Come Follow Me with Casey Paul Griffiths (Doctrine and Covenants 135-136, November 22-28) – powered by Happy Scribe
Every few years, a President of the Church graduates and moves on to the next life.
And when that happens, there is what we call an Apostolic interregnum, a period of time when there is no first presidency. But there’s always leadership for the a Church. Today. If the President of the Church were to pass away, we know absolutely who the next President of the Church would be.
The system has been set in place that the senior Apostle, who is the President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, meets together with the remaining Apostles, and they sustain him as the new President of the Church. And then he chooses a new first presidency that can take over and lead the Church. New Apostles are called and the Church goes on. And even though we miss our dear prophets that have departed, we’re comfortable knowing that there’s always a system of continuity in place. Now, this system, which works pretty smoothly and has for over 150 years, was not necessarily worked out when Joseph Smith died in 1844.
So today we’ve got to explore a little bit about the circumstances that lead to Joseph Smith’s death and how a new Prophet was chosen in the wake of Joseph loss. This is covered in section 135 and section 136 of the Doctrine Covenants. So let’s talk first about why Joseph Smith was martyred in 1844. Pressures inside and outside the Church were coming to a head. There were people inside the Church like William Law, who didn’t like certain of Joseph Smith’s teachings, for instance, the idea that we could become like God or plural marriage, and we’re plotting against Joseph Smith to have him killed or removed as President of the Church.
There were people outside the Church that feared the economic and political power of the Saints. Thomas Sharp, for instance, was editor of the Warsaw Signal, a newspaper in a town just downriver from Navu that was kind of a rival for NA vu over what should be the major economic and political center of Hancock County. Thomas Sharp didn’t like Joseph Smith and wanted the Church to leave, and he believed that if Joseph Smith was killed, the Saints would collapse and the Church would crumble like a house of cards.
There were other factors, too. For instance, in 1000, hundred and 44, Joseph Smith decided to run for President because the Saints didn’t feel like they could find a candidate that would support them in either party at the time.
So Joseph decided the best thing to do was to run himself. His platform was pretty radical for the time. He wanted to end slavery. He wanted to purchase slaves and then resettle them on government land. He wanted to reduce the pay of Congress.
He wanted to make our prisons a little bit more humane, and this stirred up a little bit more fervor against him. All of these forces came to head in early June 1844 when a newspaper called the Navu Expositor was published in Navu. The Expositor made a number of incendiary charges against Joseph Smith and Joseph Smith in the town Council became worried that the Expositor would stir up trouble and caused the Saints to endure the type of persecutions that they’d experienced earlier in Missouri. So Joseph Smith met together with the town Council several times for several hours and discussed what to do about the Expositor.
They eventually came to the conclusion that the Expositor was a public nuisance and the press needed to be destroyed.
So the Sheriff of Navu was given a warrant. He went to the place where the Expositor was printed and destroyed the printing press. Now a big question is, was this legal? Well, a young legal scholar named Dalan H. Oakes actually studied whether or not it was legal for the Navy Town Council, which Joseph Smith is its head.
To take this action, President Oaks wrote as a young law professor pursuing original research, I was pleased to find a legal basis for this action. In the Illinois Law of 1844. The amendment to the United States Constitution that extended the guarantee of freedom of the press to protect against the actions of city and state governments, was not adopted until 1868, and it was not enforced as a matter of federal law until 1931. We should judge the actions of our predecessors on the basis of the laws and Commandments and circumstances of their day, not ours.
So it was legal for the action that they took and Joseph Smith on several occasions said he felt it was necessary to prevent persecutions even more serious than the ones they’d endured in Missouri to happen.
But it also incensed the enemies of the Saints. They were upset and angry and saw this as an opportunity to get Joseph arrested. They served a writ against Joseph Smith for being a disorderly person for causing a public riot. Joseph Smith went before three separate justices of the Peace, one of them who wasn’t even a Latter Day Saint, and they exonerated him. But Joseph’s enemies felt as long as he was in Navu, they would never be able to get to him.
So what they decided to do was bring him to Carthage. Initially, Joseph Smith resists this, but finally decides to go. There are hints leading up to the death of Joseph that he knows something is going to happen to him. For instance, he meets with the corner of the Twelve Apostles and told them I roll the burden and responsibility of leading this Church from off my shoulders onto yours. Now round up your shoulders and stand under it like men, for the Lord is going to let me rest a while.
Joseph is taken to Carthage, where he is placed in Carthage jail, one of the most well known places in Church history. Meanwhile, outside the jail, people are organizing to kill the Prophet Thomas Sharp, published in his newspaper The Warsaw Signal War. And extermination is inevitable. Citizens arise one and all. Can you stand by and suffer such infernal Devils to Rob men of their property and rights without avenging them?
