The Beginnings of "The Journal of Discourses" : A Confrontation Between George D Watt and Willard Richards
Utah Historical Quarterly
Utah Historical Society
Today, The Journal of Discourses is a great resource of Brigham Young and other early Utah Mormon church leaders. The establishment of The Journal of Discourses came about amidst serious confrontations between George D. Watt and Willard Richards. Watt, an immigrant from Great Britain and a convert to the church, learned Isaac Pitman's method of shorthand while serving in Britain. Willard Richards, editor of the Deseret News, invited Watt to use his skill of shorthand to help with the newspaper after he returned to Utah. Watt began recording and transcribing sermons from church meetings; however, no agreement was reached in respects to compensation for Watt's work. This led to confrontation due to Watt's financial problems. Confrontation between Watt and Richards further developed as Watt decided, after getting Brigham Young's approval, to edit and publish a pamphlet about sermons by Young and Orson Pratt on plural marriage. Before Watt could prepare the speeches, Willard Richards, who probably did not know about Young's arrangements with Watt, published them in an extra edition of the Deseret News. Watt felt Richards had robbed him of the income from the printing of the pamphlets, and in his anger wrote a letter to Richards. Richards took offense at Watt's letter and a resentful correspondence commenced. Later, Watt asked Young's permission to prepare some of Young's sermons, publish them in a magazine (known as The Journal of Discourses), and use his portion of sales to meet financial obligations. The members of the First Presidency, including Richards, approved the plan. Shortly after Watt began The Journal of Discourses, Richards and Watt were able to mend their relationship to the extent that Watt wrote the report for Richards' funeral and burial. Watt wrote The Journal of Discourses, considered an official church publication, until 1860 when the LDS church took over publication.