At meetings held on August 8, 1844, Sidney Rigdon and Brigham Young each asserted their claims to succeed Joseph Smith as leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. These meetings proved a central event in the 1844 succession crisis following the deaths of Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum. Of the many sources consulted to reconstruct the events of August 8, 1844, one crucial source has heretofore been unavailable to scholars. Thomas Bullock, the clerk for the Church Historian’s Office, recorded notes of the morning meeting, including speeches by Rigdon and Young, in Taylor shorthand.1 Until recently, Bullock’s notes have not been deciphered and transcribed. What follows is the transcription of this source and an introduction to establish the context.2 A detailed description of the transcription process immediately precedes the transcription.
Events in Nauvoo after the Martyrdom
Following the death of Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum on June 27, 1844, word quickly spread through national and Church networks. Many missionaries sent throughout the United States to campaign for Joseph Smith’s presidential bid learned of their leader’s fate through the unsympathetic voice of newspapers. Most prominent among these missionaries were most members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as well as the longest-standing member of the First Presidency, Sidney Rigdon. Only two of the members of the Twelve—Willard Richards and John Taylor—had remained in Nauvoo, and both were with the Smith brothers in Carthage Jail on that fateful day in June. About a month and a half before his death, Joseph Smith instructed Rigdon to move to Pennsylvania, in part to act as his running mate for the presidency. Upon hearing of his associate’s death, Rigdon rushed back to Nauvoo, arriving on August 3, 1844, to comfort a bereaved people. Though Rigdon had been a trusted confidant and counselor to Smith for much of the Church’s existence, the two had recently grown distant.3 Conversely, the rocky relationship that had at times existed between Smith and the Quorum of the Twelve through much of the later part of the 1830s had smoothed over, and the quorum, with Brigham Young as its head, enjoyed a close association with Smith in the years before his death.4
Events immediately following Joseph Smith’s death—often termed the succession crisis—are often simplified by historians who focus solely on the actions or motivations of the competitors who wished to fill Smith’s role. The vacuum of leadership in the summer of 1844 created a complicated power setting in Nauvoo. For instance, Emma Smith, Joseph’s widow, sought the help of William Clayton to manage outstanding financial considerations pressing upon Smith’s personal finances. Clayton complained in his diary of the several individuals who attempted to place themselves as trustee-in-trust over the Church.5 Some individuals looked to Samuel Smith, one of the two last surviving brothers of the Smith family, to step into some leadership function.6 Samuel, however, died on July 30, 1844. William Marks, stake president of Nauvoo, also sought to understand what would become of the leadership structure of the Church and sympathized with Emma Smith and Rigdon.7
When Rigdon returned to Nauvoo on August 3, he found many looking to him for counsel, comfort, and direction. Rigdon’s immediate actions in Nauvoo signaled his apparent desire to quickly fill the leadership void. His actions also spoke to the necessity of not alienating himself from influential individuals or groups, including the Quorum of the Twelve. The day after his arrival in Nauvoo, he preached a Sabbath sermon to the Saints, still mourning the loss of their fallen prophet and patriarch. Perhaps anticipating the Church’s transition to new leadership, Rigdon preached his sermon using the scripture “my ways are not as your ways.”8 He related to the Saints “a vision which the Lord had shown him concerning the situation of the Church and said there must be a Guardian appointed to build the Church up to Joseph as he has begun it.”9 That evening, stake president William Marks appointed a meeting later that week where Rigdon would propose his concept of the future leadership of the Church, including a vote on Rigdon’s guardianship proposal.10 Some, including Willard Richards, one of the Apostles, wondered whether the meeting should not wait for “the Elders” to return, including Brigham Young and the Twelve, who were en route to Nauvoo.11 Nevertheless, Rigdon, who “was some distance from his family & wanted to know if this people had any thing for him to do,” acted quickly.12 He originally wished the meeting to be scheduled for Tuesday, August 6, but even sympathetic Marks must have felt the haste unwarranted and postponed the meeting until Thursday, August 8.13 William Phelps asked Rigdon “why he [Rigdon] was so much disposed to hurry matters.”14
The following day, Monday, August 5, 1844, a council met at John Taylor’s home. This Monday morning meeting provided the first chance for four members of the Quorum of the Twelve then in Nauvoo—Parley P. Pratt, who had arrived in Nauvoo on July 10; George A. Smith, who had arrived in the city on July 28; Willard Richards; and John Taylor—to discuss matters, including the Thursday meeting, with Rigdon.15 According to Richards, Rigdon softened his plans and “said he [Rigdon] did not expect the people to choose a guardian on Thursday—but have a prayer meeting—but he wanted to se[e] the brethren have a season of prayer, & interchange of thought— & feeling &c.—and warm up Each others hearts.”16 Whether Rigdon had truly backed away from his previously stated purpose for the meeting is unknown, but he recognized the need to approach the matter with the finesse necessary to maintain his position within the Church.
