Search (

Request Baptism

Fellowship Locator

Scriptures Project

Doctrine of Christ Conference

Restoration Archives

Restoration Archives


Gospel Topics

Succession of the Presidency

For many years I have studied and written about the succession in the LDS presidency. I was fully converted to the process of how the the Quorum of the Twelve were automatically in charge as soon as the president died, because the First Presidency was dissolved. And since the Quorum of the Twelve was a quorum of equal authority (D&C 107:24), then it was obvious that they were now in charge. Also, since the president of the Quorum of Twelve apostles presided over that quorum, that meant that he immediately presided over the church.

However, it wasn't scriptural.or historically accurate.

D&C 107:22-26, 36

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.
23 The twelve traveling councilors are called to be the Twelve Apostles, or special witnesses of the name of Christ in all the world—thus differing from other officers in the church in the duties of their calling.
24 And they form a quorum, equal in authority and power to the three presidents previously mentioned.
25 The Seventy are also called to preach the gospel, and to be especial witnesses unto the Gentiles and in all the world—thus differing from other officers in the church in the duties of their calling.
26 And they form a quorum, equal in authority to that of the Twelve special witnesses or Apostles just named.
 . . .
36 The standing high councils, at the stakes of Zion, form a quorum equal in authority in the affairs of the church, in all their decisions, to the quorum of the presidency, or to the traveling high council.

Notice that we have four quorums that are all "equal in authority": First Presidency, Twelve Apostles, Seventy and High Council. We tend to think that only the First Presidency and Twelve Apostles are involved in succession in the presidency, but according to the scriptures we have at least two other quorums that have equal authority. As the revelations reveal, the Lord did not intend to build a hierarchical church structure. The citizens of Zion know the Lord (Jer. 31:34) and they don't require any man to speak for the Lord for they all shall know the Lord.

D&C 102:9-10

9 The president of the church, who is also the president of the council, is appointed by revelation, and acknowledged in his administration by the voice of the church.
10 And it is according to the dignity of his office that he should preside over the council of the church; and it is his privilege to be assisted by two other presidents, appointed after the same manner that he himself was appointed.

Joseph Smith

Making a Tradition

1. The Prophet will designate his successor

D&C 43:3-4

3 And this ye shall know assuredly—that there is none other appointed unto you to receive commandments and revelations until he be taken, if he abide in me.
4 But verily, verily, I say unto you, that none else shall be appointed unto this gift except it be through him; for if it be taken from him he shall not have power except to appoint another in his stead.

“Despite frequent kidnapping and assassination attempts, Joseph Smith established no firm policies regarding presidential succession in the event of his death. The resulting confusion threw the prophetic transition into turmoil. He simply had not expected to die at thirty-eight. Never given to full disclosure to any man or woman, the prophet’s public and private statements between 1834-44 suggested at least eight different methods for succession, each pointing to different successors with some claims to validity.” (“The Making of a Mormon Myth: The 1844 Transfiguration of Brigham Young,” Dialog, Vol. 28, No. 4, Winter 1995, 4, pdf)

Hyrum was designated to succeed Joseph Smith.

D&C 124:91-94
Hyrum Smith
91 And again, verily I say unto you, let my servant William be appointed, ordained, and anointed, as counselor unto my servant Joseph, in the room of my servant Hyrum, that my servant Hyrum may take the office of Priesthood and Patriarch, which was appointed unto him by his father, by blessing and also by right;
92 That from henceforth he shall hold the keys of the patriarchal blessings upon the heads of all my people,
93 That whoever he blesses shall be blessed, and whoever he curses shall be cursed; that whatsoever he shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever he shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
94 And from this time forth I appoint unto him that he may be a prophet, and a seer, and a revelator unto my church, as well as my servant Joseph;

