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Reed Smoot had distinguished career as church, national leader

SHARE Reed Smoot had distinguished career as church, national leader

For 30 years, Reed Smoot, Utah's apostle-senator, balanced the duties of church and state.

Smoot served five terms in the U.S. Senate. He was the first native-born Utahn to establish a national political reputation and the only LDS apostle to hold a national elected office.

In a letter written in 1957 to Sen. John F. Kennedy urging that Smoot be recognized as one the five most influential senators of the past, Sen. Wallace Bennett, R-Utah, wrote:

"Seldom, if ever, has any senator exercised the influence over an extended period of time which Senator Smoot had during the last two decades of his 30-year stint in the Senate…

"He played a key role in developing our National Parks system, and in writing basic legislation in such fields as civil service, public health and public lands. His work as chairman of the Public Buildings Commission of the District of Columbia from 1918 to 1933, his service on the Foreign Debt Committee after World War I and his role as economic advisor to three presidents are indicative of the scope of his interests and the breadth of his experience."

Deseret News photographers took many pictures of Smoot over the course of his life. Photo researcher Ron Fox has culled newspaper archives and the Library of Congress on-line archives for many of these pictures.

Smoot was born in Salt Lake City in 1862, when his father, Abraham O. Smoot, was the city's mayor. When he was 10, his family moved to Provo, where his father served three more terms as mayor and was president of the Utah LDS Stake. He was one of the 29 students who began the first term at the Brigham Young Academy in 1876. He accumulated a broad resume of business experience and was serving as second counselor in the presidency of the Utah Stake in 1900 when he was called to be a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles. Two years later, he received the approval of President Joseph F. Smith to run for a seat in the U.S. Senate.

His election by the Utah House of Representatives — senators were not selected by popular vote until 1911 — set off a firestorm of controversy. It would be four years and require numerous hearings in which the beliefs and practices of the LDS Church were aired on the national stage, before Smoot was allowed to take his seat in the Senate on Feb. 20, 1907.

In the end, most seemed to agree with the opinion of the San Francisco Monitor, as reprinted in the Feb. 14, 1903 Deseret News:

"Smoot, the Mormon, provided he is otherwise eligible, is no less qualified before the law to a seat in the Senate, than if he was a Methodist or a Baptist or a Presbyterian or an atheist. A man's religious opinions and professions are not supposed to have anything to do with his political rights in this republic."

Over the years he proved to be a defender of conservative principles and the Republican party. Smoot vehemently opposed the League of Nations as meaning "the destruction of the government and the Constitution of the United States" and helped craft the Smoot-Hawley tariff law in 1930 to protect the nation's economy.

Smoot was in the headlines often. He made national news when, at the request of President Herbert Hoover, he interrupted a honeymoon with his second wife, Alice Taylor Sheets, to participate in the debate and vote on the London Naval Treaty.

As reported in the July 14, 1930 Time magazine, "So eager was President Hoover to maintain a quorum that he asked Senator Reed Smoot, only three days a bridegroom, to forgo a Honolulu honeymoon and return immediately from Salt Lake City to Washington and, with new Mrs. Smoot, make the White House his home during the Treaty session."

Smoot served until 1933 when he was defeated in election by Democrat Elbert D. Thomas. He dedicated the rest of his years to his apostolic duties, and when he died in 1941 during a visit to St. Petersburg, Fla., he was third in line to succeed the president of the Church.

An editorial in the Feb. 11, 1941 Deseret News honored him, saying: "Elder Smoot during more than fifty years of his life had moved at home, in the nation's capital, and across the seas among great figures and rendered a wealth of service to his church, his state and his nation."

e-mail: mhaddock@desnews.com