Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Lyndon W. Cook on the Law of Consecration

Cook responds with this work to a variety of interpretations of the Law of Consecration that had failed to adequately separate the historical strata and had been lead, in his view, to retro-project the latter situation in Utah onto the beginnings of the revelation (pp.vii-viii). Cook instead proposes to let his reconstruction be guided by the following interpretative matrix:
The viewpoint of this study is that (1) consecration---that is, the act of setting apart or devoting one's self and his possessions for sacred purposes--- became a fundamental law of the Church in 1831 and was never rescinded, and that (2) specific programs of consecration were established and necessarily modified by Church authorities in Ohio, Missouri and Illinois. (p.viii)
This means that consecration was like an ideal that the Church attempted to approximate in various forms as it found itself in different contexts, no then-existing implementation was "the ``real`` law of consecration" (p.viii) and consequently there is no implementation that believers need to revert back to.


Cook begins by sketching the fevered spirit of innovation grabbing the United States during the early 19th century.
During the first half of the nineteenth century, the United States proved one of the most enterprising and innovative nations on earth. [This is probably debatable, RCK.] This spirit of enterprise derived from many sources. Territorial expansion opened up the continent of almost limitless assets, promising the industrious success and achievement. The egalitarian ideology of the Revolution encouraged mobility and raised expectations among the middle class and the poor. The industrial revolution introduced the tools of technology to economic enterprise. And running through all these forces of change was the American capacity for innovation. (p.1)
This was a mixed blessing, leading at the same time to "unexpected burdens on its institutions and its individuals", in which the Revolution had left "a vacuum" (p.1).
... many Americans feared that materialism and comfort had replaced virtue and self-sacrifice as the guiding ideals of the new republic. (p.2)
Especially in the North East, the thinking about the reform of institutions was variegated:
For those who sought to correct the evils of society, the issues of concern included schools, prisons, mental hospitals, factory conditions, alcoholism, war, poverty, the status of women and slavery. (p.2)
Cook then delineates in broad strokes how the Second Great Awakening plays into this climate:
On the intellectual level,  revivalism undermined doctrinal beliefs and emphasized personal experience instead. On the emotional level, it produced either disappointment, remorse, and spiritual pain or ecstasy and peace. Many Americans affected by this religious fervor worried for the salvation of their souls. They experienced feelings of trouble and injustice and profound millennial hope. (p.2)
And Cook reminds as with Ahlstrom that saving the individual was a step toward reforming society (p.2).

Cook then points out that communitarianism is one way of rebooting society, by creating a new isolated instance of it that is deemed wholesome. And Cook enumerates both the secular and religious forms of this communitarianism, to give the proper context (p.3).
The communitarian's idea as for a limited number of people to live together in a little community, wholly or mainly self-sufficient, and more or less apart from the general society surrounding it. These communities could be religious or secular. (p.3)
Although dissimilar in their faith, doctrine and practices, such Christian communities as the Mormons, Mother Ann Lee's Shakers, and John Humphrey Noyes' Oneida Community in New York, were alike in the fact that their separation form the world and worldly was reinforced, not undermined, by opposition and difficulty in the form of economic pressure, religious persecution, due to new doctrines and practices. (p.3)
Secular experiments included Robert Dale Owen's in New Harmony, Indiana, the North American Phalanx in New Jersey, Bronson Alcott's Fruitlands in Harvard, Massachusetts, and George Ripley's transcendental Brook Farm Institute of Agriculture and Education at West Roxbury, Massachusetts, which became the center of Fourierism in the United States. (p.3)
And Cook puts his finger on the matter when he identifies the twin opponents of this constellation:
They resembled Christian communities in that the purpose was to join people together so as to face collectively the challenge of the frontier or to confront as a united group the trend toward industrialization. (p.3)
There was a profound similarity in approach across this divergent justifications and theoretical underpinnings that Cook brings to the fore.
Christian and secular model communities often advocated similar programs, such as the prohibition of hot drinks and alcoholic beverages, or vegetarianism, or celibacy, or equitable division of labor, or community ownership and control of property. (p.3)
This provides a clear context of the Mormon experiment:
The Mormon practice of consecration under Joseph Smith's lifetime was a clear response to the economic needs of a rapidly || growing church and its poor members as well as an attempt to conform to the economic ideal of having "all things in common", mentioned in the New Testament. But importantly, it was also a response to the religious fervor and the social upheaval of the period. (p.4) 

Period One

For Cook, the first period begins shortly after Joseph Smith Jr met with Sidney Rigdon in December 1830 (p.5).
 Newly baptized into the Mormon faith, Sidney Rigdon had been in the thick of the religious excitement over communal living for a long while. (p.5)
[[This is an understatement, given the communitarian infrastructure that the Campbellites had rolled out in Ohio, which Joseph Smith Jr was to abolish upon arrival, cf. Poulson's Whitney biography, p.28, RCK]]
In one of these revelations, mention is first made in modern scripture of the need for religious unity and economic equality among the Saints. (p.5)
[[I would consider the discussion of merchants in the BoM to be even earlier, but the explicitness underlines Cook's point. RCK]]

In the parable of the man with sons wearing good and bad clothes, Cook finds the responsibilities of the Church toward the poor delineated. [[It is indeed striking how much D&C 38 functions as a founding document for a religious community, down to the segregation commandment in v42. RCK]]

