Keep in mind the time that this was written. There are certain words, such as socialism and communism, that carry significant weight now because of significant historical events in the 20th century. This happened before any of that. Also keep in mind that Frank Cannon was a strong proponent of a certain brand of political thought that has no direct equivalent in our current political discourse, though it shares certain words and emphasis with some parts of our current politics.
The closest analogue we have today is libertarianism, which, to reduce it to something woefully simplistic, is to always take position against government in order to preserve personal liberties. Frank Cannon's approach was to always take a position in favor of government in order to preserve personal liberties. This necessitated removing all outside influence from government, whether from corporations, banks, businesses, unions, or churches. It is a position almost entirely missing from current political discourse, and one that can easily be misunderstood.
By 1911 the political party that Frank Cannon had been associated with was disbanded. The party was founded on the ideas of social liberalism and anti-Mormonism (keep in mind that those terms are currently loaded with additional ideas that were not present in 1911). It is in this context that the book was written specifically to attempt to disrupt the political influence of the church in Utah. It was a very different time, very different circumstances, and a very different recent history, though we can see similarities to our situation today.
[George Q. Cannon] talked a few minutes, affectionately, about family matters, and then—straightening his shoulders to the burden of more gravity—he said: "I have sent for you, my son, to see if you cannot find some way to help us in our difficulties. I have made it a matter of prayer, and I have been led to urge you to activity. You have never performed a Mission for the Church, and I have sometimes wondered if you cared anything about your religion. You have never obeyed the celestial covenant, and you have kept yourself aloof from the duties of the priesthood, but it may have been a providential overruling. I have talked with some of the brethren, and we feel that if relief does not soon appear, our community will be scattered and the great work crushed. The Lord can rescue us, but we must put forth our own efforts. Can you see any light?"
I replied that I had already been in Washington twice, on my own initiative, conferring with some of his Congressional friends. "I am still," I said, "of the opinion I expressed to you and President Taylor four years ago. Plural marriage must be abandoned or our friends in Washington will not defend us." Four years before, when I had offered that opinion, President Taylor had cried out: "No! Plural marriage is the will of God! It's apostasy to question it!" And I paused now with the expectation that my father would say something of this sort. But, as I was afterwards to observe, it was part of his diplomacy, in conference, to pass the obvious opportunity of replying, and to remain silent when he was expected to speak, so that he might not be in the position of following the lead of his opponent's argument, but rather, by waiting his own time, be able to direct the conversation to his own purposes. He listened to me, silently, his eyes fixed on my face.
"Senator Vest of Missouri," I went on, "has always been a strong opponent of what he considered unconstitutional legislation against us, but he tells me he'll no longer oppose proscription if we continue in an attitude of defiance. He says you're putting yourselves beyond assistance, by organized rebellion against the administration of the statutes.' And I continued with instances of others among his friends who had spoken to the same purpose.
When I had done, he took what I had said with a gesture that at once accepted and for the moment dismissed it; and he proceeded to a larger consideration of the situation, in words which I cannot pretend to recall, but to an effect which I wish to outline—because it not only accounts for the preservation of the Mormon people from all their dangers, but contains a reason why the world might have wished to see them preserved.
The Mormons at this time had never written a line on social reform—except as the so-called "revelations" established a new social order—but they had practiced whole volumes. Their community was founded on the three principles of co-operation, contribution, and arbitration. By co-operation of effort they had realized that dream of the Socialists, "equality of opportunity"—not equality of individual capacity, which the accidents of nature prevent, but an equal opportunity for each individual to develop himself to the last reach of his power. By contribution—by requiring each man to give one-tenth of his income to a common fund—they had attained the desired end of modern civilization, the abolition of poverty, and had adjusted the straps of the community burden to the strength of the individual to bear it. By arbitration, they had effected the settlement of every dispute of every kind without litigation; for their High Councils decided all sorts of personal or neighborhood disputes without expense of money to the disputants. The "storehouse of the Lord" had been kept open to fill every need of the poor among "God's people," and opportunities for self-help had been created out of the common fund, so that neither unwilling idleness nor privation might mar the growth of the community or the progress of the individual. But Joseph Smith had gone further. Daring to believe himself the earthly representative of Omnipotence, whose duty it was to see that all had the rights to which he thought them entitled, and assuming that a woman's chief right was that of wifehood and maternity, he had instituted the practice of plural marriage, as a "Prophet of God," on the authority of a direct revelation from the Almighty. It was upon this rock that the whole enterprise, the whole experiment in religious communism, now threatened to split. Not that polygamy was so large an incident in the life of the community—for only a small proportion of the Mormons were living in plural marriage. And not that this practice was the cardinal sin of Mormonism—for among intelligent men, then as now, the great objection to the Church was its assumption of a divine authority to hold the "temporal power," to dictate in politics, to command action and to acquit of responsibility. But polygamy was the offence against civilization which the opponents of Mormonism could always cite in order to direct against the Church the concentrated antagonism of the governments of the Western world. And my father, in authorizing me to proceed to Washington as a sort of ambassador of the Church, evidently wished to impress upon me the larger importance of the value of the social experiment which the Mormons had, to this time, so successfully advanced.
"It would be a cruel waste of human effort," he said, "if, after having attained comfort in these valleys—established our schools of art and science—developed our country and founded our industries—we should now be destroyed as a community, and the value of our experience lost to the world. We have a right to survive. We have a duty to survive. It would be to the profit of the nation that we should survive."
But in order to survive, it was necessary to obtain some immediate mitigation of the enforcement of the laws against us. The manner in which they were being enforced was making compromise impossible, and the men who administered them stood in the way of getting a favorable hearing from the powers of government that alone could authorize a compromise. It was necessary to break this circle; and my father went over the names of the men in Washington who might help us. I could marvel at his understanding of these men and their motives, but we came to no plan of action until I spoke of what had been with me a sort of forlorn hope that I might appeal to President Cleveland himself.
My father said thoughtfully: "What influence could you, a Republican, have with him? It's true that your youth may make an appeal—and the fact that you're pleading for your relatives, while not yourself a polygamist. But he would immediately ask us to abandon plural marriage, and that is established by a revelation from God which we cannot disregard. Even if the Prophet directed us, as a revelation from God, to abandon polygamy, still the nation would have further cause for quarrel because of the Church's temporal rule. No. I can make no promise. I can authorize no pledge. It must be for the Prophet of God to say what is the will of the Lord. You must see President Woodruff, and after he has asked for the will of the Lord I shall be content with his instruction."
Now, I do not wish to say—though I did then believe it—that the First Councillor of the Mormon Church was prepared to have the doctrine of plural marriage abandoned in order to have the people saved. It is impossible to predicate the thoughts of a man so diplomatic, so astute, and at the same time so deeply religious and so credulous of all the miracles of faith. He did believe in Divine guidance. He was sincere in his submission to the "revelations" of the Prophet. But, in the complexity of the mind of man, even such a faith may be complicated with the strategies of foresight, and the priest who bows devoutly to the oracle may yet, even unconsciously, direct the oracle to the utterance of his desire. And if my father was—as I suspected—considering a recession from plural marriage, he had as justification the basic "revelation," given through "Joseph the Prophet," commanding that the people should hold themselves in subjection to the government under which they lived, "until He shall come Whose right it is to rule."