In an 1853 anonymous letter to Louisville’s Western Recorder, a Baptist newspaper, “S.” offered a firsthand account of a Methodist Conference meeting in Owensboro, Kentucky. Claiming neutrality toward “this [Methodist] society of Christians,” the observer claimed one clergyman advanced the argument that Methodists outnumbered Baptists by a half million, to which the observer countered that that number was no doubt inflated by the inclusion of baptized babies everywhere. Finally, when the Methodist clergyman preached on baptism by sprinkling—and not immersion—the clergyman’s halting language, sweaty brow, and pale complexion all betrayed his uneasiness over his claims. And when he asked for women to bring their children forth for the sacrament, “none came….and the meeting broke up in disgust.”1 At first blush, the eyewitness account suggests nothing more than a cranky Baptist eager to dismiss Methodist prospects in the Ohio River Valley. On closer inspection, however, the tone and rhetoric echo the language and logic of J. R. Graves, the firebrand editor of the Tennessee Baptist in Nashville, Tennessee. Regardless of whether or not “S” had read or heard of J. R. Graves, the author’s reference to the Methodists as a “society” captured Graves’s distinctive turn of phrase aimed at de-legitimizing all non-Baptists as something less than a church. And, the reference to infant baptism, or “pedobaptism” in the era’s vernacular, strikes at the heart of Graves’s assault on Methodist and Presbyterian traditions, not to mention all of their membership statistics. Between the exchange of religious newspapers among editors and Graves’s stunning subscription base, which he claimed exceeded 13,000 in the 1850s, few Protestants of any stripe could avoid his reach across the South. This is an exploration of how Graves built his newspaper into a powerful pulpit that caused southern evangelicals to re-evaluate their positions on many of the cornerstones of their faith: baptism, conversion, and discipline.

As a Yankee with no experience in religious publishing, J. R. Graves seems the most unlikely of successful southern newspaper editors. To top it off, the combination of Baptist congregational autonomy and the rural nature of the South made for a challenging business climate. In spite of these odds, Graves succeeded where many others failed because he equated Baptist identity with reading the Tennessee Baptist. Indeed, while Graves claimed that the paper’s subscription base had fallen to 1,000 just prior to his tenure, he would trumpet 13,000 subscribers in the late 1850s.2 As historian Paul Harvey recounts Graves’s legacy, one Baptist seminarian noted that “[m]any Baptists grew up in homes where…the Bible and the Tennessee Baptist and Reflector constituted the complete canon of works necessary for an understanding of Christianity.”3 While part of Graves’s story has been told—his ability to stamp Baptist beliefs as especially Christian and American in the nineteenth-century context—less familiar are the ways in which he knit together a community of newspaper readers.4 He used innovative features in his paper to mobilize and to maintain Baptist militancy with himself at the fore. He creatively reinforced the notions of individual accountability and congregational authority, all the while forging a stronger sense of denominational identity. By marking his denomination’s success at attracting new members and repelling all skeptics, Graves defined Baptists in ways that brought together widely scattered believers into a community of readers.

Thanks to his brashness, Graves has received some scholarly attention, though the emphasis has remained largely on a collection of his lengthier articles, The Great Iron Wheel, or Republicanism Backwards and Christianity Reversed (1855), and the principal rebuttal from a Tennessee Methodist clergyman, “Parson” William Brownlow’s The Great Iron Wheel Examined (1855).5 The combination of these factors has made Graves into something of an exception to the dominant scholarly themes for this era. In an era where religious publications in the North thrived on innovative marketing and manufacturing techniques, Graves stood out as a newspaper pioneer in the Old Southwest. In an era of growing professionalism among southern clergymen and cooperation across denominational lines, Graves used invective to maintain sharp denominational boundaries. In an era dominated by northern and southern clergy debating the morality of slavery, he trumpeted ecclesiological divides. In contrast to the scholarly emphasis on southern evangelicals’ stress on individual salvation to underline the nominal gains of reform movements in the South, Graves used a combination of editorial persuasion, traveling agents, and fellow clergy to construct a business empire. In a time of growing harmony among Southern Baptists after the sectional schism of 1845, Graves called out Southern Baptists who disagreed with him even more forcefully than his non-Baptist rivals.6

By shifting analysis from The Great Iron Wheel to the Tennessee Baptist, this essay seeks to uncover the breadth of Graves’s reach and the ongoing disruption he caused across the South. He built community among rural Baptists across the Old Southwest through creative marketing and editing. He managed to yoke membership in the Baptist Church to subscriptions to the Tennessee Baptist. More than his use of provocative language, Graves institutionalized his attacks on rival Protestant denominations with recurring columns celebrating the conversion of non-Baptists to the Baptist faith and reminders of how Baptist congregations differed from their evangelical counterparts and why those differences mattered so dearly to the past, present, and future of their denomination.7 From there, he could count the growing number of Baptists from every southern hamlet. Thanks to his travels, clerical network, and the exchange of newspapers with other editors, Graves directly challenged clergy and editors across the entire South. His righteousness led him to embrace transparency, both intellectual and financial, as he set out to re-print and disprove his opponents’ claims in his paper.8 Seeing that Graves refused to go away quietly, editors then engaged Graves in never-ceasing articles and debates chock full of claims and counter-claims. As they did so, both sides sought authority from an ever-widening circle of clergy to verify events, sort through arguments, and testify to issues of character. Instead of defusing matters, all sides found religious discord central to their ongoing efforts to define their denomination and confirm the ongoing need for their weekly newspapers.

Ultimately, Graves’s over-reach among fellow Baptists began to erode his power in 1857–1858, a harbinger of growing unity among southern evangelicals, thanks largely to the issue of slavery. While Graves’s reach would become more localized to the Old Southwest by the eve of the Civil War, he had crafted eye-catching columns that encouraged imitators and he made all southern evangelicals keenly aware of denominational differences. Along the way, he and his fellow editors developed a vernacular of denominational critique that allowed his ideas to persist even as his reach was being eclipsed. Graves’s success at the Tennessee Baptist between 1846 and 1860 not only illustrates one editor’s dynamic business model built through a web of intermediaries and sharp rhetoric, but it also forces scholars to re-evaluate the notion of a united evangelical front between the mid-1840s and the Civil War.

Graves’s Outlook

J. R. Graves was not content to let his ideas stand on their own. He may have worked from a desk in Nashville, Tennessee, but he wanted his ideas to take root across the rural South in what he viewed as a regional, national, and global contest between right and wrong. In this way, Graves reflects two common themes among editors of mid-nineteenth-century religious newspapers: crafting a sense of community among his readers while also pitting his denomination in a larger conflict between “purity and corruption.”9 Graves attacked religious heresy in every corner by all means available, but he needed assistance. Because he inherited a newspaper on shaky financial ground, he needed existing subscribers to settle their accounts and he needed new readers to take up the paper. The paper’s circulation itself would come to represent the growing tide of Baptist faith in the South. He also needed readers—lay and clergy alike—to keep tabs on their meetinghouses and communities, and report back to the Tennessee Baptist on the inroads of the Baptist faith there, particularly relative to rival denominations. Finally, he put his beliefs into motion, actively campaigning across the countryside on behalf of the Baptist Church. He never tired of telling folks that his combative formula worked; one look at the growing ranks of the Baptist laity, the growing number of subscribers to his newspaper, and his own publishing efforts beyond his newspaper revealed that he had gone from a tenuous grasp to a firm grip in the competition for believers and subscribers in the South.

While Graves found success in the South, he possessed Yankee roots, something his southern detractors never let him forget. Hailing from Vermont, Graves converted and was baptized at the age of fourteen in 1834 at North Springfield Baptist Church in 1834.10 In 1839, he arrived in Ashtabula, Ohio, on Lake Erie, where his brother opened a school. Citing ill health, Graves moved to Kentucky after only eighteen months in Ohio, where he was employed by a school outside of Lexington. At the age of twenty-two, Graves was ordained.11 At twenty-five he married Ohioan Lua Ellen Spencer and headed to Nashville, Tennessee, where he planned to continue his work as an educator. When he arrived in Nashville in 1845, he joined Nashville’s First Baptist Church, a resurgent congregation under the leadership of R. C. Howell. Later that year, Howell aided Graves in his move to the pulpit of Nashville’s Second Baptist Church. Graves would remain the pastor there until 1849, but as early as 1846 began work at the Baptist newspaper as an assistant editor to Howell. In May 1847 the newspaper was renamed the Tennessee Baptist; in the fall of that same year the Tennessee Baptist Publication Society—which Graves had created—assumed control over the paper, and in June 1848, Howell left the paper, and Graves assumed control over the Tennessee Baptist.12

As scholars of Baptist history note, Graves took many traditional tenets of Baptist practices and put a razor sharp edge on them.13 In addition to insisting on the traditional Baptist belief that baptism should be done by immersion among those old enough to profess their faith—and not “sprinkling” of infants (referenced as “pedobaptism” among nineteenth-century Americans)—Graves also insisted that any convert to the Baptist Church from a pedobaptist denomination such as the Methodists must be re-baptized in accord with Baptist practices. Even those individuals who had experienced baptism by immersion in another denomination, what Graves referred to as “alien immersion,” required re-baptism in a Baptist Church to ensure the purity of the congregation and denomination.14 Graves’s quest for purity in the present stemmed from his claim that only Baptists had maintained an unbroken link to Jesus’ baptism.15 Similarly, to share pulpits with clergy from other denominations, or, to allow non-Baptists access to the Lord’s Supper in a Baptist Church would taint the church and all of its believers.16 As Bill J. Leonard summarizes, Graves set out to “search for the true church, with the resulting conclusion that Baptists alone had maintained genuine New Testament faith in succession of churches that stretched from Jesus and John the Baptist to their Baptist counterparts in Nashville, Bowling Green, and elsewhere.”17 Graves not only wanted to differentiate Baptists from other Protestant denominations, he also aimed to elevate Baptists above all others. Indeed, he referred to all other denominations as mere “societies,” his shorthand for lesser, if not illegitimate stripes of Christianity.

Graves then extended these ecclesiological differences by situating them in the American context. In Graves’s logic, only the Baptist Church, with its emphasis on congregational authority, mirrored the vision of the scriptures and the nation’s founding documents. His logic hinged on Baptist exceptionalism, which when taken to its extreme, “came perilously close to claiming that only Baptists could be Christians.”18 He also stressed the Old Southwest with the Mississippi River Valley in its heart, would be the epicenter of Baptist renewal forged through the fire of denominational rivalry.19 Scholars note that this powerful combination of renewal, localism, independence, and republicanism meshed particularly well with the social and political values in this region, giving Graves’s an ever-widening base of support. Graves and his two lieutenants, J. M. Pendleton and A. C. Dayton, consolidated these values in an 1851 statement known as the “Cotton Grove Resolutions,” and then, more formally, in a pamphlet authored by Pendleton and published by Graves entitled An Old Landmark Reset in 1854. These ideas would thereafter be associated with the Landmark movement, because Graves insisted that these values captured the hallmarks of Baptist faith and served as a harbinger of the renewal to come.20

Imprinting Baptist Orthodoxy in the Old Southwest

Graves’s first, and perhaps most inveterate, opponents were the Methodists of Nashville, where he refined his message and tactics. In his 1929 homage to Graves, his biographer and friend, O. L. Hailey, noted that Graves consciously viewed himself as the Baptist David seeking to smite the Methodist Goliath in Nashville during the late 1840s and 1850s. Noting the Methodist book concern housed in Nashville and the publication of the city’s widely circulating Nashville Christian Advocate newspaper there, Hailey observed that Methodists outnumbered Baptists in Nashville “five to one” and the Methodist editor in town “was a cordial hater of all the peculiarities that distinguish Baptists,” and challenged the new, and presumably vulnerable, editor of the Tennessee Baptist.21 Suggesting that the Christian Advocate’s editor, J. B. McFerrin, aimed to flex his editorial muscle by threatening to call Graves “an ignoramus and a liar and prosecute him for libel” if he could not defend the Baptist faith in print, Hailey noted that “a challenge like that, followed by such a threat, was not the sort of dare Dr. Graves would decline to accept.”22 Graves’s defenders thus set out to re-cast him as a reluctant Baptist hero, only drawn into the contest with Methodism as an honorable clergyman seeking to defend his faith and himself in a hostile environment.

Graves entered into the fray with Tennessee Methodists with a great deal more fervor than Hailey wished to note in 1929. Indeed, for Graves, militancy was essential to the practice of faith. Yes, the editor of the Tennessee Baptist argued in 1853, Baptist doctrine was “surrounded by the combined hosts of anti-christian errors, assaulting it at every point.”23 “Anti-christian errors” offered an economical phrasing to lump together Methodists, Presbyterians, Campbellites, and errant Baptists. According to the Tennessee Baptist, “truth is aggressive and its progression is ever in an exact ratio to its aggression. The visible church is a militant body.”24 Those who decried conflict willingly gained “peace at the expense of their principles!” Soon enough, other Baptist papers, even those as far removed as the Boston Watchman and Reflector, took note of Graves’s ideas and tone.25

From his start at the Tennessee Baptist in 1846, J. R. Graves struggled to make regular churchgoers into disciplined consumers of his newspaper. But like many clergymen new to the business of the religious press, Graves discovered that faithful Baptists and devoted readers did not always make for reliable and responsible consumers. With 40,000 Baptists in Tennessee alone, as Graves repeatedly claimed, the task seemed easy enough. His chore rested on equating reading the Tennessee Baptist as a duty every bit as incumbent on the faithful as much as churchgoing or family prayer. Indeed, the Tennessee Baptist heaped praise on an unnamed clergyman who spent several days every December visiting his congregants and pressing them to take up the paper’s subscription. Between “the formation of character” in the family and greater awareness of the denomination’s work to convert the unconverted through missionary work, clergymen and laity needed to see the Tennessee Baptist as integral to the everyday practice of faith.26

By equating newspaper reading as an extension of faith, Graves set out to intertwine the interests of faith and commerce. Aiming to secure 3,000 more subscribers in 1849, Graves printed an article in the first person to remind readers why a religious newspaper was essential to people of faith. “1. Because it is my duty, as a Christian, to support my denominational paper.” He added that without the Tennessee Baptist, “I should not know…what the times require of me, how I should labor, give or pray.” Reading the paper was educational, but it was also necessary to claiming the Baptist mantle. He exhorted “every Baptist that loves the truth and hates error, every soldier of the Cross, to continue their support.”27 Realizing that appeals in print might not reach new readers, Graves announced his impending tour of northern Mississippi and Alabama and his quest to sell more books from his store and enlist another 2,000 subscribers to his paper by “forming an extensive acquaintance with our brethren in the ministry.”28 In between his tours, he sent the paper’s agents to Alabama and Mississippi to appeal for new subscribers and reconcile the accounts of existing subscribers.29 One reader, identified only as the “Kentuckian,” let the Tennessee Baptist’s readers know that a newspaper had indeed become a marker of faith: “you cannot be an intelligent Christian unless you take a religious paper” and, “you cannot be well informed in Baptist affairs unless you take a Baptist paper.”30

Realizing that enticements worked better than threats to motivate subscribers, Graves also sought to sell the paper’s content, reminding potential subscribers in Mississippi that the Tennessee Baptist, offered a “large paper, a cheap paper, and a Baptist, decidedly a Baptist paper.”31 Moreover, his affiliated book depository vowed to provide quality Baptist publications “to supply the wants of the whole South-West at New York Prices.”32 The paper also offered something for everyone at two dollars per year. Whether a reader wanted sermons, political news, market information, poetry and fiction, or advice on farming, religious newspapers such as the Tennessee Baptist burst at the seams with information. And, unlike an uplifting sermon or an inspiring hymn, a newspaper had permanency and the ability to reach a reluctant audience, namely kin and neighbors unwilling to attend church but willing to browse a newspaper. Memorable issues could be re-circulated among the faithful, or, specific articles cut out and preserved for another reading at a later date. While Graves’s sermons and books, notably the Great Iron Wheel, illustrate his verbosity, he knew the use of talking points, and provided his readers with brief but key defenses of the doctrinal views he promoted in his newspaper.33

In a bid to keep his subscription rates high, and to keep readers on the hook, Graves continued to circulate the Tennessee Baptist to those subscribers who had fallen behind in their payments. While the editors attempted to downplay the number of discontinuances of the paper, writing that they had only seen “two or three” to date in 1849, their repeated attention to the matter suggests that it vexed them as much as most editors of religious newspapers. They insisted that these individuals settle their accounts quickly: “Let those who discontinue, remember to pay up all arrearages. It is but just that they should do so, and no paper will be stopped, where the subscriber is able to pay, until all arrearages are paid.” This was not their business model after all, but rather “the law of all newspapers.”34 For a man who rarely appealed to authority outside of the Bible, Graves appealed on this score to the customs of newspaper publishers. Promoters of the Tennessee Baptist also took pains to point out that Graves’s predecessors had incurred the debt.35 The editors looked to the clergy to inspire and discipline those readers, arguing that clergy should speak on the justness of paying debts while promoting the Tennessee Baptist, all the while serving as collection agents. One appeal urged action among true believers: “Who will move first in this effort?…We believe Baptists will act.”36 Amid a raft of subscribers who threatened to discontinue the Tennessee Baptist due to missing and late issues, Graves published a letter from Rev. James Hall in Weakley County, Tennessee, who wrote that he did not mind getting February issues in April, for the newspaper’s content would redeem its cost with only eight issues per year. Graves blamed the poor weather and postmasters, concluding Hall’s plaudit by asking readers, “Who doubts his being a Baptist?”37

By disciplining their existing subscribers and inspiring new subscribers, Graves and his supporters hoped to free the Tennessee Baptist of its commercial limitations. With the aim of financial “emancipation” from the debts of former editors, the Tennessee Baptist could obtain unbounded heights with a “power press” that would allow the editors to control their own print schedule, rather than relying on the whims of others.38 Among the first dramatic changes of Graves’s tenure was the creation of an editor’s salary. Buried in a column on recent changes to the paper, two justifications for a salaried editor emerged: all successful religious papers had gone this route, and, without the change at the Tennessee Baptist, the paper would fail in two years’ time.39 As Graves’s promoters reminded the Tennessee Baptist’s readers, the stakes could not be higher because he set out to “fight your battles—the battles of truth—Baptists of the South-West.”40 Indeed, one of Graves’s defenders argued that his combative approach toward other denominations confirmed his unwillingness to trample orthodoxy for the sake of profit. If only he compromised his Baptist faith, so the theory went, Graves would surely appeal to many more non-Baptists.41 According to Graves, all Baptists were engaged in something larger than entertainment and enrichment. Payment for the Tennessee Baptist had become an act of faith and definition of the denomination’s strength. And, for those on either end of the Graves’s spectrum, the true believers who wished to hear about his latest battles, or, the casual readers who wished to know more about their faith or indulge in some poetry, readers possessed a strong motive to stay current on their subscription. Graves increasingly wedded Baptist history to American progress through shrewd business practices, wedding all of his ideas together in the name of self-government and majority rule.

Graves’s use of a recurring column, “The Querist,” powerfully interconnected individual Baptists to their congregations and the Tennessee Baptist, all the while reinforcing Graves’s authority and uncompromising views.42 Occasionally the columns touched on the interpretation of scripture, but interpretations of discipline topped the list of concerns. Some authors remained entirely anonymous, while others used their full names and hometown. Most responses returned to the definition of Baptist identity in one way or another. One anonymous subscriber inquired if non-Baptists could provide evidence in the trial of a Baptist member. Graves reminded his readers, “To receive the evidence of a man of the world as of equal authority with that of a Baptist church member in good standing, is to annihilate the distinction which should always exist between the church and the world.”43 He only softened his stance if indeed a non-member was the sole witness to the alleged indiscretion. Typical of his responses, Graves offered uncompromising answers that reminded Baptists of their exceptional history and defining practices.

Even as Graves reminded his readers of the authority of members, he warned the laity of their obligations to the clergy. When a reader inquired about a clergyman’s length of service in one column of “The Querist,” Graves not only pressed for continuation until the membership found their pastor guilty of “unfaithful service,” but also that congregations not renege on the annual pay they had pledged to their clergyman. More than mere equity, Graves feared that financial deprivation had made Baptist clergy “servile, timid, and compromising, forever fearing to displease, by taking bold and independent positions in the defence of some truth, or in opposing some error.”44 Instead of regular electioneering by clergy for prized pulpits, Graves argued that “the pastorship was designed to be permanent and amply supported by the church.”45 Graves thus aided in the construction of what Gregory A. Wills has called “disciplined democracies” among southern Baptists, where the Baptist clergy balanced the will of the majority with the need for clergy to promote orthodoxy, and with all Baptists to prioritize discipline.46 Crafting Landmark orthodoxy among Southern Baptists required the knowledge and support of clergy and laity alike.

