Brigham Young University, Harold B Lee Library
This so-called "Mormon Barn" was located near Lakeville. It is more accurately known as the barn once belonging to Roger and Sarah Whittles. LDS services and various other meetings were held here. Tradition holds that the Prophet Joseph Smith and his brother, Samuel, preached in this barn and slept in the loft. Several years later several individuals were recruited for Zion's Camp here. The main structure fell in 2008.
Local Mormon roots go deep
Candidate Mitt Romney is a member of this American-founded church. During these months of seemingly unending Republican Party primaries most Americans know well of his Latter Day Saints faith.
The Mormons, as they’re also known, have long been part of the historic stage in Central and Western New York State’s religious heritage. In fact, it has been 180 years.
A county history, “Celebrating Our Past,” reminds readers that “Mormons from several parts of Livingston County moved west, eventually settling in Utah.” (page 22)
“Glancing Backwards current subject is not about LDS-County connections nor concerned with the Lakeville area Wattle’s Farm Mormon Barn where an LDS activist verified founder Joseph Smith Jr. and his brother Samuel visited several times and from where Joseph preached.
It is based on prominent LDS members in the political arena, both past and more recent. Sources draw on “The Power and the Promise” by Richard and Joan Ostling. (1999)
James W. Wadsworth Jr. of Geneseo entered the U.S. Senate in 1914, the first popularly- elected New Yorker in that post. As a son of the former Congressman, “Boss Wadsworth,” he immediately felt comfortable in that mostly Old Boy, Protestant legislative body.
Wadsworth soon met a Senatorial pariah from Utah. He was Reed Smoot, elected in 1903 but not permitted to occupy his Senatorial seat until 1907 after 3,000 pages of pro-and-con Committee testimony. Inaccurately, a serious charge was that he had been a polygamist, having multiple wives.
By that time such a practice had been outlawed by both his church and the U.S. Supreme Court. Realistically Smoot had been on trial for simply being a Mormon, also as a member of the Ruling Quorum of 12.
Such an important religious dignitary had never served in the Senate at the same time. As with John F. Kennedy supposedly being influenced by the Pope, it was suggested Smoot would place LDS interests before his responsibility as an American.
109 years later, four LDS Senators are members of Congress. Senator Harry Reid is the Democratic Party Majority leader, sometimes supporting positions antithetical to LDS core beliefs.
Perhaps James Wadsworth never met an LDS member before entering the Senate. Both Smoot and Wadsworth voices were heard in agreement when they opposed the Prohibition Amendment in 1920.
As conservatives, both believed the federal government had no part in interfering with state rights. Ironically, Smoot’s Utah cast the deciding vote to repeal the Prohibition Amendment.
Both Senators worked well together in 1933 on the Military Affairs Committee, worrying about America’s armed strength in another war. Wadsworth described Smoot as a “hard fighter, a forceful speaker.” (Martin Fausold, James Wadsworth Jr.) Even in his freshman year in the Senate, J.W. “admired a number of fellow senators including Smoot of Utah, the ‘Watchdog of the Treasury.’”
But there was an important divide between the two men James and his wife Alice Wadsworth already were part of D.C. society. Senator and Mrs. Smoot were ostracized. Weekly LDS worship was held in their livingroom. Finally President Theodore Roosevelt paid his special respects to Mrs. Smoot at a political reception, this gesture somewhat helped their social acceptance.
Returning to candidate Mitt Romney, his father was a highly respected governor of Michigan who had no success gaining the Republican presidential nomination. His mother ran for the Senate from Michigan in 1970 but lost in a landslide.
As part of the American political landscape we know unlikely persons are elected, then work together. That’s part of our American promise.