Reviews – The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power
Associated Press, Vern Anderson
Mormons today may not recognize the contradictory, sometimes violent early church of their ancestors that is depicted in a new history, a book based in part on documents the church now keeps locked up.
“Nineteenth century Mormonism was not polite,” unlike the more outwardly congenial 20th century faith, says author D. Michael Quinn. Indeed, the rough-and-ready frontier Mormonism described in Quinn’s 720-page The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power, bears about as much resemblance to the modern church as a prickly pear to a hothouse orchid.
The contrast helps explain the discomfiture of later generations of Mormon leaders with aspects of the early church founded in 1830 by Joseph Smith. Quinn details how that unease led to official doctoring of the historical record after Smith’s death in 1844.
“I don’t see it as insidious,” said Quinn, a Yale-trained historian. “I see it as their way of trying to make sense to an audience (in Utah) that has come to expect certain fundamentals. And those fundamentals are absent in the early documents, so they just reintroduced them.” Quinn’s book, more than half of which is notes and appendices, is based on 30 years of research in Mormon history. And for 15 of those years, Quinn enjoyed free access to the vast archives of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Since 1986, however, church leaders, unhappy with the secular bent of the so-called New Mormon History, have sharply restricted access.
“My experience in the early 1970s was like a kid in a candy store. Every day was Christmas,” Quinn recalled. “I had no idea at the time I would be the only outside researcher who ever saw these documents. Years later, I saw that was the case.” Church spokesman Don LeFevre said Friday he had not read Quinn’s book and therefore could not comment on either its contents or the way they were researched.
Quinn said what he found in the documents, and in many other archives, were the ingredients for a “warts and all” revisionist history that startlingly supplements the sanitized official accounts—designed to be faith-promoting—that are familiar to most Mormons.
* Smith organized the church in 1830 without the authority of the Melchizedek priesthood, or “higher priesthood,” which he did not receive until more than a year later. Traditional accounts claim an 1829 restoration.
* In attempting to establish his kingdom of God, Smith embraced a set of what Quinn calls “theocratic ethics” that placed Mormon priesthood authority above civil law. At times, primarily after Smith’s death, those ethics sanctioned public denials of actual events, counterfeiting and stealing from non-Mormons, threats and physical attacks against dissenters, killing and castration of sex offenders, murdering of anti-Mormons and bribery of government officials.
* Smith was acquitted in 1837 of conspiring to murder anti-Mormon Grandison Newell, even though two of his supporting witnesses, both apostles, acknowledged Smith had discussed with them the possibility of killing Newell.
* Some historians have argued that Smith was unaware of the secret “Danite” band of up to 1,000 Mormon men who threatened dissenters with death and burned and stole from non-Mormon Missourians in 1838. In fact, Smith sanctioned and had general oversight over the Danites, repudiating them only after their leader testified against Smith in court.
* Three months before his death, Smith organized under vows of secrecy the Council of Fifty, trusted followers who elected him Mormonism’s theocratic “king.” When Smith, as mayor of Nauvoo, Illinois, authorized destruction of the anti-Mormon Nauvoo Expositor newspaper—an act that led to his assassination—he did so out of fear his kingship was about to be exposed, according to Quinn.
* When he entered jail in Carthage, Illinois, the Mormon prophet was sick at heart, beset by anti-polygamy dissenters and perhaps fearful he had become a fallen prophet. The secret of his kingship had been betrayed and Smith had gone to Carthage, he told a confidant, “contrary to the council of the spirit & I am now no more than any man.”
Still, he was not a willing martyr, as traditionally believed. The day of his death he issued orders that the Mormons’ Nauvoo Legion attack Carthage and free him. But to avoid a bloody civil war, the legion’s commander refused. That afternoon, Smith and his brother Hyrum were shot to death by a mob that stormed the jail.
In an extraordinary sermon in 1858, Brigham Young, Smith’s eventual successor, said that if the church founder had obeyed the spirit of divine revelation, he never would have gone to Carthage. Young, who idolized Smith, said that “never for one moment did [Smith] say that he had one particle of light in him after he started back from Montrose [Iowa] to give himself up in Nauvoo.” Quinn offers other evidence that Smith’s final days were spent in an agonizing reappraisal.
“During the last days of his life, Smith’s words and acts suggested that he was willing to forsake all the secret developments of Nauvoo—polygamy, the [temple] endowment ceremony and the Council of Fifty,” Quinn wrote.
“To Young and others this must have seemed like a surrender of sacred principles.” Quinn is a seventh-generation Mormon and former missionary and Brigham Young University professor. But he was excommunicated from the church in 1993 after publishing a paper in which he contended Smith had given women the priesthood, but subsequent leaders had excluded them. Quinn still considers himself a believer, but knows mainstream Mormons will not be scrambling to purchase his book, published by Signature Books, or a companion volume planned for 1997.
He is no novice in the role of historian bearing troubling tidings to the faithful. “There are times when there are no best feet to put forward,” Quinn says of some of the documentary record. “It’s uncomfortable. It’s queasy. But it’s what was there.”
Benchmark Book News
This noted historian’s long-awaited and fascinating first volume of an in-depth study of the early top LDS leadership will arouse much interest and its share of controversy. Never before has anyone explored so thoroughly the background of Mormon priesthood and the nature and development of the individuals and quorums who became leaders of the Church.