Graves’s militant defense of Baptist exceptionalism caught fire across the South. Writing from Mississippi, an anonymous letter writer to the Tennessee Baptist praised the editor’s willingness to “constantly discuss our distinctive principles” and “repel with fearlessness the assaults of our enemies.” Moving the metaphor of militancy to its logical conclusion, the writer stated that it remained “[t]he duty of every soldier…to attack error, as well as to defend the truth. Christ came to send a sword upon earth, and the only peace his kingdom is warranted to preserve, is that conquered by his truth.”47 Clergymen of smaller and newer congregations found common cause with Graves, as did A. L. Stoveall of Moulton, Alabama in 1849. Stoveall’s report on the struggles and promise of his four-month old congregation in northern Alabama received nearly a full-column in the Tennessee Baptist, concluding with Stoveall’s pledge to read all of Graves’s columns, even in rival publications, and cheering him onward: “Go on Bro. Graves; so long as you keep on the side of truth the Lord will be with you, and your brethren are disposed, and will cling around the standard of truth wherever it is planted.”48 Reporting on his work in northern Mississippi, Baptist clergyman Jason Sledge recounted the false claims of Methodists against him—ranging from a “theological bully” to an unwelcome outsider to a “Campbellite” (all claims made against Graves by Methodists in Tennessee)—but concluded with an upbeat report on his newly baptized converts and the rhyming conclusion that “truth is prevailing, and [M]ethodism is failing.”49

Writing during Graves’s brief editorial absence, “P.” solicited subscriptions for the Tennessee Baptist on the grounds that editor Graves had been the general who had faithfully executed the perfect ground strategy for advancing the Baptist cause and halting the Methodists’ gains. After enumerating the usual benefits of religious papers such as routine updates on the denomination, the solicitation hinged as much on Graves’s attack journalism as any reinforcement of the Baptist Church and clergy: “Has not its Editor exposed error with fearless fidelity?…Have not Methodists poured torrents of abuse upon his head because he has so often pointed out the unscriptural and tyrannical form of their church government?”50 Indeed, the author concluded of Graves, “[h]as he not been the ‘best abused’ man in all the country?”51 Conflict formed the core of Graves’s message and purpose. The attacks of adversaries only proved Graves’s worth to the Baptist cause. Tennessee Baptist readers absorbed Graves’s logic and rhetoric, putting it to good use in their home communities, strengthening the sense of mission among editor and readers.

Embracing his role as the defender of the Baptist faith, Graves used his editorial power to showcase the success of the Baptist ground war against other evangelicals. In his recurring section, “Still They Come,” Graves touted field reports of conversions, particularly among clergy formerly aligned with other Protestant denominations. W. D. Baldwin reported from Robertson County, Tennessee that brother Ockelman, formerly a Cumberland Presbyterian minister, had been baptized into the Baptist faith. According to Baldwin, Ockelman’s transfer occurred “after a careful examination of God’s word on the building, the government and the ordinances of God’s house.” Anticipating the criticism that Ockelman might face from Cumberland Presbyterians, Baldwin wrote, “brother O. took this step calmly, fearing his master more than he feared those who will persecute him for thus following the dictates of Christian candor.”52 Graves thus hit on one of his common narratives: Baptist must righteously defend their beliefs, and, if they do so, they will gain converts.

Even when Graves and the editors of the Tennessee Baptist possessed secondhand reports from newspapers they had obtained through exchanges, they eagerly shared news of newly acquired clergy converts. Tellingly, an Alabama paper reported on Rev. Hair, a Methodist clergyman who renounced his denomination to join the ranks of the Baptist in Monroeville, Alabama. The blurb stressed that Hair “was an esteemed member and a minister” in an effort to establish Hair’s credibility as a Methodist in good standing until his resignation of the clerical position he had held for the previous five years. The editors of the Tennessee Baptist added their own introduction, framing Hair’s conversion as part of a “general inquiry excited on the subject of baptism and church government, throughout the land.”53 Even a remote clergy conversion, such as that of a Rev. Van Alstine, a Lutheran from Rochester, New York, in the Religious Herald, could launch Graves into the larger meaning of these clergy transformations for his denomination: “The signs of the times are propitious—Christians leaving men to follow Christ. Followers of Wesley, of Calvin, and of Luther, are leaving and thus repudiating those human societies….Let them come—let investigation go forward—and religious discussions, oral and written, be multiplied, until Christians shall all see eye to eye.”54 Graves fervently believed that an adversarial approach to denominational identity would disgrace Protestant rivals and enhance the appeal of Baptist beliefs. As early as 1850, he reported that the Baptists had “annually received more ministers from the Pedobaptist ranks, than from their own [Baptist] Colleges and Theological Schools.”55 It hardly mattered whether the clergy converts came from Mississippi, New York, or Upper Canada, each convert marked the growing tide of Baptist orthodoxy.56

The conversion of clergy from rival denominations to the Baptist faith marked important milestones for Graves, but ultimately, his measuring stick rested on the number of congregants he could count. He relied on church records and, ultimately, circulation figures to demonstrate that the Baptist faith had greater currency within and beyond Tennessee. Graves beseeched Baptist associations to forward to him their minutes and membership figures for compilation.57 In the contest for souls, no convert could go overlooked. “Had we perfect statistics,” Graves lamented, “the number baptized would not be less than 5,000, and our membership 40,000.”58 In 1857, when the Nashville Christian Advocate claimed to hold a greater circulation than the Tennessee Baptist, Graves voiced his outrage. While acknowledging that the Tennessee Baptist’s circulation might surpass the Nashville Christian Advocate’s by somewhere between a few hundred and one thousand, and having only the thinnest of defenses—just ask any postmaster—the supposedly false claim of the Methodist paper’s editor, J. M. McFerrin, shed light on a broader issue: “if Mr. McFerrin will deceive his readers and the world in his bold, reckless way, about the circulation of his paper, for the sake of characters and advertising patronage, what would he not do about other things!”59 Graves compiled those figures into an annual “South Western Baptist Register and Almanac,” and published it to solidify his claims and his sales. Graves could thus play both sides of the market. When his sales of newspapers and books surged, he used them to validate Baptist gains. When his Methodist rivals sought to do the same, Graves claimed their numbers fraudulent at the very least, and perhaps part of a larger conspiracy to monopolize the religious marketplace.60

Debating Denominational Differences: Graves’s Rivals Respond

Across the South, those editors targeted by Graves tried to ignore him altogether, hoping he would go away. But it may also be that, particularly in the South where the culture of honor persisted, they believed Graves did not dignify a response. Indeed, his adversaries repeatedly referenced his ungraceful and uncharitable attitude toward fellow editors and clergy, which seemed to explain a dismissive attitude toward the editor of the Tennessee Baptist. These rivals soon discovered that Graves was not going away and that there might be some utility in fighting back against the supposedly déclassé rival.61 They could not only challenge Graves’s ideas, but they could also remind members of their own denomination what it meant to be a Methodist and not a Baptist in the increasingly evangelical South.

Shortly after Graves assumed the mantle of the Tennessee Baptist, the Nashville Christian Advocate critiqued the rookie editor, while defending the Baptist denomination more generally. By isolating Graves as an unqualified editor and a dishonorable individual, the Methodists of Nashville clearly hoped turnover at the Tennessee Baptist would produce more equanimity in the next editor. “The first thing that attracted our attention after Mr. Graves became connected with the [Tennessee] Baptist was a note from Dr. Howell, announcing that he was responsible only for such editorials in the paper as had the signature H. attached. This led us to read with some attention the article of Mr. Graves, and we soon perceived the reason why Dr. H. [Howell] put this note in the columns of the Baptist, and we commend his prudence.”62 Next, credible individuals, who remained anonymous, sought to tell Graves informally that his attacks on the editor of the Nashville Christian Advocate, J. M. McFerrin, had been offensive. Instead of seeking pardon, Graves counter-charged the Methodists with “misrepresentation and slander.”63

With the breakdown of informal networks among Nashville’s Methodist and Baptist editors in early 1849, the Methodists set out to isolate Graves. “We are now, however, more than ever confirmed in the belief, that the man is reckless, having no idea of editorial courtesy, and but a slight regard for his own honor … . Such impudence can proceed only from one of two sources; either a want of sense of or an entire destitution of refined sensibility. In this case we believe both are included.”64 With that, the Methodists sought to proclaim Graves beyond the pale of editorial responsibility. On that score, the Methodists added, they would not engage in a debate with Graves because “our worthy colleague considers him too weak a brother to engage him in a ‘discussion,’ involving any important question in morals or theology.”65 Proclaiming that any intellectual debate with Graves would be among unequals and therefore unmerited, the Methodists directly attacked Graves’s intellect and masculinity. The language used also illustrated a fundamental divide between Graves and the Methodist editors. While most Methodists spoke in a language of confraternity among Protestants in a universal church, Graves’s rhetoric and ideas rested on the exceptionalism of Baptist history.66

With Graves entrenched in the editorship of the Tennessee Baptist and no other Baptist seeking to question his claims, Methodist attacks soon broadened to the entire Baptist denomination. From the perspective of Methodist clergymen, the failure of Baptist leaders to check Graves’s behavior, made the entire denomination responsible for his actions. Heightening the rhetoric to characterize Graves as the “vain, trifling irresponsible, creature, the editor of the Tennessee Baptist,” Methodist clergyman James L. Chapman broadened his criticism to include Baptists everywhere. “Those who are acquainted with the biography of the Baptist denomination are apprised that they have been notorious for ridiculous exploits throughout their entire history—beginning with the time that it was fashionable to have many wives…and ending with the ‘Baptist Association’ of Tennessee, that stands out before the age a gambling conclave, offering $1,000 to any person who can produce a text of Scripture supporting infant baptism.”67 The latter charge centered on Graves’s promotion of monetary premiums to those who could use scripture to disprove his claims.

Graves stoked the controversy and took his adversarial approach on the road, barnstorming the countryside in an effort to spread his views in high profile public debates. One Methodist observer to such a debate in Mississippi, mockingly summarized many of Graves’s standard points: “Baptist faith, Baptist democracy, and Baptist purity, Baptist water, and Baptist blood, all coming down the channel of the Jordan…. Infant baptism, impious and unhallowed, ground and pillar of Popery, the curse of curses!”68 That religious purity then channeled to patriotic purity as the reporter mocked Graves’s claims of Baptists’ unsullied patriotism: “Our liberties as a nation must either be given up and we become slaves to a despot, or Baptist principles prevail over all opposition.”69 Calling Graves a “brainless, soulless, conscienceless, ecclesiastigogue,” the anonymous ranter also sought to paint Graves as a letch who flattered the young women in attendance by noting the growth of Baptist female academies in the South.70 The same debates, with seemingly the same actors and same issues, recurred in July 1855. After two days of debate, the anonymous Methodist observer reported “The first question closed as we would have had it—with a clear verdict that [the Methodist] Chapman has a victory—a triumph. This is the opinion of outsiders, as well as members of the Pedo-baptist Churches. And even Baptists admit that Chapman had the best argument.”71 Calling Graves nothing more than a “quibbler,” the Nashville Christian Advocate concluded that Graves had been drubbed.72

