upon which the destiny of important interests hung. It was
the occasion of the first great battle he ever fought, and that
battle was between hiniseK and his plans in life.
Up to this time his ambition had been to become a great
lawyer and statesman, and all his training at home and in the
f^chool room had been with this end in view. He had read
with rapt attention of the overpowering eloquence of Patrick
Henry, who gave the first impulse to the American revolution
of 1776, and how this great orator unhorsed every opponent
in his celebrated speech, in defense of some Baptist preachers,
charged in the courts of Virginia witli the offense of preach-
ing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, contrary to the law. He had
read also of the masterly eloquence of John C. Calhoun and
Daniel Webster in parliamentary debate and forensic efforts
in the courts of the country. He had also read of how the
peerless Sergeant S. Prentiss had swayed the multitudes, in
the political arena, until every fiber, cartilage and filament in
his young body burned with ambition to stand in the front
rank of American lawyers, statesmen and orators.
But Avith his conversion come also the impression to
preach. The struggle between this impression and his settled
purpose was on in earnest. The conflict was short, but sharp ;
he yielded to the call, and consecrated his talent to the work
of redeeming lost souls. His ardor and burning zeal was
undiminished, but his whole purpose in life being changed,
all his plans must be remodeled and his course of instruction
In 1840 he matriculated in Xashville University, and
began to prepare himself for entrance into a theological semi-
nary. While in Nashville, on the 12th of November, 1840,
lie was licensed to preach the Gospel by the Baptist Church
of which that celebrated theologian and scholar, Dr. R. B. C.
Howell, was pastor, who at the time predicted a career of use-
fulness and brilliant future for the young licentiate.
He was now a thoroughly changed young man. Life
was no less rosy, but presented a far more beautiful hue. The
prospect and picture that now filled and thrilled the innermost
Dr. Kufus C. Burleson. 37
recesses of his soul was not the sober faces of Supreme Court
Judges, as he discussed some profound principle of law, or .the
excited multitude as he debated some irritating political ques-
tion from the hustings; but, instead, the serious face of hia
Kedeemer, as He swung on the cross, blood percolating from
His Divine Body, trickling down His side, and an unredeemed
world whirling into the vortex of eternal ruin around him.
Instead of the wild cheering of the tumultuous rabble^
and the plaudits of men, after scoring a telling political
triumph, he heard the words of David, '"It is God that girdeth
me with strength, and maketh my way perfect."
He remained in ^Rashville University until the summer
of 1841, when his health gave way, as a result of close applica-
tion and confinement. This was a matter of sincere regret to
the faculty of the university, as it not only delayed, but inter-
fered with his preparation for the contemplated theological
Dr. Burleson was not of robust physical development aa
a man, but as a boy he was fleshy and of fine physique. As a
result of bad health, he was now an .emaciated, cadaverous,
strippling youth of seventeen. Physicians had no hope of hia
recovery, but advised that he be taken out of Nashville, as a
means of prolonging his life. This was a great trial to this
young and ambitious boy, but he deferred to the advice of his
physicians, went to his father's farm, and in a short time, con-
trary to all expectations and predictions, commenced to
His thirst for knowledge never abated during his con-
finement, although denied all access to his books. During the
period of convalescence he employed his time in studying
Greek, Hebrew, and Bible history, and when his recovery was
thought to be complete, he decided to re-enter Nashville Uni-
verstiy. This both his father and family physician opposed,
as they felt, convinced that to return to school meant certain
His father reminded him of the resolution he made when
he entered ISTashville University, that he would become the
first scholar in it, or come out in his coffin, and his narrow
38 The Life and AVrttixgs of
escape from death. His greai life purpose burned like fire in
his bones, and he resisted every argument and met every objec-
tion. His father insisted that he was, fairly well educated
already, and if he would abandon all thought of sacrificing
his life by returning to college, he would deed him a good
farm, give him hands to cultivate it, and he could settle down
to the life of a "farmer preacher," protect his health, and do
much good at the same time. This offer was also promptly
On one occasion Kufus went with his father to hear a
presiding elder preach on baptism, in reply to an uneducated
Baptist preacher, who had been guilty of baptizing some half-
dozen of his most prominent members, amid the usual jeers,
ridicule and sneers heaped upon the Baptists of that day for
their ignorance and bigotry. The impassioned preacher held
up a Greek Testament and said ; "Here is a wonderful book.
