Old document confirms Missouri faction’s position.

When the founder of the Mormon church, Joseph Smith, Jr., was assassinated in Illinois in 1844, a squabble erupted over who would succeed him. Brigham Young convinced a majority that the leadership should pass to the body known as the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. As head of that group, Young accepted the mantle of succession and led the party westward to Utah.

Dissenters, including Smith’s mother, widow, and brother, believed that Smith wanted his son, Joseph Smith III, to be the heir. The younger Smith’s followers remained behind, eventually settling in Independence, Missouri, under the name Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (only the church based in Utah uses the name “Mormon”).

A problem in the Missouri faction was that no one could prove the founder wanted his lineal descendents to succeed him. There were only reports of conversations about his wishes. It was an important discovery, therefore, when a young collector of Mormon artifacts recently came across the transcript of the blessing Joseph Smith pronounced upon his son five months before his death. The blessing contained this crucial wording: “… the anointing of the progenitor shall be upon the head of my son, and his seed after him, from generation to generation. For he shall be my successor to the presidency of the high priesthood, a seer and a revelator, and a prophet unto the church, which appointment belongeth to him by blessing and also by right.”

The document was dated January 17, 1844, and for the first time it pinpointed what the reorganized church in Missouri always believed: that their wing was in the line of succession ordained by Joseph Smith.

Although the document was an important ...

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