Those impatient for the remainder of the Twelve’s arrival had to wait only a little longer. When news of the martyrdom reached members of the Quorum of the Twelve who had been preaching in the eastern cities of New England and New York, quorum president Brigham Young assembled quorum members who were in close proximity and left for Nauvoo. At 8 o’clock in the evening on Tuesday, August 6, Young, Heber C. Kimball, Orson Pratt, Lyman Wight, and Wilford Woodruff arrived in Nauvoo. Meetings the next day occupied much of the leaders’ attention as Rigdon made his case to various Church leaders, including the Apostles, in Nauvoo the day before he preached his sermon. A council convened at the Seventies Hall at 4 o’clock in the afternoon of August 7, consisting of the Quorum of the Twelve, the Nauvoo high council, the Nauvoo stake president, and Rigdon. Rigdon spoke of a continuation of the vision he and Joseph Smith had received over a decade earlier.17 The vision showed him that “this Church must be built up to Joseph and that all the blessings we receive must come through Joseph.”18 Willard Richards reported Rigdon saying that “Joseph sustains the same relation to this kingdom as he had ever done.—no man could be the successor of Joseph. [The] Kingdom [is] to be built up to Jesus Christ through” Joseph.19 Rigdon felt that “every Quorum should stand as they had stood”20 and believed that “the people could please themselves whether they accepted him or not.”21 Young’s rejoinder echoed that language. Young told the assembly that “he did not care who lead the Church if God said so . . . but he must know that God said so.”22 Young argued that they “must have the voice of the church in conference.”23 He called for such a conference on Tuesday the 13th, which allowed for enough time to notify some of the closer branches.
The following day, August 8, the Saints gathered in the Nauvoo grove at the appointed time for the prayer meeting. Whereas the discussion points of the previous day’s meeting were well documented in several diaries, information about the morning meeting was not. For years, historians have looked to the sparse diary entries to reconstruct that morning’s meeting, along with reminiscences of Church members who later supported the Twelve. Due to the dearth of records, some later-reconstructed accounts confused the number of meetings and when they were held. Willard Richards, one of the Apostles, recorded a short entry for the morning of August 8, 1844: “Sidney Rigdon Preached in the A.M.” Fellow quorum member Wilford Woodruff recorded that day that “their [sic] was a meeting appointed at the grove for the Church to come together for prayer But in consequence of some excitement among the People and a dispositions by some spirits to try to divide the Church, it was thought best to attend to the business of the Church in the afternoon that was to be attended to on Tuesday.”24 Clayton’s normally detailed journal failed to even mention the morning sermon by Rigdon. As early as a year later, the morning meeting and the afternoon meeting became conflated in accounts of the day’s events.25
Rigdon’s actions that day, however, as well as his later actions, influenced the way participants remembered the events. The morning meeting set up the more famous afternoon meeting where Young and other members of the Twelve presented their own view of future leadership within the Church. The vast majority of the Church members in attendance voted to accept the Quorum of the Twelve as leaders of the Church. Rigdon did not ask that his name be submitted for vote and committed himself to fully support the decision of the Church by following the Twelve.26 The Church meeting voted to support Rigdon as counselor to the Twelve. Less than a month later, however, Rigdon was disfellowshipped from the Church by the Twelve for actions they considered rebellious and disharmonious to the order of the Church.27 Due in part to these later activities, Rigdon became increasingly marginalized and vilified in the narrative surrounding the death of Smith and the Twelve’s assumption of authority over the Church. For instance, Orson Hyde observed to a gathering of high priests in Nauvoo that “Mr. Rigdon professes to be the true shepherd, and the Twelve Apostles are regarded by him as wolves. . . . The wolf will run away when he hears the shepherd’s voice, just as Mr. Rigdon ran away to Pittsburgh when the voice of the Twelve proclaimed his true character.”28 A late-nineteenth-century published biography of Jacob Hamblin recounting the August 8 meeting stated that Brigham Young entered the meeting and took control, telling the Church, “‘I will manage this voting for Elder Rigdon. He does not preside here. This child’ (meaning himself) ‘will manage this flock for a season.’”29
