Hyrum Smith – A Prophet Unsung

Having previously read Whitney’s outstanding biography (Joseph Smith Revealed – A Faithful Telling), I appreciated the thorough research and copious footnotes accompanying that volume. In this latest profile of Hyrum Smith, I was pleased with the similar detailed treatment. Although not as much has been recorded about Hyrum either in his day or since, Whitney managed to pull together sources that some Mormon scholars might not have considered earlier to produce this excellent in-depth study.

The subject of this review draws equally from the Joseph Smith Papers project and Lucy Mack Smith’s memoirs, “Joseph Smith the Prophet and His Progenitors” as published by the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, reprinted in 1912 from Herald Publishing House, Lamoni Iowa. In the LDS Church, writers of histories of Joseph and Hyrum now tend to use the “Revised and Enhanced History of Joseph Smith By His Mother,” edited by Scot & Maureen Proctor, and published in 1996.

My Approach to the Book

I approached the study of this volume differently than I did Whitney’s work on Joseph Smith. As she noted in her Acknowledgements, she labored on this project for almost three and a half years. I decided to take a more in-depth approach than I normally do with a new book. I read a few pages each night for over a month, taking my time in pondering what I was learning, for there were many things new to me that I had not encountered previously. LDS Church History, especially the Nauvoo period, is my favorite.

I read each and every footnote, finding the material therein almost more exciting than that which was contained in the body of the work. Footnotes are intended to help the reader understand the reason for the statements made in the manuscript. I found myself not only absorbing the footnotes with interest but took occasion to look many of them up in original sources where I could. It’s no wonder it took me so long to finish the book. I sometimes would spend most of my evenings pouring over the footnotes.

The Birthright Heir in God’s Priesthood

There are ten chapters in the book, which is listed at 450 pages. I won’t take the time to review each chapter but will endeavor to give a more generalized impression of the spirit of the book and what I gleaned from it by approaching it with the more determined approach. I did not want to miss anything so I purposefully pondered each point and asked myself why the author decided to share that piece of information precisely in that order in her telling of the narrative of the life of a modern prophet of God.

For make no mistake about it, Hyrum was a prophet in every sense of the word, and the Lord declared it to be so. In fact, if there’s anything overarching I gained from this book, it is the realization that claims to authority to the Keys of the Kingdom must come from the birthright heir in God’s priesthood. Hyrum was that man and held that position. Even Joseph deferred and appealed to Hyrum as the eldest surviving son and holder of priesthood. He was a Patriarch, Prophet, Seer, Revelator, co-President, and co-Testator.

The Heart of the Matter

I won’t quote it but encourage you to purchase the book so you can read and understand this detail as found in footnote 1509 on page 374. Once again, the “Keys of the Kingdom” are more clearly defined in this volume, as they were in Whitney’s previous work on Joseph Smith, as the right and power of Eternal Presidency by which the earthly kingdom is governed. Joseph defined the keys as having the ability to ask Heaven a question and to receive an answer. That is definitely not how the LDS Church defines keys.

The Lord declared that He loved Hyrum Smith “because of the integrity of his heart and because he loves that which is right before me.” Joseph praised his brother with these words, “If Hyrum could not make peace between two who had fallen out, the angels themselves might not hope to accomplish the task.” The Lord vouched for Hyrum Smith, and promised Hyrum that his name would be had in honorable remembrance from generation to generation for ever and ever. Yet he remains a Prophet unsung.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1 – A Pattern for all Mankind 1
Chapter 2 – Born of Goodly Parents 27
Chapter 3 – Seven Brothers 59
Chapter 4 – Three Sisters 104
Chapter 5 – Marriage: The Image of God 123
Chapter 6 – A Servant’s Heart 159
Chapter 7 – Faith Through Sacrifice 206
Chapter 8 – A Man of Integrity: Rooting out Iniquity 249
Chapter 9 – A Pursuit of Knowledge: Coming to Know the Lord 311
Chapter 10 – Blessed is my Servant Hyrum: The Office of Priesthood
and Patriarch, Prophet, Seer, and Revelator 353
Appendix 405
Acknowledgements 431
About the Author 432
Index 433

Hyrum and Joseph Refuted Polygamy

While I invested the most time on the final chapter because there were so many concepts new to me, I found chapter eight to be an extension in greater detail of the premise of Whitney’s previous biography on Joseph Smith, that Joseph and Hyrum had nothing to do with polygamy, that it was brought into the church by Brigham, Heber, John Taylor, Orson and Parley Pratt, and Lorenzo Snow. Joseph told Emma and William Marks that he had been deceived by many of the leading men of the Church on the subject.

I know I am in the minority when it comes to believing that Joseph (and Hyrum) were innocent of the secret practice of polygamy or “spiritual wife system” introduced by John C. Bennet. But if you want to learn more about why I feel this way, please buy Whitney’s book, and read the chapter on Integrity. In particular, reference footnotes 1183 and 1186. Joseph was deceived and betrayed by the members of the Quorum of the Twelve, some of whom had taken plural wives while on their missions to England.

A New Standard for Generations

I highly recommend this book. I give it five stars. I am an amateur editor (my wife is a published author) and always read with a red pencil. Whitney shares that she had this work professionally edited and it shows. I found literally only one typo (page 402, 9th line down – the word should be repentant) and one footnote (1629) that contained a repeated phrase of “a well-paid ministerial class,” but maybe that was intentional. That footnote in particular is of value in determining signs of rejection of the LDS Church.

As I noted in my previous post on Hyrum Smith Resources, this is only the fourth biography on the life of Hyrum Smith of which I am aware. Whitney has aptly subtitled her book, “A Prophet Unsung.” In light of the declining focus on Joseph and Hyrum in the modern LDS Church, I learned more about this prophet, seer, and revelator from reading this book than from any of the other biographies of Hyrum. I express my gratitude to the author and her family for producing this masterful work on this great man of integrity.