Tag Archives: second great awakening

“An Institution Sanctioned by God” Southern Religious Support of Slavery

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Here is another excerpt from one of my Civil War texts dealing with the role of the Christian faith in justifying Southern Slavery. Once again it is not an easy subject to deal with for many people. Most American Christians of any denomination, Northern or Southern, would prefer that our often less than stellar practice of our faith didn’t exist, or be relegated to the deepest part of the dustbin of history. If they would stay that wouldn’t be a bad thing, but those attitudes, prejudices, and actions seem to always find a way back into current practice, if not in this case against African Americans, with the group du jour. Most of the time now it seems to involve immigrants, both legal and illegal, Muslims, and LGBTQ people. As the evangelical Anglican theologian Alistair McGrath writes: “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.”

So have a great day

Peace

Padre Steve+

furman

The noted South Carolina Baptist minister, the Reverend Richard Furman wrote: “The right of holding slaves is clearly established by the Holy Scriptures, both by precept and example.”  [1]

Like other people who supported the institution of slavery in the Americas before them, Southerners turned to the Christian faith to buttress their cause. Catholic and Protestant churches of England, France, the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal all provided their theological and ecclesiastical blessing to slavery and the slave trade. When a Catholic priest wrote his superiors asking if the slave trade and all of its components were legal according to Canon Law he received this answer:

“Your Reverence writes me that you would like to know whether the Negroes who are sent to your parts have been legally captured. To this I reply that I think your Reverence should have no scruples on this point, because this is a matter which has been questioned by the Board of Conscience in Lisbon, and all its members are learned and conscientious men. Nor did the bishops who were in Sao Thome, Cape Verde, and here in Loando – all learned and virtuous men – find fault with it. We have been here ourselves for forty years and there have been among us very learned Fathers…never did they consider the trade as illicit. Therefore we and the Fathers of Brazil buy these slaves for our service without any scruple….” [2]

In the American colonies, the Church of England accommodated itself to the plantation system by adapting itself to the ways of the plantation owners and slave traders. This began in 1619 when planters in Virginia and Maryland began to bring in slaves due to their “growing success by growing and exporting tobacco.” [3] To escape the ancient Christian prohibition on believers owning other believers most plantation owners refused to all their slaves to be baptized. However, to allow for some slaves to be baptized a law was passed in 1667 “declaring that baptism did not change a slave’s condition – another indication of the degree to which established religion was willing to bend to the interests of the powerful.”  [4] It is interesting to note that this uniquely American Anglican idea that baptism did not change the nature of a person, was also used by the Nazis in regard to Jews who had converted to Christianity.

In light of the threat posed to slavery by the emerging abolitionist movement, slaveholders were forced to shift their defense of slavery away from it being simply a necessary evil to a positive good. The institution of slavery became “in both secular and religious discourse, the central component of the mission God had designed for the South.” [5] 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.” [6]

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 Southern culture than the abolitionist cause did in the North.  This was 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.” [7] The Southern political and religious ideology enshrined slavery as a key component of all areas of life. It was a complete worldview, a system of values, culture, religion and economics, 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.” [8]

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.” [9] This was tied to a strongly Calvinistic theology which saw slavery in context with the spread of the evangelical Protestant faith that had swept through the South as slavery spread. For many, if not most Southern ministers “the very spread of evangelical religion and slave labor in the South was a sign of God’s divine favor. Ministers did not focus on defending slavery in the abstract but rather championed Christian slaveholding as it was practiced in the American South. Though conceding that some forms of slavery might be evil, Southern slavery was not.” [10]

The former Governor of South Carolina, John Henry Hammond, led the religiously based counter argument to the abolitionists. 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.”  [11] 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.” [12]

Others in the South, including politicians, pundits and preachers were preaching “that slavery was an institution sanctioned 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.” [13] The basic understanding was that slavery existed because “God had providential purposes for slavery.” [14]

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.” [15] But simply citing scripture to justify the reality of a system of which they reaped the benefit, is just part of the story. The real 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.” [16] 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 of which Southern slaveholders, especially evangelicals took umbrage, for in their understanding good men could own slaves. Their defense was rooted in their theology. 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.” [17] 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…” [18]

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.” [19] But some Southern blacks accepted the basic tenets of 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.” [20]

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.”  [21]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.” [22]

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.” [23] 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”  [24] out of the hands of literalists.

However the real schisms between the Northern and Southern branches of the major denominations which began to emerge in the mid to late 1830s continued to grow with the actual breakups of the major denominations coming in the 1840s. The first denomination to split was the Methodist church. This occurred in 1844 when “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.” [25] Not all Methodists in the South agreed with this split and a few Methodist abolitionists in the South “broke away from mainline Methodism to form the Free Methodist Church.” [26]

defense-of-slavery

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” [27] 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.”  [28]

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.” [29] 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.” [30]  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.” [31]

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.”  [32] 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.”  [33] 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.” [34]

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.” [35] The split in the Presbyterian Church had been obvious for years despite their outward unity. Princeton’s eminent Charles Hodge tried to be a peacemaker in the denomination warning of the dangers of disunion. He wrote, “If we are to be plunged into the horrors of civil war and servile insurrections, no tongue can tell how the cause of the Redeemer must suffer throughout our whole land.” [36] But like many conservatives of his time Hodge was misguided in thinking that moderates could prevail and that a sentimental attachment to the Union would prevent secession and war.

Some 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, a battle between Christianity and Atheism, and he believed that abolitionists attacked religion itself.

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.” [37]

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.”  [38] 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.” [39] 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.” [40]

The Reverend William Leacock of Christ Church, New Orleans declared in his Thanksgiving sermon of 1860: “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.” [41]

The fact that so many Protestant ministers, intellectuals, and theologians, not only Southerners, but men like “Princeton’s venerable theologian Charles B. Hodge – supported the institution of slavery on biblical grounds, often dismissing abolitionists as liberal progressives who did not take the Bible seriously” leaves a troubling question over those who claim to oppose issues on supposedly Biblical grounds. There were many such men in the North who spoke out for it and against Christian Abolitionists “in order to protect and promote interests concomitant to slavery, namely biblical traditionalism, and social and theological authority.” [42] The Northern clerical defenders of slavery perceived the spread of abolitionist preaching as a threat, not just to slavery “but also to the very principle of social and ecclesiastical hierarchy.” [43] Alistair McGrath asks a very important question for modern Christians who might be tempted to support a position for the same reasons today, “Might not the same mistakes be made all over again, this time over another issue?” [44]

Notes

[1] Furman, Richard Exposition of the Views of Baptists, Relative to the Coloured Population in the United States May 28th 1823, In Communication the Governor of South Carolina, Second Edition A.E. Miller, Charleston SC 1838 retrieved from http://faceweb.furman.edu/~benson/docs/rcd-fmn1.htm 15 July 2016

[2] Ibid. Zinn A People’s History of the United States pp.29-30

[3] Ibid. Gonzalez The History of Christianity Volume 2: The Reformation to the Present Day Harper p.219

[4] Ibid. Gonzalez The History of Christianity Volume 2: pp.219-220

[5] 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

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

[7] Ibid. Daly When Slavery Was Called Freedom p.69

[8] Ibid. Thomas The Confederate Nation 1861-1865 p.4

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

[10] Ibid. Varon Disunion! p.109

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[42] Ibid. Daly When Slavery Was Called Freedom  p.38

[43] Ibid. Varon Disunion! P.108

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

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Manifest Destiny, American Exceptionalism and U.S. Foreign Policy

Manife4

Manifest Destiny

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Once again I return to the text that I am working on, Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: Race, Religion, and Ideology in the Civil War Era because however much we long to escape our history, it is still very much present. Have a great night.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

Manifest Destiny and American Exceptionalism

The foreign policy of the United States nearly always reflects to one degree or another a quasi-religious belief in the continued importance of the United States in spreading democracy around the world.

