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The First Presidency

by J. Lynn England and W. Keith Warner

first presidency

President Wilford Woodruff (center), with second counselor Joseph F. Smith (right) and first counselor George Q. Cannon (left), at the time of the dedication of the Salt Lake Temple, April 6, 1893. John F. Bennett collection. Photographer: Charles Ellis Johnson. Courtesy the Utah State Historical Society.

Also see First Presidency: Present Members

The First Presidency is the governing body of and highest ranking quorum in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Its authority, duties, and responsibilities extend over every person and all matters in the Church. This quorum usually consists of three persons—the president of the church and two counselors selected by the President. Joseph Smith, the first President, called more than two men to assist him. Other Presidents have occasionally also used this practice of additional counselors as needed. Most recently, Spencer W. Kimball was assisted at times by three counselors.

The First Presidency was established in March 1832, two years after the founding of the Church. Jesse Gause and Sidney Rigdon were called to be counselors to Joseph Smith. Gause served in this position only until that December, when he proved unfaithful and was excommunicated. The calling was subsequently given to Frederick G. Williams, who was ordained on March 18, 1833 (D&C 81, 90). Further direction pertaining to the organization of the First Presidency was given in a revelation on priesthood in 1835. Three men were to be chosen and appointed, and ordained to that office by the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, "and upheld by the confidence, faith, and prayer of the church" (D&C 107:22).

Latter-day Saints believe that the New Testament apostles—Peter, James, and john—comprised a First Presidency with Peter as the presiding officer, and with James and John as counselors. As an ancient First Presidency, they functioned in a manner similar to the First Presidency today. For instance, the Bible describes occasions when Jesus dealt with Peter alone (Matt. 18:19; Luke 24:34), and others when the three apostles were involved (Matt. 17:1-3; 26:37-39; Mark 5:37-42). These passages suggest that the roles of these three men were different from the roles of the other apostles. As a First Presidency, Peter, James, and John possessed the special authority to give Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery the keys of ministry in the dispensation of the fulness of times. It is these keys that control the exercise of the priesthood by all others in the vital functions of the Church in modern times.

Members of the First Presidency are not coequal. The authority rests solely with the President, the counselors having a subordinate role, with the first counselor having precedence over the second counselor. In the absence of the President, the counselors preside in meetings with the Council or Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and other General Authorities, and in the conferences of the Church. If the President is ill and unable to carry out all his functions, the counselors may conduct the affairs of the Church under his direction. In such a case, the counselors operate in close consultation with the President of the Council of the Twelve. However, the President of the Church remains the final authority.

The selection of the counselors is the prerogative of the President. A new President may or may not choose to retain the counselors of his predecessor. The counselors are usually apostles, but in a few cases men have been called who were not ordained apostles, the first such being Sidney Rigdon (1832) and Frederick G. Williams (1833). More recently, Thorpe B. Isaacson was called in 1965 to serve in the First Presidency under David O. McKay. In some cases, the counselors have been apostles but not members of the Twelve, such as Alvin R. Dyer, another counselor to President McKay.

The general membership of the Church votes to sustain the First Presidency but does not elect them. Because members of the Church believe that the calling and authority of the First Presidency come from God, their vote is one of common consent, to ratify or oppose a selection that has already been made.

Doctrine and Covenants 107:9 states, "The Presidency of the High Priesthood, after the order of Melchizedek, have a right to officiate in all the offices in the church." As the highest level of authority, the Quorum of the First Presidency has the ultimate power of appointment, presidency, interpretation of doctrine, and all other matters pertaining to the Church. Thus, all other quorums, councils, and organizations of the Church operate under the authority of this quorum.

Affairs administered directly by the First Presidency have included planning general and area conferences and solemn assemblies; budgeting, auditing, educational, historical, personnel, and other general Church departments; and temples. All other matters are administered by the Council of the Twelve, the Presiding Bishopric, or the seventy, under the direction of the First Presidency.

In the First Presidency, the decision making is to be unanimous. Close and careful consultation between the President and his counselors helps to assure a consensus (Hinckley, p. 50).

The First Presidency normally meets at least weekly as a unit, then in joint session with the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to consider matters needing their attention. It is in this council of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles that any changes in administration or policy for the Church are considered and approved.

The First Presidency also meets weekly with the Presiding Bishopric. Meetings are held each month with all the General Authorities, where they are informed about any changes in programs or procedures. In addition, the First Presidency meets as needed with other councils, boards, and groups to which various responsibilities have been delegated.

Upon the death of the President, the Quorum of the First Presidency is automatically dissolved and the ultimate authority of the Church passes immediately to the Twelve, with the presiding officer being the President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. The counselors, if they are apostles, return to their respective positions in that quorum according to seniority of appointment. The First Presidency is reconstituted at the calling of a new President, who in every instance has been the President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and then he selects his own counselors. Once this is accomplished, supreme authority returns to the First Presidency.


Hinckley, Gordon B. "In…Counsellors There Is Safety." Ensign 20 (Nov. 1990):48-51.

Tanner, N. Eldon. "The Administration of the Church." Ensign 9 (Nov. 1979):42-48.


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Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 2, First Presidency

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