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The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power

The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power

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The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power

1,037 pages
17 heures
Oct 4, 2017


 Converts to Joseph Smith’s 1828 restoration of primitive Christianity were attracted to the non-hierarchical nature of the movement. It was precisely because there were no priests, ordinances, or dogma that people joined in such numbers. Smith intended everyone to be a prophet, and anyone who felt called was invited to minister freely without formal office.

Not until seven years later did Mormons first learn that authority had been restored by angels or of the need for a hierarchy mirroring the Pauline model. That same year (1835) a Quorum of Twelve Apostles was organized, but their jurisdiction was limited to areas outside established stakes (dioceses). Stakes were led by a president, who oversaw spiritual development, and by a bishop, who supervised temporal needs.

At Smith’s martyrdom in 1844, the church had five leading quorums of authority. The most obvious successor to Smith, Illinois stake president William Marks, opposed the secret rites of polygamy, anointing, endowments, and the clandestine political activity that had characterized the church in Illinois. The secret Council of Fifty had recently ordained Smith as King on Earth and sent ambassadors abroad to form alliances against the United States.

The majority of church members knew nothing of these developments, but they followed Brigham Young, head of the Quorum of the Twelve, who spoke forcefully and moved decisively to eliminate contenders for the presidency. He continued to build on Smith’s political and doctrinal innovations and social stratification. Young’s twentieth-century legacy is a well-defined structure without the charismatic spontaneity or egalitarian chaos of the early church.

Historian D. Michael Quinn examines the contradictions and confusion of the first two tumultuous decades of LDS history. He demonstrates how events and doctrines were silently, retroactively inserted into the published form of scriptures and records to smooth out the stormy, haphazard development. The bureaucratization of Mormonism was inevitable, but the manner in which it occurred was unpredictable and will be, for readers, fascinating.

Oct 4, 2017

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The Mormon Hierarchy - D. Michael Quinn

The Mormon Hierarchy


D. Michael Quinn

Signature Books

in association with Smith Research Associates

Salt Lake City


To my mother, a sixth-generation Mormon, whose love for Mormonism and her faith in its essentials continue strong despite the difficulties of her own experience and her awareness of the weakness of men. Thank you for nurturing that love and faith in me.

Jacket design by O’Very/Covey

The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power was printed on acid-free paper meeting the permanence of the American National Standard for Information Sciences.

© by Smith Research Associates. All rights reserved.

Printed and bound in the United States by Signature Books.

Signature Books is a registered trademark of Signature Books, Inc.

∞ Printed on acid free paper.

2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 9 8 7 6 5

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Quinn, D. Michael

The Mormon Hierarchy: origins of power / D. Michael Quinn

p. cm.

Printed edition includes index

ISBN 1-56085-056-6

1. Mormon Church—History 2. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—History. 3. Mormon Church—Government—History. 4. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—Government—History. Authority (Religion) I. Title.

BX8611.Q56 1994

262’.1’088283—dc20 94-14854




Chapter 1. The Evolution of Authority

From Private Religion to Public Ministry

The Concept of Church

Developments in the Concept of Authority

The Restoration of Priesthood

Two Priesthoods

Patriarchal Priesthood

Further Developments


Chapter 2. The First Five Presiding

Priesthood Quorums

The First Presidency

Presiding Patriarch

The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

The Seventy

The Presiding Bishopric

The Founder’s Legacy: Five Presiding Quorums

Chapter 3. Theocratic Beginnings

Mormon Civil Theology

Pacifism, Militarism, and Zion’s Camp

Theocratic Foreshadowings in Kirtland, Ohio

The Danites of Far West, Missouri

Chapter 4. The Kingdom of God in

Nauvoo, Illinois

Political Life in Nauvoo

A New Kingdom of God, Theocratic Ethics, and Blood Atonement

Freemasonry, the Anointed Quorum, and Danites as Policemen

Joseph Smith for President

The Council of Fifty and Its King

The Kingdom’s Non-Mormons and Masonic-Danite Connections

The National and International Reach of the Kingdom

The Death of the Latter-day King

Chapter 5. The 1844 Succession Crisis

and the Twelve

The Succession Crisis of 1844

Three Quorums

The Vote of the Nauvoo Church

Continuation of Joseph Smith’s Secret Heritage

The Ascension of Brigham Young

Sidney Rigdon: From Counselor to Successor

Chapter 6. Other Succession Options

Ordained Successors: Book of Mormon Witnesses

Secret Appointments

Kinship and Succession: Brothers and Sons


Chapter 7. The Nature of

Apostolic Succession


Appendix 1. General Officers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1830-47

Appendix 2. Mormon Security Forces, 1833-47

Appendix 3. Danites in 1838: A Partial List


Appendix 4. Meetings and Initiations of the Anointed Quorum (Holy Order), 1842-45


Appendix 5. Members of the

Council of Fifty, 1844-45

A. Ranking as of 27 June 1844 (at Joseph Smith’s death).

B. Ranking as of 27 June 1845 (one year after Joseph Smith’s death).

Appendix 6. Biographical Sketches of

General Officers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1830-47

Appendix 7. Selected Chronology of the

Church of Jesus Christ of

Latter-day Saints, 1830-47


The highest leadership of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS or Mormon church) has led its followers in an unparalleled social and geographical American exodus. When Joseph Smith published the Book of Mormon as new scripture at Palmyra, New York, in 1830, he had only a few dozen followers. Within a few years Mormons convulsed the social and political order of four states. Mormon leaders fled lawsuits in New York in 1831 and in Ohio in 1837. They were embroiled in civil war twice—in Missouri in 1838 and again at the Mormon capital and second-largest city of Illinois during 1845 and 1846. Mormons then created a metropolis in the high desert of the Far West and launched a half century of conflict with the United States. In 1857 the U.S. president sent federal troops to invade the Mormon capital of Salt Lake City. Congress passed its first anti-Mormon law in 1862. In 1879 Mormonism was the cause for the U.S. Supreme Court’s first limitation on the free expression of religion. In 1887 Congress declared Mormonism an organized rebellion, disincorporated the LDS church, and confiscated its assets. By 1890 Congress and the Supreme Court were prepared to deny civil rights to all members of the LDS church. In a stunning turnabout, a century later the LDS church had become the darling of the Republican White House and of such middle-class barometers as The Reader’s Digest.

As a social phenomenon, Mormonism has also altered the landscape of America, becoming the first or second largest religious denomination in nine western states and influencing politics and culture throughout the west. The LDS church is the fifth largest religious organization in the nation and doubles its population every ten-twelve years. Not surprisingly, the church has become a player in trade-offs and accommodations of national politics. In addition, its nearly 9 million members throughout the world constitute a higher proportion of the population in several countries than in the United States: 1.7 percent of the 1993 U.S. census. Tonga is 37 percent Mormon, Samoa 25 percent, Niue 17 percent, Kiribati 6.5 percent, Tahiti 6.4 percent, Cook Islands 4.4 percent, Marshall Islands 4.2 percent, Chile 2.6 percent, New Zealand 9.3 percent, Micronesia 2.3 percent, Alberta province, Canada 2.2 percent, Palau 2.2 percent, and Uruguay 1.9 percent.

This present study is the outgrowth of thirty years of research into the Mormon experience. Although other authors have written about similar themes, it seems to me that certain essential features of the church’s evolution and leadership have been misunderstood or ignored. Generalizations and cursory analysis have been the norm in viewing a leadership group which requires extensive analysis. The present volume emphasizes the development of ecclesiastical and theocratic powers in Mormonism, primarily during the lifetime of its founder Joseph Smith (1805-44), but also including Brigham Young’s transfer of the Mormon hierarchy to Utah in 1847. A companion volume focuses on ecclesiastical, dynastic, theocratic, political, and economic issues-primarily during the lifetimes of Smith’s successors in Utah up to the present.

These 165 years of Mormon leadership require a detailed examination that risks obscuring the larger experience of Mormonism. Thus the Selected Chronology appendix found at the end of this volume may be the most important single component in my study. First, it allows readers to see how the close analysis of leadership topics fits within other contemporary developments of Mormonism. Second, it provides a reference to all the major issues of my larger study. Third, it provides a sense for the diversity, the continuities, and the discontinuities of the Mormon experience for both its leadership and its rank-and-file. Therefore, the reader may wish to begin with the chronology.

For the benefit of all readers, the narrative gives careful explanation of subjects that may be obvious to some. Likewise, the endnotes give detailed sources for the benefit of those who wish to explore particular topics. Because source notes are bibliographic, there is no separate bibliography.

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 otherworldly interaction with human experience.

For most Mormons this book should be informative without being disturbing. However, 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. These are as central to early Mormon experience as its visions, revelations, conversions, sacrifices, heroes, heroines, and martyrdoms. Many members of the early LDS church knew the details this study presents and remained believers throughout their lives. In fact, they faithfully recorded the information which some Mormons today may find disturbing. I expect that the devout will maintain faith in a dynamic religion whose leaders may be more human than previously understood. But I also expect that nonbelievers will discover the fundamental religiosity in the Mormon hierarchy’s world view. Whatever their perspective, all readers will find that the Mormon hierarchy has had a remarkable career in American society.

In citing manuscript sources, I give priority to public availability. Published titles appear as the sole location for printed manuscripts. Where manuscripts are available to the general public as photocopies, microforms, or typescripts in a library or archive, I cite that location rather than a restricted archive which maintains the original. For sources which are unavailable to the general public in a restricted archive, my extensive type-written notes are also a location.

Over the years, I have done research on Mormonism and its leaders at various manuscript repositories including the Alberta Provincial Archives in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada; the Archives of Mountain Fuel Company in Salt Lake City; the Library and Archives of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Independence, Missouri; the Archives of Utah Power and Light Company in Salt Lake City; the Archives of the Utah State Hospital (formerly Utah State Insane Asylum) in Provo; the Archives of ZCMI (Zion’s Cooperative Mercantile Institution) in Salt Lake City; the Archives of Zion’s First National Bank in Salt Lake City; the Arizona Pioneers’ Historical Society in Tucson; the Bancroft Library of the University of California at Berkeley; the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library’ of Yale University; the Bentley Historical Library of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor; the British Library in London, England; the Burton Historical Collection of the Detroit Public Library; the California Historical Society in San Francisco; the California State Library in Sacramento; the Chicago Historical Society; the Clarke Historical Library of Central Michigan University at Mount Pleasant; the Clements Library of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor; the Daughters of Utah Pioneers Library in Salt Lake City; the Family History Library of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City; the Firestone Library of Princeton University; the Garrett Theological Seminary Library of Northwestern University; the Glenbow-Alberta Library in Calgary; the Historical Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City; the Historical Society of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia; the Historical Society of Wisconsin in Madison; the Houghton Manuscript and Rare Book Library of Harvard University; the Huntington Library in San Marino, California; the Idaho State Historical Society in Boise; the Illinois Historical Survey at the University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana; the Illinois State Historical Society in Springfield; the Illinois State Library; the Iowa State Historical Library in Des Moines; the King’s Daughters’ Library in Palmyra, New York; the Lake County Historical Society in Mentor, Ohio; the LDS Business College in Salt Lake City; the Harold B. Lee Library of Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah; the Lilly Library of Indiana University at Bloomington; the Lovejoy Library of the University of Southern Illinois at Edwardsville; the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress; the Marriott Library of the University of Utah; the Merrill Library of Utah State University in Logan; the Milner Library of Illinois State University at Normal; the Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul; the Missouri Historical Society in St. Louis; the Missouri State Archives in Joseph City; the National Archives in Washington, D.C.; the New York City Public Library; the Newberry Library in Chicago; the Ohio State Historical Society in Columbus; the State Historical Society of Missouri in Columbia; the Stewart Library of Weber State University in Ogden, Utah; the Utah State Archives in Salt Lake City; the Utah State Historical Society Library in Salt Lake City; the Western Historical Manuscripts Collection at the Ellis Library of the University of Missouri at Columbia; the Western Reserve Historical Society in Cleveland, Ohio; and county court houses in New York, Ohio, Missouri, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Texas, every far western state, and Hawaii.

Institutions are more permanent than individuals, yet my research is indebted to the generosity of people far more than the sufferance of institutions. I express thanks to literally hundreds of secretaries, clerks, librarians, archivists, and private individuals who may remember me, if at all, only as a whirlwind researcher who made a lot of demands on their time and patience.

