Page images

new Zion, so also in the United Order plan, there is considerable evidence of breadth of view; and what is still more important, one observes no small understanding of human nature.


That Joseph Smith was informed concerning current socialistic and communistic experiments, there can be no doubt.

As a young man Joseph Smith worked at Harmony, Pennsylvania,1 the town which the Rappites first established in 1803, and where they prospered for eleven years before selling out in 1814 and removing to New Harmony, Indiana, where they succeeded as before. It was in Harmony, Pennsylvania, that Joseph Smith became acquainted with, and married, Emma Hale. She no doubt, knew the history of the Rappites. It was here, also, in the house of Emma Hale's father, that a part of the Book of Mormon is purported to have been translated. These same Rappites, after selling out New Harmony, Indiana, to Robert Owen, in 1825, established another successful communistic community at Economy, Ohio. So successful were they that in 1832 they were able to raise $105,000 in cash, within nine months, in order to buy out the holdings of Muller and his associates. Down to the present day they have maintained on the whole, a prosperous, though small community at this place

The Shaker communities, beginning with Waterliet, N. Y., in 1774, had gradually increased to eighteen by 1830. These were scattered through New York, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, Connecticut, Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana-country which was well known to Joseph Smith. These celebrated communists with agriculture as a basic industry, were the oldest, and in some ways, the most successful, of all practical communists. While they did not become wealthy, they thrived."

The Society of Separatists, at Zoar, Ohio, a German community, established themselves in 1817, but did not become communists until 1819. They forbade marriage until 1828, after which it was gradually introduced. In communism they slowly prospered. In 1874 they numbered 300 members and their property was worth $1,000,000. The community organization was abandoned Sept. 20, 1898, and the property divided, each in

1 Joseph and Heman Smith, Church History (Lamoni, Ia., 1897), vol. 1, p. 17. 2 Ibid., p. 19.

3 Ibid, p. 23.

4 Nordhoff, Communistic Societies of the United States (New York, 1895), op. 77-80.

6 Hinds, American Communities (Chicago, 1908), pp. 75-83.

6 Nordhoff, op. cit., pp. 117-132.

dividual receiving sufficient to place him in circumstances of comparative comfort.1

But it was the visit of Robert Owen, the English socialist and philanthropist, to the United States, in 1824, that first attracted the attention of the nation and imbued with fire and spirit plans for reform. Owen came not only with a message, but with money. He purchased the Rappite town of New Harmony, Indiana, in 1825. In the course of his extended travels he delivered addresses in the Hall of Representatives before most distinguished audiences consisting of the President, the Judges of the Supreme Court and practically the full membership of both houses. The public press gave him much attention. He engaged in debate. His ideas spread everywhere. Communities sprang up in many places; some of them being in Ohio. Communism, not with a religious basis, had for the first time a national hearing. The year 1827 is said to represent the peak of Owenism. In the years immediately following all the attempts to establish communities under the direct influence of Owen met with failure.1 The New Harmony community, which received the personal attention (somewhat interrupted, it is true) of Owen, encountered numerous difficulties and seemed destined to failure from the beginning. But while the experiments did not succeed, the impetus of the movement was such that its influence was felt long after."

More immediately connected with the early Mormon movement were the efforts in communistic life of Sidney Rigdon's followers in Kirtland, Ohio. Having separated from the Baptist Church in which he had been a successful pastor at Pittsburg, Sidney Rigdon became a tanner, at which work he labored for two years. In 1826 he made his home in Bainbridge, Ohio. Here the people, knowing that he had been a preacher and an excellent speaker, invited him to speak, which he did. This marks the beginning of a labor which gradually grew until it included a number of towns covering considerable territory. Large congregations listened to him in the open air after the crowds became too large for the churches of these frontier communities. Mentor, Ohio, a small, but rich, thriving place, he made his home,

1 Hinds' op.cit., pp. 120, 130.

2 G. B. Lockwood, The New Harmony Communities (Marion, Ind., 1902), p. 87. 3 E. E. Erickson, The Psychological and Ethical Aspects of Mormon Group Life (Chicago, 1922), p. 17.

4H. A. James, Communism in America (New York, 1879), pp. 15-16.

5 Groat, in his Introduction to Organized Labor in America (New York, 1916), pp. 25-26, says, concerning the influence of these movements: "Owen brought a message of universal brotherhood and preached it with great earnestness. Fourerism added to the strength of the current movement and led to the two notable experiments: New Harmony established under the immediate direction of Owen, and Brook Farm, an experiment more directly connected with the teachings of Fourier. In addition to these two, there were during the years that immediately followed, probably no less than two hundred other settlements in different parts of the country. None of them proved to be long lived. Their influence, however, was more enduring, continuing for a quarter of a century or more.'

and grew in favor with the people. At Kirtland, Ohio, a few miles distant a small group of his followers lived as a family and had "all things in common."

It was at this time, 1830, that Parley P. Pratt, Oliver Cowdery, Peter Whitmer, and Ziba Peterson, while on their way to Missouri, stopped for a short time in Mr. Rigdon's vicinity. He received them kindly, having previously known, Parley P. Pratt, and allowed them to preach to his congregation. He also invited them to stay at his home. They presented him with a Book of Mormon which he proceeded to read. In the meantime they preached to the communists at Kirtland. Most of the_group became converted and seventeen were baptized. At first Rigdon was displeased, but a few days later he himself, and also his wife, joined the church. Having established a small branch of twenty members, the elders continued their journey to Missouri.1 By February, 1831, about one thousand "saints" had "gathered" to Kirtland to make their homes. During this time the little "family" group continued their "common stock" plan. Joseph Smith, now at Kirtland, prevailed on them to abandon it in favor of the United Order. To quote his own words "The plan of 'common stock' which had existed in what was called 'the family' whose members generally had embraced the everlasting gospel, was readily abandoned for the more perfect law of the Lord."2

The church plan is neither joint stock nor communistic, as will appear more fully later. It appears rather unwarranted, therefore, to infer, as many have done, that Joseph Smith borrowed it from Sidney Rigdon's experiment. Joseph Smith could not have helped being informed, years previously, about many of the communistic efforts that were being made. That in the large, they impressed his fertile mind, that the sweeping movement of Owenism stirred him, that the Rigdon "family' may have been the immediate situation which made the problem eminent, would be more logical deductions. Social events, like men, are not often born out of their time.