The United States was an anomaly among western nations in the early 1800s. During that time the percentage of people in Europe who were active churchgoers was shrinking and the number of skeptics rising as the industrial revolution, and advances in science, and the philosophies and theology of classic Liberalism permeated the elites of the continent. But in the United States, the situation was different. The Second Great Awakening helped shape and define the purpose of the nation, and by the “mid-nineteenth century, from North to South, was arguably Christendom’s most churchgoing nation, bristling with exceptionalist faith and millennial conviction.” [1] This was especially true of American Protestantism were “church attendance rose by a factor of ten over the period 1800 to 1860, comfortably outstripping population growth. Twice as many Protestants went to church at the end of this period as the beginning.” [2]

This exceptionalist faith kindled a belief in the nation’s Manifest Destiny in large part was an outgrowth of the Second Great Awakening which was particularly influential among the vast numbers of people moving into the new western territories. As people moved west, Evangelical religion came with them, often in the form of vast revival and camp meetings which would last weeks and which would be attended by tens of thousands. The first of these was at Cane Ridge Kentucky in 1801, organized by a Presbyterian others, including Baptists and Methodists joined in the preaching, and soon the revivals became a fixture of frontier life and particularly aided the growth of the Methodist and Baptists who were willing to “present the message as simply as possible, and to use preachers with little or no education,” [3] and which soon became the largest denominations in the United States. These meetings appealed to common people and emphasized emotion rather than reason. Even so the revivals “not only became the defining mark of American religion but also played a central role in the nation’s developing identity, independence, and democratic principles.” [4]

The West came to be viewed as a place where America might be reborn and “where Americans could start over again and the nation fulfill its destiny as a democratic, Protestant beacon to inspire peoples and nations. By conquering a continent with their people and ideals, Americans would conquer the world.” [5] The westward expansion satiated the need for territorial conquest and the missionary zeal to transform the country and the world in the image of Evangelical Christianity.

The man who coined the term “Manifest Destiny,” New York journalist John O’Sullivan a noted that “Manifest Destiny had ordained America to “establish on the earth the moral dignity and salvation of man,” to disseminate its principles, both religious and secular abroad,” [6] and New York Journalist Horace Greely issued the advice, “Go West, young man” which they did go, by the millions between 1800 and 1860.

But the movement also had a dark side. Americans poured westward first into the heartland of the Deep South and the Old Northwest, then across the Mississippi, fanning westward along the great rivers that formed the tributaries of the new territories. As they did so, the “population of the region west of the Appalachians grew nearly three times as fast as the original thirteen states” and “during that era a new state entered the Union on the average of three years.” [7]

The combination of nationalism fueled by Evangelical religion was combined with the idea from revolutionary times that America was a “model republic” that could redeem the people of the world from tyranny,” [8] as well an ascendant rational nationalism based on the superiority of the White Race. This, along with the belief that Catholicism was a threat to liberty was used as reason to conquer Mexico as well as to drive Native Americans from their ancestral homes. “By 1850 the white man’s diseases and wars had reduced the Indian population north of the Rio Grande to half of the estimated million who had lived there two centuries earlier. In the United States all but a few thousand Indians had been pushed west of the Mississippi.” [9] The radical racism used pseudo-scientific writings to “find biological evidence of white supremacy, “radical nationalism” cast Mexicans as an unassimilable “mixed “race “with considerable Indian and some black blood.” The War with Mexico “would not redeem them, but would hasten the day when they, like American Indians, would fade away.” [10]

Manifest Destiny and American Foreign Policy

Just as the deeply Evangelical Christian religious emphasis of Manifest Destiny helped shape American domestic policy during the movement west, it provided similar motivation and justification for America’s entry onto the world stage as a colonial power and world economic power. It undergirded United States foreign policy as the nation went from being a continental power to being an international power; claiming as Hawaii, and various former Spanish possessions in 1890s, and which would be seen again in the moralizing of Woodrow Wilson in the years leading up to America’s entry into World War One.

The belief in Manifest Destiny can still be seen in the pronouncements of American politicians, pundits, and preachers who believe that that this message is to be spread around the world. Manifest Destiny is an essential element of the idea of American Exceptionalism which often has been the justification for much recent American foreign policy, including the Freedom Agenda of former President George W. Bush. Bush referenced this during his 2003 State of the Union Address, “that freedom is the right of every person and the future of every nation. The liberty we prize is not America’s gift to the world, it is God’s gift to humanity.” [11] Bush frequently used language in his speeches in which biblical allusions were prominent in justifying the morality of his policy, and by doing this “Bush made himself a bridge between politics and religion for a large portion of his electorate, cementing their fidelity.” [12]

Throughout the Bush presidency the idea that God was directing him even meant that his faith undergirded the policy of the United States and led to a mismatch of policy ends and the means to accomplish them. Former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. and historian Michael Oren wrote:

“Not inadvertently did Bush describe the struggle against Islamic terror as a “crusade to rid the world of evildoers.” Along with this religious zeal, however, the president espoused the secular fervor of the neoconservatives…who preached the Middle East’s redemption through democracy. The merging of the sacred and the civic missions in Bush’s mind placed him firmly in the Wilsonian tradition. But the same faith that deflected Wilson from entering hostilities in the Middle East spurred Bush in favor of war.” [13]

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.

One can see the influence of Manifest Destiny abroad in a number of contexts. Many American Christians became missionaries to foreign lands, establishing churches, colleges, schools, and hospitals in their zeal to spread the Gospel. As missionaries spread across the globe, American policy makers ensured their protection through the presence of the United States Navy, and missionaries frequently called upon the United States Government for help and the naval strength of the United States during the period provided added fuel to their zeal. In 1842, Dabney Carr, the new American ambassador to the Ottoman Empire “declared his intention to protect the missionaries “to the full extent of [his] power,” if necessary “by calling on the whole of the American squadron in the Mediterranean to Beyrout.” [14] Such episodes would be repeated in the Middle East, Asia, the Pacific, and Central America over and over again until the 1920s.

The White Man’s Burden, Imperialism, Business, and Faith: Manifest Destiny and the Annexation of the Philippines

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 the United States had helped liberate from Spanish rule saw some of the most bloodthirsty tactics ever employed by the U.S. Army to fight the Filipino insurgents. The Filipino’s who had aided the United States in the war against Spain were now being subjugated by the American military for merely seeking an independence that they believed was their right. While the insurgency was suppressed in a violent manner and American rule was established, some Americans came to see the suppression of the Filipino’s as 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. . .” [15]

William McKinley was a cautious man, and after the United States had defeated the Spanish naval squadron at Manila Bay and wrestled with what to do with the Philippines. McKinley was a doubtless sincere believer, and according to his words, he sought counsel from God about whether he should make the decision to annex the Philippines or not. For him this was not a mere exercise, but a manifestation of his deep rooted faith which was based on Manifest Destiny. Troubled, he sought guidance, and he told a group of ministers who were vesting the White House:

“Before you go I would like to say a word about the Philippine business…. The truth is I didn’t want the Philippines, and when they came to us as a gift from the gods, I did not know what to do with them…. I sought counsel from all sides – Democrat as well as Republican – but got little help…. I walked the floor of the White House night after night until midnight; and I am not ashamed to tell you, gentlemen, that I went down on my knees and prayed Almighty God for guidance more than one night. And late one night it came to me this way – I don’t know how it was but it came….” [16]

He then went on to discuss what he supposedly heard from God, but reflected more of a calculated decision to annex the archipelago. He discussed what he believed would be an occupation of just a few islands and Manila, ruled out returning them to Spain as that would be “dishonorable,” ruled out turning them over to France or Germany because “that would be bad for business,” or allowing Filipino self-rule, as “they were unfit for self-government.” [17] The last was a reflection of the deep-rooted opinion of many Americans that the dark skinned Filipinos were “niggers.”

