Praise to the Man
"Praise to the Man" (originally titled "Joseph Smith") is a poem written as a tribute to Joseph Smith by Latter Day Saint leader and hymn writer William W. Phelps. The poem was composed soon after Smith's death, and was later set to music and adopted as a hymn of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church). It was first published anonymously in the church newspaper Times and Seasons in August 1844, approximately one month after Smith was killed. The hymn is still used within the LDS Church and is hymn number 27 in the current LDS Church hymnal.
Phelps, the hymn's author, became involved in the Church of Christ, the original name of the Latter Day Saint church founded by Joseph Smith, during its time in Kirtland, Ohio, and subsequently served as a leader in Missouri before leaving the church due to unresolved financial issues and personal dissatisfaction. Declaring himself an enemy to the Mormon prophet, Phelps offered to testify against Smith in an intended Missouri trial for treason in which Smith would be the main defendant. However, the proceeding never took place, and in 1839 Smith and his associates were allowed to escape to the newly established Mormon haven of Nauvoo, Illinois.
Two years later, Phelps experienced a change of heart toward Smith, and wrote him a repentant letter asking for forgiveness and a chance to rejoin the Latter Day Saints in Illinois. Smith's reply offered Phelps his full forgiveness and a return to the Latter Day Saints with no further consequences. Phelps was deeply touched by this development, and upon his return he became an enthusiastic and devoted disciple of Smith's. Phelps was invited to speak at Smith's funeral in June 1844. His poem, "Joseph Smith", followed in August of that same year, and has since become a popular Mormon hymn.
Part of the original text of the second verse read: "Long shall his blood, which was shed by assassins, / Stain Illinois, while the earth lauds his fame." In 1927, in accordance with its "good neighbor" policy, the LDS Church officially changed the words "Stain Illinois" to "Plead unto heav'n".
- Anonymous [W. W. Phelps], "Joseph Smith", Times and Seasons, 5 (1 August 1844), p. 607.
- "Minutes of a Conference", Evening and Morning Star, vol. 2, no. 20, p. 160 (May 1832).
- Roderick J. Linton, "The Forgiving Heart", Ensign, April 1993, p. 15.
- Smith was killed by a mob while imprisoned at Carthage, Illinois.
- George D. Pyper, Stories of the Latter-day Saint Hymns, their Authors, and Composers (1939) p. 100.
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