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Brigham Young (June 1, 1801 – August 29, 1877) was an American leader in the Latter Day Saint movement and a settler of the Western United States. He was the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) from 1847 until his death in 1877. He founded Salt Lake City and he served as the first governor of the Utah Territory, United States. Young also led the foundings of the precursors to the University of Utah and Brigham Young University.
Young had a variety of nicknames, among the most popular being "American Moses" (alternatively, the "Modern Moses" or the "Mormon Moses"), because, like the biblical figure, Young led his followers, the Mormon pioneers, in an exodus through a desert, to what they saw as a promised land. Young was dubbed by his followers the "Lion of the Lord" for his bold personality, and was also commonly called "Brother Brigham" by Latter-day Saints. Young was a polygamist and was involved in controversies regarding black people and the Priesthood, the Utah War, and the Mountain Meadows massacre.
Early life and succession to Joseph Smith
Young was born to John and Abigail "Nabby" Young (née Howe), a farming family in Whitingham, Vermont, and worked as a travelling carpenter and blacksmith, among other trades. Young first married in 1824 to Miriam Angeline Works. Though he had converted to the Methodist faith in 1823, Young was drawn to Mormonism after reading the Book of Mormon shortly after its publication in 1830. He officially joined the new church in 1832 and traveled to Upper Canada as a missionary. After his first wife died in 1832, Young joined many Mormons in establishing a community in Kirtland, Ohio. Young was ordained a member of the original Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 1835, and he assumed a leadership role within that organization in taking Mormonism to the United Kingdom and organizing the exodus of Latter Day Saints from Missouri in 1838.
While in jail awaiting trial for treason charges, Joseph Smith, president of the church, was killed by an armed mob in 1844. Several claimants to the role of church President emerged during the succession crisis that ensued. Before a large meeting convened to discuss the succession in Nauvoo, Illinois, Sidney Rigdon, the senior surviving member of the church's First Presidency, argued there could be no successor to the deceased prophet and that he should be made the "Protector" of the church. Young opposed this reasoning and motion. Smith had earlier recorded a revelation which stated the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles were "equal in authority and power" to the First Presidency, so Young claimed that the leadership of the church fell to the Twelve Apostles. The majority in attendance were persuaded that the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles was to lead the church with Young as the Quorum's President. Many of Young's followers would later reminisce that while Young spoke to the congregation, he looked or sounded exactly like Joseph Smith, to which they attributed the power of God. Young was ordained President of the Church in December 1847, more than two and a half years after Smith's death. Rigdon became the president of a separate church organization based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and other potential successors emerged to lead what became other denominations of the movement.
Governor of Utah Territory
As colonizer and founder of Salt Lake City, Young was appointed the territory's first governor and superintendent of American Indian affairs by President Millard Fillmore. During his time as governor, Young directed the establishment of settlements throughout Utah, Idaho, Arizona, Nevada, and parts of southern Colorado and northern Mexico. Under his direction the pioneers built roads and bridges, forts, irrigation projects; established public welfare; organized a militia; and pacified the Native Americans. Young organized the first legislature and established Fillmore as the territory's first capital.
Young organized a Board of Regents to establish a university in the Salt Lake Valley. It was established on February 28, 1850, as the University of Deseret, later the University of Utah.
In 1851 Young and several federal officials, including territorial Secretary Broughton Harris were unable to work cooperatively. Harris and the others departed Utah without replacements being named, and these individuals later became known as the Runaway Officials of 1851.
In 1856 he organized an efficient mail service. In 1858, following the events of the Utah War, he stepped down to his successor Alfred Cumming.
Young was the longest serving President of the LDS Church in history, having served for 29 years.
After three years of leading the church as the President of the Quorum of the Twelve, in 1847 Young reorganized a new First Presidency and was declared president of the church on December 27, 1847. Repeated conflict led Young to relocate his group of Latter-day Saints to a territory in what is now Utah, then part of Mexico. Young organized the journey that would take the faithful to Winter Quarters, Nebraska, in 1846, then to the Salt Lake Valley. Young arrived in the Salt Lake Valley on July 24, 1847, a date now recognized as Pioneer Day in Utah. Young organized the Mormon Tabernacle Choir just 29 days after arriving for a conference of the church on August 22, 1847.
Having previously established the University of Deseret (now the University of Utah) during his tenure as governor, on October 16, 1875, Young personally purchased land in Provo, Utah, to extend the reach of the University of Deseret. Young said, "I hope to see an Academy established in Provo... at which the children of the Latter-day Saints can receive a good education unmixed with the pernicious atheistic influences that are found in so many of the higher schools of the country." The school broke off from the University of Deseret and became Brigham Young Academy, the precursor to Brigham Young University.
Within the church, Young reorganized the Relief Society for women (1867), and he created organizations for young women (1869) and young men (1875).
