Eliza R. Snow:
On my return to Kirtland, by solicitation, I took up my residence in the family of the prophet and taught his family school. Again I had ample opportunity of judging of his daily walk and conversation, and the more I made his acquaintance, the more cause I found to appreciate him in his divine calling. His lips ever flowed with instructions and kindness; but, although very forgiving, indulgent and affectionate in his nature, when his god-like intuition suggested that the good of his brethren, or the interests of the kingdom of God demanded it, no fear of censure, no love of approbation, could prevent his severe and cutting rebukes. His expansive mind grasped the great plan of salvation, and solved the mystic problem of man’s destiny he was in possession of keys that unlocked the past and the future, with its successions of eternities; yet in his devotions he was as humble as a little child. Three times a day he had family worship; and these precious seasons of sacred household service truly seemed a foretaste of celestial happiness. (Eliza R. Snow Smith with Edward Tullidge, Women of Mormondom, 1877, pp. 65-66)
I had the great privilege, when I was in from my missions, of boarding the most of the time at his [Joseph Smith’s] house, so that I not only knew him as a public teacher, but as a private citizen, as a husband and father. I witnessed his earnest and humble devotions both morning and evening in his family. I heard the words of eternal life flowing from his mouth, nourishing, soothing, and comforting his family, neighbours, and friends. I saw his countenance lighted up as the inspiration of the Holy Ghost rested upon him, dictating the great and most precious revelations now printed for our guide. I saw him translating, by inspiration, the Old and New Testaments, and the inspired book of Abraham from Egyptian papyrus. (Orson Pratt, July 10, 1859, JD 7:176)
No wonder that Joseph Smith should say that he felt himself shut up in a nutshell, there was no power of expansion, it was difficult for him to reveal and communicate the things of God, because there was no place to receive them. What he had to communicate was so much more comprehensive, enlightened and dignified than that which the people generally knew and comprehended, it was difficult for him to speak, in every move he made, and so it is to the present time. (John Taylor, April 6, 1863, JD 10:148)
The principles which he had, placed him in communication with the Lord, and not only with the Lord, but with the ancient apostles and prophets; such men, for instance as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Noah, Adam, Seth, Enoch, and Jesus and the Father, and the apostles that lived on this continent as well as those who lived on the Asiatic continent. He seemed to be as familiar with these people as we are with one another. (John Taylor, April 13, 1879, JD 21:94)
Those who were acquainted with him knew when the Spirit of revelation was upon him, for his countenance wore an expression peculiar to himself while under that influence. He preached by the Spirit of revelation, and taught in his council by it, and those who were acquainted with him could discover it at once, for at such times there was a peculiar clearness and transparency in his face. (Brigham Young, May 7, 1861, JD 9:89)
Joseph Smith holds the keys of this last dispensation, and is now engaged behind the vail [sic] in the great work of the last days. I can tell our beloved brother Christians who have slain the Prophets and butchered and otherwise caused the death of thousands of Latter-day Saints, the priests who have thanked God in their prayers and thanksgiving from the pulpit that we have been plundered, driven, and slain, and the deacons under the pulpit, and their brethren and sisters in their closets, who have thanked God, thinking that the Latter-day Saints were wasted away, something that no doubt will mortify them—something that, to say the least, is a matter of deep regret to them—namely, that no man or woman in this dispensation will ever enter into the celestial kingdom of God without the consent of Joseph Smith. From the day that the Priesthood was taken from the earth to the winding-up scene of all things, every man and woman must have the certificate of Joseph Smith, junior, as a passport to their entrance into the mansion where God and Christ are—I with you and you with me. I cannot go there without his consent. He holds the keys of that kingdom for the last dispensation—the keys to rule in the spirit-world; and he rules there triumphantly, for he gained full power and a glorious victory over the power of Satan while he was yet in the flesh, and was a martyr to his religion and to the name of Christ, which gives him a most perfect victory in the spirit-world. He reigns there as supreme a being in his sphere, capacity, and calling, as God does in heaven. Many will exclaim—“Oh, that is very disagreeable! It is preposterous! We cannot bear the thought!” But it is true. (Brigham Young, October 9, 1859, JD 8:289)
Heber C. Kimball:
Nearly twenty years ago, I was in a place in England in which I felt very curious; but I did not know at the time what it meant. I went through a town called Chadburn, beyond Clithero. Before I went there, some persons told me that there was no use in my going, and asked me what I wanted to go to Chadburn for, saying it was the worst place in the country; for the sectarian priests had preached there faithfully thirty years without making any impression. Notwithstanding that, I went, and preached once, and baptized twenty-five persons, where the priests had not been able to do a thing. I went through the streets of that town feeling as I never before felt in my life. My hair would rise on my head as I walked through the streets, and I did not then know what was the matter with me. I pulled off my hat, and felt that I wanted to pull off my shoes, and I did not know what to think of it. When I returned, I mentioned the circumstance to brother Joseph, who said, “Did you not understand it? That is a place where some of the old Prophets traveled and dedicated that land, and their blessing fell upon you.” (Heber C. Kimball, April 6, 1857, JD 5:22)
The first acquaintance I had with Gen. Smith was about the year 1823. He came into my neighborhood, being then about eighteen years of age, and resided there two years: during which time I became intimately acquainted with him. I do know that his character was irreproachable; that he was well known for truth and uprightness, that he moved in the first circles of the community, and he was often spoken of as a young man of intelligence and good morals and possessing a mind susceptible of the highest intellectual attainments.
