Joseph F. Smith

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6th Mormon Prophet Joseph F. Smith
President Joseph F. Smith

Joseph F. Smith was the sixth prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He served in that position for seventeen years.

Born on November 13, 1838, to Hyrum (Joseph Smith’s brother) and Mary Fielding Smith, he experienced upheaval and hardships early in life. His father was in jail when he was born, and the rest of his family was forced from their home in Far West, Missouri, when he was only a couple of months old. Of his own birth he wrote:

The day was cold, bleak and dreary, a fit and proper anniversary of the dark and trying day of my birth; When my father and his brother were confined in a dungeon [in Richmond] for the Gospel’s sake and the saints were being driven from their homes in Missouri by a merciless mob. The bright sunshine of my soul has never thoroughly dispelled the darkening shadows cast upon it by the lowering gloom of that eventful period.
Yet the merciful hand of God and his kindliest providences have ever been extended visibly toward me, even from my childhood, and my days grow better and better thru humility and the pursuit of wisdom and happiness in the kingdom of God (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith, p. 147).

The family fled to Illinois, and for a time life was peaceful as the family lived in Nauvoo. Then in June of 1844, when Joseph F. Smith was only five years old, his father and his uncle Joseph Smith were martyred. Although he was young he said:

I saw his lifeless body together with that of my father after they were murdered in Carthage jail; and still have the most palpable remembrance of the gloom and sorrow of those dreadful days (E. Cecil McGavin, Nauvoo the Beautiful, p. 149).

In the fall of 1846 the family was again forced from their home, and Joseph F. Smith crossed the Missouri river to begin his journey with his mother across the plains to Utah. Joseph, though only seven when their journey began, was in charge of driving an ox team.

In September of 1848, the family finally arrived in the Salt Lake Valley. A few years later, at age 13, Joseph F. Smith was baptized as a member of the Church. Only five months after his baptism, Joseph’s mother passed away. Though he was still relatively young, he cherished tender memories of his mother’s abiding faith and willingness to sacrifice. During the eight years between Hyrum’s martyrdom in 1844 and Mary’s own death in 1852, she shepherded her family across the plains to the valley of the Great Salt Lake, established a home and farm, and nurtured the faith of her children. President Smith forever revered his mother’s willingness to "toil and labor and sacrifice herself day and night, for the temporal comforts and blessings that she could meagerly give ... to her children" (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith, p. 31) In the midst of harsh and trying times, he found great comfort in her conviction that the Lord would open the way.

“After my mother’s death there followed 18 months—from Sept 21st, 1852 to April, 1854 of perilous times for me,” he later wrote a childhood friend. “I was almost like a comet or fiery meteor, without attraction or gravitation to keep me balanced or guide me within reasonable bounds.” “Fatherless & motherless” at age 13, he recalled, he was “not altogether friendless.” His “ever-to-be-loved and remembered Aunt Mercy R. Thompson” continued to nurture him and he never forgot the solicitude of Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, and George A. Smith, his father’s cousin. These were men, Joseph F. declared, “whom I learned to love as I loved my father, because of their integrity and love of the Truth.”[1]

At fifteen years old Joseph F. Smith served his first mission for the Church. He was sent to Hawaii and stayed there preaching until he was nineteen. Of this early experience he wrote,

They [the Hawaiian people] had different habits to anything I had before known, and their food, and dress and houses and everything were new and strange.... For three months this seclusion from the world continued, but the history of that short period of my life never can be told. I had ample time to feel after the Lord and to draw near to him with my whole soul” (Joseph F. Smith, From Prophet to Son: Advice of Joseph F. Smith to His Missionary Sons, compiled by Hyrum M. Smith III and Scott G. Kenney, p. i).

Joseph F. Smith embraced the Hawaiian people and learned the language in just 100 days. In 1857, he returned to Utah and just three years later left again for another mission, this time to England. When he returned in 1863, he was again called on another mission to Hawaii.

In July 1866, at only 27 years old, Joseph F. Smith was ordained as an apostle and served as a counselor to President Brigham Young. He also served as the president of the European Mission. Joseph F. Smith served as second counselor to three presidents of the Church: John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, and Lorenzo Snow. Smith had the shortest tenure as Quorum President, serving from October 10 through October 17, 1901, because he was called as the sixth president of the Church after the death of President Snow. Joseph F. Smith was 62 years old. He concurrently served as the general superintendent of the Sunday School.

