George Q. Cannon

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George Q. Cannon
George Q. Cannon - Brady-Handy.jpg
First Counselor in the First Presidency
September 13, 1898 (1898-09-13) – April 12, 1901 (1901-04-12)
Called by Lorenzo Snow
First Counselor in the First Presidency
April 7, 1889 (1889-04-07) – September 2, 1898 (1898-09-02)
Called by Wilford Woodruff
End reason Dissolution of First Presidency upon death of Wilford Woodruff
Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
July 25, 1887 (1887-07-25) – April 7, 1889 (1889-04-07)
End reason Called as First Counselor in the First Presidency
First Counselor in the First Presidency
October 10, 1880 (1880-10-10) – July 25, 1887 (1887-07-25)
Called by John Taylor
End reason Dissolution of First Presidency upon death of John Taylor
Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
August 29, 1877 (1877-08-29) – October 10, 1880 (1880-10-10)
End reason Called as First Counselor in the First Presidency
Assistant Counselor in the First Presidency
May 9, 1874 (1874-05-09) – August 29, 1877 (1877-08-29)
Called by Brigham Young
End reason Dissolution of First Presidency upon death of Brigham Young
Counselor in the First Presidency
June 8, 1873 (1873-06-08) – May 9, 1874 (1874-05-09)
Called by Brigham Young
End reason Called as Assistant Counselor in the First Presidency
Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
August 26, 1860 (1860-08-26) – June 8, 1873 (1873-06-08)
Called by Brigham Young
End reason Called as Counselor in the First Presidency
LDS Church Apostle
August 26, 1860 (1860-08-26) – April 12, 1901 (1901-04-12)
Called by Brigham Young
Reason Death of Parley P. Pratt
at end of term
Rudger Clawson added to First Presidency[1]
Personal details
Born George Quayle Cannon
(1827-01-11)January 11, 1827
Liverpool, England, United Kingdom
Died April 12, 1901(1901-04-12) (aged 74)
Monterey, California, United States
Resting place Salt Lake City Cemetery
40°46′37.92″N 111°51′28.8″W / 40.7772000°N 111.858000°W / 40.7772000; -111.858000 (Salt Lake City Cemetery)
Nationality English
Spouse 5
Children 32
Parents George Cannon
Ann Quayle

George Quayle Cannon (January 11, 1827 – April 12, 1901) was an early member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), and served in the First Presidency under four successive presidents of the church: Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, and Lorenzo Snow. He was the church's chief political strategist, and was dubbed "the Mormon premier" and "the Mormon Richelieu" by the press. He was also a five-time Territorial Delegate from Utah.

Early life[edit]

Cannon was born in Liverpool, England to George Cannon and Ann Quayle, the eldest of six children. His mother and father were from Peel on the Isle of Man. His father's sister, Leonora Cannon, had married Latter-day Saint apostle John Taylor and was baptized in 1836. News reached the elder George Cannon and four years later, when Taylor came to Liverpool, the entire Cannon family was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints; George Q. Cannon was 13 years old at the time. Cannon's siblings were Mary Alice Cannon (Lambert), Ann Cannon (Woodbury), Angus M. Cannon, David H. Cannon and Leonora Cannon (Gardner). In 1842, the Cannon family set sail for the United States to join with the church in Nauvoo, Illinois. On the voyage over the Atlantic Ocean, Cannon's mother died. The motherless family arrived safely in Nauvoo in the spring of 1843. George Sr. married Mary Edwards in 1844 and had another daughter, Elizabeth Cannon (Piggott).

In Nauvoo, George Q. Cannon's father sent him to live with his uncle and aunt, John and Leonora Taylor. Cannon worked in the printing office of Times and Seasons and the Nauvoo Neighbor for John, who was an editor of both periodicals. In June 1844, Taylor accompanied Joseph Smith, Hyrum Smith, and Willard Richards and others to Carthage Jail. There, Joseph and Hyrum were killed, and Taylor sustained serious bullet wounds. Cannon tended the printing affairs while Taylor recovered. This training would serve him well in later life.[2] Cannon's father died in 1845.

