King Follett Discourse
The King Follett Discourse, also known as the King Follett Sermon, was delivered by Joseph Smith on April 7, 1844, at a conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Nauvoo, Illinois. It is estimated that around 20,000 members of the Church were in attendance in a grove of trees west of the Nauvoo Temple. At the beginning of the sermon, the Prophet spoke of the passing of Elder King Follett, a close friend who had died on March 9, 1844, while digging a well.
No full transcript of the talk exists; however, experienced scribes Willard Richards, Thomas Bullock, William Clayton, and Wilford Woodruff took notes. Bullock reconstructed a version from his and Clayton’s records that was published in the Times and Seasons on August 15, 1844. About ten years after the Prophet’s death, Jonathan Grimshaw drew together the notes from all four scribes. His version was regarded an official version because of the editing and approval of Church leaders, including Brigham Young. However, redundancies and text not found in any of the original notes were later removed.
In the April and May issues of the 1971 Ensign magazine, a reprint was published from the Documentary History of the Church, volume 6, pages 302–317. According to the Ensign,
- That volume notes: “This was not a stenographic report, but a carefully and skillfully prepared one made by these men who were trained in reporting and taking notes. Evidently, there are some imperfections in the report and some thoughts expressed by the Prophet which were not fully rounded out and made complete.”
The address is considered a Church classic, even though it has not been canonized. According to Joseph Smith scholar Richard L. Bushman, literary critic Harold Bloom called it “one of the truly remarkable sermons ever preached in America.”
Factoring into the significance of the address is the timeframe of when it was given.
- The spring of 1844 was a time of tension and turmoil in the Prophet's life. On the one hand, the Church was flourishing in Nauvoo and abroad, construction of the Nauvoo Temple was proceeding apace, and generally men and women were serving in the Church with dedication and effectiveness. On the other hand, apostates, political factions in Illinois and Missouri, and other groups were conspiring against Joseph Smith.
This was to be his last general conference address; less than three months later he was martyred. The doctrinal teachings in this approximately two-hour address include “the character of God, man’s potential to progress in God’s likeness, the Creation, and the tie between the living and their progenitors.”
Richard Lyman Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Knopf, 2005), 533.