2. Joseph Smith III was designated by his father to succeed him.

  • The Mark Hoffmann forgery might make us think that there was no real blessing of Joseph Smith III
  • He was blessed by his father in Liberty Jail (Joseph Smith III and the Restoration, page 13)
  • Lyman Wight wrote that after Liberty Jail, Joseph laid hand on Joseph and said, "You are my successor when I depart"
  • In the Red Brick Store, Young Joseph said, "About my selection by my father to be his successor in office, I remember of being called in his office, or into a room adjoining his office, and receiving the laying on of hands, and a prophetic blessing or setting apart, whatever it may be called" (Temple Lot Abstract, page 40) - James Whitehead, Joseph's private secretary testified of that meeting, "At that meeting Joseph Smith ... was selected by his father as his successor. He was ordained and anointed at that meeting. Hyrum Smith, the Patriarch, anointed him, and Joseph his father blessed him and ordained him, and Newell K. Whitney poured the oil on his head, and he was set apart to be his father's successor in office, holding all the powers that his father held.... I was there too. (Temple Lot Abstract, page 28)
  • James Whitehead also testified that Joseph was designated as a successor to Joseph Smith Jr. at a meeting in a Nauvoo grove before 3,000 people.
    "The church did take action as a body on the question of the ordination of young Joseph as his father's successor; the church consented to it. That was done first by the indorsement of the High Council, and then it was brought up before the whole body of the congregation, the whole people; and there were thousands there. That was done at the meeting held in the grove at the east end of the temple. I should think there were three thousand (3,000) there.
    There was a record kept of it, but the record was taken to Salt Lake. I was present on that occasion. There was a vote taken, the congregation voted, and agreed to the appointment of young Joseph as the successor of his father.... A negative vote was taken, but nobody voted in the negative." (Temple Lot Abstract, page 33)

However, he was only 11 years old when Joseph Smith Jr. was killed. Joseph Smith III was not ready to assume such a position until directed by God to join with the Reorganized church in 1860.

3. What about the other members of the 1st Presidency.

Is it possible that Sidney Rigdon as First Councilor would have the right to succeed Joseph? We have D&C 90:6 that says that Sidney and Frederick G. Williams were equal in holding the keys.

6 And again, verily I say unto thy brethren, Sidney Rigdon and Frederick G. Williams, their sins are forgiven them also, and they are accounted as equal with thee in holding the keys of this last kingdom; (D&C 90:6)
We also have the words in D&C 102 that indicate that the councilors can take over without the president.
9 The president of the church, who is also the president of the council, is appointed by revelation, and acknowledged in his administration by the voice of the church.
10 And it is according to the dignity of his office that he should preside over the council of the church; and it is his privilege to be assisted by two other presidents, appointed after the same manner that he himself was appointed.
11 And in case of the absence of one or both of those who are appointed to assist him, he has power to preside over the council without an assistant; and in case he himself is absent, the other presidents have power to preside in his stead, both or either of them.

Section 107:22-24 indicates that the First Presidency and the Twelve are quorums that are equal in authority.

Does the First Presidency exist if the president dies? That question is apparently answered by a statement by Joseph Smith.

also the Twelve are not subject to any other than the first Presidency, viz., "myself," said the Prophet, "Sidney Rigdon, and Frederick G. Williams, who are now my Counselors; and where I am not, there is no First Presidency over the Twelve. The Prophet also stated to the Twelve that he did not countenance the harsh language of President Cowdery to them" (History of the Church, 2:374)
However, the words in bold are not part of the original record as shown in the Joseph Smith Papers.

Statement about First Presidency

So maybe Sidney did have a valid claim to succession over and above the Twelve.

4. We have to find another way (The designated way isn't working).

  1. Joseph's brothers Hyrum and Samuel both died within a month of Joseph's death.
  2. As noted above the High Council and Seventy are equal in authority to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
  3. There was no revelation received to re-organize the First Presidency as required by D&C 102:9.
  4. Rigdon might have had a valid claim to the leadership as one of the members of the First Presidency.
  5. Brigham didn't consider himself to be Joseph Successor.

What of Joseph Smith's family? What of his boys? I have prayed from the beginning for sister Emma and for the whole family. There is not a man in this Church that has entertained better feelings towards them. Joseph said to me, "God will take care of my children when I am taken." They are in the hands of God, and when they make their appearance before this people, full of his power, there are none but what will say—"Amen! we are ready to receive you."

The brethren testify that brother Brigham is brother Joseph's legal successor. You never heard me say so. I say that I am a good hand to keep the dogs and wolves out of the flock I do not care a groat who rises up. I do not think anything about being Joseph's successor. (Journal of Discourses 8:69).

