The seating of Reed Smoot – a review

Let me begin by saying it is not a comprehensive review because I am still reading several other books at present but let me at least give you some impressions.

1st – Kathleen Flake is a very entertaining writer.  Her style is not caught up in impressing you with her understanding of large academic words, to me that is a huge benefit.  She also does an excellent job of setting the scene and showing the challenge that both sides faced in this situation.

2nd – the issue as argued by Professor Flake is that Mormon adherance to the principal had only been effected political pressure where military and legal pressure failed.

The other side story is how Joseph F. Smith took the church, dependant on the “Principle”, and made it fit more into a modern church without polygamy.

I found her argument compelling however I am still unsure of how much of Joseph F. Smith’s understood of the pressure put on Polygamy by the hearings.  In at least two different books I have read Smith either meant the second manifesto or he did not but was forced into accepting that it must be enforced.

The other side effect of this effort to put the church down a different road is how the church focused on its early history without polygamy.  I think here Flake is on safe ground as the modern church has for the most part tried to skip plural marriage as a discussion since the beginning of the 20th century.

While I cannot rank this work, I do think it offers a peak into a period which few modern Latter-day Saints really understand or appreciate.

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3 Responses to The seating of Reed Smoot – a review

  1. Sanford Barrett says:

    I finished reading this book a few weeks ago. It answered questions about the modern Church I have had for years. I often wonder how we got from the Mormonism of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young to where we are today. When you compare the two, the differences are rather stark. I often feel like the modern Church is a watered down version the pre-manifesto Church. I am not sure if I am being unfair to the modern Church or if I have an inflated picture of the pre-manifesto Church. Anyway, Flake does a fabulous job of showing the forces that came to bear upon the Church to force it to abandon one its very most important and central practices — polygamy. It also helped me understand the culture of secrecy and obfuscation connected with its practice. I came away with a better picture of and appreciation for Joseph F. Smith. The book showed how he could in good conscience answer questions the way he did at the Smoot hearings. He, of course, has been accused of flat out lying. The book shows it’s not that simple. The book documents the hire wire act Smith had to perform in abandoning polygamy. He managed to keep the Church together when the result could have been schism.

  2. David G. says:

    Thanks for the review, Jon. I don’t hestitate in ranking this book. In my opinion, it is one of the most important works on Mormon history to date. I say that because Flake succeeds in showing how Mormon history is important to American history. Her work is not without it’s flaws (her chapter on memory offers some fascinating insights but is based on some tenuous assumptions and could have used more research), but overall it’s a must read for anyone interested in Mormon history.

  3. Jon W says:

    my hesitation in ranking is because I have not really read enough of the history of the period to say for sure what is excellent, median and awful. Otherwise I agree wholeheartedly David

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