Tag Archives: abolitionism

Yes it Was About Slavery

slavescars

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I have began to write about racism in regard to the Confederate Flag controversy and what I call the “sanitized history” of organizations such as the Sons of Confederate Veterans which in their revisionist history seek to divorce the actions of Confederate soldiers from the cause for which they fought. As a disclaimer, I could be a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans based on the service of members of both sides of my family in the Confederate army. Likewise, if I was a real white Supremacist I could boast of my family’s slave owning past in the western part of Virginia, the land now known as West Virginia. Yes, my family were slave owners who fought for the Confederacy. At one time in my young life I was proud of that. but as a historian who is all for “unsanitized” history I have to admit that the sanitized history of the Lost Cause is not history, it is at best a romantic myth, but more correctly a bold faced lie. 

So tonight I post a section of my Civil War and Gettysburg text. I hope that it is both challenging and thought provoking. You can expect a number of posts dealing with this issue in the coming days.

Have a nice and thoughtful night,

Peace

Padre Steve+

If we are to really understand the Civil War we have to understand the ideological clash between Abolitionists in the North, and Southern proponents of slavery. Both the ideologies of the Abolitionists who believed that African Americans were created by God and had the same rights as whites, as well as the arguments of Southern political leaders that blacks were inferior and slavery was a positive good, were buttressed by profoundly religious arguments which were related directly to a divergence in values. These diverging values crept into every aspect of life and as such it was this “conflict of values, rather than a conflict of interests or a conflict of cultures, lay at the root of the sectional schism.” [1]

Slavery was the key issue that permeated all aspects of the Civil War to include the cultural, the economic and the ideological. David M. Potter summed up this understanding of the connection between the ideological, cultural and economic aspects of the conflict and just how the issue of slavery connected all three realms in the American Civil War:

“These three explanations – cultural, economic and ideological – have long been the standard formulas for explaining the sectional conflict. Each has been defended as though it were necessarily incompatible with the other two. But culture, economic interest, and values may all reflect the same fundamental forces at work in a society, in which case each will appear as an aspect of the other. Diversity of culture may produce both diversity of interests and diversity of values. Further, the differences between a slaveholding and a nonslaveholding society would be reflected in all three aspects. Slavery represented an inescapable ethical question which precipitated a sharp conflict of values.” [2]

Sadly this is something that those who study the war from a purely military perspective tend to miss, or even willingly gloss over in order make the war more palatable to their own prejudice tend to “blur the reality that slavery was at the heart of the matter, ignore the baser realities of the brutal fighting, romanticize our own home-grown terrorist organization, the Ku Klux Klan, and distort the consequences of the Civil War that still intrude on our national life.” [3] For many people it is far easier not to deal with the harsh reality that slavery and racism was at the heart of the issue and escape to the bloodless romanticism which even ignores the human cost of the war, approximately 750,000 military dead alone. If we extrapolate the percentage of the population that that 750,000 represents and compared it to today’s census that number would be the equivalent of 7.5 million Americans dead. This is a fact that many Civil War buffs tend to ignore.

The political ends of the Civil War grew out of the growing cultural, economic, ideological and religious differences between the North and South that had been widening since the 1830s. However, slavery was the one issue which helped produce this conflict in values and it was “basic to the cultural divergence of the North and South, because it was inextricably fused into the key elements of southern life – the staple crop of the plantation system, the social and political ascendency of the planter class, the authoritarian system of social control.” [4] Without slavery and the Southern commitment to an economy based on slave labor, the southern economy would have most likely undergone a similar transformation as what happened in the North; thus the economic divergence between North and South would “been less clear cut, and would have not met in such head-on collision.” [5] But slavery was much more than an economic policy for Southerners; it was a key component of their religious, racial and philosophic worldview.

The issue of slavery even divided the ante-bellum United States on what the words freedom and liberty meant. The dispute can be seen in the writings of many before the war, with each side emphasizing their particular understanding of these concepts. In the South, freedom was reserved for those who occupied the positions of economic power; slavery was key to that from not only an economic point of view but as a social philosophy. The concept of human equality, which was so much a part of the Declaration of Independence was downplayed George Fitzhugh, a planter and slave owner in eastern Virginia commented that that concept “is practically impossible, and directly conflicts with all government, all separate property, and all social existence.” [6]

The political philosophy such as Fitzhugh’s, which was quite common, was buttressed by a profound religious belief that it was the South’s God ordained mission to maintain and expand slavery. One Methodist preacher in his justification of slavery wrote, “God as he is infinitely wise, just and holy never could authorize the practice of moral evil. But God has authorized the practice of slavery, not only by bare permission of his providence, but by the express permission of his word.” [7] Buttressed by such scriptural arguments Southerners increasingly felt that they were the only people following God. The Northern abolitionists as well as those who advocated for the concept of human equality and free labor were heretics to be damned. As such the “South’s ideological isolation within an increasingly antislavery world was not a stigma or a source of guilt but a badge of righteousness and a foundation for national identity and pride.” [8]

Speaking of the necessity for slavery, as well as limitations on the equality of human beings no matter what their race or sex, Fitzhugh penned words that explained that human relationships were not to be seen in terms of individual liberty, “but in relations of strict domination and subordination. Successful societies were those whose members acknowledged their places within that hierarchy.” [9]

Fitzhugh was quite caustic when he discussed the real implications of his philosophy:

“We conclude that about nineteen out of twenty individuals have “a natural and inalienable right” to be taken care of and protected, to have guardians, trustees, husbands or masters; in other words they have a natural and inalienable right to be slaves. The one in twenty are clearly born or educated in some way fitted for command and liberty.” [10]

Fitzhugh’s chilling conclusion was summarized in the words “Liberty for the few – slavery in every form, for the mass.” [11]

But many Southerners, including many poor whites, especially the Yeoman farmers who were the backbone of the Southern populace did not see or understand the limitations that were placed on their own liberty by the slavery system and instead saw slavery as the guarantee of their economic freedom. John C. Calhoun said to the Senate in 1848 that “With us, the two great divisions of society are not the rich and poor, but white and black; and all of the former, the poor as well as the rich, belong to the upper class, and are respected and treated as equals.” [12] Calhoun’s racial distinction is important if we are to understand why poor whites would fight and die for a social and economic idea that did not benefit them or their families.

But it was Abraham Lincoln, who cut to the heart of the matter when he noted the difference between his understanding of liberty and that of Calhoun and others in the South who defended slavery and the privileges of the Southern oligarchs:

“We all declare for liberty” but “in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing. With some the word liberty may mean for each man to do as he pleases with himself and the product of his labor; while with others the same word may mean for some men to do as they please with other men and the product of other men’s labor.” [13]

The growing economic disparity between the Slave and Free states became more about the expansion of slavery in federal territories as disunion and war approached; for a number of often competing reasons. These differences, amplified by the issue of slavery led to the substitution of stereotypes of each other and had the “effect of changing men’s attitudes toward the disagreements which are always certain to arise in politics: ordinary, resolvable disputes were converted into questions of principle, involving rigid, unnegotiable dogma.” [14] The Charleston Mercury noted in 1858 “on the subject of slavery…the North and the South…are not only two peoples, but they are rival, hostile peoples.” [15]

This was driven both by the South’s insistence on both maintaining slavery where it was already legal and expanding it into new territories which was set against the vocal abolitionist movement. But Southern exponents of expanding slavery were fighting an even more powerful enemy than the abolitionists, who despite their vocal protests were not yet in a position to influence policy. They were now fighting Northern industrialists who were not as idealistic as the abolitionists who were much more concerned with “economic policy designed to secure Northern domination of Western lands than the initial step in a broad plan to end slavery.” [16]

This competition between the regions not only affected politics, it affected religion and culture. In the South it produced a growing culture of victimhood, which was manifest in the words of Robert Toombs who authored Georgia’s declaration of causes for secession:

“For twenty years past, the Abolitionists and their allies in the Northern states, have been engaged in constant efforts to subvert our institutions, and to excite insurrection and servile war among us…” whose “avowed purpose is to subject our society, subject us, not only to the loss of our property but the destruction of ourselves, our wives and our children, and the dissolution of our homes, our altars, and our firesides.” [17]

As the social, economic, cultural and religious differences between the two regions grew wider and the people of the South became ever more closed off from the North. “More than other Americans, Southerners developed a sectional identity outside the national mainstream. The Southern life style tended to contradict the national norm in ways that life styles of other sections did not.” [18]

The complex relationship of Southern society where “Southern bodies social, economic, intellectual, and political were decidedly commingled” [19] came to embrace the need for slavery and its importance to Southern society. This occurred despite the fact that the system did not benefit poor whites in the South and actually harmed them economically. The Southern: “system of subordination reached out still further to require a certain kind of society, one in which certain questions were not publically discussed. It must give blacks no hope of cultivating dissention among the whites. It must commit non slaveholders to the unquestioning support of racial subordination…. In short, the South became increasingly a closed society, distrustful of isms from outside and unsympathetic to dissenters. Such were the pervasive consequences of giving top priority to the maintenance of a system of racial subordination.” [20]

Southern planters declared war on all critics of their “particular institution” beginning in the 1820s. As Northern abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison and his newspaper The Liberator grew in its distribution and began to appear in the South various elected officials throughout the South “suppressed antislavery books, newspapers, lectures, and sermons and strove generally to deny critics of bondage access to any public forum.[21] Despite this resistance, abolitionists continued to use the U.S. Mail service to send their literature south provoking even more drastic action from Southern legislators.

In response to the proliferation of abolitionist literature in the South, John C. Calhoun proposed that Congress pass a law to prosecute “any postmaster who would “knowingly receive or put into the mail any pamphlet, newspaper, handbill, or any printed, written, or pictorial representation touching the subject of slavery.” [22] Calhoun was not alone as other members of Congress as well as state legislatures worked to restrict the import of what they considered subversive and dangerous literature.

Beginning in 1836 the House of Representatives, led by Southern members of Congress passed a “gag rule” for its members which “banned all petitions, memorials, resolutions, propositions, or papers related in any way or to any extent whatever to the subject of slavery.” [23] Former President John Quincy Adams challenged the gag-rule in 1842, as did a number of others. The pressure was such that finally in 1844 the House voted to rescind it.

However, Southern politicians were unhappy with this measure and “began to spout demands that the federal government and the Northern states issue assurances that the abolitionists would never be allowed to tamper with what John Calhoun had described as the South’s “peculiar domestic institution.” [24] As tensions grew between the regions, the issue of slavery more than any other issue “transformed political action from a process of accommodation to a mode of combat.” [25]

Around the same time as the gag rule was played out in Congress the Supreme Court had ruled that the Federal government alone “had jurisdiction where escaped slaves were concerned” which resulted in several states enacting “personal liberty laws” to “forbid their own elected officials from those pursuing fugitives.” Southern politicians at the federal and state levels reacted strongly to these moves, which they believed to be an assault on their institutions and their rights to their human property. Virginia legislators said these laws were a “disgusting and revolting exhibition of faithless and unconstitutional legislation.” [26]

The issue of slavery shaped political debate and “structured and polarized many random, unoriented points of conflict on which sectional interest diverged.” [27] As the divide grew leaders and people in both the North and the South began to react to the most distorted images of each other imaginable- “the North to an image of a southern world of lascivious and sadistic slave drivers; the South to the image of a northern world of cunning Yankee traders and radical abolitionists plotting slave insurrections.” [28]

Notes

[1] Potter, David M. The Impending Crisis: America before the Civil War 1848-1861 completed and edited by Don E. Fehrenbacher Harper Collins Publishers, New York 1976 p.41

[2] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.41

[3] Burns, Ken A Conflict’s Acoustic Shadows in The New York Times Disunion: Modern Historians Revisit and Reconsider the Civil War from Lincoln’s Election to the Emancipation Proclamation Black Dog and Leventhal Publishing, New York 2013 p.102

[4] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.42

[5] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.42

[6] Levine, Bruce Half Slave and Half Free: The Roots of the Civil War Revised Edition, Hill and Wang, a division of Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, New York 1992 and 1995 p.140

[7] Daly, John Patrick When Slavery Was Called Freedom: Evangelicalism, Proslavery, and the Causes of the Civil War The University Press of Kentucky, Lexington KY 2002 pp.63-64

[8] Faust, Drew Gilpin The Creation of Confederate Nationalism: Ideology and Identity in the Civil War South Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge and London p.61

[9] Ibid. Levin Half Slave and Half Free p.140

[10] Ibid. Levin Half Slave and Half Free p.140

[11] Ibid. Levin Half Slave and Half Free p.141

[12] McPherson, James M. Drawn With the Sword: Reflections on the American Civil War Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1996 p.50

[13] Ibid. Levin Half Slave and Half Free p.122

[14] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.43

[15] Ibid. McPherson Drawn With the Sword p.16

[16] Egnal, Marc Clash of Extremes: The Economic Origins of the Civil War Hill and Wang a division of Farrar, Straus and Giroux New York 2009 p.6

[17] Dew, Charles B. Apostles of Disunion: Southern Secession Commissioners and the Causes of the Civil War University Press of Virginia, Charlottesville and London 2001 p.12

[18] Thomas, Emory The Confederate Nation 1861-1865 Harper Perennial, New York and London 1979 p.5

[19] Ibid. Thomas The Confederate Nation p.5

[20] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis pp.457-458

[21] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free p.166

[22] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening pp.50-51

[23] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free pp.169-170

[24] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening pp.51-52

[25] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.43

[26] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free pp.169-170

[27] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.43

[28] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.43

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Filed under civil rights, civil war, History, Political Commentary

A New Birth of Freedom

gburg address

Friends of Padre Steve’s World. Yesterday we celebrated the 239th anniversary of American independence and the revolutionary document we know as the Declaration of Independence. I wrote about that yesterday and discussed the context of it as well as the contradiction to it posed by the institution of slavery. I talked about Abraham Lincoln and how for him the Declaration was the real heart of the American nation. In Novwmber of 1863 after nearly three years of bloody Civil War and about 10 months following the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln was invited to say a few words at the dedication of the Soldeirs Cemetary at Gettysburg. 

In those few words Lincoln redefined forever the concept of Liberty found in the Declaration, he universalized it. Though of practice of it often falls short, it is the high bar for which we must strive. If we do not we will return to the days when freedom was only for the few, and sadly there are many on the political right who not only believe that Liberty is reserved for the few but labor incessantly to prevent people from the full excercuse of the rights of citizenship and wherever possible to roll them back. 

I hope that you enjoy this.

Peace

Padre Steve+

I am always humbled when I travel to Gettysburg as I about to do again early next month. It is hard to believe in that now peaceful pastoral setting that over 157,000 Americans, almost 82,000 Union and 75,000 Confederates met in a three-day battle. In those three days over 28,000 Confederates and 23,000 Union soldiers were killed, wounded, missing or captured. It was the greatest number of casualties inflicted in one battle on American soil in history.

The places that the battle was fought have become legendary, for they are “hallowed ground” as President Abraham Lincoln so eloquently put it. The places, McPherson’s and Herr’s Ridge, Seminary Ridge, the Railroad Cut, Barlow’s Knoll, Cemetery Hill, Culp’s Hill, The Wheat Field, Devil’s Den, the Peach Orchard, Little Round Top, Cemetery Ridge, the Apse of Trees, the Angle and the High Water Mark are in a sense holy, or hallowed ground. Those who struggled there, those who lived and those who gave the last full measure of devotion to their country consecrated them more than any of us could ever do. When I take my students there I always finish at the Soldier’s Cemetery where Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address.

I think about those men of both sides, fully convinced of the rightness of their cause who fought valiantly in the struggle. That being said when I go to Gettysburg my heart, my mind and my soul are with the men who remained loyal to the Union and those who answered the call of Abraham Lincoln to serve in a cause greater than their own interests, the great and the small alike. This is despite the fact that my family predominantly fought for the Confederacy.

Lincoln was a masterful orator who managed to rally the Union and bring hundreds of thousands of men to volunteer to serve before Gettysburg. These men volunteered for an ideal, an ideal for which Lincoln’s oratory was probably the most effective means at articulating in an ideal that men would volunteer to suffer hardship, fight and die to bring about. It was well put in the movie Gettysburg where Colonel Joshua Chamberlain, played by Jeff Daniels said:

“This is a different kind of army. If you look at history you’ll see men fight for pay, or women, or some other kind of loot. They fight for land, or because a king makes them, or just because they like killing. But we’re here for something new. This has not happened much, in the history of the world: We are an army out to set other men free. America should be free ground, all of it, from here to the Pacific Ocean. No man has to bow, no man born to royalty. Here we judge you by what you do, not by who your father was. Here you can be something. Here is the place to build a home. But it’s not the land. There’s always more land. It’s the idea that we all have value, you and me. What we’re fighting for, in the end… we’re fighting for each other…” [1]

On November 19th 1863 Lincoln delivered a “few words” at Gettysburg which were in all practical aspects a benediction at the dedication of the battlefield cemetery. Lincoln was the second speaker at the ceremony following former Pennsylvania Congressman Edward Everett who spoke for more than two hours, a typical speech from the period.

Everett was one of the leading orators of his day. Everett was “a scholar and Ivy-League diplomat who could hold mass audiences in thrall. His voice, diction, and gestures were successfully dramatic, and he always performed his carefully written text, no matter how long, from memory.” [2]

The 270 words of Lincoln’s address are perhaps the most important of any speech or document in American history save the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States, in those words “Lincoln, nevertheless managed to justify the ways of democracy more than anyone, then or now.” [3]

The speech was so powerful that Everett wrote Lincoln the next day:

“Permit me also to express my great admiration of the thoughts expressed by you, with such eloquent simplicity & appropriateness, at the consecration of the Cemetery. I should be glad, if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.” [4]

The speech is short, but its eloquence is unmatched. Lincoln wrapped ideas, concepts and ideals that men have written volumes about into a speech so powerful that many have memorized it.

But few realize the context that it must be placed. Though the Union had defeated Lee’s Army at Gettysburg and Grant had taken Vicksburg to cut the Confederacy in half the North was growing war weary. During the fall of 1863 after a series of inconclusive battles in northern Virginia both Lee and Meade’s armies had sent significant numbers of troops to the west, to support operations in eastern Tennessee.

Lee sent Longstreet’s First Corps, which took part in the bloody battle of Chickamauga, which “is a Cherokee word meaning “river of death.” [5] where on September 19th and 20th the Federal Army of the Cumberland under General Rosecrans “were soundly whipped at …and driven back into the strategic point of Chattanooga.” [6] The number of casualties on both sides, over 16,000 Federal and 18,000 Confederate, a “combined total of 34,634 was exceeded only the three day slaughter at Gettysburg and by the week-long series of five battles known collectively as the Seven Days.” [7] Despite the number of casualties it was one of the biggest Confederate victories of the war. A clerk in Richmond wrote “The whole South will be filled again with patriotic fervor, and in the North there will be a corresponding depression.” [8] That changed rapidly when the Union reacted quickly and reversed the strategic situation. One action taken was to deploy Oliver Howard’s XI Corps and Henry Slocum’s XII Corps west, where “they would be commanded by Joe Hooker, who was conveniently at hand and unemployed.” [9]

In the east during the following weeks “Lee and Meade, like two wounded, spent gladiators, sparred listlessly along the Rapidan. It seemed to Northerners that the fruits of Gettysburg had been thrown away.” [10] Lee sensed an opportunity to go back on the offensive against Meade’s weakened army, but his offensive was stopped on October 14th when “the Union Second Corps shattered a reckless attack by A.P. Hill’s corps at Bristoe Station, five miles south of Manassas.[11]

There was a faction in the North, the Copperheads, who were willing even after Gettysburg and Vicksburg to end the war on terms favorable to the Confederacy, even allowing for Confederate independence and the continuation of slavery. They “clamored for negotiations with the Confederacy to restore the Union on the basis of status quo antebellum and, until the closing months of the war charged that as long as the antislavery party remained in power the restoration of the Union could not be achieved.” [12] They believed that the war was a failure and that military action could not be achieved by force of arms.

