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…
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 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!
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)