John W. Young: Why He Didn’t Become A Prophet


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John Willard Young was Brigham Young and Mary Ann Angell” sixth child and third son. He was the youngest person to be ordained an Apostle at the tender age of eleven on November 1855. He was set apart as an Assistant Counselor in 1864 and First Counselor to Brigham Young in 1876, serving in this last position until his father’s death in 1877.

Brigham Young also ordained three more sons to apostleship (critics would accuse Young and others of nepotism) He ordained them without the prior knowledge of any General Authority and because it was a private ordination, their names were never presented to the Church for sustaining vote.

Except, Brigham Jr later in life, the other three sons of Brigham Young (including John) never became part of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. According to Young’s daughter, the reason why John was ordained to apostleship at such a young age was because he was the first son of Brigham after the latter received his full temple endowments.

John W. Young was described as someone with a charming personality and very eloquent. He attempted several business ventures that ended up failing terribly and John’s inability to pay his debts caused many to doubt his intentions and felt his business deals were very dishonest. Heber J. Grant wrote in his journal that he wished he had confidence in John but he didn’t have any and said if the Lord is going to use a man with a dishonest financial record to give people liberty (statehood) He was placing a premium on dishonest methods.

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We get it, John wasn’t popular or liked. Due to his controversial business deals, he was tried several times by the Church but he managed to keep his calling as Apostle.

Despite great efforts by his father, John didn’t really fulfilled Church responsibilities due to his active life and business in New York. He seemed more concerned about traveling (and becoming rich) than fulfilling his religious responsibilities. Brigham would write him constantly pleading with him to return to Utah and he even went as far as pay John’s debtors in order to convince him to come back. He eventually did when his father extended him the calling as a First Counselor in the First Presidency in 1876. He served in this capacity for a year, until Brigham Young’s death.

A year prior to this (1875), Brigham also made a policy change with regards to presidential succession adding the requirement of continuous apostolic service.

John Taylor wasn’t supposed to be Young’s successor but Orson Hyde followed by Orson Pratt. However, both were informed by the First Presidency during a meeting that they lost their seniority in the Quorum due to issues they experienced with Joseph Smith in Nauvoo (Hyde was disfellowshipped and left the church for a period of time and the Quorum,) so his seniority was changed to the date of his readmission. In Orson Pratt’s case, his wife falsely accused Joseph Smith of trying to seduce her and he was excommunicated in 1842, returning to the Church a year later.

On December 1899, Apostle Franklin D. Richards died. His death left John Young now as the second most senior apostle in the church.There was no doubt he would become the President after Lorenzo Snow’s death. John was only 55 years old but his reputation based on honesty issues, bankruptcies, non-serious commitment to the building of the Kingdom of God meant that he wasn’t a favorite, as a matter of fact, there were a lot of leaders who were quite vocal against his practices like Joseph F. Smith.

In 1900, Lorenzo Snow’s health was deteriorating rapidly and at the age of 85 he decided along with George Q. Cannon and Joseph F. Smith to change the policy of presidential succession to what we know it now: The new president of the church would be the person who had been a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles for the longest period of time and in continuous apostolic status. Since John was never a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, he could not become the President of the Church. Bummer!

A year after this policy, President Snow died and Joseph F. Smith was called as the new Church President. One can only imagine John’s disappointment when he heard of the new policy, he was in Utah at that time surely not by coincidence but, possibly hoping to become the new President. He returned to the East shortly after and died in New York at the age of 79.

One thought on “John W. Young: Why He Didn’t Become A Prophet”

  1. Apostle at the age of 11? How come the brethren weren’t upset with Brigham Young when he told them about it many years later?

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