Brigham Young

Brigham Young (1801-1877), American colonizer and second president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, led the Mormons to Utah, colonized it, and served as official and unofficial governor of Oregon Territory.

Brigham Young was born at Whitingham, Vt., on June 1, 1801. When he was three, the family moved to an area of New York where religious mysticism and revivalism were strong. He had only two months of formal education, for the family was poor and rootless. He became a house painter and glazier, and, at the age of 22, a Methodist. He married Miriam Works, and they settled at Mendon, N.Y., in 1829.

In 1832, after studying Joseph Smith's Book of Mormon for two years, Young was baptized into the new Church and became very active in it. The following year he moved to Kirtland, Ohio, to form a Mormon church. He traveled through the eastern United States seeking converts, as well as joining "Zion's Army," a militant Mormon branch.


Rise in the Church

In February 1835, when the Quorum of Twelve Apostles was established as an administrative aid to Prophet Joseph Smith, Young was third in rank. By 1838, when the Mormons were expelled from Missouri, he was senior member of this body and directed the removal to Nauvoo, Ill. In 1839 he went to England on a successful mission, returning to Illinois in 1841 to become the Church's leading fiscal agent. By 1844 he had contracted three polygamous marriages.

In 1844 Smith determined to run for president of the United States, and Young left on a speaking tour in support of this. In Boston that July he heard of Smith's murder two weeks earlier. He returned to Nauvoo to find the membership in panic and virtually leaderless. He rallied the members, defeated Sidney Rigdon for leadership, and began searching for a new location for the Mormons, who were again being persecuted.


Colonizer of Utah

After studying government documents and talking with travelers, Young sent agents to various parts of the West to look for the new Zion. He selected the Great Salt Lake region in the hope that there the believers would not be bothered again by outsiders. The move was accomplished under his leadership in 1846-1847, financed by funds from foreign missions and by the salaries of a battalion of men he sent to serve the U.S. Army during the Mexican War. On Dec. 5, 1847, at Salt Lake City, Young was elected president of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, a position he held until his death.

Young planned a grand city at Salt Lake; the Church retained complete control through prior appropriation of available water, and irrigated farming became the backbone of the colony. He sent colonists to establish Mormon communities at strategic locations in the Great Basin area, some 357 towns in all, and sent missionaries all over the world to seek recruits. To assist the approximately 70,000 converts who came from Europe, he established the Perpetual Emigration Fund to extend loans which, when repaid, would assist still more to come. When funds were low, he directed the immigrants to come from St. Louis, pushing their goods in handcarts, but this advice was somewhat discredited when one group died in a snowstorm at Sweet-water River, Wyo., in 1856.

To keep money in the territory, Young urged development of home industries, the Zion's Cooperative Mercantile Institution. Also, he preached the necessity of hard work and thrift, and he forbade the faithful to engage in mining, fearing the discovery of gold would bring in large numbers of non-Mormons.

Young was a pragmatic leader who sought to strengthen the Church by cooperative means. He loved dancing, singing, and the theater, so these were acceptable; he forbade liquor, tobacco, all stimulants, gambling, and cardplaying. He encouraged polygamy because it was hated by non-Mormons; thus its practice insured Mormon unity against outsiders. Young himself had an estimated 19 to 27 wives and 56 children. He also urged a good educational system, and he established the University of Deseret (now the University of Utah) in 1850.


Political Leader

The Mexican War brought Utah into American hands, so Young gathered a constitutional convention to petition for statehood under the name Deseret. Congress refused, naming it the Territory of Utah, but Young became governor. In 1857 opposition to the Mormons became so strong from Federal officials that he was removed as governor. When he refused to be ousted, a Federal army under Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston was sent to expel him. The so-called "Mormon War" ended in 1858 by compromise; Young gave way to a non-Mormon governor but continued to govern unofficially through his position in the Church until his death in Salt Lake City on Aug. 29, 1877. A domineering tyrant in public, privately Young had been genial and benevolent.


Further Reading on Brigham Young

Works on Young include Frank J. Cannon and George L. Knapp, Brigham Young and His Mormon Empire (1913), a hostile treatment; M. R. Werner, Brigham Young (1925); Susa Young Gates and Lead D. Widtsoe, The Life Story of Brigham Young (1930), which contains excellent material on his family life; Milton R. Hunter, Brigham Young: The Colonizer (1940; 2d ed. 1941); Ray B. West, Kingdom of the Saints: The Story of Brigham Young and the Mormons (1957); and Stanley P. Hirshson's unfavorable portrait, The Lion of the Lord: A Biography of Brigham Young (1969). The last is less a biography than an account of Mormon history, emphasizing the more sensational aspects of Young's life. A good, overall picture of Young and his work is in Thomas F. O'Dea, The Mormons (1957).