Barbara Tuchman described McKinley’s comments to the ministers:

“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.” [18]

But the result, regardless of whether McKinley heard the voice of God, or took the advice of advisers with imperialist, business, or religious views, he made the choice to annex the Philippines, believing it to be the only rational course of action, and something that he could not avoid. In a sense McKinley, of who Barbara Tuchman wrote “was a man made to be managed,” and who was considered spineless by Speaker of the House Thomas Reed who said “McKinley has no more backbone than a chocolate éclair.” [19] It appears that McKinley was more convinced by the arguments of those who desired to annex the Philippines for military reasons, a business community which saw the islands as a gateway to the markets of Asia, and by Protestant clergy, who saw “a possible enlargement of missionary opportunities.” [20] He rejected a proposal by Carl Schurz who urged McKinley to “turn over the Philippines as a mandate to a small power, such as Belgium or Holland, so the United States could remain “the great neutral power in the world.” [21]The combination of men who desired the United States to become an imperialist and naval power, business, and religion turned out to be more than McKinley could resist, as “the taste of empire was on the lips of politicians and business interests throughout the country. Racism, paternalism, and the talk of money mingled with the talk of destiny.” [22] Though there was much resistance to the annexation in congress and in the electorate, much of which was led by William Jennings Bryant, but which crumbled when Bryant with his eyes on the Presidency embraced imperialism.

The sense of righteousness and destiny was encouraged by magazine publisher S.S. McClure, who published a poem by Rudyard Kipling addressed to Americans debating the issue entitled The White Man’s Burden:

Take up the White Man’s burden–
Send forth the best ye breed–
Go bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives’ need;
To wait in heavy harness,
On fluttered folk and wild–
Your new-caught, sullen peoples,
Half-devil and half-child…

Take up the White Man’s burden–
The savage wars of peace–
Fill full the mouth of Famine
And bid the sickness cease…

Take up the White Man’s burden–
Ye dare not stoop to less–
Nor call too loud on Freedom
To
cloke your weariness;
By all ye cry or whisper,
By all ye leave or do,
The silent, sullen peoples
Shall weigh your gods and you…
[23]

McKinley’s decision and the passage of the peace treaty with Spain to acquire the Philippines sparked an insurrection led by Filipino revolutionary Emilio Aguinaldo who had been leading resistance to Spanish rule on the island of Luzon for several years prior to the American defeat of Spanish naval forces at the Battle of Manila Bay, and the subsequent occupation of Manila. The following war lasted nearly three years and was marked by numerous atrocities committed by American forces against often defenseless civilians and it would help to change the nature of the country. After American troops captured Manila, Walter Hines Page, the editor of the Atlantic Monthly believed that Americans would face greater challenges and difficulties in the coming years than they had known in previous years. He wrote:

“A change in our national policy may change our very character… and we are now playing with the great forces that may shape the future of the world – almost before we know it…. Before we knew the meaning of foreign possessions in a world ever growing more jealous, we have found ourselves the captors of islands in both great oceans; and from our home staying policy of yesterday we are brought face to face with world-wide forces in Asia as well as Europe, which seem to be working, by the opening of the Orient, for one of the greatest challenges in human history…. And to nobody has the change come more unexpectedly than ourselves. Has it come without our knowing the meaning of it?” [24]

Within the span of a few months, America had gone from a nation of shopkeepers to an imperial power, and most people did not realize the consequences of that shift. Manifest destiny and American Exceptionalism had triumphed and with it a new day dawned, where subsequent generations of leaders would invoke America’s mission to spread freedom and democracy around the world, as President George W. Bush said, “that freedom is the right of every person and the future of every nation. The liberty we prize is not America’s gift to the world, it is God’s gift to humanity.”

Notes

[1] Ibid. Phillips American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century p.143

[2] 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.164

[3] Gonzalez, Justo L. The History of Christianity Volume 2: The Reformation to the Present Day Harper and Row Publishers San Francisco 1985 p.246

[4] Ibid. McGrath Christianity’s Dangerous Idea: The Protestant Revolution A History from the Sixteenth Century to the Twenty-First p.164

[5] Goldfield, David America Aflame: How the Civil War Created a Nation Bloomsbury Press, New York, London New Delhi and Sidney 2011 p.5

[6] Ibid. Oren Power, Faith and Fantasy: America and the Middle East 1776 to the Present p130

[7] McPherson, James. The Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1988 p.42

[8] Varon, Elizabeth R. Disunion! The Coming of the American Civil War 1789-1858 University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill NC 2008 p.183

[9] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era p,45

[10] Ibid. Varon. Disunion! The Coming of the American Civil War 1789-1858 p.183

[11] Bush, George W. State of the Union Address Washington D.C. January 28th 2003 retrieved from Presidential Rhetoric.com http://www.presidentialrhetoric.com/speeches/01.28.03.html 10 June 2015

[12] Ibid. Phillips American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century p.252

[13] Oren, Michael Power, Faith and Fantasy: America and the Middle East 1776 to the Present W.W. Norton and Company, New York and London 2007 p.584

[14] Ibid. Oren Power, Faith and Fantasy: America and the Middle East 1776 to the Present p130

[15] Twain, Mark To the Person Sitting in Darkness February 1901 Retrieved from The World of 1898: The Spanish American War The Library of Congress http://www.loc.gov/rr/hispanic/1898/twain.html 12 December 2014

[16] Zinn, Howard A People’s History of the United States Harper Perennial, New York 1999 pp.312-313

[17] Ibid. Zinn A People’s History of the United States p.313

[18] Ibid. Tuchman Practicing History p.289

[19] Tuchman, Barbara The Proud Tower: A Portrait of the World Before the War, 1890-1914 Random House Trade Paperbacks Edition, New York 2008 originally published 1966 by McMillan Company. Amazon Kindle edition location 2807 of 10746

[20] Hofstadter, Richard The Paranoid Style in American Politics Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 1952 and 2008 p167

[21] Ibid. Tuchman The Proud Tower: A Portrait of the World Before the War, 1890-1914 location 3098 of 10746

[22] Ibid. Zinn A People’s History of the United States p.313

[23] Kipling, Rudyard “The White Man’s Burden: The United States and the Philippine Islands” 1899 retrieved from https://public.wsu.edu/~brians/world_civ/worldcivreader/world_civ_reader_2/kipling.html 6 August 2016

[24] Ibid. Hofstadter The Paranoid Style in American Politics pp.183-184

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The Gospel of Wealth & War

phillipine harvest

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Since I am out of country I am pre-posting articles that will be released while I am away. This is a short bit from my the second chapter Civil War and Gettysburg text. The chapter as a whole deals with religion and ideology as chief contributing factors to the war, its conduct by both sides and the post-war myth of the Lost Cause. This section briefly looks at how the war and the earlier concept of Manifest Destiny brought about a new paradigm in which the message of earlier evangelicalism which focused on conversion, salvation and personal piety was transformed into a message of wealth and war. The transformation was lasting, and is something that American Christianity has never recovered from.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Secession and war was now on the horizon, and despite well-meaning efforts of some politicians on both sides to find a way around it, it would come. Religion had been at the heart of most of the ideological debates of the preceding quarter century and now it came to symbolize the causes of both sides. The belief in Manifest Destiny had led Americans to violate nearly every pronouncement of the founders and embark on a policy of imperialism, conquest, and even the extermination of millions in its name. As far as preventing conflict, Evangelical Protestants on both sides had not only failed to prevent the war; to the contrary those very Evangelical leaders were more than instrumental in bringing on the war as they:

“fueled the passions for a dramatic solution to transcendent moral questions. Evangelical religion did not prepare either side for the carnage, and its explanations seemed less relevant as the war continued. The Civil War destroyed the Old South civilization resting on slavery; it also discredited evangelical Protestantism as the ultimate arbiter of public policy.” [1]

When war came Evangelical Protestants on the opposing sides attempted to frame their cause in the light of their nearly identical theology, sometimes seeing it is a prelude to the return of Christ and the beginning of the millennium. An agent of the American Tract Society named Hollis Read was one, he proclaimed:

“A few more such strides, a few more such terrific struggles and travail-pains among the nations; a few more such convulsions and revolutions, that shall break to pieces and destroy what remains of the inveterate and time-honored systems and confederations of sin and Satan and the friends of freedom may then lift up their heads and rejoice, for their redemption draweth nigh. The Day of Vengeance Has Always Preceded And Been preparatory to the Year of the Redeemed.” [2]