These debates echoed across the Southwest. Whether in Bowling Green, Kentucky or Lebanon, Tennessee, Methodists reported on the face-to-face debates between Graves and his Methodist counterparts. Methodists could rest easy that they had a much deeper line-up than merely “Parson” Brownlow to stand up to Graves. As one piece put it, the Methodist defender “has happily succeeded in removing prejudices from the minds of many, occasioned by the slanderous reports of his enemies.”73 These spectacles offered something for everyone. Both sides could claim victory and then proclaim that news in the pages of their papers. In this fashion, debates in southern towns reverberated much farther than the walls of one church, or one community. Even if the debates went according to script, they generated news. And Graves could continue to portray himself as the victim of Methodist bullies who failed to disprove his claims (and, who failed to lay their hands on his cash prizes). As non-Baptist editors and clergy began to engage in debates with Graves, they accepted the terms of his challenges.74

Alexander Campbell and the Disciples of Christ proved particularly keen rivals to Baptists in Kentucky and Tennessee. During Graves’s ministry outside of Lexington and Nashville, he had seen firsthand Baptist congregations stripped of adherents who had migrated to Christian churches.75 Indeed, Graves managed to draw his defenders into the fray. To Alexander Campbell’s charge that readers of the Tennessee Baptist were little more than sycophants of Graves, one Mississippi Baptist responded: “Mr. Graves is loved for himself. He is loved as a writer—he is loved as a hard fighter….Baptists are not prone to follow any man farther than he is guided himself by our principle—‘The Bible.’ &c.”76 Similarly, when another Baptist heard of Alexander Campbell’s claim that he had several hundred followers among the Baptists, one reader pledged his association’s unconditional loyalty to Graves: “Well Brother Graves—when Mr. Campbell comes to collect up his disciples from among the Baptists, he will not find them in Central Association, thank God.”77 With Graves’s expanding subscription list and many other Baptists taking up the good fight, it seemed that he had made his ideas and his paper the pillar of Southern Baptist orthodoxy.

Graves’s foes likewise sought to mobilize their readers for the fray. It was no longer adequate to mind one’s own business and hope that Graves would go away, it was now necessary to counter all of Graves’s claims, not merely his contentious articles on baptism. As with earlier efforts, some counter-measures merely mocked Graves and his staple attack columns. As was often the case, Methodists dismissed Graves’s accounting of clergy converts in his column, “Still They Come,” by attacking the standing of these individuals in the Methodist Church prior to their switch to the Baptist faith. In a typical rebuttal, authors would claim that the reported converts had fallen away from the Methodist Church, some were known to have been expelled, while others had been baptized as infants but not raised in the Methodist faith.78 Others alternately mocked the mindset while asking whether clergymen such as Graves truly believed “our people are so stupid as to be gulled by such a course as this?”79 Knowing the draw of the Tennessee Baptist and its barbs directed to all who disagreed with it, non-Baptists reminded their members that they had no business reading the Tennessee Baptist or any of Graves’s publications. Trying to dismiss Graves’s impact by claiming that, in one unidentified community, the Tennessee Baptist “had few subscribers here,” but that “its circulation causes confusion, for it is frequently sent from neighbor to neighbor.” Noting that if fellow Methodists would only mark the errors they read in Graves’s publications, whether pamphlets, papers, or almanacs, the reader will realize how little useful content remains, and “by so doing, the reader will soon stop circulation among our people.”80 Presumably Methodists would then turn their attention to Methodist newspapers and the Bible. Because a few misguided readers could provoke considerable mischief by re-circulating papers, it was essential that true Methodists avert their eyes from the Tennessee Baptist. Increasingly among Methodists, reading the Tennessee Baptist had become not only a waste of time, but also an act of disobedience. Transgressions across denominational lines no doubt occurred more often than the Methodist editors wished to acknowledge.

And then there were the counter claims about subscriptions, sales, and followers. Wryly noting the recent collapse of two North Carolina Baptist newspapers in 1856, Methodist editors immediately knew why: these failed papers had given their support to Graves and his incendiary views. After issuing the caveat that “the cause of religion and the country need them all,” the Nashville Christian Advocate tendered its logic. “But in view of the bitterness which many papers of the Baptist Church have recently exhibited toward our denomination, and the fact that the North Carolina Baptist Publication Society has taken up and is circulating the ‘Iron Wheel,’ we feel impelled to ask, are the above some of the fruits of success in the crusade against Methodism?”81 When convenient, Methodists also borrowed Baptist critiques of Graves. The Nashville Christian Advocate, for instance, quoted leading Baptist clergymen such as J. L. Dagg, Richard Fuller, and Basil Manly, all of whom proclaimed that not only had they witnessed the exchange of pulpits between Methodist and Baptist clergymen their entire lives with no indication that the practice diluted the propriety of either denomination, but also that, in the words of Manly, “all goodness is not confined to my party (Baptists).”82 Where Graves leaned on historical justifications for his claims, his rivals—Baptists and non-Baptists alike—pronounced Graves’s use of invention.

Graves Battles Fellow Baptists

As Graves turned from criticism of non-Baptists to fellow Baptists, he generated so much tumult within his denomination that his authority began to wane, even as the Tennessee Baptist continued to prosper. Graves and his inner circle had long warned that the most dangerous threats occurred from fellow Baptists who refused to endorse his views and his call for militancy. An unattributed piece in the Tennessee Baptist of January 8, 1853, identified three classes of Baptists who posed a threat to newfound militancy of Baptists in the Old Southwest: those Baptists too reserved to proclaim their faith; those Baptists too bound to their financial interests, who feared proclamation of their faith might hurt their pocketbook; and, finally, a seeming fifth column who “are not Baptists in sentiment, but remain with us to corrupt our brethren, or for the loaves and fishes.—These occupy an immoral position, far more so than common sinners.”83 All of these classes could be identified by their initial dismay at the supposed “madness” and “blind frenzy” of the new call for Baptist militancy, and they all “can do, and are doing far more injury to their own church, than thrice or ten times the same number of Pedobaptists can do.”84 Always keenly suspicious of Baptists in name only, Graves ratcheted up the pressure on that front throughout the 1850s.

While Graves’s rivals had long questioned his honor and character, Graves’s offered them opportunities to validate those claims thanks to his missteps in the 1850s. Graves became embroiled in a Tennessee libel case that went all the way to the Tennessee Supreme Court, resulting in a guilty verdict and a fine for Graves.85 Perhaps his most damaging imbroglio occurred with his former friend and mentor, R. C. Howell, who returned to Nashville in 1857 after spending eight years at Richmond, Virginia’s Second Baptist Church. The two men tussled over control of Nashville’s First Baptist Church, where Graves had played an integral role in the life of the church, including a stint as its interim pastor. Increasingly, he used his clout there to push his Landmark agenda. When Howell returned to resume his pastorate at Nashville’s First Baptist upon a “unanimous call” in March 1857, according to scholar James A. Patterson, Howell aimed to “rescue this beleaguered assembly from the onslaught of Landmarkism in its midst.”86 After Graves wrote about the contest in the pages of the Tennessee Baptist, the congregation of First Baptist, under the guidance of Howell, brought five counts against Graves in 1858, charging him with lying, libeling, and slandering Howell and other Baptist clergymen. Trying to outfox his adversaries once more, Graves and his minority of supporters from First Baptist bolted the hearing just prior to his guilty verdict and expulsion. They then declared the trial improper and unscriptural and announced that they were the genuine First Baptist Church of Nashville. The threat of more legal action ultimately forced Graves and his supporters to rechristen their church, Spring Street Baptist Church.87

As Graves battled for control of Nashville’s First Baptist Church, he also battled for a stronger hand in denominational publications. As with his battle at First Baptist, Graves proclaimed himself the torchbearer of orthodox Baptist belief. And like his congregational battle, he would lose this battle, too. Here, however, the contest centered on control over the publication of materials for Southern Baptists. While Graves had many skirmishes with his counterparts in the Southeast, sometimes framed in the broader context of western, agrarian Baptists versus eastern, gentlemen clergy, the principal flashpoint was the Southern Baptist Publication Society (SBPS).88 Graves criticized Charleston’s SBPS (founded in 1847) “relatively modest achievements in publishing” denominational materials since its founding in 1846, according to James A. Patterson, and he “plainly viewed the Charleston organization as competition for his own entrepreneurial interests.”89 J. P. Tustin, both the editor of the Southern Baptist in Charleston and the secretary of the Southern Baptist Publication Society (SBPS), thus became Grave’s target throughout 1857 and 1858.90

The back-and-forth between Tustin and Graves (along with their surrogates), illustrates that the charges between the Methodist McFerrin and the Baptist Graves began to echo across the South. One of Tustin’s supporters from Columbus, Georgia, T. T. Smith, reported on private conversations he and others had with Tustin, all aimed to show just how far Tustin’s unguarded thoughts strayed from Graves’s vision of the Baptist faith. According to Smith, when he introduced a discussion of whether or not an unbaptized individual could partake of communion, Tustin responded in a “free and confidential” fashion that “he regarded it as a social exercise, such as a prayer meeting to which all true believers might with propriety be invited.”91 To dismiss Tustin’s defenses—he claimed that the conversation occurred four years earlier and much of it had been hypothetical in nature—Graves concluded by charging that Tustin received his “falsehoods from [Methodist clergyman, William] Brownlow, or on no better authority.”92 By arguing that Tustin was a consistent outsider in deed and thought, made visible only in the course of private conversations, Graves and his associates proved good to their word that they would seek to purge Baptists who did not share their views.93

As the conflict unfolded, Tustin and his defenders in the Southern Baptist responded with many arguments that echoed the claims of Graves’s earliest targets, the Tennessee Methodists. While Tustin claimed that Graves had “put himself out of our pale, as it regards the claims of personal courtesy, or of editorial and Christian confraternity” and therefore merited no attention, Graves’s charge of libel against Tustin demanded a proper defense. In addition to reminding his readers of Graves’s loss in his Tennessee libel case, Tustin listed the names of six respectable Baptist editors who had been similarly attacked by Graves, and Graves’s refusal to work with a mediator to sort through the issues.94 He then set out to question Graves’s character, questioning the veracity and honor of Graves’s informant recalling a personal conversation on a rail car over four years earlier. He also painted Graves as an interloper, particularly in his personal forays to South Carolina and Georgia, and questioned the financial footing of his publishing company, Graves, Marks, & Co. Throughout the letter runs a current that Graves has been dishonorable and allowed to inflame popular opinion for far too long with seemingly no repercussions.95 Ultimately, the rhetoric of the Southern Baptist would come to match the Nashville Christian Advocate’s denunciations of Graves. Noting the untoward events surrounding his efforts to seize control of Nashville’s First Baptist, the Southern Baptist noted in 1859: “A certain grotesque and farcical character, seems to attach of necessity to all Mr. Graves’ proceedings [at Nashville’s First Baptist],” leading the author to conclude, “and now that the day of reckoning has come, every step he takes is ludicrous and blundering, as well as weak and criminal.”96

Methodists, among others, seized on Graves’s missteps to assert that he had become persona non grata to any reputable southern congregation, even though he continued to edit the Tennessee Baptist. As was often the case in religious newspapers, editors put readers on alert for imposter clergymen, who used falsified credentials in a new community to gain access to pulpits, minds, and money. In October 1860, the Nashville Christian Advocate announced,

in October 1858, J. R. Graves was charged before the church with “grossly immoral and unchristian conduct;” was found guilty, and was expelled from the Church; that, soon after, he was advertised as an expelled member; that he has never been restored; and is this day an expelled member, having no connection with any regular Baptist church whatever; the pretended church with which he claims connection being a little faction, expelled soon after he was, for schism, disorder, and abuse, and defamation of the church. Mr. J. R. Graves is an expelled member of the Baptist Church. His true status is therefore that of any other person of like character, who goes preaching through the country, and imposing upon the churches.97

For Nashville’s Methodists, things had come full circle: after a decade of discord, Baptists everywhere had finally discovered that J. R. Graves was indeed a fraud.

