SHIELDS header banner /w logo



RLDS Church
Letter on Succession Authority

The following letter written by P. J. Sanders is from the N.B. Lundwall (secretary to B. H. Roberts) manuscript collection.  This letter is Bro. Sanders' evaluation of and challenge to the RLDS church on the succession of authority issue.  Previously correspondence had been exchanged with the President of the RLDS Church, who as unable to answer the issues contained in this letter.  Heman C. Smith was, at the time of this letter, the Historian of the RLDS Church.  According to current RLDS Church Historian, Mark A. Scherer, Heman C. Smith was released as an Apostle April 18, 1909 to be able to serve full time as RLDS Church Historian.  He did so until his death, April 17, 1919.

Page 1

March 29, 1910

Mr. Heman C. Smith,
      Lamoni, Iowa,

Dear Sir:

Your letter of March 22nd is at hand.  In reply will say you have my book "A Key to Succession in the Presidency and Ready Reference" and as I have but few left of the 4,000 printed eight months ago, I am going to have it republished, and I would be pleased to add to my book a statement from you, giving the evidence you have on the subject of "Authority" in the Reorganization.

You ask me to give in detail my proposition.  Here it is:

1st. (36) What scripture proves that "Succession in the Presidency of the Church should always descend from the father to the oldest son?"

2nd. (37) What sections and verses of the revelations given to Joseph Smith, the Prophet, lead you to believe your President has a right to the presidency of the Church:

3rd. (38) In 1856 Messrs. Briggs and Gurley called upon Young [sic] Joseph[1] for the purpose of getting him to accept the Presidency of the Reorganized Church. Young [sic] Joseph says: "I read the message that he brought, but could not accept it as they had hoped. It was not to me the word of the Lord.  I was prepared to do what GOD required of me, if he would make it known to me what it was,*** that I did not then know whether I should ever be called to take any part in that work;*** that it would have to be made clear to me, in person, as well as to others what that work was; that I could not move upon the evidence given to others only; that they might be assured that I should not go to SALT LAKE to affiliate with them there.

Tullidge's Life of the Prophet, Reorganite Edition, Pages 767-8.

This was in the year 1856 that your President said he did not then know that he should ever be called to take any part in that work; that he was prepared to do what God required of him if He would only make it known what that work was.

Now Mr. Smith in 1856, your President knew nothing, absolutely nothing, of a calling to the Presidency of the Church; he didn't know anything about his father blessing him three different times to the same blessing; didn't know his father said he was his successor!; didn't know he was already called; didn't know he should be called.  Didn't know?  Of course he didn't.  Didn't he know what he was talking about in 1856?  Twelve years since his father's death, and he does not know there is a work he is to do.  God has to show him what that work is.

Page 2

In 1909 your President wrote me as follows: "I have a recollection of my father in a sermon, which he delivered in a grove near the temple, turning and pointing his finger at me and saying: `There is my successor'".

He could not move upon evidence given to others only!  Is it not evident he had no evidence himself:  But just how your President knows nothing of these things in 1856, and remembers all about them in 1909, is, indeed very strange.  It seems much like an after thought invented to fit pressing demands.  Continuing your President says:  "Certain blessings were named upon me as his son and heir and in the line of succession according to the law of primo-geniture."

He was ten years old when this blessing was received.  It is not likely a boy of ten years would remember such things!  It looks as if your President were trying to manufacture evidence-- it looks like evidence more than that given to others only!  Did your President mean what he said in 1856?  Did he tell the truth?  I think he did.  Did he mean what he said in 1909?  Did he tell the truth?  I think he did not?