The leading Copperheads included Clement Vanlandingham of Ohio and George W. Woodward of Pennsylvania were typical, both opposed the use of force against Confederate secession; Woodward had written in 1860 that “Slavery was intended as a special blessing to the people of the United States,” that “Secession is not disloyalty” and “I cannot condemn the South for withdrawing….I wish Pennsylvania could go with them.” [13] The efforts of the Copperheads to gain governorships in Ohio and Pennsylvania met defeat in November 1863, as the Union victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg “undercut their theme of the war’s failure.” [14] Their efforts would persist through the 1864 Presidential election, but instead of preaching the war’s failure they would concentrate on defeating emancipation. The Copperheads, “labeled all Republicans, including Lincoln, as radicals bent upon destroying the Union and undermining the Constitution.” [15]

However, the anti-abolitionist and racist views espoused by the northern Democrat Copperheads had begun to lose their potency in the North after July of 1863 with the onset of “the New York draft riot, which shocked many northerners into a backlash against the consequences of virulent racism” [16] and the sacrifice of the African American 54th Massachusetts Infantry when it assaulted Fort Wagner outside of Charleston South Carolina, which occurred “just after the Democratic rioters in New York had lynched black people and burned the Colored Orphan Asylum. Few Republican newspapers failed to point the moral: black men who fought for the Union deserved more respect than white men who fought against it.” [17]

It is also important to understand how Lincoln’s address at Gettysburg is reflective of the various intellectual and philosophical movements of the time. Even the location of the cemetery and the burial plots within it was significant. A Gettysburg lawyer, David Wills proposed to “Governor Andrew Curtain of Pennsylvania the establishment of a soldiers’ cemetery where the Union dead could be reburied with dignity and honor.” [18] The place was then outside the city, a plot of 17 acres purchased by Wills adjacent to the existing town cemetery on Cemetery Hill. That was significant culturally, for the Gettysburg Cemetery was part of a movement called the Rural Cemetery movement. The movement was part of the Greek revival in the United States and connected with the Transcendentalist movement.

The Rural Cemetery movement was launched at Cambridge’s Mount Auburn Cemetery, and Edward Everett was a key figure in it. Mount Auburn “took Athens’s Kerameikos as its model, since that ancient burial ground existed outside the city proper, near the groves of the Akademy, in what was still countryside.” [19] In his speech at Mount Auburn’s dedication, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story noted:

“The Greeks exhausted the resources of their exquisite art in adorning the habitations of the dead. They discouraged internments within the limits of their cities; and consigned their relics to shady groves, in the neighborhood of murmuring streams and merry fountains, close by the favorite resorts of those who were engaged in the study of philosophy and nature, and called them, with the elegant expressiveness of their own beautiful language, cemeteries or “places of repose.” [20]

He further noted:

“Our cemeteries, rightly selected and properly arranged, may be made subservient to some of the highest purposes of religion and human duty. They may preach lessons to which none may refuse to listen and which all that live must hear. Truths may there be felt and taught, in the silence of our meditations, more persuasive and more enduring than ever flowed from human lips.” [21]

Everett in his Gettysburg oration linked what they were doing at the Soldiers’ Cemetery with the Greek tradition:

“It was appointed by law in Athens, that the obsequies of the citizens who fell in battle should be performed at the public expense, and in the most honorable manner. Their bones were carefully gathered up from the funeral pyre where their bodies were consumed, and brought home to the city. There, for three days before the interment, they lay in state, beneath tents of honor, to receive the votive offerings of friends and relatives,–flowers, weapons, precious ornaments, painted vases (wonders of art, which after two thousand years adorn the museums of modern Europe),–the last tributes of surviving affection. Ten coffins of funereal cypress received the honorable deposit, one for each of the tribes of the city, and an eleventh in memory of the unrecognized, but not therefore unhonored, dead, and of those whose remains could not be recovered….” [22]

The layout of the cemetery, and the manner in which the dead were buried was also significant when one considers the messages of both Everett and Lincoln that day. “The cemetery at Gettysburg was arranged so that every grave was of equal importance; William Saunders’s design, like Lincoln’s speech, affirmed that every dead soldier mattered equally regardless of rank or station.” [23] In this place “some 3,577 Union soldiers (half of them unknown) from eighteen states are buried.” [24]

The speeches of Everett and Lincoln are deeply connected with Romanticism, the Greek revival and the Transcendentalist movement in the United States. Both were children of the enlightenment, and Everett, a former President of Harvard was well versed in these subjects and Lincoln, though a politician who appealed to the tenets of the Enlightenment, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Lincoln appealed to the “sacred principles of the laws of nature,” and hailed “the constitution and laws” as “hewn from the solid quarry of sober reason.” For Lincoln, the war was a test of the practical worth of liberalism.” [25]

Everett had been a mentor to some of the leading Transcendentalist thinkers of his era including Ralph Waldo Emerson who found that the experience of “Everett’s classroom gave him an entirely new direction in life.” Emerson wrote:

“Germany had created [literary] criticism in vain for us until 1820, when Edward Everett returned from his five years in Europe, and brought to Cambridge his rich results, which no one was so fitted by natural grace and splendor of his rhetoric to introduce and recommend…. The novelty of the learning lost northing in the skill and genius of its interpreter, and the rudest undergraduate found a new morning opening to him in the lecture room at Harvard.” [26]

Everett, who had previously dedicated battlefields at Bunker Hill, as well as Lexington and Concord, was at his best when dedicating battlefields and cemeteries. He spent weeks preparing his speech. Everett had studied the battle and knew it well from official reports and talks with those who fought it. Everett painted a vivid picture of the battle for his audience and connected the sacrifice of those who fought and died to preserve the Union form antiquity and from those who founded the nation. He noted why they had gathered:

“We have assembled, friends, fellow-citizens, at the invitation of the Executive of the great central State of Pennsylvania, seconded by the Governors of seventeen other loyal States of the Union, to pay the last tribute of respect to the brave men who, in the hard-fought battles of the first, second, and third days of July last, laid down their lives for the country on these hillsides and the plains before us, and whose remains have been gathered into the cemetery which we consecrate this day. As my eye ranges over the fields whose sods were so lately moistened by the blood of gallant and loyal men, I feel, as never before, how truly it was said of old that it is sweet and becoming to die for one’s country. I feel, as never before, how justly, from the dawn of history to the present time, men have paid the homage of their gratitude and admiration to the memory of those who nobly sacrifice their lives, that their fellow-men may live in safety and in honor. And if this tribute were ever due, to whom could it be more justly paid than to those whose last resting-place we this day commend to the blessing of Heaven and of men?” [27]

In his narrative Everett aspired to more than mere accuracy. Along “with Bancroft and other romantic historians of his time, he meant to create a tradition that would inspire as well as inform. Like the Attic orators- and dramatists- he knew the power of symbols to create a people’s political identity.” [28]

DSCN9741

Lincoln was sick when he delivered the address having what was mostly likely a mild form of Smallpox when he gave the address. Thus the tenor, simplicity and philosophical depth of the address are even more remarkable. It is a speech given in the manner of Winston Churchill’s “Blood sweat toil and tears” address to Parliament upon being appoint Prime Minister in 1940. Likewise it echoes the Transcendentalist understanding of the Declaration of Independence as a “test for all other things.”

Many in the United States and Europe did not agree and argued that no nation found on such principles could long survive. The more reactionary European subscribers of Romanticism ridiculed the “idea that a nation could be founded on a proposition….and they were not reluctant to point to the Civil War as proof that attempting to build a government around something as bloodless and logical as a proposition was futile.” [29]

But Lincoln disagreed. He believed that the “sacrifices of Gettysburg, Shiloh, Murfreesboro, Chancellorsville, and a hundred other places demonstrated otherwise, that men would die rather than to lose hold of that proposition. Reflecting on that dedication, the living should themselves experience a new birth of freedom, a determination- and he drove his point home with a deliberate evocation of the great Whig orator Daniel Webster- “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” [30]

The Unitarian pastor and leading Transcendentalist Theodore Parker wrote:

“Our national ideal out-travels our experience, and all experience. We began our national career by setting all history at defiance- for that said, “A republic on a large scale cannot exist.” Our progress since that has shown that we were right in refusing to be limited by the past. The practical ideas of the nation are transcendent, not empirical. Human history could not justify the Declaration of Independence and its large statements of the new idea: the nation went beyond human history and appealed to human nature.” [31]

Likewise Lincoln’s address echoes the thought of George Bancroft who wrote of the Declaration:

“The bill of rights which it promulgates is of rights that are older than human institutions, and spring from the eternal justice…. The heart of Jefferson in writing the Declaration, and of Congress in adopting it, beat for all humanity; the assertion of right was made for the entire world of mankind and all coming generations, without any exceptions whatsoever.” [32]

Parker’s words also prefigured an idea that Lincoln used in his address, that being: The American Revolution, with American history since, is an attempt to prove by experience this transcendental proposition, to organize the transcendental idea of politics. The ideal demands for its organization a democracy- a government of all, for all, and by all…” [33]

Lincoln delivered these words on that November afternoon:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.[34]

In a time where many are wearied by the foibles and follies of our politicians, even wondering about our form of government can survive Lincoln’s words matter. Dr. Allen Guelzo, Professor of Civil War Studies at Gettysburg College wrote in the New York Times:

“The genius of the address thus lay not in its language or in its brevity (virtues though these were), but in the new birth it gave to those who had become discouraged and wearied by democracy’s follies, and in the reminder that democracy’s survival rested ultimately in the hands of citizens who saw something in democracy worth dying for. We could use that reminder again today.” [35]

Dr. Guelzo is quite correct. Many people in this country and around the world are having grave doubts about our democracy. I wonder myself, but I am an optimist. I do believe that we will recover because for the life of me I see no nation anywhere else with our resiliency and ability to overcome the stupidity of politicians, pundits and preachers.

The amazing thing was that in spite of everything the Union survived. Lincoln was a big part of that but it was the men who left lives of comfort and security like Joshua Chamberlain and so many others who brought about that victory. Throughout the war, even to the end Southern political leaders failed to understand that Union men would fight and die for an ideal, something greater than themselves, the preservation of the Union and the freedom of an enslaved race. For those men that volunteered to serve, the war was not about personal gain, loot or land, it was about something greater. It was about freedom, and when we realize this fact “then we can contemplate the real meaning of “that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion.” [36]

Gettysburg_Unknowns.JPG

Now I for one do not think that we are currently living up to the ideals enunciated by Lincoln that day at Gettysburg. I can understand the cynicism disillusionment of Americans as well as those around the world who have for over 200 years looked to us and our system as a “city set on a hill.” That being said, when I read these words and walk that hallowed ground I am again a believer. I believe that we can realize the ideal, even in our lifetime should we desire.

Notes

[1] Shaara, Michael. The Killer Angels, Ballantine Books, New York. 1974 p.28

[2] Wills, Garry. Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words that Remade America Simon and Schuster Paperbacks, New York 1992 p.25

[3] Guelzo Allen C. Fateful Lightening: A New History of the Civil War Era and Reconstruction Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 2012 p.407

[4] Everett, Edward Letter from Edward Everett to Abraham Lincoln, (Transcription) 20 November 1863 retrieved from http://www.in.gov/judiciary/citc/files/everett-to-lincoln.pdf July 18th 2014

[5] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lighteningp.352

[6] Hebert, Walter H. Fighting Joe Hooker University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London 1999. Originally published by Bobbs-Merrill, New York 1944

[7] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian Random House, New York 1963 p.758

[8] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.757

[9] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.764

[10] Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg Mariner Books, Houghton Mifflin Company Boston, New York 2004 p.513

[11] McPherson, James M. Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief Penguin Books, New York and London 2008 p.200

[12] Harris, William C. With Charity for All: Lincoln and the Restoration of the Union The University Press of Kentucky, Lexington KY 1997 p.7

[13] McPherson, James. The Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1988 p.685

[14] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.685

[15] Ibid. Harris With Charity for All p.7

[16] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.686

[17] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.687

[18] McPherson, James M. This Hallowed Ground Crown Publishers, New York 2003 p.137

[19] Ibid. Wills. Lincoln at Gettysburg p.63

[20] Ibid. Wills. Lincoln at Gettysburg p.64

[21] Ibid. Wills. Lincoln at Gettysburg p.65

[22] Everett, Edward Gettysburg Address retrieved from http://voicesofdemocracy.umd.edu/everett-gettysburg-address-speech-text/ 21 August 2014

[23] Faust, Drew Gilpin, This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War Vintage Books, a division of Random House, New York 2008 p.100

[24] Ibid. McPherson This Hallowed Ground p.137

[25] Ibid. Guelzo. Fateful Lightening pp.406-407

[26] Ibid. Wills. Lincoln at Gettysburg p.45

[27] Ibid. Everett Gettysburg Address

[28] Ibid. Wills. Lincoln at Gettysburg p.51

[29] Ibid. Guelzo. Fateful Lightening p.409

[30] Ibid. Guelzo. Fateful Lightening p.408

[31] Ibid. Wills. Lincoln at Gettysburg p.110

[32] Ibid. Wills. Lincoln at Gettysburg p.105

[33] Ibid. Wills. Lincoln at Gettysburg p.105

[34] Lincoln, Abraham The Gettysburg Address the Bliss Copy retrieved from http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/gettysburg.htm

[35] Guelzo, Allen C. Lincoln’s Sound Bite: Have Faith in Democracy New York Time Opinionator, November 17th 2013 retrieved from http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/11/17/lincolns-sound-bite-have-faith-in-democracy/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0 July 18th 2014

[36] Ibid. McPherson This Hallowed Ground p.138

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Filed under civil rights, civil war, Gettysburg, History, Political Commentary

Abraham Lincoln & the New Birth of Freedom

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

On this weekend which we call the “President’s Day Weekend” I think it is appropriate to remember Abraham Lincoln and the Gettysburg Address. This is the last chapter of my Gettysburg text and since Lincoln is most closely connected with Emancipation and the End of Slavery I think that it is important to pause and remember his brief remarks at the dedication of the Gettysburg Soldier’s Cemetery. Those remarks are really important because they draw us back to the real source document of who we are as Americans, the Declaration of Independence. That document made the incredibly bold, and even revolutionary statement, that “all men are created equal.” Lincoln expanded those words to their logical end, that indeed all men, not just white landowners, were created equal. It is a concept that some in our country still struggle to accept. 

In a couple of weeks I will be going back to Gettysburg again with a group of my students.  The last stop on our “staff ride” is the Soldier’s cemetery. We go to the spot where it is believed that Lincoln gave his remarks and I take a few minutes to read his address. 

 

Have a great weekend and remember that freedom always comes with a price, and that the struggle for freedom, equality and justice has not ended.

Peace

Padre Steve+

gburg address 

I am always humbled when I travel to Gettysburg as I will again in a couple of weeks. It is hard to believe in that now peaceful pastoral setting that over 157,000 Americans, almost 82,000 Union and 75,000 Confederate met in a three day battle. In those three days over 28,000 Confederates and 23,000 Union soldiers were killed, wounded, missing or captured. It was the greatest number of casualties inflicted in one battle on American soil in history.

The places that the battle was fought have become legendary, for they are “hallowed ground” as President Abraham Lincoln so eloquently put it. The places, McPherson’s and Herr’s Ridge, Seminary Ridge, the Railroad Cut, Barlow’s Knoll, Cemetery Hill, Culp’s Hill, The Wheat Field, Devil’s Den, the Peach Orchard, Little Round Top, Cemetery Ridge, the Apse of Trees, the Angle and the High Water Mark are in a sense holy, or hallowed, consecrated by those who struggled there, those who lived and those who gave the last full measure of devotion to their country. When I take my students there I always finish at the Soldier’s Cemetery where Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address.

I think about those men of both sides, fully convinced of the rightness of their cause who fought valiantly in the struggle. That being said when I go there though my family predominantly fought for the Confederacy my heart is drawn to those men who remained loyal to the Union and those who answered the call of Abraham Lincoln to serve in a cause greater than their own interests, the great and the small alike.

Lincoln was a masterful orator who managed to rally the Union and bring hundreds of thousands of men volunteer before Gettysburg. They came for an ideal an ideal which Lincoln’s oratory was probably the most effective at articulating in a way that men would volunteer to suffer hardship, fight and die to bring about. It was well put in the movie Gettysburg where Colonel Joshua Chamberlain, played by Jeff Daniels said:

“This is a different kind of army. If you look at history you’ll see men fight for pay, or women, or some other kind of loot. They fight for land, or because a king makes them, or just because they like killing. But we’re here for something new. This has not happened much, in the history of the world: We are an army out to set other men free. America should be free ground, all of it, from here to the Pacific Ocean. No man has to bow, no man born to royalty. Here we judge you by what you do, not by who your father was. Here you can be something. Here is the place to build a home. But it’s not the land. There’s always more land. It’s the idea that we all have value, you and me. What we’re fighting for, in the end… we’re fighting for each other…” [1]

On November 19th 1863 Lincoln delivered a “few words” at Gettysburg which were in all practical aspects a benediction at the dedication of the battlefield cemetery. Lincoln was the second speaker at the ceremony following former Pennsylvania Congressman Edward Everett who spoke for more than two hours, a typical speech from the period.

Everett was one of the leading orators of his day. Everett was “a scholar and Ivy-League diplomat who could hold mass audiences in thrall. His voice, diction, and gestures were successfully dramatic, and he always performed his carefully written text, no matter how long, from memory.” [2]

The 270 words of Lincoln’s address are perhaps the most important of any speech or document in American history save the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States, in those words “Lincoln, nevertheless managed to justify the ways of democracy more than anyone, then or now.” [3]

The speech was so powerful that Everett wrote Lincoln the next day:

“Permit me also to express my great admiration of the thoughts expressed by you, with such eloquent simplicity & appropriateness, at the consecration of the Cemetery. I should be glad, if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.” [4]

The speech is short, but its eloquence is unmatched. Lincoln wrapped ideas, concepts and ideals that men have written volumes about into a speech so powerful that many have memorized it.

But few realize the context that it must be placed. Though the Union had defeated Lee’s Army at Gettysburg and Grant had taken Vicksburg to cut the Confederacy in half the North was growing war weary. During the fall of 1863 after a series of inconclusive battles in northern Virginia both Lee and Meade’s armies had sent significant numbers of troops to the west, to support operations in eastern Tennessee.

