“George Q. Cannon,” Church History Topics
“George Q. Cannon”
Among the best-known Latter-day Saints during the 19th century, George Q. Cannon served as an editor and publisher, businessman, educator, member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, territorial delegate to the United States Congress, and Counselor in the First Presidency to four Church Presidents. His deep involvement in Church and civic affairs placed him at the forefront of Utah society, and his personal writings—including a journal totaling nearly 2.5 million words—represent one of the most insightful and detailed records in Latter-day Saint history.1 For 50 years he participated in administering the Church as the Saints worked to establish Zion in the western United States and throughout the world.
Cannon was born in Liverpool, England, in 1827. He, his parents, and his younger siblings that were of age were baptized in 1840. Two years later, Cannon immigrated with his family to the United States, but his mother died while crossing the Atlantic Ocean. At 16 years old, Cannon apprenticed in a printshop in Nauvoo, Illinois. A little less than a year and a half later, his father died, leaving him and his siblings orphans. He then traveled westward in the pioneer trek and arrived in the Salt Lake Valley in the fall of 1847. In 1850 he worked in the California goldfields as a “gold missionary.”2 From the goldfields, he was called on a proselytizing mission to Hawaii, where he served for four years as one of the first Latter-day Saint missionaries to the islands. He began translating the Book of Mormon into the Hawaiian language there, and after returning to the continental mainland, he published his translation in 1856.3
Very soon after his mission, Cannon married Elizabeth Hoagland in Salt Lake City. Thirteen months later, the couple welcomed their first child, who died later that year. Elizabeth bore 10 more children over the next 22 years, 6 of whom lived past infancy.4 In 1858, with Elizabeth’s consent, Cannon proposed to Sarah Jane Jenne, and the two were married that year. His marriage to Sarah was the first of Cannon’s five plural marriages. Over the years, his family grew to 43 children (including a few who were adopted), 35 of whom reached adulthood. His many responsibilities made finding time with his children difficult, and Cannon often used letters and interviews to interact with them.
In 1860 Brigham Young ordained George Q. Cannon an Apostle and assigned him to preside over the European Mission. In England, Cannon improved the mission’s printing operation by purchasing a steam-powered press and moving all projects from outside contracts to in-house publishing. He also reformed the finances, emigration system, missionary work, and congregational administration of the mission.
Cannon valued education, and within a decade of his return to Utah in 1864, he launched the Juvenile Instructor, the first magazine for Latter-day Saint children and youth, founded a bookstore and press that later became Deseret Book Company, and became the first superintendent of the Deseret Sunday School Union (a predecessor to today’s Churchwide Sunday School program).5
Cannon served as the Utah territorial delegate to the United States Congress from 1873 to 1882 and worked for years to protect the Latter-day Saints against federal laws aimed at plural marriage and other aspects of the Saints’ lives. He often spoke at significant events and before congressional hearings. As federal enforcement against polygamy intensified, Cannon went into hiding with Church President John Taylor and other leaders in order to protect his family. In 1886 authorities arrested Cannon for having practiced plural marriage, and in 1888 he was convicted and sentenced to five months in prison.
In 1890 Cannon helped Church President Wilford Woodruff draft the Manifesto, which led to the end of Church-sanctioned plural marriage. He delivered the first public explanation of the Manifesto in a speech at the Salt Lake Tabernacle and boldly affirmed his willingness to stand for his religious convictions—his own incarceration as proof—and declared his witness that the Holy Spirit rested with President Woodruff.6
Cannon continued to serve in the First Presidency, and in 1900 he visited Hawaii to commemorate the 50-year jubilee of the missionaries’ arrival. The following year, he contracted influenza and relocated to Northern California to recuperate. As his condition worsened, he called his family together and pronounced blessings on his children. He died on April 12, 1901, at 74 years of age.