Reed Smoot (U.S. Senator)

Reed Smoot (January 10, 1862February 9, 1941) was a native-born Utahn that served in the United States Senate. Smoot was also a prominent leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), serving as an apostle and as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles from 1900 until his death in 1941. At the time of his death, Smoot was third in the line of succession to lead the LDS Church.

Born in Salt Lake City, Utah Territory, Smoot was the son of Mormon pioneer and former mayor of Salt Lake City, Abraham O. Smoot and Anne Kristina (Morrison) Smoot. Reed Smoot attended public schools and the University of Utah, and graduated from Brigham Young Academy (now Brigham Young University) in Provo, Utah in 1879. After graduation, he served as a Mormon missionary in England. He married Alpha M. Eldredge of Salt Lake City on September 17, 1884. They were the parents of seven children. On April 8, 1900, Smoot was ordained as an apostle of the LDS Church and a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

After becoming an apostle in 1900, he received the approval of church president Joseph F. Smith to run for office in 1902 as a Republican. Reed Smoot was elected to the United States Senate as a Republican Senator from Utah to the 58th Congress in 1902. His election sparked a bitter four-year battle in the Senate on whether Smoot was eligible or should be allowed to serve, due to his position as a Mormon apostle. Many were convinced that his association with the church disqualified him from serving in the United States Senate. Only a few years earlier, another prominent Utah Mormon, B.H. Roberts, had been elected to the House of Representatives but was denied his seat on the basis that he practiced plural marriage.

Smoot did not practice plural marriage, and the LDS Church had officially renounced the practice of plural marriage in an 1890 Manifesto before Utah became a state. However, some journalists alleged church leaders had continued to secretly approve of New or Post-Manifesto plural marriages. Rumors of these marriages were published by the anti-Mormon Salt Lake Tribune. As a result of these charges of continued plural marriages, the Senate began an investigation into Smoot's eligibility. The Smoot Hearings began on January 16, 1904. The hearings included exhaustive questioning into the continuation of plural marriage within the state of Utah and the LDS Church, and questions on church teachings, doctrines and history. Although Smoot was not a polygamist, the charge by those opposed to his election to the Senate was that he could not swear to uphold the Constitution of the United States while serving in the highest echelons of an organization they believed sanctioned law breaking.

There were claims that temple-attending Latter-day Saints took an "oath of vengeance" against America for past grievances. As a leader of the LDS Church, Senator Smoot was accused of taking this oath, which Smoot denied. Five of the U.S. Senators who participated in the investigation agreed, writing, "As to the 'endowment oath,' it is sufficient in this summary to say that the testimony is collated and analyzed in the annexed statement, and thereby shown to be limited in amount, vague, and indefinite in character, and utterly unreliable because of the disreputable and untrustworthy character of the witnesses. Although the majority of the committee recommended that Smoot be removed from office, on February 20, 1907 the Senate defeated the proposal and Smoot was allowed to serve in the Senate. Smoot was reelected in 1908 and continued to serve in the Senate until his defeat in 1933.

Smoot was Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee from 1923 to 1933 and served on the Senate Appropriations Committee. He became active in the national Republican Party and served as a delegate to the Republican national convention in 1908, 1912, 1916, 1920, and 1924. He was Chairman of the 1928 Resolutions Committee at the 1928 Republican National Convention and chairman of the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Smoot was a co-sponsor of the Smoot-Hawley Tariff in 1930, which raised U.S. import tariffs on over 20,000 dutiable items to record levels, and, as some historians claim, contributed to the circumstances which resulted in the Great Depression. U.S. President Herbert Hoover signed the act into law on June 17, 1930.

Smoot served five terms before being defeated in the 1932 election by Democrat Elbert D. Thomas. After his unsuccessful reelection campaign, Smoot moved back to Salt Lake City. He retired from active business and political pursuits to dedicate his remaining years as an apostle for the Mormon church. During a visit to St. Petersburg, Florida, Smoot died on February 9, 1941 and was buried in Provo, Utah.

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