William Smith Faction

(RLDS History of the Church 3:29–35)

The next in order was the movement under William Smith, brother of the prophet and a member of the Quorum of the Twelve. He was one of the three of his quorum who refused to indorse the acts of Brigham Young and others. He did not claim that he was in fact the successor of his brother Joseph, but did claim that the office of President of the Church should descend according to the law of lineage, as set forth in the revelation, from father to son, and hence the eldest son should succeed his father. The eldest son being but thirteen years old, was too young to assume the duties of so responsible a position. So William Smith, being of the same family, and holding as high position as any man in the church, assumed to act as guardian, and to take charge of the church as temporary President, until the legal successor should claim his right. In this he was bitterly opposed by other members of the Quorum of Twelve, and an irreconcilable contention arose between them.

The Utah people, as has been their unfortunate policy with reference to everyone who has opposed them, sought to cover his name with contumely and disgrace. Elder Brigham H. Roberts states:—

After his failure in Nauvoo, and in Wisconsin in connection with Mr. Strang, we next hear of William Smith in the winter and spring of 1850, visiting those who had been members of the church in Illinois and Kentucky, teaching "lineal priesthood as applied to the Presidency of the Church."—Succession in the Presidency, p. 23.

Again this writer says of William Smith:—

Not until 1850 did he begin to proclaim the right of "young Joseph" to be the President of the Church, etc.—Ibid. p. 65.

The error of Mr. Roberts is shown by the Millennial Star, a periodical issued by the people whom Mr. Roberts represents. On pages 134 and 135 of volume 7 is a letter written by one James Kay, from St. Louis, Missouri, November 22, 1845, from which we extract the following:—

Doubtless you will have heard of William Smith’s apostasy. He is endeavoring to "make a raise" in this city. After he left Nauvoo he went to Galena, when he published a "proclamation" to the church, calling upon them to renounce the Twelve as an unauthorized, tyrannical, abominable, bloodthirsty set of scoundrels. I suppose you have his pamphlet. I did think to send one the day he landed here, but felt inclined to hear and see his course a little while. Reports were daily coming from east to west of William’s unmanly conduct; sorry I was to hear them, they seemed so well authenticated. He contends the church is disorganized, having no head; that the Twelve are not, nor ever were, ordained to be head of the church; that Joseph’s priesthood was to be conferred on his posterity to all future generations, and that young Joseph is the only legal successor to the presidency of this church, etc. G. J. Adams is William’s right hand man, and comes out as little Joseph’s spokesman. They intend holding a conference here this week and organizing the church on the old original plan, according to the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, Book of Mormon, and New Testament. Discussions are to take place between the Rigdonites and Josephites on the claims of each to the "Mormon throne." Two high priests have been disfellowshiped, one seventy, and a number of other officers and members from this branch I suppose will join the Smith party.—Millennial Star, vol. 7, p. 134.

This is conclusive proof that lineal priesthood was preached by William Smith as early as November, 1845, and before. Prior to this William Smith did not espouse the cause of J. J. Strang, as a brief sketch of his history will show. He was in the East at the time of the murder of his brothers, but returned to Nauvoo with his family the following spring, and on this return trip he called at St. Louis. Of this visit, and of William Smith, this same writer, James Kay, wrote from St. Louis, May 20, 1845, as follows:—

William Smith and his family stayed a few days here the other week; they are gone to Nauvoo. Mrs. Smith is not expected to live long. They boarded at this house. I, and brother Thomas Clark, had the pleasure of sleeping on the floor to give them our bed, and how happy we felt in trying to give some little comfort to Zion’s mourners.

Elder Smith,—no,—you must form your own opinion; I can only say if any compassion ever was in my heart or if ever felt sympathy for others’ woe, it was while looking on that distressed man of God; and yet there was a sort of melancholy cheerfulness in his countenance. I will not attempt describing him, lest I come as far short as others who have tried to give us a portrait of Joseph.—Millennial Star, vol. 6, p. 27.

The editor of the Times and Seasons, John Taylor, wrote of William Smith the February before, as follows:—


The New York Prophet, of January 25, contains cheering news from Elder William Smith. In the midst of trials tribulations, and accusations from false brethren, he triumphs; and really, when we learned that his "wife was better," we rejoiced, for it seemed good before the Lord.

We give the letter entire, that the saints generally may sympathize with Elder Smith in all his afflictions, and pray for him, and rejoice, as the Lord, in his infinite mercy blesses him and his family.—Times and Seasons, vol. 6 p. 814.

The reader will see that William Smith was in good repute with these people in February, 1845, and was hailed as a man of God in May of the same year.

From St. Louis he proceeded to Nauvoo, where his wife died, and was buried from the residence of Mrs. Emma Smith, May 24, 1845.

Soon after his arrival he received the office of Patriarch, to succeed his brother Hyrum. On this occasion the Times and Seasons said of him editorially:—

Father Smith, the first Patriarch, and Hyrum, his successor, conferred many blessings upon the saints that made their hearts glad. But they, in the wisdom of God, have been called away, and William, the son and brother, succeeds them. How many now will say, I wish I had my patriarchal blessing? This has been the lamentation of many since the death of Joseph and Hyrum. William is the last of the family, and truly inherits the blood and spirit of his father’s house, as well as the priesthood and patriarchal office from his father and brother, legally, and by hereditary descent.—Times and Seasons, vol. 6, p. 905.