During three decades of research on the Mormon hierarchy, I received material assistance of one kind or another from many sources. I wish to thank Roger J. Adams, Marilyn and Thomas G. Alexander, Renee and James B. Allen, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Council of Learned Societies, Lavina Fielding Anderson, Richard L. Anderson, Virginia and Don K. Archer, Grace Fort Arrington, Harriet Horne Arrington, Leonard J. Arrington, the Frederick W. Beinecke family, the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library of Yale University, the Samuel F. Bemis family, Curt Bench, Gary James Bergera, Davis Bitton, Scott Blaser, Alan D. Blodgett, Mary Lythgoe Bradford, Ralph O. Bradley, Charles M. Brown, Jr., the Dorothy Collins Brown family, Mariel Budd, the Burgener family (Arnold, Jane, and Robert), Cecelia Warner Burnard, Alfred Bush, Norinne and Reed E. Callister, Beth and Eugene E. Campbell, Steven F. Christensen, Howard A. Christy, Viola Clawson, Everett L. Cooley, Brent Corcoran, Kathleen and Roy M. Darley, George Daul, Mario S. DePillis, the Dialogue Foundation, G. Homer Durham, Della Dye, Paul M. Edwards, the George W. Egleston family, Andrew F. Ehat, Ronald K. Esplin, Edwin Brown Firmage, Chad Flake, Craig L. Foster, Rodney P. Foster, Vincent Frey, Margaret L. Gardner, Alison Bethke Gayek, Elizabeth and Van Gessel, Rick Grunder, Lock Hales, Marion D. Hanks, Harvard Heath, Martin B. Hickman, Alice Hill, the history departments of Yale University and Brigham Young University, Patricia and David Honey, Wayne Hood, Shauna and Richard G. Horne, the Henry E. Huntington Library, the Glen W. Irwin Foundation, Richard Jensen, R. Hal Jenson, Dean C. Jessee, Emmett Johnson, Clifton Holt Jolley, Scott G. Kenney, Camilla and Spencer W. Kimball, KUED-TV of Salt Lake City, Shirley and Howard R. Lamar, Mary and Richard N. W. Lambert, James Lavenstein, the Lee Library of Brigham Young University, J. Farrell Lines, Jr., Steve Lucas, David Luciano, Daniel H. Ludlow, the T. Edgar Lyon family, the Marriott Library of the University of Utah, Betty Ann Marshall, the McAdams family (Michael, Ruby, and Sylvia), Judith and James W. McConkie, the Giles Mead Foundation, George Miles, the Mormon History Association, the Mormon History Trust Fund, the National Endowment for the Humanities, John Netto, Linda and Jack Newell, Joy and Vaude Nye, Moyne Oviatt Osborne, Elbert Eugene Peck, Carmen Buelna Pena, Rinehart Lee Peschell, Richard D. Poll, Perry Porter, Ronald Priddis, Beverly and Donald Pena Quinn, Janice Darley Quinn, Daniel Rector, A. Hamer Reiser, the Religious Studies Center of Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis, Marcia Rice, Martin Ridge, Allen D. Roberts, the B. H. Roberts Society, O. Preston Robinson, William Rose, Jeanne and Paul Ross, William D. Russell, Roger Salazar, Susan Lucas Sceranka, Donald T. Schmidt, Jan Shipps, Erin R. Silva, Robert E. Simpson, Elizabeth Shaw Smith, E. Gary Smith, George D. Smith, James E. Smith, Smith Research Associates, Stephanie and John Sorensen, Peggy Fletcher Stack, Kathryn Quinn Standish, the Sunstone Foundation, Robert K. Thomas, Gregory C. Thompson, Margaret and Paul Toscano, Dawn House Tracy, Brandon Valentine, Jeanie Hanks Van Amen, Ken Verdoia, Dan Vogel, Fred Voros, Doris and Ted J. Warner, the John W. Welch family, Sam Weller, Hugh S. West, Lynne and Alan Whitesides, the Mrs. Giles Whiting Foundation, the John Whitmer Historical Association, Jeff Wood, the Workman family (Coila, Darlene, Della, Donna, Frank J., Frank L., Joseph Alma, Joyce, Norma, Pam, Reuben, and Toni), and my children Mary, Lisa, Adam, and Paul.

I cannot adequately list or thank all those who have given significant encouragement to my work on this project. However, I express special thanks to the following persons who critiqued preliminary versions of this study in part or whole: Linda Hunter Adams, Sydney E. Ahlstrom, Thomas G. Alexander, James B. Allen, Lavina Fielding Anderson, Leonard J. Arrington, Irene M. Bates, Gary James Bergera, Davis Bitton, Mary Lythgoe Bradford, John L. Brooke, Jon Buffer, James G. Clawson, Andrew F. Ehat, Richard G. Ellsworth, Ronald K. Esplin, Lawrence Foster, Maxine Hanks, Martin B. Hickman, Marvin S. Hill, Richard P. Howard, Norris Hundley, Robert D. Hutchins, Howard R. Lamar, James Wirthlin McConkie II, David E. Miller, R. Laurence Moore, Linda King Newell, Richard D. Poll, Ronald Priddis, Gregory A. Prince, Jan Shipps, E. Gary Smith, Susan Staker, Charles D. Tare, Richard S. Van Wagoner, Dan Vogel, David J. Whittaker, R. Hal Williams, and Larry Wimmer. They have not always agreed with my conclusions, and I have not always accepted their critiques, but this is a better study because of the dialogue between us.

Salt Lake City

October 1994

Chapter 1. The Evolution of Authority

Before it was an organization, Mormonism was a private religious awakening in a single family. Born in December 1805, Joseph Smith, Jr., became the most prominent seer in his family. His parents Joseph Sr. and Lucy Mack nurtured all their children in a home where the wondrous, mundane, and spiritual commingled.¹ In the beginning, their religious activities did not differ dramatically from the experiences of their contemporaries. The impulse which led to founding a church developed gradually as did the structure of that church once it began. Eventually Mormonism became a hierarchical institution with a complex priesthood system. Understanding the growing sense of church and the increasingly structured view of authority as priesthood is necessary to comprehend the currently elaborate organization of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

From Private Religion to Public Ministry

According to Vermont neighbors, five years before the birth of Joseph Smith, Jr., his father participated with William Cowdery in a religious group using divining rods mostly as a medium of revelation.² Almost thirty years later Jesse Smith wrote in a family letter that his brother Joseph Sr. had a wand or rod for obtaining obscure knowledge. That same year William’s son Oliver Cowdery introduced himself to the Smith family as a divining rodsman. Joseph Jr. later announced a revelation commending Cowdery’s gift of working with the rod.³

In such practices the Cowderys and Smiths were typical examples of popular religion in early America. Many Americans believed in divining rods, seer stones, amulets, talismans, parchments with mystical inscriptions, and buried treasure guarded by enchantments.⁴ Such objects and practices were also part of Smith’s adolescence and early adulthood. Evidence for this comes from the family’s artifacts and reminiscences and also later statements by both Mormons and non-Mormons.⁵ Many then and now refuse to accept the religious dimension of superstitious beliefs and practices of folk magic.

However, until the mid-nineteenth century in America, scientists, college-educated clergymen, lay preachers, civic leaders, wealthy landowners, as well as the ill-educated and socially disadvantaged practiced forms of folk magic. This represented an alternative to academic magic which required knowledge of ancient languages and careful attention to written magical texts. Folk magic was often preserved by oral tradition, though its adherents included Oxford and Harvard graduates as well as the poorly educated, devout Christians, and non-believers.⁶ Likewise, until the mid-nineteenth century, institutional religion was a minority experience in the United States, while folk religion was the experience of 80-90 percent of Americans.⁷ Literacy and social class did not determine who participated in folk religion or folk magic in early America: there was no literacy issue which divided popular religion from formal religion, even though the classically-educated elite abandoned the occult sooner than the non-elite.⁸

Like most early Americans, the Smith family’s interest in magic was only part of their religious quest. When Joseph Smith, Jr., was six his father had the first of several visions or dreams with religious meaning. The father rejected organized religion, but Smith’s mother Lucy Mack sought out institutional religion and joined the Presbyterians without her husband.

