Bombshell at the BYU Studies Symposium

Bored in Vernalapostles, BYU, conferences and symposia, General Authorities, history, LDS, Leaders, Mormon, Priesthood, prophets, succession, testimony 15 Comments

Avatar-BiVA small crowd at the BYU Studies Symposium yesterday was on hand to receive Richard Holzapfel’s self-proclaimed Mormon history “bombshell.”  He presented the morning plenary session on Wilford Woodruff’s 1897 recorded testimony, the first sound recording made of an LDS General Authority.  The audience was treated to hearing parts of this recording, which is also available at the BYU Studies website.

This recording forms part of the many testimonies that are available from Wilford Woodruff concerning “the Last Charge,” a council meeting in Nauvoo where the Twelve were given authority to “bear off the kingdom,” and interpreted by President Woodruff to be the foundation of the succession policy of the Church.  Holzapfel’s announcement was that on one of the three wax cylinders upon which the recording was made, the rest of the First Presidency consisting of George Q. Cannon and Joseph F. Smith added their witnesses that they had heard Wilford Woodruff bear his testimony.  We thus have the early voice of another president of the Church, the only recording of Cannon, and the addition of “two or three witnesses” to respond to the succession question.

I guess you’d really have to be a Mormon history afficionado to consider this information a “bombshell.”  There were a select few in the audience who were moved by the revelation, but the majority took the news calmly.  Holzapfel, in contrast, could hardly restrain himself as he built up his presentation and delivered his revelation in the final moments.  He mentioned that he had difficulty waiting the few weeks before the symposium to tell anyone this exciting news.

Interestingly, a point was mentioned in passing which grabbed my attention far more than the recording.  Apparently Holzapfel and some other historians have recently collaborated on an article discussing for the first time the fact that Sidney Rigdon was not present in the morning meetings at the Nauvoo Temple on March 26, 1844, when the Last Charge was given.  This is stunningly important to Mormon history, because it implies that Rigdon was not given the same keys that the rest of the Twelve received at that time.  Not only did he lack the right to succession, but he may not have understood the pattern Joseph presented that day in the same way as the members of the Twelve who were present.

I’m enjoying the Symposium so far, and I’ll be back to summarize some more of the proceedings soon.

Comments 15

  1. Thanks for this summary BiV. I think it would be really cool to possess the first recording of a General Authority, even if the message wasn’t as exciting as the Nixon tapes.

    As for Rigdon, Michael Quinn made that same claim in his book Origins of Power, and I know that book is at least 10 years old.

  2. Moreover, Madsen discussed this in his JS lectures. The audio has already been published by the Church. Am I missing something? This does not seem new at all.

  3. MH, I’m probably just woefully ignorant about the Sidney Rigdon stuff, but I’m looking forward to reading his article nonetheless. Rico, the audio was actually included in a little sleeve in an early issue of the Ensign, but there are three cylinders, recorded a week apart, and apparently not all of them have been available to researchers? This was not very clear in Holzapfel’s presentation.

  4. Everyone has heard the Woodruff snippet; I take it that what was not generally known was that Cannon’s and Smith’s voices were on one of the cylinders and may now be heard.

    Have those cylinders been transposed to modern media yet? Did he play their voices for the session?

  5. “Sidney Rigdon was not present in the morning meetings at the Nauvoo Temple on March 26, 1844, when the Last Charge was given.”

    I believe this is also covered thoroughly in Ehat’s thesis, in which he argues that those who had been endowed (the Quorum of the Anointed, at the time) considered Rigdon ineligible as Joseph’s successor since he neither received (IIRC) temple ordinances/keys, and generally opposed such things.

  6. Rigdon was part of Joseph’s presidency in the church… just as today, if the President dies, his councelors are released. (and the post by nitsav is correct as well, see below). Last Charge was given by Joseph in a Council of 50 (political kingdom of God – a seperate qourum outside the church and Qourum of Anointed) meeting, in which the 12 where there attending. There were non-mormons in this council and other members than just the 12. But there is a higher priesthood organization, the Council of Friends or the Quorum of those with fullness of priesthood (received all of the ordinances including the second anointing/calling&election). This quorum of the anointed was already given all the apostolic priesthood keys that Joseph had 1 yr prior to this Last Charge at this council of 50 meeting. Only some of the 12 were in attendance at this first conferral of the keys of the kingdom. You can read minutes of these meetings in Joseph Smith’s Quorum of the Anointed, or Andrew Ehat’s thesis on the Succession Crises. Brigham was the 3rd man presiding in this Holy Quorum under Joseph Smith, Hyrum being 2nd. Brigham was the next in line having had all the keys Joseph held after Joseph and Hyrum were killed at the same time. He was also Pres of the 12 Apostles – a seperate quorum in the church, but also 3rd Presiding Elder amoung the Quorum of Anointed that Joseph established, which existed without the vote or say of the church- the very quorum of men that established the church and governs it (much of this knowledge lost to the modern church of today). You can also get more details on the complete priesthood organization that historians have been digging up from books like: The Keys and Orders of the House of God (at confetti for $15) or Silencing Mormon Polygamy on Amazon, or reading/talking with Andrew Ehat, Lyndon Cook, Michael Quin knows most of it, Ogden Kraut, Fred Collier, Leonard Arrington, and others that obtained all this info from church archives during the 20-30 yr period the archives were fully opened and then much of the good stuff closed in the 90’s. Also, King Mosiah and Alma younger is a good example of Mosiah being the King and Spiritual leader over the church that Alma was Pres of.

  7. Thanks for posting this. As the most amateur of historians here I appreciate these links to new information.

    The bombshell for me though is the info that Sidney Rigdon was not present in that Temple meeting. Explains why he behaved the way he did. It also implies that maybe he could be given a chance to sort this out later on once he understood what really happened, because from his point of view some previously subordinate folk were trying to take over his authority now that the boss was dead. Maybe we have vilified him for too long and without real justification, plus Brigham Young really wasn’t the best people person out there. Maybe after meeting Joseph Smith somewhere in the spirit world Rigdon may have changed his ways and now in the millennium we will see a different Sydney Rigdon. I hope so. jmho though.

  8. Kevin, you’re right that the new information was that the other two members of the First Presidency’s voices were on one of the cylinders. We heard the old recording in the session. I wish Holzapfel had told more of the story on this. Were the other two cylinders overlooked because it was assumed they were just duplicates? Weren’t they available to historians? Holzapfel implied that the discovery was made because of something written in WW’s son-in-law’s journal that he, Geo Q. Cannon and Jos. F. Smith added their testimonies to the cylinder. I got the impression that Holzapfel hadn’t even listened to them himself–and that they are being professionally enhanced and transferred to modern media now and that they will soon be available on the BYU Studies site.

  9. The “Community of Christ” church of course has a completely different spin on whether Brigham Young was entitled to take the Presidency. I’m no expert on the history of this, but John Hamer did a very nice job explaining it in a recent Mormonstories pod cast.

    I think he brings up some very good points worth considering…

  10. I fail to see exactly how this influences succession. Brigham did not succeed JS until around 3 1/2 years after his death. During those 3 1/2 years, he led the church in his capacity as president of the Quorum of the Twelve. And as most historians note, he did not assert in the sumer of 1844 that he was Joseph’s successor, only that the Twelve had the keys or the authority. Succession is clearly something that evolved over time.

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  12. My impression is that the preeminence of various institutions in Mormonism was in considerable flux. Rather than settling the succession, Joseph Smith highlighted different institutions, such as the presiding bishop, the council of the twelve, and the first presidency, at different times.

    No wonder that there are competing succession claims.

    If Joseph Smith could talk to us today, I believe that he would say that the Church was reserved for the fruit of his loins.

    The problem is, of course, that his children were too young and his brothers died in quick succession. The latter fact even gave rise to suspicion that Brigham Young or his agents had poisoned members of the Smith family.

    Turbulent times and unfettered power promote the wildest rumors. By the way, didn’t Young attempt to turn over the Church to his sons?

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