Constitution of the Kirtland Safety Society Bank, 2 November 1836
Constitution of the Kirtland Safety Society Bank, , Geauga Co., OH, 2 Nov. 1836. Featured version printed [ca. Dec. 1836] as an extra of Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate, Dec. 1836; endorsed by unidentified scribe; one page; CHL.Single leaf, measuring 12⅝ × 6¾ inches (32 × 17 cm); text area measures 9½ × 4¼ inches (24 × 11 cm). The copy used for transcription has undergone archival preservation work to fix a tear at the document’s top. On the verso, two ink notations in unidentified handwriting read, “Nov 2 1836 | Minutes of meeting | of Kirtland Safety | Society” and “Kirtland | Bank”. The provenance of this document is unknown; it is assumed that the document has remained in continuous institutional custody since its creation.
On 2 November 1836, JS, , and other stockholders of the voted on and approved a constitution to organize and govern the new financial institution. Though established primarily for the , the bank was not exclusively for church members’ use; JS and others likely saw the creation of a bank as a way to improve the local economy and raise money for destitute Saints. At this time, church leaders were also seeking ways to pay off their considerable debt, which resulted from the construction of the in , Ohio; efforts to redeem in ; purchases of land in Kirtland and Missouri; and the recent printing of the Doctrine and Covenants and other publications.The establishment of a bank was a natural development for a growing community like . Community banks sought profits by charging interest on the loans they made, discounting the notes of other banks, and making investments. In addition, banks stimulated local economies in two important ways: they provided the credit and liquidity necessary to allow a larger portion of a community to be involved in economic endeavors, such as funding land improvements or new companies, and they facilitated opportunities to exchange goods and services.JS and others had decided to establish a bank by late September or early October. Around that time, purchasing agents—likely and —left for to buy goods and negotiate credit for at least two -area mercantile firms. On 11 October the agents purchased goods from New York City merchant Winthrop Eaton, and for payment they gave Eaton a promissory note that was payable in six months at the “Kirtland Safety Society Bank,” confirming that church leaders had developed plans for such an institution before the agents left. While in New York, the agents purchased safes—which were probably intended to hold the Kirtland Safety Society’s books and specie—from merchant Jesse Delano. It may also have been during this trip that Cowdery arranged to have printing plates for Kirtland Safety Society banknotes made by the printing and engraving firm of Underwood, Spencer, Bald & Hufty.The Kirtland Safety Society began collecting subscriptions to purchase shares of the bank’s stock in mid-October, and these stock subscriptions accounted for most of the society’s operating capital. The capital stock for the society was set at $4 million and divided into 80,000 shares valued at $50 each. The first subscription recorded in the society’s stock ledger, dated 18 October 1836, was for 2,000 shares of stock for , who paid $630 on his subscription by 22 October. He continued to pay the bank for his stock, and sometime later he subscribed for an additional 1,000 shares, thus reaching the maximum number of 3,000 shares a single stockholder could hold. JS also subscribed for 3,000 shares and made an initial payment of $1,342.69 on 22 October. By 1 November, thirty-six subscribers had paid more than $5,000 on their 27,105 shares of stock. An additional twenty-four individuals paid for stock on 2 November, possibly in connection with the stockholder meeting held that same day, increasing the bank’s collections on stock to nearly $7,000. These payments were recorded in the society’s stock ledger as being made in “cash,” which in nineteenth-century banking terminology could mean either specie or banknotes. The majority of stockholders in the bank subscribed for their shares of stock between October and December 1836.The constitution of the Kirtland Safety Society Bank, featured here, is the only extant record of the 2 November 1836 stockholders’ meeting. Presented to the gathering by and unanimously approved by participants, the constitution established rules to govern the bank, its officers, and its stockholders preparatory to receiving a bank charter from the state legislature. The authors of the constitution are unknown, but it was a group endeavor, likely headed by JS and . This constitution governed the Kirtland Safety Society until 2 January 1837, when the officers and stockholders reorganized the structure of their institution in the absence of a bank charter.In accordance with the guidelines established in the constitution, the stockholders held an election for officers and directors. This likely took place during the 2 November meeting or shortly thereafter. Thirty-two directors were elected from the stockholders present, and from this group a committee of six was appointed to act collectively for the entire group of directors. The choice of directors for a local bank was in many ways as significant as the choice of officers, since the directors usually included prominent individuals able to inspire confidence in the bank and use their political connections on the bank’s behalf. The thirty-two directors then elected the bank officers. was elected president and JS was elected cashier.The society’s constitution was printed as an extra to the Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate between the November and December issues of the newspaper. The extra was a single broadside dated December 1836 but possibly printed in November 1836. The fact that the constitution was printed as an extra suggests that the society’s officers and stockholders were unwilling to wait for it to be included in the normal issue of the paper and wanted to have copies available soon after the November meeting.
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