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.
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.