The frequent religious revivals and camp meetings of western New York’s burnt-over district had direct influence on the resident Smith family. Smith said he first became intensely interested in religion about the age of twelve. That is when a revival occurred in his home town of Palmyra, New York, from the fall of 1816 to the winter of 1817. The next year his father had a vision in which angels showed him a building that was closed to him. In 1819 the elder Smith dreamed of a spirit guide who promised him salvation after the completion of one more event. Sometime after 1819 religious revivals again convulsed the area surrounding the Smith farm, now located at Manchester on the outskirts of Palmyra.¹⁰

According to a later narrative, Joseph Jr., following in the path of his father, eventually experienced his own dramatic theophany. He wrote that he was filld with the spirit of God and the Lord opened the heavens upon me and I saw the Lord and he spake unto me saying Joseph my son thy Sins are forgiven thee.¹¹ In later accounts, Smith indicated that God the Father had introduced Jesus to him.¹²

Smith’s accounts of this first vision were consistent with other contemporary ecstatic experiences; nothing about his account was unusual for his time and place.¹³ Smith’s story was even more believable because his first theophany neither transformed his life nor sent him on a quest to form a church. He had sought forgiveness for youthful sins and received absolution. His theophany was solitary, supranatural, and overwhelming. That it contained no command to preach repentance or tell anyone of the experience is extraordinary within the context of his later career. His vision implied no religious mission, no church, no community, and certainly no ecclesiastical hierarchy.¹⁴

Neighbors testified that during the spring of 1820 Smith became a seer in quest of buried treasure. Occult texts and custom dictated that treasure-seers should seek divine forgiveness in purification rituals. Perhaps this, as much as religious revivals, motivated the youth’s repentance.¹⁵ By all accounts Smith continued as both farm boy and treasure seer for years until he announced that he had obtained gold plates.¹⁶ But by 1831 a Palmyra newspaper was reporting that Smith claimed he had seen God frequently and personally.¹⁷

Scholars have long recognized that the first vision account was not published or used in any proselytizing tract until the 1840s and that it was not used regularly as a Mormon proselytizing tool until fifty years after Smith’s theophany.¹⁸ Critics tend to overlook the fact that non-Mormon newspapers reported in 1829-31 that Smith had seen God and that he had even recorded a version of his experience as early as 1832. His delay until 1842 in publishing his account of the first vision echoes the actions of Protestant ministers of his time who waited decades to describe their personal visions of deity. Joseph Smith’s first vision became a missionary tool for his followers only after Americans grew to regard converse with God as unusual.

Though Smith’s vision of deity was not remarkable in the 1820s, his visions surrounding the Book of Mormon created a sensation. According to Smith, in 1823 an angel named Moroni told him of gold plates buried nearby which related the story, of pre-Columbian Americans, a history compiled by an ancient prophet named Mormon. Four years later, in 1827, Smith retrieved the plates. After setbacks and delays Smith two years later used a brown seer stone from his treasure-seeking days to produce an English translation of the book, spending three months dictating his translation. The book eventually appeared in late March 1830 as 500 pages of print. His scribe was Oliver Cowdery, the rodsman.¹⁹

These events alienated former allies in his hometown. A Presbyterian woman who grew up near the Smith family later spoke of the excitement stirred up among some of the people over the boy’s first vision, and of hearing her father contend that it was only the sweet dream of a pure-minded boy. However, when Smith announced that he was producing new scripture, her parents cut off their friendship for all the Smiths. Decades later the woman lamented: There was never a truer, purer, nobler boy than Joseph Smith before he was led away by superstition.²⁰

The publication of the Book of Mormon signaled to the world that Joseph Smith was not simply a village mystic. It was the beginning of what Mormons soon called the restoration of all things. That phrase eventually encompassed a remarkable theology, a radical world view, and an ethnic sense of peopleness²¹ among those who have always preferred to be known as Latter-day Saints. Two recent interpreters of nineteenth-century American religion have noted:

Fundamental to this antipluralist posture was the peculiarly Mormon understanding of restoration. If Puritans, Baptists, and Christians, for example, sought simply to emulate the faith and practices of the ancients, Mormons embraced a scheme of restoration that was cosmic in its scope, that penetrated space to the ends of the earth and the outer bounds of the universe itself, and that encompassed time from its very beginning to its end.²²

In addition, religious historian Jan Shipps has argued that by invoking Old Testament archetypes within a Christian-American context, Mormonism became a new religious movement, a new world religion.²³

The Concept of Church

The evolution of authority, priesthood, ordained offices, and presiding quorums traced in this study is not obvious to those acquainted with official LDS doctrine and history.²⁴ Significant changes have been made in the published texts of LDS scriptures and in church documents published by official histories.²⁵ These changes retroactively introduced concepts, people, names, and structures which did not exist in the original revelations and historical documents. In some instances these unannounced changes altered or reversed the original meaning of the various statements. Orson Pratt was the first Mormon historian to acknowledge such retroactive changes in the revelations of Doctrine and Covenants which became a canonized book in 1835.²⁶ Church president John Taylor also referred to Smith’s right to give a portion of a revelation and add to it afterwards.²⁷ Beginning with Smith and Cowdery, church leaders regarded these retroactive changes as necessary because the original documents did not adequately anticipate Mormonism’s later developments. Book of Mormon witness David Whitmer later wrote: In a few years they had gone away ahead of the written word, so that they had to change these revelations.²⁸

The passage of time and changes in the historical record have obscured the early Mormon concept of church. Although inconceivable to modern Mormons, the concept of a latter-day church existed at first without being linked to the need for a religious organization or for religious ordinances. In a revelation to Smith in the summer of 1828, God spoke of the people, this people, and my people before referring to my church. This 1828 revelation equated my people with a non-institutional my church. At the same time this revelation rejected all organized religion as they who do not fear me, neither keep my commandments but build up churches unto themselves to get gain (D&C 10:40, 46, 52, 56).

This 1828 revelation offered no alternative church, no latter-day institution with God’s approval, no religious ordinances required of converts to my church. The document read: Behold this is my doctrine—whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church. And to erase all doubt that God’s latter-day church required no baptism, the 1828 revelation immediately stated: Whosoever declareth more or less than this, the same is not of me, but is against me; therefore he is not of my church (D&C 10:67-68). In 1828 Smith’s followers were part of a gathering which lacked organized form and which required only professions of faith and repentance from its converts.

