Legal Insights into the Organization of the Church in 1830
This daily feature is the introduction to a full article by David K. Stott that was published in issue 49:2. To read the full text of this article, follow the link below.
Every April 6, LDS Church members remember Joseph Smith's founding of the church in New York in 1830. This article looks at details surrounding the legal aspects of that founding.
In the nineteenth century, church members could legally form a new congregation through two methods: the creation of a religious corporation or the organization of a religious society. While historians have long assumed Joseph Smith created a religious corporation on April 6, 1830, it is more likely he created a religious society when he organized the Church. Considering the Church's condition in 1830, forming a religious society clearly met the Church's needs and avoided an undesirable leadership structure. Additionally, the recorded accounts of the organizational meeting lack conformity with the incorporation statute's requirements but strongly resemble the customary methods of how other churches formed religious societies. For example, religious incorporation required that a certificate be filed with the county clerk, and no such certificate has been found.
Understanding the legal status of the newly organized Church places the events of April 6, 1830, in a clearer context. Nearly every aspect of the Church's organizational meeting was a typical practice of the Baptist, Episcopal, Methodist, or Presbyterian churches. This not only shows that the early Church members did comply with the law in organizing, but also possibly explains why they chose to include certain actions in the meeting.
After the meeting, Joseph records that he felt "acknowledged of God, 'The Church of Jesus Christ,' organized in accordance with commandments and revelations." Not only did Joseph organize the Church according to the laws of the land, but he obeyed God's commandments in doing so. The Church's organization was thus done according to both the laws of God and man.