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12 quotes remembering the martyrdom, legacy of Joseph and Hyrum Smith

2017 marks the 173rd anniversary of the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith at Carthage Jail.
2017 marks the 173rd anniversary of the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith at Carthage Jail.
Deseret News archive

Tuesday marks 173 years since the Prophet Joseph Smith’s death on June 27, 1844. Born in Sharon, Vermont, on Dec. 23, 1805, Joseph Smith was only 38 years old when he and his brother Hyrum Smith were martyred. Below are 12 quotes from general authorities of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and eyewitnesses of the event remembering the Prophet Joseph, his brother Hyrum and the enduring legacy they left behind.

Willard Richards, who was incarcerated with the Smiths in Carthage, Illinois, recorded the events of June 27, 1844, in his journal, according to an article previously published by the Deseret News.

“Joseph attempted as the last resort to leap the same window from whence Mr. Taylor fell, when two balls pierced him from the door, and one entered his right breast from without, and he fell outward exclaiming, ‘O Lord my God!’ As his feet went out of the window my head went in, the balls whistling all around. He fell on his left side a dead man,” Richards wrote.

President Thomas S. Monson spoke of the martyrdom in a 2005 general conference address.

“Although those who sought to take his life felt that the church would collapse without him, his powerful testimony of truth, the teachings he translated, and his declaration of the Savior’s message go on today in the hearts of over 12 million members throughout the world, who proclaim him a prophet of God,” he said.

Members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the LDS Church during Smith's time as prophet, who were “scattered throughout the United States, stated that at the exact time of the martyrdom, they felt depressed and mournful without knowing why,” reported the Deseret News. Elder Parley P. Pratt recorded his feelings during that moment:

“A strange and solemn awe came over me, as if the powers of hell were let loose. I was so overwhelmed with sorrow I could hardly speak. ... This is a dark day, and the hour of triumph for the powers of darkness” (see “Church History in the Fulness of Times,” Chapter 23).

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland bore his testimony of Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon and the martyrdom in his October 2009 talk, “Safety for the Soul:”

"As one of a thousand elements of my own testimony of the divinity of the Book of Mormon, I submit this as yet one more evidence of its truthfulness. In this their greatest — and last — hour of need, I ask you: would these men blaspheme before God by continuing to fix their lives, their honor, and their own search for eternal salvation on a book (and by implication a church and a ministry) they had fictitiously created out of whole cloth?

"Never mind that their wives are about to be widows and their children fatherless. Never mind that their little band of followers will yet be “houseless, friendless and homeless” and that their children will leave footprints of blood across frozen rivers and an untamed prairie floor. Never mind that legions will die and other legions live declaring in the four quarters of this earth that they know the Book of Mormon and the church which espouses it to be true. Disregard all of that, and tell me whether in this hour of death these two men would enter the presence of their Eternal Judge quoting from and finding solace in a book which, if not the very word of God, would brand them as imposters and charlatans until the end of time? They would not do that! They were willing to die rather than deny the divine origin and the eternal truthfulness of the Book of Mormon." Joseph F. Smith, who was the sixth president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and son of Hyrum Smith, wrote the following thoughts about the martyrdom, said the Deseret News:

“The martyrdom has always been an inspiration to the people of the Lord … and must ever be held in sacred memory by the Latter-day Saints who have learned the great truths that God revealed through his servant, Joseph Smith.”

In an April 1995 general conference address, President Boyd K. Packer quoted the Prophet Joseph Smith. The Prophet, who knew that his life would soon be taken from him, took the necessary measures to ensure that the work of the gospel would continue to move forward.

"Shortly before the Martyrdom, in a meeting attended by nine members of the Twelve, the Prophet Joseph Smith prophetically said: 'Brethren, the Lord bids me hasten the work in which we are engaged. Some important scene is near to take place. It may be that my enemies will kill me. And in case they should, and the keys and power which rest on me not be imparted to you, they will be lost from the earth. But if I can only succeed in placing them upon your heads, then let me fall a victim to murderous hands if God will suffer it, and I can go with all pleasure and satisfaction, knowing that my work is done, and the foundation laid on which the kingdom of God is to be reared in this dispensation of the fulness of times. Upon the shoulders of the Twelve must the responsibility of leading this church henceforth rest until you shall appoint others to succeed you'" (Draft declaration of the Twelve Apostles, reporting March 1844 meeting of Twelve, Brigham Young Papers, LDS Church Archives).

Robert D. Foster had been ordained an elder of the LDS Church and appointed to serve a mission, though he later was excommunicated and was identified as a member of the mob that killed Joseph Smith, the Joseph Smith Papers said. In a BYU Studies Joseph Smith Chronology, he is reported to have said the following:

"I haven't seen one moment's peace since that time. … The thought of meeting Joseph and Hyrum Smith at the bar of God is more awful to me than anything else."

President Gordon B. Hinckley was first counselor in the First Presidency when he spoke on the 150th anniversary of the death of the prophet, reported the Deseret News.

“Joseph Smith died here at Carthage Jail … but his work has grown in magnitude, strength and power, and will continue to do so. … The testimonies which were sealed here in these very precincts … now nurture the faith of people around the world. God bless the memory of Joseph Smith and Hyrum Smith who died here” (see “Joseph the Seer,” Ensign, September 1994).

Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles talked in October 2001 about Joseph Smith’s commitment from the First Vision to the martyrdom.

“The answer to his prayer filled him with light and direction. Our Heavenly Father and His Beloved Son appeared to him. Their direction swept away the thick darkness that had seized him and threatened to destroy him. It forever swept away his confusion.

"From that moment until his martyrdom nearly a quarter of a century later, Joseph Smith committed himself to the path shown him by the Father and the Son. Consider how painful his days were. Consider the suffering and the persecution he had to endure. Yet he continued, step by step, never giving up, never doubting that if he only did what he could, his Heavenly Father would make up the rest.”

During a general conference address in October 2003, President Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles asked members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to consider Joseph Smith’s example in their own lives:

"When the Prophet Joseph Smith faced death, he said, 'I am going like a lamb to the slaughter; but I am calm as a summer’s morning; I have a conscience void of offense towards God, and towards all men.'

"Now is the time to prepare for your own ultimate interview. You might ask yourself: 'Do I pay tithing with a willing heart? Do I obey the Word of Wisdom? Is my language free from obscenities and swearing? Am I morally righteous? Am I truly grateful for the Atonement that makes my resurrection a reality and eternal life a possibility? Do I honor temple covenants that seal loved ones to me forever?' If you can honestly say yes, you are developing power in the priesthood."

President Thomas S. Monson encouraged others in April 2014 to take courage when experiencing fear and opposition, as the Prophet Joseph Smith did.

"It is impossible to stand upright when one plants his roots in the shifting sands of popular opinion and approval. Needed is the courage of a Daniel, an Abinadi, a Moroni, or a Joseph Smith in order for us to hold strong and fast to that which we know is right. They had the courage to do not that which was easy but that which was right.

"We will all face fear, experience ridicule and meet opposition. Let us — all of us — have the courage to defy the consensus, the courage to stand for principle. Courage, not compromise, brings the smile of God’s approval. Courage becomes a living and an attractive virtue when it is regarded not only as a willingness to die manfully but also as the determination to live decently."

John Taylor, one of the eyewitnesses to the Martyrdom, wrote an account of the events in Doctrine and Covenants 135:3. Below are his words:

“Joseph Smith, the Prophet and Seer of the Lord, has done more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it. In the short space of twenty years, he has brought forth the Book of Mormon, which he translated by the gift and power of God, and has been the means of publishing it on two continents; has sent the fulness of the everlasting gospel, which it contained, to the four quarters of the earth; has brought forth the revelations and commandments which compose this book of Doctrine and Covenants, and many other wise documents and instructions for the benefit of the children of men; gathered many thousands of the Latter-day Saints, founded a great city, and left a fame and name that cannot be slain. He lived great, and he died great in the eyes of God and his people; and like most of the Lord’s anointed in ancient times, has sealed his mission and his works with his own blood; and so has his brother Hyrum. In life they were not divided, and in death they were not separated!”

Correction: An earlier version incorrectly stated the Prophet Joseph Smith was 39 when he and his brother Hyrum Smith were martyred on June 27, 1844. He was 38.