Alexander Campbell as a Publisher

Vol. 37/No. 1 (1995)

Alexander Campbell as a Publisher

Gary Holloway

Institute for Christian Studies

In 1819, Alexander Campbell was a young preacher known only in the areas around West Virginia and Western Pennsylvania. Ten years later, he was a national figure, the undisputed leader of a religious movement with adherents throughout the nation and in several foreign countries. By his death in 1866, this movement numbered close to 100,000.

The growth of Campbell's influence can be directly traced to his publishing activities. Through his monthly periodicals, occasional pamphlets, a Bible translation, hymn books, published debates, and other books, he proclaimed the basic principles, set the boundaries, and answered specific issues for the movement. It was the press above all that allowed him to give form and direction to a Church, the Disciples or Christians, that had no central organization, but was organized congregationally.

The Founding and Growth of the Campbell Press.

Alexander Campbell had his first experience in journalism as a young man of 22, when William Sample, the publisher of a weekly paper in Washington, Pennsylvania, urged him to write some essays on the moral order of the local society. Adopting the style of the Spectator, Campbell wrote his essays under a pseudonym, in this instance using a girl's name, "Clarinda". He wrote several essays under different names during 1810, each chiding the community for various moral lapses, but ended his series to devote himself more to preaching.(1) No doubt this early experience writing for the popular press made Alexander aware of its influence.

For the next few years Alexander began to make his mark as a preacher. He and his father Thomas Campbell had organized a non-denominational church at Brush Run Pennsylvania in 1811. However, about the time of the birth of his first child, Alexander came to the conclusion that baptism was for adults. Thus he, not his daughter, was baptized, and soon afterward, 1813, the Brush Run Church joined the Redstone Baptist Association. Alexander became well known as an able thinker and preacher among the Baptists, and so was called upon to defend adult baptism in a public debate with John Walker, a Presbyterian minister, in 1820.

Religious debates were common during this time period, but unlike most debates, this one was published in 1820 by James Wilson of Steubenville, Ohio. A second, enlarged edition, containing additional correspondence between Walker and Campbell was published in Pittsburgh in 1822 by Eichbaum and Johnson. The success of these printed versions opened Campbell's eyes to the power of the printed word. Consequently, he began plans to establish his own religious periodical to be printed on his own press.(2)

In 1823, Campbell had a small print shop, sixteen feet square, built on his farm near Buffalo Creek. He then bought a press, probably a wooden one(3) two composing stands, type, and hired a pressman--Robert Buchanan--who had been recommended by William Sample the newspaper publisher who had given Campbell his first writing assignment.(4) The press was located near the creek so the pages could be moistened before being put on the press, thus assuring a clear impression. Campbell himself served as publisher, editor, and proofreader. The Campbell Press was to be quite successful, publishing over 46,000 copies of Campbell's works in just its first seven years of operation.(5)

In 1830 Campbell enlarged his press to print the Millennial Harbinger, purchasing "a large fount of beautiful new type, of a good medium size, and a first rate new printing press."(6) This was only part of the expansion program for the press. Four years earlier, 1826, Campbell had hired a master printer from Wales, William Llewellyn, to run the press. In 1830 Campbell's son-in-law, Albert Ewing, came to assist Llewellyn at the press; the same year Dr. Robert Richardson largely abandoned his practice as a physician to help Campbell edit his periodical. To house this expanded press, Campbell built a two-story building in the town of Bethany, near his farm.(7)

By 1835 the increase in the number of book titles published in addition to the monthly printing of Millennial Harbinger led Campbell to reorganize his publishing ventures. That year he placed James T. M'Vay and Albert Ewing in charge of the book department of the press, while he and Robert Richardson continued to edit and print the Harbinger.(8) Until 1838 the title pages of Campbell's books read "Printed and published by M'Vay and Ewing."

