Vacancies in the Quorum of the Twelve

With the death of 86-year-old Elder Richard G. Scott, three vacancies have opened up in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Also recently passed away were 90-year-old Boyd K. Packer and 92-year-old L. Tom Perry.

Richard G. Scott

Richard G. Scott

The question of the age of the governing quorums of the church was raised last Spring when 87-year-old President Thomas S. Monson was unable to meet with visiting President Barak Obama. The average age of the two highest quorums (15 men) at that time was 80 — the highest ever in the history of the church.[i]

However, vacancies of three (or more) in the Quorum of the Twelve are not unprecedented in church history. In fact, it has been quite common, although for varying reasons.

From the Fall of 1837 to the Fall of 1838, ten apostles lost their apostleship when they were either excommunicated or disfellowshipped. However, six of these apostles were not members of the Quorum of the Twelve. This was before apostolic roles in church government were clearly defined. Then when Apostle David W. Patten was killed, just seven apostles remained in the quorum, with one extra-quorum apostle (Joseph Smith). [ii] This was the smallest number of quorum members in the history of the church, with five vacancies. Quorum membership began to replenish with the ordination of John Taylor and John Page. Soon, the quorum became over populated and Amasa M. Lyman had to be dropped from the quorum when Orson Pratt was re-baptized and restored to full fellowship in 1843.

Because no established procedure existed for organizing a new First Presidency upon the death of the president, lengthy periods of time passed before organizing the Brigham Young, John Taylor, and Wilford Woodruff presidencies. The Quorum of Twelve would govern during these interims, resulting in quorum numbers dropping from twelve to nine when a new First Presidency was organized. This continued until a seamless transition became the standard when Lorenzo Snow became president.

Just after the Brigham Young Presidency was organized, Lyman Wight was excommunicated, leaving four vacancies in February 1849.

As Brigham Young aged, several members of The Twelve were reassigned as counselors to Brigham Young, bringing the number of Quorum members down to nine in 1875.

The last time there was a vacancy of three was in 1906 when Apostle Marriner W. Merrill passed away, and Apostles John W. Taylor and Matthias F. Cowley resigned from the Quorum due to political pressure regarding their promotion of polygamy.

Sixteen years earlier, President Wilford Woodruff had issued the Manifesto in 1890 saying, he personally planned to obey the laws of the United States regarding plural marriage. The statement lacked clarity and left room for interpretation. Many in the presiding quorums continued to enter into, or sanction new plural marriages. When newly elected Senator — Apostle Reed Smoot tried to take office, he met with strenuous objections. Senate hearings regarding his seating beginning in 1904 brought embarrassing testimony about the church into the national lime light, and finally, pro-polygamy apostles Taylor and Cowley resigned their positions under pressure from fellow church leaders. Then, with Apostle Merrill’s death, three vacancies opened up in the Quorum of the Twelve. They were filled by George F. Richards, Orson F. Whitney, and David O. McKay — who would later become the president of the church.

[i] “Thomas S. Monson ‘feeling the effects’ of his age, LDS Church says” by David Noyce, The Salt Lake Tribune, May 01 2015

[ii] If I did my math correctly


Vacancies in the Quorum of the Twelve — 4 Comments

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  2. “President Wilford Woodruff had issued the Manifesto in 1890 saying, he personally planned to obey the laws of the United States regarding plural marriage. The statement lacked clarity and left room for interpretation.”

    I disagree with your interpretation of Official Declaration 1. Here is the text taken straight from the D&C:

    “To Whom It May Concern:

    “Press dispatches having been sent for political purposes, from Salt Lake City, which have been widely published, to the effect that the Utah Commission, in their recent report to the Secretary of the Interior, allege that plural marriages are still being solemnized and that forty or more such marriages have been contracted in Utah since last June or during the past year, also that in public discourses the leaders of the Church have taught, encouraged and urged the continuance of the practice of polygamy—

    “I, therefore, as President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, do hereby, in the most solemn manner, declare that these charges are false. We are not teaching polygamy or plural marriage, nor permitting any person to enter into its practice, and I deny that either forty or any other number of plural marriages have during that period been solemnized in our Temples or in any other place in the Territory.

    “One case has been reported, in which the parties allege that the marriage was performed in the Endowment House, in Salt Lake City, in the Spring of 1889, but I have not been able to learn who performed the ceremony; whatever was done in this matter was without my knowledge. In consequence of this alleged occurrence the Endowment House was, by my instructions, taken down without delay.

    “Inasmuch as laws have been enacted by Congress forbidding plural marriages, which laws have been pronounced constitutional by the court of last resort, I hereby declare my intention to submit to those laws, and to use my influence with the members of the Church over which I preside to have them do likewise.

    “There is nothing in my teachings to the Church or in those of my associates, during the time specified, which can be reasonably construed to inculcate or encourage polygamy; and when any Elder of the Church has used language which appeared to convey any such teaching, he has been promptly reproved. And I now publicly declare that my advice to the Latter-day Saints is to refrain from contracting any marriage forbidden by the law of the land.”

  3. Momo, as I read it — the Manifesto lacked absolute language to end plural marriage (in Utah Territory, or elsewhere). Rather than declaring the end of polygamy, Woodruff declares his intention to personally submit to those laws, and to ‘use my influence” with church membership.

    He goes on to say “There is nothing in my teachings to the Church or in those of my associates, during the time specified [Spring 1889 to October 1890], which can be reasonably construed to inculcate or encourage polygamy.”

    However, apostle Brigham Young Jr. entered into another polygamous marriage on June 10, 1890. Apostle Marriner W. Merrill married polygamously in Logan in July 1889. Apostle Francis Lyman stated he would rather go to prison that cease the practice (and was sentenced and fined accordingly), Other examples could be cited.

    The meaning of the Manifesto continued to be debated among the apostles and First Presidency for years — and a majority of them performed, sanctioned or entered into new plural marriages.

  4. Thanks, Claire. The 1849 appointment of Lorenzo Snow, Charles C. Rich, Erastus Snow, and Franklin D. Richards was significant, with each of those men leaving their own unique, and often under appreciated, mark.

    As for the ambiguity of the Manifesto, I think the history of polygamy from 1890-1904 makes it more than clear that the statement didn’t just lack clarity, but it deliberately lacked clarity and was intended as a political statement to quell government opposition without specifically repudiating polygamy as a practice and not just as a vague theology. If there had been clarity then the dozens of post-Manifesto marriages, including some by apostles, would likely not have occurred.