A friend, knowing that I had been writing for many years about practical ways to live the Law of Consecration while living in a capitalist system, sent me an interesting document titled "Brigham Young's Proclamation on the Economy."
There were things in the "Proclamation" designed to gladden my heart:
"The experience of mankind has shown that the people of communities and nations among whom wealth is the most equally distributed, enjoy the largest degree of liberty, are the least exposed to tyranny and oppression and suffer the least from luxurious habits which beget vice."
And then there was this one: "One of the great evils with which our own nation is menaced at the present time is the wonderful growth of wealth in the hands of a comparatively few individuals.
"The very liberties for which our fathers contended so steadfastly and courageously, and which they bequeathed to us as a priceless legacy, are endangered by the monstrous power which this accumulation of wealth gives to a few individuals and a few powerful corporations."
The language sure sounded like something that might have been officially promulgated by the church in Brigham Young's day.
The trouble was that the title "Proclamation on the Economy" did not ring true. When we say "the economy" today it's shorthand for "the national economy of the United States." I just didn't see Brigham Young, in 1875, issuing a proclamation on the economy in general, using the word economy without any modifiers.
Also, the text did not fit the title. In fact, when I read the whole text it seemed incoherent. Things didn't flow together properly. Points were begun which were not completed.
Besides, I had never heard of any such proclamation, and I'm just vain enough to assume that if I hadn't heard of it, it must be either very obscure or untrue.
So even though I liked the proclamation's message, where it made sense, I didn't trust it. It smacked of folk doctrine and stank of fraud.
So I did what I always do I consulted a historian, forwarding the letter with a "truth or nonsense?" query.
The historian, who also happens to be my father-in-law, James B. Allen, was as skeptical as I. But he was much more industrious. He found the original text.
It was originally a pamphlet published by the church as a kind of "five-year-report" on the Zion's Co-operative Mercantile Association which eventually grew into ZCMI. In those days, though, it was a league of Mormon merchants who, instead of competing with each other, cooperated, buying from each other.
But that didn't mean it was noncompetitive. It is not unfair to say that it was partly designed to freeze out non-Mormon merchants so it was certainly competing with them.
The idea was to keep Mormon money inside Mormondom instead of bleeding it away to non-Mormons. It was protectionist and I have no argument with protectionism in struggling economies. Historically it's a stage that all the robust economies of today have passed through.
However, this pamphlet a ringing endorsement of the ZCMI enterprise was not a statement of general church doctrine or a comment on the American economy, which Utah barely participated in at that point. It was an attempt to convince the Saints that ZCMI was going strong but needed them, as a matter of good sense and solidarity, to be loyal and shop with the ZCMI merchants. What difference does this make? A big one, I think.
You can get the full text of the original pamphlet at GospeLink.com, as part of "The Messages of the First Presidency," vol. 2. (See gospelink.com/next/doc?book_doc_id=3D202329. You have to be a GospeLink.com subscriber to see the full document there.)
Or you can consult the print version of that book.
What you very quickly learn from reading the whole text is that the versions floating around as the "Proclamation on the Economy" are highly edited. No, let's be accurate. They're chopped to ribbons 2,400 words cut down to less than a third of that length.
There are two cut-down versions circulating. The most common is the one you can find posted online by "Mormons for Equality and Social Justice" (MESJ), but also and perhaps earlier at LDS Cooperative, where Stephen Wellington is listed as the person responsible.
Only one of the online sources I found (Messenger Magazine) even bothered to show where sections had been cut out. One posting even claims that the text is reproduced "in its entirety," which is simply false (though the person posting it might not have known that).
The title "A Proclamation on the Economy" is entirely spurious. It was clearly made up in order to borrow the authority clinging to "The Family: A Proclamation to the World," which is commonly referred to in the church as "The Proclamation on the Family."
That genuine proclamation is a clear statement of doctrine and will, I trust, eventually be incorporated into our scriptures by the uplifted hands of the Saints. Until then, it stands as a message from the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve that speaks for the church as a whole.
No prophet ever signed any document called "A Proclamation on the Economy" and consisting of the text as presented under that title.
