The man who is hungry and destitute has as good a right to my food as any other person, and I should feel as happy in associating with him, if he had a good heart, as with those who have an abundance, or with the princes of the earth. They all are esteemed by me, not according to the wealth and position they hold, but according to the character they have (DBY, 317).
Brigham Young cared deeply for the poor and needy. Notwithstanding the enormous persecution the Saints received, he covenanted to help all the destitute Saints who could not escape due to lack of funds. After the infamous Extermination Order was given, Brigham Young took part in the Missouri Committee to decide how to help the Saints. There were hundreds of Saints in need, and Brigham Young proposed a covenant be made to “stand by and assist each other to the utmost of our abilities in removing from this state, and that we will never desert the poor who are worthy, till they shall be out of the reach of the exterminating order.” He and everyone who took this covenant fulfilled it and helped all the Saints in need.
Several years later, the Saints were again being driven out of their homes in Nauvoo. Brigham Young led the most of the people out West, but some were too sick or poor to leave at that time. Brigham made plans to find a way to bring these Saints too but then received terrible news. Armed men had driven these sick and destitute people out of Nauvoo across the river into Iowa. With almost no food or tents, they were in a desperate state. President Young quickly organized a rescue team and managed to save them and bring them to Nebraska. Even when organizing over 10,000 people to go West, Brigham Young never forgot the poor.
In 1848, Brigham Young created the Perpetual Emigration Fund (PEF), a revolving loan fund, to help poor Saints in America and Europe travel to Utah. In Brigham’s First Presidency’s own words:
“The P. E. Fund is designed to deliver the honest poor, the pauper, if you please, from the thraldom [i.e., bondage] of ages, from localities where poverty is a crime and beggary an offense against the law, where every avenue to rise in the scale of being to any degree of respectable joyous existence is forever closed, and place them in a land where honest labor and industry meet a suitable reward, where the higher walks of life are open to the humblest and poorest, and where they can lay a foundation for indissolubly uniting themselves and their children in the progressive scale of human existence.”
The PEF helped tens of thousands of people to have a better life where they could practice their religion in peace, but still kept enshrined within it the values of individual responsibility and self-reliance. All those who received funds were expected to repay them back when circumstances allowed.
Brigham Young always stressed the importance of the poor to be hard-working, good in heart and righteous, and not be idlers who break their word. “The Lord’s poor do not forget their covenants, while the Devil’s poor pay no regard to their promises” (DBY, 317). These values are to this day still a key component of the welfare system in the Church and Utah. Work, education, and responsibility are always emphasized and stressed making Utah’s welfare incredibly successful at helping people. Not to be forgotten, Brigham Young also preached the responsibility of those with wealth to help the poor. He said, “Let the poor be honest, let the rich be liberal, and lay their plans to assist the poor, to build up the Kingdom of God, and at the same time enrich themselves, for that is the way to build up God’s Kingdom” (DBY, 317). If these principles were applied everywhere, many people could be lifted out of the desperate cycle of poverty.
The poor and needy were always a concern for Brigham Young. He loved them and cared for them. Because of this love, he preached principles that would uplift and help them while also helping all those that emulated the Savior and cared for the poor as well. Brigham truly wanted to follow the Lord’s teachings by caring for those in need. We should also follow his example and help all those who are trying yet struggling to make a living. The Lord will bless our labors just as He blessed Brother Brigham’s.
For more information, visit https://www.lds.org/study/ensign/1997/10/how-shall-i-gather?lang=eng