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Landmark Movement

Rosalie Beck General

Landmarkism is a Southern Baptist phenomenon that grew out of the changing religious environment of the South in the early 1850s. James Robinson Graves, Amos Cooper Dayton, and James Madison Pendleton articulated landmark beliefs through newspaper articles in the Tennessee Baptist, edited by Graves, through public debates with non-Baptists, and through novels such as Dayton's Theodosia Ernest (1856). The landmark movement probably spread into Texas in the early 1850s when Graves, Dayton, and Pendleton reportedly attended associational and state meetings. Whether or not the men actually came to Texas in this period, their ideas undoubtedly did, as the popular Texas Baptist repeatedly recommended the books and publications of the three men. Texas became a center of landmark influence in the Southern Baptist Convention and has exerted that influence well into the twentieth century. The landmark movement is a system of beliefs, biblical interpretation, and a way of perceiving religious truth. The basic beliefs of the system follow: "There can be no visible church without baptism"; baptism is "immersion in water, by a proper administrator"; the administrator must be recognized by a true church; only Baptists can trace their history in an unbroken chain of ministers from the present to Jesus; all other groups are not churches but are religious societies. In Texas landmarkism affected all levels of Baptist life in the nineteenth century. George Washington Baines, editor of the first Baptist newspaper in Texas, the Texas Baptist Standard published in Anderson, wrote editorials in the 1850s espousing and teaching landmark thought. Subsequent editors of Texas Baptist newspapers, such as James Britton Cranfill, asserted landmark positions in their editorials and policy. Baptist associations, like the Fannin County Baptist Association, affirmed landmark concepts in their annual meetings. The annual meeting of the Baptist General Convention of Texas often reflected landmark sentiment in both the choice of speakers and resolutions passed. In the nineteenth century landmarkism was intertwined with Texas Baptist life.

The "most virulent of all quarrels of Texas Baptists" occurred in the 1890s, and one of the causes was landmark thought. Samuel Augustus Hayden, editor of the Texas Baptist-Herald and member of the executive board of the BGCT, used his position to launch attacks on individual leaders and mission programs of the Texas Baptists. In 1897 he was denied a seat in the BGCT annual meeting and withdrew from the convention with his followers to form the Baptist Missionary Association based in East Texas. Hayden's attacks on the state leadership and mission programs revealed a landmark disdain for programs originating outside the local church. When barred from the BGCT, Hayden argued the landmark idea that only the local church has the authority to appoint or remove individuals from service. The Hayden controversy and schism showed the strength of a type of landmark ecclesiology among Texas Baptists at the end of the nineteenth century. In the twentieth century the landmark movement has been absorbed into the mainstream of Texas Baptist life and is no longer an identifiable doctrinal system. But it has a continuing influence among Baptists. Benajah Harvey Carroll, founder of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, in Fort Worth, espoused certain landmark tenets and decided that the Southwest needed a seminary whose instructors reflected those views. In 1908 the seminary became a reality and has grown into the largest Protestant seminary in the world and the one which trains the majority of Texas Baptist preachers. Another example of the continuing impact of landmarkism is seen in the publication of a tract that purports to prove the succession of the Baptists as the one true church. James Milton Carroll, younger brother of B. H., wrote The Trail of Blood (1931) in the Great Depression years, and it has been reissued regularly by the Southern Baptist Sunday School Board. For several generations of Texas Baptists this work has been a standard Baptist history, and it clearly employs landmark historiography. The emphases on local church autonomy, an exclusivistic attitude toward non-Baptists, and an increased demand for doctrinal unity along carefully determined guidelines reflect the current landmark influence among Texas Baptists. Although the movement is no longer distinct, and the doctrines are no longer individually definable, landmarkism continues to influence Baptist life in Texas.

Robert A. Baker, The Blossoming Desert-A Concise History of Texas Baptists (Waco: Word, 1970). Robert A. Baker, The Southern Baptist Convention and Its People (Nashville: Broadman, 1974). Rosalie Beck, "Texas Baptists and the Whitsitt Controversy," Journal of Texas Baptist History 4 (1984). James Milton Carroll, The Trail of Blood (Lexington, Kentucky: Ashland Avenue Baptist Church, 1931). J. M. Pendleton, Church Manual (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1897; rpt., Nashville: Broadman, 1946). James E. Tull, A Study of Southern Baptist Landmarkism in the Light of Historical Baptist Ecclesiology (New York: Arno Press, 1980).


  • Religion
  • Baptist
  • Organizations

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Rosalie Beck, “Landmark Movement,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed October 01, 2020,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.