Book Review: The Mormon Hierarchy: Wealth and Corporate Power
Author: D Michael Quinn Published by: Signature Books, 2017
ISBN: 978-1-56085-235-3 Price: 49.95
Review by Andrew Hamilton, shared with permission
I don’t remember much about May, 1983 (give me a break, I was only 10), but I *do* remember one experience very distinctly. One afternoon my parents drove the four of us children from our home in Provo, Utah to the Carillon Square shopping center in neighboring Orem, Utah. There we had dinner for the first time at Godfathers Pizza. It was cool because, not only was it was pizza, but the toppings were *under* the cheese! After our feast of fancy pizza we walked across the parking lot to the four-plex Carillon Square Movie Theater (in 1980’s Orem that was HUGE!). There we got in line and waited in anticipation for hours to see “Star Wars: Return of the Jedi”! Local actors dressed as Darth Vader, Boba Fett, storm troopers, and rebel soldiers milled about and visited with and entertained the people in line. As we waited in line I read a comic book adaptation of “The Empire Strikes Back” to prepare myself for the experience. It was truly a night to remember, and it would have to be, for, while there were occasional rumors that George Lucas was going to make more Star Wars movies, May 1983 would host the last Star Wars “opening night” for 16 years.
Much as movie fans and nerds everywhere waited eagerly in 1983 for “Return of the Jedi” to follow up “The Empire Strikes Back”, fans of fine Mormon history waited in anticipation in 1997 for D Michael Quinn’s “Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power” to follow up his 1994 “Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power”. And, just as Star Wars fans would then have a nearly two decade, rumor filled wait for the next chapter in their beloved story, Mormon history fans would also face a two decade, sometimes rumor filled wait for the next chapter in the Mormon Hierarchy story in “The Mormon Hierarchy: Wealth and Corporate Power”. Well, I am writing this review to let you know, it was worth the wait!
I have to admit, I feel bit behind the clichéd 8 ball with this review. The Kindle version of “Wealth and Corporate Power” was released in August ahead of the print version which was then released in mid-October. When the pint version was released there were interviews with the author, book signings that were taped and uploaded to the internet, stories in the newspaper, radio interviews, and podcast interviews . By the time that I got my copy, all sort of wonderful and intelligent things had already been written and said about this fascinating and important book. So, now I am in the position of trying to write a review about a book that you have likely already read about and probably even already read. Well, here I go!
1977 was not only the year that “Star Wars” was released; it was also the year that the Grateful Dead released a compilation album titled “What a Long Strange Trip It’s Been”. The album brought together live and studio tracks from the years 1967 to 1972. The album’s title and the music era that gave it birth are both excellent metaphors for Quinn’s efforts to bring “Wealth and Corporate Power” to publication. In podcasts about the book Quinn related the story of how his personal “long strange trip” to publish this book began in 1971. In that year Quinn took a graduate history class at the University of Utah taught by Davis Bitton. In this class he was assigned to research and write a 30 to 50 page group biography paper on a group of his choice. He chose to write on the general authorities of the LDS Church from 1830 to 1930. This term paper was the beginning of his “Mormon Hierarchy” series. The class paper morphed into his Master’s thesis and later an expanded version of this study became his PhD dissertation. After his graduation he continued to study the topic of the first 100 years of the LDS general authorities.
As Quinn conducted his research he began compiling a list of business’s owned or run and business activities conducted by these LDS general authorities. He worked on this project off and on while teaching and working on other books. Eventually he was ready to publish “Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power” and then “Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power”. He planned on including his list of LDS owned and run corporations as an appendix in one of these books but both were already very long and a list of LDS General Authority run businesses really did not fit into either book as an appendix. After years spent working on and completing even more projects, the long strange trip continued into the year 2000. That year Quinn approached Ron Priddis at Signature Books with a proposition. He asked Priddis if Signature would be willing to publish the this appendix on LDS owned and operated corporations that he had been working on since the mid 70’s. Priddis told Quinn that his project sounded interesting, but explained to him that Signature BOOKS published books, NOT orphaned appendices. Priddis told Quinn that if he wanted his business appendix published he would have to write a book to put it in. This led to more research and writing and another seventeen years’ worth of work and delays until the “long strange trip” finally concluded when the book was released in 2017.
First, the particulars; Signature is known for high quality books and “Wealth and Corporate Power” doesn’t disappoint. The book is a beautifully bound, cloth volume of 597 numbered pages that was printed on “paper certified by the Sustainable Forestry Initiative”. This book started its life as an appendix so it should be no surprise that the majority of the book is appendices. There are 21 appendices in “Wealth” that comprise 380 pages. Their lengths and detail vary, several of them are only two or three pages in length, while the longest is 269 pages. This is significant because the entire narrative text of the book takes place in three chapters that together are only 157 pages long. Of those 157 pages, 40 of them are filled with endnotes, so the entire narrative text of “Wealth” is 117 pages long or slightly less than half the length of the “General Authority Business” appendix that started the book’s long strange trip into existence in 1971. “Wealth” also includes two figures and 19 tables. In order the chapters discuss “Personal Wealth”, “Corporate Mormonism”, and “Church Finances.”
Quinn gave me a whole new perspective on Mormonism on the very first page of the book. The third paragraph includes this statement, “Financially, Mormonism began with a personal loan for a significant sum” (p. 1). I’ve known for about as long as I can remember that in 1829, as per a revelation dictated by Joseph Smith, Martin Harris, against the wishes of his wife Lucy, mortgaged his farm for 3,000 dollars and gave the money to Joseph Smith to finance the printing of the Book of Mormon.
The revelation from Smith instructed Harris to “not covet (his) own property” and to give freely to the printing of the Book of Mormon. In 2010 dollars that 3,000 dollar loan from Harris to Smith was worth 72,000 dollars. The realization that Mormonism started with a business deal sets up the perspective for “Wealth and Corporate Power” and in so doing gave me an insight that I had not previously had on how important business has been in Mormonism since its nascent days. From that financial deal between Joseph and Martin that gave Mormonism its start, Quinn escorts his readers on a detailed walk through the process and history of Mormon business from 1830 to 2010.
There is no way for me to write about everything that I Quinn taught me and that I loved about what he wrote in this book. To do so would require a paper nearly as long as the book itself. That would both bore you and spoil all of its surprises if you are one of the people that has not yet read it, but I do want to highlight a few of my favorite parts of the book and show how it can give you perhaps a new and broader understanding of Mormonism.
One of the aspects about this book that I found most fascinating was how it guides the reader through a number of contradictory teachings and attitudes about money and business in Mormon history. For example, “Wealth” explains that “Beginning in 1836 ‘hireling priests’ was a derogatory reference to modern Christianity’s ministers in publications by the Mormons” (p. 3). Side by side with this early expressed institutional dislike for “hireling priests” Joseph Smith was receiving revelations stipulating a “support of a paid ministry” (p. 3). Four such written documents were dictated by Smith between September 1830 and November 1834. Then, even though Smith was speaking as “the prophet” when he issued these revelations authorizing that the First Presidency be paid a wage, when this matter of providing a living to the Church leaders was put to a vote by Church members, they rejected it (p. 8). That the leaders of Mormonism would denounce paid ministers while issuing revelations asking its members to support the paying of its ministers is just the first of many ironies highlighted by “Wealth and Power”.
Another such contradiction relates to Mormon thoughts, especially Mormon Leader thoughts, on millionaires. Quinn points out that at various times members of the LDS leadership issued official and semi-official statement condemning the accumulation of large amounts of money. Two such highlighted examples are a July 1875 statement jointly signed by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve and a 1932 general conference talk given by Anthony W Ivins. The part of the statement that is quoted by Quinn says “One of the great evils with which our own nation is menaced at the present time is the wonderful [stunning] growth of wealth in the hands of a comparatively few individuals” he goes on to quote where they state that people’s freedom is “endangered by the monstrous power which this accumulation of wealth gives to a few individuals and a few powerful corporations.” Ivins is quoted simply as having said “that whenever you multiply millionaires[,] tribulation comes to someone” (p. 6). Despite this denunciation of the hoarding of riches, Quinn documents quite thoroughly how Brigham Young not only accumulated a vast amount of wealth, he also documents how Brother Brigham wasn’t particularly good a sharing it, even with his own wives and children . In fact, Quinn explains that within six months of Young’s public declaration against wealth hoarding, one of his wives wrote that she was “ashamed” to be a wife of Brigham Young because she was so poor and he shared his finances so unevenly between the favored and unfavored members of the family (see pp 21-25).