Graves’s legacy of denominational identity would not go quietly. The eye-popping success of his columns—and the readiness with which editors of other religious newspapers snapped up his headlines—caused his ideas to resonate across the South. Graves’s incendiary language and the intense responses it inspired offered a journalistic shorthand to denounce religious rivals across the South. For Methodists, the target became not Graves per se, but the inability of Baptist congregations to hold him accountable for his actions and writing. The Nashville Christian Advocate summarized: “an unscrupulous man may evade and defy them [Baptist Church], even though proved guilty of lying and other vices on abundant and unimpeachable testimony.”98 But the attitude moved far beyond central Tennessee to envelope South Carolina as well. The Southern Christian Advocate, the principal Methodist newspaper in Charleston, South Carolina, printed a summary of events taken from the Baptist Standard, Dr. Howell’s Nashville newspaper created to rival Graves’s Tennessee Baptist, and prefaced that record with its own shot at Baptist governance: “It is an instance of the tyranny of pure democracy,” which should cause Baptists everywhere to halt their disparaging comparisons of other forms of church governance, particularly those “in which the right of appeal from a lower to a higher tribunal exists, whereby justice may always be secured; nor should they impugn the character of those, who do not believe that so much ‘fierce democracie’ in Church government is of divine appointment.”99 Where Baptists viewed their congregations as paragons of self-government, Methodists proclaimed anarchy.

In contrast, the Methodists stressed their ability to remove any rogue church official, even a bishop, more readily than Baptists could remove Graves from mere church membership. “We could arraign, try, and, if he is guilty, expel a bishop with more order and ease than they can get rid of a member, whose smartness has got him some influence,” according to the editors at the Nashville Christian Advocate.100 Cautious to stress that Methodist disciplinary proceedings allowed for appeals, Methodists emphasized that their governance rested on fairness and efficiency. The same piece also mocked Graves’s trial, where he prosecuted and defended himself over the course of a thirteen-hour trial. In May 1860, the Nashville paper shared a report from a Georgia Baptist, which noted that everything controlled by Baptists in Georgia—newspapers, missionary operations, and colleges—were riven by factionalism between “the Graves party” and Baptists who sought to work within the Southern Baptist Convention’s organizations. With each faction checking the other, every Baptist institution in Georgia looked like the scales of balance, where the scales “hang helplessly on the same level.” Such “eccentric and inefficient” “movements” by Georgia Baptists frustrated all activity and all unity, and therefore required the Graves faction to form their own “Church polity” rather than to continue their unceasing civil war on fellow Baptists, so all could move forward.101 Where Graves pronounced militancy, Methodists proclaimed inertia.

Baptists continued to trot out Graves’s accusations that Methodism’s ties to the Church of England made it inherently un-American. Borrowing Graves’s logic, the Arkansas Baptist claimed that no pedobaptist church, including the Methodists could be Protestant because “we know that no clean thing can come out of an unclean thing.” Seizing on this last point, the Methodist New Orleans Christian Advocate shot back that such logic, “would turn out all the redeemed saints out of heaven, for they are redeemed out of a wicked world, precisely as Protestantism is the true faith redeemed out of the corruption of Romanism.”102 Furthermore, the unattributed author asked who he should direct his appeal to for a final verdict. Dismissing “the individual opinions of any self-constituted Baptist editor whose paper is private property” or “the individual opinions of any one Baptist minister,” the article sought a binding and definitive answer.103 Graves’s acrimonious style reverberated across the South.

Lessons from a Provocateur

As Graves sought to walk back some of his stronger critiques, his adversaries refused to let him do so. In 1859, it would be Virginia’s Religious Herald and its editors who would denounce Graves and his associates for claiming that their most recent disputes had been “amicably adjusted.”104 Graves’s futile quest for control of Nashville’s First Baptist Church would summarize the views of South Carolina’s Southern Baptist: “he has capped the climax of blundering by a lusty demand for ‘peace!’”105 In the wake of the Southern Baptist Convention’s biennial meeting in Richmond, Virginia in 1859, in which the denomination’s leadership defused Graves’s strongest efforts to bend the denomination’s values toward Landmarkism, Graves cast a new tone of humility. With his authority eclipsed by 1860, he proclaimed that he would avoid “[a]ll unnecessary controversies, personalities, and severity of language” and sought some reconciliation with the First Baptist Church, an apology that went unaccepted.106

Thanks to his losing battle with Howell, Graves’s militancy among Baptists lost a good deal of its steam, too. Nonetheless, as Joseph E. Brown, Georgia’s governor and a Baptist recalled, “the name of a Baptist could scarcely be mentioned, but some one would ask which wing he belonged to—Is he a Graves man, or is he a Howell man?”107 Graves would remain within the Southern Baptist denomination while continuing to promote Landmarkism. He preferred to work within a mainline denomination rather than seek autonomy in a sectarian movement.108

Articles and reports on “pedobaptism” in the Tennessee Baptist dwarfed the column space dedicated to another “-ism,” abolitionism. As Graves accumulated statistics on Baptist membership from all reaches of the globe and noted recent membership reverses among Northern Baptists, he challenged his northern counterparts to explain how any other rationale than “the discussion of the slavery question by the ministry and laity to the neglect of religion,” spelled out the roots of the membership declines there.109 Like many southern white Protestants, the periodic offerings on slave management in the Tennessee Baptist hit on the paternalistic obligations of all slaveholders to care for the physical and spiritual well-being of their slaves, efforts that began with the planation master and local clergyman, with an eye toward increased funding for missions to slaves.110 The periodic mention of slavery—whether in defense of slavery or as an attack on northern abolitionism—in the Tennesee Baptist suggests the common ground for future reconciliation among southern evangelicals, including rivals in the Southern Baptist fold.111 Certainly Graves’s unflinching defense of the Confederacy would prove that his pre-war rhetoric was anything but hollow.112 But given that Graves faced repeated scrutiny on his views of slavery merely because he hailed from Vermont, it seems remarkable in the late 1840s and 1850s that he did not feel compelled to pronounce his orthodoxy on slavery much more frequently than he did.113

J. R. Graves, the Yankee who relied on the nexus of scripture, cash, and controversy to cement his power, gained a strong following across the South. Through his editorial pen, publishing company, and unequivocal message, he brought together rural southerners into disciplined readers and disciplined Baptists. Given the localism and autonomy of Baptist congregations in the South, the rookie editor achieved no small feat for his paper in the 1840s and 1850s. Indeed, his ability to reach out to so many readers and realize subscription growth, in a period when many southern religious newspapers contracted and failed, illustrates Graves’s dynamism. In an 1853 blurb entitled, “A Lesson to Those about to Start New Papers,” the Tennessee Baptist relayed that the Memphis Christian Advocate, that city’s Methodist paper, had fallen $3,000 in debt in its three years of existence. Even with 5,000 subscribers, another paper’s struggles allowed Graves to gloat at the end of the piece: “Experience is a dear schoolmaster.”114 Many celebrated the potential of newspapers to southern piety, but few could harness their power.

Too much focus on Graves’s invective might shroud the broader issues that this provocateur continues to raise for the study of southern white evangelicals in the antebellum era. Above all else, Graves reignited a debate about denominational differences among southern evangelicals that few newspaper editors or clergy could sidestep. It was never enough for Graves to celebrate Baptist exceptionalism alone. He insisted that errant Protestants must be confronted. Sounding every bit as zealous as any northern reformer, Graves reminded his reader that the Protestant Reformation was “only partial,” and that “the time is fully come when everyone should take a stand, and be either a [B]aptist or a pedobaptist,” in “waging a war of extermination upon sin and error.”115 By shifting from Graves’s single, polemic volume, The Great Iron Wheel, to his weekly newspaper, we see his ability to create a conversation rather than a mere harangue about denominational identity. Graves’s ecclesiological debate may have started out as a one-sided affair in Nashville, but it quickly turned into a long-standing debate shared by clergy and laity alike that ultimately spread across the entire South. Southern evangelicals of all stripes may have been reluctant participants, but Graves masterfully forced many hands. Consequently, we should continue to pursue the factors that divided as well as united southern white evangelicals in the years prior to the Civil War. After all, Graves sought allies in the North and South, and the East and West, with strict adherence to Baptist beliefs his determinant of friend or foe.

Graves’s remarkable success also forces scholars to continue to examine the marketplace of religious ideas in the South. Graves’s success should seem all the more remarkable thanks to his work in a denomination that stressed localism in the rural South. No doubt his success stemmed from his ability to discipline his subscribers and his ability to enlist clergy and agents as his marketers and bill collectors. And fellow clergy applauded Graves’s message, not merely his attacks on rival denominations, but also his support for disciplined congregations who paid clergy their pledged salaries. Ultimately, to move the Tennessee Baptist from 1,000 subscribers to 13,000 subscribers he had to provide content that readers wished to purchase. In a medium notorious for its eclectic combination of materials, Graves kept his paper on message while still managing intimacy alongside militancy and humor alongside stridency. Graves skillfully navigated the line between persuasion and authority. His success provides a window to assess the outreach, organization, and business operations of the mushrooming field of religious newspapers in the South of the 1850s. The reach of the Tennessee Baptist—whether measured by its subscription base or the fear it provoked among editors from other denominations—suggest that the laity read the paper. Their reception of Graves’s rhetoric remains an open question. They may have relished his promotion of Baptist exceptionalism yet not bought into his exclusionary attitudes toward all other evangelical denominations.116 But Graves eagerness to post his claims alongside counter-claims from his rivals, showcases his recognition that the laity had to be persuaded, not merely told, to embrace his notions of Baptist orthodoxy.117

Graves and his readers imagined the arc of Christianity’s past, present, and future running through the Old Southwest. Graves wrote incessantly about the conversion of individuals, but he and his followers knew how to build a mass readership relentlessly oriented toward achieving future aims through organizational prowess.118 As Graves’s wrote, “All things around us and with which we are connected, are sweeping onward: the progress of our nation is onward…the march of mind is onward…the care of improvement is onward, but above all, the rapid progress of our denomination in the State and Valley of the South West, is onward, onward, ONWARD!”119 Readers and contributors to the Tennessee Baptist, such as “C. N.” of Blountville, Tennessee reported that they too could see the gains Baptist newspapers had made: “true piety and intelligence is the great lever by which the locks are to be clipped from the heads of Kings and Emperors…the triple crown to be wrested from the head of the Pope, religious aristocracy demolished, and the righteous and peaceable reign of Prince Emmanuel brought about, and the dawn of the Millennial glory ushered in.”120 Graves and his readers yoked the unique elements of Baptist history to American democratic values to argue that the events unfolding in the Old Southwest had import for all of Christendom. Whether as a Baptist clergyman, a business strategist, or as a religious writer, J. R. Graves’s tireless efforts, unshakeable convictions, and expansive vision inspired many followers and many challengers, suggesting that his sectarian vision may have been more common than scholars have acknowledged.

