Orson Pratt was one of the most learned and brightest of the early converts to the Church. He was the subject of an early revelation in the Doctrine and Covenants (Section 34), and he is mentioned in other revelations as well. He served many missions for the Church in America and Great Britain. Orson was among the first apostles to be called in 1835. He published numerous articles and pamphlets defending the Church and explaining the principles of the Gospel. Like Brigham Young, he had been a close associate of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Returning from a successful mission in England in 1842, he experienced a brief period of deep personal turmoil when his wife accused the Prophet Joseph Smith of immoral conduct. Soon after, however, he became convinced that these accusations were false, and once again rejoined his quorum and continued to serve faithfully. He published numerous articles and pamphlets defending the Church and explaining the principles of the Gospel, which had a long and lasting influence on the Church that is still felt today.
In 1860 Brigham Young was President of the Church. Orson Pratt was an Apostle. These two good Church leaders, however, had their differences, and working through these differences were sometimes difficult. Both men were opinionated. On several occasions Orson had to be corrected by President Young for engaging in too much speculation and sometimes teaching false doctrine in what he wrote and preached. These occasions were difficult for Orson because it was necessary for him to publicly apologize to the Saints for doing so a make the necessary corrections. It was during one of these times that the two men disagreed over a matter of doctrine. They met with the other apostles in a private meeting in an attempt to work out their differences. Most thought Orson was being stubborn and unreasonable. Orson thought Brigham was mistaken and unfair. He became frustrated and insulted Brigham Young. This resulted in a serious discussion and reproof of Orson Pratt by Brigham Young and the other Apostles. This was the occasion for the following statement by Wilford Woodruff which is given below:
Brother Orson Pratt, I wish to ask you one or two questions, –You see that the spirit and doctrine which you possess is entirely in opposition to the First Presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve, and all who are present this evening and it chills the blood in our veins to hear your words & feel your spirit. Should not this be evidence to you that you are wrong? What would become of the Quorum of the Twelve if we all felt as you do? We should all go to Hell in a pile together.
You say you are honest in the course you are pursuing . . . .Every man in this room who has a particle of the Spirit of God knows that President Brigham Young is a Prophet of God and that God sustains him and he has the Holy Spirit and his doctrines are true, and that he is qualified to lead the people and he has explained every thing so plain this evening that a child can understand it, and yet it is no evidence to you – nothing can make an impression upon you – no argument can reach your understanding.
But Brother Orson, I have seen the day when you was in sorrow – it was when you was cast out of your Quorum and out of the Church and that too in consequence of pursuing the same course you are this evening. Then you could both see, feel & understand. Then argument could reach you when you saw your glory and crown departing from you, – I beg of you to reflect and not let your will carry you too far in these things, – it would be better for us not to be able to cast up a simple sum in addition and be humble before the Lord than to have ever so much knowledge & permit this knowledge to lead us to destruction. There are but few men upon Earth upon whom God has bestowed such gifts, qualifications and reasoning powers as he has upon you, and He will hold you responsible for the use you make of them, and you should not make a wreck of your salvation for contending for things which you do not understand. And I do feel at this advanced state of the Church and late day and with the information which you possess that neither you nor your brethren ought to be troubled with false doctrine. Neither should you cause your brethren to listen to such a scene of things as we have heard to night or to insult the President of the Church as you have done, –although you are unbending in your will tonight the day is not far distant when you will be glad to bend to the President of this Church and make reconciliation.
Brigham Young Office Journal, January 27, 1860.
Orson’s frustration, and differences of opinion with Brigham Young may have been understandable, but he had gone too far in setting aside the direct counsel of the President of the Church and insulting him. No doubt it was a difficult pill to swallow. To his everlasting credit, Orson, humbled, submitted to the counsel of his Brethren and was reconciled with President Young and served faithfully in his Apostleship until his death more than two decades later. Brigham Young, who recognized the talents and abilities of the fellow Apostle whom he loved once said that if you took Orson Pratt and cut him up into a thousand pieces, every piece would cry out that Mormonism was true.