Candid Insights of a Mormon Apostle


Candid Insights of a Mormon Apostle: The Diaries of Abraham H. Cannon, 1889-1895

From the Significant Mormon Diaries Series, No. 12

Winner of the Best Documentary Book Award from both the Mormon History Association and the Utah State Historical Society

December, 2010

SKU: 978-1-56085-210-0 Categories: , , Tag: Author: Edward Leo LymanProduct ID: 1295


The Abraham H. Cannon diaries read like few others from the late nineteenth century. While many of Cannon’s colleagues were functionally literate, he had elegant handwriting, a beautiful way of expressing himself, and an eye for historically important details. Because of his position as an apostle in the LDS Church, his diaries are not only mannered but substantively important. Even mundane entries such as donating $20 for “a plan of erecting a monument in this city to Brigham Young” and his attendance at meetings of the Bullion-Beck Mine are interesting. But his overview of the great issues such as the 1890 Manifesto ending polygamy and discussions (including prayer-circle narratives) at the lavish Gardo House, the temporary headquarters of the LDS Church in the 1880s-90s, are unrivaled.

Cannon died tragically when he was on his way to becoming one of the wealthiest men in Utah and—because he was ordained an apostle at age thirty—perhaps LDS president. He was noted for his unequivocal commitment to Mormonism. When arraigned before a judge who asked if three women were his wives, Cannon answered defiantly, “Yes they are, thank God!” for which he was sentenced to six months in prison. He later married a woman who had been his brother’s fiancée. After his brother died, his family and Church convinced him to take the girl as a wife, apparently in California. Unfortunately he swam in the ocean during their trip and contracted an ear infection, from which he never recovered.

Edward Leo Lyman is a retired professor of history who taught at California Polytechnic University at Pomona; California State University at San Bernardino; and Victor Valley College in Victorville, California. He is the recipient of the Mormon History Association’s Leonard J. Arrington Award for Distinguished Service to Mormon History. He is the author of seven critically acclaimed books, among them Amasa Mason Lyman: Mormon Apostle and Apostate, Political Deliverance: The Mormon Quest for Utah Statehood, and San Bernardino: The Rise and Fall of a Mormon Community.

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3 reviews for Candid Insights of a Mormon Apostle

  1. Jonathan A. Stapley, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought

    The diaries themselves are simply extraordinary. They are well deserving of inclusion in Signature Books’s Significant Diary Series. They rival and often surpass Wilford Woodruff’s diary in detailing the interaction and discussions of the LDS Church’s governing quorums. My recent article on adoptive sealing rituals and a co-authored history of baptism for health would have been dramatically less comprehensive without access to these diaries, which comprise approximately 4,000 holograph and typescript pages. Whereas Lyman has mostly been interested in political and economic maters, the pages are saturated with details of Latter-day Saint liturgy, belief, and practice as well as general territorial life. My notes from these diaries are denser on a per-page basis than any other diary from the period. I don’t hesitate to consider the Cannon diaries essential reading in Mormon history.

  2. Doug Gibson, Standard-Examiner

    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. 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.

  3. Curt Bench, Utah Historical Quarterly

    Readers searching for those rare gems of information and insight that only a well-placed insider in the LDS church hierarchy could provide will not be disappointed. Apostle Cannon provides an abundance of such material which includes discussions on such subjects as “Negroes” and priesthood, the Adam-God doctrine, plural marriage (much on the Manifesto), temple ordinances and practices, the Word of Wisdom, the nature of the Holy Ghost and Godhead, and many more.

    Lyman feels the most valuable contribuion of the Cannon diaries is “the insight they provided into the evolutionary processs of Church leaders as they struggled to accommodate the political realities of the time” (xii). One telling diary entry shows that in evolution sometimes the more things change the more they stay the same. Cannon quotes from a letter from fellow apostle, John W. Young (Brigham’s son), who says he “does not see how it is possible for Latter-day Saints to be anything else but Democrats, and yet he acknowledges the immense monetary power and other influence of the Republicans” (220).

    In addition to informative footnotes and a handy index, editor Lyman has included in this handsome volume a helpful listing of Cannon family members and their relationships and a “cast” of “prominent characters” to identify many of the individuals written about by Cannon. My main regret about the book is shared by Lyman who wishes he could include all the material in the Cannon diaries, but is constrained by the limits of a mandated one-volume abridgement. This edition includes nearly double the material of a previously published abridgement of the diaries. Unfortunately, we do not know what we may be missing, but hope and trust that Lyman, a respected historian of many years, has struck the right balance.

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