Southerners too saw the coming war in similar triumphant theological ways. Some saw in the Confederacy the embodiment of Christ. Methodist minister William Seat of Texas wrote, “The One like the Son of Man has appeared in the rise of the Confederate States.” [3] He wrote that the South would take its place among the nations through it “liberty and pure Christianity would go abroad on earth.” He noted that soon the “peaceful millennial reign would dawn” and the stone from the mountain – the South – would be glorified: “Then the stone cut out from the shall become a great mountain and fill the earth. There shall be no more curse nor death nor sorrow nor crying. There shall be fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore. We solemnly believe that the great prophetic periods have closed: the mystery is finished and the vision of prophecy unsealed. The Final Kingdom has arisen, and the Divine Redeemer has come to reign.” [4]

As the war went on ministers and theologians saw their theological presuppositions dashed on the shoals of reality of William Tecumseh Sherman’s understanding, that “war is hell.” As the war went against the Confederacy, Southerner ministers had to re-frame the cause and the reasons for defeat, which most did not ascribe to slavery, but rather deficiencies in Southern character, and economic policy. In the North the faithful were shaken by the horrendous cost of the war. One of Charles Finney’s correspondents wrote in 1864, “So many are skeptical, doubtful, so many good people are cutting loose from creeds & forms….I am sometimes tempted to ask whether prayer can make any difference.” [5]

American Religion, especially Protestantism, which had served so much to bring about the war, instead became one of its most prominent casualties. American Protestantism shifted its emphasis; some ministers preached a gospel of wealth to align themselves and their congregants with the rising tide of the new rich. Russell Conwell, a former Union soldier in the war turned Baptist preacher, whose church later formed Temple University delivered his Acres of Diamonds sermon in which he proclaimed, “Money is power, money is force…. I say to you to get rich, and it is your duty to get rich.” [6] The sermon became popular throughout the country, and people did not tire of it.

350-prosperity-gospel

The theology of wealth was not political, it preached no moral crusades, it called for no sacrifice, it considered not justice, and it appealed to people’s basest instincts and left little room for sentiment. The poor, the newly free but oppressed African American and others were left behind. Walt Whitman was concerned that the churches encouraged people to pursue everything but the common good. He wrote, “genuine belief seems to have left us…. The spectacle is appalling. We live in an atmosphere of hypocrisy throughout…. A lot of churches, sects, ect., the most dismal phantasm I know, usurp the name of religion.” [7]

Southern Evangelicals retreated in into a skepticism and denial of human progress, for if that had been the case they would have triumphed over their Yankee oppressors. After the war Southern Evangelicals “expected little from the corrupted world and expected even less from the knowledge of corrupted men, especially men of science and power. The war brought to the South a theology, as well as a politics and economics, of diminished expectations.” [8]

Never again would Evangelical Christianity play as dominant role as it did in early part of the war, and “from the 1860s onward, American Protestantism was increasingly marked by the quiet erosion of faith, and religious experience became plagued more and more decaying faith, and in an increasing appeal to feeling and imagination over confessional reason or evangelical conversion.” [9] That trend continues to the present day as if nothing as happened in the meantime. Mark Twain wrote something about Conwell’s “Gospel of Money” which echoes to the critics of the contemporary “Prosperity Gospel”:

“What is the chief end of man? – to get rich. In what way? – dishonesty if we can; honestly if we must. Who is God, the one only and true? Money is God. Gold and Greenbacks and Stock – father, son, and the ghost of same – three persons in one, these are the true and only God, mighty and supreme.” [10]

Notes

[1] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.360

[2] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.414

[3] Ibid. Daly When Slavery Was Called Freedom p.147

[4] Ibid. Daly When Slavery Was Called Freedom p.147-148

[5] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.416

[6] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.456

[7] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame pp.468-469

[8] Ibid. Daly When Slavery Was Called Freedom p.153

[9] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.416

[10] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.457

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A Christian & an Enthusiast: General Oliver O. Howard

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

A change of pace as I get ready for a new class and a section of my Gettysburg Text about Major General Oliver O. Howard. Howard is interesting because alone of senior Union generals his Christian Faith guided his actions and he was maligned by some for that faith. 

This section is only biographic sketch before his Eleventh Corps went into action at Gettysburg. Likewise it does not discuss his very successful command of a corps and army in the West under William Tecumseh Sherman, nor his post war service. I think that he makes an interesting character study; after all, the one constant in history is humanity. We learn from men like Howard and that is important.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Oliver-Otis-Howard-9345101-1-402

Major General Oliver O. Howard, U.S. Army

With John Reynolds dead and Abner Doubleday directing First Corps in its defense west of Gettysburg Major General Oliver O. Howard, commander of Eleventh Corps assumed command of the Federal forces around Gettysburg. Howard was one of the more unusual characters in the senior leadership of the Army of the Potomac, and later when he served under William Tecumseh Sherman’s command in the west, mostly because of his strong Evangelical Christian religious convictions and the fact that he did not drink. Sherman remarked to a group of generals who were mocking Howard’s temperance, “Let Howard alone! I want one officer who don’t drink!” [1]

“A Christian and an Enthusiast”

The thirty-three year old Howard was from Maine, his father had died when he was ten and in 1846 at the age of sixteen he entered Bowdoin College. He graduated from Bowdoin in 1850 near the top of his small class, and education, far from being something simply to prepare himself for a career was important of itself, and he told his mother, “Education is my first aim…. I seek not money, but a cultivated and enlightened mind, becoming & corresponding with the age in which we live.” [2] During his time at Bowdoin Howard was introspective and frequently mused on his own shortcomings and failures. He also showed little interest in world or national events, including the war with Mexico, but in his first year at Bowdoin he did take an interest in the cousin of a classmate, Elizabeth Ann Waite, or Lizzie who eventually became his wife.

While he was finishing his time at Bowdoin he was still uncertain of what he would do. It was then that his uncle, Congressman John Otis who had help to raise him following the death of his father secured for him an appointment to West Point. He did very well academically but at times struggled with some of his fellow students, some of who considered him “priggish, self-righteous, and opinionated.” [3] This was most likely due to a number of reasons, first his moderate abolitionist views, which were unpopular with many cadets, his active participation in the Bible class, which some classmates ridiculed, and his high academic standing, which provoked the jealousy of others. Howard was also resented by some for his friendship with Sergeant Warren Lothrop, a Mexican War veteran, a childhood friend who was “the son of a close friend of his own father” [4] as well as maintaining a friendship with a cadet “who had been “cut” – shunned – by the corps.” [5] While he stood by the cadet, he was forbidden to maintain the friendship by the Commandant of Cadets due to rules on fraternization, but in the eyes of some classmates, the damage had been done. One cadet who never accepted Howard was Custis Lee, an academic rival and the son of Robert E. Lee.

Despite a rough start Howard became friends with many cadets, including some who had shunned him early in his West Point experience. However, one friend who stood by Howard throughout was a cadet from Virginia named J.E.B. Stuart, who he knew from the Bible class. Howard wrote of that friendship, “I can never forget the manliness of J.E.B. Stuart…. He spoke to me, he visited me, and we became warm friends, often, on Saturday afternoons, visiting the young ladies of the post together.” [6] Howard’s friends included cadets from north and south, and never appeared to let political or ideological differences influence his choice of friends.

He graduated fourth in the class of 1854 and commissioned as a Brevet Second Lieutenant in the highly technical Ordinance Corps. He married Lizzie the following year and held a number of assignments in his corps before being assigned to Florida at the tail end of the Seminole Wars where as an Ordinance officer he saw no action. However, during his time in Florida he experienced his conversion to Evangelical Christianity, following his attendance of a number of Methodist revival meetings and his future life would bear evidence of the influence of the founder of Methodism, John Wesley. His faith became a facet of his life that he would never waver from incurring the praise as well as the criticism of various contemporaries. He wrote Lizzie:

“I then bore hat the text above in mind, & said in my heart oh! My Saviour, I know that thou canst save me! I made an effort to fully believe that my sins were washed in the blood of the Lamb, that my dear Saviour had actually saved me at that moment, i.e. had pardoned all my transgressions of the laws of God, & all the wickedness of a corrupt heart – The fullness of the glow of happiness came into my heart, the tugging & burning left me – the choking sensation was gone…my mind is as clear as when making out an Ordinance Return…” [7]

Following his conversion he led prayers and Bible studies, had enlisted me to his quarters for morning devotions and even considered leaving the army for the ministry. It was fortunate for Howard that his commander, an elderly Colonel, Gustavus Loomis, was a devout Christian who had first taken him to the Methodist revival meetings, for many other senior officers would have not approved of such overtly evangelical behavior.

Howard was transferred back to West Point in September of 1857 where now as a First Lieutenant he was assigned as an instructor in Mathematics, and was able to again be with Lizzie and their children. At West Point he continued his religious activities, leading Bible studies and became the superintendent of a Sunday school for the children of enlisted men and briefly explored the possibility of entering the ministry with a local Episcopal priest and even studied Hebrew for a time.

During his time as an instructor at West Point the young officer, like many devout converts to any religion, wrestled with his faith. Always introspective Howard became even more so, do much soul-searching and with two issues that he recognized in himself, vanity and pride. He wrote: “the pride & haughtiness of my heart is more than pen can tell, but I believe God will so school me, by failures when I act without Christ, by disappointments & afflictions, as to bring my miserably foolish soul into full subjection to himself…. I fear if God would give me success with my heart as it is now, that I would be puffed up with pride & thus lose the countenance of my blessed Saviour.” [8] That struggle to harmonize the tension between his desire to excel in the army and life, with his concerns for his soul should he become consumed by ambition and vanity would become more pronounced within a few very short years.

As he had for most of his life Howard took little interest in political questions and the growing movement toward secession. This was not surprising because Howard, whose religious commitment was continuing to grow was planning to take a leave of absence from the army to attend Bangor Theological Seminary, where his brother, Charles was already a student. However, when Fort Sumter was fired on Howard “abandoned the plan to enter the ministry and determined to stay as a regular or volunteer until the war was over.” [9]

As the officers who made their choice to remain loyal to the Union were now confronted with the decision to remain in the Regular Army or join the new volunteer regiments being formed by Northern states. For many, loyalty and the desire to fight to protect the Union was mixed with a certain amount of pragmatic ambition. Remaining in the relatively small Regular Army might leave them in the position of assisting the training of new volunteer units, or involved with the administration or organizing and equipping them, possibly with limited promotion opportunity while taking a volunteer commission could lead to rapid promotion, command of a regiment or even a brigade.

But initially “the was “a prevalent opposition to regular officers accepting commissions in the volunteers,” [10] but soon the reality that the Regular army was insufficient to bring the rebellious states back into the Union caused the army to allow officers to serve with the volunteers. Howard’s fellow Mathematics instructor, Lieutenant Gouverneur Warren was one of the first young officers at West Point to accept a volunteer commission in the Fifth New York Infantry, the Duryea Zouaves. Howard wrote to Maine’s governor, Israel Washburne offering his services to the State, and after an initial rebuff was offered command of the Third Maine Volunteer Infantry. When he received the offer from Maine Howard took it to Lieutenant Colonel John Reynolds, the Commandant of Cadets and told Reynolds of the offer and asked, “I’ve had the tender, or what amounts to it, of a Maine Regiment. What answer would you give, colonel?’ Reynolds replied, “You’ll accept, of course, Howard,” [11] and then preceded to give the young officer a lesson on what colonels needed to know.

One thing Howard had settled in his mind was the legitimacy of war. As a cadet at West Point he had studied the works of Henry Wager Halleck, who wrote one of the first comprehensive books on strategy by an American and who included in his work a synopsis of the traditional Just War Theory. Halleck, like Howard, was a devout Christian and in his book he wrote “The prevention and punishment of crime causes much human suffering; nevertheless the good of the community requires that crime should be prevented and punished. So, as a nation, we employ military officers to man our ships and forts, to protect our property and our persons, and to repel and punish those who seek to rob us of our life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness…” [12] When Fort Sumter was attacked and other Federal installations in the South being overrun Howard believed that “it was a citizen’s duty to defend his country just as a father would defend his wife and children from an assassin.” [13] When the regiment arrived in New York on its way to Washington it was presented a flag by patriotic Maine citizens living there. Upon receiving it, Howard thanked them and his words reflected his thoughts about war and duty, as well as his religious faith: “I was born in the East, but I was educated by my country. I know no section; I know no party; I never did. I know only my country to love it, and my God who is over my country. We go forth to battle in defense of righteousness and liberty, civil and religious. We go strong in muscle, strong in heart, strong in soul, because we are right…” [14]

Howard’s faith would be a source of personal strength throughout the war and while some like Joseph Hooker ridiculed his faith saying “He was always taken up with Sunday Schools and the temperance cause. Those things are all very good, you know, but have little to do with commanding an army corps. He would command a prayer meeting with a good deal more ability than he would an army.” [15] Likewise his “reputation as a Christian “hampered his acceptance by both fellow officers and enlisted men.” [16] Despite this, many soldiers and officers in every unit Howard commanded came to admire him

Despite this Howard did eventually succeed and became the only officer of his West Point class of 1854 to become a Major General in the Regular Army of the United States. It was not always an easy road, but Howard displayed a resiliency in the face difficulty and even defeat, a resiliency that enabled him to grow as an officer and commander as the war went on.

Shortly after the Third Maine joined the army at Washington Howard was made a brigade commander. His brigade was involved in the final attack at Bull Run were it was caught up in the disaster that overtook the army of Irvin McDowell. He was promoted to brigadier general and commanded a brigade during McClellan’s inept Peninsular Campaign and “at Fair Oaks on June 1, he was hit twice in the right arm while leading a charge; a second bullet shattered the bone near the elbow, and the arm had to be amputated.” [17] Howard’s bravery in the face of the enemy was noted, especially after having received the first wound he continued to lead his men despite having three horses shot from under him. One of his regimental commanders wrote, “The General was the only Brigadier that I saw on the field who led his men into battle & handled them there – He acted with a bravery bordering on rashness & nobly sustained his reputation as a brave and efficient officer.” [18]

Within two months Howard was back with the army, his former officers writing McClellan to recommend that Howard be given command of a division. He did not immediately get that, but was given command of a brigade of Pennsylvania Reserves, the Philadelphia Brigade in John Sedgwick’s division. He took command of that division when Sedgwick was wounded at Antietam. He commanded the division when it was thrown into General Ambrose Burnside’s ill-advised and doomed assault of Marye’s Heights at the Battle of Fredericksburg. Though his division could not break the Confederate line he was commended by Major General Charles Sumner and Major General Darius Couch for his actions. Sumner noted Howard’s “judicious disposition” in driving the Confederates from Fredericksburg” while “Couch, in speak of the corps losses, stated: “Howard, coming up late, lost 700 men, besides 150 on the 11th. He did well in the part assigned to him.” [19]

During the winter following Burnside’s relief and the appointment of Major General Joseph Hooker to command the Army of the Potomac, Howard remained in command of his division. The vanity that he wrestled with in his spiritual life got the better of him when Daniel Sickles, a political general with no formal military training was appointed to command the Third Corps. Howard, who was senior to Sickles protested to Hooker and was promised the newly arrived Eleventh Corps. The corps, which had just become part of Hooker’s army was never “accepted as a true part of the Army of the Potomac,” where it was viewed as a “foreign contingent,” [20] “and was looked upon by the older units with some distain, despite its having seen considerable action.” [21] The previous Corps commander, Major General Fritz Sigel had just left the army after a disagreement regarding not receiving a larger command during the reorganization of the army. When he left many of the corps’ soldiers remained very loyal to their old commander, and “thought Howard was being advanced at Sigel’s expense.” [22]