Brigham Young’s own memories of the morning sermon indicate that he was actually not present at the beginning of the meeting. Reminiscing in 1865, Young made the point that he was “a good hand to keep dogs out of the flock.” He continued by recalling his thought when he saw Rigdon on the wagon: “My good fellow if I don’t hunt you until you are out of this flock of sheep I am mistaken.”30 Young’s antagonism to Rigdon in his memory likely reflects the difficulty the Twelve had with Rigdon as well as Young’s understanding of the resulting events. In a council meeting of the Quorum of the Twelve a little over three years after the event, Young recalled that following the death of Joseph, the Twelve were duty-bound to do what they did: “The 12 had to step forward to lead the church & I felt then as now . . . when duty prompts me I mean to do it let consequences be what they may.”31 On another occasion, Young, reminiscing with members of the Quorum of the Twelve in 1860, spoke of his purpose and drive at the meeting: “When I preached on the stand there [with] Sidney before me I knew [then] there [must] be a First Presidency as well as now,” meaning he knew that the First Presidency needed to be reconstituted.32
Value and Limitations of the Document
As a result of the later vilification and marginalization, firsthand reports of Rigdon’s activities, thoughts, and private and public proclamations are paramount in understanding Rigdon’s actions in August 1844. The shorthand sermon featured below provides the critical primary source of Rigdon’s effort to assume leadership and the authority under which he acted. The report also shows the way he presented himself to the Church, sharing the important and eventful fourteen-year history he had with the Church. Documents such as this provide the snapshot needed to capture events at times confused by later (mis)interpretation. But the sermon below should not be seen as a straightforward or uncomplicated source. For unknown reasons (perhaps due to the weather?), Bullock had difficulty in capturing this sermon.33 Deciphering this shorthand proved more problematic than his other sermon notes from July through August 1844. While all sermons in Taylor shorthand reported by Bullock are difficult to read, his notes for Rigdon’s morning sermon present a significant challenge. Due to the fragmentary nature of Bullock’s shorthand notes and the difficulty in transcribing what he did record, the transcript contains only part of what happened that morning. Still, they are the only known notes to have been taken during the meeting itself, and the best extant record of what actually occurred there.
Overview of the Document
Rigdon’s sermon illustrates an attempt to balance support of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and place himself as one to hold influence over the Church. He was careful to argue that Joseph established the Church and its structure and that although their prophet was dead, the Church still had the authority the Lord bestowed upon the Church through Smith. The mob who killed Joseph had “no power to take away the authority.”34 In fact, according to Rigdon, the Smiths maintained a semblance of their authority, since they “ever on have their priesthood and will hold it to all eternity.” Rigdon spoke of the potential of the Church, being “one grand kingdom. . . . To put an end to strifes and bloodshed and war.” Though robbed of their leader, “he conferred every power that was necessary to carry [the kingdom] on and place it precisely on the tenets that Jehovah had given him.”
