Campbell, Alexander (1788-1866) (DNB00)

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CAMPBELL, ALEXANDER (1788–1866), founder of the ‘Campellites,’ eldest son of Thomas Campbell, schoolmaster, and minister of the Secession church (1763-1854), by his marriage in June 1787 with Jane Corneigle, who died in 1835, was born near Ballymena, county Antrim, on 12 Sept. 1788, and, after a preliminary education at Market Hill and Newry, worked for several years as a day labourer on his father’s farm. Afterwards he became an assistant in an academy conducted by his parent at Rich Hill, near Newry. The father emigrated to the United States in April 1807, and in September of the following year, accompanied by his mother and the rest of the family, he embarked in the Hibernia for Philadelphia, but on 7 Oct. that vessel was wrecked on the island of Islay, and her passengers were landed in Scotland. Campbell’s mind being much impressed with the prospect of a speedy death, he resolved that, if his life were saved, he would spend his days in the ministry of the gospel. On 8 Nov. 1808 he entered Glasgow University, where he pursued his studies until 3 July 1809, when he again embarked and arrived safely in America. He almost immediately joined the Christian Association of Washington, a sect which his father had established on 17 Aug. 1809 on the basis ‘of the Bible alone, the sole creed of the church.’ In this denomination he was licensed to preach the gospel on 4 May 1811 at Brush Run Church, Washington county, and ordained on 1 Jan. 1812. Having married on 2 March 1811 Margaret, daughter of John Brown, and receiving as her marriage portion a large farm, he declined to take any remuneration for his ministerial services, and supported himself and family throughout his life by labour on his own land. In after years he introduced finewoolled merino and Saxon sheep; the experiment proved successful, and he soon had a large and valuable flock. The Buffalo Seminary was opened by him in his own house in January 1818, an establishment for preparing young men to labour on behalf of the ‘primitive gospel,’ but not answering his expectations in this respect, it was given up in November 1822. The word reverend was not used by him, but he frequently called himself Alexander Campbell, V.D.M., i.e. Verbi Divini Minister. Having persuaded himself that immersion was the only proper mode of baptism, he and his family, in 1812, were, to use his own expression, ‘immersed into the christian faith.’ After this the congregations with which he was connected in various parts of the country formed an alliance with the baptist denomination, with whom they remained in friendly intercourse for many years. He was always much engaged in preaching tours through several of the states. He had many public discussions on the subject of baptism, and finally, on 4 July 1823, commenced the issue of a publication called ‘The Christian Baptist,’ which ran to seven volumes, and was succeeded in January 1830 by ‘The Millennial Harbinger,’ which became the recognised organ of his church. In these two works may be found a complete history of the ‘church reforms’ to which his father and himself for so many years devoted themselves.
      In 1826 he commenced a translation of the Greek Testament, which he compiled from the versions of Dr. George Campbell, Rev. James MacKnight, and Philip Doddridge, with much additional matter from his own readings. One object of this work was to expound that the words baptist and baptism are not to be found in the New Testament. The publication of this volume caused a complete disruption between his people and the baptist denomination. In the succeeding year his followers began to form themselves into a separate organisation, and uniting with other congregations in the western states, which were led by the Rev. W. B. Stone, founded a sect called variously the ‘Church of the Disciples,’ the ‘Disciples of Christ,’ the ‘Christians,’ or the ‘Church of Christ,’ but more commonly known as the ‘Campbellites.’ This denomination, which in 1872 was estimated to comprise 500,000 persons, extended into the states of Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky. Campbell added to his other arduous labours by inaugurating on 21 Oct. 1841 Bethany College, an establishment chiefly intended for the education of schoolmasters and ministers; of this college he remained president till his death, when he endowed it with 10,000 dollars and a valuable library of books. He visited Great Britain in 1847, and while at Glasgow engaged in an anti-slavery debate. Some expressions which he then used caused the Rev. James Robertson to prefer a charge of libel against him, and to have him arrested on the plea that he was about to leave the country. His imprisonment lasted ten days, when the warrant for his arrest was declared to be illegal, and ultimately a verdict was given in his favour. On his return to America he continued with great zeal his preaching and educational work, and died at Bethany, West Virginia, on 4 March 1866. His wife having died on 22 Oct. 1827, he, by her dying wish, married secondly, in 1828, Mrs. S. H. Bakewell. He wrote among others the following works: 1. ‘Debate on the Evidences of Christianity between Robert Owen and A. Campbell,’ 1829; another edition, 1839. 2. ‘The Christian Baptist,’ edited by A. Campbell, 1835, 7 vols. 3. ‘The Sacred Writings of the Apostles and Evangelists of Jesus Christ, commonly styled the New Testament. With prefaces by A. Campbell,’ 1835, another edition, 1848. 4. ‘A Debate on the Roman Catholic Religion between A. Campbell and J. B. Purcell, bishop of Cincinnati,’ 1837. 5. ‘The Christian Messenger and Reformer, containing Essays, Addresses, &c., by A. Campbell and others,’ 1838, 9 vols. 6. ‘Addresses delivered before the Charlottesville Lyceum on “Is Moral Philosophy an Inductive Science?”’ 1840. 7. ‘A Public Debate on Christian Baptism, between the Rev. W. L. Maccalla and A. Campbell,’ 1842. 8. ‘Yr oraclau bywiol neu y Testament Newydd. Wedi ei gyfiethu gan J. Williams gyda rhaglithiau ac attodiad gan A. Campbell,’ 1842. 9. ‘Capital Punishment sanctioned by Divine Authority,’ 1846. 10. ‘An Essay on the Remission of Sins,’ 1846. 11. ‘An Address on the Amelioration of the Social State,’ 1847. 12. ‘An Address on the Responsibilities of Men of Genius,’ 1848. 13. ‘Christian Baptism, with its Antecedents and Consequents,’ 1853. 14. ‘Essay on Life and Death,’ 1854. 15. ‘Christianity as it was, being a Selection from the Writings of A. Campbell,’ 1867. 16. ‘The Christian Hymn Book, compiled from the writings of A. Campbell and others,’ 1869. Nearly the whole of the ‘Christian Baptist,’ or the ‘Millennial Harbinger,’ was written by Campbell himself and his father.

[Rice’s Campbellism, its Rise and Progress, 1850; Smallwood’s Campbellism Refuted, 1833; Inwards’s Discourse on Death of A. Campbell, 1866; Ripley and Dana’s American Cyclopædia, 1873, under Campbell and Disciples; Richardson’s Memoirs of A. Campbell, with portrait, 1871, 2 vols.]

G. C. B.