Cook then describes how John Whitmer was sent to take control of the Ohio Campbellite converts while Sidney Rigdon and Joseph Smith were finishing up preparations in Fayette, NY (p.6).
Nearly all the Ohio converts had been followers of Sidney Rigdon, and many of them had been experimenting with communal living arrangements before they were baptized Mormons. Some lived on Isaac Morley's farm near Kirtland, Ohio, others lived in Mayfield, and others in Chardon. They were all part of a group called "the Family," and were attempting to have "all things common," as indicated in Acts, chapter 2. (p.6)
"The Family" sought to implement equal distribution and community of property or possessions. ... Community of property did not imply confiscation, but there was to be a transition from private to common ownership. Members possessing capital would invest it. The propertyless members would contribute labor. In the end, the possession of all within the community would be united and equal because all || would have contributed equally, whether in money or labor, to the common stock. (pp.6-7)
John Whitmer reported that the experiment was heading for disaster.
They [i.e. Campbellite Mormon converts, RCK] considered that "what belonged to one brother, belonged to any of the brethren, therefore they would take each others clothes and other property and use it without leave: which brought on confusion and disappointment. (p.7)
[[Cook notes on (p.10) that D&C 42:54 explicitly used the garment case as a counter-example. RCK]]
Ten days after arriving in Kirtland, Ohio, in February of 1831, revelation D&C 42 spelled out the new plan of consecration (pp.7f). Cook admits that the principles are very similar to other religious communities of the time, and that the difference lies in the execution (p.8).
These principles differed little from those of other religious communities of the day, all based in the requirement of consecrating all of one's possessions to a common fund for the purpose of eliminating poverty and assisting in the payment of common debts through personal sacrifice. However, the implementation of these principles in the Mormon practice of consecration differed considerably from other idealistic communities. (p.8)
The first point to note was the system's hybrid nature (p.8).
The program was distinctly communitarian in that it required total consecration of all possessions as well as yearly donation to the Church of all surplus profits. It did not allow for private ownership of property and it contained strong elements of group control and supervisory management by the bishop. On the other hand, the system encouraged many features of individualism and personal economic initiative [i.e. capitalism, RCK]. Stewards were given specific property for which they were responsible. There was freedom of enterprise in production and in the management of properties held as stewardships as well as basic freedom of economic activity. Furthermore, a limited profit incentive existed, and the forces of supply and demand and wholesale and retail pricing influenced production decisions. (p.8)
Thus, while the Church members would show their membership by consecrating their possessions to the poor and the needs of the Church (p.8), there was a basic support for wealth and an abundance thereof (p.9); the problem of the rich was their refusal to share it (p.9). What furthered the intended equality was the consecration of the yearly surplus (p.9)
... private accumulation of property was impossible because surplus profits or production were consecrated yearly by the stewards to the storehouse. This redistribution of each year's surpluses discouraged luxurious living and precluded competitive expansion. (p.9)
The key Church agent in the implementation of this system was the Bishop.
[The Bishop's, RCK] ... job was to redistribute the wealth of the stewards and regulate their lives so as to maintain temporal equality and spiritual unity. The bishop met with individual members to work out the details of each consecration and subsequent stewardship. (p.9)
While the Saints were to deal honestly with the Bishop, the Bishop did have final say on the allocations of stewardship (p.10). And the consecration was to be legally binding.
At the moment of consecration, prospective stewards would legally transfer title to all of their possessions to the bishop. (p.10)
[[This is important with respect to the United Firm, RCK.]]

But the individualist stance was preserved, with the focus on individual stewardship and the rejection of communal living (p.10): "every family shall have a place, that they may live by themselves" (p.10) [[quoting the 1833 edition of the Book of Commandments, XLIV:57, RCK]].

While the redistribution would be the tide that lifted all boats (p.11), insistence on plain living would make it possible for all to achieve that goal (p.11). As far as the separation from the world was concerned, the manuscript copy of section 42 at least is willing to go as far as to isolate oneself economically from the outside world, "Thou shalt contract no debts with them." (p.11) But even if that turned out to unsustainable, the basic idea was one of self-sufficiency and independence of external money sources (p.11).

The consecration had consequences for the community that extended to the living patterns of settlement and community, and to keep away from wickedness (p.11).
Later, the Prophet envisioned the centralized grouping of buildings, with school,church and social buildings in the center of the community and farming grounds outside of the residential area. (p.11)
Cook then notes how agricultural that conceptualization is.
Although the Saints welcomed the application of machinery and encouraged a combination of manufacturing with agricultural labor, the system of consecrat[i]on was conceived almost exclusively in agrarian terms. Access to the land had long signified social standing and it was considered crucial to survival. In an agrarian economy, not far removed from the subsistence || level, control of land meant that when harvests were bad, some members could count on surviving while others, landless and those with few resources, could not be so sure. (pp.11-12)
[[Cook could strengthen his argument here with pointing to the role of kitchen gardens and fruit orchards and the plurality of produce that farms allowed to be made. RCK]]

Establishing the bishop was intimately tied to the first people called. The Painesville merchant Edward Partridge was the first (p.12), selected February 4th 1831 [[before the revelation of the Law was given, even, RCK]]. On June 3rd, 1831, Partridge received two assistants, John Corrill and Isaac Morley [[owner of the farm where many of "the family" had resided during the Campbellite times, RCK]].
These three men [i.e. Partridge, Corrill and Morley, RCK] served for a brief period in the Kirtland area, but were soon called to move to Missouri. (p.12)
In late August 1831, Newel K. Whitney became Partridge's agent in Ohio, mainly "to receive moneys to purchase lands in Zion" (p.12). Whitney was ordained on September 1st, 1831, and in December 1831 was made Bishop (p.12). In February 1832, Hyrum Smith and Reynolds Cahoon were made counselors of Whitney (p.12).

