Church History
21 The Same Great Work

“The Same Great Work,” chapter 21 of Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days, Volume 2, No Unhallowed Hand, 1846–1893 (2020)

Chapter 21: “The Same Great Work”

Chapter 21

The Same Great Work

horse-drawn carriage arriving at White House

“War excitement is driving the people mad,” apostles Orson Pratt and Erastus Snow wrote to Brigham Young in the spring of 1861. “Armies are enlisting, drilling, marching, and concentrating for the terrible conflict. And the time may soon come when no man will be permitted to remain in the North or in the South who will not fight.”1

South Carolina’s dramatic exit from the United States had sparked widespread rebellion throughout the South. In the months that followed, ten more southern states left the nation, and the U.S. government scrambled to fortify its military bases. Southern forces quickly seized all but the strongest forts, however, and President Abraham Lincoln recruited seventy-five thousand soldiers to put down the rebellion. The force soon proved too small to handle the crisis.2

Orson had been watching the conflict build since he and Erastus had traveled east in the fall to oversee the eastern mission. As a young missionary in the 1830s, Orson had carried in his pocket a copy of Joseph Smith’s prophecy on war, which he would sometimes read to congregations. Most people thought it was nonsense back then, but it was having a different effect now.3 Orson read the revelation in public and arranged to have it published in the New York Times.4 Other newspapers also published the prophecy.

“Have we not had a prophet among us?” asked one Philadelphia newspaper that printed the revelation. “In view of our present troubles, this prediction seems to be in progress of fulfillment, whether Joe Smith was a humbug or not.”5

As the armies of the North and South mobilized for civil war, the missionaries under Orson and Erastus rallied the eastern Saints to gather to Zion. Church leaders scoured the cities and countryside for Saints who had wandered from the fold and urged them to return.6

The response was overwhelming. Around a thousand Saints from Philadelphia, New York, and Boston boarded a train for Florence in June. “The train was so lengthy and heavy,” Orson reported to Brigham, “that two engines were required to drag it along.” Five hundred Church members from the midwestern states also started west on foot and by wagon.7

But the massive migration was not limited to Americans. Saints came west across the Atlantic Ocean in droves in the spring of 1861. The year before, the First Presidency had called George Q. Cannon to join Amasa Lyman and Charles Rich in presiding over the British mission and directing emigration.8 That season, they sent two thousand Saints from Europe and South Africa to Zion.

Rather than supply handcarts for the many emigrants who could not pay their way to Utah, the Church sent two hundred wagons and seventeen hundred oxen—many of them donated by Utah wards—to the Missouri River. The needy Saints were then divided into four “down and back” wagon companies that carried them to Utah at the relatively low price of fourteen dollars for adults and seven dollars for children.9

Meanwhile, people throughout the country wondered if Utah would stay with the Union, join the Southern rebels, or form an independent nation. Many Saints still blamed the United States government for failing to redress the losses they had suffered in Missouri and Illinois. They also resented the government-appointed officials, the army’s presence in Utah, and Congress’s refusal to grant Utah statehood.10

Yet Brigham Young believed the right course for Utah was to stay in the nation, regardless of its policies against the Saints. “Utah has not seceded,” he assured lawmakers in the East, “but is firm for the Constitution and laws of our once happy country.”11

After civil war broke out in the East, regular reports of bloody battles came west with the mail. The grim accounts told of hundreds, sometimes thousands, of deaths.12 Some people in the Church believed that God was punishing the United States for its treatment of the Saints.13

A handful of Saints went east to take part in the war, but most Church members were content to stay in Utah and build up Zion. That summer, Brigham Young proposed to uncover the temple foundation, which had lain buried since the move south, and begin the temple walls. He also announced a plan, already underway, to build a large theater a few blocks from the temple site.14

Though the city’s Social Hall already functioned as a small playhouse, Brigham wanted a theater that would inspire the minds and imaginations of the Saints. Drama had a way of teaching and edifying people in ways sermons could not. Having a magnificent theater in Salt Lake City would also show visitors that the Saints were a cultured and refined people, countering the negative images of Saints in many newspapers.15

The idea to build a theater had come to Brigham earlier that year. He and Heber Kimball had attended a play in the home of the Bowring family, who had equipped the ground floor of their house with a small stage. Henry and Marian Bowring were members of the Mechanics’ Dramatic Association, an acting company composed mainly of British Saints, including some handcart pioneers. Marian herself had come west with her daughter, Emily, in the Martin handcart company.

Brigham and Heber enjoyed the performance at the Bowrings’ theater, and they returned the following evening to attend another play with their families.16 Soon Brigham proposed combining the Mechanics’ Dramatic Association with another acting company, the Deseret Dramatic Association, and building a larger theater so more Saints could enjoy the best entertainment in the territory.

Though Brigham believed in the value of work, he also encouraged the Saints to rest and enjoy life. “The people must have amusements,” he declared. He believed that recreation and physical exercise were important to both body and soul.17

To pay for the theater, Brigham diverted funds from a stalled construction project, the Seventies Hall of Science.18 The theater project received additional funding that summer when the U.S. Army troops stationed in Cedar Valley were summoned back east to fight in the Civil War. Before the soldiers departed, Brigham sent Hiram Clawson, his son-in-law and manager of the new theater, to purchase some of the army’s iron, livestock, dry goods, and other materials at a bargain. Brigham then sold these items at a higher price to fund the construction of the theater.19

On August 5, the First Presidency and their clerks visited the construction site for the theater. Stepping down from the carriage, Brigham inspected the stone foundation with Heber. “The rocks look of a very enduring character,” Heber said.

Brigham agreed. “I always like to see some kind of a building going on.”20

In the weeks and months that followed, the theater sprang up quickly.21 Unaware of the careful planning happening behind the scenes on the larger and more complex temple, some people lamented that construction on the house of the Lord seemed to be moving much slower than on the theater. Workers had only recently begun digging up the buried foundation of the temple and cutting large granite blocks in a new quarry twenty miles to the south. Why were the Saints spending so much time and money on a theater while the house of the Lord was still unbuilt?22

Their objections did not trouble Brigham. He did not want work on the temple to be hurried, and he was not concerned about the cost of construction—as long as it was done properly. Before the temple foundation was buried in 1858, workers had not installed the stones properly, making portions of the sandstone foundation susceptible to cracking under the temple’s massive weight.23 Once the foundation was excavated, he had the workers repair the damaged sandstone and replace any stone that was beyond repair with granite from the quarry.

“Do a good work on this temple,” he told the temple foremen. He wanted the workers to take the time to do it right. “I want to see the temple built in a manner that it will endure through the Millennium,” he declared. “This is not the only temple we shall build. There will be hundreds of them built and dedicated to the Lord.”24

The Salt Lake Theatre opened on March 6, 1862, for a special dedicatory service with a prayer and speeches from Church leaders. Afterward, the theater company performed a comedy called The Pride of the Market. Two nights later, the theater opened its doors to the public. Hundreds of people, eager to get a seat, crowded outside the theater two hours before the performance. When the curtain rose, there was not an empty seat in the house.

The Saints’ enthusiasm for the theater pleased Brigham. “Hell is a great distance from us, and we can never arrive there, unless we change our path,” he declared during the festivities, “for the way we are now pursuing leads to heaven and happiness.”25

On May 5, George Q. Cannon received a puzzling telegram from Salt Lake City. He was in the Liverpool office of the British and European mission, where he had served as president for the last year and a half.

“Join Senator Hooper Washington,” the telegram read. “May twenty-fifth.”

A tremor shot through George’s body, and he grabbed a nearby desk to steady himself. He could hardly breathe. Once again, an assignment from Salt Lake City had taken him by surprise. And the vagueness of this assignment only made it more shocking. Why was he needed in Washington, DC?26

George knew that Utah’s territorial legislature had recently drafted another statehood petition for the United States Congress. That meant two senators would be elected to go to Congress to represent the proposed state and lobby for the petition. The telegram seemed to suggest that William Hooper, Utah’s former delegate to Congress, was one of the senators.27 Had George been elected as the other?

