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Sidney Rigdon
Born February 19, 1793(1793-02-19)
Place of birth St. Clair Township, Pennsylvania
Died July 14, 1876 (aged 83)
Place of death Friendship, New York
LDS Church General Authority
Second Counselor in the First Presidency
Called by Joseph Smith, Jr.
Start of term March 8, 1832 (aged 39)
End of term March 18, 1833 (aged 40)
End reason Called as First Counselor in First Presidency
First Counselor in the First Presidency
Called by Joseph Smith, Jr.
Start of term March 18, 1833 (aged 40)
End of term June 27, 1844 (aged 51)
End reason Dissolution of First Presidency upon the death of Joseph Smith, Jr.

Sidney Rigdon (19 February 1793 – 14 July 1876) was an important figure in the early history of the Latter Day Saint movement. Rigdon's influence over the early years of the movement is considered by many historians to have been nearly as strong as that of church founder Joseph Smith Jr.


Baptist background

Sidney Rigdon was born in St. Clair Township, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, about 10 miles south of Pittsburgh. (The area today is known as Library). He was the youngest of four children of William and Nancy Rigdon. Rigdon's father was a farmer and a native of Harford County, Maryland. William Rigdon died in 1810, and Sidney remained on the farm until 1818, when he apprenticed himself to a Baptist minister named Rev. Andrew Clark. Rigdon received his license to preach for the Regular Baptists in March, 1819. He moved in May to Trumbull County, Ohio, where he jointly preached with Adamson Bentley from July, 1819. He married Bentley's sister Phoebe Brook in June, 1820, and remained in Ohio until February, 1822, when he returned to Pittsburgh to accept the pastorate of the First Baptist Church there under the recommendation of Alexander Campbell.[1]

Rigdon and Bentley had journeyed to meet Alexander Campbell in the summer of 1821, to learn more about the Baptist who was encountering opposition to his idea that the New Testament should hold priority over the Old Testament in the Christian church. They engaged in lengthy discussions, which resulted in both men joining in Campbell's movement. Rigdon became a popular Campbellite preacher in the Pittsburgh church. However, some disaffected members were able to force his resignation in 1824. For the next two years Rigdon worked as a tanner to support his family, while preaching Campbell's Restorationism on Sundays in the Pittsburgh courthouse. In 1826 he was invited to become the pastor of the more liberal Baptist church in Mentor, Ohio in the Western Reserve. Many prominent early Latter Day Saint leaders, including Parley P. Pratt, Isaac Morley and Edward Partridge were members of Rigdon's congregations prior to their conversion to the Church of Christ as founded by Joseph Smith, Jr.

As a Latter Day Saint


Introduction to the early Church of Christ

On a trip in New York state along the Erie Canal, Parley P. Pratt stopped in Palmyra where he first learned about the Book of Mormon. In early September 1830, Pratt was baptized into the "Church of Christ" as the Latter Day Saint movement's founding group was called. In October, Pratt and Ziba Peterson were called on a mission to preach the Gospel to the American Indians or "Lamanites".

On the Pratt's way west, they visited Rigdon in Ohio. Rigdon read the Book of Mormon, believed in its truthfulness, and was converted to the religion. He was baptized into the Church and proceeded to convert hundreds of members of his Ohio congregations. In December 1830, Rigdon traveled to New York, where he met Joseph Smith. Rigdon was a fiery orator and he was immediately called by Smith to be the spokesman for the church. Rigdon also served as a scribe and helped with Smith's inspired re-translation of the Bible.

Kirtland, Ohio, 1830-37

In December 1830, Smith received a revelation counseling members of the church in New York to gather to Kirtland, Ohio and merge with Rigdon's congregations there. Many of the doctrines Rigdon's group had experimented with, including living with all things in common, afterwards found expression in the combined movement.

When Smith organized the church's First Presidency, he set apart Jesse Gause and Rigdon as his first two counselors. Smith and Rigdon became close partners, and Rigdon tended to supplant Oliver Cowdery, the original "Second Elder" of the church. When vigilantes decided to tar and feather Joseph Smith Jr. at the John Johnson Farm in Hiram, Ohio, they also tarred and feathered Rigdon.

Rigdon became a strong advocate of the construction of the Kirtland Temple. When the church founded the Kirtland Safety Society, Rigdon became the bank's president and Smith served as its cashier. When the bank failed in 1837, Rigdon and Smith were both blamed by Mormon dissenters.

Far West, Missouri, 1838

Rigdon and Smith moved to Far West, Missouri and established a new church headquarters there. As spokesman for the First Presidency, Rigdon preached several controversial sermons in Missouri, including the Salt Sermon and the July 4th Oration.[2] These speeches have sometimes been seen as contributing to the conflict known as the 1838 Mormon War in Missouri. As a result of the conflict, the Mormons were expelled from the state and Rigdon and Smith were arrested and imprisoned in Liberty Jail. Rigdon was released on a writ of habeas corpus and made his way to Illinois, where he joined the main body of Mormon refugees in 1839.

Nauvoo, Illinois, 1839-1844

Smith later escaped his Missourian captors and founded the city of Nauvoo, Illinois. Rigdon continued to act as church spokesman and gave a speech at the ground-breaking of the original Nauvoo Temple.

However, Smith and Rigdon's relationship began to deteriorate. Rigdon's participation in church administrative affairs was minimal during the Nauvoo period. He did not reside in the city and served in a local church presidency in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He was also in poor health. In 1843, Smith intended to place Amasa M. Lyman in the presidency and release Rigdon. However, during his address at the October 1843 general conference, Rigdon asked that he remain in the Presidency. The congregation then voted to retain him as first counselor, contrary to Smith's expressed wishes. After the vote, Smith stood and stated, "I have thrown him off my shoulders, and you have again put him on me. You may carry him, but I will not."[3]

When Smith began his campaign for the presidency of the United States in 1844, Rigdon was selected as his vice-presidential running mate. In April 1844, William Law, the second counselor in the First Presidency, was excommunicated and his position was not filled. Consequently, after Smith's death, Rigdon was the only remaining member of the First Presidency. During this time, Rigdon's strong opposition to polygamy and other issues within the Church[4] decreased his popularity within the church membership at large.

1844 succession crisis

After Smith's murder in 1844, contention arose over the leadership of the Church. Factions, based sometimes on doctrine and sometimes on administrative position, developed and church members began to align themselves with various leaders. (See Succession crisis (Latter Day Saints)) Some members assumed that Rigdon, as the senior surviving member of the First Presidency, would succeed Smith as church president. Others, however, believed that Smith's young son, Joseph Smith III was the rightful heir. Smith's wife, Emma, argued for the claims of the President of the central stake, the presiding High Council, William Marks. Marks, however, supported Rigdon.

Before a large Nauvoo congregation meeting to discuss the issue on August 8, 1844, Rigdon argued that there could be no successor to the deceased prophet and that he should be made the "Protector" of the church."[5]

Brigham Young, president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles opposed this reasoning and motion and asserted a claim for the primacy of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints asserts Smith had earlier recorded a revelation in section 107, verses 23-24 of the Doctrine and Covenants that the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles were "equal in authority and power" to the First Presidency, so the decision of Smith's successor fell back to the Apostles even though Rigdon believed he was rightly next in line.[6] When Young testified of the power and authority of the Twelve Apostles, many in the congregation recorded that Brigham Young's voice took on the sound of Joseph Smith's voice and that Brigham Young's face and mannerisms also appeared as the face and mannerisms of Joseph Smith.[7] For many in attendance at this meeting, this occurrence was accepted as a sign that Brigham Young was to lead the Church as President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

The Quorum of Twelve Apostles were scattered throughout the United States and Europe, many on missions, at the time of Smith's death. The five members of the quorum available in Illinois voted to deny Rigdon his claim for Church leadership. Rigdon felt this action was done without proper order. One month later, on September 8, Sidney Rigdon was excommunicated from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints by a Common Council of the Church which had been convened by Presiding Bishop Newel K. Whitney.[8] Sidney Rigdon refused to attend this trial[9] after which he, in turn, likewise excommunicated the members of the Twelve and fled Nauvoo, claiming that he felt threatened by Young's supporters.[10] He relocated to Pittsburgh where he continued his own faction of Mormonism.