Just how your President extricates himself from such a predicament, it is interesting to note.  In his letter to me he writes: "I see nothing in this statement that contradicts any other that I had made of a similar import, and hence, no further explanation is needed as the statement itself seems clear."  Yes, the statement is clear enough,- both statements are clear, but your President, Mr. Smith, sees nothing that contradicts!  He is a very poor "Seer".  Such an evasion of the question reminds me of the "Honest Iago" who said: "I am not what I am," No wonder your President was lead to write: "The Elders are not bound by any absurd answer of mine to baffling questions contrary to the law."  If he had attempted an answer to my question, the answer could have been nothing else but absurd; that he was "baffled" is evident from the fact Mr. Smith evaded the question, or refused to answer.

Now, Mr. Smith, if Your President made a mistake in 1856 in what is recorded in your own history as his statements, I would be pleased if you would produce the *record of the important events* he claims he now remembers.  Give the book, the page, the date.

If the blessings he claims to have received from his father entitled him to the Presidency of the Church, why did he not come to the Church, demand his rights; or at least present his claims, and be accepted by the body of the Saints?  The law provides for this.  The Church was in Utah in 1860 when "Young [sic] Joseph" became President of the Reorganization Church - a church organized by a few people who remained in the East.  Just how such a procedure entitles a man to become the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, now flourishing in the tops of the mountains, I am at a loss to understand.  Please explain these items; - harmonize them with the law.

Page 3

4. (39) The testimony of William Marks ought to corroborate some of the many claims of your President.  If he was blessed on three different occasions to be his father's successor, and if the Prophet Joseph Smith proclaimed him his successor in the presence of three thousand people, who would be more likely to know than William Marks, the President of the Nauvoo Stake.  The testimony of this leading official is against him.  Here is what he says:

"After mature and candid deliberation, I am faully [sic] and satisfactorily convinced that Mr. Sidney Rigdon's claims to the Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, are not founded in truth.***  The Twelve are the proper persons to lead the church." -- Wm. Marks, Times and Seasons, Vol. 5 p. 742[,] Dec. 9, 1844.

Even after the apostasy of William Marks he does not try to remember anything about the present claims of Young [sic] Joseph.  He joined the Reorganization Church, but knew nothing about the claims of your President.  Here is what he says to Him:

"We have had enough of man-made prophets, and we don't want any more of that sort.  If God has called you, we want to know it.  If he has, the Church is ready to sustain you; if not, we want nothing to do with you." - Tullidge's Life of the Prophet, page 774.

Wm. Smith, the Prophet's brother, and one of the twelve apostles, ought to know something about the claims of Young [sic] Joseph. May 15th, 1845, he says: "My advice to all, without respect of persons, is the same now that it was then.  Support and uphold the proper authorities of the church.  When I say authorities, I mean the whole, and not a part, the twelve, and not one, two, six, eight, ten, or eleven, but the whole twelve.  Follow me as I follow Christ, God being my helper."

Wm. Smith, Times and Seasons, Vol. 6, page 904

William Smith apostatized, and then began bolstering up claims for his nephew, but more for himself.  Not until his apostacy,[sic] have we any record of anything favoring Young [sic] Joseph by William Smith.

John E. Page, one of the twelve Apostles who finally became a member of the Reorganized Church, gives his testimony in favor of the twelve and not a word for Young [sic] Joseph.  Hear the record: "Elder John E. Page having arrived here a short time previous with his family from Pittsburg, being present, was requested to render an account of his stewardship, which he cheerfully assented to ** and finally concluded by assuring the Saints that he was one with them, and gave his testimony to the present organization of the Church in the most solemn manner and gave place." -        Times and Seasons, Vol. 6, page 798, Dec. 26, 1844.

Marks, Smith and Page left the Church; they became members of the Reorganization.  How do you harmonize their course in life with their solemn declarations?

You would think the President of the Reorganized Church

Page 4

would be in harmony with himself.  He, however, bears testimony that the Twelve are the proper ones to lead the Church.  He says: "In reply to a question of who should lead the Reorganized Church in case of my death, I told Mr. Spencer that the care of the Church would devolve upon the Twelve as a quorum, until my successor was pointed out by revelation".          True Succession, p. 108.

