“Chapter Thirty-One: The Quest for Self-Sufficiency,” Church History in the Fulness of Times Student Manual (2003), 393–405
“Chapter Thirty-One,” Church History in the Fulness of Times, 393–405
After the Civil War, Church leaders recognized more than ever before the wisdom of being self-sufficient and the strength this would give the Saints both economically and spiritually. This was especially true with the arrival of the transcontinental railroad, which eliminated Utah’s isolation. Several measures were taken at this time to establish the Church’s independence from contaminating worldly influences.
Because he saw it as a great aid in making it easier for immigrants to reach the Great Basin, Brigham Young had encouraged a railroad as early as the 1850s. Leading public officials outside the Church also wanted the “iron horse” running through the Utah Territory, not only because of the wealth that they could accrue from this but also because they were confident that when the transcontinental railway reached Utah, the Church would collapse. Their confidence was based on an erroneous belief that Brigham Young was an evil dictator who held his people in captive subjection. Therefore, they reasoned that when the railroad came it would allow the oppressed Latter-day Saints a convenient means of fleeing to the freedom of the East—even though one of them acknowledged that President Young, upon learning of this idea, remarked that his religion “must, indeed, be a poor religion, if it cannot stand one railroad.”1
Little did the nation’s leaders know that Brigham Young and his followers waited with anticipation and enthusiasm as workers laid track at a frantic pace. Church members, however, were not unaware, because of their experiences in the East, that potential problems were not just shadows lurking in the rails and ties being laid from both ends of the continent to rendezvous at Promontory Summit, Utah.
Realizing that the railroad would bring more non-Mormons to the territory, Brigham Young reorganized the School of the Prophets, promoted cooperatives, and revitalized the Church’s auxiliaries. To help strengthen the brethren in doctrine and policies of the Church, the School of the Prophets was instituted as early as 1867. President Young wanted the brethren to help him make economic decisions that would promote home industry and cooperative enterprises so that the Saints could maintain a degree of financial independence. The school was also intended to purify Church meetings and minimize the promulgation of false doctrines.2
In addition to Salt Lake City, the School of the Prophets was also organized in Logan, Ogden, Brigham City, Provo, Parowan, and other principal settlements. Brigham Young sought a self-sufficient economy and encouraged Church members through this organization to purchase goods from their fellow Saints. Home industry was also stressed, which meant that Church members manufactured their own clothes, produced their own food, and constructed their own iron works. They also produced their own silk, cotton, and flax. They dug their own coal and even manufactured their own paper, some of which was made from rags.
Other activities of the School of the Prophets included raising funds for the Perpetual Emigrating Fund, instituting a mercantile boycott of merchants who opposed the Church, establishing the Provo Woolen Mills, reducing wages for Utah workers to make the prices of Utah manufactured goods more competitive with goods that would now be shipped from the East, and finally promoting the construction of the railroad from Salt Lake City to Ogden.
The School of the Prophets also motivated Church members to clean up their homes, yards, and public thoroughfares. Honesty, personal cleanliness, and neatness were stressed so that Zion’s people would indeed be a light to the world. While the Saints made their economy more secure, their personal property more tidy, and their lives more Christlike, the railroad began to penetrate the mountains that surrounded them.
