The brief, but not inglorious, career of the Western Baptist Theological Institute is a melancholy chapter. This institution, whose rise and fall upon the soil of Kentucky during the fourth and fifth decades of this century engendered such bitter strife, was born of noble plans and high hopes. Had these plans been carried out - had the institution lived, had the demon of slavery never reared its foul head in America - Baptist influence and achievements in the Ohio Valley had been multiplied a thousandfold. But the gallant ship drifted on to the rock of the anti-slavery conflict and perished.
In 1833 the Western Baptist Convention convened in Cincinnati. It was the
pioneer of Baptist deliberative bodies, other than local Churches, in Central North America. Its object was to deliberate upon measures to promote Baptist interests west of the Alleghanies. Among other acts it was recommended that "steps be taken to establish a great central institution, exclusively theological, for the Baptist denomination in the valley of the Mississippi." This sounds pretty large. But it should be remembered that 60 years ago Cincinnati was the metropolis of that vast territory, and the most important literary and educational center west of the Appalachians.
The Western Baptist Education Society was incorporated in Ohio March 7, 1835. Of its first executive committee, numbering 12, seven were Cincinnati Baptists; two resided in Kentucky.
Within the ensuing three months eight Cincinnati Baptists, at their own risk and on their own responsibility, purchased three tracts of land lying adjacent to, and now included in, the city of Covington, Ky., and, together, containing 370 acres of land. The sum paid was $33,250. The names of the purchasers were Ephraim Robins, John Stevens, Isaac Colby, S. W. Lynd, J. B. Cook, Noble S. Johnson, Henry Miller, Aaron G. Gano.
This land, lying as it does in the heart of Covington, less than two miles from the center of Cincinnati, is now probably worth not less than $3,000,000, exclusive of improvements. A small part of the purchase was soon sold at a large profit. In 1840 the remainder was deeded by the original purchasers, in pursuance of their original intention, to the Western Baptist Theological Institute. This was a body corporate created by the State of Kentucky February 5, 1840.
The charter conferred the usual powers upon seven men, and in 1845 the institution went into operation. Among the distinguished names in its faculty were R. E. Pattison, E. G. Robinson and Ebenezer Dodge. In 1847 dissensions began in the Board growing out of questions connected with slavery, and remotely associated with the famous resolutions of the Alabama Baptist Convention. An amendment to the charter passed January 28,1848, by the Kentucky Legislature, came on the Trustees like a bombshell into a sleeping camp. The originators and chief supporters of the enterprise, who lived in Ohio, awoke one fine morning and rubbed their eyes in utter astonishment. They were like Othello. Their "occupation was gone." Not a whisper had ever reached them of the petition to the State to change the charter, and practically oust the founders of the institution from its control. It was a still hunt from the start.
This extraordinary act of the State added 16 new Trustees, and also named them. All of the new appointees were citizens of Kentucky. The act also provided that all future appointees should be Kentuckians.
March 20, 1848, 17 members of the old Board met in Cincinnati to assert their rights. They voted not to accept the act of the Kentucky Legislature, and refused to recognize the new Trustees as rightful members of the Board.
Then the fat was in the fire. The new Trustees, with four of the old ones, demanded possession of the records and the property. The custodian refused to deliver. Suit was brought in the Kenton Circuit Court to compel him to deliver. The Circuit Court granted the petition. The case was then taken to the Kentucky Court of Appeals on writ of error. January 18, 1853, the higher court rendered its decision. It was a lengthy document, and reviewed the case with ability and thoroughness. It declared the act of the Kentucky Legislature unconstitutional and void, and reversed the decree of the lower court.
[From the Minutes of the Miami Baptist Association, 1898, pp. 41-42. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
Baptist History Homepage