Brigham Young as a Leader
Brigham Young as a Leader*
For some years I’ve been collecting material on Brigham Young, and now have a collection of pretty well everything Brigham Young ever said on anything.1 The computers will have to get to work now and index it. If you arrange these materials in topical order, you get some very interesting results. I will be presenting his principal statements in regard to leadership. He made an enormous number of statements, thousands. And why Brigham Young? Well, he’s the one thing we have to be proud of at BYU, and he certainly is, in my opinion, the greatest leader of modern times. It would be hard to imagine any leader who faced more terrible obstacles and more hopeless odds than Brigham Young, or any leader who overcame them more brilliantly. What he did was marvelous, and it is also very relevant to our times.
He led in a spirit of calm benevolence and was rarely upset, and we can take great comfort in his example. We want to find out how he did it, and he tells us. No matter how bad our situation may be, individually and collectively, in this modern world it can’t conceivably be as bad as the situations in which the Mormons found themselves in the thirty years during which Brigham Young led them. How did he always manage to come out on top? How, with his tremendous achievements, against tremendous odds, did he manage to avoid all signs of wear and tear on himself, and turn the most intensely dangerous and unpleasant situations into amusing episodes, as far as he was concerned?
All the commentators, no matter how hostile, concede that Brigham Young was one of the great leaders of all time, one of the supremely practical men of his age, a hard-headed, even-keeled, no-nonsense realist who got things done. From this it is only too easy to reconstruct the character of Brigham Young as a hard, uncompromising, driving, materialistic businessman—and you could not find anyone more different from that, for there are limits beyond which such men can’t accomplish, and Brigham Young went far beyond those limits. He was unique, and we are very fortunate to be able to learn just what made him tick. He tells us himself clearly and often just what it was. For along with his practical attainments and mechanical skills, he was one of the most discursive and lucid of men. He had a passion for teaching. His great attainments are accompanied by a running commentary that enables us to learn just what was really going on.
For him, getting things done was incidental. The important thing was that the people should know what they were doing and why. His orders and recommendations are never without full and persuasive explanation. He wanted everyone to know what was going on. That’s one of the great secrets of his leadership, as we’ll see. It was one of his theories that if any man would allow himself to talk, he would infallibly reveal his true nature. As he says, “No man can hide [himself] if he is allowed to talk; he will be sure to manifest his true feelings.”2 He had a black leather couch in his office, opposite the window. His desk was at the window, so he sat with his back to the window, and anyone who came to visit him to make any requests for the first time would have to sit on that couch. For three minutes, Brigham wouldn’t say a word. He’d just sit there and let them talk. If they didn’t want to talk, that was fine. This was a nondirective interview. Here was Brigham Young, the window behind him, here was the couch, and he just sat at the desk sizing up his visitor. My grandfather was a passenger agent for Brigham Young’s railroad, and he said that Brigham Young was the smartest man he ever knew. It was he who told me about this little black leather couch—real psychoanalysis. Within three minutes, Brigham knew perfectly the kind of person he was dealing with. If the person had come to swindle or otherwise damage him, he could see right through him by that time. And he never had occasion to change his judgment, my grandfather added. It took just three minutes, and all Brigham did was sit there without a sound, without a word; and before you knew it, he knew just whom he was dealing with, and he dealt with him accordingly. It showed his marvelous insight, and what a psychologist this man was.
He talks a lot and has a lot to say about everything, so it’s a pleasure to read his vigorous, forthright, imaginative, picturesque prose. He swings from the shoulder with quick and powerful blows. Here’s a man who has something to say with something behind it. He isn’t a doctrinaire, a person giving us theory, a preacher who can be wise, or a professor in the four walls of an institution. This is a man who was tried seven times seven in the fire and who knew what he was talking about.
In the first place, since he was, above all, a leader, we ask what he considers to be the general principles of leadership. So from now on you can listen to Brigham Young and not me. First of all, he notices that he has tough and rebellious people to lead. He says, “The Lord Almighty could resuscitate a corpse lying before us a thousand times easier than He could control the congregation in this house.”3
The sons of Ephraim are wild and uncultivated, unruly, ungovernable. The spirit in them is turbulent and resolute; they are the Anglo-Saxon race, and they are upon the face of the whole earth, bearing the spirit of rule and dictation, to go forth from conquering to conquer. They search wide creation and scan every nook and corner of this earth to find out what is upon and within it. I see a congregation of them before me to-day. No hardship will discourage these men; they will penetrate the deepest wilds and overcome almost insurmountable difficulties to develop the treasures of the earth, to further their indomitable spirit for adventure.4
Now, that these people are governed at all is a great miracle in our estimation.5
I fully believe that we are naturally a little rebellious, and that we are practically so; we are a little disposed to have our own way too much.6
And he deplores the lack of leadership for this group, this people. Good leaders are hard to find; they don’t grow on trees, and he knew that. He says, “There are but few men that know how to govern in temporal things; fewer still who know how to control the feelings of the people, how to guide the power of any kingdom that was ever organized on the earth.”7
There are men here, by the score, who do not know their right hands from their left, so far as the principle of justice is concerned. Does our High Council? No, for they will let men throw dust in their eyes, until you cannot find the hundredth millionth part of an ounce of common sense in them. You may go to the Bishops’ courts, and what are they? A set of old grannies. They cannot judge a case pending between two old women, to say nothing of a case between man and man. We have already dropped many of them, and we are picking up young men. We will train them, and tell them to serve God or apostatize.8
But there are some of our great men who are so ignorant that a personal favor will so bias their minds that they will twist the truth and sustain a person in evil. This principle is to be found, more or less, in the old, middle-aged and youth. Some, with a trifling consideration, can so prejudice the mind of a High Councillor, a High Priest, a Bishop, or an Apostle, that he will lean to the individual instead of the truth.9
So he was out to find leaders, and the first principle of leadership, as he declares it, is to lead. You do not drive. Leadership is the antithesis of compulsion. “There never was; and never will be a people in heaven nor on earth, in time nor in eternity, that can be considered truly and entirely independent of counsel and direction.”10 They must have it. “You can gain and lead the affections of the people, but you cannot scare them, nor whip them, nor burn them to do right against their wills. The human family will die to gratify their wills. Then learn to rightly direct those wills, and you can direct the influence and power of the people.”11 “Gather the Saints, but do not flatter; invite, but do not urge, and by no means compel any one.”12 He then quotes Joseph Smith: “I do not govern them at all. The Lord has revealed certain principles from the heavens by which we are to live in these latter-days . . . . The principles which He has revealed I have taught to the people and they are trying to live according to them, and they control themselves.”13 “Gentlemen,” Brigham Young resumes, “this is the great secret now in controlling this people. It is thought that I control them, but it is not so. It is as much as I can do to control myself and keep myself straight and teach the people the principles by which they should live.”14 “If they do not believe in my advice, teachings, and counsel, they are at perfect liberty to disbelieve them and I will not find one word of fault with them for so doing.”15 “We cannot make laws like the Medes and Persians. We cannot say you shall never drink a cup of tea, or you shall never taste of this, or you shall never taste of that; but we can say that Wisdom is justified of her children.”16 “We have paid our tithing . . . . But if your consciences and my conscience do not accuse us, why, I will not accuse you.”17 “We have history enough to prove that when [men] have the power their motto is, ‘You shall.’ But there is no such thing in the economy of heaven.”18 There is no “you shall.” He asked them if they would or not. “I have not come here to say that you have got to join this order or we will cut you off [from] the Church, or you must join this order or we will consider you apostates [this is towards the end of his life, when he was going up and down preaching the United Order]; no such thing, oh no, the Saints are not prepared to see everything at once. They have got to learn little by little, and to receive a little here and a little there.”19 “I am not for cutting people off from the Church that worship their property instead of their God, but for bearing with them until they shall gain light and knowledge so as to see their errors and turn to the God of truth.”20
