No one was more surprised than Reed Smoot when he was called to the LDS apostleship at age thirty-eight. He had not held a previous church office of significance. Yet, as the son of one of Utah’s wealthiest men and the husband of a ranking church leader’s daughter, he was destined for prominence of some kind. His role would come to be that of an ambassador for the church in Washington, D.C., rather than a strictly spiritual counselor.
When he was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1902, and during the ensuing hearings to challenge a Mormon’s right to hold office, Smoot was ineffective in swaying public opinion. But over the next thirty years as he increasingly socialized with corporate leaders and heads of state; in consulting with other senators, and they with him; and in spending long hours at the White House–even vacationing with two U.S. presidents–he emerged as one of the country’s most influential men.
It was because of Smoot’s political clout that Mormon immigrants were allowed to leave Ellis Island; that LDS colonists in Chihuahua were provided safe passage out of Mexico; and that missionaries were allowed back into Australia, Europe, New Zealand, and South Africa after World War I. On the other hand, his protection of Mormon sugar interests in Idaho and Hawaii caused instability in Cuba, his insistence on punitive reparations following World War I contributed to the outbreak of the Second World War, and his infamous Smoot-Hawley Tariff of 1930 hastened–some say caused–the Great Depression. In addition, beyond such well-intentioned, if short-sighted attempts to safeguard church and country, Smoot legislated federal subsidies that benefitted his own businesses.
A proponent of compromise, he repeatedly locked horns with Utah political and church leaders who thought he sold out too easily on moral issues. His opponents included Heber J. Grant, J. Reuben Clark, B. H. Roberts, Jessie Knight, and James Henry Moyle.
Within his own family, he was indulgent, yet often absent. When his wife was unavailable to attend White House dinners, he often took a female escort, as was the custom, and sent flowers home to his wife. After he argued for compulsory military induction on the senate floor, he immediately arranged for his own sons’ deferments and special appointments. He constantly came to his children’s aid, even though one was alcoholic, another mentally unstable, one fiscally profligate, and so on.
In his diaries, Smoot discloses something about every aspect of his life, whether personal or professional. He tells what went on behind closed doors in church and government circles, and he outlines the toll his government service took on his family. His candor and breadth make In the World an essential resource for United States and Latter-day Saint history.
Harvard S. Heath is curator of the Utah and American West Archives, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University; was a key research and writing assistant behind Ernest L. Wilkinson’s four-volume Brigham Young University: The First One Hundred Years; is the editor of In the World: The Diaries of Reed Smoot; and a contributor to The House of the Lord: A Study of Holy Sanctuaries Ancient and Modern. He has delivered papers at professional meetings of the Western History Association and elsewhere and published in the Journal of Mormon History, and he serves on the board of editors of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought.