hip and tore away the flesh as large as my hand, dashing the mangled fragments of flesh and blood against the wall. …
“It would seem that immediately after my attempt to leap out of the window, Joseph also did the same thing. … The first thing that I noticed was a cry that he had leaped out of the window. A cessation of firing followed, the mob rushed downstairs, and Dr. Richards went to the window. …
“Soon afterwards Dr. Richards came to me, informed me that the mob had precipitately fled, and at the same time confirmed the worst fears that Joseph was assuredly dead. I felt a dull, lonely, sickening sensation at the news. When I reflected that our noble chieftain, the Prophet of the living God, had fallen, and that I had seen his brother in the cold embrace of death, it seemed as though there was a void or vacuum in the great field of human existence to me, and a dark gloomy chasm in the kingdom, and that we were left alone. Oh, how lonely was that feeling! How cold, barren, and desolate! … We were left alone without his aid, and as our future guide for things spiritual or temporal, and for all things pertaining to this world, or the next, he had spoken for the last time on earth” (The Gospel Kingdom, sel. G. Homer Durham , 359–62).
What was the “unknown cause” that prevented John Taylor from falling out the window? (A bullet struck John Taylor’s watch and propelled him back into the room.)
How can members of the Church today appropriately recognize and remember the events of June 27, 1844?
What are your feelings as you hear John Taylor’s account of the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith?
What reasons can you see for John Taylor’s life being miraculously spared at this time? (He was foreordained to be a prophet. He provided a second witness of the martyrdom.)
Part 2: The Later Years
In 1877, President Brigham Young died after presiding over the Church for 33 years. During that period many people had been born into the Church and many others had joined the Church. These people knew only President Young as the leader of the Church. His leadership had strengthened members through many trials. When Brigham Young’s earthly work was completed, John Taylor took his place in leading the Church.
For the first three years after the death of Brigham Young, John Taylor led the Church as President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. In 1880, when he became President of the Church, membership was over 133,000, with 23 stakes, 10 missions, and 1 temple, in St. George, Utah (see 2003 Church Almanac , 473, 631).
In 1884, President Taylor dedicated the Logan Temple. He went into hiding in 1885 to avoid antipolygamy persecution. The United States government passed the Edmunds-Tucker Act in 1887, which intensified the persecution of the Church because of the practice of plural marriage. This legislation enabled the government to confiscate Church property in an effort to punish and control Church members. In 1887, the year of President Taylor’s death, the Church had grown to over 173,000 members, with 31 stakes, 12 missions, and 2 temples (see 2003 Church Almanac, 473, 631).
Events, Highlights, and Teachings
John Taylor expressed his testimony through music.
Inform students that John Taylor wrote the words to two hymns in our current hymnbook: “Go, Ye Messengers of Glory” (Hymns, no. 262) and “Go, Ye Messengers of Heaven” (Hymns, no. 327). Select one of these hymns to begin the class devotional. Ask students to pick a favorite line from the hymn and be prepared to share why they liked it.
John Taylor believed the Lord would help the Saints through their trials.
Explain that throughout John Taylor’s ministry the Saints experienced many trials from within and without. Many Church members were driven from Illinois to Iowa. They eventually made their way west to the Salt Lake Valley. Share the following statement of President Taylor expressing his attitude about trials:
“So far as I am concerned, I say, let everything come as God has ordained it. I do not desire trials. I do not desire affliction. I would pray to God to ‘lead me not in temptation, and deliver me from evil; for thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory.’ But if the earthquake bellows, the lightnings flash, the thunders roll, and the powers of darkness are let loose, and the spirit of evil is permitted to rage, and an evil influence is brought to bear on the Saints, and my life with theirs is put to the test, let it come, for we are the Saints of the most High God, and all is well, all is peace, all is right, and will be, both in time and in eternity.
“But I do not want trials. I do not want to put a straw in anybody’s way; and, if I know my own feelings, I do not want to hurt any man under the heavens, nor injure the hair of any person’s head. I would like to do every man good. These are the feelings, the spirit which the gospel has implanted in my bosom, and that the Spirit of God implants in the bosoms of my brethren. And if men will pursue an improper course, the evil of course, must be on their own heads.
“I used to think, if I were the Lord, I would not suffer people to be tried as they are. But I have changed my mind on that subject. Now I think I would, if I were the Lord, because it purges out the meanness and corruption that stick around the Saints, like flies around molasses” (The Gospel Kingdom, sel. G. Homer Durham , 332–33).
What strengths can come from overcoming trials?
How can people turn trials and afflictions into positive experiences or blessings?
John Taylor traveled to the Salt Lake Valley in 1847.
Have students look at the picture of John Taylor’s home in Nauvoo, Illinois, on page 45 of the student manual. Ask how they think John Taylor and others could have found the strength to leave such beautiful homes.