What really frustrates me about this is that they didn't have to do it.
If these folks had just said, "Look what was published over the signatures of the First Presidency and the Twelve in 1875" and then quoted the relevant passages, I think it would have been helpful to their cause. I certainly was glad to read those words.
Instead, they had to soup it up by pretending it was an official doctrinal declaration. They also cut it down to make it a quicker read ... or perhaps to conceal the true nature of the original document.
In other words, they turned a useful source of wisdom from the past into a big fat lie.
Shame on those who did it knowingly. Those who did not realize they were being given a fraudulently presented and cut-down text, I hope in future you'll do your homework before you spread a doctrinal "proclamation" that no one ever heard of before.
And to those who have quoted from the phony version of the text in order to criticize the policies and practices of the present church: Please keep in mind that we have living prophets.
If you think Brigham Young's policy statements in 1875 should govern the policy decisions of the general authorities today, you might as well join the polygamist sects that deny the authority of living prophets in favor of the (purported) statements of dead ones.
I believe fervently that the Law of Consecration can and should be lived by the Saints, not formally, but in their private financial decisions. But it does not help that cause to fake up a document and try to pass it off as something with near-scriptural authority.
I sincerely hope that by the time this column has been on the Web for a full day, every one of the sites that quotes the fraudulent version will have (1) removed the fake title and (2) put back the ellipses to show where significant material was left out.
An apology for the confusion they caused would be nice, too.
Here are the sites I found by Googling "Proclamation on the Economy":
MESJ Mormons for Equality and Social Justice: This highly edited version uses the title "Proclamation on the Economy, 1875" and shows no ellipses. It is called a "Church publication" and the signatures are shown, even though this is not the document the brethren signed (www.gomakecontact.com/mesj/library/proc-on-econ.html).
LDS Cooperative "one heart and one mind ... with no poor among us":
Stephen Wellington is listed as the person who posted "A Proclamation on the Economy" by "The First Presidency and Council of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints." Using no ellipses, it is identical
to the cut-down version at MESJ (www.ldscooperative.com/proclamation).
A contributor to a blog, calling himself "the narrator," wrote: "brigham young knew what the real threats to the nation and family were. and it wasn't gay marriage. i made a nice printable version of his proclamation on the economy that you can download here" (loydo38.blogspot.com/2006/05/proclamation-on-economy.html).
The above link takes you to www.ericsonhome.net/loyd/pdfs/proc%20econ.pdf, where you find the same text as at MESJ and LDS Cooperative, but now with the heading: "THE ECONOMY: A PROCLAMATION TO THE WORLD: THE FIRST PRESIDENCY AND COUNCIL OF THE TWELVE APOSTLES OF THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF LATTER-DAY SAINTS." (Colons represent clear divisions in the title.)
Perhaps it's the same "the narrator" who posted a tiny fragment of the proclamation at The Provo Pulse, this time editorializing, "If it was applicable then, it should be even more applicable today. A part of it was to push the community's self-sustainance with ZCMI (which eventually went directly against the proclamation before it was sold a few years ago)" (provopulse.com/?q=3Dtaxonomy/term/38&page=3D2).
Messenger Magazine of the Fullness of the Gospel: This version includes more of the original and uses ellipses to show deletions. But it still calls it "Proclamation on the Economy (by the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve July 1875" (sic) (mormonmessenger.org/2005/a-proclamation-on-the-economyby-the-first-presidency-and-quorum-of-twelve-july-1875).
At Times and Seasons, in the midst of a discussion on "Market Dominant Minorities in the Book of Mormon" by John Fowles, someone calling himself "Daniel" posted this: "I thought this Proclamation on the Economy by the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve in 1875 was pertinent to this discussion, so I am going to paste it in its entirety."
Unfortunately, he does nothing of the kind. Instead, he puts up a cut-down version similar to the one appearing at Messenger Magazine, but without any ellipses indicated that it is not complete. And "Daniel" titles it: "A Proclamation on the Economy (By the First Presidency and Quorum of Twelve July 1875)" and includes the signatures (www.timesandseasons.org/?p=3D2998).