It is wonderful for two reasons. First, it is written in the
Greek, a language that God selected from among the babbling
tongues of earth in which to give to man his last will and tes-
tament. But more wonderful, in the second place, from the
fact that those who do not know a letter in it can understand
it far better than those who have spent their lives in studying
it. I will give this Greek Testament to any Baptist preacher
in ISTorth Alabama, or the Tennessee Valley, who can read one
line in it, or that knows the Greek letter beta from a partridge
track, and yet these Baptist Solomons know all about Baptize,
Rantizo, Echeo, and I, Avho have studied it so long, do not
know one thing." Eufus reminded his father that when the
congregation laughed, under these withering criticisms of the
denomination to which he belonged, he hung his head in
shame, not that the insinuations were either true or just, but
that there was even an excuse for making them. "My soul,"
Rufus said, "burned as young David's did when Goliath
derided Israel, and Israel's God, and I want to so prepare
myeelf as a preaclier as to make it impossible to cast such reflec-
tions on God's Church and Baptist people."
Capt. Burleson was most profoundly impressed with his
son's argument, pleased with his laudable purpose and lofty
Dr. Rufus C. Burleson.
ambition, but was not convinced that he could stand the
close application and confinement of college life. He still
withheld his consent for his son to return to l^ashville.
Rufus remained on the farm, doing some work, taking
much outdoor exercise, and pursuing his studies, until 1842,
when his health was fully restored, and his strength regained.
40 The Life and Writings of
Young Eufus Anxious to Return to the University at
IS'ashville — His Father Objects, Fearing his Health
Would Again Fail — ^Compromise — Teaches in Mis-
sissippi Five Years — First Contract — Called to the
Pastorate — Ordination by the Catalpa Baptist
Church, June 8th, 1845 — Dr. Wm. Carey Crane
Clerk of the Council.
r^^|R. BURLESOJSr was as eager as ever to return to col-
r r^ggn i -^^S^' ^^^^' fearing his health would again be jeop-
'***^"*' ardized by the sedentary life of a student, his father
not only advised against such a course, but was obdurate in his
objection. The son's zeal for a finished education was una-
bated, but he knew from his experience in college training that
much profit was derived from reviewing courses of instruction.
He appealed to his father to allow him to teach until, in his
judgment, it would be safe to resume his studies in the univer-
It was not in his mind to dissemble, nor to practice any
deception on his father, and told him very frankly that while
engaged in teaching he would carefully observe all rules in
any way conducive to his health, but would keep up his studies
while teaching, and thus accomplish a triple purpose.
First. He would be able to take up his studies in the
university without any hiatus in the course.
Second. Build up his constitution, so that he would be
strong enough to stand the confinement of college life.
Dk. Rufus C. Bukleson. 41
Third: "Would earn money enough to be self-sustaining
when he returned to the university in I^ashville.
Capt. Burleson was impressed with the wisdom of his
ambitious son's plan, and consented for him to teach.
This, however, effected only a partial settlement of the
trouble. Young Burleson was not prepared to seek or accept
a professorship in any of the higher and well established
schools of the country; besides, a position in the faculty of any
of the existing institutions, situated as they were in the cen-
ters of population, would be subject, to some extent, to the
same objection that had been urged to his re-entering college.
The population of N'orth Alabama and adjoining States
was scattered, so that however anxious the people might be
for neighborhood schools, pupils enough could not be found in
any one community to justify a teacher in giving the school
any considerable portion of his time.
Young Burleson was not discouraged by these conditions,
but, on the contrary, rather stimulated to pursue and press his
After consulting and corresponding with friends in sev-
eral States, a small school was secured in Itawamba County,
Mississippi. Although only nineteen years old, without expe-
rience ■ as a teacher, and much embarrassed by being thus
thrown among strangers, he managed the school like a veteran
disciplinarian and pedagogue, and gave entire satisfaction to
Here he remained only one year, and in 1842 removed
to Fulton, the county seat, where he opened another school.