This is why a February 1829 revelation (D&C 4) said nothing about ecclesiastical or priestly authority as a qualification for the ministry. Instead it specified requirements of faith, hope, charity, and love, with an eye single to the glory of God to be a minister (BofC, 9; D&C 4:5). A revelation received the next month and printed in the Book of Commandments spoke of church in the same general terms: I will establish my church like unto the church which was taught by my disciples in the days of old. However, this language did not survive the editing process for the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants. In its place was inserted the requirement of priestly power and about the need to be ordained (BofC, 10-13; compare D&C 5:6, 13-14, 17).²⁹

Not until Smith began dictating the Book of Mormon translation to Cowdery in April 1829 did the word authority or the requirement for baptism appear in a Mormon document (Mosiah 18:12-13). The conferral of priestly authority was later specified in Smith’s 1839 account of the angel Moroni visit to him sixteen years earlier: Behold I will reveal unto you the Priesthood. These words had not appeared in Smith’s 1832 account or in Cowdery’s 1834 detailed description of Moroni’s words.³⁰

While engaged in translating the Book of Mormon, Smith and Cowdery baptized each other by immersion in May 1829. As one biographer has written, "To the converts, Joseph’s Church was not only based upon the Book of Mormon, but the book was its reason for having come into existence."³¹

The basic nature of the new church changed three times between 1828 and April 1830. First, from 1828 to May 1829 my church was an unorganized body of my people who had no priestly authority and which required no religious ordinances. Second, from mid-1829, dozens of new converts were baptized into a community of believers, the Church of Christ.³² Although this church had no formal organization, Cowdery wrote an 1829 document titled, A commandment from God unto Oliver [—] how he should build up his church & the manner thereof, which referred to authority, various ordinances, and church offices.³³ Its members were concentrated in three New York locations: Manchester/Palmyra in Ontario County, Fayette in Seneca County, and Colesville in Broome County. Then Smith published the Book of Mormon at Palmyra in March 1830. As the third major change, Smith formally organized the Church of Christ on 6 April 1830. In the remaining months of that year, branches of Mormon converts were organized at Manchester, Fayette, and Colesville.³⁴

Book of Mormon witness David Whitmer voiced the sentiments of many who initially associated themselves with Smith and his new book of scripture. Already baptized and ordained, Whitmer wanted the Church of Christ to remain a spiritual community of believers. He felt uncomfortable with the impulse to transform the Church of Christ into an earthly, formally organized church institution: "We were as fully organized—spiritually—before April 6th as we were on that day….There were six elders and about seventy members before April 6th, and the same number of elders and members after that day."³⁵ Although compliant with Smith’s directions, Whitmer grew uncomfortable with changes after 1829.³⁶ He failed to realize that Mormonism had already evolved for a decade within the Smith family before he met Smith and that the institution would continue to change and evolve. Originally called the Church of Christ in 1829, it became The Church of the Latter Day Saints in 1834. In 1838 a revelation gave its final name as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.³⁷

Developments in the Concept of Authority

By the time of Smith’s death in late June 1844, the initial community of believers was organized in five intricately structured quorums of leaders which would continue in Mormonism for a hundred years: the First Presidency, the Presiding Patriarch, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the First Council of Seventy, and the Presiding Bishopric. This elaborate structure was not anticipated by converts joining the Mormon movement before 1835. Before then the structure was fluid, and public claims for authority in the church were made largely on the basis of religious experience and charisma rather than priestly power through lineage and angelic ministration. When the church was organized in April 1830, there was still little sense of hierarchy. Smith was seen as one prophet among potentially many. Neither was there a structured sense of authority or priesthood. A crucial task in understanding the pre-1835 period of the church involves tracing the changes which enabled the evolution of priestly status. It was priesthood-and eventually a highly structured priesthood—which required the hierarchical, structured institution that Mormonism became.

What the official account of Mormon origins obscures is the egalitarian nature of the church before 1835. This can be demonstrated by considering two positions—prophet and apostle—in the earliest years of the church. Both offices have survived into the twentieth century, both were part of the community’s vernacular at the church’s founding, yet the value and function of each have substantively changed.

Whitmer noted that the only new ordinance on 6 April 1830 occurred when Cowdery ordained Smith as Prophet, Seer and Revelator—which the enabling revelation had phrased as a prophet rather than "the prophet."³⁸ The term prophet had been applied prior to the founding of the institutional church in the same way as the term elder. At first nearly everyone regarded Smith as a prophet among prophets, not as the prophet. David Whitmer described how Mormons viewed Smith up to September 1830. Brother Joseph gave many true prophesies [sic] when he was humble before God: but this is no more than many of the other brethren did, he wrote. Brothers Ziba Peterson, Hiram Page, Oliver Cowdery, Parley P. Pratt, Orson Pratt, Peter Whitmer, Christian Whitmer, John Whitmer, myself and many others had the gift of prophesy.³⁹

A well-known incident demonstrates the power in such an egalitarian concept of prophet, seer, and revelator. During the late summer of 1830, Hiram Page, one of the Eight Witnesses to the Book of Mormon, used a seer stone to dictate revelations for members of the church. Up to that time none of Smith’s revelations prohibited other Saints from declaring God’s will for the church.

Prominent church members accepted Page’s revelations. This shows that early Mormons regarded Smith’s prophet, seer, and revelator ordination as non-exclusive. Even Cowdery was believing much in Page’s revelations, although Cowdery had ordained Smith a prophet, seer, and revelator five months earlier.⁴⁰

This concept of prophet posed no difficulty for a spiritual community of believers, but non-hierarchical charisma could fragment an institution. A hierarchy of spiritual authority is impossible if there is unrestricted access to receive and announce God’s will. Before the church’s next conference in September 1830, Smith dictated a revelation that no one shall be appointed to receive commandments and revelations in this Church excepting my servant Joseph, Jun., for he receiveth them even as Moses (D&C 28:2).⁴¹ This revelation subordinated charisma-the gifts and revelations of God-to the authority of a single church leader. Sociologists of religion call this binding charisma within organizational forms.⁴² Smith emphasized this shift from charisma to organization by destroying Hiram Page’s seer stone which had produced the rival revelations.⁴³

Five months later a woman’s revelations resulted in an emphatic restatement of this same position with one crucial addition. Smith dictated God’s command that "there is none other appointed unto you to receive commandments and revelations until he be taken, if he abide in me…none else shall be appointed unto this gift except it be through him: for if it be taken from him he shall not have power except to appoint another in his stead (D&C 43:34; emphasis added). As of February 1831 then, there could be no Mormon Elijah or Hosea rising from outside the priestly structure. Smith was now a prophet like Moses with exclusive right to appoint his prophetic successor. This applied even if Smith became a fallen prophet."

In defining the church president’s exclusive gift, this revelation of February 1831 contradicted an earlier one. Two years earlier the original text of a revelation had said: "And he [Joseph] has a gift to translate the book [of Mormon], and I have commanded him that he shall pretend to no other gift, for I will grant him no other gift" (BofC, 10; emphasis added). This limitation fit the unstructured community of believers in 1829. However, it was an obvious difficulty for his ascendancy as sole revelator to an organized church and was eventually revised.

