J. H. Morrison.

Photo courtesy of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists Archives.

Morrison, James Harvey (1841–1918)

By Matthew J. Lucio


Matthew J. Lucio, MDiv. (Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan). Lucio currently pastors in Peoria, Illinois, and has previously pastored districts in Tennessee and Iowa. He has presented several academic papers on church history for the Adventist Society for Religious Studies (ASRS), and also hosts the Adventist History Podcast. 

First Published: January 29, 2020

James Harvey Morrison was a Seventh-day Adventist pastor and administrator, born in Beaver, Pennsylvania, on October 22, 1841. The Morrison family subsequently resettled near Marion, Iowa. Morrison read himself into the Adventist message in 1862 while attending Central College, a Baptist school in Pella, Iowa. It appears he first fellowshipped with other Adventists in June 1866, in Pilot Grove, where James and Ellen White had come to confront the rebellion of Iowa Conference leaders B. F. Snook and W. H. Brinkerhoff. After initially siding with his Iowa leaders, Morrison, upon further reflection, put his confidence in the Whites’ leadership. This experience bonded him to 32-year-old George Butler, the newly appointed Iowa Conference president. Morrison then became a minister under Butler sometime between 1866 and 1868 and was ordained in June 1872.1

On August 17, 1871, Morrison wed Jane (“Jennie”) Mitchell of Illinois. The couple had seven children, four of whom survived into adulthood.2

Morrison was instrumental in the beginning of the Adventist work in Nebraska. In 1870, he preached in Decatur, on the Nebraska side of the Missouri River, building up a group of about 24 believers that had been initiated by the lay evangelism of Solomon Myers, an Iowa Adventist who had established a general store in the town soon after the Civil War.3 The following year, Butler organized the company as Nebraska’s first Seventh-day Adventist church.4

Morrison’s ministry and family legacy would later become more deeply connected with Nebraska. During his tenure as president of the Iowa Conference (1887–1893), Morrison helped found Union College in 1891 as a member of the committee that chose the school’s site near Lincoln, the state capital.5

Morrison’s greatest notoriety in his work for the denomination came in connection with the momentous controversy over the message of righteousness by faith and related views advanced by A. T. Jones and E. J. Waggoner. Morrison took a hard line at the controversial 1888 General Conference session in Minneapolis, siding with his mentor, George I. Butler, who was by then General Conference president, in opposing E. J. Waggoner’s teaching on the law in Galatians. With Butler too ill to attend the Minneapolis conference, Morrison stood in to take the lead in opposition to Waggoner’s views. In the course of eight lectures, Morrison claimed to accept righteousness by faith but believed that Waggoner was “over-stressing” it.6

Some of Ellen White’s most forceful language was directed toward Morrison at this time. She told the delegates that “Brother Morrison is a debater” who “will create strife” and “has many things to overcome.”7 She claimed that Morrison ran the Iowa “Conference until there is but little life and soul in it.”8 White also confronted him personally in 1889: “If you don’t come out as Elder Canright, it is because you will be a converted man; but every soul that is connected with you that you have educated and trained as a debater, you will wish that work was undone.”9 Finally, she claimed that Morrison could not see that his “spirit at Minneapolis was not the spirit of Jesus Christ.”10 Ellen White would often walk out of Morrison’s lectures. Fuming over the conflict, Morrison left the session early.11

Morrison remained stubborn for a few years. In 1889, Ellen White and A. T. Jones refused to attend the Iowa camp meeting due to his resistant outlook. By 1892, however, Morrison had begun to make amends. Stepping down as Iowa Conference president, he intended to relocate and rest in College View near Union College. When word of his repentance reached Ellen White in Australia, she wrote: “The good news from America kept me awake.”12 Jones called it “the finest and noblest confession that I ever heard.”13

In 1893 church leaders appointed Morrison as superintendent of District Six, which covered the states west of the Rocky Mountains (though only the West coast was organized). There, his business acumen flourished as Pacific Press, Healdsburg College, and the Rural Health Retreat all prospered.14

After his tenure as superintendent ended in 1894, Morrison and his family moved to College View, Nebraska, where he would remain the rest of his life. Much of his time there was occupied by service on many General Conference committees. He also served as a member of the Union College board for several years.15 His son, Harvey Archibald (“Archie”) Morrison, served Union for many years as teacher and later as college president.

