Cultivating the domain: Alexander Campbell, print capitalism, and denomination building in the trans-Appalachian West, 1810-1850
This study examines how a populist religious leader, Alexander Campbell, altered the economic value system of religious material production in the early United States and, subsequently, the long-term value structure of religious economic systems generally. As religious publishing societies in the early nineteenth century were pioneering the not-for-profit corporation and as many popular itinerants manufactured religious spectacles around the country, Campbell combined the promotional methods of revivalism and the business practices of religious printers, with a conspicuously pugilistic tone to simultaneously build religious and business empires. He was a religious entrepreneur who capitalized on the opportunities of American revivalism for personal and religious gain. His opponents attacked his theology and his wealth as signs of his obvious error but few were prepared for the vigor of his answer. He invited conflict and challenged prominent opponents to grow his celebrity and extend his brand into new markets. He argued that his labor as a printer was deserving of compensation and that, unlike his “venal” clerical opponents, he offered his services as a preacher for free. As Americans in the early national period increasingly felt obligated to find the “right kind of Christianity,” Campbell packaged and sold a compelling product. In the decades that followed his first debate in 1820, he built a religious following that by 1850 numbered well over 100,000 followers. This dissertation considers the importance of marketing, promotion, investment capital, distribution networks, property law, print culture, and ideology, to the success of a given religious prescription in the nineteenth century American marketplace of religion. Campbell’s success reveals important social, political, and economic structures in the nineteenth century trans-Appalachian west. It also illuminates a form of religious entrepreneurialism that continues to be important to American Christianity.