Rivalries Over The Succession

Rigdon was not alone in contending for the successorship to

Joseph Smith as the head of the Mormon church. The prophet's

family defended vigorously the claim of his eldest son to be his

successor.* Lee says that the prophet had bestowed the right of

succession on his eldest son by divination, and that "it was then

[after his father's death understood among the Saints that young

Joseph was to succeed his father, and that right justly belonged

to him," when he should be old enough. Lee says further that he

heard the prophet's mother plead with Brigham Young, in Nauvoo,

in 1845, with tears, not to rob young Joseph of his birthright,

and that Young conceded the son's claim, but warned her to keep

quiet on the subject, because "you are only laying the knife to

the throat of the child. If it is known that he is the rightful

successor of his father, the enemy of the Priesthood will seek

his life."** Strang says, "Anyone who was in Nauvoo in 1846 or

1847 knows that the majority of those who started to the Western

exodus, started in this hope," that the younger Joseph would take

his father's place .***

* The prophet's sons were Joseph, born November 6, 1832; Fred G.

W., June 20, 1836; Alexander, June 2, 1838; Don Carlos, June 13,

1840; and David H., November 18, 1844.

** "Mormonism Unveiled," pp. 155, 161.

*** Strang's "Prophetic Controversy," p. 4.

At the last day of the Conference held in the Temple in Nauvoo,

in October, 1845, Mother Smith, at her request, was permitted to

make an address. She went over the history of her family, and

asked for an expression of opinion whether she was "a mother in

Israel." One universal "yes" rang out. She said she hoped all her

children would accompany the Saints to the West, and if they did

she would go; but she wanted her bones brought back to be buried

beside her husband and children. Brigham Young then said: "We

have extended the helping hand to Mother Smith. She has the best

carriage in the city, and, while she lives, shall ride in it when

and where she pleases." * Mother Smith died in the summer of 1856

in Nauvoo, where she spent the last two years of her life with

Joseph's first wife, Emma, who had married a Major Bideman.

* Millennial Star, Vol. VII, p. 23.

Emma caused the Twelve a good deal of anxiety after her husband's

death. Pratt describes a council held by her, Marks, and others

to endeavor to appoint a trustee-in-trust for the whole church,

the necessity of which she vigorously urged. Pratt opposed the

idea, and nothing was done about it.* Soon after her husband's

death the Times and Seasons noticed a report that she was

preparing, with the assistance of one of the prophet's Iowa

lawyers, an exposure of his "revelations," etc. James Arlington

Bennett, who visited Nauvoo after the prophet's death, acting as

correspondent for the New York Sun, gave in one of his letters

the text of a statement which he said Emma had written, to this

effect, "I never for a moment believed in what my husband called

his apparitions or revelations, as I thought him laboring under a

diseased mind; yet they may all be true, as a prophet is seldom

without credence or honor, excepting in his own family or

country." Mrs. Smith, in a letter to the Sun, dated December 30,

1845, pronounced this letter a forgery, while Bennett maintained

that he knew that it was genuine.**

*Pratt's "Autobiography," p. 373.

** Emma Smith is described as "a tall, dark, masculine looking

woman" in "Sketches and Anecdotes of the Old Settlers."

The organization--or, as they define it, the reorganization of a

church by those who claim that the mantle of Joseph Smith, Jr.,

descended on his sons, had its practical inception at a

conference at Beloit, Wisconsin, in June, 1852, at which

resolutions were adopted disclaiming all fellowship with Young

and other claimants to the leadership of the church, declaring

that the successor of the prophet "must of necessity be the seed

of Joseph Smith, Jr." At a conference held in Amboy, Illinois, in

April, 1860, Joseph Smith's son and namesake was placed at the

head of this church, a position which he still holds. The

Reorganized Church has been twice pronounced by United States

courts to be the one founded under the administration of the

prophet. Its teachings may be called pure Mormonism, free from

the doctrines engrafted in after years. It holds that "the

doctrines of a plurality and community of wives are heresies, and

are opposed to the law of God." Its declaration of faith declares

its belief in baptism by immersion, the same kind of organization

(apostles, prophets, pastors, etc.) that existed in the primitive

church, revelations by God to man from time to time "until the

end of time," and in "the powers and gifts of the everlasting

gospel, viz., the gift of faith, discerning of spirits, prophesy,

revelation, healing, visions, tongues, and the interpretation of

tongues." No one ever heard of this church having any trouble

with its Gentile neighbors.

The Reorganized Church moved its headquarters to Lamoni, Iowa, in

1881. It has a present membership of 45,381, according to the

report of the General Church Recorder to the conference of April,

1901. Of these members, 6964 were foreign,--286 in Canada, 1080

in England, and 1955 in the Society Islands. The largest

membership in this country is 7952 in Iowa, 6280 in Missouri, and

3564 in Michigan. Utah reported 685 members.