Rigdon expected Joseph’s influence from beyond the grave. “I view [Joseph] as sitting in heaven with . . . power to make himself known to any one.” The work Joseph undertook was incomplete, waiting for the Saints to finish the work. And the authority to do so, according to Rigdon, “is in the church.” Rigdon fully supported these authorities as they existed before Joseph’s death. “I have the fullest belief . . . that every man will stand in his own place and stand in his own calling.” Speaking of the tension with non-Mormon neighbors in Hancock County, Illinois, Rigdon offered a promise that the mobs “have not the power nor the means to” destroy Nauvoo. Rigdon’s promise of peace “for a season” came with his final summary of his position: “I should be a spokesman for our prophet who has been taken from us.” What is known is that Young accelerated the decision. Young instructed the gathered Saints to decide that afternoon. He did not urge them to choose who would take Joseph’s place, for “he keeps it himself.” Young wished to curtail the “spirit [of] who shall be greatest in our midst.” But Young continued the unifying language preached by Rigdon: he wished “Brother Rigdon [to] come and take his seat at our right hand . . . and we can do the business in 5 minutes.”
Thomas Bullock captured Rigdon’s sermon in a shorthand system published by Samuel Taylor in his 1786 book A Universal System of Stenography, or Short-Hand Writing.35 Taylor shorthand is a phonetic shorthand: words are written according to their sounds, not according to conventional orthography. A shorthand symbol represents one or possibly two related consonant sounds (f and v, g and j, k and q); some sounds written by two letters in conventional English orthography have a distinct symbol (ch, sh, th, ious). Single letters are also used to represent words, prefixes, and suffixes.
In Taylor shorthand, a writer may use a dot in order to indicate the presence of a vowel, but this is optional. There is no means for identifying vowels: the dot only indicates the presence of a vowel, which at times includes w and y. This lack of vowels makes it virtually impossible at times to differentiate between two or more possible words. For example, the symbol fr or vr could represent fear, for, every, fire, very, ever, over, fir, fur, fore, far, fairy, vary, ferry, fiery, furry, fair, four, fare, free, fry, fray, veer, afar, affair, afore, or offer. The symbol n could represent no, any, in, on, know, nigh, an, or new. In some cases context offers significant clues, but often it does not, and sometimes several words are equally possible. Punctuation is implied by spaces between characters; these spaces are preserved here.
Several early Latter-day Saints, including Wilford Woodruff, Willard Richards, William Clayton, and Thomas Bullock, wrote in Taylor shorthand, though their use of it appears to have been limited largely to occasional words or phrases. The earliest Mormon sermons recorded in Taylor shorthand—or any shorthand system—are those given in Nauvoo shortly after Joseph Smith’s death. The afternoon meeting of August 8 was also recorded by Bullock—in longhand rather than shorthand.36
As Taylor shorthand captured only the consonants, the editors have supplied the vowels to the transcription below. When the reading is unclear, a presumed word is in brackets with a question mark; when no word can be properly surmised, the actual shorthand sounds have been provided in brackets. The rare instance Bullock used longhand is transcribed in bold typeface. Bullock used lengthy spaces to indicate ends of thoughts, and this transcription has preserved these spaces. Line breaks, which may have indicated ends of thoughts, are also preserved with a “|”.
