Monday, August 16, 2021

President Joseph F. Smith’s Special Witness of Jesus Christ

[Readers desiring to obtain their own hardback copies of volume one of I Know He Lives: How 13 Special Witnesses Came to Know Jesus Christ can find copies on sale here  Softbound copies can be purchased here, on sale. An ebook (Kindle) edition is available on Amazon here, for cheap. The Amazon page also includes the Introduction and first chapter of volume one for free.]

(by Dennis B. Horne)

While this vast multitude waited and conversed, . . .

the Son of God appeared,

declaring liberty to the captives who had been faithful.

(D&C 138:18)

Joseph F. Smith’s Succession to the Presidency is Prophesied[1]

            In 1864, Joseph F. Smith was sent to the Sandwich (Hawaiian) Islands along with Elders Ezra T. Benson, Lorenzo Snow, and a few others, in order to remove from office an apostate who had usurped authority in the mission for purposes of self-aggrandizement.

            Their sailing vessel dropped anchor outside the Lahaina Harbor at Maui, and the elders prepared to navigate a smaller boat ashore. With a storm causing high seas, Joseph F. emphatically refused to join the others and sought to dissuade them from leaving until the waves calmed. The other brethren, feeling he acted insubordinately, left him behind and started for shore. Soon, however, Joseph F.’s fears were realized, and a large wave capsized their craft. All passengers were thrown into the ocean, and Elder Snow soon drowned beneath sixty feet of water. Some native islanders managed to find his body, and the brethren present initiated life-saving measures. Miraculously, about an hour later, he returned to life and fully recovered.

            During this near-death experience Elder Snow received a revelation concerning Joseph F.’s future. He declared that “the Lord revealed to him that this young man, Joseph F. Smith, . . . would someday be the prophet of God upon the earth.”[2]

            President Heber J. Grant commented further on this dramatic experience: “Lorenzo Snow was drowned and it took some hours to bring him to life again. At that particular time the Lord revealed to him the fact that the young man, Joseph F. Smith, . . . would someday be the Prophet of God. . . . It was revealed to him then and there, that the boy, with the courage of his convictions . . . who stayed on that vessel, would yet be the Prophet of God. Lorenzo Snow told me this upon more than one occasion, long years before Joseph F. Smith came to the presidency of the Church.”[3]

            Charles W. Penrose, managing editor of the Deseret News in 1901, and later an apostle and counselor in the First Presidency, witnessed another such prophetic occasion. Of Joseph F.’s succession to the Presidency he wrote: “It also fulfills a prediction made many years ago in the Tabernacle in Ogden city by Apostle Wilford Woodruff. In a public meeting, that venerable Church leader prophesied that Joseph F. Smith would one day occupy the position formerly held by his uncle the Prophet Joseph. We were present on that occasion and made a mental note of the prediction, which was very forcible and impressed itself strongly upon the minds of many persons in the congregation, and particularly of prominent men who were on the stand at that time.”[4]

            Further, Joseph F.’s cousin and fellow Apostle, Elder John Henry Smith, testified in an October 1901 meeting in Lehi, Utah, of receiving a personal revelation or vision of the same nature. An associate reported that John Henry Smith said, “I saw the man who now presides over the Church in the very place he now occupies. At the same time I saw the Plates and sacred things given to Joseph and my testimony was as clear as it could be.”[5]

A son of a prophet and martyr

            Joseph F. Smith was born to Hyrum Smith (brother of the Prophet Joseph Smith, assistant President of the Church and Patriarch to the Church) and Mary Fielding Smith, at Far West, Missouri, November 13, 1838. Hyrum was imprisoned in Liberty Jail and therefore did not get to see his new son for some four months. Baby Joseph F. was nearly killed by a mob that broke into his parent’s home (in the winter) when he was only a few days old.[6] Hyrum was later murdered by a mob with Joseph Smith in Carthage Jail.

            By age eight Joseph F. was driving a team and wagon for his mother, and he was of tremendous help to his family while crossing the plains en-route to Salt Lake City. His mother taught him the gospel well, but he still grew up as a rough frontier lad.

            Just before he turned fourteen his beloved mother Mary Fielding died. Joseph’s sister Martha was so devastated that she prayed to die, but instead was given a vision or dream in which she saw and conversed with her recently-deceased mother Mary and her father Hyrum Smith. In this special spiritual experience when she talked freely with her parents, they related their concern for Joseph and his brothers and sisters: “My father [Hyrum] asked me if we were all well. . . . My father then told my mother [Mary] she had done well by them [their children, as a mother] and he was perfectly satisfied and he would be with them from this time henceforth and forever. . . . They also said I must stay and take care of Joseph and talk to him and tell him to be a good boy and tell all the children to be good and they should be together again. . . . Father told me to tell the children to keep together. . . . to be submissive and mind what is said to them and where the home of the heads of the Church is, there let their home be and not ramble about. . . . Mother asked me if [their nanny] tried to get Joseph to read. I said yes. She said she was glad . . . she would like him to go to school if it were possible. She gave some other directions but seemed to be in a great haste saying they must go.”[7] Joseph F. retained childhood memories of Hyrum and Joseph the rest of his life and was always loyal to them.

Some schooling and a mission

            At fifteen, Joseph F. found himself in trouble at school. The schoolmaster thought his sister Martha needed disciplining and started after her with a leather strap. Joseph F. didn’t think he ought to and told him so—“don’t whip her with that” he said. The teacher then went after him with the strap, “but instead of whipping me, I licked him, good and plenty.”