The most determined claimant to the successorship of Smith was

James J. Strang. Born at Scipio, New York, in 1813, Strang was

admitted to the bar when a young man, and moved to Wisconsin.

Some of the Mormons who went into the north woods to get lumber

for the Nauvoo Temple planted a Stake near La Crosse, under Lyman

Wight, in 1842. Trouble ensued very soon with their non-Mormon

neighbors, and after a rather brief career the supporters of this

Stake moved away quietly one night. Strang heard of the Mormon

doctrines from these settlers, accepted their truth, and visiting

Nauvoo, was baptized in February, 1844, made an elder, and

authorized to plant another Stake in Wisconsin. He first

attempted to found a city called Voree, where a temple covering

more than two acres of ground, with twelve towers, was begun.

When Smith was killed, Strang at once came forward with a

declaration that the prophet's revelations indicated that, at the

close of his own prophetic office, another would be called to the

place by revelation, and ordained at the hands of angels; that

not only had he (Strang) been so ordained, but that Smith had

written to him in June, 1844, predicting the end of his own work,

and telling Strang that he was to gather the people in a Zion in

Wisconsin. Strang began at once giving out revelations,

describing visions, and announcing that an angel had shown him

"plates of the sealed record," and given him the Urim and Thummim

to translate them.

Although Strang's whole scheme was a very clumsy imitation of

Smith's, he drew a considerable number of followers to his

Wisconsin branch, where he published a newspaper called the Voree

Herald, and issued pamphlets in defence of his position, and a

"Book of the Law," explaining his doctrinal teachings, which

included polygamy. He had five wives. His Herald printed a

statement, signed by the prophet's mother and his brother

William, his three married sisters, and the husband of one of

them, certifying that "the Smith family do believe in the

appointment of J. J. Strang." Among other Mormons of note who

gave in their allegiance to Strang were John E. Page, one of the

Twelve (whom Phelps had called "the sun-dial"), General John C.

Bennett, and Martin Harris.

Strang gave the Mormon leaders considerable anxiety, especially

when he sent missionaries to England to work up his cause. The

Millennial Star of November 15, 1846, devoted a good deal of

space to the subject. The article began:--

"SKETCHES OF NOTORIOUS CHARACTERS: James J. Strang, successor of

Sidney Rigdon, Judius Iscariot, Cain & Co., Envoy Extraordinary

and a Minister Plenipotentiary to His Most Gracious Majesty

Lucifer L, assisted by his allied contemporary advisers, John C.

Bennett, William Smith, G. T. Adams, and John E. Page, Secretary

of Legation."

Strang announced a revelation which declared that he was to be

"King in Zion," and his coronation took place on July 8, 1850,

when he was crowned with a metal crown having a cluster of stars

on its front. Burnt offerings were included in the programme.

This ceremony took place on Beaver Island, in Lake Superior,

where in 1847 Strang had gathered his people and assumed both

temporal and spiritual authority. Both of these claims got him

into trouble. His non-Mormon neighbors, fishermen and lumbermen,

accused the Mormons of wholesale thefts; his assumption of regal

authority brought him before the United States court, (where he

was not held); and his advocacy of the practice of polygamy by

his followers aroused insubordination, and on June 15, 1856, he

was shot by two members of his flock whom he had offended, and

who were at once regarded as heroes by the people of the

mainland. A mob secured a vessel, visited Beaver Island, where

Strang had maintained a sort of fort, and compelled the Mormon

inhabitants to embark immediately, with what little property they

could gather up. They were landed at different places, most of

them in Milwaukee. Thus ended Strang's Kingdom.*

* "A Moses of the Mormons," by Henry E. Legler, Parkman Club

Publications, Nos. 15-16, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, May 11, 1897; "An

American Kingdom of Mormons," Magazine of Western History,

Cleveland, Ohio, April, 1886.

Another leader who "set up for himself " after Smith's death was

Lyman Wight, who had been one of the Twelve in Missouri, and was

arrested with Smith there. Wight did not lay claim to the

position of President of the church, but he resented what he

called Brigham Young's usurpation. In 1845 he led a small company

of his followers to Texas, where they first settled on the

Colorado River, near Austin. They made successive moves from that

place into Gillespie, Burnett, and Bandera counties. He died near

San Antonio in March, 1858. The fact that Wight entered into the

practice of polygamy almost as soon as he reached Texas, and

still escaped any conflict with his non-Mormon neighbors, affords

proof of his good character in other respects. The Galveston

News, in its notice of his death, said, "Mr. Wight first came to

Texas in November, 1845, and has been with his colony on our

extreme frontier ever since, moving still farther west as

settlements formed around him, thus always being the pioneer of

advancing civilization, affording protection against the


After Wight's death his people scattered. A majority of them

became identified with the Reorganized Church, a few gave in

their allegiance to the organization in Utah, and others

abandoned Mormonism entirely.

Renewed Trouble For The Mormons - The Burnings Sidney Rigdon facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail