Roosevelt began the work of reform that became the hallmark of his presidency while serving as U.S. Civil Service Commissioner. He made a name for himself leading his Rough Riders in the Spanish-American War and after accelerating through the offices of governor of New York and vice president became, in 1901, the youngest man ever to serve as president of the United States. During his two terms, he opposed big labor while expanding the power of the presidency, developing consumer protection laws, accelerating the creation of national forests, and winning the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to resolve the Russo-Japanese War.
In 1902, Utah, which had become a state just five years earlier, elected Smoot to represent it in Congress. Smoot was a prominent Mormon born into a polygamous family that had settled in Salt Lake City. Although not a polygamist, (the practice had been declared a felony with the passage of the Edmunds Anti-Polygamy Act of 1882), Smoot’s eligibility to serve was contested. The move was not without precedent; in 1898, the House of Representatives refused to seat Mormon leader B.H. Roberts because he engaged in polygamy. Although the church had renounced polygamy in its “1890 Manifesto,” Reed’s election prompted the Senate to launch a hearing into the practice, which lasted from 1904-1907 and was broadened to probe into Mormon theology and worship practices. The church’s President Joseph F. Smith issued a “Second Manifesto” in April 1904 condemning polygamy, but Smoot’s Senate colleagues continued their hearing until February 20, 1907, two days after President Roosevelt penned our letter, when a vote was held.
Over the course of the hearings, our letter’s recipient, Senator Albert Hopkins, became convinced not only that Smoot was not a polygamist but “that to refuse him a seat in the senate merely because he held certain religious views would be a violation of the section of the constitution prohibiting religious tests as a qualification for any office or public trust under the United States,” and it was Hopkins that led Smoot’s defense, (“Albert J. Hopkins, Lawyer and Statesman,” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, Shaw). Smoot was reelected in 1908 and held a seat in Congress until 1932, during which time he was Roosevelt’s ally, cosponsoring legislation related to the establishment of the National Park Service, among other things. Smoot is probably best known as one-half of the 1930 Smoot-Hawley Tariff that contributed to the Great Depression. Written on a folded sheet of stationery with the original envelope. Folded with some dust staining and wear; otherwise in very good condition.