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This is the story of what has been called "the great American despotism."
It is the story of the establishment of an absolute throne and dynasty by one American citizen over a half-million others.
And it is the story of the amazing reign of this one man, Joseph F. Smith, the Mormon Prophet, a religious fanatic of bitter mind, who claims that he has been divinely ordained to exercise the awful authority of God on earth over all the affairs of all mankind, and who plays the anointed despot in Utah and the surrounding states as cruelly as a Sultan and more securely than any Czar.
To him the Mormon people pay a yearly tribute of more than two million dollars in tithes; and he uses that income, to his own ends, without an accounting. He is president of the Utah branch of the sugar trust, and of the local incorporation's of the salt trust; and he supports the exaction's of monopoly by his financial absolutism, while he defends them from competition by his religious power of interdict and excommunication. He is president of a system of "company stores," from which the faithful buy their merchandise; of a wagon and machine company from which the Mormon farmers purchase their vehicles and implements; of life-insurance and fire-insurance companies, of banking institutions, of a railroad, of a knitting company, of newspapers, which the Mormon people are required by their Church to patronize, and through which they are exploited, commercially and financially, for the sole profit of the sovereign of Utah and his religious court.
He is the political Boss of the state, delivering the votes of his people by revelation of the Will of God, practically appointing the United States Senators from Utah - as he practically appoints the marshals, district attorneys, judges, legislators, officers and administrators of law throughout his "Kingdom of God on Earth" - and ruling the non-Mormons of Utah, as he rules his own people, by virtue of his political and financial partnership with the great "business interests" that govern and exploit this nation, and his Kingdom, for their own gain, and his.
He lives, like the Grand Turk, openly with five wives, against the temporal law of the state, against the spiritual law of his Kingdom, and in violation of his own solemn covenant to the country - which he gave in 1890, in order to obtain amnesty for himself from criminal prosecution and to help Utah obtain the powers of statehood which he has since usurped. He secretly preaches a proscribed doctrine of polygamy as necessary to salvation; he publicly denies his own teaching, so that he may escape responsibility for the sufferings of the "plural wives" and their unfortunate children, who have been betrayed by the authority of his dogma. And these women, by the hundreds, seduced into clandestine marriage relations with polygamous elders of the Church, unable to claim their husbands - even in some cases disowning their children and teaching these children to deny their parents - are suffering a pitiful self-immolation as martyrs to the religious barbarism of his rule.
Demanding unquestioning obedience in all things, as the "mouthpiece of the Lord," and "sole vice-regent of God on Earth," he enforces his demands by his religious, political and financial control of the faith, the votes and the property of his fellow-citizens. He is at once - as the details of this story show - "the modern 'money king,' the absolute political Czar, the social despot and the infallible Pope of his Kingdom."
Ex-Senator Cannon not only exposes but accounts for and explains the conditions that have made the Church-controlled government of Utah less free, less of a democracy, a greater tyranny and more of a disgrace to the nation than ever the corporation rule of Colorado was in the darkest period of the Cripple Creek labor war. He shows the enemies of the republic encouraging and profiting by the shame of Utah as they supported and made gain of Colorado's past disgrace. He shows the piratical "Interests," at Washington, sustaining, and sustained by, the misgovernment of Utah, in their campaign of national pillage. He shows that the condition of Utah today is not merely a local problem; that it affects and concerns the people of the whole country; that it can only be cured with their aid.
The outside world has waited many years to hear the truth about the Mormons; here it is - told with sympathy, with affection, by a man who steadfastly defended and fought for the Mormon people when their present leaders were keeping themselves carefully inconspicuous. The Mormon system of religious communism has long been known as one of the most interesting social experiments of modern civilization; here is an intimate study of it, not only in its success but in the failure that has come upon it from the selfish ambitions of its leaders. The power of the Mormon hierarchy has been the theme of much imaginative fiction; but here is a story of church tyranny and misgovernment in the name of God, that outrages the credibilities of art. That such a story could come out of modern America - that such conditions could be possible in the democracy today - is an amazement that staggers belief.