And here is the complete text that appears in Messages of the First Presidency, with the parts that are left out of the MESJ and LDS Cooperative versions underlined:
Zion's Co-operative Mercantile Institution, July 10, 1875
1875-July 10-Pamphlet on file in Church Historian's Office, Salt Lake City
According to B. H. Roberts (CHC 5:220) Zions Co-operative Mercantile Institution began its operations March 1, 1869, and became incorporated as a company under the laws of Utah in 1870. This pamphlet might he considered a five-year report. The signatures include not only the First Presidency but other prominent General Authorities of the L.D.S. Church. This pioneer merchandising institution has continued operations down to the present (1965) and until fairly recent times was officered by members of the First Presidency and other General Authorities of the Church.
For additional background see: CHC 5:216-225; RCH 2:453-456. Also see: Gustive Larson, "Outline History of Utah and the Mormons," pp. 187-202 and Leonard Arrington, "Great Basin Kingdom," pp. 292-322.
ZION'S CO-OPERATIVE MERCANTILE INSTITUTION.
TO THE LATTER-DAY SAINTS:
The experience of mankind has shown that the people of communities and nations among whom wealth is the most equally distributed, enjoy the largest degree of liberty, are the least exposed to tyranny and oppression and suffer the least from luxurious habits which beget vice. Among the chosen people of the Lord, to prevent the too rapid growth of wealth and its accumulation in a few hands, he ordained that in every seventh year the debtors were to be released from their debts, and, where a man had sold himself to his brother, he was in that year to be released from slavery and to go free; even the land itself which might pass out of the possession of its owner by his sale of it, whether through his improvidence, mismanagement, or misfortune, could only be alienated until the year of jubilee. At the expiration of every forty-nine years the land reverted, without cost, to the man or family whose inheritance originally it was, except in the case of a dwelling house in a walled city, for the redemption of which, one year only was allowed, after which, if not redeemed, it became the property, without change at the year of jubilee, of the purchaser. Under such a system, carefully maintained, there could be no great aggregations of either real or personal property in the hands of a few; especially so while the laws, forbidding the taking of usury or interest for money or property loaned, continued in force.
One of the great evils with which our own nation is menaced at the present time is the wonderful growth of wealth in the hands of a comparatively few individuals. The very liberties for which our fathers contended so steadfastly and courageously, and which they bequeathed to us as a priceless legacy, are endangered by the monstrous power which this accumulation of wealth gives to a few individuals and a few powerful corporations. By its seductive influence results are accomplished which, were it more equally distributed, would be impossible under our form of government. It threatens to give shape to the legislation, both State and National, of the entire country. If this evil should not be checked, and measures not be taken to prevent the continued enormous growth of riches among the class already rich, and the painful increase of destitution and want among the poor, the nation is liable to be overtaken by disaster; for, according to history, such a tendency among nations once powerful was the sure precursor of ruin. The evidence of the restiveness of the people under this condition of affairs in our times is witnessed in the formation of societies of grangers, of patrons of husbandry, trades' unions, etc., etc., combinations of the productive and working classes against capital.
Years ago it was perceived that we Latter-day Saints were open to the same dangers as those which beset the rest of the world. A condition of affairs existed among us which was favorable to the growth of riches in the hands of a few at the expense of the many. A wealthy class was being rapidly formed in our midst whose interests, in the course of time, were likely to be diverse from those of the rest of the community. The growth of such a class was dangerous to our union; and, of all people, we stand most in need of union and to have our interests identical. Then it was that the Saints were counseled to enter into cooperation. In the absence of the necessary faith to enter upon a more perfect order revealed by the Lord unto the church, this was felt to be the best means of drawing us together and making us one. Zion's Co-operative Mercantile Institution was organized; and, throughout the Territory, the mercantile business of the various Wards and Settlements was organized after that pattern. Not only was the mercantile business thus organized, but in various places branches of mechanical, manufacturing and other productive industries were established upon this basis. To-day, therefore, cooperation among us is no untried experiment. It has been tested, and whenever fairly tested, and under proper management, its results have been most gratifying and fully equal to all that was expected of it, though many attempts have been made to disparage and decry it, to destroy the confidence of the people in it and to have it prove a failure. From the day that Zion's Co-operative Mercantile Institution was organized until this day it has had a formidable and combined opposition to contend with, and the most base and unscrupulous methods have been adopted, by those who have no interest for the welfare of the people, to destroy its credit. Without alluding to the private assaults upon its credit which have been made by those who felt that it was in their way and who wished to ruin it, the perusal alone of the telegraphic dispatches and correspondence to newspapers which became public, would exhibit how unparalleled, in the history of mercantile enterprises, has been the hostility it has had to encounter. That it has lived, notwithstanding these bitter and malignant attacks upon it and its credit, is one of the most valuable proofs of the practical worth of cooperation to us as a people. Up to this day Zion's Co-operative Mercantile Institution has had no note go to protest; no firm, by dealing with it, has ever lost a dollar; its business transactions have been satisfactory to its creditors; and yet its purchases have amounted to fifteen millions of dollars! What firm in all this broad land can point to a brighter or more honorable record than this? During the first four years and a half of its existence it paid to its stockholders a dividend in cash of seventy-eight per cent, and fifty-two per cent, as a reserve to be added to the capital stock, making in all a dividend of one hundred and thirty per cent. The Institution declared as dividends, and reserves added to the capital stock, and tithing, during those four and a half years, upwards of half a million of dollars. So that the stockholder who invested one thousand dollars in the Institution in March, 1869, had by October 1st, 1873, that stock increased to $1,617.00 and this without counting his cash dividends, which in the same space of time would have amounted to $1,378.50! In other words, a stockholders who had deposited $1000.00 in the Institution when it started, could have sold, in four years and a half afterwards, stock to the amount of $617.00, collected dividends to the amount of $1,378.50, thus making the actual profits $1,995.50, or within a fraction ($4.50) of two hundred per cent, upon the original investment, and still have had his $1,000 left intact! This is a statement from the books of the Institution, and realized by hundreds of its stockholders. And yet there are those who decry cooperation and say it will not succeed! If success consists in paying large dividends, then it cannot be said that Z. C. M. I. has not succeeded. In fact, the chief cause of trouble has been, it has paid too freely and too well. Its reserves should not have been added, as they were, to the capital stock; for, by so doing, at the next semi-annual declaration of dividends a dividend was declared upon them, which, as will be perceived, swelled the dividends enormously and kept the Institution stripped too bare of resources to meet whatever contingencies might arise.
It was not for the purpose alone, however, of making money, of declaring large dividends, that Zion's Co-operative Mercantile Institution was established. A higher object than this prompted its organization. A union of interests was sought to be attained. At the time co-operation was entered upon the Latter-day Saints were acting in utter disregard of the principles of self-preservation. They were encouraging the growth of evils in their own midst which they condemned as the worst features of the systems from which they had been gathered. Large profits were being concentrated in comparatively few hands, instead of being generally distributed among the people. As a consequence, the community was being rapidly divided into classes, and the hateful and unhappy distinctions which the possession and lack of wealth give rise to, were becoming painfully apparent. When the proposition to organize Zion's Co-operative Mercantile Institution was broached, it was hoped that the community at large would become its stockholders; for if a few individuals only were to own its stock, the advantages to the community would be limited. The people, therefore, were urged to take shares, and large numbers responded to the appeal. As we have shown, the business proved to be as successful as its most sanguine friends anticipated. But the distribution of profits among the community was not the only benefit conferred by the organization of co-operation among us. The public at large who did not buy at its stores derived profits, in that the old practice of dealing which prompted traders to increase the price of an article because of its scarcity, was abandoned. Zion's Co-operative Mercantile Institution declined to be a party to making a corner upon any article of merchandise because of the limited supply in the market. From its organization until the present it has never advanced the price of any article because of its scarcity. Goods therefore in this Territory have been sold at something like fixed rates and reasonable profits since the Institution has had an existence, and practices which are deemed legitimate in some parts of the trading world, and by which, in this Territory, the necessities of consumers were taken advantage of-as, for instance, the selling of sugar at a dollar a pound, and domestics, coffee, tobacco and other articles at an enormous advance over original cost because of their scarcity here-have not been indulged in. In this result the purchasers of goods who have been opposed to co-operation have shared equally with its patrons.
We appeal to the experience of every old settler in this Territory for the truth of what is here stated. They must vividly remember that goods were sold here at prices which the necessities of the people compelled them to pay, and not at cost and transportation, with the addition of a reasonable profit. The railroad, it is true, has made great changes in our method of doing business. But let a blockade occur, and the supply of some necessary article be very limited in our market, can we suppose that traders have so changed in the lapse of a few years that, if there were no check upon them, they would not put up the price of that article in proportion as the necessities of the people made it desirable? They would be untrue to all the training and traditions of their craft if they did not. And it is because this craft is in danger that such an outcry is made against co-operation. Can any one wonder that it should be so, when he remembers that, from the days of Demetrius who made silver shrines for the goddess Diana at Ephesus down to our own times, members of crafts have made constant war upon innovations that were likely to injure their business?
Co-operation has submitted in silence to a great many attacks. Its friends have been content to let it endure the ordeal. But it is now time to speak. The Latter-day Saints should understand that it is our duty to sustain cooperation and to do all in our power to make it a success. At a meeting of the stockholders of the Institution at the time of the General Conference a committee of seventeen was chosen to select and arrange for the purchase of a suitable piece of ground for a store and to proceed to erect upon it such a fireproof building as would answer the purposes of the Institution. The objects view in this proceeding were to concentrate the business and thereby lessen the cost of handling and disposing of the goods and to decrease rents and insurance. The saving in these directions alone, not to mention other advantages which must result from having such a store, will make a not inconsiderable dividend upon the stock. A suitable piece of ground has been secured, and upon terms which are deemed advantageous, and steps have been taken towards the erection of a proper building. But the Institution, to erect this building and carry on its business properly, needs more capital. The determination is still to sell goods as low as possible. By turning over the capital three or four times during the year they can be sold at very low figures, and at but a slight advance over cost and carriage, and yet the stockholders have a handsome dividend. To purchase goods to the greatest advantage the Institution should have the money with which to purchase of first hands. To effect this important result, as well as to unite in our mercantile affairs, the Institution should receive the cordial support of every Latter-day Saint. Every one who can should take stock in it. By sustaining the Co-operative Institution, and taking stock in it, profits that would otherwise go to a few individuals will be distributed among many hundreds. Stockholders should interest themselves in the business of the Institution. It is their own, and if suggestions are needed, or any corrections ought to be made, it is to their interest to make them.
The Institution has opened a retail store here within a few weeks, one of the old-fashioned kind, in which everything required by the public is sold. This should receive the patronage of all the well-wishers of co-operation. In the settlements, also, (T)he local co-operative stores should have the cordial support of the Latter-day Saints. Does not all our history impress upon us the great truth that in union is strength? Without it, what power would the Latter-day Saints have? But it is not in doctrines alone that we should be united, but in practice and especially in our business affairs. Your Brethren, BRIGHAM YOUNG, CHARLES C. RICH, GEORGE A. SMITH, LORENZO SNOW, DANIEL H. WELLS, ERASTUS SNOW, JOHN TAYLOR, FRANKLIN D. RICHARDS, WILFORD WOODRUFF, GEORGE Q. CANNON, ORSON HYDE, BRIGHAM YOUNG, JUN., ORSON PRATT, ALBERT CARRINGTON. SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH TERRITORY, JULY 10TH, 1875.2 comments on this story (James R. Clark, comp., "Messages of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints," 6 vols. (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965-75), 2: 267-72.)
Orson Scott Card is a writer of nonfiction and fiction, from LDS works to popular fiction. "In the Village" appears Thursdays in the Deseret News. Leave feedback for Card online at www.nauvoo.com/contact_desnews.html.