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Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Circular Letter, April 16, 1880 (Excerpt)

Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, “Circular from the Twelve Apostles,” Apr. 16, 1880, Deseret Evening News (Salt Lake City, UT), Apr. 17, 1880, vol. 13, no. 124, p. [2] (excerpt).

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In the ancient Hebrew custom of the Jubilee or fiftieth year, the indebtedness of the poor was absolved, Israelite slaves were freed, and inheritances and lands lost by misfortune or poverty were returned to their natural owners.1 The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also implemented numerous charitable acts during the 1880 Jubilee celebration of its founding. The church absolved debts Saints had incurred in the past, including half of their tithing commitments and half of their indebtedness to the Perpetual Emigrating Fund.2 John Taylor, president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles,3 asked banks and businesses to annul debts of the Saints, church members to donate one thousand head of cattle and five thousand sheep to needy Mormon communities, and the Relief Society to donate thirty-four thousand bushels of wheat.4

The Relief Society responded to President Taylor’s request with a unanimous vote in the affirmative at the April 1880 general conference.5 Relief Society women had been storing grain for three years at the request of Brigham Young, much of it in their own granaries. They saw this grain as sacred, believing it would be crucial to the survival of church members in the last days. The women, heeding Young’s explicit instructions, had earlier decided not to share their wheat with the poor but to preserve it for use during the calamities that would precede Christ’s second coming, which many Saints believed was imminent. This attitude toward sharing grain shifted after 1890, but at the time of the Jubilee in 1880, the loaning of grain was a marked departure from current practice.6

Responding to the Relief Society’s expression of support, Taylor and the Quorum of the Twelve issued the following directive addressed to Emmeline B. Wells, the president of the Relief Society’s Central Grain Committee,7 as well as to presidents of Relief Societies in Salt Lake City and elsewhere who had responsibility for wheat storage.

The directive was part of an April 16, 1880, circular letter from the Twelve Apostles published on April 17 in the Deseret Evening News. Only the portion of the letter dealing with loaning wheat has been reproduced here.


Salt Lake City, U. T.

April 16, 1880. …8

the loaning of relief society wheat.

To the President of the Central Grain Committee, and Presidents of the various Branches of the Relief Society in Salt Lake City and throughout the Stakes of Zion, having in charge stored Wheat:

In accordance with a unanimous vote of the Sisters present at our late General Conference,9 we recommend that you loan to your respective Bishops so much wheat as they may consider requisite to meet the necessities of the deserving poor.10

We also recommend that the Bishops receipt to you and take receipts from those to whom they distribute, that the wheat loaned may be faithfully returned when circumstances shall permit.

We realize that our Sisters have performed a highly commendable and praiseworthy labor in storing wheat for future emergencies, and we trust that, inasmuch as the wheat [i]s11 loaned without interest, the Bishops, in carrying out the above measures, will see that they receive a full equivalent for their loans, taking into consideration the losses in changing as well as the difference between old and new wheat as to quality and quantity. The shrinkage is supposed to be about ten per cent. The Bishops should be responsible for the return of the wheat, hence they should loan on good security and to such persons as will return the same according to agreement. It should be loaned mainly for seed. The Tithing Office will in no case be responsible for the return of the whole or any part thereof.12 …

John Taylor,

In behalf of the

Council of Apostles.


  1. [1]See “Jubilee, year of,” in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, ed. David Noel Freedman, 6 vols. (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 3:1025–1029.

  2. [2]On the fund, see Richard L. Jensen, “Steaming Through: Arrangements for Mormon Emigration from Europe, 1869–1887,” Journal of Mormon History 9 (1982): 3–23.

  3. [3]Taylor became president of the church a few months later, in October 1880.

  4. [4]“Circular from the Twelve Apostles,” Deseret Evening News, Apr. 17, 1880, p. [2]; Document 4.8.

  5. [5]The Year of Jubilee. A Full Report of the Proceedings of the Fiftieth Annual Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Held in the Large Tabernacle, Salt Lake City, Utah, April 6th, 7th and 8th, A.D. 1880 (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1880), 64.

  6. [6]Jessie L. Embry, “Relief Society Grain Storage Program, 1876–1940” (master’s thesis, Brigham Young University, 1974), 5–8, 16–26; see also Document 3.25.

  7. [7]See Document 3.25.

  8. [8]text: The ellipsis points in this excerpt have been supplied by the editors of this volume to indicate omissions from the original document.

  9. [9]At the April 1880 general conference, Taylor told the audience that he had already spoken about the wheat distribution plan with Relief Society general president Eliza R. Snow and received her approval. Conference proceedings report the vote, called by Taylor: “We may as well call a vote on this question now, our sisters are present whom we will ask to vote. All you sisters who are in favor of carrying out this request, hold up your right hand. [A forest of hands went up.] There they go, you see. … I think that is the most hearty vote yet.” (Year of Jubilee, 64, bracketed material in original.)

  10. [10]text: In the copy used for transcription, some of the letters in this paragraph are obscured by bold letters bleeding through from the opposite side of the page. These letters have been included without brackets on the likelihood that they were all present in the original.

  11. [11]text: Apparent typographical error: capital I or lowercase l used rather than a lowercase i.

  12. [12]The General Tithing Office, located on South Temple Street immediately east of the temple block, included barns, corrals, and other areas for storing goods donated by church members as tithing. (C. Mark Hamilton, Nineteenth-Century Mormon Architecture and City Planning [New York: Oxford University Press, 1995], 98–99; see Document 3.1.)