This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
The public packed the Senate galleries, restless to hear the senator from Utah read the dirtiest excerpts from the world's dirtiest books.
Sen. Reed Smoot had announced his intention to do just that. A recent tariff bill had removed customs agents from their traditional role as censors of foreign literature. Fearful that a smut tsunami would wash across the United States, Smoot spent the Christmas holiday huddled with banned books, highlighting the naughty bits.
He would shock his less morally sensitive colleagues into action.
It wasn't always thus. There was a time when Smoot couldn't have rallied a quorum for a speech.
When he arrived to take his seat in 1903, the Protestant lions of the Senate huffed that an apostle of the LDS Church was unfit to serve. He was subjected to a four-year committee investigation, which also laid the LDS Church open to airing all the dirty laundry from decades past, including polygamy, Danite assassins and Mountain Meadows Massacre.
Questions about Smoot's moral qualifications faded over the years as he earned a reputation as one of the bluest of the senatorial blue-noses.
In March 1930, Smoot rose on the floor of the Senate to save the nation. On his desk were Lady Chatterley's Lover, Balzac's Droll Tales, the Kama Sutra, Casanova's memoirs and some titillating ditties that Robert Burns tossed off when not being Scotland's most revered poet.
The galleries leaned in for a helping of degeneracy, eager to be appalled. What they got was a "thoroughgoing outburst of indignation."
"I'd rather a child of mine use opium than read these books!" thundered Smoot, arguing that it was better to keep a thousand good books out of the United States rather than let a single bad one slip through.
Robbed of its naughty thrill, the crowd was instead treated to the more common spectacle of a senator in high moral dudgeon.
"Here are the books imported into the U.S. How to Seduce Young Girls, How Young Girls Can Seduce Boys … It isn't clear if he was citing actual titles, or referring to an idealized Heterosexual Handbook, but it was clearly the role of the Senate to stop the moral rot at the U.S. shores.
Presenting the liberal case against censorship was New Mexico's Bronson Murray Cutting who, "with a faint lisp" made his "cool, composed, glancingly satirical" points. New York-born and Harvard-educated, Cutting represented the broad-minded "New West."
It was not a question of dirty books, said Cutting, it was a question of freedom of speech.
"The first page of King Lear is grossly indecent; the love-making of Hamlet and Ophelia is coarse and obscene; in Romeo and Juliet, the remarks of Mercutio and the nurse are extremely improper."
Cutting also produced his own examples of lewd literature: Joy Stories, Paris Nights, Hot Dog, Hot Lines for Flaming Youth, Jim Jam Gems and Whiz Bang books purchased at a railroad bookstall, and thus beyond the reach of border censors.
American authors were obviously equal to the task of corrupting the nation's morals, if not with the literary panache of their European peers.
The gallery loved it. Cutting then delivered his most telling jab. Smoot had given Lady Chatterley's Lover a "tremendous vogue" and probably made it a "classic."
Smoot shot to his feet. "I resent the statement the senator has just made that Lady Chatterley's Lover is my favorite book! … I have not read it. It was so disgusting, so dirty and vile that the reading of one page was enough for me. I've not taken ten minutes on Lady Chatterley's Lover."
Smoot was seconded by Sen. Coleman Livingston Blease, from South Carolina, who stated that the virtue of one American 16-year-old girl was more important than "every book that ever came into it from any other country."
After 12 hours of debate, the Senate, without hearing the promised Smoot smut read aloud, voted to assign the banning of foreign books to the courts. Both Smoot and Cutting claimed victory. Censorship had been restored, said Smoot. The country had been saved.
At least there would be a day in court with a judge and jury, averred Cutting.
One of the day's most interested parties was not there. Then again, maybe he was. D.H. Lawrence had died earlier that month.
Pat Bagley is the editorial cartoonist for The Salt Lake Tribune. Source: Time Magazine,reporting on the debate in its March, 31, 1930 issue. (http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,738937,00.html#ixzz0zjtL3YEq).