A very consistent character emerges here in Brigham Young: his broad tolerance and his sanity, but there’s more than that behind it. He says,
Now, suppose that we were to issue our edicts to the whole world of mankind for them to obey the Gospel we preach, and had the power to compel them to obey, could we do it according to the dictates of our religion? We could not. We could invite them, and could tell them how, but we could not say, and maintain the faith that we have embraced, you must bow down and profess our religion and submit to the ordinances of the kingdom of God . . . . It would prove that God is in fault in not making them do so [if he wanted them automatically to obey, he would have created them that way, as Dante says in “Paradise”] . . . . If we become Godlike we will be just as full of charity as he is. We would let pagans worship as they please, and to the Christians and Mohammedans, and all sects and parties in the world we would say, “Do just as you please, for your volition is free, and you must act upon it for yourselves before the heavens.” Our religion will not permit us to command or force any man or woman to obey the Gospel we have embraced.21
“If a person wishes to know my religion, I am willing that he should know the whole of it. There is nothing secret or hidden in it . . . . But I am not disposed to compel any person to partake of that which they dislike, or have aversion for.”22
“In our day it seems that the Spirit will actually prompt people,” he says in 1871, “to liberal thinking, to liberal actions and to liberal government, and not to be as suppressive as they were in the days of the Jewish nation and other nations that then bore rule.”23 So he recognizes the futility of compulsion, and he has good reason for knowing it, too. “You cannot break down the indomitable will of the human family. I have known children to be so abused and whipped as to render them almost or entirely worthless, and still the indomitable will remained. How came it there? God organized us to become absolutely independent, and the will I am speaking about is implanted in us by him; and the spirit of every intelligent being is organized to become independent according to its capacity.”24
Brigham Young said in 1859:
When did tyranny ever cause repentance of evil? Never. It produces crime. When men are infringed upon in their rights and tyrannized over, they are prone to rise in their might and declare, “We will do as we please, and will let you know that we will have the ruling of our own rights and dispositions.” Tyrannical power may possess the ability to behead them, hang them, or sentence them to prison; but resolute men will have their will.25
They are willing to stand in the front of the battle, to go to the ends of the earth to preach the Gospel, or to do anything they are called upon to perform, yet, when you examine their morality, it highly outrages the feelings of those who are strictly moral and honest in all their ways. Do you believe this? Yes, and many of you know it.26
Leadership, then, means understanding men as they are, so you can’t try to cast them into your mold. He says this is very important. You must deal with people as individuals:
Then let us take a course to understand men as they are, and not endeavour to make them precisely as we are, for this you cannot do . . . . I am not going to drive a man or a woman to heaven. A great many think that they will be able to flog people into heaven, but this can never be done, for the intelligence in us is as independent as the Gods. People are not to be driven, and you can put into a gnat’s eye all the souls of the children of men that are driven into heaven by preaching hell-fire.27
And then he speaks for himself: “Should I be told that it is time to wash my face and eat my breakfast, I should be strongly inclined to notify my informant that I knew that as well as he did. [But, there are people in the world who like to be told and need to be told.] There are [some] . . . who would not embrace the truth, unless they were ordered to do it.”28 Look at the difference between men.
You may, figuratively speaking, pound one Elder over the head with a club, and he does not know but what you have handed him a straw dipped in molasses to suck. There are others, if you speak a word to them, or take up a straw and chasten them, whose hearts are broken; they are as tender in their feelings as an infant, and will melt like wax before the flame. You must not chasten them severely; you must chasten according to the spirit that is in the person. Some you may talk to all day long, and they do not know what you are talking about. There is a great variety. Treat people as they are.29
And he abhorred regimentation, as a true leader does. He recognized that God intends variety in all spheres of life. If you want to lead, the first thing you must never do, he says, is regiment.
Inasmuch as the spirits of men have wisely been organized as diverse in power and peculiarities as their number, it is not expected, possible, or desirable, that the thoughts and actions of mankind be run in the same mold.30
You cannot find two twigs alike. [He used to talk in this vein a lot.] You may examine any tree of the forest and see whether you can find any two leaves that are precisely alike. You cannot. Then you may go to a meadow, and see whether you can find two spears of grass just alike in shape and form. There are no two precisely alike. Examples of that endless variety are now before me [in the tabernacle].31
The Gospel will teach us all that variety that we see before us in nature—the greatest variety imaginable. One sister would get up a certain fashioned bonnet [he’s talking about the millennium now—we’ll all be different in the millennium], and another one another fashion; one would trim it in a certain way, and another in another way. When the brethren build their houses, the styles would be different . . . . The same variety would exist in the internal arrangements of the houses. We should see this variety with regard to families—here is one’s taste, and another’s taste, and this constant variety would give beauty to the whole. Thus a variety of talent would be brought forth and exhibited of which nothing would be known, if houses and dresses and other things were all alike.32
He was a great builder, and he was very ingenious, in his way. He built over 200 houses, with never any two alike. Many are still displayed with pride in Pennsylvania—the ingenuity of the staircases, the cabinets, the cunning cupboards, and so forth. All sorts of Yankee ingenuity in display, but also great variety. He never got stereotyped; he didn’t like it.
“There are not two faces alike [he says in 1862]; no two persons tempered alike; we have come from different nations of the world, and have been raised in different climates, educated and traditioned in different and, in many instances, in opposite directions, hence we are tried with each other.”33 It’s hard to get along because we’re so different. Of course it was true. This was one of his big problems. But he says, Let’s make a virtue of that.
“And large drafts are made upon our patience, forbearance, charity, and good will—in short, upon all the higher and god-like qualities of our nature.”34 That’s what we want to do. We have to live with this. “How many glories and kingdoms will there be in eternity? You will see the same variety in eternity as you see in the world.”35 “I conclude that there is as great a variety in the spiritual as there is in the temporal world, and I think that I am just in my conclusion.”36 He mentions this: “I have built a great many houses, both for myself and for others. I have never built two houses alike, and I do not expect to in time or eternity, but I mean to improve every time I begin. Build the best houses you can imagine.”37
“I am not surprised that there are those who do not understand things as I do. I expect people to have their own peculiar views, forms, principles, and notions. In consequence of this great variety, we should not be astonished if all do not believe the Gospel—do not love the truth.”38 “The leader’s business is to get people to want to do things, to place desirable objects before them, so that each will strive, entirely on his own, for that objective.” The individual is not being driven, just being pulled into a vacuum. If you can put something more desirable in front of him than he has, something he wants very much, and make him want it, then your leadership takes care of itself. It’s automatic. You are not driving, you are leading.