Lee sent Longstreet’s First Corps, which took part in the bloody battle of Chickamauga, which “is a Cherokee word meaning “river of death.” [5] where on September 19th and 20th the Federal Army of the Cumberland under General Rosecrans “were soundly whipped at …and driven back into the strategic point of Chattanooga.” [6] The number of casualties on both sides, over 16,000 Federal and 18,000 Confederate, a “combined total of 34,634 was exceeded only the three day slaughter at Gettysburg and by the week-long series of five battles known collectively as the Seven Days.” [7] Despite the number of casualties it was one of the biggest Confederate victories of the war. A clerk in Richmond wrote “The whole South will be filled again with patriotic fervor, and in the North there will be a corresponding depression.” [8] That changed rapidly when the Union reacted quickly and reversed the strategic situation. One action taken was to deploy Oliver Howard’s XI Corps and Henry Slocum’s XII Corps west, where “they would be commanded by Joe Hooker, who was conveniently at hand and unemployed.” [9]

In the east during the following weeks “Lee and Meade, like two wounded, spent gladiators, sparred listlessly along the Rapidan. It seemed to Northerners that the fruits of Gettysburg had been thrown away.” [10] Lee sensed an opportunity to go back on the offensive against Meade’s weakened army, but his offensive was stopped on October 14th when “the Union Second Corps shattered a reckless attack by A.P. Hill’s corps at Bristoe Station, five miles south of Manassas.[11]

There was a faction in the North, the Copperheads, who were willing even after Gettysburg and Vicksburg to end the war on terms favorable to the Confederacy, even allowing for Confederate independence and the continuation of slavery. They “clamored for negotiations with the Confederacy to restore the Union on the basis of status quo antebellum and, until the closing months of the war charged that as long as the antislavery party remained in power the restoration of the Union could not be achieved.” [12] They believed that the war was a failure and that military action could not be achieved by force of arms.

The leading Copperheads included Clement Vallandigham of Ohio and George W. Woodward of Pennsylvania were typical, both opposed the use of force against Confederate secession; Woodward had written in 1860 that “Slavery was intended as a special blessing to the people of the United States,” that “Secession is not disloyalty” and “I cannot condemn the South for withdrawing….I wish Pennsylvania could go with them.” [13] The efforts of the Copperheads to gain governorships in Ohio and Pennsylvania met defeat in November 1863, as the Union victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg “undercut their theme of the war’s failure.” [14] Their efforts would persist through the 1864 Presidential election, but instead of preaching the war’s failure they would concentrate on defeating emancipation. The Copperheads, “labeled all Republicans, including Lincoln, as radicals bent upon destroying the Union and undermining the Constitution.” [15]

However, the anti-abolitionist and racist views espoused by the northern Democrat Copperheads had begun to lose their potency in the North after July of 1863 with the onset of “the New York draft riot, which shocked many northerners into a backlash against the consequences of virulent racism” [16] and the sacrifice of the African American 54th Massachusetts Infantry when it assaulted Fort Wagner outside of Charleston South Carolina, which occurred “just after the Democratic rioters in New York had lynched black people and burned the Colored Orphan Asylum. Few Republican newspapers failed to point the moral: black men who fought for the Union deserved more respect than white men who fought against it.” [17]

GAFac1

It is also important to understand how Lincoln’s address at Gettysburg is reflective of the various intellectual and philosophical movements of the time. Even the location of the cemetery and the burial plots within it was significant. A Gettysburg lawyer, David Wills proposed to “Governor Andrew Curtain of Pennsylvania the establishment of a soldiers’ cemetery where the Union dead could be reburied with dignity and honor.” [18] The place was then outside the city, a plot of 17 acres purchased by Wills adjacent to the existing town cemetery on Cemetery Hill. That was significant culturally, for the Gettysburg Cemetery was part of a movement called the Rural Cemetery movement. The movement was part of the Greek revival in the United States and connected with the Transcendentalist movement.

The Rural Cemetery movement was launched at Cambridge’s Mount Auburn Cemetery, and Edward Everett was a key figure in it. Mount Auburn “took Athens’s Kerameikos as its model, since that ancient burial ground existed outside the city proper, near the groves of the Akademy, in what was still countryside.” [19] In his speech at Mount Auburn’s dedication, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story noted:

“The Greeks exhausted the resources of their exquisite art in adorning the habitations of the dead. They discouraged internments within the limits of their cities; and consigned their relics to shady groves, in the neighborhood of murmuring streams and merry fountains, close by the favorite resorts of those who were engaged in the study of philosophy and nature, and called them, with the elegant expressiveness of their own beautiful language, cemeteries or “places of repose.” [20]

He further noted:

“Our cemeteries, rightly selected and properly arranged, may be made subservient to some of the highest purposes of religion and human duty. They may preach lessons to which none may refuse to listen and which all that live must hear. Truths may there be felt and taught, in the silence of our meditations, more persuasive and more enduring than ever flowed from human lips.” [21]

Everett in his Gettysburg oration linked what they were doing at the Soldiers’ Cemetery with the Greek tradition:

“It was appointed by law in Athens, that the obsequies of the citizens who fell in battle should be performed at the public expense, and in the most honorable manner. Their bones were carefully gathered up from the funeral pyre where their bodies were consumed, and brought home to the city. There, for three days before the interment, they lay in state, beneath tents of honor, to receive the votive offerings of friends and relatives,–flowers, weapons, precious ornaments, painted vases (wonders of art, which after two thousand years adorn the museums of modern Europe),–the last tributes of surviving affection. Ten coffins of funereal cypress received the honorable deposit, one for each of the tribes of the city, and an eleventh in memory of the unrecognized, but not therefore unhonored, dead, and of those whose remains could not be recovered….” [22]

The layout of the cemetery, and the manner in which the dead were buried was also significant when one considers the messages of both Everett and Lincoln that day. “The cemetery at Gettysburg was arranged so that every grave was of equal importance; William Saunders’s design, like Lincoln’s speech, affirmed that every dead soldier mattered equally regardless of rank or station.” [23] In this place “some 3,577 Union soldiers (half of them unknown) from eighteen states are buried.” [24]

The speeches of Everett and Lincoln are deeply connected with Romanticism, the Greek revival and the Transcendentalist movement in the United States. Both were children of the enlightenment, and Everett, a former President of Harvard was well versed in these subjects and Lincoln, though a politician who appealed to the tenets of the Enlightenment, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Lincoln appealed to the “sacred principles of the laws of nature,” and hailed “the constitution and laws” as “hewn from the solid quarry of sober reason.” For Lincoln, the war was a test of the practical worth of liberalism.” [25]

Everett had been a mentor to some of the leading Transcendentalist thinkers of his era including Ralph Waldo Emmerson who found that the experience of “Everett’s classroom gave him an entirely new direction in life. He wrote:

“Germany had created [literary] criticism in vain for us until 1820, when Edward Everett returned from his five years in Europe, and brought to Cambridge his rich results, which no one was so fitted by natural grace and splendor of his rhetoric to introduce and recommend….The novelty of the learning lost northing in the skill and genius of its interpreter, and the rudest undergraduate found a new morning opening to him in the lecture room at Harvard.” [26]

Everett, who had previously dedicated battlefields at Bunker Hill, as well as Lexington and Concord, was at his best when dedicating battlefields and cemeteries. He spent weeks preparing his speech. Everett had studied the battle and knew it well from official reports and talks with those who fought it. Everett painted a vivid picture of the battle for his audience and connected the sacrifice of those who fought and died to preserve the Union form antiquity and from those who founded the nation. He noted why they had gathered:

“We have assembled, friends, fellow-citizens, at the invitation of the Executive of the great central State of Pennsylvania, seconded by the Governors of seventeen other loyal States of the Union, to pay the last tribute of respect to the brave men who, in the hard-fought battles of the first, second, and third days of July last, laid down their lives for the country on these hillsides and the plains before us, and whose remains have been gathered into the cemetery which we consecrate this day. As my eye ranges over the fields whose sods were so lately moistened by the blood of gallant and loyal men, I feel, as never before, how truly it was said of old that it is sweet and becoming to die for one’s country. I feel, as never before, how justly, from the dawn of history to the present time, men have paid the homage of their gratitude and admiration to the memory of those who nobly sacrifice their lives, that their fellow-men may live in safety and in honor. And if this tribute were ever due, to whom could it be more justly paid than to those whose last resting-place we this day commend to the blessing of Heaven and of men?” [27]

In his narrative Everett aspired to more than mere accuracy. Along “with Bancroft and other romantic historians of his time, he meant to create a tradition that would inspire as well as inform. Like the Attic orators- and dramatists- he knew the power of symbols to create a people’s political identity.” [28]

Lincoln was sick when he delivered the address having what was mostly likely a mild form of Smallpox when he gave the address. Thus the tenor, simplicity and philosophical depth of the address are even more remarkable. It is a speech given in the manner of Winston Churchill’s “Blood sweat toil and tears” address to Parliament upon being appoint Prime Minister in 1940. Likewise it echoes the Transcendentalist understanding of the Declaration of Independence as a “test for all other things.”

gburgaddressmemorial

Many in the United States and Europe did not agree and argued that no nation found on such principles could long survive. The more reactionary European subscribers of Romanticism ridiculed the “idea that a nation could be founded on a proposition….and they were not reluctant to point to the Civil War as proof that attempting to build a government around something as bloodless and logical as a proposition was futile.” [29]

But Lincoln disagreed. He believed that the “sacrifices of Gettysburg, Shiloh, Murfreesboro, Chancellorsville, and a hundred other places demonstrated otherwise, that men would die rather than to lose hold of that proposition. Reflecting on that dedication, the living should themselves experience a new birth of freedom, a determination- and he drove his point home with a deliberate evocation of the great Whig orator Daniel Webster- “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” [30]

The Unitarian pastor and leading Transcendentalist Theodore Parker wrote:

“Our national ideal out-travels our experience, and all experience. We began our national career by setting all history at defiance- for that said, “A republic on a large scale cannot exist.” Our progress since that has shown that we were right in refusing to be limited by the past. The practical ideas of the nation are transcendent, not empirical. Human history could not justify the Declaration of Independence and its large statements of the new idea: the nation went beyond human history and appealed to human nature.” [31]

Likewise Lincoln’s address echoes the thought of George Bancroft who wrote of the Declaration:

“The bill of rights which it promulgates is of rights that are older than human institutions, and spring from the eternal justice…. The heart of Jefferson in writing the Declaration, and of Congress in adopting it, beat for all humanity; the assertion of right was made for the entire world of mankind and all coming generations, without any exceptions whatsoever.” [32]

Parker’s words also prefigured an idea that Lincoln used in his address, that being: The American Revolution, with American history since, is an attempt to prove by experience this transcendental proposition, to organize the transcendental idea of politics. The ideal demands for its organization a democracy- a government of all, for all, and by all…” [33]

Lincoln delivered these words on that November afternoon:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.[34]

In a time where many are wearied by the foibles and follies of our politicians, even wondering about our form of government can survive Lincoln’s words matter. Dr. Allen Guelzo, Professor of Civil War Studies at Gettysburg College wrote in the New York Times:

“The genius of the address thus lay not in its language or in its brevity (virtues though these were), but in the new birth it gave to those who had become discouraged and wearied by democracy’s follies, and in the reminder that democracy’s survival rested ultimately in the hands of citizens who saw something in democracy worth dying for. We could use that reminder again today.” [35]

Dr. Guelzo is quite correct. Many people in this country and around the world are having grave doubts about our democracy. I wonder myself, but I am an optimist. I do believe that we will recover because for the life of me I see no nation anywhere else with our resiliency and ability to overcome the stupidity of politicians, pundits and preachers.

Gettysburg_Unknowns.JPG

The amazing thing was that in spite of everything the Union survived. Lincoln was a big part of that but it was the men who left lives of comfort and security like Joshua Chamberlain and so many others who brought about that victory. Throughout the war, even to the end Southern political leaders failed to understand that Union men would fight and die for an ideal, something greater than themselves, the preservation of the Union and the freedom of an enslaved race. For those men that volunteered to serve, the war was not about personal gain, loot or land, it was about something greater. It was about freedom, and when we realize this fact “then we can contemplate the real meaning of “that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion.” [36]

gburg dead2

Now I for one do not think that we are currently living up to the ideals enunciated by Lincoln that day at Gettysburg. I can understand the cynicism disillusionment of Americans as well as those around the world who have for over 200 years looked to us and our system as a “city set on a hill.” That being said, when I read these words and walk that hallowed ground I am again a believer. I believe that we can realize the ideal, even in our lifetime should we desire.

Peace

Padre Steve+

[1] Shaara, Michael. The Killer Angels, Ballantine Books, New York. 1974 p.28

[2] Wills, Garry. Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words that Remade America Simon and Schuster Paperbacks, New York 1992 p.25

[3] Guelzo Allen C. Fateful Lightening: A New History of the Civil War Era and Reconstruction Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 2012 p.407

[4] Everett, Edward Letter from Edward Everett to Abraham Lincoln, (Transcription) 20 November 1863 retrieved from http://www.in.gov/judiciary/citc/files/everett-to-lincoln.pdf July 18th 2014

[5] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lighteningp.352

[6] Hebert, Walter H. Fighting Joe Hooker University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London 1999. Originally published by Bobbs-Merrill, New York 1944

[7] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian Random House, New York 1963 p.758

[8] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.757

[9] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.764

[10] Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg Mariner Books, Houghton Mifflin Company Boston, New York 2004 p.513

[11] McPherson, James M. Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief Penguin Books, New York and London 2008 p.200

[12] Harris, William C. With Charity for All: Lincoln and the Restoration of the Union The University Press of Kentucky, Lexington KY 1997 p.7

[13] McPherson, James. The Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1988 p.685

[14] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.685

[15] Ibid. Harris With Charity for All p.7

[16] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.686

[17] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.687

[18] McPherson, James M. This Hallowed Ground Crown Publishers, New York 2003 p.137

[19] Ibid. Wills. Lincoln at Gettysburg p.63

[20] Ibid. Wills. Lincoln at Gettysburg p.64

[21] Ibid. Wills. Lincoln at Gettysburg p.65

[22] Everett, Edward Gettysburg Address retrieved from http://voicesofdemocracy.umd.edu/everett-gettysburg-address-speech-text/ 21 August 2014

[23] Faust, Drew Gilpin, This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War Vintage Books, a division of Random House, New York 2008 p.100

[24] Ibid. McPherson This Hallowed Ground p.137

[25] Ibid. Guelzo. Fateful Lightening pp.406-407

[26] Ibid. Wills. Lincoln at Gettysburg p.45

[27] Ibid. Everett Gettysburg Address

[28] Ibid. Wills. Lincoln at Gettysburg p.51

[29] Ibid. Guelzo. Fateful Lightening p.409

[30] Ibid. Guelzo. Fateful Lightening p.408

[31] Ibid. Wills. Lincoln at Gettysburg p.110

[32] Ibid. Wills. Lincoln at Gettysburg p.105

[33] Ibid. Wills. Lincoln at Gettysburg p.105

[34] Lincoln, Abraham The Gettysburg Address the Bliss Copy retrieved from http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/gettysburg.htm

[35] Guelzo, Allen C. Lincoln’s Sound Bite: Have Faith in Democracy New York Time Opinionator, November 17th 2013 retrieved from http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/11/17/lincolns-sound-bite-have-faith-in-democracy/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0 July 18th 2014

[36] Ibid. McPherson This Hallowed Ground p.138

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Filed under civil rights, civil war, Gettysburg, History, leadership, Political Commentary

Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: Religion, Ideology and the Civil War Part 2

This is part two of a very long chapter in my Gettysburg Staff Ride Text. Part one was published last night and can be found here: https://padresteve.com/2014/12/11/mine-eyes-have-seen-the-glory-religion-ideology-the-civil-war-part-1/

The chapter is different because instead of simply studying the battle my students also get some very detailed history about the ideological components of war that helped make the American Civil War not only a definitive event in our history; but a war of utmost brutality in which religion drove people and leaders on both sides to advocate not just defeating their opponent, but exterminating them.

But the study of this religious and ideological war is timeless, for it helps us to understand the ideology of current rivals and opponents, some of whom we are in engaged in battle and others who we spar with by other means, nations, tribes and peoples whose world view, and response to the United States and the West, is dictated by their religion. 

Yet for those more interested in current American political and social issues the period is very instructive, for the religious, ideological and political arguments used by Evangelical Christians in the ante-bellum period, as well as many of the attitudes displayed by Christians in the North and the South are still on display in our current political and social debates. 

I will be posting the final part tomorrow. 

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Henry Clay argues for the Compromise of 1850

The Disastrous Compromise of 1850

The tensions in the aftermath of the war with Mexico escalated over the issue of slavery in the newly conquered territories brought heated calls by some southerners for secession and disunion. To preserve the Union, Henry Clay and Daniel Webster, supported by the new President Millard Fillmore were able to pass the compromise of 1850 solved a number of issues related to the admission of California to the Union and boundary disputes involving Texas and the new territories. But among the bills that were contained in it was the Fugitive Slave Law, or The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. The act was the device of Henry Clay which was meant to sweeten the deal for southerners. The law would “give slaveholders broader powers to stop the flow of runaway slaves northward to the free states, and offered a final resolution denying that Congress had any authority to regulate the interstate slave trade.” [1] which for all practical purposes nationalized the institution of slavery, even in Free states by forcing all citizens to assist law enforcement in apprehending fugitive slaves and voided state laws in Massachusetts, Vermont, Ohio, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island which barred state officials from aiding in the capture, arrest or imprisonment of fugitive slaves. “Congress’s law had nationalized slavery. No black person was safe on American soil. The old division of free state/slave state had vanished….” [2]

That law required all Federal law enforcement officials, even in non-slave states to arrest fugitive slaves and anyone who assisted them, and threatened law enforcement officials with punishment if they failed to enforce the law. The law stipulated that should “any marshal or deputy marshal refuse to receive such warrant, or other process, when tendered, or to use all proper means diligently to execute the same, he shall, on conviction thereof, be fined in the sum of one thousand dollars.” [3]

Likewise the act compelled citizens in Free states to “aid and assist in the prompt and efficient execution of this law, whenever their services may be required….” [4] Penalties were harsh and financial incentives for compliance attractive.