            Thereafter President Brigham Young told him, “If you’re old enough to lick your teacher you’re old enough to go on a mission!” Joseph F. was then given his endowment and sent to Hawaii (then the Sandwich Islands), where he grew up and gained a testimony. In after years, he reminisced about those times: “I was taught from my childhood that the great work in which we are engaged is true, and designed for the salvation of mankind. Until I was fifteen years old I did not know this, but I believed it, my heart was in it, and my feelings were enlisted, and any opposite influence, obstacle or power with which I came in contact, even in my childhood, roused me in a moment, and I felt that I was for the truth and the people of God. When I was sent on my first mission, though only fifteen years of age, I began to learn and sense things for myself, I began to receive and bear testimony of the truth. In my weakness I endeavored to preach the Gospel, to tell people the truth, and to explain to them the way of life. This gave to me a knowledge and fixed my faith and feelings, and made them to me seemingly unchangeable.”[8]

            On returning from his three-and-a-half-year mission, young Joseph was sent to help a company of Latter-day Saint men trying to stop or slow the progress of Johnson’s army, which was being sent to Utah to quell a non-existent “Mormon rebellion.”

Ordained an Apostle and later set apart a member of the Twelve

            Two years after the resolution of the Hawaiian Mission matter (his second mission there, noted above), on July 1, 1866, President Brigham Young felt a distinct impression while meeting with some of the presiding Brethren. He said: “Hold on, shall I do as I feel led? I always feel well to do as the Spirit constrains me. It is my mind to ordain Brother Joseph F. Smith to the Apostleship, and to be one of my counselors.” President Young then ordained Joseph F. as an Apostle and as an Assistant Counselor to the First Presidency. He also asked that the ordination be kept confidential until a vacancy arose in the Quorum of the Twelve and Joseph F. could be publicly sustained.[9]

            This sustaining and subsequent entry into the Quorum of the Twelve occurred over a year later at the October 1867 general conference. In this order of events it is important to recognize that Joseph F. was ordained an Apostle after Elder Brigham Young Jr., but he was set apart as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles before Elder Young. The timing of these actions would become an important succession question in later years.

            In one of the first major discourses Elder Smith gave after being ordained an apostle (but this fact still being confidential), he talked a little about being embarrassed to stand before the people in the Salt Lake Tabernacle, but then spoke of his testimony: “I desire that the testimony of the truth may continue with me, that I may ever realize for myself that the Gospel has again been revealed to man on the earth.”[10] In one of his first addresses after being sustained a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, he spent most of his time relating his testimony, although he often used the word “we” instead of the word “I” while doing so. For example, he said, “We know that God has spoken; we testify of this. We stand as witnesses to the world that this is true. We ask no odds of any man, community or nation on the face of the earth in relation to these things. We bear a fearless testimony that they are true. . . . We know He, in whom we trust, is God, for it has been revealed to us. We are not in the dark, neither have we obtained our knowledge from any man, synod or collection of men, but through the revelations of Jesus.”[11]

            Thus it was that Elder Joseph F. Smith joined the ranks of the prophets and apostles of his generation, and became a special witness of Jesus the Christ.

Quorum Disunity in the Late 1880s

            By the time President John Taylor died in July of 1887, the Quorum of the Twelve had not been able to meet and function as a complete unified council for some three years and had suffered from various internal conflicts. Some of the younger members of the Twelve had resented the administrative styles of President Taylor and his First Counselor, George Q. Cannon. They therefore emphatically resisted reorganizing the First Presidency without assurance that they would have greater influence on major decisions, especially those related to Church finances and their own position as a presiding Quorum in the Church. Despite all that President Woodruff (the quorum president) and others could do, they were unsuccessful in attaining a united consensus within the quorum for two years. President Woodruff had not hesitated to seek for reorganization himself, but in consequence of the quorum’s disharmony, he had been forced to delay until 1889.[12]

            This struggle for unification weighed heavily on President Woodruff even after he became Church President, and he determined, under inspiration, to forestall future similar troubles. Thus, in December of 1892, President Woodruff called Lorenzo Snow into a sitting room by his office for a private interview. Elder Snow later related:

            He said, and spoke with much feeling and energy, “I have an important request to make of you which I want you to fulfill. A few months ago while on a visit to St. George I came near dying. I have no lease of my life, and know not how soon I may be called away, and when I go I want you, Brother Snow, not to delay, but organize the First Presidency. Take George Q. Cannon and Joseph F. Smith for your counselors; they are good, wise men of experience.”

            Of course I was much surprised, and said, “President Woodruff, am I to receive this as a revelation?” I do not call to mind the words of his answer, but they were such as gave me the impression that he wished me to regard it as such. Without thought or considering of the impropriety of such questions, I continued: “President Woodruff, is this the place I am to occupy?” He hesitated a moment, then replied, “It is according to the order.” I asked if he had mentioned this matter to his counselors. He said, “No, not to anyone.” I told him I wished he would; I understood from his answer that he would do so.

            The interview was brief, I think not over five or six minutes. As we arose to return to the President’s office he said, “Brother Snow, now do not neglect to organize as I have told you, it may prevent much trouble.”[13]

            President Snow’s greatest success as President of the Twelve was to unify the Council of the Twelve in spirit and purpose.[14] President Woodruff did as Elder Snow asked and informed his counselors of the need to reorganize immediately upon his death.[15]

A Succession Question Is Settled

            When President Woodruff died in 1898 and the First Presidency was consequently

dissolved, Elder Brigham Young Jr. took a seat in the temple council room senior to that of Joseph F. Smith, feeling that because he was ordained an Apostle before Joseph F., he was naturally the senior of the two. This seniority arrangement had not gone unquestioned, but the issue had remained unaddressed while Joseph F. Smith was in the First Presidency and Brigham Young Jr. was not yet a senior Apostle, as the point was largely moot.[16]

