Sunday, March 06, 2011

Background of "The Proclamation on the Economy"

Directors and officers of Z.C.M.I, 1880

It has been pointed out that the title "The Proclamation on the Economy" of an item in circulation on the Internet (posted on this site earlier) was not the original title of the document.  It was part of a letter to the Latter-day Saints reviewing the progress of the church's economic cooperative system Z.C.M.I. (Zions Cooperative Mercantile Incorporated).

Z.C.M.I was set up by the political organization - The Council of the Fifty in March, 1868 as a "co-operative covenant" among Mormons to sell goods "as low as they can possibly be sold" with "the profits be[ing] divided among the people [Mormons] at large."  Concerns over the economic impact of the transcontinental railroad and economic tensions with non-Mormons prompted its creation.

Brigham proposed a boycott of all "Gentile" (non-Mormon) merchants, which was sustained by the Salt Lake City School of Prophets, and later sustained in General Conference.  The church opened the first store in 1869 and the next year began a manufacturing enterprise which became known particularly for their boots, shoes and "mountaineer" overalls. 

Prices were fixed, and remained constant even when goods were scarce.  Church leaders told members it was their duty "to sustain" the institution with the hope that profits would be widely distributed to church members through stock ownership, as opposed to the more typical approach of just the wealthy owning stock and further increasing their wealth.  About 150 retail branches eventually expanded throughout the territory in most Mormon towns.

In May, 1875, discussions were held about the continuance of the now five year old Z.C.M.I., and on June, 25th, Wilford Woodruff laid and dedicated the corner stone for a new Z.C.M.I. building in Salt Lake City. Two weeks later, the letter in question was sent out by church leaders to the saints.

Historian Edward Tullidge in his History of Salt Lake (1886) gives some background on the letter, first reviewing the constitution of Z.C.M.I..  The church had taught and practiced various forms communalism from its beginnings, including social, political and economic forms. Tullidge notes that the Z.C.M.I. enterprise was "chief in importance" among the church's various social and cooperative programs.

The document was penned by George Q. Cannon and signed by the First Presidency, all available members of the Quorum of the Twelve, plus other Apostles who were not members of the Quorum.  Of the two apostle's who did not sign, one was in Europe and the other was quite ill.  Most church declarations of the time did not have such a breadth of endorsement.

Tullidge notes the letter's intent was to celebrate the "established success of the Mormon people in co-operation, and to stimulate the community to perpetuate its existence." The letter concludes that "the great truth [is] that in union is strength" and that the Latter-day Saint should be united "especially in our business affairs."

Tullidge notes that by 1886, this cooperative institution was "recognized as one of the solidest and most reliable commercial houses in America."

The text of the letter can be read here.

1 comment:

Clair Barrus said...

FYI, the history of Z.C.M.I is is the new topic being covered at