During the thirty-three years that Brigham Young led The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1844-77, he set the Church on a course of following the Word of Wisdom to the letter. While most Church members failed to obey the revelation’s prescriptions during Brigham’s lifetime, he set the goal that members would eventually comply with the Word of Wisdom. During his tenure, he changed the standard from moderate use of tobacco, alcohol, tea, and coffee to full abstinence.
This important chapter in the history of the Word of Wisdom has several subtexts. It reveals President Young’s personality and leadership style. It also suggests a social trend and incremental progress. Like Americans and western Europeans generally, the men and women of President Young’s era were refining themselves and their society—slowly and fitfully, perhaps, and certainly not as quickly as President Young hoped.