Colonel Thomas Kane
Thomas Kane proved to be an invaluable friend to the Church. He loved the Mormon people and did all in his power to protect them from the Federal Government. What was the one aspect of the Mormons that touched the Colonel the most?
a. Their doctrine
b. Their prayers
c. Their singing
d. Their humility in persecution
A Vinson Knight
Concerning the extent of the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of these first two bishops, it is necessary to remember that from 1831 to 1838 there were two headquarters of Mormonism: one at Kirtland, Ohio, and one in Missouri. Whitney was bishop in Ohio and Partridge was bishop in Missouri. Each had control over the temporal affairs of his respective region; neither had jurisdiction over the entire church. Their ecclesiastical authority was described in 1880 by Orson Pratt, then the Church Historian:
“Here were two Bishops, then, one having jurisdiction in the West, a thousand miles from the other; the other having jurisdiction in the East. Their duties were pointed out, But neither of them was Presiding Bishop [over the entire church]. But what were they? As was clearly shown by President Taylor at the Priesthood meeting on last evening they were general Bishops.”
In ecclesiastical authority, these two men were performing regional functions rather than operating, according to the definition of LDS General Authorities, as officers who presided over the entire church.
Not until the church established its headquarters at Nauvoo, Illinois, in 1839, was the office of bishop further clarified. Beginning in 1839, two other bishops besides Partridge and Whitney were ordained, and these four men were appointed to preside over ecclesiastical wards. Within a year several more bishops were chosen to preside over wards. The appointment of bishops to preside over such geographical subdivisions gave a congregational or parochial responsibility to the office of bishop. This was a delimitation of the broad regional authority previously exercised by Bishops Partridge and Whitney. In Utah, the wards became independent ecclesiastical units with a separate schedule of meetings for residents of the geographical boundaries of the ward. In Nauvoo, however, the wards were apparently a pre-congregations development, since devotional meeting were held on Sundays for the entire population of Nauvoo, rather than by individual wards. Nevertheless, giving the bishops economical and ecclesiastical responsibility for Mormons living in a narrowly defined locality was an important step in the evolution of the bishopric.
For a time, along with the local ward bishops in Nauvoo, the previous regional bishops continued. The opportunity to unify their role into a single presiding bishop was by-passed when, at the death of Edward Partridge in 1840, George Miller was appointed by revelation on January 19, 1841, to succeed him. But the need for a single authority over the various classes of bishops was recognized in the same revelation:
“And again, I say unto you, I give unto you Vinson Knight, Samuel H. Smith, and Shadrach Roundy, if he will receive it, to preside over the bishopric.”
President John Taylor and three church historians affirmed that, whereas Edward Partridge’s authority was only regional, Vinson Knight was the first man to be designated as Presiding Bishop of the Church.
Despite the e revelation designating Vinson Knight to preside over all other bishops, Knight apparently never functioned as the supreme Presiding Bishop over the church. Although information about Knight from 1841 to his death in 1842 is sketchy, it appears that he was not allowed to function as the supreme bishop in the church because of an act of ecclesiastical presumption of his part. In the Times and Seasons of January 15, 1841, Knight announced that the Aaronic Priesthood would be organized at his home on January 24, 1841. This announcement was published by Knight to “reside over the bishopric.” Obviously Knight was anticipating the appointment which later appeared in the dictated revelation. Presumably Joseph Smith had given Knight some intimation that he would be called to be a bishop to preside over all other bishops, and Knight became overly anxious to exercise that authority.
In 1839, Joseph Smith had written a letter in which he discussed the situation of men in the church exceeding the bounds of their authority, using the words “many are called, but few are chosen.” That decree apparently applied to Vinson Knight’s appointment as Presiding Bishop. When announcement was made in Times and Seasons on February 1, 1841, of the most important new appointments in the recent revelation, there was no mention of Knight’s appointment, even though George Miller’s lesser appointment to succeed Partridge was announced. Knight’s January announcement indicated he planned to organize the Aaronic or Lesser Priesthood himself on January 24, 1841. The meeting was not held as he announced, presumably because it was not allowed. When the Aaronic Priesthood was finally organized in Nauvoo, it was two months after the date Knight designated. Instead of being under his single direction, as implied by his announcement, the Aaronic Priesthood was organized under the joint direction of Bishops Miller, Whitney, Knight, and one other bishop of Nauvoo. To his death, Vinson Knight was denied the opportunity to receive the office of Presiding Bishop, and the announcement of his death in the Times and Seasons simply referred to him as “one of the bishops of this Church.” Although excluded from the supreme position to which he had been authorized by revelation, Knight was advanced above the position of ward bishop he had previously held. He became a General Bishop and acted in concert with the two other General Bishops, Whitney and Miller.
For nearly five years following the death of Knight in July 1842 no man was appointed to the position of Presiding Bishop of the Church. Whitney and Miller continued their joint function as General Bishops. Miller was the presiding officer of the high priests in the church, and Whitney presided over the Aaronic Priesthood officers. In October 1844 they were jointly appointed as Trustee-in-Trust for the church, following the death of the former trustee, Joseph Smith. At that same conference, Whitney was sustained as “first bishop” and Miller as “second bishop.” They did not, however, form the unified quorum alluded to in the 1841 revelation, since each of them was semi-autonomous, Whitney having one counselor, and Miller having no counselors as bishop. Referred to as the presiding bishops” of the church, these two men continued their semi-autonomous relationship to each other as General Bishops, even though Whitney was designated First Bishop in 1844, honoring him as the bishop of longest tenure in the church.
Following the exodus of the Mormons from Nauvoo in February 1846, Whitney gained increasing eminence and ultimately became the Presiding Bishop of the Church. George Miller began demonstrating resistance to the leadership of Brigham Young, and rapidly fell out of favor with his administration. Miller was specifically invited to attend the general conference of April 6, 1847. Failing to attend, Miller’s name was omitted from the list of officers, and Whitney was sustained as Presiding Bishop of the Church. Although the office had been authorized by the 1841 revelation, Whitney was the first man actually to function in that position. By 1847, the duties of the bishops to preside over the Aaronic priesthood and administer the finances of the church had been so well developed that the duties of the Presiding Bishop of the Church were obvious.
Journal of Mormon History, D. Michael Quinn, The Evolution of the Presiding Quorums of the LDS Church, Vol.1 1974, 34-7.