After the Prophet Joseph Smith's death in June of 1844, the Church was without a sustained president for nearly three and a half years. It was not, however, without a presiding authority.
Between the time of Joseph Smith's death and Brigham Young's appointment in December 1847 as president of the Church, the Council of the Twelve held all the keys and authority bestowed upon a prophet, and governed the Church accordingly.President Spencer W. Kimball gave specific insight into the process of presidential succession in his General Conference address of April 1970:
"Even when a powerful leader dies, not for a single instant is the Church without leadership. . . . The moment life passes from a president of the Church, a body of men become the composite leader - these men already seasoned with experience and training. The appointments have long been made, the authority given, the keys delivered."
Following Brigham Young's sustaining as president of the Church, the procedure was established that the senior member (by years of service) and president of the Council of Twelve would be the new president of the Church. Since that time, there has been no deviation from this procedure.
Following are other procedures that have developed since Joseph Smith:
- Upon the death of the president of the Church, the First Presidency is dissolved. The counselors are automatically released from their presiding authority, and return to their previous quorums.
- During the interim period between presidents, when the Council of the Twelve is the presiding quorum of the Church, each apostle holds equal priesthood keys and authority.
- The Council of the Twelve assemble in the temple, where each apostle, guided by inspiration, declares his testimony as to whom the Lord has chosen. With the approval and sustaining vote of the Twelve, the senior apostle is ordained and set apart as president by the laying on of hands by the Council of the Twelve.
- The new prophet is sustained by members of the Church in a solemn assembly. (Profiles of the Presidents, Emerson R. West.)
Articles on this page may be used in conjunction with the gospel doctrine course of study.
Information compiled by Elayne Wells and Kellene Ricks
Sources: The Kingdom of God Restored by Carter E. Grant; Joseph Smith, Martyr, Prophet of God, by Francis M. Gibbons; Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, compiled by Joseph Fielding Smith; The Historical Record, by Parley P. Pratt; Profiles of the Prophets, by Emerson R. West.