The Complete Discourses of Brigham Young

Richard S. Van Wagoner, editor
5-volume set / 3,260 pages / 978-1-56085-206-3 / $500.00

This five-volume series makes available every known published and previously unpublished sermon (discourse, speech, or public teaching) of Brigham Young, second president of the LDS Church. The texts are drawn from various manuscript collections at LDS Church Archives: Brigham Young Addresses, Brigham Young Minutes, Brigham Young Diaries, Brigham Young Office and Secretary Journals, Thomas Bullock Minutes, Willard Richards Diary, John D. Lee Journals, and Heber C. Kimball Journals, as well as from the “History of Brigham Young,” “Journal History of the Church,” Deseret News, History of the Church, Journal of Discourses, and Millennial Star. The series is limited to 350 copies and is available only as a complete set, not as individual volumes.

Even those who are very familiar with Young’s life and teachings may be surprised to hear him say that God removed Elder Parley P. Pratt from his mortal existence because Pratt had committed adultery (“blood was spilt for adultery”), that Latter-day Saints should not eat pork and should probably refrain from meat altogether (“the use of beef, mutton, and pork should be dispensed with entirely”), and so on. Nevertheless, as Van Wagoner says of the collection, “As I worked on these transcripts, my esteem for President Young grew. His facility for language and ability to address complex issues on the fly rank him among the most able preachers and, as Utah’s governor, most talented politicians of the day—just as capable, I think, as any U.S. president of his time.”

A few more samples of the flavor of the sermons. Speaking from the pulpit, Young called his replacement as governor of Utah a “sack of cow shit.” He said that dealing with his many plural wives often had him stepping “as carefully as if I were walking between bayonets as sharp as needles.” His advice for other men was to “keep out from between the legs of women.” On the other hand, he boasted he “can beat most of the women in this community at housekeeping,” even while reminding people that he was the only “boss in the valley.”

Believing the earth to be a living soul, the LDS president thought the ocean tides reflected the “breathing of the earth.” Young had slaves and therefore sympathized with the South, saying he was “pleased with the news” when the Southern states seceeded. He derisively called the nation’s president “King Abraham Lincoln.” He considered himself as able an administrator as anyone, capable of overseeing all aspects of Utah life: church, state, and business, and was one of the “best financiers on earth,” he said.

“All Indians on this continent are of Israel,” he declared. The sun and moon are inhabited, he preached. How did he know? By inspiration. However, he denied he was himself a prophet. Only Joseph Smith deserved the honor of that title. He was, rather, “caretaker of the Church” until one of Joseph Smith’s sons stepped forward to take his rightful place at the head or until Jesus returned in glory.

Richard S. Van Wagoner is co-author of A Book of Mormons and sole author of Lehi: Portraits of a Mormon Town, Mormon Polygamy: A History, and Sidney Rigdon: A Portrait of Religious Excess. Sidney Rigdon won the Best Book Award from the John Whitmer Historical Association and Best Biography Award from the Mormon History Association. Van Wagoner is also a contributor to The Prophet Puzzle: Interpretive Essays on Joseph Smith and has published in BYU Studies, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Utah Historical Quarterly, and other publications.

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