“Anyone caught providing food and shelter to an escaped slave, assuming northern whites could discern who was a runaway, would be subject to a fine of one thousand dollars and six months in prison. The law also suspended habeas corpus and the right to trial by jury for captured blacks. Judges received a hundred dollars for every slave returned to his or her owner, providing a monetary incentive for jurists to rule in favor of slave catchers.” [5]

The law gave no protection for even black freedmen. The created a new office, that of Federal Commissioner, to adjudicate the claims of slaveholders and their agents and to avoid the normal Federal Court system. No proof or evidence other than the sworn statement by of the owner with an “affidavit from a slave-state court or by the testimony of white witnesses” [6] that a black was or had been his property was required to return any black to slavery. Since blacks could not testify on their own behalf and were denied representation the act created an onerous extrajudicial process that defied imagination. The commissioners had a financial incentive to send blacks back to slavery. “If the commissioner decided against the claimant he would receive a fee of five dollars; if in favor ten. This provision, supposedly justified by the paper work needed to remand a fugitive to the South, became notorious among abolitionists as a bribe to commissioners.” [7]

Frederick Douglass said:

“By an act of the American Congress…slavery has been nationalized in its most horrible and revolting form. By that act, Mason & Dixon’s line has been obliterated;…and the power to hold, hunt, and sell men, women, and children remains no longer a mere state institution, but is now an institution of the whole United States.” [8]

On his deathbed Henry Clay praised the act, which he wrote “The new fugitive slave law, I believe, kept the South in the Union in ‘fifty and ‘fifty-one. Not only does it deny fugitives trial by jury and the right to testify; it also imposes a fine and imprisonment upon any citizen found guilty of preventing a fugitive’s arrest…” Likewise Clay depreciated the opposition noting “Yes, since the passage of the compromise, the abolitionists and free coloreds of the North have howled in protest and viciously assailed me, and twice in Boston there has been a failure to execute the law, which shocks and astounds me…. But such people belong to the lunatic fringe. The vast majority of Americans, North and South, support our handiwork, the great compromise that pulled the nation back from the brink.” [9]

The compromise had “averted a showdown over who would control the new western territories” [10] but it only delayed disunion. In arguing against the compromise South Carolina Senator John C. Calhoun realized that for Southerners it did not do enough and that it would inspire abolitionists to greater efforts in their cause. He argued for permanent protection of slavery:

“He understood that slavery stood at the heart of southern society, and that without a mechanism to protect it for all time, the Union’s days were numbered.” Almost prophetically he said “I fix its probable [breakup] within twelve years or three presidential terms…. The probability is it will explode in a presidential election.” [11]

Of course it was Calhoun and not the authors of the compromise who proved correct. The leap into the abyss of disunion and civil war had only been temporarily avoided. However, none of the supporters anticipated what would occur in just six years when a train of unexpected consequences would throw an entirely new light on the popular sovereignty doctrine, and both it and the Compromise of 1850 would be wreaked with the stroke of a single judicial pen.” [12]

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Religion, Ideology and the Abolitionist Movement

In the North a strident abolitionist movement took root and with each failed compromise, with each new infringement on the rights of northern free-states by the Congress, Courts and the Executive branch to appease southern slaveholders the movement gained added support. The movement developed during the 1830s in New England as a fringe movement among the more liberal elites. One wing of the movement “arose from evangelical ranks and framed its critique of bound labor in religious terms.” [13] The polarization emerged as Northern states abolished slavery as increasing numbers of influential “former slave owners such as Benjamin Franklin changed their views on the matter.” [14]

Many in the movement were inspired by the preaching of revivalist preacher Charles Finney who “demanded a religious conversion with a political potential more radical than the preacher first intended.” [15] Finney and other preachers were instrumental in the Second Great Awakening “which rekindled religious fervor in much of the nation, saw new pressure for abolition.” [16] In fact the “most important child of the Awakening, however, was the abolitionist movement, which in the 1830s took on new life, place the slavery issue squarely on the national agenda, and for the next quarter century aroused and mobilized people in the cause of emancipation.” [17]

The evangelical proponents of abolition understood this in the concept of “free will” something that the pointed out that slavery “denied one group of human beings the freedom of action necessary to free will – and therefore moral responsibility for their behavior. Meanwhile, it assigned to other human beings a degree of temporal power that virtually guaranteed their moral corruption. Both master and slave were thus trapped in a relationship that inevitably led both down the path of sin and depravity” [18]

Finney’s preaching was emboldened and expanded by the American Anti-Slavery Society founded by William Lloyd Garrison “which launched a campaign to change minds, North and South, with three initiatives, public speeches, mass mailings and petitions.” [19] Many of the speakers were seminary students and graduates of Lane Seminary in Cincinnati, who became known as “the Seventy” who received training and then “fanned out across the North campaigning in New England, Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, Indiana and Michigan[20] where many received hostile receptions, and encountered violence. Garrison used his newspaper, The Liberator to “pledge an all-out attack on U.S. slavery.” [21] Likewise other churches such as the Presbyterians founded new educational institutions such as “Oberlin College in Ohio” which “was founded as an abolitionist institution” [22]

Theodore Parker, a Unitarian pastor and leading Transcendentalist thinker enunciated a very important theological-political analogy for many in the religious wing of the abolitionist movement which concentrated less on using chapter and verse but appealing to “the spirit of the Gospel,” [23] in as Parker’s analogy: as Jesus is to the Bible, so is the Declaration to the Constitution:

“By Christianity, I mean that form of religion which consists of piety – the love of God, and morality – the keeping of His laws. That Christianity is not the Christianity of the Christian church, nor of any sect. It is the ideal religion which the human race has been groping for….By Democracy, I mean government over all the people, by all the people and for the sake of all….This is not a democracy of the parties, but it is an ideal government, the reign of righteousness, the kingdom of justice, which all noble hearts long for, and labor to produce, the ideal whereunto mankind slowly draws near.” [24]

The early abolitionists who saw the issue framed in terms of their religious faith declared slavery a sin against God and man that demanded immediate action.” [25] For them the issue was a matter of faith and belief in which compromise of any kind including the gradual elimination of slavery or any other halfway measures were unacceptable. “William Lloyd Garrison and his fellow abolitionists believed the nation faced a clear choice between damnation and salvation,” [26] a cry that can be heard in much of today’s political debate regarding a number of social issues with religious components including abortion, gay rights and immigration. Harrison wrote that “Our program of immediate emancipation and assimilation, I maintained, was the only panacea, the only Christian solution, to an unbearable program.” [27] The abolitionists identified:

“their cause with the cause of freedom, and with the interests of large and relatively unorganized special groups such as laborers and immigrants, the abolitionists considered themselves to be, and convinced many others that they were, the sole remaining protectors of civil rights.” [28]

The arguments were frequently and eloquently rooted in profoundly religious terms common to evangelical Christianity and the Second Great Awakening. One of the leading historians of the era, Henry Wilson of Massachusetts, a Radical Republican and abolitionist who served as a United States Senator and Vice President in Ulysses Grant’s second administration provides a good example of this. He wrote in his post war history of the events leading to the war explaining basic understanding of the religiously minded abolitionists during the period:

“God’s Holy Word declares that man was doomed to eat his bread in the sweat of his face. History and tradition teach that the indolent, the crafty, and the strong, unmindful of human rights, have ever sought to evade this Divine decree by filching their bread from the constrained and unpaid toil of others…

American slavery reduced man, created in the Divine image, to property….It made him a beast of burden in the field of toil, an outcast in social life, a cipher in courts of law, and a pariah in the house of God. To claim for himself, or to use himself for his own benefit or benefit of wife and child, was deemed a crime. His master could dispose of his person at will, and of everything acquired by his enforced and unrequited toil.

This complete subversion of the natural rights of millions…constituted a system antagonistic to the doctrines of reason and the monitions of conscience, and developed and gratified the most intense spirit of personal pride, a love of class distinctions, and the lust of dominion. Hence a commanding power, ever sensitive, jealous, proscriptive, dominating, and aggressive, which was recognized and fitly characterized as the Slave Power…” [29]

The religious abolitionists took aim at the Southern churches and church leaders who they believed only buttressed slavery but “had become pawns of wealthy slaveholders and southern theologians apologists for oppression.” [30] As the abolitionist movement spread through Northern churches, especially those with ties to the evangelicalism of the Great Awakenings, and for “Evangelical northerners, the belief in individual spiritual and personal rights and personal religious activism made such involvement necessary.” [31]

For Baptists the issue created a deep polarization with northern Baptists mobilizing around abolitionist principles which came out of their association with English Baptists who had been at the forefront of the abolitionist movement in England where the Reverend William Knibb, who also led the fight to end slavery in Jamaica “became an impassioned defender of the human rights of blacks….his flamboyant speeches aroused the people against slavery.” [32] The Baptist Union in England sent a lengthy letter to the Baptist Triennial Convention in the United States on December 31st 1833 in which they condemned “the slave system…as a sin to be abandoned, and not an evil to be mitigated,” and in which they urged all American Baptists to do all in their power to “effect its speedy overthrow.” [33]

In 1835 two English Baptists, Francis Cox and James Hoby, who were active in that nation’s abolitionist movement with William Wilberforce came to the United States “to urge Baptists to abandon slavery. This visit and subsequent correspondence tended to polarize Baptists.” [34] In the north their visit encouraged faith based activism in abolitionist groups. In 1849 the American Baptist Anti-Slavery Convention was formed in New York and launched a polemic attack on the institution of slavery and called southern Baptists to repent in the strongest terms. They urged that the mission agencies be cleansed from “any taint of slavery…and condemned slavery in militant terms.” They called on Southern Baptists to “confess before heaven and earth the sinfulness of holding slaves; admit it to be not only a misfortune, but a crime…” and it warned that “if Baptists in the South ignored such warnings and persisted in the practice of slavery, “we cannot and dare not recognize you as consistent brethren in Christ.” [35] Such divisions we not limited to Baptists and as the decade moved on rose to crisis proportions in every evangelical denomination, provoking Kentucky Senator Henry Clay to wonder: “If our religious men cannot live together in peace, what can be expected of us politicians, very few of whom profess to be governed by the great principles of love?” [36]

The abolition movement aimed to not only stop the spread of slavery but to abolish it. The latter was something that many in the North who opposed slavery’s expansion were often either not in favor of, or indifferent to, became an issue for many after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. So long as slavery was regulated to the South most northerners showed little concern, and even though many profited by slavery, or otherwise reaped its benefits their involvement was indirect. While they may have worn clothes made of cotton harvested by slaves, while the profits of corporations that benefited from all aspects of the Southern slave economy paid the wages of northern workers and shareholders, few thought of the moral issues until they were forced to participate or saw the laws of their states overthrown by Congress.

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Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the Popularization of Abolitionism in the North

It was only after this act that the abolitionist movement began to gain traction among people in the North. The movement was given a large boost by the huge popularity of Harriett Beecher Stowe’s 1852 novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin “a vivid, highly imaginative, best-selling, and altogether damning indictment of slavery” [37]

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Harriet Beecher Stowe

Stowe was a well-educated writer, the daughter of the President of Lane Seminary, Lyman Beecher and wife of Calvin Ellis Stowe, a professor at the seminary. She and her family were deeply involved in the abolitionist movement and supported the Underground Railroad, even taking fugitive slaves into her home. These activities and her association with escaped slaves made a profound impact on her. She received a letter from her sister who was distraught over the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law. He sister challenged Stowe to write: “How, Hattie, if I could use a pen as you can, I would write something that would make this whole nation feel what an accursed thing slavery is.” [38]

One communion Sunday she:

“sat at the communion table of Brunswick’s First Parish Church, a vision began playing before my eyes that left me in tears. I saw an old slave clad in rags, a gentle, Christian man like the slave I had read about in American Slavery as It Is. A cruel white man, a man with a hardened fist, was flogging the old slave. Now a cruel master ordered two other slaves two other slaves to finish the task. As they laid on the whips, the old black man prayed for God to forgive them.

After church I rushed home in a trance and wrote down what I had seen. Since Calvin was away, I read the sketch to my ten- and twelve-year-old sons. They wept too, and one cried, “Oh! Mamma, slavery is the most cursed thing in the world!” I named the old slave Uncle Tom and his evil tormenter Simon Legree. Having recorded the climax of my story, I then commenced at the beginning….” [39]

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The Auction, engraving from Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Many of Stowe’s characters were fiction versions of people that she actually knew or had heard about and the power of her writing made the work a major success in the United States and in Britain. The abolitionist movement gained steam and power through it and the play that issued from it. The publication of the book and its success “raised a counter indignation among Southerners because they thought Mrs. Stowe’s portrait untrue and because the North was so willing to believe it.” [40]

But despite the furor of many southerners the book gained in popularity and influenced a generation of northerners, creating a stereotype of Southern slaveholders and it caused people “to think more deeply and more personally about the implications of slavery for family, society and Christianity.” [41] The book drew many previously ambivalent to the writings of the abolitionists, and who did not normally read the accounts of escaped slaves. The vivid images in Stowe’s book “were irredeemably hostile: from now on the Southern stereotype was something akin to Simon Legree.” [42] But those images transformed the issue in the minds of many in the north as they “touched on all these chords of feeling, faith, and experience….The genius of Uncle Tom’s Cabin was that it made the personal universal, and it made the personal political as well. For millions of readers, blacks became people.” [43] One northern reader said “what truth could not accomplish, fiction did” [44] as it “put a face on slavery, and a soul on black people.” [45]

George Fitzhugh, a defended of benevolent paternalistic slavery noted Stowe’s book “was “right” concerning the “bitter treatment of slaves….Law, Religion, and Public Opinion should be invoked to punish and correct those abuses….” [46] However, such thoughts could not be spoken too openly for fear of other slaveholders who “could not calmly debate internal correction…while outside agitators advertised their supposed monstrosities.” [47] The inability to debate the issue internally made the southern visceral response to Uncle Tom’s Cabin look petty and impotent.

But others too had an effect on the debate, even escaped former slaves like Frederick Douglass. Douglass became a prominent abolitionist leader was very critical of the role of churches, especially Southern churches in the maintenance of slavery as an institution. His polemic against them in his autobiography reads like the preaching of an Old Testament prophet such as Amos, or Jeremiah railing against the corrupt religious institutions of their day:

“Indeed, I can see no reason, but the most deceitful one, for calling the religion of this land Christianity. I look upon it as the climax of all misnomers, the boldest of all frauds, and the grossest of all libels. Never was there a clearer case of “stealing the livery of the court of heaven to serve the devil in.” I am filled with unutterable loathing when I contemplate the religious pomp and show, together with the horrible inconsistencies, which every where surround me. We have men-stealers for ministers, women-whippers for missionaries, and cradle-plunderers for church members. The man who wields the blood-clotted cowskin during the week fill the pulpit on Sunday, and claims to be a minister of the meek and lowly Jesus. The man who robs me of my earnings at the end of each week meets me as a class-leader on Sunday morning, to show me the way of life, and the path of salvation. He who sells my sister, for purposes of prostitution, stands forth as the pious advocate of purity. He who proclaims it a religious duty to read the Bible denies me the right of learning to read the name of the God who made me. He who is the religious advocate of marriage robs whole millions of its sacred influence, and leaves them to the ravages of wholesale pollution. The warm defender of the sacredness of the family relation is the same that scatters whole families, — sundering husbands and wives, parents and children, sisters and brothers, — leaving the hut vacant and the heart desolate. We see the thief preaching against theft, and the adulterer against adultery. We have men sold to build churches, women sold to support the gospel, and babes sold to purchase Bibles for the poor heathen! All for the glory of God and the good of souls.”[48]

Poet Walt Whitman was radicalized by the passage of the act and in his poem Blood Money he “used the common evangelical technique of applying biblical parables to contemporary events, echoing in literary form William H. Seward’s “higher law” speech.” [49]

Of olden time, when it came to pass

That the Beautiful God, Jesus, should finish his work on earth,

Then went Judas, and sold the Divine youth,

And took pay for his body.

Cursed was the deed, even before the sweat of the clutching hand grew dry…

 

Since those ancient days; many a pouch enwrapping mean-

Its fee, like that paid for the Son of Mary.

Again goes one, saying,

What will ye give me, and I will deliver this man unto you?

And they make the covenant and pay the pieces of silver…

 

The meanest spit in thy face—they smite thee with their

Bruised, bloody, and pinioned is thy body,

More sorrowful than death is thy soul.

Witness of Anguish—Brother of Slaves,

Not with thy price closed the price of thine image;

And still Iscariot plies his trade. [50]

The leaders of the Abolitionist movement who had fought hard against acts the Fugitive Slave Act and the Dred Scott decision were now beginning to be joined by a Northern population that was becoming less tolerant of slavery and the status quo. For abolitionists “who had lost their youthful spiritual fervor, the crusade became a substitute for religion. And in the calls for immediate emancipation, one could hear echoes of perfectionism and millennialism.” [51]

But there was resistance of Northern theological circles to abolitionism. Charles B. Hodge, the President of Princeton Theological Seminary “supported slavery on biblical grounds, often dismissing abolitionists as liberal progressives who did not take the Bible seriously.” [52]

With the formation of the Republican Party in 1854, a party founded on opposition to the expansion of slavery in the territories found a formidable political voice and became part of a broad coalition of varied interests groups whose aspirations had been blocked by pro-slavery Democrats. These groups included “agrarians demanding free-homestead legislation, Western merchants desiring river and harbor improvements at federal expense, Pennsylvania iron masters and New England textile merchants in quest of higher tariffs.” The abolitionists also made headway in gaining the support of immigrants, “especially among the liberal, vocal, fiercely anti-slavery Germans who had recently fled the Revolution of 1848.” [53] One of those German immigrants, Carl Schurz observed that “the slavery question” was “not a mere occasional quarrel between two sections of the country, divided by a geographic line” but “a great struggle between two antagonistic systems of social organization.” [54]

Southern Religious Support of Slavery

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In light of the threat posed to slavery by the emerging abolitionist movement forced slaveholders to shift their defense of slavery from it being simply a necessary evil. Slavery became “in both secular and religious discourse, the central component of the mission God had designed for the South.” [55] Like in the North where theology was at the heart of many abolitionist arguments, in the South theology was used to enshrine and defend the institution of slavery. British Evangelical-Anglican theologian Alister McGrath notes how “the arguments used by the pro-slavery lobby represent a fascinating illustration and condemnation of how the Bible may be used to support a notion by reading the text within a rigid interpretive framework that forces predetermined conclusions to the text.” [56]

Southern religion was a key component of something bigger than itself and played a role in the development of an ideology much more entrenched in the culture than the abolitionist cause did in the North, in large part due to the same Second Great Awakening that brought abolitionism to the fore in the North. “Between 1801 when he Great Revival swept the region and 1831 when the slavery debate began, southern evangelicals achieved cultural dominance in the region. Looking back over the first thirty years of the century, they concluded that God had converted and blessed their region.” [57]The Southern ideology which enshrined slavery as a key component of all areas of life was a belief system, it was a system of values, it was a worldview, or to use the more modern German term “Weltanschauung.” The Confederate worldview was the Cause. As Emory Thomas wrote in his book The Confederate Nation:

“it was the result of the secular transubstantiation in which the common elements of Southern life became sanctified in the Southern mind. The South’s ideological cause was more than the sum of its parts, more than the material circumstances and conditions from which it sprang. In the Confederate South the cause was ultimately an affair of the viscera….Questions about the Southern way of life became moral questions, and compromises of Southern life style would become concession of virtue and righteousness.” [58]

Despite the dissent of some, the “dominant position in the South was strongly pro-slavery, and the Bible was used to defend this entrenched position.” [59] The religiously based counter argument to the abolitionists was led by the former Governor of South Carolina, John Henry Hammond. Hammond’s arguments included biblical justification of blacks being biologically inferior to whites and slavery being supported in the Old Testament where the “Hebrews often practiced slavery” and in the New testament where “Christ never denounced servitude.” [60] Hammond warned:

“Without white masters’ paternalistic protection, biologically inferior blacks, loving sleep above all and “sensual excitements of all kinds when awake” would first snooze, then wander, then plunder, then murder, then be exterminated and reenslaved.” [61]

Others in the South, including politicians, pundits and preachers were preaching “that slavery was an institution sanction by God, and that even blacks profited from it, for they had been snatched out of pagan and uncivilized Africa and been given the advantages of the gospel.” [62] The basic understanding was that slavery existed because “God had providential purposes for slavery.” [63]

At the heart of the pro-slavery theological arguments was in the conviction of most Southern preachers of human sinfulness. “Many Southern clergymen found divine sanction for racial subordination in the “truth” that blacks were cursed as “Sons of Ham” and justified bondage by citing Biblical examples.” [64] But simply citing scripture to justify the reality of a system that they repeated the benefit is just part of the story for the issue was far greater than that. The theology that justified slavery also, in the minds of many Christians in the north justified what they considered “the hedonistic aspects of the Southern life style.” [65] This was something that abolitionist preachers continually emphasized, criticizing the greed, sloth and lust inherent in the culture of slavery and plantation life, and was an accusation that Southern slaveholders, especially evangelicals took umbrage, for in their understanding good men could own slaves. Their defense was rooted in their theology and the hyper-individualistic language of Southern evangelicalism gave “new life to the claim that good men could hold slaves. Slaveholding was a traditional mark of success, and a moral defense of slavery was implicit wherever Americans who considered themselves good Christians held slaves.” [66] The hedonism and fundamentalism that existed in the Southern soul, was the “same conservative faith which inspired John Brown to violence in an attempt to abolish slavery…” [67]

Slave owners frequently expressed hostility to independent black churches and conducted violence against them, and “attacks on clandestine prayer meetings were not arbitrary. They reflected the assumption (as one Mississippi slave put it) “that when colored people were praying [by themselves] it was against them.” [68] But some Southern blacks accepted the basic tenets do slave owner-planter sponsored Christianity. Frederick Douglass later wrote “many good, religious colored people who were under the delusion that God required them to submit to slavery and wear their chains with weakness and humility.” [69]

The political and cultural rift began to affect entire church denominations. The heart of the matter went directly to theology, in this case the interpretation of the Bible in American churches. The American Protestant and Evangelical understanding was rooted in the key theological principle of the Protestant Reformation, that of Sola Scripura, which became an intellectual trap for northerners and southerners of various theological stripes. Southerners believed that they held a “special fidelity to the Bible and relations with God. Southerners thought abolitionists either did not understand the Bible or did not know God’s will, and suspected them of perverting both.” [70]The problem was then, as it is now that:

“Americans favored a commonsense understanding of the Bible that ripped passages out of context and applied them to all people at all times. Sola scriptura both set and limited terms for discussing slavery and gave apologists for the institution great advantages. The patriarchs of the Old Testament had owned slaves, Mosaic Law upheld slavery, Jesus had not condemned slavery, and the apostles had advised slaves to obey their masters – these points summed up and closed the case for many southerners and no small number of northerners.” [71]

In the early decades of the nineteenth century there existed a certain confusion and ambivalence to slavery in most denominations. The Presbyterians exemplified this when in 1818 the “General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, while opposing slavery against the law of God, also went on record as opposing abolition, and deposed a minister for advocating abolition.” [72] There were arguments by some American Christians including some Catholics, Lutherans, Episcopalians and others to offer alternative ways to “interpreting and applying scripture to the slavery question, but none were convincing or influential enough to force debate” [73] out of the hands of literalists.

