excerpt – Conflict in the Quorum
This is a study in interpersonal conflict and group dynamics. It is a story that illustrates issues of freedom and obedience and the fragile fabric they share.
Among the many beliefs embraced by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS or Mormon), few are as pervasive as the perception that harmony prevails within the First Presidency and Quorum of Twelve Apostles, the tightly knit core of the church’s governing hierarchy. (There are other general authorities or officers, but all are subservient to the First Presidency and Twelve.) As former LDS church president and official Church Historian Joseph Fielding Smith once explained: “There is no division among the authorities, and there need be no divisions among the people, but unity, peace, brotherly love, kindness and fellowship one to another” (qtd. in Bruce R. McConkie, comp., Doctrines of Salvation [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954-56], 2:245-46). While such assurances stand as the rule, human nature and Mormonism’s turbulent history suggest that within the highest councils, differences of opinion can and do erupt into debates among men who hold similar convictions yet possess vastly different temperaments.
An examination of the controversies arising between nineteenth-century LDS leaders Orson Pratt and Joseph Smith, and later between Pratt and Brigham Young, illustrates the degree to which such disharmony can affect church doctrine, policy, and organization. Aside from the personal views and experiences of these men, all of whom were deeply spiritual and strong-willed individuals, their influence and interplay in their quorums are what is significant. Their actions affected the entire structure of the ecclesiastical hierarchy and the rest of the church as well.
I focus on Pratt because he was the common denominator in these disputes. Given his eventual demotion in his quorum, he is the one who was most directly impacted by the controversies. However, it should not be inferred that the overriding characteristic of the church, during this period or later, was conflict. Nor do I mean to question the faith or inspiration of any of these men. My interest is in exploring expressions of faith when one leader clashed with an equally sincere and devoted colleague.
Neither the conflict nor the men themselves were “right” or “wrong,” “good” or “bad.” Their actions resulted in consequences that were favorable or unfavorable depending on the criteria one employs or judgments that are made. I have tried to consider each person’s perspective in terms of how he interpreted his circumstances. If a reader suspects that I favor one man over another, another reader may see evidence that I side with a different individual. I have tried to set aside my own preconceptions and biases as much as possible and let their own words, and the context in which they were spoken, form the core of this study.
A note about the sources used. Much, but not all, of the research was undertaken in the historical archives of the LDS church beginning in the late 1970s. Policies regarding access to the papers of general church officers were different then. In some cases, I have had to rely on notes and photocopies without being able to examine the originals a second time. Nevertheless, I have tried to present these documents as faithfully as possible, including peculiarities of spelling and punctuation. I regret that interested readers will not be able to verify independently all of my references and transcriptions.
For their assistance, encouragement, and especially example, I thank Thomas G. Alexander, Lavina Fielding Anderson, Leonard J. Arrington, Lisa Orme Bickmore, Martha Sonntag Bradley, Newell G. Bringhurst, David John Buerger, Eugene E. Campbell, Todd Compton, Everett Cooley, Scott H. Faulring, Steven Heath, Michael Homer, Scott G. Kenney, Stanley B. Kimball, Boyd Kirkland, Brigham D. Madsen, H. Michael Marquardt, D. Michael Quinn, Alien D. Roberts, John Sillito, George D. Smith, Susan Staker, Richard Van Wagoner, Dan Vogel, and David J. Whittaker. I also appreciate the support of Ron Priddis, Connie Disney, Jani Fleet, Greg Jones, Keiko Jones, and Tom Kimball. I have benefitted immensely from their perspectives and involvement.
Come martyrdom, come burnings at the stake, come any calamity and affliction of the body, that may be devised by wicked and ungodly men—let me choose that, and have eternal life beyond the grave; but let me not deny the work of God.
[Orson Pratt is] strangely Constituted. He [has] acquired a good deal of knowledge upon many things but in other things He [is] one of the most ignorant men [I] ever saw in [my] life. He [is] full of integrity & would lie down & have his head Cut off for me or his religi[o]n if necessary but he will never see his Error untill he goes into the spirit world. [T]hen he will say Brother Brigham how foolish I was.
O[rson] P[ratt] … [has] caused trouble by telling stories to people who would betray me and [who] must believe these stories because his [Pratt’s] wife told him so! I will live to trample on their ashes with the soles of my feet.
Regret for Past Sins
Nine months following his apology to Brigham Young, Orson Pratt began publishing a series of articles on Adam, the first installment running in the 15 September 1866 issue of the Millennial Star in England. He knew that his biblically based writings contradicted the president’s belief that Adam was the father, both spiritually and physically, of the human race, but since his criticisms of Young’s teachings had never been explicitly repudiated, he must have concluded that they were not erroneous and that he was free to publish his own interpretations.1 If Young read Pratt’s tightly reasoned, strongly worded articles on Adam, he chose to ignore them and instead condemned the apostle’s views on omniscience, which he found either more offensive or easier to discount.Three months after the series began appearing in London, Young took to the pulpit in Salt Lake City: Some men seem as if they could learn so much and no more. They appear to be bounded in their capacity for acquiring knowledge, as Brother Orson Pratt, has in theory, bounded the capacity of God. According to his theory. God can progress no further in knowledge and power; but the God that I serve is progressing eternally, and so are his children: they will increase to all eternity, if they are faithful. Young continued to poke fun at Orson Pratt’s ability to progress in knowledge: “But there are some of our brethren,” he said, “who know just so much, and they seem to be able to learn no more. You may plead with them, scold them, flatter them, coax them, and try in various ways to increase their knowledge; but it seems as if they would not learn.”2
Home from England the next year, the much-besieged Pratt began to rethink his theology and determined to distance himself, at first privately and then publicly, from several of his disputed theories. In addition to the censures of 1860 and 1865 and his oldest son’s excommunication, he was aware of the recent heresy of Amasa M. Lyman, a member of the Twelve whom thirty-five years earlier Pratt had baptized into the church. Lyman’s troubles portended possible repercussions for other obdurate church authorities. According to his biographer, Lyman “asserted that man, coming from a perfect spirit father, was innately good and could redeem himself by correcting his own mortal errors. Thus there was simply no need for a personal savior. The historical figure, Jesus, whom most worshiped as the Christ, was in reality only a moral reformer, teacher, and exemplar of great love.”3 Before the end of the year, Lyman would be expelled from the Twelve for teaching that Christ’s suffering and death were not necessary to God’s plan of salvation. “When you wish to see the principle upon which God designed to save mankind,” he had pronounced in early 1862,
you will see there, when you look at it, a truthful reflection of the principles upon which he purposed to exalt poor sinful humanity—of how man, who was so pure and holy before he became a denizen of the earth, was to return to the scenes of hallowed felicity from whence he had come; hot on the crimson tide of Emmanuel’s blood poured forth on Calvary’s mount, but by ceasing the perpetration of those wrongs which have brought misery, suffering, and death upon the family of man.4
“It is not with a view to get people to .believe less in the blood of Jesus and all the advantages that accrue to humanity by his death that I speak,” he added less than a month later;
but would to God that I could awaken the world to a sense of the benefits mankind derived from his living! It does me more good to know that Jesus lived, a Teacher of righteousness; … that he taught the principles of life and pointed the way to salvation, to happiness and bliss, [and] that through obedience to the requirements of the Gospel we could find rest and peace.5
Pratt could not have failed to appreciate that Lyman’s sin, like his own, was intellectual and doctrinal in nature, compounded by Lyman’s stubbornness—an inability to admit error or to submit wholly, if not willingly, to authority.