If the Twelve are the proper authorities to lead the Church now, were they not the proper authorities in 1844?  If not, why not?

Mother Lucy Smith[,] the prophet Joseph's aged and honored parent, Wednesday, October 18, 1845 spoke in general conference.  She said she felt the Lord would let Brigham Young take the people away.  She says: "I feel that the Lord will let Brother Brigham take the people away.  Here, in this city, lay dead; my husband and children; and if so be the rest of my children go with you, and I would to God they may all go, they will not go without me."

It seems to me Mr. Smith, everything points to the Apostles with Brigham Young as their President, as the proper ones to lead the Church.  Why should the testimonies of these people all agree, if the contrary were true?  The very lives of 20,000 saints who once lived in Nauvoo bear testimony of the same thing.

5. (40) *Your President* was blessed or ordained or "whatever you may call it" by his father three times, the same blessing, with everything that would pertain to him as his successor and heir in lineal descent.  Notwithstanding these many blessings by his father, none of which are considered valid, he calls in three apostates and two men that never did belong to the Church.  They ordain him president.  That is O.I.

When Wm. Smith organized a church and ordained men apostles, we find Jason W. Briggs was one of them.  Later, a Reorganite revelation declares that those ordained apostles by Wm. Smith were not of God.  Wm. Smith was an apostle in the days of Joseph and Hyrum.  He apostatized, was cut off the church for apostacy, [sic] etc.  If God would not recognize the authority of the apostate Wm. Smith's ordinations, how do you attempt to harmonize the ordination of your President, by the apostate trio, Briggs, Gurley and Marks?  Harmonize these perplexities.  And Powers and Blair were called in and assisted in the ordination.  They were never members of the Church.  Harmonize this absurdity!

6. (41) At what place and time did Joseph Smith confer all the authority that he had received from Peter, James and John, upon Jason W. Briggs, Zenas H. Gurley, Wm. Marks, W. W. Blair and Samuel W. Powers?

Page 5

7. (42) Wm. Marks was "mouth" in the ordination of Young [sic] Joseph to the Presidency of your church.  What authority could he confer after a membership in the following churches?  He joined the Mormon Church; after the Prophet Joseph's death, he apostatized; he joined Rigdon's church, but apostatized from that - confessed he was wrong, and solemnly declared the twelve Apostles were the proper ones to lead the Church, and rejoined the Mormons.  At the time of the Exodus, he left the Church again - a very fitting time to "vanish."  He then joined James J. Strang's Beaver Island church; apostatized from Stragism, [sic] and joined Wm. Smith's church; apostatized from Smith's church, joined John E. Page's church, apostatized again for a change; joined Thompson's church, with which he remained about as long as he had usually held fast the faith of any church.  He left Thompson and joined the "New Organization" after ward re-christened the "Reorganization", and several years later, April 6, 1860, conferred on Joseph Smith, your President, all the authority he had.  No objections!

Candidly speaking, Mr. Smith, do you believe Mr. Marks had any authority to give?  Any keys, anything whatever to confer upon your President?  How do you harmonize Mr. Marks' conduct and procedure with the revelations?  And also your own authority on apostates?  McIntosh, a Reorganite says, "Whenever individuals claiming authority under the church as organized by the first Joseph, become members of any faction, they immediately become divested of all authority except that received from the faction."  James T. McIntosch, True Saints Herald, Vol. 4, No. 10, Page. 158.

Surely Mr. Marks was quite completely divested of all authority in the church, after passing thru seven different organizations!

But you say in "True Succession" page 179, "So far as that particular act was concerned the authority was restored."  Please inform me by whom, to whom, when, and when was there a restoration of authority.  When?  give the date, was authority taken away?  Why taken?  Was it taken from all the church members?