This original text appeared without change in the 1833 Book of Commandments but became the earliest of many altered revelations in the first edition of the Doctrine and Covenants in 1835: "And you have a gift to translate the plates; and this is the first gift that I bestowed upon you; and I have commanded that you should pretend to no other gift until my purpose is fulfilled in this; for I will grant unto you no other gift until it is finished" (D&C 5:4).⁴⁴ The retroactive additions italicized in the above passage changed the meaning and context of the 1829 revelation. This was necessary to make the earlier revelation consistent with Joseph Smith’s post-1830 role as church president with exclusive right to announce revelations.⁴⁵

The earliest Mormon use (1829-33) of the title apostle poses similar problems for present understanding. Its original debut as a Mormon term occurs in the same non-hierarchical context as the term prophet. But according to official accounts, apostle as an ordained office and presiding quorum did not exist until 1835. In fact the first reference to this office dates from a June 1829 revelation, which provides a key to understanding the nature of this pre-1835 apostleship: And now, Oliver, I speak unto you, and also unto David Whitmer…and I speak unto you, even as unto Paul mine apostle, for you are called even with that same calling with which he was called (D&C 18:9; also BofC, 35).

The Gospels recorded the literal ordination by Jesus of apostles Peter, James, John, and nine others (Mark 3:14). The eleven apostles laid hands on Matthias to ordain him an apostle to replace the deceased Judas (Acts 1:25-26). However, the New Testament mentions no such literal ordination for Paul. Instead because of his vision on the road to Damascus, Paul was an apostle, not of men, neither by men, but by Jesus Christ (Gal. 1:1). The LDS church’s dictionary of the Bible currently acknowledges that Paul and Barnabas may have been apostles strictly in the sense of being special witnesses for the Lord Jesus Christ.⁴⁶ The New Testament portrayed Paul as a charismatic apostle and special witness, not an apostle through ordination by the laying on of hands.

To the mid-nineteenth century, Mormon leaders continued to use the word apostle to designate unordained charisma. Although the book of Acts recorded that the martyr Stephen was one of the seven ordained deacons, LDS apostle John Taylor called him Apostle Stephen because Stephen saw a vision of God and Jesus Christ.⁴⁷

The 1829 revelation called Cowdery and Whitmer apostles because they, with Smith and later with Martin Harris, were special witnesses for the Book of Mormon. These four men heard God’s voice and viewed the plates in a vision. According to one account, the angel in the vision placed his hands on Whitmer’s head.⁴⁸ Like Paul on the road to Damascus (Acts 26:13-14), Smith and the Book of Mormon’s Three Witnesses saw a light and heard a voice in 1829. As a result latter-day revelations designated Smith and the Three Witnesses as apostles, without literal ordination by the laying on of hands. One of these apostles, David Whitmer, later said: During 1829, several times we were told by Brother Joseph that an elder [not apostle] was the highest office in the church. Reflecting that 1829 view, William E. McLellin, who later received actual ordination as an apostle, wrote: an Apostle is not an administrative officer. When they ministered they did it as elders. A recent interpreter observed, these apostles had received their callings charismatically [through vision] rather than institutionally [through ordination to office].⁴⁹

This 1829 revelation commanded Cowdery and Whitmer to search out the Twelve who shall be my disciples (D&C 18:27, 37; also BofC, 37). Official LDS histories cite this revelation as the basis for the Three Witnesses ordaining a Quorum of Twelve Apostles in 1835. These histories do not explain why the Three Witnesses would delay fulfilling God’s command for six years.⁵⁰ Similarly LDS histories do not explain why there were newspaper references from 1829 to 1831 to twelve apostles in Mormonism. In September 1829 a Palmyra newspaper noted: The number of the Gold Bible apostles is said to be complete.⁵¹ In November 1830 the Cleveland Herald said that the Mormon church had sent out twelve Apostles to promulgate its doctrines.⁵² A Mormon source confirmed this a year later. Ezra Booth, one of the first high priests, wrote that Ziba Peterson, one of the twelve Apostles, was deprived of his Elder and Apostleship.⁵³ Eight days before the church’s organization, evangelical preacher David Marks met the Whitmer witnesses to the Book of Mormon who further stated, that twelve apostles were to be appointed, who would soon confirm their mission by miracles.⁵⁴

At the church’s first conference of 9 June 1830 the organization had only twelve officers. Smith and Cowdery were the first and second elders. David Whitmer, John Whitmer, Peter Whitmer, Ziba Peterson, and Samuel H. Smith were also elders. Martin Harris, Hyrum Smith, and Joseph Sr. were priests. Hiram Page and Christian Whitmer were teachers. The seven elders of June 1830 may have seen themselves as a restoration of the seven prominent deacons in the early apostolic church. In any event deacons were not actually ordained in the new church until 1831, and the office of deacon was retroactively added to the revelation of April 1830.⁵⁵

The June 1830 conference gave each of these twelve officers a written license. John Whitmer’s license reads: Given to John Whitmer signifying & proveing [sic] that he is an Apostle of Jesus Christ an Elder of this Church. This document was signed by Cowdery and Smith, each as an Apostle of Jesus Christ. In 1831 Sidney Rigdon wrote that John Whitmer is an apostle of this church.⁵⁶

Thus of the seven elders at the church’s first conference, at least five were specifically called apostles during the 1829-to-1831 period: Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, John Whitmer, and Ziba Peterson. In view of a revelatory statement that an apostle is an elder (BofC, 51; D&C 20:38), it seems clear that the remaining elders of this first conference, Peter Whitmer and Samuel H. Smith, were also designated as apostles in their elder’s licenses.

This explanation leaves unanswered the question of whether the five non-elders at the conference were also apostles. The licenses of Joseph Sr., a priest, and Christian Whitmer, a teacher, did not give them the title Apostle.⁵⁷ However, Smith’s statement to the School of the Prophets three years later explained that the title apostle applied to those who had received a vision.⁵⁸ Charismatic or visionary experience is what distinguished the church’s twelve officers at the June 1830 conference, and that is why early Mormons regarded these twelve as apostles. In addition to three special witnesses, Smith showed eight other men the gold plates, but they did not see an angel or hear the voice of God.⁵⁹ John Whitmer, called an apostle in 1830, was one of the Eight Witnesses.

Although existing records do not specify who selected the Eight Witnesses in June 1829, their selection came within days of the revelation to Cowdery and Whitmer to seek out twelve disciples. Cowdery, Whitmer, and Harris were already called by revelation to be three special witnesses, and, with Smith, they announced that twelve chosen witnesses, had been allowed to see the gold plates.⁶⁰

For unknown reasons the first church conference substituted Ziba Peterson for the twelfth witness, Jacob Whitmer. Peterson’s charismatic qualification is unknown but can be inferred by his designation with the other eleven. Early church members such as Ezra Booth understood that the twelve officers at the first conference were apostles, even Peterson. This conclusion is consistent with John Whitmer’s license and Rigdon’s statement.

By the end of 1830 the designation of apostle (without ordination) also included an evangelical call to missionary service. This expanding application only emphasizes the lack of concrete designations in church thinking about authority. In December 1830 two of these original twelve apostles of Mormonism referred to Orson Pratt as another servant and apostle. Pratt explained in 1847 that 17 yrs ago [1830] in Fa[the]r. Whitmer’s Chamber bro Jos[ep]h. got a rev[elatio]n. through the Urim & Thummim [seer stone] that I sho[ul]d. be one of the 12. The revelation to Pratt in November 1830 simply said, you are called of me to preach my gospel.⁶¹ Pratt’s 1830 apostleship had nothing to do with visionary witness, because throughout his life Orson grieved that he had never had a vision.⁶²

Mormon missionaries were called apostles as late as the end of 1832. In September 1831 Jared Carter’s diary recorded that he received the authority of an apostle to go on a proselytizing mission.⁶³ At the end of a three-day conference in October 1831, Cowdery said that the directions which himself & his br. David Whitmer had received this morning respecting the choice of the twelve was that they would be ordained & sent forth from the land of Zion. Historians have not recognized this as the calling of regular missionaries and viewed this 1831 instruction as a curious reference to a quorum which was not organized until more than three years later.⁶⁴

The index to the Kirtland Revelation Book stated that a two-day revelation to Smith and six elders and to Eleven high Priests save one on 22-23 September 1832 was for commissioning the Apostles to preach th[e] gospel. The text of the revelation told these missionaries you are mine apostles, even God’s high priests and instructed them to go ye into all the world and preach.⁶⁵ These evangelical apostles, like the charismatic ones, were not ordained by the laying on of hands.

In 1831 Mormonism had already begun its westward movement along two fronts. Smith and others from New York and New England relocated to Kirtland (near Cleveland), Ohio, where he established church headquarters. In five years a two-storied temple would crown Kirtland’s heights. At the same time he directed the resettlement of other Mormons to Missouri, first at Jackson County and then to the counties of Clay, Clinton, Ray, Carroll, Caldwell, and Daviess. Independence, Missouri, was to become the millennial City of Zion with a magnificent temple complex. However, plans for establishing the Mormon inheritance of Zion went into indefinite suspension in 1833 when vigilantes and civil authorities expelled Mormons from Jackson County.⁶⁶

Charismatic apostleship (without ordination) reemerged prominently in 1833. Smith’s description of twenty-four temples to comprise the temple complex of Zion in Independence, Missouri, included three temples designated for the Sacred Apostolic repository.⁶⁷ A clue to what Smith meant is in a revelation that same June 1833 concerning the temple at Kirtland: And let the higher part of the inner court be dedicated unto me for the school of mine apostles, saith Son Ahman (D&C 95:17).⁶⁸

The previous March members of the Kirtland School of the Prophets had experienced a vision which qualified them as apostles. Zebedee Coltrin later testified that during a meeting of this adult-education school, he and others saw two separate personages surrounded as with a flame of fire. Smith then told Kirtland’s School of the Prophets, Brethren[,] now you are prepared to be the apostles of Jesus Christ, for you have seen both the Father and the Son.⁶⁹ The revelation of June 1833 confirmed their designation, though not by ordination.

Not until 1835 did the calling of apostle become an ordained office in Mormonism. Then the Three Witnesses once again fulfilled the 1829 revelation to select twelve disciples—but within a transformed context. In 1835 Mormon apostleship became an office attained by ordination as with Matthias of the New Testament. This quorum of twelve did not include any of the Book of Mormon witnesses. Nor did it include Coltrin and other charismatic apostles from the 1833 School of the Prophets.

The Restoration of Priesthood

The lack of structure in priesthood offices—which later would become signs of privileged authority—existed because early Mormons regarded priesthood itself in a much different way. Participants at the church’s organization had a unitary sense of authority rather than a belief in dual priesthoods of different ranks. According to current tradition, both the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods functioned in the church after the spring of 1829 when Smith and Cowdery were visited first by John the Baptist, who restored the lesser or Aaronic priesthood, and then by Peter, James, and John, who restored the higher or Melchizedek priesthood. A closer look at contemporary records indicates that men were first ordained to the higher priesthood over a year after the church’s founding. No mention of angelic ordinations can be found in original documents until 1834-35. Thereafter accounts of the visit of Peter, James, and John by Cowdery and Smith remained vague and contradictory.

The distance between traditional accounts of LDS priesthood beginnings and the differing story of early documents points to retrospective changes made in the public record to create a story of logical and progressive development. For example, as now published in D&C 68:15 a revelation of November 1831 referred to the Melchizedek Priesthood. However, the original text of the 1831 revelation did not contain that priesthood phrase which was a retroactive addition in 1835.⁷⁰

The first evidence of angelic restoration in public discussion comes from Cowdery in 1834.⁷¹ Cowdery confirms the idea of one priesthood at the church’s organization and indirectly suggests that Smith and he had not yet encountered Peter, James, and John or the higher priesthood in April 1830. Cowdery’s October 1834 history first describes a visitation of John the Baptist to Smith and himself in 1829: and we received under his hands the Holy Priesthood. Then he quotes the angel’s words: Upon you my fellow servants, in the name of Messiah, I confer this Priesthood and this authority, which remain upon earth, that the sons of Levi may yet offer an offering unto the Lord in righteousness.⁷² This was the first time Mormons learned that a heavenly conferral of authority occurred before the church’s organization.

Cowdery’s words indicate a restoration of only one priesthood.⁷³ The version of this priesthood restoration prayer familiar to Mormons today was first published in 1842 (now D&C 13). An examination of the published prayer shows that Cowdery’s 1834 prayer-text was its source and that an entire central portion was retroactively added.⁷⁴ This addition delimited the role of authority restored by John the Baptist and made the 1829 event appear to be a prelude to the later division of church authority into the lesser and the greater priesthoods. By later definitions only the Melchizedek priesthood was the Holy Priesthood (D&C 84:25-27).⁷⁵

Accounts of a second priesthood restoration began appearing the year after Cowdery’s 1834 history. In August 1835 the church published the first edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, which added passages to some previously published revelations. One dated August 1830 (now sec. 27) added a reference concerning the 1829 visit of John the Baptist as ordaining you unto the first Priesthood which you have received…even as Aaron. The revelation continues: And also with Peter, James, and John, whom I have sent unto you, by whom I have ordained you and confirmed you to be apostles, and especial witnesses of my name, and bear the keys of your ministry and of the same things which I revealed to them (D&C 27:8, 12). These phrases about John the Baptist and Peter, James, and John had not appeared when the revelation was first published in 1832 in The Evening and the Morning Star or in the 1833 Book of Commandments (BofC, 60). A recent study has demonstrated that the center portion on priesthood (now D&C 27:6-13) is also missing from the revelation’s only manuscript. The added text cannot be found in any document before 1835, nor can any similar wording or concept be found prior to 1834.⁷⁶

The reference to keys is an important addition to this revelation since the concept of keys is now central to the Mormon theology of authority. As defined in the LDS church’s Encyclopedia of Mormonism, The keys of the priesthood refer to the right to exercise power in the name of Jesus Christ or to preside over a priesthood function, quorum, or organizational division of the Church.⁷⁷ The doctrine of the keys of the priesthood (and the related keys of the kingdom) became central to the question of presidential succession.

