President Brigham Young called Wilford Woodruff of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to be the temple president in St. George and directed him to begin in earnest the ordinance work for the dead. It was in this temple that the first endowments for the dead were performed. Furthermore, that same year President Young dedicated sites for two more temples to be built in Utah—Logan and Manti.
Elder Woodruff went immediately to his task. “His whole soul was wrapped up in the temple work for both the living and the dead.” 1 He conducted several people through the ordinances for deceased persons, many of whom were his own relatives. In Salt Lake City, in September 1877, when he reported on his labors, Elder Woodruff said, “For the last eighteen hundred years, the people that have lived and passed away never heard the voice of an inspired man, never heard a Gospel sermon, until they entered the spirit-world. Somebody has got to redeem them, by performing such ordinances for them in the flesh as they cannot attend to themselves in the spirit.” He declared, “The Lord has stirred up our minds, and many things have been revealed to us concerning the dead. . . . The dead will be after you, they will seek after you as they have after us in St. George. They called upon us, knowing that we held the keys and power to redeem them.”
Wilford Woodruff then announced that the signers of the Declaration of Independence had appeared to him for two days and nights, inquiring why no ordinance work had been done for them, even though they had established the United States government and remained true to God. Elder Woodruff immediately was baptized by J. D. T. McAllister for these men and for fifty other prominent individuals, including John Wesley and Christopher Columbus. He then baptized Brother McAllister “for every President of the United States, except three [Martin Van Buren, James Buchanan, and Ulysses S. Grant]; and when their cause is just, somebody will do the work for them.” 2
Under the administration of President Heber J. Grant the work for these three men was finally done.
President Benson’s Experience
When I [Ezra Taft Benson]became President of the Twelve and Spencer W. Kimball became President of the Church, we met, just the two of us, every week after our Thursday meetings in the temple, just to be sure that things were properly coordinated between the Twelve and the First Presidency. After one of those first meetings, we talked about the many sacred documents in some of the older temples. St. George was mentioned in particular because St. George is our oldest temple in Utah. I had a stake conference down there about that time, and it was agreed that I would go into the archives — the walk-in vault — of that great temple and review the sacred documents that were there. We were planning for the remodeling and renovating of the St. George Temple and thought that the records might possibly be moved to Salt Lake for safekeeping. And there in the St. George Temple I saw what I had always hoped and prayed that someday I would see. Ever since I returned as a humble missionary and first learned that the Founding Fathers had appeared in that temple, I wanted to see the record. And I saw the record. They did appear to Wilford Woodruff twice and asked why the work hadn’t been done for them. They had founded this country and the Constitution of this land, and they had been true to those principles. Later the work was done for them.
In the archives of the temple, I saw in a book, in bold handwriting, the names of the Founding Fathers and others, including Columbus and other great Americans, for whom the work had been done in the house of the Lord. This is all one great program on both sides of the veil. We are fortunate to be engaged in it on this side of the veil. I think the Lord expects us to take an active part in preserving the Constitution and our freedom.
The Founding Fathers of this nation, those great men, appeared within those sacred walls of the St. George Temple and had their vicarious work done for them. President Wilford Woodruff spoke of it in these words: “Before I left St. George, the spirits of the dead gathered around me, wanting to know why we did not redeem them. Said they, `You have had the use of the Endowment House for a number of years, and yet nothing has ever been done for us. We laid the foundation of the government you now enjoy, and we never apostatized from it, but we remained true to it and were faithful to God.’”
After he became President of the Church, President Wilford Woodruff declared that “those men who laid the foundation of this American government were the best spirits the God of heaven could find on the face of the earth. They were choice spirits [and] were inspired of the Lord.” 3
The temple work for the fifty-six signers of the Declaration of Independence and other Founding Fathers has been done. All these appeared to Wilford Woodruff when he was president of the St. George Temple. President George Washington was ordained a high priest at that time. You will also be interested to know that, according to Wilford Woodruff’s journal, John Wesley, Benjamin Franklin, and Christopher Columbus were also ordained high priests at that time. When one casts doubt about the character of these noble sons of God, I believe he or she will have to answer to the God of heaven for it. Yes, with Lincoln I say: “To add brightness to the sun or glory to the name of Washington is . . . impossible. Let none attempt it. In solemn awe pronounce the name and in its deathless splendor, leave it shining on.” 4
1. Matthias F. Cowley, Wilford Woodruff: History of His Life and Labors (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1964), p. 495. See also: Church History in the Fulness of Times, chapter 32.
2. In Journal of Discourses, 19:228–29; see also Conference Report, Apr. 1898, pp. 89–90.
3. Ezra Taft Benson, Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1988. 602 – 604. See also: Conference Report, October 1987, Ensign, November 1987, p. 6.
4. Ezra Taft Benson, Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1988, pgs. 602 – 604. For more information on some of the individuals who had their temple work performed by President Woodruff, see: Vicki Jo Anderson, The Other Eminent Men of Wilford Woodruff.