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He changed history

"What would the Mormon experience have been like without the life and thirty-three years of administration of President [Brigham] Young?"

Ronald W. Walker, BYU historian, posed that question Sept. 7 during the BYU Lecture Series on President Brigham Young.

Portrait of Brigham Young was made for a publication.
Portrait of Brigham Young was made for a publication.

"Over the years, I have come to know him," he said. "I have read hundreds of his addresses, thousands of his letters, and even the minutes of his conversation with close friends and advisers in his office."

From that acquaintance, Brother Walker listed 11 major contributions of Brigham Young that illustrate his vast influence to the Church:

  1. He established succession after the death of Joseph Smith. Responding to a revelation that had come to him "like a clap of hands" while preaching in the East, he returned to Nauvoo, Ill., on Aug. 6, 1844. Some 48 hours later, in one of the most important meetings in Church history, he successfully persuaded the assembled saints that the Quorum of the Twelve should guide the Church.

"I magnified my calling," President Young later said of this event, "& scarce a man stood by me to brunt the battle."

  1. He successfully oversaw the evacuation of Nauvoo. "Instead of becoming embroiled in bloodshed and escalating violence, President Brigham Young and the saints left their homes and started west," said Brother Walker.
  1. He preserved the Church in Iowa as the exiles faced poor roads, bad weather, mud, scant supplies and disobedient members. He reportedly slept with "one eye open and one foot out of bed."
  1. He led the members to the Salt Lake Valley, choosing a location where they wouldn't be persecuted. He fasted and prayed and studied, and saw in a vision "the future glory of Zion and Israel" in the Valley.
  1. He established "values of unity, cooperation, equality, and neighborliness" that facilitated the settling and survival of the community.
  1. He brought by Church migration many thousands to what became Utah. This Church migration has been described by leading American historians as "the largest and most successful group immigration in United States history" and its immigrants as "best-prepared pioneers in the West."
  1. He built Zion. "Brigham Young was more than a founder of towns and cities," said Brother Walker. "He wanted to change lives."
  1. He preached the gospel. "President Heber J. Grant, who as a young boy had often heard President Young preach, believed the pioneer prophet's 'wonderful capacity. . . to inspire those who heard him preach' was perhaps his greatest contribution to the Church."
  1. He counseled the saints. "Thousands of letters passed between the saints and their leader, and still more thousands of men and women came to his Salt Lake City office for advice. No saint and no personal matter seemed too unimportant."
  1. He administered the kingdom with wisdom and courage.
  1. He clarified priesthood duties. A year before his death, he completed what one historian called "the single most important priesthood analysis and redirecting since the priesthood restorations of forty-eight years earlier."

During this reorganization, President Young defined the duties of the apostles, seventies, high priests, and elders "with plainness and distinction and power."

"The First Presidency also issued an important 'circular letter' containing instructions on two dozen items, including the new requirement that the Church's worthy young men should receive the Aaronic Priesthood. Before that time, young men had not generally been ordained to the priesthood."

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