As Joseph Smith grew older, he became increasingly concerned that the church might not be scattered and confused at his death; as it had been in 1844. He made careful plans that all should be left in order and that all should understand that he had been directed to choose his son, Frederick M. Smith, as his successor. He even prepared and left for the instruction of the priesthood and church a careful "Letter of Instruction" (March, 1913) explaining in detail the procedure that should be followed in event of his death.
His son had been called to occupy in the Presidency with his father in 1902, and in 1909 President Smith presented again to the church his gavel, which he had used for thirty years. He seldom presided from that time, turning the work over largely to his son, a particularly good parliamentary leader.
In Frederick M. Smith was realized the dream of his father and his grandfather. They had both passionately longed for an academic education. Young Frederick M. Smith had that ambition as they had and was able to realize it as they were not. In addition to that training, his father had counseled with him over the problems of the church for several years. When at length the expected burden of responsibility fell upon his shoulders, he was in Worcester, Massachusetts, completing work for his doctor's degree.
On the l0th of December, 1914, the third Joseph Smith passed away. For days his family and friends had gathered around him, cherishing every word, seeking to satisfy his lightest wish. He had written directions for his funeral, and fearing the love of those who had followed him so long might lead to an extravagant display, he urged simplicity. He asked that no new clothing be bought, that he be buried in the same sort of casket that was used in the church's Home for the Aged, and, especially, that no money be spent on flowers, but that all who felt thus to honor his memory, give the amount they would have spent in that way, to the poor. His wishes were followed as nearly as the love of his people would permit. The casket was of simple design, with but one wreath. At the foot was placed an urn and into it as they passed for one last look at that loved face, the thousands who loved him in life put the money with which they would have liked to show their devotion in a last tribute of affection. It was later distributed to the needy. The service was significant of his life, a long life of placing others first.
The editor of the Kansas City Journal for December 12, 1914, paid this tribute to the departed leader:
He was the Prophet, but first of all he was the Christian gentleman and the good citizen. As such he lived; as such he died; and as such he will be remembered by all outside the household of his faith. His followers themselves can have no legacy of remembrance more honorable than this appraisement of the people among whom he lived and labored so many years.
Kindly, cheerful, loyal to his own creed, tolerant of those of others, standing for modesty, simplicity, good citizenship, embodying in his private and public life all the virtues which adorn a character worthy of emulation--such is the revelation which Joseph Smith leaves to the world, as the real interpretation of an ecclesiastical message translated into terms of human character.
The church then turned to his son, and he was ordained President of the High Priesthood of the church May, 1915. As one poet of the church had written in 1909:
Through half a century thou hast been our chief,
Our hearts will not allow thy work is done,
Yet one thought makes more tender coming grief
Thy Work will still continue in thy son.
Frederick M. Smith did not make so deliberate a choice of his position in life as had his father. He was brought up from early childhood to feel that such was his destiny. Everyone he met on the street in Lamoni as a boy and young man knew he would sometime be President of the church. It was not always pleasant.
His every act was scanned with a view to its influence upon his future position. His life did not belong to him, with which to do as he willed; it belonged to the church. Of course he could have refused to accept this responsibility, but he did not though at times he must have considered such a course, for as he grew older he developed a great deal of independence of thought and action. With a natural leaning towards science and mechanics, he cultivated also, largely for the sake of his future position, an interest in philosophy and economics. As Frederick M. Smith had a fund of knowledge on almost every subject he often surprised his visitors, so quickly did he pick up the topic of almost any conversation and enter into a discussion of the latest thought upon the subject.
Like his father, his character was unimpeachable. The low, coarse, crude, and vulgar were naturally distasteful to him. He always stood on the side of any movement for civic righteousness or betterment, as his father did, not only as a matter of ethics, but also as a matter of taste. At the same time he was a lover of all clean sports, as fond of fishing and outdoor life as he was of playing football in his college days.
His church statistical record shows that he was baptized July 20, 1883; ordained an elder on July 12, 1897; was secretary of the fifth quorum of elders in April, 1898, and was appointed to a mission in Ohio and western Pennsylvania at that time.
He was united in marriage on August 3, 1897, with Miss Ruth L. Cobb, a daughter of Elijah and Alice (Lyman) Cobb, who was then an instructor on the faculty of Graceland College. He continued his studies and received his Bachelor's Degree in 1898, enjoying the distinction of being the first graduate of the college, and the only member of his class. He remained to teach mathematics there in 1899-1900. He attended the University of Missouri in 1908-1909. From the University of Kansas, he received his Master's Degree in 1911.
In 1914 he and Mrs. Smith went to Worcester, Massachusetts, where he carried on graduate studies under the guidance of Dr. G. Stanley Hall. His studies were interrupted by his father's death on December 10, but he returned to Clark University and received his Doctor's Degree in 1916.
He was a member of the Board of Trustees of Graceland College from 1901 to 1912. He was identified with other church work at the same time, giving valuable assistance in association with the historian, the librarian, and the Lamoni Stake Bishopric before being ordained as his father's counselor on April 18, 1902. In 1906 he moved with his family, as his father was also doing, to Independence, Missouri.
Ordination as President of the church came to him on May 5, 1915. From the first his administration reflected the vigor of his strength and a forward-looking, progressive attitude.
In 1920 Frederick M. Smith and Thomas W. Williams made a missionary "survey" of Europe. While there they visited Holland, a mission to which we had sent a missionary, Elke Jasper, as early as 1869. His report discouraged further effort at that time. But in 1920 Thomas W. Williams baptized two sons of J. J. Graven, who himself had been baptized in Utah years ago. At the next General Conference Frank Veenstra and William Postma were sent to Holland, where they began at once to baptize "desirable converts." In Holland now, at Rotterdam and elsewhere, we have perhaps the best foundation for missionary work on the continent of Europe.
Frederick M. Smith was an ardent student and an incurable dreamer, but he was the kind of dreamer who wished to achieve his dreams and took no delight in mere wishing. He came to the leadership of the church, the inheritor of a dream unfulfilled, and to no one have the spires of Zion-to-be gleamed in the distance with more glory than they did to him, not with the call to dream on, but with the challenge to make his dreams real.
At the very heart of President F. M. Smith's hopes for the church was the passionate longing for Zion which moved his forebears. For if he cherished one ideal for the church more than another, it was that he might see rise in Zion, buildings beautifully and permanently planned and built; such inspirational buildings as he had visited in his travels in the old world; buildings that would be worthy of his dream of "Zion," which constantly "beckoned him" on to achievement.
But he shared the unfortunate lot of those who dream magnificently, those whose "reach" constantly exceeds their "grasp." He died on March 20, 1946, with his "building program" scarcely begun. He chafed under the obstacles and delays that continually blocked the achievement of his goals for the church. Two world wars and a major economic depression diverted his powers to other fields. He toiled on hoping and dreaming to the last, tortured toward the end with ill health, living always under the shadow, of a great loneliness for on May 4, 1926, his wife died as the result of an accident. She was the one great love of his life. Unreconciled to her loss, he was faithful to her memory to the end of his life.
"His most impressive monument is the great domed auditorium at Independence, one of the landmarks of the region," said the Kansas City Star the morning after his death.
But perhaps more impressive and greater by far will be the monument to his memory that will be built by the youth of the church in the lives they will live, and the contributions they will make to the spiritual and economic brotherhood that was his life's ideal. In the youth of the church, he placed his trust. He believed in them and urged them to seek the best in education that the country affords; by precept and example he encouraged them to eschew the cheap and tawdry, the low and the vulgar. To them he passed on his dreams of the best and the most beautiful for the building of "Zion."