Remember the “F.” And seniority.

I know I’ve talked a bit about Joseph F. Smith (JFS) lately, but the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk recently shared another interview about him. This time around, Dennis Horne spoke about Joseph F. Smith’s succession to the presidency of the Church, but it also covers other info about this pivotal president of the Church. What follows here is a co-post to the full interview (a shorter post with quotes and some commentary by myself).

One thing to understand going in was that Brigham Young occasionally ordained people to the office of apostle without actually adding to them to the Quorum of the Twelve. For example, with Joseph F. Smith himself:

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.

As for another example, Brigham Young ordained several of his own sons as apostles in a similar fashion:

President Brigham Young ordained some three or four of his sons as apostles, all at young ages. Yet, from hindsight, it is apparent that none of them really amounted to apostolic timber, as the saying goes. Brigham Jr. was the closest and the only one of the sons to be set apart as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve.

Brigham Young Jr. and Joseph Angell Young were ordained as apostles in 1864, two years before Joseph F. Smith. John Willard Young was ordained in 1855. At the time, John was eleven years old, but was seen as a child of promise, as the first to be born to Brigham Young after he had received the temple ordinances and sealing in Nauvoo. Things didn’t go so well with John, though, as Horne indicated. He lived in New York and focused on business ventures that tended to fail rather than church assignments and was accused of having misused Church funds. Although John resigned from official positions in the Church in 1891, he still retained the office of apostle. Brigham Young Jr. was the one of three sons who had the best track record of service in the Quorum of the Twelve.

In an interesting turn of events, however, Joseph F. Smith entered the Quorum of the Twelve before any of Brigham Young’s sons. As Horne wrote:

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 Brigham Jr.

Brigham Young Jr. entered the Quorum of the Twelve in 1868 (a year after JFS), Joseph Angell Young never entered the quorum (at least partly due to his early death in 1875), and John Willard Young was called as a counselor to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 1877.

Joseph F. Smith served extensively in the First Presidency after his call to the Quorum of the Twelve. The existence of the First Presidency, however, had a few gaps due to a couple periods of extended apostolic interregnum. After Brigham Young’s death, members of the Quorum of the Twelve were a bit reluctant to reorganize a First Presidency. And shortly before his death, President Young changed rules of succession a bit, leading to John Taylor being the person who would officially serve as President of the Quorum of the Twelve during that interregnum rather than Orson Hyde or Orson Pratt. As the Church website explains:

In 1861 Brigham Young clarified that seniority would be determined based not on the date of calling but the date of ordination, reversing the order of Wilford Woodruff and John Taylor, who were both called on the same day but ordained months apart. In 1875 Brigham Young added that the order would reflect continuous time served as an Apostle, placing John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff ahead of Orson Hyde and Orson Pratt, who had both been removed from the quorum and later reinstated.

Eventually, they were able to come to an agreement on John Taylor reorganizing the First Presidency. After President Taylor’s death, however, several members of the Quorum of the Twelve opposed George Q. Cannon continuing to serve in the First Presidency and stonewalled attempts by Wilford Woodruff to reorganize the First Presidency as a result (since he insisted that Cannon would be one of his counselors). Again, eventually they were able to reach an agreement and Wilford Woodruff was able to reorganize the First Presidency.

These experiences led Wilford Woodruff to advice a swift reorganization of the First Presidency after his death. As Dennis Horne put it:

Lack of unity in the presiding councils of the Church was the problem for each delay in reorganizing the First Presidency, from Brigham Young to John Taylor to Wilford Woodruff.

This fact is not really acknowledged in most official histories because it doesn’t look so good. But it was a complicated era for the early Church, with many considerations in play.

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 regarding 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 obtaining 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.

By unifying the Quorum and seeking to reorganize the First Presidency quickly, many issues could be resolved and the Quorum and Church could move forward. President Woodruff counseled President Snow to do this and President Snow counseled President Smith to do this, and it did in fact solve many problems.

