1865 Proclamation of the First Presidency and the Twelve Apostles
After nearly four years of a bloody civil war that claimed more than half a million American lives, General Robert E. Lee, of the Confederacy, surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant, of the United States Army on April 9, 1865. This brought about the eventual cessation of hostilities between the two sides of the nation. Nine days later, Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in Washington, D.C., and Vice President Andrew Johnson assumed the responsibility for “reconstruction” of the Union, an effort which continues to be hotly debated as to its effectiveness. Suffice it to say that the United States was in the middle of one of the most tumultuous and terrible decades of its history.1 While the compelled exodus of the Saints to the West from 1846 to the early 1860’s spared them from the catastrophic military horrors of the conflict and allowed them to remain mostly politically neutral, Church leaders and members observed these events with mixed feelings.2 Many recalled the prophecies of Joseph Smith regarding the advent of a civil war on U.S. soil as a harbinger to extensive worldwide military conflict.3 Others publicly declared the war as retribution for the execution of the Prophet Joseph Smith and the Patriarch Hyrum Smith and the long-running persecution of the Saints generally. Still others expressed compassion and sympathy for all combatants and victims of the war and boldly proclaimed the Restored Gospel as the way of deliverance.4
While the Church looked outward to the challenges facing the nation to which they still claimed allegiance, it also faced internal struggles. President Brigham Young and other Church leaders had to focus on the spiritual security and unity of the Church as well as promoting temporal security and prosperity. In the midst of the Reformation of the 1850s5, Joseph Morris had risen up claiming a new prophetic calling. His movement eventually involved hundreds of people in Weber County and led to several deaths in an armed conflict in 1862.6 It is also possible that Morris had reached out to the newly formed Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints7 to form an alliance. This rival branch of the Church in Illinois had completed the process of its reorganization in 1860 and would send its first missionary force to Utah and California in 1866 in an effort to reclaim the followers of Joseph Smith in the West. Leadership claimants of this sect prioritized Smith family lineage over priesthood authority and keys. In 1863, the First Presidency and Quorum of Twelve Apostles had also been informed of some false teachings of Elder Amasa Lyman, primarily regarding the Atonement of Jesus Christ, which they endeavored to address and correct. Unfortunately, these attempts to reconcile Elder Lyman with the doctrine of the Church were not permanently successful, and he was removed from the Quorum in 1867 and excommunicated in 1870.8 In January of 1864, the First Presidency and Quorum of Twelve Apostles had also dispatched Elders Ezra T. Benson and Lorenzo Snow, of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, and former missionaries Joseph F. Smith, William W. Cluff, and Alma L. Smith to deal with the apostasy and false leadership claims of Walter Murray Gibson in the Sandwich Islands.9 Thus, Church leaders were acutely aware of numerous evidences of apostasy and dissension in the Church at this time.
So when President Brigham Young and others found a copy of Lucy Smith’s history of her son in the home of a Church member in Cache Valley during a visit to that area in May 1865, they were concerned. Without consulting with the First Presidency or the rest of his Quorum, Elder Pratt had published the History of Joseph Smith by his Mother in England in 1853 and again in Utah in 1854. Because of historical inaccuracies and omissions of this biographical narrative, President Brigham Young publicly expressed his opposition to the book and requested publication to cease and all copies to be discarded or destroyed. However, it seems that Church members had not heeded this counsel fully.