In July of 1838, the firm of M'Vay and Ewing was dissolved and the firm of Forrester and Campbell (no relation to Alexander) of Pittsburgh took over the publication of Campbell's books.(9) This arrangement lasted until 1843 when Alexander Campbell was again publishing his own works at Bethany, beginning with the third edition of his hymnal, and including several editions of The Christian System (originally published by Forrester and Campbell) and Christian Baptism. Throughout the years Campbell continuously published the Millennial Harbinger at his Bethany Press until 1864.(10)

The Products of the Campbell Press
Campbell's Periodicals

The first product of the Campbell press was a monthly periodical, The Christian Baptist, the first issue of which is dated July 4, 1823. The date of publication was no coincidence. Campbell wanted his journal to be a plea for freedom in religion, freedom from the control of denominational bodies, just as America had set herself free from tyranny.(11) Campbell did most of the writing in the Christian Baptist himself, setting out his program for returning to the "ancient order" of Christianity, and satirically ridiculing the current state of Christianity on the frontier. Just as popular newspapers of the period reflected the personalities of their editors and sometimes engaged in personal attacks on their opponents, so Campbell attacked by name all those he felt were corrupting the purity of the primitive church.(12)

Campbell was able to print and distribute so many copies of The Christian Baptist and other publications, because he could for a time mail them free to subscribers. In 1828 he became postmaster of his little town, Buffaloe, which he renamed Bethany because another post office in Virginia already had the name Buffalo. As postmaster he had franking privileges and thus mailed over 9000 magazines, books, and letters, free of charge to his followers throughout the country and abroad. In 1830 this franking privilege was withdrawn from postmasters, perhaps in response to Campbell's actions. He however continued as postmaster for almost thirty years.(13)

In 1830, Campbell determined he would end the Christian Baptist, and begin a new religious periodical. He had begun to have several differences of opinion with the Baptists, and many Baptist associations were expelling Campbell's followers. By 1832, Campbell's movement was no longer part of the Baptist Church. Campbell was also afraid that "Christian Baptist" was becoming the name of his followers, a non-scriptural name less appropriate than the biblical "Disciples" he preferred.(14) He wanted his new periodical to have a more positive thrust than the Christian Baptist, and hoped it would promote the reform of religion that would prepare the world for the second coming of Christ.(15) Thus monthly from 1830 to 1863 Campbell edited and published The Millennial Harbinger.

For forty-one years, then, Campbell published a monthly religious periodical, doing most of the writing, much of the proofreading, and in charge of the printing and distribution. These periodicals were the heart of Campbell's publishing program and extended his influence throughout the nation and the world. Many people, some as far away as England and Australia, became followers of Campbell's reforming movement without ever personally meeting him or any of his followers, but by reading these periodicals.(16)

Campbell's Debates

Along with his efforts as a publisher, Campbell gained fame as a public debater. As mentioned above, his debate with the Presbyterian Walker on baptism was published and helped convince him of the power of the press. His next debate was with another Presbyterian preacher, W.L. Maccalla, also on the subject of baptism. The debate was held in Washington, Kentucky, in October 1823, and Campbell determined to publish the debate himself as soon as possible. The purchase of printing equipment in 1823 enabled him not only to publish the Christian Baptist, but also to publish the debate with Walker in 1824. The published debate, over 400 pages long, was not a verbatim transcript, but was recreated from the notes of Campbell and his followers. It is no wonder then that Maccalla objected to its publication.(17)

Campbell's next debate made him world famous. In his first two debates he had defended the Baptist view of baptism against the Presbyterian practice of sprinkling infants. In 1829 he was called upon to defend Christianity itself against the views of the famous British "skeptic" Robert Owen, best known for his utopian community in New Harmony, Indiana. The debate, which took place in Cincinnati, received press coverage from throughout the country. Campbell arranged for a stenographer to record the debate verbatim, and he paid Owen for his rights to the printed debate. Just a few months after the debate, the printed version came from the Campbell press, two volumes in one, a total of 552 pages. The debate sold well and was reprinted a few years later by a London Press.(18)

Campbell's last two public debates, with the Roman Catholic bishop John B. Purcell in 1837 and with the Presbyterian N.L. Rice in 1844, were not published by the Campbell Press but by various other publishers. The wide distribution of all Campbell's debates made his a household name in America by mid-century.

