Literary DCGD #33: To President Brigham Young

August 25, 2013 | no comments
By

Eliza R. Snow

We often make assumptions about the past based on our perspective today, and the current Gospel Doctrine lesson about Brigham Young and succession in the presidency is no exception. We know that the senior member of the Quorum of the Twelve becomes the new Prophet, and it is easy to assume that this was always understood. But following the martyrdom of Joseph Smith, that question was far from clear among many members of the Church. Even six months later, when this poem was written, those members who followed Brigham Young often assumed that he would remain president of the Quorum of the Twelve, rather than replace the prophet.

This is another poem by Eliza R. Snow, who was married to Brigham Young (many years after this poem was written) and was the second General President of the Relief Society. Selections of her poetry are found in a two-volume work she compiled, Poems, Religious, Historical, and Political, which was published in 1856 and 1877. Ten of her poems are currently in the LDS hymnal, and several others once were in editions of the LDS hymnal, but have since been dropped. She is the first LDS poet to have her complete work collected (Eliza R Snow: The Complete Poetry).

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To President Brigham Young

By Eliza R. Snow

An important station is truly thine,
And the weight of thy calling can none define;
Being call’d of the Lord o’er the Twelve to preside,
And with them over all of the world beside.

 

Like Elisha of old, when Elijah fled
In a chariot of fire, thou has lost thy head;
Lost thy head? O no! thou are left to prove
To the Gods, thy integrity, faith, and love.

 

Thou hast gain’d, like Elisha, a rich behest,
For the mantle of Joseph seems to rest
Upon thee, while the spirit and pow’r divine,
That inspir’d his heart, is inspiring thine.

 

The great work which he laid the foundation to
Is unfinished, and resting on thee to do—
With thy brethren, the Twelve, thou wilt bear it forth
To the distant nations of the earth.

 

Kings, princes, and nobles will honor thee,
And thy name will be great on the isles of the sea—
The pure light of intelligence thou wilt spread
Will exalt the living and save the dead.

 

The great spirit of truth, will direct thy ways;
Generations to come, will repeat thy praise—
When they work is completed on earth, thou’lt stand
In thy station appointed at God’s right hand.

The Prophet, v1 n47, 12 February 1845, p. 4

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I think Snow captures the spirit of succession well in the third stanza:

Thou hast gain’d, like Elisha, a rich behest,
For the mantle of Joseph seems to rest
Upon thee, while the spirit and pow’r divine,
That inspir’d his heart, is inspiring thine.

Perhaps Snow is referring to the claim, first mentioned years after the fact, that during the August 8th meeting that convinced most of the Saints in Nauvoo to follow Brigham Young he appeared to look and talk like Joseph Smith as the “mantle” rested on him. Or, Snow could simply mean that she was convinced God meant for Brigham Young to succeed Joseph Smith.

But her belief at this point is tempered somewhat, for she says that the mantle “seems to rest” on Brigham Young. Is she uncertain? Or is she emphasizing the figurative nature of the prophetic mantle?

Given when and where this poem was published, I think the latter is more likely. This poem was first published in The Prophet, the New York Church newspaper that had been named as one of the official organs of the Church less than two months earlier. The words “For the Prophet,” printed above the poem when it first appeared, indicate that the poem was intended to be published there first. And since many of the members uncertain about succession were in branches far from Nauvoo—many of which received Church news by way of The Prophet—this poem might have been part of the argument for following Brigham Young.

Regardless, Snow does see Brigham Young leading the Church forward, and feels that there is still much to be done:

The great work which he laid the foundation to
Is unfinished, and resting on thee to do—
With thy brethren, the Twelve, thou wilt bear it forth
To the distant nations of the earth.

 

Thus, just six months after the martyrdom of Joseph Smith, the most important understanding of succession, that the President of the Quorum of the Twelve would lead the Church, was firmly taught by Zion’s leading poet. It would take another 50 years to iron out most of the details of succession (who had seniority in the Quorum, when the President of the Quorum would become prophet, etc.), but for most members, those who followed Brigham Young, the principal question was resolved.

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