George had a taste for politics. As a boy, he had received a blessing promising him that he would someday occupy a responsible position in government. But as much as he wanted to represent Utah in Congress, he cast the desire aside, just in case Church leaders needed him in Washington for a different reason.28

Recently, Justin Morrill, a member of the United States House of Representatives, had introduced a law in Congress that would outlaw bigamy, or marriage to more than one spouse at the same time, in all U.S. territories.29 Perhaps the Saints needed George to lobby for their right to practice plural marriage. If passed, the Morrill law would make criminals of George and other Saints who practiced the principle. It would also limit the Church’s influence in Utah by restricting the amount of property it could own.30

On the day of his departure, George blessed his wife Elizabeth and daughter, Georgiana, who had been born while the couple was in England. Neither Elizabeth nor the baby was healthy enough to go with him, so George entrusted them to the care of their new friends in England while he was away.

When he arrived in the United States two weeks later, he learned that he had indeed been elected to serve alongside William Hooper in the Senate if the statehood petition was approved. The appointment granted them no official authority, but they could try to persuade lawmakers to vote against the Morrill antibigamy bill and in favor of Utah’s bid to become a state.31

On June 13, George and William visited President Abraham Lincoln, hoping to win his support for their petition. George expected the president to look tired and careworn after more than a year of civil war, but Lincoln chatted and joked with them in a friendly manner. He was a tall, plain man with a bearded face and awkward limbs. He listened politely as George and William made their case for statehood, but he made no promise to support their petition.32

George and William left the White House disappointed. The meeting had been like other discussions they’d had with other politicians in Washington. Most lawmakers seemed open-minded about statehood for Utah, but they were unwilling to promise their votes. Believing they could not support Utah statehood after having voted for the antibigamy law, a few lawmakers refused to consider granting statehood to Utah until its constitution outlawed plural marriage.33

Outrage over the Mountain Meadows massacre also kept some people from supporting the Saints and their bid for statehood.34 About a year after John D. Lee gave his report of the massacre, Church investigators had discovered that John and other Church members were involved in the attack. A short time later, government officials had conducted their own investigations. They tried to bring John D. Lee, Isaac Haight, John Higbee, and others to justice, but no witnesses came forward to testify against them. Investigators located the eleven girls and six boys who survived the attack, however, and returned them to relatives or friends in the summer of 1859.35

George and William hoped that their diligence to win support for the petition was making a good impression on lawmakers in Washington. Still, neither man knew if their efforts were enough to win statehood for the people of Utah.36

While the statehood petition was under review in Washington, missionary work in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden was thriving. More than two years had passed since Johan and Carl Dorius had left Sanpete Valley to serve their second mission to Scandinavia. For most of that time, Carl had presided over the Saints in Norway with Johan as his first counselor.37

When the brothers had arrived in Scandinavia, Johan had gone immediately to Norway. Carl, however, had visited their estranged mother, Ane Sophie, in Copenhagen. At first, Ane Sophie did not recognize her son. But once Carl told her who he was, she kissed him again and again on the forehead, overjoyed that he was back from America. Like Nicolai, her former husband and Carl’s father, she had remarried. She and her husband, Hans Birch, had adopted a girl named Julia, now eight years old.38

As Carl and Ane Sophie spoke for the first time in three years, he marveled at the changes that had come over her. Before he and Johan had left for Zion, she had been embarrassed to walk beside them in public. But the Church’s reputation in Denmark had since improved, and the day after Carl arrived, Ane Sophie agreed not only to go out in public with him but also to attend a Church meeting.

When mother and son entered the hall where the Saints met, they found the room full. Carl recognized many faces in the congregation from his first mission, and after he addressed the group, several people came up to shake his hand and welcome him back to the country.

Ane Sophie rarely left her son’s side in the days that followed. After Carl visited the Church’s headquarters in Denmark, he was a little embarrassed that he was still wearing the same shabby suit he had worn during his last mission. His mother took him out to get a new suit and then joined him as he visited old friends in the city. As they talked together, Carl could tell that his mother was more interested in the Church than ever before.

After visiting Ane Sophie, Carl joined Johan in Norway. The brothers discovered that many Norwegian branches had shrunk because of emigration, but around 600 Saints still resided in Norway, with around 250 in the capital city of Christiania. The Norwegian government had yet to legalize religious freedom, so the missionaries were cautious when they preached or baptized publicly.39

In early 1862, as Carl was preaching in southern Norway, police apprehended him and ten other missionaries, questioned them in front of a mocking crowd, and threatened them with fines and imprisonment. Such harassment did little to stop the work. By the spring of that year, 1,556 Scandinavian Saints were preparing to emigrate to Zion—the largest emigration yet.