In his usual meticulously researched and detailed way, Quinn discusses priesthood, and the presiding quorums, the political and religious kingdom, the 1844 succession crisis, and the nature of apostolic succession. Extensive footnotes, which occupy a solid fourth of the book, flesh out of the details of these topics. Appendices, which fill another third of the book, cover the LDS general officers up to 1847, Mormon security forces (including the Danites), the “anointed quorum,” the Council of Fifty, and selected chronology of events in the Church up to 1847 where the book ends.
A number of noted historians and authors have commented on Quinn’s book. Clyde Milner says that “Quinn’s . . . is the work of a vigorous scholar thoroughly aware of the historical record.” Brigham Madsen describes it as “intensively interesting . . . balanced and honest” and based on research “deep, comprehensive, and massively documented.” Martha Bradley summed up the reaction of many scholars with this observation about the book saying it “is a monumental undertaking. Its contribution and influence will be felt and debated for many, many years to come.”
Quinn’s “warts and all” approach may disturb some, but the book is still a ground-breaking work that merits fair-minded study by anyone seriously interested in early Mormon history.
Church History, Klaus J. Hansen
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with a worldwide membership of over nine million, is the largest and most influential of a number of Mormon denominations that trace their origins to founder Joseph Smith, Jr. A major reason for the success of the church is its hierarchical structure. Headed by a “Prophet, Seer and Revelator,” who as “President” is assisted by two counselors, the quorum of the “First Presidency” stands at the pinnacle of a hierarchy of “general authorities” and lay members heading local congregations. Few believing Mormons are aware that this hierarchy is the result of dramatic changes and often contentious historical evolution, ably traced by Michael Quinn in this impressively researched study. As Quinn demonstrates, a major reason why Mormons are unaware of these changes is that custodians of the historical record have consistently revised it to fit new realities after the fact.
According to Quinn, Mormonism began as “a private religious awakening in a single family” (p. 1) in the 1820s, attracting a number of followers because of its nonhierarchical emphasis on the priesthood of all believers. Even after the official founding of a “church” in 1830 the new religion grew rapidly because it lacked the structure, the dogma, and the ritual of most traditional Christian denominations. Yet by 1835 church doctrine called for the restoration of primitive Christianity with its attendant offices. By the early 1840s the church was lead by five “quorums,” far exceeding primitivist precedents. This rapid evolution of structure and authority left many early converts bemused, leading to dissension and defection. Another consequence was that areas of competence and lines of authority overlapped, leading to competition and confusion.
As long as Joseph Smith was alive, his prophetic authority and charisma, paradoxically, helped contain chaos and disorder—though in the end his death at the hands of a mob in 1844 was the result of forces he himself had helped unleash. Not anticipating his martyrdom, Smith had left confusing and contradictory information regarding his successor, with numerous individuals and several of the quorums claiming the right to church leadership—deftly sorted out by Quinn. As head of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Brigham Young was in a position of power to claim leadership for that group, although historical evidence makes it clear that the claims of other individuals and groups were equally if not more plausible. Possessing an unbeatable combination of forcefulness and shrewdness, Young was able to assert himself in his position as head of the Twelve, insisting on maintaining Smith’s most controversial innovations, especially the theocratic kingdom and polygamy. In time, he was able to establish a separate quorum of the First Presidency, though not without strong opposition from some apostles. Thus, at this death in 1877, succession was not nearly the problem that it had been in 1844. Still, it took three years before the apostles finally agreed on the principle of seniority as the basis for succession—a basis on which the hierarchy has operated ever since, though not without some difficulties because longevity, as Quinn points out, at times has led to physically or mentally impaired leaders at the helm.
Michael Quinn argues that compared to the incredibly complex, contradictory, enigmatic personality of Joseph Smith, the histories of “institutions like the Mormon hierarchy are relatively easy to describe and understand” (p. 262). This becoming modesty belies the incredible complexity of the institutional history of Mormonism that requires not only dogged, determined, painstaking pursuit of elusive sources, but also the linkage of these into a coherent and intelligible whole. Architect Mies van der Rohe remarked that “God is in the details.” Those who know Michael Quinn will understand that it applies to this magisterial work as a double entendre.
Journal of American History, John L. Brooke
D. Michael Quinn’s The Mormon Hierarchy is intended to be a definitive history of the power structure of the Mormon church from 1830 through the mid-1840s. Massively documented, his text is supported by nearly four hundred pages of notes and appendixes. The appendixes alone—including lists and biographical sketches of church officials, membership in the paramilitary Danites and the theocratic Council of Fifty, lists of secret Holy Quorum meetings, and a detailed chronology—will ensure that specialists will consult this book for years to come. Quinn’s analysis falls into three broad categories: structure, theocracy, and crisis. His first two chapters detail the origins and evolution of the nature of authority in the Mormon “restoration” and its manifestation in five priestly quorums. Chapters 3 and 4, which may be of the greatest interest to nonspecialists, present Quinn’s analysis of the theocratic trajectory of early Mormonism from 1834 to 1844. Challenging historians who argue that Mormons were moderates working within an American consensus, Quinn marshals powerful evidence detailing the emergence of Mormon military and political structures, their relationship to priestly quorums and temple endowments, and their role in Joseph Smith’s truncated 1844 campaign for president. Quinn’s analysis of “theocratic ethics” will be of particular interest to those pondering the question of Mormon nation-building. Chapters 5, 6, and 7, discussing the succession crisis following Smith’s assassination and the subsequent institutionalization of prophetic succession, will generate some controversy within the church. Here Quinn directly challenges various official histories, arguing that the twelve apostles led by Brigham Young, formed as a traveling council governing missionaries, never had authority to appoint a first presidency. Thus he describes the rise of Brigham Young to the head of the church as a raw power struggle with the Nauvoo High Council, determined by Young’s mobilization of the secret second anointings and by his sheer charisma. His final chapter reviews the ongoing problem of the automatic succession of senior apostles to the leadership of the church.
