A long-anticipated project is coming to completion. Much of the journal of George Q. Cannon, covering the last half of the nineteenth century, is now freely available online at www.churchhistorianspress.org/george-q-cannon/, and the remainder of the journal will soon be available. As with other Church Historian’s Press publications, meticulous attention has been paid to produce an accurate and reliable transcript. It has been prepared largely according to the editorial procedures developed by the Joseph Smith Papers Project.
Next to Brigham Young, George Q. Cannon was arguably the best-known Latter-day Saint in the last half of the nineteenth century. His remarkable journal, contained in fifty-one physical volumes, is one of the most insightful and detailed records in Mormon history. His record spans five decades, a period in which he served as an editor and publisher, a businessman, an educator, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, a territorial delegate in Congress, and a counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The vast majority of Cannon’s journal has never been publicly available before.The online publication of Cannon’s journal includes roughly 2.5 million words and allows for new insight and understanding into the Mormon past. Cannon’s biographer, Davis Bitton, avers that Cannon’s journals are “a magnificent personal record that, in my estimation, ranks alongside Samuel Pepys’s diary or, in the context of Mormon diary-keeping, Wilford Woodruff’s.”
Cannon’s broad interests, extensive connections with people both inside and outside of the Latter-day Saint faith, and cogent observations will also make his journal of particular interest to scholars and students of western U.S. history and U.S. political history. With journal entries covering the mundane to the miraculous, the interactions of his large family to the dynamics of Congress, and his private religious practices to his leadership in a variety of ecclesiastical settings, Cannon’s record deserves deep study.
Born in Liverpool, England, in 1827, Cannon was baptized a Latter-day Saint in 1840 and then emigrated with his family to the United States, arriving in Nauvoo, Illinois, in 1843. Until his death in 1901, Cannon remained a dedicated Latter-day Saint, traveling widely as a missionary, including as a “gold missionary” in Gold Rush California, where his earnings went to the Church, as a proselytizing missionary in the Sandwich Islands for four years, and as president of the European Mission for an additional four. Following his calling as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 1860, Cannon was a member of the Church’s highest councils for the next four decades, most of that time as a counselor to Church presidents Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, and Lorenzo Snow. He was deeply involved in writing and publishing throughout his adult life, composing books, editing newspapers and magazines, and running a publishing company and bookstore.
Orphaned as a teenager, Cannon apprenticed in a print shop and was largely self-taught. He had a gift of working with words and considered writing and record keeping to be part of his divine calling. Writing initially in a beautiful longhand, Cannon later employed secretaries to help him keep the journal, and extensive portions of it were typed rather than written by hand. The journal entries became much more detailed over time as Cannon increasingly dictated entries to secretaries.
The period from 1849 to 1901 covered in the journal allows readers to see wide-sweeping change not only in the Church but also in politics, technology, travel, and other areas. For instance, the journal mentions arduous travel by team or horseback in the early period and ends at the turn of the century with rapid travel by rail. Topics found in the journal include Cannon’s many travels in the United States and Europe; his counsel to and relationships with his family, which consisted of six wives and forty-three children; his meetings with political leaders, including U.S. president Abraham Lincoln, congressmen, and senators promoting Utah statehood and battling anti-Mormon legislation; his participation in founding and leading schools and universities; his involvement with temple construction; his close relationships with Church leaders and his counsel to Church members; his financial dealings; his life in prison after being arrested for practicing plural marriage; and his deep faith and defense of the Church to which he was determinedly devoted. George Q. Cannon’s journal continues until April 7, 1901, just five days before his death on April 12, 1901.
George Q. Cannon kept his journal during a period when The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was establishing itself in the western United States and beginning to expand in other areas of the world. Now that the journal is available online, readers have unprecedented access to the thoughts and insights of this key figure as well as a window into how senior Church leaders governed the Church and led its growth.
Purposes and Value of George Q. Cannon’s Journal
As far as is known, George Q. Cannon began keeping a journal during the last three months of 1849 while he was on a gold mission to California, and then he resumed writing it in September 1850 just prior to his leaving for a mission to Hawaii. Cannon later selected from the Hawaiian portion some faith-promoting experiences to share with the youth of the Church in the small book My First Mission.
On May 20, 1855, prior to going to California on assignment, George Q. Cannon was blessed by President Brigham Young that, in Cannon’s words, “I should be blessed in writing and publishing, and when I should take up the pen to write I should be blessed with wisdom and the Lord would inspire me with thoughts and ideas that what I should write and publish should be acceptable to the people of God. To open my mouth and lift up my voice and not fear for I should be borne off victorious” (May 20, 1855).
