Joseph Smith's Successor

By Richard and Pamela Price

Members of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints believe and teach that Joseph Smith, Jr. designated his eldest son, Joseph Smith III, as his successor. There are a many testimonies in Church history supporting this fact. The following is an extract from an article on this subject published in Restoration Voice (May/June 1981, 6–7) by Cumorah Books.

While Joseph did not ordain his son to hold priesthood, he did designate him to be his successor by the laying on of hands at least four different times. These four times were (1) in Liberty Jail in 1838; (2) in Joseph's Brick Store in Nauvoo, January 17,1844; (3) in a public meeting in the grove east of the Temple in Nauvoo; and (4) in Joseph's home (the Mansion House) on June 24, 1844.

The Liberty Jail Designation

Liberty Jail
The Liberty Jail is where Joseph Smith, Jr. first designated his son Joseph III to succeed him.

While Joseph and several other Church leaders were imprisoned at Liberty, Missouri, in December of 1838, Young Joseph came to the jail with his mother, Emma, to visit his father. There at the age of six, by the laying on of hands, he was designated as his father's successor in the prophetic office.

In recalling that blessing by his father, Joseph III stated,

There is a memory of accompanying my mother on another visit to the jail, and it was upon the occasion of one or the other of these visits that my father, with another, laid hands upon my head and blessed me, as his eldest son, to the blessings which had come down to him through the blessings of his progenitors. It could not be expected that I, a child of but six years, should remember the phraseology used by Father upon that occasion, but the circumstance itself was indelibly fastened upon my memory. (Joseph Smith III and the Restoration, page 13)

Young Joseph mentions "another" who assisted Joseph in this blessing. This was Apostle Lyman Wight—one of those imprisoned with Joseph. Four years after Joseph's death, the Gospel Herald, published by J. J. Strang at Voree, Wisconsin, August 31, 1848, contained this statement: "Lyman Wight seems to cherish the idea that is ignorantly held out by some others that Joseph, the Prophet's son, will yet come up and take his father's original place in the church, as the prophet to the church" (Inez Davis, The Story of the Church, page 385).

Lyman Wight wrote editors Cooper and Chidester of the Northern Islander (July 18, 1855), also Strang's publication, saying,

Now, Mr. Editor, if you had been present when Joseph called on me shortly after we came out of the jail [the dungeon part of the Liberty Jail] to lay hands with him on the head of a youth, and heard him cry aloud, "You are my successor when I depart," and heard the blessings poured on his head,—I say had you heard all this, and seen the tears streaming from his eyes,—you would not have been led by blind fanaticism, or a zeal without knowledge. (The Story of the Church, page 386)

The Brick Store Designation

Red Brick Store
The upper room of the Red Brick Store is where Joseph Smith Jr. designated Young Joseph as his successor the second time.

Five years later Joseph III was again designated to be his father's successor. This occurred in an upper room of Joseph's new brick store in Nauvoo when Joseph III was eleven years old—on January 17,1844.

Young Joseph said, "About my selection by my father to be his successor in office, I remember of being called in his office, or into a room adjoining his office, and receiving the laying on of hands, and a prophetic blessing or setting apart, whatever it may be called" (Temple Lot Abstract, page 40).

Upon another occasion Joseph III made the following comment concerning the Brick Store designation:

After we reached Nauvoo and after the brick store was erected, they used to hold meetings and councils in the upper story of the store. I remember being called into the large room. My father and other elders and principal men of the church were there, of whom I remember Uncle Hyrum, Newel K. Whitney, and George J. Adams. I was seated in a chair and father and some others laid hands upon me, oil having been poured upon my head, and I was again blessed by my father as his son and blessings pronounced upon me to which I was entitled as his son and successor.


I remember hearing George J. Adams say to my mother in the hall at the Mansion House, "We now know who the successor of Bro. Joseph will be if anything should happen to him. I have just come from the council where your son Joseph was blessed for that purpose." (Journal of History 2:10–11)

High Priest James Whitehead, Joseph's private secretary, was present at the meeting at the Brick Store on January 17,1844, and kept a record of that meeting in his possession until he gave it to members of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles at Winter Quarters in December, 1847. Brother Whitehead later testified:

At that meeting Joseph Smith ... was selected by his father as his successor. He was ordained and anointed at that meeting. Hyrum Smith, the Patriarch, anointed him, and Joseph his father blessed him and ordained him, and Newell K. Whitney poured the oil on his head, and he was set apart to be his father's successor in office, holding all the powers that his father held.... I was there too. (Temple Lot Abstract, page 28)

Brother Whitehead also explained what happened to his record of the Brick Store designation:

I ... had certain records in my possession as private secretary all the time until 1847, when they were turned over by order of Joseph Smith's administrator, to the "Twelve" at Omaha. And at Omaha, in 1847, I helped to repack the church records, and left them in the possession of the "Twelve" ... the history or minutes of the meeting all went to Salt Lake City ... I cannot say what became of them after they left my hands. (Temple Lot Abstract, pages 31–32)

The Grove Designation

Nauvoo Grove
The grove in Nauvoo is where Joseph III was designated by his father, Joseph Smith Jr., as his successor the third time—in front of 3,000 people.

The designation which is least known today is the one which was most widely known at Nauvoo because some three thousand saints witnessed it.

Joseph III has testified, "I was also present at a meeting in the grove near the temple, and I remember my father laying his hands on my head, and saying to the people that this was his successor, or was to be his successor" (Temple Lot Abstract, page 41).

Not only was Joseph III designated by his father in a public meeting in the grove, but the Church accepted him as the Prophet-designate by vote.

Brother James Whitehead explained this in these words:

The church did take action as a body on the question of the ordination of young Joseph as his father's successor; the church consented to it. That was done first by the indorsement of the High Council, and then it was brought up before the whole body of the congregation, the whole people; and there were thousands there. That was done at the meeting held in the grove at the east end of the temple. I should think there were three thousand (3,000) there.


There was a record kept of it, but the record was taken to Salt Lake. I was present on that occasion. There was a vote taken, the congregation voted, and agreed to the appointment of young Joseph as the successor of his father.... A negative vote was taken, but nobody voted in the negative. (Temple Lot Abstract, page 33)

The Mansion House Designation

Mansion House
The Mansion House is where Young Joseph was designated the last time by Joseph Smith Jr. to succeed him.

The last time that Joseph III was designated by his father was on June 24,1844—the day that Joseph left Nauvoo to go to his death at Carthage, Illinois. He knew that he would be assassinated. It is most significant that his last official act at Nauvoo as the Prophet-President of the Church was to bless and designate his son once again as his successor.

Joseph the Prophet could not go to Carthage in peace until he had blessed Joseph III one last time. W. W. Blair has stated,

In 1866 ... Sr. Emma related to us that when her husband was getting ready to go ... to Carthage, ... he exhibited much anxiety and uneasiness, starting and returning twice or thrice, remarking in the meantime that he was not yet at liberty to go. On returning the last time he requested Emma to call the family together, when he told them he should never see them again in the flesh, that his work was done. After this he prayed with them, blessed them one after the other, and predicted that Emma would bear a son. (The Saints' Advocate, July, 1882, pages 223–224)

It was at this time, that Joseph gave his last blessing and designation to Joseph III, divinely prophesying that he would succeed him.

Joseph III testified, "I ... remember that just before his departure for Carthage, with a number of others, I was called into a room in the Mansion House, and there again received the laying on of hands, and the blessing." (Temple Lot Abstract, pages 40–41)

Joseph III
as a Child

Joseph III explained that the blessing which his father pronounced upon his head then was the same as the one given in the Brick Store. He said, "Upon two occasions was the same blessing confirmed by Joseph Smith, once in the council room in the brick store ... once, in the last interview Joseph Smith held with his family before he left Nauvoo to his death" (RLDS History of the Church 3:506).

With this last mission of prophetic blessing accomplished, Joseph rode on to Carthage. All perplexity and confusion had left him. He was at peace. With his work completed, and his mind assured, he turned to the men riding with him and declared, "I am going like a lamb to the slaughter; but I am calm as a summer's morning."

Yes, the saints knew, and many people throughout the world knew that Joseph Smith the Prophet had designated his oldest son to be the next prophet. Newspapers from St. Louis to New York to Glasgow, Scotland, reported Joseph's death and his appointed successor.

Sixteen years later, Joseph Smith III accepted the responsibility for which he was designated as a boy. In April of 1860 he and his mother met in conference with a group of saints in Amboy, Illinois.

Young Joseph's address to the conference included these words: "I have come in obedience to a power not my own, and shall be dictated by the power that sent me ... if the same Spirit which prompts my coming, prompts also my reception, I am with you" (The True Latter Day Saints Herald 1:102–104; The Story of the Church, pages 404–406).

Joseph Smith III was received and was then ordained President of the High Priesthood, thus fulfilling the blessings he was given as a boy which designated that he should become Joseph Smith's successor.