If I were to consult my natural feelings this afternoon, I should sit and listen to someone else speak rather than give utterance to any of my own feelings. But I do not suppose that this would be satisfactory to anybody else, at least to most of the Saints, and especially to Bishop Taylor. I therefore rise to say such things as shall be suggested to me by the Spirit of the Lord on this occasion.
To one who has been absent for a long time from home, the privilege of mingling with one's brethren and sisters, those of the same faith, who have the same views, and who are laboring for the same objects, the privilege of returning and associating with them is very delightful, at least it is so to me, and it takes away from me whatever disposition I might have under other circumstances to speak. My feelings, upon returning after a lengthy absence from home, have seemed to me entirely too big for utterance; I could not command language to give proper expression to them. Where one is at home all the time, this, probably, will not be appreciated.
During my absence I have enjoyed excellent health and I have had a good deal of peace; in fact I may say, as it will probably be satisfactory to many to know, that I have enjoyed myself far better than I could have expected. There has been a very different feeling in Washington during this last session of Congress from that which prevailed during the first session, that is so far as we are concerned. There has been a greater feeling of liberality, a disposition to look upon the people of Utah more as fellow citizens than, I think, was manifested during the first session of this Congress. There were times during the first session when it seemed to me that it required all the faith and energy that I could muster to resist that oppressive feeling which probably, many who are here, have experienced when they have been brought in contact with a strong feeling of opposition. It is more of a spiritual feeling, a feeling that appeals to the spiritual senses, than anything that I could describe of a physical character. There were times during the first session when that feeling was very strong, especially during the pendency of the McKee, Poland and other bills framed for the express purpose of giving our enemies power over us. But I had comparatively little or none of that feeling during the last session; although, as you are doubtless aware, so far as I myself was concerned, my seat seemed to be in greater peril during last session than it was the first session. A portion of the Committee on Elections reached a conclusion upon my case, a technical majority of the members of the committee present having adopted a resolution to exclude me from my seat. They varied the language usually adopted on such occasions to make it, I suppose, not hurt so badly, by calling it exclusion instead of expulsion. But notwithstanding this was the case, and it might be said that I stood in greater peril personally, I enjoyed myself much better, and there was greater liberality and a greater disposition manifested to deal justly and fairly with us who live in this Territory. Whether this feeling was the result of last Fall's elections or not I will not say. You who are politicians can judge for yourselves. I suppose that everyone who has democratic inclinations or proclivities will be very apt to attribute this change of feeling to the fact that the democrats obtained some victories last Fall. But whatever the cause was, the fact is as I have stated; and as it is a matter, doubtless, of some interest to all of you, and it is not contrary to our views to talk, on a Sunday, about matters that pertain to our temporal salvation, because our temporal and spiritual salvation are so intimately blended that they may be said to be inseparable, of course I do not think it improper to allude to it.
My feelings respecting us as a people, at the present time, outside of what I see at home, are of a more cheerful and hopeful character than I have had cause to indulge in for years. There are some things at home which if I were to look at them very closely, would discourage me in some respects, because I think that we are far from being what we ought to be; and you know our views on these subjects are that we cannot expect much prosperity, for ourselves or for the cause with which we are identified, so long as we ourselves are not in a position to warrant the bestowal of that prosperity upon us. Believing, as we do, that God our Eternal Father is at the foundation of this work, and that his providence is over it and controlling all things for its good, we, of course, cannot imagine that he is going to give any very great prosperity to this cause, or to us as a community unless we are in a position to be benefited thereby; he is not going to bestow blessings upon us that will injure us, and which, instead of proving advantageous, would prove destructive to us. On this account I have entertained some doubts concerning our future since I returned home, as the result, probably, of very partial observation, however, for I have had very limited opportunities of seeing or of judging correctly about this. But to have a great degree of prosperity, there should be more faith manifested by us, more union, more love, and more of those graces which ought to adorn the character of the Latter-day Saints.
But I think there is a bright and very encouraging future for us as a people. In Congress, as I have said, there has been a greater disposition than has been manifested for years, to accord to Utah her rights. There has been a feeling, which some have taken pains to foster, that the best means that a Federal official could take to obtain office, and then to retain it after he had obtained it, was to declare war among the people in whose midst he was sent to act. This has actually been the policy that has been adopted by some in this Territory for years, and, judging from their actions, the idea has been that no better passport to favor with the Administration could be urged than the fact that an official was inimical to the people and was laboring strenuously to destroy them and their religion; and every man holding office, who has not adopted this policy has been placed under a ban, and has been made to feel that he stood in jeopardy. The result has been antagonism and hostility between classes when there should have been union; in fact, where there was already too great a disposition for it to exist naturally, it has received encouragement from those who have had this feeling; and a great many in high places, legislators and others, have seemed to think that in passing laws it was only necessary to know that they were designed to operate in Utah, to receive their sanction, without caring any thing about the nature of the laws themselves. Hence the favor with which were received such bills as Cullom's, McKee's, Frelinghuysen's and others which have been introduced into Congress, intended to operate exclusively in Utah.
During this last session I heard the enquiry made, when a bill was introduced—“Is it intended for Utah alone?” and many members were ready to jump to their feet and oppose it because it was so intended. This was a marked change, and I could not but notice it. The patience which the Latter-day Saints have manifested now for four or five years in the midst of the judicial difficulties which have environed them, has been productive, of good effects abroad, it has, in my opinion, produced a reaction in the public mind. Many persons have become familiar with the actual condition of affairs here, and their sympathies have been awakened by what they have heard, and they have felt disposed to do what they could in a quiet way to relieve us from these difficulties; and if we continue to exercise patience and long-suffering in the future as we have in the past, there is no doubt in my mind about the results. It is our duty to do this. It is a duty made incumbent upon us by our religion to be patient, forbearing, and long-suffering, and if we encourage these feelings in ourselves and in our children, putting our trust in God, relying upon him continually, there is no doubt in my mind as to what the result will be. Men may point the finger of scorn at us and ridicule us because of our religion; but if we are true to its principles, if we abide in the faith which God has revealed unto us, we can afford to submit to all of this obloquy, and everything of that character. It will pass away and be forgotten, but the virtues which we possess will endure and have their effect.
It has afforded me the greatest pleasure to speak about the condition and management of affairs in this Territory. I could point with a great deal of pride to the fact that we were a lightly taxed people, probably as lightly taxed as any community within the confines of the Union; that we were out of debt; that Salt Lake City had, at the last report, a goodly sum in its treasury, besides, nearly an equal amount in assets; that every other municipality in the Territory was in the same condition; that our county organizations were free from debt; that the Territory itself did not owe a dollar in any form, but had a large amount to its credit. This speaks volumes to a great many people, especially to men acquainted with government, and who, themselves, live in the midst of tax-oppressed communities, groaning under public debts created by unwise and dishonest officials. They could appreciate facts of this kind, and they bore volumes of testimony respecting the good order and wisdom that have characterized the operations of those who have had charge of public affairs in this Territory.
Another thing to which my attention was called a great many times, was the grasshopper scourge with which Utah had been visited so frequently. A great many had inquiries to make on the subject. Kansas, Nebraska, and part of Iowa were afflicted with grasshoppers this last season, and the people were exceedingly desirous to obtain legislation in their behalf—they wanted Congress to relieve them by sending seeds and by giving them pecuniary assistance! Tales of distress came by every mail to members of Congress, in which the writers plead piteously with them to have Congress extend aid to the sufferers, as you have doubtless seen in the papers, particularly in the New York Tribune, which had a column daily containing the names of Sunday School children, servant girls, widows, and other persons who had contributed their mites to help the sufferers in the districts ravaged by the grasshoppers in the States I have named. Knowing that Utah had been afflicted by grasshoppers, a good many came to me to enquire how we had got along, and it was a great source of satisfaction to me to be able to say that notwithstanding some of our settlements had suffered from the devastations of grasshoppers five years in succession, there had been no clamor, and that no begging appeal had gone up or out from Utah to other portions of the United States, although many of our settlements had their entire crops destroyed years in succession. I distinctly remember that Wellsville, in Cache Valley had its crops destroyed five years, while scarcely a settlement in the Territory escaped a visitation of this kind three years in succession.
