The succession was primarily between Brigham Young and Sidney Rigdon.
A wonderful talk given by Hyrum W. Smith in 1988 at Rick’s College (now BYU-Idaho), “Why 1820?”
From 1975 Ensign by Richard Lloyd Anderson: Simon Peter
A few paragraphs below:
“Was Peter impulsive, pious, or vacillating? Was he the first pope?
These questions reflect distorted opinions of the personality and life of Christ’s chief apostle. The authentic Peter towers in the New Testament, where more information is found on this apostle than any other except Paul.
None of the first disciples is mentioned as frequently in the gospels and the Acts; Peter’s recorded speeches, letters, and deeds exceed what remains from any other original apostle.”
From Elder McConkie in 1981:
Key section of Elder McConkie’s talk:
“Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona,” Jesus says, “for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.” (Matt. 16:17.)
Then again Jesus alludes to the difference in paternal ancestry between him and Peter and continues his words of blessing and doctrine by saying: “And upon this rock”—the rock of revelation—“I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matt. 16:18.)
And how could it be otherwise? There is no other foundation upon which the Lord could build his Church and kingdom. The things of God are known only by the power of his Spirit.
God stands revealed or he remains forever unknown. No man can know that Jesus is the Lord but by the Holy Ghost.
From the LDS Student Manual on Matthew 16-18:
Matthew 16:18. Revelation Is the Rock upon Which the Church Is Built
As the Savior taught Peter about revelation, He used a wordplay on Peter’s name, declaring to Simon, “Thou art Peter [Petros], and upon this rock [petra] I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18).
The Greek word petros means an isolated small rock or stone. The Greek word petra can also mean “a stone,” but in addition it can refer to stony soil, bedrock, or a large mass of rock.
From these words we learn that it was not upon Peter as a man that the Church would be built, but upon the bedrock of revelation.
To read about the significance of Peter’s name being changed from Cephas, see the commentary for John 1:42.
President Howard W. Hunter (1907–95) taught: “‘And upon this rock I will build my church.’ Upon what rock? Peter? Upon a man?
No, not upon a man, upon the rock of revelation, the thing which they were talking about.
He had just said, ‘… flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.’ This revelation that Jesus is the Christ is the foundation upon which he would build his Church” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1965, 112; see also Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith , 195)
This talk discusses what this part of the verse means. A few paragraphs below:
“The Greek word used to denote church in Matthew 16:18 is ecclesia, which literally means a “calling out” and originally referred to a civil assembly. Thus Jesus’ use of the phrase “my church” referred to an assembly “called” by him.
In the present dispensation, the Lord used church in this same sense. He revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith that “whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church. …
“Behold, whosoever is of my church, and endureth of my church to the end, him will I establish upon my rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against them.” (D&C 10:67, 69.)
In these instances the “church” is not so much an institution as it is a group of individuals who repent, come unto Christ through the ordinances of the gospel, and endure in faith to the end. Upon them the adversary has no claim.”
We all must be personally built upon the rock. Read this 1992 Ensign talk: Built Upon the Rock.
Broad introduction to start:
Historian Robin Jensen talks about those who stepped forward claiming leadership of the Church after the death of Joseph Smith.
FAIR Mormon has a detailed entry on James Strang here. Included are images of Strang’s Letter of Appointment and other parts of this history.
Brett McDonald discusses the period around Joseph’s death, as well as more contemporary claims.
The Deseret News highlights a few details about James Strang here and below:
“One of those was James J. Strang, a man who had been baptized four months before the martyrdom of Joseph and his brother Hyrum. Although Strang was subsequently excommunicated from the LDS Church, he continued proselyting followers who gathered to Voree, Wisconsin, on the banks of the White River. ”
Historical plaque on a marker at the site where Voree, Wisconsin was once located. It is a map of the settlement. | Kenneth Mays
“At one point, his followers included three former members of the Quorum of the Twelve and other prominent members. But, according to Leonard Arrington in “Brigham Young: American Moses,” “Most of Strang’s backing evaporated …and at no point did he represent a numerically significant challenge to Brigham’s leadership.”
William Smith, Hiram Page (both Apostles), and others who gravitated toward Strang were themselves previously disaffected from the LDS Church. And these previous Latter-day Saints didn’t stay long with Strang.
Most of Strang’s followers, in fact, left him when it became evident Strang himself was a polygamist. Much of Strang’s attraction was because of his anti-polygamy, anti-Brigham rhetoric.
Strang moved his colony from Voree to Beaver Island, Wisconsin, at the northern end of Lake Michigan in 1849. Glen M. Leonard writes in “Nauvoo, a Place of Peace, a People of Promise” that the number of Strang’s followers there peaked at about 500.
Strang was shot, allegedly, by upset followers in 1856. He was taken back to Voree and there clung to life for a short while before passing away in a home that still stands.”
Rick Bennett at Gospel Tangents does great interviews to allow greater insight into this faith tradition.
After Joseph was martyred, James Strang claimed to have a letter from Joseph Smith putting him in charge of the LDS Church. Among other topics, Dr. Michael Quinn tells why he believes the letter was an “absolute forgery”.
Dan Peterson wrote a lengthy article on the topic in 2011 here. Highlights below:
“Though little remembered today, James Jesse Strang campaigned seriously to lead the LDS Church after Joseph Smith’s 1844 assassination.
When the general membership rejected the obscure new convert’s claim that a secret letter had appointed him as Joseph Smith’s successor, Strang started his own sect, ultimately headquartered on Beaver Island, Mich. Like Joseph, he eventually claimed to have translated ancient metal plates and provided 11 corroborating eyewitnesses.
