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A Texas Baptist Power Struggle

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The Hayden Controversy was one of the most bitter feuds in Baptist history. In the nineteenth century, Protestant denominations in Texas endured difficult transitions from a loosely organized frontier people to a more cooperative and organized body capable of meeting the needs of growing denominations. The Methodists, Churches of Christ, and Baptists all endured major splits before their survival was certain. Of all the Protestant bodies, however, the Hayden Controversy was the fiercest and most widespread, with repercussions that continue to affect current Baptist life. Joseph E. Early, Jr., tells the story of how one man, Samuel Augustus Hayden, almost destroyed the newly organized Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT) before it could take root. In the final decades of the nineteenth century, Hayden caused such unrest among Texas Baptists that after a failed attempt to take over the BGCT, he was expelled from the state body. In turn, he created a rival organization, the Baptist Missionary Association (BMA), which continued to fight perceived oppression by the BGCT. While trying to take over the BGCT, Hayden, through his newspaper, accused his enemies of embezzlement, heresy, arson, and strong-arm tactics. Hayden's high-profile opponents included some of the most powerful and well-known Baptists in Texas: George Washington Truett, Benajah Harvey Carroll, and James Britton Cranfill. Through their newspapers they asserted that Hayden was insane, a liar, and a heretic. Baptists in Texas were forced to take sides in the struggle. After more than twenty years of turmoil, the controversy came to a dramatic conclusion on a train bound for the Southern Baptist Convention, where Cranfill and Hayden scuffled over a pistol. Two shots were fired; miraculously, no one was hurt. Though the main events of the Hayden Controversy occurred more than one hundred years ago, history appears to be repeating itself. On August 11, 2004, the Baptist Standard called on all Baptists to recognize that they are reliving the Hayden Controversy. Once again Texas Baptists are being asked to take sides in a struggle for leadership with the formation of a new organization called the Southern Baptists of Texas (SBT). Both the BGCT and the SBT have strong leaders intent on guiding Texas Baptists in doctrinal and denominational matters. The BGCT once again finds itself dealing with a splinter group on some of the same issues fought over in the Hayden Controversy.

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11 Chapters

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1. Problems on the Horizon





THE NINETEENTH CENTURY WAS a time of religious foment in the United States. The disestablishment that had accompanied the American Revolution meant that previously unfavorable religious bodies such as Baptists and Methodists were now free to compete with one and all for converts. As a result of this freedom, Baptists, Methodists, and, later, Cumberland Presbyterians, the various Christian churches, and Roman

Catholics grew by leaps and bounds. One reason in particular for the growth of Baptists was the concept of congregational polity. Baptists believe that no organization supersedes the local church, and thus the membership of each local church chooses its own leaders and makes its own decisions. All affiliation with other Baptist churches from the national to the local level is on a voluntary basis. The Southern Baptist Convention, therefore, is composed of Baptist churches that have decided to freely associate with one another in order to pool their resources to promote various endeavors. However, with no hierarchy in place, the Baptist denomination has often found it difficult to discipline fellow churches that choose to associate, but are also


2. An Unhappy Marriage





RECONSTRUCTION HAD BEEN DIFFICULT in Texas. Even though the state had been largely spared the scarred images of battlefields, the economy was in ruins. The financial problems that devastated the entire country had their roots in the overexpansion of the railroads. After the Civil War, the railroad added some

33,000 miles of track and employed tens of thousands of workers.

A problem, however, occurred in 1873. Because it was unable to market the bonds for the Northern Pacific Railroad, the Banking

House of Jay Cooke and Company had failed in early 1873. The failure of the Northern Pacific was a major factor in bringing on the Panic of 1873. Industries that depended on the railroad for cheap transportation feared they could not get their goods to market. Industries such as steel and cotton were forced to lay off thousands of workers and close hundreds of plants. By 1878 more than 10,000 companies had failed.1

Texas, too, experienced hard times, as jobs were lost and the price of cotton and other agrarian staples plummeted. This deep economic depression affected everyone, including the state’s


3. Bad Blood in Dallas Leads to Ill Will Across Texas






DURING THE 1880S, UNIFICATION was an important concept not only in the Baptist General Convention of Texas, but also in the many different areas of the secular world in Texas. The railroad in particular was a unifying force and Texas experienced significant growth in this industry. Prior to the Civil War there had been less than 500 miles of track in Texas. By 1890 there were

8,710 miles of track crisscrossing the Lone Star State connecting the smaller cities with the larger.1 The development of the railroad shortened the great distances between cities and allowed all areas of the state to prosper financially. Perhaps nowhere in Texas did the railroad have a more positive financial impact than in the Baptist cities of Dallas and Waco.

The development of Dallas as a major city was closely tied to the development of the railroad. The Houston and Central Railroad opened a station in Dallas in July of 1872. The following year the

Texas and Pacific Railroad set up operations. Just before the arrival of the Houston and Central, the population of Dallas was 1,200.


4. B. H. Carroll Takes the Lead





THE EMERGING TUMULT AMONG Texas Baptists was paralleled in the early 1890s by economic tumult within the state and nation. The Sherman Silver Purchase Act of 1890 was a major cause of a severe economic downturn that culminated in the “Panic of 1893.” With the addition of western states with large silver mining interests, the federal government agreed to purchase 4.5 million ounces of silver each month at market rates. The treasury would then issue notes that were redeemable in either gold or silver.