This remarkable blessing proved true throughout the rest of Cannon’s life as an editor, a publisher, a writer of columns for the Juvenile Instructor, a writer of letters to editors of newspapers in major cities, and an indispensable aid in helping write Church documents.
In time, Cannon saw his ongoing journal as serving various purposes, one of which was allowing him to be prepared to confirm to others specific details of what his actions were and when they occurred. Brigham Young’s counsel illustrates this: “President Young . . . said that I ought to be careful about my movements in Washington—that I would be watched and everything I did scrutinized and I ought to keep a journal of my movements that I could prove where I was at any time. If any thing should occur to Gen. Grant he (the President) would be accused of having prompted its commission, and I would probably be charged with having had it done” (January 4, 1873).
In a crucial conflict of understanding between James S. Clarkson and George Q. Cannon, Cannon “pulled out his secret weapon—his journal,” as Davis Bitton put it, and “demonstrated that Clarkson had been fully informed” about a certain contract.
Referring to the value of preserving his journal, Cannon wrote: “I make this record in my journal, so that it will refresh my memory in case the question ever comes up” (August 12, 1898). Again on September 18, 1898, he noted: “I mention this in my journal, because it may be referred to some time in the future, and a little record of this will not do any harm.”
By George Q. Cannon’s careful preservation of his various physical journals and his recognition that what he called “my journal” “may be referred to some time in the future,” it is evident that Cannon expected others, especially his posterity, to have access to his journal.
While Cannon’s life story has been told well by Davis Bitton in George Q. Cannon: A Biography, carefully prepared online transcriptions of Cannon’s journal give readers a window into Cannon’s immediate world. They allow us unfiltered access to Cannon’s thoughts and actions recorded essentially when they occurred. They give us insight into the life of a remarkable man. As Richard E. Turley Jr. put it:
George Q. Cannon was a very literate man, and he wrote an excellent journal. In my opinion, the George Q. Cannon journals are one of the best sets of journals that we have for the latter part of the nineteenth century. He was in a position to know a great deal about the history of the church during that time period; he lived much of it; and he wrote in elegant detail about his experiences. I believe the journal will appeal to scholars because it has information about important events in the Church’s history, but it will also appeal to individual members because of the subjects that he discusses.
As revealed in his journal, George Q. Cannon was a man of faith. In his journal for May 20, 1855, Cannon said that Brigham Young blessed him and his wife Elizabeth that “we should receive all that were in reserve for the most faithful.” His journal shows him also to have been a devoted husband and father, a loyal Latter-day Saint, a totally honest person, an obedient servant, a patriot, an entrepreneur, a witness of the divinity of Jesus Christ, and a committed follower of Joseph Smith and his successors.
Provenance and Publication History
In the general introduction to the first printed volume, The Journals of George Q. Cannon: To California in ’49, Richard E. Turley Jr. recounts this about the provenance of the Cannon journals:
George Q. Cannon’s journals came into Church possession through at least three unrelated accessions. On an unknown date, the Church Historian’s Office, predecessor of the current Church Historical Department, obtained the three earliest volumes, which cover parts of 1849 through 1854. In October 1932, George’s son Sylvester Q. Cannon, himself a prominent Church leader, gave thirty-seven volumes of his father’s journals to the First Presidency of the Church. In the summer of 1978, the Church Historical Department acquired eight volumes covering parts of 1861 through 1870 from Roger Willard Cannon, son of Willard Telle Cannon, another of George’s sons.
The First Presidency transferred the journals in their possession to the Church History Department in late 2008. One journal covering Cannon’s return to Hawaii in 1900 is at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, and Cannon’s daybook which he kept while in the penitentiary from September to December 1888 is at Colorado College in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
The transcription of George Q. Cannon’s journal had its beginnings in the mid-twentieth century when Adrian W. Cannon, a grandson of George Q. Cannon, began research for a biography of his ancestor. First gaining permission from President George Albert Smith to access the journals, Adrian worked for decades, taking extensive notes and eventually transcribing most of the volumes, sometimes with the help of other family members. Adrian’s transcript was incomplete, both because he sometimes summarized and paraphrased rather than taking down an exact transcription, and because he omitted portions as a conscious editorial decision.
Before he died in 1991, Adrian agreed to donate his transcripts to the Historical Department (now called the Church History Department) of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which would continue the project and eventually publish George Q. Cannon’s journal.
