George Q. Cannon (1827–1901) is remembered as a gentle and diplomatic leader in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; nevertheless, he was a courageous and outspoken defender of the principles he valued. His resolute dedication to principle outweighed his desire for comfort or popularity. One of the best examples of President Cannon’s forthright nature is his more-than-thirty-year effort to promote the humane treatment of animals among the Latter-day Saints. When one considers the historical context of President Cannon’s advocacy for animal welfare, his unusual strength of character is evident. This article reviews the major themes of his written pleas for animal welfare as published in the Juvenile Instructor magazine during his tenure as the magazine’s editor from its inception in 1866 until his death in 1901. Relevant events concurrent with his teachings are described with the review, and the philosophical and religious historical context follows.
One of President Cannon’s most often repeated themes was that the Golden Rule applies to the treatment of animals. He began expressing this viewpoint early in his career as editor of the Juvenile Instructor. His first editorial on the subject was published in 1868:
No man or woman, no boy or girl, who has any kind feelings will inflict unnecessary pain upon any creature. Such persons will not hurt a worm. . . . [Those who do so] prove themselves unworthy of the power they have, and, by their cruelty, they sink beneath the brute.
President Cannon reiterated these sentiments the following year in an account about a man who severely beat his horse while the animal struggled to pull a heavy wagon. During the course of the beating, the man whipped one of the horse’s eyes. Some time later, this same man got into a fight and lost an eye himself, at which time he remembered how he had whipped out the eye of his horse and “too late realized the folly and danger of brutally treating Heaven’s dumb creatures.” But President Cannon added that fear of punishment should not be the motive for kindness to animals: “[We] should be kind to others, and to animals, and birds, and creeping things, because it is right to be kind.”
After nearly thirty years of emphasizing the need to be kind to animals, the culmination of President Cannon’s campaign was official LDS Church sponsorship of an annual “Humane Day” celebration, beginning in 1897 and lasting until 1918. Each year, one issue of the Juvenile Instructor contained supporting material for Humane Day.Following President Cannon’s death in 1901, President Joseph F. Smith (1838–1918), another strong and active voice for the welfare of animals, oversaw the Humane Day program.
Since at least 1874, President Cannon had encouraged the Church to sponsor an active animal welfare program. Speaking about humane societies being started in the eastern U.S. and in Europe, he said, “Something akin to this is needed in some parts of Utah, by which men may be taught that even beasts have rights which must be respected.”Just eight years earlier, in 1866, the first organization dedicated to animal welfare in the U.S., the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), was chartered in New York City under the leadership of Henry Bergh (1811–88). This organization was patterned after the Royal SPCA chartered in London in 1824. Organizations such as these were primarily dedicated to investigating cruelty cases and to promoting new or improving existing humane legislation.
The most successful animal welfare educational program during President Cannon’s lifetime was initiated by George T. Angell (1823–1909). Angell founded the Massachusetts S.P.C.A. in 1868 and published the first periodical in the world devoted to animal welfare, titled Our Dumb Animals, under the auspices of the organization.Given that President Cannon also began writing about animal welfare in 1868, he was clearly an American—and even an international—pioneer in the field.
Angell’s Massachusetts S.P.C.A. was successful in organizing American students into “Bands of Mercy,” based on a similar English movement. By 1912 over three million elementary school students in the U.S. were enrolled in over eighty-five thousand chapters. Members wore badges with the wording, “I will try to be kind to all living creatures, and try to protect them from cruel usage.”Membership in Bands of Mercy began declining after World War II. The rise and subsequent decline of the LDS Humane Day program closely paralleled the Bands of Mercy effort except that Humane Day did not last quite as long as the national program.
President Cannon’s attempts to help Latter-day Saints develop a concern for the welfare of animals were apparently not as effective as he would have liked. In 1899, after more than thirty years of emphasizing the topic, the need he felt to advocate the cause was undiminished.
[There is a need] for a better, higher and more humane sentiment among our people, especially among the rising generation. Horses and cows and other animals are frequently treated with a cruelty and a hard-heartedness that are almost wicked. . . . It is a very great sin in the sight of the Almighty for the dumb creation to be treated with cruelty or even with neglect. A merciful man is merciful to his beast.
The Spirit of Destruction
Although some people were sympathetic to treating domestic animals kindly, their concern was not often transferred to wild animals. Hunting for sport was one of the most common recreational activities in the U.S. during the latter half of the nineteenth century, partly because it was almost unregulated at the time. President Cannon differentiated between hunting for food and hunting for sport. He was not opposed to hunting for food when it was truly needed, but he was strongly opposed to taking animal life for the enjoyment of killing. He referred to those who were inclined to do so as having the “spirit of destruction.” He wrote, “It is the spirit of destruction that we deplore and that we wish to call attention to—the disposition to destroy life and to slaughter the creatures which God has created, for the sake of sport. This is not right.”He also wrote with characteristic candor, “The disposition of men and boys to kill wild animals and birds, and even every insect which crosses their path, is very general—far too general among Latter-day Saints. Why should there be such eagerness to kill these creatures?” Indeed, in the nineteenth century, sport hunting was popular not only among men and boys, but among women as well.
Sport hunting of the American bison, or buffalo, exemplifies the spirit of the times especially well.Once numbering as many as sixty million, the buffalo population was reduced to only about five hundred animals, primarily over the forty-year period from 1845 to 1885. Marketing of buffalo robes and later of leather from buffalo hides were most responsible for the slaughter, but sport hunting was also a factor. The contribution of sport hunting to the near extermination of the buffalo was intensified with the coming of the railroad to the western frontier. Railroad companies promoted buffalo hunts to entice travelers to take western excursions. For ten dollars, a passenger could buy a trip on a luxury coach with rifle and ammunition provided. Hunters were told that they could shoot from the train windows until they were out of bullets or until their rifle barrel became too hot.
One typical adventure occurred in 1868, the same year President Cannon began his published campaign for animal welfare. Passengers traveling on the Kansas Pacific Railway encountered a buffalo herd in western Kansas after traveling approximately 325 miles from Lawrence, Kansas. Forty miles later, when the herd was near enough to the train, the hunt began. The buffalo ran alongside the moving train while “the boys blazed away at them without effect.” Finally, a bull was mortally wounded. The train stopped, and the passengers disembarked to surround the fallen animal. They celebrated: “A cornet band gathered around, and, as if to tantalize the spirits of all departed buffalo, . . . played Yankee Doodle.” This particular animal was eviscerated and carted home so that friends and relatives would have “the pleasure of seeing the dimensions of the animal.”
Predictably, President Cannon did not agree with sport such as this. Regarding the buffalo the Saints encountered during the exodus from Illinois to the Salt Lake Valley, he wrote, “The temptation to shoot them was very hard for many of the men to resist; but early in the journey, they were taught that it was a sin in the sight of God to waste flesh.”Few others agreed with him during the era when famous buffalo slaughterers such as William F. Cody (1846–1917), a.k.a. “Buffalo Bill,” were acclaimed as national heroes. The attitude of two European noblemen touring North America who stopped in Salt Lake City in 1869 was quite typical. President Cannon and other Church leaders had the opportunity to visit with these men. When inquiry was made as to whether or not the hunters had found plenty of game, they replied that they had been very successful, killing as many as 81 buffalo in a single day. President Cannon wrote, “When we heard this reply, the interest we had taken in them vanished.”
Perhaps the most controversial animal welfare issue addressed by President Cannon was the “bounty” or “scalp” laws that were ubiquitous in North America during the latter half of the nineteenth century.Under the provisions of these laws, hunters were paid by the government for killing an animal deemed to be detrimental to settlement. Virtually all large predators, such as wolves, coyotes, cougars, and black and grizzly bears, were targeted by these laws as were rodents, crows, and birds of prey.
President Cannon was concerned that bounty laws were just an added enticement for people to participate in the spirit of destruction. In opposition, he defended many of the animals targeted by bounty laws, including even the European starling. Of the starling, he wrote, “He has his uses, and many things can be said in his behalf. He has great persistency, moreover, and vitality of the most superb kind. The more he is persecuted, the more he prospers.” One cannot help but wonder if he saw parallels between his life and the life of a starling. Both originated in England, and both were the object of much persecution. But even President Cannon was willing to concede that starlings can be “very exasperating.”
He also took up the cause of the coyote, another highly disparaged animal on the North American frontier: “The coyote has few friends, a good word is hardly ever said for him, and every man’s hand is against him.” He argued that the coyote eats rabbits, which if allowed to multiply without a check on their population would be a true scourge to human civilization. As such, he did not think it was harmful if the price paid for such a service was “a lamb or a stray sheep occasionally.”
The challenge faced by President Cannon even within the LDS community is illustrated by the “war of extermination” that Mormons declared in 1849 against wild animals. Prizes were offered to hunters who killed the most predators and “vermin,” including wolves, wildcats, bears, skunks, eagles, hawks, owls, crows, and magpies. In addition to the prizes awarded, bounties were paid for wolf and fox skins.