All these things, when mentioned, called forth admiration. Men would say—“There must be something very peculiar about your organization to enable you to manage these things so well. Were not your people overwhelmed with debt, their farms all mortgaged?” “No.” “How did you sustain yourselves?” “Well, we believed in assisting each other; and if our people lived in a State like Kansas or Nebraska they would be too proud to call for help from the rest of the nation because their crops had been destroyed one year. We believe in helping ourselves; we believe in laboring and in asking the blessing of God upon our labors, and in putting our trust in him, believing that he will sustain us, and thus far he has done so.”
I allude to these things because they are of public interest. So far as our admittance into the Union is concerned, it is generally acknowledged, I believe, among the members of the Senate and House of Representatives, that Utah was fully entitled to statehood, and that it ought to have a state government. And, gentlemen would say—“If it were not for your peculiar institution, you would be admitted readily.“ “No,” I remarked, “you mistake, sir; it is not that, there is something more than that. I know that the general opinion is that it is our system of marriage which prevents Utah from being admitted as a State, but it is a mistake, if we did not believe in that there would be something else.” This they would be loath to admit, but many admitted so far as the elements of a State were concerned, in having a substantial footing in the land and being wedded to the soil, in having developed the resources of the country, agricultural and mineral, and in establishing manufactures, that Utah, with her railroads and other improvements is ahead of every other Territory. But, as I have said, the idea was that we were scarcely fit to be admitted because of our “peculiar institution.” I occasionally remarked when talking on this subject to members of Congress—“You are determined to make what you call ‘the peculiar institution’ of Utah of national importance; you commit, according to my views, a great blunder by so doing. Suppose there is one out of every ten among the people of Utah connected with polygamy—some think that is a high estimate—and that there are one hundred and fifty thousand people in Utah, and some think that is a high estimate also, that would make fifteen thousand people in Utah Territory who are either polygamists or connected with polygamy. Now think of it, here you are the representatives of forty millions of people, and by your action in a national capacity you uplift the practices of fifteen thousand people from obscurity and give them a national importance in the eyes, not only of our own country, but in the eyes of Europe. Does it seem statesmanlike that the practices of fifteen thousand people should be made so prominent?” You talk to men in that strain, and many would say—“Certainly, it is folly, we ought to leave it to the arbitrament of time;” but there were others who thought it was comparable to slavery. But slavery was the practice of eleven millions of people at the time of the rebellion, hence there is no comparison between them. But it seems as though, in the providence of God, men are determined to give this an importance to which it is not entitled, if the number of those who practice it be taken into account. It seems that men are determined to make it public, to advertise it, and have it known.
But notwithstanding all these things we are gaining influence. There is no people today on this continent of our numbers who attract so much attention, and concerning whom there is so much interest felt as the people of Utah. So also with the delegate from Utah Territory; he has always been one of the members to whom strangers have been most desirous to be introduced. This has been the case from the time of the first delegate, and I do not think the interest has lessened of late. So that, not only are the people objects of interest, but everything connected with them and their history, and notwithstanding all that is said about us we are growing in influence in the nation, and it has surprised me to see how widely our influence is spreading, and how many channels it occupies and how wide its ramifications extend throughout the nation. How difficult it is to strike us a blow without hitting somebody else! How difficult it is to do anything inimical to us without others feeling that they will be injured by that action! This has surprised me wonderfully this past winter, and in fact this past two years. I have seen the growth of the influence of this people and its increase in many directions. Many acknowledge while they deprecate it. Of course this has caused me to rejoice more than I can tell. I have felt that God's hand has been with us as a people. I felt so during the first session. The passage of the Poland bill, in its present form, was to me one of the most wonderful manifestations of Providence I ever beheld; that which has occurred this last session has been equally so, because I have believed that I could see the hand of God in it all; I believed that his providence was over us; I believed that the prayers of this people, offered continually unto the Lord, were heard and answered by him. A very prominent gentleman remarked to me one day—“Mr. Cannon, it is wonderful how you retain your seat, it surprises me, one would think you would have been ousted long ago, considering the efforts which have been made.” I made some remark in reply, and, the conversation continuing I remarked, calling him by name—“There are over a hundred thousand people in Utah Territory praying for you members, and for me, and they are a sincere people, and their prayers are heard.” Said he—“I do believe that is the case.” It may seem a trifling thing, in these days of unbelief, to think that God hears and answers prayer; but it has been a great satisfaction to me all the time to tell my fellow members that we were a praying people, and that God was being supplicated by you to avert every blow.
