Church, State, and Politics: The Diaries of John Henry Smith

Apostle and counselor in the First Presidency, prominent politician and co-founder of the Republican Party in Utah, consummate businessman and community activist, John Henry Smith (1848–1911) was an influential Latter-day Saint churchman in a turbulent and transitory era. In volume 4 of the Signature Press Diaries Series, Jean Bickmore White has edited Smith’s extensive diaries into one, albeit weighty, volume. Smith left over thirty-six volumes of personal journals as well as extensive papers and letters, making White’s selection responsibility both delightful and difficult.

John Henry, a son of Sarah Ann Libby and George A. Smith, an apostle and counselor to Brigham Young, was a candid chronicler. Told by President Joseph F. Smith that “I must keep an accurate history of facts as they occur” (33), John Henry surely did not disappoint his church-leader cousin. From the mundane and superficial to the gut-wrenching, John Henry described events with frankness and candor. I found myself alternately amused and saddened by his frank disclosures. I was amused (and empathetic) with missionary Smith’s observation that dinner at a Brother Cardwell’s featured “the dirtyest table and meal” (10) he ever saw and interested in his contrasting of the “homliest women” and “hardly average men” (40) of Berlin with their handsome counterparts in Paris (43). I was saddened to read of the comparatively few, but highly unfortunate, sexual indiscretions of certain elders and the resultant regret and anguish they experienced.

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