There are at least two potential problems when there is a leadership transition—the transition plan or procedure isn’t always known ahead of time, and those involved don’t always follow the plan or procedures. Mormonism’s initial experience with transition didn’t go well—I suspect for both reasons—and the transitions elsewhere in the scriptures often seem unexpected also. For example, the transition from Elijah to Elisha described in Old Testament Gospel Doctrine lesson #29 is unexpected by the Israelites, who search for Elijah for three days after Elisha succeeds him.
It is, of course, Mormonism’s difficult initial transition, following the death of Joseph Smith, that led to the following poem.
Mormonism’s best known poet, Eliza R. Snow joined Joseph Smith’s church before her brother Lorenzo did. She was later married to both Joseph Smith and Brigham Young and was the second General President of the Relief Society. She gathered some of her poetry into a two-volume work, Poems, Religious, Historical, and Political, which was published in 1856 and 1877. Ten of her poems are currently in the LDS hymnal, and several others once were in editions of the LDS hymnal, but have since been dropped.
To President Brigham Young
by Eliza R. Snow
- An important station is truly thine,
- And the weight of thy calling can none define;
- Being call’d of the Lord o’er the Twelve to preside,
- And with them over all of the world beside.
- Like Elisha of old, when Elijah fled
- In a chariot of fire, thou has lost thy head;
- Lost thy head? O no! thou are left to prove
- To the Gods, thy integrity, faith, and love.
- Thou hast gain’d, like Elisha, a rich behest,
- For the mantle of Joseph seems to rest
- Upon thee, while the spirit and pow’r divine,
- That inspir’d his heart, is inspiring thine.
- The great work which he laid the foundation to
- Is unfinished, and resting on thee to do—
- With thy brethren, the Twelve, thou wilt bear it forth
- To the distant nations of the earth.
- Kings, princes, and nobles will honor thee,
- And thy name will be great on the isles of the sea—
- The pure light of intelligence thou wilt spread
- Will exalt the living and save the dead.
- The great spirit of truth, will direct thy ways;
- Generations to come, will repeat thy praise—
- When thy work is completed on earth, thou’lt stand
- In thy station appointed at God’s right hand.
The Prophet, v1 n47, 12 February 1845, p. 4
Snow’s poem shows the kind of reaction desired after a transition. In stating that Brigham Young is the new leader, Snow is explicit, comparing Brigham Young to Elisha. If anything, Snow demonstrates the pressure on Brigham Young to meet the expectations Mormons had from knowing Joseph Smith. She does this not to try to tell Brigham Young how to make this transition, but perhaps to help Church members realize that this is a transition, and that Brigham Young is the person chosen to succeed Joseph Smith.
Unfortunately, there were many Mormons at the time who didn’t agree.