Revisiting the Journal of Discourses

In LDS Perspectives Podcast’s first doubleheader, they present an episode covering the discrepancies between the shorthand versions of speeches of early LDS Church leaders in Utah and their published versions. First, Russell Stevenson interviews Gerrit Dirkmaat about the research he and LaJean Carruth did comparing the shorthand notes of George Watt to some of the speeches in the Journal of Discourses.


The authors examined hundreds of sermons and sometimes they varied by hundreds of words. Dirkmaat points out that when one is talking about doctrine, words matter. While the essence of these speeches are similar in the shorthand and published versions, the words used vary greatly.

The Journal of Discourses have historical and religious value, but Dirkmaat urges members to be careful quoting specific passages and to realize that in most cases, there is know way to know the specific words used.

LaJean Purcell Carruth has an unusual skill: she can read the shorthand of George Watt, the transcriber of the speeches contained in the Journal of Discourses, his private printing venture. Over the past thirty years, she has learned his distinctive style — the unique upturns and curves he made in his notations. As she transcribed his notes, she noticed that they varied — sometimes greatly — from the printed versions of the same speeches. She wrote a poem about what she noticed:

There was a man named George Watt,

Who could improve Brigham Young, so he thought.

So he took out words here,

And he added words there,

And his accuracy was not what it ought.

LaJean Purcell Carruth©

LaJean expounds on what she has learned about the speaking styles of early religious leaders. They spoke extemporaneously and without notes and were more prone to engage in speculative theology than current leaders.

She emphasizes that Brigham Young was a powerful speaker. He cared about the people, and they knew that he cared about them. When George Watt changed Brigham Young’s words, he changed what Brigham Young said about himself. She feels the real Brigham Young has been lost to us as we view him through his discourses printed in the Journal of Discourses.

In her research, she discovered that the “one drop” phrase attributed to Brigham Young by Wilford Woodruff did not exist in the original shorthand transcription of George Watt and other statements relating to the priesthood and temple ban varied as well.

LaJean shares with Laura Harris Hales what she has learned about Brigham Young from the words left out of the Journal of Discourses and other important speeches.

Be sure and check out the resources mentioned in this podcast at LDS Perspectives Podcast.

9 thoughts on “Revisiting the Journal of Discourses

  1. Fascinating.

    LaJean indicates Brigham had a stroke in 1842. Is there any specificity in that record as to when in 1842 the stroke occurrred? We see in Clayton’s journal that Joseph believed that two others (Thompson and Knight) had died for their transgressions, and that he prayed mightily over Brigham for a transgression and suggested Brigham would have died but for these intercessory prayers. It seems a mild stroke would support Joseph’s belief that Brigham had been in danger of death.

    I look forward to the “new” Brigham Young LaJean’s transcriptions promise to give us. And I look forward to being more careful when I include comments from the Journal of Discourses.

  2. Clayton may be enigmatic, but the question is whether the mention of Brigham’s 1842 stroke gives any other specifics. 1842 was an eventful year, so any further specificity would be illuminating.

  3. I date the stroke at about 1842 by connecting pieces of information together – he did not specifically say 1842, and not what time of the year. He did not tie it to any event or reason.

  4. I love LaJean’s explanation of Brigham Young and look forward to reading her transcription of Watt’s shorthand. I took a course in Pittman shorthand at LDS Business College in my youth and retain just enough to marvel at the work she has done. I truly feel that this has been a calling.

  5. Hi Pat,

    I think I remember you talking about learning Pittman shorthand. I think that must be why I was surprised to hear LaJean and Gerrit refer to it as a “dead” language, as it were.

    On the other hand, anyone who has done indexing knows that interpreting handwriting requires more than mere familiarity with the standard alphabet.

  6. After listening to this podcast I am very interested in reading all of the transcripts of Brigham’s speeches. I have long felt that too many have been (mis)judging him based upon what we think he said. He was a remarkable man.


  7. I’m reminded of Orson Scott Card’s definition from Saintspeak (1980):

    Journal of Discourses — A mammoth collection of speeches by General Authorities in the nineteenth century, containing many doctrines that were never taught in the Church. As a safety measure, it was once suppressed by the Church, for several once-bright people had gone mad trying to make all the old-time apostles’ statements fit within the same gospel. Today, however, there is no fear of ill effects from publishing the Journal of Discourses, for only Fundamentalists, anti-Mormons, and historians ever read it.

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