Bill signed by Joseph Smith from a failed banking experiment in Ohio

The Mormon exodus to the west began long before the settlement of Great Salt Lake City in 1848; the church was first based around Joseph Smith's hometown in New York, then in Kirkland, Ohio. In 1831, Smith had a revelation that the new City of Zion was to be at Independence, Missouri; later, Commerce (later Nauvoo), Illinois became the designated site for the kingdom. Each move was preceeded by difficulties with the local populations that included informal economic sanctions to outright mob violence. Although the other local communities protested the "immorality" of Mormonism in regard to its beliefs and practices, the actual reason for their condemnation of the Mormon communities seems to have been largely economic. The Mormon economic system, far out of harmony with the tenets of the Jacksonian era, was an affront to a society motiviated chiefly by individual profit. What the Mormons had done, with their communal ecomonic system, was turn the myth of the lone frontiersman inside out; where it was acceptable (in stories) for a single man to venture into the wilderness of the garden and support himself through his industry, it was unacceptable and even threatening for a group of people to attempt the same thing in reality--and largely succeed. Thus, ironically, it was to some extent the Mormon success at the American ideal of self-sufficiency that forced their leaders to look increasingly further west for their new Zion.

Mormon economic ideology sprang from the ideals of Christian community. Not only was the idea given authority by the early Puritans who arrived in America and formed cohesive, commual settlements, but it was further verified directly from the Book of Mormon, where the Nephites were described as living in ideal Christian communities, "with no poor among them." In order to restore and reclaim the land that would be the city of Zion and the place of Christ's coming, it was necessary to recreate this sort of society.

Klaus Hansen, in his book Mormonism and the American Experience, succinctly provides the details of this economic covenant:

"Those entering the order were asked to `consecreate' their property and belongings to the church `with a covenant and a deed which cannot be broken.' Every member, in return, would then be made `a steward over his own property, or that which he has received by consecration, as much as is sufficient for himself and his family.' Any surplus would then `be kept to administer to those who have not, from time to time, that every man who has need may be amply supplied and receive according to his wants....'"

Later in the chapter, Hansen explains the reasoning behind such laws:

"First, it would eliminate poverty and create an economic equality tempered by individual needs, circumstances, and capacities. Second, through the continuing consecration of excess production into the storehouse, there would be sharing of surplus, creating capital for business expansion and for church programs. Third, the system relied heavily on individual initiative. Each steward operated under a system of free enterprise in the management of property. He was subject to profits and losses, the laws of supply and demand, and the price system. But despite this involvement in the capitalistic system, the stewards were part of a united community working toward a fourth objective, group economic self-sufficiency."

Although this system was the ideal, the reality was that it did not always work as well as Joseph Smith and the Saints had hoped. What was required of all Mormons in the community without fail was a law of tithing, in order that the church continue to run smoothly above all else. Even today, Mormons are expected to tithe ten percent of their annual income to the church.