04 August 2012

Brigham Young Succeeds Joseph

Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer, 2003, Excerpts

The Saints reacted to Joseph’s death with woe and staggering grief, vowing through their tears to exact revenge. First, however, they had to address a more pressing concern: the survival of Mormonism. Joseph had neglected to provide his followers with a clear mechanism for determining his successor. The contenders fell into two camps: those bitterly opposed to polygamy, who saw Joseph’s death as an opportunity to eradicate the practice before it gained traction, and those who had already taken plural wives and regarded polygamy as a divinely ordained principle that must be sustained.

On the morning of August 8, 1844, Brigham Young became the Mormon’s second president, prophet, seer, and revelator. He had been baptized into the Mormon Church in 1832, at the age of thirty-one, and quickly became one of Joseph’s most loyal lieutenants. Like Joseph Smith, Brigham Young had been born poor in rural New England, where the Second Great Awakening made a lasting imprint on his consciousness.

Brigham was, however, Joseph’s opposite in almost every imaginable way. Joseph was tall, athletic, and handsome; Brigham was short and thick [at his heaviest, he weighed more than 250 pounds], with small, porcine eyes. Joseph was emotional, charismatic, an impulsive dreamer and incorrigible charmer; Brigham was steady, dependable, and pragmatic to a fault, a brilliant organizer who thought things through and paid attention to the details. Joseph craved the adoration of his followers; Brigham didn’t ask the Saints to love him – he demanded only their respect and unconditional obedience.

When the Mormons faced imminent extermination in the wake of Joseph’s martyrdom, they required discipline and firm, decisive leadership, which is what Brigham ably provided. George Bernard Shaw praised him as “the American Moses.” He was the right man for the right time.

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