Though it is well-known that Sidney Rigdon addressed the members of the Church in Nauvoo on Aug. 8, 1844, during the leadership succession crisis following the martyrdom of the Prophet Joseph Smith, the content of his speech is scarcely known at all.
What remains of it is a report of the speech recorded in Taylor shorthand, undecipherable today to all but a very few people.
LaJean Purcell Carruth is one of those people. She works in the Publications Division of the Church History Department and is a professional transcriber of 19th century shorthand documents.
"Just a month after Joseph Smith's death, Thomas Bullock began recording meetings in the rudimentary shorthand published by Samuel Taylor in 1786," she told the audience in a June 7 session of the Mormon History Association Conference.
"Taylor shorthand is very difficult to write, and Bullock was unable to capture a verbatim account of the proceedings, more like minutes, phrases here and there, that he could catch."
Moreover, the Bullock shorthand record of the Rigdon speech is worn. The writing is small and, in places where the paper had been folded, illegible.
"Taylor shorthand makes no provision for vowels, except a dot can indicate the presence of a strong vowel if the writer desires," Sister Carruth said. "This complicates differentiating words with the same consonants."
Nevertheless, Sister Carruth began transcribing the document in 1997, which is located in the Church History Library in Salt Lake City, and has returned to it several times since. She read her transcription as part of her presentation.
"My transcription of this document provides unique information on this pivotal meeting," Sister Carruth wrote in an abstract of her presentation. "Bullock's minutes differ significantly from published accounts of Rigdon's words. Rigdon referred to the recent deaths of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, then stated that they continued their positions 'and they are now carrying on the same work, all the men that have been slain though they have been slain crucified and though the enemies have done all they, they ever on have their priesthood and will hold it to all.'
"He acknowledged the authority held by the Twelve: 'what I understand then [is] that all that power necessary to carry it on is been put upon their heads and power where e're he has placed power there let it rest let that quorum of men act in their place I do not care what body of men he has given that authority to carry it on.'"
In offering himself as a "spokesman," Sidney Rigdon evidently believed that Joseph Smith would continue to lead the Church from beyond the veil and that leadership would somehow be effected through him, Rigdon.
After he spoke, Brigham Young rose, took charge, and dismissed the meeting until 2 p.m. It was at that afternoon meeting that the body of the Church recognized the authority of President Young to lead the Church as president of the Quorum of the Twelve.