But Hooker had created a problem for himself. Eleventh Corps was the only large unit in the Federal Army with a high concentration of Germans. Many of the soldiers had enlisted to serve under men that they knew and trusted, Fritz Sigel and Carl Schurz. When Sigel left command Hooker could have appointed Carl Schurz to command the corps, but “Hooker had little use for Schurz’s generalship,” [23] and bluntly told Secretary of War Stanton that he would not appoint Schurz to corps command. For Howard, this was not good, for “in his anxiety to receive a command commensurate with his rank he had failed to consider all the consequences.” [24]

Howard took command of Eleventh Corps barely a month before Hooker launched his offensive against Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, which culminated in the Battle of Chancellorsville. Howard struggled to gain the acceptance of the German soldiers of his new command, many of whom were resentful of having to serve under a non-German officer who did not understand them. Howard’s overtly Evangelical Christian approach to command and stress on temperance, which included the distribution of religious tracts did not endear him to the Germans, many of who were Catholics, free-thinkers and beer drinkers. While Howard’s piety was appreciated many soldiers of English and Scottish descent with Protestant roots, the “Germans of the Eleventh Corps, many of whom were freethinkers, the activities of “Old Prayer Book” were not welcome…. The Eleventh Corps would go on campaign under a general it neither liked nor trusted, and Howard was marching quite out of step with his command.” [25] Some understood this, Colonel Charles Wainwright, commander of the First Corps artillery wrote, “Howard, who succeeds Sigel in the Eleventh is brave enough, and a most perfect gentleman. He is a Christian and an enthusiast, as well as a man of ability, but there is some doubt as to his having snap enough to manage the Germans, who require to be ruled with a rod of iron.” [26]

In the ensuing battle Howard’s Eleventh Corps was taken in the flank by Stonewall Jackson’s troops which outnumbered his badly situated corps by nearly three-to-one, his only reserve brigade having been taken by Hooker to support Sickle’s Third Corps. The ensuing action was a disaster as regiment after regiment was rolled up by the rapidly advancing Confederate phalanx.

Blame could be assigned to both Hooker and Howard, Hooker for leaving Eleventh Corps unsupported and isolated on the flank without a reserve, and Howard for not taking better precautions to secure his right flank from a surprise attack. Neither Howard, nor his senior division commander Brigadier general Charles Devens “personally investigated any of the reports of Rebel activity on their front, and Howard compounded his negligence by leaving his command for two critical hours.” [27] Only Carl Schurz took any action to protect the corps flank and rear by quietly facing three of his regiments west. When the night was over Howard admitted “I wanted to die…. That night I did all in my power to remedy the mistake, and I sought death everywhere I could find an excuse to go to the field.” [28] However, Jackson’s victory was more tactical than strategic and as one historian noted “the corps had generally acquitted itself well in a nearly hopeless situation and delayed Confederate progress until dark,” [29]at which time the Confederates experienced the loss of Stonewall Jackson who was mortally wounded in the darkness by his own troops as he tried to push his corps forward.

However, the morale of the Eleventh Corps was crushed and it would not get a chance to redeem itself during the rest of the Chancellorsville campaign. When Hooker lost his nerve, refused to counter-attack, and then decided to withdraw he was opposed by Howard, George Meade, Darius Couch and John Reynolds who advocated a renewal of the offensive against Lee who they knew to have taken heavy casualties and had to be outnumbered by the Army of the Potomac.

The ever insightful Charles Wainwright wrote, “Some of the papers are very severe on Hooker, and insist upon that he was drunk, which I do not believe. Others go quite as far the other way, and try to screen him from all blame, seeking to throw it on one or the other of his subordinates. The attacks on General Howard are outrageous. He had been in command of the Eleventh Corps but a month before the fight, and was previously unknown to its officers and men…. He is the only religious man of high rank I know in this army, and, in the little intercourse I have had with him, shewed himself the most polished gentleman I have met. I know that he was very anxious to attack Lee on Monday, and together with Couch, Reynolds, and Meade was decidedly opposed to our withdraw on Wednesday night…” [30]

But the damage to the Eleventh Corps had been done. In the search for blame the old line prejudice and sentiment of the “Know nothings” against the immigrant Germans was once again unleashed. Inside and outside the Army of the Potomac, the Eleventh Corps was given the derisive nickname of “the flying Dutchmen” despite the fact that approximately half of its soldiers were of old line Yankee stock. The Eleventh Corps was not without good soldiers or good leaders, the real issue came from “the prejudice of Americans and the defensive attitude of the Germans…” [31] The soldiers of the corps had to endure the mocking of soldiers of other units and the scorn of the press, which “spoke of the “unexampled conduct” of the Eleventh Corps and how “the whole failure of the Army of the Potomac was owing to [its] scandalous poltroonery.” [32] In defense of the Corps Brigadier General Alexander Schimmelpfennig wrote “It would seem a nest of vipers had but waited for an auspicious moment to spit out their poisonous slanders upon this heretofore honored corps…. I have been proud to command the brave men in this brigade; but I am sure that unless these infamous falsehoods be retracted and reparations made, their good will and soldierly spirit will be broken…” [33]

Like his army commander, Fighting Joe Hooker, Howard never “conceded that he was in any way negligent, but he once hinted that at Chancellorsville he was inexperienced and that he had learned a lesson. “When I was a lad, a larger boy gave me a drubbing, but I grew in size and strength till he could do it no longer. The war experience of some of us was like that.” [34] To his credit, Howard did learn from his mistakes and never was surprised again as Eleventh Corps commander or the Commander of the Army of Tennessee under the command of William Tecumseh Sherman. However, Hooker, not only refused to take any blame, but proceeded to blame “squarely upon three of the army’s eight corps commanders…” [35] Howard, John Sedgwick and cavalry corps commander George Stoneman.

The troops were discouraged and resentful of their treatment; one officer wrote of the corps’ withdraw from Chancellorsville “I recrossed with a heavy heart, and… I felt tears rolling down my cheeks. I was ashamed of the battle, and deplored the sad experience of the Eleventh Corps…” while Howard noted, “there was no gloomier period during the great war than the month which followed the disasters at Chancellorsville.” [36] Carl Schurz wrote “The spirit of this corps is broken, and something must be done to revive it.” [37] It was in this depressed environment, commanding a corps that was defeated and demoralized that Oliver Howard advanced into Gettysburg on July 1st 1863.

Notes

[1] Hebert, Walter H. Fighting Joe Hooker University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London 1999. Originally published by Bobbs-Merrill, New York 1944 p.178

[2] Carpenter, John A. Sword and Olive Branch: Oliver Otis Howard Fordham University Press, New York 1999 p.3

[3] Thomas, Emory M. Bold Dragoon: The Life of J.E.B. Stuart University of Oklahoma Press, Norman OK 1986 and 1999 p.24

[4] Ibid. Carpenter Sword and Olive Branch p.8

[5] Ibid. Thomas Bold Dragoon p.24

[6] Ibid. Thomas Bold Dragoon p.25

[7] Ibid. Carpenter Sword and Olive Branch p.17

[8] Ibid. Carpenter Sword and Olive Branch p.20

[9] Ibid. Carpenter Sword and Olive Branch p.21

[10] Jordan, David M. Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren Indiana University Press, Bloomington Indiana 2001 p.34

[11] Howard, Oliver O. Autobiography of Oliver Otis Howard, Major General, U.S. Army Volume 1 The Baker and Taylor Company, New York 1907 Made available by the Internet Achieve through Amazon Kindle location1627 of 9221

[12] Halleck, Henry Wager. Elements of Military Art and Science Or, Course Instruction In Strategy, Fortification Tactics of Battles, &c. Embracing the Duties of Staff, Infantry, Cavalry, Artillery, and Engineers, Adapted for the Use of Volunteers and Militia Third Edition D. Appleton & Company, New York and London 1862 Amazon Kindle edition location 149 of 6332

[13] Ibid. Carpenter Sword and Olive Branch p.21

[14] Ibid. Howard Autobiography of Oliver Otis Howard location 1983 of 9221

[15] Girardi, Robert I. The Civil War Generals: Comrades, Peers, Rivals in Their Own Words Zenith Press, MBI Publishing, Minneapolis MN 2013 p.92

