Brigham Young

Brigham Young (brĬg´əm), 1801–77, American religious leader, early head of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, b. Whitingham, Vt. Brigham Young was perhaps the greatest molder of Mormonism, his influence having a greater effect even than that of the church's founder, Joseph Smith, in shaping the Mormon faith as it exists today (see Latter-Day Saints, Church of Jesus Christ of).

Early Life

He was a painter and glazier in Mendon, Monroe co., N.Y., when he was first attracted to the new religion. Baptized as an adult in 1832, he led a group to the Mormon community at Kirtland, Ohio, and in 1835 became one of the Council of Twelve (the Apostles). When the Mormons were persecuted in their Missouri Zion in the late 1830s, Young was one of the few Mormon leaders not placed under arrest, and his abilities as an organizer came to the fore. He was one of the chief figures in the move to Nauvoo, Ill. Sent as missionary to England, he started a community that eventually brought approximately 40,000 émigrés to the United States between 1841 and 1870.

Mormon Leader

After Joseph Smith's assassination (1844), Young was the chief factor in maintaining the unity of the church in the Council of Twelve. From that time forward, he served as the Mormons' spiritual leader. He led the great migration west in 1846–47 and was the director of the settlement at Salt Lake City. He exercised supreme control in the communal theocracy of Mormonism, and his genius, as much as anything else, led to the phenomenal growth of a prosperous community. After the creation of Utah's provisional government, he was also made territorial governor and superintendent of Indian affairs.

When the Mormon practice of polygamy and a more general fear and hatred of Mormon power led to hostilities between the United States and the Mormons, Young defended Mormon interests, particularly during the military expedition against the Mormons called the Utah War (1857–58). He lost his post as governor, but through his able statesmanship, he avoided a real break with the United States. In his old age, he was arrested on charges of polygamy and murder, but he was acquitted and his influence increased rather than diminished until his death.

The exact number of his wives—still a contested figure—and the extent of his fortune were the objects of curiosity and idle rumor nationwide. Accusations of sensuality leveled against him by people who were ignorant of the basic principles of Mormon doctrine were not justified. The most serious charge that can be brought against him is that of condoning the massacre at Mountain Meadows. He did not instigate that crime, but it seems probable that he did protect its perpetrators.


See Susa Young Gates (his daughter) and L. E. Widtsoe, The Life Story of Brigham Young (1930); C. Stott, Search for Sanctuary (1984); L. J. Arrington, Brigham Young (1985); N. G. Bringhurst, Brigham Young (1986); J. G. Turner, Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet (2012).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2018, The Columbia University Press.

Brigham Young: Selected full-text books and articles

The Prophet and the Reformer: The Letters of Brigham Young and Thomas L. Kane By Brigham Young; Thomas L. Kane; Matthew J. Grow; Ronald W. Walker Oxford University Press, 2015
A primary source is a work that is being studied, or that provides first-hand or direct evidence on a topic. Common types of primary sources include works of literature, historical documents, original philosophical writings, and religious texts.
Brigham Young's Homes By Colleen Whitley Utah State University Press, 2002
When Prophets Die: The Postcharismatic Fate of New Religious Movements By Timothy Miller State University of New York Press, 1991
Librarian's tip: "Brigham Young Takes Charge at Nauvoo" begins on p. 62
FREE! The Story of the Mormons: From the Date of Their Origin to the Year 1901 By William Alexander Linn The Macmillan Company, 1902
Librarian's tip: "Brigham Young" begins on p. 327, "Brigham Young's Despotism" begins on p. 433, "The Last Years of Brigham Young" begins on p. 567, and "Brigham Young's Death - His Character" begins on p. 574
An Introduction to Mormonism By Douglas J. Davies Cambridge University Press, 2003
Librarian's tip: "Young, Brigham" begins on p. 139
Mormons and the Bible: The Place of the Latter-Day Saints in American Religion By Philip L. Barlow Oxford University Press, 1997
Librarian's tip: "Brigham Young" begins on p. 77
Prelude to the Kingdom: Mormon Desert Conquest, a Chapter in American Cooperative Experience By Gustive O. Larson M. Jones Co., 1947
Librarian's tip: Includes discussion of Brigham Young in multiple chapters
Forgotten Kingdom: The Mormon Theocracy in the American West, 1847-1896 By David L. Bigler Utah State University Press, 1998
Librarian's tip: Includes discussion of Brigham Young in multiple chapters
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