It also became the tradition or custom from that day to this. Records of these reorganization meetings also indicate that the Spirit of the Lord and a spirit of unity was felt therein in great measure.

The tradition of short apostolic interregnums really only began with the death of Wilford Woodruff in 1898.

When President Lorenzo Snow succeeded Wilford Woodruff, he was relatively old and it was apparent that he might not live too much longer, which raised the question of succession–did continuous service as an apostle (i.e., the office) or continuous service in the Quorum of the Twelve qualify someone to serve as the senior apostle and president of the Church? After Snow, John Willard Young had been ordained as an apostle for the longest period and had never faced excommunication or revocation of the office (like Orson Pratt and Orson Hyde had). He was not seen, however, as a suitable president of the Church, given his lackluster record of service in the Church and lifestyle. With that consideration (and probably a few others) in mind, Lorenzo Snow made the decision that continuous service in the Quorum of the Twelve was the qualifying metric. This had the side effect (for better or worse) of also sidelining Brigham Young, Jr. in favor of Joseph F. Smith As Horne wrote:

The timing of these actions [entering the Quorum of the Twelve] would become an important succession question in later years, when it was authoritatively decided (by President Snow) that date of entry into the Quorum dictated seniority. Thus it was that upon the death of President Snow, Joseph F. Smith became the President of the Church instead of Brigham Young Jr., who died as President of the Quorum of the Twelve.

Since Joseph F. Smith had served in the First Presidency for so long, my understanding is that most members of the Church didn’t really even notice much of a change from the rule going into effect.

For more on Joseph F. Smith’s succession to the presidency, head on over to the Latter-day Saint blog From the Desk to read the full interview with Dennis B. Horne.

4 comments for “Remember the “F.” And seniority.

  1. President Woodruff counseled President Snow to do this [reorganize the First Presidency quickly]…

    I can read that statement two ways:

    1. Woodruff regretted holding out for Cannon as a counselor and wished he had compromised, or
    2. Woodruff regretted not railroading the rest of the Quorum.

    #2 seems more likely, since Cannon survived Woodruff and served as a counselor to Snow (meaning Snow did not compromise either).

    Maybe there’s a #3, but I’m not seeing it.

  2. 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.”

  3. Slight clarification to what was written, according to the Bryant S. Hinckley Autobiography [on Family Search] President Joseph F. Smith did see “God” presumably the Savior as he said so. On page 18 of the autobiography it says,

    “PRESIDENT JOSEPH F. SMITH Thomas Hull was General Secretary and President Joseph F. Smith was General Superintendent with Heber J. Grant and Brigham H. Roberts as counselors. Frequently after the regular business, President Smith would talk to the Board. That was a precious privilege. Joseph F. Smith was a great character. He was one of the greatest preachers the Church ever had. He was a great and fearless leader with moods as gentle as a child. While I was Superintendent of Utah Stake, I invited him to come to Spanish Fork to bear his testimony to a group of officers. He said to that group:

    “I know that God lives for I have seen Him.”

    It was wonderful to listen to him: I had a great love and admiration for him. His
    words, on this occasion, spoken under the inspiration and power of the Holy Ghost, penetrated
    one’s very soul. I have never listened to such a testimony”

    One could generally pin it done when that was according to the records

  4. It could be that Woodruff was sorry that the circumstances made it so difficult to reorganize the First Presidency.

    As far as Snow calling Cannon, circumstances had changed a lot from when Woodruff was trying to organize a First Presidency. Most of the Church leaders were in hiding at the earlier time and had objections to recent events involving Cannon that they may not have had full visibility on–the handling of some financial resources in collaboration with John Taylor, a situation that was embarrassing for the Emmeline B. Wells family, and concerns about Cannon trying to become president on the strength of being an apostle and the late John Taylor’s nephew. A decade of space from those circumstances made a difference in how Cannon was seen in the Q12.

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