As the Saints were gathering to Kirtland, many of them were leaving all of their possessions behind to obey the commandment of God. Others were poor to begin with. Joseph saw how so many were suffering and turned to the Lord to inquire what should be done. Joseph had discovered a group of about fifty people in Ohio, former followers of Sidney Rigdon, who had established a system whereby they could sustain one another. They based their model for this manner of society off their interpretation of Acts 2:44–45 and 4:32. Either there were not enough guidelines laid out or some of the people in the community were not prepared for the spirit of this law, and it was having problems. Joh Whitmer reported that when he arrived he discovered a man named Heman Bassett had taken a pocket watch which belonged to a man named Levi Hancock and sold it without asking. When someone asked why he had done this, he said, “Oh, I thought it was all in the familhy.”
The principles that this small community were trying to live, however, were pure, and Joseph recognized the need the Saints had for a system which would meet the Church’s growing economic needs. In response to Joseph’s inquiry, the Lord reminded his people that everything on the earth was His and that everything an individual owned was given him by the Lord. The Lord makes His children stewards over certain belongings, but can call to use them at any time. Thus came the Law of Consecration.
Under this law, all members were instructed to give all their property to the Church. Members would then be given stewardships of sufficient size to provide for their families. At the end of each year everything earned in excess of their needs was given back to the Church in order to provide for those who were unable to provide enough for themselves. The Law of Consecration would also make it possible for the Church to buy land for its members who continued arriving in ever increasing numbers. They needed to build meetinghouses, and the temple the Lord commanded them to build.
The principles of the Law of Consecration were and are noble. The spirit of this law is for each person to work hard, be industrious, and live by the Spirit of the Lord. The Law of Consecration provides for widows and orphans and, if lived correctly, would allow new immigrants to have a new start. Mormons believe this law to be celestial, or God’s law, rather than one of this world.
The Law of Consecration was first given to the Saints in Kirtland, Ohio, in February 1831. It was extended to the Saint in Missouri in April 1832, when the United Order was established. This meant that both Church centers pooled their resources in order to care for all the members of the Church. However, in April 1834, the Lord commanded that each center be in charge of its own people. There would no longer be a United Order of Kirtland and Zion, but rather one for each. At the end of Zion’s Camp, in June 1834, however, the Lord chastised His people for their sins and took the Law of Consecration from the earth until Zion should be redeemed. This was due to the imperfections in some of the Saints, who were unwilling to live the spirit of this law, causing it to become corrupted.