By 1856, when he himself was murdered, he had several thousand followers, including members of Joseph Smith’s family, former apostles and Book of Mormon witnesses.
That some Book of Mormon witnesses credited Strang argues for their sincerity, incidentally: Had they been knowing perpetrators of a fraud with Joseph Smith, they would likely have been far more skeptical of Strang.”
Strang claimed he was visited by an angel and found brass plates.
The 18 “Plates of Laban,” likewise of brass and each about 7.5 by 9 inches, were first mentioned in 1849 and were seen by seven witnesses in 1851. These witnesses’ testimony was published as a preface to “The Book of the Law of the Lord,” which Strang said he derived from the “Plates of Laban.” (He appears to have begun the “translation” at least as early as April 1849. An 84-page version appeared in 1851; by 1856, it had reached 350 pages.) Strang’s witnesses report seeing the plates, but mention nothing miraculous. Nor did Strang supply any additional supporting testimony comparable to that of the Three Witnesses to the Book of Mormon.
One of the witnesses to the “Plates of Laban,” Samuel P. Bacon, eventually denied the inspiration of Strang’s movement and denounced it as mere “human invention.” Another, Samuel Graham, later claimed that he had actually assisted Strang in the creation of the plates.
“We can hardly escape the conclusion,” writes Quaife, “that Strang knowingly fabricated and planted them for the purpose of duping his credulous followers” and, accordingly, that “Strang’s prophetic career was a false and impudent imposture.” A more recent biographer, Roger Van Noord, concludes that “based on the evidence, it is probable that Strang — or someone under his direction — manufactured the letter of appointment and the brass plates to support his claim to be a prophet and to sell land at Voree. If this scenario is correct, Strang’s advocacy of himself as a prophet was more than suspect, but no psychological delusion.”
Summary from Peterson:
Thus, Strang’s plates were much less numerous than those of the Book of Mormon, his witnesses saw nothing supernatural and his translation required the better part of a decade rather than a little more than two months. (Quite unlike the semi-literate Joseph Smith, Strang was well-read. He had been an editor and lawyer before his involvement with Mormonism.) Perhaps most strikingly, unlike the witnesses to the Book of Mormon, some (at least) of Strang’s witnesses later denied their testimonies.
The contrasts work very much in Joseph Smith’s favor.
SMU’s James Strang Papers (a box in their archives) has a lengthy biography here. Abstract below:
James J. Strang became the leader and “king” of a schismatic Mormon group based in Voree, Wisconsin, and Beaver Island, Michigan, often referred to as the Strangites, shortly after the death of Joseph Smith in 1844. The Strang collection contains letters (addressed primarily to Strang and his family members), essays by Strang and various members of his church, a tithing book and other documents regarding church business, miscellaneous printed matter, and correspondence involving his descendants.
Most scholars believe Strang’s “Letter of Appointment” — claimed to be written by Joseph Smith — is a fraud. You can see the letter, currently at Yale, here (and in image above).
From the Society of Strang Studies: Who was James Strang?
The Denver Snuffer is the most recent example of one claiming to be newly enlightened by God. An additional claim by Snuffer and similar apostates is the Church has lost its way.
These apostates typically claim a direct tie to Joseph. However, Joseph consistently taught that keys were shared by the leading quorums of the Church and no special deliveries of keys were to be expected outside the order of the Kingdom.
Cassandra Hedelius shares her research below:
Brett McDonald discusses schism activity today and in the times of Joseph Smith:
Some critics claim Brigham Young didn’t claim to be Joseph’s successor after Joseph’s death. Not true.
Brigham claimed to be a prophet and claimed divine inspiration. But Brigham more than once clarified that he was different from Joseph and Daniel.
Robert Boylan shares these related details here.
An example of schism-related apostasy strikes very close to home for me. My mother’s maiden name is LeBaron. A LeBaron relative claimed he was to start a polygamist colony in Mexico, and did so in 1924.
Ervil LeBaron was the founding polygamist’s son. After several decades of polygamist living, a power struggle engulfed this sect. After killing many, Ervil killed himself in a Draper, UT prison.
Summary from Google: “Ervil Morrell LeBaron was the leader of a polygamous Mormon fundamentalist group who ordered the killings of many of his opponents, using the religious doctrine of blood atonement to justify the murders.”
Read one comprehensive account here in Murderpedia.
My mom used to tell us when we were younger that “all LeBarons would be known for good and Ervil.” Ervil became a household name during the 1970s and early 80s: when he ordered his many (~ 25) murders.
Life is much simpler and better if one remembers the role of the restoration and living prophets. It’s best to ignore claimants — usually intelligent, charismatic, narcissistic, but very much misled — shouting about special keys and general apostasy of the LDS Church.
Below are accounts of individuals who have left the Church. None are as extreme as the Denver Snuffer, John Dehlin, or others. Yet, each is an example of individual apostasy.
Articles of Faith Podcast: Jeffrey Thayne. Jeffrey blogs under the name LDS philosopher.
Thoughts by Michael Ash:
3 prominent Mormons who left and returned:
A young man’s personal journey out of and back into the LDS Church:
Tony, the owner of the Blog Reconverted.Org is interviewed. Tony tells his story of his battle with pornography, his excommunication from the Church and divorce from his wife.
He walks us through his Leaving the Church and his return through re-baptism. It is a great story of one of God’s Prodigal children.
For young Latter-day Saints:
A recent summary of a few of the factors affecting the Church in 1844:
Starting with the first transition in August 1844 till today, the video discusses succession in the LDS Church.
This video wasn’t made yesterday, but the content is solid.
LDS Truth Claims: