Rigdon v. Young (1844)

I’ve been quite busy with the podcast and haven’t had much time to devote to the blog. This was something I had been working on last year but never published. We’re going to be covering the Succession Crisis on the podcast next, so I dusted this off and decided to publish it.

August 1844 was an interesting time for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Joseph and Hyrum had been killed less than two months earlier, and there was no clear replacement. Well, actually, there was a clear replacement if you hearkened to the word of God. But the majority of the members didn’t, and so it was put to a vote instead. Brigham Young won the vote and got control, and Sidney Rigdon was excommunicated.

Let’s take a look at what should have happened in August 1844. Doctrine and Covenants has specific requirements for President of the Church. D&C 107 uses several different names for the same position:

  • Presidency of the Church
  • President of the High Priesthood of the Church
  • President of the office of the High Priesthood
  • Presiding High Priest over the High Priesthood of the Church,

I’d sure like to ask Joseph why he did that, but we’ll roll with it. The verses below make it clear these are the same and the highest authority in the church.

D&C 107
22 Of the Melchizedek Priesthood, three Presiding High Priests, chosen by the body, appointed and ordained to that office, and upheld by the confidence, faith, and prayer of the church, form a quorum of the Presidency of the Church.

64 Then comes the High Priesthood, which is the greatest of all.
65 Wherefore, it must needs be that one be appointed of the High Priesthood to preside over the priesthood, and he shall be called President of the High Priesthood of the Church;
66 Or, in other words, the Presiding High Priest over the High Priesthood of the Church.

79 And the Presidency of the council of the High Priesthood shall have power to call other high priests, even twelve, to assist as counselors; and thus the Presidency of the High Priesthood and its counselors shall have power to decide upon testimony according to the laws of the church.
80 And after this decision it shall be had in remembrance no more before the Lord; for this is the highest council of the church of God, and a final decision upon controversies in spiritual matters.
81 There is not any person belonging to the church who is exempt from this council of the church.

91 And again, the duty of the President of the office of the High Priesthood is to preside over the whole church, and to be like unto Moses—
92 Behold, here is wisdom; yea, to be a seer, a revelator, a translator, and a prophet, having all the gifts of God which he bestows upon the head of the church.

Verse 22 says this presidency must consist of three high priests – they can’t be elders. Verse 65 says that one must be appointed of the High Priesthood to preside. Appointed of, not appointed to. That means the person needs to already be a high priest. While the other verses could get away with an elder being chosen and then ordained to the office of high priest, verse 65 says he can’t be chosen before becoming a high priest. Verse 92 also says the president is to be a seer, a revelator, and a prophet.

With that criteria in place, let’s evaluate the the status of both men.

High Priest

Sidney Rigdon

Ordained a high priest on June 3, 1831.

Brigham Young

Never ordained a high priest.

 “Now will it cause some of you to marvel that I was not ordained a High Priest before I was ordained an Apostle?  Brother Kimball and myself were never ordained High Priests.”
Journal of Discourses
1:136, April 6, 1853

Sidney was the only High Priest among the two of them. Brigham should have never been in contention for the office of President of the High Priesthood of the Church.

Prophet, Seer, and Revelator

Sidney Rigdon

Ordained on June 1, 1841.

Elder Sidney Rigdon has been ordained a Prophet, Seer, and Revelator.
HC 4:364

Brigham Young

“I do not profess to be a Prophet. I never called myself so.”
Journal of Discourses, 5:176

A reader pointed out that this quotation was actually from Heber Kimball, not Brigham Young. I’m glad my error has been corrected.

During the conference in August 1844 where the fateful vote was taken, William Marks, president of the Nauvoo Stake, said this:

“Now is there a man in the church who has received the ordination of a prophet, seer and revelator.  If there is I want to see him…I think I am knowing to all the ordinations, but I don’t know of a man who has been ordained to the office and calling Brother Sidney has.”

Sidney was the only person who had already been ordained a prophet, seer, and revelator. How could Brigham be ordained a prophet, seer, and revelator by anyone other than Sidney? Yet Brigham excommunicated Sydney and had other apostles ordain him to an office that none of them had the authority to give.

Most Senior Apostle

The current church practice is the apostle who has served the longest at the death of the president becomes the new president of the Church. This isn’t in the scriptures, and it evolved over time with various tweaks to ensure the “right” man got the job. The scripturally approved method is in Section 107. But let’s just pretend that this man-made method of succession was in force back in 1844. Surely Brigham would have won here, right?

Sidney Rigdon – called December 7, 1830

Moroni 2:2
…ye shall have power that to him upon whom ye shall lay your hands, ye shall give the Holy Ghost; and in my name shall ye give it, for thus do mine apostles.

D&C 35:6 – Revelation on December 7, 1830 to Sidney Rigdon
But now I give unto thee a commandment, that thou shalt baptize by water, and they shall receive the Holy Ghost by the laying on of the hands, even as the apostles of old.

Moroni says apostles give the Holy Ghost, and D&C 35 tells Sidney to give the Holy Ghost even as the apostles of old. Other sections of D&C call Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer and others as apostles, years before the Quorum of the Twelve was organized in 1835.

Here’s another interesting tidbit. D&C 84 was received in September 1832, two and half years before the Quorum of the Twelve was organized. Yet the Lord said:

63 And as I said unto mine apostles, even so I say unto you, for you are mine apostles, even God’s high priests; ye are they whom my Father hath given me; ye are my friends;

This revelation was given to Joseph in the presence of six others. We don’t know their identities (if someone knows them, speak up!). But the Lord declares that these seven people are both high priests and apostles. We know Sidney was ordained a high priest in 1831, and we know the Lord called him an apostle in Section 35. I would not be surprised if Sidney was present when Section 84 was received.

Brigham Young – called February 14, 1835

Brigham had four years less seniority than Sidney had upon the death of Joseph. Brigham should have never challenged Sidney if the current law of succession by seniority was the law of the Lord.

Seniority – Part 2

Back in 1844, seniority wasn’t determined by length of service (Brigham invented that during the later years of his reign). Seniority at this time was determined by age.

Sidney Rigdon – born February 18, 1793
Brigham Young – born June 1, 1801

Under this criteria, Sidney has eight years seniority.

Either way you count it, Sidney had more seniority as an apostle than Brigham.


Final tally: Sidney 3, Brigham 0.

D&C: 42:59-60
Thou shalt take the things which thou hast received, which have been given unto thee in my scriptures for a law, to be my law to govern my church; And he that doeth according to these things shall be saved, and he that doeth them not shall be damned if he so continue.

D&C 43:5-7
And this shall be a law unto you, that ye receive not the teachings of any that shall come before you as revelations or commandments; And this I give unto you that you may not be deceived, that you may know they are not of me. For verily I say unto you, that he that is ordained of me shall come in at the gate and be ordained as I have told you before, to teach those revelations which you have received and shall receive through him whom I have appointed.

D&C 84:54-57
And your minds in times past have been darkened because of unbelief, and because you have treated lightly the things you have received—Which vanity and unbelief have brought the whole church under condemnation. And this condemnation resteth upon the children of Zion, even all. And they shall remain under this condemnation until they repent and remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon and the former commandments which I have given them, not only to say, but to do according to that which I have written.

Had the members in August 1844 relied on the scriptures to solve the succession crisis, things would have been vastly different. No polygamy, no Adam-God doctrine, no blood atonement, and probably no priesthood ban. We would have actually had an ordained prophet, seer, and revelator at the head of the church. But they treated lightly the former commandments that told them Sidney was the only choice, and brought condemnation upon themselves and the whole church for generations.