ALEXANDER CAMPBELL, this eminent man was born in the county of Antrim, Ireland, parish of Broughshane, September 12, 1786. His ancestors on both sides migrated from Scotland to Ireland. His mother's ancestors, however, were French Hugenots, who fled from their native country upon the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, by Louis XIV., sought refuge, it appears, first in Scotland, from whence they subsequently migrated to Ireland. His father, Thomas Campbell, was born in county Down, Ireland, February 1, 1763. He was of a mild and quiet disposition. In his earlier years, he became the subject of deep religious impressions, and acquired a most sincere and earnest love for the scriptures. The cold formality of the Episcopal ritual, and the apparent want of vital piety in the church to which his father belonged, led him to prefer the society of the rigid and devotional Covenanters and Seceders, and to attend their religious meetings. Having a strong desire to devote himself to the ministry in the Secession church, the matter was broached to his father, who disapproved of it. He, indeed, had but little sympathy in his son's religious change, being attached to the Church of England, and determined, as he used to say, "to worship God according to act of Parliament." His father having finally acquiesced in his purpose, he went to Glasgow, where he became a student at the university, and after completing his course of study, he left that institution and engaged in the ministry, and in June, 1787, he married Miss Jane Carmeigle, and September 12, 1788, Alexander, their first child, was born. His small salary soon became insufficient to support his increasing family, and other methods to increase his income were resorted to. He removed to Rich Hill and took charge of an academy, in addition to his ministerial duties. The multiplied labors of this addition broke down his health, and he was advised to try the benefits of a sea voyage to restore it. With sore regrets he relinquished his charge and embarked for America April 8, 1807. The family remained behind, and the son, Alexander, went to the Glasgow university and completed his studies, then with the family followed his father in October, 1808. Thomas Campbell died January 4, 1854, lacking only one month of ninety-one years. At an early age Alexander was sent to an elementary school in Market Hill, then was sent to an academy at Newry, under the charge of his uncles Archibald and Enos. Upon his return home, his father endeavored to superintend and continue his education, but he found him so exceedingly devoted to sport and physical exercise, that it was difficult to fix his attention upon books. This uncommon activity of disposition seems at this time to have been his most striking trait. There was in his constitution no tendency to precocious mental development, nor did his peculiar mental powers begin to manifest themselves strikingly until he had nearly attained his growth. His extreme fondness in order to acquire learning, that study became to him a drudgery, and the tasks with which his over anxious father supplied him became dull and wearisome. About his ninth year, the French language was added to his other studies, but in this he appears not to have made a very satisfactory progress. On account of his great disinclination to confinement, his father at length concluded to put him to work on the farm with the laborers, in order to subdue his love of sport, and , as he said, "to break him into his books". He seems to have found field labor much more congenial, and to have worked hard for several years, until he had become a stout lad, full of health and vigor. At this time his intellectual nature began to assert its claims. He manifested a love for reading, and less inclination for outdoor exercise; and, with his father's approbation, betook himself to his studies again, filled with all ardent desire for literary distinction, and determined, as he said, to be "one of the best scholars in the kingdom". Two thousand churches with 100,000 members in our own country, and the many followers that are found in every land, attest his success and the greatness of the work he performed, and although he has been called from the scenes of his earthly labor, still his work goes on. Thomas Campbell had, at an early day, conceived the idea that the progress of Christianity was greatly impeded by the barriers placed between the different denominations of Christians, in the way of creeds and articles of faith made by human hands, and that if these barriers could and removed, and some common ground be found, upon which all the different denominations could stand, all professing Christians would be united again, and with harmony and united effort, a more rapid spread of the gospel would ensure. To effect this object he proposed that all creeds be discarded; that the object was to come fairly and squarely to the original ground, and take up things just where the apostles left them. In this way, "becoming disentangled from the accruing embarrassments of interviewing ages," they could consistently stand on the ground on which the church stood at the beginning; declaring "where the scriptures speak, we speak, where the scriptures are silent, we are silent", that nothing should be required as a matter of faith or duty, for which a "Thus saith the Lord" could not be produced, either in express terms or approved precedent. It is probable that neither Thomas Campbell, or any of the advocates of his views, had, at that time, any intention or thought of forming a new religious party. On the contrary denominations by including them to accept the Bible as the only authorized rule of faith and practice , and to desist from their controversies about matters of opinion and expediency. At this juncture the son, Alexander, arrived in this country and readily espoused the cause which his father and a few co-workers were laboring to build up. Alexander, by the versatility of his mind, and his energy and zeal in the cause, gave a new impetus to the movement. Their efforts to effect a union on the proposed basis failed, and finding it impossible to accomplish their object, by uniting the already existing churches, they resolved to organize a