After the murder of Joseph Smith, several men claimed they should be the next president of the church.
Sidney Rigdon made the most vocal claim. He was First Counselor Presidency. He returned from Pittsburgh where he had gone into self-imposed exile contrary to the counsel and revelation of Joseph Smith. (Sidney seemed to have periods of mental instability after his head injury in the mob attack at Johnson’s farm.) Rigdon claimed that as counselor, he should be “Guardian of the Church.”
On the morning of August 8, 1844, Sidney spoke to the gathered Saints for over an hour and half.
Brigham Young adjourned the meeting and called for a solemn assembly of all that Saints to meet at 2:00 that afternoon when Brigham Young, President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, spoke.
Orson Hyde: “We went among the congregation and President Young went on the stand. He spoke, and his words went through me like electricity. ‘Am I mistaken?’ said I, ‘or is it really the voice of Joseph Smith?’ This is my testimony; it was not only the voice of Joseph, but there were the features, the gestures and even the stature of Joseph before us in the person of Brigham. And though it may be said that President Young is a mimic … I would like to see the man who can mimic another in stature who was about four or five inches higher than himself.”[J.D. 13:181]
Benjamin F. Johnson: “I sat in the assembly near to President Rigdon, closely attentive to his appeal to the conference to recognize and sustain his claim as ‘guardian for the Church.’… And as he closed his address and sat down, my back was partly turned to the seat occupied by Apostle Brigham Young and other Apostles, when suddenly, and as from heaven, I heard the voice of the Prophet Joseph. That thrilled my whole being, and quickly turning around, I saw in the transfiguration of Brigham Young, the tall, straight, and portly form of the Prophet Joseph Smith, clothed in a sheen of light covering him to his feet. And I heard the real and perfect voice of the Prophet, even to the whistle, as in years past caused by the loss of a tooth, said to have been broken out by the mob at Hiram. The view or vision, although but for seconds, was to me as vivid and real as the glare of lightning or the voice of thunder from heaven. And so deeply was I impressed with what I saw and heard in this transfiguration, that for years I dared not publicly bear this testimony, I found that others could testify to having seen and heard the same.” [B. F. Johnson to G. F. Gibbs, Historical Dept. Collection.]
George Q. Cannon: “Who that was present on that occasion can ever forget the impression it made upon them! If Joseph had arisen from the dead and again spoken in their hearing, the effect could not have been more startling than it was to many present at that meeting. It was the voice of Joseph himself; and not only was it the voice of Joseph which was heard; but it seemed in the eyes of the people as thought it was the very person of Joseph which stood before them. A more wonderful and miraculous event than was wrought that day in the presence of that congregation we never heard of. The Lord gave his people a testimony that left no room for doubt as to who was the man He had chosen to lead them.” [Juvenile instructor, 5:174-175.]
The question of leadership was presented to the saints. Brigham Young was sustained to lead the church. The vote was unanimous.