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*Why Joseph’s POTUS Run was Downplayed (Part 8 of 8)

Over the years, few people have believed that Joseph Smith’s run for president was a serious candidacy.  Why is that?  Dr. Derek Sainsbury answers that question and discusses the role of apostles B.H. Roberts and Reed Smoot in downplaying Joseph’s POTUS run for the presidency.

Derek:  When the political manifesto is put out, where we’re told [that] the Church will not tell you which way to vote or be involved in politics that way anymore. We have B.H. Roberts, and then several years later, Reed Smoot both not be seated in Congress because they’re Mormon. Roberts is still polygamist.  Smoot is not and eventually Smoot does get seated. But it’s the longest and biggest investigation in senate history, as far as the number of things sent in and the number of things…

GT:  Smoot?

Derek:  So, when the Smoot hearings are happening is the same time that B.H. Roberts, again, the person who didn’t get seated, who won election to Congress, but was never seated, is commissioned by the First Presidency, to write (how do I put this?) the history of Joseph Smith, what we used to know as the History of the Church to re-edit it and add commentary, which he does. Then he writes his own full-scale commentary of the whole thing. In both of those, which then become the backbone for Latter-day Saint historians, in both of those, he downplays it big time. It’s a footnote. “Oh, they were just trying to have a third way or…”  Of course, he’s going to do that.  Think of the context of what’s going on. Literally, the President of our Church is sitting in a Senate hearing, being grilled about everything that he said about whether he receives prophecies or whatever. They’re looking at everything we print, and everything they say. Are we really going to print something that says Joseph Smith wanted to be President of the United States? Absolutely not. So, as those electioneers are all dying, so the living memory of it is gone. At the same time, we’re trying to distance ourselves from politics, is when these books are written. And then those books are used for decades as the launching point if you’re talking about Church History.  So, of course, the narrative has always been “nothing big, nothing big.” Until some non-Latter-day Saint historians and some–they were called the New Mormon Historians in the [19]60s and 70s started to pick up that, hey, maybe there was something more here. It’s just kind of continued to flourish.

Did you realize politics played a role in the Church downplaying Joseph Smith’s POTUS run?

We talk more about Roberts’ failing to get seated in the House of Representatives.  But remember, you have to be a newsletter subscriber to hear the conclusion of our conversation.  Sign up for free at https://GospelTangents.com/newsletter and I will send you a secret link!

BH Roberts downplayed Joseph’s POTUS run to help Reed Smoot get seated in the U.S. Senate.

Don’t miss our previous conversations with Dr. Sainsbury.

424:  Why Joseph Destroyed Expositor (Sainsbury)

423:  Theo-democracy in Deseret (Sainsbury)

422:  Anti-Slavery Missionaries in the South (Sainsbury)

421: Bobby Kennedy-Joseph Smith (Sainsbury)

420:  Electioneer Missionaries (Sainsbury)

419:  Mormons: The Original Swing Voters! (Sainsbury)

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Did Joseph Fielding Smith Win the Evolution Battle? (Part 2 of 8)

Early Mormon apostles BH Roberts, John A. Widtsoe, and James E. Talmage seemed to be very amenable to evolution.  It seems like Joseph Fielding Smith on the other hand, had an outsize influence on LDS thought, and tended more towards a creationist stance.  In our next conversation with Ben Spackman, we’ll talk about that dynamic, and how early leaders diverged, and how it seems like Smith temporarily won the evolutionary debate.

GT: So let me throw that out there. We talked about who won between Tertullian and Augustine and it sounds like Augustine won? Is that a fair assumption? Before you answer that, I also want to do this. Let’s talk about Talmage, Roberts and Widtsoe and Joseph Fielding Smith. It sounds like Joseph Fielding Smith won in a lot of minds.

Ben: In a lot of ways, I think he did. If you want to be cynical, he kind of waited until his opponents died. Then he published Man, His Origin and Destiny, which was kind of his young-Earth creationist book. Parts of that were written word for word 20 or 30 years earlier. None of his discussions with apostles, who were in some cases his senior and had Ph.D.’s in relevant fields shifted him one bit.

Ben:  On the one hand, you can look at that as very admirable. His strength was, he thought, and rightly so, at least in this narrow way, what is important is that we’re faithful to scripture. Where that goes wrong, and I would disagree with it, is how he read scripture. There are other examples of this in LDS history. I have made a very loose argument somewhere that, in a way, Joseph Fielding Smith was kind of the epitome of 19th century assumptions that Mormons had inherited. These other three guys were outsiders in several ways. First of all, they were all foreign, technically. Roberts was British, Talmage was British, Widtsoe was Norwegian. So they were not raised in a set of 19th century American assumptions. They were getting 19th century European assumptions which differed in some ways. They were all converts and so they were not raised with, what you might think of as religious Mormon assumptions that they would just start imbibing by osmosis, from age three onwards in church or something. So, it’s interesting that these three guys who are outsiders in significant ways are the ones who opposed Joseph Fielding Smith’s insider perspective. By insider I mean, you couldn’t be much more of an insider than Joseph Fielding Smith. I mean by his position, by his family, by his history. He was just at the center, at the core.

Check out our conversation…..

Joseph Fielding Smith's views supporting creationism over evolution seems to hold more sway than apostle BH Roberts, John A Widtsoe, and James E. Talmage in the LDS Church.
Joseph Fielding Smith’s views supporting creationism over evolution seems to hold more sway than apostle BH Roberts, John A Widtsoe, and James E. Talmage in the LDS Church.

Don’t forget to check out our previous conversation with Ben!

242: Evolution & Bible: Irreconcilable Differences? (Spackman)