Meeting with other church officials on 10 September 1867, Pratt announced that “[h]e did not worship Atributes asside from the Personage of God.” A striking change of position, it still included an ambiguous corollary: “But [Orson said he] Believed that God was an organized Being the same as Man & that Man possessed the Atributes of God & would become a God if he kept the Celestial Law.”6 Two days later, he met again with “[t]he President & Twelve” because of their “difference of opinion with O. Pratt.”7 The details of their meeting were not specified, but Pratt either volunteered or was instructed to repeat his “further light and understanding” to church faithful less than four weeks later at that fall’s general conference. This was the same conference at which Apostle Lyman would be ejected with Pratt’s consent from the Quorum of the Twelve. Intent on tempering the positions he had enunciated during the 1840s and 1850s, although not entirely repudiating them either, Pratt began cautiously:
I do not know, but that in my teachings in years past, when teaching upon these two distinct subjects [God as a person and God’s attributes], I may have left an impression upon the minds of the people that I never intended to convey[,] in reference to the qualities, perfections, glories and attributes of these personages, for attributes always do pertain to substances, you can not separate one from the other. Attributes can not exist without substance; everywhere it shows its bearing and relation to substance and person, and if in any of my preaching or teachings I have ever conveyed the impression that attributes could exist separate and apart from substances I never intended to do so.
“I do not know that I have ever declared any such in my writings,” he continued.
I have said that God is love, and that he is truth because the revelations say so. I have said that he oftentimes represents himself by his attributes. The same as when he says I am in you; but he does not mean that his person, his flesh and bones are in us. When Jesus says I am in the Father, he does not mean that his person is in the Father. What does he mean? He means that the same attributes that dwell in his own person also dwell in the person of the other.
“I think I have heard this doctrine taught from the commencement, by the authorities of the Church,” he said, laying his teachings at the feet of Joseph Smith, “and I think it is taught, more or less, now, almost every Sabbath day. We are exhorted to develop and perfect those attributes of God that dwell within us in embryo, that we may more and more approximate to that high state of perfection that exists in the Father and the Son.”
Effectively denying that he had ever previously written otherwise on the subject, he stressed that “[attributes belong in all cases, in this and all other worlds, to personages and substances, and without personages and substances, they cannot exist.
“In the ‘Kingdom of God,’ published in October, 1848,” he explained, avoiding mention of his other writings and especially those formally condemned two years earlier in mid-1865,
I have set forth the personality of the Father and the Son, and the glorious attributes that pertain to each. And again in many of my writings, to which I might refer, and could perhaps give the page, I have taught the same thing, and my views to-day concerning this matter are just the same as they were then, and then the same as they are now; only I think, by searching more fully, I have progressed and obtained some further light and information more than I had twenty or twenty-five years ago.
“I do not know, that, in my remarks this morning, concerning the atonement, and the personalities and glorious attributes of God,” he concluded his nearly 90-minute sermon with the hope that his bow to Young would not go unnoticed, “I have varied in my views from those of the rest of the authorities of the Church. If I have I hope they will correct me and tell me wherein I am wrong, for it is my desire, and ever has been, to do in accordance with the revelations of heaven, to abide in the word of God, and to have that word abide in me.”8
Young arose and briefly noted that he “was satisfied with O Pratt[‘]s views upon the Godhead in the Main but[,] when He or any man published or preached his views[,] not to say they are the views of the church But his own.”9 At the close of the session. Young “talked vary Plain,” directing his comments “to O Pratt about his saying that such & such were the doctrine of the Church & about his telling what would have been if Christ had not died & if Adam had not have fallen. If there had not been a savior prepared,” Young insisted—the memory of Lyman’s apostasy still fresh—”the world would not have been Created.”10
“Brother Pratt keeps telling you what the Latter Day Saints believe,” the president publicly vented about this same time,
that they believe this and they believe that. Now he has no business to preach anything like this … Brother Pratt philosophizes too much … [T]he elders … when they read what he writes or hear what he speaks … find themselves in the swamp, in the fog … Speculations are ruinous … I warn him not to get up to talk more unless he knows what he talks about, … and not enswamp us with speculations about what would have been if Christ had not died … if Eve had not eaten … if man had not fallen … if Joseph Smith had not been killed, and what would have been if it hadn’t have been, and what would have been if it had have been. If Brother Pratt will stick to the truth and come out of the swamp, I will be thoroughly satisfied with him.11
Throughout the ensuing years until the president’s death in mid-1877, conflict between the two men dissipated as the infirmities of age and a variety of sacred and secular assignments assumed greater priority in their lives. At least in his formal writings, Pratt moved away from theological speculation in favor of astronomical and mathematical ruminations.12 Only one more incident, public or private, is known to have struck a sour chord between the two leaders.
