The Oneida Community was founded in 1848 by John Noyes. When it was founded the community had 87 members, and grew to 306 members by the time of its dissolution in 1878. The Oneida members based their community on a principle called "Bible Communism". Bible Communism was based on another idea called "Christian Perfectionism", a concept popular at the time. Christian Perfectionism challenged the idea that humans are unable to avoid sin. Perfectionists believed that people could strive for and achieve moral perfection. The Oneida community differed from other Perfectionists because they believed that the Second Coming of Christ had already occurred and that they should therefore attempt to establish the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth.
The Oneida members called themselves a Communist group because a main tenet of their beliefs was that there is no personal ownership of property. They believed that all things belong to G-d and that He does not divide up possessions for individual ownership. Any things that people believe that they own are acquired through a "grab game", and this is not a legitimate method of acquisition. There was no formal division of labor in the Oneida community. All work was done in "bees", where when a task was identified, the entire community would work on it until it was finished, thereby accomplishing things quickly and in a social manner. Since there was no division of labor among the sexes, women dressed in clothing more suitable to labor, wearing short dresses over pants.
The main principle that distinguished the Oneida community from other Communist communities is their system of Complex Marriage. In the book of Matthew, it says "In the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage." The Oneida community interpreted this statement to equate marriage with slavery, where one person, the husband, owns the wife. Although both marriage and slavery are permitted in the Bible, they are seen as necessary evils that will be abolished in Heaven. Since the Oneida community attempted to establish Heaven on Earth, they felt that the institution of marriage had no place in their community. However, unlike communities like the Shakers, who abolished all sexual intercourse, the Oneida community did not believe that no marriage meant no sex. Instead, under Complex Marriage, everyone in the community was married to everyone else. Sex was viewed as the highest form of interaction between the genders. To prevent unrestrained reproduction, which the community believed was unhealthy for both men and women, men practiced what was called Male Continence, or coitus interruptus. When the community as a whole decided that children were desirable, the most fit men and women from among those who wanted to bear children were chosen in a system of "scientific reproduction", and the children were raised communally.
The Oneida community had no formal rules other than the laws of the Bible. In order to direct the behavior of the members, the community instituted a system called "Mutual Criticism". Under this system, an individual would submit himself to criticism by his peers, and all of the community members would tell him what he had been doing wrong, and what changes he should make in his behavior. This system was supposed to be completely voluntary. It served two purposes. Firstly, it helped people to improve their own behavior, and secondly, it eliminated gossip since people had no motivation to talk about someone behind their backs when they were not only encouraged but morally obligated to criticize them to their faces.
The downfall of the Oneida community began in 1877 when John Noyes tried to pass on the leadership of the community to his son. Unfortunately, his son was an agnostic, and therefore not suited to lead a religious community. Many of the younger members of the community were unhappy with the system of Complex Marriage, and wanted to return to marriage in pairs. In 1878, Complex Marriage and Communism were abandoned by the Oneida community and the experiment in Bible Communism came to an end. The Oneida community continued as a manufacturing organization, but did not continue to follow its religious tenets.
The Oneida community is a good example of an attempted utopia because of its emphasis on achieving perfection on Earth. Oneida theology taught that the early Christian Church had strayed from its ideal tenets and had included too many secular beliefs in an attempt to appeal to a greater audience. They tried to establish a community that resembled what the Christian Church would have been if it had evolved correctly. As a deeply religious community, the Oneida community believed that G-d had laid out the guidelines for a perfect society in the Bible and that true happiness could be achieved by implementing this society. Their main goals for a perfect society were complete equality among all people, including equality among the sexes, no private ownership, and freedom from the suffering that they felt was caused by monogamy.