Under such conditions, then, when ideas of social reform were rife, when a great communistic, non-religious movement was sweeping the country, when religious communistic socieities were practically demonstrating that success could attend their systems, Joseph Smith, almost on the crest of the wave, stepped forward and presented to his people what he claimed to be a revelation from God concerning their temporal affairs.*

1 Times and Seasons (Nauvoo, Ill., 1839-46), vol. 4, p. 172.

2 Ibid., vol. 4, p. 368.

3 cf. I. W. Riley, The Founder of Mormonism (New York, 1902), pp. 307, 314. 4 Other well-known efforts to organize society, such as the Fourier movement, the Sunny Brook Farm Experiment, the Oneida community, the Icarians, the Aurora and Bethal communes, etc., came somewhat later than the period 1831-34, and could not, therefore, have influenced Joseph Smith.







In any organized effort able leadership is a primary necessity; in a community undertaking involving the changes that the United Order requires no one thing is, perhaps, quite so important. The men specifically mentioned in the July, 1831, revelation are Edward Partridge, Sidney Gilbert, Oliver Cowdery, and W. W. Phelps. To this number were soon added John Whitmer, Martin Harris, Isaac Morley, and John Corrill. These men were members of two governing bodies: a council, or committee of Seven High Priests, and a Bishopric of three members. The Seven High Priests were: Oliver Cowdery, John Whitmer, W. W. Phelps, Sidney Gilbert, Edward Partridge, Isaac Morley and John Corrill. The last three named also constituted the Bishopric.* They were, therefore, members of both bodies. There are a number of reasons why Bishop Partridge, with the help of his two counsellors, Isaac Morley and John Corrill, came to occupy an important place in the affairs of Independence. By right of his bishopric he presided over public meetings. His duty it was to care for the poor who were many. The receiving of consecrations of property and the dividing of inheritances were most vital matters in which all were interested; and this work was the bishop's special calling. On the other hand, the Council of "Seven High Priests sent up from Kirtland" had imposed upon them the general task of "building up Zion." Under the rather poor leadership of Oliver Cowdery, this body of men did not function very satisfactorily. While it was their special duty to develop policies, promote harmony, and exercise general control they accomplished but little in any of these lines. Instead, a considerable amount of ill-will and dissatisfaction maintained among them during almost all of the Independence period.5

1 Doctrine and Covenants, Sec. 57, passim.

2 In addition to these men, ten High Priests were appointed on April 11, 1833, to "watch over" the ten branches of the Church in Zion. But since the process of expulsion was already under way these men had practically no part as leaders in directing the United Order effort. See Times and Seasons, vol. 5, p. 850.

3 Millenial Star (Manchester, later Liverpool, England, 1840-1923), vol. 14, p. 387. 4 Corrill, Brief History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (St. Louis, 1839) pp. 17-18.

5 See chapter on Diffic ities Within.

As individuals, however, they accomplished good work in the particular fields assigned to them. Sidney Gilbert, an able business man, was chosen to keep the Lord's Store House, to establish a store, and to act as agent in purchasing land.1 John Whitmer was appointed historian for the church. W. W. Phelps became the church printer, whose duty it was to issue the Evening and Morning Star, the Book of Commandments, and other church literature.3 Oliver Cowdery was appointed assistant printer.* Bishop Partridge and his counselors were to be fathers to the people in spiritual as well as in temporal things, having the special duty, as already indicated, of bringing out a property re-distribution.

In April, 1832, a third body of control, the Central Council, was organized. Joseph Smith, Newel K. Whitney, Sidney Rigdon, Oliver Cowdery, and Martin Harris were members of this board. They were "to manage the affairs of the poor, and all things pertaining to the Bishopric, both in the land of Zion and the land of Shinehah (Kirtland)". The first three named of this group, lived at Kirtland, Ohio, while the last two lived in Independence. This arrangement gave Kirtland the chairman and the majority of the board and thus made it possible to function with the help of letters without bringing all the members together for every decision that had to be made. Such practical matters obviously had to be given consideration, for the journey between these two Church centers was about one thousand miles, and the method of travel was slow. But the Independence leaders were disappointed in seeing the control of this central body, and with it the general control of the Order, go to Kirtland. Some effort was made to get Joseph Smith to move to Independence, but he was not willing to do so at that time. Soon after the organization of this board, the United Firm was established. Inquiry into the nature and operation of this firm will be reserved for the chapter on Special Undertakings.

Of the new men who were added to the groups of leaders by the creation of the Central Board, Newel K. Whitney was, from every business point of view, the ablest. Of agreeable and pleasant disposition and of proved business ability, he added strength and stability to the board. It is said of him that he seldom found himself on the wrong side of the market, and that he always preferred to pay a debt rather than contract one. Sidney Rigdon was not primarily a business man, but he was a man of ideas and of idealism, and was a strong convert to a program

1 Doctrine and Covenants, sec. 57:6, 8-9.

2 Ibid., Sec. 47:1-4.

3..Ibid., Sec. 57:11-12.

4 Ibid., Sec. 57:13.

5 lbid., Sec. 82:12.

« PreviousContinue »