In fulfillment of the agreement with Adrian Cannon, staff members of the Church History Department transcribed and annotated two volumes of Cannon’s journal: The Journals of George Q. Cannon: To California in ’49 and The Journals of George Q. Cannon: Hawaiian Mission, 1850–1854 with Adrian W. Cannon and Richard E. Turley Jr. as general editors of the first volume and Richard E. Turley Jr. as general editor of the second and Michael N. Landon and Chad M. Orton as the respective volume editors. The texts of these journals along with their annotations are now available at The Church Historian’s Press website as part of the online George Q. Cannon journal.
In 2010, a decision was reached to publish the journals more rapidly and efficiently by creating accurate transcripts without extensive annotations. As a full-time missionary in the Church History Department, I was engaged beginning in September 2012 to do the final verification of transcriptions and to edit the overall Cannon journal according to accepted editorial standards. Prior to my retiring from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I edited Washington Irving’s Astoria and James Fenimore Cooper’s The Pathfinder from the available original manuscripts, was a general editor of the thirty-volume Complete Works of Washington Irving, and was a consultant for the National Endowment for the Humanities on several major editorial projects.
Value of the Cannon Journal Being Online
There are some remarkable advantages in having the George Q. Cannon journal published online. For instance, it can be searched by word or phrase. Detailed lists of events can be found at the beginning of the first month of each year, with each item linked directly to the specific journal entries.
It is intended that The Journal of George Q. Cannon website will be open to enhancement. While the journal entries starting in 1855 are not annotated, this annotation may be done in the future. Subsequent articles, photographs, and the like regarding Cannon and his world can also be linked to the main journal website.
Various Topics Treated by George Q. Cannon in His Journal
While the knowledge and faith of George Q. Cannon are evident in his published works and discourses, his journal more intimately reveals meaningful characteristics of his life, thoughts, and accomplishments. Some of these are evidenced in the following selections from his journal.
George Q. Cannon acknowledged that the Lord brought him out of obscurity to be an instrument in the Lord’s hands to accomplish great things.
When I look back at my life it seems very marvelous what the Lord has done for me. From the deepest obscurity, from the midst of a population which teems in my native place, I have been brought forward until to-day I am the most widely-advertised man in many respects in the United States. (January 11, 1882)
My life, I feel, has been a very remarkable one; and in looking back, I can visibly perceive the hand of God and His overruling providence in my preservation, in my guidance and in the shaping of my destiny. I feel to dedicate myself anew to Him and to His service. (January 11, 1887)
I had never seen anything on the stage that appeared to me more interesting than my own life, and it had been, notwithstanding my trials and sorrows, a singularly happy one. The Lord has brought me out of obscurity and my father’s house, and I wonder at his goodness. (January 11, 1894)
The Lord’s hand has been over my father’s family in a remarkable manner. We were left orphans in a strange land, foreigners by birth, and in some respects almost friendless, and the property that my father had soon passed away through mobocracy, etc; yet the Lord has brought us forth and given us a name and a place among the people of God, that to me appears very wonderful. (September 18, 1892)
Cannon willingly and obediently served in the Church and in government. In respect to missionary service, he recorded:
I was the first to preach the Gospel in that [the Hawaiian] language and was the means of bringing many thousands of people to the knowledge of the truth. I also translated the Book of Mormon into the Hawaiian language. I have always felt very thankful to the Lord for impressing me to do what I did. (November 22, 1900)
All my life I have gone on missions and returned from them just as directed by my brethren, and I can truthfully say I have always been willing. I feel the same about my mission on the earth. I wish to remain and do a good work; but whenever the Lord shall be satisfied, I hope to be willing and content to go hence. (October 31, 1886)
From an early age, George Q. Cannon knew he would sometime serve in government.
He informed me that I had been elected . . . U. S. Senator for the State of Deseret. . . . When a boy, blessings have been pronounced upon my head that have led me to look forward to a time when, if faithful to the Truth, I should occupy responsible positions in connection with government and have wisdom in that direction. (May 31, 1862)
As a representative from the Territory of Utah striving to bring about Utah statehood, Cannon courageously and calmly faced opposition. He observed:
The modern politician is a moral coward. He has not the courage to defend a weak, unpopular side, especially if the question of “Mormonism” be involved. They are as afraid of being suspected of having any sympathy with that, as they would be of the contagion of small-pox. (January 28, 1873)
Cannon’s feelings toward enemies were not of anger but rather of pity.
My feelings . . . were those of profound pity for these people who were fighting against us. A few years more and they would disappear from the scene and their mortal careers would be ended, and in view of the punishment that awaited them for fighting against the work of God we could afford to pity them. I had no feelings of revenge or anger or vindictiveness towards any in my heart. (September 20, 1882)
In time, though, George Q. Cannon was honored by many senators and representatives.
What a change has taken place! Senators and Representatives esteeming it an honor, according to their own statements, to be in the company of a delegation from Utah headed by a “Mormon” Apostle! I could contrast the present with the past, for my history was closely identified with the past. (May 10, 1897)
Cannon’s life was marked by dedication and faithfulness.
My determination is, by the help of the Lord, to go forth and magnify my calling and be a faithful shepherd and watchman in the midst of the Saints and on the walls of Zion, regardless of consequences to myself. (April 10, 1863)
It is only a few days ago that, in communing with the Lord, his Spirit rested down upon me, and I was led to dedicate myself, my wives, my sons and my daughters and my substance with great fervor to Him and his service, and I desired him to use me as he thought best. It is a great honor to work in any capacity for the Lord. (August 10, 1885)
I desire most earnestly to know the will of the Lord and to do it. If it be to go to prison, I feel quite resigned and desire to have the same pleasure in doing so that I have always had in taking missions. If it should not be His will for me to go to prison I cry unto Him from the depths of my soul that it may not endanger any of His servants, or throw any discredit upon His work. (March 4, 1886)
George Q. Cannon’s trust in the Lord can be a significant example for readers of his journal today.
It is a constant cause of thankfulness to me that I have been so honored of the Lord as to be admitted into such close relationship with you [members of the Quorum of the Twelve] who are His chosen servants. . . . In and of myself I feel very weak, but if I am faithful and humble I know that the Lord can increase my strength and my power to do good. (December 13, 1862)
I called upon him [God] mightily in prayer to help me. This is a great comfort to me. I am here [in Washington as a representative of the Territory of Utah] without a man who is in sympathy with me; but I have a Friend more powerful than they all. In this I rejoice. I feel there are angels with me, and as one of old said they that are for us are more than they who are against us. When I pray I feel comforted and filled with joy. Of myself I feel very weak; but in my Lord I feel strong. (December 1, 1873)
It is a blessed thing to know that the Lord hears and answers prayer when offered aright. This has been my comfort and support here. I have never applied to him in vain. No matter how thick the clouds of darkness have been, or how much Satan and his servants have raged, the Lord has been my rock of refuge. He has given me peace, joy and happiness and my life has been a great pleasure to me. (June 16, 1880)
O, Lord, is my cry, help me to bear all things which thou seest proper to require me to pass through; that I may never tremble or shrink; but that in patience and long-suffering I may submit to the abuse and wrath of the wicked. May all this be overruled for my salvation and thy glory. I know that it is thee against whom the shafts are leveled, it is against thy work the anger of the wicked is directed. Thou hast sustained and delivered me in times past; thou hast provided a way of escape for me and hast given me victory over my enemies. The pits they have dug for my destruction, the snares they have spread for my feet, thou hast not permitted me to fall or be led into. And I will trust thee now, for I know thou wilt save me. I am thankful that I am accounted worthy to be thy servant and to be called to go through these trials. (January 10, 1882)
Of interest are George Q. Cannon’s assessments of leaders such as Brigham Young and Abraham Lincoln.
[Brigham Young] was in my eyes as perfect a man as I ever knew. I never desired to see his faults; I closed my eyes to them. To me he was a prophet of God, the head of the dispensation on the earth, holding the keys under the prophet Joseph, and in my mind there clustered about him, holding this position, everything holy and sacred and to be revered. (January 17, 1878)
On Friday, 13th went in company with Hon. John M. Bernhisel and Senator Hooper and Elders C. W. West and Brigham Young, Junr, to pay our respects to President Lincoln. The President has a plain, but shrewd and rather pleasant face. He is very tall, probably 6 feet 4 inches high, and is rather awkwardly built, heightened by his want of flesh. He looks much better than I expected he would do from my knowledge of the cares and labors of his position, and is quite humorous, scarcely permitting a visit to pass without uttering some joke. He received us very kindly and without formality. (June 13, 1862)
George Q. Cannon cared deeply about his family and about children in general.