The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS, renamed Community of Christ in 2001), a rival of the larger Utah church, released during the closing months of 1867 Joseph Smith’s “Inspired Translation” of the Holy Scriptures. This was Smith’s version of the King James Bible, never printed in toto during his lifetime. Leery of the new church headed by Smith’s thirty-five-year-old son and namesake, Joseph Smith III, who condemned polygamy and denied that his father had ever practiced it, Young asked Pratt to evaluate the publication. Pratt either overstepped Young’s mandate or reached the wrong conclusions when on at least two occasions he publicly expressed approval of Smith’s Bible. Elder Woodruff wrote of the first instance, which occurred during a Sunday meeting on 31 May 1868 in the Salt Lake City 14th Ward chapel: O Pratt spoke upon the New Translation of the old & New Testament as Translated By the Prophet Joseph Smith before his death[,] & it had Been Published of Late by the followers of [y]oung Joseph & a Copy had been sent to Preside[n]t Young[,] & it was published in its purity & we felt much rejoiced that a copy had fallen into Preside[n]t Young[‘]s hands. Brother Pratt showed the difference Between the old & New Translation on the second Coming of the Mesiah.13
Pratt’s enthusiasm for the publication was genuine. “Sarah,” he reportedly said to his wife after reviewing the new book, “these men have done their work honestly! This translation is just as it was left by the Prophet Joseph in 1833. I could quickly have detected it had they tampered with or altered what he wrote. I am delighted with it, and I thank God that I have received this copy.”14
Pratt and Young knew that Smith’s version of the Bible supported Pratt’s belief in the creation of Adam from the dust of the earth—a position Young’s Adam-God teaching rejected.15 It was about this time that Provo’s School of the Prophets (an auxiliary group composed of male priesthood holders) discussed, as recorded by one of its members, [t]he doctrine preached by Pres[iden]t Young for a few years back wherein he says that Adam is our God—the God we worship [, and] that most of the people believe this—[S]ome believe it because the Pres[iden]t says so, others because they can find testimony in the B[ook] of Mormon & Book of Doc[trine] & Covenants.] Amasa Lyman stumbled on this[;] he did not believe it—[H]e did not believe in the atonement of Jesus—Orson Pratt has also told the Pres[iden]t that he does not believe it—[T]his is not the way to act—[W]e should not suffer ourselves to entertain one doubt—[w]e are not accountable on points of Doctrine if the President makes a statement [and] it is not our prerogative to dispute it.16
The next month, Pratt met with members of the Salt Lake School of the Prophets and found Brigham Young in attendance. Following the apostle’s brief remarks, Young “bore testimony in strong terms that Joseph did not finish the New Translation of the old & new Testament which young Joseph Smith [Joseph III] had lately published.”17 Others agreed, adding their own memories of what they believed Smith had intended.18 Pratt could see that he had too eagerly embraced Smith’s translation, much as he had earlier championed Lucy Smith’s history, and by the end of the month, he appeared before the school to “ma[k]e a confession of his error in printing Mother Lucy Smith’s book without first consulting Pres. Young.” Members read and discussed excerpts from some of Pratt’s writings.19 One week later, on 4 July 1868, sensing the very real possibility of renewed conflict, Pratt sent Young a brief but compassionate letter acknowledging not only their disagreements over the Adam theology but all past differences of belief and doctrine.