While president and prophet, Joseph F. Smith began the Church’s work to maintain church history sites. Under his direction the Church purchased Carthage Jail, a part of the temple site in Independence, Missouri, Joseph Smith’s birthplace, the Sacred Grove, and the Joseph Smith Sr. family farm. Joseph F. Smith also oversaw the building of more temples, and oversaw the construction of both the Cardston Alberta Temple in Canada and the Laie Hawaii Temple, though he died before either was finished. He was also concerned about promoting a good family environment and instituted the weekly family home evening program. This zeal for the preservation and teaching of the family came from his own love for his family. He said often that “life everlasting should begin at home,” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith, p. 241). Joseph F. Smith was also the first President of the Church to visit Europe while serving. He also received the revelation now found in Doctrine and Covenants section 138, concerning the Savior’s visit to the spirits of the dead while his body was in the tomb 138.

On April 6, 1904, he issued the Second Manifesto to stop the formation of new plural marriages.

On November 19, 1918, at 80 years old, Joseph F. Smith died of pneumonia resulting from pleurisy during the influenza pandemic. His son Joseph Fielding Smith, who also became a president of the Church, remembered his father this way, “His spirit was gentle and kind. A more sympathetic soul, one who suffered with the sufferer, who was more willing to help the helpless to carry his burden, and the downtrodden to regain his feet, could not be found in all the borders of Israel. He was a peace-maker, a lover of peace” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Life of Joseph F. Smith, pp. 439–440).

Joseph F. Smith had six wives and 48 children.

Quotes from President Joseph F. Smith

  • "No man will lead God's people nor his work. God may choose men and make them instruments of his hands for accomplishing his purposes, but the glory and honor and power will be due to the Father, in whom rests the wisdom and the might to lead his people and take care of his Zion. I am not leading the Church of Jesus Christ, nor the Latter-day Saints, and I want this distinctly understood. No man does ... Remember that God leads the work. It is his. It is not man's work. If it had been the work of Joseph Smith, or of Brigham Young, or of John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff or Lorenzo Snow, it would not have endured the tests to which it has been subjected."
Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed., 1939
  • "Marriage is the preserver of the human race. Without it, the purposes of God would be frustrated; virtue would be destroyed to give place to vice and corruption, and the earth would be void and empty."
Gospel Doctrine
  • "There can be no genuine happiness separate and apart from the home, and every effort made to sanctify and preserve its influence is uplifting to those who toil and sacrifice for its establishment. ... There is no happiness without service, and there is no greater service than that which converts the home into a divine institution, and which promotes and preserves family life."
Gospel Doctrine
  • "I can not understand how a man can be unkind to any woman, much less to the wife of his bosom, and the mother of his children, and I am told that there are those who are absolutely brutal, but they are unworthy the name of men."
Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed. (1939), 352
  • “The work in which Joseph Smith was engaged was not confined to this life alone, but it pertains as well to the life to come and to the life that has been. In other words, it relates to those that have lived upon the earth, to those that are living and to those that shall come after us. It is not something which relates to man only while he tabernacles in the flesh, but to the whole human family from eternity to eternity. Consequently, as I have said, Joseph Smith is held in reverence, his name is honored; tens of thousands of people thank God in their heart and from the depths of their souls for the knowledge the Lord has restored to the earth through him, and therefore they speak well of him and bear testimony of his worth. And this is not confined to a village, nor to a State, nor to a nation, but this extends to every nation, kindred, tongue and people where the Gospel, up to the present time, has been preached.”
Deseret News, Mar. 7, 1883, p. 98.

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Presidents of the Mormon Church
Joseph Smith | Brigham Young | John Taylor | Wilford Woodruff | Lorenzo Snow | Joseph F. Smith | Heber J. Grant | George Albert Smith | David O. McKay | Joseph Fielding Smith | Harold B. Lee | Spencer W. Kimball | Ezra Taft Benson | Howard W. Hunter | Gordon B. Hinckley | Thomas S. Monson | Russell M. Nelson