Later, in December 1847, at the Kanesville Tabernacle in modern day Council Bluffs, Iowa, the Apostles and Church members sustained Young as the new President of the church. This reinstatement of the First Presidency occurred three years after the death of Joseph Smith, during which time Rigdon claimed his right to govern the Church.[11]

As Church Leader, Pennsylvania and New York, 1845-1876

After the succession schism, Rigdon solidified and led an independent faction of Mormonism, often referred to as Rigdonite. The Latter Day Saints who followed Rigdon separated themselves and settled in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. On April 6, 1845, Rigdon presided over a conference of the Church of Christ, which he claimed was the rightful continuation of the church founded by Smith.[12] He then reorganized the First Presidency and called his own Quorum of Twelve Apostles.

Although Rigdon's church briefly flourished through the publication of his periodical, The Messenger and Advocate, quarrels among the Rigdonites led most members of the church to desert the senior leader by 1847. A few loyalists, notably William Bickerton, eventually reorganized the church in 1862, under the name The Church of Jesus Christ (Bickertonite).

Rigdon lived on for many years in Pennsylvania and New York. He maintained his testimony of the Book of Mormon and clung to his claims that he was the rightful heir to Joseph Smith. He died in Friendship, New York.

Spalding/Rigdon theory

Some opponents of Mormonism speculated in the 19th century that Rigdon was the true force behind Mormonism. According to this view, Rigdon obtained a manuscript for a historical novel from a Pittsburgh publisher that had been written by Solomon Spalding. This theory asserts that the novel contained the "historical portion" of the Book of Mormon which Rigdon re-worked, adding his own theology and expanding into the present work. One recent computer analysis of the Book of Mormon text supports this theory, although the study does not include Joseph Smith Jr. in the author sample, stating that pure examples of Smith's writings have not been discovered. [13]


  1. ^ Times and Seasons May 1, 1843. p. 177 in 1986 reprint by Independence Press, ISBN 0-8309-0467-0
  2. ^ Oration Delivered by Mr. S. Rigdon on the 4th of July at Far West, Caldwell County, Missouri, 1838
  3. ^ Joseph Smith, Jr. History of the Church, vol. 6, p. 49
  4. ^ McKiernan, M.F.: The Voice of One Crying in the Wilderness: Sidney Rigdon, Religious ReformerCoronado Press, 1979
  5. ^ Roberts, B. H.: History of the Church, vol. 7, ch. XVIII
  6. ^ Roberts, B. H.: History of the Church, vol. 7, ch. XIX
  7. ^ Lynne Watkins Jorgensen, "The Mantle of the Prophet Joseph Smith Passes to Brother Brigham: One Hundred Twenty-one Testimonies of a Collective Spiritual Witness" in John W. Welch (ed.), 2005. Opening the Heavens: Accounts of Divine Manifestations, 1820-1844, Provo, Utah: BYU Press, pp. 374-480.
  8. ^ J. M. Grant's RIGDON: Collection of Facts, Relative to the Course Taken by Elder Sidney Rigdon, in the States of Ohio, Missouri, Illinois and Pennsylvania. By Jedediah M. Grant, One of the Quorum of Seventies., pp. 20-37
  9. ^ Jedediah M. Grant, "A Collection of Facts, Relative to the Course Taken By Elder Sidney Rigdon: In the States of Ohio, Missouri, Illinois and Pennsylvania", Part IV, Brown, Bicking & Guilbert, Printers, 1844
  10. ^ McKiernan, M.F.: The Voice of One Crying in the Wilderness: Sidney Rigdon, Religious Reformer Coronado Press, 1979
  11. ^ McKiernan, M.F.: The Voice of One Crying in the Wilderness: Sidney Rigdon, Religious ReformerCoronado Press, 1979
  12. ^ See, e.g., Donald E. Pitzer (1997). America's Communal Utopias (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Richard Press) p. 484; Howard, "William E. McLellin: 'Mormonism's Stormy Petrel'" in Roger D. Launius and Linda Thatcher (eds) (1998). Dissenters in Mormon History (Urbana: University of Illinois Press) pp. 76–101.
  13. ^ Jockers et al., Reassessing authorship of the Book of Mormon using delta and nearest shrunken centroid classification, Literary and Linguistic Computing, December, 2008


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