The attendance in Fulton was much larger than in the
country where he had taught in 1841, and his patrons were
among the most prominent families in the place. The school
flourished far beyond Mr. Burleson's expectations, or that of
the friends and patrons, so much so that the building in which
it was opened was totally inadequate to accommodate the
attendance. In the latter part of the year a larger and more
suitable academy building was erected.
He had now taught two years in this section of the State,
one year in the Clifton community and one in Fulton. The
42 The Life AyB AYeitixgs of
schools in both places had been managed with such marked
ability, and with so much satisfaction to patron and pupil,
that both as a teacher and young unordained preacher he had
made quite a reputation.
Unsolicited offers of schools came streaming on him, until
it became a question, not where can I secure a place to teach,
but what offer shall I accept.
Dr. A. B. Eussell, of Starkville, a Presbyterian preacher,
a warm personal friend of Capt. Jonathan Burleson's family,
who had heard of his friend's success as a teacher in the piney
woods of Itawamba County, and more lately at Fulton,
insisted on him coming to Starkville, and taking the school in
Mayhew prairie, some miles in the country.
Acting on Dr. Kussell's advice, he moved to that place in
1843. This change proved to be in many respects, in fact,
altogether, most fortunate. The Mayhew prairie community
was composed of wealthy and influential citizens, and the
school which Mr. Burleson contracted to teach was to prepare
the sons and daughters of these wealthy people for entrance
into some of the higher institutions of learning in the State.
The position was one of some delicacy and much responsibil-
ity, which the following contract shows he assumed with much
deliberation and business care :
Articles of AGREEiyiENT.
I, K. C. Burleson, propose to teach a school in Mayhew
Prairie, Mississippi, for a term of five months, commencing
on the first Monday in ISTovember, to be taught in the Baptist
meeting house, near B. Moore's residence, and to teach the fol-
lowing branches at the following prices :
Beading, spelling and writing, $1.00 per scholar, per
month. Arithmetic, English Grammar and Geography,
$1.25 per scholar, per month. Botany, moral, mental and
natural philosophy, $2.00 per scholar, per month. Latin,
beginners in Greek and political economy, $3.00 per scholar,
per month. All of which, I bind myself to teach to the best
of my ability, to suppress vice and encourage virtue, and to
preserve good order in school.
Dr. Eufus C. Burleso^'. 43
"We, the undersigned subscribers, on our part agree to
employ said Burleson to teach said school for us, on the above
specified terms and conditions. We also agree, that said Bur-
leson shall be allowed to make up all lost time, or to deduct
the same from his wages. We also agree to furnish a com-
fortable house with seats, and that every scholar in- school
shall be under the rules of said Burleson. We also agree to
pay said Burleson the amounts which we have subscribed, on,
or before the first day of April next. October 5th, 1842.
John Clifton, Wm. Medles, B. G. Moore, Thos. Middle-
ton, James Gressom, John Carnes, Henry Clifton, Allen Bide,
Edward Maxey, J. N". Edwards, James McMece, James
The school opened at the time stated in the contract, with
twenty-five pupils; and while Mr. Burleson had just attained
Ms majority, and owing to the high standing of the patrons,
consented to teach it with much trepidation, he met every re-
quirement, and easily exceeded the expectations of the people.
Many of the pupils who entered this school were well
advanced in all branches, but more especially the languages,
and Mr. Burleson, to keep in advance of the classes, was forced
to apply himself closely, but he referred to the school in enthu-
siastic terms of praise in after years, and his arduous labors as
It was Avhile filling this position that new and weighty
responsibilities were thrust upon him. He had been licensed
to preach, as stated, by the Church in Nashville, December
12th, 1840, but had never submitted to ordination. He had
supplied pastorless churches in that vicinity, with much accept-
ance, and had conducted several successful revivals in addi-
tion to his work in the school room. One of the churches
which he supplied, situated in Mayhew prairie, only a few
miles from where he was teaching, increased in two years,
under his ministry, from seven members to eighty-four, and
was said to be one of the best country churches in Mississippi.
Notwithstanding his extensive and successful work as a young
minister, he had never been installed as the pastor of any
•church, nor administered the ordinances.