We have no time for comment. Every man will make his own let it be made with powder and ball. These guys weren’t hiding what they were planning to do. They were openly saying they were going to kill Joseph Smith. Joseph Smith knew that something was going to happen to him as well.
He told John Taylor on the way to Carthage. I’m going as a lamb to the slaughter. And a Shelby said of me he was murdered in cold blood. So why did he go if he knew he was going to die? To one of his other traveling companions, Dan Jones.
Joseph Smith turned and said, I love the city of Navu too well to save my life at your expense. If I go not to them, they will come and act out the horrid Missouri scenes in Navy. I may prevent it. I fear not death. My work is well nigh done.
Keep the faith and I will die for naval. Joseph Smith felt really strongly that if he didn’t offer himself up, they would destroy Navu. So he goes to Carthage jail. And while he’s there, there’s people in and out of the jail. The entire time, Joseph Smith is able to write and communicate with his family.
In fact, the very last letter that he writes from Carthage jail is to request an attorney. And then he adds a little post script writing to Emma and saying, I am very much resigned to my lot knowing that I am justified and have done the best that could be done. Give my love to the children and all my friends. Joseph Smith knew something was going to happen to him, but he’s still trying to reassure his wife that he’s going to be okay now, while there’s people in and out the entire time, Joseph is in cartoons shell the four people that are there the entire time are Joseph Smith, Hiram Smith, Willard Richards and John Taylor.
These are the four who stay with him, hire him because he has to be there.
He’s indicted too. And Willard and John because they’re the only members of the quorum of the twelve that are in Navu. Everybody else. Brigham Young, John Taylor, Orrson Pratt were out on Prost lighting missions for Joseph Smith’s presidential campaign. So these four were in Carthage on that fateful day, June 27, one, 1844, when Joseph Smith was killed, they were in the jail.
They were all depressed, Joseph to cheer everyone up, asked John Taylor to sing a poor wayfaring man of grief. John Taylor does. And then shortly after they hear a sound and look out and see around 150 to 200 men coming down the road towards the jail. When the men reach the jail, they start to fire immediately into the windows of the building and a group of men break off and try to go into the jail and force their way into the upstairs bedroom where Joseph Smith is staying.
For a few moments the men move away from the windows and then a shot is fired into the jail that hits Hyrum.
Smith in the face and kills him. Harm collapses to the ground, says, I’m a dead man. Joseph Smith leaves the door and goes over and kneels above Harm Smith and says, oh dear brother Hiram. At this point, according to both John Taylor and Willard Richards, Joseph Smith got up, walked calmly across the room, pulled out a pepperbox pistol that had been brought to him by a member of the Naval Legion and put it around the door and fired blindly. Because Joseph Smith fired back and not every Chamber in the pepperbox pistol discharges.
Some people have said that he can’t be a martyr. A martyr, by definition, is just someone who dies for what they believe in. But remember, Joseph isn’t the only person in the jail. He fires back because the men coming to attack him are cowards, and they believe that the men they’re attacking are unarmed. When they see that they have weaponry, they back off.
And because of this, Willard Richards and John Taylor are able to survive. Once the pepperbox pistol is empty, there’s nothing to defend themselves with, and they know that eventually the mob is going to come inside the room and kill them. So a few things happen in quick succession. John Taylor runs to the window as he’s running to the window. He’s hit several times and collapses.
John lands on the ground and is so badly hurt that he rolls over under the bed to try and avoid the fire. What happens next? Nobody sees clearly, but Joseph Smith apparently goes to the window. Sometimes you see this depicted by east hit and he falls out the window. But the bases of these windows are pretty wide.
A person couldn’t fall out of them. Instead, Joseph gets up in the window and is hit by people firing from the door and people firing from outside the jail. He says his final words, O Lord my God, and then falls out of the jail. According to John Taylor, after Joseph Smith had fallen out of the jail, the mob picked up his body, props it against the well outside, and fired into it four more times and then scattered. John Taylor and Willard Richards live to tail to tail.
John Taylor is really badly wounded. Willard Richards emerges unscathed. Willard Richards writes a letter to the Saints in Navu, telling them not to come and not to attack Carthage that the Prophet and the Patriarch are dead. Now, in the confusion surrounding the death of the Prophet Joseph, a major question comes up, which is who’s going to lead the Church. Joseph Smith didn’t leave behind any public plans for succession, though he did talk several times to the quorum of the Twelve and told them that they would be given the keys if necessary to lead the Church.