Hon. Frank J. Cannon is the son of George Q. Cannon of Utah, who was First Councilor of the Mormon Church from 1880 to 1901. After the death of Brigham Young, George Q. Cannon's diplomacy saved the Mormon communism from destruction by the United States government. It was his influence that lifted the curse of polygamy from the Mormon faith. Under his leadership Utah obtained the right of statehood; and his financial policies were establishing the Mormon people in industrial prosperity when he died.
In all these achievements the son shared with his father, and in some of them - notably in the obtaining of Utah's statehood - he had even a larger part than George Q. Cannon himself. When the Mormon communities, in 1888, were being crushed by proscription and confiscation and the righteous bigotries of Federal officials, Frank J. Cannon went to Washington, alone - almost from the doors of a Federal prison - and, by the eloquence of his plea for his people, obtained from President Cleveland a mercy for the Mormons that all the diplomacies of the Church's politicians had been unable to procure. Again, in 1890, when the Mormons were threatened with a general disfranchisement by means of a test oath, he returned to Washington and saved them, with the aid of James G. Blame, on the promise that the doctrine and practice of polygamy were to be abandoned by the Mormon Church; and he assisted in the promulgation and acceptance of the famous "manifesto" of 1890, by which the Mormon Prophet, as the result of a "divine revelation," withdrew the doctrine of polygamy from the practice of the faith.
He organized the Republican party in Utah, and led it in the first campaigns that divided the people of the territory on the lines of national issues and freed them from the factions of a religious dispute. He delivered to Washington the pledges of the Mormon leaders, by which the emancipation of their people from hierarchical domination was promised and the right of statehood finally obtained. He was elected the first United States Senator from Utah, against the unwilling candidacy of his own father, when the intrigues of the Mormon priests pitted the father against the son and violated the Church's promise of non-interference in politics almost as soon as it had been given.
It was his voice, in the Senate, that helped to reawaken the national conscience to the crimes of Spanish rule in Cuba, when the "financial interests" of this country were holding the government back from any interference in Cuban affairs. He was one of the leaders in Washington of the first ill-fated "Insurgent Republican" movement against the control of the Republican party by these same piratical "interests;" and he was the only Republican Senator who stood to oppose them by voting against the iniquitous Dingley tariff bill of 1897. He delivered the speech of defiance at the Republican national convention of 1896, when four "Silver Republican" Senators led their delegations out of that convention in revolt. And by all these acts of independence he put himself in opposition to the politicians of the Mormon Church, who were allying themselves with Hanna and Aldrich, the sugar trust, the railroad lobby, and the whole financial and commercial Plunderbund in politics that has since come to be called "The System."
He returned to Utah to prevent the sale of a United States Senatorship by the Mormon Church; and, though he was himself defeated for re-election, he helped to hold the Utah legislature in a deadlock that prevented the selection of a successor to his seat. He fought to compel the leaders of the Church to fulfill the pledges which they had authorized him to give in Washington when statehood was being obtained. After his father's death, when these pledges began to be openly violated, he directed his attack particularly against Joseph F. Smith, the new President of the Church, who was principally responsible for the Church's breach of public faith. Through the columns of the Salt Lake Tribune he exposed the treasonable return to the practice of polygamy which Joseph F. Smith had secretly authorized and encouraged. He opposed the election of Apostle Reed Smoot to the United States Senate, as a violation of the statehood pledges. He criticized the financial absolutism of the Mormon Prophet, which Smith was establishing in partnership with "the Plunderbund." He was finally excommunicated and ostracized, by his father's successors in power, for championing the political and social liberties of the Mormon people whom he had helped to save from destruction and whose statehood sovereignty he had so largely obtained.
