Monday, April 10, 2017

Diary of LDS apostle includes tales of bribing a Supreme Court justice


The diaries of the late LDS Church Apostle, Abraham H. Cannon, stretching from 1889 to the end of 1895, is interesting church history reading. Signature Book’s “Candid Insights of a Mormon Apostle,” edited by scholar Edward Leo Lyman, provides readers glimpses into the wary, sometimes turbulent LDS history between the Manifesto against polygamy, the church’s desperate efforts to avoid financial destruction due to polygamy, the dedication of the Salt Lake temple, the financial panic of 1893, and efforts toward statehood for Utah.

Cannon, who had several wives, died in 1896 at age 37 from complications of an ear infection. The scion of a prominent Mormon family — his father, George Q. Cannon, was a fellow apostle — his diaries show how his high standing in the LDS Church encompassed not only religious duties, but high-stakes business, chicanery and politics. A thorough diarist, regular meetings of the church’s First Presidency and Quorum of the 12 Apostles are meticulously recorded. Governing the young church’s business empire and dealing with the real threat of imprisonment and government harassment due to polygamy occupied as much time — if not more — than religious duties.

Example: Cannon’s diary entry of Dec. 17, 1892, records that at the apostles’ meeting “… the brethren were told that our success in the Church suits was in a great measure due to the fact that we have a partner of Justice {Stephen J.} Field of the Supreme Court of the United States in our employ, who is to receive a percentage of the money if the suits go in our favor, and the property is returned to us. …” Given the times, this is not as shocking as it sounds today. Justice Field was not the only person of influence tempted by the church. President Benjamin Harrison’s secretary was helping the church. The diaries reveal how federal attorneys were routinely bribed through third parties. Church leaders spent considerable energies covering up the crime of an embezzler because that man — sympathetic to the church — was in a position to be a receiver of assets the church needed. In fact, Cannon records entries where the apostles were counseled to “keep secrets” from their enemies.

But even with the help of a high court justice, Cannon’s entries detail how the church was boxed in politically and in danger of financial ruin due to overall public disgust of polygamy. The Manifesto from President Woodruff against polygamy was originally intended to grandfather in current polygamous relationships, but Cannon’s diaries detail how political powers forced the LDS prophet to make later, tougher statements that forbid already-married polygamists from co-habitating. Apostles, including Cannon, were constantly threatened with imprisonment if they even visited their plural wives.

Cannon details how busy the life of an LDS apostle was. Although most details of his family life were omitted by Signature’s editors, Cannon was constantly taking trains up and down the state, speaking at stake conferences, settling church feuds, selecting new bishops and stake presidents. Cannon must have given hundreds of church-related talks a year. As is today, the LDS priesthood hierarchy was stressed. Leaders, from apostles downward, were urged to change their opinions if a superior took an opposing stance. Cannon also describes, in detail, prayer circles and the rarely-mentioned second anointing, where church leaders and spouses are guaranteed exaltation, or the highest level of the Celestial Kingdom. Cannon himself received a second anointing.

Politics was often discussed and apostles were assigned to research and lobby for or against legislation. Cannon’s disgust for the anti-Mormon Liberal Party is not shy. The First Presidency and Apostles engaged in serious efforts to control local press coverage and counter the Tribune. Pages of the diaries recount local campaigns. Eventually, Cannon became part owner of the LDS-friendly Deseret News. Politics at times would tear the apostles’ unity, particularly when the Democrats and Republicans set up parties in Utah. Apostle Moses Thatcher, a Democrat, would often quarrel with apostle, John Henry Smith, a Republican.

Cannon details special meetings of the quorum where the apostles would speak frankly about their feelings for each other and address cases of gratitude and their struggles against resentment. The reader catches the religious spirit and commitment that bonded these men. These are fascinating, partially because even today, the LDS Church leadership is silent on the spirit and topics of the meetings of its hierarchy. A key difference from today’s LDS leadership is that the church’s highest officials — 120 years ago — were more likely to go out politicking. Today, church politics is more subtle. Preaching was far more conservative: Apostle John Henry Smith is recounted warning members that sexual intercourse for any purpose other than bearing children is the same as adultery, according to the Lord.

Glimpses of a high-level meeting are very interesting for history buffs. In one apostles’ session, Cannon recounts a debate over the Adam-God doctrine. The apostles disagree, but Cannon believes Adam must be more than just a spiritual brother. In another, the apostles discuss the status of the Holy Ghost — is he a son of God, only without a body? There was a discussion of whether there were “daughters of perdition.” The apostles also stressed the LDS doctrine that faithful parents would be assured of the salvation of their wayward children. The bohemian atmosphere of the early LDS church still remained. President Woodruff and the apostles freely discussed visions, conversations with the slain Mormon leader Joseph Smith and even a glimpse of the modern-day Cain was described.

Cannon was often without enough money to keep his many businesses healthy. He was a good businessman but had his hands in too many endeavors, although near the end of his life, his efforts in a railroad were paying off. Much of the 1893 entries involve his desperate attempts to meet payrolls and keep a bank he co-owned afloat during that year’s financial panic. In one instance, Cannon, after becoming a partner in a mine, promised the Lord a fifth of his profits if the mine was successful.
Ogden is mentioned often — Cannon frequently spoke there — as is the Standard-Examiner a few times. Much of the diaries cover mundane, administrative tasks that will interest history buffs. One tidbit of interest: church leaders, including President Woodruff, were fans of horse racing in Salt Lake City.

Cannon lived in Salt Lake City, on the northwest corner of 900 South on 800 West. His diaries may be uncomfortably candid, but they can also inspire LDS readers today who want more than Pablum. We are in Cannon’s debt for leaving records that bring to life an era in the Top of Utah usually recollected in dry history texts. Some excerpts are here.

-- Doug Gibson
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Originally published on StandardBlogs.

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