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ISRAEL ALEXANDER SMITH
The choice of a new president in the church follows the definite pattern of all priesthood choice and ordination as set forth in the law. From the office of deacon up to that of president choice is made by divine call and concurred in by those over whom the one to be ordained shall minister. However, in the case of president that call to serve has traditionally come to one of the descendants of Joseph the Prophet. There is much to commend this procedure, since some orderly method of succession must be followed in order to prevent schism and contention in the body. However, as has been said, ultimate choice rests with the people.
Many years ago two young men were bearers of a messagel to a young man in Nauvoo whom neither had ever seen. In those days the Reorganized Church seemed, except to those who had a part in it, to have a very tenuous hold upon life. But the young man2 who wrote this document at Zarahemla, Wisconsin, which was sent by the little group there with faith, prayers, and overwhelming confidence in the Stranger to whom it was addressed, thought he wrote with inspiration. And who can say that he did not? One who reads that epistle couched in ancient Biblical language,and compares it with the subsequent life of him to whom it was sent, is impressed with the clarity of its prophetic vision.
"Our faith is not unknown to you..." it read "that the seed of him to whom the work was first committed should stand forth to bear the responsibility (as well as wear the crown) of a wise master builder. . . . As that seed, to whom pertains this right, and heaven-appointed duty you cannot be unmindful nor indifferent. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob convenanted with them and their seed. So the God of Joseph covenanted with him and his seed, that his word should not depart out of the mouth of his seed, nor out of the mouth of his seed's seed, till the end come. . . . We cannot forbear reminding you that the commandments, as well as the promises given to Joseph, your father, were to him, and his seed."
There was more to that letter, and the years saw it all fulfilled. Joseph the son of Joseph did become a "wise master builder"; he did indeed "combine in one a host, who, though in captivity and sorely tried, still refused to strengthen the hands of usurpers." He became as was there set forth truly "A Zerubbabel in Israel." "As a nail fastened in a sure place, so are the promises unto thee to make thee a restorer in Zion--to set in order the house of God." Time proved no truer words were ever set on paper. He was all of these things. The imprint of a power beyond that of the young man who penned them is there.
Then, too, the deathbed blessing by his father of Joseph the Prophet points out that his blessing should be for his children "after him." For these and other reasons the people of the church looked to a younger brother of Frederick M. to succeed him at his death. This man was already his brother's counselor, Israel Alexander Smith. However, as has been so often set forth by Joseph the Third, lineage alone does not constitute a call to assume this high and holy office.
In accordance with the law of the church, as found in the Doctrine and Covenants, giving to each president of the high priesthood the right to designate his successor, and in barmony with the precedents whereby both Joseph Smith III and his son Frederick M. Smith were selected, Israel A. Smith had been named by Frederick M. Smith to be his successor in a statement made to the joint Council of First Presidency, Quorum of Twelve Apostles and Presiding Bishopric on October 20, 1938. As an additional safeguard, however, it was deemed advisable by the Quorum of Twelve Apostles to submit the question to the Presiding Patriarch of the Church who, under the law, has comparable prerogatives. Presiding Patriarch Elbert A. Smith, in whom the people had unbounded confidence, made a statement to the General Conference in harmony with the prior recorded designation by the then deceased president, Frederick M. Smith. On these two facts the General Conference acted, and on April 6, 1946, the one hundred and sixteenth anniversary of the organization of the church, Israel A. Smith was unanimously elected to the office theretofore held by his grandfather, Joseph Smith, Jr., his father, Joseph Smith III, and his brother, Frederick M. Smith, and was accordingly ordained on the following day, April 7, 1946.
In such manner was choice made of Israel Alexander Smith to lead the church in his brother's stead, and even then his name must receive the approval of all the quorums of the church, and finally of the General Assembly of the membership and by unanimous vote as in the case of his predecessors. He was ordained president of the High Priesthood with all the duties and prerogatives that go with that office.
