Joseph Fielding Smith actually wasn’t ever technically “called” to be an apostle in the tradition way we think of it now. Back in 1910, when the President of the Church and other apostles had discovered the Lord’s will and decided on a new apostle, they simply sustained him in general conference, and that was the first the newest member of the Twelve would hear of it. There was no quiet meeting with the Church president where the call would be formally extended before it was announced to the Church. Several seconds before his name was announced, the Spirit let Joseph Fielding Smith know that his name might be read for the sustaining vote.
When Joseph Fielding Smith was called in this manner, there were very good reasons he wasn’t expecting it at all. One of his brothers was already serving in the Quorum of the Twelve, and another brother was in the Presiding Bishopric. His father was the prophet and president of the Church. It just didn’t seem likely that yet another member of his family would be called.
His father, Joseph F. Smith, didn’t like the idea at first, for the same reasons. As the First Presidency and the Twelve had met to discuss who should fill the empty spot left from the death of President John R. Winder, they couldn’t come to any agreement or find any unanimous good feelings about anyone they discussed. Finally, President Smith retreated to a place where he could kneel in prayer alone. That is when the name of his son came to mind.
He felt hesitant to bring the name before the other Brethren, but they all immediately felt it was right and sustained the idea. That still didn’t put his mind at ease, and he confided later to his wife that the Brethren all felt that their son was the Lord’s choice, but he was worried that it would have the appearance of the worst kind of nepotism.
His fears weren’t unfounded; some were critical of the choice. The Salt Lake Tribune already mocked the family ties of the leadership of the Church, often substituting “the Church of relations” for “the Church of revelations.” They ran a scathing article after the calling, printing, “Joseph F. is losing no time unnecessarily in his well defined purpose and process of Smithizing the Mormon church. In other words, the present monarch is doing all in his power to make of the entire institution a belonging of the Smith family, as a heritage to them forever. … There isn’t a single Mormon pie but there is a Smith finger in it. … It is a system of nepotism seldom witnessed in history—everywhere the omnipresent, non-accounting, lawbreaking Smiths, until the Mormon people actually begin to look and feel Smithy.”1
Hatred and persecution of the Church was not new to President Smith, being the son of Hyrum and nephew of Joseph. He had only been 5 years old when his father and uncle were killed in Carthage, and at the tender age of 9 he drove his mother’s wagon across the plains to Salt Lake City.
Whatever the public sentiment, Joseph Fielding Smith, grandson of Hyrum, was the man that Heavenly Father wanted as his newest apostle, and all the Brethren knew it. Walking into conference that morning, Joseph didn’t have a clue he was about to be sustained. The greeter asked him as he entered conference if he knew who the new apostle would be, and Joseph replied he didn’t, but assured the doorman, “it won’t be you and it won’t be me!”
Although the calling so surprised him that he was speechless , he accepted with humility, later recording in his journal: “The reading of my own name as an apostle … came to me, as to the entire assembly, as a most sudden and to me unexpected shock, and left me in complete bewilderment from which I have not recovered. I feel extremely weak and pray to my heavenly Father for strength and guidance in my great responsibility that I shall not falter nor fail to perform all that is required of me.”2
Almost 60 years after his call to the holy apostleship, Joseph Fielding Smith would become the 10th President of the Church in 1970.