Scott Stephan wishes to thank the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives staff, and Bill Sumners in particular, for access to the Tennessee Baptist. A Lynn E. May Jr. travel grant made the research at the Nashville, Tennessee archive possible. He also wishes to thank the anonymous referees for the Journal of Southern Religion.

  1. “S.,” “For the Western Recorder,” Western Recorder, Nov. 9, 1853, p. 1.

  2. For Graves’s claim that subscriptions had dipped to 1,000 prior to his control of the Tennessee Baptist, see “Volume IV—Excelsior—Onward!,” Tennessee Baptist, Aug. 28, 1847, p. 2.

  3. Paul Harvey, Redeeming the South: Religious Cultures and Racial Identities among Southern Baptists (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1997), 89. The Tennessee Baptist became the Tennessee Baptist and Reflector at the end of Graves’s editorial tenure, 1889, underscoring his enduring legacy. The Baptist & Reflector remains the official “news journal” for the Tennessee Baptist Convention.

  4. See Mark Noll, America’s God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 244–46. Marty Bell and Paul Harvey point to the ways in which Graves interwove Protestantism with American political and social values, with particular emphasis on the Old Southwest in the antebellum era. See, Marty Bell, “James Robinson Graves and the Rhetoric of Demoagogy” (PhD diss., Vanderbilt University, 1990), esp. 132–35; and Harvey, Redeeming the South, 89–91.

  5. For insight on the invective used by both Graves and Brownlow, see Eugene Genovese, “The Dulcet Tones of Christian Disputation in the Democratic Upcountry,” Southern Cultures, vol. 8 (Winter 2002), 56–68. A lengthier examination, which still hinges on Tennessee and the Graves-Brownlow discord but seeks to place it in a broader context, concludes: “Notwithstanding such endless and even virulent quarreling among and within denominations, Southerners continued to proclaim their religious tolerance proudly, while they arraigned the intolerance manifest wherever abolitionism was making headway.” See Elizabeth Fox-Genovese and Eugene Genovese, The Mind of the Master Class: History and Faith in the Southern Slaveholders’ Worldview (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 454; see also 444–456.

  6. On the success of northern evangelicals in print culture, see David Paul Nord, Faith in Reading: Religious Publishing and the Birth of Mass Media in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004); and Nathan O. Hatch, The Democratization of American Christianity (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1989), 141–46. Candy Gunther Brown argues that the fear of non-evangelicals resulted in the “unifying tendencies of evangelical print culture” to “outrun the most divisive intentions.” Candy Gunther Brown, The Word in the World: Evangelical Writing, Publishing, and Reading in America, 1789–1880 (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2004), 37–40. On the growing professionalism of the antebellum southern clergy, see E. Brooks Holifield, The Gentlemen Theologians: American Theology in Southern Culture (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1978); and Beth Barton Schweiger, The Gospel Working Up: Progress and the Pulpit in Nineteenth-Century Virginia (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000). Donald Mathews positions Graves as a transitional figure in the shift of evangelical groups from radical, sectarian movements to the southern mainstream. See Donald G. Mathews, Religion in the Old South (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977), 133–35. Many fine works explore the growing linkage between southern white Protestant clergymen and their increasing vocal defense of slavery in the 1840s and 1850s. See for example, C. C. Goen, Broken Churches, Broken Nation: Denominational Schisms and the Coming of the Civil War (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1985); Mark Noll, The Civil War as a Theological Crisis (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2006); Mitchell Snay, Gospel of Disunion: Religion and Separatism in the Antebellum South (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993); and Bertram Wyatt-Brown, The Shaping of Southern Culture: Honor, Grace, and War, 1760s–1890s (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2001), 154–176. On the intersection of individual conversion and an aversion to reform movements in the antebellum South, see, for example, John B. Boles, The Great Revival: Beginnings of the Bible Belt (Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 1972; 1996). On the broader intersection of southern culture, religion, and print culture, see Michael T. Bernath, Confederate Minds: The Struggle for Intellectual Independence in the Civil War South (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2010), esp. 13–76. For insights on the perspectives of Northern clergymen, see for example, John McKivigan, The War against Proslavery Religion: Abolitionism and the Northern Churches, 1830–1865 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1984); and, George M. Frederickson, “The Coming of the Lord: The Northern Protestant Clergy and the Civil War Crisis,” in Religion and the American Civil War, ed. Randall M. Miller, Harry S. Stout, and Charles Reagan Wilson (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 110–130. On the ways in which splits among northern Protestants impacted the American Tract Society, see Nord, Faith in Reading, 154. For an overview of disagreements on Graves’s impact on the Southern Baptist Convention, see James A. Patterson, James Robinson Graves: Staking the Boundaries of Baptist Identity (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2012), 1–5.

  7. Graves’s embrace of sectarianism reflects the earlier efforts of Alexander Campbell to spread the Disciples of Christ movement along the Ohio River Valley and the Upper South in the 1820s and 1830s. See Beth Barton Schweiger, “Alexander Campbell’s Passion for Print: Protestant Sectarians and the Press in the Trans-Allegheny West,” vol. 118, Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society (part 1, 2008), 117–54.

  8. David Paul Nord’s profile of William Lloyd Garrison parallels Graves’s desire for “associational journalism,” where Graves sought to connect open inquiry with his passionate ideas to form shared values among a widely dispersed community of believers. See David Paul Nord, “Tocqueville, Garrison, and the Perfection of Journalism,” in Communities of Journalism: A History of American Newspapers and Their Readers (Urbana: University of Illinois Press 2001), 92–107, esp. 100–103.

  9. Candy Gunther Brown, “Religious Periodicals and Their Textual Communities,” in A History of the Book, vol. 3: The Industrial Book, 1840–1880, ed. Scott Casper et al. (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2007), 271; see also 270–278. For the ways in which secular reading threatened religious reading and values, see Barbara Sicherman, “Ideologies and Practices of Reading,” in ibid., 284.

  10. Patterson adds that like much of Graves’s personal life, informal sources such as diaries and private correspondence for Graves, have not survived, forcing scholars to rely on public records and publications to address Graves’s thinking. Patterson, James Robinson Graves, 10.

  11. Ibid., 22–23, 27–28.

  12. Ibid., 31–39.

  13. James A. Patterson argue that Graves may have taken Baptist values to an extreme conclusion, but his emphasis on localism, independence, and republicanism flowed from a deep wellspring of Baptist values in the American context, ideas that predated Graves’s work by at least sixty years and included the Separate Baptists of Vermont. See Patterson, James Robinson Graves, 12–21, 97–99. For useful introductions to Graves, see Samuel S. Hill, ed., Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, vol. 1: Religion (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2006), 129–30; Samuel S. Hill, ed., Encyclopedia of Religion in the South (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1984), 308–9; Bill J. Leonard, Baptists in America (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005), 144-45; Hugh Wamble, “Landmarkism: Doctrinaire Ecclesiology among Baptists,” Church History, vol. 33, no. 4 (Dec. 1964), 429–47. Wamble uses Graves own study of Landmarkism to capture the movement’s core ideas. See J. R. Graves, Old Landmarkism: What Is It? (Memphis: Baptist Book House, 1880). J. M. Pendleton coined the term Landmark in a pamphlet that Graves published entitled, An Old Landmark Reset (n.p., 1854), based on Proverbs 22:28.

  14. Leonard, Baptists in America, 146–147. On the ongoing potency of “alien immersion” for Southern Baptists after the Civil War, see Gregory A. Wills, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1859–2009 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 100–101.

  15. Wills, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 101.

  16. As Marty Bell points out, when the Southern Baptist Convention was created, mainline Baptist clergy may have viewed “pedobaptist denominations as being irregular by scriptural standards,” but they still “acknowledged their claim to be churches of Christ” and therefore did not question “the validity of the ordination of their ministers,” and engaged in the exchange of pulpits and even allowed for invitations to non-Baptist clergy to attend the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in an advisory capacity. See Bell, “James Robinson Graves and the Rhetoric of Demagogy,” 218.

  17. Leonard, Baptists in America, 144.

  18. Bell, “James Robinson Graves and the Rhetoric of Demagogy,” 31.

  19. Ibid., 132–33, 137.

  20. Patterson, James Robinson Graves, 49-58.

  21. O. L. Hailey, J. R. Graves: Life, Times and Teachings (Nasvhille: O. L. Hailey, 1929), 23–24.

  22. Ibid., 24–25. “Many people have been led to believe that Dr. Graves deliberately and wantonly attacked other denominations, thus seeking to draw them into debate, either oral or written. This was far from the truth” (Ibid.).

  23. “Examiner,” “1853,” Tennessee Baptist, Jan. 8, 1853, p. 1. On the parity of Methodist and Baptist churches in the Old Southwest in this era, Edwin Scott Gaustad and Philip L. Barlow note that, in 1850, Tennessee Baptists had 644 churches compared to Tennessee Methodists with 861; Kentucky Baptists had 803 churches compared to Kentucky Methodists with 530; Mississippi Baptists had 385 churches compared to Mississippi Methodists with 454 churches; and Alabama Baptists had 579 churches compared to Alabama Methodists with 577 churches. See Edwin Scott Gaustad and Philip L. Barlow, New Historical Atlas of Religion in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), Appendix C, 400.

  24. “Examiner,” “1853,” Tennessee Baptist, Jan. 8, 1853, p. 1.

  25. Ibid., 1.

  26. “Religious Newspapers,” Tennessee Baptist, Jan. 6, 1848, p. 3.

  27. “Our Next Volume,” Tennessee Baptist, Aug. 23, 1849, p. 1.

  28. “Our Contemplated Tour,” Tennessee Baptist, May 11, 1847, p. 2.

  29. In 1849, for example, Graves announced the dispatch of Rev. Trimble to Mississippi and Brother Salmon to Alabama to collect back payments and solicit new subscriptions for the Tennessee Baptist. See “Travelling Agents,” Tennessee Baptist, Sept. 6, 1849, p. 2.

  30. Kentuckian, “Do You Take a Religious Paper?” Tennessee Baptist, Dec. 16, 1854, p. 3.

  31. “Encouraging,” Tennessee Baptist, July 19, 1849, p. 3.

  32. Ibid., 3.

  33. For an example of Graves’s ability to condense his lengthy treatises into bullet point summaries, see, for example, “Keep Before the People,” Tennessee Baptist, Dec. 21, 1850, p. 2.

  34. “Our Next Volume,” Tennessee Baptist, Aug. 23, 1849, p. 1.

  35. “Examiner,” “1853,” Tennessee Baptist, Jan., 8, 1853, p. Besides meeting a heavy instalment [sic] on the old debt of the paper,” Graves reminded his readers that the editor “ought not to be troubled with apprehensions of visits from the officers of the law” (Ibid.).

  36. “Examiner,” “1853,”Tennessee Baptist, Jan., 8, 1853, p. 1. The issue of past due subscriptions continued to plague Graves. Even in 1858, he attempted to use the stick of higher subscription rates and the carrot of premiums to encourage those in arrears to pay off their debts. The greater one’s payoff, the greater the reward in terms of tracts and publications sent to the subscriber’s home. Failure to take action would result in a jump from $2 to $3 in annual subscription cost, to offset the cost of a collection agent to gather the overdue fees. Graves pledged “25 cents worth of our Registers, or Tract publications by mail, post-paid,” to those individuals who paid off a subscripts one year in arrears, while he pledged 50 cents to those who paid off two years in back subscriptions. See “Final Notices to Those in Arrears,” Tennessee Baptist, Jan. 16, 1858, p. 2.

  37. “Pro & Contra,” Tennessee Baptist, Oct. 26, 1850, p. 2.

  38. “We have labored six years for those printing offices that have done our work and we ask for emancipation. We have paid the pound, yearly, that was nearest the heart.—From this, in future, we pray our subscribers and friends, to deliver us,” “Examiner,” “1853” Tennessee Baptist, Jan. 8, 1853, p. 1.

  39. “No paper can be sustained without an Editor, and no Editor can give his attention long without pay. It follows, therefore, that as the Baptist yielded no compensation to the Editor, it must have died unless the subscription list could have been increased.” See C. K. Winston, Samuel D. Scott, and J. H. Shepherd, “To the Patrons of the Baptist,” Tennessee Baptist, May 8, 1847, p. 2.

  40. “Examiner,” “1853,” Tennessee Baptist, Jan., 8, 1853, p. 1.

  41. A letter writer known only as Kentuckian wrote, “It [Tennessee Baptist] is all Baptist. Its Editor would be much more popular than he is, if he was not so decided a Baptist. The Pedobaptists and Campbellites hate him on account of his Baptist sentiments and the boldness with which he defends those sentiments.” Kentuckian, “Do You Take a Religious Paper?” Tennessee Baptist, Dec. 16, 1854, p. 3.

  42. While other Baptist newspapers, such as North Carolina’s Biblical Recorder set aside column space to attend to issues related to discipline, Graves’s labeled his column “Querist” rather than “Query,” and Graves was much more likely to use identifying information on the author of the query such as name, initials, and hometown than the Biblical Recorder. See, for example, “Query,” Biblical Recorder, June 24, 1848, p. 2.

  43. “Subscriber,” “Queries on Church Discipline,” Tennessee Baptist, June 17, 1848, p. 2

  44. C. L. Cate, “The Querist,” Tennessee Baptist, March 8, 1849, p. 1.

  45. Ibid., 1.

  46. Indeed, Graves remarked in this same column, “Many [clergy] even fear to urge upon their churches the importance of patronizing their religious papers, or the claims of the Publication Society, or of Domestic or Foreign Missions, lest they might offend.” See Ibid. As Wills points out, discipline was the touchstone of nineteenth-century Georgia Baptist congregations. “Through discipline, Baptist sought to repristinate the apostolic church and to stake their claim to primitive Christianity. Through discipline, they would, moreover, sweep the nation, for they believed that God rewarded faithful pruning by raining down revival.” Gregory A. Wills, Democratic Religion: Freedom, Authority, and Church Discipline in the Baptist South, 1785–1900(Oxford University Press, 1997), 8.

  47. “Encouraging,” Tennessee Baptist, July 19, 1849, p. 3.

  48. A. L. Stoveall, “Alabama Correspondence,” Tennessee Baptist, June 14, 1859, p. 3.

  49. Jas. J. Sledge, “For the Tennessee Baptist, Oxford, Miss., Sept. 21, 1849,” Tennessee Baptist, Oct. 25, 1849, p. 1.

  50. P., “Our Paper,” Tennessee Baptist, May 21, 1853, p. 2.

  51. Ibid., 2.

  52. W. D. Baldwin, “Still They Come,” Tennessee Baptist, Feb. 18, 1852, p. 2. In this same column, Graves reports to his reader that the New York Recorder of Jan. 21, 1852, recorded that Jacob Timberman of Somerset County, New Jersey, had dropped his affiliation with the Methodist Church to become a clergyman in the Baptist Church.

  53. “Still They Come,” Tennessee Baptist, April 24, 1850, p. 2.

  54. “Still They Come,” Tennessee Baptist, Sept. 4, 1852, p. 1. Whether New Hampshire, Indiana, or Pennsylvania, the conversion of any clergyman from another Protestant faith to the Baptists, gave cause for celebration. See, for example, “Still They Come,” Tennessee Baptist, Jan. 24, 1852, p. 2; “Still They Come,” Tennessee Baptist, June 22, 1850, p. 2.

  55. “Increase of Baptists in Tennessee for 1850-1,” Tennessee Baptist, Jan. 24, 1852, p. 2.

  56. Indeed, in evaluating other Baptist papers, the Tennessee Baptist made the New York Examiner’s abolitionist predilections a distraction in its evaluation: “The N.Y. Examiner is the leading Baptist paper, having the longest list of subscribers of any Baptist paper in the world (only about 1,000 or 1,500 more than the Tennessee Baptist). It is a beautiful paper, and ably edited. Its only draw back is its virulent abolition tone.” See “Our Exchanges,” Tennessee Baptist, Feb. 7, 1857, p. 3. See also, “Religious Denominations in Upper Canada,” Tennessee Baptist, July 19, 1849, p. 3.

  57. Those clerks of Baptist Associations who provided minutes and membership information to the Tennessee Baptist would receive one complimentary copy of a 40-page South Western Baptist Register and Almanac, which contained denomination statistics, Baptist doctrine, and a reminder on the importance of taking a religious paper. See, for example, “Clerk of Associations,” Tennessee Baptist, Dec. 4, 1847, p. 1; “To Southern Baptists,” Tennessee Baptist, Oct. 21, 1847, p. 2.

  58. See “Our Exchanges,” Tennessee Baptist, Feb. 7, 1857, p. 3.

  59. “A Known Falsehood Perpetuated,” Tennessee Baptist, March 28, 1858, p. 2.

  60. Richard Carwardine suggests that the disagreements between Methodists and Baptists in Tennessee, illustrated a broader difference between “Methodists’ energetic connectionalism and the Baptists’ localism” alongside “conflict between Arminian self-advancement and Calvinist determinism,” and attitudes toward the market, with Methodists embracing economic improvement. See Richard Carwardine, “‘Antinomians’ and ‘Arminians’: Methodists and the Market Revolution,” in The Market Revolution in America: Social, Political, and Religious Expressions, 1800–1880 (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1996), 296; see also 282–307.

  61. On the intersection of honor and evangelicalism and the ways in which debates over religion paralleled affairs of honor in the sectarian competition among early southern evangelicals, see Christine Leigh Heyrman, Southern Cross: The Beginnings of the Bible Belt (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997), 246–47. For additional studies on honor in its various manifestations as a means to maintain order among the South’s elite whites, see, for example, Steven M. Stowe, Intimacy and Power in the Old South: Ritual in the Lives of Planters (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987); Bertram Wyatt-Brown, The Shaping of Southern Culture: Honor, Grace, and War (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2001), 58–72; and ibid., Southern Honor: Ethics and Behavior in the Old South (New York: Oxford University Press, 1982).

  62. “The Tennessee Baptist,” Nashville Christian Advocate, March 2, 1849, p. 2.

  63. Ibid., 2.

  64. Ibid., 2.

  65. Ibid. Over time, rival papers felt it necessary to preface references to Graves with an apology. “We beg pardon for alluding, again, after several weeks silence, to the editor of the Tennessee Baptist; we feel degraded when we are forced to notice him; but we are compelled occasionally to expose his want of respect for the truth.” See “The Tennessee Baptist,” Nashville and Louisville Christian Advocate, March 27, 1851, p. 2.

  66. On Graves’s embrace of Baptists as the “visible church” and his dismissal of notions of a “universal and/or invisible church,” see Bell, “James Robinson Graves and the Rhetoric of Demagogy,” 29–31.

  67. James L. Chapman, “That $1,000,” Nashville Christian Advocate, Nov. 29, 1850, p3. Another piece from the Advocate in this period referred to Graves and his followers as a “tribe of ignoramuses” in the wake of Graves’s attack on John Wesley. See “Blind Leaders,” Nashville Christian Advocate, Oct. 18, 1850, p. 1.

  68. “One Who Heard Him,” “Tennessee Baptist in Mississippi,” Nashville and Louisville Christian Advocate, July 29, 1852, p. 1.

  69. Ibid., 1.

  70. Ibid., 1.

  71. “Debate Between Chapman and Graves,” (Canton, Miss.), Nashville Christian Advocate, May 4, 1855, pp. 1–2.

  72. First quote, ibid. Second quote, “Debate between Chapman and Graves,” (Canton, Miss.), May 28, 1855, Nashville Christian Advocate, July 4, 1855, p. 2.

  73. B., “Debate in Lexington,” Nashville Christian Advocate, Sept. 25, 1851, p. 1.

  74. For Presbyterian claims that Graves plagiarized an essay entitled, “Priscilla; or Trials for the Truth. A Historic Tale of Puritans and Baptists,” see North Carolina Presbyterian, Oct. 30, 1858, p. 1.

  75. Patterson, James Robinson Graves, 24-27, 34.

  76. A Baptist of Mississippi, “To Mr. Alexander,” Tennessee Baptist, March 4, 1854, p. 1.

  77. “Campbellism,” Tennessee Baptist, June 24, 1854, p. 2.

  78. “For the Nashville Christian Advocate. Bro. McFerrin—” Nashville Christian Advocate, Oct. 18, 1850, p. 1.

  79. “Still They Come,” Nashville Christian Advocate, May 31, 1855, p. 2. “—another Methodist dipped in Jordan!” Yes, one captive thus taken will be a cause of greater exaltation than the conversion of a score of sinners. We will trumpet it abroad, and glorify our Church, and degraded the Methodist “Society.” See ibid., p. 2.

