Brigham Young | BYU Studies

Brigham Young

The Emergence of Brigham Young and the Twelve to Mormon Leadership, 1830–1841

This study investigates Brigham Young and his fellow apostles in the 1830s as they gradually became an effective quorum and moved toward eventual ascendancy. It examines the all-encompassing religious framework from which Brigham Young acted and uses it to shed light on both the complex issues confronting early Mormons and on his emergence as a leader.


The Mantle of the Prophet Joseph Passes to Brother Brigham: One Hundred Twenty-nine Testimonies of a Collective Spiritual Witness

Author Lynne Watkins Jorgensen,
This Bookshelf Single is an excerpt from the book Opening the Heavens: Accounts of Divine Manifestations, 1820–1844, Second Edition. On August 8, 1844, six weeks after the Prophet Joseph Smith's martyrdom, a meeting of the Saints was held in Nauvoo, Illinois. Brigham Young, President of the Quorum of the Twelve, and several other Apostles had just returned from missions. The purpose of the... Read more

The Priesthood Reorganization of 1877: Brigham Young's Last Achievement

Practical application of revelations about the priesthood required creativity and innovation because the revelations did not always say how. By 1877, Brigham Young knew he had to act to reorder the organization of the priesthood quorums. This reorganization involved every stake, 241 wards, hundreds of quorums, and more than a thousand leadership positions. He had already reordered the seniority... Read more

Brigham Young's Ideal Society: The Kingdom of God

The idea of an ideal society, a Utopia, has existed and been articulated throughout the ages by Plato, Cicero, St. Augustine, and even Marx, all of who, in turn, came up with their own idealistic state of living. But Brigham Young took the Utopian idea and connected it to the gospel of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His ideal society was the kingdom of God beginning even before... Read more

Darryl F. Zanuck's Brigham Young: A Film in Context

When Darryl F. Zanuck's Brigham Young was first released in 1940, President Heber J. Grant of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints praised the motion picture as a "friendmaker." The prestigious Hollywood studio Twentieth Century Fox had spent more money on it than most motion pictures made up to that time. Its simultaneous premiere in seven theaters in one city (still a world record)... Read more

Brigham Young and the Mission of Mormonism

For the most part, Brigham Young chose to ignore his critics, but on occasion he personally responded to them. The letter printed below contains Brigham Young's 1869 answer to a newspaper editor's question, "What is the mission of the Mormons?" Mormonism's fruits, Brigham attested, substantiated its faith claims. Read more

Father Brigham in His Western Canaan

If you were to paint a word picture of Brigham Young by comparing him to an earlier spiritual leader, to whom would you compare him? Maybe the most dramatic comparison comes from that pivotal moment when he spoke to nearly five thousands Saints gathered in Nauvoo to select those who would take the reins of leadership in the restored Church. To many, including my own forebears, as he delivered his... Read more

A Man of God and a Good Kind Father: Brigham Young at Home

*This article is cited as a reference in an expanded Gospel Topic at On January 31, 1857, Brigham Young walked into the Church Historian's Office in Salt Lake City and gave instructions that he wanted very little about his family included in the history of the Church. His reticence no doubt stemmed from people's curiosity about the Mormon leader's polygamous lifestyle, which subjected... Read more

A Landowner Chides Brigham Young for Not Speaking to Him at Buffalo Canyon, and Receives an Answer

Thomas A. Kuhlman acquires a small piece of land he named Buffalo Canyon situated just outside of Florence, Nebraska, between Mill Creek Valley and Ponca Hills. He writes of the historical significance of the land, telling of the times he sat on the land reading histories of the fur traders, of Lewis and Clark's crossing the Missouri, of protection provided by soldiers at Fort Atkinson, and of... Read more

Brigham Young's Word of Wisdom Legacy

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... Read more

Brigham Young on the Social Order

In our mind's eye we can see Brigham Young stepping to the pulpit. He often preaches about the proper social order. What role should women and men have in an ideal society? What should be the function of work, education, and recreation? His views are not simply Christian homily. Born in upstate New York in 1801, Brigham Young is a child of America's "golden age of community experiments" and a... Read more

A Mysterious Image: Brigham Young with an Unknown Wife

Of the hundreds of images of Brigham Young, until recently only two were known that show Brigham posing with one of his wives. While rumors of a third such image have existed for some time, no one could find a copy of it until this year. What we found was a photograph of the original daguerreotype (fig. 1); the original itself, printed on a small copper plate, is still missing. This rumored image... Read more