Thursday August 8th 1844 10 oclock A.M. choir sang an hymn 106 page37 = prayer by Saml James38 choir again sang an hymn page 3639 | President [William] Marks Elder Rigdon wants to have a platform made on the opposite side in order to make the people hear better = a stand was made for him and40 he would [thrs?] wind [—?]41 |[blank line]
42 President Rigdon = I understand I would43 not make the congregation hear I have not strength of voice to make all hear but I will do the best I can in view of what has took place | I [can] not recollect of being in the presence of so large an assembly as this under the late circumstance it has always been at all previous times that those who raised this last dispensation | have always been present through whom this plan of salvation but they is passed away and [in] our earthly meetings we shall see them no more they are at late taken | from the earth and to act in the same relation that they always stood without the fear of any with the power of position where they of the world can not harm them any late engaged in the | building of the kingdom to lay the foundation of the church in the last days and was always the same since the foundation of the world began the same relation to heaven to the church | in all its respect of authorities the same in time as in eternity when he begins to work he [had/head/ahead?] is beyond all and the gates of hell can not prevail against it though they | may destroy bodies they have no power to take away the authority they44 did all they could do and that was to destroy the body and they45 are now carrying on the same work | all the men that have been slain46 though they have been slain crucified47 and though the enemies have done all they they ever on have their priesthood and will hold it to all eternity | the [—?]48 keys and authorities and the kingdom that is built up here will continue the same to all eternity it was on this principle that Jehovah built up [the] kingdom to himself | [it] is no more nor less than one grand kingdom and when the purpose of Lord shall be consummated and the guardians and power of the kingdom shall be given to the saints | and it will make one grand kingdom and it will be done the same in eternity in the same glory and power and might for ever and ever in relation to this being | one kingdom with those who are gone above for now their kingdom will be [above/beyond?]49 for this is the last kingdom that will bring about the last things of these last days | and it is designed to establish the end and to put an end to strifes and bloodshed and war and all things and to make one grand wall out of the wall and the | watchmen on the walls will be all from generation to generation and all to be in peace this is the design and order of things and must and will continue | until that purpose is accomplished when I look over these things50 notwithstanding the contemplation is melancholy in the extreme there is this prospect [before?] us that what | the Lord is determined to bring about the present enemy will have no power to prevent it and the reason is that the revelation that is given [remainder of line blank] | he51 was raised up to bring this thing forth to establish it in full [and] to confer all the authorities that is necessary whether he him[self] [is] here or whether he goes away [remainder of line blank] | they [have/had?] [any?] power could [of/it/have?] that thing that is [—/tn?] [it/t/d/r?] [tst/dst?] have [late/let/lt/ld?] he conferred every power that was necessary to carry it on and placed it precisely on the [stands/tenets?]52 | that Jehovah had given him what I understand then [is] that all that power necessary to carry it on has been put upon their heads and power where e’er he has placed | power there let it rest let that quorum53 of men act in their place I do not care what body of men he has given that authority to carry it on among | [men/one?] I one I can’t point out any [—/r?]54 if I were to try I know nothing I had seen nothing in the revelations but would [leave?] standing in order the principles | are made known in their force [—?]55 and place I view him as sitting in heaven with the [fr/vr?] and with power to make himself known to any one | he may choose to make himself known I do not see any particle of alteration and all seems to be in unison of opinions that it is left in that | very place that Jehovah intended it to be left and is left in the proper place for the people to push it forward on as far as it is necessary to put it on | a [restoration?]56 is complete all the authority is in the church every other thing is ready [so?]57 I thank Jehovah in my heart that I have full countenance in the | authorities of this church to carry it on and I have the fullest belief that there is [in any/any in?] this church that every man will stand in his own place and stand | in his own calling58 before Jehovah [such?] one remains [action?]59 is that will be seen in this church and all other powers will pass away [remainder of line blank] | in relation to all business we act conspicuously in this church that their life is in their hands and they act with their understanding and I believe that | the next bullet that will be shot will reach my heart60 I have61 you are my friends that the enemy could accomplish the work I do | not know but that they might have laid this place waste I do not suppose that they could destroy it they have not the power nor the means to carry it on | there is no power that can do it [I?] [fear/for?]62 if they have power to shed much blood to [dst/destroy?] the lives of many people and [ink blot] drive63 them from | their homes yet it will have to roll on if they have to flee from their homes for their lives [y/yet?] there will be power to carry it64 on65 | in relation to the [rmns?] manner in this kingdom every man is disposed to stand in his own place and calling in his authority | [three words crossed out; illegible] if I say to the 12 I have no66 power to carry out their thinkings I would67 decide result there is not too much power whenever he68 has | given power he has placed it in the right place and will carry out the plan I have this faith this morning I believe it in the [pd?] of | my [head?] [power/there?] is that must remain in the authorities in this church there seems to be but one view in them I heard the 12 yesterday | and their views were [shtl/mstl/mostly] [m?]69 with70 and that there was perfect harmony in that call there is no harmony of feeling and can’t exist anywhere else | I have [lm/William?] have unbounded confidence in this people that what this people ask for in the name of J[esus] that it has been granted asking for any wisdom or any | thing else that Jehovah would give them the right spirit and they would possess and enjoy it [remainder of line blank; end of page]
my [mouth?] is not tickling but I may become weak and may not able to make much effort so that the church may understand clearly what I | understand in this matter the grand object in that address and I have [—?] summed it up in a few words but I have not much [strength?] to tell | oh it is my faith and my belief about it that there is no power to compel I do believe that this church shall exist here that the [—?]71 to | plot will cease there may be some loom in the outskirts but they will not have power to come in and destroy here I believe it any way | I say it for the comforting of the saints I do72 it without fear that they73 will have rest for a season any way74 so that they may enjoy | peace I say it’s my faith all that I have said I do believe that we can come and go in [quiet?] at least for a season and that the Lord | will grant us that peace for a season I [do] not believe that Satan has power to [them?] in his power [—?] I believe that there is too much power for any | such course I do believe that Satan can’t do it there is another meeting for [ngt/next?] Tuesday and I say for [my?] satisfaction and being far from my | family75 the thing that I am going to say is I present it as an individual where I might act in my calling of my own will I should be | a spokesman for our prophet76 who has been taken from us I present to assembly for myself I understand the policy to be this this [house?] is | bound to establish for forever and thing that has been established in their full extent of their ministry and power that this is the [purest?]77 way of | [doing?]78 it in the same way as it was established and to sustain it in the same way as it was begun I do not seek any | action upon it79 but I offer it for my own satisfaction [remainder of line blank]
Pres Young80 If I can make the people hear I want their attention a few moments be perfectly still [—?]81 you can’t hear [remainder of line blank] | in the first place I have not asked any man or woman for their following I feel much better than a shiprat I can refrain from | weeping I have not I rise to set to this congregation that there [is] a spirit of being in a hurry to transact business here [where?] are any | laboring under a mistake I am sorry [—?]82 that the [LLS/LDS?] should be in a hurry and as there has been a meeting called for this day to [choose?] | for themselves an agent not knowing what has been [—?] we have [—?] a meeting for next T[uesday] I wanted to sit and weep 30 days before [the/a?] priesthood do business | but there is a spirit who shall be greatest in our midst and it will be foiled by that Jehovah and all things will be made right [remainder of line blank] | we are surrounded by enemies come [tkr?] this afternoon at 2 and there will [be] no meeting on T[uesday]. It is not the feelings of my | brethren83 in the name of the people84 I say we will have a meeting [—?]85 2 a show of hands86 my private feelings | must always bend for public good the [kmstrts/kmdrds] [must?] be in that [ltr/letter/later] for the general good of all and in regard to the [question?] | with poor J[oseph] S[mith] has been in a hurry I know now for myself [—?]87 and I wish I would hear from every E[lder] H[igh] P[riest]88 and all [—?]89 I want to know where | every brother90 is sister whether they will submit to the organization it is [illegible] a plan the [question?] is asked who will take J[oseph’s] place | he keeps it himself let every man stand in his own place and all will be peace and harmony = gather together all men | and there we can transact business right and when we can get all things right we can tell you all about it I want to know what | is in them I will [now?] want every man in his [trntl/trntion?] awake up at his post and all things will be right [remainder of line blank] | I will say to our brethren the H[igh]C[ouncil] take their seats by themselves PM91 take his seat here in this seat it will be proper | and right for every man be in his place Br[other] R[igdon] come and take his seat at our right hand then other H[igh] C[ouncil] then the L.B.92 | the other persons in their place this will be the right way [——?]93 resolves and we can do the business in 5 minutes and then [——?]94 | [you?] as well as we are we are not going to act against [each?] other and every man and woman will say Amen so must it be [end of document] [Notation on side of paper by Bullock:] August 8. 1844
Minutes of meeting a.m.