Morrison stands apart among the early Adventist leaders as one who did not write much. He explained why: “In all my life I never attempted to spread my views upon paper in the form of a tract or a book of any kind, for I believed most thoroughly that I could not do it without showing the weakest point of my make-up.”16

One notable exception to this policy was a book he wrote defending the church from the criticisms of one of her most gifted former members: A. T. Jones. Morrison’s A Straight Talk To Old Brethren (1915) displays his clear mental powers as well as his changed heart. With Jones challenging church leaders to debate him, Morrison, the old debater, quipped, “Now you know our cause has passed that station [debating station], and we will be loathe to stop the whole train and go back.”17

In late 1918, Morrison attended his final Iowa camp meeting. Health problems plagued him, and he made the decision for elective surgery at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, rather than “drag out a miserable existence.” The surgery was successful, but his body was unable to recover. With his son Archie at his side, James Morrison died on November 25, 1918. He was buried in Wyuka Cemetery in Lincoln, Nebraska.18

J. H. Morrison is probably best known for being on the “wrong” side of the Minneapolis debate. His many decades of faithful ministry, his role in the founding of Union College, and his able building of District Six were, arguably, far more significant aspects of his legacy.


“An Interview With J. S. Washburn.” 1888 Most Precious Message, June 4, 1950. Accessed November 15, 2018, http://1888mpm.org/history/interview-j-s-washburn.

The Ellen G. White 1888 Materials: Letters, Manuscripts, Articles, and Sermons Relating to the 1888 Minneapolis General Conference. Accessed November 15, 2018, egwwritings.org.

“First Meeting General Conference Committee. Winter 1895.” General Conference Archives. Accessed November 15, 2018, http://documents.adventistarchives.org/Minutes/GCC/GCC1895.pdf.

Morrison, James Harvey. A Straight Talk to Old Brethren: A Few Observations on Bible Organization. N.p., 1915. Adventist Digital Library. Accessed September 26, 2018, adventistdigitallibrary.org.

Underwood, R. A. “Another Pioneer Fallen.” Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, December 26, 1918.


  1. R. A. Underwood, “Another Pioneer Fallen,” Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, December 26, 1918, 21; “Central History,” Central College, accessed November 14, 2018, https://www.central.edu/about/central-history/; James Harvey Morrison, A Straight Talk to Old Brethren: A Few Observations on Bible Organization (n.p., 1915), 10, 11, Adventist Digital Library, accessed September 26, 2018, adventistdigitallibrary.org.

  2. Underwood, “Another Pioneer Fallen,” 21, 22.

  3. Richard W. Schwarz and Floyd Greenleaf, Light Bearers: A History of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, rev. ed. (Silver Spring, MD: General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, 2000), 127.

  4. Geo. I. Butler, “Iowa and Nebraska,” Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, June 13, 1871, 206.

  5. Underwood, “Another Pioneer Fallen,” 21.

  6. R. T. Nash, “The Minneapolis Conference and the Issues Concerning the Presentation of the Message of Righteousness by Faith: An Eye Witness Account,” in Manuscripts and Memories of Minneapolis (Boise, ID: Pacific Press, 1988), 352.

  7. The Ellen G. White 1888 Materials: Letters, Manuscripts, Articles, and Sermons Relating to the 1888 Minneapolis General Conference, 167, accessed November 15, 2018, egwwritings.org.

  8. Ibid., 292.

  9. Ibid., 593.

  10. Ibid., 468.

  11. “An Interview with J. S. Washburn,” 1888 Most Precious Message, June 4, 1950, accessed November 15, 2018, http://1888mpm.org/history/interview-j-s-washburn.

  12. The Ellen G. White 1888 Materials, 1170.

  13. Schwarz and Greenleaf, Light Bearers, 186.

  14. “First Meeting General Conference Committee. Winter Session 1895.” January 30, 1895, 20, 21, General Conference Archives, accessed November 15, 2018, http://documents.adventistarchives.org/Minutes/GCC/GCC1895.pdf.

  15. Underwood, “Another Pioneer Fallen,” 21.

  16. Morrison, A Straight Talk, 3.

  17. Ibid., 89.

  18. Underwood, “Another Pioneer Fallen,” 22.


Lucio, Matthew J. "Morrison, James Harvey (1841–1918)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. January 29, 2020. Accessed February 20, 2024. https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=E9TQ.

Lucio, Matthew J. "Morrison, James Harvey (1841–1918)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. January 29, 2020. Date of access February 20, 2024, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=E9TQ.

Lucio, Matthew J. (2020, January 29). Morrison, James Harvey (1841–1918). Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. Retrieved February 20, 2024, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=E9TQ.