This posed the sticky problem of remuneration.
At first, no provisions were made in the revelations for the financial support of the bishop and his counsellors. However, because the bishop was to devote his whole time to the temporal matters of the Church, a verse was inserted in section 42 of the || Doctrines and Covenants in 1835 which explained that the bishop "shall receive his support, or just remuneration for all his services," and hi counsellors were to "have their families supported out of the property which is consecrated to the bishop ... as may be thought best." Another revelation stated that he bishop was to "reserve unto himself, for his own wants, and for the wants of his family, as he shall be employed in doing this business." (= D&C 51:13)  (pp.12-13)
There was a bit of a skew between the roles of Partridge and Whitney.
Bishop Whitney's calling was subordinate to Partridge's and was limited to eastern Ohio. While Partridge was commanded to establish all of the 1831 consecration law among the Saints in Missouri, Bishop Whitney's assignment in Ohio was more to encourage the spirit of consecration. (p.13)
The spiritual task of consecration was a prerequisite for relocation to Jackson County, which accounting to the Bishop (or three elders) was quitted with a signed certificate. Technically, no one was supposed to remove to Zion without such a certification (p.14), and those who did anyway, such as the Nelson, Ohio, branch, were severely reprimanded by the Prophet (p.14).
 One basic requirement of converts' moving to western Missouri was that they have "means [sufficient] to purchase their inheritances" as well as "food and raiment for at least one year". (p.14)
In many cases, unfortunately, the Saints' zeal to settle in Zion exceeded their desires to obey the revelations and prepare; too often they found themselves in embarrassing, meager circumstances. Repetition of these kinds of problems had an immediate negative effect on the general condition of the || Mormon settlement in Missouri and placed an enormous burden on Bishop Partridge to stretch the already limited funds at his command. (pp.14-15)
Cook also points out that the law of consecration of the Mormons was hardly a secret (p.15); "pirate copies of section 42 were printed and reprinted in the local newspapers in the Western Reserve" (p.15), without much appreciation of how the consecration was supposed to differ from other communitarian approaches such as "the Family" system (p.15).

Among the canaries in the coal mine for the new system were the Colesville Saints, who had relocated to Thompson, Ohio, where a recent Shaker convert, Leman Copley, had consecrated part of his thousand ares property (p.15). Joseph Knight Jr reported that after the expulsion of Copley for "bad conduct", Copley wanted his land back and things became tricky (p.15). The Colesville Saints were evicted and moved on to Missouri (p.16)---without fulfilling the economic prerequisites---and the Church leaders concluded that the situation of the Saints in Kirtland, Ohio was not conducive to implementing the law of consecration (p.16).

A second attempt was made to implement the law in Jackson County, Missouri, where arriving Saints were told that they could not settle with their brethren unless the submitted to the law of consecration (p.16).  That covenant was conceptualized in contractual terms:
The grantor bound himself and his heirs to release forever all rights to and interests in certain scheduled property. The bishop acknowledged receipt of the gift, promised to use it only for the || purposes stipulated in the contract---i.e. purchasing lands in Jackson County, building up the New Jerusalem, and relieving the wants of the poor and needy---and bound himself and his heirs to relinquish control of the property to his successor as bishop should he be removed by death, apostasy or some other reason. In the same transaction the bishop allocated a stewardship to the members---responsibility over as much property as was needful for himself and his family. The stewardship contract was to be binding during the life of the steward unless he left the Church or was excommunicated. Were this to happen, he would forfeit the land and be compelled to pay an equivalent for the personal property. (pp.16-17)
Printed forms were used containing the deed of gift contract on the left-hand side and a "stewardship agreement" on the right. These contracts were both properly signed and witnessed. (p.17)
Cook also points out that the taxes for the property were the responsibility of the steward (p.17). Children could not inherit their parents' stewardship, and had to negotiate their own stewardship upon reaching majority in general (p.17).

The "residue" as it was called, the surplus of the consecration, was gathered in the storehouse of the Bishop and his counsellors, where it was managed for the benefit of all stewards (p.18). Though the bishop had considerable latitude on the actual expenditure, the focus was clear:
... (1) for purchasing land for inheritances, (2) Church building projects in Jackson County, Missouri, and (3) to redistribute to the poor and needy "from time to time, that every man who has need may be amply supplied and receive, according to his wants" (p.18). 
However, as Cook points out, retail stores were given this double function in practice, both in Ohio and in Missouri.
In actual practice, the Church storehouse often doubled as a retail business (for example, Whitney's store in Kirtland and Sidney Gilbert's store in Independence function in both capacities), selling goods to stewards who could afford to buy and || allocating goods at no cost to stewards who could not. Separate accounts were logged for goods sold for profit and goods given to the poor for which compensation was to be received. (pp.19-20)
Unfortunately, the numbers simply did not work out.
... the financial needs of the poor and the rapid growth of the Church exceeded the stewards' surplus consecrations, and placed demand on these businesses which ultimately resulted in their failure. (p.20) 
Especially the part of not getting the properties back after departure was challenged in court on March 1st, 1833, when a former member called Bates, originally from New London, Ohio, sued Bishop Partridge "for return of his consecrated properties" (p.20). The Missouri courts declared that it was "contrary to standards of fairness for the Mormon Church" to demand all property of their members (p.21).