Pacific Historical Review, B. Carmon Hardy
In this first volume of his long-anticipated study of the Mormon hierarchy, Michael Quinn provides a detailed history of the beginning of Mormon patterns of authority through 1844. The book contains an unmatched account of the shifting, evolving conceptions of Mormon leadership (extending its analysis of some issues to the present), and the influence of exigency on ecclesiastical form. Employing the encyclopedic style characteristic of all his writings, Quinn’s narrative moves the reader to agreement with most of his conclusions by dint of the enormous quantity of materials cited. Not only is the text heavily documented, but every notation also amounts to a near-exhaustive bibliographical essay. Nearly two-thirds of the book consists of such references, of illustrations, seven appendices, and a twenty-four page index.
Quinn shows earliest Mormonism to have been more fluid and egalitarian than it eventually became. The more centralized, sometimes secret array of councils and quorums that existed by the time of Joseph Smith’s death in 1844 was the product not only of restorationist claims but also of conflict, revelation and, occasionally, retrospective alterations of earlier documents. The license taken by Mormon leaders in amending historical records to justify new policies is one of the most disturbing discoveries in the book. Such activities were congruent with what Quinn calls “theocratic ethics,” the assumption that truth can be sacrificed in behalf of a higher principle—a resort the hierarchy employed in connection with subjects like the Danites (a protective and sometimes avenging militia) and, of course, polygamy.
Other important contributions of the book include its evidence of the extensive overlap of Mormon membership in organizations like the Missouri Danites, Free Masonry, and the Council of Fifty with their common oaths of secrecy and theocratic aspirations; the serious nature with which Smith pursued his ultimately unsuccessful candidacy for the presidency of the United States in 1844, involving diversion of church missionaries from religious to political proselyting activities; and the compromised, ambiguous arguments made by all claimants wishing to succeed the prophet. Quinn’s exploration of the crisis of leadership following Joseph Smith’s assassination is the most searching ever made—revealing, among other things, the possibility that one of Smith’s brothers, Samuel, may have been poisoned as a victim of the nasty struggle among disputants. The author provides an excellent overview of events involved in the emergence of Mormonism’s two, best-known divisions: the “Reorganized” branch which rallied around the prophet’s son, Joseph Smith III, and those who followed Brigham Young to the Great Basin.
While the work does not ignore polygamy, in my view it deserves yet more attention as a reason for opposition to the prophet. Quinn gives the impression that Smith’s theocratic pretensions were the primary cause for dissent from his leadership in Nauvoo. I would also like to have seen more consideration given the intensely patriarchal formulations of Mormon control. While modest, largely ritualistic gestures of female empowerment occurred, Mormon leaders were, if anything, more devoted to masculine authority at home and church than most Americans of the day. But these are differences of emphasis only and, like the few errors that appear in the text (most notably accreditation of the forged Jonathan Dunham document on page 373, note 193), they in no way diminish the luster of Quinn’s achievement. No student of the Mormon experience, including church officers responsible for preparing descriptions of hierarchical lineage, can afford to ignore this impressive account. It will remain a commanding source on the origin of Mormon authority structures for years to come.
Religious Studies Review, Timothy E. Fulop
Quinn is one of the most stimulating revisionist historians of Mormonism who judiciously challenges the notion that Mormonism developed in a smooth and progressive fashion. Examines the crucial early years of Mormonism and seeks to understand how Joseph Smith’s radically democratic restoration movement of 1828 became a highly authoritarian and hierarchial movement after his martyrdom in 1844. Concludes that Brigham Young and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles presided over the bureaucratization of Mormonism and in the process quietly revised the historical and doctrinal records in order to downplay the haphazard egalitarian spontaneity of early Mormonism. A fine study of power and development in a new religious movement with over four hundred pages devoted to documentation and appendices.
Restoration: The Journal of Latter Day Saint History, Mike Hoey
In the introduction Dr. Quinn states “For most Mormons this book should be informative without being disturbing.” This is idealism at best! The evidence in this book effectively rips to shreds any bit of exclusive authority that the church proclaims to possess.
The first chapter traces the evolution of authority starting with the fathers of the first and second elders, Joseph Smith, Sr., and William Cowdery, in Vermont during the early 1800s. During this period in the history of the United States, it was not unusual for people to believe in and use divining rods, seer stones, amulets, talismans and other implements of folk magic to receive gifts from beyond the natural world. To them they were connecting with God and it was good. Quinn notes that institutional religion was a minority experience, while folk religion was the experience of 80% to 90% of Americans until the mid-nineteenth century.