Have students look at the map on page 33 of the student manual. Explain that John Taylor was not a member of the original pioneer company but was selected by President Brigham Young to organize the Saints at Winter Quarters to follow the vanguard company later that year. By the end of June 1847, a party of 1,533 persons with 600 wagons began the westward march under the direction of Elders Parley P. Pratt and John Taylor. As they traveled west, they met members of the vanguard company who had reached the valley and were returning to Winter Quarters. Share the following incident with students, which shows Elder Taylor’s resilience and good nature under pressure:
“The morning that Elder Taylor’s division met the returning pioneers, there was a flurry of snow. The heavens were darkened, the bright sunshine which they had enjoyed without a cloud to obscure it for weeks together, was now shut out from view, and snow fell two or three inches deep. Snow! and in September, too! Was that the kind of climate they were going to? The hearts of some sank within them, and the prospect looked gloomy enough. But that which produced fears in the breasts of the timid, only provoked laughter from Elder Taylor. He bade them be of good cheer, and laughingly proposed to insure the lives of the whole company at five dollars per head” (B. H. Roberts,Life of John Taylor , 190).
Explain that this group arrived in the Salt Lake Valley on October 5, 1847. Elder Taylor immediately set to work building a home for his family. He completed the home by December 1847. Less than two years later he was called to serve a mission to France and Germany.
Ask: What can we learn from John Taylor’s life about the priority of serving missions?
He used his talents to defend the faith.
Ask students to describe some of their talents. Then ask: In what ways can you use your talents to serve the Lord and spread the gospel message?
Explain that John Taylor was abundantly blessed with the talent to write. Shortly after coming home from a mission in France and Germany, Elder Taylor was elected to the Utah Territorial Legislature. In the summer of 1854, he was appointed to go to New York and preside over the Eastern States Mission.
Review “He Went on a Printer’s Mission to New York City” in the student manual (pp. 50–51). In New York City he published a newspaper from February 1855 until September 1857 called The Mormon, which defended the Saints. Elder Taylor’s work helped correct false perceptions in the East about the Saints. He returned to Utah in August 1857 because a federal army was marching toward Salt Lake City.
Read with students President Brigham Young’s compliment of Elder Taylor’s newspaper in the last paragraph of “He Went on a Printer’s Mission to New York City” in the student manual (pp. 50–51).
Ask: How does what is published about the Church affect missionary efforts around the world?
If the Church has been mentioned in your local newspaper recently, ask students if they noticed the article, and allow them to express their reaction to it.
Tell the students that you want to share quickly with them the titles of a number of John Taylor’s writings. This list will help them appreciate all he contributed when the Church needed a strong voice to counter many negative articles in newspapers.
He edited three newspapers that were published in Nauvoo, Illinois—the Times and Seasons for three years, the Nauvoo Neighbor for two and a half years, and the Wasp for six months. He also edited The Mormon, a newspaper published in New York, for two and a half years; and he contributed liberally to the newspapers Etoile De Deseret (Star of Deseret) in Paris, France, and Zions Panier (Zion’s Banner) in Hamburg, Germany.
He personally authored many works, including the following:
The Government of God, Liverpool, 1852.
The Mediation and Atonement of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Salt Lake City, 1892.
Items on Priesthood, Salt Lake City, 1899.
On Marriage, an Official Declaration by John Taylor, President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City.
Three Nights’ Public Discussion Between the Reverends C. W. Cleeve, James Robertson, and Philip Carter, and John Taylor of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, at Boulogne-Sur-Mer, France, Liverpool, 1850.
“Reply to Colfax,” a lengthy debate between John Taylor and the vice president of the United States, Schyler Colfax, on the subject of plural marriage.
In addition, he wrote numerous poems, mostly on gospel themes, delivered literally hundreds of polished sermons, and presided over the Church.
Ask students: In what ways can you use your talents and other abilities to do the Lord’s work?
In 1875, Brigham Young reordered the Twelve.
Explain that in June of 1875 President Brigham Young announced that seniority in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles would be determined by time of membership in the quorum, not by age. Brigham Young felt that Orson Hyde, who had been removed from the quorum on May 4, 1839, should have his seniority based upon his reinstatement, on June 27, 1839, not upon his original ordination in 1835. Similarly, Orson Pratt’s seniority was based on his reinstatement after being excommunicated on August 20, 1842, and rebaptized on January 20, 1843. Wilford Woodruff, who was a year older than John Taylor, was placed in the second position because he had been ordained an Apostle after John Taylor. These changes moved John Taylor from the fourth in seniority to the first.
A great spiritual awakening characterized President Taylor’s administration.