“I wish to say to you,” he says without compulsion, “do not do it unless you want to.”39 This is the main thing. It’s better not to do it at all than do it grudgingly, as Mormon says: If a man being evil giveth a gift, he doeth it grudgingly; . . . wherefore he is counted evil before God” (Moroni 7:8). “I wish to say to you, and I wish you to tell your neighbors, if there is any man or woman who do not want to pay their tithing, we do not want they should. It is for your particular benefit, and that of every individual upon the face of the earth.”40 “People are not compelled to pay their tithing, they do as they please about it, it is urged upon them only as a matter of duty between them and their God.”41
In all your transactions in these public matters, do not do, unless you want to . . . . We say to the Saints, Do not pay Tithing, unless you want to; do not help to build up this Temple unless you want to; do not put forth your hands to one day’s work, unless you want to . . . . If you grudgingly put forth your means to help to gather the Saints, it will be a curse to you.42
We don’t want your means. We want it to be your idea. “Then pay your tithing, just because you like to, not unless you want to. They say we cut people off the Church for not paying tithing; we never have yet.”43 “As far as these are concerned they have a right to get drunk; but we have rights, and have a right to disfellowship them, or cut them off from the Church and we calculate to do it whenever it ought to be done.”44
“But we, in and of ourselves, ought to be independent; every son and daughter in Israel should say, we will keep the ‘Word of Wisdom’ independent of father, mother, or any elder of the church. [You don’t do it because they tell you to, or even because they set the example.] We know what is right, and we will do it.”45
No person has a right to say to another, “Why do you eat wheat bread, corn bread, or no bread at all? [They had their food faddists, too.] why do you eat potatoes, or why do you not eat them? why do you walk, or why do you sit down? why do you read this or that book? or why do you go to the right or the left?” . . . If the Elders of Israel could understand this a little better, we would like it, for the simple reason that if they had power given them now they manifest the same weaknesses in the exercise thereof as any other people.46
Brigham Young says that when he was young someone wanted him to sign a temperance pledge. Well, he believed in temperance, but he refused to sign the pledge. “Even then I said, ‘I do not need to sign the temperance pledge.’ I recollect my father urged me. ‘No, sir,’ said I, ‘if I sign the temperance pledge I feel that I am bound, and I wish to do just right, without being bound to do it; I want my liberty'; and I have conceived from my youth up that I could have my liberty and independence just as much in doing right as I could in doing wrong. What do you say? Is this correct?”47 He would sign no pledges.
“One of the simplest things in the world is to control a people. Is there any particular art in making this people obedient? There is just one. If you Elders of Israel can get the art of preaching the Holy Ghost into the hearts of the people, you will have an obedient people. This is the only art required. Teach the people truth, teach them correct principles; show them what is for their greatest good and don’t you think they will follow in that path? They will.”48 You don’t need to push them.
“Pay no attention to what others do, it is no matter what they do, or how they dress.”49 (Notice we are not “other-directed.” We are inward.) Nobody, even if it is your father or mother or the elders of the Church, he said.50 That isn’t the reason. You do it because you want to do it. You are self-directed, you are inner-directed, you are not other-directed. This is what makes a great leader.
This is the secret of Brigham Young’s power and his calmness. He tells us,
It’s basic to realize that we don’t run things. We are not in control. We can’t make people do anything, and so we have nothing to lose. So don’t get flustered and don’t worry. Your Heavenly Father is in control. The Lord reigns and rules in the armies of the heavens, and does His pleasure among the inhabitants of the earth. He sets up a kingdom here, and pulls down another there, at His pleasure. He walks in the midst of the people, and they know it not. He makes Kings, Presidents, and Governors at His pleasure; hence I conclude that I shall be Governor of Utah Territory, just as long as He wants me to be; and for that time [there had been rumors that he was going to be deposed in 1855], neither the President [and Buchanan did send someone out to take his place] of the United States, nor any other power, can prevent it.51
He said, “Don’t worry about it. I’ll be governor as long as he wants.” This is one of the few passages which he underlines in the Journal of Discourses.
True, to a certain permitted degree, we rule, govern, and control circumstances, in a great many instances, but, on the other hand, do not circumstances control us? [We make the decisions we have to make. We have very little choice, actually.] They do. Who has guided all these circumstances, which neither we nor the Prophet [Joseph] knew anything about? [There were a lot of things they didn’t know about.] Was it in the power of a single man, or of any set of men, to create and control the circumstances which caused this people to be planted within these mountains? The moment that you say it was not, you acknowledge the workings of a Supreme Power.52
God is at the helm of this great ship, and that makes me feel good. When I think about the world, and the enemies of the cause of God, I care no more about them than I do for a parcel of musketetoes.53
All people are in the hands of the Almighty, and He governs and controls them, though they cannot perceive, neither do they acknowledge, His handy-work. He exalts the President to be the head of the nation, and places kings upon their thrones. There is not a man that escapes His cognizance, and He brings forth His purposes in the latter days.54
And so it goes here.
“I am in the hands of God, so is the President of our nation, and so are kings, and emperors, and all rulers. He controls the destiny of all, and what are you and I going to do about it? Let us submit to Him, that we may share in this invisible, almighty, God-like power, which is the everlasting Priesthood.”55 “I have labored faithfully over forty years,” he says in 1873, “to convince the children of men that God rules in the heavens and that he will rule upon the earth.”56 “I believe in the one-man power. Who is that man? Our Father in heaven, God, the eternal Father.”57 The great difficulty we have to surmount is to bring ourselves to a condition of perfect submission. The flesh is so contaminated with evil that it is hard for us to submit entirely to the will of God.
Therefore, he can afford to be forbearing, and he was anything but overbearing. He never forces anyone, and that’s true. Notice that all the personal biographies that deal with Brigham Young, written about him by his children and others close to him, always give the same thing: a totally different picture from what all the other biographies paint—Brigham the Tyrant, and that sort of thing. He never was that. He was always gentle. He could be pushed around by his wives and children. It was almost laughable. Although he wasn’t pushed around, the fact is that he never used any force—perhaps he was too permissive. He accused himself of being so.
But “if a man asks you to go with him one mile, go two, and then you can say, ‘You only asked me to go one mile, but I have gone two.’ That is the counsel Jesus Christ gave. If you sit down and calmly reason the case, you cannot but discover that it gives you an influence over that man, which you could not gain by contending with him in anger. All the power which is gained by contending with people is usurped power.”58 “My father taught me in my youth that light knocks would split great blocks.”59 Don’t go about it in super, all-out, crash programs. We’re in his book. If it is going to take forty years for this temple, let it take forty years. But “light knocks will split great blocks” was one of his maxims.There’s no danger in this neglect. Never worry about the Church, that it might be overcome, or anything. God’s in charge of it, so Brigham says it doesn’t worry him in the least. “The Lord stands at the helm that guides Zion’s ship. He is its Dictator; and unless we work exactly to the line that is marked out by him, our works will be in vain.”60 So the breath of the Almighty can scatter our enemies to the four winds, and blow them to oblivion if we have faith. “That individual, neighborhood, people, or nation that will not acknowledge the hand of God in all things, but will squander their blessings, and thus pour contempt upon his kind favors, will become desolate and wasted away.”61 “You know the history of ‘Mormonism'; and if this is not the Lord’s work,”62 I want it to be taken away. There’s nothing to lose, anyway. There’s nothing to worry about. If the Church should be overcome, well, plain enough, the Lord didn’t support it. Then why shouldn’t it be overcome? Then it is a fraud.