Cook exhibits no surprise that the first round of implementation failed, and points to two main causes (p.21). First, there was something almost un-American, as the Missouri court also showed, about the way the consecration treated property.
... private accumulation and control of wealth was viewed by Americans as an essential guarantee of every citizen of the United States. (p.21)
Second, the skew in the numbers between poor and rich church members produced a leveling down rather than a leveling up effect;  as a result, there was not much surplus, because the farm steads were so small (p.21). Numerous sources estimate the farmsteads in Jackson County in the range of 20 to 30 acres (p.22). David Pettigrew's one-hundred and fifty-nine acres farm 6 miles west of Independence was divided 7 way, resulting in 23 acre inheritances (p.22).
Apparently managing the needs of a rapidly growing poor Mormon population into [sic!] Jackson County (about 1,200 in 1833) exceeded the bishop's financial capabilities. Clearly, the stewards consumed more than they produced, and new techniques to enhance productivity were either too expensive or totally unavailable on the frontier. (p.22)

Period Two

In reaction to the Bates lawsuit, the Prophet corresponded with Partridge to rectify the setup of the law of consecration (p.29). 
Private ownership of property was essential. (p.29)
Thus, on May 2nd, 1833, Smith Jr told Partridge to issue deeds for the inheritances (p.29), while at the same time receiving deeds for the consecrated surplus (p.30). In the new setup, only the consecrated surplus was non-refundable (p.30). Other problems remained.
Even though consecration was purely a voluntary act, there was always the question of whether or not the prospective steward was making a full disclosure of all possessions. The case of Ananias and Sapphira, mentioned in the New Testament [= Acts, RCK]was one that the early brethren had talked over many times. (p.30)
The Church leadership decided to emphasize the voluntary nature, and free the bishop from the burden of "very great particulars in taking inventories" (p.30), to take Sidney Rigdon's words. In order to police the balance between the steward and bishop, and external council, consisting of twelve elders, was needed, to which the bishop could not belong (p.31).

The impact of these changes is difficult to assess because it coincided with rising opposition of the Jackson County residents against the Mormons; July 20th, 1833, the Church printing press was destroyed, Bishop Partridge tarred and feathered, and the Church store was forced to close for business (p.31). With no support from the Missouri courts, the Saints fled into LaFayette and Clay county, leaving behind their inheritances (p.31). This raised the question, as Phelps put it in a letter to the Prophet on December 15th, 1833,
Should we lease, buy, or otherwise obtain land where we are, to till, that we may raise enough to eat? (p.33)
At this point, Joseph Smith Jr was not ready to sell either the consecrated properties (p.33), nor the Church store (p.34). But Smith Jr was willing to have Partridge issue deeds to those Saints who could not live on their properties anymore anyway (p.34).

The solution that the Kirtland authorities devised was Zion's Camp, which they gathered and marched against the Jackson County, Missouri, rabble (p.34). When they arrived, they were confronted with Governor Dunklin's pragmatic change of heart (p.35) that there was no realistic way to avoid a Civil War if the Mormons were re-instated into their property. So Zion's Camp could not but sit down and discuss compromises.

In this context, a revelation (D&C 105) clarified that even if the law of consecration was un-executable at present for Jackson County, the law was still in effect for any new land held in Western Missouri that the Saints were about to purchase (p.35). Thus the stewards began to purchase land anew, privately (p.35), holding the legal titles to their purchases (p.36). Given the privations, the expulsion from Jackson County, and the meager conditions of existence, it is not surprising that new consecrations came somewhat haltingly (p.36). Furthermore, the Church leadership, including the bishopric of Missouri, was distracted with the dedication of the Kirtland temple in 1834 (p.36). As a result, the implementation of consecration became even more difficult: the Mormons were living even more dispersed, and in July 1834 a Presidency was established in Missouri, that sub-ordinated Bishop Partridge, who was even less able to execute the system (p.36).

Nevertheless, some Mormons, such as Wilford Woodruf, submitted voluntarily to the law of consecration, seeing it as a covenant between themselves and God (p.37).
Be it known that I Wilford Woodruff do freely covenant with my God that I freely consecrate and dedicate myself together with all my properties and affects unto the Lord for the purpose of assisting in building up his kingdom even Zion on the earth that I may keep his law and lay all things before the bishop of his Church that I may be a lawful heir to the Kingdom of God even the Celestial Kingdom. The following is an inventory of my Property:

  • One Due Bill payable in one year: $20
  • One trunk and its contents, principly books: $18
  • Hat, Boots and clothing: $23
  • One valiece: $2.50
  • One english watch: $8.00 
  • One rifle and equipments: $9.00
  • One sword: $5
  • One pistol: $1.50
  • Also sundry articles: $3.00
  • And Notes which are doubtful and uncertain: $150.00
  • Total: $240.00 (p.37)
At the same time, the Church had given up implementing the law of consecration in Ohio (p.37). Nevertheless, the public notion that the Mormons practiced common stock ideas in the spirit of the Campbellites lingered into the Nauvoo era (p.37). 
Even so, members in Kirtland and vicinity (and in many other branches of the Church) manifested the true spirit of sacrifice and consecration by liberally giving money, labor and donations in kind (p.38). Often these donations were for the purchase of lands in Missouri; at other times for the poor, the construction of the Kirtland Temple, or the personal needs of the Prophet Joseph Smith and his family. Entries of such liberality, found in the Prophet's diary alone, not to mention scores of other sources, are numerous. (p.38)
[[Cook cites April 30th, 1834 as an example, but I cannot find the donation to the Prophet in that diary entry. There are some in the December 8th-9th, 1835, entries. RCK]]

On November 1834 Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith Jr covenanted with God to donate a tenth of their profits to the poor or other Church needs from their printing business (p.38). [[For the United Firm, see the discussion of the Literary Firm below. This makes ones worried though that Cook has no place for the United Firm in this discussion, which by November 1834 was already wound down and was the only reason that Cowdery and Smith Jr had any printing business to covenant about. RCK]]

The Church continued to insist on the rich sharing with the poor however, and on the inability to enter into their inheritance of eternal life unless offering their all in sacrifice (p.39). Thus, Preserved Harris, brother of Martin Harris, considered one of the rich, was disfellowshipped when found lacking in benevolence toward the poor and the church (p.39). In this context, Frederick G. Williams reminded them that the Church was poor and needed the help of the rich to build up Zion (p.39).

