Grampa Bill's General Authority. Pages
Reed Smoot Reed Smoot

1862 - 1941

  • Born 1862 in Salt Lake City, Utah
  • Baptized 1870
  • Ordained Deacon 1877
  • Ordained Priest 1879
  • Ordained Elder 1880
  • Married Alpha M. Eldridge 1884; six children
  • Ordained Seventy 1884
  • Ordained High Priest 1895
  • Ordained Apostle and sustained to the Twelve 1900
  • Elected to the United States Senate from 1902 (term began 1903) through 1932
  • Died 1941 Saint Petersburg, Florida

    Reed Smoot was a member of the Council of Twelve Apostles from 1898 until his death in 1941 and a United States Senator from 1903 to 1932. He was the son of Abraham O. Smoot and Anna Kirstine Mouritsen, and was born Jan. 10, 1862, in Salt Lake City, Utah. He received his first schooling under Miss Barbara Romney, daughter of George Romney of the Twentieth Ward, who in 1868 opened a small school in her father's house. The following year the boy attended the Ward school, taught by Wm. Willes, and kept up his attendance until after the school was taken in charge by Dr. Karl G. Maeser in the year 1870.

    Two years later that part of Abraham O. Smoot's family of which Reed was a member removed to Provo, where another portion of the family had resided since 1868 and where Bishop Smoot, ex-mayor of Salt Lake City, was elected to a similar office and was also appointed president of the Utah Stake of Zion. His son Reed continued to live there for many years. At Provo he attended the Timpanogas branch of the University of Deseret, the predecessor of the Brigham Young Academy, which, next to the great man whose name it bears, and co-equally with Dr. Maeser, its educational founder, owes its existence to our Apostle's honored sire, the late Pres. Abraham O. Smoot. Reed attended the Academy's first term in April, 1876, being one of twenty-nine students with which the institution opened. He passed through all the higher branches then taught there, and at one time was the only student in the academic department, from which he was graduated in 1879.

    He studied principally along commercial lines, and at intervals, mainly during vacations, worked in the Provo Woolen Mills, which his father and others had founded and which started up in 1872. There he obtained his first insight into manufacture, a practical insight, for he worked in every department of the factory. Immediately upon entering the mills, he formed the characteristic resolve to one day become their manager; an ambition realized eleven years later. Upon leaving school, and after conferring with his father and his tutor, Dr. Maeser, he fully made up his mind to pursue a commercial career, and with that in view took a humble position in the Provo Co-operative Institution, the first co-operative store organized in Utah under the impetus of the great co-operative movement projected by Pres. Brigham Young in 1868.

    Beginning at the bottom of the ladder, Reed went to work sacking fruit, sorting potatoes, and doing odd jobs about the place, but all the while keeping his eye on the mark for which he had set out. One day his father entered the store, and in conversation with the superintendent, Robert C. Kirkwood, happened to say, "I see you have Reed here, but I guess he won't stay with you very long." Reed overheard the remark, and though not meant unkindly nor said slightingly, it caused the youthful sacker of potatoes to set his teeth together and inwardly determine: "I will stay here until I am superintendent of this institution." That determination was adhered to, and in September, 1880, less than eighteen months after he uttered the prediction, it was fulfilled. He became superintendent of the Co-operative Institution and remained such until April, 1884, when he was made manager of the Provo Woolen Mills; thus realizing his previous resolve.

    His first call to the mission fieldósupplementing a notice previously givenócame in the year 1880, but was rescinded, as his services were needed as superintendent of the cooperative store. His second call was in March, 1884, when he was again stopped from going abroad, and given by Pres. John Taylor a five years' mission as manager of the Woollen Mills. Another call was made upon him in October, 1890, and in November of that year, he left home en route for Liverpool, the headquarters of the European Mission. This was his first absence from America, barring a brief visit with his father to the Hawaiian Islands, from May 2nd to July 19th, 1880; but he had visited on business nearly every State of the Union.

    Prior to going upon his mission he had not been very active in religious matters, but had thrown his whole soul into business and was fast becoming a man of means and of consequent financial influence in the community. In fact, he was so prosperous, and so intensely interested in money making, that it was feared and said by some that Reed Smoot and religion were drifting apart. Some went so far as to predict that if another call came for a mission (he had already had two, and had been prevented from going through no fault of his own) he would refuse to accept it. How groundless these fears and assertions, and how unwarranted such a prediction, was shown by his prompt departure for Europe in the fall of 1890, and by the subsequent great change that came over him in relation to spiritual things.