It is something refreshing at this time in the midst of the unbelief of men to meet with a man who believes that God lives, and that he hears and answers prayer. You would be surprised to find how few such men there are in this world, especially in public life. The belief in God, that he exists, that he takes any cognizance of human affairs, and that he hears and answers prayer is almost extinct; it is a rare thing to find a man who entertains it. Yet men do not ignore God entirely, but they deny his interposition in human affairs. On this point we stand out in marked contrast with every other people. We believe that God's providences are over all, that not a hair of our head falls without his notice, that not even a sparrow can fall to the ground without his being aware of it, and that he hears and answers prayer when we supplicate him in faith in the name of Jesus for those things that we need; and we have this lesson to teach. I believe that the day is not far distant when there will be a reaction in this respect. There is at the present time a determination, apparently, to swing to the extreme of infidelity; but I look for a reaction. I believe that the example, teaching and influence of the Latter-day Saints will be attended with good effects. I think it is the duty of everyone, not offensively, not in a manner to disgust, but in a proper, wise manner, to endeavor, as far as possible, to inculcate by example and by precept faith in God and in the efficacy of prayer to him.
Of course there were times when inquiries would be made respecting our belief, and many persons scarcely think that we believe in Jesus Christ and in the Bible. Some have the idea that we are a sort of heathen; or, in other words, that we have discarded everything connected with Christianity. Others have no definite ideas in regard to our belief, their minds being fully occupied with the marriage system of the “Mormons,” they having heard of that and not much else, and they suppose that we do not believe in anything but mar- rying and living in polygamy. When you converse with men of intelligence, who have any comprehension of truth, and relate to them our views, they acknowledge that we are a different people to what they imagined. I have remarked when in conversation upon our principles that if the gratification of licentiousness were our object, we could do that in a much more popular and in a much cheaper manner than the way we have adopted. I told them that it was only necessary to follow the example of some public men and we should get along without any difficulty, and there would be no fault found with us at all. Many would acknowledge that this was true if the object we had in view was the gratification of sensuality. But wherever I have had the opportunity, I have endeavored to impress those with whom I have conversed with the idea that we regarded men and women guilty of immoral practices as being guilty of the worst possible crime next to shedding blood. I have said that we regard murder as the greatest crime in the sight of God, and that next to that we look upon unchastity and unvirtuous actions. This has created some surprise, but it is a lesson that we have yet to teach mankind on this point, and I trust that we shall be true to our principles.
I have heard, since I returned, and in fact I heard it before, that there is a disposition on the part of some to yield to the temptations that surround us, young men and young women falling away and being guilty of unchastity, young men going to billiard saloons, gambling saloons, drinking saloons, indulging in the habits of smoking and swearing; and not only young persons but men of mature years. I am surprised at it. I am surprised that Latter-day Saints should have so little strength of character, and so easily yield to these wicked influences. Do you think that anybody respects a man who takes a course of this kind? Certainly not, yet there are some who think they gain respect by so doing. Let me say to you that a wicked man, a man who is unchaste and unvirtuous, has no respect for a man who is like himself. A man who is profane will admire a man who will not indulge in profanity. You never saw a man who was a drunkard and who indulged in the use of intoxicating drinks who did not admire the man who refrained from their use. He may banter and ridicule him, but in his secret soul he admires him; and so it is with all evil habits, and I would not give a fig for a Latter-day Saint who could not in the midst of all these temptations, be sincere and true to his convictions and live the religion that God has revealed to him; such men are not worthy of the name, and sooner or later they will lose the name and their standing and place in the Church. I knew, so far as my experience has gone, that men respect sincerity. Men despise Latter-day Saints who do not act consistently with the principles they profess, while, whatever a man's religion may be, he will command respect in proportion as he clings to and honors the principles which he professes, under all circumstances under which he may be placed.