When the partnership of the Church and "the Interests" prevented the expulsion of Apostle Smoot from the Senate, Senator Cannon withdrew from Utah, convinced that nothing could be done for the Mormons so long as the national administration sustained the sovereignty of the Mormon kingdom as a co-ordinate power in this Republic. For the last few years he has been a newspaper editor in Denver, Colorado - on the Denver Times and the Rocky Mountain News - helping the reform movement in Colorado against the corporation control of that state, and waiting for the opportunity to renew his long fight for the Mormon people.
In the following narrative he returns to that fight. In fulfillment of a promise made before he left Utah - and seeing now, in the new "insurgency," the hope of freeing Utah from slavery to "the System" - he here addresses himself to the task of exposing the treasons and tyrannies of the Mormon Prophet and the consequent miseries among his people.
In the course of his exposition, he gives a most remarkable picture of the Mormon people, patient, meek, and virtuous, "as gentle as the Quakers, as staunch as the Jews." He introduces the world for the first time to the conclaves of the Mormon ecclesiasts, explains the simplicity of some of them, the bitterness of others, the sincerity of almost all - illuminating the dark places of Church control with the understanding of a sympathetic experience, and bringing out the virtues of the Mormon system as impartially as he exposes its faults. He traces the degradation of its communism, step by step and incident by incident, from its success as a sort of religious socialism administered for the common good to its present failure as a hierarchical capitalism governed for the benefit of its modern "Prophet of Mammon" at the expense of the liberty, the happiness, and even the prosperity, of its victims.
For the first time in the history of the Mormon Church, there has arrived a man who has the knowledge and the inclination to explain it.
He does this fearlessly, as a duty, and without any apologies, as a public right. "He is not, and never has been an official member of the Church, in any sense or form," Joseph F. Smith, as President of the Church, testified concerning him, at Washington in 1904; and though this statement is one of the inspired Prophet's characteristic perversions of the truth, it covers the fact that Senator Cannon has always opposed the official tyrannies of the hierarchs. The present Mormon leaders accepted his aid in freeing Utah, well aware of his independence. They profited by his success with a more or less doubtful gratitude. They betrayed him promptly - as they betrayed the nation and their own followers - as soon as they found themselves in a position safely to betray. In this book he merely continues an independence which he has always maintained, and replies to secret and personal treason with a public criticism, to which he has never hesitated to resort.
He begins his story with the year 1888, and devotes the first chapters to a depiction of the miseries of the Mormon people in the unhappy days of persecution. He continues with the private details of the confidential negotiations in Washington and the secret conferences in Salt Lake City by which the Mormons were saved. He gives the truth about the political intrigues that accompanied the grant of Utah's statehood, and he relates, pledge by pledge, the covenants then given by the Mormon leaders to the nation and since treasonably violated and repudiated by them. He explains the progress of this repudiation with an intimate "inside" knowledge of facts which the Mormon leaders now deny. And he exposes the horror of conditions in Utah today as no other man in America could expose them - for his life has been spent in combating the influences of which these conditions are the result; and he understands the present situation as a doctor understands the last stages of a disease which he has been for years vainly endeavoring to check.
But aside from all this - aside from his exposure of the Mormon despotism, his study of the degradation of a modern community, or his secret history of the Church's dark policies in "sacred places" - he relates a story that is full of the most astonishing curiosities of human character and of dramatic situations that are almost mediaeval in their religious aspects. He goes from interviews with Cleveland or Blame to discuss American politics with men who believe themselves in direct communication with God - who talk and act like the patriarchs of the Old Testament - who accept their own thoughts as the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, and deliver their personal decisions, reverently, as the Will of the Lord. He shows men and women ready to suffer any martyrdom in defense of a doctrine of polygamy that is a continual unhappiness and cross upon them. He depicts the social life of the most peculiar sect that has ever lived in a Western civilization. He writes - unconsciously, and for the first time that it has ever been written - the naive, colossal drama of modern Mormonism.
H. J. O'H.