The Literary Firm

Organized sometimes in November of 1831, the Literary Firm was responsible for publication of Church literature, such as the revelations of the Prophet (p.43). The November 12th, 1831 meeting in Hiram, Ohio, made Joseph Smith Jr, Oliver Cowdery, Sidney Rigdon, John Whitmer and Martin Harris the members of the Literary Firm, to recompense them for their contributions to bringing to light these sacred things (p.43). Though they retained proximate access to the bishop, they were supposed to finance themselves from the publications in the near term, and procure surplus for the Church in the longer term (p.44). The main printing items were
  • the revelations
  • the New Translation of the Bible
  • the Church Hymnal
  • children's literature
  • Church newspapers
  • a Church almanac (p.44)
Soon after its formation, Phelps, an experienced newspaper editor, and Jesse Gause were added to the firm, until 1833, when Frederick G, Williams replaced Gause (p.44). Cook speculates that Martin Harris' contribution was financial, not related to contents, and that his appointment was due to his contribution to publishing the Book of Mormon in the first place (p.44). Phelps had obtained the press and the type in Cincinnati; Oliver Cowdery and John Whitmer left November 1831 for Missouri, taking manuscript copies for printing (p.44) the revelations with them (p.45). The initial issue of 10,000 was too expensive, and 3,000 unbound volumes were targeted instead (p.45). In February 1832, the prospectus for the Morning and Evening Star went out, and in July 1832 the first issue was printed under the signet of "W.W' Phelps & Co" (p.45). 

In March of 1832, the Church authorities organized the United Firm, a companion to the Literary Firm, that the United Firm was supposed to support (p.45). A revelation commanded the coordination of the firms in Ohio and Missouri, and the Prophet, Sidney Rigdon, Bishop Whitney and others travelled to Missouri to accomplish this in April of 1832 (p.45). In the process they brought the paper that the printers in Missouri needed (p.46). The meeting minutes from April 30th, 1832, show that the publication of the Revelations was the top priority (p.46). Though printing of the Book of Commandments had started in December 1832, by May 1833 the Evening and Morning Star had to apologize for the book stilling being finished (p.46). 

The destruction of the printing press on July 20th, 1834, did little to speed the project, but a new publishing location was setup seven weeks later in Kirtland (p.47). Already on August 2nd, 1834, a revelation had decreed that Kirtland should have its own Church printing offices for publishing the new Bible Translation (p.47), well before the difficulties in Missouri became known in Ohio. [[Cook does not report about the printing offices having briefly resided in the Peter French Inn. RCK]] Fredrick G. Williams was tapped to head the Kirtland printing establishment, which was not just to print the revelations and re-publish the Morning and Evening Star, but also bring out a new newspaper, the Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate (p.47). Oliver Cowdery went to New York in October 1833 and purchased another press and type at $800 (p.47). In November 1833, the members decided to add a political paper, The Northern Times, a pro-Andrew Jackson publication, to their roster (p.48). Other things intervened, and the Northern Times did not appear until February 1835, when it ran for over a year (p.48). 

In April 1834, a revelation gave Williams and Cowdery more control of the firm, and pinned Martin Harris on financing (p.48). The priority list was revamped---New Translation before Revelations before Book of Mormon---and appropriate copyrights were secured (p.48). Furthermore, the firm was to establish a "Sacred Treasury of the Lord", that would be a vault for both the sacred texts as well as for the burse with the company funds (p.48). Those moneys could only be spent by majority or revelation, and only for sacred or holy purposes. (p.49)

In October 1834, the first issue of the LDS Messenger & Advocate appeared, and in January 1835, the reprints from the Morning and Evening Star started. In May 1835, Whitmer and Phelps returned from Missouri to Kirtland. Whitmer took over the Messenger & Advocate, while Phelps helped with the revelations and then with the hymnal (p.49). By September 1835, the first copies (bound in Cleveland) were for sale at $1; by February 1836 the Hymnal was published (p.49). 

With three papers and the expensive revelations in print, the firm quickly fell into financial difficulties. Already in 1834, the Prophet had expressed his concern about the situation (p.49). September 16th, 1835, Samuel H. Smith and David Whitmer were appointed subscription agents, and together with a $600 loan in October 1835 the Literary Firm was able to avert collapse. Since the book binding had cost a bundle, the firm decided to do the binding itself (p.50) and again Cowdery went to purchase equipment (p.50).

But by 1836, the firm had run its course. After the dedication of the Kirtland Temple, Phelps and John Whitmer were discharged of their duties toward the Firm and returned to their families in Missouri (p.50). Williams withdrew in June 1836, leaving the firm to continue as "Oliver Cowdery & Co", under which title it re-issued the Book of Mormon. In February 1837, Cowdery sold his take to Smith and Rigdon (p.50), who however were financially unable to continue it much longer. May 1837 they sold it--the office, the bookbindery and contents---to William Marks with contractual rights to rent or lease the equipment (p.50). In October and November 1837, two issues of a new paper, called the Elders' Journal, edited by Joseph Smith Jr with Thomas B. Marsh as the publisher, appeared, but the Far West trip of Joseph's in November 1837 and the complete departure from Kirtland in January 1838 prevented any more numbers from appearing (p.50). 