To Prest B. Young
Dear brother, since the last two meetings at the school [of the Prophets], I have, at times, reflected much and very seriously, upon the feelings which I have suffered myself for years to occasionally entertain, respecting certain doctrines, or rather, items of ante-diluvian history, now believed by the Church, and have tried to justify myself in taking an opposite view, on the supposition that I was supported by the letter of the word of God; but as often as I have yielded to this influence, I have felt an indescribable wretchedness which fully convinces me that I am wrong. I wish to repent of these wrongs; for I fully realize that my sins, in this respect, have been very great, and of long continuance, and that it has been only through your great forbearance and long suffering, and the patience of my Quorum, that I have been continued in the high and responsible calling of the Apostleship to this day.
I am deeply sensible that I have greatly sinned against you, and against my brethren of the school, and again[st] God, in foolishly trying to justify myself in advocating ideas, opposed to these which have been introduced by the highest authorities of the Church, and accepted by the Saints. I humbly ask you and the school to forgive me. Hereafter, through the grace of God assisting me, I am determined to be one with you, and never found opposing anything that comes through the legitimate order of the Priesthood, knowing that it is perfectly right for me to humbly submit, in all matters of doctrine and principle, my judgement to those whose right it is by divine appointment, to receive revelation; and guide the Church.
There is no one thing in this world, or in that which is to come, which I do more earnestly desire, than to honor my calling, and be permitted to retain the same, and, with my brethren of the Twelve, enter the Celestial kingdom; with a full preparation to enjoy the glory thereof for ever.
With regard to all that portion of my printed writings which have come under the inspection of the highest authorities of the Church, and judged incorrect, I do most sincerely hope that the same may be rejected, and considered of no value, only to point out the imperfections of the author, and to be a warning to others to be more careful. This request I made formerly, but feel to renew it again in this letter.
With feelings of great sorrow, and deep regret for all my past sins, I subscribe myself your humble brother in Christ.
Orson Pratt, Sen.20
The tempering effect of time showed Pratt the futility of an extended conflict from which he had no hope of emerging victorious. Three days later, he again appeared before the Salt Lake School of the Prophets and “made a full confession,” either reading from or summarizing his letter to Young, “in opposing doctrines revealed: said whenever he had done so & excused himself because of what was written[,] his mind [on such occasions had] become darkened and he felt bad. He asked forgiveness of Pres[iden]t Young, of the Twelve and the whole school.” President Young “expressed his satisfaction with Elder Pratt’s confession & preached in relation to Adam &c. &c,” while Wilford Woodruff said he “felt happy at bro. Pratt’s position & present feelings.”21 Before the end of the month, Young explained to Provo’s School of the Prophets:
If we become of one heart we will prosper—but if like a worm we divider] we are broken[. B]ut when [the president] speaks & says do this or that[,] all the faith of the people should be united in that word … Orson Pratt has with stood me as he did Joseph [Smith]—I asked Orson to look over the “New Translation” [of the Bible] and found him speaking in [favor of it in] the school[. T]he Translation is incorrect—and it says it shall not be published until completed.