He continues: “If this is not the Lord’s work, we had better quit it, for we should derive no benefit from remaining in it. If this is the Church of Christ, God will take care of his people and carry on this work. Brother [George Q.] Cannon stated that one gentleman he conversed with said that there is a power in this work beyond the power of Brigham Young. If we did not know this, we should quickly scatter.”63 Not only did God foreknow the wicked and predestinate them, but he also foreknew the righteous and predestinated them. “I depend not upon human wisdom or human power. I occupy the position that God our Heavenly Father has placed me in, and . . . I tremble not, I fear not, neither do I care for the insults of the world, for the Lord is my bulwark, my shield and my deliverer.”64
What earthly power can gather a people as this people have been gathered, and hold them together as this people have been held together? It was not Joseph, it is not Brigham, nor Heber, nor any of the rest of the Twelve, nor any of the Seventies and High Priests that does this, but it is the Lord God Almighty that holds this people together, and no other power.65
So there’s no problem of leadership at all, after all. God will overrule the acts of the children of men in this kingdom as well as among the nations. “Be ye reconciled to God, and ask for the things that you want.”66 “We have not the influence and power necessary to refute the falsehoods circulated about us. We depend on God, who sits in the heavens.”67 “He has not committed the keys of the results of the acts of the nations of the earth to any man on the earth; but that power he retains to himself.”68 “All is right. God can carry on his own work. This kingdom will stand forever. You have heard brother [Heber C.] Kimball testify that this kingdom will stand forever.”69 “The Lord dictates, governs, and controls: I do not, neither do I wish to.”70
So this is the foundation, the first practical rule of leadership. This is the theoretical, you see. God is in charge; therefore, don’t worry. It’s very important not to. “It is a great mystery to many people, and especially to strangers, how I have preserved myself . . . . I am neither iron nor immortal. But a great many marvel at my preservation. I have revealed the secret a great many times, and can now—I never worry about anything. I try to live so as to know my business and understand my duty and to do it at the moment without a long study.”71 He never broods over anything. “I say to a farmer or a merchant, if you want to live so as to prolong your days, never worry about anything; but have the Spirit of the Lord so as to know what to do, and when you have done or counseled right never fret about the result. It is in the hands of the Lord.”72 That’s that, you see. “We ought not to speak lightly of and undervaluate the life we now enjoy, but so dispose of each passing day that the hours and minutes are spent in doing good, . . . cultivating the principle of kindness to every being pertaining to our earthly sphere; . . . and overcome every ungovernable passion by a constant practice of cool judgment and deliberate thoughts.”73 “Do not worry. All is right, for God reigns. Trust in him.”74
Keep as calm as a summer’s evening; no harm can come to him who serves God with all his heart and trusts in Him for future results. “But” some say, “cannot they kill us?” Yes, they can kill you and me, if the Lord permits; but if He does not, I reckon they cannot. And suppose they do kill us! Do we want to stay in this world in our present condition forever? O, no.75
“Whether the world is going to be burned up within a year [in 1856], or within a thousand years, does not matter a groat to you and me. We have the words of eternal life, we have the privilege of obtaining glory, immortality, and eternal lives, now will you obtain these blessings?”76
“Be not discouraged,” he says, “for it is a joyful time.”77 And he always kept a joyful countenance, in all the reverses of the Saints. “There is not that man or woman in this congregation, or on the face of the earth, that has the privilege of the holy Gospel, and lives strictly to it, whom all hell can make unhappy. You cannot make the man, woman, or child unhappy, who possesses the Spirit of the living God; unhappiness is caused by some other spirit.”78
Brigham Young said during a grave crisis:
I am as unconcerned, and just as happy as a man can be. It is no matter if the whole world is against us, God is for us. Could not they kill you? Yes, if it be the Lord’s will. If it be the will of the Lord for the people to live, they will live. Had it been the will of the Lord that Joseph and Hyrum should have lived, they would have lived. It was necessary for Joseph to seal his testimony with his blood. Had he been destined to live he would have lived. The Lord suffered his death to bring justice on the nation.79
He says, “Instead of crying over our sufferings, as some seem inclined to do, I would rather tell a good story, and leave the crying to others,” which he always did.80 “I did not produce myself—I did not cause my existence. A being superior to me has done this; and if I do as well as I know how, I will then risk all in his hands, and be perfectly contented and satisfied. I shall go with a cheerful countenance, and shall pass through the world as cheerfully as I can, making the best of it.”81 “This people are to the world an object of derision and hatred; to God, of care and pity. There are but few of us [in 1857, when they had just announced that Johnston’s Army had arrived], we compare ourselves with the rest of the inhabitants of the earth. We now have a day of trial. It has been observed that the Saints feel well: they never felt better.”82 “Rejoice evermore, pray without ceasing, and in everything give thanks, even if you have nothing but buttermilk and potatoes.”83
“Often have I looked at individuals passing to and fro through our Territory, and heard them say, ‘These are the jolly Mormons; these are the merry Mormons, I never saw such a society!’ Why is this? Simply because they enjoy themselves, because they take so much comfort.”84 He likes this.
“Cast all bitterness out of your own hearts—all anger, wrath, strife, covetousness, and lust, and sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, that you may enjoy the Holy Ghost, and have that Spirit to be your constant companion day by day, to lead you into all truth, and then you will have good doctrine, good feelings, good wives, good children, a good community; and, finally, you will be Saints in the fullest sense of the word, but not yet. I believe we shall be saints, through the grace of God.”85
So he’s a regular Pollyanna, all for the best. But again, this isn’t somebody sitting in a study and writing about this, or a popular preacher, somebody in an expensive pulpit sounding forth on these matters, and sounding very uplifting in his positive thinking. This was right in the midst of Johnson’s Army, right on the doorstep. He could take this quite coolly.
And this: “If the wicked come here they do not wish to stay, no matter how well they are treated, and I thank the Lord for it; and I want hard times, so that every person that does not wish to stay, for the sake of his religion, will leave.”86
Do you ask if I rejoice [he says in 1852] because the Devil has the advantage over the inhabitants of the earth, and has afflicted mankind? I most assuredly answer in the affirmative; I rejoice in this as much as in anything else. I rejoice because I am afflicted. I rejoice [he was laid up with mountain fever then], because I am poor. I rejoice because I am cast down. Why? Because I shall be lifted up again. I rejoice that I am poor, because I shall be made rich; that I am afflicted, because I shall be comforted, and prepared to enjoy the felicity of perfect happiness, for it is impossible to properly appreciate happiness, except by enduring the opposite.87
“Marvel not that we have what are called troubles: marvel not that our enemies seek to destroy us and the kingdom of God from the earth. These persecutions are to prepare the humble and faithful to dwell in the presence of God the Father and his Son.”88 He really means it.
“The Lord leads His people in this way expressly to give them trials which they have not passed through before, and which it is necessary they should have.”89 “There is not a hardship, there is not a disappointment, there is not a trial, there is not a hard time, that comes upon this people in this place, but that I am more thankful for than I am for full granaries.”90
“I would be happy, exceedingly happy, to let our past experience and afflictions sleep forever; but the Lord will not suffer me to let them sleep. I would be willing to forget them, but I cannot. The Lord will never suffer this people to dwindle down, and be hid up in a corner; it cannot be; neither does He want any person to help them but Himself.”91 He wants us to be dependent on no one but himself. But he wants us to be dependent on him. That’s why he keeps hitting them with these hardships. So don’t get upset, keep cool. “Cultivate an even, unruffled temper, until you can perfectly control yourselves at all times, in all places, and under all circumstances.”92 “There is not a man in this house [Salt Lake Tabernacle] who has a more indomitable and unyielding temper than myself.”93 It was not his natural temper to be calm.
