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5 LDS Church leaders that you didn't know were involved in U.S. politics

While the Church maintains its stance on political neutrality, members are encouraged to "engage in the political process in an informed and civil manner." Since its establishment, Church leaders have been committed to public service.

In honor of the United States' national holiday the Fourth of July, here are five prominent leaders that have also served their country.

Joseph Smith, the first president and Prophet of the restored Church, ran for president in 1844. At the time, there were just 26 states and the major political parties were the Whigs and Democrats.

The Prophet Joseph Smith was in the middle of a presidential campaign when he was martyred on June 27, 1844.
The Prophet Joseph Smith was in the middle of a presidential campaign when he was martyred on June 27, 1844. Photo: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

It was a unique time for the Prophet to be in the election. Major issues at the time included slavery, states' rights and Manifest Destiny — the belief that the United States should extend from the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans.

Joseph Smith was also the mayor of Nauvoo at the time, and members were deeply concerned about about their future after persecutions in Missouri.

During a time before modern technoloy allowed quick communication, around 350 men volunteered to travel around the country to campaign for the Prophet.

Newspaper clippings were sent back with updates about rallies and conventions that were held back East.

"When I look into the Eastern papers and see how popular I am, I am afraid I shall be president," Joseph Smith wrote in his journal.

Disgruntled former Church members and the publication of the Nauvoo Expositor ultimately led to Joseph and Hyrum's martyrdom, thus ending the campaign.

Emmeline B. Wells, editor of the Woman's Exponent, chairwoman of the Central Grain Committee and Relief Society general president (1910-1921).
Emmeline B. Wells, editor of the Woman's Exponent, chairwoman of the Central Grain Committee and Relief Society general president (1910-1921). Photo: LDS Church Archives

Emmeline B. Wells wrote in her diary that she was dedicated to helping "elevate the conditions of my own people, especially women." She was friends with Susan B. Anthony and traveled to Washington, D.C., along with Zina Young Williams, to attend the 1879 meeting of the National Women Suffrage Association.

Wells became the editor of the Woman's Exponent, a newspaper for female Church members. Before that position, she submitted articles to the paper under a pseudonym that advocated for the recognition of legal, political and religious rights for women.

Known for "building bridges among women," Wells was involved with women's organizations throughout the country and was heavily involved with women's rights leading up to the formation of the Utah constitution.

Wells was called to be the Relief Society general president in 1910 at the age of 82. Brigham Young put her in charge of a grain-saving program after the men he asked hadn't carried out the initiative, and her work was the foundation for future welfare programs.

The editorial she wrote about the grain-saving initiative for the Woman's Exponent can be found in the Church History Library in Salt Lake City. It was successful from its beginnings and allowed the Church to send grain as part of relief efforts to San Francisco, California and China. It also enabled the Church to sell grain to the government during World War I and World War II.

Church President Heber J. Grant, left, and Utah Sen. Reed Smoot outside the Senate Office Building in about 1907.
Church President Heber J. Grant, left, and Utah Sen. Reed Smoot outside the Senate Office Building in about 1907. Photo: Library of Congress, Deseret News Archives

Reed Smoot became the first Church apostle to hold a national elected office. He's been called "the first native-born Utahn to establish a national political reputation."

He was called to be a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 1900 and received President Joseph F. Smith's approval to run for a seat in the U.S. Senate. He was selected to serve in the Senate in 1902.

Putting a Latter-day Saint in the Senate was controversial at the time. Due to a series of hearings, it wasn't until four years later that Smoot finally took his seat.

Elder Smoot served as a senator for more than 30 years. During his time he helped to develop the national parks system, was the chairman of the Public Buildings Commission of the District of Columbia for a time, served on the Foreign Debt Committee after World War I and was an economic adviser for three presidents.

J. Reuben Clark was the United States Ambassador to Mexico before being called as a member of the Twelve.
J. Reuben Clark was the United States Ambassador to Mexico before being called as a member of the Twelve. Photo: Deseret News Archives

J. Reuben Clark established a distinguished legal and civil service career despite having little formal education. Unable to attend high school, he was instead tutored by his mother.

Clark went on to graduate first in his class from the University of Utah and earn a law degree from Columbia University law school.

In 1930 Clark was appointed as the U.S. ambassador to Mexico. In 1933, Clark left the position in order to be the second counselor in the First Presidency under Heber J. Grant. He also served as a counselor to Church presidents George Albert Smith and David O. McKay.

President Ezra Taft Benson served as the Secretary of Agriculture under United States President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
President Ezra Taft Benson served as the Secretary of Agriculture under United States President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Photo: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

Ezra Taft Benson was raised on a farm in Whitney, Idaho, a background that would make him qualified to eventually serve as the Secretary of Agriculture to U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

After returning from serving a mission in England, he married Flora Amussen, with whom he would have six children. He went on to graduate with honors from Brigham Young University, where he was voted "most likely to succeed."

The Bensons moved to Iowa, where he recieved his master's degree in agricultural economics — again with honors. He then returned to Idaho and began a career in agriculture.

After making a name for himself, he was asked to serve as the executive director of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives in Washington, D.C.

While he was serving as the president of a newly organized stake in Washington, D.C., he was called to be a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles by President Heber J. Grant.

Elder Benson served as the Secretary of Agriculture while also serving as an apostle and became known as a "staunch defender of freedom in all of its forms."

When he became the president of the Church in 1985, President Benson became known for his love of the Book of Mormon. He was also recognized as a man of great faith and principle who "deeply loved the Lord."