Before Orrin Hatch, Reed Smoot was Utah’s longest-serving member of Congress. He spent 30 years in the Senate. Not only that, he was an LDS (Mormon) apostle at the same time. At the time he first won election, the nation misunderstood and despised Mormons so much that the Senate did not actually let Smoot take his seat for four years! The Senators disliked the polygamy once practiced Smoot’s religion, even though Smoot wasn’t a polygamist at all....
A very unusual election.
Reed Smoot, the Apostle-Senator, played a big role in Utah before he was elected to the Senate. He ran a number of businesses, served in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), then became an apostle for the church in 1900. Two years later, he ran for the U.S. Senate on the Republican ticket and won.
His election caused a storm of debate. The Senators questioned whether Smoot would be more loyal to his country or his church. And they investigated evidence that members of the LDS church were still practicing polygamy.
The whole country—including President Theodore Roosevelt—followed the debate. Finally, four years after Smoot won his election, the Senate voted to let Smoot take his seat as a Senator.
He would become respected for his hard work, integrity, and great knowledge.
So what did Smoot do?
Senator Smoot remained in the Senate until 1932. For ten years, he chaired the Senate Finance Committee, a powerful position.
He also chaired the public lands committee. He was an expert in public land use issues and voted for conservation measures. He worked to:
He promoted business also. He wanted to keep businesses in other countries from selling too many products in the United States--in order to help U.S. businesses make more profits. So he helped write a law to put a heavy tax, or tariff, on goods coming into the U.S. from other countries. It was called the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act.
Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act—not so good, actually.
When the U.S. put tariffs on the goods other countries wanted to sell to Americans, the other countries were mad. So they put tariffs on the goods sold by American companies!
This hurt businesses--in the U.S and elsewhere. Instead of helping businesses sell more, the Smoot-Hawley Act raised the prices of goods and discouraged people from buying. In fact, many economists think that the Smoot-Hawley Tariff helped make the Great Depression of the 1930s the terrible, long downturn that it was.
A heartbreaking defeat.
In 1932, because people wanted so badly to end the Great Depression, Utah’s voters put new people into office. Senator Smoot lost his re-election bid to Elbert Thomas.
Smoot spent his last years serving the LDS church as apostle.
How he made a difference.
Senator Smoot raised the prominence of Utah and the LDS church, through his openness about his faith and his formidable knowledge and experience in how the country runs. His efforts to conserve the land’s resources and use them wisely helped the environment. His Smoot-Hawley Tariff unfortunately did not help the country or businesses as he intended, but it helped leaders know more about how a worldwide economy works.