In 1868 Brigham Young, on behalf of the School of the Prophets, signed a contract with Union Pacific officials to build the railroad from the head of Echo Canyon to Salt Lake City if the route came that way, or from the canyon to Ogden if that was the route chosen. The School of the Prophets considered such a contract advantageous for several reasons. First, it would avoid the troubles that always followed the railroad camps. The morality of the community was threatened by gamblers, prostitutes, and ruffians who followed the railroad to take advantage of the laborers and their earnings. Second, “it would insure that the income earned under the contract would go to the church and its members.” Third, it would “minimize an influx of undesirable ‘outsiders’ by deflating the reports on Utah’s mineral wealth, thus diminishing the prospect of a rush of miners to Utah.” And fourth, it would supply much needed employment for Latter-day Saints.3
Prominent Church members, including Elder Ezra T. Benson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Bishop Chauncy West, and Ogden Stake president Lorin Farr, also signed contracts to build two hundred miles of track east from Humboldt Wells, Nevada, to Ogden, Utah. Thus hundreds of the territory’s residents secured jobs. When the Union Pacific reached Ogden on 8 March 1869, the citizens celebrated and greeted the workmen with many banners, one of which read, “HAIL TO THE HIGHWAY OF NATIONS! UTAH BIDS YOU WELCOME!”4
It was 10 May 1869 when the two rail lines met at Promontory Summit, fifty-three miles northwest of Ogden, Utah. The last tie laid was made of California laurel wood with an inscription on a silver plate celebrating this great event in the nation’s history. At 12:47 p.m., using sledge hammers, both Leland Stanford, president of the Central Pacific, and Thomas C. Durant, vice president of the Union Pacific, swung and missed hitting an iron spike. Still, the telegraph wires sent the message to U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant that the last spike had been driven while two construction supervisors completed the task. Guns were fired in San Francisco, and the rest of the nation joined in the rejoicing of this historic event.5 Brigham Young was on an extended visit to the Saints in the southern part of the territory and missed the celebration.
In an effort to further improve transportation within the territory and to provide employment for Church members, the First Presidency, with the help of ward bishops and territorial surveyor Jesse W. Fox, began plans for the Utah Central Railroad that would connect Salt Lake City with the transcontinental line at Ogden. On 17 May 1869 the first ground was broken, not with a miner’s pick but with a farmer’s shovel to represent the Saints’ commitment to agriculture. The laying of the track was completed 10 January 1870. Thousands of spectators gathered to watch President Brigham Young drive home the last spike, which was made of Utah iron.
The construction of this line was followed with Church support by the laying of track for the Utah Southern Railroad, which ran through Provo and other southern settlements, and the Utah Northern lines, which were laid as far north as Butte, Montana.
For years the federal government had withheld giving land titles to the people of Utah; therefore, as the railroad approached, the citizens grew concerned about their holdings. Should the “iron horse” significantly increase the number of non–Latter-day Saints in the territory, there was a distinct possibility that without clear property title many residents would be denied both their land and the improvements they had made. That the Saints had lived in peace for so many years without clear title to their land is a tribute to their ability to cooperate with one another. Even the coming of some Gentiles had elicited very few land disputes in contrast to the many conflicts between ranchers and squatters in California, for example.
The Saints’ concern grew to such an extent that in 1869 the School of the Prophets appointed a committee to inform themselves “upon the land question and report to the people what steps were necessary to take to preserve their homesteads being claimed by the railway companies.”6 (This would also apply to others who might want to settle in the Great Basin.) “This committee made periodic reports to the school, and sent individuals on missions to assist local settlers throughout the territory with their land title applications.”7 Because of their efforts a minimum of injustice was done to the people.
By congressional decree the railroad had been given land along their right-of-way, except where property rights were already vested in private citizens. The committee visited the territory’s communities and assisted residents with their land title applications.
In the October 1865 general conference, Brigham Young announced that the Latter-day Saints had to help one another economically. He declared, “Let every one of the Latter-day Saints, male and female, decree in their hearts that they will buy of nobody else but their own faithful brethren, who will do good with the money they will thus obtain. I know it is the will of God that we should sustain ourselves, for, if we do not, we must perish, so far as receiving aid from any quarter, except God and ourselves. … We have to preserve ourselves, for our enemies are determined to destroy us.”8
Again in 1868, President Young carefully explained that our policy “must be to let this trade [with outside merchants] alone, and save our means for other purposes than to enrich outsiders. We must use it to spread the Gospel, to gather the poor, build temples, sustain our poor, build houses for ourselves, and convert this means to a better use than to give it to those who will use it against us.”9 Church leaders then began to promote locally owned and Church-supervised cooperatives to avert the threat to the economic stability of the Saints.
The first Latter-day Saint cooperative institution was founded in 1864 in Brigham City under the direction of Elder Lorenzo Snow of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and proved so successful that it served as a model to the Church’s cooperative movement later that decade. Elder Snow had been sent in 1854 by Brigham Young to supervise the Saints in Box Elder, which was renamed Brigham City in 1864. That same fall President Young and Elder Snow had a lengthy conversation about instituting principles of the united order in Brigham City. President Young had long been anxious to apply principles of the law of consecration from the Doctrine and Covenants, and now that self-sufficiency was being stressed, Brigham City appeared to be the ideal place to start.
Elder Snow explained in an 1875 letter to President Young that his main objective for the cooperative was “to unite together the feelings of the people by cooperating their interests with their means and make them self-sustaining according to the spirit of your teachings and to make them independent of Gentile stores.”10
First, Lorenzo Snow supervised the organization of a cooperative general store. It was his intention to use this mercantile cooperative as the basis for the organization of the entire economic life of the community and the development of the industries needed to make Brigham City self-sufficient. A joint-stock enterprise was formed to which all members of the community were invited to subscribe. As the only store in town, the enterprise soon was producing dividends to the subscribers. But most of the profits were reinvested in home industries. The first was a tannery, which was built with cooperative labor and supervised by an English convert who had much experience in the business. This, in turn, was followed by a shoe manufacturing plant and a leather industry. Over the next several years other industries were added until the entire community became self-sustaining. The fame and success of this cooperative spread throughout the nation, and the famous writer, Edward Bellamy, who was studying cooperative movements in America, came to Brigham City and spent several days with Lorenzo Snow observing how the association worked.11
In 1868 President Young established an economic system known as Zion’s Cooperative Mercantile Institution. The purpose of ZCMI, as it was popularly known, was to bring goods to the territory, sell them as inexpensively as they could possibly be sold, and “let the profits be divided with the people at large.”12 Furthermore, the directors were empowered to set standard retail prices, and these were to be charged to all cooperating concerns. Such prices were to be “reasonable” and “such as would tend to the satisfaction and benefit of both the merchants and the whole people.”13 The purpose of uniform retail prices was not to prevent price competition but to stifle exorbitant prices. The first such list of prices was adopted in the winter of 1869 “with the understanding that the Superintendent of Zion’s Co-operative Mercantile Institution be permitted to vary them according to circumstances.”14 ZCMI eventually had its own factories for boots, shoes, overalls, coats, vests, overshirts, undershirts, and men’s underwear.15
Within six weeks of the opening of the parent institution in Salt Lake City, 81 cooperative stores throughout the territory were in operation. The Saints in individual communities were urged to buy one or more shares in the joint-stock endeavor. Eventually over 150 stores were in operation in Utah and southern Idaho. These stores managed nearly all the business of the Latter-day Saints.
In metropolitan Salt Lake City nearly every ward organized its own co-op, and many established individual manufacturing enterprises. Most of these provided dividends to their subscribers. Stockmen also managed their cattle, horses, and sheep on a cooperative basis and improved the quality of these herds by importing breeding stock.16 This cooperative system proved imminently successful in fulfilling the self-sufficiency goals of Church leaders until the Saints began feeling the effects of the nationwide panic of 1873. Some of the co-ops even survived into the twentieth century.
At the same time that the School of the Prophets was reorganized in 1867, President Brigham Young reorganized the Church’s Relief Society. He sought to involve the sisters in promoting home industry and self-sufficiency, and encouraged them to teach each other how to withstand life’s temptations and how to fashion their own clothing and styles so that the community’s capital would remain within the territory and help stimulate economic growth. The importance of the Relief Society was emphasized when Brigham Young called Eliza R. Snow, probably the most respected woman in the Church, as its president. He wanted the sisters “to visit the sick and the helpless and the needy, and learn their wants, and, under their Bishops, collect the means necessary to relieve them.”17 They were, furthermore, to prevent or diminish female extravagance, inform themselves on political matters, and lobby against anti-Mormon legislation.18
Conscious that the variety of languages converts brought with them to their new mountain homes made communication difficult and reading English periodicals a problem, President Young promoted for a time a new phonetic alphabet. He believed that this new alphabet would stimulate unity among the Saints. The president asked several of his associates to develop a new phonetic alphabet called Deseret. Drawing on Pitman shorthand as a source for the sounds and characters, these brethren soon accomplished their task. President Young then authorized the printing of the Book of Mormon and several school books using the new symbols. Orson Pratt transcribed the Book of Mormon into the new alphabet in 1869, and a small-sized edition was produced.