[16] Ibid. Carpenter Sword and Olive Branch p.25

[17] Tagg, Larry The Generals of Gettysburg: The Leaders of America’s Greatest Battle Da Capo Press Cambridge MA 1998 Amazon Kindle Edition p. 121

[18] Ibid. Girardi The Civil War Generals: Comrades, Peers, Rivals in Their Own Words p.91

[19] Ibid. Carpenter Sword and Olive Branch p.41

[20] Ibid. Hebert Fighting Joe Hooker p.178

[21] Ibid. Carpenter Sword and Olive Branch p.43

[22] Ibid. Hebert Fighting Joe Hooker p.178

[23] Sears, Stephen W. Chancellorsville Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York 1996 p.64

[24] Ibid. Carpenter Sword and Olive Branch p.43

[25] Ibid. Sears Chancellorsville p.65

[26] Wainwright, Charles S. A Diary of Battle: The Personal Journal of Colonel Charles S. Wainwright 1861-1865 edited by Allan Nevins, Da Capo Press, New York 1998 p.183

[27] Ibid. Sears Chancellorsville p.270

[28] Ibid. Sears Chancellorsville p.286

[29] Greene, A. Wilson. From Chancellorsville to Gettysburg: O. O. Howard and Eleventh Corps Leadership in The First Day at Gettysburg edited by Gallagher, Gary W. Kent State University Press, Kent Ohio 1992 p.57

[30] Ibid. Wainwright A Diary of Battle p.210

[31] Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster New York, 1968 p.306

[32] Ibid. Green From Chancellorsville to Gettysburg: O. O. Howard and Eleventh Corps Leadership p.58

[33] Ibid. Green From Chancellorsville to Gettysburg: O. O. Howard and Eleventh Corps Leadership p.58

[34] Ibid. Carpenter Sword and Olive Branch p.49

[35] Sears, Stephen W Gettysburg Houghton Mifflin Company, New York 2003 pp.193-194 and Coddington p.20

[36] Ibid. Green From Chancellorsville to Gettysburg: O. O. Howard and Eleventh Corps Leadership p.57

[37] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.37

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The Bible on Our Side: Southern Religious Support of Slavery

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

This week I have been relating religion to civil rights through the lens of the slavery, abolition, and the ante-bellum United States and today I will continue that with another section of my Civil War and Gettysburg Staff Ride text. It comes from the same chapter as my past few posts dealing with the role of religion and ideology in the period and its effect on the antagonists before, during and after the war. 

It is a lens through which we can view other topics that divide us today including the continuing battle against racism, Women’s rights and Gay rights. The fact is that we cannot isolate these issues from the understanding that the defense of liberty for all safeguards liberty for all. Sadly, there are a substantial number of Christians in the United States who do not believe that and through the legislative process seek to limit, role back, or completely deny rights to groups that they despise, especially Gays, but also women, and racial and religious minorities. We cannot get around that fact. It is happening with new instances occurring almost every week, and much of these laws are being passed due to the “sincerely held religious beliefs” of Christians to deny other people’s rights based on their interpretation of Biblical texts.

The words of the current politicians, preachers and pundits who fight to limit the rights of others is strikingly similar to those who defended slavery and attacked those who fought against it.   

This is not new, it has happened many times in our history, but the most notorious and injurious to American society was the defense of the institution of Slavery by American Christians, particularly those in the South. This article discusses that defense of slavery which arose in response to the tiny, but vocal number of Christians who helped lead the abolition movement.

Have a great day,

Peace

Padre Steve+

OTCauction

Southern Religious Support of Slavery

“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…” Reverend Robert Lewis Dabney on defending slavery and condemning its critics

In light of the threat posed to slavery by the emerging abolitionist movement, slaveholders were forced to shift their defense of slavery away from it being simply a necessary evil to a positive good. The institution of slavery became “in both secular and religious discourse, the central component of the mission God had designed for the South.” [1] 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.” [2]

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 Southern culture than the abolitionist cause did in the North. This was 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.” [3] The Southern ideology which enshrined slavery as a key component of all areas of life was a complete worldview, a system of values, culture, religion and economics, 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.” [4]

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.” [5] This was tied to a strongly Calvinistic theology which saw slavery in context with the spread of the evangelical Protestant faith that had swept through the South as slavery spread. For many, if not most Southern ministers “the very spread of evangelical religion and slave labor in the South was a sign of God’s divine favor. Ministers did not focus on defending slavery in the abstract but rather championed Christian slaveholding as it was practiced in the American South. Though conceding that some forms of slavery might be evil, Southern slavery was not.” [6]

The former Governor of South Carolina, John Henry Hammond, led the religiously based counter argument to the abolitionists. 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.” [7] 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.” [8]

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.” [9] The basic understanding was that slavery existed because “God had providential purposes for slavery.” [10]

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.” [11] But simply citing scripture to justify the reality of a system of which they reaped the benefit, is just part of the story. The real 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.” [12] 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 of which Southern slaveholders, especially evangelicals took umbrage, for in their understanding good men could own slaves. Their defense was rooted in their theology. 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.” [13] 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…” [14]

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.” [15] But some Southern blacks accepted the basic tenets of 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.” [16]

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.” [17]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.” [18]

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.” [19] 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” [20] out of the hands of literalists.

However the real schisms between the Northern and Southern branches of the major denominations which began to emerge in the mid to late 1830s continued to grow with the actual breakups of the major denominations coming in the 1840s. The first denomination to split were the Methodists. This occurred in 1844 when “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.” [21] Not all Methodists in the South agreed with this split and a few Methodist abolitionists in the South “broke away from mainline Methodism to form the Free Methodist Church.” [22]

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” [23] 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.” [24]

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.” [25] 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.” [26] 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.” [27]

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.” [28] 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.” [29] 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.” [30]

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.” [31] The split in the Presbyterian Church had been obvious for years despite their outward unity. Some 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.” [32]

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.” [33]

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.” [34] 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.” [35] 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.” [36]

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.” [37]

The fact that so many Protestant ministers, intellectuals, and theologians, not only Southerners, but men like “Princeton’s venerable theologian Charles B. Hodge – supported the institution of slavery on biblical grounds, often dismissing abolitionists as liberal progressives who did not take the Bible seriously” leaves a troubling question over those who claim to oppose issues on supposedly Biblical grounds. Such men in the North spoke out for it “in order to protect and promote interests concomitant to slavery, namely biblical traditionalism, and social and theological authority.” [38] The Northern clerical defenders of slavery perceived the spread of abolitionist preaching as a threat, not just to slavery “but also to the very principle of social and ecclesiastical hierarchy.” [39] Alistair McGrath asks a very important question for modern Christians who might be tempted to support a position for the same reasons today, “Might not the same mistakes be made all over again, this time over another issue?” [40]

Notes

[1] 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

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

[3] Ibid. Daly When Slavery Was Called Freedom p.69

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

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

[6] Ibid. Varon Disunion! p.109

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[38] Ibid. Daly When Slavery Was Called Freedom p.38

[39] Ibid. Varon Disunion! P.108

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

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Beginnings of Women’s Equality and the Civil War

senecafalls-womanspeaking

Seneca Falls Convention

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

This is a newly written section of my introductory chapter for my Civil War and Gettysburg text. In that introductory chapter I dealt with many of the tactical, technological, doctrinal and military sociological changes which occurred in the Civil War. In later revisions I added a section on emancipation and the role of African American soldiers during the war. However, I realized when doing my research that in the years leading to the war and during the war that the modern women’s movement really began, in large part due to the role of women in Abolitionist circles. Thus as a coda to the section on emancipation and African American soldiers I added this small section.

