by Joyce DiPastena
(I’m typing and posting this on Sunday night for my Monday post, because I’m going to the Renaissance Festival tomorrow and won’t have time to post it before I leave!)
In honor of Presidents Day, I thought I’d share with you some of the things I learned recently while reading the book Presidents and Prophets, by Michael K. Winder. I hope you’ll excuse my extensive use of quotes. For time and length’s sake, I’m going to stick with the 20th Century.
President Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909) “honored President Joseph F. Smith [and two apostles] by having them join him on the reviewing stand at the World’s Fair parade in St. Louis, Missouri” in April 1904. Many LDS leaders “felt that Roosevelt was seriously interested in Mormonism and one of the Presidents most receptive to Mormon theology.” Following Roosevelt’s death, President Heber J. Grant said to Apostle and US Senator Reed Smoot, “I believe that Roosevelt felt that we were right. I think he was nearer converted to the truth than any man who ever occupied the presidential chair.” In 1925, Apostle/Senator Smoot initiated the temple work for Teddy Roosevelt and personally served as Roosevelt’s proxy. (p. 196)
President William Howard Taft (1909-1913) visited Salt Lake City in October 1911 and stayed overnight at the new Hotel Utah. “Every President through Ronald Reagan follows Taft’s lead by staying at the Hotel Utah at least once” during his administration. (The Hotel Utah is now the Joseph Smith Memorial Building.) On October 21, 1921, “President Heber J. Grant and [Apostle/Senator] Smoot call on now-Chief Justice Taft, [who says]: ‘There is in my heart a warm feeling for your people… I have great respect for them and I want you to call on me whenever you are here.’ President Grant presented Taft with a copy of the Book of Mormon.” (p. 203)
President Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921) was “the first US President to appoint a Latter-day Saint to a subcabinet position…when he names James Henry Moyle to serve as assistant secretary of the US Treasury.” (p. 210) When President Wilson suffered a stroke on November 27, 1919, “[he] became the only President blessed by name in a temple dedicatory prayer [the Hawaii temple]. President Heber J. Grant prays, ‘We pray to Thee to bless Woodrow Wilson, the President of the United States. Touch him with the healing power of Thy Holy Spirit… We pray that his life may be precious in Thy sight, and may the inspiration that comes from Thee ever abide with him.’” (p. 212)
President Warren G. Harding (1921-1923: Apostle/Senator Reed Smoot gave a copy of the Book of Mormon to President Harding in 1921, and they discussed LDS beliefs on several occasions. One night, when Mrs. Harding became very ill, “Harding telephoned Smoot late at night…and recalling Smoot’s description of the Mormon healing ceremony…requested Senator Smoot to come to the White House and perform the rite. Smoot went immediately, taking a bottle of consecrated olive oil…and administered to [Mrs. Harding].” (p. 219) President Harding later remarked, “I do not know but what Brigham Young was right in his religion.” After President Harding’s death, Reed Smoot was baptized for President Harding, and President Heber J. Grant stood proxy for Harding’s temple endowment. (p. 218)
President Calvin Coolidge (1923-1929): After the death of Apostle/Senator Reed Smoot’s wife, President Coolidge invited Senator Smoot “to stay at the White House for a week or so in order to provide the Apostle with a change and to spend quality time with him.” Shortly before Coolidge’s death, Senator Smoot visited the former-President. As Senator Smoot was about to leave, “the President said to me: ‘Senator, there is some plan in your Church, isn’t there, where men administer to the sick and pray for them?’ I said, ‘Yes, Mr. President. We call that administering to the sick.’ He said, ‘Can anyone in the Church administer to anyone outside of the Church?’ I told him, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘Reed, I wish you would administer to me.’ I did so, and I want to say to you…I never felt happier in my life than when I laid my hands upon him and asked God to bless him.” (p. 228)
President Herbert Hoover (1929-1933): Following Apostle/Senator Reed Smoot’s remarriage to Alice Sheets, they “spend their two-week honeymoon as guests of the Hoovers at the White House.” (p. 235)
President Harry S Truman (1945-1953): Elder Ezra Taft Benson and his wife visited President Truman in 1949. During their visit, President Truman expressed a desire for a copy of the Book of Mormon, which Elder Benson later mailed to the White House. “When President George Albert Smith visited Washington, D.C., [he] called on Truman. [During his visit], Truman opened his desk drawer in the Oval Office and said, ‘Look, President Smith, I’ve got my Book of Mormon right here.’” President Smith’s secretary, who accompanied him, suspected that the book of scripture had only been placed there to make President Smith feel welcome. (p. 267) (But I still think it’s a cute story!)
President Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-961) was the first US President to appoint an LDS member to a full cabinet secretary position (Apostle Ezra Taft Benson). When Mrs. Eisenhower underwent surgery, “the First Presidency and Twelve pray for her in their regular Thursday meeting. Touched by this gesture, Ike tells Secretary Benson that it was a Thursday when his wife took a turn for the better.” (p. 274) President Eisenhower “’knew of our custom of having a family hour one night during the week, and…expressed a wish to see how it was done. So we (Apostle/Secretary Benson and his family) put one on just as if we were at home…. The President and his party participated and seemed to enjoy it.’” (p. 279
President Gerald R. Ford ((1974-1977) spent some time during the United States Bicentennial celebrations in 1976 “with President Spencer W. Kimball in the Oval Office. President Kimball explained the purposes of the Church, the loyalty Latter-Day Saints had for their government, and several of the Church’s unique programs. After the meeting, President Ford and President Kimball moved to the south lawn of the White House, where a hundred LDS Primary children sang for the President, ‘I Am a Child of God’.” (p. 331)
President Ronald Reagan (1981-1989), on learning that Senator Jake Garn’s son would soon be leaving on a mission to England, once asked Senator Garn “if there was any limit on the number of letters a missionary could receive, and upon learning ‘no’” decided to write the young Elder Garn a letter. “In the letter, Reagan not only offered words of admiration, respect and encouragement, but also quoted Alma 60:11: ‘Behold, could ye suppose that ye could sit upon your thrones, and because of the exceeding goodness of God ye could do nothing and he would deliver you? Behold, if ye have supposed this ye have supposed in vain.’ President Reagan said, ‘I have often thought about these words. They came back to me during the campaign, especially when it would be a long day and one that didn’t go as well as we had hoped. I thought of them when I was in the hospital, and they have been on my mind since Jake told me that you would soon be leaving on your mission to England.’” (pp. 348-349)
And one more story: “While Reagan was in his post-presidency, yet before his Alzheimer’s set in, a college-age young woman from Provo was interning at the Reagan Library in California. Once when a member of her Utah home ward was visiting—who happened to be a huge fan of Reagan’s—she was able to arrange a brief meeting for them in Reagan’s office. As a parting gift, the ward member gave the ex-President a copy of the Book of Mormon, which he politely received. Days later, the intern walked into Reagan’s office to deliver a message and found him with his back to the doorway, deeply consumed in reading the Book of Mormon.” (p. 350)
There’s so much more I’d like to share (including a very cute story about a conversation between President Jimmy Carter and President Marion G. Romney about missionary work), but I’ve gone way past my word limit, so I have to stop here. If you want to know more about experiences between Presidents of the United States and Presidents of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, pick up a copy of Presidents and Prophets, by Michael K. Winder. I promise you won’t regret it!