    While abroad he labored principally in the Liverpool office as bookkeeper and emigration clerk, under the presidency of Apostle Brigham Young, Jr. He also visited and spoke at the various conferences, and from July 2nd to August 6th, 1891, was absent from England touring the continent with Dr. James E. Talmage, who was visiting Europe, and Elder Samuel A. King, one of the Utah missionaries. The party passed successively through Belgium, Holland, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and France. While at Liverpool Elder Smoot became well acquainted with the leading officials of the Guion Steamship line, which had for many years the bulk of the "Mormon" emigration from Liverpool, and was treated by them with the greatest courtesy and consideration. Mr. George Ramsden, the old-time manager of the Guion shipping agency, made him welcome at his home and manifested almost a father's love for him. Mr. John A. Marsh, the head man of the Guion company, also took much interest in him, and appointed him his agent as a passage broker; a situation which, though it brought no salary, was of advantage to the emigrational interests of the Church. While he was acting in this capacity the change was made by which "Mormon" emigrants, who formerly had but the usual steerage accommodations, were provided with intermediate passage over the Atlantic.

    Elder Smoot was called home by a telegram from Pres. Wilford Woodruff, which informed him of the serious illness of his father, and in response to this summons he sailed from Liverpool on the 19th of September, and arrived at Provo Oct. 1, 1891. For a short time he assisted his father as manager of the Provo Lumber Manufacturing and Building Company, one of the industries that Pres. Smoot had established, and straightened out a contract between that company and the Territorial Insane Asylum. In the spring of 1892, he resumed his former position as manager of the Provo Woolen Mills, which under his able superintendency achieved a splendid success.

    At the time Elder Smoot went to Europe he was a married man and had been since Sept. 17, 1884, when he wedded Miss Alpha M. Eldredge, daughter of Horace S. Eldredge, one of the First Seven Presidents of the Seventies. Her mother was Mrs. Chloe A. Redfield Eldredge, daughter of Harlow Redfield, one of the founders of Provo. There Elder Smoot built a handsome home as the domicile of himself and wife and their steadily increasing family, They had six children, and their married life was a happy one. After his return from England, he launched out in business more extensively than ever, and his spiritual development, which his mission had awakened, likewise continued. He was the main promoter of the Provo Commercial and Savings Bank, and was from the first its president. He engaged considerably in mining, and was made vice president of the famous Grand Central Mining Company; also of the Victoria Mining Company. He erected a number of business blocks, and became a director in the Clark-Eldredge Company of Salt Lake City, as well as in various other important concerns.

    In politics Mr. Smoot was a staunch Republican. He was honored with numerous important official positions. From March 15, 1894, until the advent of Statehood, he served as a director of the Territorial Insane Asylum, by appointment of Governor Caleb W. West, and after Utah entered the Union, he was appointed by Governor Heber M. Wells as a member of the Semi-Centennial Commission, which in 1897 conducted the great Pioneer Jubilee.

    Elder Smoot's ecclesiastical record is as follows: He was baptized at eight years of age in the Endowment House at Salt Lake City, and was ordained a Deacon July 15, 1877. In 1879 he was made a Priest, and in April, 1880, an Elder. Four years later he was ordained a Seventy by Elder Abraham H. Cannon, and in April, 1895, was ordained a High Priest under the hands of Pres. Joseph F. Smith. At the same time he was appointed second counselor to Pres. Edward Partridge, who had succeeded Pres. Abraham O. Smoot, deceased, as the presiding authority of the Utah Stake of Zion. Elder Smoot continued to serve as one of the presidency of that Stake until called to the Apostleship April 8, 1900. The same day he was sustained in that exalted position by the voice of the general conference, and was ordained an Apostle by Pres. Lorenzo Snow the day following.

    While a member of the Utah Stake presidency he was appointed to raise means to pay off the debt hanging over the unfinished Stake Tabernacle, and to complete that structure. That duty he performed with his usual promptitude and success, the debt being cancelled and the building completed. He acted for years as one of the board of trustees of the Brigham Young Academy, and continued as a member of its executive committee. He solicited subscriptions for and was the main instrument in the erection of the new college hall, an adjunct to the Academy.

