Leonard Arrington, the first professional historian ever appointed as LDS Church Historian, documented actions and attitudes of LDS leadership towards how its own history should be portrayed. Many of these revolved around the reception to his Sesquicentennial History of the Church which was meant to “update and complement” B. H. Roberts’s Comprehensive History which had been published at the centennial of the Church’s founding. After initial First Presidency approval, Arrington “had sixteen subjects and sixteen authors committed [with contracts signed] to the project. Furthermore, the church’s Deseret Book Company agreed to publish the series” (Prince pg 170, as presented in Clark’s Review). Opposition led by Ezra Taft Benson and Mark E. Petersen “later amplified by Boyd K. Packer”, eventually cancelled the work (only 9 of the 16 volumes were ever published) and the entire History Divison would be dismantled roughly by the end of the 1970s (again, as discussed by Clark in his review of Prince).


Several examples demonstrate suppressive attitudes or actions.1

Records “disappear[ing] from scrutiny”

Arrington described records “disappear[ing] from scrutiny” as summarized by Dobay:

Although Arrington gamely accepted [the] explanation for this relocation as an effort to enhance historical study, many omens pointed to other motives for moving scholars away from the archives in Salt Lake City. Valuable journals and letters of such nineteenth-century Mormons as William C. Clayton, John Taylor, George Q. Cannon, and Francis M. Lyman, selectively available in the 1970s, disappeared from scrutiny. (see footnote 17)

“will … greatly diminish … the work of studying and writing about Church history”

From Prince’s book:2

I was shaken by the way in which these brethren [Benson and Petersen] had their way; by the failure of anyone to defend the book, to speak up for it, to explain why we felt it was a good book. The entire episode convinced me that there are some Brethren, including the two persons next in line to be president of the Church and president of the Quorum of Twelve, who would not approve of any of our work … We have to reckon with the distinct possibility that, upon President Kimball’s death, these brethren, if they are still alive, will probably replace us and greatly diminish and alter the work of studying and writing about Church history. [pgs 290-291]

“[nothing] that reflects badly on the Church”

From Prince’s book:2

[Delbert] Stapley then relayed the sentiment of some within the Twelve that ‘we should not put anything in any of our histories that reflects badly on the Church … I replied that if our picture is entirely rosy nobody, even members of the Church, will have confidence in what we write because members of the Church know that there are warts and blemishes and unless we acknowledge some of these they will not have confidence that we are writing the whole truth and nothing but the truth.’ His reply was again, we must leave the bad things out of our history. [pg 285]

“we are not required to tell the whole truth”

Boyd K. Packer’s words to the History Department were recorded in Arrington’s diary and independently confirmed by Dennis Clark:

Boyd Packer, now advisor to the History Department, addressed all department employees at length, among other things telling them ‘We are required to tell the truth but we are not required to tell the whole truth’” (303; the quote is from Arrington’s diary, and is as I remember it)

“will not stand for our ‘real’ history”

From his journal:

It is clear that President Benson will not stand for our ‘real’ history. And since he is next in line, and president of the Twelve, we are in a powerless position, and no one wishes to consider our own rationale,” Arrington wrote Sept. 6, 1976. “ … The question for me is shall I retain the job … and try to write history which will be approved by [the church’s] Correlation [Department] or shall I resign and continue to write ‘real history.’

“want prophets without warts”

From his journal:

Elders Benson and [Mark E. Petersen] … want glorious stories of the Restoration [of the gospel], unsullied by discussion of practical problems and controversial evidence. They want prophets without warts, revelation direct from high in pure vessels. The want faith-promoting stories and moral homilies. They feel strongly and will oppose all our books, written as we understand history.

“do not want the church to promulgate historical truth”

From his journal:

… some church officers do not want the church to promulgate historical truth. … If they do not want historical truth, what do these officials want? They favor the purveying of traditional truth, which is different from historical truth, scientific truth or philosophical truth.

“what a perversion of apostasy”

Arrington viewed the September 6 excommunications as “blaming the messenger”. From his journal:

These excommunications are the worst examples of blaming the messenger for the message. What a perversion of apostasy, to regard as apostates individuals who are … loyal and believing.

“not seen fit to publish these diaries”

In his 1966 Dialogue article on scholarly studies of Mormonism, he commented:

… It is unfortunate for the cause of Mormon history that the Church Historian’s Library, which is in the possession of virtually all of the diaries of leading Mormons, has not seen fit to publish these diaries or to permit qualified historians to use them without restriction. One result has been that “Mormons” have become known essentially through the lives and characters of some of their most notorious adherents — i.e., Porter Rockwell, John D. Lee, and Hosea Stout[38] — rather than through such “mainstream” leaders as Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, George Q. Cannon, Joseph F. Smith, and David O. McKay. Even Brigham Young, recognized universally as one of America’s great colonizers, has no satisfactory biography.


  1. These examples are focused on suppressive attitudes or actions but say nothing about any overarching conclusions or counter-examples. For a comprehensive review of LDS leadership attitudes, as seen through Arrington’s perspective, see Arrington’s autobiography or Princes’s biography). 

  2. The two quotations from Prince’s book were conveyed to me by Anthony D. Miller.  2