Joseph Smith was a remarkable leader. He served as President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; mayor of Nauvoo, one of the largest cities in Illinois; and lieutenant-general of the Nauvoo Legion. And in 1844 he was a candidate for president of the United States.
What set Joseph Smith apart from other dynamic leaders was the source of his teachings: the God of heaven. “The best way to obtain truth1 and wisdom,” he taught, “is not to ask it from books, but to go to God in prayer, and obtain divine teaching.”2
Joseph led with love. He recognized the worth of every soul as a child of God. When asked why so many followed him, he replied: “It is because I possess the principle of love. All I can offer the world is a good heart and a good hand.”3
The Prophet refused to place himself above others. Rather, as he humbly said, “I love to wait upon the Saints, and be a servant to all, hoping that I may be exalted in the due time of the Lord.”4 Bereft of pride,5 Joseph personified the Lord’s counsel: “Whosoever will be great among you . . . shall be servant of all.”6
Joseph Smith Quotes
“Nothing is so much calculated to lead people to forsake sin as to take them by the hand, and watch over them with tenderness. When persons manifest the least kindness and love to me, O what power it has over my mind, while the opposite course has a tendency to harrow up all the harsh feelings and depress the human mind” (History of the Church, 5:23–24).
“In relation to the power over the minds of mankind which I hold, I would say, it is in consequence of the power of truth in the doctrines which I have been an instrument in the hands of God of presenting unto them, and not because of any compulsion on my part” (History of the Church, 6:273; capitalization modernized).
“A brother who works in the St. Louis Gazette office . . . wanted to know by what principle I got so much power. . . . I told him I obtained power on the principles of truth and virtue, which would last when I was dead and gone” (History of the Church, 6:343).
“I am at all times willing to give up everything that is wrong, for I wish this people to have a virtuous leader” (History of the Church, 6:412).
John Taylor, Third President of the Church, 1880–1887
“Some years ago, in Nauvoo, a gentleman in my hearing, a member of the Legislature, asked Joseph Smith how it was that he was enabled to govern so many people, and to preserve such perfect order; remarking at the same time that it was impossible for them to do it anywhere else. Mr. Smith remarked that it was very easy to do that. ‘How?’ responded the gentleman; ‘to us it is very difficult.’ Mr. Smith replied, ‘I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves’” (“The Organization of the Church,” Millennial Star, Nov. 15, 1851, 339).
Mercy Rachel Fielding Thompson, Early Member of the Church
“We listened with joy and profit to the words of instruction and counsel which fell from the inspired lips of Joseph Smith, each word carrying to our hearts deeper . . . convictions that we were listening to a mighty Prophet of God. And yet there was not the slightest appearance of ostentation or conscious power on his part; he was as free and sociable as though we had all been his own brothers and sisters, or members of one family. He was as unassuming as a child. . . . I saw him rejoicing with the people, perfectly sociable and without reserve, occasionally uttering jokes for their amusement and moving upon the same plane with the humblest and poorest of his friends; to him there were no strangers and by all he was known as the Prophet and a friend of humanity” (“Recollections of the Prophet Joseph Smith,” Juvenile Instructor, July 1, 1892, 398–99; paragraph divisions altered).
Did all of those who met Joseph Smith believe his message?
An early Church member, Edward Stevenson, was concerned that few of his neighbors responded to the Prophet’s message, which he had embraced. “The fact that so few received his testimony caused me, for a time, to greatly marvel. But when I looked back to the period when Jesus and His chosen Twelve and Seventies labored, with all their might, for the salvation of a fallen world, even with all manner of signs following their labors, and saw how few believed in or embraced their testimony in that day of mighty power, when even the grave was robbed of its victims and the dead commanded to come forth and live, and that while the dead lived the living were dead; yea, when I saw and meditated upon these things, I became somewhat reconciled” (Edward Stevenson, Reminiscences of Joseph the Prophet, , 4).
Why did some people decline to follow the Prophet Joseph Smith?
The same issues that caused some to reject Joseph Smith fuel the continued rejection of current living prophets. As Joseph explained, “Men are naturally disposed to walk in their own paths as they are pointed out by their own fingers and are not willing to consider and walk in the path which is pointed out by another, . . . although he should be an unerring director, and the Lord his God sent him” (History of the Church, 1:408).
Online Resources at ChurchofJesusChrist.org
Online Resources at BYU
“‘A Man That You Could Not Help Likeing’: Joseph Smith and Nauvoo, Illinois, Portrayed in a Letter by Susannah and George W. Taggert”—Ronald O. Barney, BYU Studies, vol. 40, no. 2 (2001), 165–79
Description of Joseph and the conditions in Nauvoo.