“Consider well before you suffer your minds to be irritated in the least. Suffer them not to be agitated until your blood is boiling with rage before you are aware; but stop and reflect.”94 In the morning, when he heard that Johnston’s Army had arrived, he announced in the Tabernacle, and it happened to be during Conference, “I am too angry this morning to preach.”95 Later, he apologized for it, saying, “Do not be angry. I will permit you to be as angry as I am. Do not get so angry that you cannot pray: do not allow yourselves to become so angry that you cannot feed an enemy—even your worst enemy, if an opportunity should present itself.”96 And here was the enemy at the gates.
“I mean to correct my own faults, and it is for you to do the same. It is an individual business, over which each man must preside . . . . If your neighbour suffers his cattle or his children to trespass upon your property, never retaliate or speak an angry reply . . . . Consider well before you suffer your minds to be irritated in the least; . . . stop and reflect; coolly consider, and quietly reason with the person . . . who [has] trespassed upon you.”97 “There is not a person in this community that can bring to mind or mention the time whenever I exhibited one particle of sorrow or trouble to them.”98 He never showed his emotions. You don’t do that. “I calculate to carry my own sorrows just as long as I live upon this earth, and when I go the grave, I expect them all to go there, and sleep with me in eternal silence.”99 So everybody thought everything was wonderful whenever they met Brigham. He made them feel good. He was never downcast. He never showed it at all. He says, “I am careful to keep my tears to myself.”100 And here was a man—who believed he shouldn’t worry, since he trusted his Heavenly Father—who didn’t worry. So the others didn’t worry either. He always came out on top.
The only power you can acquire in this life [this was a favorite doctrine of Brigham Young] was power over yourself. “Never let anger arise in your hearts. No, Brigham, never let anger arise in your heart, never, never!”101 Emma Lucy Gates used to tell a story of when she was a little girl. There was a barn out behind the Beehive House, and Brigham Young had fine horses. One night one of the saddles fell down from the peg, a rather expensive saddle, and got trampled in the filth all night long. When Brigham Young came out in the morning, he was furious. He called all the help together and gave them a real dressing down. Then he stormed down the hall and into his office. Susa Young Gates, being a little girl, was standing outside the door listening, and she heard him say, “Down on your knees, Brigham, get down on your knees!” He’d lost his temper; he had to learn how to control himself.
And as he says in 1867,
I will say, there is not a man in this house who has a more indomitable and unyielding temper than myself. But there is not a man in the world who cannot overcome his passion, if he will struggle earnestly to do so. If you find passion coming on you, go off to someplace where you cannot be heard; let none of your family see you or hear you, while it is upon you, but struggle till it leaves you; and pray for strength to overcome.102
“Watch yourselves day by day, hour by hour and minute by minute. Keep a guard over yourselves so that you will never do or say anything that you will regret hereafter.”103 “If you feel evil, keep it to yourselves until you overcome that evil principle. This is what I call resisting the devil, and he flees from me. I strive not to speak evil, to not feel evil, and if I do, to keep it to myself until it is gone from me, and not let it pass my lips.”104 “It would be better for you to chew up a whole plug of tobacco than to have a real quarrel with your tongues.”105
He used to hand out plugs of India rubber for people to chew—his teamsters and others; so they chewed the India rubber rather than swear—chew, chew, chew. He says, “Had I not better let it out than to keep it rankling within me?” No, Brigham Young was a psychologist, he knew all about this principle. You have to release the tensions, or something bad’s going to happen. “No,” he says, “I will keep bad feelings under and actually smother them to death, then they are gone.”106 “If you keep silent, you can master your feelings, can subdue your passions, and ultimately become masters of them and banish them from you. If you give way to your unbridled tongues, you increase anger within you.”107 You’re not letting off steam at all. You’re not going to feel better, and first because it’s a two-way affair. Oh, you can go out alone, by yourself. “That’s it,” he says, “and work it out there.” Let nobody see you; then you’re all right. But you don’t do it in the presence of another, that will just make more trouble. It’s not being a great leader. “If you give way to your unbridled tongues, you increase anger within you, and the first you know your blood is boiling with wrath . . . . If you find that you cannot keep your tongue still, get some India-rubber and chew it with all your might.”108 “A man must first learn to rightly rule himself, before his knowledge can be fully brought to bear for the correct government of a family, a neighborhood, or nation, over which it is his lot to preside [but first himself].”109
“In all our daily pursuits in life, of whatever nature and kind, Latter-day Saints, and especially those who hold important positions in the kingdom of God, should maintain a uniform and even temper, both when at home and when abroad.”110
There was, in Brigham’s philosophy and his actions, no place for heroics and hysterics. This sounds like a strange thing for the Lion of the Lord to say. “I have always acknowledged myself a coward, and hope I always may be, to make me cautious enough to preserve myself and my brethren from falling ignobly by a band of Indians.”111 Be a coward, keep clear of them. Don’t go out and stir up something. He says again, “I am a great coward myself, I do not wish to rush into danger imprudently.”112 But on the other hand, there is no sense in getting hysterical about things. “Imagined danger always produces the most trouble,”113 he’s talking to the Saints. “Imagined danger always produces the most trouble.” This was before the Walker War, too.
“I should have more fear in consequence of the ignorant and foolish audacity of the Elders, than of their being afraid. I should fear they would rush into danger like an unthinking horse into battle.”114 And he said there were many courageous characters. This was a danger he always had to watch, that the elders didn’t go out and start something. Look out, he said—”they would rush into danger like an unthinking horse into battle. So I will not find fault with regard to their courage. On that point, I am a coward myself, and if people would do as I tell them, I would not only save my own life, but theirs likewise.”115 And where they followed his cowardly advice, they survived.
There is also no place for contention in his book. He insists on that: “There is no need of debate and contention in regard to truth and error, for debate tends to create a spirit of bitterness.”116 There is no need for war and bloodshed—of course the Lord says the same thing in the eleventh chapter of 3 Nephi, in his first command to the Nephites: “There shall be no contentions among you, there shall be no more disputations among you” (3 Nephi 11:28). Then what should one do? He goes on to say, “For [the principles of eternal life—a man’s testimony] must be revealed from our Father which is in heaven.”117 Not from me, not from anybody else. He can’t impose it, he can’t give it to another person. Another person can’t give it to him, so there’s nothing to argue about. You can let your conversation be “yea, yea,” and “nay, nay.” You can bear your testimony, but you can’t force it on anyone. So there can be no contention.
He mentions an atheist who has come to Salt Lake and tried to stir things up: “I do not want to say much about it, it is too vain! In my travels and labors I have met a great many persons who have desired to contend about the principles I taught, though I am happy to say I have passed through the world thus far without a discussion.”118 It is a remarkable thing, for a man as rambunctious as Brigham Young. “It is natural for me to contend,” he says, “and if I am opposed to oppose in return [when he was hit, he was tempted to hit back], and if a sharp word is spoken to me to give a sharp word back, I have done so but rarely. It is wrong, and we must subdue the inclination.”119 What a man for self-mastery! No illusions of grandeur or anything like that. It was always Brigham he was correcting.