I early discovered that his mind was constantly in search of truth, expressing an anxious desire to know the will of God concerning His children here below, often speaking of those things which professed Christians believe in. I have often observed to my best informed friends (those that were free from superstition and bigotry) that I thought Joseph was predestinated by his God from all eternity to be an instrument in the hands of the great Dispenser of all good, to do a great work what it was I knew not. (John Reid, Lawyer, DHC 1:93)
I have seen men in the days of Joseph bring up principles, and read, and teach, and advocate theories, when the Prophet would say, “It is not right to do so: they are not true.” Those men would still argue, maintain their position, and they would write in defence of their theories when the Prophet condemned them, and they would say, “We have no faith in your theory, nor in the system you present.” The very moment a man does that, he crosses the path of the servant of God who is set to lead the way to life and salvation. This is one thing that the Elders should carefully avoid. The fact is, there are a great many things taught in the building up of this kingdom which seem strange to us, being contrary to our traditions, and are calculated to try men. Brother Joseph used a great many methods of testing the integrity of men; and he taught a great many things which, in consequence of tradition, required prayer, faith, and a testimony from the Lord, before they could be believed by many of the Saints. His [Joseph’s] mind was opened by the visions of the Almighty, and the Lord taught him many things by vision and revelation that were never taught publicly in his days; for the people could not bear the flood of intelligence which God poured into his mind. (Wilford Woodruff, April 9, 18857, JD 5:83)
George Q. Cannon:
There are many, perhaps all of us, that have more or less of a desire to conform to the ideas which prevail in the world. These ideas we have inherited, and they come natural to us; and not having progressed sufficiently to overcome them, we naturally lean toward them. We do this in politics, in finance, in trading, in almost everything. It seems to be right to us, because all of our inherited tendencies are in that direction. If we could have a glimpse of heaven, and understand things as they are, we might be able to do better; but this is not God’s way of doing things. He wants us to work out our own development, and to exert the powers we have inherited from Him in conquering the wrong tendencies we have inherited from our fathers. he gives us line upon line precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; but he does not reveal it all at once. At the same time he would like us to comprehend more than we do. I have sometimes thought that the Prophet Joseph, with the knowledge he possessed and the progress he had made could not stay with the people, so slow were we to comprehend things and so enshrouded in our ignorant traditions. The Saints could not comprehend Joseph Smith; the Elders could not; the Apostles could not. They did so a little towards the close of his life; but his knowledge was so extensive and his comprehension so great that they could not rise to it. It was so with President Young; and I may say is so with the leaders of the Church now. It is a continual labor on their part to lift the people up to the comprehension of the will of God and His purposes connected with this work. The people are bound down by their traditions, and because of this it is rarely that you can get even the Elders to see the propriety of certain things. (George Q. Cannon, Millennial Star, 61:629)
But to return: Joseph the Prophet, as a friend he was faithful, long suffering, noble and true to the degree that the erring who did love him were at times reminded that the rod of a friend was better than the kiss of an enemy, “while others who sopped in his dish” but bore not reproof, became his enemies, and like Laws, Marks, Foster, Higby and others—who hated him and conspired to his death.
As a companion, socially, he was highly endowed; was kind, generous, mirth loving, and at times, even convivial. He was partial to a well-supplied table and he did not always refuse the wine that “maketh glad the heart”. For amusement, he would sometimes wrestle with a friend, or oftener would test strength with others by sitting on the floor with feet together and stick grasped between them, but he never found his match. Jokes, rebuses, matching couplets in rhymes, etc., were not uncommon. But to call for the singing of one or more of his favorite songs was more frequent. Of those, “Wife, Children and Friends”, “Battle of River Russen” , “Soldiers’ Tear”, “Soldier’s Dream” and “Last Rose of Summer”, were most common. And yet, although so social and even convivial at times, he would allow no arrogance or undue liberties, and criticism, even by his associates, was rarely acceptable, and contradiction would rouse in him the lion at once, for by no one of his fellows would he be superseded or disputed and in the early days at Kirtland, and elsewhere one or more of his associates were more than once, for their impudence, helped from the congregation by his (Joseph’s) foot, and at one time at a meeting at Kirtland, for insolence to him, he soundly thrashed his brother William who boasted himself as invincible. And while with him in such fraternal, social and sometimes convivial moods, we could not then so fully realize the greatness and majesty of his calling, which, since his martyrdom, has continued to magnify in our lives, as the glories of this last dispensation more fully unfold to our comprehension. (Benjamin F. Johnson Letter to George S. Gibbs, 1903)
Parley P. Pratt:
I bear this testimony this day, that Joseph Smith was and is a Prophet, Seer, and Revelator—an Apostle holding the keys of this last dispensation and of the kingdom of God, under Peter, James, and John. And not only that he was a Prophet and Apostle of Jesus Christ, and lived and died one, but that he now lives in the spirit world, and holds those same keys to usward [sic] and to this whole generation. Also that he will hold those keys to all eternity; and no power in heaven or on the earth will ever take them from him; for he will continue holding those keys through all eternity, and will stand—yes, again in the flesh upon this earth, as the head of the Latter-day Saints under Jesus Christ, and under Peter, James, and John. He will hold the keys to judge the generation to whom he was sent, and will judge my brethren that preside over me; and will judge me, together with the Apostles ordained by the word of the Lord through him and under his administration. When this is done, those Apostles will judge this generation and the Latter-day Saints; and they will judge them with that judgment which Jesus Christ will give unto them; and they will have the same spirit and the same mind as Jesus Christ, and their judgment will be his judgment, for they will be one. (Parley P. Pratt, September 7, 1856, JD 5:195-196)
President Joseph Smith was in person tall and well built, strong and active; of a light complexion, light hair, blue eyes, very little beard, and of an expression peculiar to himself, on which the eye naturally rested with interest, and was never weary of beholding. His countenance was ever mild, affable, beaming with intelligence and benevolence; mingled with a look of interest and an unconscious smile, or cheerfulness, and entirely free from all restraint of affectation of gravity; and there was something connected with the serene and steady penetrating glance of his eyes, as if he would penetrate the deepest abyss of the human heart, gaze into eternity, penetrate the heavens, and comprehend all worlds.
He possessed a noble boldness and independence of character; his manner was easy and familiar; his rebuke terrible as the lion; his benevolence unbounded as the ocean; his intelligence universal, and his language abounding in original eloquence peculiar to himself—not polished—not studied—not smoothed and softened by education and refined by art; but flowing forth in its own native simplicity, and profusely abounding in variety of subject and manner. He interested and edified, while, at the same time, he amused and entertained his audience; and none listened to him that were ever weary with his discourse. I have even known him to retain a congregation of willing and anxious listeners for many hours together, in the midst of cold or sunshine, rain or wind, while they were laughing at one moment and weeping the next. Even his most bitter enemies were generally overcome, if he could once get their ears.
I have known him when chained and surrounded with armed murderers and assassins who were heaping upon him every possible insult and abuse, rise up in the majesty of a son of God and rebuke them, in the name of Jesus Christ, till they quailed before him, dropped their weapons, and, on their knees, begged his pardon, and ceased their abuse.
In short, in him the characters of a Daniel and a Cyrus were wonderfully blended. The gifts, wisdom and devotion of a Daniel were united with the boldness, courage, temperance, perseverance and generosity of a Cyrus. And had he been spared a martyr’s fate till mature manhood and age, he was certainly endued with powers and ability to have revolutionized the world in many respects, and to have transmitted to posterity a name associated with more brilliant and glorious acts than has yet fallen to the lot of mortal. As it is, his works will live to endless ages, and unnumbered millions yet unborn will mention his name with honor, as a noble instrument in the hands of God, who, during his short and youthful career, laid the foundation of that kingdom spoken of by Daniel, the prophet, which should break in pieces all other kingdoms and stand forever.(Autobiography of PPP, pp. 31-34)
Joseph Smith’s own statement about how he views governing the people:
I teach them [the people] correct principles, and they govern themselves. (Joseph Smith, as reported in the Millennial Star, November 15, 1851, as part of a conversation Joseph Smith had with Stephen A. Douglas)