President Cannon’s concern for predators stemmed, not only from his gentle nature, but also from his appreciation for ecological balance. His depth of ecological understanding was rare even among professional biologists of that time. He believed that ecological balance had to be the natural result of a world created by God. He stated, “An all-wise Creator has arranged many things which puny man does not fully understand. In our attempts to improve on nature we frequently make hideous mistakes. In most cases these bounty laws are among the gravest of these mistakes. Nothing was created in vain.”
The rarity of President Cannon’s understanding of ecological balance in 1899 can be demonstrated by considering a case that occurred just a few years after he made this statement. The case occurred not far from Salt Lake City. It was the first management program for the Kaibab deer herd in southern Utah and northern Arizona lasting from 1906 until about 1926. In 1906 the decision was made by President Teddy Roosevelt’s administration to turn the parklike ponderosa pine forests of the Kaibab Plateau, north of the Grand Canyon, into a vast deer preserve. Wildlife managers reasoned that an increased deer herd could be sustained if all the predators in the area were killed. Consequently, “Uncle” Jim Owens, a Yellowstone Park guide and hunter, was employed to kill all the cougars, wolves, and coyotes that he could. From 1906 to 1910, Owens killed between 125 and 150 cougars and an undisclosed number of wolves and coyotes.
In 1910 the Biological Survey took over for Owens and killed nearly 100 cougars and about 600 coyotes. By 1912 literally all the deer herd’s predators on the Kaibab Plateau had been exterminated. Deer hunting was prohibited. For a few years, the plan seemed to be a success as the deer herd flourished.By 1926 the deer herd numbered approximately 40,000 animals, up from between 4,000 and 5,000 animals in 1906. But the success was short-lived. The deer herd began to collapse because the animals were literally eating themselves “out of house and home.” The management response was to ship live deer to other parts of the country, open the area to licensed hunters, and sell meat from deer killed by government hunters. Federal wildlife managers realized after the fact that the deer and the deer’s predators existed in a state of mutual balance rather than in a state of perpetual competition.
Early LDS Animal Welfare Thought
President Cannon’s concern for the precarious status of animals in the nineteenth century was supported by LDS scripture and by the teachings of other early LDS leaders, most notably Joseph Smith (1805–44), Brigham Young (1801–77), Lorenzo Snow (1814–1901), and Joseph F. Smith (1838–1918).The Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, Pearl of Great Price, and Joseph Smith’s translation of the Bible add to and clarify animal-related topics mentioned in the Bible. These new insights surely influenced what may have been natural inclinations held by early LDS leaders toward animal welfare.
In addition to the animal welfare subjects developed in the Bible, latter-day scripture emphasizes that mankind will be held accountable for “the blood of every beast” (JST Gen. 9:11); meat should be eaten sparingly (D&C 89:12–15); God remembers all of his creatures (Mosiah 27:30, Moses 1:6); all life, human and nonhuman, is immortal (D&C 29:24, 25); dominion in the eternities is dependent on gentleness and meekness in mortality (D&C 121:41–46); all living things are sustained by the light of Christ (D&C 88:13); the earth itself is a living entity (Moses 7:48–61); and all animals and plants are intelligent, living souls created spiritually prior to being created physically (D&C 93:29, 30; Moses 3:9, 19).
Furnished with such revealed knowledge, Joseph Smith promoted animal welfare among the Saints, including teaching that mankind could not expect animals to abandon their vicious natures as long as people “possess the same disposition.”Joseph Smith practiced as well as taught kindness and respect for animal life. His example was remembered long after his death, evidenced by his well-known regard for wildlife on Zion’s camp, as well as by a nine-year-old boy’s letter published in the Juvenile Instructor sixty years after the Prophet Joseph was martyred. The letter describes in appreciative language how the Prophet Joseph was kind to his dog Major. One winter evening in Nauvoo, a group of Saints gathered in Joseph’s home for a meeting. Young Artemus Ward recorded the event as told by his great-aunt Charlotte Cole:
When it was time to begin the meeting Joseph said, “It is too cold tonight to turn the dog out. Major, (that was the dog’s name) you can go under the bed.”
The dog did as he was told, and stayed there while they held the meeting. . . . I have a pony and a dog and I try to be kind to them.
Brigham Young echoed Joseph Smith’s teachings about kindness and respect for animal life.President Young taught that every member of the “animal, vegetable, and mineral kingdoms” will “receive their exaltation” by virtue of their abiding the laws “by which they were made.” He taught the Saints that gentle dominion over the animal kingdom was a prerequisite for being made a ruler over many things in the world to come. And he had little patience for those who did not care for animals in a manner befitting disciples of Jesus Christ, stating that disregard for the well-being of animals was a “great sin” and that many Saints were spared being cursed by the Lord for animal neglect only because they were ignorant of their sin.