            As instructed by President Woodruff, and under the unifying and sustaining influence of the Holy Spirit upon the Quorum of the Twelve, President Snow reorganized the First Presidency quickly and without the troubles and delays of the past. Also at this time, President Snow spoke to Joseph F. of spiritual impressions that he had received: “At the time of the organization of the First Presidency after the death of President Woodruff, President Snow said to Joseph F. Smith

that the Spirit whispered to him that Joseph F. Smith would succeed him as President of the Church. This statement President Smith recorded in his journal at that time.”[17]

            At general conference three years later, President Smith himself remembered:

            As soon as the news reached us of the death of President Woodruff, who was in California at the time, President Lorenzo Snow said to me, “it will be our duty to proceed as soon as possible to reorganize the Presidency of the Church.” As you are aware, after the burial of the remains of President Woodruff, he proceeded at once to do this. In this connection I may tell you another thing. President Snow said to me, “you will live to be the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and when that time comes you should proceed at once and reorganize the Presidency of the Church.” This was his counsel to me, and the same was given to the Twelve Apostles. In accordance with this principle and with the injunction of President Snow, within one week after his death the Apostles proceeded to designate the new Presidency of the Church, and we did it strictly in accordance with the pattern that the Lord has established in His Church, unanimously.[18]

            By March of 1900, with Presidents Snow and Cannon noticeably aging and with Franklin D. Richards, President of the Twelve, having passed away, the issues of dates of ordination and setting apart to the Quorum of the Twelve regained significance and needed settling. Joseph F. recorded:

Presidents Snow, Cannon and I had a confidential talk together, introduced by President Cannon, relative to the choosing of a President of the Twelve. President Snow said: “It is President Cannon’s right to stand at the head of the Twelve, but if he did he would have to resign his counselorship in the Presidency,” and plainly intimated that he could do so if he chose. He then said to President Cannon: “If you and I were not here it would be the right of Brother Joseph F. Smith to stand where I am now, and if I were not here, it would be yours right now.” President Cannon expressed his desire to possess and enjoy every right that belonged to him but suggested that matters go along for the present as they are and that the Presidency meet with the Twelve and take the lead.[19]

(As yet there was no provision established for an Acting President of the Twelve; this would happen later in President Heber J. Grant’s administration, when Elder Orson F. Whitney made the suggestion that began the practice.) Joseph F. further wrote of this discussion: “Brigham’s (Brigham Young Jr.) position in the quorum was talked over and President Snow favored and practically decided that Brigham Young—ranked next to [after] me in the council of Apostles. This decided the question, as it was decided by President John Taylor.”[20]

            Although the First Presidency had decided among themselves that date of entrance into the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles determined apostolic seniority, their decision still needed the unified acceptance of the Quorum of the Twelve—including Elder Young himself. This ratification took place shortly thereafter, on April 5. Joseph F. again recorded:

We [the First Presidency] met with the eleven Apostles [in the temple]. . . . It was unanimously decided that the acceptance of a member into the council or quorum of the Twelve fixed his rank or position in the Apostleship. That the Apostles took precedence from the date they entered the quorum. Thus today, President Snow is the senior Apostle. President George Q. Cannon next, myself next, Brigham Young next, Francis M. Lyman next, and so on to the last one received into the quorum. In the case of the death of President Snow, President Cannon surviving him, would succeed to the Presidency, and so on according to seniority in the Apostleship of the Twelve; that ordination to the Apostleship under the hands of any Apostle other than to fill a vacancy in the quorum, and authorized by the General Authorities of the Church did not count in precedence; that if the First Presidency were dissolved by the death of the President, his counselors having been ordained Apostles in the Quorum of the Twelve would resume their places in the quorum, according to the seniority of their ordinations into that quorum. This important ruling settles a long unsettled point, and is most timely.[21]

            Over the summer of 1900, President Snow became seriously ill, prompting him (despite his poor health) to further solidify the decision reached in the April temple meeting. On July 12, “President Cannon informed the council [of the Twelve] that President Snow came into the office yesterday, and in chatting with him desired the minutes of the Council of April 5th last passed upon, he having heard of them and approved of them himself. The minutes referred to the succession in the presidency and seniority of the Apostles quorum; and on motion of President Joseph F. Smith, and seconded by Elder Brigham Young, the minutes were unanimously approved.”[22]

Joseph F. Smith becomes the Senior Apostle after the Prophet

            It did not take long for another major event to change Joseph F. Smith’s position in the Twelve. President George Q. Cannon died in April of 1901, leaving Joseph F. second only to the prophet in seniority. The Journal History of the Church relates that “President Snow was deeply impressed [moved] when the information of President Cannon’s death was communicated to him as was also President Joseph F. Smith.”[23] While both were grieved, this news doubtless caused Joseph F. to reflect deeply on his new position as the senior Apostle on earth after President Snow.