    Many knew of the valuable aid Reed Smoot rendered from time to time in a financial and executive way to this or that struggling institution, but few were aware of his private acts of beneficence. It has been said that ostentatious charity insults the misery it would relieve. Reed Smoot's charity was not of that kind. He would not ask a friend in trouble, "What can I do for you?" or say, "If there is anything you want, let me know;" thus throwing upon the afflicted soul an additional burden and subjecting it to unnecessary humiliation. He shrewdly saw the need and tactfully supplied it, without speaking or awaiting a word. And this is charity, true charity; for it is generosity, it is bigness of heart, and as far outsoars mere almsgiving as the eagle outsoars the swan.

    In person Apostle Smoot was tall and well built, though his unusual height made him appear almost slender in frame. He moved with the rapid, energetic stride characteristic of the rustling business man. He was punctual in keeping his appointments, and, as he said, owed his greatest losses in time to the failure of other men to promptly keep theirs. He possessed a fearless candor, saying exactly what he thought, and yet was courteous, considerate and kind-hearted. While neither a preacher nor a writer, he expressed himself with intelligence, earnestness and humility, both by tongue and pen.

    In 1902 Reed Smoot was elected to the United States Seanate from the State of Utah. Before seating the senator-elect the U.S. Senate conducted lengthy hearings into his alleged involvement in plural marriage and into the policy and government of the Church. Few events have had greater impact on the Church and its public image than the highly publicized Smoot Hearings of 1903-1907.

    The 1890s had seen the Church pass through some of its most challenging times, including the tumultuous political fight for Utah statehood following the manifesto of 1890 (officially curtailing new plural marriages) and presidential amnesty for Church officers who had practiced polygamy, initiating the process of accommodation and acculturation to mainstream America. Euphoria, however, was short-lived.

    The election to the U.S. Senate of Reed Smoot, a highly visible Church leader, unleashed intense anti-Mormon sentiment, which had subsided after statehood. Within a year of his election, more than 3,100 petitions arrived in Washington, D.C., protesting his seating and creating a furor that forced the Senate to examine the case. The prosecution focused on two issues: Smoot's alleged polygamy and his expected allegiance to the Church and its ruling hierarchy, which, it was claimed, would make it impossible for him to execute his oath as a United States senator. Although the proceedings focused on senator-elect Smoot, it soon became apparent that it was the Church that was on trial.

    The case opened with Church leaders subpoenaed to testify as to the power the Church exerted over its members in general and over General Authorities in particular. Investigators probed into past and present polygamous relationships of leaders and lay members alike. They raised questions on points of doctrine that affected how Church members and their leaders interacted with American society at large.

    Some of the testimony revealed situations and circumstances that put the Church in an unfavorable light. President Joseph F. Smith received especially harsh treatment in cross-examination. Some members of the Quorum of the Twelve refused to testify, which increased the hostility of senators already concerned about the Church's motives and conduct. Faced with intense pressure, Church leaders accepted the resignations of apostles Matthias Cowley and John W. Taylor, who were rumored to have performed plural marriages after the Manifesto. To further evidence good faith, in the annual April conference of 1904 President Smith issued a "Second Manifesto" that added ecclesiastical teeth to the Manifesto of 1890. Excommunication would now follow for those who refused to relinquish the practice of plural marriage.

    Despite some damaging testimony, Senator Smoot gradually won support for three reasons. First, his character was found to be above reproach, and charges against him and the Church proved groundless. Second, U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt was sympathetic to Smoot's position; his motivation was partly personal but also political, as Senator Smoot and a Republican Utah were important to him. Third, the defense convinced a majority of senators that Smoot's apostleship would not impair his ability to put the oath of the senator first in executing his responsibilities.

    The victory for Elder-Senator Smoot was a victory for the Church, providing the political legitimacy it had been seeking since 1850. It also launched a thirty-year career in the Senate that saw Senator Smoot reach the pinnacle of political success as one of the two or three most powerful senators in America during the 1920s. Perhaps more than any other individual, Reed Smoot molded and shaped the positive national image the Church was to enjoy throughout the twentieth century.

    Reed Smoot died in 1941 in Saint Petersburg, Pinellas County, Florida.

    Andrew Jenson, LDS Biographical Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, p.178
    Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol.4, Appendix 1
    Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol.3, SMOOT HEARINGS
    Lawrence R. Flake, Prophets and Apostles of the Last Dispensation, p.427
    2005 Church Almanac, p.65

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