Sunday, October 18, 2009

Reed Smoot Hearings - An Introduction

This is meant to be a quick introduction to the committee hearings. Nothing concrete about the hearing is discussed right now; just an overall "how I found the transcripts" and what I generally thought of it.

I have spent quite a bit of time researching this particular subject, and had a few people ask me to summarize what I've learned.  Therefore, after reading the entire transcripts of the Reed Smoot hearings, I have decided to describe the contents of them here on this blog.  The format of a blog will allow me to post pictures, give commentary, and even quote testimony when necessary.

The Smoot hearings are a relatively unknown piece of Mormon history.  They are tucked away neatly in obscurity due to the length of time elapsed since the hearing, the enormous volume of material to digest, and the fact that most everyone that lived during that time period has passed from this life.  The most common phrase I hear from people aside from "The what hearings?" and "When did this happen?" is, "So what?  It doesn't concern us today."  Even the so-called 'baby-boomers' rarely have any insight in the hearings beyond a rudimentary understanding of what happened.  After the passing of 100+ years, the Smoot hearings now only attract the most diligent historians or researchers.  So, as a way to fight ignorance, apathy, indifference, and possibly a suppression of the hearings, this blog will try to give life to this century old story.

My first exposure to the Smoot hearings was in a religion class at BYU with Susan Easton Black, an excellent professor of LDS Church History.  The coverage of this event was about 2 minutes and went something like this:

"Reed Smoot was an apostle of the Mormon Church elected to the Senate of the United States for Utah, and his election was protested mainly by anti-Mormons in Utah who didn't like the fact that he was an Apostle and now a Senator.  There was a committee hearing before the Senate to answer the protests and determine if Senator Smoot could retain his seat.  During the committee hearings many of the Church's general authorities testified, including President Joseph F. Smith.  At the end of the hearings, a vote by the Senate allowed Senator Smoot to retain his seat."
I was led to believe that many of the teachings of Joseph F. Smith and fundamental LDS church doctrine were solidified because of this committee hearing; additionally, these teachings could be found in the book Gospel Doctrine by Joseph F. Smith.

I eventually picked up a copy of Gospel Doctrine from a bookstore.  To my surprise, the book did not have any comments, descriptions, or perspectives that enlightened me on the Smoot hearings; nor did it give any kind of a larger perspective on this period of history in the church, which really disappointed me.  What I purchased the book for was not at all what was contained in the book.  In fact, the book is what I would consider the precursor to Bruce R. McConkie's pivotal book, Mormon Doctrine.

Ten years later as I was studying, I ran across a reference concerning the Smoot case.  The summary I found was fairly typical of what I had heard before.  I initiated a Google search for more information, but this frustrated me.  There are no blogs that actually discuss the hearing; why?  Why is it hard to find something substantial online about this?  I decided right then that I wanted to find the committee hearing testimony and read it for myself.

After a few more clicks with Google, I downloaded the full committee testimony in 4 PDF files.  I quickly found that with 3400+ pages of testimony this project of mine was going to require a substantial amount of time.  It took around 3 months to read the testimony all the way through, and I read the first book twice (where Joseph F. Smith's testimony is recorded).

As I read the committee testimony, I took notes of what was talked about, general topics of discussion, and in some cases, word-for-word testimony from witnesses where a summary just wouldn't cut it.  I didn't think the notes were that long until I reviewed them ... wow!  I have some work to do to summarize my summary here in this blog.

I found the whole experience of reviewing the Smoot hearings extremely revealing.  My journey through the hearings left me with a greater appreciation of the men that ran the church back in the early 1900's.  I began to understand a little better how the church operated from the inside out; it was a rare look inside the operation for me.  The entire structure of the church was displayed before the Senate committee for review and questions.  A few examples of issues talked about are:  How a president/prophet is chosen.  How new members of the 12 are chosen.  The ins and outs of polygamy (from when it started to the current time) and polygamous cohabitation.  U.S. Laws and court cases passed and held against the Mormon Church.  The interferance of the church in politics, civil affairs, business ventures, etc., in both Utah and Idaho ... and the list goes on.  Everything was exposed for the view of the Senate committee and the national media to pick apart, ridicule, and profane that which was sacred.

As I find time, I'll put up more information about the Smoot hearings:  The committee members (I really detested Julius Ceasar Burrows - The Chairman - he just bothered me), lawyers (Robert W. Tayler was an extremely good attorney for the protestants), witnesses, schedule, Majority & Minority Reports, and public opinion in the NY Times and Deseret News about the hearing.  I seriously doubt very few will find this as fascinating as I did, but at least there will be some kind of semi-detailed freely available public record and commentary of it on the internet.

Here's a quick summary of the background of the hearings:
Reed Smoot was elected by the Utah legislature in 1902, to be Utah's junior Senator (Senator Kearns, a non-Mormon being the senior).  His election was immediately protested due to his being an apostle (in 1900 he was set apart for that calling) by several non-Mormon groups in Salt Lake City (a single protest even claimed he was a polygamist, which was a falsehood).  He was sworn in, the protests were filed, and the committee determined that there was sufficient evidence to warrant a hearing; so, from 1903 through 1907 this hearing dragged out through the Senate.

As an aside, one interesting piece of history here is that Robert Tayler, the attorney for the protestants, was the committee chairman when B.H. Roberts was denied a seat in the House of Representatives (1899-1900), because Mr. Roberts was a polygamist.  Because of this prior experience, Mr. Tayler was well versed in the subject matter and knew Utah politics, the Mormon religion, and how Congress worked to declare a seat vacant.  He was, needless to say, very good at his job, and it showed in his direct and cross-examination of witnesses. 

Senate Resolution 142:
Resolved, That Reed Smoot is not entitled to a seat as a Senator of the United States from the State of Utah.

The final vote in the Reed Smoot matter was taken on S.R. 142 on Feb. 20, 1907.  28 Senators voted to vacate his seat; 42 Senators voted to allow him to retain his seat; 20 Senators abstained (including Senator Smoot).  Because a two-thirds majority was required, this was a convincing victory for Senator Smoot.  Ironically enough, over the next 26 years he became one of the most powerful Senators in the country.

More to come later ...

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