Conversations amongst Church leaders throughout the rest of May and into June resulted in the assignment of a few members of the Quorum of Twelve--Elders George A. Smith (also serving as Church Historian), Franklin D. Richards (who presided with Elder Pratt over the European Mission from 1850-1852), and George Q. Cannon (the junior member of the Quorum)--to prepare an official statement on the matter.10 This statement was published in the Deseret News on August 23, 1865, as the first joint Proclamation of the two highest quorums of the priesthood in the history of the Restored Church of Jesus Christ. The document was signed by all members of the First Presidency (including Daniel H. Wells, in absentia)11 and all members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, except Elder Orson Pratt who was in Europe at the time endeavoring to open a mission in Austria. After the Proclamation was reprinted in the Millennial Star on October 21, 1865, Elder Pratt published the a response four days later in the Millennial Star, uniting himself with the Proclamation issued by his brethren in the highest quorums of the Church.12 In another letter to President Young, dated December 12, 1865, Elder Pratt humbly and respectfully expressed his desire to align himself with the leadership and membership of the Lord’s Church.13
This Proclamation addresses both historical and doctrinal issues that the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles had with some of Elder Pratt’s publications. As has already been mentioned in this introduction, the first part of the Proclamation addresses concerns about the history of Joseph Smith written by his mother and some of Elder Pratt’s previous teachings in The Seer, a periodical that Elder Pratt had published from January 1853 to the summer of 1854 in Washington, D.C., while presiding over the Church in the United States and Canada. These teachings had to do with the nature and attributes of God, matter, intelligence, and the future exalted state of humankind. Again, Elder Pratt had delivered a public retraction of these teachings in a speech in the Salt Lake Tabernacle on January 29, 1860, which were later published with some revision and comments from the First Presidency in the Deseret News on July 25, 1860.14 But the persistent presence of the biography by Lucy Smith and some of Elder Pratt’s ideas led Church leaders to feel an inspired need to recount them here. Another contributing factor leading to such a direct response to items published in The Seer could stem from the commission by the First Presidency, dated September 13, 1852, that Elder Pratt published in the first issue of The Seer regarding his assigned responsibilities, including “to write and Publish Periodicals, Pamphlets, Books, &c., illustrative of the principles and doctrines of the Church.” 15Because Elder Pratt’s published writings did not concur with agreed upon doctrines of the Church at that time, Church leaders recognized a need for a response that would prevent confusion over these matters.
The remainder of the Proclamation focuses primarily on articles published in the Millennial Star on October 1516 and November 1,17 1850 regarding the nature, role, and functions of the Holy Ghost, along with a tract containing some of the same ideas entitled, “The Holy Spirit,” published in England in 1856. 18 Although Joseph Smith had reportedly declared very pointedly, just eleven days before his death, that the Holy Ghost was “a personage of Spirit,”19 only two members of the Quorum of the Twelve at the time--John Taylor and Willard Richards--would have been present to hear that sermon.20 Church leaders and members still had questions about the nature, roles, and function of the Holy Ghost that had not yet been fully answered.21 Elder Orson Pratt’s writings on this subject are best understood in this context. In this section of the Proclamation, specific passages written by Elder Pratt about the Holy Spirit were identified and repudiated, all of which Elder Pratt acknowledged had not been received by revelation. For example, the Proclamation cites these remarks from Elder Pratt in the Tabernacle on January 29, 1860: “There is one thing I will assure you of, God will never reveal anything to me, or to any other man, which will come into contact [i.e. conflict] with the views and revelations which he gives to the man who holds the keys. We never need expect such a thing” (1865 Proclamation, Millennial Star, p. 660).22
Noting that they were specifically concerned with some of Elder Pratt’s teachings, not his fitness for the holy office which he held, the Proclamation states: “Personal feelings and friendships and associations ought to sink into comparative insignificance, and have no weight in view of consequences so momentous to the people and kingdom of God as these” (1865 Proclamation, Millennial Star, p. 659). In fact, they asserted affirmatively that “Elder Pratt sustains an unimpeachable character” and his “preachings and teachings upon the first principles of the Gospel are excellent” (p. 660). Furthermore, “Whenever brother Orson Pratt has written upon that which he knows, and has confined himself to doctrines which he understands, his arguments are convincing and unanswerable.” Even the “last half of the tract entitled, ‘The Holy Spirit,’ contains excellent and conclusive arguments, and is all that could be wished” (p. 663).
Aside from addressing historical and doctrinal controversies in the publications of Elder Pratt, this Proclamation sets a specific course for the Church with the following instructions:
- “This should be a lasting lesson to the Elders of Israel not to undertake to teach doctrine they do not understand.”
- “...that no member of the Church has the right to publish any doctrines, as the doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, without first submitting them for examination and approval to the First Presidency and the Twelve.”
- “...we wish to warn all the Elders of the Church, and to have it clearly understood by the members, that, in the future, whoever publishes any new doctrines without first taking this course will be liable to lose his Priesthood.”
Perhaps one of the greatest principles that can be learned from this Proclamation is found in the second to last paragraph: “There is but one man upon the earth, at one time, who holds the keys to receive commandments and revelations for the Church, and who has authority to write doctrines by way of commandment unto the Church. And any man who so far forgets the order instituted by the Lord as to write and publish what may be termed new doctrines, without consulting with the First Presidency of the Church respecting them, places himself in a false position, and exposes himself to the power of darkness by violating his Priesthood” (1865 Proclamation, Millennial Star, p. 663). Only by the means of priesthood authority and keys bestowed by the Lord Jesus Christ on His duly called and divinely inspired servants can the Church and Kingdom of God receive the knowledge and instructions necessary to maintain the peace and unity in Zion that will grow until it fills the whole earth during the millennial reign of the Savior.