Because so much silver flooded the market, the price of silver went down. Naturally, people wanted to redeem their notes in gold. Soon, the mandatory level of gold to be maintained at the Federal Reserves was met, and gold could no longer be successfully redeemed. With the market in chaos, the Philadelphia, Reading, Northern Pacific,

Union Pacific, Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe railroads all went bankrupt. The National Cordage Company, the most actively traded stock, went into receivership, 15,000 companies failed, and


5. Hayden’s Reform Movement





DESPITE HIS BELIEF THAT J. M. Carroll was a far better

Corresponding Secretary than J. B. Cranfill, Hayden proclaimed that times were lean and that the salaries of the Board were excessive. He constantly belittled the increased salary of J. M. Carroll.

Hayden suggested that Carroll’s $400 salary increase over his predecessor had been secured by his brother and that nepotism was at the heart of the matter. As early as the March 1, 1894, edition of his Texas Baptist and Herald, Hayden was already taking Carroll’s salary to task. “At a time when many are in dire want, and the missionaries are suffering untold hardships,” Hayden argued “Dr.

Carroll had been drawing a large salary.” Two weeks later Cranfill defended Carroll in his periodical. After describing Carroll’s enormous statewide responsibilities, Cranfill asserted: “We do not believe that any man, environed as he has been, could have done a greater work for the cause of missions than he has been blessed of God to do.”


6. Winner Takes It All





ALTHOUGH TROUNCED AT MARSHALL, Hayden refused to give up. To his call for reform he now added sensational charges: J. B. Cranfill was an embezzler, B. H. Carroll was an autocrat,

R. T. Hanks was an adulterer, and J. M. Carroll was preoccupied with the love of money.1 In addition, President Buckner was under the Board’s control. Hayden rarely said anything negative about the Board system itself, but rather continually questioned the honesty of several of its perpetual members. During the next six years

Hayden intensified his attack, contending that Board members rather than the churches were making all of the decisions for the

BGCT. This argument now became a crusade for “Baptist polity.”

Although the Hayden Controversy was largely founded on old personal grievances, it increasingly revolved around ecclesiology.

Hayden made his position clear through the columns of his paper. On the one hand, he suggested that those who supported the Board party were in fact supporting an episcopal hierarchy that closely resembled Roman Catholicism. On the other hand, he argued that those who supported his own claims were not against the Board system but rather against an episcopal hierarchy that


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7. The End of an Era





EVEN IN THE MIDST of Hayden’s litigation and incessant diatribes, the Board believed another victory was within its grasp. Several favorable elements combined as the Convention was called to order. The 1898 regular session of the BGCT took place at Waco, a city known for its support of the Board and its anti-Hayden sentiment. In addition, Hayden’s dissemination of his vitriolic special edition of the Texas Baptist and Herald at the Southern Baptist

Convention had embarrassed Texas Baptists before their nationwide brethren.1 Most importantly, there was now a precedent to remove a messenger from the Convention for being a sower of discord. It would prove to be much easier to uphold this ruling a second time than to enforce it the first. Hayden had little chance of regaining his seat at the Waco Convention.

The session began as usual with prayer, a devotional, and a sermon. Then the Convention’s attention turned to the Committee on Credentials. Four challenges to messenger status were placed before the Convention, which then acted as its own Credentials


8. Yesterday and Today





THE FINAL DECADES OF the nineteenth century were periods of transformation and controversy for Texas Baptists. The denomination’s forefathers who established the Baptist presence in Texas were slowly passing from the scene. This change in leadership was embodied in the rising influence of B. H. Carroll, J. M. Carroll, R.

C. Buckner, J. B. Gambrell, and J. B. Cranfill. These five men personified the vision of the new BGCT, and their presence dominated

Texas Baptist life for several decades. Moreover, Samuel Augustus

Hayden was also a leader in Texas Baptist life who took a significant leadership role in the BGCT’s years of transformation. Hayden’s inability to garner the support necessary to change the course of denominational life led to the continuation and escalation of a controversy that was already in motion. Although Hayden eventually failed, this study supports several new conclusions regarding him and his role in Texas Baptist life between 1877 and 1901.

The Hayden Controversy began well before Hayden arrived in


Appendix A Dallas Church Vindicated





Official Statement

Of Facts by the First Baptist Church at Dallas, Texas

The First Baptist Church at Dallas, Texas, met January 7,

1880, pursuant to adjournment, there being about one hundred and fifty members present. After worship and some preliminary business, the following paper was read and unanimously adopted, as an official expression of the church, to-wit:

Whereas, at the last regular conference of the First Baptist

Church, of Dallas, Texas, held December 24, 1879, a part of our membership, embracing about one-fifth of the church, at the instance, and on behalf of Elder R. C. Buckner, as we believe, presented to this church a “Memorial,” in which they make grave charges and reflections against the church, placing us in a false light before the denomination.

Now, therefore, in the interest of truth and justice, and in vindication of the church, in view of these aspersions, we, the First

Baptist Church, of Dallas, Texas, in conference assembled, hereby declare and make known the following


Appendix B The Memorial


The Memorial 139

together unless they be agreed. They further show that a house divided against itself cannot stand. And moreover God’s promises to bless His people conditioned upon their love and fellowship for each other. The prosperity, usefulness, and even the very existence of a church are made dependent on its unity.

For these reasons Baptist churches have always required unanimity in the reception of members, regarding it as suicidal to a church and treasonable to Christ knowingly to take a case of a discipline into its own bosom from without.

Now, we desire to show that in the reception of Elder J.B. Link, on Wednesday night, June 5th, 1878, and in subsequent events related thereto, these great principles of our common faith have been systematically violated.

(1) It is a fact well and generally known that prior to Elder Link’s application for membership in Dallas church, certain members of this church did not fellowship him because of certain allegations published in the Baptist Herald, and because of private statements made by him in conversation with brethren evidently designed to injure Elder R. C. Buckner in business, and gravely reflecting on his veracity and candor and his sincerity as a Christian minister.



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