Perhaps you have heard that the modern LDS Church is, in actuality a “Corporation Sole”. If you wanted to learn more about this and what it means than reading “Wealth” is a great place to start your studies. In brief: Quinn writes about how in 1923 Heber J Grant “replaced the trustee-in-trust” with the “Corporation of The President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints”. But the history of the “Corporation Sole” goes back further than that. In 1916 LDS Church attorney Franklin S Richards, under private instructions of the First Presidency, asked the Utah state legislature to pass a law allowing a “Corporation sole” to exist. Richards, who was a member of the theocratic “Council of 50”, later worked with the legislatures in other western states that had high numbers of Mormons and significant amounts of Church owned property, to get them to pass corporation sole laws as well. And that’s just the beginning; it’s all really quite fascinating (see pp 4-8).
One of the things that Quinn has done a particularly excellent job of in “Wealth” is demonstrating how intimately Mormon doctrine and Mormon business practices and ideas have been intertwined over the years. While I expected to learn of some combination of “business” and “spirituality,” as I read “Wealth” (especially after the framing of the Martin Harris story on the first page of the book), I was surprised at just how much evidence Quinn found and provided of this spiritual business hybridization. I’ll share just a few of Quinn’s examples. In a section called “Celebrations of the Corporate Church in the Twentieth Century” Quinn provides several interesting details about Mormon teachings and ideas on business in the early 20th century. For years the Improvement Era provided regular reports on the profits and business dealings of various businesses that the Church invested in or owned, many of these are detailed in this section of the book. In this section Quinn also details how Heber J Grant, whom he identifies as a “lifelong…ardent businessman,” distributed copies of a book on business prosperity to all Church missionaries and also had it serialized in four issues of the Improvement Era. During this same time period the Improvement Era also celebrated the release of a non-LDS published book that described Jesus as “the founder of modern business” (see pp 66-69). Quinn also details how common it was during this time for Church leaders and publications to incorporate language about business into lessons and sermons. In some of the sermons documented by Quinn leaders taught that the payment of tithing made Church members “business partners with the Lord”, that “God’s covenant” with Israel was a “business covenant”, and that God could be thought of as the “chief executive officer” of the world (see pp 49-51).
In another part of the book, to demonstrate just how extensive LDS Church owned business were in the Salt Lake area during the first third of the 20th century, Quinn performs a fascinating exercise. In the second chapter he introduces the readers to a theoretical young man who leaves on an LDS proselyting mission in 1907, the same year that the First Presidency issued a statement denying that they sought “absolute domination in temporal affairs”. This young man travels to and from his mission on railways that the Church owns stock in. When he returns home he buys his sweetheart an engagement ring from a Church owned jeweler and then they go on a honeymoon that involves all Church owned companies. Quinn then shows that it would have been possible for this couple to have spent their entire married lives acquiring everything that they needed to live entirely from businesses that were owned all or in part by the LDS Church. They could have bought their home form a Church owned realtor with a loan from a Church owned bank after said home was built from materials purchased from Church owned companies. The man could have worked for a Church owned mining company. The young couple could buy their car, fuel, furniture, appliances, reading material, entertainment, phone service, every morsel of food on their table, even the salt for their food and the ice for their drinks could have all from Church owned companies. As their children grew they could be educated at Church owned schools or run schools (even secular schools like the University of Utah had LDS apostles on their governing boards at this time). When they grew ill they could go to Church owned hospitals, and when one of the couple died they would be buried in a Church owned cemetery and the survivor would collect money from a Church owned insurer. Quinn writes this example so well that reading it alone is worth the price of the book (see pp 62-65).
I’ll note one final point from the narrative portion of the book that I found very interesting. A major teaching in the LDS Church is the importance of being honest and, as noted by Joseph Smith in the “13 Articles of Faith”, the importance of “obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.” “Civil Disobedience”, including the non-payment of income taxes by Church members, has been denounced numerous times by general authorities over the pulpit. Despite these emphasizes on honesty and following the law, the Church has not always been totally upfront when dealing with governments and taxes. Chapter 3, “Church Finances” notes that when it has come to paying taxes there have been times that the Church has issued “carefully worded” statements through its lawyers that “In some instances the choice has been made not to comply until *required*”. Quinn makes the obvious point that compliance with tax laws is *always* required. In this same section Quin also details instances where the Church has tried to dodge incorporation and financial reporting laws. For example, in 2001 Australia passed a law requiring incorporation of all religious organizations. According to Quinn the LDS Church waited four years to comply and then for the years 2005 and 2006 six claimed that its total assets in Australia, where it had 285 congregations, amounted to only about 100 Australian dollars. In 2007, six years after the law was passed, the Church finally came into full compliance with the law and reported “financial transactions (that) totaled tens of millions of Australian dollars.” (see pp124-129, esp. pp. 127, 128, and 129).
As great as the narrative part of “Wealth” is, the true gold and fun is in the 380 pages of the 21 appendices. Many long papers and symposium presentations probably can and will be written about the information in these pages. Here are just a couple of tidbits about the one that started the whole project, Appendix 5 “General Authorities in Business before 1933”. Appendix 5 is 269 pages log and lists some 1800 businesses with ties to the Church or its general authorities. It lists the businesses by name, names the general authorities involved, gives their position with the corporation, provides the location and date the business was established, states the dates that general authorities were involved with the company, the business type, and where possible the exact business activities. The names of the companies are fun to read. Many (no surprises here) are named after their owner or their location, for instance, “A.P. Rockwood Hat Pressing” or “Gila Bend Reservoir and Irrigation Company.” It was fun to see that there were a number of “ACME” companies on the list (Wile E Coyote would be proud), and that the Cannon brothers were not all that creative with names because they had four separate companies simply named “Cannon Brothers”. There is a “Gold Bug Mining Company” on the list, and there a steamboat on the Great Salt Lake named “Lady of the Lake. There once was a company named the “Hot Salt Lake Company”, and if you thought that “Zion’s Cooperative Mercantile Institution” was a long name try “United Order of Zion in All the World Wherever Established” as a company name!
A few other amusing and interesting things that you might not expect that you will find in this appendix: The LDS Church owned a tobacco company, they ran a bath company, a hemp company is on the list (not owned by the Church), the Church once owned a company called the “Cinco De Mayo Mining Company” that, in all seriousness, in 1904 merged with the “Three Amigos Mining Company”. For years an apostle was president of an entertainment company named the “Giant Racer Company,” there are multiple film, “Motion-Picture”, and theater companies on the list, an apostle ran a company named the “Salamander Sawmill”, another apostle ran the “Utah Guano Company” for a few years, and Heber J Grant was president of the “Utah Vinegar Works” company.
There are also interesting and fun things to learn about Brigham Young in “Appendix 5”. The appendix contains eight pages listing 71 companies named after and mostly owned by Brigham Young, though some of the listed businesses, such as the Brigham Young Academy, were named after, but not owned by him (see pages 198-205). Brigham Young also owned numerous other businesses that he did not name after himself such as the “Globe Saloon” (see page 261). Some of the companies that Young started provided goods and services needed for life in a remote settlement; others provided lodging, eating, drinking, and entertainment type services. The Brigham Young owned company that I found the most amusing was the “Brigham Young Barbershop”. Built in 1861 near Temple Square, the barbershop’s purpose, according to Young’s office journal, was that, “the Pres. wished to be shaved without coming in contact with gentiles” (see p. 198).
I honestly only found one thing while I was reading “Wealth and Corporate Power” that I would personally be critical about. People who are not fond of Quinn’s work tend to go after his footnotes and claim that they do not say what he says that they do. With 609 total footnotes there was no way that I could dig into all of the notes in “Wealth” (without spending years doing it!), but for fun I dug into several of them. They all looked pretty good *but* there was one that did leave me wanting more. On page eight, in a section titled “Specific Compensation (Salaries)” Quinn writes the following:
“After being forced to abandon the LDS Church’s once-prosperous headquarters at Nauvoo, newly impoverished Mormons within the rank and file began grumbling about the relative prosperity of the 12 on the trail west. 67 In March 1847 Brigham Young responded with obvious anger, ‘Be cont[e]nted with your lot and station and stop your whining and babbling about the Twelve [apostles], saying that Brigham oppresses the poor and lives off their earning and that you can’t see why you can’t have some of his good living, and so on.’ He asked ‘Did Brigham Young ever get anything from you, did you ever help him to any of his fine living, you poor curses, or was it through Brigham’s influence that thousands of the poor have been fed?’” 68
I was very intrigued by Quinn’s statement that “newly impoverished Mormons within the rank and file began grumbling about the relative prosperity of the 12 on the trail west” it seemed to me to be a very specific statement about what was being said on the trail and based off of the quoted Brigham Young sermon he was obviously responding to something. I wanted to know more so I went to the footnotes. Footnote 68 was very specific and took me to the John D Lee diary entry for 21 March 1847 which contained the text of the Brigham Young sermon. It also referenced an alternative version of the sermon in the Wilford Woodruff diary. Note 67 was a little less helpful. To find out more about the grumbling of the saints on the trail it said “For classic presentations of the poverty and suffering during the Mormon exodus, see Wallace Stegner, The Gathering of Zion: The Story of the Mormon Trail (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964); Bennett, We’ll Find the Place.” (p. 43). I was hoping that this note would provide me with specific pages or entries to read just as the other note had since Quinn seemed to have some very specific events or complaints in mind when he wrote the text. I felt kind of like he was cheating to give a very general reference to two entire books that would take a very long time to read and dig out the information to which he was referring. Don’t get me wrong, I am not accusing Quinn of lying or being misleading, from the quoted Brigham Young sermon it is obvious that he had specific complaints of the Saints in mind when he spoke, I was hoping that Quinn was directing me to those quotes/anecdotes, instead I was given two entire books to digest to better understand the origin of one sentence. That is my only complaint about this book. Others no doubt may find other things to quibble about, but for me, one mild complaint about a 597 page book is a pretty good record.
