“United Firm (‘United Order’),” Church History Topics
“United Firm (‘United Order’)”
The United Firm was an administrative organization that oversaw the expenditure of Church funds between 1832 and 1834. In March 1832, the Lord commanded Joseph Smith to establish this organization in order to coordinate “the Literary and Merchantile establishments” of the Church in both Ohio and Missouri.1 Joseph convened a council of high priests in April 1832 in Missouri for this purpose. At the council, Joseph received another revelation indicating that he, Sidney Rigdon, Newel K. Whitney, Edward Partridge, Sidney Gilbert, John Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery, William W. Phelps, and Martin Harris would be part of the organization. The revelation further explained that these men could use a portion of the collected funds for their own necessities, and any remaining funds would be used for Church purposes. They were responsible for the firm’s debts.
The nine men appointed to the United Firm each had a specific stewardship. Six were “stewards over the revelations” (a group that became known as the “Literary Firm”) and oversaw the Church’s publishing operations. Partridge and Whitney were the two bishops in the Church, and Gilbert was an agent to Partridge. Together, these three managed Church storehouses in Ohio and Missouri. In 1833, two additional members—Frederick G. Williams and John Johnson—were added to the firm, both by revelation. Williams, a member of the Church’s governing presidency, had large landholdings in Ohio, as did Johnson. Their holdings became resources of the United Firm.
For two years, much of the Church’s business was done through the United Firm, including the purchase of property on which the House of the Lord in Kirtland would be constructed. When the Saints were driven from Jackson County, Missouri, in fall 1833, the Church lost two vital components of the firm: Phelps’s printing office and Gilbert’s storehouse. In addition, the United Firm had debts from the purchase of goods for the storehouses, a new printing press in Kirtland, and land for Kirtland’s development. On April 10, 1834, members of the United Firm in Kirtland decided to dissolve the organization and a few weeks later the United Firm ceased to function. The Kirtland high council, formed in February 1834, assumed the role of governing the Church’s mercantile and publishing efforts.
In some editions of the Doctrine and Covenants, the “United Firm” was called the “United Order,” and code names were inserted in the place of the members’ names. In addition, language about the firm’s purpose was changed so that it referred more generically to caring for the poor. This was done to protect the identity of the firm’s members and to keep its purposes confidential. The names of the individuals were restored to the Doctrine and Covenants in the 1980s, but the word order is still used instead of firm in sections 78, 82, 92, 96, and 104. This has led some to confuse the firm with the united order, a system for living the law of consecration established later by Brigham Young in Utah.
Related Topics: Doctrine and Covenants