If I could have my wish, nothing would please me better than to have my brothers and sisters live near to myself. But in all these matters I [k]now that the Lord overruleth for the best, and if we could be in his hands as clay in the hands of the potter, he will fashion us into vessels of honor for his glory. I am learning very rapidly to make my happiness consist in doing the will of God our Father. (January 10, 1863)
No longer ago than to-day, while at Derby waiting for a train, I was much drawn out in prayer to the Lord for the strength and grace necessary to enable me to bear up under every trial. I think of Job; he lost all his children at a blow, and his flocks and his herds also; but I still have three—half of mine—and I pray that they may be spared unto me. (February 9, 1864)
I do not wish to spend means on my selfish gratification, or on that of my family, but I desire my children to grow up and accustom themselves to plain living and inured to labor, so that if they have to face poverty, it will not be a hardship for them, and especially that they may not be lifted up in pride, because of position, and because their father occupies the position which I do. (November 17, 1881)
I feel greatly drawn out to impart instructions to my family. I am very anxious that my children should be instructed in the principles of righteousness. (July 19, 1885)
That winter 1864–5 I organized a Sunday school in the 14th ward, where I lived. There was no school in the city at that time. The next winter 1865–6 I commenced the publication of the Juvenile Instructor, a little periodical published semi-monthly in the interests of the children. (October 8, 1899)
Cannon frequently mentioned his use of priesthood power. Here is an instance of it:
Last night when I reached home, word was sent me that my son Joseph was very sick and had fainted. He had been in the sun on Tuesday and it was feared he was sunstruck. Bro. Wilcken and I administered to him and he experienced immediate relief and fell asleep, and his mother took him with her this morning. (June 30, 1887)
As a practical man, Cannon was interested in experiments of various sorts such as this one about building a silo:
I am trying to build a Silo in which to preserve my feed for cattle. I find that I have to make a change in my method of feeding, and having heard so much about ensilage being good for stock and having seen such excellent reports respecting it, that I have concluded to build a Silo in which to keep fodder as an experiment. (May 9, 1883)
Readers of Cannon’s journal may find humorous his account of spotting a creature in Bear Lake:
I saw in the lake, which I had been observing, quite closely, an object moving with considerable swiftness. . . . It was travelling with very great swiftness, as fast, I should judge, if not faster, as a railroad train would travel on land. The object was, as near as we could judge, about thirty feet long, and might have taken it to be, if it had not moved, for a large saw log, its appearance being somewhat of that shape, and its color that of a log stripped of its bark. . . . What this was I do not pretend to say, whether a monster in the shape of a large serpent or not I cannot decide. (August 3, 1881)
Lastly, George Q. Cannon’s lifetime commitment to the Savior is inspiring.
I testified that the Lord Jesus lived, for I had seen Him and heard His voice, and I had heard the voice of the Spirit, speaking to me as one man speaketh to another. I had been led to my present position by the revelations of the Lord, for He had pointed out to me the path to pursue. (November 4, 1889)
George Q. Cannon’s Last Publication Project
As a prolific writer and publisher, George Q. Cannon was—and continues to be—a trusted voice of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to both Church members and outsiders. Thanks to the dedicated work of employees, missionaries, and descendants, George Q. Cannon speaks again through his journal—his last, great publication project.
Cannon constantly strove by aid of the Spirit to communicate with others in his writings, sermons, and letters. He cared about his inspired thoughts being put into print, and was dismayed at times when a sermon he gave was not recorded. He especially cared for the education of the rising generation and saw the value his experiences could have for them. This is evidenced in part by his longstanding publication of the Juvenile Instructor, his selecting excerpts from his Hawaiian journal to put into My First Mission, and his publication of The Life of Nephi and Life of Joseph Smith the Prophet.
Since George Q. Cannon reveals in his journals how he exhibited faith, hope, and courage during tumultuous times, his story can encourage Latter-day Saints and others to have those same qualities during our own increasingly perilous times. As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland affirmed in his April 2016 general conference address, “President George Q. Cannon once taught: ‘No matter how serious the trial, how deep the distress, how great the affliction, [God] will never desert us. He never has, and He never will. He cannot do it. It is not His character [to do so]. . . . He will [always] stand by us. We may pass through the fiery furnace; we may pass through deep waters; but we shall not be consumed nor overwhelmed. We shall emerge from all these trials and difficulties the better and purer for them.’”
President Cannon’s journal, now being published online, will continue to teach us faith, courage, determination, and trust in God—“no matter how serious the trial.”