I must admit, I had a bit of a personal interest going into my reading of “Wealth and Corporate Power”. One of my great grandfathers, Christian Garff, had no less than two attempts by a general authority or authorities to put him out of business. The first instance occurred in the 1880’s when Garff owned a mill that competed with a mill owned by Moses Thatcher. Thatcher used his position as an apostle to leverage deals that enabled him to put my great grandfather’s mill out of business. Later on, Garff went into business with another man, Gustave Lundberg, to provide electricity to various parts of Utah for the first time. Their efforts are noted on a historical marker that can be found in Logan, Utah:
“LOGAN’S HYDRO-ELECTRIC PLANT In 1880, Gustave Lundberg and Christian Garff, planing mill operators, set up a direct current electric light plant, probably the first in Utah. It was a small Thompson-Houston machine with a capacity of fifty arcs, providing five lights for Logan City at $15.00 per month per light. January, 1886, the Logan Electric Light and Power Company was organized, capital stock $5000, one-half subscribed by Lundberg and Garff and the balance by Logan City Commissioners. In 1888, the city acquired complete ownership and it became Utah’s first municipal electric light plant. (Etched in stone) May we show our appreciation each day for the heritage the pioneers left us”
Sometime after Garff and Lundberg had started their light and power business, the general authorities decided that they should start one of their own. In 1903 Joseph F Smith, John R Winder, Anthon H Lund, and Heber J Grant founded “Utah Light and Railway Company. They directly operated the company until 1906 and it functioned until 1914 when it merged with Utah Light and Traction Company. This business is listed in the massive “appendix 5 “General Authorities in Business before 1933” that caused this book to some into existence (see page 419). During this time these general authorities/the Church were in direct competition with my great grandfather and hoped to buy out the resources that he was using. In fact, Garff was discussed by name in at least one meeting convened by these general authorities, as noted in Anthon H Lund’s journal account of the event:
“[May 18, 1904; Wednesday.] Attended Light power & R[ail]. R[oad]. Board meeting. The most important problem to solve was what can be done to secure us against the effects of Mr. Garf s proposition to furnish light to the city? It was thought we should buy the power plant in the Narrows. This Mr. Garf relies on buying cheaply” (Danish Apostle p. 277 ).
While “Wealth and Corporate Power” didn’t provide much information in particular beyond what I already knew about these episodes from my family history, it did provide a lot more context and understanding for the Mormon business culture that caused them to take place and the listing of the company names and individuals involved will be priceless as I pursue more information on these events and businesses.
This ability to further promote research, study, understanding, and writing for others is what I see as perhaps the greatest contribution of “Wealth and Power”. The information, narrative, and context provided by Quinn is priceless and invaluable. It will take multiple readings of it for me to begin to understand and comprehend it all. But as great as those 117 pages and all of the accompanying notes, charts, and appendices are, I see the greatest long term contribution of Quinn with this book as providing a massive springboard and foundation for so many of the rest of us to do our own research. Quinn has spent the last 40 plus years on a trip mining the archives about LDS business related history and information and because of Quinn’s journey countless other historians, professional and amateur, will able to go much farther in much less time with our own research. For Quinn it was a “long strange trip” from 1971 to 2017 and now, because of that journey, those of us who enjoy and benefit from reading and researching LDS history who have waited so long since the last installment in the series, will truly see a “Return of the Jedi” premier type moment as “The Mormon Hierarchy: Wealth and Corporate Power” awakens “The Force” in our own studies and launches us all on our own long, perhaps strange, trips to an understanding of LDS business and history.