In December 1830, converted Campbellite pastor Sidney Rigdon traveled from Ohio to New York to meet and converse with Joseph Smith concerning the things of God and Mormonism. At the time of Rigdon's visit, Joseph Smith was enthusiastically writing his revision of the Bible. While he was meeting with Rigdon, Smith received a revelation declaring Rigdon another John the Baptist and commissioned him to be his new Bible scribe.
Joseph Smith's Revelation to Move to Ohio
Immediately following Sidney Rigdon's December visit, Joseph Smith-after living in New York for less than six months and only eight months after starting the first Mormon church-had a revolutionary prophetic revelation that would change Mormonism forever. He declared that it was God's will to move the Mormon headquarters from New York to Ohio. At this time, God reportedly told Smith to delay his revision work on the Bible until he arrived in Ohio.
By gathering in Ohio, they would leave all the "Mormonhaters" behind in New York and take one large step closer to the city of Zion near the Indian borderland of Missouri. Following the third church conference on January 2, 1831, Mormons immediately began to sell their homes and property to follow Smith three hundred miles to Kirtland, Ohio, in the dead of winter.
The Mormons in Ohio (1831-1838)
Joseph and Emma Smith, Sidney Rigdon, and Edward Partridge departed New York for Ohio at the end of January 1831, arriving at Newel Whitney's Kirtland store in early February. Smith introduced himself to the Whitneys with the phrase, "I am Joseph Smith the Prophet." Kirtland, Ohio, had been settled for only about twenty years, and had only a few thousand residents. The Smiths initially lived at the Whitney store, which became the new Mormon Church headquarters. It was in this store that Smith received many new revelations.
Ohio's Challenging Early Months
For the first seven months or so-from early February 1831 to late August 1831-Joseph Smith and the other Mormons in Ohio were faced with significant practical and spiritual challenges.
By the middle of May, most of the New York Mormons had sold their possessions and migrated to Kirtland and the surrounding areas. With the rapid Mormon growth in Ohio, and because many New York Mormons had sold everything they owned, Joseph Smith faced many logistical and economic difficulties. In these early months in Ohio, Smith had to put a lot of energy into providing stability, putting his Mormon society in order, and establishing his sole rule over his church. Many of the early converts to Mormonism in Kirtland were members of a Christian society known as "Disciples." The Disciples were steeped in the practice of communal living and shared all their property. Even after converting to Mormonism, they continued their practice of property-sharing. On February 4, 1831, Smith received the "Law of Consecration" revelation. This revelation built on the Disciples' influence and promoted a plan of economic redistribution among the Mormons. Using Bible passages such as Acts 2:44-45, Smith implemented an economic program and cooperative venture to meet the growing economic demands of the Mormon Church. Mormons were required to deed all their property to the Mormon bishop, who would distribute land to those in need.
But the Mormon redistribution of property simply did not work very well. Later the Law of Consecration was modified to allow private ownership, and Mormons were required only to give their surplus property to the LDS Church. The 1838 Law of Tithing began to take preeminence over the Law of Consecration in Mormonism, although the Law of Consecration revelation has inspired Mormon volunteerism and common support among its members.
In these early Ohio years, Smith also had to address significant spiritual problems. Smith reported that many "strange notions and false spirits" were active among the Ohio people, for many of them were declaring visions and revelations they had received. Once again, Smith had to reestablish himself as the sole revelator and Prophet of the Mormon Church-something that repeatedly occurred throughout his lifetime.
Zion Is in Missouri
The summer of 1831 marked a major development in Mormonism. During the June LDS Church conference, Joseph Smith led the Mormons in a deep pursuit for an endowment of spiritual power that would descend on the gathered Latter-day Saints. This conference saw spiritual endowment and ordained priesthood authority united within Mormonism. Before 1831, men had been called to function in church offices, but they were not ordained to the Melchizedek Priesthood. From this time forward, the powers of the Melchizedek Priesthood would grow to become one of the exclusive teachings of Mormonism. Eventually, a person's quest for being endowed with spiritual power would be experienced in the temple through the exercise of priesthood authority.
Shortly after the fourth Mormon conference on June 3, 1831, Joseph Smith received a revelation commissioning some of the Mormons to further migrate to the western border of Missouri, where they would inherit Zion and the New Jerusalem. Mormon missionaries were sent out two by two, preaching their way to Missouri. Joseph Smith and others departed Kirtland on June 19 for the nine-hundred-mile journey.
Although the Mormons knew Zion was somewhere in Missouri, they were not sure of the exact location. On arriving in Jackson County, Missouri, however, Joseph Smith received a prophetic revelation on July 20 declaring that Independence, Missouri, was America's Promised Land and the city of Zion.
Hearken, O ye elders of my church, saith the Lord your God, who have assembled yourselves together, according to my commandments, in this land, which is the land of Missouri, which is the land which I have appointed and consecrated for the gathering of the saints. Wherefore, this is the land of promise, and the place for the city of Zion. And thus saith the Lord your God, if you will receive wisdom here is wisdom. Behold, the place which is now called Independence is the center place; and a spot for the temple is lying westward, upon a lot which is not far from the courthouse.
Not only was today's Kansas City suburb of Independence the Mormon Zion, but Joseph Smith also declared that it had once been the approximate location of the biblical garden of Eden, and was the spot where Christ's second coming and millennial reign would one day take place.
Through revelation, Joseph Smith called the Saints to purchase as much cheap Missouri land as possible. With great expectation and eschatological ceremony, Smith presided over the celebrative dedication of the new holy city and temple site of Zion on August 2, 1831. It is important to understand that early Mormons were not simply interested in building churches and temples within cities; their vision was to become a church that consisted of a large network of Mormon cities, with the city of Zion as their capital. Mormons wanted whole cities, not simply a portion of them. It is no surprise that the Mormon vision of building and dominating cities created significant tension wherever they settled among non-Mormon citizens.
In obedience to a previous revelation, the Saints held the first Missouri church conference on August 4, and then began their long journey back to Ohio only a few days later. Smith also envisioned Independence as a Mormon publishing center and oversaw the start of the first LDS newspaper, called the Evening and Morning Star.