“Let contention, all contention cease; cease finding fault with and casting reflections upon those who are not exactly with us. Let us show by our daily walk and doings that we have something better than they have.”120 “Some of the Elders would much rather fight for their religion than live it. If any one thinks to get into the kingdom by fighting for it, . . . they will find themselves mistaken. We expect opposition, and the quicker the war of principle commences the better . . . . I do not want contention, but I do say let the divines compare their doctrines with ours.”121 “Contention is not my calling; it is no part of the Gospel of Christ; that is peace, life, light, and salvation.”122
One of his major points, strangely enough, was, don’t be in a hurry. “Now from this time, henceforth, pause, and, whatever you do, let it be done in a spirit of reflection, never again act in haste, but let your actions always be the result of mature consideration. ‘Do not hurry me,’ is one of the prominent characteristics of my history. I frequently exhort the brethren not to be in a hurry, for we shall not stop here, we are only hunting for the grave, and there is no fear but we shall find it.”123
“Do not be in a hurry,” Brigham says in 1857. “Let us stay together and fight the devil a little longer. Some of you think that by next fall you must obtain all that the Elders preach, if you do, you will go behind the vail, and we cannot have your society,”124 so please stay around a while. “I am not going into the details, to instruct my brethren particularly how to get wealth; but in the first place, do not be in a hurry.”125 “If we will not be in a hurry, and will pray in our families, pray in secret, attend our meetings, . . . and live so that the Spirit of the Lord will dwell within us, and witness to God every day of our lives, by faithful obedience to his requirements, that we are his, I will say we are bound to get the wealth of the world . . . . But one thing I can say of a truth, I have not been in a hurry, I have taken things moderately, kindly, calmly, and have ‘kept my dish right side up.’ “126 “This is the counsel I have for the latter-day Saints to-day. Stop, do not be in a hurry . . . . [Some people say], ‘Fortune is somewhat against me.’ I will tell you the reason for this—you are in too much of a hurry; you do not go to meeting enough, you do not pray enough, you do not read the Scriptures.”127
Here is what he means by being in a hurry in your regular business:
You do not pray enough, you do not read the Scriptures enough, you do not meditate enough, you are all the time on the wing, and in such a hurry that you do not know what to do first. This is not the way to get rich. I merely use the term “rich” to lead the mind along, until we obtain eternal riches in the celestial kingdom of God . . . . Be calm and composed; you are in too much of a hurry. Hold on, be easy, never let your nervous system rise above your judgment . . . . It is just so with men. I see them through the world, I have watched their progress for many years, and I see that many of them are too much in a hurry. If we are not in too much of a hurry we can attend these two-days’ meetings, and talk to each other. Are you full of faith? You can tell whether I am or not by looking at me . . . . I wish there was a little more patience and obedience.128
Do not be in a hurry—it’s an important principle.
And he deplores the common failing of the Saints who volunteer to steady the ark. You think you have to do something, you think you have to come to the rescue. Well notice this splendid psychological study he puts in here.
An individual . . . with [an] abhorrence of evil [joins the Church]. He sets himself upon watch to detect the failings of others, deeming that he is doing God [a] service in being so employed. And thus he is decoyed into the occupation of the great master of evil, to be the accuser of his brethren. And during the time thus occupied by him, he considers himself actuated by the purest motives, arising from detestation of sin . . . . Yet mark the subtlety of Satan in thus leading men into a false position. Such a course, in the first place, probably arose from the purest of motives, and perhaps the individual was instrumental in rectifying some error; he feels a satisfaction for having done so; his self-esteem is gratified; and ere he is aware, he is seeking for another opportunity of doing the same, . . . continually set[ting] himself up as being capable of sitting in judgment upon others, and of rectifying by his own ability the affairs of the kingdom of God.129
Now, I ask a question: who is there that can know the things of God; who can discern the truth from the error? Where is the man; where are the people now in the world that can do it? They do not exist.130
So don’t try to run things. This is one of Brigham Young’s favorite slogans:
Let the kingdom alone, the Lord steadies the ark; and if it does jostle, and appear to need steadying, if the way is a little sidelong sometimes, and to all appearance threatens its overthrow, be careful how you stretch forth your hands to steady it; let us not be too officious in meddling with that which does not concern us; let it alone, it is the Lord’s work. I know enough to let the kingdom alone, and do my duty. It carries me, I do not carry the kingdom . . . . If every bishop, every president, every person holding any position of the holy priesthood, every person who holds a membership in this church and kingdom would take this course the kingdom would roll without our help.131
When you are called to do things, that’s different. But steadying it is another thing: “Experience . . . teaches us absolutely that we need never undertake to guide the ship of Zion, or dictate, by our own wisdom [this is the President of the Church talking, note well], to the kingdom of God on the earth. It teaches definitely and emphatically that the Lord Almighty can do His own work, and no power of man can stay the potency of His wonder-working hand.”132 “I have seen men who belonged to this kingdom, and who really thought that if they were not associated with it, it could not progress.”133
” ‘How is it, brother Brigham, that you manage affairs, and dictate and guide and direct this kingdom as you do?’ The secret is I know enough to let the kingdom of God alone, and it goes of its own accord.”134 “Where you find a man who wishes to steady the ark of God, without being called to do so [by special appointment], you will find a dark spot in him. The man [who is] full of light and intelligence discerns that God steadies his own ark, dictates his own affairs, guides his people, controls his kingdom, governs nations, and holds the hearts of all living in his hands.”135 That’s why it is improper for people to give advice on the Negro question or anything else. They are trying to steady the ark. They don’t really believe. The people who are full of light know that God will manage these things. There are others who wish to destroy.
I am very thankful that it is not our province, in our present condition, to judge the world; if it were, we would ruin everything. We have not sufficient wisdom, our minds are not filled with the knowledge and power of God; the spirit needs to contend with the flesh a little more . . . . And we must also acquire the discretion that God exercises in being able to look into futurity, and to ascertain and know the results of our acts away in the future, even in eternity, before we will be capable of judging.136
“There are men who . . . wish to destroy every power in Heaven and on earth that they do not hold themselves. This is the spirit of Satan that was made so visibly manifest in Heavens and which proved his overthrow, and he now afflicts this people with it [officious people]; he wants to dictate and rule every principle and power that leads to exaltation and eternal life.”137 Notice that he doesn’t say “every principle and power that leads to downfall and destruction”; it is Satan who afflicts this people with a desire to dictate every principle that leads to exaltation and eternal life.
There is no place for ambition in the Church. Brigham kept hammering away, because he had no ambition himself. “Should every man be a President?” he asks. This also shows his love of variety.
Should every man be a member of the Quorum of the Twelve? Should every man be the President of our Government, or a King? No; but each should possess the Spirit of the Lord; and through observing its teachings, every one will be rewarded and enjoy according to his capacity. Each vessel will be filled to overflowing, and hence all will be equal, in that they are full. Every man and woman will receive to a fulness, though the quantity will vary according to the extent of their capacity, and each will be crowned with glory and eternal life, if faithful.138
When one is eager to preside, “such a spirit . . . [makes] them altogether unfit to preside over themselves.”139 Of course this is what Plato says in the Law, isn’t it? A man’s fitness to preside is in inverse proportion to his desire to be in charge.