In March of 1838, once Joseph Smith Jr arrived in Far West, there was interest to revive the Elders' Journal. Phelps and John Whitmer had obtained press and type in Ohio through the services of Elisha H. Groves, namely the press of the defunct Literary Firm (p.51). Cowdery swapped the promissory notes from his sell-out in February 1837 for the press and type, and the equipment was shipped by water from Ohio to Missouri in spring of 1837 (p.51). Phelps and Whitmer wanted to run a newspaper in Far West, to begin appearing in January 1838, but their excommunication in March of 1838 stopped that project. The Church leadership bought out press and type and summoned Thomas B Marsh to produce more numbers of the Elders' Journal, but only two more issues, July and August 1838, appeared (p.51).

Thus ended the Literary Firm (p.51), but not the history of its printing equipment. Cook writes (p.55, Fn 46)
Before the war of expulsion against the Mormons in Missouri, in the fall of 1838, the Church press and type were boxed and buried near Far West at night to prevent their being destroyed. In the spring of 1839, the printing equipment was dug up and hauled to Nauvoo, where it was used to print the Times and Seasons. (p.55 Fn 46)

The United Firm

Cook provides what is arguably the best one paragraph summary of the United Firm:
The United Firm (also known as the "United Order" or the "Order of Enoch") was a business partnership organized in Kirtland, Ohio, on the 1st of March, 1832. Its membership consisted of a handful of Church leaders, never exceeding twelve in number. Capital for this enterprise derived form loans which were secured by the assets of members of the firm who were either landowners [e.g. Frederick G. Williams] or merchants [e.g. Newel K. Whitney] residing the Kirtland area. The purpose of this partnership was to consolidate the financial resources and organizational talents available to these men in order to generate profits which could be used for personal living expenses as well as the economic needs of the Church. (p.57)
The egalitarian partnership for the temporal "salvation" of these Church leaders was formed by revelation (= D&C 78) on March 1st, 1832.
The organization became official and legal when members signed contractual covenants and drafted and signed a "bond" guaranteeing the payment of certain sums at stipulated times and pledging the income of certain aspects of the business. (p.57) 
Members of the partnership were to live the law of consecration and stewardship in that they consecrated their lands and businesses as well as their time and skills for the common good of the firm. And each was appointed a stewardship ("his portion"). (p.58) 
Cook then makes it clear that the implementation of the law of consecration was the task of the bishop, not of the United Firm.
Inasmuch as the members of the partnership were also presiding Church leaders, it is difficult to determine which of their financial transactions were purely personal and which were purely ecclesiastical. (p.58)
But the point still stands:
The United Firm was essentially a private business concern. (p.58)
The founding members were Joseph Smith Jr, Sidney Rigdon and Newel K. Whitney. On April 1st, 1832, these three, together with the Prophet's new counselor Jesse Gause, travelled to Missouri, where on April 26th, 1832, they decided to form a Missouri branch as well, and upgraded the membership with Ohioan Gause as well as the then in Missouri residing Church leaders Partridge, Cowdery, Phelps, Sidney Gilbert, and John Whitmer (p.58). In a follow-up meeting on April 27th, 1832 (p.59), they decided to operate as Gilbert, Whitney & Co in Missouri and as Newel K. Whitney & Co in Ohio (p.59). Phelps and Gilbert were to draft the bond for the firm's members (p.59). On April 30th, 1832, in their final joint meeting, regular power of attorney was vested in Gilbert and Whitney respectively. Furthermore, the Ohio branch was tasked with negotiating a capital loan of $15,000 with a maturation time of no less than five years. (p.59)

While Whitney worked to line up the credit and purchase goods for the store for resale, Jesse Gause was dropped due to his excommunication in December 1832 and replaced with one of Joseph's scribes since July 1832, Frederick G. Williams,  who also owned "nearly one hundred fifty acres of prime Kirtland real estate" (p.59). Cook observes,
His [i.e. Frederick G. Williams] financial contribution to the Firm as well as to the Church in || general cannot be overstated. (pp.59-60)
The elevation to partner took place March 15th, 1833. Two months later, John Johnson, one of the largest landholders of the Saints, who had recently moved from Hiram, Ohio, to Kirtland [he had hosted the Smith family there, RCK], was added to the company (p.60). At the same time, Whitney was instructed to take charge of the Peter French farm, one of the Firm's holdings (p.60). Finally, Martin Harris was added, probably due to the overlap between the Literary and the United Firm's intentions (p.60).

Again, Cook gives one of his pithy and precise paragraph-length summaries of difficult developments (p.60).
Other details concerning the operation and management of the United Firm for the next years are sketchy at best. Even so, it is clear that large amounts of money were borrowed, much if not all of it from New York creditors, to amply stock the company's stores in Kirtland and in Independence, to acquire farming and residential properties in the Kirtland area, to operate and maintain a brickyard, a tannery, and an ashery in Kirtland, and, where possible, to assist the Literary Firm. These expenditures plus the normal living expenses of the members themselves, not to mention the principal and interest of the notes, were considerable. The combined proceeds from the Firm's multiple enterprises, unfortunately, were insufficient to offset the overall operating costs of the business, and by late 1833 the company was in serious financial difficulties. (p.60)
[[The main criticism with this great paragraph is that it makes unclear how many of these objects had already been in private ownership before, such as the Kirtland store of Whitney and Gilbert or the ashery, as well as the farm real estate of Williams and Johnson. RCK]]

Cook is kind enough to point out that there were unforeseen difficulties, such as a lawsuit of Doctor Philastus Hurlbut against Hyrum Smith involving property the Firm managed, or the destruction of the printing press and the closure of the Independence store (p.61).
This waste of company assets and interruption of regular business assured that the Firm would be unable to repay its notes on time. (p.61)
Given their desperate financial situation in January of 1834, the Firm decided to ask the Church for help, and in the process of the February 1834 recruiting drive for Zion's Camp and relief for the members in Missouri and Kirtland, looking to raise $2,000 for the United Firm conceptualized as "the present relief of Kirtland" (p.61). Continuing to wait for a miracle until the very last (p.62), the end had come in Spring of 1834.
However, on the 23rd of April [1834, RCK], when all possibilities of obtaining the necessary money were exhausted, the United Firm was dissolved and divided, and a revelation was received which confirmed these decisions. Obviously, this breakup of the company did not immediately absolve the partners from repaying loans to the creditors, but it did allow the members to operate and manage their own stewardships privately and independently of the United Firm's administrative canopy. (p.62) 
The dissolution of the firm required also that the internal accounts, i.e. debts of the United Firm against its members, be equalized, as the Prophet requested (p.62). The document of that division survives and is quoted in full by Cook (pp.62-63):
Amt. of Balances due from the following persons the 23 day of Apl 1834 at which time Joseph said it was the will of the Lord the accounts v.s. [against] those persons should be balanced (up to the above date) in full without any value recd; amts as follows Viz

  • Balance ... F.G. Williams & Co ...:  $584.14
  • Balance ... Joseph Smith Jr ...: $1151.31
  • Balance ... Oliver Cowdery ...: $68.57
  • Balance ... Sidney Rigdon ...: $777.98
  • Balance ... F.G. Williams ...: $485.67
  • Balance ... Jno. Johnson ...: $567.68
  • Total: $3,635.35 (pp.62-63)
The division of the United Firm is reflected in D&C 104. Again, Cook gives a pithy summary of the dispositions.
  1. Sidney Rigdon was to have his residence and lot as well as the tannery.
  2. Martin Harris was to have a lot that John Johnson received in partial exchange for his (Johnson's) "farm".
  3. Frederick G. Williams was to have his residence and lot.
  4. Oliver Cowdery was to have both lot which adjoined the printing office and the lot where his father resided. 
  5. Oliver Cowdery and Frederick G. Williams were to have the printing office and accessories.
  6. John Johnson was to have his residence and lot and all of the French farm, except the lots which were reserved for the temple and the lots which were reserved for Oliver Cowdery.
  7. Newel K Whitney was to have his residence and lot, the store and lot, the lot located on the corner south of the store, and the lot where the ashery was located.
  8. Joseph Smith was to have the lot where the temple was to be built (40 rods long and 12 rods wide) plus the farm where his father resided. (p.63)
The distribution of the firm's holdings in Missouri and the stewardships for the Missouri members were left open by the revelation (p.64). However, in order to maintain the unity of the brethren, another attempt at installing a "treasury" was undertaken (p.64), with a treasurer keeping all their surplus money safe and the contents being dispenses by majority vote.

The creditors still had to be paid, so the owners individually wrote to them for more time (p.64). A separate revelation also allowed them to take up new credit, giving their properties as collateral, to pay off the old credit (p.64). On April 28th, 1834, a final revelation was received, separating the Kirtland from the Missouri firm, but debiting the Missouri branch for $3,000 to the benefit of the Kirtland branch for "inheritances in due time" (p.65).

By 1835, when it became time to publish the United Firm revelations 78, 82, 92, 96 and 104 as part of the Book of Commandments, not all of the notes had been paid and it became opportune to obfuscate the properties and their ownership in the publication (p.65). 
These revelations, received specifically for the Firm, contained important gospel principles and teachings about consecration. Therefore, it was agreed that coded or fictitious names be substituted for the partner's real names. Also it was thought best to alter the name of the United Firm to read "United Order" or "Order of Enoch". "Order" sounded like a religious fraternity and was void of any business connotations. (p.65)
The name substitution was not applied to the excommunicated Jesse Gause, though his name was replace with the name of Martin Harris in revelation D&C 82 and with another's in D&C 81. However, this recoding had the effect that Mormons as early as the 1850s (p.65) began to confuse the law of consecration with the United Order or the Order of Enoch (p.66).

Cook also provides a decoding table for the older editions of the relevant revelations (p.60):

  • Joseph Smith Jr == Enoch, Gazelam
  • Sidney Rigdon == Pelagoram
  • Oliver Cowdery == Olihah
  • Newel K Whitney == Ahashdah
  • Edward Partridge == Alam
  • A. Sidney Gilbert == Mahalaleel
  • John Whitemer == Horah
  • William W. Phelps == Shalemanasseh
  • Ferderick G. Williams == Shederlaomach
  • John Johnson == Zombre
  • Martin Harris == Mahemson
  • Jesse Gause (name deleted from revelation)

Period Three

With yet another pithy paragraph, Cook sets the stage for the the 1836 developments in Ohio.
Indebtedness plagues Church leaders in Ohio. What with the rapid increase of membership, constant travel to regulate Church branches, the purchase and development of several properties (including the temple), and the purchase an/or operation of many business enterprises, meager member donations were quickly spent. From the pulpit, the Prophet Joseph Smith and other Church leaders urgently requested the Saints to make additional sacrifices and liberally donate or consecrate their possessions to the Church. (p.71)
In December 1836, the Church decided that it was up to the branches who were sending their poor to Kirtland to provide for them (p.71). At the April Conference in Kirtland in 1837, the pecuniary embarrassment of the Church led to another round of appeals and exhortations (p.72). In their mid-1837 letter to the many branches of the Church, Bishop Whitney and his counsellors, Reynolds Cahoon and Vinson Knight, enumerated the reasons for the enormous expenditures.
These included the "building the House of the Lord", publishing "the word of the Lord," and financial assistance to a "large number of poor". (p.72)
... by and large voluntary offerings still remained irregular and insufficient. This was not necessarily due to selfishness or disobedience on the part of the members. Instead, it most cases, it reflected the depressed economic conditions of the time. (p.72).  
The "extreme shortages of money" and inadequate "loan services" tempted the Mormons into starting a bank at Kirtland in 1837, but the timing could not have been worse (p.72).
Ultimately, the Prophet Joseph Smith decided to abandon Kirtland as a headquarters for the Church. He and his family moved to Far West, Missouri, in the early months of 1838. During the remainder of that year thousands of Latter-Day Saints did likewise. (p.72)
By 1837, the Church leadership in Missouri was basically broke. Bishop Partridge had taken out a loan (p.75) of $1,000 at 10% to pursue the lawsuits against the Jackson County mob, and needed to be reimbursed, having a large family and no income (p.75). In this context the Church decided to switch to an approach of tithing, with an annual inventory assessment, a 2% contribution, and exemptions for everyone who fell below the $75 threshold (p.75). The system did not last long, and with Joseph Smith's arrival in Far West, around April & May 1838 (p.76), the old approach to consecration, including a storehouse, under the auspices of the bishop were restored (p.77). The result was the revelation (= D&C 119) on tithing, which encompassed a wide form of consecration (p.77).