However the real schisms between the Northern and Southern branches of the major denominations began to emerge in the mid to late 1830s with the actual breakups coming in the 1840s. The first to split were the Methodists when in “1844 the Methodist General Conference condemned the bishop of Georgia for holding slaves, the church split and the following year saw the birth of the Methodist Episcopal Church.” [74] Not all Methodists in the South agreed with this split and Methodist abolitionists in the South “broke away from mainline Methodism to form the Free Methodist Church.” [75]

The Baptists were next, when the Foreign Mission Board “refused to commission a candidate who had been recommended by the Georgia Baptist Convention, on the ground that he owned slaves” [76] resulting in the formation of the Southern Baptist Convention. The Baptist split is interesting because until the early 1800s there existed a fairly strong anti-slavery movement in states such as Kentucky, while in 1790 the General Committee of Virginia “adopted a statement calling slavery “a violent deprivation of the rights of nature, and inconsistent with a republican government; and therefore [we] recommend it to our brethren to make use of every legal measure, to extirpate the horrid evil from the land.” [77]

However, in many parts of the Deep South there existed no such sentiment and in South Carolina noted Baptist preachers including “Richard Furman, Peter Bainbridge, and Edmund Botsford were among the larger slaveholders.” [78] Furman wrote a defense of slavery in 1822 where he made the argument that “the right of holding slaves is clearly established in the Holy Scriptures by precept and example.” [79] After a number of slave uprisings, including the Nat Turner Revolt in Virginia, pro-slavery voices “tended to silence any remaining antislavery voices in the South.” [80]

These voices grew more ever more strident and in 1835 the Charleston Association “adopted a militant defense of slavery, sternly chastising abolitionists as “mistaken philanthropists, and denuded and mischievous fanatics.” [81] Those who met in Augusta Georgia to found the new Southern Baptist Convention indicated that “the division was “painful” but necessary because” our brethren have pressed upon every inch of our privileges and our sacred rights.” [82] Since the Baptist split was brought about by the refusal of the Triennial Convention to appoint slaveholders as foreign missionaries the new convention emphasized the theological nature of their decision:

“Our objects, then, are the extension of the Messiah’s kingdom, and the glory of God. Not disunion with any of his people; not the upholding of any form of civil rights; but God’s glory, and Messiah’s increasing reign; in the promotion of which, we find no necessity for relinquishing any of our civil rights. We will never interfere with what is Caesar’s. We will not compromit what is God’s.” [83]

Of course, to the Baptists who met at Augusta, what was Caesar’s was obviously the institution of slavery.

The last denomination to officially split was the Presbyterians in 1861 who, “reflecting the division of the nation, the Southern presbyteries withdrew from the Presbyterian Church and founded their own denomination.” [84] The split in the Presbyterian Church had been obvious for years despite their outward unity, some of the Southern pastors and theologians were at the forefront of battling their northern counterparts for the theological high ground that defined just whose side God was on. James Henley Thornwell presented the conflict between northern evangelical abolitionists and southern evangelical defenders of slavery in Manichean terms. He believed that abolitionists attacked religion itself.

“The “parties in the conflict are not merely abolitionists and slaveholders,…They are atheists, socialists, communists, red republicans, jacobins, on one side, and friends of order and regulated freedom on the other. In one word, the world is the battle ground – Christianity and Atheism as the combatants; and the progress of humanity at stake.” [85]

Robert Lewis Dabney, a southern Presbyterian pastor who later served as Chief of Staff to Stonewall Jackson in the Valley Campaign and at Seven Pines and who remained a defender of slavery long after the war was over wrote that:

“we must go before the nation with the Bible as the text and ‘Thus saith the Lord’ as the answer….we know that on the Bible argument the abolition party will be driven to reveal their true infidel tendencies. The Bible being bound to stand on our side, they have to come out and array themselves against the Bible. And then the whole body of sincere believers at the North will have to array themselves, though unwillingly, on our side. They will prefer the Bible to abolitionism.” [86]

Southern churches and church leaders were among the most enthusiastic voices for disunion and secession. They labeled their Northern critics, even fellow evangelicals in the abolition movement as “atheists, infidels, communists, free-lovers, Bible-haters, and anti-Christian levelers.” [87] The preachers who had called for separation from their own national denominations years before the war now “summoned their congregations to leave the foul Union and then to cleanse their world.” [88] Thomas R.R. Cobb, a Georgia lawyer, an outspoken advocate of slavery and secession, who was killed at the Battle of Fredericksburg, wrote proudly that Secession “has been accomplished mainly by the churches.” [89]

The Reverend William Leacock of Christ Church, New Orleans declared in his Thanksgiving sermon “Our enemies…have “defamed” our characters, “lacerated” our feelings, “invaded “our rights, “stolen” our property, and let “murderers…loose upon us, stimulated by weak or designing or infidel preachers. With “the deepest and blackest malice,” they have “proscribed” us “as unworthy members… of the society of men and accursed before God.” Unless we sink to “craven” beginning that they “not disturb us,…nothing is now left us but secession.” [90]

The Religious Divide Becomes Political

The breakups of the major Protestant denominations boded ill for the country, in fact the true believers in their cause be it the abolition of slavery or the maintenance and expansion of it were among the most strident politically. “For people of faith these internecine schisms were very troubling. If citizens could not get along in the fellowship of Christ, what did the future hold for the nation?” [91] Both of the major political parties of the 1840s, the Democrats and the Whigs found themselves ever more led by religion as the “fissures among evangelicals, the conflicts between Protestants and Catholics, the slavery debates, and the settlement of the West placed religion at the forefront of American politics.” [92] Of course it was slavery that became the overriding issue as decade moved forward and the divisions among the faithful became deeper.

A Cincinnati minister who preached against secession “citing Absalom, Jeroboam, and Judas” as examples, argued that the “Cause of the United States” and the Cause of Jehovah” were identical…and insisted that “a just defensive war” against southern secessionists is “one of the prominent ways by which the Lord will introduce the millennial day.” [93] In the South many ministers became active in politics and men who at one time had been considered moderates began to speak “in the language of cultural warfare.” Mississippi Episcopal Bishop William Mercer Green denounced the “restless, insubordinate, and overbearing spirit of Puritanism” that was destroying the nation.” [94]

Some political leaders who had worked to craft compromises like South Carolina Senator John C. Calhoun were concerned and observed that the evangelical denominations which were splitting had “contributed greatly to strengthen the bond of the Union.” If all bonds were loosed, he worried, “nothing will be left to hold the Union together except force.” [95] Jefferson Davis and Abraham Lincoln, both who would be considered moderates on the issue of slavery in the late 1840s and early 1850s came to sharply different philosophical and theological understandings of the unfolding dissolution of the country. Davis as early as 1848 was defending slavery as “a common law right to property in the services of man; its origin is in Divine decree – the curse on the graceless sons of Noah.” But Lincoln condemned the expansion of the institution did so in decidedly theological terms, noting that “Slavery is founded in the selfishness of man’s nature…opposition to it is in his love of justice…. Repeal all past human history, you cannot repeal human nature. It will still be the abundance of man’s heart, that slavery extension is wrong.” [96]

God’s Chosen People and the Confederate Union of Church and State

confederate-fasting-1863-granger

Perhaps more than anything the denominational splits helped prepare the Southern people as well as clergy for secession and war. They set precedent by which Southerners left establish national organizations. When secession came, “the majority of young Protestant preachers were already primed by their respective church traditions to regard the possibilities of political separation from the United States without undue anxiety.” [97]

One of the most powerful ideological tools since the days of the ancients has been the linkage of religion to the state. While religion has always been a driving force in American life since they days of the Puritans in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, especially in the belief about the destiny of the nation as God’s “Chosen People” it was in the South where the old Puritan beliefs took firm root in culture, society, politics and the ideology which justified slavery and became indelibly linked to Southern nationalism. “Confederate independence, explained a Methodist tract quoting Puritan John Winthrop, was intended to enable the South, “like a city set on a hill’ [to] fulfill her God given mission to exalt in civilization and Christianity the nations of the earth.” [98]

Religion and the churches “supplied the overarching framework for southern nationalism. As Confederates cast themselves as God’s chosen people” [99] and the defense of slavery was a major part of this mission of the chosen people. A group of 154 clergymen “The Clergy of the South” “warned the world’s Christians that the North was perpetuating a plot of “interference with the plans of Divine Providence.” [100] A Tennessee pastor bluntly stated in 1861 that “In all contests between nations God espouses the cause of the Righteous and makes it his own….The institution of slavery according to the Bible is right. Therefore in the contest between the North and the South, He will espouse the cause of the South and make it his own.” [101]

The effect of such discourse on leaders as well as individuals was to unify the struggle as something that linked the nation to God, and God’s purposes to the nation identifying both as being the instruments of God’s will and Divine Providence:

“Sacred and secular history, like religion and politics, had become all but indistinguishable… The analogy between the Confederacy and the chosen Hebrew nation was invoked so often as to be transformed into a figure of everyday speech. Like the United States before it, the Confederacy became a redeemer nation, the new Israel.” [102]

This theology also motivated men like the convinced hard line Calvinist-Presbyterian, General Stonewall Jackson on the battlefield. Jackson’s brutal, Old Testament understanding of the war caused him to murmur: “No quarter to the violators of our homes and firesides,” and when someone deplored the necessity of destroying so many brave men, he exclaimed: “No, shoot them all, I do not wish them to be brave.” [103]

In effect: “Slavery became in secular and religious discourse, the central component of the mission God had designed for the South….The Confederates were fighting a just war not only because they were, in the traditional framework of just war theory, defending themselves against invasion, they were struggling to carry out God’s designs for a heathen race.” [104]

From “the beginning of the war southern churches of all sorts with few exceptions promoted the cause militant” [105] and supported war efforts, the early military victories of Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and the victories of Stonewall Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley   were celebrated as “providential validations of the cause that could not fail…” Texas Methodist minister William Seat wrote: “Never surely since the Wars of God’s ancient people has there been such a remarkable and uniform success against tremendous odds. The explanation is found in the fact that the Lord goes forth to fight against the coercion by foes of his particular people. Thus it has been and thus it will be to the end of the War.” [106]

This brought about a intertwining of church and state authority, a veritable understanding of theocracy as “The need for the southern people to acknowledge God’s authority was bound up with a legitimation of the authority of clerical and civil rulers. Christian humility became identified with social and political deference to both God and Jefferson Davis.” [107]

Jefferson Davis and other leaders helped bolster this belief:

“In his repeated calls for God’s aid and in his declaration of national days of fasting, humiliation, and prayer on nine occasions throughout the war, Jefferson Davis similarly acknowledged the need for a larger scope of legitimization. Nationhood had to be tied to higher ends. The South, it seemed, could not just be politically independent; it wanted to believe it was divinely chosen.” [108]

Davis’s actions likewise bolster his support and the support for the war among the clergy. A clergyman urged his congregation that the people of the South needed to relearn “the virtue of reverence- and the lesson of respecting, obeying, and honoring authority, for authority’s sake.” [109]

Confederate clergymen not only were spokesmen and supporters of slavery, secession and independence, but many also shed their clerical robes and put on Confederate Gray as soldiers, officers and even generals fighting for the Confederacy. Bishop Leonidas Polk, the Episcopal Bishop of Louisiana, who had been a classmate of Jefferson Davis at West Point was commissioned as a Major General and appointed to command the troops in the Mississippi Valley. Polk did not resign his ecclesiastical office, and “Northerners expressed horror at such sacrilege, but Southerners were delighted with this transfer from the Army of the Lord.” [110] Lee’s chief of Artillery Brigadier General Nelson Pendleton was also an academy graduate and an Episcopal Priest. By its donations of “everything from pew cushions to brass bells, Southern churches gave direct material aid to the cause. Among all the institutions in Southern life, perhaps the church most faithfully served the Confederate Army and nation.” [111] Southern ministers “not only proclaimed the glory of their role in creating the war but also but also went off to battle with the military in an attempt to add to their glory.” [112]

Sadly, the denominational rifts persisted until well into the twentieth century. The Presbyterians and Methodists both eventually reunited but the Baptists did not, and eventually “regional isolation, war bitterness, and differing emphasis in theology created chasms by the end of the century which leaders of an earlier generation could not have contemplated.” [113] The Southern Baptist Convention is now the largest Protestant denomination in the United States and many of its preachers are active in often divisive conservative social and political causes. The denomination that it split from, the American Baptist Convention, though much smaller remains a diverse collection of conservative and progressive local churches. Some of these are still in the forefront of the modern civil rights movement, including voting rights, women’s rights and LGBT issues, all of which find some degree of opposition in the Southern Baptist Convention.

But the religious dimensions were far bigger than denominational disagreements about slavery; religion became one of the bedrocks of Confederate nationalism. The Great Seal of the Confederacy had as its motto the Latin words Deo Vindice which can be translated “With God as our Champion” or “Under God [Our] Vindicator.” The issue was bigger than independence itself, it was intensely theological and secession “became an act of purification, a separation from the pollutions of decaying northern society, that “monstrous mass of moral disease,” as the Mobile Evening News so vividly described it.” [114]

The arguments found their way into the textbooks used in schools throughout the Confederacy. “The First Reader, For Southern Schools assured its young pupils that “God wills that some men should be slaves, and some masters.” For older children, Mrs. Miranda Moore’s best-selling Geographic Reader included a detailed proslavery history of the United States that explained how northerners had gone “mad” on the subject of abolitionism.” [115] The seeds of future ideological battles were being planted in the hearts of white southern children by radically religious ideologues, just as they are today in the Madrassas of the Middle East.

While the various theological and ideological debates played out and fueled the fires of passion that brought about the war, and provided great motivation, especially to Confederates during the war, that their cause was righteous, other very real world decisions and events in terms of politics, law and lawlessness further inflamed passions.

The Deepening Divide: The Dred Scott Decision

the-dred-scott-case-1846-1857-402x618

As the 1850s wore on the divisions over slavery became deeper and voices of moderation retreated. The trigger for the for the worsening of the division was the political battle regarding the expansion of slavery, even the status of free blacks in the north who were previously slaves, over whom their owners asserted their ownership. Southerners considered the network to help fugitive slaves escape to non-slave states, called the Underground Railroad “an affront to the slaveholders pride” and “anyone who helped a man or woman escape bondage was simply a thief” who had robbed them of their property and livelihood, as an “adult field hand could cost as much as $2000, the equivalent of a substantial house.” [116]

In 1856 the Supreme Court, dominated by southern Democrats ruled in favor of southern views in the Dred Scott decision one pillar of which gave slavery the right to expand by denying to Congress the power to prohibit slavery in Federal territories. The decision was momentous but it was a failure, but it was a disaster for the American people. It solved nothing and further divided the nation:

“In the South, for instance, it encouraged southern rights advocates to believe that their utmost demands were legitimatized by constitutional sanction and, therefore, to stiffen their insistence upon their “rights.” In the North, on the other hand, it strengthened a conviction that an aggressive slavocracy was conspiring to impose slavery upon the nation, and that any effort to reach an accommodation with such aggressors was futile. While strengthening the extremists, it cut the ground from under the moderates.” [117]

The decision in the case is frightening when one looks upon its tenor and implications. The majority opinion which was written by Chief Justice Roger Taney was chilling, not only in its views of race, but the fact that blacks were perpetually property without the rights of citizens. Taney wrote:

“Can a negro, whose ancestors were imported into this country, sold as slaves, become a member of the political community formed and brought into existence by the Constitution of the United States, and as such become entitled to all the rights, and privileges, and immunities, guaranteed by that instrument to the citizen?…It is absolutely certain that the African race were not included under the name of citizens of a state…and that they were not included, and were not intended to be included, under the word “citizens” in the Constitution, and therefore claim none of the rights and privileges which that instrument provides for and secures to citizens of the United States. On the contrary, they were at that time considered as a subordinate and inferior class of beings, who had been subjugated by the dominant race, and, whether emancipated or not, yet remain subject to their authority, and had no rights or privileges but those who held the power and the Government might choose to grant them” [118]

The effect of the ruling on individuals and the states was far reaching. “No territorial government in any federally administered territory had the authority to alter the status of a white citizen’s property, much less to take that property out of a citizen’s hands, without due process of law or as punishment for some crime.” [119] Free slaves were no longer safe, even in Free States from the possibility of being returned to slavery, because they were property.

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Chief Justice Roger Taney, Author of the Dred Scott Decision

But the decision had been influenced by President-Elect James Buchanan’s secret intervention in the Supreme Court deliberations two weeks before his inauguration. Buchanan hoped by working with the Justices that he save the Union from breaking apart by appeasing slave owners and catering to their agenda. “The president-elect wanted to know not only when, but if the Court would save the new administration and the Union from the issue of slavery in the territories. Would the judges thankfully declare the explosive subject out of bounds, for everyone who exerted federal power? The shattering question need never bother President Buchanan.” [120] In his inaugural address he attempted to camouflage his intervention and “declared that the Court’s decision, whatever it turned out to be, would settle the slavery issue forever.” [121]

But Buchanan was mistaken, the case made the situation even more volatile as it impaired “the power of Congress- a power which had remained intact to this time- to occupy the middle ground.” [122] Taney’s decision held that Congress “never had the right to limit slavery’s expansion, and that the Missouri Compromise had been null and void on the day of its formulation.” [123]

The Court’s decision “that a free negro was not a citizen and the decision that Congress could not exclude slavery from the territories were intensely repugnant to many people in the free states” [124] and it ignited a firestorm in the north where Republicans now led by Abraham Lincoln decried the decision and southerners basked in their judicial victory. Northerners quite rightly feared that an activist court would rule to deny their states the right to forbid slavery. As early as 1854 Lincoln posed the idea that the Declaration of Independence was “the standard maxim of free society …constantly spreading and deepening its influence,” ultimately applicable “to peoples of all colors everywhere.” [125]

But after the Dred Scott decision Lincoln warned that the Declaration was being cheapened and diluted. Lincoln noted:

“Our Declaration of Independence was held sacred by all, and thought to include all” Lincoln declared, “but now, to aid in making the bondage of the Negro universal and eternal, it is assaulted, and sneered at, and construed, and hawked at, and torn, till, its framers could ride from their graves, they could not recognize it at all.” [126]

Not only that, Lincoln asked the logical question regarding Taney’s judicial activism. How long would it be, asked Abraham Lincoln, before the Court took the next logical step and ruled explicitly that:

“the Constitution of the United States does not permit a state to exclude slavery from its limits?” How far off was the day when “we shall lie down pleasantly thinking that the people of Missouri are on the verge of making their State free; and shall awake to the reality, instead, that the Supreme Court has made Illinois a slave State?” [127]

Lincoln discussed the ramification of the ruling for blacks, both slave and free:

“to aid in making the bondage of the Negro universal and eternal….All the powers of the earth seem rapidly combining against him. Mammon is after him; ambition follows, and philosophy follows, and the theology of the day is fast joining the cry. They have him in his prison house;…One after another they have closed the heavy doors upon him…and they stand musing as to what invention, in all the dominions of mind and matter, can be produced the impossibility of his escape more complete than it is.” [128]

Lincoln was not wrong in his assessment of the potential effects of the Dred Scott decision on Free States. “In 1852 a New York judge upheld the freedom of eight slaves who had left their Virginia owner while in New York City on their way to Texas.” [129] The Dred Scott decision brought that case, Lemon v. The People back to the fore and “Virginia decided to take the case to the highest New York court (which upheld the law in 1860) and would have undoubtedly appealed it to Taney’s Supreme Court had not secession intervened.” [130]

In response to the decision the advocates of the expansion of slavery not only insisted on its westward expansion in Federal territories but “in their must exotic fantasy, proslavery expansionists would land several dozen or several hundred American freedom fighters on Central or South American shores.” [131] Their targets would include Panama, Nicaragua, and Cuba as well. In 1855 one of these adventurers was William Walker who “sailed with about sixty followers (“the immortals”) to participate in a civil war in Nicaragua. Within little more than a year, he made himself President, and Franklin Pierce recognized his government.” [132] In 1857 Jefferson Davis further provoked northern ire when he insisted that “African Slavery as it exists in the United States is a moral, a social, and a political blessing.” [133]

Southern leaders poured political, human and economic capital into the struggle for the imposition of slavery on the Kansas Territory following the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act. For the South a pro-slavery victory in Kansas meant “two new U.S. Senators for the South. If a free labor Kansas triumphed, however, the North would gain four senators: Kansas’s immediately and Missouri’s soon.” [134]

To be continued tomorrow….

Notes

[1] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.68

[2] Goldfield, David America Aflame: How the Civil War Created a Nation Bloomsbury Press, New York, London New Delhi and Sidney 2011 p.71

[3] ______________Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 retrieved from the Avalon Project, Yale School of Law http://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/fugitive.asp 11 December 2014

[4] Ibid. Fugitive Slave Act of 1850

[5] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.71

[6] McPherson, James. The Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1988 p.80

[7] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.80

[8] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.72

[9] Ibid. Oates The Approaching Fury p.94

[10] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.71

[11] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.64

[12] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.71

[13] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free p.93

[14] McGrath, Alister Christianity’s Dangerous Idea: The Protestant Revolution A History from the Sixteenth Century to the Twenty-First Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2007 p.324

[15] Ibid. Freehling The Road to Disunion Volume One p.289

[16] Ibid. McGrath Christianity’s Dangerous Idea p.324

[17] Huntington, Samuel P. Who Are We? America’s Great Debate The Free Press, Simon and Schuster Europe, London 2004 p.77

[18] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free p.93

[19] Ibid. Egnal Clash of Extremes:pp.125-126

[20] Ibid. Egnal Clash of Extremes p.125

[21] Ibid. Freehling The Road to Disunion Volume One p.12

[22] Ibid. McGrath Christianity’s Dangerous Idea p.324

[23] Ibid. Rable God’s Almost Chosen Peoples p.14

[24] Wills, Garry Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words that Remade America Simon and Schuster Paperbacks, New York 1992

[25] Ibid. Rable God’s Almost Chosen Peoples p.13

[26] Ibid. Rable God’s Almost Chosen Peoples p.13

[27] Oates, Stephen B. Editor The Approaching Fury: Voices of the Storm, 1820-1861 University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London 1997 p.36

[28] Stampp, Kenneth M. editor The Causes of the Civil War 3rd Revised Edition A Touchstone Book published by Simon and Schuster, New York and London 1991 p.23

[29] Ibid. Stampp The Causes of the Civil War p.29

[30] Ibid. Rable God’s Almost Chosen Peoples p.13

[31] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.35

[32] McBeth, H. Leon The Baptist Heritage Broadman Press, Nashville TN 1987 p.301

[33] Ibid. McBeth The Baptist Heritage p.301

[34] Ibid. McBeth The Baptist Heritage p.384

[35] Ibid. McBeth The Baptist Heritage pp.384-385

[36] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.35

[37] Ibid. Catton Two Roads to Sumter p.94

[38] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.75

[39] Ibid. Oates The Approaching Fury p.120

[40] Ibid. Catton Two Roads to Sumter p.94

[41] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.83

[42] Ibid. Catton Two Roads to Sumter p.94

[43] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.79

[44] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.79

[45] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.83

[46] Ibid. Freehling The Road to Disunion Volume One p.48

[47] Ibid. Freehling The Road to Disunion Volume One p.49

[48] Douglass, Frederick. Life and Times of Frederick Douglass: His Early Life as a Slave, His Escape From Bondage, and His Complete History. New York: Collier Books, 1892. Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/primary-resources/lincolns-inconsistencies/ December 9th 2014

[49] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.72

[50] Whitman, Walt Blood Money March 22nd 1850 retrieved from the Walt Whitman Archive http://www.whitmanarchive.org/published/periodical/poems/per.00089 11 December 2014

[51] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.13

[52] Ibid. McGrath Christianity’s Dangerous Idea p.324

[53] Catton, William and Bruce, Two Roads to Sumter: Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis and the March to Civil War McGraw Hill Book Company New York 1963, Phoenix Press edition London p.123

[54] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free p.15

[55] Gallagher, Gary W. The Confederate War: How Popular Will, Nationalism and Military Strategy Could not Stave Off Defeat Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA and London 1999 p.67

[56] Ibid. McGrath Christianity’s Dangerous Idea p.324

[57] Daly, John Patrick When Slavery Was Called Freedom: Evangelicalism, Proslavery, and the Causes of the Civil War The University Press of Kentucky, Lexington KY 2002 p.69

[58] Thomas, Emory The Confederate Nation 1861-1865 Harper Perennial, New York and London 1979 p.4

[59] Ibid. McGrath Christianity’s Dangerous Idea p.324

[60] Ibid. Freehling The Road to Disunion Volume One p.29

[61] Ibid. Freehling The Road to Disunion Volume One p.29

[62] Gonzalez, Justo L. The History of Christianity Volume 2: The Reformation to the Present Day Harper and Row Publishers San Francisco 1985 p.251

[63] Ibid. Daly When Slavery Was Called Freedom p.54

[64] Ibid. Thomas The Confederate Nation p.22

[65] Ibid. Thomas The Confederate Nation p.22

[66] Ibid. Daly When Slavery Was Called Freedom p.30

[67] Ibid. Thomas The Confederate Nation p.22

[68] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free p.116

[69] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free p.116

[70] Ibid. Daly When Slavery Was Called Freedom p.60

[71] Ibid. Rable God’s Almost Chosen Peoples p.14

[72] Ibid. Gonzalez The History of Christianity Volume 2 p.251

[73] Ibid. Rable God’s Almost Chosen Peoples p.14

[74] Ibid. Gonzalez The History of Christianity Volume 2 p.251

[75] Ibid. McGrath Christianity’s Dangerous Idea p.324

[76] Ibid. Gonzalez The History of Christianity Volume 2 p.251

[77] Ibid. McBeth The Baptist Heritage p.383

[78] Ibid. McBeth The Baptist Heritage p.384

[79] Ibid. McBeth The Baptist Heritage p.384

[80] Ibid. McBeth The Baptist Heritage p.384

[81] Ibid. McBeth The Baptist Heritage p.384

[82] Shurden, Walter B Not a Silent People: The Controversies that Have Shaped Southern Baptists Broadman Press, Nashville TN 1972 p.58

[83] Ibid. Shurden Not a Silent People p.58

[84] Ibid. Gonzalez The History of Christianity Volume 2 p.251

[85] Ibid. Rable God’s Almost Chosen Peoples p.13

[86] Ibid. Rable God’s Almost Chosen Peoples p.14

[87] Ibid. Daly When Slavery Was Called Freedom p.97

[88] Freehling, William. The Road to Disunion Volume II: Secessionists Triumphant 1854-1861 Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 2007 p.460

[89] Ibid. Rable God’s Almost Chosen Peoples p.39

[90] Ibid. Freehling The Road to Disunion Volume II p.462

[91] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.35

[92] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.36

[93] Ibid. Rable God’s Almost Chosen Peoples pp.39-40

[94] Ibid. Rable God’s Almost Chosen Peoples p.40

[95] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.35

[96] Ibid. Catton Two Roads to Sumter p.61

[97] Brinsfield, John W. et. al. Editor, Faith in the Fight: Civil War Chaplains Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg PA 2003 p.67

[98] Faust, Drew Gilpin The Creation of Confederate Nationalism: Ideology and Identity in the Civil War South Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge and London p.27

[99] Ibid. Gallagher The Confederate War pp.66-67

[100] Ibid. Daly When Slavery Was Called Freedom p.145

[101] Ibid. Daly When Slavery Was Called Freedom p.138

[102] Ibid. Faust The Creation of Confederate Nationalism p.29

[103] Fuller, J.F.C. Grant and Lee: A Study in Personality and Generalship, Indiana University Press, Bloomington IN 1957

[104] Ibid. Faust, The Creation of Confederate Nationalism: Ideology and Identity in the Civil War South p.60

[105] Ibid. Thomas The Confederate Nation 1861-1865 pp.245-246

[106] Ibid. Daly When Slavery Was Called Freedom pp.145 and 147

[107] Ibid. Faust The Creation of Confederate Nationalism p.26

[108] Ibid. Faust The Creation of Confederate Nationalism p.33

[109] Ibid. Faust The Creation of Confederate Nationalism p.32

[110] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume One: Fort Sumter to Perryville Random House, New York 1963 1958 p.87

[111] Ibid. Thomas The Confederate Nation p.246

[112] Ibid. Daly When Slavery Was Called Freedom p.142

[113] Ibid. McBeth The Baptist Heritage pp.392-393

[114] Ibid. Faust The Creation of Confederate Nationalism p.30

[115] Ibid. Faust The Creation of Confederate Nationalism p.62

[116] Goodheart, Adam. Moses’ Last Exodus in The New York Times: Disunion, 106 Articles from the New York Times Opinionator: Modern Historians Revist and Reconsider the Civil War from Lincoln’s Election to the Emancipation Proclamation Edited by Ted Widmer, Black Dog and Leventhal Publishers, New York 2013 p.15

[117] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.291

[118] Guelzo Allen C. Fateful Lightening: A New History of the Civil War Era and Reconstruction Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 2012 p.91

[119] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening pp.91-92

[120] Freehling, William. The Road to Disunion Volume II: Secessionists Triumphant 1854-1861 Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 2007 p.115

[121] Ibid. Freehling, The Road to Disunion Volume II: Secessionists Triumphant 1854-1861 p.109

[122] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.291

[123] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free p.210

[124] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.279

[125] Ibid. Catton Two Roads to Sumter p.139

[126] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.93

[127] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free p.211

[128] Ibid. Catton Two Roads to Sumter p.139

[129] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.181

[130] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.181

[131] Ibid. Freehling, The Road to Disunion Volume II: Secessionists Triumphant 1854-1861 p.145

[132] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.193

[133] Ibid. Catton Two Roads to Sumter p.142

[134] Ibid. Freehling, The Road to Disunion Volume II: Secessionists Triumphant 1854-1861 p.124

 

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Filed under civil rights, civil war, History, Political Commentary, Religion

Mine Eyes Have Seen The Glory: Religion, Ideology & the Civil War Part 1

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

This is part one of a very long chapter in my Gettysburg Staff Ride Text. The chapter is different because instead of simply studying the battle my students also get some very detailed history about the ideological components of war that helped make the American Civil War not only a definitive event in our history; but a war of utmost brutality in which religion drove people and leaders on both sides to advocate not just defeating their opponent, but exterminating them.

But the study of this religious and ideological war is timeless, for it helps us to understand the ideology of current rivals and opponents, some of whom we are in engaged in battle and others who we spar with by other means, nations, tribes and peoples whose world view, and response to the United States and the West, is dictated by their religion. 

Yet for those more interested in current American political and social issues the period is very instructive, for the religious, ideological and political arguments used by Evangelical Christians in the ante-bellum period, as well as many of the attitudes displayed by Christians in the North and the South are still on display in our current political and social debates. 

I will be posting the next two parts over the next two days. 

Peace

Padre Steve+

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“At length on 12th April, the tension could no longer bear the strain. Contrary to instructions, in the morning twilight, and when none could see clearly what the historic day portended, the Confederates in Charleston bombarded Fort Sumter, and the thunder of their guns announced that the argument of a generation should be decided by the ordeal of war. A war, not between two antagonistic political parties, but a struggle to the death between two societies, each championing a different civilization…” 1

War cannot be separated from Ideology, Politics or Religion One can never separate war and the means by which it is fought from its political ends. According to Clausewitz war is an extension or continuation of politics. Of course Clausewitz understood the term politics or policy in the light of the concept of a “World View” or to use the German term Weltungschauung. The term is not limited to doctrine or party politics, but it encompasses the world view of a people or culture. The world view is oft used by the political, media and religious leadership of countries and can be quite instrumental in the decision by a people to go to war; who they war against, their reasons for going to war, the means by which they fight the war, and the end state that they envision. This concept includes racial, religious, cultural, economic and social dimensions of a world view.

One of the problems that modern Americans and Western Europeans have is that we tend to look at the world, particularly in terms of politics and policy, be it foreign or domestic, through a prism from which we cannot see the forest for the trees. We look at individual components of issues such as economic factors, military capabilities, existing political systems, diplomatic considerations and the way societies get information in isolation from each other. We dissect them, we analyze them, and we do a very good job in examining and evaluating each individual component; but we often do this without understanding the world view and ideological factors that link how a particular people, nation or party understand these components of policy.

Likewise policy makers tend to take any information they receive and interpret it through their own world view. This is true even if they have no idea what their world-view is or how they came to it. Most often a world view is absorbed over years. Barbara Tuchman wrote that “When information is relayed to policy-makers, they respond in terms of what is already inside their heads and consequently make policy less to fit the facts than to fit the notions and intentions formed out of the mental baggage that has accumulated in their minds since childhood.” 2

Policy makers often fail to see just how interconnected the most primal elements of the human experience are to the world view of others as well as their own.

Because of this many policy makers, be they military or civilian do not understand how critical the understanding of world view to designing effective polices. Likewise many fail to see how the world view of others influences their application of economic, political, diplomatic and military power as well as the use and dissemination of information in their nation or culture. This is true no matter which religion or sect is involved, even if a people or nation is decidedly secular, and at least outwardly non-religious.

Perhaps this is because we do not want to admit that our Western culture itself is very much a product of primal religious beliefs which informed politics, philosophy, ethics, law, economics, views of race, and even the arts for nearly two millennia. Perhaps it is because we are justifiably appalled and maybe even embarrassed at the excesses and brutality of our ancestors in using religion to incite the faithful to war; to use race and religion justification to subjugate or exterminate peoples that they found to be less than human; or to punish and conquer heretics.

The United States Military made a belated attempt to address ideology, culture and religion in terms of counter-insurgency doctrine when it published the U.S. Army/Marine Counterinsurgency Manual. The discussion of these issues is limited to two pages that specifically deal with various extreme Moslem groups that use that religion as a pillar of their ideology, strategy and operations. But the analysis in the counterinsurgency manual of is limited because its focus is very general and focused at a tactical level.

Likewise the analysis of world view, ideology and religion in the counterinsurgency manual is done in a manner of “us versus them” and though it encourages leaders to attempt to understand the cultural differences there is little in it to help leaders to understand who to do this. Commendably the manual discusses how terrorist and insurgent groups use ideology, frequently based on religion to create a narrative. The narrative often involves a significant amount of myth presented as history, such as how Al Qaida and ISIL using the Caliphate as a religious and political ideal to strive to achieve, because for many Moslems “produces a positive image of the golden age of Islamic civilization.” 3 However, we frequently cannot see how Americans have used, and in some cases continue to the Puritan understanding of a city set on a hill which undergirded Manifest Destiny, the extermination of Native Americans, the War with Mexico, the romanticism of the ante-bellum South and later the Lost Cause.

Policy makers and military leaders must realize that if they want to understand how culture and religious ideology drive others to conquer, subjugate and terrorize in the name of God, they first have to understand how our ancestors did the same thing. It is only when they do that that they can understand that this behavior and use of ideology for such ends is much more universal and easier to understand.

If one wants to see how the use of this compulsion to conquer in the name of God in American by a national leader one needs to go no farther than to examine the process whereby President McKinley, himself a veteran of the Civil War, decided to annex the Philippine in 1898 following the defeat of the Spanish. That war against the Filipinos that we had helped liberate from Spanish rule saw some of the most bloodthirsty tactics employed in fighting the Filipino insurgents, who merely wanted independence. It was a stain on our national honor which of which Mark Twain wrote: “There must be two Americas: one that sets the captive free, and one that takes a once-captive’s new freedom away from him, and picks a quarrel with him with nothing to found it on; then kills him to get his land. . .

 

A Doubtlessly sincere McKinley sought counsel from God about whether he should annex the the Philippines or not.

“He went down on his knees, according to his own account, and “prayed to Almighty God for light and guidance.” He was accordingly guided to conclude “that there was nothing left to do for us but to take them all, and to educate the Filipinos. And uplift and civilize and Christianize them, by God’s grace to do the very best we could by them, as our fellowmen for whom Christ died.” 4

On the positive side the counterinsurgency manual does mention how “Ideology provides a prism, including a vocabulary and analytical categories, through which followers perceive their situation.” 5 But again it does so at a micro-level and the lessons of it are not applied at the higher levels of strategic thinking and policy.

Thus when faced with cultures for which religion provides the adhesive which binds each of these elements, such as the Islamic State or ISIL we attempt to deal with each element separately, as if they have no connection to each other. But that is where we err, for even if the religious cause or belief has little grounding in fact, science or logic, and may be the result of a cultures attempting to seize upon mythology to build a new reality, it is, in the words of Reggie Jackson the “straw that stirs the drink” and to ignore or minimize it is to doom our efforts to combat its proponents.

Perhaps that is because we do not like to look at ourselves and our own history in the mirror. Perhaps it is because we are uncomfortable with the fact that the face that we see in the mirror is face too similar to those we oppose who are perfectly willing to commit genocide in the name of their God, than we want to admit. Whether this is because we are now predominantly secularist in the way that we do life, or because we are embarrassed by the religiously motivated actions of our forefathers, the result is strikingly and tragically similar.

Clausewitz was a product of classic German Liberalism. He understood the effects of the moral and spiritual concerns inherent in policy, and it flows from his pen, as where he wrote “that the aim of policy is to unify and reconcile all aspects of internal administration as well as of spiritual values, and whatever else the moral philosopher may care to add.” 6 Clausewitz understood that when the motivation behind politics becomes more extreme and powerful; when the politics becomes more than a simple disagreement about isolated policy issues; when the ideology that lays behind the politics, especially ideology rooted in religion evokes primal hatred between peoples, war can come close to reaching the abstract concept of absolute or total war.

Clausewitz wrote:

“The more powerful and inspiring the motives for war, the more they affect the belligerent nations and the fiercer the tensions that precede the outbreak, the closer will war approach its abstract concept, the more important will be the destruction of the enemy, the more closely will the military and the political objects of war coincide, and the more military and less political will war appear to be….” 7

The American Civil War was the first modern war based on the advancement of technology and the changing character of war. But it was also a modern war which reached back to the most primal urges of the people involved, including the primal expressions of religious justification for their actions that both sides accepted as normal.

The American Civil War was caused by the clash of radically different ideologies, ideologies which championed two very different views of civilization, government, economics and the rights of people. However, these different world views were based based upon a common religious understanding:

“whatever their differences over such matters as slavery and political preaching, both sides read their Bibles in remarkably similar ways Ministers had long seen the American republic as a new Israel, and Confederate preachers viewed the southern nation in roughly the same light. The relentless, often careless application of biblical typologies to national problems, the ransacking of scripture for parallels between ancient and modern events produced a nationalistic theology at once bizarre, inspiring and dangerous. Favorite scripture passages offered meaning and hope to a people in the darkest hours and, at the same time, justified remorseless bloodshed.” 8

This understanding manifested itself in each side’s appeal to their Puritan ancestor’s concept of a “city set on a hill,” a mantle that each side claimed to be the legitimate heir. Though they seem radically different, they are actually two sides of the same religious-ideological coin.

The American Civil War was a religious and ideological war. “Like the total wars of the twentieth century, it was preceded by years of violent propaganda, which long before the war had obliterated all sense of moderation, and had awakened in the contending parties the primitive spirit of tribal fanaticism.” 9 It was preceded by the fracturing of political parties and alliances which had worked for compromise in the previous decades to preserve the Union even at the cost of maintaining slavery.

Far from being irrational as some have posited, the actions and behavior of politicians in both the North and the South was completely rational based on their conflicting ideologies and views of their opponents. The “South’s fears of territorial and economic strangulation and the North’s fears of a “slave power” conspiracy are anything but irrational, and only someone who refuses to think through the evidence available to Americans in the 1850s would find either of them at all illogical.” 10

Understanding How Religiously Based Ideology influences Policy, Politics and War Samuel Huntington wrote:

“Blood, language, religion, way of life were what the Greeks had in common and what distinguished them from the Persians and other non-Greeks. Of all the objective elements which define civilizations, however, the most important is usually religion, as the Athenians emphasized. To a very large degree, the major civilizations in human history have been closely identified with the world’s great religions; and who share ethnicity and language but differ in religion may slaughter each other…” 11

The very realistic fears of both sides brought about clash of extremes in politics which defied efforts at compromise and was already resulting in violent and bloody conflicts between ideologues in Kansas, Missouri and Kentucky years before the firing on Fort Sumter. For both sides their views became a moral cause that in the minds of many became an article of their religious faith, and “Religious faith itself became a key part of the war’s unfolding story for countless Americans….” 12 British theorist and military historian J.F.C. Fuller wrote of the religious undergirding of the war:

“As a moral issue, the dispute acquired a religious significance, state rights becoming wrapped up in a politico-mysticism, which defying definition, could be argued for ever without any hope of a final conclusion being reached.” 13

That is why it impossible to simply examine the military campaigns and battles of the Civil War in isolation from the politics, polices, the competing philosophies and the underlying theology which were the worldview that undergirded the arguments of both sides. Those competing philosophies and world views, undergirded by a pervasive nationalistic understanding of religion not only helped to cause on the war but made the war a total war.

Some might wonder where this fits in a text that is about a specific campaign and battle in a war, but for those entrusted with planning national defense and conducting military campaign the understanding of why wars are fought, in particular the ideological causes of war matter in ways that military planners, commanders and even elected political leadership often overlook. Colin Gray notes: “Wars are not free floating events, sufficient unto themselves as objects for study and understanding. Instead, they are entirely the product of their contexts.” 14

Studying the context of the American Civil War is very important in understanding not just it, but also civil wars in other nations which are currently raging. The study of these contexts brings an American or Western historical perspective to those wars, not so much in trying to place a western template over non-western conflicts; but a human perspective from our own past from which we can gain insight into how the people, even people who share a common language, religion and history, can war against each other in the most brutal of fashions. Again I refer to Colin Gray who noted “Policy and strategy will be influenced by the cultural preferences bequeathed by a community’s interpretation of its history as well as by its geopolitical-geostrategic context.” 15

For American and other Western political and military policy makers this is particularly important in Iraq where so many Americans have fought, and in the related civil war in Syria which has brought about the emergence of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

Likewise in our Western tradition we can see how radical ideology, based on race was central to Hitler’s conduct of war, especially in the East during the Second World War. Hitler’s ideology permeated German military campaigns and administration of the areas conquered by his armies. No branch of the German military, police or civil administration in occupied Poland or Russia was exempt guiltless in the crimes committed by the Nazi regime. It is a chilling warning of the consequences awaiting any nation that allows it to become caught up in hate-filled political, racial or even religious ideologies which dehumanizes opponents and of the tragedy that awaits them and the world. In Germany the internal and external checks that govern the moral behavior of the nation and individuals failed. Caught up in the Nazi system, the Germans, especially the police and military abandoned the norms of international law, morality and decency, banally committing crimes which still reverberate today and which are seen in the ethnic cleansing actions in the former Yugoslavia and other European nations.

Thus the study of the American Civil War, from the cultural, economic, social and religious differences which divided the nation helps us in understanding war. But even more importantly we have to understand the ideological clash between Abolitionists in the North, and Southern proponents of slavery. Both the ideologies of the Abolitionists who believed that African Americans were created by God and had the same rights as whites, as well as the Southern arguments that blacks were inferior and slavery was a positive good, were buttressed by profoundly religious arguments related directly to a divergence in values. It was in this “conflict of values, rather than a conflict of interests or a conflict of cultures, lay at the root of the sectional schism.” 16

Understanding this component of our own nation’s history helps us to understand how those same factors influence the politics, policies, the primal passions and hatreds of people in other parts of the world. Thus they are helpful for us to understand when we as a nation involve ourselves in the affairs of other peoples whose conflicts are rooted in religiously motivated ideology and differences in values, such as in the current Sunni-Shia conflict raging in various guises throughout the Middle East where culture, ideology and economic motivations of the groups involved cannot be separated. We may want to neatly separate economic, strategic, military and geopolitical factors from religious or ideological factors assuming that each exists in some sort of hermetically sealed environment. But to think this is a fallacy of the greatest magnitude. As we have learned too late in the century in our Middle East muddling, it is impossible to separate geopolitical, strategic, military and economic issues from ideological issues rooted in distinctly religious world views, world views that dictate a nation, people or culture’s understanding of the world.

David M. Potter summed up this understanding of the connection between the ideological, cultural and economic aspects and how the issue of slavery connected all three realms in the American Civil War:

“These three explanations – cultural, economic and ideological – have long been the standard formulas for explaining the sectional conflict. Each has been defended as though it were necessarily incompatible with the other two. But culture, economic interest, and values may all reflect the same fundamental forces at work in a society, in which case each will appear as an aspect of the other. Diversity of culture may produce both diversity of interests and diversity of values. Further, the differences between a slaveholding and a nonslaveholding society would be reflected in all three aspects. Slavery represented an inescapable ethical question which precipitated a sharp conflict of values.” 17

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The Impact of Slavery on the Growing Divide between North and South

The political ends of the Civil War came out of the growing cultural, economic, ideological and religious differences between the North and South that had been widening since the 1830s. However, slavery was the one issue which helped produce this conflict in values and it was “basic to the cultural divergence of the North and South, because it was inextricably fused into the key elements of southern life – the staple crop of the plantation system, the social and political ascendency of the planter class, the authoritarian system of social control.” 18 Without slavery and the southern commitment to an economy based on slave labor, the southern economy would have most likely undergone a similar transformation as what happened in the North; thus the economic divergence between North and South would “been less clear cut, and would have not met in such head-on collision.” 19 But slavery was much more than an economic policy for Southerners; it was a key component of their religious, racial and philosophic world view.

The issue of slavery even divided the ante-Bellum United States on what the words freedom and liberty meant, the dispute can be seen in the writings of many before the war, with each side emphasizing their particular understanding of these concepts. Many Southerners, including poor whites saw slavery as the guarantee of their economic freedom. John C. Calhoun said to the Senate in 1848 that “With us, the two great divisions of society are not the rich and poor, but white and black; and all of the former, the poor as well as the rich, belong to the upper class, and are respected and treated as equals.” 20

But it was Abraham Lincoln who cut to the heart of the matter when he noted that “We all declare for liberty” but:

“in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing. With some the word liberty may mean for each man to do as he pleases with himself and the product of his labor; while with others the same word may mean for some men to do as they please with other men and the product of other men’s labor.” 21

The growing economic disparity between the Slave and Free states became more about the expansion of slavery in federal territories as disunion and war approached; for a number of often competing reasons. These differences were amplified by the issue of slavery led to the substitution of stereotypes of each other and had the “effect of changing men’s attitudes toward the disagreements which are always certain to arise in politics: ordinary, resolvable disputes were converted into questions of principle, involving rigid, unnegotiable dogma.” 22 The editor of the Charleston Mercury noted in 1858 that “on the subject of slavery…the North and the South…are not only two peoples, but they are rival, hostile peoples.” 23

This was driven both by the South’s insistence on both maintaining slavery where it was already legal and expanding it into new territories which was set against the vocal abolitionist movement. They were also fighting an even more powerful enemy, Northern industrialists who were not so idealistic, and much more concerned with “economic policy designed to secure Northern domination of Western lands than the initial step in a broad plan to end slavery.” 24 This completion between the regions not only affected politics, it affected religion and culture In the South it produced a growing culture of victimhood which is manifest in the words of Robert Toombs who authored Georgia’s declaration of causes for secession:

“For twenty years past, the Abolitionists and their allies in the Northern states, have been engaged in constant efforts to subvert our institutions, and to excite insurrection and servile war among us…” whose “avowed purpose is to subject our society, subject us, not only to the loss of our property but the destruction of ourselves, our wives and our children, and the dissolution of our homes, our altars, and our firesides.” 25

As the differences grew and tensions rose the South became ever more closed off from the North. “More than other Americans, Southerners developed a sectional identity outside the national mainstream. The Southern life style tended to contradict the national norm in ways that life styles of other sections did not.” 26

The complex relationship of Southern society where the “Southern bodies social, economic, intellectual, and political were decidedly commingled” 27 and politics of the South came more to embrace the need for slavery and its importance, even to poor whites in the South who it did not benefit and actually harmed economically: “the system of subordination reached out still further to require a certain kind of society, one in which certain questions were not publically discussed. It must give blacks no hope of cultivating dissention among the whites. It must commit non slaveholders to the unquestioning support of racial subordination….In short, the South became increasingly a closed society, distrustful of isms from outside and unsympathetic to dissenters. Such were the pervasive consequences of giving top priority to the maintenance of a system of racial subordination.” 28

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Southern planters declared war on all critics of their “particular institution” beginning in the 1820s. As Northern abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison and his newspaper The Liberator grew in its distribution and began to appear in the South various elected officials throughout the South “suppressed antislavery books, newspapers, lectures, and sermons and strove generally to deny critics of bondage access to any public forum.” 29

In response to the proliferation of abolitionist literature in the South, John C. Calhoun proposed that Congress pass a law to prosecute “any postmaster who would “knowingly receive or put into the mail any pamphlet, newspaper, handbill, or any printed, written, or pictorial representation touching the subject of slavery.” 30 Calhoun was not alone as other members of Congress as well as state legislatures worked to restrict the import of what they considered subversive and dangerous literature.

Beginning in 1836 the House of Representatives passed a “gag rule” for its members which “banned all petitions, memorials, resolutions, propositions, or papers related in any way or to any extent whatever to the subject of slavery.” 31 This was challenged by former President John Quincy Adams in 1842 as well as by others so that in 1844 the House voted to rescind it. However Southern politicians “began to spout demands that the federal government and the Northern states issue assurances that the abolitionists would never be allowed to tamper with what John Calhoun had described as the South’s “peculiar domestic institution.” 32 The issue of slavery more than any other “transformed political action from a process of accommodation to a mode of combat.” 33

Around the same time as the gag rule was played out in Congress the Supreme Court had ruled that the Federal government alone “had jurisdiction where escaped slaves were concerned” which resulted in several states enacting “personal liberty laws” to “forbid their own elected officials from those pursuing fugitives.” Southern politicians at the federal and state levels reacted strongly to these moves which they believed to be an assault on their institutions and their rights to their human property. Virginia legislators protested that these laws were a “disgusting and revolting exhibition of faithless and unconstitutional legislation.” 34

The issue of slavery shaped political debate and “structured and polarized many random, unoriented points of conflict on which sectional interest diverged.” 35 As the divide grew leaders and people in both the North and the South began to react to the most distorted images of each other imaginable- “the North to an image of a southern world of lascivious and sadistic slave drivers; the South to the image of a northern world of cunning Yankee traders and radical abolitionists plotting slave insurrections.” 36

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The Slaveholder Ideology Personified: Edmund Ruffin

Among the people most enraged by Northern opposition to slavery was Edmund Ruffin. Ruffin was a very successful farm paper editor, plantation owner and ardent old line secessionist from Virginia. In 1860 the then 67 year old Ruffin helped change the world forever when, according to popular legend he pulled the lanyard which fired the first shot at Fort Sumter. While he was there and probably was given the honor of firing the first shot from his battery; other guns from other emplacements may have fired first. 37

Ruffin was a radical ideologue, he had been passionately arguing for secession and Southern independence for fifteen years. Ruffin “perceived the planter civilization of the South in peril; the source of the peril was “Yankee” and union with “Yankees.” Thus he preached revolution, Ruffin was a rebel with a cause, a secular prophet…” 38 He was a type of man who understood reality far better than some of the more moderate oligarchs that populated the Southern political and social elite. While in the years leading up to the war these men, including John Calhoun attempted to secure the continued existence and spread of slavery within the Union through the Congress and the courts, as early as 1850, Ruffin recognized that in order for slavery to survive the slaveholding South would have to secede from the Union. Ruffin and other radical secessionists believed that there could be no compromise with the north. In 1850 he and James Hammond attempted to use a meeting in Nashville to “secure Cooperative State Secession” and wrote to Hammond, against those who sought to use the meeting to preserve the Union, “If the Convention does not open the way to dissolution…I hope it shall never meet.” 39 He believed that in order to maintain the institution of slavery the slave holding states that those states had to be independent from the North.

Ruffin’s views were not unique to him, the formed the basis of how most slave owners and supporters felt about slavery’s economic benefits, Ruffin wrote:

“Still, even this worst and least profitable kind of slavery (the subjection of equals and men of the same race with their masters) served as the foundation and the essential first cause of all the civilization and refinement, and improvement of arts and learning, that distinguished the oldest nations. Except where the special Providence and care of God may have interposed to guard a particular family and its descendants, there was nothing but the existence of slavery to prevent any race or society in a state of nature from sinking into the rudest barbarism. And no people could ever have been raised from that low condition without the aid and operation of slavery, either by some individuals of the community being enslaved, by conquest and subjugation, in some form, to a foreign and more enlightened people.”40

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Slavery and National Expansion: The Compromise of 1850

The Ante-Bellum South was an agrarian society which depended on the free labor provided by slaves and in a socio-political sense it was an oligarchy that offered no freedom to slaves, openly discriminated against free blacks and provided little hope of social or economic advancement for poor and middle class whites, but it was maintained because in many cases the Southern Yeoman farmer “feared the fall from independent producer to dependent proletarian, a status he equated with enslavement.” 41 But northerners often driven by religious understandings of human rights founded in the concept of a higher law over a period of a few decades abolished slavery in the years after the United States had gained independence.

However, the South had tied its economy and society to the institution of slavery, and was not content to see it remain just in the original states of the Old South.

The expansion of slavery was essential to its continued maintenance in the states where it was already legal. “Because of the need to maintain a balance in the Senate, check unruly slaves, and cultivate fertile soils, many planters and small plantation owners- particularly those living in the southern districts of the cotton states- asserted that their survival depended on new territory.” 42 In those decades “a huge involuntary migration took place. Between 800,000 and 1 million slaves were moved westward….” 43

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The need for slaves caused prices to soar. In some older states like Virginia where fewer slaves were required the exportation of slaves became a major industry:

“male slaves were marched in coffles of forty or fifty, handcuffed to each other in pairs, with a long chain through the handcuffs passing down the column to keep it together, closely guarded by mounted slave traders followed by an equal number of female slaves and their children. Most of them were taken to Wheeling, Virginia, the “busiest slave port” in the United States, and from there they were transported by steamboat to New Orleans, Natchez, and Memphis.” 44

In the years the before the war, the North embraced the Industrial Revolution leading to advances which gave it a marked economic advantage over the South in which through its “commitment to the use of slave labor inhibited economic diversification and industrialization and strengthened the tyranny of King Cotton.” 45 The population of the North also expanded at a clip that far outpaced the South as European immigrants swelled the population.

The divide was not helped by the various compromises worked out between northern and southern legislators. After the Missouri Compromise Thomas Jefferson wrote:

“but this momentous question, like a fire bell in the night, awakened and filled me with terror. I considered it at once as the knell of the Union. It is hushed indeed for the moment, but this is a reprieve only, not a final sentence. A geographical line, coinciding with a marked principle, moral and political, once conceived and held up to the angry passions of men, will never be obliterated; and every new irritation will mark it deeper and deeper.” 46

The trigger for the increase in tensions was the war with Mexico in which the United States annexed nearly half of Mexico.

The new territories were viewed by those who advocated the expansion of slavery as fresh and fertile ground for its spread. Ulysses S Grant, who served in the war, noted the effects of the war with Mexico in his memoirs:

“In taking military possession of Texas after annexation, the army of occupation, under General [Zachary] Taylor, was directed to occupy the disputed territory.  The army did not stop at the Nueces and offer to negotiate for a settlement of the boundary question, but went beyond, apparently in order to force Mexico to initiate war….To us it was an empire and of incalculable value; but it might have been obtained by other means.  The Southern rebellion was largely the outgrowth of the Mexican war.”47

Robert Toombs of Georgia was an advocate for the expansion of slavery into the lands conquered during the war. Toombs warned his colleagues in Congress “in the presence of the living God, that if you by your legislation you seek to drive us from the territories of California and New Mexico, purchased by the common blood and treasure of the whole people…thereby attempting to fix a national degradation upon half the states of this Confederacy, I am for disunion.” 48

The tensions in the aftermath of the war with Mexico escalated over the issue of slavery in the newly conquered territories brought heated calls by some southerners for secession and disunion. To preserve the Union, Henry Clay and Daniel Webster, supported by the new President Millard Fillmore were able to pass the compromise of 1850 solved a number of issues related to the admission of California to the Union and boundary disputes involving Texas and the new territories. But among the bills that were contained in it was the Fugitive Slave Law, or The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. The act was the devise of Henry Clay which was meant to sweeten the deal for southerners. The law would “give slaveholders broader powers to stop the flow of runaway slaves northward to the free states, and offered a final resolution denying that Congress had any authority to regulate the interstate slave trade.” 49 which for all practical purposes nationalized the institution of slavery, even in Free states by forcing all citizens to assist law enforcement in apprehending fugitive slaves and voided state laws in Massachusetts, Vermont, Ohio, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island which barred state officials from aiding in the capture, arrest or imprisonment of fugitive slaves. “Congress’s law had nationalized slavery. No black person was safe on American soil. The old division of free state/slave state had vanished….” 50

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That law required all Federal law enforcement officials, even in non-slave states to arrest fugitive slaves and anyone who assisted them, and threatened law enforcement officials with punishment if they failed to enforce the law. The law stipulated that should “any marshal or deputy marshal refuse to receive such warrant, or other process, when tendered, or to use all proper means diligently to execute the same, he shall, on conviction thereof, be fined in the sum of one thousand dollars.” 51

Likewise the act compelled citizens in Free states to “aid and assist in the prompt and efficient execution of this law, whenever their services may be required….” 52 Penalties were harsh and financial incentives for compliance attractive.

