Latter-day Saint Life

How President Roosevelt Helped Bring the LDS Church Out of Obscurity


When Reed Smoot was elected a Utah Senator in January 1903, the U.S. Senate put up a strong fight to keep him from serving as a senator, opening up what is now known as the Smoot Hearings. At the time, Elder Smoot served as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and the Senate disliked the idea of having a high-ranking LDS Church leader in their midst. Though polygamy had been abolished almost 15 years ago, many U.S. citizens were still skeptical of the Church and its teachings. “It was during this time of public scrutiny of the Church that Theodore Roosevelt weighed in most consequentially on the side of the Mormons,” (Michael K Winder, Theodore Roosevelt Association Journal “Theodore Roosevelt and the Mormons,” 12).

President Roosevelt talked to several Church members, investigating claims against Elder Smoot. Of this, President Roosevelt said, “I looked into the facts very thoroughly, became convinced that Senator Smoot had told me the truth, and treated him exactly as I did all the other Senators—that is, strictly on his merits as a public servant.”

From then on, President Roosevelt maintained a close relationship with the Church and its members even after his end of term as president. While defending Elder Smoot, President Roosevelt visited Salt Lake City and a group of an estimated 40,000 people greeted him as he stepped off the train onto the platform.

Later that morning, President Roosevelt spoke in the LDS Tabernacle about the state of the west and the importance of living in harmony with the environment. He praised Utahans for flourishing in the desert and helping it prosper: “You took a territory which at the outset was called after the desert, and you literally—not figuratively—you literally made the wilderness blossom as the rose” (Michael K Winder, Theodore Roosevelt Association Journal “Theodore Roosevelt and the Mormons,” 13). But Salt Lake City was not the only place President Roosevelt visited; he also spoke in Ogden, Utah.

His visit to Salt Lake City might have been short, but it was not the last and it set up a positive relationship with the body of the Church and President Roosevelt, who is largely the person credited with bringing the Church out of obscurity. He helped Mormon missionary work when he visited Tennessee and helped defuse a rise in anti-Mormon material in 1910-1911. “Theodore Roosevelt also stands as a pivotal figure—the president who first openly embraced them as a people and welcomed them into national life” (Michael K Winder, Theodore Roosevelt Association Journal “Theodore Roosevelt and the Mormons,” 11).

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