Bible Translation and Hymnals

Early in 1826, Campbell began to work on a new translation of the Bible. He felt the Authorized or King James Bible had been a good translation, but that changes in the English language had caused several passages in that version to become obsolete. He did not make this translation completely from scratch, but generally followed the translations of three Scottish scholars--George Campbell, James MacKnight, and Philip Doddridge--giving them credit on the new translation's title page. This translation, popularly known as "The Living Oracles" came forth from the Campbell Press in an octavo edition of 550 pages in 1826.(19) A second emended edition was published in 1828, with other editions, including a pocket size edition and a Welsh language edition, being issued through the years.

Campbell's was the first truly modern translation of the Bible. Besides updating language, it also translated certain terms that the King James version had really only transliterated. For example, in Campbell's version "baptize" is replaced by "immerse." This was also the first English translation to be based on the work of Johann Griesbach and other textual critics who had improved the text of the Greek New Testament.(20) Campbell's translation did not have a wide appeal beyond his own movement and was particularly opposed by those groups practicing infant sprinkling, since it used "immerse", not "baptize." Baptists also opposed it since it made John not "the Baptist", but "the Immerser."(21)

Taking his view from Paul's injunction in Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 to "sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs," Campbell felt the practice of only singing Psalms in worship was not enough. He therefore compiled his own hymn book entitled, Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs, which came from his press in 1828. This first hymnal had only 125 songs, all selected from other hymnals, and contained no musical notes, only a notation of the proper meter for each hymn. Campbell was opposed to notes in hymnals, since he felt the emphasis in singing should be on the teaching contained in the words, not on the beauty of the music.(22)

The Campbell hymn book grew in size with each subsequent edition. Beginning with the fifth edition in 1838, the book was stereotyped to make printing of subsequent runs easier. In 1864, Campbell gave the copyright of the book to the American Christian Missionary Society. The Society published its first edition in 1865, the same year Campbell published the last edition of the hymnal from his own press. By that time the hymnal contained 1324 songs.(23)

Both Campbell's Bible and his hymn books gave him some control over the worship of Churches that were scattered throughout America. Since these Disciples Churches had no set form of liturgy and no central ecclesiastical control, they needed these liturgical documents to help them develop a sense of identity as a single Church.

Other Publications

Campbell's other publications consist mainly of short pamphlets, many of them reprints of articles in the Millennial Harbinger, on significant religious questions of his day. For example, he wrote one of the earliest reactions to Mormonism in 1831.

His only other major publications include a large book on baptism, and his only attempt at what might be called a systematic theology (although he hated that term) The Christian System. First printed by the Campbell Press in 1839, the book had great influence on the Disciples and has been reprinted several times by various presses.

The Significance of the Campbell Press

It is quite probable that the "Restoration Movement" spawned by Campbell and the three large Churches that came from the movement--the Disciples of Christ, the Christian Churches, and the Churches of Christ--would not exist if Campbell's works had gone unpublished. It was through his editorials in his papers and his published debates that he became known throughout the world as one who called for a return to the primitive Church of the New Testament.

Not only did his publications give birth to the movement, they also allowed him some measure of control over it. Since Campbell believed the New Testament Church had no head but Christ and was led only by local, congregational leaders, he opposed any ecclesiastical organization beyond the local congregation, unless it was strictly voluntary.

However, even though he had no formal authority over the churches, he had great influence through his publications. Someone has said that the Disciples did not have Bishops, but they did have editors.(24) Campbell ruled as a bishop-editor, and although he had no formal authority, it was almost impossible to successfully oppose his opinions in the Church. Other preachers in the movement started papers, but when an attempt was made to form a publication society for the entire church, Campbell opposed it as unnecessary. In his view the brotherhood already had a national publication and a nation press, his own.(25)

One of Campbell's legacies to his movement is his interest in publishing. After his death, the number of papers in the movement multiplied. Various editors continued to rule portions of the brotherhood as unofficial bishops. Indeed every major division in the movement since the time of Campbell has been formalized by the rise of rival periodicals. Until quite recently, the most powerful position one could have in these Churches was to be the editor of a prominent publication.