The Lord is working with us as well as with the nation, and I feel sure he will cleanse from our midst everything that is impure and ungodly. I expect that we shall have ordeals that will cleanse everything of this character from our midst, and that everything that can be shaken will be. In former days we had mobs to contend with, and other diffi- culties that were trying to the faith of the people, and those who were not grounded on the rock fell by the way. If they could be frightened, or if threats or difficult circumstances could affect them or their faith, why, of course, they dissolved their connection with the Church. But I rather think the day of mobs has gone by. We certainly have been led to expect that the time will come when we shall be delivered from the power of mobocracy. What then will be the means of trying the people? Probably prosperity, good circumstances, the increase of wealth, the effects of which are far more trying on a people than poverty. The influences which attend wealth and comfortable circumstances will probably have the same effect on the people in cleansing from our midst that which is unsound, as mobocracy and the difficult circumstances connected with it had in former days. But I never expect to see the day when the Latter-day Saints will be free from influences which will test their fidelity to God, and be a means of removing from their midst that which is unworthy to be associated with his Church. That is my feeling, and has been for a long time, and I believe that God is causing us to pass through these circumstances expressly to test, prove and try us, and see whether we will be true to him or not.
He has revealed to us the everlasting Gospel; the everlasting Gospel! the truth as it is contained in this book (Bible); he has taught us what to do in order to gain favor in his sight. How many of you who are here today have seen the time in your early life when, if you could have known that God would bestow upon you the gifts of his Holy Spirit as they were enjoyed in ancient days by his servants, you would not have felt as though you could travel the earth over to obtain such precious blessings? I suppose there are scores in this congregation today who have had such feelings, they have felt as though it would be the greatest boon that could be bestowed upon them to have the gift of the Holy Ghost, and the various gifts thereof that were bestowed upon and enjoyed by the ancient Saints. God has bestowed these blessings upon us; he has revealed unto us the truth; he has shown unto us how we can obtain a remission of our sins, and in accordance with his word delivered eighteen hundred years ago by his Son Jesus and by his Apostles, that if we believe in Jesus, if we repent of our sins and are baptized for their remission, we shall receive the Holy Ghost.
These blessings have been promised to and bestowed upon us; the Church has been organized in its ancient purity and simplicity, with Prophets, Apostles, Teachers, Pastors, Evangelists and all the officers which existed in ancient days. Is not this a blessing which people should appreciate? This has been given unto us, and we have been guided by the spirit of revelation and prophecy. There has not been one moment since I have known this Church that we have not had revelation to guide us, and it has been all of a character that we could understand. It has not been some man who was operating over the people, speaking in muttered tones as an oracle to the people, so that they could scarcely comprehend what he meant; but it has been in plainness and simplicity, so that every man and every woman in this Church has been appealed to go and ask God for themselves, and they have had an opportunity of knowing for themselves concerning the truth of the doctrines taught and of the counsel that has been given. This constitutes the great strength of this work, and how we ought to appreciate the blessings which God has bestowed upon us in this respect.
Now if we were left without any testimony of our own, and had to receive the ipse dixit of some man in authority, and to act blindly upon that, it would be very different, it would require a much greater degree of faith than we have to exercise at the present time. But how was it in the days of Joseph? Was there a doctrine taught which was not accompanied by the testimony of the Spirit to the minds of the people? Certainly not. How has it been in the days of the Prophet Brigham? It has been the same. When the servants of God proclaimed that God had established his Church, that he had restored the everlasting Priesthood and its ordinances, they were told to go and ask God for themselves, and they had an opportunity of testing the truth of that which was taught unto them, and there was no chance for imposture.