            President Snow did not move to replace President Cannon with a new counselor for six months. Over the summer and fall of 1901, President Snow became ill, first with symptoms of heat stroke and then with a severe cold that confined him to bed when October general conference arrived. Since his illness prevented him from attending all sessions himself, “he requested that word be sent to President Joseph F. Smith to the effect that he would not be at the opening session of the General Conference and for President Smith to take charge.”[24] President Snow spoke once at the last session, and then requested that Joseph F. present the names of the General Authorities for a sustaining vote, with his own name as First Counselor and Elder Rudger Clawson’s name as Second.[25] President Clawson served in the First Presidency for only four days and was never set apart. (President Smith did not reselect him as a counselor.)[26]

President Snow’s Passing

            After the conference, President Snow continued to spend most of his time in bed, suffering from Pneumonia. By October 9, his condition had become alarmingly serious. Joseph F. described the events as they unfolded:

On the morning of Wednesday, October the 9th, the directors of the Salt Lake and Los Angeles Railway Corporation, of which I was one, met with [President Snow] in the Beehive House instead of the President’s Office, as we had been wont to do, and after the meeting, by his request we administered to him. We then thought, with him, that he was suffering from an ordinary cold on the lungs, and of course looked for his speedy recovery. At five o’clock the same day Sister Snow came into the office bearing the request that some of the brethren come and administer to President Snow, who was just reviving from a sinking spell. Myself, Brother John Henry Smith and others went immediately to his bedside, and it was apparent then that he was seriously and dangerously sick. After administering to him we urged the calling in of a physician. . . . [They] pronounced the President’s ailment to be pneumonia, and their opinion was

to the effect that unless there was a decided change for the better, hope for recovery could not be consistently entertained.”[27]

            Neither the doctor’s care nor the priesthood administrations seemed to convey

hope of recovery, for the Lord’s will was otherwise. The Journal History continues

the story:

            Presidents Smith and Clawson were at the office early this morning, and learned that President Snow’s condition had not improved and had been quite serious at intervals during the night.

            President Smith presided at the meeting of the brethren in the Temple today. President Snow was the subject of most earnest prayer, all the brethren feeling alarmed over his condition.           

            During the services, and while a letter . . . was being read, Elder Arthur Winter [an office clerk] came into the room where the council was, with a message from Sister Snow who asked that the brethren come to the Bee Hive house at once as it was feared that President Snow was dying. Brother L. John Nuttall [another employee in the President’s Office] also came bearing the same message. The brethren immediately arose, closed the meeting. . . and then repaired to the bedside of President Snow, which was in the reception room, being the southwest room of the house which was for the time being turned into his bedroom. Although quite conscious, it was clearly seen that President Snow was rapidly sinking. A great number of his family was at the bedside. Prayer was offered at the instance of President Smith, with Brother Clawson mouth [speaking]. . . . What few words were spoken by [President Snow] after this were addressed to members of his family in answer to questions by them. He made no attempt to speak to President Smith or any of the Brethren. Soon, however, his speech became unintelligible and when he attempted to speak he was not understood. At about 1:15 he began to sink rapidly and passed away at 3:35 pm.[28]

            With President Snow’s death, Joseph F. Smith became the senior Apostle on the earth; from this perspective the prophet’s demise affected no one else more than him. Yet even with this profound spiritual and emotional weight suddenly resting on him, practical considerations demanded prompt attention. After the undertaker had removed President Snow’s body, President Smith met with the deceased prophet’s sons to make funeral arrangements.[29]

            The following day, notes the Journal History of the Church, “A meeting of the Apostles was arranged for this morning at 10 o’clock at the office. . . . The object of this meeting was chiefly to arrange for the pallbearers and speakers at the funeral services. It was decided that no special speakers be named, but that the time be occupied by several of the older Apostles who should make brief remarks. . . . President Smith sought the mind of the brethren as to whether it would be proper for the Apostles to now act as the presiding quorum of the Church, or the counselors, until after the burial. The brethren generally accorded to the counselors the right to act until after the funeral services, and this according to precedent.[30]

Joseph F. Smith becomes the President of the Church

            On October 17, four days after President Snow’s funeral, the following took place during the regularly scheduled temple meeting of the Quorum of the Twelve:

            Elder John Henry Smith moved that the question of reorganizing the First Presidency be considered, seconded by Elder Brigham Young, and carried. President Joseph F. Smith speaking to the motion, said that he would deplore very much anything that would look like premature haste in a step to reorganize the First Presidency, and he would not do it for all the world if he thought for a moment there was division of sentiment in relation to it. He then went on to show reason why a reorganization should take place because of business matters pending and requiring the attention of the Trustee-in-Trust, and a special conference would have to be called to ratify the appointment of a Trustee-in-Trust.

            Elder Brigham Young stated that his mind was clear that the First Presidency ought to be organized, and he nominated Joseph F. Smith as President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This motion was seconded by the entire Council, all speaking in concert. Brother Young put the motion, and it was carried unanimously. President Smith expressed his gratitude for the unanimous feeling of the brethren. He named Elder Brigham Young as President of the Twelve Apostles, and also said that he would select John R. Winder and Anthon H. Lund as his first and second counselors, and recommended them for the consideration of the council. Elder John Henry Smith moved that these brethren be sustained as counselors to the President. Motion seconded by Brother Clawson and carried.[31]

            President Smith’s selection of John R. Winder, who had been serving as a counselor in the Presiding Bishopric, rather than Rudger Clawson, caused some mild surprise since the choice had not been anticipated. “Unexpected to him and to the public,” the Deseret News editorialized, explaining that while such a decision was by no means unprecedented, it had been viewed as customary for many years to choose members of the Twelve for counselors in the First Presidency.[32] Bishop Winder served as First Counselor until his death but was never ordained an Apostle.

            Continuing from the Journal History: “The work of setting apart was then attended to. President Joseph F. Smith, in accordance with his own wish, was ordained by Patriarch John Smith, . . . all the brethren present laying their hands on these brethren and assisting.”[33]

            There are two items mentioned herein worth further notice: (1) the mention of both “setting apart” and being “ordained,” and (2) the unusual but legitimate step of inviting John Smith, the Church Patriarch and Joseph F.’s half-brother, to act as voice for the blessing. The terms setting apart and ordained as used here were interchangeable and simply meant that Joseph F. became the President of the high priesthood of the Church and the one man holding the right to exercise and direct all priesthood keys on the earth; the prophet, seer, and revelator.[34] John Smith, the Church Patriarch, did not hold apostolic keys and authority, but by acting as voice with the Twelve helped give Joseph F. the necessary blessing by the power of the Melchizedek Priesthood. President Smith had already been given all apostolic keys, rights, authorities, and powers at the time of his ordination by President Young.[35]

            These Brethren further decided to call a special general conference on November 10 for the purpose of sustaining the new First Presidency and other newly called leaders.