Even though people continued to consecrate willingly (p.79), the financial pressures caused by the influx of Mormons did not subside.
By the following month, August 1838, as many as 30 wagons of poor Mormon families were arriving daily in the city. The rapidly growing settlement was living wholly by || subsistence agriculture and subsistence crafts. With extremely limited credit opportunities and little capital, impossible demands were placed on the Church funds and private resources. (p.80)
The economic situation in Far West was so dire, that cooperatives were formed that operated on food bartering schemes (p.80). But even with intense cooperation, the brethren could not build more than a house a day (p.81), and they were constantly distracted by the Missouri mobs in September 1838 (p.81). Food was so expensive the Prophet called for the consecration of beef, corn and firewood (p.81); but the absence of wholesale markets made the food so expensive.
Per || bushel, corn was 20 cents, beans $1, wheat 88 cents, potatoes 31 cents, and apples 75 cents. Butter was 12 cents per pound, butter 7 cents, beef from 2-4 cents, and pork 3-4 cents. Soap was exorbitant at 19 cents per pound. Salt cost from 12-13 cents per quart, and firewood $2 per cord. Clothing cost almost twice as much as it did in the East. (pp.81-82)
Then in October and November 1838, sixty members of the Mormon leadership were arrested, and the Governor ordered the Mormons to leave the state (p.82). The Mormons, once again poorer than before, migrated into Illinois (p.82).

Period Four

When the Mormon Prophet escaped from jail in April 1839, and rejoined the waiting Mormons in Quincy, Illinois, he "negotiated the purchase of thousands of acres of land upon which the Saints could settle in the nauvoo and lee County, Iowa Territory" (p.87). Yet this was private property ownership: "Members held title to their lands in fee simple." (p.87) This was important to Joseph Smith Jr, who publicized this fact repeatedly on his trip to see President Van Buren in Washington, DC, in 1839-1840 (p.87).

Back in Nauvoo, the Prophet put the bishops back in charge of the poor (p.87), instead of committees (p.88); in October 1839, Partridge, Whitney and Vinson Knight were called; and after Partridge's death in May 1840, George Miller was appointed to replace Partridge in January 1841 (p.88). Given the complex financial situation, considering how much the members in Missouri had lost (p.88), Joseph Smith Jr refused to get settled on the question of how much the members should give (p.89).
The question of how much should be required did not exemplify the true spirit of charity and implied limits of responsibility; it assumed that some prescribed quantity of money, property, or service could release (temporarily or indefinitely) a Mormon from further obligation to  his religion or to his fellowman. (p.89)
 Joseph Smith Jr considered to encourage voluntary donations from the pulpit and by general epistles. 
To accommodate the receipt of these contributions in Nauvoo, Joseph Smith opened the Recorder's Office every Saturday to receive the Saints' "tithings" (cash donations) and "consecrations" (property donations). (p.90)
But Smith also went other routes, rolling the program of consecration directly into the Melchizedek Priesthood as a higher covenant with God.
The sacred ritual which encompassed these covenants and ordinances was known as the ancient order of the priesthood or temple endowment. As it related to economics, and impressive, explicit covenant of consecration became an integral part of the higher order of the Melchizedek Priesthood. For those chosen to participate in this sacred ceremony, the covenant of consecration became a vital part of the process by which they could become joint heirs with Christ in receiving the powers, knowledge and glory of the Father. (p.90) 
This approach strikes Cook as the most appropriate solution to the problem (p.92).
By living faithful to all of his temple covenants the steward would, in the resurrection, inherit the highest degree of God's glory. This then was the last, and perhaps the most lofty, phase of consecration outlined by Joseph Smith. It elevated the concept of consecration from the agrarianism and legalism of Western Missouri to the free agency and deep spiritual commitment of a mature, endowed steward. (p.92)
And in his summary, Cook adds:
Even so, it is obvious that Joseph Smith came to realize that freedom of economic activity was vital to the success of any consecration program, and that, regardless of the nature of the covenants of consecration, agency in determining how that consecration was accomplished had to be an individual matter. (p.93)
In 1831, Church leaders reasoned that rigid managerial control was necessary for the success of the law of consecration and stewardship. By 1844, Joseph Smith believed that spiritual commitment and love were higher expressions of consecration than land deeds and legal stewardship agreements. In Missouri, signed documents were required as proof of inner spiritual commitment. At Nauvoo the verbal covenants of the faithful were sufficient. Both anticipated a total commitment of a member's resources. (p.93) 

Bibliographical Record

Lyndon W. Cook, Joseph Smith and the Law of Consecration, Provo, UT (Grandin), 1985.

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