George Q. Cannon: the Man behind the Journal

Contributed By Carolyn Call, Church News staff writer

  • 14 April 2016

George Q. Cannon, front left, is standing with a fishing pole. Wilford Woodruff is standing behind him in the black bowler hat. Carlie Cannon and Emma Smith Woodruff are seated. Photograph dated August 1896.  Photo courtesy of the Church History Library.

Article Highlights

  • Learn about faith and perseverance from Cannon’s experiences recorded in his journal.
  • Cannon’s journal is one of the most insightful and detailed documents in Mormon history.
  • View transcripts of this valuable historic record online.

Next to Brigham Young, George Q. Cannon was arguably the best-known Latter-day Saint during the late 19th century.

Now you can discover the details of Cannon’s experiences in numerous administrative and ecclesiastical capacities within the five decades his journal covers. His remarkable record is one of the most insightful and detailed documents in Mormon history.

Cannon kept his journal during a period when the Church was establishing itself in the western United States and beginning to expand in other areas of the world. With the online publication of the journal, members can gain a glimpse into the thoughts and insights of this key figure as well as a window into how Church leaders governed the Church and led its growth.

The man behind the journal

Born in Liverpool, England, in 1827, Cannon was baptized a Latter-day Saint in 1840. He immigrated with his family to the United States and arrived in Nauvoo, Illinois, in 1843. Orphaned as a teenager, he apprenticed in a print shop and was largely self-taught.

After being called to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 1860, Cannon was a member of the Church’s highest councils for the next four decades. He became a counselor to four consecutive Church Presidents from Brigham Young to Lorenzo Snow.

He was deeply involved in writing and publishing throughout his adult life. His work included writing books, editing newspapers and magazines, and running a publishing company and bookstore.

Until his death in 1901, Cannon remained a dedicated Latter-day Saint, traveling widely as a missionary. He was a “gold missionary” in Gold Rush California, where his earnings went to the Church. He also served a proselytizing mission in the Sandwich Islands for four years and as president of the European Mission for another four.

Exploring the journal

Because Cannon’s record describes both the mundane and the miraculous, it goes beyond being only a history of Mormonism. If you are a scholar or student of western U.S. history and U.S. political history, discover how his extensive connections with people both within and outside of the Latter-day Saint faith, coupled with his compelling observations, will make this journal especially valuable to your studies.

Within the journal’s pages, witness the wide-sweeping changes occurring 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. Cannon also documents his international travels, family relationships, and meetings with political leaders while promoting Utah statehood and battling anti-Mormon legislation. One notable experience he recorded was an interview in June 1862 with United States president Abraham Lincoln.

In another entry, Cannon described a momentous day in Church history. On October 6, 1890, the Manifesto ending the practice of plural marriage was presented during the semiannual general conference. Later that day, Cannon wrote: “The Spirit of the Lord was powerfully poured out, and I think every faithful Saint must have had a testimony from the Lord that He was in this movement, and that it was done with His approval.”

As you read Cannon’s experiences, you can gain a deeper appreciation for his steadfast faith and defense of the Church to which he was determinedly devoted.

A skilled writer and editor, Cannon had a gift of working with words and considered writing and record keeping to be part of his divine calling. Through the dedicated work of employees, missionaries, and descendants, you can learn from the experiences of George Q. Cannon as he speaks again through his journal—his last great publication project.

Portrait of George Q. Cannon from a YouTube video titled “Why Publish the Journal of George Q. Cannon?” Photo courtesy Church History Library.

The First Presidency, circa 1880. Left to right: George Q. Cannon, John Taylor, Joseph F. Smith. Photo courtesy Church History Library.