In 1846, Taylor traveled to England to organize the affairs of the church after Joseph Smith's death. Meanwhile, Cannon accompanied John Taylor's wife and family as they moved to Winter Quarters, Nebraska. When Taylor returned, Cannon traveled with the entire Taylor family to the Salt Lake Valley, arriving in October 1847.

Church service[edit]

In 1849, Cannon was asked by church president Brigham Young to serve as a missionary for the church in the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii), where he served for four years. While in Hawaii Cannon converted many Native Hawaiians. One of the most notable was Jonatana Napela, who was a native speaker of the Hawaiian Language. Napela assisted Cannon in translating the Book of Mormon into Hawaiian. Joseph F. Smith, a future church president, would follow Cannon and serve in Hawaii one year later.

Returning to Utah, Cannon married Elizabeth Hoagland (daughter of Abraham Hoagland) and was almost immediately called to assist apostle Parley P. Pratt in publishing a newspaper in California. Meeting Pratt in California, Cannon was told that he would remain behind and became president of the church's Oregon and California mission; Cannon was 28 years old at the time. Pratt returned to church headquarters. During this period of time, Cannon published the Hawaiian translation of the Book of Mormon. He served in California until he heard of the Utah War in 1857. In February 1856 he started the Western Standard, a weekly publication based in San Francisco. From 1856 to 1858 Cannon presided over the California mission.[3]

Returning to Utah to assist in the Utah War, Cannon was commissioned a Lieutenant General in the Nauvoo Legion. During this time Cannon served as printer of the Deseret News while it was in exile in Fillmore, Utah.[4] After the Utah War he was called to preside over the church's Eastern States Mission.


The murder of Parley P. Pratt in 1857 created a vacancy in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. That vacancy wasn't filled until Brigham Young called Cannon to the apostleship three years later. Cannon was ordained to the priesthood office of apostle on August 26, 1860 at age 33. Upon his joining the Quorum of the Twelve, Cannon was called to preside over the church's European Mission.

Cannon's mission in Europe ended when he was recalled by Young in 1862 to work in Washington, D.C. to assist in the church's promotion of the Utah Territory's bid for statehood. At the adjournment of the 1862 congressional session, Cannon left once again for Europe to preside over the mission. In this capacity, Cannon was the editor of the Millennial Star and, for a short time, the church's Welsh language periodical, Udgorn Seion.

In 1867 Cannon became the managing editor of the Deseret News. It was under his direction that the News was first published on a daily basis. He held this position until 1874.[4]

In 1866 in Utah, Cannon began publication of a magazine for youth and young adult Latter-day Saints called The Juvenile Instructor. He owned and published this magazine until his death; in 1901 his family sold the magazine to the LDS Church's Sunday School organization. The periodical was the official organ of the Sunday School until 1930, when it was replaced with The Instructor. Cannon also served as the first general superintendent of the church's Sunday School from 1867 until his death.

First Presidency[edit]

On April 8, 1873, Cannon became a member of the church's First Presidency when he was called as a first counselor in First Presidency by Brigham Young. Cannon went on to serve as counselor to three more presidents of the church: he was First Counselor to John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, and Lorenzo Snow until his death.

Although Cannon was the second-most senior apostle of the church after the death of Wilford Woodruff, Cannon did not become President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, as would be the practice in the LDS Church today. Rather, because Cannon was a member of the First Presidency, the church simply appointed the next senior apostle of the church—Brigham Young, Jr.—to be the quorum president. (Under today's practices, Cannon would have been appointed the president of the quorum and Young would have been appointed acting president.)

Political life and plural marriage[edit]

Cannon was elected to be the non-voting delegate for Utah Territory in the United States Congress in 1872. He remained a congressional delegate until 1882, when his seat was declared vacant by the enactment of the Edmunds Act, which terminated many political and civil rights for Utah's polygamists.

Dispute in the 47th Congress[edit]

By 1880, Cannon had served four terms in Congress as Territorial Delegate.

The newly appointed anti-Mormon[5] territorial governor, Eli Houston Murray openly supported the Liberal Party of Utah, which generally opposed church candidates and therefore Cannon. Thus, the 1880 territory-wide election for a congressional delegate brought the Liberal Party unexpectedly close to sending a representative to Washington D.C.

The Liberal candidate, Allen G. Campbell — with 1,357 votes — lost resoundingly to Cannon who had 18,567 votes. However, before Governor Murray certified the election, a protest on behalf of Campbell was filed. The protest listed a dozen claims, chiefly that Cannon, born in Liverpool, England, was an un-naturalized alien. The protest also claimed that Cannon's practice of polygamy was incompatible with the law and a delegate's oath of office. Murray agreed and issued certification to Campbell in spite of his poor showing.

Cannon, in Washington at the time, argued that only Congress could decide on a member's qualifications. He furthermore received a certificate from sympathetic territorial election officials which stated he had received the most votes. This document convinced the House of Representatives clerk to enter Cannon's name on the roll, so Cannon began drawing delegate's salary.

Both Murray and Campbell traveled to Washington to dispute the seat. Each side battled over the position for over a year, even through the assassination of President James Garfield. On February 25, 1882, the House of Representatives finally rejected both candidates. The House refused Cannon his seat, not for his dubious citizenship, but for his practice of polygamy. The entire ordeal brought unfavorable national attention to Utah, resulting in the Edmunds Act being signed into law on March 23, 1882. The act reinforced the 1862 Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act by declaring polygamy a felony, and also revoked polygamists' right to vote, made them ineligible for jury service, and prohibited them from holding political office.

In the end, the House seated John Thomas Caine as the Delegate during the 47th Congress. Caine went on to serve for several years.

Plural marriage[edit]

1889 Portrait of polygamists in prison, at the Utah Penitentiary, including Cannon, arrested under the Edmunds-Tucker Act.

Like many early Latter-day Saints, Cannon practiced plural marriage and was married to five women simultaneously.

"If we, as a people, had attempted to practice this principle without revelation, it is likely that we should have been led into grievous sins, and the condemnation of God would have rested upon us; but the Church waited until the proper time came, and then the people practiced it according to the mind and will of God, making a sacrifice of their own feelings in so doing. But the history of the world goes to prove that the practice of this principle, even by nations ignorant of the Gospel, has resulted in greater good to them than the practice of monogamy or the one-wife system in the so-called Christian nations. To-day, Christendom holds itself and its institutions aloft as a pattern for all men to follow. If you travel throughout the United States and through the nations of Europe in which Christianity prevails, and talk with the people about their institutions, they will boast of them as being the most permanent, indestructible and progressive of any institutions existing upon the earth; yet it is a fact well known to historians, that the Christian nations of Europe are the youngest nations on the globe. Where are the nations that have existed from time immemorial? They are not to be found in Christian monogamic Europe, but in Asia, among the polygamic races—China, Japan, Hindostan and the various races of that vast continent. Those nations, from the most remote times, practiced plural marriage handed down to them by their forefathers. Although they are looked upon by the nations of Europe as semi-civilized, you will not find among them woman prostituted, debased and degraded as she is through Christendom. She may be treated coldly and degraded, but among them, except where the Christian element prevails to a large extent, she is not debased and polluted, as she is among the so-called Christian nations. It is a fact worthy of note that the shortest-lived nations of which we have record have been monogamic. Rome...was a monogamic nation and the numerous evils attending that system early laid the foundation for that ruin which eventually overtook her."
George Q. Cannon, Journal of Discourses, vol. 13, p. 202

When the Supreme Court upheld the ban on plural marriage in the 1879 Reynolds v. United States decision, George Q. Cannon stated:

"Our crime has been: We married women instead of seducing them; we reared children instead of destroying them; we desired to exclude from the land prostitution, bastardy and infanticide. If George Reynolds [the man who was convicted of committing bigamy] is to be punished, let the world know the facts . . . . Let it be published to the four corners of the earth that in this land of liberty, the most blessed and glorious upon which the sun shines, the law is swiftly invoked to punish religion, but justice goes limping and blindfolded in pursuit of crime."

Eventually, Cannon was driven "underground" to the life of a fugitive along with others in the church leadership who practiced plural marriage. In September 1888, Cannon surrendered himself to authorities and pleaded guilty at trial to charges of unlawful cohabitation under the Edmunds Act. As a result, Cannon served nearly six months in Utah's federal penitentiary.[6]

Death and descendants[edit]

Cannon died on April 12, 1901 in Monterey, California at 74 years of age. Had he lived a few months longer, he would have been the next president of the church since Lorenzo Snow died on October 10 of that year. Cannon was buried in the Salt Lake City Cemetery.

