Frank J. Cannon, U.S. Senator

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About Frank J. Cannon, U.S. Senator

Frank Jenne Cannon (January 25, 1859 – July 25, 1933) was the first United States Senator from Utah, who served from 1896-99.

Early life

Born in Salt Lake City, he was the eldest child of Sarah Jenne Cannon and George Q. Cannon. His father was an Apostle in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and later was a member of its First Presidency. After attending the school in Salt Lake City, he studied at University of Deseret, graduating at the age of 19. He would marry Martha Brown of Ogden in 1878.

Political career

In 1891 he helped to organize the Utah Republican Party. After a failed bid to become Delegate from the Utah Territory, he succeeded and served from March 4, 1895 to January 4, 1896. Cannon was chosen in the latter year to serve as Senator by the Utah Legislature in spite of LDS church leadership favoring his father for the job. He served in the United States Senate, initially, as a member of the Republican Party; however, he later became a member of the Silver Republican Party founded by his successor (and future employer at the Salt Lake Tribune) Thomas J. Kearns.

Cannon lost re-election in 1899. Utah's state legislators indicated they would not support Cannon for reelection shortly after the November 1898 elections. Cannon had voted against the Dingley Act, which would have raised tariffs on sugar and helped the Utah sugar industry. The Dingley bill was strongly supported by the Mormon Church hierarchy, who now opposed his reelection. Other factors were his support for Free Silver; rumors about immoral acts he may have committed while living in Washington, D.C.; and that the Utah legislature was controlled by Democrats. Alfred W. McCune, one of Salt Lake City's most prominent businessmen, sought and won the backing of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the "LDS Church," or "Mormon Church") in his bid for the seat. But the legislature quickly deadlocked over the election. One-hundred and twenty-one ballots were cast, and no winner emerged. On February 18, a state representative accused McCune of trying to buy his vote. A seven-member legislative voted 7-to-2 to absolve McCune of the charge, and although ballotting resumed on March 8 McCune still lacked enough votes to win office (he had only 25 votes). The legislature adjourned without having chosen a senator.

Utah's U.S. Senate seat remained vacant until January 1901. The Republicans regained their majority in the state legislature in the election of 1900, and elected Thomas Kearns to fill the seat. The election was still hotly disputed. Kearns received only 8 votes on the first ballot, and balloting continued for four more days. On January 22, Kearns won the election by a vote of 37-to-25 (with a unanimous block of Democrats voting for McCune).

Cannon affiliated with the Democratic Party in 1900 and served as its state chairman 1902-1904.

Later life

After failing to be re-elected to the U.S. Senate by the Utah legislature, in part due to opposition by the Mormon hierarchy, Cannon worked as the editor of several newspapers, including the Salt Lake Tribune, the Ogden Herald (Ogden, Utah) and established the Ogden Standard. Between 1904 and 1911, Cannon consistently supported the anti-Mormon American Party in newspaper editorials.

Cannon later rejected Mormonism and wrote a book, with Harvey J. O'Higgins, called Under the Prophet in Utah exposing the rigidly hierarchical nature of the Mormon organization. The book denounced what the authors described as the "church" leadership's "absolutism" and "interference" in politics: "[Mormons] live under an absolutism. They have no more right of judgment than a dead body. Yet the diffusion of authority is so clever that nearly every man seems to share in its operation... and feels himself in some degree a master without observing that he is also a slave". The book details the negotiations Cannon participated in on Utah's behalf leading to statehood in exchange for official rejection of polygamy and LDS leadership's domination of civil politics during the 1890s, and the subsequent back-sliding he observed in the years following statehood.

During the last two decades of his life, he lectured against Mormonism and in support of "free silver" policies (as opposed to the Gold Standard). He died, at the age of 74, in Denver, in 1933.

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Frank J. Cannon, U.S. Senator's Timeline

January 25, 1859
Salt Lake City, Salt Lake, Utah
Age 7
July 7, 1873
Age 14
Age 19
Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County, Utah, United States
January 8, 1880
Age 20
Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County, Utah, United States
August 3, 1882
Age 23
Ogden, Weber County, Utah, United States
September 27, 1884
Age 25
Ogden, Weber County, Utah, United States
December 15, 1886
Age 27
Ogden, Weber County, Utah, United States
July 25, 1933
Age 74
Denver, CO, USA