President Young explained the merits of this new alphabet, stating that it would make it easier for children to learn to read and minimize the amount of time they would have to spend in school. In addition, he said it would reduce the time foreign converts would need to learn English. After the primers were printed, classes were held and other attempts were made to convert the Saints to implementing this alphabet. Soon it was discovered that using a new alphabet created more difficulties than it solved, and the experiment was abandoned.
Believing that the Saints could be strengthened spiritually if they had an adequate building where they could be called together and instructed by their leaders, President Young began planning for such a structure. Following several council meetings, a pattern for a great dome-shaped house of worship stamped itself vividly upon the mind of President Young. To make this vision a reality, he called to his office Henry Grow, who was a master mechanic as well as an experienced millwright. Brigham Young had recently watched Elder Grow complete a wooden arch bridge over the Jordan River—a rather unusual structure having no center supports, sustained wholly by fitting together wooden triangles and arches. President Young felt that it was just such a continuous bridge, or set of wooden bridges, that he needed to support the roof of the spacious, dome-shaped edifice that he had in mind.
With the assistance of architect William H. Folsom, President Young and Henry Grow worked out tentative architectural plans for the proposed pioneer Tabernacle, one of the largest buildings of its kind in the world—150 feet wide, 250 feet long, and 80 feet high, on the outside. The most novel part was that the massive ceiling was to be “bridged over,” without supporting pillars. Since some Saints doubted and others questioned the feasibility of such a high dome-shaped roof, President Young supervised the construction of a model tabernacle, which answered the Saints’ questions. Construction of the Tabernacle commenced during the spring of 1863.
By the fall of 1867 the Tabernacle and its famed organ were completed sufficiently to be used at the October conference. The organ and other inside fixtures were not entirely finished until after 1870. The gallery—30 feet wide and 480 feet long, extending entirely around three sides of the structure and resting upon seventy-two columns—was started in 1870, which improved the acoustics and added many seats to the Tabernacle. Finally, John Taylor, President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, dedicated the completed Tabernacle at the October conference of 1875.
Joseph H. Ridges, a convert to the Church from Australia, brought with him to Utah a small pipe organ he had built. President Young, upon learning of Elder Ridges and his organ-building capabilities, appointed him to construct the first Tabernacle organ. Finding the proper wood to build an organ was a major problem. Finally the desired timber was located in the Parowan and Pine Valley Mountains of Utah, three hundred miles south of Salt Lake City.
Chipping and hauling heavy logs for this project was no small task in the 1800s; roads had to be constructed and canyon creeks bridged. Moreover, almost all the labor had to be done by volunteers. Sometimes as many as twenty teamsters with three yoke of oxen on each wagon journeyed to these distant mountains to chop and haul logs. In less than twenty months Elder Ridges had completed the organ sufficiently for it to be played at the October conference of 1867. Combined choirs from Payson, Springville, and Spanish Fork, Utah, provided music for part of this conference, and the newly organized Tabernacle Choir, under the direction of Robert Sands, provided the music for the Sunday services. The Tabernacle Choir grew in quality from this beginning and has today become world famous.
Even as President Young and the Saints were busily engaged in establishing Zion in the tops of the mountains, the Church continued to grow in other parts of the world as well, but not without opposition.
In New Zealand, Elder Robert Beauchamp, a missionary from Melbourne, Australia, was peppered with rotten eggs in Wellington. On another occasion he escaped injury through the intervention of his Heavenly Father, who hid Elder Beauchamp from the eyes of the wicked men who were going to tar and feather him. In spite of mobs and a bitter attack by the newspaper, the Wellington Advertiser, a conference was held and the Saints “enjoyed a goodly portion of the Holy Spirit.”19
In Scandinavia, Elder Knud Peterson reported that during the year 1871, 1,021 souls were baptized into the Church. He continued, “A good many of the native Elders have been appointed to missions during the winter.” Crowded meetings were reported in Sweden, although in that country and Norway, Church elders “are still subjected to fines and imprisonment for administering the ordinances of the Gospel. In Norway exists religious liberty for all Christian denominations, but the supreme court has passed the strange sentence that the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not a Christian religion,” and therefore Church members were denied religious freedom. The Saints in Norway were also very poor, but 630 of them had raised sufficient means to emigrate to Zion that year.20
Missionaries in Switzerland were described by Edward Schoenfeld as being as “united as a clover leaf,” and were sacrificing to publish a pamphlet that would plainly set forth the principles of the gospel to combat the distortions about the Church in the popular press.21
Near the end of 1872, one elder in Switzerland reported that the Saints there were striving to live their religion and were doing their best to sustain the missionaries. He added that in just a short time he had baptized twenty-seven persons and blessed ten children.
