In April 1900, about a year after Cora Birdsall won the patent for the land she had homesteaded, Reed Smoot was called to be an apostle. In March 1903, just after Cora’s trial in the bishop’s court, and while she was waiting for word from the First Presidency about her (premature) appeal to them of the decision of that court, Reed Smoot was elected by the Utah legislature to represent Utah in the United States Senate.
Smoot took his seat in the Senate, but almost immediately there began what was to become a four-year battle to expel Smoot from the Senate. Opposition to Smoot was ostensibly on the grounds that the election of an apostle violated the principle of separation of church and state. The Senate committee organized to inquire into that question initially focused on Smoot’s personal fitness for office – Was he a polygamist? (No, he was not and never had been.) Did any oaths he had taken in the Latter-day Saint temple render him unable to uphold his oath as a Senator to serve under the U.S. Constitution? (No, not without grossly exaggerating the terms of temple oaths and their practical effects on a Latter-day Saint’s public behavior. [Note: We’re not going to discuss temple oaths at the moment, either in this post or in comments.])
What began as an inquiry into Smoot’s personal qualifications quickly became an inquisition against the Church itself, with scores of witnesses called to give testimony into every facet of Latter-day Saint doctrine, history, and activity. Some witnesses came willingly, others grudgingly, and still others (notably, two members of the Quorum of the Twelve) evaded service of the summonses that would have compelled them to attend. Even President Joseph F. Smith was required to go to Washington and be grilled on the details of his family life; he was later charged and fined for violating the law against unlawful cohabitation – that was still on the books, despite the Manifesto, and despite the granting of Utah statehood.