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Journal of Discourses

Also see The Seer and Journal of Discourses article in the Accusatory Questions section for a discussion of whether this work constitutes official doctrine for the Church.

by Ronald G. Watt

The Journal of Discourses was a sixteen-page semimonthly subscription publication privately printed in Liverpool, England, in 1854-1886. It served as the printed word of THE CHURCH of JESUS CHRIST of Latter-Day Saints, particularly for members who had no access to the Salt Lake City Deseret News. While the Journal most often published sermons of Church leaders, these speeches were not always considered to be official statements of doctrine. Many different kinds of speeches were printed, including the prayer given at the laying of a cornerstone of the Salt Lake Temple, a report of a high council court decision, a funeral sermon, and a plea for the defendant and the charge to the jury in a murder trial. In all, the collected Journal of Discourses contains 1,438 speeches given by fifty-five people, including Presidents of the Church, members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, members of the seventy, and sixteen other speakers. Brigham Young gave 390; John Taylor, 162; Orson Pratt, 127; Heber C. Kimball, 113; and George Q. Cannon, 111. Twenty-one people gave a single speech, and the rest gave from 2 to 66 speeches. The semimonthly issues have been bound into twenty-six annual volumes and are currently available in a lithograph reprinting "of the original edition."

The origin of the Journal of Discourses is tied to George D. Watt, an English convert baptized in 1837 by Heber C. Kimball. Before immigrating to the United States in 1842, Watt learned Pitman shorthand. He used this new skill in his adopted land to record the proceedings of conferences of the Church. He also recorded the trial of the accused murderers of the Prophet Joseph Smith.

After 1852 Watt transcribed Church conference addresses for the Deseret News. But because the News was not generally available outside central Utah and because Watt received little pay for his work, he proposed to publish privately and sell sixteen-page semiweekly issues of the Journal of Discourses containing selected sermons of the General Authorities. The sale of these to the Saints at large would enable Watt to earn a living with his shorthand skill. He was supported in this proposal by Brigham Young, who authorized him to print his sermons.

David W. Evans, also an English convert, an associate editor of the Deseret News, and the first violinist in the Salt Lake Theatre Orchestra, succeeded Watt as the main reporter to the Journal from 1867 to 1876. Another major reporter was George F. Gibbs, who was born in Wales and was the secretary to the First Presidency of the Church for fifty-six years. In all, twelve people reported sermons for the Journal of Discourses, including one of Brigham Young's daughters, "Miss Julia Young," who reported one of his speeches.

(See Daily Living home page; Church History home page; Church History 1844-1877 home page; Church Publications home page)


McConkie, Joseph Fielding, ed. Journal of Discourses Digest. Salt Lake City, 1975.

Watt, Ronald G. "Sailing the Old Ship Zion: The Life of George D. Watt." BYU Studies 18 (Fall 1977):48-65.

Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 2, Journal of Discourses

Copyright 1992 by Macmillan Publishing Company

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