Such a spirit . . . [makes] them altogether unfit to preside over themselves, or over the least one of God’s creations. Brethren, let us mind our own business, that is, the calling the Lord has called us to—never ask how big we are, or inquire who we are; but let it be, ‘What can I do to build up the kingdom of God upon the earth?’ [Some say,] ‘O what a glory it is to me, . . . how grand to think that I am the first lady in the kingdom!’ They are just like their brother the devil, precisely.140
He’s alluding to some of his wives.
“You will often see it thus among the brethren: ‘I wish I was ordained president of the High Priests Quorum.’ Why? . . . What nonsense! . . . These little sanctified preachers . . . will give their views as to whom to call, and whom not to call. I tell you, you had better stay at home and keep your noses clean”141—and this applies throughout the Church, including among the women. “I feel sometimes that I could cuff every Elder’s ears—at other times I could cry over their follies. I have good reason for these remarks . . . . As for myself, I would rather sit down in the poorest house in this place, and converse on the things of God, than go to ninety-nine out of one hundred parties that are got up—and these are my real feelings. I go to please my brethren. He went to the parties—everyone was giving parties and fancy balls for Brigham, but he would rather sit and talk with the humble about the gospel. And he meant it. My grandmother tells some interesting stories about that.
He adds that mothers are too ambitious for their children. “Momism,” he says, “can be very destructive.”142 This man is a real psychologist. You know how apt mothers are to be full of extreme desire for their children. I’ve known mothers to actually ruin their posterity through giving way to the inordinate desires of their own heart.
It follows, as you can well imagine, that men have no power except over themselves; self-discipline is the only discipline, and who is the enemy? None. What’s the danger? he keeps asking? There is just one danger: “I am afraid of only one thing. What is that? That we will not live our religion, and that we will partially slide a little from the path of rectitude, and go part of the way to meet our friends.”143 “The only things I ever feared were the discord, discontent, confusion, and apostacy in the midst of this people.”144 “You are taught from Sabbath to Sabbath what to do; and if you do that, all will be well. There is only one thing to fear, and that is, that you will not be faithful to the kingdom of God.”145 “[We] have to learn to trust in him who has promised to fight our battles, and crown us with victory, if we are faithful as was faithful Abraham. The contest which we have now on hand is chiefly against sin in ourselves.”146 Brother Brigham has but one fear concerning this people: “I do not fear all the devils in hell, or all the mobs that could be raised; but if I have any fear, it is upon this ground—that the people, in their blessings, should forget the Lord their God . . . . There is danger to be anticipated, it is in the slackness of the people to remember the Lord, when the fostering hand of Providence is pouring out blessings upon them and round about them all the day long.”147
The Church is led by inspiration. This is the point I wanted to get to. He tells some very interesting things about his own troubles. He once thought that Joseph Smith was anything but a born businessman, whereas he was. So what did he do about it? He didn’t believe in steadying the ark. He explains, “I prayed and reflected about it, and so did others. I became satisfied that, when a revelation came to Joseph for the people to perform any labor or duty, it was their privilege to go to with their might and do it collectively and individually, not waiting for the manifestations of the Spirit to me, but believing that the Prophet knew more than I knew, that the Lord spoke through him, and that He could do as He pleased about speaking to me.”148
“I went into the Temple . . . and just challenged [the Brethren] to show wherein the Lord ever conferred upon any man in the world the power to dictate in spiritual affairs, that he did not in temporal affairs. They could not do it. I told them they could not draw the line between the spiritual and the temporal.”149 They were going to follow him in spiritual affairs, but not in temporal. Then he adds, “He was called of God; God dictated him, and if He had a mind to leave him to himself and let him [the Prophet] commit an error, that was no business of mine. And it was not for me to question it, if the Lord was disposed to let Joseph lead the people astray, for He had called him and instructed him to gather Israel and restore the Priesthood and kingdom to them . . . . If He should suffer him to lead the people astray, it would be because they ought to be led astray.”150 It wasn’t that he would deny that Joseph Smith could lead the Saints astray. But if he did, it meant that they ought to be.
His theme here is confidence, but the key to the problem of leadership, is, of course, revelation. Not only the leader, but everyone, must receive revelation. He hammered away at that point. He used to ask all the time in conference, “Do you know whether I am leading you right or not? Do you know whether I dictate you right or not? Do you know whether the wisdom and the mind of the Lord are dispensed to you correctly or not? . . . I have a request to make of each and every Latter-day Saint, or those who profess to be, to so live that the Spirit of the Lord will whisper to them and teach them the truth . . . . In this there is safety; without this there is danger, imminent danger; and my exhortation to the Latter-day Saints is—Live your religion [find out for yourself].”151 Three years earlier, he said,
“How are you going to know about the will and commands of heaven?” By the Spirit of revelation; that is the only way you can know. How do I know but what I am doing wrong? How do I know but what we will take a course for our utter ruin? I sometimes say to my brethren, “I have been your dictator for twenty-seven years—over a quarter of a century I have dictated this people; that ought to be some evidence that my course is onward and upward. But how do you know that I may not yet do wrong?” . . . I can say this for the Latter-day Saints, and I will say it to their praise and my satisfaction, if I were to preach false doctrine here, it would not be an hour after the people got out, before it would begin to fly from one to another, and they would remark, “I do not quite like that! It does not look exactly right! What did Brother Brigham mean? That did not sound quite right, it was not exactly the thing.”152
“Go to with your might, seek unto the Lord your God until you have the revelations of the Lord Jesus Christ upon you, until your minds are open, and the visions of heaven are plain to you. Then follow the dictations of the spirit, and watch Brother Brigham, and see if he counsels you wrong.”153 This is the theme he refers to again and again. “There is not a single Saint deprived of the privilege of asking the Father, in the name of Jesus Christ, our Savior, if it is true that the Spirit of the Almighty whispers through His servant Brigham to urge upon the Latter-day Saints to observe the Word of Wisdom. All have this privilege from the apostle to the lay member. Ask for yourselves.”154
“Now let me ask you, if you trust to my faith, to my words and teachings, counsel and advise, and do not seek after the Lord to have His Spirit to guide and direct you, can I not deceive you, can I not lead you into error? Look at this and see to what mischief it would lead, and what an amount of evil could be done to a people if they did not live so that the Spirit of the Lord would dwell with them that they might know these things for themselves.”155 A year after, he says, “Now, let me ask the Latter-day Saints, you who are here in this house this day, how do you know that your humble servant is really, honestly, guiding and counseling you aright, and directing the affairs of the kingdom aright?”156 He always brings up a perfectly legitimate question.