Israel A. Smith was born on February 2, 1876, at Plano, Illinois, and was named for the first bishop of the Reorganization, Israel L. Rogers, and for the boy's Uncle Alexander, who in turn received his name during one of the darkest eras of church history from one of Missouri's greatest lawyers, soldiers and statesmen, General Alexander W. Doniphan. Not in name only was Israel a true Latter Day Saint. Throughout a life spent in the legal and business world outside the church, he made no apology or excuse for his belief, however unpopular it might seem. He had a firm belief in the restoration of the gospel by the hands of an angel, and in the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon.
Early in his childhood, his parents moved from Plano to Lamoni, Iowa. Here he grew to young manhood in the spacious but modest home, "Liberty Hall," which his father had built on the outskirts of Lamoni. He attended Lamoni schools and was duly baptized by "Uncle" Henry A. Stebbins at the age of ten years on June 25, 1886. He took part in the activities of the home, for his thrifty Norwegian mother, with the aid of the children, grew much of their living: There were cows for the boys to milk and chores of all kinds to do to keep the long table in the dining room bounteously provided for the family and for the inevitable guests of which there were many. "Brother" Joseph, the genial host who presided at that table, brought home a constant stream of missionaries--young men on their first mission and old-timers full of years and marvelous experiences. Listening to these men was a favorite entertainment for young Israel both at his father's table and fireside and on that memorable "first day of General Conference." They were of deep and abiding spiritual significance to the boy who listened to them.
As he grew older, he discovered what he wanted to be and do in life. And this goal, chosen early in life, remained his constant aim and ambition. He wanted to be a lawyer. This had also been his father's choice in early life, and perhaps his admiration for his father influenced his decision. Soon after his graduation from the Lamoni high school, his father asked him what he wished to be. His answer was prompt: A lawyer. Kindly his father explained to him that the family budget would not permit of law school. His older brother was already in college; no more funds were available. "I have always thought of you as the lawyer of the family," he told him. Two years in Graceland might be arranged. Israel took them gladly as preparatory work, but he still intended to be a lawyer.
A succession of "jobs" followed; they were only a means to an end. He worked in the office of a wholesale drug company in Des Moines; he was employed for a time by the Bell Telephone Company in Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania. He sold insurance. He was a salesman for a paper company.
In 1908 he married a Lamoni girl, Miss Nina Grenawalt, and that year found him working as an assistant in the editorial offices of the Herald Publishing House for the princely sum of $11.00 a week. This was very well; it gave him time to study: evenings, every available moment. He took a correspondence course. He studied in a local attorney's office, eagerly acquiring all the legal knowledge he could. In the meantime he served as a member of the Thirty-fourth General Assembly of Iowa in 1911-1913. Two years later he took examinations and was admitted to the bar of Iowa (1912) and one year later to the bar of Missouri.
His father was now advanced in years and totally blind. He was in urgent need of a secretary to look after his large correspondence and also to act as secretary for him while he dictated his memoirs. During this period, Israel was his father's constant companion until he passed away December 10, 1914.
After his father's death, he devoted himself a great part of the time to his chosen profession, and attained recognition in the legal world and gained the respect and honor of his associates. He did not amass wealth. He probably never would have. He was too much the son of "Brother Joseph" and "Sister Bertha," who of old at "Liberty Hall" nearly always had in their care some unfortunate with whom nobody else could afford to be bothered. Clients he had in plenty, but so many of them needed a friend and found it in him. The tide of human sorrow and suffering that flows through a lawyer's office found in him a sympathetic ear and an understanding heart. All too often there was no fee, and none was asked or expected.
There were sorrows of his own, too. Two sons had blessed his home. Both wanted to follow their father's steps in the legal profession. He determined that they should not have to struggle as he had done. To send them to school exacted great financial sacrifice cheerfully made. Joseph Perrine, the eldest, died on March 2, 1936, after a brief illness at Missouri University in his junior year. The younger, Donald Carlos, finished his college course before the Second World War claimed the youth of the nation. He, now the only son, saw active service as an officer in the Navy, and was retired in 1945 with the rank of lieutenant commander.
Perhaps Brother Smith's most signal service in his chosen field was his participation as a delegate in the Missouri Constitutional Convention which convened at Jefferson City, Missouri, on September 21, 1943, and adjourned on September 29, 1944. As commissioned by vote of the people of Missouri, this convention drafted a new constitution, since approved and now in effect. Within a few days of his choice as a delegate, he was also chosen to serve a four-year term as President of the Pioneer Lawmakers Association of Iowa, over which association he presided at their 29th biennial session in March, 1947.3
During these years the church was not forgotten. He served in whatever capacity he could, quietly and efficiently whenever he was asked to do so. His service for the church briefly runs something like this: He was ordained a high priest on April 11, 1915, at Lamoni; ordained a counselor to Bishop Benjamin R. McGuire, April 15, 1920. In this work he was associated with Bishop James F. Keir. The association of these three was a very happy one, and resulted in a rare friendship which lasted until broken by Benjamin McGuire's death in April, 1944. Brother Smith was ordained a bishop on July 4 of that same year (1920). He also served on the Standing High Council of the church for eighteen years, from Februrary 19, 1922, until he was ordained counselor to his brother, President Fredrick M. Smith, in April, 1940.
Israel Smith at present holds membership or office in the following: American Bar Association, Missouri Bar Association, Independence Bar Association (president 1943-1944); Missouri Historical Society (trustee 1947-48); National Municipal League; Iowa Pioneer Lawmakers Association (president 1943-47) American War Dads. Honorary Member Kiwanis International; Optimist International (past president) ; Jackson County Tuberculosis Society (trustee); Kansas City Tuberculosis Society (trustee). President Smith is a graduate with the degree of Bachelor of Laws from Lincoln Jefferson University, and was admitted to practice before the Federal Court of Missouri and the Supreme Court of the United States in 1921.4
President Smith is not self-assertive. He does not seek honors, and such always come to him as a surprise. Though he has served the church practically throughout his life, his service has been rendered in such a way as to be unobtrusive. On account of this, and the local character of his work, he was not well known to the great mass of the church membership. They now are finding the making of his acquaintance a pleasure indeed, for those who know him best admire him most. A lifelong friend and associate, James F. Keir, appraises his character well in this tribute:
"Israel is mild but a strong man of exalted ideals and strong convictions, a lover of justice, sympathetic and kind. He has a keen and well-trained and analytical legal mind. Surely the hand of God can be seen in guiding the affairs of his church when such a man of ability and sterling character is available to fill the vacancy caused by death of the greatly loved and able leader, Frederick M. Smith."5
So far as his standing in that other field of public affairs in which he spent much of his life, it is well summed up in the Annals of Iowa, official publication of the "Iowa Department of History and Archives," when it says:
"He is a man of sterling worth and ability, experienced in the church leadership, having served as counselor with the late president for a number of years and has enjoyed wide experience in business and public affairs....Mr. Smith made a fine legislative record in the Thirty-fourth Iowa General Assembly, just as he has in every position in which he has served; and the friends in Iowa join with those in other areas, which have known his soundness of ideals and fixedness of purpose, in predicting continued success in his life work."6
1 Church History, Volume 3, page 260, from "Autobiography of
Joseph Smith," as published in Life of Joseph the Prophet, by Tullidge, pages
2 Jason W. Briggs.
3 See Annals of Iowa, July, 1947, complete minutes of "Pioneer Lawmaker's Association," pages 3-45.
4 We are indebted to James F. Keir for many of the facts from which this chapter was compiled.
5 Private letter to author.
6 Annals of Iowa, Volume XXVIII, No. 1 (July, 1946), pages 72, 73.
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