5. Wasn't Brigham Young "transfigured" on August 8, 1844?

    Brigham Young
  1. No contemporary accounts. The first mention of something special came many years later.
  2. The church was sustaining the Quorum of Twelve apostles to lead the church, not Brigham Young.
  3. Testimonies from John D. Lee and Apostle Orson Hyde are marvelous and specific, but they were not in Nauvoo at the time and therefor could not have witnessed the event they describe.
  4. Why did Brigham Young only give us one revelation?
  5. Brigham had to convince most of the Twelve Apostles that the First Presidency needed to be organized.
Considerable opposition to Brigham Young establishing a First Presidency is evident in original, unaltered accounts. Particularly outspoken were Wilford Woodruff, Orson Pratt, and to a lesser degree John Taylor, Parley P. Pratt, George A. Smith, and Amasa Lyman. The number of meetings on the topic is ample proof of contention. Woodruff told Young on 12 October 1847 that he felt it "would require revelation to change the order of that Quorum." (Kenney, Wilford Woodruff's Journal, 3:283) Six weeks later Woodruff, again objecting to Young's formation of a First Presidency, said that if three were taken out of the Twelve it seemed like "severing the body in two." Furthermore, if the Quorum of the Twelve surrendered its power "unto three" he added, "I should be totally opposed to it." Pratt's viewpoint was that the "head of the church consists of the Apostleship united together." (5 Dec. 1847, Miscellaneous Minutes, Brigham Young Collection, ms. 1234 box 47, fd. 4.) The matter was not resolved until a lengthy, emotion-filled meeting of the quorum on 5 December 1847 that didn't include some of the members who were opposed.

        Brigham Young didn't feel comfortable with the title of prophet

"For the first time in my life, for the first time in your lives, for the first time in the kingdom of God in the 19th century, without a Prophet at our head . . . Heretofore you have had a prophet as the mouth of the Lord to speak to you. But he [Joseph Smith] has sealed his testimony with his blood, and now, for the first time, are you called to walk by faith, and not by sight. . . . You cannot fill the office of a prophet, seer and revelator: God must do this. You are like children without a father and sheep without a shepherd."  August 8th, 1844 discourse (Complete Discourses of Brigham Young, pg 20)

“I am not a visionary man, neither am I given much to prophesying. When I want any of that done I call on brother Heber—he is my Prophet, he loves to prophesy, and I love to hear him” - April 6, 1853 (Journal of Discourses, 1:132-133).

"I am not going to interpret dreams; for I don't profess to be such a Prophet as were Joseph Smith and Daniel; but I am a Yankee guesser” (July 26 1857 - Journal of Discourses 5:77)

October 6, 1857:
We will attend to the business of the Conference first, and then dismiss until afternoon.
[After putting the motion for himself to be sustained as "Prophet, Seer, and Revelator," the President remarked:—]
I will say that I never dictated the latter part of that sentence. I make this remark, because those words in that connection always made me feel as though I am called more than I am deserving of. I am Brigham Young, an Apostle of Joseph Smith, and also of Jesus Christ. If I have been profitable to this people, I am glad of it. The brethren call me so; and if it be so, I am glad. (Journal of Discourses 5:296)

“I do not want to skip Joseph, Peter, Jesus, Moses and go to my Father in Heaven. All I ask for is to be guided by the spirit of Joseph, then let others be governed by their head, or priesthood. Joseph enjoyed the priviliges which I never thought I had. Joseph was called of God. I was called of Joseph.” (The Complete Discourses of Brigham Young, Vol. 2, p. 1108.)

6. The new President of the Church is Ordained or Set Apart.

  1. Brigham was never ordained as the president or prophet of the church.
    1. Who ordained me to be First President of this Church on earth? I answer, It is the choice of this people, and that is sufficient. (April 7, 1852 discourse -- Millennial Star, Vol. 16, p. 442).

  2. Lorenzo Snow was the first president to be ordained (set apart) by the apostles.
    1. A solemn assemble ratified the appointment of Lorenzo Snow on 10 Oct. 1898. After the conference they ordained the new apostle, Rudger Clawson. After that, Franklin D. Richards records:

        President Snow with 14 hands on his head was set apart and blessed by GQ Cannon then Pres. Snow and 14 blest GQ Cannon as his First and Jos. F. Smith as his 2nd Counselor. . . .

