Important Mormon Diary Published
Salt Lake City – In December 1892, the 33-year-old Mormon apostle Abraham H. Cannon recorded in his diary: “At my Quorum meeting on Thursday the brethren were told that our success in the Church [law]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.”
In the wake of federal sanctions over polygamy, Mormon leaders felt their only resort was to offer cash to a U.S. Supreme Court justice. In fact, Justice Field was not the only dignitary who was “bribed” (Cannon’s word) by the LDS Church in those desperate times, according to the explicit account recorded by Apostle Cannon.
This week Signature Books, a Salt Lake City-based publisher, is releasing the apostle’s writings under the title, Candid Insights of a Mormon Apostle: The Diaries of Abraham H. Cannon, 1889-1895. The compiler and editor is historian Edward Leo Lyman. This volume is the twelfth volume in the press’s Significant Mormon Diaries Series. Lyman is recently retired from teaching history at California Polytechnic University, Cal State San Bernardino, and Victor Valley College in California. This year he also won the Utah State Historical Association’s Best Book Award for the biography of another pioneer Mormon apostle.
Abraham Cannon was the fourth son of George Q. Cannon, a member of the Mormon First Presidency, who at the time was an influential regional power-broker. Because of his father’s prominence, Abraham was introduced at an early age to the inside dealings of Utah Territory’s realpolitik. As a bonus to modern historians, Abraham learned, as an editor at the Deseret News, to express himself clearly, with an eye for historically important details. Historian Carmon Hardy, professor of history emeritus from Cal State Fullerton and author of Solemn Covenant: The Mormon Polygamist Passage, states that “Cannon’s personal record really opens to our view the inner sanctum of Church leadership in late-nineteenth-century Mormon life.”
Abraham was noted for both his unequivocal commitment to Mormonism and his brutal honesty. When arraigned before a judge who asked if three women who were suspected of mothering his children were illegal wives, Abraham answered defiantly, “Yes they are, thank God!” for which he was sentenced to six months in prison. He later famously married Lillian Hamblin after the Manifesto ending polygamy and, during their honeymoon to southern California, contracted an ear infection in the ocean and died from it—something his first wife thought was God’s revenge for marrying Lillian.
“Cannon’s diary provides extraordinary insights into diverse aspects of the period’s Mormon experience; it is the best source for social history of Salt Lake City and elite Mormonism from the 1880s and 1890s,” says historian D. Michael Quinn, author of the two-volume work’ The Mormon Hierarchy. Quinn added that “in his journal, Cannon provided details of everything from the plots of plays performed at the Salt Lake Theatre to confidential meetings of the LDS leadership, from board meetings of major businesses to the complaints and unhappiness of his plural wives, from to the prostitute-romps of his prominent brother and U.S. Senator Frank J. Cannon to Abram’s decision to marry a new plural wife in July 1896.”
Cannon’s diaries have often been cited by historians and were even published once before. In 2004, LDS Church employee Dennis B. Horne released a self-published version that introduced the reading public to the significance of Cannon’s writings. At the same time, Horne left out material he found “too sacred to publish,” “transgressions of Church members,” “controversial items,” and entries having to do with “business and politics … financial matters.”
“One should not argue with Horne’s choice to leave out significant materials in his abridgment, which he felt were too sacred or personal, involving transgressions of individual Church members,” Lyman responded when asked. “However,” Lyman continued, “items that have to do with business and politics, and editorial comments on such subjects, are the real strength of the new volume and my own personal interest.”
“In addition,” says Lyman, “my volume contains the deliberations and decisions of the First Presidency and apostles prior to the Manifesto ending polygamy, which are found nowhere else.”
The “new, expanded edition of Cannon’s diaries is available in a carefully crafted, hand-bound, limited edition,” explains Signature publicist Tom Kimball, “which we hope will honor Cannon’s efforts to keep a record of our shared Utah and Mormon history.”
See other selected volumes in the Signature Books Significant Mormon Diaries Series by clicking here: