Evangelist, editor, author. He attended school for only six months, but was indefatigable in private study. In 1851, when he first heard what became the Seventh-day Adventist teaching, he was joint editor and publisher of a political paper in Baraboo, Wisconsin. Formerly a Baptist, he became an Adventist in 1852 after a period of independent study. Immediately he began propagating his new faith through evangelism and through writing for the church paper.
He wrote several doctrinal books: The Law of God: Testimony of Both Testaments (1854), The Nature and Tendency of Modern Spiritualism (1857), and The Kingdom of God: A Refutation of the Age-to-Come (1859), all dealing with prominent problems of the day. After his ordination he traveled extensively throughout the United States. In evangelistic work in Iowa in 1858 and again in 1866, he strengthened the churches after the Marion Party crisis.
In 1881 Waggoner succeeded James White in the editorship of the Signs of the Times and contributed much to the growth and influence of that weekly. Church-state relations being a prominent issue at this time, Waggoner was asked to edit a paper to be called the American Sentinel. The first issue, prepared in 1885, was largely from his pen.
Waggoner had been keenly interested in health questions, since on the day he became an Adventist he had thrown his plug of tobacco into the stove. In 1885, mainly through his own efforts, he brought out the Pacific Health Journal, of which he was the editor.
He was a member of the conference called in 1860, amid considerable opposition, to consider forming a legal church organization. Waggoner had misgivings, but was finally satisfied that there should be some kind of organization. He was one of a committee of three that recommended the name “Seventh-day Adventist” for the church.
In 1868 Waggoner was one of the speakers at the first Seventh-day Adventist camp meeting, held at Wright, Michigan. In the same year he published in The Atonement his clear convictions on the doctrine of righteousness by faith. Younger men were influenced by his teaching, including his son, E. J. Waggoner, and A. T. Jones, who were prominent in preaching on that subject in 1888.
In 1886 Waggoner was sent to Europe to aid in the establishing of the new work there. He became editor in chief of the German and French semi-monthlies, contributed regularly to other periodicals, and wrote From Eden to Eden, completed just before his death. In 1887 he attended the first Seventh-day Adventist camp meeting in Europe, at Moss, Norway.
Waggoner was an eloquent speaker, a good editor, and a most industrious worker. He wrote with clarity and precision.