Wilford Woodruff and the Founding Fathers

While Wilford Woodruff has only one canonized document in Latter-day Saint scriptures (Official Declaration 1), he did record a number of visions and revelations of his own. Perhaps the best-known among these is his vision of Wilford Woodruff and the Founding Fathers that led him to do proxy temple work for them and other eminent individuals. In a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk, Jennifer Mackley discussed what we know about Wilford Woodruff’s vision. What follows here is a co-post to the full interview.

The most contemporary documentation to the vision is a list that Wilford Woodruff made in his journal:

Wilford Woodruff recorded a list of 100 prominent figures in his journal, including Founding Fathers like Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson … and other “eminent men” for whom he initiated temple ordinance work in his journal on August 21, 1877.

The two signers he was not baptized for that day were John Hancock and William Floyd, for whom proxy temple work had been started by relatives on May 29 and March 13 respectively.

In addition, he added more details in “three discourses stating the signers of the Declaration of Independence appeared to him: on September 16, 1877, on December 12, 1897, and on April 10, 1898.” For example, in the 1898 discourse, he stated the following

Every one of those men that signed the Declaration of Independence, with General Washington, called upon me, as an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, in the Temple at St. George, two consecutive nights, and demanded at my hands that I should go forth and attend to the ordinances of the House of God for them.

Baptisms and Endowments were performed for these eminent men.

It is also notable that Woodruff did not restrict his efforts solely to men:

In addition to the list of eminent men, Wilford Woodruff noted that:

Sister Lucy Bigelow Young went Forth into the font and was Baptized for Martha Washington and her family and seventy (70) of the Eminent women of the world.

Wilford Woodruff, Journal, Aug. 21, 1877

The eminent women range from infamous to unknown. Some were admired figures, including the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning and novelists Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë. Others, such as Charlotte de Corday and Marie Antoinette, were more controversial historical figures. Of the women on Wilford’s list, 37 were wives of the eminent men. Another 24 of the women were married, but Wilford did not include their husbands on the corresponding list of eminent men, and proxy ordinances were not performed for them at that time—including men such as Lord Palmerston, Thomas Moore, Patrick Calhoun, and Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington. Eleven of the women were members of George Washington’s extended family.

Inspired by his vision of the Founding Fathers, Elder Woodruff made sure that there were both eminent men and women for whom he had proxy work performed.

What were the broader ramifications of this initiative for Latter-day Saint Temple Work? Mackley had some insights to share on that subject:

The appearance of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence to Wilford Woodruff changed not only his view of temple work, but also became a powerful example of the universal nature of temple work.

Through this and his focus on temple service, Wilford Woodruff gained an understanding of the vital role of the living in providing the opportunity to accept Christ’s salvation to all who have ever lived. It also reminded the Saints that those in the spirit world expected them to fulfill their responsibility.

The lesson he took from this experience—and the message he repeatedly shared with the Saints—was of universal salvation. All of God’s children will be taught the principles of the gospel and all will need to accept the saving ordinances.

It was through Wilford Woodruff that the revelation on multi-generational family sealings was received in 1894, which changed the focus of temple work to eternal families, as God intended. 

The experience broadened Wilford Woodruff’s approach to proxy temple work.

For more on Wilford Woodruff and the Founding Fathers, head on over to read the recent interview at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk with Jennifer Mackley.

1 comment for “Wilford Woodruff and the Founding Fathers

  1. I like the idea that Wilford Woodruff’s experience with the founders broadened the scope of temple work in his mind. I think that was an important step in getting us to where we are today. Even though we focus on getting the work done for our own ancestral lines our common goal is to save all of humanity.

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