The doctor of evidence also States that the quorum of the twelve constitutes a quorum equal in authority to the first presidency, if need be. So. That was one system set in place, and Joseph Smith meets with the quorum and gives them the keys necessary to lead the Church. At one point, he said, upon the shoulders of the twelve most the responsibility of leading the Church, hence worth rest until you appoint others to succeed you. There’s only really two people that can lead the Church right now that’s Sydney Rigdon, Joseph’s counselor, and Brigham Young, the President of the Court of Twelve Apostles.
In order to decide the question, they held a meeting and allowed Church members to vote on who the leader of the Church should be. Cindy Rigdon, who’s a pretty impressive speaker, gets up and talks for about two and a half hours about why he should leave the Church. And then Brigham Young gets up and speaks briefly to the Saints. Now, about 150 different people at this meeting note that something happens. They don’t all say the same thing.
Some of them say they just received a confirmation that the mantle of the Prophet had fallen on Brigham Young. Other people talk about a Transfiguration that Brigham Young was transformed. For instance, Caroline Barnes Crosby, a young woman who was present at the meeting, said Sydney Rigdon, came to the stand and tried to show the people that he was the rifle successor of Joseph. And his arguments were so powerful that many were almost persuaded to believe him. But as soon as the twelve Apostles with Brother Brigham Young at their head, took the stand, it was shown conclusively where the power rested.
It was the first time that I ever thought Brigham resembled Brother Joseph. But almost everyone exclaimed that the mantle of Joseph had fallen on Brigham. For one, I never had any doubts afterwards. Now Caroline is not the only person to note this, but not everybody that was there noted a Transfiguration, and Brigham Young himself just spoke about comforting the hearts of the Saints. He writes 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. So Brigham Young takes over as leader of the Church. He is overwhelmingly sustained by the membership of the Church and leads the Church in Navu for the next two years, all the while preparing to eventually leave NA Vu and travel west.
Just like Joseph Smith had planned in the spring of 1846. The Saints leave Navu and Cross, Iowa, and this initial phase of the Trek is really, really difficult. It’s a big disaster. In some ways, the rain comes too early in the spring. The Saints are disorganized.
It’s kind of every man or woman for themselves, and they scramble into a place called Winter Quarters, Nebraska, near where present day Omaha is. Winter Quarters is a really tough time for the Saints. It’s cold. They don’t have enough provisions and disease sweeps through the camps, and about one in twelve of them die while they’re at winter quarters. It’s in this really dark time that Brigham Young receives several revelations that help him understand what he needs to do to save the Saints.
One of them happens when Joseph Smith appears to Brigham Young and speaks to him. Joseph told Brigham Young, Tell the people to be humble and faithful and be sure to keep the Spirit of the Lord, and it will lead them right. Be careful to not turn away the still small voice, and it will tell you what to do and where to go. It will yield the fruits of the Kingdom. Brigham Young, during this time also receives the revelation that becomes Section 136 of the Doctrine Covenants, where the Saints had crossed Iowa in a disorganized fashion.
Section 136 organizes them for the rest of the Trek to the Rocky Mountains, for instance, in verse eight, the Lord says, Let each company bear in equal proportion according to the dividend of their property and taking the poor, the widows, the fatherless, and the families of those who’ve got into the army. That the cries of the widow and fatherless come not up into the ears of the Lord against his people. The Lord wanted them to look after those that were disadvantaged, the widows, the fatherless, the people who were sacrificing because their husbands had entered into the army to fight with the Mormon Battalion in the Mexican War.
And using this revelation as their Constitution, Brigham Young is able to reorganize the Saints to himself, lead a Vanguard company across the Plains, and locate the Salt Lake Valley as the new headquarters of the Saints. When Brigham Young arrives in the Salt Lake Valley, he sees it, is wrapped in vision and announces, this is the right place.
Drive On Today the headquarters of the Church are located in Salt Lake, with the temple built in the exact spot where just three days after their arrival in Salt Lake Valley, Brigham Young put his cane on the ground and said, Here we will build the temple of our God. With this in mind, Brigham Young becomes the confident, vigorous leader of the Church and is able to lead the Church for almost 30 years after the death of Joseph until another Prophet is chosen. And then another Prophet and another Prophet right down to the present day.
So Joseph Smith gives up his life for the witness of the things that he believed are true. There’s no greater sign of sincerity than a person that’s willing to die for what they believe in.
And even though we lost one great Prophet, another great Prophet was called, and the Lord had prepared someone to take the place and lead the Church into a new day. In our time, prophets come and go. They pass away and move into the next life when the earthly mission is over. But the Lord is always preparing and seeking and finding those people that need to lead the Church into the next phase. If we’re cautious, careful and conscientious, we can play our role.
We can find those and help train those that will take our places someday and the work of God will continue until the time that the Savior returns to Earth.