The Lion and the Lioness: Brigham Young and Eliza R. Snow

He was born in 1801, she in 1804. He was a man known for his humor and gruffness, she a woman known for her sobriety and refinement. He preached unforgettable sermons, though he never learned to spell. She wrote reams of poetry and songs. He provided her a home as one of his wives for thirty years, but she never took his name. Both he and she were passionately devoted to the Prophet Joseph Smith... Read more

Educating the Saints—A Brigham Young Mosaic

Brigham Young was a prophet who passionately expressed his views that followers of God should seek education. He had an eye single to the glory of God and wanted the Mormons to use the material goods of the world as a means to serve God. Many converts to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Young's day were uneducated, and he insisted that they had a duty to learn all they could of... Read more

Wandering On to Glory

In this essay, the author contrasts a journey with a commute. A journey involves none of the sameness or boredom of a commute. It is movement from point A to point B, pressing forward toward a goal or final destination in mind. It is Huckleberry Finn on the river, Frodo Baggins carrying the ring to Mordor, the Joads struggling toward an elusive California promised land. A commute, by contrast, is... Read more

Brigham Young to Mary Ann Young: August 17, 1843

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A Superlative Image: An Original Daguerreotype of Brigham Young

In July 2005, the Deseret Morning News in Salt Lake City published a story with the punning headline "Old Young Photo donated to BYU." Even though Mark and Suzanne Richards had donated the rare 1850s daguerreotype of Brigham Young to BYU in December 2004, the donation did not draw media attention until just days before the July 24 pioneer holiday in Utah. For historians, especially photographic... Read more

"Cows to Milk Instead of Novels to Read": Brigham Young, Novel Reading, and Kingdom Building

It is instructive to observe how literally sophisticated Latter-day Saints scramble to defend the contemporary, universal embrace of imaginative fiction in general and the novel in particular against the single-minded, single-eyed, and vigorous attacks of President Brigham Young. During his thirty-year tenure as President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Brother Brigham, as he... Read more

A Brigham Young Letter to George Q. Cannon, 1859

In late 1859, Utah and the Mormon church were trying to return to conditions as they were prior to the disruptions of the Utah War. The full effects of the disruptive "move south" were not yet entirely realized or reconciled, and the citizens were trying to adjust to a new political situation in which the Mormons were no longer in control of any of the appointive government offices in the... Read more

The Wealth of Knowledge, Excerpts from the Writing of Brigham Young

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An Epistle of the Twelve, March 1842

On March 20, 1842, ten members of the Twelve Apostles composed a long epistle to the Saints in Europe providing directives for immigration. The document reveals the way the Twelve planned to move converts from Europe to the Nauvoo area and the way resources would be provided for the Nauvoo Temple and Nauvoo House. The document also provides a window into the broader contours of Church governance... Read more

The Mantle of the Prophet Joseph Passes to Brother Brigham: A Collective Spiritual Witness

On August 8, 1844, six weeks after the Prophet Joseph Smith's martyrdom, a meeting of the Saints was held in Nauvoo, Illinois. Brigham Young, President of the Quorum of the Twelve, and several other Apostles had just returned from missions. The purpose of the meeting was to determine by vote who had the right and responsibility to lead the Church--Sidney Rigdon, First Counselor in the First... Read more

Leopold Bierwirth's Impressions of Brigham Young and the Mormons, 1872

Tourists frequently passed through Salt Lake City after the transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869. Many visitors recorded their impressions of the city and its inhabitants. One visitor, Leopold Bierwirth, a New York City merchant, kept a diary during his 1872 railroad journey from New York to San Francisco. The diary is similar to other travel narratives but contains much more detail... Read more

President Young Writes Jefferson Davis about the Gunnison Massacre Affair

John W. Gunnison was a West Point graduate who had been sent to Utah 1849–50 as an assistant for Captain Howard Stansbury's topographical survey. Wintering in the Utah territory, Gunnison found time to study his unusual hosts and their singular religion. The result was his influential book, The Mormons , in which he attempted to navigate the usual extremes of the time, Mormon polemics and gentile... Read more

Letters of a Missionary Apostle to His Wife: Brigham Young to Mary Ann Angell Young, 1839–1841

The Quorum of the Twelve's mission to the British Isles impacted not only the Church, but also the personal lives of the missionaries. Brigham Young creates a tender personal portrait in nine never-before-published letters to his wife. Read more

The Reflections of Brigham Young on the Nature of Man and the State

"The religious consciousness asserts both the sovereignty of God and the freedom of man," according to Donald MacKenzie; and he added: "It is the task of theology to furnish a Weltanschauung consistent with both these positions." The nature of man and his relationship to God are fundamental to the theologian. The nature of man and his relationship to society are basic to the political theorist... Read more