Judging by the frequency with which the message was reiterated, Presidents Smith and Young were challenged in their efforts to ennoble the Saints’ behavior toward their animals. Yet their teachings must have had some effect on the Saints, as Colonel Thomas L. Kane (1822–83) said that he was impressed by the Saints’ “kindness to their brute dependents, and particularly to their beasts of draught.” He further stated that Mormons cared so much for their animals that they would have washed them with old wine had they had any.
Lorenzo Snow, like Presidents Smith and Young, was converted to the worth of nonhuman life. His humane attitude crystallized when he was gaining his strength back after battling a lengthy illness in Far West, Missouri. To combat the boredom he felt at not being able “to either do or read much,” he decided to hunt wild turkeys, a practice of which he had been particularly fond. But while he was stalking turkeys that day, he had a striking change of heart:
While moving slowly forward in pursuit of something to kill, my mind was arrested with the reflection on the nature of my pursuit—that of amusing myself by giving pain and death to harmless, innocent creatures that perhaps had as much right to life and enjoyment as myself. I realized that such indulgence was without any justification, and feeling condemned, I laid my gun on my shoulder, returned home, and from that time to this I have felt no inclination for that murderous amusement.
Two years before his death, Joseph F. Smith summarized the LDS perspective on animals by stating simply, “The Latter-day Saints have always taught kindness to animals.”And just seven months before his death, he penned what became his concluding published thought about animal welfare. He wrote, “Love of nature is akin to the love of God; the two are inseparable.”
The emphasis early LDS leaders placed on animal welfare led one researcher to conclude, “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has evidenced far more zoophilic teachings in an official capacity than other denominations in the United States.”Thus, even though President Cannon was the most visible advocate for animal welfare within the LDS Church for over three decades, he was not alone among prominent LDS figures. It is likely that he refined and strengthened his philosophy in communication with other leaders in the LDS Church.
Other Philosophical Influences
In addition to these important LDS-specific influences, President Cannon was affected also by the thoughts of non-LDS individuals.He recognized these influences and, in fact, seemed anxious to use them for good when he thought that could be done. When he introduced the Humane Day program and instructed Sunday School teachers to provide appropriate lessons for the children, he added, “There is a large field from which information can be gleaned, and which will be exceedingly interesting to the children to listen to, and they can be impressed in a way that will not soon be forgotten.”
President Cannon’s admiration for the work being done by others is unmistakable in his writings. He seemed to have been especially impressed with George T. Angell. He praised Angell highly as “a fearless and an able champion of the rights of dumb animals. . . . His only object in life is to do good to his fellow-creatures.”However, President Cannon did not elect to reproduce many outside articles in the Juvenile Instructor.
On the other hand, President Cannon’s successor to the editorship, Joseph F. Smith, relied heavily on outside resources to support the Humane Day program. Material published in the Juvenile Instructor in conjunction with the Humane Day program from 1902 to 1918 came from a wide variety outside sources including George T. Angell’s publication Our Dumb Animals, Home and School Visitor, Forest and Stream, Popular Science News, Phrenological Journal, Spectator, Youth’s Companion, New Orleans Picayune, American Humane Education Society, New York Sun, Christian Register, Boston Globe, Clara Barton (founder of the American Red Cross), and many others.
The thoughts of many of America’s early animal welfare activists refuted long-standing philosophical attitudes about animals. President Cannon was no doubt aware of the philosophical attitudes that had, in the minds of some, validated cruel behavior toward animals. One of the western world’s most prominent philosophers, René Descartes (1596–1650), was prominent in contributing to the inhumane treatment of animals. Descartes argued that animals are nothing more than biological machines, incapable of feeling pain or of reasoning. His philosophy was accepted by many of the other influential thinkers of his day. French philosopher Nicolas de Malebranche (1638–1715), one of Descartes’s followers, attributed the howls of a dog he had just kicked to “the creaking of the gearing and the turnspit.”
Not all western philosophers shared Descartes’s views. One prominent thinker who disagreed with Descartes’s ideas was the famous French writer Voltaire (1694–1778). Voltaire argued that the “animal-machine” idea was ridiculous, pitiful, and sorry. Another prominent Frenchman, Pierre Bayle (1647–1706) also disagreed with Descartes.