Inform students that with the death of President Brigham Young on August 29, 1877, John Taylor, the senior Apostle, became the presiding officer of the Church. He led the Church as the President of the Quorum of the Twelve for three years and then became President of the Church on October 10, 1880. Share the following description of this period of Church history:
“Great energy characterized President Taylor’s administration of affairs in the Church, both in Zion and abroad. He pushed forward with increased zeal the work on the temples, of which three were in course of erection, at the time of his taking control of affairs. He required bishops to hold weekly priesthood meetings in their wards [and] presidents of stakes to hold general priesthood meetings monthly in their respective stakes; and [he] appointed quarterly conferences in all the stakes of Zion. …
“He personally attended as many of these quarterly conferences as he could, without neglecting the executive branch of his calling, which necessarily occupied much of his time, and kept him at or within easy reach of Salt Lake City. But where he could not go himself, he sent members of his quorum, so that the Saints received much teaching and instruction from the Apostles, more perhaps than at any previous time in the history of the Church. The result was a great spiritual awakening among the Saints” (Roberts, Life of John Taylor, 329).
What provisions has the Church made to accommodate individual spiritual growth?
How do Church leaders encourage individual spiritual growth today?
The Jubilee Conference marked the 50th year of the Church.
Ask students to imagine that they owe a large amount of money to someone but are unable to pay it. Then ask:
How would you feel if that person forgave your debt?
How might getting a fresh start without debt affect you personally?
Explain that April 1880 marked the 50th year since the Church was organized. President John Taylor called for a “Jubilee Celebration.” In connection with the Jubilee, he felt that the Church should follow the custom of ancient Israel and release from debt the poor who owed money to the Perpetual Emigration Fund (see Leviticus 25:8–16, 23–55). He proposed that the worthy and honest poor who were unable to pay be forgiven the amount they owed, or one-half the total the amount owed to the Church by its members at that time—$802,000 forgiven of a total $1,604,000 debt. He urged that all the Saints throughout the Church also forgive the debts of those unable to pay and promised them that if they would forgive the debts owed to them by others, the Lord would do the same for them. He also suggested that Church members gather 1,000 head of cows, 5,000 head of sheep, and bushels of wheat to distribute to the poor (see Roberts, Life of John Taylor, 333–35).
Have a student read to the class President Taylor’s advice in the last paragraph of “A Year of Jubilee Was Celebrated” in the student manual (p. 53). Ask:
How do people grow from forgiving the debts of others?
What spiritual debts might people have?
President John Taylor withdrew from public life in his final years.
Tell students that on March 22, 1882, the President of the United States signed into law the Edmunds Bill, which authorized fines and imprisonment for those practicing plural marriage. It also placed the registration of all voters in Utah under a federal board of control known as the Utah Commission, whose duty it was to ascertain if a voter practiced polygamy. If he did, he was not permitted to vote. Share the following statement of President John Taylor in the April 1882 general conference:
“As American citizens, we shall contend for all our liberties, rights and immunities, guaranteed to us by the Constitution; and no matter what action may be taken by mobocratic influence, by excited and unreasonable men, or by inimical legislation, we shall contend inch by inch for our freedom and rights, as well as the freedom and rights of all American citizens and of all mankind” (in Roberts, Life of John Taylor, 361–62).
Ask: Why did the Saints believe so strongly in the Constitution of the United States when they were being persecuted for their beliefs? (see D&C 101:80).
Explain that in 1885 the First Presidency withdrew from public view because of persecution for the practice of plural marriage. They continued to lead the Church from various locations in Utah. Remarkably, Church leaders were able to accomplish much in spite of the persecution they faced. Share the following description of the burden this persecution put on President Taylor, a burden other Latter-day Saints also shared:
“From that date [February 1885], upwards of two years and a half ago, when he left his home in Salt Lake City, he had not the opportunity of crossing its threshold again. To home and its joys, its delightful associations and its happy reunions he has been a stranger. He has lived as an exile—a wanderer in the land, to the development and good government of which he has contributed so much! While living in this condition, one of his wives was stricken with disease, and though his heart was torn with anguish at the thought of her condition, and with anxiety to see her and minister to her in her deep distress, her residence was closely watched by spies, and when she was in a dying condition, was even searched with the hope of entrapping him! Thus she was deprived of the privilege of looking upon his beloved face, and he had not even the sad consolation of witnessing or taking any part in her funeral ceremonies” (in Roberts, Life of John Taylor, 412–13).
John Taylor was an example of resolution and integrity.
As you conclude your lesson about President John Taylor, review with students “He Died in Exile” in the student manual (p. 55). Ask:
What are some examples in President Taylor’s life where he met “every issue … boldly”?
President Taylor’s counselors called him a “living martyr for the truth.” In what ways does that phrase describe President Taylor’s life of service?
At the funeral of President Taylor, Elder Lorenzo Snow, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, who had served with him in the presiding councils of the Church, said of John Taylor:
“The Latter-day Saints feel that they have lost a friend; that we have lost a mighty counselor; that we have lost one of the greatest men that have stood upon the earth since the days of the Son of God—a man whose virtue, whose integrity, whose resolution to pursue the path of righteousness is known, and well known” (in Roberts, Life of John Taylor, 443).