Talmage at the Smoot Hearings, January of 1905

Well… here goes my first post, which is offered as a follow-up to Trevor’s excellent post on James E. Talmage’s diary last Saturday. Here are some additional excerpts from James E. Talmage’s diary. This material is a bit of a teaser for anyone interested in reading more about the Smoot hearings, or even an abridgment of the Smoot hearings published by Signature Books back in 2008. 🙂

For information and context on the Smoot hearings, see here, here, and here.

As background, Talmage’s testimony at Washington spans approximately 162 pages of published congressional text. However, not all of these pages are Q&A testimony, but rather include large sections of letters/chapters/speeches entered into the record by Senators as part of their questioning of Talmage. Talmage testified on three separate days: January 18, 19, and 24 in 1905. My abridged chapter on Talmage spans 46 pages (Chapter 23). Smoot testified after Talmage on January 20, 21, and 23.

Talmage was subpoenaed to Washington DC by Smoot’s defense team, and provided testimony on many doctrinal subjects. Very little analysis of Talmage’s testimony has been undertaken by scholars, and is something I think would be interesting as a future project. Or maybe Jim Harris or Spencer Fluhman will address the topic in their forthcoming biographies of Talmage? At the time of his testimony, Talmage was a “professor of geology in the State University” and described himself as “a lay member in the sense of holding no position of authority or local control.”

Talmage’s entries for the days he was in Washington include both his observations and commentary. He was underwhelmed by Smoot’s doctrinal knowledge, as reflected by his testimony, especially given Smoot’s high position in the Church hierarchy. Smoot was not a religious scholar, having spent most of his time and energy running business, and later a political career. It could be that Smoot in his testimony was intentionally playing doctrinal possum as a way to appear more acceptable to his Senate colleagues and the country. Who knows? I need to re-read Smoot’s testimony with this in mind.

I transcribed this from microfilm at BYU’s Special Collections back in 2004 or 2005, and any mistakes are mine. Here we go—

Wednesday, January 18, 1905– I was then called and was under direct examination during the forenoon and for about half of the afternoon sitting. Cross-examination was then begun, and I was under fire until adjournment. The attorney for the protestants—Mr. Tayler of Ohio is said to have been extremely keen and persistent with witnesses in the earlier stages of the so-called investigation. My judgment of his characteristics as an examining counsel may be briefly expressed—‘tricky, and practically unprincipled in his methods rather than strong.’ I had to demand repeatedly that he frame his questions so as to make them definite and unambiguous before I would attempt to answer. Well, the testimony is of record and the purpose and intent of both counsel and witness can be judged therefrom. The chief element in my testimony is doctrinal explanation. Among the books already introduced in evidence in the case is ‘The Articles of Faith,’ and I have had to make plain (seemingly a questionable compliment to the author that such is necessary) some of the statements then made. … The testimony as to doctrinal matters is I believe in strict accord with the conclusions reached in the deliberations of our committee at home and in conference with the First Presidency.

Friday January 20, 1905–Senator Smoot himself took his place in the witness chair…It is the general feeling that Bro. Smoot did his case much good by his own testimony. His greatest uncertainty was manifest in connection with questions on the doctrinal and theology of the church. This we all regret, because in view of the testimony long ago made part of the record in this case, that the First Presidency and Twelve are to the people “prophets, seers, and revelators” any statement from one of these officials on doctrinal points would appear to the Committee in the nature of an authoritative exposition, so that any variation expressed by a layman would be of little worth to them, except to show conflict of opinion and confusion in evidence. An early adjournment was taken this afternoon owing to Bro. Smoot’s indisposition.

Saturday January 21, 1905– Senator Smoot occupied the witness stand during the forenoon. No afternoon session was held. This respite afforded me the first opportunity I have had to make some visits to places of interest. Most of the afternoon was spent at the Smithsonian Institution and National Museum.

 Thursday January 26, 1905–Certain members of the Committee (Burrows who is the Chairman, and Dubois) have tried persistently to obtain from witnesses a description of the temple or endowment ceremonies. One J. H. Wallis…and a few other apostates from the Church have professed to give details as to these sacred ceremonies, but have presented their evidence in so garbled and false a form as to disprove itself. Particular attention has been given to alleged ‘oaths’ and prescribed penalties for divulging the same. Reed Smoot has been virtually lost sight of in the case, it is the Church that is assailed. The opinion of the attorneys for Smoot is that their ‘case’ is in good condition. I am not so confident as to the outcome.


Talmage at the Smoot Hearings, January of 1905 — 4 Comments

  1. Mike, Do we know why Talmage, and not some other Church writer, was called to testify? Did he volunteer? Also, do we know anything about how he was prepared to testify?

  2. Gary! Thanks for the questions. I’m going to need to do some additional research to ensure factual accuracy. But my extemporaneous answer is that earlier at the hearings, Talmage’s book “Articles of Faith” was quoted as an authoritative text approved by the First Presidency. Also, his work assisting with the publication of new editions of the scriptures qualified him. The Salt Lake Tribune reported in its Frank Cannon-esque way that the Church hierarchy picked him to testify, which is probably true. I’m sure Smoot and some his defense met to discuss who they wanted to secure to testify–who they believed would make the most positive impact and who would do the best job. The defense team is ultimately who decided who to send subpoenas to. I’m not sure Talmage officiously volunteered, but I’m sure he was happy to go. I know he met with Smoot’s defense team a few days earlier in Washington to discuss testimony strategy and such. I don’t know about his meetings previously in Utah before leaving to Washington. I think I have some other excerpts from his journal that cover this time period, I can try to track down.

  3. This is fascinating. His comment about the Twelve being “prophets, seers, and revelators” and therefore seeming authoritative is interesting–Talmage seems to disagree with their impression.

  4. Why does this not surprise me: “I have had to make some visits to places of interest. Most of the afternoon was spent at the Smithsonian Institution and National Museum.” Such an inquisitive mind.

    Thanks Mike for the interesting post.