The Angel John said to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery the authority was to *remain*; the Prophet Daniel over 3,000 years ago said God was going to set up his kingdom for the last time and it was never to be destroyed nor given to another people. [Dan. 2:44]

Whom should we believe Mr. Smith, you, or the angel and Prophets of God?  "Choose ye this day whom ye would serve."  but consistency is a jewel.  Harmonize your position if you can.

8. (43) Nine of the twelve Apostles came to Utah, the other three apostatized, - Page, Smith and Wight.  A majority of the twelve Apostles from a quorum.  The Apostles are equal in authority to the First Presidency; therefore by this authority they build up the kingdom of God in all the world.

Page 6

It was by this authority and the inspiration of God, they re-organized the First Presidency of the Church.  The Apostles did their duty; their acts were in harmony with the written revelations, - but you object.  So did the devil when he and his angels fought against the principles of truth and righteousness, but God cast them like lightning down to hell.  Beware then, that you be not found fighting against the Almighty.

You claim the twelve apostatized, that you are the true church accepted by God.  If you have the priesthood and the apostles who came to Utah apostatized, were those apostles or any one of them cited to appear before you for trial?  If so, when?  WHERE is the record?  Who preferred the charge?  Did they, or any one of them, have a fair and legal trial according to the laws governing the church?  Were they found guilty and cut off from the Church?  Give the record, the proof, the volume, the page, the date!  Not forthcoming?  Why not?  A frank admission no such thing ever took place!  But, admitting it did, the Seventy are next and equal in authority to the twelve, hence equal to the first Presidency.  Did they all transgress?  Were they, or any one of them, ever cited to appear before the proper authorities for trial?

Now, Mr. Smith, you will never be able to explain these things satisfactorily until you are brave enough to admit the truth in the matter, that they did not transgress to such an extent they lost their priesthood, that they never were cut off from the church, that there was no disorganization of the church, further than one quorum, - the presidency.

We have the proof, the record, the volume the page, the date, when your three apostate apostles were cut off from the church.  There is no necessity of giving this, because you totally ignore their authority also, because you knew they were apostates.  In proof of this your History by Tullidge, page 595, frankly admits you organized a church with only two high priests and a senior president of seventies!  These men were Jason W. Briggs, H.H. Dean, (High Priests) and Zenas Gurley (President of the 21st Quorum of seventy in Nauvoo).  These men organized the Church!  Where were the 20,000 saints once in Hancock county, Illinois?  Your history by Tullidge says: "THERE was only one man I could call brother"***  Everybody that was doing anything at Mormonism was in Utah;" You had a very frail beginning indeed.  For forty-six years after the death of Joseph Smith you did not have enough tried and faithful men to fill the quorum of twelve, the apostles!

You claim the apostles that came west apostatized and lost their authority or priesthood without being severed from the Church.  Will you tell me how much more authority you apostates have who are excommunicated from the Church?

... [discussion of blacks & the Priesthood deleted as irrelevant to the topic of succession in the Presidency]

Page 7

...If Joseph Smith is a false prophet, his son is also, because he claims to have received authority from this father.  Considered in whatever way you wish, it proves beyond a doubt that the President of the Reorganized Church is without authority, that his church is without foundation, with no reason for an existence in the world.

If there is a conscientious Reorganite living these facts should almost effectually close the door of faith from him against the teaching of the Reorganized church.

Consistency is a jewel, but it is not found in the revelations and histories of the Reorganization.

Now, Mr. Smith, I have noted the items of "authority" in your church.  I would be pleased to get definite explanations. Please confine yourself to the subject of "authority", - your side of the story, I can tell mine.

With kind regards, I remain,


P. J. Sanders.

P.S. It may not be possible for you to confine yourself exclusively to "authority" but I am desirous that this subject be not slighted in any particular.

Yours, P. J. Sanders


[1] The reference here to "Young Joseph" refers to Joseph Smith III, a son of the Prophet Joseph Smith.

Daniel 2:44
44 And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, [but] it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever.