During the US Civil War, the Spectre punished a band of drunken soldiers that had butchered a band of Cherokees. Of the soldiers, he left only one man alive, who had only stolen from Cherokees, and had not participated in the slaughter. The Spectre told him, "If you escape little man, do not doubt it is because I have let you go. You did not kill them -- no. You merely stole from them! Live -- and wonder what I will steal from you!" That man had a son,Jebediah, who had the fear of god beaten into him by his mother. He would grow up to be the Reverend Jebediah Corrigan.
Jim Corrigan was the son of Reverend Corrigan, a fire and brimstone preacher that traveled all over the country. During childhood, Jim's best friend was Rafe, the son of their housekeeper, Rose. Jebediah was secretly having an affair with Rose, and when Jim's mother discovered this, Rafe and Rose were forced to leave. Rafe blamed Jim for her finding out. Shortly afterward, Rafe was killed in a storm and Jim reacted against his father's harsh teachings and beatings by rejecting the figure that his father held most high, God. In a way Jim had had the fear of God beaten out of him.
Jim Corrigan grew up and became a police detective in New York City and was later engaged to socialite Clarice Winston. Times were hard, and Corrigan responded by being even harder. He rarely showed mercy or compassion to anyone breaking the law. But one night, in 1939, Corrigan and Winstson were captured by the criminal "Gat" Benson and two of his men. Corrigan was placed in a barrel that was filled with cement, and then dumped off a wharf into the river. The deceased Corrigan's spirit, now in a void, was filled with anger and a lust for vengeance. He was confronted by a mysterious Voice that offered him a chance to seek justice. Corrigan agreed and was immediately bonded with the Divine Wrath. The Voice told Corrigan that he was to return to Earth to fight evil with the supernatural powers he now possessed. The Spectre took his vengeance on Benson and rescued Winston. Later, the Spectre killed a criminal named Rhami, who had hired Benson to murder Corrigan in the first place due to the detective's investigations into his affairs.
As a ghost, Corrigan settled back into his role as a police detective. He dropped his partner Waylon for J. Percival Poplaski (alias Percival Popp Super Cop). Popp had accidentally stumbled onto Corrigan's alter ego of the Spectre, and it was Popp who designed the costume of the Golden Age Spectre. With his new mission as an agent of God, the Spectre became one of the most famous mystery-men of the Golden Age. The following year, the Spectre helped other heroes stop Hitler's attack on England and the United States. Then, with Dr. Fate vouching for him, the Spectre helped found the legendary Justice Society of America.
The Spectre also joined the war-time only All-Star Squadron. After the disbanding of the JSA in 1951, the Spectre continued his activities on a somewhat more clandestine level.
When Azmodus came to Earth and inhabited a human body, both Azmodus and the Spectre became trapped in their host bodies because of the duality of two Spectre hosts existing at the same time. Decades later, soon after the appearance of the modern age heroes, the Spectre was finally able to leave Corrigan's body when Azmodus' human host died. He then defeated the astral form of Azmodus and continued his activities on Earth. The Spectre encountered several of the new heroes and even worked with his old JSA teammates on occasion.