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.
CIRCULAR FROM THE TWELVE APOSTLES.
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 …
In behalf of the
Council of Apostles.