John Taylor (1808-1887)

From Academic Kids


For others named John Taylor, see John Taylor.

John Taylor (November 1, 1808 - July 25, 1887) was the third President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 1877 to 1887.

Taylor was born in Milnthorpe, Westmorland (now Cumbria), England. He had formal schooling up to age fourteen, and then he served an apprenticeship to a cooper before becoming a woodturner and cabinetmaker. He was christened in the Church of England, but joined the Methodist church at sixteen. He was appointed a lay preacher a year later, and even then felt a calling to preach in America. His family emigrated to Canada in 1832, where he married Leonora Cannon from the Isle of Man on January 28, 1833.


Church service

Taylor and his wife were baptized as Mormons in 1836 after meeting with Church apostle Parley P. Pratt in Toronto, and they were active in the preaching and organization of the church in Canada. They then moved to Far West, Missouri, where Taylor was ordained an Apostle on December 19, 1838. He assisted other church members as they fled frequent conflict to Commerce, Illinois. In 1839 he and some of his fellow apostles brought the words of Joseph Smith to Ireland and the Isle of Man as missionaries. He returned to the Mormon-built city of Nauvoo, Illinois to serve as a city councilman, a chaplain, a colonel, a judge advocate for the Nauvoo Legion (the city's militia), and as a newspaper editor.

Missing image
Pocket watch which may have spared the life of John Taylor

In 1844, Taylor was with church founder Joseph Smith, his brother Hyrum Smith and others in the Carthage, Illinois jail when the Smiths were killed as they awaited a hearing regarding the destruction of an anti-Mormon newspaper. Taylor was severely wounded in the conflict, and many Mormons believe that his life was divinely spared when a bullet directed towards his chest was stopped by a pocket watch which he was carrying at the time of the Smith Brothers' assassination.

In 1846, most Mormons followed Brigham Young into territory then controlled by Mexico, while Taylor went to England to resolve problems in church leadership there. On his return, he and Pratt led more followers to the Salt Lake Valley in 1847. He was appointed an associate judge in the provisional State of Deseret in 1849 and served in the territorial legislature from 1853 to 1876. He was elected Speaker of the House for five consecutive sessions, beginning in 1857. In 1852 Taylor wrote a small book, The Government of God in which he compared and contrasted the systems of God and man.

Actions as Church President

Following Brigham Young's death in 1877, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles governed the Church, with John Taylor as the senior apostle. Taylor was appointed the third President of the church in 1880. He oversaw the expansion of the Salt Lake community, the organization of the Church hierarchy, the establishment of Mormon communities in other states, and the defense of polygamy against increasing opposition.

In October 1880, the Pearl of Great Price was canonized. Taylor also oversaw the issuance of a new edition of the Doctrine and Covenants.

In 1882, the Congessional Edmunds Act declared polygamy a felony. Hundreds of men and women were arrested and imprisoned for continuing to practice polygamy. Taylor had followed Joseph Smith's teachings on polygamy, and had at least seven wives. He is known to have fathered thirty-five children. Taylor and his counselors withdrew from public view to live in the "underground:" frequently on the move to avoid arrest. During his last public sermon Taylor remarked, "I would like to obey and place myself in subjection to every law of man. What then? Am I to disobey the law of God? Has any man a right to control my conscience, or your conscience? ...No man has a right to do it" (JD 26:152).

Many viewed LDS polygamy as religiously, socially and politically threatening. The U.S. Congress passed the Edmunds-Tucker Act in 1887, which abolished women's suffrage, forced wives to testify against their husbands, disincorporated the LDS church, dismantled the Perpetual Emigration Fund Company, abolished the Nauvoo Legion, and provided that LDS church property in excess of $50,000 would be forfeited to the United States.

For two and a half years, President Taylor presided over the church from exile. The strain of his struggle took a great toll on his health. He died on July 25, 1887, from congestive heart failure in Kaysville, Utah.

For two years after his death, the church was without a presidency. The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, with Wilford Woodruff as president of the quorum, assumed sole leadership in this interim period. In the April General Conference of 1889, the First Presidency was reorganized with Wilford Woodruff as the president. Six months later, in the October General Conference, Anthon H. Lund was called to fill President Taylor's vacancy in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

His eldest son, John W. Taylor, continued to serve in the church and in politics, and after the Church abandoned plural marriage as an essential church doctrine in 1890, helped to shepherd Utah to statehood in 1896.


  • Allen, James B. and Leonard, Glen M. The Story of the Latter-day Saints. Deseret Book Co., Salt Lake City, UT, 1976. ISBN 0-87747-594-6.
  • Ludlow, Daniel H., Editor. Church History, Selections from the Encyclopedia of Mormonism. Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, UT, 1992. ISBN 0-87579-924-8.
  • Jon Krakauer's Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith (Doubleday, New York, 2003) takes its title from a speech given by Taylor on January 4, 1880 in defense of the Mormon practice of polygamy: "We believe in honesty, morality, and purity; but when they enact tyrannical laws, forbidding us the free exercise of our religion, we cannot submit. God is greater than the United States, and when the Government conflicts with heaven, we will be ranged under the banner of heaven and against the Government.…"

External links

Preceded by:
Brigham Young
President of the LDS Church
October 10, 1880July 25, 1887
Succeeded by:
Wilford Woodruff
Preceded by:
Orson Hyde
President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
June, 1875October 10, 1880
Succeeded by:
Wilford Woodruff

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