Young was involved in temple building throughout his membership in the LDS Church and made temple building a priority of his presidency. Under Joseph Smith's leadership, Young participated in the building of the Kirtland, Ohio and Nauvoo, Illinois Temples. Just four days after arriving in the Salt Lake Valley, Young, who was now church president, designated the location for the Salt Lake Temple and presided over its groundbreaking on April 6, 1853. During his tenure, Young oversaw construction of the Salt Lake Tabernacle, and he announced plans to build the St. George (1871), Manti (1875), and Logan Temples (1877). He also provisioned the building of a "temporary temple" called the Endowment House, which began use in 1855 to provide temple ordinances to church members while the Salt Lake Temple was under construction.
Though polygamy was practiced by Young's predecessor Joseph Smith, the practice is often associated with Brigham Young. Some denominations, such as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, consider Young the "Father of Mormon Polygamy". In 1853, Young made the church's first official statement on the subject after the church had arrived in Utah. He spoke about the issue nine years after the purported original revelation of Joseph Smith, and five years after the Mormon Exodus to Utah following Smith's death in Illinois.
One of the more controversial teachings of Brigham Young was the Adam–God doctrine. According to Young, he was taught by Joseph Smith that: Adam is "our Father and our God, and the only God with whom we have to do". According to the doctrine, Adam was once a mortal man who became resurrected and exalted. From another planet Adam brought Eve, one of his wives, with him to the earth, where they became mortal by eating the fruit of the Garden of Eden. After bearing mortal children and establishing the human race, they returned to their heavenly thrones where Adam serves as the god of this world. Later, as Young is generally understood to have taught, Adam returned to the earth to become the literal father of Jesus.
Brigham Young is generally credited with having instituted a church ban against conferring the priesthood on men of African-descent (see black members of the LDS Church), who had been treated equally in this respect under Joseph Smith's presidency. After settling in Utah in 1848, Brigham Young announced the ban, which also forbid blacks from participating in Mormon temple rites such as the Endowment or sealings. On many occasions Young taught that blacks were denied the priesthood because they were "the seed of Cain", but also stated that they would eventually receive the priesthood after "all the other children of Adam have the privilege of receiving the Priesthood, and of coming into the kingdom of God, and of being redeemed from the four quarters of the earth, and have received their resurrection from the dead, then it will be time enough to remove the curse from Cain and his posterity." In 1863, Young stated "Shall I tell you the law of God in regard to the African race? If the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot. This will always be so." These racial restrictions remained in place until 1978, when the policy was rescinded by President of the Church Spencer W. Kimball, and the LDS Church subsequently "disavow theories advanced in the past" to explain this ban, thereby, according to the Huffington Post, "plac the origins of black priesthood denial blame squarely on Brigham Young."
Shortly after the arrival of Young's pioneers, and the new Mormon colonies were incorporated into the United States through Mexican Cession, Young petitioned the U.S. Congress to create the State of Deseret. The Compromise of 1850 instead carved out Utah Territory, and Young was installed as governor. As governor and church president, Young directed both religious and economic matters. He encouraged independence and self-sufficiency. Many cities and towns in Utah, and some in neighboring states, were founded under Young's direction. Young's leadership style has been viewed as autocratic. When federal officials received reports of widespread and systematic obstruction of federal officials in Utah (most notably judges), U.S. President James Buchanan decided to install a non-Mormon governor. Buchanan accepted the reports of the judges without any further investigation, and the new non-sectarian governor was accompanied by troops sent to garrison forts in the new territory. The troops passed by the bloody Kansas–Missouri war without intervening in it, as it was not open warfare and only isolated sporadic incidents. When Young received word that federal troops were headed to Utah with his replacement, he called out his militia to ambush the federal force. During the defense of Deseret, now called the Utah War, Young held the U.S. Army at bay for a winter by taking their cattle and burning supply wagons. The Mormon forces were largely successful thanks to Lot Smith. Young made plans to burn Salt Lake City and move his followers to Mexico, but at the last minute he relented and agreed to step down as governor. He later received a pardon from Buchanan. Relations between Young and future governors and U.S. Presidents were mixed.
A controversial issue is the extent of Young's involvement in the Mountain Meadows massacre, which took place in Washington County in 1857. Leonard J. Arrington reports that Brigham Young received a rider at his office on the same day. When he learned what was contemplated by the members of the LDS Church in Parowan and Cedar City, he sent back a letter that the Fancher party be allowed to pass through the territory unmolested. Young's letter supposedly arrived two days too late, on September 13, 1857. As governor, Young had promised the federal government he would protect immigrants passing through Utah Territory, but over 120 men, women and children were killed in this incident. There is still debate concerning the involvement of Mormons by scholars. Only children under the age of seven survived, who were cared for by local Mormon families, and the murdered members of the wagon train (known as the Fancher Party) were left unburied. The remains of about forty people were found and buried and Carleton had a large cross made from local trees, the transverse beam bearing the engraving, "Vengeance Is Mine, Saith The Lord: I Will Repay" and erected a cairn of rocks at the site. A large slab of granite was put up on which he had the following words engraved: "HERE 120 MEN, WOMEN AND CHILDREN WERE MASSACRED IN COLD BLOOD EARLY IN SEPTEMBER, 1857. THEY WERE FROM ARKANSAS." For two years the monument stood as a warning to those travelling the Spanish Trail through Mountain Meadow. Some claim that, In 1861, Young brought an entourage to Mountain Meadows and had the cairn and cross destroyed, while exclaiming, "Vengeance is mine and I have taken a little".
Young is buried on the grounds of the Mormon Pioneer Memorial Monument in Salt Lake City.
Before his death in Salt Lake City at 4:00 p.m. on August 29, 1877, Young was suffering from cholera morbus and inflammation of the bowels. It is believed that he died of peritonitis from a ruptured appendix. His last words were "Joseph! Joseph! Joseph!", invoking the name of the late Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon faith. On September 2, 1877, Young's funeral was held in the Tabernacle with an estimated 12,000 to 15,000 people in attendance. He is buried on the grounds of the Mormon Pioneer Memorial Monument in the heart of Salt Lake City. A bronze marker was placed at the grave site June 10, 1938, by members of the Young Men and Young Women organizations, which he founded.
A century after his death, one writer stated that
was succeeded by one of the outstanding organizers of the 19th century, Brigham Young. If the circumstances of his life had worked out differently he might have become a captain of industry—an Andrew Carnegie or John D. Rockefeller or a railroad builder. Instead, this able, energetic, earthy man became the absolute ruler and the revered, genuinely loved father figure of all Mormons everywhere.
He credited Young's leadership with helping to settle much of the American West:
During the 30 years between the Mormons' arrival in Utah in 1847 and 1877, Young directed the founding of 350 towns in the Southwest. Thereby the Mormons became the most important single agency in colonizing that vast arid West between the Rockies and the Sierra Nevada.
Memorials to Young include: a bronze statue in front of the Abraham O. Smoot Administration Building, Brigham Young University; a marble statue in the National Statuary Hall Collection at the United States Capitol, donated by the State of Utah in 1950; and a statue atop the This is the Place Monument in Salt Lake City.
Family and descendants
Young was a polygamist, marrying a total of 55 wives, 54 of them after he converted to become a Latter Day Saint. The policy was difficult for many in the church. Young stated that upon being taught about plural marriage, "It was the first time in my life that I desired the grave." By the time of his death, Young had 56 children by 16 of his wives; 46 of his children reached adulthood.
Sources have varied on the number of Young's wives, due to differences in what scholars have considered to be a "wife". There were 55 women that Young was sealed to during his lifetime. While the majority of the sealings were "for eternity", some were "for time only". Researchers believe that not all of the 55 marriages were conjugal. Young did not live with a number of his wives or publicly hold them out as wives, which has led to confusion on the number and identities. This is in part due to the complexity of how wives were identified in the Mormon society at the time.
“Young's ability to keep wives from quarreling and so many children from overwhelming him would in itself prove that must have been a remarkable, not to say a master, diplomat.”
Of Young's 55 wives, 21 had never been married before; 16 were widows; six were divorced; six had living husbands; and the marital status of six others are unknown. In 1856, Young built the Lion House to accommodate his sizable family. This building remains a Salt Lake City landmark, together with the Beehive House, another Brigham Young family home. A contemporary of Young wrote: "It was amusing to walk by Brigham Young's big house, a long rambling building with innumerable doors. Each wife has an establishment of her own, consisting of parlor, bedroom, and a front door, the key of which she keeps in her pocket." At the time of Young's death, 19 of his wives had predeceased him, he was divorced from ten, and 23 survived him. The status of four was unknown. In his will, Young shared his estate with the 16 surviving wives who had lived with him; the six surviving non-conjugal wives were not mentioned in the will.
Three of Young's sons were ordained as LDS Church apostles by their father: Brigham Young, Jr., John Willard Young, and Joseph Angell Young. Other leaders in the LDS Church who were descended from Young include his children Maria Young Dougall and B. Morris Young. A daughter, Susa Young Gates, was a prominent women's rights activist in Utah. A son, Don Carlos Young, was an LDS Church architect. A granddaughter, Leah D. Widtsoe, was wife of apostle John A. Widtsoe and herself a leading expert in home economics. Other grandchildren include sculptor Mahonri Young; Richard Whitehead Young, U.S. Army Brigadier General and an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines; William Hooper Young, a convicted murderer; opera singer Emma Lucy Gates Bowen; hymnwriter Hugh W. Dougall; and sociologist Kimball Young. More distant descendants include Mormon critic Sandra Tanner, novelist Orson Scott Card, and NFL Hall of Fame athlete Steve Young.
In 1902, 25 years after his death, the New York Times established that Young's direct descendants numbered more than 1000.