Samuel Augustus Hayden, a controversial Baptist leader and newspaper publisher, was born in Washington Parish, Louisiana, on April 7, 1839, the son of Allen and Nancy (McLendon) Hayden. He attended Louisiana public schools and the Floridian Male Academy in Greensburg, Louisiana. Pursuing his ambition to become a minister, he enrolled in Georgetown College, Kentucky, and after completing a program in mathematics, Latin, and Greek entered the school's seminary. His theological training was soon interrupted, however, by the Civil War. Hayden served in Company B, Sixteenth Regiment, Louisiana Infantry, fighting at Shiloh in April 1862 and in several important western battles. He rose to the rank of captain. He was captured at Nashville in December 1864 and imprisoned at Johnson's Island, Ohio, until his release in July 1865. Although prominent citizens in Washington Parish encouraged the young veteran to enter politics after he returned to Louisiana, Hayden continued to desire a career in the ministry. He taught two years at the Woodland Collegiate Institute of Louisiana before the First Baptist Church of Clinton, Louisiana, called him as pastor in 1868. Hayden served the church in Clinton and another in Jackson, Louisiana, until 1873, when he accepted a call to the First Baptist Church of New Orleans. The next year he moved to Texas.
Between 1874 and 1882 he pastored churches in Paris, Jefferson, Galveston, and Dallas, and rose to prominence among Baptists in the state. He was awarded an honorary doctorate by Waco University in 1881. After purchasing and becoming editor of the Dallas-based Texas Baptist in 1883, he became one of the chief proponents of the movement to consolidate the regional bodies, newspapers, and schools of Texas Baptists. After this consolidation in 1886, the Texas Baptist and Herald (as it was then called) became the major Baptist organ in the state. As editor, Hayden wielded considerable influence upon a vast readership. By the end of the decade, however, his following had begun to decline. Irritated by his involvement in an ongoing church dispute in Dallas and angered by his frequent editorial diatribes, many Baptists spurned Hayden's paper, opting for R. T. Hanks's new Western Baptist, also published in Dallas. James Britton Cranfill and M. V. Smith purchased the rival weekly in 1892, renamed it the Texas Baptist Standard, and moved operations to Waco. Fierce competition, personal bitterness, and jealousy between Hayden and Cranfill led to one of the most virulent statewide controversies in the history of Texas Baptists.
The so-called "Paper War" or "Hayden-Cranfill controversy" began in April 1894 when Hayden published insinuations of mismanagement and misuse of mission funds against the Texas Baptist Executive Board and its secretary, James Milton Carroll. Hayden believed that Carroll, his brother Benajah Harvey Carroll, Jr., and other members of the board were using their influence to sway Baptists toward the Cranfill faction. Hayden later indirectly accused Cranfill of embezzling mission collections during the latter's tenure as mission agent (1889–91). A member of the board himself, Hayden began calling for investigations, demanding reforms, and castigating Baptist leaders in his columns. Between 1894 and 1899 virtually every issue of the Baptist and Herald contained criticism of Cranfill, the Carrolls, or the board in general. In retaliation the board, led by B. H. Carroll, recommended that Hayden be denied a seat at the 1896 state convention. The convention balked at such a drastic measure, but after another year of controversy they voted 582 to 104 to expel the contentious editor. Hayden responded to the action by filing a $100,000 libel suit against the board in April 1898. The case, which was tried six times, including once in the Texas Supreme Court, was eventually settled by Cranfill in 1905. Despite his appeals to Landmark Movement principles in demanding his seat and his strong support from influential Baylor president Rufus C. Burleson, Hayden was rejected by the convention each year between 1898 and 1901. In 1902 he aligned himself with the Baptist Missionary Association, a schismatic body that developed from his following.
Hayden supported the programs of the BMA during his remaining years, but he was never quite able to put the past struggle with the General Convention aside. After selling the Baptist and Herald to a group of BMA pastors in 1904 he concentrated upon producing a book to vindicate himself in the controversy. In 1907 he published The Complete Conspiracy Trial Book, in which he bitterly attacked B. H. Carroll and J. B. Cranfill. Adopting a conciliatory tone five years later, he published a pamphlet, The Rescission of Article IX and the Baptist Situation in Texas, in which he looked forward to a possible reunion of Baptists in the state. In his last few years he finally agreed to put the controversy to rest. Hayden married Mary Guion Relya of New York on July 2, 1868; they had five children. He died in Dallas on October 10, 1918.