James L. Gorman
Associate Professor of History
This article offers a historiography of the origins of the Campbell Movement in the U.S. and proposes a revision. Analyzing accounts of denominational and American religious historians, this historiography explains how historians omitted the influence of transatlantic evangelical missions culture in favor of origins that seemed more useful or obvious based on later historical developments, personal agendas, and frameworks for historical interpretation. Alexander Campbell’s teleological construction of origins skewed subsequent historiography. Although one early denominational historian noted the influence of evangelical missions, denominational historians ignored his suggestion; they focused instead on Lockean origins of unity or Scottish origins of restorationism. W. E. Garrison utilized Turner’s thesis to suggest the frontier created the Campbells, whereas Nathan Hatch’s focus on democratization led him to see the Movement as “that most American of denominations.” Richard Hughes and Leonard Allen argued for Protestant Reformation, Christian Humanist, and Puritan origins. Utilizing newly discovered documents and a transatlantic scope of inquiry, the author recently argued that transatlantic evangelical missions culture of the 1790s provides the most comprehensive context for Campbell Movement origins. That is, the Campbell Movement’s earliest organization and documents emanated directly from the transatlantic evangelical missions culture and not from anything uniquely American.