The concept of the “church” underwent a metamorphosis as complete as the butterfly. The caterpillar stage being the fellowshipping in the New York branches and later at Kirtland, with the cocooning stage related to the gathering in Jackson County. The church matured in the form of the city of Nauvoo. In 1828 Joseph Smith Jr. received a communication that stated, “Behold this is my doctrine. Whosoever repenteth and comes unto me, the same is my church. Whosoever declareth more or less than this, the same is not of me, but is against me: he is not of my church” (UDC 10.67-68; RDC 3.16a-b). Members were fellowshiping and receiving spiritual manifestations individually and collectively. They appeared to be content.
By 1831 Joseph had received communications to perfect the family arrangement that Sidney Rigdon had supervised (UDC and RDC sections 41-58, parts of those sections). Up to 10 groups had established themselves according to the law of consecration.
With the troubles in Jackson County and the disastrous Zion’s Camp expedition, the church members abandoned this communal lifestyle by 1834. As the lines of authority became formalized, most of the egalitarian nature and charismatic luster of the first few years were displaced by conformity and obedience. Quinn finishes chapter one by describing the various developments in the concept of “authority.”
The second chapter delineates the five Presiding Priesthood Quorums. Theocratic beginnings as discussed in chapter three serve as a link to the Nauvoo experiment by showing the experience various saints were accumulating in Kirtland and Missouri. The kingdom of God in Nauvoo, Illinois is reviewed in chapter four. It reveals the evolution of Joseph Smith’s thinking as in this city he wore many hats. He was land developer, General of the Legion, Chief Justice of the Municipal Court, Mayor (replacing John C. Bennett) and above all Prophet to the church.
This was Mormonism coming out of its cocoon stage, establishing a beachhead from which to take over all the world. Starting with the charter granting the City of Nauvoo autonomy and ending with Smith’s bid for the United States Presidency and his martyrdom. Quinn skillfully fills in the details including the connections with the Masonic Lodge and the ceremonies that have come to be associated with the Mormon version of the temple.
The Grand Council, or Council of Fifty’s, role is described and their attempt to function as a state within a state is shown by sending ambassadors to countries such as France and Russia. The early 1840s provided opportunities for men such as Smith to get national press coverage for seemingly minor events. This and the persecution of the Saints led to a progressively higher degree of secrecy in regard to these activities.
It is interesting to note that when Joseph Smith ran for President of the United States, he had a campaign force which was comprised of the twelve apostles and all of the missionaries (including extras for this mission). He had given up spreading the gospel in favor of handing out fliers about his presidential platform, “Views of the Power and Policy of the Government of the United States.” Even though this force only totaled between 500 and 800, it was huge in relation to the number of members in the church (approximately 24,000 to 30,000).
Chapter five covers the 1844 succession crisis and the twelve apostles. It also talks about the reorganization of the church under Brigham Young in which he established martial law in Nauvoo and encouraged the departure of those who dissented from his view. For those dissenters tactics used against them included “Aunt Peggy’s Privy Council” and the “Whistling and Whittling Brigade.”
In chapter six, Quinn goes into depth about other succession options that came forth through different men that claimed the right to lead the church. These included David Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery, Lyman Wight, Alpheus Cutler, James J. Strang, William Smith, and then Joseph Smith Jr.’s sons, Joseph III and David Hyrum.
One of the best parts of the book is found in Appendix #7, “selected chronology of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints 1830-47.” In 45 pages Quinn effectively encapsulates the significant events of those 17 years. The facts and Quinn’s interpretations seem to open up a Pandora’s box for those who have an insatiable curiosity for mankind’s experiences with God and the Spirit.
Utah Historical Quarterly, Melvin T. Smith
Michael Quinn’s book is the only serious attempt by historians to look carefully at this aspect of Mormon history. It reviews that history during the lifetime of Joseph Smith, Jr., and through the succession of various claims and crises. A companion volume, projected for a 1997 publication, will continue the study to the present.
The text consists of seven chapters: “The Evolution of Authority,” “The First Five Presiding Priesthood Quorums,” “Theocratic Beginnings,” “The Kingdom of God in Nauvoo, Illinois,” “The 1849 Succession Crisis and the Twelve,” “Other Succession Options,” and “The Nature of Apostolic Succession.” The text is followed by an insert of several pages of photographs and documents. Footnotes and bibliographic data are arranged as endnotes in an unusual style designed to address problems incident to Quinn’s extensive documentation.
Appendices one through seven cover specific topics briefly, yet with explicit details. Included are “General Officers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1830-47”; “Mormon Security Forces, 1833-47”; “Danites in 1838: A Partial List”; “Meetings and Initiations of the Anointed Quorum (‘Holy Order’)”; “Members of the Council of Fifty”; “Biographical Sketches of General Officers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints”; and “Selected Chronology of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1830-47.” Readers will discover a new clarity about Mormon history derived both from the documented facts and form how they are arranged. The book’s wealth of information begs a studious reading.
Quinn writes: “My purpose in this study is to examine the evidence of Mormonism’s social realities. Both believers and nonbelievers must remember that history can demonstrate human experience incompletely at best. History can (and should) examine what others say about metaphysical experiences, but history cannot demonstrate, prove, or disprove other worldly interaction with human experience.” Since readers bring their own paradigms to their reading of religious history especially, it is important that the author’s intent be understood. For, as Albert Einstein wrote: “The theory defines what can be seen.”
