Lineal succession (Latter Day Saints)

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Lineal succession was a doctrine, largely abandoned in many denominations of the Latter Day Saint movement, whereby certain key church positions are held by right of lineal inheritance. Most frequently the offices connected with lineal succession are those of the President of the Church and the Presiding Patriarch.

Church President[edit]

During his lifetime, Joseph Smith was the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. At the time of Smith's assassination in 1844, most Latter Day Saints agreed that his older brother, Hyrum Smith, would have been Smith's successor, had he not also been assassinated. Another likely successor was Smith's younger brother Samuel, who died less than one month later. A few asserted that the last surviving Smith brother, William, should become church president, and William made that claim for a time and gathered a small faction of followers around him.

Many Latter Day Saints believed that a son of Joseph Smith should be the successor to the church presidency. Several prominent leaders asserted that a patriarchal blessing given to Smith's eldest son, Joseph Smith III, designated the boy to succeed his father. However, at the time of his father's death, Joseph III was only 11 years old.

As a result, many leaders arose who either argued against lineal succession or suggested that the church would have to wait for Joseph Smith III to mature. The largest group, led by Brigham Young, were proponents of a system whereby the senior member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles would succeed to the church presidency, absent any lineal succession. This system of apostolic succession continues in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church).[1]

Other Latter Day Saints living in the Midwest United States continued to support lineal succession and in 1860, they invited Joseph Smith III to become president of what would later be called the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS Church), known today as Community of Christ. This church continued to appoint presidents who were patrilineal descendants of Joseph Smith until 1996, when President Wallace B. Smith (a great-grandson of the Latter Day Saint founder) designated W. Grant McMurray (who was unrelated to the Smiths) as his successor. Abandonment of lineal succession by the RLDS Church was a factor that caused a schism and foundation of several small Latter Day Saint churches, including the Remnant Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which accepted Frederick Niels Larsen (a grandson of Frederick M. Smith through his daughter Lois) as its Prophet–President.

Presiding Patriarch[edit]

Most Latter Day Saints originally believed that the Presiding Patriarch of the church should be transmitted by lineal succession. The first Presiding Patriarch, Joseph Smith, Sr., was the father of the founding prophet. On his death bed, Joseph Sr. appointed his eldest living son, Hyrum Smith, Presiding Patriarch "by right" of inheritance. When Hyrum was assassinated in 1844, his youngest brother, the apostle William Smith, became Presiding Patriarch. William broke with Brigham Young, President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, who was acting as President of the Church in Nauvoo, Illinois, in part over the office. William asserted that the Presiding Patriarch's title was "Patriarch over the Church" and Young argued for the less grand "Patriarch to the Church." William was later excommunicated by Young's faction, which became the LDS Church. William joined with James J. Strang, a rival claimant for the church presidency. Breaking with the Strangites, William eventually joined his nephew, Joseph Smith III, and the RLDS Church. William petitioned Joseph III to restore him to the office of Presiding Patriarch of the RLDS Church, but the re-appointment never occurred.

After William's death, Joseph Smith III reinstituted the office of Presiding Patriarch, appointing his brother Alexander Hale Smith to the office. Thereafter, the office of Presiding Patriarch in the RLDS Church remained within the Smith family and was passed by lineal succession until 1958. In that year, Church President W. Wallace Smith ended the tradition by calling Roy Cheville to be Presiding Patriarch. Today, Presiding Patriarchs of what is now the Community of Christ are known as "Presiding Evangelists."

After William Smith was excommunicated by Brigham Young, "Uncle" John Smith (brother of Joseph Smith, Sr.) was appointed by Young to be Presiding Patriarch of the LDS Church. After the death of Uncle John Smith, another John Smith (a son of Hyrum Smith) became Presiding Patriarch of the LDS Church. Thereafter, the majority of the Presiding Patriarchs of the LDS Church were descendants of Hyrum, in keeping with the tradition of lineal succession. The LDS Church ceased to include Presiding Patriarchs in its hierarchy after 1979.


In the LDS Church, some leaders have regarded the office of apostle as one that may be transmitted by lineal succession, though such a practice has never been formalized in the church. The following father–son apostle combinations have existed in the LDS Church:

Additionally, the following grandfather–grandson apostle combinations have existed:

Interrelation of church offices with the Smith family[edit]

The following chart explains the inter-relationship of the offices of President of the Church (also known as "Prophet-President") and Presiding Patriarch (also known a Presiding Evangelist) in the Smith family, and the doctrine of Lineal succession, of pre and post-reorganization in the Community of Christ.

Joseph Smith, Sr.jpg
Joseph Smith, Sr.
Presiding Patriarch
Lucy Mack Smith2.jpg
Lucy Mack Smith
Hyrum Smith
Presiding Patriarch
Joseph Smith, Jr. portrait owned by Joseph Smith III.jpg
Joseph Smith, Jr.
President of the Church
Emma Hale Smith
Elect Lady
William B. Smith
Presiding Patriarch
Bertha Madison Smith.jpg
Bertha Madison
Joseph Smith III(2).jpg
Joseph Smith III
Ada Clark
Alexander Hale Smith.jpg
Alexander Hale Smith
Presiding Patriarch
David Hyrum Smith.jpg
David Hyrum Smith
Frederick M. Smith2.jpg
Frederick M. Smith
Israel A. Smith.jpg
Israel A. Smith

W. Wallace Smith
Frederick A. Smith.jpg
Frederick A. Smith
Presiding Patriarch
Elbert A. Smith.jpg
Elbert A. Smith
Presiding Patriarch


  1. ^ Several relations of Joseph Smith have become President of the LDS Church (Joseph F. Smith, George Albert Smith, Joseph Fielding Smith), but they were appointed to the position by the church's regular apostolic succession and were not given preference based on their ancestry.