“Anyone caught providing food and shelter to an escaped slave, assuming northern whites could discern who was a runaway, would be subject to a fine of one thousand dollars and six months in prison. The law also suspended habeas corpus and the right to trial by jury for captured blacks. Judges received a hundred dollars for every slave returned to his or her owner, providing a monetary incentive for jurists to rule in favor of slave catchers.” 53

The law gave no protection for even black freedmen. No proof or evidence other than the sworn statement of the owner that a black was or had been his property was required to return any black to slavery. Frederick Douglass said:

“By an act of the American Congress…slavery has been nationalized in its most horrible and revolting form. By that act, Mason & Dixon’s line has been obliterated;…and the power to hold, hunt, and sell men, women, and children remains no longer a mere state institution, but is now an institution of the whole United States.” 54

On his deathbed Henry Clay praised the act, which he wrote “The new fugitive slave law, I believe, kept the South in the Union in ‘fifty and ‘fifty-one. Not only does it deny fugitives trial by jury and the right to testify; it also imposes a fine and imprisonment upon any citizen found guilty of preventing a fugitive’s arrest…” Likewise Clay depreciated the opposition noting “Yes, since the passage of the compromise, the abolitionists and free coloreds of the North have howled in protest and viciously assailed me, and twice in Boston there has been a failure to execute the law, which shocks and astounds me…. But such people belong to the lunatic fringe. The vast majority of Americans, North and South, support our handiwork, the great compromise that pulled the nation back from the brink.” 55

To be continued tomorrow….

Notes 

1 Fuller, J.F.C. The Conduct of War 1789-1961 Da Capo Press, New York 1992. Originally published by Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick N.J p.98

2 Tuchman, Barbara W. Practicing History Alfred A. Knopf, New Your 1981 p.289

3 ___________ U.S. Army/ Marine Counterinsurgency Field Manual FM 3-24 MCWP 3-33.5 15 December 2006 with and forward by General David A Petreus and General James Amos, Konecky and Konecky, Old Saybrook CT 2007 p.26

4 Ibid. Tuchman Practicing History p.289

5 Ibid. U.S. Army/ Marine Counterinsurgency Field Manual p.27

6 Clausewitz, Carl von On War Indexed edition, edited and translated by Michael Howard and Peter Paret, Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ 1976 p.606

7 Ibid. Clausewitz On War pp.87-88

8 Rable, George C. God’s Almost Chosen Peoples: A Religious History of the American Civil War University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill 2010 p.4

9 Ibid. Fuller The Conduct of War 1789-1961 p.99

10 Guelzo Allen C. Fateful Lightening: A New History of the Civil War Era and Reconstruction Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 2012 p.95

11 Huntington, Samuel P. The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order Touchstone Books, New York 1997 p.42

12 Ibid. Rable God’s Almost Chosen Peoples p.5

13 Fuller, J.F.C. Decisive Battles of the U.S.A. 1776-1918 University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln 2007 copyright 1942 The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals p.174

14 Gray, Colin S. Fighting Talk: Forty Maxims on War, Peace, and Strategy Potomac Books, Dulles VA 2009 p.3

15 Ibid. Gray Fighting Talk p.25

16 Potter, David M. The Impending Crisis: America before the Civil War 1848-1861 completed and edited by Don E. Fehrenbacher Harper Collins Publishers, New York 1976 p.41

17 Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.41

18 Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.42

19 Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.42

20 McPherson, James M. Drawn With the Sword: Reflections on the American Civil War Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1996 p.50

21 Levine, Bruce Half Slave and Half Free: The Roots of the Civil War Revised Edition, Hill and Wang, a division of Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, New York 1992 and 1995 p.122

22 Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.43

23 Ibid. McPherson Drawn With the Sword p.16

24 Egnal, Marc Clash of Extremes: The Economic Origins of the Civil War Hill and Wang a division of Farrar, Straus and Giroux New York 2009 p.6

25 Dew, Charles B. Apostles of Disunion: Southern Secession Commissioners and the Causes of the Civil War University Press of Virginia, Charlottesville and London 2001 p.12

26 Thomas, Emory The Confederate Nation 1861-1865 Harper Perennial, New York and London 1979 p.5

27 Ibid. Thomas The Confederate Nation p.5

28 Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis pp.457-458

29 Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free p.166

30 Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening pp.50-51

31 Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free pp.169-170

32 Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening pp.51-52

33 Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.43

34 Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free pp.169-170

35 Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.43

36 Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.43

37 Catton, Bruce The Coming Fury Phoenix Press, London 1961 pp.314-315

38 Ibid. Thomas The Confederate Nation p.1

39 Freehling, William W. The Road to Disunion Volume One: Secessionists at Bay Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1990 p.481

40 Ruffin, Edmund The Political Economy of Slavery in McKitrick, Eric L. ed. Slavery Defended: The Views of the Old South. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall/Spectrum Books, 1963.Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/primary-resources/lincolns-political-economy/ 24 March 2014

41 Ibid. McPherson Drawn With the Sword p.50

42 Ibid. Egnal Clash of Extremes pp.125-126

43 Korda, Michael. Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2014 p.203

44 Ibid. Korda Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee p.203

45 Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.42

46 Jefferson, Thomas Letter to John Holmes dated April 22nd 1824 retrieved from http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/jefferson/159.html 24 March 2014

47 U.S. Grant, Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant New York 1885 pp.243-245

48 Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening pp.62-63

49 Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.68

50 Goldfield, David America Aflame: How the Civil War Created a Nation Bloomsbury Press, New York, London New Delhi and Sidney 2011 p.71

51 ______________Fugitive Slave of Act 1850 retrieved from the Avalon Project, Yale School of Law http://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/fugitive.asp 11 December 2014

52 Ibid. Fugitive Slave Act of 1850

53 Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.71

54 Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.72

55 Ibid. Oates The Approaching Fury p.94

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Reembracing the New Birth of Freedom

gburg address

I am always humbled when I travel to Gettysburg as I did a week and a half ago. It is hard to believe in that now peaceful pastoral setting that over 157,000 Americans, almost 82,000 Union and 75,000 Confederate met in a three day battle. In those three days over 28,000 Confederates and 23,000 Union soldiers were killed, wounded, missing or captured. It was the greatest number of casualties inflicted in one battle on American soil in history.

The places that the battle was fought have become legendary, for they are “hallowed ground” as President Abraham Lincoln so eloquently put it. The places, McPherson’s and Herr’s Ridge, Seminary Ridge, the Railroad Cut, Barlow’s Knoll, Cemetery Hill, Culp’s Hill, The Wheat Field, Devil’s Den, the Peach Orchard, Little Round Top, Cemetery Ridge, the Apse of Trees, the Angle and the High Water Mark are in a sense holy, or hallowed, consecrated by those who struggled there, those who lived and those who gave the last full measure of devotion to their country. When I take my students there I always finish at the Soldier’s Cemetery where Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address.

I think about those men of both sides, fully convinced of the rightness of their cause who fought valiantly in the struggle. That being said when I go there though my family predominantly fought for the Confederacy my heart is drawn to those men who remained loyal to the Union and those who answered the call of Abraham Lincoln to serve in a cause greater than their own interests, the great and the small alike.

Lincoln was a masterful orator who managed to rally the Union and bring hundreds of thousands of men volunteer before Gettysburg. They came for an ideal an ideal which Lincoln’s oratory was probably the most effective at articulating in a way that men would volunteer to suffer hardship, fight and die to bring about. It was well put in the movie Gettysburg where Colonel Joshua Chamberlain, played by Jeff Daniels said:

“This is a different kind of army. If you look at history you’ll see men fight for pay, or women, or some other kind of loot. They fight for land, or because a king makes them, or just because they like killing. But we’re here for something new. This has not happened much, in the history of the world: We are an army out to set other men free. America should be free ground, all of it, from here to the Pacific Ocean. No man has to bow, no man born to royalty. Here we judge you by what you do, not by who your father was. Here you can be something. Here is the place to build a home. But it’s not the land. There’s always more land. It’s the idea that we all have value, you and me. What we’re fighting for, in the end… we’re fighting for each other…” [1]

On November 19th 1863 Lincoln delivered a “few words” at Gettysburg which were in all practical aspects a benediction at the dedication of the battlefield cemetery. Lincoln was the second speaker at the ceremony following former Pennsylvania Congressman Edward Everett who spoke for more than two hours, a typical speech from the period.

Everett was one of the leading orators of his day. Everett was “a scholar and Ivy-League diplomat who could hold mass audiences in thrall. His voice, diction, and gestures were successfully dramatic, and he always performed his carefully written text, no matter how long, from memory.” [2]

The 270 words of Lincoln’s address are perhaps the most important of any speech or document in American history save the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States, in those words “Lincoln, nevertheless managed to justify the ways of democracy more than anyone, then or now.” [3]

The speech was so powerful that Everett wrote Lincoln the next day:

“Permit me also to express my great admiration of the thoughts expressed by you, with such eloquent simplicity & appropriateness, at the consecration of the Cemetery. I should be glad, if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.” [4]

The speech is short, but its eloquence is unmatched. Lincoln wrapped ideas, concepts and ideals that men have written volumes about into a speech so powerful that many have memorized it.

But few realize the context that it must be placed. Though the Union had defeated Lee’s Army at Gettysburg and Grant had taken Vicksburg to cut the Confederacy in half the North was growing war weary. During the fall of 1863 after a series of inconclusive battles in northern Virginia both Lee and Meade’s armies had sent significant numbers of troops to the west, to support operations in eastern Tennessee.

Lee sent Longstreet’s First Corps, which took part in the bloody battle of Chickamauga, which “is a Cherokee word meaning “river of death.” [5] where on September 19th and 20th the Federal Army of the Cumberland under General Rosecrans “were soundly whipped at …and driven back into the strategic point of Chattanooga.” [6] The number of casualties on both sides, over 16,000 Federal and 18,000 Confederate, a “combined total of 34,634 was exceeded only the three day slaughter at Gettysburg and by the week-long series of five battles known collectively as the Seven Days.” [7] Despite the number of casualties it was one of the biggest Confederate victories of the war. A clerk in Richmond wrote “The whole South will be filled again with patriotic fervor, and in the North there will be a corresponding depression.” [8] That changed rapidly when the Union reacted quickly and reversed the strategic situation. One action taken was to deploy Oliver Howard’s XI Corps and Henry Slocum’s XII Corps west, where “they would be commanded by Joe hooker, who was conveniently at hand and unemployed.” [9]

In the east during the following weeks “Lee and Meade, like two wounded, spent gladiators, sparred listlessly along the Rapidan. It seemed to Northerners that the fruits of Gettysburg had been thrown away.” [10] Lee sensed an opportunity to go back on the offensive against Meade’s weakened army, but his offensive was stopped on October 14th when “the Union Second Corps shattered a reckless attack by A.P. Hill’s corps at Bristoe Station, five miles south of Manassas.[11]

There was a faction in the North, the Copperheads, who were willing even after Gettysburg and Vicksburg to end the war on terms favorable to the Confederacy, even allowing for Confederate independence and the continuation of slavery. The efforts of the Copperheads to gain governorships in Ohio and Pennsylvania met defeat in November 1863, although their efforts would persist through the 1864 Presidential election.

However, the anti-abolitionist and racist views espoused by the northern Democrat Copperheads had begun to lose their potency in the North after July of 1863 with the onset of “the New York draft riot, which shocked many northerners into a backlash against the consequences of virulent racism” [12] and the sacrifice of the African American 54th Massachusetts Infantry when it assaulted Fort Wagoner outside of Charleston South Carolina, which occurred “just after the Democratic rioters in New York had lynched black people and burned the Colored Orphan Asylum. Few Republican newspapers failed to point the moral: black men who fought for the Union deserved more respect than white men who fought against it.” [13]

The speeches of Everett and Lincoln are deeply connected with Romanticism, the Greek revival and the Transcendentalist movement in the United States. Both were children of the enlightenment, and Everett, a former President of Harvard was well versed in these subjects and Lincoln, though a politician who appealed to the tenets of the Enlightenment, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Lincoln appealed to the “sacred principles of the laws of nature,” and hailed “the constitution and laws” as “hewn from the solid quarry of sober reason.” For Lincoln, the war was a test of the practical worth of liberalism.” [14]

Everett had been a mentor to some of the leading Transcendentalist thinkers of his era including Ralph Waldo Emmerson who found that the experience of “Everett’s classroom gave him an entirely new direction in life. He wrote:

“Germany had created [literary] criticism in vain for us until 1820, when Edward Everett returned from his five years in Europe, and brought to Cambridge his rich results, which no one was so fitted by natural grace and splendor of his rhetoric to introduce and recommend….The novelty of the learning lost northing in the skill and genius of its interpreter, and the rudest undergraduate found a new morning opening to him in the lecture room at Harvard.” [15]

Everett, who had previously dedicated battlefields at Bunker Hill, as well as Lexington and Concord, was at his best when dedicating battlefields and cemeteries. He spent weeks preparing his speech. Everett had studied the battle and knew it well from official reports and talks with those who fought it. Everett painted a vivid picture of the battle for his audience and connected the sacrifice of those who fought and died to preserve the Union form antiquity and from those who founded the nation. In his narrative Everett aspired to more than mere accuracy. Along “with Bancroft and other romantic historians of his time, he meant to create a tradition that would inspire as well as inform. Like the Attic orators- and dramatists- he knew the power of symbols to create a people’s political identity.” [16]

Lincoln was sick when he delivered the address having what was mostly likely a mild form of Smallpox when he gave the address. Thus the tenor, simplicity and philosophical depth of the address are even more remarkable. It is a speech given in the manner of Winston Churchill’s “Blood sweat toil and tears” address to Parliament upon being appoint Prime Minister in 1940. Likewise it echoes the Transcendentalist understanding of the Declaration of Independence as a “test for all other things.” Many in the United States and Europe did not agree and argued that no nation found on such principles could long survive. But Lincoln disagreed. He believed that the “sacrifices of Gettysburg, Shiloh, Murfreesboro, Chancellorsville, and a hundred other places demonstrated otherwise, that men would die rather than to lose hold of that proposition. Reflecting on that dedication, the living should themselves experience a new birth of freedom, a determination….”that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.[17]

The Unitarian pastor and leading Transcendentalist Theodore Parker wrote:

“Our national ideal out-travels our experience, and all experience. We began our national career by setting all history at defiance- for that said, “A republic on a large scale cannot exist.” Our progress since that has shown that we were right in refusing to be limited by the past. The practical ideas of the nation are transcendent, not empirical. Human history could not justify the Declaration of Independence and its large statements of the new idea: the nation went beyond human history and appealed to human nature.” [18]

Likewise Lincoln’s address echoes the thought of George Bancroft who wrote of the Declaration:

“The bill of rights which it promulgates is of rights that are older than human institutions, and spring from the eternal justice…. The heart of Jefferson in writing the Declaration, and of Congress in adopting it, beat for all humanity; the assertion of right was made for the entire world of mankind and all coming generations, without any exceptions whatsoever.” [19]

Parker’s words also prefigured an idea that Lincoln used in his address, that being: The American Revolution, with American history since, is an attempt to prove by experience this transcendental proposition, to organize the transcendental idea of politics. The ideal demands for its organization a democracy- a government of all, for all, and by all…” [20]

Lincoln delivered these words on that November afternoon:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.[21]

In a time where many are wearied by the foibles and follies of our politicians, even wondering about our form of government can survive Lincoln’s words matter. Dr. Allen Guelzo, Professor of Civil War Studies at Gettysburg College wrote in the New York Times:

“The genius of the address thus lay not in its language or in its brevity (virtues though these were), but in the new birth it gave to those who had become discouraged and wearied by democracy’s follies, and in the reminder that democracy’s survival rested ultimately in the hands of citizens who saw something in democracy worth dying for. We could use that reminder again today.” [22]

Dr. Guelzo is quite correct. Many people in this country and around the world are having grave doubts about our democracy. I wonder myself, but I am an optimist. I do believe that we will recover because for the life of me I see no nation anywhere else with our resiliency and ability to overcome the stupidity of politicians, pundits and preachers.

The amazing thing was that in spite of everything the Union survived. Lincoln was a big part of that but it was the men who left lives of comfort and security like Joshua Chamberlain and so many others who brought about that victory. Throughout the war, even to the end Southern political leaders failed to understand that Union men would fight and die for an ideal, something greater than themselves, the preservation of the Union and the freedom of an enslaved race. For those men that volunteered to serve, the war was not about personal gain, loot or land, it was about something greater. It was about freedom.

Now I for one do not think that we are currently living up to the ideals enunciated by Lincoln that day at Gettysburg. I can understand the cynicism disillusionment of Americans as well as those around the world who have for over 200 years looked to us and our system as a “city set on a hill.” That being said, when I read these words and walk that hallowed ground I am again a believer. I believe that we can realize the ideal, even in our lifetime should we desire.

[1] Shaara, Michael. The Killer Angels, Ballantine Books, New York. 1974 p.28

[2] Wills, Garry. Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words that Remade America Simon and Schuster Paperbacks, New York 1992 p.25

[3] Guelzo Allen C. Fateful Lightening: A New History of the Civil War Era and Reconstruction Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 2012 p.407

[4] Everett, Edward Letter from Edward Everett to Abraham Lincoln, (Transcription) 20 November 1863 retrieved from http://www.in.gov/judiciary/citc/files/everett-to-lincoln.pdf July 18th 2014

[5] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lighteningp.352

[6] Hebert, Walter H. Fighting Joe Hooker University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London 1999. Originally published by Bobbs-Merrill, New York 1944

[7] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian Random House, New York 1963 p.758

[8] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.757

[9] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.764

[10] Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg Mariner Books, Houghton Mifflin Company Boston, New York 2004 p.513

[11] McPherson, James M. Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief Penguin Books, New York and London 2008 p.200

[12] McPherson, James. The Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1988 p.686

[13] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.687

[14] Ibid. Guelzo. Fateful Lightening pp.406-407

[15] Ibid. Wills. Lincoln at Gettysburg p.45

[16] Ibid. Wills. Lincoln at Gettysburg p.51

[17] Ibid. Guelzo. Fateful Lightening p.408

[18] Ibid. Wills. Lincoln at Gettysburg p.110

[19] Ibid. Wills. Lincoln at Gettysburg p.105

[20] Ibid. Wills. Lincoln at Gettysburg p.105

[21] Lincoln, Abraham The Gettysburg Address the Bliss Copy retrieved from http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/gettysburg.htm

[22] Guelzo, Allen C. Lincoln’s Sound Bite: Have Faith in Democracy New York Time Opinionator, November 17th 2013 retrieved from http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/11/17/lincolns-sound-bite-have-faith-in-democracy/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0 July 18th 2014

 

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