The author first traces the concept of the “church” itself from a “family church” to where it would become the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and from one of charismatic witnessing to one of priesthood authority with specific offices and jurisdictions. That progression was erratic, fraught with controversies and even apostasy.
Quinn’s careful review of sources shows many factual errors in current Mormon history. The higher priesthood’s restoration happened in June after the church’s formal organization, April 6, 1830. Therefore, the office of Elder belong first to the Aaronic priesthood. He cites numerous instances of revelation “changes” that clarified, elaborated, or reversed earlier ones. Joseph’s prophetic mantle sometimes seemed quite experimental. What emerged was a church structure that was tentative and beliefs that were continually under review and revision. The same was true of jurisdictional authority for all general offices of the church.
One of the author’s most persuasive insights relates to the “theocratic” belief Smith introduced in 1833-34. This concept placed God inhuman history directly, with his prophet as spokesman and his Saints as the elect to preach and to enforce God’s will, which meant that God’s “law” could and should supplant the laws of the land, when needed, to promote righteousness and to usher in the kingdom of God on earth. Theocratic prerogatives led to extremes, both in teachings and in practices. It was okay to lie or even kill if God willed it so. Zion’s Camp and the Danites created to defend the Saints and to redeem Zion both “took the law into their own hands.” Later, in Nauvoo between 1840 and 1844, Joseph Smith introduced to a select few several secret practices. Relatively few of the general membership knew of the doctrine of polygamy, or the “Anointed Quorum (‘Holy Order’),” or the Council of Fifty, or of the anointing of Joseph Smith as “King of the whole World.”
While the stake presidents presided over the Saints within the stakes of Zion, and the Quorum of Twelve Apostles had authority in the missions, lines of authority and jurisdictions became further confused because of the secret orders and because the prophet himself had given mixed messages about jurisdictions. By the summer of 1844, as secrets were revealed and enemies within combined with foes from without to bring his downfall, Smith’s theocratic system began to crumble, and his death became inevitable. The author guides readers through the belief and practices that led to this tragic finale.
Quinn then discusses the problems of succession, again created because of ambivalence in Smith’s statements. He discusses all claims in interesting detail. It would finally be the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles from whom most Mormons would accept leadership, although nearly half of the 16,000 members did not follow them to Utah. He elaborates on apostolic succession as the resolution of the awesome uncertainty that had been theirs with the death of the founding prophet.
This is an important book. The author has done an outstanding job of clarifying who the Mormon hierarchy were and what they wrought. Additional studies are needed on lesser leaders and offices to complete the picture of the Mormon hierarchy. It remains a challenging task, as is the one Quinn has accepted for himself. He recalls Joseph Smith’s statement with understanding: “No man knows my history. . . .” He adds a lengthy summary statement, quoted only in part here: “Few Mormons today can grasp the polarizing charisma of their founding prophet. Some may feel uncomfortable with the full scope of Joseph Smith’s activities. . . .” Quinn’s work is a major contribution to our understanding of Mormon history during this period. Readers who can own their peculiar biases about religious history will be greatly informed by reading this book.
Nova Religio, John Butler
The Mormon historian, D. Michael Quinn, best known for his influential book, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View (1987), here offers a detailed explanation of emerging Mormon institutional power from the publication of the Book of Mormon in 1830 to Joseph Smith’s assassination in 1844 and Brigham Young’s subsequent assumption of Mormon leadership.
This is one of the most fascinating stories of institutionalization within new religious movements anywhere, and Quinn gives us an exceptionally close reading. The essential story is relatively simple. The Mormon prophet, Joseph Smith, gave frequently contradictory “revelations” about both religious offices and his (or God’s) preference for Smith’s succession. Although this confusion produced nagging difficulties within Mormonism before 1840, a major crisis erupted when vigilantes assassinated Smith in 1844.
Who now would lead the movement? Smith had confused the issue in three ways. First, Smith failed to plan for his death despite the violence that surrounded the Mormons. Second, Smith sometimes indicated that he favored patrilineal succession by brothers or sons, perhaps not surprising in a society increasingly fixated on race and genealogy. Third, Smith sometimes indicated that leadership would go to different individuals in whom he saw prophet-like qualities. Yet Smith also entrusted considerable authority to institutional bodies after 1830, such as the “Quorum of Twelve Apostles,” “The Holy Order,” or the “Council of Fifty.”
The result was a fierce struggle for power at Smith’s death. A dozen men or more claimed Smith’s favor through one sign or another. Amidst intrigue, schisms, bribery, and even murder, Brigham Young emerged as the Mormons’ principal leader, in part because Young successfully negotiated the authority of the Quorum and Council, a testament to Smith’s perhaps unwitting foresight in institutionalizing authority, but also to the continuing importance of charismatic leadership in the movement.