In short, the Press made Campbell famous and thus gave his ideas a hearing. Many followed his plans for Church reform and joined his movement. He guided and controlled that movement through his publications. Today the followers of Campbell have organized their Churches in different ways, yet each branch of the movement he founded still looks in part to his seminal ideas found in his publications for guidance.



 1. Several of these essays are reprinted verbatim in Robert Richardson, Memoirs of Alexander Campbell (Cincinnati: Standard Publishing Co., 1897) 1.283-307.

 2. Thomas W. Grafton, Alexander Campbell (St. Louis: Christian Publishing Company, 106-07.

 3. I found no records of what type of hand press Campbell purchased, but it was probably a wooden press, since early versions of the iron Washington Press, prodeuced by Robert Hoe, had not had time to become popular on the frontier. As we shall see below, Campbell bought a new press in 1830, which most likely was a Washington Press. See Hellmut Lehmann-Haupt, The Book in America (2nd ed.;New York: R. R. Bowker, 1951) 75-6.

 4. This information is found in many works, incluidng Richardson, 2.50. However the name of Campbell's printer is found only in Louis Cochran, The Fool of God (New York: Duell, Sloan, and Pearce, 1958) 213. Cochran's book is a novelization of Campbell's life. However, he claims that ". . . each person lived and played his role as related here. . . ."

 5. Richardson, 2.51.

 6. Alexander Campbell, "Prospectus," The Millennial Harbinger 1 (1830) 2.

 7. Cochran, 234, 273, 286, 292.

 8. Cecil K. Thomas, Alexander Campbell and His New Version (St. Louis: Bethany, 1958) 60.

 9. Thomas, 60-1.

 10. The 1864 edition of the Millennial Harbinger is the last to say, "Printed and Published by A. Campbell," although by that date it is unlikely he did much of the press work himself, since he was 76 years old. W. K. Pendleton's name is on the title page of the 1865 and following editions.

 11. Robert Frederick West, Alexander Campbell and Natural Religion (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1948) 3-5.

 12. Grafton, 108-09.

 13. Richardson, 2.180-81; Lester G. McAllister, Just Like I Heard It (Nashville: Disciples of Christ Historical Society, 1989) 2-3.

 14. Richardson, 2.285.

 15. Richardson, 302-03.

 16. For examples, see Jerry Rushford, "The Stroke of his Pen," Gospel Advocate 130 (1988) 19-20.

 17. Richardson, 95.

 18. Richardoson, 268-84.

 19. The actual title page reads, The Sacred Writings of the Apostles and Evangelists of Jesus Christ Commonly Styled the New Testament. Translated from the Original Greek by Doctors George Campbell, James McKnight, and Philip Doddridge, with Prefaces, Various Emendations and an Appendix by Alexander Campbell. Buffaloe, Virginia: Alexander Campbell, 1826." With a title this long, it is no wonder it became known as "The Living Oracles," which was used as the cover title of some editions.

 20. Frank Pack, "Alexander Campbell the Scholar," RestQ 30 (1988) 149-50.

 21. Richardson, 147-48.

 22. Enos Dowling, "The Alexander Campbell Hymn Book (1828-1865)," RestQ 30 (1988) 149-50.

 23. Dowling, 156-58.

 24. I have not been able to find the original source of this statements, but it is quoted widely in churches of the Restoration Movement, and is found in W. E. Garrison and A. T. DeGroot, The Disciples of Christ, a History (St. Louis: Bethany, 1958) 253.

 25. Garrison and DeGroot, 256; Eva Jean Wrather, Creative Freedom in Action: Alexander Campbell on the Structure of the Church (St. Louis: Bethany, 1968) 28-29.

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