Cannon fathered 32 children, some of whom are Abraham H. Cannon, John Q. Cannon, and Sylvester Q. Cannon, who all became general authorities of the LDS Church; Frank J. Cannon, Utah's first U.S. Senator; and Lewis T. Cannon and Georgious Y. Cannon, prominent architects in Utah. Some of Cannon's prominent descendants include Howard Cannon, U.S. Senator from Nevada from 1959 to 1983 and Chris Cannon, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1997 to 2009. One descendant, George I. Cannon, was a church general authority from 1986 to 1991.

Other notable descendants include Jeffrey R. Holland, current member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Holland's mother, Alice, is George Q. Cannon's granddaughter.

George Q. Cannon's grave marker.
George Q. Cannon's headstone.

Published works[edit]

  • Cannon, George Q. (1878). Discourse: Delivered in the New Tabernacle, Salt Lake City, Sunday morning, October 8, 1877. W. Budge. ISBN B00088KE9Q. 
  • --- (1957). A history of the prophet Joseph Smith for young people. Deseret Book Company. ISBN B0007H18H0. 
  • --- (1886). Life of Joseph Smith: The Prophet. Deseret Book Company. ISBN 0-87747-148-7. 
  • --- (1883). The life of Nephi: The son of Lehi. Contributor Co. ISBN B00087BLX0. 
  • --- (1882). My first mission. Juvenile instructor office. ISBN B00087OZEC. 
  • --- (1876). Robt. N. Baskin, contestant, v. George Q. Cannon, contestee: Brief and argument of Charles A. Eldredge, counsel of contestee. Gibson Brothers, printers. ISBN B0008A1QZ0. 
  • --- (1969). Writings from the Western standard. Paladin Press. ISBN B0006BZBL6. 
  • Newquist, Jerreld L. (Ed.) (1974). Gospel truth: discourses and writings of president George Q. Cannon (Vol. 1). Deseret Book Company. ISBN 0-87747-519-9. 
  • --- (1974). Gospel truth: discourses and writings of president George Q. Cannon (Vol. 2). Deseret Book Company. ISBN 0-87747-520-2. 
  • Turley, Richard E. Jr.; Cannon, Adrian; Landon, Michael (Eds.) (1999). The Journals of George Q. Cannon (Vol. 1). Deseret Book Company. ISBN 1-57345-465-6. 

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Shortly after this change was made, Lorenzo Snow died and the First Presidency was dissolved. When Joseph F. Smith reorganized the First Presidency, he called John R. Winder, a non-apostle, as one of his counselors. Thus, it was only necessary to ordain one new apostle to replace Anthon H. Lund, who was called out of the Quorum to be the other counselor in the First Presidency. As a result, no new ordinations of apostles resulted directly from Cannon's death.
  2. ^ Jenson, Andrew. Encyclopedic History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1941) p. 187
  3. ^ Jenson, Andrew (1941). Encyclopedic History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. 
  4. ^ a b Jenson. Encyclopedic History. p. 187
  5. ^ Bigler, David L. (1998). Forgotten Kingdom: the Mormon Theocracy in the American West, 1847-1896. Spokane, Washington: Arthur H. Clark Company. p. 314. ISBN 0-87062-282-X. OCLC 38130588. 
  6. ^ Cannon, Joseph A.; Fish, Rick (1994), "Cannon, George Q.", in Powell, Allan Kent, Utah History Encyclopedia, Salt Lake City, Utah: University of Utah Press, ISBN 0874804256, OCLC 30473917 


External resources[edit]

Media related to George Q. Cannon at Wikimedia Commons

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints titles
Preceded by
John W. Young
First Counselor in the First Presidency
September 13, 1898 – April 21, 1901
April 7, 1889 – September 2, 1898
October 10, 1880 – July 25, 1887
Note: position was vacant between date
Succeeded by
Joseph F. Smith
Preceded by
Franklin D. Richards
Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
August 26, 1860–1873
Succeeded by
Joseph F. Smith