Ecclesiastical positions were accompanied by political and commercial opportunities: beginning in 1865, Smith served seven terms in the territorial House of Representatives, as well as terms on the Salt Lake City Council and in the territorial Senate; he also served in the presidency of a state constitutional convention in 1882. From 1883 to 1887 Smith was on the underground, mostly in Hawaii, to evade federal anti-polygamy prosecution.
As long as Utah remained a territory under federal supervision, Mormon institutions were in jeopardy; but statehood was impossible without the support of the anti-polygamy Republican party. Following the official discontinuance of new plural marriages in 1890, and the dissolution of the Mormon People's Party in 1891, Smith championed the Republican party in Utah, working for the defeat of popular Democratic candidates such as B.H. Roberts and Moses Thatcher.