Have a blessed weekend,

Peace

Padre Steve+ 

 

Garrison and the leaders of the abolitionist movement came into contact with two southern women who had converted to the abolitionist cause; South Carolina cotton heiresses, Sarah and Angelina Grimke. The two women were passionate as well as eloquent and became popular lecturers on the abolitionist speaking circuit. These women brought Garrison into contact with the early leaders of the new women’s rights movement. The leaders of the movement, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Abby Kelley, and Lydia Maria Child were outspoken in their belief that “a campaign to emancipate slaves could not avert its eyes from the need to emancipate American women from social conventions and legal restraints that prevented them, like the slave, from owning property and voting, and kept them altogether subservient to the interests of white males.” [1]

Women in the United States were bound by English common law, and “marriage very nearly meant the legal annihilation of a woman…once a woman was married all property and property rights were transferred to her husband, and she was permitted to own nothing in her own name. Married women could not make contracts, could not sue, could not buy or sell, except over their husband’s signatures.” [2] A married woman’s position was as close to being a slave as could be, and only the plight of black female slaves was worse, for they were simply chattel. The few free black women mainly stayed unmarried “in order to maintain what few property rights they were entitled to.” [3] As they also did over blacks, white men ruled over women in all spheres of life.

Stanton was among the most vocal of women’s rights advocates. She believed that a woman’s place in the home “reflected her subordinate position in society and confined her to domestic duties that served to “destroy her confidence in her own powers, lessen her self respect, and to make her willing to lead a dependent and abject life.” [4] She noted that women were “more fully identified with the slave than man possibly can be… For while the man is born to do whatever he can, for the woman and the negro the is no such privilege.” [5] Since nearly all of the most “outspoken feminists had been schooled in abolitionist movement” they were “suspect in the South, where society was conservative, patriarchal, and insistence that ladies live in a kind of earthly limbo.” [6] Since the South was turning away from anything closely connected with the abolitionist moment, many there also rejected any form of women’s rights.

But even with the abolition movement there was opposition the women’s rights. In May of 1840 Garrison’s American Anti-Slavery Society split when leading evangelicals led by the Tappan brothers withdrew from it. But that neither stopped Garrison from working with them, nor Frederick Douglass from embracing them. From this rather inauspicious beginning, the women’s rights movement began to infiltrate society, especially in the field of education. In 1848 at Seneca New York there was a convention which launched the modern women’s rights movement. Led by Stanton and Elizabeth Mott the delegates published a “Declaration of Sentiments, modeled on the Declaration of Independence, proclaimed “that all men and women are created equal” and deserved their “inalienable rights” include the right to elective franchise.” [7] The declaration was bold and its denunciation of the place of women in society to be considered revolutionary in character. Part read:

“He has never permitted her to exercise her inalienable right to elective franchise. He has compelled her to submit to laws, in the formation of which she had no voice. He has withheld from her rights which are given to the most ignorant and degraded men – both natives and foreigners… He has made her, if married, in the eye of the law, civilly dead. He has taken from her all right to property, even to the wages that she earns…. After depriving her of all her rights as a married woman, if single, and the owner of property, he has taxed her to support a government which recognizes her only when her property can be made profitable to it. He has monopolized nearly all the profitable employments, and from those she is permitted to follow she receives but a scanty remuneration. He closes against her all the avenues to wealth and distinction which he considers honorable to himself. As a teacher of theology, medicine of the law, she is not known… He has created a false public sentiment by giving the world a different code of morals for men and women, by which moral delinquencies which exclude women from society, are not only tolerated, but deemed of little account in man. He has usurped the prerogative of Jehovah alone, claiming his right to assign for her a sphere of action, when that belongs to her conscience and to her God. He has endeavored, in every way that he could, to destroy her confidence in her own powers, lessen her self-respect, and to make her willing to lead an abject and dependent life.” [8]

The declaration also stated, in words which inflamed many men that :“the history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object of an absolute tyranny over her.” [9]

While the movement made modest progress regarding property rights in some states, they made little progress in terms of elective franchise and better wages and working conditions. During the ante-bellum period, women who lobbied for such rights were met with open opposition and scorn. The press “frequently denounced and ridiculed the “strong-minded women…” [10] Despite such attitudes women did make some significant advancements, particularly in lay aspects of the church, such as Bible societies, moral reform organizations, as well as the abolition and temperance movements, which had gained prominence during the Second Great Awakening.

Educationally women made great progress. By 1850 the United States was the only country where “girls went to elementary school and achieved literacy in virtually the same proportion as boys.” [11] Likewise a few women entered higher education, particularly at women’s seminaries, which were for all practical purposes boarding schools which produced teachers and writers, as well as the Oberlin College which was founded by Christian abolitionists and welcomed students of both genders as well as of any racial minority. During the three decades prior to the war women made some specific gains, but more important “was the development to their talents for organization, cooperation, leadership, and self expression. It was a time of beginnings and not fulfillment, a time when most women realized and accepted the fact that they lived in a man’s world, a time when a few dedicated but belligerent visionaries were frustrated in their attempt to remake the social order “overnight.” [12]

However, the war would help bring about many more opportunities for women. In 1850 a follow on conference to the Seneca conference, the National Women’s Rights Convention denied the right of anyone to dictate what women could do with their lives:

“The right of any portion of the species to decide for another portion, of any individual to decide for another Individual what is not their “proper sphere”; that the proper sphere for all human beings is the largest and highest to which they are able to attain; what this is, can not be ascertained without complete Liberty of choice; women therefore, ought to choose for herself what sphere she will fill, what education she will seek, and what employment she will follow, and will not be bound to accept, in submission, the rights, the education, and the place which man thinks proper to allow her.” [13]

sarah_seelye

Of course when war broke out the logical end of this train of though was should women be allowed to serve in the military. Quite a few women on both sides of the conflict chaffed about not being allowed to fight for their countries. However, despite official prohibitions that kept women from serving in any capacity but nursing, a good number of women found their way to war, taking male identities in order to gain the economic privileges, and in the case of war, the glory reserved to men. In our modern parlance they would be called transvestites, but their “transvestitism was a private rebellion against public conventions. By taking a male social identity, they secured for themselves male power and independence, as well as full status as citizens of their nation. In essence the Civil War was an opportunity for hundreds of women to escape the confines of their sex.” [14]

During the war hundreds of women went to war, taking on the identity of men. They enlisted under male names and pretended to be men. Unless they were discovered to be women, or unless they confessed to their wartime service either during or after the war, most of their records are lost. At least five women, two Federal and three Confederate took part at Gettysburg. All three Confederates were either killed or wounded, or captured, including two women who took part in Pickett’s Charge.

Wartime records are sketchy but as a minimum it is believed that “between 250 and 400 women disguised as men found their way into either the Federal or Confederate armies.” [15] Women known to have served had a “combined casualty rate of 44 percent” including the fact that “eleven percent of women soldiers died in the military.” [16]

Other women would serve as spies or nurses and some of those discovered remained protected by fellow soldiers. Many received promotions and even served as NCOs or junior officers. With women now serving in combat or combat support roles in the U.S. Military since Operation Desert Storm in 1991, the stigma and scandal that these cross-dressing women soldiers of the Civil War has faded and as scholars and the public both “continue probing cultural notions of gender and identity, the reemerging evidence that women historically and successfully engaged in combat has met with less intellectual resistance and has taken on new cultural significance.” [17] As the United States military services examine the issues surrounding further moves to integrate the combat arms we also should attempt to more closely examine the service of the brave and often forgotten women who served on both sides of the Civil War.

Notes

[1] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening pp.49-50

[2] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.391

[3] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.391

[4] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.74

[5] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.50

[6] Massey, Mary Elizabeth, Women in the Civil War University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln NE 1966 p. 19

[7] Ibid. McPherson Battle Cry of Freedom p.36

[8] Blanton, DeAnne and Cook, Lauren M. They Fought Like Demons: Women Soldiers in the Civil War Vintage a books, a Division of Random House New York 2002 pp.3-4

[9] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.392

[10] Ibid. Massey Women in the Civil War pp.21-22

[11] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.36

[12] Ibid. Massey Women in the Civil War p.23

[13] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.392.

[14] Ibid. Blanton and Cook They Fought Like Demons p.5

[15] ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.394

[16] Ibid. Blanton and Cook They Fought Like Demons pp.206-207

[17] Ibid. Blanton and Cook They Fought Like Demons p.204

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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.

roger-b-taney-1-sized

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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