The scribe noted that Young also referred to Pratt’s letter and quoted from it: “[W]hen I oppose[d] you I felt bitterness etc.; and when I agreed with you I have felt well and rejoiced.”22
Over the next few years, Pratt would do his best to conform to Young’s difficult theology, even referring to Adam as a god in an address two years later: “Now, how are the angels of God after the resurrection? According to the revelations which God has given, there are different classes of angels. Some angels are Gods, and still possess the lower office called angels. Adam is called an Archangel, yet he is a God.”23 That same month he urged local church leaders to try a pair of prominent Salt Lake City dissidents for apostasy. “[I]t always had been a principle in this Church for the members to receive the Councils & instructions of the authorities of the Church and to abide by their decisions in all things,” he said.24 In 1876 he abandoned—or at least significantly qualified—his belief in a “great first cause” in favor of Young’s view of a universe without a beginning:
There never was a time but what there was a Father and Son. In other words, when you entertain that which is endless, you exclude the ideas of a first being, a first world; the moment you admit of a first, you limit the idea of endless. The chain itself is endless, but each link had its beginning. … There never will be a time when fathers, and sons, and worlds will not exist; neither was there ever a period through all the past ages of duration, but what there was a world and a Father and Son …25
A year before his death, Pratt publicly revised his teachings on the self-existing attributes of godliness and contingency of the divine person to better reflect Young’s doctrine:
God has given laws to what might be termed intelligent nature; but let me say, that what is termed intelligent nature is … an intelligent power that encircles itself through, or over, or round about every particle or every atom, that these atoms act in accordance with the law that is ordained, and do not deviate from it unless commanded by the same authority that gave the law. The same Being who gave the law to materials by which they act, can counteract the law. … God is the great Author of all law, and is just as able to counteract a law, as he is to continue a law. Let him withdraw the command that materials shall attract all other materials; let him say to matter, “I no longer require you to act according to that law,” and you would not find the earth in an orbit around the sun.26
Over time Pratt would occasionally and inevitably drift into old habits, again broaching such controversies as divine omniscience,27 as well as quoting publicly and approvingly from Joseph Smith’s “new translation.”28 Young’s successor as church president, John Taylor, enlisted Pratt’s expertise in 1877-78 in publishing several of Smith’s revelations which had previously appeared in the small English pamphlet called The Pearl of Great Price (1851). In preparing these texts for publication, Pratt used the RLDS church’s edition of Smith’s Holy Scriptures as a basis of comparison and correction–though he did so silently, without alerting readers to the changes or their source. His edition of The Pearl of Great Price was canonized by the LDS church as scripture in 1880, three years after Brigham Young’s death, and was later used in revising the text of the temple endowment ceremony.29
As for himself, Young never quoted from Smith’s “new translation,” and only rarely from the King James Version. “As I read the Bible,” he confessed in 1871, “it contains the words of the Father and Son, angels, good and bad, Lucifer, the devil, of wicked men and of good men, and some are lying and some—the good—are telling the truth; and if you believe it all to be the word of God you can go beyond me. I cannot believe it all to be the word of God …”30 He continued to expound Adam-God at meetings of the Salt Lake City School of the Prophets and elsewhere and encouraged others to believe similarly,31 though he sometimes wondered if he had been too indiscriminate in promulgating his controversial doctrine:
Pres[iden]t Young queried w[he]ther the brethren thought he was too liberal in launching out on this doctrine [Adam-God] before the Gentiles [non-Mormons]. He was positive of the truth of the doctrine, but thought we should be cautious about preaching on doctrine[s] unless we fully understand them by the power of the Spirit, then they commend themselves to the hearts of our hearers. Spoke of the vain theories of men with regard to the Great first Cause. Said there were many revelations given to him that he did not receive from the Prophet Joseph [Smith]. He did not receive them … as Joseph Smith did but when he did receive them he knew of their truth as much as it was possible for him to do of any truth.32
Six months before his death in late August 1877, Young began a revision of the temple ceremony to privilege his own account of the Creation over that found in Genesis. “We have heard a great deal about Adam and Eve[,] how they were formed &c,” he dictated to one of his secretaries:
[S]ome think he was made like an adobie and the Lord breathed into him the breath of life[,] for we read “from dust thou art and unto dust shalt thou return[.]” Well he was made of the dust of the earth but not of this earth. [H]e was made just the same way you and I are made but on another earth. Adam was an immortal being when he came. on this earth[. H]e had lived on an earth similar to ours [and] he had received the Priesthood and the Keys thereof, and had been faithful in all things and gained his resurrection and his exaltation and was crowned with glory[,] immortality[,] and eternal lives and was numbered with the Gods[,] for such he became through his faithfulness.
