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How Brigham Young responded to his recession

Nov 03, 2015 11:17AM

By Jesse Fisher

As mentioned, Brigham Young and other LDS leaders said the Mormon cooperative movement of the 1860s was a stepping stone to the United Order – celestial-level economics. President Young had seen the success of the Brigham City co-op network in getting the Saints to move their focus from filling their own temporal needs competitively to working cooperatively. He had successfully integrated the principles of cooperative free enterprise into the Saints’ economy with the creation of the Zion’s Cooperative Mercantile Institute, which greatly blessed the Saints.

In June of 1873, Brigham Young reported that the only thing keeping the Saints from entering into United Orders was some sticky legal issues they had to work out. Then came the September 1873 banking panic which triggered a six-year international recession. It was particularly hard on Saints who were not employed within the cooperative network. Most who worked for “gentile” ventures, especially the mines in Nevada, lost their jobs and their savings.

Brigham arrived in St. George that winter and saw the economic devastation the recession had created. He then organized the first of about 150 United Orders among the Saints. “The whole community was managed as one vast enterprise,” reported church historian Leonard J. Arrington.

The constitution for the St. George United Order revealed several motives behind this move. They wanted to achieve tighter economic unity by combining their labors for their mutual benefit. They wanted to avoid the conflict between capital and labor, the “oppression of monied monopolies” and the abuses of the banking system, which caused “financial panic and bankruptcy, paralyzing industry,” making it difficult for people to provide for their families.

The order’s constitution expressed their belief that “to become truly prosperous, we must be self-sustaining, encouraging home manufacturing, producing [our own] raw materials; and not only supply our own wants with manufactured goods, but also have some to spare for exportation,” thereby growing a fund for producing yet more needed goods locally.

The St. George model had three elements. First, each person contributed their economic property (like tools and raw materials) and consecrated their time and talents in return for capital stock in the order. Second, they each pledged to produce their own consumer goods locally and only do business within the order. Third, they committed to live the Gospel to the fullest “as good Christians ought to live.”

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