The Religious and Family Background of Brigham Young

Brigham Young, until age thirty-one, was a painter and carpenter of less-than-modest origins from western New York. He was raised by parents who inclined toward the excitable brand of Methodism and, from age fourteen on, sought a peaceful, regulated, unexcitable life of hoped-for prosperity. Though dutiful enough a believer, he preferred to be known as an honest, hard-working, thorough craftsman... Read more

Inside Brigham Young: Abrahamic Tests as Preparation for Leadership

Rare personal (holograph) writings where Brigham Young bares his soul during times of trial provide some of the best windows to his inner self. Of these, none is better than a recently available holograph letter from Brigham Young, written while he was in England, to his wife, who remained in Nauvoo. This letter—really a series of letters—was written more than a year after Brigham's last glimpse... Read more

Finalizing Plans for the Trek West: Deliberations at Winter Quarters 1846–1847

Those focusing only on Nauvoo difficulties and deliberations for the Mormon exodus to "Zion" have overlooked the intense planning sessions at Winter Quarters on the west side of the Missouri River during the winter of 1846–47. Nauvoo was left in haste long before the final details of the westward march had solidified. Due to the weather, disorganization, lack of preparation, and recurring... Read more

Joseph, Brigham and the Twelve: A Succession of Continuity

The tragic murder of Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum in June 1844 sent shockwaves through Nauvoo. Despair and bewilderment combined with pervasive sorrow as the reality of the calamity settled over the city. Some, fearing that the internal dissension that had contributed to the Prophet's death would intensify, must have wondered whether the Church could survive. A visitor to Nauvoo a few... Read more

A Letter from Brigham Young and Daniel H. Wells, 1857

On July 24, 1857, while the residents of the Territory of Utah gathered in Big Cottonwood Canyon to celebrate the decennial anniversary of the pioneers' entrance into Salt Lake Valley, a runner arrived with the news that an army was approaching Utah to quell what was understood in the East to be an outright rebellion. Brigham Young and his advisers began immediate plans for the defense of the... Read more

Brigham Young's Family

By concentrating only upon the extensive sources of Brigham Young's public life, the writer glimpses but the tip of the iceberg as far as Brigham's personal struggles in life are concerned, because these public sources indicate little of the depth of his effort to care for his family. This was intentional on Brigham's part. Living in an era when curious minds were constantly seeking a glimpse of... Read more

Brigham's Gospel Kingdom

Brigham Young was famous for encouraging his people to develop their divine potential. He was intent on fulfilling his growing vision of the promise he had made the Nauvoo Saints in the dark hour of their bewilderment at Joseph's death: "There is an Almighty foundation laid, and we can build a kingdom such as there never was in this world." And that is what they did—after the trial of the Nauvoo... Read more

Authorship of the History of Brigham Young: A Review Essay

In this pointed review, Howard Seale leaves Leland Nelson with no justification for his inaccurate and misleading "journal" of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Nelson has compiled an interesting narrative of first person passages from the history of the church in an attempt to expand the familiar Joseph Smith story into an entire volume. In doing this he has included a great deal of material that was... Read more

Woman's Place in Brigham Young's World

The recent involvement of historians in women's studies has sparked new interest in the lives of Mormon women. The period that has received the most attention from current scholars is the 1870s, 1880s, and 1890s, the time when Mormon women emerged into public life. The administration of Brigham Young coincides with the first part of this span, and with good reason. Young himself was in part... Read more

Brigham Young and Priesthood Denial to the Blacks: An Alternate View

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Brigham and Heber

For over thirty-nine years Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball were as close and dedicated to a common cause as any two men could be. This friendship was so enduring and intense that it may be unique. One is drawn to the classics or the Old Testament for such parallels as Damon and Pythias, Castor and Pollux, or David and Jonathan. But even these friendships are not comparable for they were of... Read more

George Francis Train and Brigham Young

One of the most unusual literary productions to appear following the death of Brigham Young was a lengthy "poem" by George Francis Train. First published in the Buffalo Agitator, "The Death of Brigham Young" was reprinted in the Deseret News on 17 October 1877, less than two months after the presidents death. In order to appreciate it we must have some idea who George Francis Train was and what... Read more

Brigham Young's Family: The Wilderness Years

After returning from England in 1841, Brigham Young faced one of the sternest tests of his life—a test that was to have sobering and far-reaching implications for himself and the structure of his family. It came when Joseph Smith privately introduced the principle of plural marriage to him as a divine commandment. None "could have been more averse to it than I was when it was first revealed," he... Read more

Brigham Young on Politics and Priesthood

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