Sidney Rigdon

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Sidney Rigdon

Sidney Rigdon (19 February 179314 July 1876) was an important figure in the early history of the Latter Day Saint movement. Rigdon's influence over the movement is considered by many historians to have been nearly as strong as that of church founder Joseph Smith Jr..


1 Spalding/Rigdon Theory
2 External links
3 References

Early Background

Sidney Rigdon served as a Regular Baptist clergyman for a number of years in his early life, but became disaffected after close associations with Alexander Campbell and Walter Scott, founders of the Campbellite reform. Rigdon became a popular Campbellite preacher in Western Reserve area of Ohio and led congregations in Kirtland and Mentor. Many prominent early Mormon leaders, including Parley P. Pratt and Edward Partridge were members of Rigdon's congregations prior to their conversion to Mormonism.

Rigdon and the Early Mormon Church

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 recently organized Mormon church was then known. In October, Pratt and Ziba Peterson were called on a mission to preach Mormonism to the American Indians or "Lamanites". On their way west, they visited Rigdon in Ohio.

Rigdon read the Book of Mormon and was converted to believe in its truthfulness. He was baptized into Mormonism and proceded to convert hundreds of members of his Ohio congregations to the new religion. In December of 1830, Rigdon travelled 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 ongoing inspired re-translation of the Bible.

Kirtland, Ohio, 1830-37

In December of 1830, Smith received a revelation counselling 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 Rigdon as one of his 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. 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 and they were charged with illegal banking by authorities in Ohio.

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. 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. When Smith began his campaign for the presidency of the United States in 1844, Rigdon was selected as his vice-presidential running mate.

After Smith's murder in 1844, Rigdon was the only remaining member of the First Presidency. Many members assumed that Rigdon would succeed Joseph 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.

Prior to his death, Smith had been practicing plural marriage in secret. Rigdon, Marks and Emma Smith were known to oppose this practice, but a large faction of Mormon leaders were heavily involved in it. They were concerned that Rigdon's succession would mean the repudiation of their polygamous relationships. At a meeting of a large Nauvoo congregation to discuss the succession, Rigdon argued that he should be made Smith's heir. Brigham Young, president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and head of the pro-plural marriage faction argued that there could be no successor to the fallen prophet. He suggested, instead, that the Quorum of the Twelve itself be consituted as the new First Presidency. The congregation assented to Young's proposition and Rigdon found himself out-manuevered.

As president of the Quorum of the Twelve, Young began to act as president of the church. He and Rigdon began to make opposing pronouncements which caused the Twelve to excommunicate Rigdon. Rigdon fled Nauvoo, claiming that he felt threatened by Young's supporters. He relocated to Pittsburgh where he organized his own Rigdonite faction of Mormonism. He then excommunicated Young and the Nauvoo Twelve, created a new First Presidency and called his own Quorum of Twelve Apostles.

Pennsylvania and New York, 1845-1876

Although Rigdon's church briefly flourished and he published his own periodical, The Messenger and Advocate, quarrels among the Rigdonites led most members of the church to desert the old leader by 1847. A few loyalists held on and eventually reorganized in 1862 as the Church of Christ (Bickertonite).

Rigdon lived on for many years in Pennsylvania and New York. He maintained his testimony in Mormonism and clung to his claims that he was the rightful heir to Smith.

Spalding/Rigdon Theory

Many opponents of Mormonism, especially in the 19th century, speculated that Rigdon was the true force behind Mormonism. According to this view, Rigdon took a manuscript for a novel from a Pittsburgh print house that had been written by Solomon Spalding. Supposedly the novel contained the "historical portion" of the Book of Mormon which Rigdon re-worked and expanded into the present work of scripture. Although affadavits from Spalding's family and neighbors and some circumstantial evidence has been offered in favor of this theory, most historians reject it. For the pro-Spaulding theory perspective, see

External links

Grampa Bill's G.A. Pages (


Richard S. Van Wagoner, Sidney Rigdon: A Portrait of Religious Excess.

D. Michael Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power.


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