- Meanwhile, Europe was also experiencing a “crucial turning point” in its history, with the increasing momentum of the “industrial revolution,” the reassertion of Roman Catholic influence in politics, and the predominant conservative governments in some corners (mostly Western Europe) beginning to compromise with some of the more liberal forces in culture and politics to maintain their hard-won victories in the earlier part of the century via diplomacy. See “The emergence of the industrial state,” (2020) Encyclopedia Brittanica; https://www.josephsmithpapers.org.. , accessed MAy 4, 2021.
- Woodger, Mary Jane (2012), “Abraham Lincoln and the Mormons,” in Civil War Saints, ed. Kenneth L. Alford, 61–81; https://rsc.byu.edu/joseph.. , accessed May 4, 2021..
- The most well known prophecy of December 25, 1832, was not included in the Doctrine and Covenants as section 87 until the 1876 edition, although it had been published in Franklin D. Richards’ pamphlet, “The Pearl of Great Price,” in 1851. The Pearl of Great price became part of the LDS canon in October 1880.
- See Bennett, Richard (2009), “‘We Know No North, No South, No East, No West’: Mormon Interpretations of the Civil War, 1861-1865,” Mormon Historical Studies, vol. 10, no. 1, pp. 51-64; https://ensignpeakfoundation.org.. , accessed June 2, 2021.
- Peterson, Paul H. (1992), “Reformation (LDS) of 1856-1857,” Encyclopedia of Mormonism; https://eom.byu.edu/index.php.. , accessed May 4, 2021.
- See Godfrey, Kenneth (1994), “The Morrisites,” Utah History Encyclopedia; https://www.uen.org/utah.. , accessed May 4, 2021; and Bryant, Seth L. (2009), “Reviving the Millennial Kingdom: Mormons, Morrisites, and Massacre,” The John Whitmer Historical Association Journal, vol. 29, pp. 115-139; https://www.jstor.org.. , accessed May 4, 2021.
- Known after 2001 as the Community of Christ.
- Hefner, Loretta L. (1983), “From Apostle to Apostate: The personal struggle of Amasa Mason Lyman,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, vol. 16, no. 1, pp. 90-104; https://www.dialoguejournal.com.. , accessed May 5, 2021.
- See Marlowe, Eric and Kongaika, Isileli (2013), “Joseph F. Smith’s 1864 Mission to Hawaii: Leading a Reformation,” in Joseph F. Smith: Reflections on the Man and His Times, ed. Craig K. Manscill, Brian D. Reeves, Guy L. Dorius, and J. B. Haws, pp. 52–72; https://rsc.byu.edu/joseph.. , accessed May 4, 2021.
- Historical Department journal history of the Church, 1830-2008; 1860-1869; 1865 January-June, Church History Library; https://catalog.churchofjesuschrist.org.. , accessed May 6, 2021.
- Although President Wells was in England at the time and did not return to Salt Lake City until October 7, 1865 (see entry for October 7, 1865, The Journal of George Q. Cannon, Church Historian’s Press; https://www.churchhistorianspress.org.. , accessed May 6, 2021), a portion of this Proclamation quotes extensively from a published statement by the First Presidency regarding these issues on July 25, 1860, when President Wells had been present. (See “Instructions to the Saints,” Deseret News, July 25, 1860; https://newspapers.lib.utah.edu.. , accessed May 6, 2021; this was later reprinted in the Millennial Star, September 22, 1860; https://catalog.churchofjesuschrist.org.. , accessed May 6, 2021). Thus, Presidents Young and Kimball felt comfortable affixing President Wells’ name as a signatory on this document as a whole.
- Millennial Star, November 4, 1865, Church History Library; https://catalog.churchofjesuschrist.org.. , accessed May 5, 2021.
- Brigham Young office files, 1832-1878 (bulk 1844-1877), General Correspondence, Incoming, 1840-1877, Letters from Church Leaders and Others, 1840- 1877, Orson Pratt, 1876, 1865-1869, Orson Pratt letter, December 12, 1865, Church History Library; https://catalog.churchofjesuschrist.org.. , accessed May 6, 2021.
- See footnote 11.
- Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, and Willard Richards, “Letter of Appointment,” The Seer, January 1853, vol. 1, no. 1, p. 2; https://ia800208.us.archive.org.. , accessed May 5, 2021.
- Millennial Star, 1840-1850 (Volumes 1-12), 1850 (Volume 12), 1850 October 15 (No. 20), Church History Library; https://catalog.churchofjesuschrist.org.. , accessed May 5, 2021.
- Millennial Star, 1840-1850 (Volumes 1-12), 1850 (Volume 12), 1850 November 1 (No. 21), Church History Library; https://catalog.churchofjesuschrist.org.. , accessed May 5, 2021.
- Pratt, Orson (1856), “The Holy Spirit,” Liverpool; https://contentdm.lib.byu.edu.. , accessed May 5, 2021.
- Joseph Smith, Address, June 16, 1844, Thomas Bullock report, in The Words of Joseph Smith: The Contemporary Accounts of the Nauvoo Discourses of the Prophet Joseph, comp. and ed. Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook (1991), p. 378.
- McCloud, Susan, “Where were the Twelve Apostles when Joseph and Hyrum Smith rode to Carthage?” Deseret News, Jun 28, 2015; https://www.deseret.com/2015.. , accessed May 5, 2021.
- See Bartholomew, Ronald E. (2013), "The Textual Development of D&C 130:22 and the Embodiment of the Holy Ghost," BYU Studies Quarterly, vol. 52, no. 3, pp. 4-24; https://scholarsarchive.byu.edu.. , accessed May 5, 2021.
- As one evidence that discussions about doctrine never detracted from the confidence that President Young nor the rest of the First Presidency or Quorum of Twelve had in Elder Pratt, President Young appointed him to the trusted position of Church Historian in 1874, a position he held until his death in 1881. During this time, Elder Pratt supervised the publication of innovative new editions of the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants, adding twenty-six new revelations (including D&C 136, a revelation to Brigham Young) and removing one. See Passantino, Brian C. (2020), "Orson Pratt and the Expansion of the Doctrine and Covenants,"; https://digitalcommons.usu.edu.. , accessed May 6, 2021. Elder Pratt was also called to serve important missions to Britain, the Eastern United States, and Europe in the late 1870s.
Shortly after the 1865 Proclamation was issued, President Heber C. Kimball, of the First Presidency, delivered an address to the Saints on October 6, 1865, in which he reinforced the importance of keeping in harmony with the President and First Presidency of the Church:
Whatever the Prophet and President of the Church tells us to do that we should do, for he is directed by the unerring Spirit of the Almighty to counsel this people. We [presumably President Kimball and himself and the other counselor, Daniel H. Wells] are connected with him in the Lord, and we talk and pray together upon all subjects concerning the progress of this people; and it is for him to decide, and give the law to Israel; and all who do not abide it must suffer the consequence of their disobedience; and all those who obey it will obtain the blessings which are promised to faithfulness and obedience.Read More: https://jod.mrm.org/11/143
Elder Orson Pratt was endeavoring to establish a mission in Austria when the 1865 Proclamation was published in Utah. It was published in England in the October 21, 1865, issue of the Millennial Star. Four days later, he wrote the following statement from London, which was published “To the Saints in All the World” in the November 4, 1865, issue of the Millennial Star:
DEAR BRETHREN, -- Permit me to draw your attention to the proclamation of the First Presidency and Twelve, published in the DESERT NEWS, and copied into the MILLENNIAL STAR of the 21st inst., in which several publications that have issued from my pen are considered objectionable. I, therefore, embrace the present opportunity of publicly expressing my most sincere regret, that I have ever published the least thing which meets with the disapprobation of the highest authorities of the Church; and I do most cordially join with them in the request, that you should make such dispositions of the publications alluded to, as counselled in their proclamation.Read More: https://catalog.churchofjesuschrist.org..
In a letter dated December 12, 1865, Elder Orson Pratt wrote to President Brigham Young again apologizing for the writings that had contributed to the need for the 1865 Proclamation. He also expressed his sincere intent to be united with the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve and his firm commitment to teach truth:
Any thing that I have written that is erroneous, the sooner it is destroyed the better, both for me and the people; for truth is our motto, and eternal truth alone will stand…
...let me humbly crave your forgiveness, and the forgiveness of the council, and the forgiveness of all saints, as touching any thing which may have come from my pen, either erroneous or unwise...Let my name be recorded among the righteous; let me enjoy the society of my brethren; let me bear a humble part with them in bringing forth and establishing Zion, and my soul will be satisfied--this only is the height of my ambition; this is the great joy of my life--my hope--my salvation--my all.