Cowdery was also writing about two angelic ministrations by late 1835. When introducing the church’s first book of recorded patriarchal blessings on 28 September 1835, he referred to both angelic ministrations. He referred to the appearance of the first angel who bestowed upon us this priesthood, as I have said, we repaired to the water and were baptized. After this we received the high and holy priesthood: but an account of this will be given elsewhere, or in an other place. Four days later in the same book, Cowdery recorded Smith’s blessing to him which said that the two had been ordained by the hand of the angel in the bush, unto the lesser priesthood and after received the holy priesthood under the hands of they who had been held in reserve for a long season, even those who received it under the hand of the Messiah.⁷⁸

Cowdery’s 1835 document claimed this was a blessing Smith gave him on 18 December 1833, but the blessing was received almost two years later on 22 September 1835, which John Whitmer’s history verifies.⁷⁹ In December 1833 the prophet had recorded on Cowdery’s behalf a prayer-blessing which warned him of two evils in him that he must needs forsake.⁸⁰ No contemporary details are available, but Brigham Young and others later described Cowdery’s evils: In 1833 newly married Cowdery had either committed adultery or entered into an unauthorized plural marriage which Smith defined as adulterous.⁸¹ Cowdery’s substitution of the 1835 blessing for the 1833 document had two benefits. It omitted the earlier document’s allusion to his misconduct and retroactively provided a pre-1835 reference to Peter, James, and John. This was consistent with the reference to three angels Smith and Cowdery had already added to an 1830 revelation in the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants.⁸²

One significant problem created by such changes has been the difficulty in dating the visit of Peter, James, and John. Official histories have varied from caution to assertion about the date. Assistant church historian B. H. Roberts concluded that the ordination doubtless occurred some time between May 15, 1829, and the expiration of the month of June of that same year. Church historian Joseph Fielding Smith announced that it was only a few days after the first ordination.⁸³ The LDS church’s encyclopedia reflects Roberts’s less dogmatic conclusion: The documents available and the date of the formal organization of the Church give support to a time of restoration before April 6, 1830. Many students have concluded that late May or early June 1829 is the most probable time frame.⁸⁴ Despite acknowledging the evidence for a much later date, one historian also asserts: A positive[,] circumstantial case can be made that Peter, James, and John must have appeared in late May or early June 1829…⁸⁵ Aware of the historical problems in giving an 1829 dating to the visit of Peter, James, and John, a semi-official LDS history by two professional historians states: The date of their appearance is uncertain, but, as indicated in a subsequent revelation to Joseph Smith, sometime later they ordained and confirmed Joseph and Oliver…⁸⁶

Unsatisfied with such imprecision, one Mormon writer evidently invented a day and duration for the second angelic restoration of authority. Without offering any evidence, he asserted, [I]t was early on Tuesday morning, the 2nd of June 1829, that three ancient Apostles, now resurrected, came to Smith and Cowdery and restored the Melchizedek Priesthood back to the earth. He added that the experience involved many hours of instructions.⁸⁷ In fact when retroactive changes are eliminated from original documents, evidence shows that the second angelic restoration of apostolic authority could not have occurred before the church’s organization on 6 April 1830.

Cowdery and Smith said nothing about these two angelic restorations for years. When Cowdery referred to baptism in his 1829 A commandment from God (or Articles of the Church), he wrote that this authority was given me of Jesus Christ but mentioned no ministration by John the Baptist.⁸⁸ Smith’s official history of these early years, written beginning in 1838, offers an explanation for this secrecy: In the meantime we were forced to keep secret the circumstances of having received the Priesthood and our having been baptized, owing to a spirit of persecution which had already been manifested in the neighborhood.⁸⁹

As early as the fall of 1830 some non-Mormons said that Smith and Cowdery claimed to have seen God and angels and to have received divine authority. The Painesville Telegraph reported in November 1830 that Cowdery pretends to have a divine mission, and to have seen and conversed with Angels, perhaps referring to the published testimony of Cowdery and the other Three Witnesses in the Book of Mormon. The following month this Ohio newspaper linked authority with Cowdery’s visions, although no angels are mentioned:

Mr. Oliver Cowd[e]ry has his commission directly from the God of heaven, and that he has his credentials, written and signed by the hand of Jesus Christ, with whom he has personally conversed, and as such, said Cowd[e]ry claims that he and his associates are the only persons on earth who are qualified to administer in his name. By this authority, they proclaim to the world, that all who do not believe their testimony, and be baptised by them for the remission of their sins…must be forever miserable.⁹⁰

In New York the Palmyra Reflector stated in February 1831 that Mormon missionaries were preaching that Joseph Smith had now received a commission from God and that Smith (they affirmed) had seen God frequently and personaly—Cowdery and his friends had frequent interviews with angels.⁹¹ Newspaper accounts seem consistent in quoting Mormon sources that Smith and Cowdery had seen angels but had obtained authority directly from God, not through angelic ministration.

Smith’s own mother made no reference to angelic restoration of authority in an 1831 letter she wrote to her brother about the new church.⁹² If she knew about it, Lucy Mack Smith chose not to mention it in her defense of the new church. Although appointed apostle in 1829, David Whitmer was later told of ordinations, which he had not heard of before. He insisted that neither did I ever hear of such a thing as an angel ordaining them until I got into Ohio about the year 1834—or later. Whitmer continued: Oliver stated to me in Josephs presence that they had baptized each other[—]seeking by that to fulfill the command. And after our arrival at fathers sometime in June 1829, Joseph ordained Oliver to be an Elder, and Oliver ordained Joseph to be an Elder in the Church of Christ. Whitmer repeated that he did not learn of angel ordination until 1834 or later and concluded: I do not believe that John the Baptist ever ordained Joseph and Oliver as stated and believed by some.⁹³ It is irrelevant that Whitmer disbelieved someone else’s metaphysical experience, but his lack of knowledge until 1834 of the angelic restoration is significant.

William E. McLellin made a similar statement. In 1831 I heard Joseph tell his experience about angel visits many times, and about finding the plates, and their contents coming to light, he wrote. But I never heard one word of John the baptist, or of Peter, James, and John’s visit and ordination till I was told some year or two afterward in Ohio.⁹⁴ In August 1832 McLellin had written a long letter explaining and defending Mormonism to his family. McLellin’s

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