44 The Life ais'd Writings of
Eev. M. Bennett, pastor of Pilgrim Kest and Mount
Lebanon Chnrclies, one situated twelve and the other fourteen
miles from Majhew, had tendered his resignation.
"Without any solicitation on his part, or his friends, so
far as is known, Mr. Burleson was unanimously called to both
these pastorates. So anxious were they for him to accept the
call, large committees, composed of the most prominent, pious,,
and influential members, were appointed to visit him at May-
hew, fonnally notify him of the action of these churches, and
urge his acceptance.
Hon. Tsham Harrison w^as chairman of the two commit-
tees, and these committees visited Mayhew, and, upon the
invitation of Mr. Burleson, repaired with him to the residence
of Dr. Wells A. Thompson, where, after a season of prayer,,
they discussed the matter most solemnly until 12 o'clock.
Mr. Burleson informed them that he had consecrated hi?
life to one grand mission, and wanted to return to college just
as soon as circumstances would permit, to lay a broad and deep
foundation for that life work. He told the committee that he
would gladly supply their pulpits, as he had others, until such
time as they might choose a pastor.
The committee insisted that he should accept the call,
submit to ordination, and enter at once upon the official dis-
charge of his duties as pastor; that God was plainly directing
and leading in the matter, and as a minister of the gospel he
could not refuse.
Moved by the tears and entreaties of this earnest band of
pious brethren, and the arguments presented which he could
not answer, he told them he would keep the matter under
advisement a few days, and give them a final answer at the
next conference meeting of their churches.
AVhile having the call under consideration, Kev. W. H.
Holcombe, who had baptized Mr. Burleson in 1837, and who
was now pastor of the church at Aberdeen, Mississippi, came to
Mayhew prairie, and spent the night Avith him at his boarding
house. This trusted friend and valuable counselor on manj
former occasions, ad^ased him to accept this work, which, in
addition to the good he might accomplish, would enable him
to accumulate experience that would be valuable in after life.
De. Kufus C. Burleson. 45
To all these importunities lie finally yielded, accepted
the calls to Mount Lebanon, Pilgrim Eest and Mayhew
Prairie, which last-named Church had also called him.
His acceptance was based on the condition that he was to
be released as soon as he was ready to re-enter the university
A council for his ordination was called, and after the
usual sermon, examination, etc., the following certificate waa
issued, which is here reproduced verbatim, for the reason the
facts cannot be more succinctly stated :
To all whom it may concern:
This is to certify that the subscribers, being a council,
■convened by request of the Catalpa Baptist Church, in the
■County of Octibbeha, and State of Mississippi, for the pur-
pose of setting apart the bearer hereof, Rufus C. Burleson, to
the sacred office of the gospel ministry, and being satisfied with
his piety, views of religious truth, and call to the work, did on
the 8th day of June, 1845, in the presence of the Baptist
•Church and congregation in the town of Starkville, in the
aforesaid State, solemnly ordain to the full work of the minis-
try, by imposition of hands, prayer and other suitable exercise,
our brother, Rufus C. Burleson, and as such recommend him
to favor and acceptance with the household of faith every-
SAMUEL McGOWEE", Moderator.
WM. CAKEY CRANE, Clerk.
J. C. KINNEY,
W. H. HOLCOMBE.
It is a most singular coincidence that Dr. Burleson and
Dr. Wm. Carey Crane, the clerk of the council, should have
drifted West in the course of years, and become Presidents of
Tival universities in the same State.
4G The Life and Writings of
Mk. Burleson Teaches in" Mississippi from 1841 to 1845— -
Pursues His Studies — Called to the Pastorate — Dr.
Alexander Campbell — -Waa^e of Religious Disaffec-
tion — ^Mr. Burleson Enters the Field of Polemics —
Doctrinal Sermons — Articles in the Tennessee Bap-
tist- — Meets W. H. Muse, a Classmate — A Warm
Discussion — Formula for Killing Baptists — Resigns
AS Teacher and Pastor — Parting Between Preacher^
Parishioner, Parent and Pupil.
*l * HE four years spent by Mr. Burleson in Mississippi
■^^r^ from 1841 to 1845 were cvrowded with business and
' were exceedingly rich in experience. Hi addition to
his duties as teacher, preacher, pastor and student, giving all
necessary attention to the social demands made on his time,
he kept up and completed an extensive course of systematic
reading; thus storing away a vast fund of information which
served him admirably through life.