Despite opposition, the animal-machine philosophy still prevailed in England just a few decades prior to President Cannon’s birth in that country. It was not until the end of the eighteenth century that serious efforts were made in England to elevate the status of animals from machines to sentient beings capable of suffering.Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832), a famous English jurist and economist, was one of the first prominent Englishmen to challenge the animal-machine philosophy. Bentham made a statement now considered to be a classic in the animal welfare debate. “The question is not, Can they reason? nor Can they talk? but Can they suffer?”
Even with this growing support, most efforts made in eighteenth-century England to promote kindness to animals were met with derision or even punishment. Reverend James Granger (1723–76), a vicar of the Church of England, went to prison for twice preaching against cruelty to animals.On October 18, 1772, Reverend Granger chose as the text of his sermon Proverbs 12:10, “A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast: but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel.” He dedicated his remarks to a neighbor he had often seen whipping his horse. Reverend Granger spoke in a forceful manner:
For God’s sake and thy own, have some compassion upon these poor beasts. . . . I give thee fair warning, that a worse punishment waits for thee in the next; and that damnation will certainly come, according to thy call. . . . I advise thee to fall upon thy knees, and ask God forgiveness for the cruelty.
Reverend Granger later described the reaction to his sermon: “The foregoing discourse gave almost universal disgust to two considerable congregations. The mention of dogs and horses was censured as a prostitution of the dignity of the pulpit, and considered as proof of the author’s insanity.”
At the dawning of the nineteenth century, domestic animals in developed western societies were still generally regarded, at best, as items of personal property “not much different than a shovel or plow.”It is not surprising, therefore, that sentiments such as those expressed by Reverend Granger were considered perverse. European attitudes toward animals remained so callous that when President Cannon was born in Liverpool, England, the practice of stealing cats, skinning them alive, and then selling the pelt was common in his country.
As inhumane treatment of animals continued in England, a growing body of English philosophers, including Lord Thomas Erskine (1750–1823), Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822), and Richard Martin (1755–1834) felt compelled to promote animal welfare despite formidable opposition.Joseph F. Smith noted Lord Thomas Erskine’s attempt to pass animal rights legislation in 1809, the first attempt made in England: “The first movement ever made in the British Parliament to obtain some law for the protection of animals from cruelty was by a distinguished English statesman, who was met by such a storm of ridicule that he abandoned the attempt.” In 1822, Richard Martin earned the distinction of being the first person in England to successfully introduce humane legislation.
President Cannon’s Millennial Vision
President Cannon’s gentle nature may have caused him to be naturally inclined to champion the cause of animals, and his efforts were inspired by the work of U.S. and British contemporaries who were eloquently defending animal welfare during the latter half of the nineteenth century. Yet his faith was the most pervasive rationale he used to support his defense of animal welfare. Because of this, President Cannon differentiated himself from most other nineteenth-century champions of animal welfare.
Even among those whose philosophies were religiously based, President Cannon was distinctive because of the unique beliefs about animals supported by LDS doctrine. One difference between President Cannon’s writings and those of other Christian authors stems from different beliefs about the timing of the Second Coming of Christ, an event early members of the LDS Church felt was imminent.He was aware that the relationship between mankind and the animals was prophesied to be much different during the millennial era (Isa. 11:6–9; 65:25; Ezek. 34:25; Hosea 2:18). For President Cannon, preparing for the changed relationship mankind would have with the animals during the Millennium was just as fundamental as the other preparations the Saints were making for that event. Faithful Latter-day Saints were likely responsive to this theme because the vision of Zion, or a people prepared to live under millennial conditions, was what compelled many of them to sacrifice virtually all that they had to immigrate to the Great Basin.
This vision of a peaceful existence, including not only peace between God and mankind but also peace with the animal world and with all the rest of creation, seemed to inspire President Cannon. Of this hope he wrote:
The time will come when man and animals which are now wild and ferocious will dwell together without hurting each other. The prophets have foretold this with great plainness. But before this day comes men will have to cease their war upon the animals, the reptiles and the insects. . . . When man becomes their true friend, they will learn to love and not to fear him. The Spirit of the Lord which will rest upon man will also be given to the animal creation—man will not hurt nor destroy, not even tigers and lions and wolves and snakes, and they will not harm him—and universal peace will prevail.
In harmony with the Prophet Joseph’s teachings, he taught the Saints that if they could control their “destructive propensities” a different spirit would “take possession of fowls, animals, fish, reptiles, and insects.” This change of heart, according to President Cannon, would help to bring about the Millennium.
President Cannon’s gentleness is an important legacy in the history of the LDS Church. Because his teaching was expressed during an era when gentleness was less common and admired than conquest and dominance, it is all the more valuable today.