Around this time, Carl returned to Copenhagen to visit his mother again. Ane Sophie had a good spirit about her. She seemed more serious and still interested in the Church. Once again, she attended Church meetings with Carl, sometimes bringing Julia along.

In June 1862, Carl took his mother and Julia to Christiania for a short trip. The prejudice and bitterness Ane Sophie had once felt toward the Saints were gone, and she and Julia agreed to have Carl baptize and confirm them into the Church. After the ordinances were performed, the Saints in Norway showered Ane Sophie with attention, happy to finally meet the mother of their mission leader.40

On July 20, Elizabeth Cannon received a letter from George. His work in Washington was done, and he was eager to return to Liverpool on one of the next two departing steamships. The letter did not give Elizabeth much hope that George would catch the earlier ship. But she would be glad to see him, whenever he arrived.

The next day, she rode out to a grassy hill overlooking Liverpool with Georgiana and watched her play in the grass. Having left her little sons John and Abraham in the care of family in Utah, Elizabeth was grateful to have Georgiana with her. “She is a great comfort to me in the absence of my dear husband,” she noted in her journal the following day. “I could not content myself were it not for her.”41

She could not have known, when George left on his first mission to California and Hawaii, how hard their absences from each other would be. Helping to gather God’s people was a vital part of the latter-day work, but it often took an immense emotional and physical toll on the women who stayed behind to care for family and look after home and property while their husbands were away. Elizabeth had been fortunate enough to go with George on some of his missions,42 which is more than most wives of missionaries could say. But that did not make the long separations easier when they happened.

A few days after receiving George’s letter, Elizabeth was tidying up the house while Georgiana played with Rosina Mathews, a little English girl the Cannons had taken into their home. As the girls played, Rosina glanced out a window overlooking the street. “Here comes Pa,” she sang out.

“You must be mistaken,” Elizabeth said.

“He is in a cab,” Rosina insisted, “at the door.”

Just then Elizabeth heard the familiar sound of George’s footsteps on the stairs. When she saw him, her heart leapt with joy, and she could scarcely speak. Georgiana ran up to him, and he took her in his arms. He looked well after his long journey and was pleased to see Elizabeth stronger and healthier than when he had left.

That afternoon, the family took a walk. “We all enjoyed ourselves very much together, after so long a separation,” Elizabeth wrote in her journal. “Our home was happy again.”43

Despite George’s best efforts, his lobbying in Washington had been unsuccessful. President Lincoln signed the antibigamy bill into law on July 8. A short time later, lawmakers informed George and William that Congress had more important matters to decide than statehood for Utah—especially since the American Civil War was only getting worse.44

Now that George was back in Europe, he wanted to tour the mission with Elizabeth. They left Liverpool in September in company with John Smith, the Church patriarch, who was passing through England on his way to a mission in Scandinavia. Along the way they picked up John’s brother Joseph F. Smith and his cousin Samuel Smith, who had been serving missions in London since 1860. Another Smith cousin, Jesse Smith, was president of the Scandinavian mission, and he had invited his cousins to visit with him once John arrived in Europe.

The party left England on September 3 and passed through Hamburg, Germany, on their way to Denmark. Joseph and Samuel looked tired and thin from overwork, but they seemed to improve with each passing day. In Denmark, Elizabeth felt somewhat awkward traveling through a country where she did not know the language. When she attended a conference in the city of Aalborg, though, she enjoyed mingling with the Saints.45

George and the other missionaries addressed the congregation with help from interpreters, and afterward they gathered on a hill overlooking the city to talk and sing together. Most of the songs were in English and Danish, but George and Joseph entertained the Saints by singing in Hawaiian as well. The joy they felt as fellow Saints, despite differences in language and nationality, stood in stark contrast to the discord then afflicting the United States.46

“Enjoyed myself very much indeed; was highly pleased with the people,” Elizabeth wrote that day in her journal. “I could not make myself understood, yet we were in the same great work and partook of the same spirit.”47