new church upon the plan for which they had so long labored. Accordingly, in order to carry out this purpose more efficiently, it was resolved at a meeting held at the head waters of Buffalo, 17th of August, 1809, that they would form themselves into an association, under the name of "the Christian Association of Washington". They then appointed twenty-one of their number to meet and confer together, and, with the assistance of Thomas Campbell, to determine upon the proper means to carry into effect the important ends of the association. As it had been found somewhat inconvenient to hold the meetings in private houses, it was thought advisable by the members to provide some regular place of meeting. The neighbors accordingly assembled, and in a short time erected a log building on the Sinclair farm, about three miles from Mount Pleasant, upon the road leading from Washington to that place. This building was designed, also, for the purpose of a common school, which was much desired in that neighborhood. Here Thomas Campbell continued to meet his hearers regularly. Here in the neighborhood at the house of a Mr. Welch, he wrote the celebrated "Declaration and Address," designed to set forth to the public at large, in a clear and definite manner, the object of the movement in which he and those associated with him were engaged. When this was finished, it was unanimously agreed to by the committee and ordered to be printed September 7, 1809. Alexander, after his arrival, always attended his father's meetings, and as he had already signified his determination to engage in the proposed reformation, his father, being about to address a congregation at a private house (Jacob Donaldson's), told him that after preaching he would have a short intermission, and would expect him afterward to address the people. Accordingly, after the meeting was resumed, Alexander arose and spoke for a short time, chiefly, however, in the way of exhortation. The was Alexander's first attempt at speaking; and although his remarks were brief and not in the usual form of a regular sermon, the result inspired him with confidence, so that, upon being afterward urged to prepare and deliver a public discourse he agreed to do so. At the advice and under the direction of his father, he at once devoted himself to the preparatory studies for the ministry. He abandoned all other cares, and applied his powerful and disciplined mind anew to the methodical study of the sacred scriptures. Meantime his father had gathered two small congregations, to which he administered, and who were agreed with him in the purpose of the proposed reformation. One of these was at Cross Roads, six miles northwest, and the other at Brush Run, some eight miles southwest of Washington, Penn. Before the latter of these, May, 1810, Alexander Campbell preached his first sermon, taking his text, Matt. 7:24-27. The text was evidently chosen as suggestive of the proposed foundation of this new organization, and afforded a fruitful theme for the consideration of all human bases of ecclesiastical union and fellowship. It was received with the greatest enthusiasm by the entire congregation to whom it was addressed, and resulted in an immediate and unanimous call to the ministry. At this time his father and James Foster were the only official teachers recognized in the movement, and the two above named congregations, the only organizations formed upon the principals set forth in the Declaration and Address." Alexander Campbell now added the weight of his rare powers, and the excitement everywhere to hear him became intense. In the absence of church edifices, meetings were held in the open air, and the groves in the alleys and upon the hill tops rang with the powerful voice of this bold and impetuous pleader for the authority of the word of God. Though the struggle was for the re-introduction of primitive Christianity, Mr. Campbell, the younger, was now considered the champion of a new cause, and he went far and near, attracting immense concourses of admiring, and frequently gainsaying hearers. The establishment of the popular Buffalo academy in 1819; the debate with Mr. Walker in 1820, and one with Mr. McCalla in 1823--both Presbyterian ministers--on the subject of baptism, served to intensify his studies and enlarge the area of his reputation. The work was accumulating on his hands, and in personal presence he was unable to perform it. The employment of the press became a necessity. The Baptists, generally, were favorably, and the Pedobaptists unfavorably aroused, and all over the west inquiry was being excited. August 3, 1823, he issued Vol. 1, No. 1, of the Christian Baptist. The name was intended to intimate that Christianity professed and obeyed in immersion, was to be the burden of its pages. About a year after the delivery of his first discourse, March 12, 1811, the subject of this address was married to Miss Margaret Brown, a true "helpmeet for him". On the 25th of March, he went with his wife to live with his father-in-law. His delight in active exercise and the practical knowledge he had acquired of farming in his boyhood, led him at once to engage in assisting Mr. Brown in the management of the farm, in which he appears to have displayed his usual activity, and energy, devoting to it all the time he could spare from his ministerial duties. By this time the advocates of these new principals became fully convinced that on account of the continued hostilities of the different parties it was necessary that the Christian Association should assume the character of an independent church, in order to the enjoyment of those privileges and the performance of those duties which belong to the church relation. It was with great reluctance that the step was finally taken, and a separation made from those whom it desired to recognize as brethern. At a meeting at Brush Run on Saturday, May 4, 1811, a new church was organized. At this meeting Thomas Campbell was appointed elder, and Alexander was licensed to preach the gospel. Alexander, after maturely and carefully considering the subject, decided that it was his duty to be ordained, and he was accordingly set apart to the office of the ministry, with the usual forms, on the 1st day of January, 1812.
