Mormon Handbook


Home / Origins /

Mormon Succession Crisis

Joseph Smith’s unexpected death on June 7, 1844, caused a crisis as to who would be his successor. Several assumed power and caused his church to split into several denominations. Some of the more notable include:

Brigham Young
Brigham Young

Those who sided with Brigham Young followed him to Utah. It is this denomination, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—which has the largest membership—that is the focus of this handbook.
Joseph Smith III
Joseph Smith III

Some believed that Joseph’s son, Joseph Smith III, should be his successor. This movement became the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. In 2001, it was renamed Community of Christ, which is the second largest Mormon denomination.
James J. Strang
James J. Strang
James produced a ‘letter of appointment’ he received from Joseph Smith as evidence of his successorship. Many prominent Mormons agreed and followed him—including three apostles, eight Book of Mormon witnesses, and Lucy Smith, Joseph’s mother. Like Joseph, James also claimed to have translated plates. This church exists today as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, headquartered in Voree, Wisconsin.

Sidney Rigdon
Sidney Rigdon

Some followed Sidney Rigdon, who was Joseph’s First Counselor. William Bickerton continued this movement, which exists today as the Church of Jesus Christ.
Granville Hendrick
Granville Hedrick
Various smaller groups formed after Joseph’s death. In 1863, several groups along with John E. Page, an apostle under Joseph Smith, united under the leadership of Granville Hedrick. This church owns the Temple Lot spoken of in Joseph Smith’s *‘New Jerusalem prophecy’.
  • Doctrine and Covenants 84:2-3

David Whitmer
David Whitmer
When Joseph Smith ordained David Whitmer (a Book of Mormon witness) as President of the Missouri church, he also named David his successor.

br. Joseph Smith jun proceeded to give the Council such instruction.... He also informed them if he should now be taken away.... Members covenanted with uplifted hands to heaven that they would uphold Br David Whitmer as President, head and leader in Zion (in the absense of br. Joseph Smith jr.)

Joseph Smith

— Joseph Smith

Mormonism founder
"Minute Book 2", July 7, 1834, pp. 43-45

After Joseph’s death, David formed a church for those disillusioned with Sidney Rigdon, which included apostle William E. McLellin and Seventy Benjamin Winchester. This church dissolved in the 1960’s.
Moroni Get Ebook
Get Print
Linktree YouTube Facebook Twitter Instagram TikTok Contact