The Mormon Hierarchy gives non-Mormon specialists little quarter. Quinn establishes the factual record through immense documentation and highly detailed narratives (395 pages of notes and appendices compared to 263 pages of text). This may be advisable given Quinn’s revisionist interpretation, which stresses confusion and conflict where modern church leaders emphasize historical explicitness and order. Still, greater clarity about the general lines of interpretation, comparisons with other religious movements, and more extended dialogues with broader accounts of early Mormon history, such as Jan Shipp’s Mormonism: The Story of a New Religious Tradition (1985), would have won the book a wider audience. Notwithstanding these shortcomings, The Mormon Hierarchy offers a unrivaled factual account of Mormonism’s transformation from cult movement to church, one of the most fascinating stories in modern American religion, and perhaps, in religious history generally.
Journal of Mormon History, Dean C. Jesse
Few historians have been in a better position to study the Mormon past than D. Michael Quinn. With degrees in English and history, including a doctorate at Yale, employment in the LDS Church Historical Department and wide-ranging access to its holdings, a dozen years of teaching history at BYU, and painstaking research in seventy-five repositories (he lists them), Quinn has spent a substantial part of his life studying Mormon history. This book and a second volume to follow are the outgrowth of research that led to a master’s thesis, continued through a doctoral program, and is the crowning accomplishment of thirty years’ work.
Quinn’s attention to source material goes beyond the usual historical treatise. More than half of the volume (422 pages out of 685) consists of notes and appendices. The first 263 pages are divided into seven chapters. Chapter one, “The Evolution of Authority,” focuses on the development of the concepts of authority, Church, and priesthood. Chapter 2, “The First Five Presiding Priesthood Quorums,” reviews the origin and evolution of the First Presidency, presiding patriarch, Quorum of the Twelve, the seventy, and the presiding bishopric. Chapter 3, “Theocratic Beginnings,” traces the development of theocratic power beyond strict ecclesiastical functions. Chapter 4, “The Kingdom of God in Nauvoo, Illinois,” chronicles the “advancement of Mormon theocracy within a public, civil framework” at Nauvoo, Illinois. Chapter 5, “The 1844 Succession Crisis and the Twelve,” addresses the emergence of the Twelve as the presiding quorum of the Church after the death of Joseph Smith. Chapter 6, “Other Succession Options,” continues the discussion of the previous chapter. Chapter 7, “The Nature of Apostolic Succession,” conveys the concept of apostolic succession from the time of Brigham Young to the present day.
Seven appendices follow, giving extensive biographical information about federal officers of the Church, 1830-47; Mormon “security forces,” 1833-47; a partial list of Danites, 1838; meetings and initiations of the “Anointed Quorum,” 1842-45; members of the Council of Fifty, 1844-45; and a “selected chronology” of LDS Church history from 1830-47.
Quinn’s study is forceful, his prose articulate. Voluminous notes give the impression of thorough research. The main contributions, as I see them, lie primarily in his treatment of the development of the Church’s presiding quorums, succession issues that followed the death of Joseph Smith, and biographical data on Church leaders—topics dealt with in Quinn’s earlier works. He dates the beginnings of the First Presidency in 1832, a year earlier than was previously thought, and restores Jesse Gause to his place as the initial first counselor in the presidency (pp. 40-42). He also dates the inception of the office of presiding patriarch in 1834, a year later than early lists (pp. 46-47), and points out that John Young was ordained a patriarch to his family three months before Joseph Smith, Sr., was ordained patriarch of the Church, and for almost three years Young was the only other patriarch of the Church (pp. 48-51). Quinn also clarifies the nature of the office of bishop in the beginning years of the Church, concluding that while Edward Partridge was the Church’s first bishop, there was no presiding bishop until Newel K. Whitney was sustained to that position in April 1847 (pp. 69-76).
Though the reader will not always agree with Quinn’s interpretations and treatment of events, his abundant source references indicate the research path one must tread in order to offer credible alternatives in a major study of early LDS Church history.
Claiming that “essential features of the church’s evolution and leadership have been misunderstood or ignored: (p. x), Quinn has undertaken to fill this void. In doing so he warns that “many readers may be surprised to learn the details of early Mormonism’s theological evolution, retroactive redefinition in sacred texts, internal conflicts among revered leaders, theocratic activities, militancy, alienation of formerly friendly non-Mormons, succession ambiguities, and violence against perceived enemies.” But these issues, he argues, are “as central to the early Mormon experience as its visions, revelations, conversions, sacrifices, heroes, heroines, and martyrdoms” (p. xi). He acknowledges that a detailed study of 165 years of Mormon leadership risks “obscuring the larger experience of Mormonism.” To compensate for this imbalance therefore, he has provided a “Selected Chronology” appendix, which he regards as perhaps “the most important single component” of the book and urges readers to begin their reading with the chronology.
It is probable that some of the “surprises” readers will encounter in this volume will come from his treatment of theocratic beginnings in Chapter 3. Here Quinn traces the beginnings of the Mormon theocratic power structure, reasoning that since, for Latter-day Saints, “all things unto God are spiritual” (D&C 29), and an early Church revelation “established the primacy or religious law over secular law” (D&C 98), the ecclesiastical domain of the Church hierarchy is unlimited (pp. 79-81). This reasoning leads to what Quinn calls a doctrine of “theocratic ethics” which justified Latter-day Saints and their leaders “in actions which were contrary to conventional ethics and sometimes in violation of criminal law,” extending the ecclesiastical domain throughout the social, political, economic, and cultural realms of society (p. 79).
This doctrine, according to Quinn, led to a variety of questionable actions, such as the violation of state marriage laws, the marriage of undivorced spouses, polygyny, polyandry, sexual relationships with juvenile polygamous wives, official denials of real events, tolerance for counterfeiting, stealing from non-Mormons, violence against dissenters, the killing and castrating of sex offenders, the killing of anti-Mormons, bribery of government officials, unethical business dealings, and so forth (pp. 88, 89). Quinn sees the Danites, with Joseph Smith at their head, as an important vehicle for carrying out some of these questionable activities. Under this theocratic power structure Joseph Smith and then Brigham Young were able to forge an aggressive counter culture to contemporary society that “altered—and usually disrupted—the social landscape where it established its headquarters” (p. 80).
This rather breathtaking list raises the question: How central is “theocratic ethics” to an understanding of the LDS Church hierarchy? Indeed, in a major study of the hierarchy one might well expect to find a treatment of the ethical structure—the moral principles and values—that governed the leadership, shaped the development of the organization, and attracted people to the cause. But to focus primarily upon the messy world defined here seems to me a major distortion of historical achievement—an instance where the sweepings of the outhouse are used to define the palace. Certainly, in a comprehensive study, aberrations should be dealt with if they exist, but they need to be placed in their proper relationship to the whole.
There is no doubt that in the beginning years of the Church as the doctrines of the restoration developed “line upon line,” mistakes were made, understanding lagged, and some decisions appear out of place in comparison with the well-ordered structure that emerged. In the case of plural marriage, for example, the practice in its initial phases was not what it later became. Amasa Lyman recalled that in the beginning of the Church, “We were not aware that any such a thing as plural marriage had to be introduced into the world; but the Lord said it after a while, and we obeyed the best we know, and, no doubt, made many crooked paths in our ignorance. We were only children, and the Lord was preparing us for an introduction to the principles of salvation” (Journal of Discourses, 11:207). Unless the modern historian of Mormonism is sensitive to the people he writes about, an obsession with the “crooked paths” and “ignorance” of the early years can make the movement look like an exercise in absurdity. Too often in Quinn’s study, one wonders what the hierarchy did that ever attracted anyone to the faith. Nor does the selected chronology solve the problem.
In his writings Quinn seems anxious to set the Mormon record straight, to correct “official history” where it has been sweetened and homogenized, and to travel a road shunned by more timid LDS historians. There is no doubt he has corrected, clarified, and informed in significant ways. But the story he tells is not free from speculation and faulty interpretation as his writing style and abundant source notes would imply. For example: In Chapter 1, Quinn states, “There is no evidence that a restoration of what was later called the Melchizedek priesthood happened in June 1829” (p. 22). Instead, he arrives at a restoration date of 6 July 1830, three months after the organization of the Church. In arguing his case he dismisses the June 1829 revelation (D&C 18:9), which states that Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and David Whitmer were called with the same calling as the apostle Paul, implying that the Melchizedek Priesthood had already occurred. Quinn reasons that because the New Testament “mentions no literal ordination for Paul,” he must have been an apostle only in the sense of being a witness (p. 10).
In further support of a July 1830 restoration date, Quinn cites the 1842 Joseph Smith letter (D&C 128:20) in which the Prophet writes of having heard the voice of Peter, James, and John “in the wilderness between Harmony, Susquehanna county, and Colesville, Broome county [New York], on the Susquehanna river, declaring themselves as possessing the keys of the kingdom” (p. 22). He also quotes an 1881 Addison Everett reminiscence reporting an 1844 Joseph Smith conversation overheard by Everett, in which the Prophet related the circumstances of his ordination by Peter, James, and John as having occurred after Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery had traveled all night in mud and water to escape from a mob. Placing these events in the context of the Prophet’s late June/early July 1830 Colesville court case and hurried to Colesville from Harmony, Pennsylvania, a few days later, as described in the History of the Church 1:88-97, Quinn deduces a July 6 ordination date (pp. 22-26).
Quinn charges that Mormon historians have tended “to avoid the evidence” and have been unwilling to “challenge official history” dealing with the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood or “admit that Smith organized the LDS Church in April 1830 without the Melchizedek priesthood” (p. 26). But the issue is not as simple as this. Larry Porter has pointed out that the question of the Apostle Paul’s apostolic calling is still open to discussion. Porter also draws attention to discrepancies in August 1829. Furthermore, while Quinn quotes Brigham Young as saying Joseph Smith received the Melchizedek Priesthood “after the church organization” (p. 26), Porter draws attention to statements by Orson Pratt and Hiram Page that this priesthood was conferred before the Church was organized. (See Larry C. Porter, “The Restoration of the Priesthood,” Religious Studies Center Newsletter, Brigham Young University, 9 [3 May 1995].)
It seems to me that the dating issue is not so much a fear to challenge official history as it is a commitment to carefully weigh the evidence. While Quinn’s argument for a July 1830 Melchizedek Priesthood restoration date is plausible, it is not indisputable. After weighing much of the same evidence for dating the restoration in his 1984 work on Joseph Smith, Richard Bushman concluded, “We will not know for certain until more information is uncovered.” (Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism [Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1984], 241.) Based on the same incomplete and sometimes contradictory evidence, Quinn is equivocal, dismissing those who see it differently.
