Question: What indications were there that Brigham Young would be Joseph Smith's successor?

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Question: What indications were there that Brigham Young would be Joseph Smith's successor?

Statements indicating that Brigham would be Joseph's successor

Below are statements from contemporaries that indicate Brigham's place as rightful successor to Joseph Smith. In addition to these, one should see the 100+ statements that John Welch has compiled in Opening the Heavens that indicate Brigham's rightful place as successor to Joseph Smith.

Receiving All Ordinances as Member of the Quorum of the Anointed

From Church History Topics, “Anointed Quorum (‘Holy Order’)”:

On May 4, 1842, Joseph Smith introduced the temple endowment to a group of nine close associates in an upper room of his Nauvoo store. Over the next two years, Joseph administered this ordinance to more than 50 additional men and women. This group received a ceremonial washing and anointing as part of the endowment, and were later called the “anointed Quorum,” “the Quorum,” the “council,” or the “Holy Order.”

An 1841 revelation to Joseph Smith taught that the endowment was to be given to Church members in the completed Nauvoo Temple. But according to Orson Hyde, Joseph explained, “I don’t know what it is, but the Lord bids me to hasten and give you your endowment before the temple is finished.” He selected men and women whom he trusted would treat the sacred ordinances of the temple with reverence and confidentiality. Heber C. Kimball, one of the original members of the Anointed Quorum, explained that Joseph “got a small company” that “he can open his bosom to and feel himself safe.”

[. . .]

After Joseph Smith’s martyrdom, participation in the Anointed Quorum figured prominently in the debate over who would succeed the Prophet. One powerful aspect of the case made by the Quorum of the Twelve in the weeks following Joseph’s death was that they, unlike rival claimant Sidney Rigdon, had received all the temple ordinances and had been authorized by Joseph Smith to give them to others.[1]

Rocky Mountain Prophecy

Shortly before his death, Joseph Smith prophesied that the Saints would move west. This prophecy has become known as the Rocky Mountain Prophecy. This validates the claim of Brigham Young to be the true successor of Joseph.

Benjamin Franklin Johnson

“Of Brigham Young as President of the Church, I will again bear this as a faithful testimony that I do know and bear record that upon the head of Brigham Young as chief, with the Apostleship in full, was by the voice of the Prophet Joseph in my hearing, laid the full responsibility of bearing of[f] the kingdom of God to all the world . . . . [When Brigham Young first met Joseph Smith and spoke in tongues in the Adamic languaue the Prophet] at that time, made the prediction upon the head of Brigham Young that ‘at some period he would become the leader of the Church, and that there would be one danger to beset him, and that would be his love of wealth.’ These things were told to me by [Lyman R.] Sherman [i.e., Johnson’s brother-in-law] at near the time of their occurrence” (E. Dale LeBaron, Benjamin Franklin Johnson: Friend to the Prophets [Provo, Utah: Grandin Book Co., 1997], 232, 233).

Brigham Young

“I can say of a truth that Joseph told me not three months before he was killed, and I did not seek the information he gave me—we were talking upon counseling, governing and controlling—that ‘if I am moved out of the way, you are the only man living on this earth who can counsel and direct the affairs of the kingdom of God on the earth’” ("Remarks by President Brigham Young at the Semi Annual Conference, Great Salt Lake City, Oct. 8, 1866," LDS Church Archives, Salt Lake City, Utah. Spelling, punctuation, and grammar modernized).

William Nelson

“I have heard the Prophet speak in public on many occasions. In one meeting I heard him say, ‘I will give you a key that will never rust. If you will stay with the majority of the Twelve Apostles, and the records of the Church, you will never be led astray’” (Young Woman’s Journal, December 1906, 542–43).

Oliver Cowdery

“There was no salvation but in the valley and through the priesthood there.” (Letter, Phineas Young to Brigham Young, April 25, 1850, Brigham Young Collection, LDS Church Archives, Salt Lake City, Utah.

Martin Harris

"Brigham is governor" (----------).

Mosiah Hancock

"When the Prophet had his hand upon my father's head, I said to myself, 'I trust that I will be as true to young Joseph, the Prophet's son, as my father is to his father.' Afterwards at home, I told my father of my thoughts, and he said, 'No, Mosiah, for God has shown to Brother Joseph that his son, Joseph, will be the means of drawing many people away from this Church after him. Brother Joseph gave us to understand that it was our duty to follow the Twelve. The majority of this people will be right" (Amy E. Baird, Victoria H. Jackson, and Laura L. Wassell, comp., "Autobiography of Mosiah Hancock (1834-1865)," typescript copy, BYU Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Provo, Utah, 27-29.

Joseph Smith

“where I am not, there is no First Presidency over the Twelve” [TPJS, 106]. (ftnt. #23): Some recent historians have asserted that this statement is not found in the original minutes of the 1836 meeting. Even so, the insertion in the Joseph Smith history in the 1850s can still be accepted as valid, for the compilers of that history, Wilford Woodruff and George A. Smith, were contemporaries of the Prophet and “were eye and ear witnesses of nearly all the transactions recorded . . . , and, where they were not personally present, they have had access to those who were” (quoted in Dean C. Jessee, “The Writing of Joseph Smith’s History,” BYU Studies 11 (Summer 1971): 473). President Brigham Young understood this concept, as have all other Church Presidents who have authoritatively used this statement as a key principle in succession to the presidency. (Brent L. Top and Lawrence R. Flake, Ensign, August 1996)

Further Reading

  • D. Michael Quinn has done excellent work on the succession Crisis through BYU Studies which can be found here.
  • Also see this video from LDS Truth Claims that explains all criticisms in detail and points to additional sources for learning.
  • Video from Brian Jensen of the Church History Department


  1. Anointed Quorum (‘Holy Order’),” Church History Topics.