Many think that the people called Latter-day Saints are a deluded, ignorant set, led by cunning priestly leaders, who exercise power over them because of their shrewdness and ability, and that the people are a blind herd led at the will of these shrewd deceivers. We know that this is not the case. We know that the most frequent appeals that have been made to the Latter-day Saints have been to investigate for themselves and to know for themselves. When we started out from Illinois and traveled over these plains, were we following President Young because he said, “Come on?” Were we striking out blindly into the wilderness, hoping that he would find some place, and trusting to his sagacity and shrewdness? Certainly not, that was not the feeling; but every Latter-day Saint who crossed the Mississippi River, who was indeed a Latter-day Saint, had a testimony that he or she was going in a direction that God was leading, and when night came each was as confident that he was in the path that God required him to walk in as ever the children of Israel were when led out of Egypt. When I look back at those days, and consider the circumstances that surrounded the people, I wonder and am astonished at the faith, calmness and confidence they manifested. When the crickets came down from the mountains in 1848, and devoured nearly the entire crops, I cannot recall now any murmuring, or expressions of distrust, fear or apprehension, but there was a calmness and serenity of feeling among the people which, when I reflect upon now, surprises me. Then I was but a youth and had no responsibilities, but I have had responsibilities since then, and I have wondered how men having wives and children and the care of a great people resting upon them, as our brethren had who were here then, could maintain their equanimity in the midst of those circumstances. Yet throughout this valley there was not a murmur or expression of distrust, and if there were fears indulged in they were not publicly expressed. So it has been all the time. God has been bearing testimony to the Latter-day Saints by his Holy Spirit, giving unto them evidence which has been of a most satisfactory character; and every man and woman, boy and girl, ought to live so that they will have this testimony within them, that they may know concerning the doctrine and the counsel that is given; that when President Young speaks, we may know for ourselves whether it is from God or not, and when any other teacher among us speaks, we may know whether the doctrine he advances is from God or not; and so that, if necessary, we could go to the stake, and have no doubts on the subject. Or, like Daniel of old, be cast into the den of lions and have no fears; or, like the three Hebrew children, be cast into a fiery furnace. We pray that God will restore to us the faith once delivered to the Saints, and this is the kind of faith they had, and it sustained them in the midst of all their trials and afflictions. And men and women have had this faith who have not had the fulness of the Gospel as we have; thousands of them, in what are called the dark ages, suffered the most painful deaths for the sake of their religion; and they were sustained by the consciousness that they were doing that which God required at their hands, that they were living up to the light of truth as far as they had it. And now, living with the facilities and opportunities that we have, we ought to have still greater faith and power, and be able to endure far more for the sake of this great truth, for I tell you, my brethren and sisters, it is one of the most inestimable of blessings, it is beyond all price, the knowledge which God has given to us, that he hears and answers prayer. To think that in the midst of affliction, when you are harassed and oppressed, when, your family probably is sick, and you are surrounded by circumstances which human aid cannot relieve, there is a Being, all powerful in heaven, who is near at hand, to whom you can offer your supplications and make your appeals, with a certainty that he will hear and answer them. What is there to compare with it in value on the face of the earth? Who would not give all they have to have that knowledge? Who would not be stripped of everything they hold valuable, so far as earthly possessions are concerned, for the sake of such knowledge as this?
This is the knowledge that you have. If you have obeyed the Gospel in sincerity, everyone of you should have in your heart, no matter what your circumstances may be, or what difficulties and trials you may be called upon to pass through, the knowledge that you have an abiding Friend who will hear and answer your prayers, and will never desert you. I delight to bear testimony that God does hear and answer prayer, that he will bless and deliver those who put their trust in him. And I wish that all of us would cultivate more of this spirit, and teach it to our children. We hear about infidelity increasing. Why does it increase? Because men and women do not live so as to know that God lives. That is the reason. If they were to live in close communion with him, there would be no chance for infidelity to increase; but the fact that they do not thus live causes that increase. We should teach our children to pray to and to have faith in God. If we do this we shall see good effects flow therefrom: faith will increase in the land and will spread abroad, and we shall be the means in the hands of God of raising up a people who believe in him, and who, if necessary, would go to the stake to show their faith in the truth of their doctrines.
That God may bless you, my brothers and sisters, and help you to overcome everything that is evil, is my prayer in the name of Jesus. Amen.