Quinn also chides Mormon historians for overstating the role of Brigham Young and the Twelve during the Mormon exodus from Missouri in 1839 (pp. 63-64). He maintains that John Smith, assistant counselor in the First Presidency, called the first meeting to supervise the exodus on 26 January 1839, and “continued as chair of the evacuation committee.” Hence the whole migration “occurred under the direction of the First Presidency,” not the Twelve. He adds that “neither Young nor the Twelve had the authority in 1837-39 to preside in the manner John Smith did.”
But the matter may not be as clear-cut as Quinn states it. While John Smith chaired meetings on 26 and 29 January at Far West to plan for the exodus, it was William Huntignton who was appointed chairman of the evacuation committee when that committee was formed on 29 January (History of the Church 3: 249-50). If being called to chair the January meetings was equivalent to overseeing the entire Mormon migration, then a case for leading the exodus could also be made for William Marks and Brigham Young, who chaired meetings in February and March (History of the Church 3:260, 283).
Furthermore, if Brigham Young and the Twelve had no authority to preside in local affairs at this time, it seems unlikely that the First Presidency, writing from the Liberty Jail on 16 January 1839, would inform Heber C. Kimball and Brigham Young that “in as much as we are in prison and for a little season if need be the management of the affairs of the church devolves on you that is the twelve” and urge them to “proceed to regulate the Elders as the Lord may give you wisdom,” and to appoint the oldest of the Twelve to be the president of the Quorum. (Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon, Hyrum Smith, Letter to Heber C. Kimball and Brigham Young, 16 January 1839, MS., Joseph Smith Papers, LDS Church Archives.)
Since Brigham young was the oldest, the leadership of the Twelve fell upon him. And since he was in Far West in January 1839 when the Twelve received the call to manage Church affairs, he could well have been the moving force behind the meetings of 26 and 29 January, chaired by John Smith, and held the presiding position in planning the exodus. Nor would it seem out of place for Brigham Young, about the middle of January, to give orders to Bishop Edward Partridge to help move the poor out of the state (History of the Church 3:247).
As an example of “theocratic ethics,” Quinn claims that Joseph Smith violated Ohio marriage laws by “performing a marriage for Newel Knight and the undivorced Lydia Goldthwaite without legal authority to do so” (p. 88). However, in his forthcoming revision of “They Are My Friends”: History of the Joseph Knight Family, 1825-1850, Bill Hartley cites Ohio legal sources to show that Lydia Goldthwaite, having been deserted by her husband Calvin Bailey for three years, was legally entitled to remarry. Moreover, Ohio law of the time empowered “any ordained minister of any religious society” to solemnize marriages in the state. Consequently, if local officers sought to deny the Prophet his right to perform marriages, it was not on legal grounds but due to prejudice.
In his treatment of Joseph Smith’s death, Quinn refers to the statement by Allen Stout that Joseph, in Carthage Jail, had ordered Jonathan Dunham, commander of the Nauvoo Legion, to bring the legion and rescue him; and that Dunham did not respond (p. 141). Quinn quotes Seymour Young’s 1903 conversation with Oliver Huntington, reporting that Dunham “seemed to grieve over the matter” of failing to rescue Joseph; depressed, Dunham persuaded a friendly Indian to kill and bury him (pp. 179-80). But Quinn has altered the Young conversation with Huntington to support Stout’s story that Joseph had sent for the Nauvoo Legion. According to Young, Huntington informed him that, in the spring of 1844, Joseph told Dunham to fortify Nauvoo so the Saints could make a stand against their enemies. Dunham’s depression after the martyrdom was over his failure to complete the fortification; he felt that had he done so, the Prophet might not have had to go to Carthage in the first place.
These are but a few examples of a type of interpretive “rush to judgement” that flaws other sections of the book as well. These include the assertions that “in the last days of his life, Smith seemed ready to turn his back on all the secret developments of Nauvoo and abandon what he had taught as sacred for years” (p. 145); that the Prophet “never made a statement which altered the division of the church jurisdiction between the Quorum of the Twelve ‘abroad’ and the high council in the home stakes” (p. 156); the Allen Stout/ T.B.H. Stenhouse statements that Joseph Smith ordered Jonathan Dunham to lead the Nauvoo Legion in an attack on Carthage to free the prisoners (p. 141); and the reference to Porter Rockwell killing four mobocrats at the Highland Branch is another distortion of the original source (pp. 404-5).
A work containing the encyclopedic detail found in this volume is bound to have flaws due to misreading, oversight, and occasional breakdowns in copy editing. “Opportune” on page 85, for example, should read “importune.” The Book of Commandments citation on page 10 should be “15” instead of “35.” A missing source note number in the text on page 127 shifts all of the endnote citations beyond that point in chapter 4 one number off. The reference to Joseph Smith’s diary on the top line of page 372 should read “13 May” instead of “13 Mar.”
A final observation: In a work where source notes are taken as seriously as they are in this book, it is unfortunate that they were not included in appendices 6 (Biographical Sketches) and 7 (Selected Chronology). The careful student needs to be able to weigh the evidence for the extensive and sometimes sensational information that is given here.
The Mormon Hierarchy is a valuable contribution in terms of identifying sources and understanding the groundwork of the organizational structure. But major questions of what is important to know about the hierarchy seem to have been swallowed up by considerations of lesser importance. While Hierarchy has laid important groundwork, the definitive study remains to be written.