  80. “For the Nashville Christian Advocate. Bro. McFerrin—” Nashville Christian Advocate, Oct. 18, 1850, p. 1.

  81. “Is this the Effect of ‘Putting Down’ Methodism?,” Nashville Christian Advocate, Jan. 31, 1856, p. 2.

  82. “Old Land-Mark Controversy,” Nashville Christian Advocate, June 4, 1857, p. 2. For a counter-example, where Graves’s supporters equated the failure of a Presbyterian newspaper, the True Witness of Mississippi, to the editor’s refusal to debate Graves publicly, see John Elliott, A. H. Dinkins, and L. W. Thompson, “Controversy,” The Tennessee Baptist, Feb. 17, 1855, p. 4. The trio of authors then went on the offensive, labeling Lowry an “obscure young man,” a man of “ordinary intellect, ordinary manners, and extremely common appearance. In all these respects Mr. Graves is greatly his superior.” If, as they expect, Lowry refused to debate Graves publicly, it will prove the truth of Graves’s claims, while “you ingloriously skulk from the conflict.” See ibid.

  83. Examiner, “1853,” Tennessee Baptist, Jan., 8, 1853, p. 1.

  84. Ibid., 1.

  85. In 1852, while Graves assisted his associate, J. M. Pendleton, with a revival in Bowling Green, Kentucky, his guest editor published a letter from Baptist clergyman, Elisha Collins, who condemned his Methodist rival, R. B. Jones, in Lexington, Tennessee. Jones responded with the libel suit against Collins and Graves, which Jones subsequently won in Madison County, Tennessee to the tune of $7,500. With Collins’s death, Graves was left to negotiate a reduced penalty. Patterson, James Robinson Graves, 82.

  86. Patterson, James Robinson Graves, 129; see also 125–154.

  87. Ibid., 143–145.

  88. Bell, “James Robinson Graves and the Rhetoric of Demagogy,” 191–192.

  89. Patterson, James Robinson Graves, 134. Marty Bell also notes that the organization of authority within the denomination mattered greatly. Graves remained suspicious of his South Carolina brethren, who controlled power within the denomination and within the state of South Carolina with a more centralized organization. See Bell, “James Robinson Graves and the Rhetoric of Demagogy,” 181.

  90. Graves and his supporters founded the Southern Baptist Sunday School Union in 1858, placing a host of Landmark supporters in key positions of authority and making Graves’s publishing house the major supplier of printed materials. While neither the Charleston nor Nashville publishing efforts had the official sanction of the Southern Baptist Convention, the rivalry for control of the hearts and minds of Southern Baptists initiated Graves’s downfall. Ibid., 135.

  91. See T. T. Smith to Bro. Graves, Tennessee Baptist, Dec. 8, 1857.

  92. “Reply to Mr. Tustin, Continued,” Tennessee Baptist, Jan. 16, 1858, p. 2.

  93. After Tustin had served as an interim pastor at a Presbyterian Church in Charleston, South Carolina, Graves became even more suspicious of Tustin’s Baptist beliefs. See Bell, “James Robinson Graves and the Rhetoric of Demagogy,” 189.

  94. They added insult to injury, charging Graves with an attempt to evade the fine levied on him after his libel conviction by illegally shielding his possessions (Ibid.).

  95. “From the Southern Baptist: Personal,” Tennessee Baptist, Jan. 16, 1858, p. 2.

  96. “The Graves Council,” Southern Baptist, April 5, 1859, p. 2.

  97. “Clerical Imposters About,” Nashville Christian Advocate, Oct. 25, 1860, p. 2. In a piece for the New Orleans Christian Advocate, the author tried to thread the needle on how to justify criticism of Graves while not violating a self-appointed policy to “attack our sister Churches treating them always as co-ordinate braches of the ‘Holy Catholic Church.’” They justified their attacks on the grounds that Graves “has been regularly expelled from the Baptist Church.” Of course, the author then quoted the Baptist Standard, the Nashville paper for Baptists that sought to counter Graves’s influence. See “J. R. Graves and the Methodist Church,” New Orleans Christian Advocate, Nov. 7, 1860, p. 1.

  98. “Church Government Tested,” Nashville Christian Advocate, March 10, 1859, p. 1.

  99. “Democratic Church Government,” Southern Christian Advocate, Sept. 8, 1859, p. 2.

  100. “Church Government Tested,” Nashville Christian Advocate, March 10, 1859, p. 1.

  101. “Results of the Iron Wheel among the Baptists of Georgia,” Nashville Christian Advocate, May 3, 1860, p. 2. Notably, this letter occurred next to an article titled, “Instability of Governments in Mexico,” which stressed the constant turnover of Mexican executives since independence, demonstrating that “nothing can more fully and conclusively demonstrate the incapacity of the Mexican population for self-government.” See “Instability,” ibid. Among other justifications for war with Mexico, some Americans “claimed that the people of Mexico were incompetent at governing and administering” their nation. See Amy S. Greenberg, A Wicked War: Polk, Clay, Lincoln, and the 1846 U.S. Invasion of Mexico(New York: Vintage, 2012), 57.

  102. “Are the Baptists Protestants?” New Orleans Christian Advocate, March 2, 1859, p. 2.

  103. Ibid. For an example of how the Methodists used these debates between Graves and the Religious Herald in Richmond, Virginia, which proclaimed of their rival Baptists, “the landmark practice is ‘something new under the Baptist sun,’” to their advantage, see “Anti-Landmark Men,” Nashville Christian Advocate, June 4, 1857, p. 2.

  104. A.M. Pointdexter and James B. Taylor, “From the Religious Herald: The Senior Editor of the Tennessee Baptist,” Southern Baptist, Sept. 20, 1859, p. 1.

  105. “The Graves Council,” Southern Baptist, April 5, 1859, p. 2. The Southern Baptist soon had its own controversy, when its editor, Tustin, left Charleston for New England and then Europe to declare his new affiliation with the Episcopal Church. See “Mr. Tustin’s Secession,” Southern Baptist, June 7, 1859, p. 2.

  106. Patterson, James Robinson Graves, 153. As Patterson notes, Graves would continue to wield tremendous power through his newspaper, crafting alliances with Baptist Associations that held an affinity for his views. Thus, he may have lost the battle for control over Nashville’s influential First Baptist Church and the Southern Baptist denomination, but he maintained a large power base in the Southwest. Indeed, thanks to Graves’s supporters, First Baptist Church lost its standing in the Concord Association and the General Association. See, ibid., 145–146.

  107. Quoted from Wills, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 98.

  108. In his history of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, an institution that Graves opposed, Gregory A. Wills writes, Graves’s “standing and power derived largely from his role as leader of minority dissent in the denomination. He could have led a splinter movement outside the denomination, but he preferred the larger stage afforded by remaining within.” See Wills, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 98. Splinter denominations that celebrated the values of Landmarkism would emerge in the early twentieth century after Graves’s death. See “Landmark Movement,” in Encyclopedia of Religion in the South, 399–401; and Patterson, James Robinson Graves, 189–203.

  109. “Decrease in the Northern Baptist Churches, Tennessee Baptist, Jan. 18, 1849, p. 2.

  110. For an original article on slave management, see “For the Tennessee Baptist: The Duty of the Church in Giving Religious Duty to Servants,” Tennessee Baptist, June 19, 1849, p. 2.

  111. As Mitchell Snay notes, the Methodists, due to their episcopal governance, had a much messier separation of assets after their 1844 schism than the Baptists. For the Baptists, the debate over slavery, centered on control and appointments to national missionary boards, culminating in the 1845 split. See Snay, Gospel of Disunion, 133-38. Tellingly, in one of the few positive references to Methodism in the Tennessee Baptist, Graves chose to re-publish portions of Methodist Bishop James O. Andrew’s widely circulated sermons on slave management. See Bishop Andrew, “From the Nashville Christian Advocate: Instruction and Management of Slaves,” Tennessee Baptist, July 19, 1849, p. 1.

  112. Bell, “James Robinson Graves and the Rhetoric of Demagogy,” 203-3–206; and Patterson, James Robinson Graves, 155–159. On the rapprochement between Howell and Graves around the Confederacy, see Paul Harvey, “Yankee Faith and Southern Redemption: White Southern Baptist Ministers, 1850–1890,” in Religion and the American Civil War, ed. Randall Miller, Harry S. Stout, and Charles Reagan Wilson (Oxford University Press, 1998), 167–86, esp. 173.

  113. For examples of northern intellectuals living in the South who felt compelled to pronounce their pro-slavery positions, see Jonathan Daniel Wells, The Origins of the Southern Middle Class, 1800–1861 (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2004), 33–39.

  114. “A Lesson to Those About to Start New Papers,” Tennessee Baptist, Nov. 5, 1853, p. 2.

  115. “Volume Sixth,” Tennessee Baptist, Sept. 6, 1849, p. 2.

  116. On cross-denominational attendance among southern white evangelicals, see Scott Stephan, Redeeming the Southern Family: Evangelical Women and Domestic Devotion in the Antebellum South (Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 2008), 39–40.

  117. For useful forays into how southerners read popular evangelical literature, see, for example, Wells, Origins of the Southern Middle Class, ch. 3–4; and Kurt Berends, “‘Thus Saith the Lord’: The Use of the Bible by Southern Evangelicals in the Era of the American Civil War” (D.Phil. diss., Oxford University, 1997). Berends concludes, “Historians who continue to treat southern evangelicals as a unified whole paint a picture that few nineteenth-century participants would have recognized.” See ibid., 198. Though focused on theology, and especially that of Presbyterians and Anglicans, Michael O’Brien has long argued for the rich diversity of intellectual attainments among southerners. See, for example, Michael O’Brien, All Clever Men Who Make Their Way: Critical Discourse in the Old South (Fayatteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1982), 1–25; and Michael O’Brien, Conjectures of Order: Intellectual Life and the American South, 2 vol. (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2004).

  118. On the specific point of organization building among southern white evangelicals, and, more generally, an insightful critique of the field, see Beth Barton Schweiger, “Max Weber on Mount Airy, Or, Revivals and Social Theory in the Early South,” in Religion in the American South: Protestants and Others in History and Culture, ed. Beth Barton Schweiger and Donald G. Mathews (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2004), 31–63, esp. 36–38. Another stimulating review of the field features Donald G. Mathews, Samuel S. Hill, Beth Barton Schweiger, and John B. Boles. See “Forum: Southern Religion,” Religion and American Culture, vol. 8 (Summer 1998), 147–177.

  119. “Volume IV—Excelsior—Onward!,” Tennessee Baptist, Aug. 28, 1847, p. 2.

  120. C. N., “For the Tennessee Baptist: Advantages of Newspaper Reading,” Tennessee Baptist, April 20, 1848, p. 1.