While laboring in Hawaii, Elder George Nebeker reported that over one hundred converts had been baptized and that the meetinghouse was too small; hence, the Saints were busily engaged in constructing a new one. In the Hawaiian Islands as a whole, during the last six months of 1872 there were more than six hundred souls added to the Church. The spring conference of 1872 reported an attendance of more than seven hundred Saints. There were healings of the sick, and emphasis was placed on obeying the Word of Wisdom.22
Meanwhile, beginning in 1869, the Church required emigrating Saints to pay in advance for their entire journey to Zion. Previously most had been allowed credit for the portion of the trip covered by the Church trains (ox teams that met the emigrants at Winter Quarters and took them on to Salt Lake City). In order to help their friends and relatives emigrate, the Saints in the Great Basin established a Welsh Fund, a Scottish Fund, and similar area funds, which they then gave to Church officials to help those gathering to Zion from those areas of the British Isles. Ward Primaries contributed to the emigration of children, but perhaps the most popular kind of assistance was that sent by friends and relatives who deposited cash at the Church offices and had a “Church draft” sent to the prospective emigrants along with a notification that the funds were now available for their journey.
Unfortunately, not all members of the Church supported the leaders and their philosophy of economic self-sufficiency. Some people fell into apostasy. Just as Brigham Young was promoting the cooperative system, certain Mormon businessmen and intellectuals who called themselves “liberals” publicly questioned his policies. This faction, known as the Godbeites because they were led by William S. Godbe, called for cooperation with gentile merchants nationwide and argued that Utah should focus upon mining as its natural source of wealth rather than upon agriculture and stock raising. The outlet for their opinions was the Utah Magazine, which they founded in 1868.
Church leaders sought diligently to reclaim these men and tried calling some of them on missions. The calls were rejected, and their public outcries became even more strident. The men were summoned to the School of the Prophets to discuss the issues, but only an unpleasant confrontation took place. After further attempts at reconciliation, the Salt Lake Stake high council brought charges against the leaders of the New Movement, as they were also called, and the men were excommunicated from the Church. In 1870 they started their own church, named the Church of Zion, and made their periodical into a daily anti-Mormon newspaper, the Salt Lake Tribune. Together with leading non-Mormons in Salt Lake City, they formed the Liberal Party to oppose the Church’s political activities.
By 1870 the New Movement had taken into its ranks former Apostle and colonizer Amasa M. Lyman, who had been dropped from the Twelve in 1867 for teaching false doctrine regarding the Atonement and for espousing spiritualist ideas. Lyman joined with others in the Church of Zion in conducting seances. By 1873, the Church of Zion had collapsed from lack of support, while the Liberal Party lived on and was a disruptive force in Utah politics until 1893.
With the success of the cooperative movement, Brigham Young and other Church leaders desired a still better economic system. In the October 1872 general conference, Elder George Q. Cannon indicated that the three and one-half years of success of the cooperative institutions pointed to even more valuable results to be expected from the “order of Enoch.” This new order was needed, he insisted, to bring a time “when there shall be no rich and no poor among the Latter-day Saints; when wealth will not be a temptation; when every man will love his neighbor as he does himself; when every man and woman will labor for the good of all as much as for self.” The cooperative system was merely “a stepping stone to something beyond that is more perfect,” and the higher order “which exists in heaven will be practiced and enjoyed by men on the earth.”23
Brigham Young took up the same theme the next day in his conference address, and for the next several months the General Authorities delivered messages to the Saints preparing them for the establishment of the united order system.
