Article Info

published: 10/18/05
updated: 1/6/14

The Succession Crisis of 1844

Mormonism in 1844

In the months following the murder of Joseph Smith, it was not immediately clear who would lead the church.

Smith's brothers, Hyrum and Samuel, who had reportedly been designated to succeed Smith, were also dead. Smith's eldest son, Joseph Smith III, was a boy of 11. Other men who (by some reports) were designated as successors, including Book of Mormon witnesses David Whitmer and Oliver Cowdery, had been excommunicated from the church.

As a result, the principal claimants on the scene were:

  • Sidney Rigdon, the only remaining member of the First Presidency — the church's highest executive council.
  • The (Presiding) High Council of Nauvoo — the church's highest legislative and judicial council — led by William Marks.
  • The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles — the council in charge of the church's missionary program — led by Brigham Young.

Smith's widow Emma wanted Marks to become church president, but Marks believed that Rigdon had the superior claim.

In a general meeting of the church at Nauvoo on August 8, 1844, Rigdon and Young presented their respective cases. As the only surviving member of the First Presidency, Rigdon argued that he should be made "guardian" of the church. Young argued that no one could succeed the fallen prophet. Instead, he proposed that the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles be constituted as the new First Presidency of the Church. A vote of the congregation overwhelmingly supported Young's proposal. Soon after, Rigdon left Nauvoo and established his own church organization in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.


  1. "Mormon." Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service. Accessed October 2005.
  2. "History of the Latter Day Saint movement." Wikipedia. Accessed October 2005.
  3. "History of the Church." Accessed October 2005.