Aware of the great importance of obtaining the assistance of instructed and cultivated minds in the work to which he was devoted, and feeling the want, in his own neighborhood, of better methods of instruction than those which then prevailed, he determined, early in 1818, to open a seminary, chiefly for young men, in his own house, and take charge of it himself. He thought that by giving the youth of the neighborhood a better education than they could otherwise obtain, it would be the means of preparing some of them for the ministry. By boarding them in his own family, directing their studies, and imbuing their minds with a knowledge of the scriptures in their daily recitations and lessons of instruction which he kept up at the morning and evening devotions of his household, he thought the desired object might be gradually attained. With his well-known talent and energy, he had no difficulty in obtaining as many pupils as he desired. They came from Pittsburgh, some from Ohio, a son of Dr. Joseph Doddridge, of Wellsburgh, and many young men and young ladies came from their homes in the neighborhood to attend the day school. This academy, called the Buffalo seminary, continued to flourish for a number of years. Having found it inconvenient to send his letters and publications to mail at West Liberty, distant four miles, he, in 1827, induced the postoffice department to establish a postoffice at his own residence, which was named Bethany, there being a post town called Buffalo in Mason county. This was highly advantageous to him in many respects. Being postmaster, he enjoyed the franking privilege, which enabled him greatly to extend his correspondence. This privilege can be better appreciated when we inform the reader that the postage on letters in those days was from 6 to 25 cents, according to distance. This office Mr. Campbell held for thirty-eight years. By this time, through his writing, his public debates, and his many and extensive tours through all the states of the Union, Mr. Campbell, aided by many able and devoted co-laborers, had attracted to the movement of which he was the great and acknowledged head, many myraids of zealous and earnest sympathizers. Congregations had been organized in almost every state in the Union, and in many localities they constituted the prevailing denomination. He had long seen and felt the growing want of an educated ministry and earnestly mediated upon the best means for meeting the necessity. Already taxed to the utmost by the innumerable public demands upon his time and his energies, he, for some time, shrank from undertaking what seemed the only alternative; but the necessity was urgent, and he resolved to postpone it no longer. In 1840 he commenced the great and crowning work of his life--the founding and endowment of Bethany college. He did not wait to raise the means from others, but with a sublime confidence in the merit of the enterprise, which was his strong characteristic in all that he undertook, he threw some $10,000 or $15,000 of his own capital into the business, and at once contracted for the erection of the necessary buildings. All the energies of his great mind and heart were thrown into the enterprise, and by the fall of 1841, the college was organized with a regular charter, board of trustees, faculty, and over 100 students, assembled from ten or twelve different states of the American Union. He took upon himself not only the duties of president, but also the daily labor of lecturing on the Bible. He made a thorough study of the Bible and the Bible alone as the authority to the church in all matters of faith and practice, and the infallible source of a perfect morality, so he conceived it should form the basis of all Christian education, and be made a leading text-book in every college. Early in 1830, he was, without seeking the position, chosen delegate to the Virginia convention for amending the state constitution. Though not a politician, his known liberal and well-digested sentiments commended him to the suffrages of the western citizens of that great state, at the moment when they demanded liberation from the burdens not shared by the tide water districts. Though he did not shine as a leader in this most august Virginia assembly of this century, he was intimate with the venerable and celebrated Ex-president Madison and Chief Justice Marshall, and a co-member of the judiciary committee with the latter. These gentlemen. with Philip Doddridge and the members of the convention generally, held him in high esteem. But never did our venerable brother shine more brilliantly as a preacher than during that spring, the First Baptist church being constantly crowded in every part with anxious listeners, Mr. Madison often among them. In October, 1827, his first wife died. She was a woman of remarkable excellence of heart and mind, which were perpetuated in the lives of her five amiable and Christian-like daughters. His second wife was Miss Selina H. Bakewell, whom he married in 1828. By his first wife he had eight children, all now deceased; by his second wife he had six--four of whom survive.
Although Mr. Campbell never would accept any compensation for his ministerial labors nor ever engage in any business speculations, yet he acquired a respectable fortune. Wealth seemed to accumulate on his hands without effort. His perfect system in all his business arrangements, and his indefatigable industry and methodical order in everything, greatly facilitated his labors, but his over-taxed powers finally began to fail. His memory failed him, and though at times, when aroused, his intellectual powers would seem to exhibit the brilliancy and strength of his earlier years, yet it was evident that the wear of sixty years of ceaseless exhausting labor began to show its effects in the worn out mental and physical powers of this great man. His strength continued to gradually fail him till on the 4th of March, 1866, in the bosom of his family and amid sorrowing friends he breathed his last. He lies buried in the family cemetery, on the farm on which he had always lived.
Copyright © 2006 Danice Ryan. All rights reserved.