Several factors contributed to the forming of the united order in 1874. Brigham Young and other Brethren who had been closely associated with the Prophet Joseph Smith sought for a reformation among the Saints and the reestablishment of the principles and practices of the law of consecration. When the United States was hit by the depression of 1873, the Saints found that despite their efforts for independence, their economy was clearly affected by the economic rhythms of the nation. Thus, Church leaders began to establish orders of Enoch to soften the effects of future economic cycles upon the Latter-day Saints.24
Also, village life in southern Utah had been disrupted for a few years by the mining industry headquartered in nearby Pioche, Nevada. Building materials and foodstuffs among the Saints had been drawn away by the miners, causing a shortage in the Mormon communities. Several young men had also left their homes for the mining camps to obtain cash wages, where they were subject to influences of the world. This also caused labor shortages at home.25
St. George was particularly in need of an economic boost, and it was there that Brigham Young organized the first united order.26 Its management board was composed primarily of the ecclesiastical officers of the stake and the various ward bishops. One of the order’s earliest acts was to direct the transportation of goods to and from the northern settlements. Soon thereafter they established community-owned flocks of poultry and herds of pigs, and helped construct the St. George Utah Temple. The members agreed to follow a list of fourteen spiritual rules, such as not taking the name of Deity in vain, observing the Word of Wisdom more fully, treating family members with kindness and affection, living the law of chastity, keeping the Sabbath day holy, and wearing nonextravagant clothing. Each member of the order signified his intent to comply with the rules by being rebaptized.
Convinced that conditions were right for establishing united orders throughout Zion, Brigham Young dispatched Church leaders to organize all the southern settlements according to the St. George model. Because of severe weather and bad roads, President Young was unable to arrive in Salt Lake City in time for the scheduled April general conference, where he had planned to introduce the united order to all the Church. Conference was therefore postponed to the first week of May. When the Prophet arrived in Salt Lake City, he immediately went to work to implement the united order in the Salt Lake City wards. During the four-day general conference, more than a dozen sermons were preached explaining all the favorable ramifications of the united order.27
By the end of 1874, over two hundred united orders were established in Latter-day Saint settlements, including settlements in Idaho, Nevada, and Arizona. In the larger communities of Ogden, Provo, and Logan, more than one order was set up, with each one specializing in different production projects. Salt Lake City had a separate order for each of its twenty wards. Brigham City and other communities, following the same model, maintained their cooperative network of industries. Under this pattern each person retained his own private property in addition to the stock he held in the cooperative business.
Another variation of the united order was the type established in small communities of no more than 750 people. In this variation each person shared equally in the community’s production, and everyone lived and ate together as a well-regulated family. The most famous of these was Orderville, Kane County, located in southern Utah, which was founded by twenty-four families in 1875. Within five years the town had grown to 700 people. By cooperative labor the citizens “built apartment house units or ‘shanties’ in a semi-fort arrangement around the town square and constructed a large common dining hall in the center.”28 They also built shops, bakeries, and barns, and established farms, orchards, dairies, livestock projects, and various manufacturing enterprises, such as the building of furniture. The people all wore the same style of clothes, manufactured at Orderville, and no one could improve his or her situation unless all were likewise improved. For ten years this community was a model of cooperation and love, and the system only ended due to the accelerated antipolygamy persecution of 1885. Those who labored to build Orderville continued to look back with genuine nostalgia for the happy feelings they had living in a well-ordered Christian community.
Generally speaking, most of the orders did not fare as well. Because of some selfishness and some mismanagement, as well as difficult economic pressures from the nation at large, most orders were abandoned by 1877. Some continued until the political problems of the 1880s forced their demise.
Nevertheless, there were several noteworthy accomplishments from the decade-long system of cooperatives and united orders in Zion. The Saints became less dependent upon imports, which consequently decreased drastically. Home production and local investment in manufacturing and retailing all increased considerably. Economic inequality diminished among the Saints. Noble qualities of thrift and industry were developed, which would benefit several generations in the Church. And finally, the economic self-sufficiency programs helped significantly in the building of the Utah temples in St. George, Logan, Manti, and Salt Lake City by providing both labor and material.29