[A]nd [he] had begotten all the spirit[s] that was to come to this earth. [A]nd Eve our common Mother who is the mother of all living bore those spirits in the celestial world. [A]nd when this earth was organized by Elohim[,] Jehovah[,] & Michael[,] who is Adam our common Father[,] Adam & Eve had the privilege to continue the work of Progression. [Consequently [, they] came to this earth and commenced the great work of forming tabernacles for those spirits to dwell in. [A]nd when Adam and those that assisted him had completed this Kingdom[,] our earth[,] he came to it. and slept and forgot all and became like an Infant child. [I]t is said by Moses the historian that the Lord caused a deep sleep to come upon Adam and took from his side a rib and formed the woman that Adam called Eve–this should be interpreted that the Man Adam like all other Men had the seed within him to propagate his species. [B]ut not the Woman. [S]he conceives the seed but she does not produce it. [Consequently she was taken from the side or bowels of her father. [T]his explains the mystery of Moses’ dark sayings in regard to Adam and Eve. Adam & Eve when they were placed on this earth were immortal beings with flesh[,] bones[,] and sinues[,] but upon partaking of the fruits of the earth while in the garden and cultivating the ground[,] their bodies became changed from immortal to mortal beings with the blood coursing through their veins as the action of life[.] Adam was not under transgression until after he partook of the forbidden fruit[. T]his was necessary that they might be together[,] that man might be. [T]he woman was found in transgression[,] not the Man … Father Adam’s oldest son (Jesus the Saviour) who is the heir of the family is Father Adams first begotten in the spirit World[,] who according to the flesh is the only begotten as it is written.33 (In his divinity he [Adam,] having gone back into the spirit World[,] …34 c[a]me in the spirit to Mary and she conceived[,] for when Adam and Eve got through with their Work in this earth [,] they did not lay their bodies down in the dust, but returned to the spirit World from whence they came.35
John Taylor’s subsequent decision to use Pratt’s edition of the Pearl of Great Price in refining the temple ceremony, coupled with other scriptural reflections, effectively undermined Young’s innovation as official doctrine, though it would continue to surface periodically as one of Mormonism’s gnostic mysteries.
The closing bittersweet years of Orson Pratt’s life were witness to further achievements and profound disappointments. In mid-August 1870, the Tabernacle walls rang with his now-famous debate on plural marriage against the Christian rhetoric of Dr. John P. Newman, chaplain of the United States Senate. From 1869 until 1880, he served as needed as the territorial Speaker of the House. In the summer of 1874, he was officially appointed LDS Church Recorder and Historian. The following year saw his demotion from a position of seniority in the Quorum of the Twelve, a blow that would crush any possibility that he would one day succeed to the presidency of the church.
1. With regard to Adam being formed “out of the ground” and “from the dust of the ground,” the First Presidency wrote simply in 1860 and reiterated in 1865, “it is deemed wise to let that subject remain without further explanation at present, for it is written that we are to receive ‘line upon line,’ according to our faith and capacities, and the circumstances attending our progress” (qtd. in dark, Messages of the First Presidency, 2:233-34).
2. Journal of Discourses, 11:286.
3. See Hefner, “From Apostle to Apostate,” Dialogue, 90-104.
4. Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star, 16 Mar. 1862, 212.
5. Ibid., 13 Apr. 1862, 180.
6. Kenney, Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 6:364. Pratt’s admission followed an exchange between Young and Hyde on the “baby resurrection.” Hyde confessed that “Preside[n]t Young told me in 1850 that my views on the Baby resurection was not true, that I might Believe what I pleased if I would not Preach fals doctrin. But I am ready to follow in the beaten tract [sic].” Young said: “No man Could know much about the resurrection untill he passed through the resurrection & had the keys of it. For that reason I have been silent upon the subje[c]t …” (363-64). Two days earlier, Young had told the Twelve “he herd Joseph Smith say that children would not Grow after death & at another time that they would grow[,] & he hardly knew how to reconcile it” (363).
7. Ibid., 364.
8. Journal of Discourses, 19:320-21.
9. Kenney, Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 6:368.
11. Qtd. in Daniel S. Tuttle, Reminiscences of a Missionary Bishop (New York: Whittaker, 1906), 345-46.
12. See Hazen’s discussion of Pratt in his Village Enlightenment, 15-64.
13. Kenney, Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 6:409-10.
14. Qtd. in Mary Audentia Smith Anderson, ed., “The Memoirs of President Joseph Smith (1832-1914),” Saint’s Herald, 22 Jan. 1935, 109.
15. Seven years earlier, Young had commented favorably on Smith’s revision of the Pentateuch, which included the Creation narrative: “The translation by Joseph Smith could be depended upon” (President’s Office Journal, 26 Mar. 1861).
16. Minutes of the Provo School of the Prophets, 8 June 1868, LDS church archives (Abraham O. Smoot speaking).
17. Qtd. in Kenney, Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 6:412. School members discussed the “new translation” the entire month. See Journal History of the Church, 6, 13 June 1868.
18. See Historian’s Office Journal, 20 June 1868.
19. Journal History of the Church, 27 June 1868.
20. Pratt to Young, 1 July 1868, Brigham Young Papers. “It is reported on good authority,” a leader of the RLDS church wrote thirteen years later, “that Elder Orson Pratt, on receiving a copy of the Inspired Translation, spoke in high terms of it in a discourse in one of the ward meeting houses in Salt Lake City some years ago, and afterwards took it all back as counseled by President B. Young” (W. W. Blair, “The Inspired Translation,” Saint’s Advocate 4 [July 1881]: 108).
21. Qtd. in the Historian’s Office Journal, 4 July 1868. “Some have though[t] it strange what I have said Concerning Adam,” Young told the Salt Lake School of the Prophets late the next year. “But the period will Come when this people of faithful will be willing to adopt Joseph Smith as their Prophet Seer Revelator & God But not [as] the father of their spirits[,] for that was our Father Adam” (Kenney, Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 6:508).
22. Minutes of the Provo School of the Prophets, 20 July 1868. It is unclear what “it” refers to in “it says it shall not be published until completed.” For more on Young’s opinion, see Robert D. Matthews, “A Plainer Translation”: Joseph Smith’s Translation of the Bible, a History and Commentary (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press, 1975), 207-18.
23. Journal of Discourses, 13:187.
24. Minutes of the Salt Lake Stake High Council, 25 Oct. 1869, LDS church archives (this was the trial of William S. Godbe and E. L. T. Harrison).
25. Journal of Discourses, 18:293.
26. Ibid., 21:238.
27. See ibid., 21:257: “They [the Father and Son] are possessed of all the fullness of glory. They have a fullness of happiness, a fullness of power, a fullness of intelligence, light and truth, and they bear rule over all other kingdoms of inferior glory, of inferior happiness, and of inferior power.” See also Journal History of the Church, 21 Mar. 1872: “Elder Orson Prat lectured in the Old Tabernacle, upon the subject of ‘Pre-existence.'”
28. See Journal a/Discourses, 15:247-49; 20:71, 73; 21:200.
29. See L. John Nuttall, Journal, 15 June 1884, BYU Library.
30. Journal of Discourses, 14:208.
31. See Kenney, Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 6:508; Minutes of the Salt Lake City School of the Prophets, 9 June 1871, LDS church archives.
32. Minutes of the Salt Lake City School of the Prophets, 9 June 1871.
33. Young seems to distinguish between Adams mortal children and a child conceived after Adam reclaimed his immortality, as he may be explaining in the next sentence.
34. The ellipses replace a conjunction. The full line reads: “In his divinity he having gone back into the spirit World, and come in the spirit to Mary and she conceived for when Adam and Eve got through with their Work in this earth.”
35. Nuttall Journal, 7 Feb. 1877. For context, see David John Buerger, The Mysteries of Godliness: A History of Mormon Temple Worship (San Francisco: Smith Research Associates, 1994), 110-13.