            A week later at the regular temple meeting of the First Presidency and Twelve on October 24, President Smith felt to nominate a new Apostle to fill the place vacated by Anthon H. Lund’s advancement to the First Presidency. After some preliminary business,

President Smith arose and said, I believe in being frank with my brethren. I am going to make a suggestion and leave the result in your hands. I would be glad if we all had sons worthy of the apostleship, for I would like to see the sons of the apostles brought forward as far as possible. I feel that this is right. I now nominate, as it is my privilege so to do, my son, Hyrum M. Smith, to fill the vacancy in the quorum of Apostles and will leave the matter entirely with the brethren. All present spoke, one by one, and endorsed the nomination. Apostle John H. Smith said that while he heartily endorsed the nomination, he felt that doubtless some fault would be found with our action, but at the same time he realized that there would be some to find fault with any action that might be taken in the premises. Pres. Smith made brief remarks. Was profoundly thankful to the brethren for the unanimity that had been manifested. No doubt some might find fault with the action of today, but faultfinders will always be in evidence among the people. He felt that it was his right to do as he had done. Hyrum is a good, honest, faithful, virtuous boy, and he had no doubt but that he would magnify the apostleship.[36]

            Joseph F.’s son Hyrum was sent for and “having arrived he was informed of his selection by the council to become a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles. After several of the brethren had spoken of the duties that would be expected of him as an Apostle [the apostolic charge], Brother Hyrum expressed his willingness to accept, and he was set apart, all of the brethren laying their hands on his head, and President Smith officiating [voicing the ordination].”[37]

            The day before the conference, the order of announcing names for sustaining was discussed:

The Presidency met at the office this morning at 9:30 to discuss arrangements for the general conference. They had a talk in private yesterday afternoon in the office regarding the manner in which the authorities should be sustained, more particularly referring to the place the Patriarch of the Church should occupy in the presentation of the general authorities. Of late year it has been the custom to present his name after those of the Apostles, whereas in the early conferences of the Church his name followed those of the First Presidency, and President Smith remarked now that he was perfectly clear on this point that this was the place the Patriarch should occupy in the presentation of the authorities. However, after some discussion and consideration this question was left open

for the present and it was decided not to make any change at present.”[38]

            President Smith’s Second Counselor, President Lund, concerned with the troubling questions of succession such name positioning might raise, had persuaded the new prophet not to make the change.[39]

            In his talks given at the special conference, President Smith spent time reviewing the inspiration received by the prophets related to the timing of the reorganization of the First Presidency and committed to rely heavily on his counselors, saying he would do nothing of importance without their counsel and support. President Smith also said: “It hath not entered into the heart of man to conceive, neither has eye seen nor ear heard, the magnitude and fullness of the glory of God that awaits the faithful beyond the veil.”[40] Those spiritually attuned Latter-day Saints present felt the solemnity of the occasion. One wrote: “A special general conference of the Church was held in the Tabernacle; a most imposing, impressive scene was witnessed in the afternoon when the officers were voted in [sustained]. . . . The spirit and teachings of the conference were excellent.”[41]

            President Smith now moved forward magnifying the sacred office of the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Prophet of God on earth, with each day bringing a growing awareness of the weighty responsibilities placed upon him. Some three weeks after the general conference in which Joseph F. was sustained as President of the Church, he shared his feelings with a close associate. Among other things, he wrote:

When confronted by the stern reality of the situation, I hardly know how to express the feelings of appreciation which well up in my heart; for I now keenly realize, as others have before me, that the eyes of the Lord, and those whom we have been wont to look up to, who are now on the other side of the veil, as well as my associate brethren in the flesh, are now directed towards me, as they have been towards my predecessors. But in contemplating the seriousness of the responsibility imposed upon me by the Lord and my brethren, its burden is at once comparatively lightened in the realization of the fact that you and I are the servants, servants of Him whom we have listed to obey; that the kingdom is the Lord’s, and that it is for Him to guide and direct, and us to follow. . . . My mind naturally runs backward at times; and the men who have figured prominently in their time now appear to be nearer and stand out more clearly and conspicuously, perhaps, than ever before; and I cannot help but wonder at the things which have been accomplished through them when the conditions surrounding them are considered.[42]

            At the next Conference (April 1902), President Smith bore his special witness to the saints with great fervor:

            I believe with all my soul in God the Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I believe with all my might, mind and strength in the Savior of the world, and in the principle of redemption from death and sin. I believe in the divine mission of the Prophet Joseph Smith. . . .

            The Lord Almighty lives; He made the heavens and the earth, and the fountains of water; and we are His children, His offspring, and we are not here by chance. The Lord designed our coming, and the object of our being. He designs that we shall accomplish our mission, to become conformed to the likeness and image of Jesus Christ, that, like Him, we may be without sin unto salvation, like Him we may be filled with pure intelligence, and like Him we may be exalted to the right hand of the Father, to sit upon thrones and have dominion and power in the sphere in which we shall be called to act. I testify to this doctrine, for the Lord has made me to know and feel the truth of it from the crown of my head to the soles of my feet.[43]

            Sometime during the years 1907-1910, President Smith attended a social function with most of the Brethren and their wives. Talk drifted to the various titles held by the President of the Church: “President Smith was called on for some remarks and he stated that to be called President of the Church was all the official title that he cared for, not that he did not hold the office of Prophet, Seer and Revelator, as well as President of the Church. He did hold those offices by the right of his calling and ordination and through the providences of the Lord he had been brought to the office, but had never sought it. He said he believed he lived, truly he tried to live, so that the Lord could reveal Himself to him, so that he could have the spirit of prophecy and that he would be able to fill the office of a seer. All these gifts were his because of the position that he held. But he rather deprecated the idea of using these titles which were sacred, too loosely and on each and every occasion.” After setting that stage, Presiding Bishop Charles W. Nibley, who was present, indicated, “[President Smith] said, ‘More than once or twice in my life I have heard the voice which has given revelation to me, and never in my life did I hear it more plainly or clearly than when this man (pointing to me as I was sitting near his feet) was called to be Bishop of the Church.’”[44]

            On another occasion (1906), Bishop Nibley was discussing whether or not United States Senator Reed Smoot should return “home” to Salt Lake City and resume his full-time duties as an apostle. At that time the entire church was being persecuted and slandered in the national and local press because of Elder Reed Smoot’s 1903 election to the Senate. President Smith listened to his arguments for a few minutes but became increasingly impatient. “Finally, bringing his fist down on the railing between us he stated in these emphatic terms: ‘If I have ever had the inspiration of the spirit of the Lord given to me forcefully and clearly it has been on this one point concerning Reed Smoot, and that is, instead of his being retired, he should be continued in the United States Senate.’”[45] Such revelation explains why President Smith endured the grilling he and the other leaders of the Church experienced at the hands of anti-Mormon senators and lawyers during the famous Reed Smoot hearings of 1904-07. During his long tenure in the Senate, Elder Smoot was able to do many exceedingly helpful things for the Church.

Formal Doctrinal Declarations

            In 1909 President Smith asked Elder Orson F. Whitney to prepare a formal document that stated the Church’s position on the doctrine of the creation of man, which he did. This doctrinal declaration was revised and approved and signed by President Joseph F. Smith and his counselors, and then published to the Church. In its most critical portion, it reads:

            It is held by some that Adam was not the first man upon this earth and that the original human being was a development from lower orders of the animal creation. These, however, are the theories of men. The word of the Lord declared that Adam was “the first man of all men” (Moses 1:34), and we are therefore in duty bound to regard him as the primal parent of our race. It was shown to the brother of Jared that all men were created in the beginning after the image of God; whether we take this to mean the spirit or the body, or both, it commits us to the same conclusion: Man began life as a human being, in the likeness of our Heavenly Father.

            True it is that the body of man enters upon its career as a tiny germ embryo, which becomes an infant, quickened at a certain stage by the spirit whose tabernacle it is, and the child, after being born, develops into a man. There is nothing in this, however, to indicate that the original man, the first of our race, began life as anything less than a man, or less than the human germ or embryo that becomes a man.[46]

            This document settled the question of the creation of man for the great majority of the Church.[47] President Smith allowed members to believe whatever they wanted, but when it came to teaching others, and to officially stating the position of the Church itself, he left no room for doubt. Both his public and private teachings and statements indicate he was strongly opposed to the theory of evolution.

            In 1916, President Smith asked Elder James E. Talmage to prepare a document clarifying the scriptural names, titles, and roles of God the father and His Son Jesus Christ. This resulted in another formal doctrinal declaration, titled, “The Father and the Son: A Doctrinal Exposition by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.” It was also carefully written (mostly be Elder James E. Talmage), reviewed, approved, and published to the Church.[48] These two documents not only taught eternal truth, but also testified of that truth in clarity and power.

A Prophet testifies to the People

            “I love the truth today more than I ever did before in the world. I believe in it more firmly now than I ever did before, because I see it more clearly, I understand it better from day to day by the promptings and inspiration of the Spirit of the Lord that is vouchsafed to me”—so he declared at the October 1917 conference.[49]

             Joseph F. lost two daughters and one of his plural wives to death in 1915, causing him to study and ponder further about the Spirit World. His talk at the April 1916 general conference is considered one of the greatest sermons ever given to the Church. Among other things, he said:

            I have a feeling in my heart that I stand in the presence not only of the Father and of the Son, but in the presence of those whom God commissioned, raised up, and inspired to lay the foundations of the work in which we are engaged. . . . I would not like to say one thing, or express a thought that would grieve the heart of Joseph, or of Brigham, or of John, or of Wilford, or Lorenzo, or any of their faithful associates in the ministry.      Sometimes the Lord expands our vision from this point of view and this side of the veil, that we feel and seem to realize that we can look beyond the thin veil which separates us from that other sphere. If we can see by the enlightening influence of the Spirit of God and through the words that have been spoken by the holy prophets of God, beyond the veil that separates us from the spirit world, surely those who have passed beyond, can see more clearly through the veil back here to us than it is possible for us to see them from our sphere of action. I believe we move and have our being in the presence of heavenly messengers and of heavenly beings. We are not separate from them. . . .

            I thank God for the feeling that I possess and enjoy and for the realization that I have, that I stand, not only in the presence of Almighty God, my Maker and Father, but in the presence of His Only Begotten Son in the flesh, the Savior of the world; and I stand in the presence of Peter and James, (and perhaps the eyes of John are also upon us and we know it not); and that I stand also in the presence of Joseph and Hyrum and Brigham and John, and those who have been valiant in the testimony of Jesus Christ and faithful to their mission in the world, who have gone before. . . .

            I hope you will forgive me for my emotion. You would have peculiar emotions, would you not, if you felt that you stood in the presence of your Father, in the very presence of Almighty God, in the very presence of the Son of God and of holy angels?. . . I feel it to the very depths of my soul this moment.

            In January 1918 Hyrum M. Smith, President Smith’s 49-year-old Apostle son, died of appendicitis (and probably also the primitive medicine and surgery of that day). Again President Smith was crushed with grief. His own health had also begun to decline. As he opened his address at the April 1918 Conference, he noted, “It is an unusual thing for me to attempt to make any apology for myself, but I am in a condition of health just at this time which may prevent me from taking so active a part at this session of our conference as I have usually taken.”[50] He did not speak as much that Conference as usual. At the October Conference, held shortly before his death, he said, “As most of you, I suppose, are aware, I have been undergoing a siege of very serious illness for the last five months.” Then he declared: “I will not, I dare not, attempt to enter upon many things that are resting upon my mind this morning, and I shall postpone until some future time, the Lord being willing, my attempt to tell you some of the things that are in my mind, and that dwell in my heart. I have not lived alone these five months. I have dwelt in the spirit of prayer, of supplication, of faith and of determination; and I have had my communication with the Spirit of the Lord continuously.”[51]

            President Smith’s son, Joseph Fielding Smith, notifies us in his biography of his father that President Smith had received several spiritual manifestations preceding the conference, and one of them was a revelation on the redemption of the dead, known today as section 138 of the Doctrine and Covenants. This is one of the revelations that President Smith told the Conference that he had received, but we are not informed of what the others were. After the Conference, in which President Smith again participated less than usual, he dictated the revelation to his son Joseph Fielding, who faithfully recorded it. Later he read it to the Quorum of the Twelve where it was accepted by them as the word and will of the Lord.

            President Smith died of pneumonia in November of 1918. Thereafter, at President Heber J. Grant’s direction, much of the June 1919 General Conference was devoted to eulogizing him. In his own address, Elder Melvin J. Ballard said, “When the president was taken away, in the imaginations [yearnings] of my own mind by the enlightenment of the Spirit of God that came to me, I saw President Joseph F. Smith received on the other side. Tongue cannot tell the joy that was in Hyrum Smith's heart when he received his beloved son, Joseph F. Smith.”[52] Some months after the general conference, Elder Orson F. Whitney dreamed of his beloved associate and friend: “Thursday or Friday night I dreamed of President Joseph F. Smith. He was very kind and genial, and put his arms around me, asking me to bless him. I awoke feeling happy.”[53]

            Likewise, Elder Bruce R. McConkie saw President Joseph F. Smith at the funeral of his son, President Joseph Fielding Smith.[54] Elder McConkie, a grandson-in-law of President Smith, informed his family that President Joseph F. Smith served as president of “some missionary organization that has worldwide jurisdiction” in the spirit world.

            Elder Ballard continued, enlarging our vision of what awaits the faithful and obedient in the spirit world: “When [we] go to the other side, we shall find standing in places of honor, representing the Lord Jesus Christ, men like President Joseph F. Smith, who will be given greater authority and greater power than they ever had upon the earth. He is not shorn of anything because he is gone from this world. The place and position which belongs to him is one of greater presidency, greater influence and power and authority than he has ever had in the earth; for over there are countless billions of our Father's children who are receiving this gospel and they shall come under the administration of the elders of the Church who have been faithful; and presidency and power and authority shall belong to President Smith forever and ever, among the redeemed and the sanctified in the eternal world.”[55]

[1] A shorter revised version of this chapter titled, “Joseph F. Smith’s Succession to the Presidency” was originally given at the 2012 BYU Church History Symposium and is found in that year’s symposium publication, Joseph F. Smith: Reflections on the Man and His Times, eds., Craig K. Mancill, Brian D. Reeves, Guy L. Dorius & J. B. Haws (Salt Lake City and Provo, Utah: the Religious Studies Center and Deseret Book, 2013), 265-78. This version has reordered and added some material to concentrate on President Smith’s special witness of Jesus Christ.

[2] Summary and quotation found in Joseph Fielding Smith, Life of Joseph F. Smith, Sixth President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1969), 212–16; see also Eliza R. Snow Smith, Biography and Family Record of Lorenzo Snow (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1884), 276–84.

[3] Heber J. Grant, “Inspiration and Integrity of the Prophets,” Improvement Era, August 1919, 847–48.

[4] Editorial, Deseret News, October 18, 1901 (Charles Penrose was hired by President Snow as managing editor in December 1898 and later became a counselor in the First Presidency to Joseph F.); and Journal History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, October 18, 1901; hereafter cited as JH; see also A Ministry of Meetings: The Apostolic Diaries of Rudger Clawson, ed. Stan Larson (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1993), 339; and Smith, Life of Joseph F. Smith, 324.

[5] As quoted in Anthon H. Lund, Danish Apostle: The Diaries of Anthon H. Lund, 1890–1921, ed. John P. Hatch (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2006), 159.

[6] Some of the biographical information found herein is summarized from Amelia Smith McConkie, “Grandpapa Joseph F. Smith,” Ensign, September 1993.

[7] Excerpts quoted from Mary McConkie Donoho, comp. & ed., Amelia Smith McConkie: Remembrances for Her Family (privately published, 2007), 401.

[8] Journal of Discourses 11:312.

[9] Smith, Life of Joseph F. Smith, 227. At the same time, President Young “also admonished the brethren to keep the fact of this ordination to themselves, for it was wisdom that it should not be revealed at that time, although it should be recorded.”

[10] Journal of Discourses 11:309-10.

[11] Journal of Discourses 12:330-31.

[12] For a detailed review of these circumstances, see Ronald W. Walker, Qualities That Count: Heber J. Grant as Businessman, Missionary, and Apostle (Provo, UT: BYU Studies, 2004), 43:1, 195–229; and Dennis B. Horne, Latter Leaves in the Life of Lorenzo Snow (Springville, UT: Cedar Fort, 2012), 201–7, 224–28, 237, 240–59, 266.