Latter-day Saint scholar and teacher Robert J. Matthews wrote about the importance of the 1865 Proclamation in establishing a clear channel for declaring the official doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:
This document was issued to members of the Church to correct certain theories about the nature of God that had been published by one of the Twelve in official Church literature, without having those statements cleared and verified by the First Presidency and the Twelve. An apparent major purpose of this Proclamation was to emphasize the established order of the Church, that new doctrine is to be announced only by the First Presidency.Read More: https://eom.byu.edu/index.php/Proclamations..
Latter-day Saint scholar, author, and teacher Robert L. Millet quoted from the 1865 Proclamation in a 2003 Religious Educator article entitled, “What is Our Doctrine?” in writing about the duty of all who teach the gospel to adhere to authorized doctrinal teachings:
We do not wish incorrect and unsound doctrines to be handed down to posterity under the sanction of great names to be received and valued by future generations as authentic and reliable, creating labor and difficulties for our successors to perform and contend with, which we ought not to transmit to them. The interests of posterity are, to a certain extent, in our hands. Errors in history and in doctrine, if left uncorrected by us who are conversant with the events, and who are in a position to judge of the truth or falsity of the doctrines, would go to our children as though we had sanctioned and endorsed them. . . . We know what sanctity there is always attached to the writings of men who have passed away, especially to the writings of Apostles, when none of their contemporaries are left, and we, therefore, feel the necessity of being watchful upon these points.Read More: https://rsc.byu.edu/vol-4..
The lesson learned from this 19th-century Proclamation regarding the First Presidency as the highest priesthood quorum on earth who hold the keys delegated to them from Jesus Christ to “receive revelations to unfold the mysteries of the kingdom” (D&C 90:14) has not been lost on 21st-century Apostles:
- Without citing the 1865 Proclamation directly, Elder David A. Bednar has written, “The doctrines of the restored gospel are found in the standard works of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in the teachings of the living prophets and apostles, and in the authorized declarations and proclamations of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Ultimately, however, only the President of the Church and the Quorum of First Presidency have the authority to define the doctrines of the Church” (Increase in Learning , p. 152).
- Recounting in detail the circumstances of the 1865 Proclamation, Elder Dale G. Renlund concludes: “Poor Orson Pratt was the test case not only for all future Apostles but for the whole Church. His experience taught every member, including the Apostles, that an Apostle can only speak authoritatively for the Church under the direction of and with the sanction of the First Presidency and the Twelve” (Renlund, Dale G. and Renlund, Ruth Lybbert, The Melchizedek Priesthood: Understanding the doctrine, living the principles , p. 35).
Attitudes regarding Lucy Mack Smith’s written history of her son, Joseph Smith, have shifted significantly since the 1865 Proclamation was issued. Indeed, a copy of this history was included in the copper time capsule placed in the base of the birthplace monument of the Prophet in Sharon, Vermont (see Smith, Joseph Fielding , The Life of Joseph F. Smith, p. 368). The current attitude of the Church toward this history is explained in a Church History Topics essay on Lucy Mack Smith:
In the 1860s, President Brigham Young publicly criticized Lucy’s history, pointing to errors in dating and chronology and insisting that Lucy’s memory was impaired. President Young asked his counselor George A. Smith (Lucy’s nephew) to correct the errors and “let it be published to the world.” The revisions altered less than 2 percent of the text.
Like all sources that present narratives from memory, Lucy Mack Smith’s account has flaws, exaggerations, and biases. Historians who have studied her narrative, however, conclude that errors in her history are “relatively minor and infrequent”...Lucy’s narrative gives insight into her personality, beliefs, and understanding of Joseph Smith’s calling. It also provides accounts of significant Smith family and Church history events for which there are no other sources. Her history is used in Saints primarily to describe these events and for the dialogue she re-creates from memory.
See also the “Historical Introduction” to the “Lucy Mack Smith, History, 1844-1845,” Joseph Smith Papers: https://www.josephsmithpapers.org..
The 1865 Proclamation was originally published in the Deseret News on August 23, 1865:
A handwritten copy of the 1865 Proclamation, written by George D. Watt, is found in the Brigham Young Papers at the Church History Library. It is dated August 23, 1865 (the date of its first printing in the Deseret News), although it is unclear when it was actually produced. This copy has no edits, but does contain the signatures of the First Presidency and all members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, except for Orson Pratt:
[Featured version] The 1865 Proclamation was reprinted for the benefit of the Saints in Europe in the Millennial Star on October 21, 1865:
The Journal History of the Church also includes a clipping of the 1865 Proclamation from the Deseret News for its entry on August 23, 1865:
The 1865 Proclamation can also be found in Clark, James R. (1965), Messages of the First Presidency, 2:229-240.