Cannon's sincerity, gentlemanly demeanor, and intuitive diplomatic talents made him an effective statesman. For ten years he successfully defended Utah's interests in Washington, D.C., until his seat was declared vacant by the enactment of the Edmunds Act, which terminated numerous constitutional rights for Utah's polygamists. The ensuing years were some of the most difficult for the Cannon family. In 1885 George was forced to live in seclusion due to the raids attempting to arrest Mormon polygamists. His five wives and thirty-two children were often watched by marshals and deputies. In September 1888 he surrendered himself to local authorities and served nearly six months in Utah's federal penitentiary for cohabitation.
In 1880, three years after the death of Brigham Young, the First Presidency was reorganized with John Taylor as president and George Q. Cannon as first counselor. Cannon remained first counselor in the two subsequent administrations of Wilford Woodruff and Lorenzo Snow. During those years, his entrepreneurial aptitude became manifest. Before his death in 1901, at the age of seventy-four, Cannon had been associated with more than sixty Utah commercial, mercantile, and industrial businesses. His devotion to his family, his church, and his religion are an important legacy he left to the world.
Joseph A. Cannon and Rick Fish