Tolbert Fanning–Advocate for Peace in 1861 (Part I)

Tolbert Fanning (1810-1874) was probably the most influential leader within the Stone-Campbell Movement in the South prior to the Civil War. As an educator, he founded Franklin College (1845); as an author, he edited the Christian Review (1844-1847), started the Gospel Advocate with William Lipscomb (1855-1861) and then rebirthed the Gospel Advocate with David Lipscomb (1866-1867) after the Civil War; and as an evangelist, he preached widely in Middle Tennessee and elsewhere.

Fanning, shaped by evangelists associated with Stone and mentored by Alexander Campbell in two preaching tours, was David Lipscomb’s mentor. Fanning taught Lipscomb Barton W. Stone’s apocalyptic understanding of the kingdom of God as the reign of God that stands over against all human governments and Alexander Campbell’s positivistic hermeneutic focused on restoring the ancient gospel and the ancient order. Fanning was a unique theological combination of Stone and Campbell and this was the legacy he left to many leaders in Middle Tennessee.

Tennessee was a divided state in the 1860 election. John Bell, the moderate and native son, won the state. The state was generally pro-union as it voted against secession in February 1861 by a 4-1 margin. But this changed when Abraham Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers in response to the attack on Ft.Sumter on April 12, 1861. The state voted for secession in a June referendum with the deciding vote coming in Middle Tennessee as the East was unionist while the West was secessionist. Though Middle Tennessee voted 51% against secession in February, it voted 88% for secession in June.

In this climate, Fanning attempted to persuade his readers to choose peace. Over the next few weeks, I will follow Fanning’s argument throughout 1861. His rhetoric is filled with both apocalyptic as well as positivistic language. In Fanning we see a fervent opposition to violence that is rooted in his kingdom theology as well as an adamant stress on the uniqueness of an undenominational church of Christ within the denominational landscape. The latter view would dominate the twentieth century while the former would recede into the background and ultimately excised from the mainstream consciousness of the Churches of Christ.

More to come….

No Responses to “Tolbert Fanning–Advocate for Peace in 1861 (Part I)”


  1. this went thru my mind |

Leave a Reply