[13] Lorenzo Snow interview, December 3, 1892, interviewed by Wilford Woodruff, MS 3558, Church History Library, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; emphasis added; see also Horne, Latter Leaves in the Life of Lorenzo Snow, 227–28.

[14] This fact was not generally known in the Church until the historical records were studied and it was learned that President Snow had acted as the great unifier with his Quorum. President Smith likely hinted at this situation at the general conference following President Snow’s death when he said: “There are some things he accomplished which may never be known or seen; save perhaps in the subdued spirits and increased devotion and faithfulness of those who were immediately associated with him” (“Remarks at Funeral of President Lorenzo Snow,” Conference Report, November 1901, 1).

[15] See Joseph F. Smith, in Conference Report [Special Conference], November 10, 1901, 71; see also Smith, Life of Joseph F. Smith, 319.

[16] See Travis Q. Mecham, “Changes in Seniority to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (master’s thesis, Utah State University, 2009), 45–57, esp. 48.

[17] Smith, Life of Joseph F. Smith, 324.

[18] Joseph F. Smith, Conference Report [Special Conference], November 10, 1901, 71.

[19] Smith, Life of Joseph F. Smith, 310.

[20] Smith, Life of Joseph F. Smith, 310.

[21] As quoted in Smith, Life of Joseph F. Smith, 310–11 (April 5, 1900). See also JH, April 5, 1900, and Rudger Clawson journal, April 5, 1900.

[22] JH, July 12, 1900. Elder Young’s seconding of the motion affirms his willingness to abide by the decision of the First Presidency and Twelve with no reservations, especially in connection with his formal motion during the later meeting of October 17, 1901, that Joseph F. Smith be sustained as Church President.

[23] JH, April 12, 1901.

[24] JH, October 4, 1901.

[25] See LeRoi C. Snow, “A Matter of History,” Improvement Era, March 1937, 149.

[26] See James R. Clark, Messages of the First Presidency (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966), 3:343; See also B. H. Roberts, A Comprehensive History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1957), 6:362.

[27] Joseph F. Smith, “The Last Days of President Snow,” Juvenile Instructor, November 15, 1901, 688; see also Clark, Messages of the First Presidency 3:6; and JH, October 9, 1901.

[28] JH, October 10, 1901. See also Joseph F. Smith, “The Last Days of President Snow,” Juvenile Instructor, November 15, 1901, 688–91, also found in Clark, Messages of the First Presidency 3:6–10.

[29] See JH, October 10, 1901.

[30] JH, October 11, 1901.

[31] JH, October 17, 1901. Further, “Brother Marriner W. Merrill moved that President Joseph F. Smith be Trustee-in-Trust for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The motion was seconded and carried unanimously. It was also moved that President Smith be made president of the Salt Lake Temple, with Brother John R. Winder as his assistant.”

[32] Editorial, Deseret News, October 18, 1901, 1.

[33] JH, October 17, 1901.

[34] When Lorenzo Snow was blessed by George Q. Cannon on becoming Church President, the term set apart was used, not ordain. See JH, October 10, 1898.

[35] See Smith, Life of Joseph F. Smith, 227, where Joseph F. Smith was given “all the authority, power, and keys of this holy apostleship” by President Brigham Young; see also Hoyt W. Brewster Jr., Prophets, Priesthood Keys, and Succession (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1991), 87–90.

[36] Rudger Clawson journal, 341.

[37] JH, October 24, 1901; see also Rudger Clawson Journal, 341. Hyrum M. Smith died at age fortyfive after serving less than seventeen years as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve.

[38] JH, November 10, 1901.

[39] “I had a private talk with the President and told him that I hesitated somewhat in making this change. While John Smith was a humble man there might come a man who was ambitious and might cause us trouble. In case of the First Presidency being disorganized and the Apostles presiding he might have to take a place behind them, and when the counselors and apostles are put up for Prophets, Seers, and Revelators he would be passed” (Anthon Lund journal, 164).

[40] Conference Report, November 1901, 1.

[41] Journal of Richard S. Horne, unpublished, November 10, 1901; copy in author’s possession.

[42] President Joseph F. Smith to President F. M. Lyman, December 2, 1901, correspondence, MS 1325, box 33, folder 3, Church History Library.

[43] Conference Report, April 1902, 85-86.

[44] Charles W. Nibley, Reminiscences [of] Charles W. Nibley, 1849-1931 (Stevens & Wallis: Salt Lake City, 1933), 121.

[45] Nibley, Reminiscences [of] Charles W. Nibley, 125.

[46] Gospel Classics: “The Origin of Man,” Ensign, February 2002.

[47] I have seen some misled members, usually biologists or anthropoligists with sacred ground to protect, willfully misinterpret this document to mean exactly the opposite of what it says. BYU biology department biologists are especially prone to do this.

[48] Ensign, April 2002.

[49] Conference Report, October 1917, 7.

[50] Conference Report, June 1918, 2.

[51] Conference Report, October 1918, 2.

[52] Conference Report, June 1918, 70.

[53] Orson F. Whitney Journal, January 1, 1919.

[54] Elder McConkie’s son Joseph (now deceased) wrote: “Elder Bruce R. McConkie spoke at the funeral of President Joseph Fielding Smith. Later, in a talk at the Joseph F. Smith family reunion, Elder McConkie told that group that Joseph F. Smith had attended the funeral of his son, doing so to manifest his interest in the family” (Robert L. Millett and Joseph Fielding McConkie, The Life Beyond [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1986], 85).

[55] Ibid, 72.

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