      "For the first time, a Church president had been 'ordained' as president by his fellow apostles. Each apostle thus symbolically yielded his keys to the senior apostle. It was a gesture of unity, an outward sign that there was but one head of the Church at a time, even though each apostle received the 'keys of the kingdom' at ordination. This innovation became the standard procedure at all reorganizations after President Joseph F. Smith." (Steven H. Heath, Notes on Apostolic Succession, Dialogue vol. 20, no 2, p. 49)

  3. Joseph F. Smith was ordained by John Smith, the presiding patriarch.

"At the reorganization meeting, President Smith called upon his brother John Smith, the patriarch, to set him apart as president of the Church. It was the first time the Patriarch to the Church had ever been involved in a reorganization meeting. A natural question was: Did the patriarch have the authority to set a president apart?" (Steven H. Heath, Notes on Apostolic Succession, Dialogue vol. 20, no 2, p. 51)

7. The prophet is called until he dies

The following prophet/presidents have been incapacitated during the end of their lives.
  • John Taylor
  • David O. McKay
  • Joseph Fielding Smith
  • Spencer W. Kimball
  • Ezra Taft Benson
  • Howard W. Hunter
David O. McKay, who led the church from 1951 to 1970, was housebound and incapacitated during his last few years, as was Ezra Taft Benson, president from 1985 to 1994.
Howard W. Hunter suffered ill health for a number of years before becoming LDS Church president in 1994. He fought off depression when his wife, Clara, died in 1983. He was in a coma for three weeks after gall-bladder surgery in 1992; he died at 87 in 1995, after prostate cancer had spread to his bones. ("Hinckley has been remarkably healthy", Salt Lake Tribune, Jan. 26, 2006)

If it is God's plan to keep a prophet until he died, why would the Lord not take him before that prophet has no power over the church corporation? Ezra Taft Benson was not in control for the last year of his life.

Date: August 15, 1993 COPYRIGHT 1993, THE SALT LAKE TRIBUNE

Documents on file with the state of Utah are strong evidence that the parent corporation of the Mormon Church no longer is being directed by its president, Ezra Taft Benson.
Two certificates of authority filed in May 1989 gave absolute control over the Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to counselors Gordon B. Hinckley and Thomas S. Monson. . . .

8. God's Plan or Man's Plan

Succession started with the understanding that they would need a revelation from God (D&C 102:9), but it evolved into a principle that succession should automatically pass to the president of the Quorum of the Twelve UNLESS God gives a revelation to the contrary. It seems that we have developed a man-made system that removes the will of God and defines that we already know what God wants, unless he contradicts our will.

This seems a little backwards.

Actually, since 1940 succession is defined by legal documents.

of the


HEBER J. GRANT, being first duly sworn, deposes and says:

That he is now and for more than twenty years last past has been the duly chosen and appointed President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and as such President has been since on or about the 26th day of November, 1923, and now is, the legally constituted Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter=day Saints, a corporation sole; that under and pursuant to Section 18-7-5 R.S.U. 1933 he hereby amends Article "Fourth" of said Articles of Incorporation as now of record in the proper offices of this and other states, said article as amended to read as follows:


Fourth: The title of the person making these articles of incorporation is "President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." He and his successor in office shall be deemed and are hereby created a body politic and corporation sole with perpetual succession, having all the powers and rights and authority in these articles specified or provided for by law. But in the event of the death or resignation from office of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or in the event of a vacancy in that office from any cause, the President or Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of said Church, or one of the members of said Quorum thereunto designated by that Quorum, shall, pending the installation of a successor President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, be the corporation sole under these articles, and the laws pursuant to which they are made, and shall be and is authorized in his official capacity to execute in the name of the corporation all documents or other writings necessary to the carrying on of its purposes, business and objects, and to do all things in the name of the corporation which the original signer of the articles of incorporation might do; it being the purpose of these articles that there shall be no failure in succession in the office of such corporation sole.

[Signed] Heber J. Grant
President of the Church of Jesus
Christ of Latter-day Saints,
corporation sole.

Subscribed and sworn to before me this 18 day of June, 1940.
[the name of Notary Public not shown on copy of amendment]

(Original in State of Utah Archives, Salt Lake City, Utah)

9. Apostolic Coup d’etat by: Radio Free Mormon - Bill Reel

He reviews the historical takeover of the church by the Quorum of the Twelve and why originally they never had anything to do with the leadership of the church. They were involved in missionary work. During the time of Joseph Smith, he never had an Apostle as a counselor in the First Presidency.

It discusses how the Twelve overcame those who might have a right to lead the church and also discusses the death of Samuel Smith 1 month after the deaths of Joseph and Hyrum.