He continued in fellowship with the rest of the Twelve until October 6, 1845, when he was objected to by Elder Pratt, for reasons given, and he was not sustained. The record in this case is as follows:—

It was next moved, that William Smith be continued and sustained as one of the Twelve Apostles; seconded. Whereupon Elder Pratt arose and said, I have an objection to Brother William continuing in that office. I feel, as an individual, that I cannot, conscientiously, uphold and sustain Brother William as one of the Twelve Apostles, until he thinks different from what he does now. I have many reasons for this, but I will merely mention one or two, which must suffice for the present. In the first place, I have proof positive that he is an aspiring man; that he aspires to uproot and undermine the legal Presidency of the Church, that he may occupy the place himself. This he has avowed openly in the East, which I can prove by good and substantial witnesses. In the second place, while Brother William was in the East, to my certain knowledge, his doctrine and conduct have not had a savory influence, but have produced death and destruction wherever he went. This also I am well prepared to prove. I have been waiting in all long-suffering for an alteration in Brother William’s course, but up to the present time I have been disappointed. For these two reasons, I would plead for one, that we no longer sustain him in his office, till a proper investigation can be had, and he make satisfaction. I do this individually; I leave others to do as they please. The motion being seconded, a vote was then taken to sustain him, but was lost unanimously.—Times and Seasons, vol. 6, p. 1008.

He was also rejected as Patriarch on the same day.

It is claimed by the church in Utah that they soon after formally expelled him. Possibly they did, but when they represent that his advocacy of lineal priesthood was an after consideration, and that he did not mention the claim until five years later, they greatly err, as we have seen by their own publications that he was advocating this position in St. Louis the next month after the culmination of the breach between him and the people in Nauvoo. One of the chief objections urged against him by Mr. James Kay was that he proposed “organizing the church on the old original plan, according to the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, Book of Mormon, and New Testament.”

He continued to visit the churches, advocating the rights of “Young Joseph,” and obtained quite a following. To trace the details of his movements would be uninteresting, as the organization, after several years of troublesome existence, ceased, and the members were scattered.

The following brief but comprehensive statement of the movement under William Smith is from the pen of Elder Jason W. Briggs:—

“In the general disorder and darkness that prevailed from the death of Joseph Smith, here and there appeared a gleam of light and hope, a manifestation of the Spirit that all was not lost, but that truth should yet prevail. Many ran to and fro in the character of prophets, leaders, and shepherds. Among these appeared William Smith, who, in the spring of 1850, called a conference at Covington, Kentucky; from which time he visited many of the branches and scattered saints, teaching “lineal priesthood” as applying to the Presidency of the Church; and thus disposing of all pretenders already arisen, or to arise out [outside] of the posterity of the original President of the Church. T his principle, though pretty clearly shown in the books, had been almost entirely overlooked or forgotten by the saints; but when their attention was thus called to it, many at once received it as the solution of the question of presidency. William Smith taught also in connection with this, that it was his right, as the only surviving brother of the former President, and uncle and natural guardian of the seed of Joseph, to stand, during the interim, as President pro tem. And in this there seemed a general acquiescence on the part of the saints among whom he labored; and he was so acknowledged, and began to organize, choosing Lyman Wight and Aaron Hook as counselors pro tem., to the President pro tem., and Joseph Wood as Counselor and Spokesman. Many branches, and nearly all the saints in Northern Illinois and Southern Wisconsin were identified with this movement, and among them was enjoyed a large measure of the spiritual gifts.

“During the spring and summer of 1851, Palestine, in Lee County, Illinois, had been designated as a stake, and become the residence of William Smith, Wood, Hook, and others; and the two former had visited most of the branches in Wisconsin, among which was the one at Beloit, Rock County. This branch was originally raised up by the labors and ministry of Jason W Briggs, in 1843, who was their presiding elder at the time of this movement.”—Life of Joseph the Prophet, by Tullidge, pp. 576, 577.

Evidently Lyman Wight refused to accept this appointment, for he wrote under date of December 26,1851:

I was sent with this company to this place, by Bro. Joseph in his lifetime. Brigham offered to revoke it on his own responsibility, and appoint to me a new mission. Mr. Strang offered to let me go on, provided I would give strict adherence to his mandates. William Smith proffered to receive me as I was, provided I would receive him as president of the Church and Joseph Wood as God’s spokesman. For an absolute refusal I was disfellowshiped by all three, etc.—Manuscript.

In the further completion of his organization he chose a quorum of Twelve Apostles, but a majority of them did not accept the appointment. They were:—


In a publication issued by authority of William Smith some time before the April conference at Palestine, Illinois, in 1851, it is stated that William Smith, Joseph Wood, Aaron Hook, and two of the Twelve resided at Palestine, Illinois two of the Twelve at Voree, Wisconsin; and Lyman Wight, and eight of the Twelve in Texas; but that they were all expected to attend the conference to be held at Palestine in April, 1851. Those who were with Lyman Wight in Texas did not respond to the call. Whether the others did or not, we are not informed.