Let you be ever so true and faithful to your friends and never forsake them, never turn traitor to the Gospel which you have espoused, but live on in neglect of your duty, how do you know but I am teaching false doctrine? How do you know that I am not counseling you wrong? How do you know but I will lead you to destruction? And this is what I wish to urge upon you—live so that you can discern between truth and error, between light and darkness, between the things of God and those not of God, for by the revelations of the Lord, and these alone, can you and I understand the things of God.157
Without revelation direct from heaven, it is impossible for any person to fully understand the plan of salvation:
We often hear it said that the living oracles must be in the Church, in order that the kingdom of God may be established and prosper on the earth. I will give another version of this sentiment. I say that the living oracles of God, or the Spirit of revelation must be in each and every individual, to know the plan of salvation and keep in the path that leads them to the presence of God.158
The First Presidency have of right a great influence over this people; and if we should get out of the way and lead this people to destruction, what a pity it would be! How can you know whether we lead you correctly or not? Can you know by any other power than that of the Holy Ghost? I have uniformly exhorted the people to obtain this living witness each for themselves; then no man on earth can lead them astray.159
That was the principle of his leadership. What a great and marvelous man!—a man completely devoid of humbug, showing contempt for flattery by people who came to him to build him up. He couldn’t be bought, he couldn’t be shaken, he couldn’t be impressed, he wasn’t tempted by the things of this world. They’re just a lot of toys, unimpressive. He said he’d never walk across the street to make a business deal with anybody; it was beneath his dignity. “When I left Nauvoo, I again left all I had . . . in the hands of the mob, and, said I, ‘Eat it up, destroy it, or burn it down, as quick as you please, “for the earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof.” ‘ “160 “They have had the pleasure”—and again, he wasn’t just speaking to be smart—”of driving me five times from my comfortable home; that is nothing.”161 In reference to the burning of the Nauvoo Temple, he said: “When I saw the flames, I said, ‘Good, Father. If you want it to be burned up.’ . . . I was glad when I heard of its being destroyed by fire, and of the walls having fallen in, and said, ‘Hell, you cannot now occupy it.’ “162
If you can bring yourselves, in your affections, your feelings, your passions, your desires, and all that you have in your organization, to submit to the hand of the Lord, to his providences, and acknowledge his hand in all things, and always be willing that he should dictate, though it should take your houses, your property, your wives and children, your parents, your lives, or anything else you have upon the earth, then you will be exactly right; and until you come to that point, you cannot be entirely right.163
Imagine, people animated by those ideas and led by a man of that calibre—could any obstacle stop them? I think it’s plain enough why Brigham Young is the greatest leader of modern times. No man ever proved himself so, or ever spoke with greater authority, and he sought nothing. His whole conviction, his whole strength, lay in the Lord. If people wanted to obey him, it was all right; if they didn’t, they didn’t. That was none of his concern. Always it came back to the same thing: God was ruling things, and for that reason there was nothing to worry about. That’s the only way you’ll ever win. Isn’t that a useful thing to know, in the world we’re living in today? I think it is; I think it’s a great comfort.
How people flocked to him as a leader! In times of great danger and stress, he was the Rock of Gibraltar. This was a man you could trust; nothing would throw him off the track. He couldn’t be bought, he couldn’t be intimidated, he couldn’t be moved at all, because he knew exactly where he stood, and he’s told us why he couldn’t be bought or intimidated. He simply wasn’t impressed with anything else. Man didn’t move him.
* This talk was given 6 June 1967 at Brigham Young University.
1. Our main sources are the Brigham Young History, the Times and Seasons, the Journal of Discourses, and the Millennial Star. One man chased Brigham Young around for twenty-eight years, taking down everything he said. It’s interesting that Brigham Young never prepared a speech; he never talked from notes or anything else—it was all off the cuff. And here’s a man who went to school but eleven days in his life. Yet what mastery of language! What vigorous and powerful prose! He knew exactly what he wanted to say, and he knew how to say it. This is part of his great blessing—a man completely devoid of anything phony or any fraud, any personal desire, any shortness of temper, any of the things we think of as weakness. It’s a marvelous way to be. Of course it can be very annoying, in a normal society, to have a man like that around.
2. JD 3:237; cf. JD 6:74.
3. JD 13:33.
4. JD 10:188.
5. Cf. JD 13:33.
6. JD 11:253.
7. JD 4:267.
8. JD 3:225—26.
9. JD 10:42.
10. JD 10:19.
11. JD 8:363.
12. JD 8:72.
13. JD 13:176—77.
14. JD 13:177.
15. JD 8:11.
16. JD 14:20.
17. JD 16:169.
18. JD 14:95.
19. JD 18:245.
20. JD 6:196—97.
21. JD 14:94.
22. JD 9:248.
23. JD 14:201.
24. JD 6:332.
25. JD 6:332.
26. JD 3:275.
27. JD 9:124.
28. JD 9:248.
29. JD 8:367.
30. MS 17:120.
31. JD 8:334.
32. JD 11:305.
33. JD 9:293.
34. JD 9:293.
35. JD 6:293.
36. JD 4:268.
37. JD 2:284.
38. JD 8:131.
39. Cf. JD 8:345, 355—56.
40. JD 1:278.
41. JD 12:36.
42. JD 8:355.
43. JD 14:89.
44. JD 14:224.
45. JD 13:3.
46. JD 14:94—95.
47. JD 225.
48. JD 12:257.
49. JD 15:162.
50. Cf. JD 13:3.
51. JD 2:183.
52. JD 3:258.
53. JD 4:111.
54. JD 2:183.
55. JD 3:259.
56. JD 16:76.
57. JD 18:234.
58. JD 1:273.
59. JD 16:27.
60. JD 6:315.
61. JD 9:169.
62. JD 8:144.
63. JD 8:144—45.
64. JD 19:4.
65. JD 10:305.
66. JD 14:136.
67. JD 13:177.
68. JD 8:31.
69. JD 8:69.
70. JD 5:351.
71. JD 13:308.
72. JD 13:308.
73. JD 9:291.
74. JD 8:39.
75. JD 13:317.
76. JD 4:53.
77. JD 8:151.
78. JD 3:343.
79. JD 13:94—95.
80. JD 12:287.
81. JD 8:129.
82. JD 5:350.
83. JD 3:159.
84. JD 1:114.
85. JD 8:33.
86. JD 4:32
87. JD 1:359.
88. JD 8:151.
89. JD 12:163.
90. JD 4:51.
91. JD 1:364.
92. JD 6:316.
93. JD 11:290.
94. JD 6:316.
95. JD 5:226.
96. JD 5:228.
97. JD 6:316.
98. JD 1:31.
99. JD 1:31.
100. JD 1:49.
101. JD 14:156.
102. JD 11:290.
103. JD 13:252.
104. JD 3:195.
105. JD 6:75.
106. JD 3:195.
107. JD 6:75.
108. JD 6:75.
109. JD 3:256.
110. JD 11:136.
111. JD 1:106.
112. JD 1:105.
113. JD 1:105.
114. JD 1:165.
115. JD 1:165.
116. JD 9:316.
117. JD 7:7.
118. JD 13:143.
119. JD 14:149.
120. JD 17:120.
121. MS 33:433.
122. JD 14:122.
123. JD 1:92
124. JD 4:270.
125. JD 15:37.
126. JD 15:41.
127. JD 15:36.
128. JD 15:36—37.
129. MS 6 (1845): 165—66.
130. JD 3:92.
131. JD 11:252.
132. JD 1:198.
133. JD 11:252.
134. JD 11:252.
135. JD 8:66.
136. JD 19:7—8.
137. JD 10:97.
138. JD 7:7.
139. MS 16:327.
140. MS 16:327.
141. MS 16:326—27.
142. Cf. JD 12:174.
143. JD 12:272.
144. JD 12:54.
145. JD 5:228.
146. JD 11:13.
147. JD 6:266.
148. JD 12:105.
149. JD 18:243.
150. JD 4:297—98.
151. JD 17:51.
152. JD 14:205.
153. JD 15:6.
154. JD 12:117—18.
155. JD 13:171.
156. JD 14:204.
157. JD 14:204.
158. JD 9:279.
159. JD 6:100.
160. JD 2:20.
161. JD 10:316.
162. JD 8:203.
163. JD 5:351—52.