It was while in Mayhew amidst other multitudinous
duties he entered the field of polemics, and signalized himself
as a debater. He was not naturally of a disputatious disposi-
tion, and avoided all controversies as far as possible, until his
principles were assailed. Even then, he was not violent, in-
temperate or extreme in his methods of discussion, but his
style persuasive, "wnthout passion, yet firm.
Dr. Alexander Campbell, a dissenter from all forms of
established religion in England, emigrated to America in
1812. He renounced his Presbyterian affiliations, connected
Dk. Eufus C. Burleson. 47
himself with the Baptist with whom he worked in harmony
for several years.
Some differences and disagreements arose between him-
self and this denomination which could not be reconciled and
Dr. Campbell withdrew from the Baptists and was, for a time
an independent preacher. His labors as an independent min-
ister were confined to western Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Vir-
ginia, making frequent preaching tours through the southern
By his power on the platform, and serial publications
"The Christian Baptist" and "Millennial Harbinger" he
attracted public attention, and finally controlled a powerful
constituency. In 1827, his converts and adherents com-
menced to secede, or withdraw from the denominations with
which they had been co-operating and form separate churches,
which were christened "Disciples of Christ."
Dr. Campbell was a great power as an orator and debater
continued to preach, was very aggressive, and the wave of
reJigious disaffection which he originated increased until it
swept over Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi and
some other southern states with a force that portended, for a
time, the disruption of many existing religious institutions.
He seemed to be more hostile toward the Baptist than
any other denomination, and Baptist churches suffered more
from his preaching and the proselyting influence of his fol-
lowers than any other christian organization.
In some communities whole congregations renounced
their organic connection with other bodies, dissolved, reor-
ganized, and went over to the new sect carrying houses of wor-
ship and other property mth them.
The alarming situation was pressed upon Mr. Burleson's
attention by observing a little Baptist church near Starkville,
composed of forty-two members reduced to six, under the in-
fluence of this new gospel. Dr. R. B. C. Howell, a great light
in his day among Baptists, and a tower of strength with pen
and tongue was standing gallantly to his guns in the columns
of The Tennessee Baptist, and with other loyal preachers, was
exerting himself with some success to stay this tide which
Baptists were then stemming. But he needed help, and all
the help he could get.
48 The Life aotd "Writings of
Mr, Burleson saw the peril of the situation, the break in
Baptist ranks, that the issues were vital, and that every man
must stay with his colors, and speak, giving forth no uncertain
sound as to what Baptists might expect unless the influence of
this powerful propagandist was neutralized.
He entered the arena, sought controversy, preached
many sermons in defense of his own creed, (the Bible) show-
ing the weak places in the code of the new sect, and exhorting
his own people in burning eloquence to stand firm.
He had the hearty co-operation of many noble men in
the campaign, and the supreme satisfaction of seeing many
churches reinstated, and the disintegration of others prevented.
He was not content, however, with the service thus rendered;
he wanted a broader field, and larger hearing. He therefore
prepared a series of articles for "The Tennessee Baptist,"
which attracted much attention, excited much favorable com-
ment, and proved to be a potent factor in quieting this relig-
In these articles he maintained that we can not exercise
saving faith in Jesus Christ, and at the same time believe in
the possibility of baptismal regeneration.
Baptism was instituted by Jesus Christ Himself, as an
ordinance, was frequently referred to by the Savior and Xew
Testament writers as such, but never mentioned by either, aa
a saving ordinance. It was the Christian's first act of obe-
dience, and typical of the Savior's death, burial and resurrec-
He maintained that regeneration, and the exercise of a
saving faith, were indispensible pre-requisites to the adminis-
tration of the ordinance.
No amount of purely intellectual reformation satisfied the
demands of Divine Justice, though oceans were exhausted in
ablutions to wipe away, and cleanse the soul from the stain
These articles were published weekly in the "Tennessee
Baptist," and continued for months. They stamped the
young author as a man of a high order of dialectical power.
These contributions to the press, his sermons and personal
work, in this great wave of religious excitement that was