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Reed Smoot

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Scarce letter by Smoot, the first Mormon and only church Apostle ever to serve in the United States Senate

Reed Smoot, 1862–1941.  Member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1900–1941; United States Senator from Utah, 1903–1933.  Typed letter signed, Reed Smoot, one page, 8” x 10½”, on stationery of the United States Senate, December 22, 1919. 

This letter has a nice double association to the State of Utah and the Mormon Church.  Smoot replies to a request for his opinion about the best history of Utah, referring his correspondent to the history by Orson F. Whitney, a fellow Apostle and member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.  He writes:  “I am in receipt of your letter . . . advising me that you are forming a collection of State Histories for your library, and would like my opinion as to the authoritative one on Utah.  You ask if there is a better one than Bancroft’s history, which you have. / Answering your letter, will state that the best history of Utah, written up to date, is that written by Orson F. Whitney, in four volumes.  A letter addressed to Mr. Whitney, 160 Fourth Avenue, Salt Lake City, Utah, will give you all the information you desire in relation to this work.  Bancroft’s history is considered a very good history of Utah as far as it goes.”

After graduating from Brigham Young Academy, now Brigham Young University, in 1879, Smoot served as a Mormon missionary in England.  He returned to Utah and became a successful businessman in the area around Salt Lake City.  He grew in stature in the hierarchy of the LDS church, and in 1900 he was ordained as an Apostle and a member of the church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.  In the LDS church, Apostles are those who devote their lives to full-time church service, overseeing the growth of the global church and evangelizing worldwide.  The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles is the church’s second-highest leadership body, behind the First Presidency, and consists of 12 men whom the church gives the same divine responsibility as the early New Testament apostles.  Smoot served as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles from 1900 to 1941, and at the time of his death, Smoot he was third in the line of succession to lead the LDS Church.

The Utah legislature elected Smoot to the United States Senate in 1902.  He was the first Mormon and the only Apostle ever to serve in the Senate.  His religion caused a controversy, with rumors that the church secretly still promoted polygamy and that Smoot had taken a secret oath of vengeance against the United States.  After three years of hearings, the Senate voted to allow Smoot to retain his seat. 

As a Senator, Smoot co-sponsored the legislation that established the National Park Service in 1916.  He also co-sponsored the controversial Smoot-Hawley Tarriff Act in 1930, which imposed record-high import tariffs on more than 20,000 dutiable items, and which many historians now think deepened the Great Depression.  He was defeated for reelection in 1932.

Whitney (1855–1931), whose history Smoot promotes in this letter, was a Mormon missionary, historian, educator, and author.  He taught theology and English at Brigham Young College, edited the church publication Millennial Star, wrote the lyrics to several LDS hymns, and served as the Assistant Church Historian until he was called as an Apostle.  He was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles from 1906 to 1931.

Smoot’s letters appear to be scarce. We have found only one sold at auction—nearly 20 years ago.

Smoot has signed this letter with a beautiful 4¾” black fountain pen signature.  The letter has flattened intersecting horizontal and vertical mailing folds, one of which affects the “Sm” in Smoot’s last name.  There are paper clip impressions and stains and an area of toning at the upper left.  The letter is in fine condition.


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