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A Moment in Time Part Four: The Ongoing Struggle from Women’s Rights


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

For the last few days I have going back to a part of my Gettysburg and Civil War text dealing with women’s rights. This is the conclusion of that series of articles. I have spent a lot of time working on this section recently, and will probably do some more in the coming weeks, but I think that you will find it interesting, and still relevant in our society.

Peace

Padre Steve+

The struggle for Women’s rights continued after the war, which neither advanced nor reduced the rights of women, but the end of the war marked a change in the relationship with women’s rights advocates and their former allies in Congress. Likewise, the same evangelical churches which many of the women’s rights leaders had begun their crusades “which had been in the forefront of ante-bellum reform upheld the status quo.” [1] This was true of their support for women’s rights, as well as civil rights for blacks, and supported the use of force against strikers.

After laboring alongside abolitionists to abolish slavery and pass the Thirteenth Amendment, women’s rights leaders lobbied to have women’s suffrage linked to that of black suffrage and asked Congress to include universal suffrage as parts of the Fourteenth, and then the Fifteenth Amendments. However, Radical Republicans were fearful that including women’s rights in either measure could lead to black citizenship and suffrage to be rejected, and was a bitter disappointment to Stanton, Anthony and other Women’s rights leaders.

Stanton responded to one of the Congressmen who refused to support it by noting that failing to include women in these measures actually hurt the cause of African Americans and would doom Reconstruction because it would exclude black women from suffrage,, “our former champions forsook principle for policy, and in giving women the cold shoulder raised a more deadly opposition to the negro than we had yet encountered, creating an antagonism between him and the element most needed to be propitiate do on his behalf…. But Mr. Smith abandons the principle clearly involved and I trenches himself on policy. He would undoubtedly please the necessity of the ballot for the negro at the south for his protection, and to point to innumerable acts of cruelty he suffers to-day. But all of these things fall as heavily on the women of the black race, yea, far more so, for no man can ever know the damning degradation to which woman is subject in her youth, in helplessness and poverty…. Women everywhere are waking up to their God-given rights, to their true dignity as citizens of a republic, as mothers of the race…” [2]


Susan B. Anthony was arrested with a number of other women and convicted of trying to vote in the 1872 elections. After her conviction she condemned the resistance of white male politicians to universal suffrage, and of attempts throughout the country to limit and even role back suffrage rights which had been granted to African Americans after the war. After her trial and conviction she proclaimed, “This government is no democracy…. It is an odious aristocracy; a hateful oligarchy of sex” that placed “father, brothers, husbands, sons… over the mother and sisters, of every household.” [3]

Despite the setbacks suffered by women, the cause of women’s rights continued to grow as women asserted themselves in the workplace, in the press, in lobbying for workplace safety, and taking up leadership roles in the labor movement. Likewise the opportunities for women working in Federal Government agencies which had opened during the war continued to grow. “By 1875 the number in Washington had doubled. Federal, State, and local agencies were employing women clerks, bookkeepers, stenographers, and receptionists…. Competition for jobs was keen because wages were higher and workdays shorter than most other lines of work, and it was exciting to live in the nation’s capital.” [4] even so there was a certain amount of insecurity in such work as many Civil Service jobs were dependent on the patronage of elected officials. It was not until the first civil service acts in the 1880s that the danger of job loss from political change was minimized.

In the 1890s educational opportunities for women advanced as women’s colleges and land grant colleges open their doors to women as students, and later professors. Likewise, the establishment of teacher’s colleges and vocational training institutions expanded opportunities for women as the need for teachers and other specialists grew as the nation expanded. The women nurses of the war continued to find employment, and some went to Europe where they let their service to the French and Prussians during the Franco-Prussian War. After the war new nursing schools were opened, and medical colleges that allowed women to attend were established. By the 1890s “more than a dozen medical colleges were co-educational, including those of Syracuse, California, Iowa, and Harvard University.” [5] Medical societies began opening their doors to women as well, but in many cases the walls fell slowly as prejudice against women remained as strong as it ever was.

Even so, none of these efforts went without opposition, and in the face of it the movement itself split into a radical faction headed by Susan B. Anthony “which continued to press for a national constitutional amendment and a moderated wing led by Mary Livermore and Henry Ward Beecher which wanted to limit the campaign to what could be accomplished in state legislatures.” [6]

Sadly, none of the pioneers of women’s rights would live to see the passage and ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment which gave women the right to vote in 1920. The Equal Pay Act, which mandated the equal pay for Federal employees did not pass until 1963, and the ill-fated Equal Rights Amendment which simply stated “That equality of rights under the law shall not be abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex” was introduced in 1923, but not passed by Congress in 1972,  but was never ratified falling three states short of ratification, mainly due to the opposition of religious conservatives who propagandize diet as a threat to traditional gender roles, citing in particular that the amendment might result in women being subject to the draft.

Even so, in the years following the failure of the amendment, women have continued to advance in the private sector, government, and the military, with women rising to be Chief Executive Officers of Fortune 500 companies, in elected office, as Cabinet Secretaries and on the Supreme Court, and even as four-star Generals and Admirals in the U.S. Military. Today women make up over half of college graduates and nearly half of the work force. To further increase opportunity the Department of Defense decided to open military occupational combat arms specialties previously restricted to men to women in 2015. Even so women can still be legally paid less, and discriminated against based on their gender in many states.

Notes

[1] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame: How the Civil War Created a Nation p.468

[2] Stanton, Elizabeth Cady, Letter to Congressman Gerrit Smith, from The Revolution 14 January 1869 in The Civil War and Reconstruction: A Documentary Collection edited by William E. Gienapp, W.W. Norton and Company, New York and London. 2001 p.361

[3] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame: How the Civil War Created a Nation p.468

[4] Ibid. Massey Women in the Civil War pp.340-341

[5] Ibid. Massey Women in the Civil War p.352

[6] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p.403  

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One Brief Moment Part Three: Harriet Tubman, Soldier and Spy


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Over the past few days I have been going back to a part of my Gettysburg and Civil War text dealing with women’s rights. I took a break from that yesterday to share a few thoughts on the 20th anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood. Sadly I had already posted that and was far too busy to spend any time on the terribly tragic events of the past few days in Dallas, St. Paul, and Baton Rouge. These senseless killings have left me stunned, I cannot believe that we have come to this. The carefully executed assassination of the Dallas Police officers who were marching with and providing security for Black Lives Matter marchers, and the video recorded killings of black men in St. Paul and Shreveport by police have left me wondering about our future as a nation. I don’t think that we can keep going on like this and survive. I will write more about this and post it Sunday or Monday as I want to be as objective as possible. 

So today I am posting a section of the portion of my text dealing with a most amazing woman, Harriet Tubman. The more I ready about her the more I stand I awe. This section was a lot less detailed that in is now. I have spent a lot of time working on this section recently, and will probably do some more in the coming weeks, but I think that you will find it interesting, and still relevant in our society.

So until tomorrow, I with you peace, health, and safety,

Peace

Padre Steve+

The innate prejudices of many military and political leaders about the abilities and limitations of women in military service, often caused them to overlook how women could use that prejudice to their advantage, especially as spies. “African American women were generally dismissed as militarily harmless, a miscalculation that Harriet Tubman…used to immense advantage. Tubman, who had escaped from slavery in Maryland twenty years before the war and who had amassed considerable experience venturing into the south to guide runaways to the North undertook spying expeditions for the Federal troops on the South Carolina Sea Islands.” [1] The incredibly brave woman served throughout the war accompanying Union forces and securing vital information even as she worked to set other slaves free. Tubman’s “spying activities included convincing slaves to trust the Union invaders,” [2] many of whom would join the ranks of the newly raised regiments of U.S. Colored Troops.


Tubman had been fighting her personal civil war for over twenty years before the war began. As an escaped slave she returned to the South time and time again as a “conductor” on the Underground Railroad, smuggling escaped slaves out of the South and to freedom. She “successfully returned nineteen more times, bringing out an estimated 300 to 400 people…. She worked with a determination bordering on ruthlessness: if an escaped slave tarried, she pushed him in; if a baby cried she muffled the sound.as she herself said later…. “I was the conductor on the Underground Railroad for eight years, and I can say what most conductors can’t say – I never ran my train off the track and I never lost one passenger.” [3]

In early 1863, Union commanders in South Carolina decided that Tubman would be valuable as a covert operative to lead reconnaissance missions behind Confederate lines and along contested waterways where Confederate personnel had laid torpedoes, what we now know as sea mines, and she organized a small unit of nine men who used small boats to find the torpedoes and warn the captains of Union vessels operating in those streams and rivers.

Eventually, Tubman’s actives “evolved into a kind of special forces operation under Colonel James Montgomery. A fervent believer in guerrilla warfare, Montgomery was a veteran of antislavery border fighting in Kansas.” The pair developed some of the most effective operations mounted by irregular and regular forces conducted by the Union in the war. In July 1863, Tubman came up with a plan for a raid, and in it acted as “Montgomery’s second-in-command during a night raid up the Combahee River, near Beaufort, South Carolina. The Union gunboats, carrying some 300 black troops, slipped up the river, eluding torpedoes that Tubman’s men had spotted. Undetected, the raiders swarmed ashore, destroyed a Confederate supply depot, torched homes and warehouses, and rounded up more than 750 rice plantation slaves.” [4]

The Confederate report on the raid unwittingly ended up praising the work of Tubman and the freed slaves of her unit. It noted that the enemy “seems to have been well posted as to the character and capacity of our troops… and seems to have been well guided with persons thoroughly acquainted with the river and country.” Union Brigadier General Rufus Saxton wrote to Secretary of War Stanton praised Tubman’s work, noting, “This is the only military command in American history wherein a woman, black or white, led to raid, and under whose inspiration, it was originated and conducted.” [5]

Tubman continued her work for the duration of the war and after it continued to assist freed slaves and black veterans and continued her work with campaign for women’s suffrage. In 1890 she was awarded a pension for her work as a spy, nurse, and combat leader. The valiant pioneer of abolition, women’s suffrage, and combat in war who was nicknamed “the General” by Frederick Douglass, died in 1913, and was buried with full military honors.

Other women served in various roles caring for the wounded. In the North, “Dorothea Dix organized the Union’s army nurses for four years without pay; Mary Livermore headed the Union’s Sanitary Commission, inspecting army camps and hospitals….Scores of others like Clara Barton, volunteered to be nurses.” [6] All of these women did remarkable service, mostly as volunteers, and many witnessed the carnage of battle close up as the cared for the wounded and the dying which often created ethic concerns for the women nurses:

“Clara Barton described her crisis of conscience when a young man on the verge of death mistook her for his sister May. Unable to bring herself actually to address him as “brother,” she nonetheless kissed his forehead so that, as she explained, “the act had done the falsehood the lips refused to speak.” [7]

The very existence of so many women who served in the ranks during the Civil War, and their “demonstrated competence as combatants, challenge long-held assumptions about gender roles…. From a historical perspective, the women warriors of the Civil War were not just ahead of their time. They were ahead of our time.” [8]

Of the women that served in the ranks during the war, some were discovered, and many of them remained protected by their fellow soldiers. Quite a few of these closeted women soldiers 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.” [9] 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.

In addition to these tasked many other women were engaged in the war as “supply organizers, relief workers, pamphleteers all aided the cause, and female journalists covered it. Dorothea Dix and Clara Barton became powerful forces helping soldiers; Anna Carroll provided the propaganda. And the Civil War boasted its own version of Rosie the Riveter, women who did the dangerous work of making munitions at arsenals, many losing their lives in awful accidents.” [10]

Likewise, the war caused many educated women to take much more interest in “political and military issues and led many women to articulate a sharper consciousness of national affairs…. The feminist paper The Mayflower commented that “nearly every letter we receive breathes a spirit of deep feeling on the war question.” The editorial added that among women, “There seems to be little disposition to think, speak, read or write of anything else.” [11] In particular one women, Anna Ella Carroll, the daughter of Thomas King Carroll, a former governor of Maryland, “was interested in political theory and practice and was a profound logical thinker as well as an effective propagandist for the Union.” [12]  During the war she was in part responsible for persuading the governor of Maryland to keep the pro-secession legislature from meeting in 1861, defended Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus in that state, and is believed to have originated the military strategy in the Tennessee River Campaign, for which she was never given full credit even though there is documentary evidence that many leaders knew of her involvement. A recent biographer concluded that she “was a “tragic victim of reconstruction,” for if a military strategist, she was not given due credit.” [13] In the South it was often the same, the diaries of many educated Southern women show a tremendous interest and discernment of what was happening during the war, and in domestic politics, and frequently expressed their criticism of government and military strategy as the war continued.

Notes

[1] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p.394

[2] Sizer, Lyde Cullen Acting Her Part: Narratives of Union Women Spies in Divided Houses: Gender and the Civil War Oxford University Press, New York and Oxford 1992 p.130

[3] Ibid. Sizer Acting Her Part: Narratives of Union Women Spies  p. 127

[4] Ibid. Central Intelligence Agency, Intelligence in the Civil War location 481 of 991

[5] Ibid. Central Intelligence Agency, Intelligence in the Civil War location 481-482 of 9911

[6] Ibid. Silvey I’ll Pass for Your Comrade p.10

[7] Faust, Drew Gilpin, This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War Vintage Books, a division of Random House, New York 2008 p.12

[8] Ibid. Blanton and Cook They Fought Like Demons p.208

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

[10] Ibid. Roberts Capital Dames: The Civil War and the Women of Washington 1848-1868 p.3

[11] Attie, Jeanie Warwork and the Crisis of Domesticity in the North in Divided Houses: Gender and the Civil War edited by Catherine Clinton and Nina Silber, Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1992 p.253

[12] Ibid. Massey Women in the Civil War p. 168

[13] Ibid. Massey Women in the Civil War p.169

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One Brief Moment Part Two: Women Soldiers, Spies and Nurses in the Civil War

Clayton-Francis-L

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today and for the next few days I am going back to a part of my Gettysburg and Civil War text dealing with women’s rights. This one continues yesterday’s article, and deals with some of the facts about women who masqueraded as men in order to serve as soldiers. I have spent a lot of time working on this section recently, and will probably do some more in the coming weeks, but I think that you will find it interesting, and still relevant in our society.

Peace

Padre Steve+

women-civil-war-sarah-edmonds-frank-thompson-631

Of course when war broke out the logical end of this train of thought was should women be allowed to serve in the military. Legally and socially it was not possible for women to serve in the military in 1861, but this did not stop women from doing so. Even so, “women were not expected to defend their country, and when they did nevertheless and were found out, they learned that they were not necessarily a welcome addition to the military. Women who returned home after the Civil War as veterans reaped few of the societal rewards for having rendered such service.” [1] Quite a few women on both sides of the conflict chaffed about not being allowed to fight for their countries, their families and their causes, and despite official prohibitions that kept women from serving in any capacity but nursing, a good number of women found their way to go to war. While men in the North and South “were expected to enlist, any woman actively participating in the Civil War was an oddity if not a renegade.” [2] In some cases this involved hundreds of women taking male identities in order to fulfill their desires to serve their countries.

The motives of these women varied. In some cases women wanted gain the economic privileges of full citizenship, and for others the glory reserved to only to men. In our modern parlance those that took male identities would be considered transvestites or possibly transgender, but for them “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.” [3]

During the war hundreds of women went to war, dreaming of being a second Joan of Arc, taking on the identity of men, however, their idealistic vision of wanting to serve the cause of their country, was not viewed favorably by many, men and women alike, as “they were usually viewed by contemporaries as mentally unbalanced or immoral.” [4] Their morality was question, their motivation was questioned, and their character was questioned, all because they broke long held social, and religious barriers in order to fight for what they believed.

These brave and socially progressive women 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 were lost. In 1861 Private Franklin Thompson “enlisted in Company F of the 2nd Michigan Infantry…unknown to comrades, Thompson actually was Sarah Emma Edmonds.” [5] Edmonds served in the illustrious Iron Brigade until the disaster at Fredericksburg. Well known for her courage as Franklin Thompson, Edmonds participated in some of the bloodiest combats of the war. At Antietam she was caring for the wounded when she came upon a soldier who had been wounded in the neck. That soldier informed Edmonds that she was dying and after a surgeon came by and confirmed what the soldier said the dying soldier told Edmonds:

“I am not what I seem, but I am female. I enlisted from the purest motives, and I have remained undiscovered and unsuspected. I have neither father, mother nor sister. My only brother was killed today. I closed his eyes about an hour before I was wounded….I am Christian, and have maintained the Christian character ever since I entered the army. I have performed the duties of a soldier faithfully, and am willing to die for the cause of truth and freedom….I wish you to bury me with your own hands, that none may know after my death that I am other than my appearance indicates.” [6]

That unknown woman was not alone, at least nine women, eight Union and one Confederate, fought at Antietam and of those five were casualties. Five women, two Federal and three Confederate took part at Gettysburg. All three Confederate women at Gettysburg were either killed or wounded, or captured, including two women who took part in Pickett’s Charge. [7]

Edmonds_inline

Sarah Edmonds

Sarah Edmonds published a book Nurse and Spy in the Union Army while recovering from malaria in 1863. The book, which was published the following year, sold 175,000 copies, the proceeds that she donated to care for sick and wounded Union veterans. After the war, Edmonds attended Oberlin College, married, had three of her own children and adopted two more. She “became a member of the Grand Army of the Potomac, the organization for Union veterans of the Civil War. She applied for, and received, a military pension, and upon her death in 1898 was buried with full military honors.” [8] She was the only women admitted to the Grand Army of the Republic.

Another of the women to serve was Frances Louisa Clayton. Fighting for the Union as a member of the Minnesota State Militia Cavalry and 2nd Minnesota Battery, serving under the command of Ulysses S. Grant she was wounded at Fort Donelson. Like many other women soldiers, Clayton mastered the art of behaving as a man. She “became “a capital swordsman,” but also commanded attention with her “masculine stride in walking” and “her erect and soldierly carriage.” [9]

Albert-Cashier

However, most women were more discreet during and after the war regarding their true sexuality. Private Albert Cashier hid his sexuality identity for his entire term of service. He enlisted in August 1862 as a member of the 95th Illinois. Cashier was born in Ireland as a woman, Jennie Hodgers. He fought in forty battles and was discharged with the regiment in August 1865. At Vicksburg he was briefly captured by the Confederates while conducting a reconnaissance “but managed to escape by seizing a gun from one of her guards, knocking him down, and outrunning others. Comrades recalled Private Cashier climbing to the top of their fieldworks to taut the enemy into showing themselves.” [10]

After the war “Albert” returned home and lived as a “farmer and handyman and served as a caretaker in his church. He never married.” In 1890 he applied for and received a military pension and in 1911 the now elderly “man” was struck by a car and suffered a broken leg. The doctor treating him discovered that Albert was not a man, but a woman. But the doctor kept his confidentiality and without revealing “Albert’s” secret had the Union veteran admitted to the local Soldier’s and Sailors’ Home at Quincy, Illinois.” [11] A few years later the elderly “man” began to exhibit erratic behavior and was “committed to a public mental hospital and the word was out.” [12] With her story now sensational front page news and “old comrades in arms came to her defense.” [13] Her comrades had never known that “Albert” was a man during or after the war, while the news was a surprise to them they came to her defense. To combat some of the sensationalism in the media Albert’s fellow soldiers testified “to Albert’s bravery in combat and public good works in later life. Albert/Jennie died at Watertown State Hospital in 1915 at age seventy-one. The local post of the Grand Army of the Republic arranged for her burial. Her headstone reads: “Albert D.J. Cashier, Company G, 95th Illinois Infantry.” [14]

There are similar accounts of women who served as soldiers in the Confederate army including Mrs. Amy Clarke who enlisted with her husband and continued to serve until after his death at the Battle of Shiloh. Her gender remained secret until she was wounded and captured by Union forces. As “soon as she had recovered they gave her a dress and sent her back into Confederate lines; but a short time later she was seen in Mississippi making plans to re-enlist.” [15]

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.”  [16] A more recent estimate is that in the Confederate army alone there were some 250 women who served as soldiers during the war. [17] Casualties were high for the women that are known to have served as soldiers, they had a “combined casualty rate of 44 percent” including the fact that fully “eleven percent of women soldiers died in the military.” [18] Some of those women are now well known but many others are lost to history. Most women tried to keep their sexual identities secret, even to the point of their death on the battlefield. Most of the women who served in the armies returned home to resume relatively normal lives after the war.

Other women would serve as spies for both sides, often rendering valuable assistance to their countries. The women who served as spies often took their lives into their hands; however, they often provided vital information to the Union or Confederate officers that they served. Pauline Cushman “parlayed her acting talents into a series of elaborate ruses that allowed her to pry information out of admiring and complaisant Confederate officers; Belle Boyd used an equal measure of talent in as a northern Virginia coquette to elide the same kind of information out of Federal officers.[19]

0065747

Elizabeth Van Lew

Even those women who were successful often suffered for their service during and after the war as they learned “that few people completely trusted or respected a spy, not even a “friend.” [20] Many, especially Southern women who spied for the Union were ostracized and persecuted in their communities after the war, and found little support from Northern politicians. Rebecca Wright, a young Quaker schoolteacher in Winchester, Virginia provided information that “enabled him to defeat General Early’s forces” in the Valley of 1864. She lost her job, and her former friends and neighbors boycotted her family’s businesses. Rejected for a pension, Sheridan helped Wright obtain “an appointment in a government office, remaining there for the rest of her days.” [21] Elizabeth Van Lew was a lifelong resident of Richmond and daughter of a wealthy businessman.  She helped Union prisoners escape from Richmond’s notorious Libby prison and when Grant besieged Petersburg, Miss Van Lew “supplied him with a steady stream of information” [22]

To be continued….

Notes

[1] Ibid. Blanton and Cook They Fought Like Demons p.209

[2] Silvey, Anita I’ll Pass for Your Comrade Clarion Books, New York 2008 p.9

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

[4] Ibid. Massey Women in the Civil War p.79

[5] Ibid. Lowry The Stories the Soldiers Wouldn’t Tell  p.119

[6] Ibid. Silvey I’ll Pass for Your Comrade p.68

[7] Ibid. Blanton and Cook They Fought Like Demons pp. 15-16

[8] Ibid. Silvey I’ll Pass for Your Comrade p.90

[9] Ibid. Blanton and Cook They Fought Like Demons p.58

[10] Ibid. Blanton and Cook They Fought Like Demons pp. 16-17

[11] Ibid. Lowry The Stories the Soldiers Wouldn’t Tell p.121

[12] Ibid. Lowry The Stories the Soldiers Wouldn’t Tell p.121

[13] Ibid. Silvey I’ll Pass for Your Comrade p.90

[14] Ibid. Lowry The Stories the Soldiers Wouldn’t Tell p.121

[15] Ibid. Massey Women in the Civil War p.81

[16] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p.394

[17] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning  p.87

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

[19] ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p.395

[20] Ibid. Massey Women in the Civil War p.87

[21] Ibid. Massey Women in the Civil War pp. 103-104

[22] Ibid. Massey Women in the Civil War p.102

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One Brief Moment: The Beginning of the Women’s Rights Movement

youngecs

Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today and for the next few days I am going back to a part of my Gettysburg and Civil War text dealing with women’s rights. As you might have noticed I frequently write about civil rights and history. This is important to me and I cannot imaging not trying to continually write and educate people about subjects that matter as much now as they did 150 years ago or more. I have spent a lot of time working on this section recently, and will probably do some more in the coming weeks, but I think that you will find it interesting, and still relevant in our society.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Another development, which in large part is related to the abolition movement, was the campaign for women’s rights. The Civil War was also revolutionary because it was instrumental in propelling women into positions in American society that they had never before been allowed. The war Some of this was because many women decided to like those who campaigned for the end of slavery and the rights of African Americans to turn the world upside down. The war allowed the women who served, “in uniform or not, war permitted these women to experiment with a series of role reversals in gender,” [1] and in some cases gender and race. These experiments were the beginning of the struggle for women’s equality and to women serving in the military.

In much of the country and in particular the South women’s rights were the same as granted in English Common Law. Common law held to the more archaic understanding of the Christian Church that women were the property of their husbands, especially in cases of infidelity including during the trial of Dan Sickles for killing Barton Key. But the war “imposed on American society as such social disruption as it did physical destruction. Within that disruption, for one brief and bloody historical moment, an entirely new way of ordering of race and gender within a republican society became possible,” [2] however, in the end it would take another century or more for much of this change to be realized.

Southern culture and law ensured that women had even few rights than the women in the North.  In the North women were making some gains in the workplace and in various professions such as teaching and nursing, and as the industrial revolution modernized the workplace and required more skilled workers, particularly in the textile industries, the availability of work for women who wanted to work outside the home increased. Even uneducated Northern women sought work in the growing number of factories and by 1860 “there were more than 270,000 female operatives, the vast majority being employed in Northern textile, shoe, clothing, printing, and publishing establishments. Over 135,000 worked in New England factories and composed 65 percent of the region’s industrial labor.” [3]  Educated Northern women, while excluded from most professions, found their way into teaching, nursing, non-ordained religious work, and writing. Some found work in Federal government agencies in Washington DC, including “Clara Barton, a successful teacher who had trouble landing a position because she was a women, found work in the Patent Office, where she briefly made the same salary as her male colleagues.” [4]

But in the South women were continued to be held back. This was in large part due to the understanding that the “household was a spatial unit, defined by the property to which the owner not only held legal title over, but over which he exercised exclusive rights.” [5] As such Southern men had nearly unlimited rights and power over what occurred on his property, for “in societies in which landed property comprised the chief means of subsistence…legal title to the land had historically incorporated claims over the persons and labor of those who were dependents on it.” [6] In the South, as opposed to the North comparatively few women entered the Southern labor market, in large part because of the region’s emphasis on agriculture, dependence on slave labor, and a culture that frowned on women working outside the home.  1860 when Northern women were becoming a force to be reckoned with in the labor market, “only 12,000 women worked in factories, 10 percent of the regions wage earners.” [7] The lack of trained and experienced women workers would be a crippling impediment to the Confederate War effort.

For Southern men the stakes of ensuring slavery’s continuation and expansion were high, the culture of the South ante-bellum South was deeply patriarchal and “The possibility that the black man might be empowered like any other was such a threat to the southern social hierarchy that some white southerners were inclined to fear not only for their position as slaveowners but for the entire basis of their claim to patriarchal power. They feared for their power not only over their slaves but over their women as well.[8]

William Lloyd 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. Angelina Grimke was a powerful speaker linked to abolition and women’s rights, she made herself unwelcome in her native Charleston South Carolina “with the publication of An Appeal to the Christian Women of the South. She urged Southern women, many of whom opposed slavery, to speak out, and despite her failure to reach the audience to which she spoke, hers is one of the most significant abolitionist writings.” [9] She proclaimed:

“We cannot push Abolitionism forward with all our might until we take up the stumbling block out of the road…. If we surrender the right to speak in public this year, we must surrender the right to petition next year, and the right to write the year after, and so on. What then can the woman do for the slave, when she herself is under the feet of man and shamed into silence?” [10]

Her sister Sarah was also active in writing, but she focused her attention not just on abolition, but “on the inferior status of both woman and the Negro in The Equality of the Sexes and the Condition of Women.” [11] The Grimke sisters and other women like them brought Garrison and others in the abolitionist movement 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.” [12]

The principals involved in the abolitionist and the women’s movements, those of freedom, emancipation and equality eventually forged a bond between them, and have provided inspiration to others in their quest for political and social equality. For William Lloyd Garrison “the woman question clearly demonstrated how the logic of reform united all good causes and carried them to new ground. If in their endeavors to break the chains of slavery women discovered, as Abby Kelley put it, that “we were manacled ourselves,” the abolitionist principle required a defense of equal rights without regard to race or sex.” [13]

While women and blacks were “being brought together in a dual crusade, often behind the same leaders,” [14] that did not mean that both parties were given equal consideration, even among the supporters of abolition and women’s rights. All to often, women found that their rights were not considered as important by the political leadership fighting for the rights of black men. Few in Congress “responded sympathetically to feminists’ demands. Reconstruction they insisted, was the “Negro’s hour,”  [15] a view shared by Frederick Douglass. Though the economic situation of women began to improve, especially through women being admitted to the Civil Service, much else remained unchanged, women were still second class citizens without the right to vote, with few legal rights, and few opportunities to move up in society apart from her husband.

But change was beginning to occur as women began to have more educational opportunities in the post-war years, and began to find employment opportunities with the expansion of industry. Women’s suffrage was not included in the Fifteenth Amendment, which caused a split between women’s groups and their long-time abolitionist allies who told them “If put on the same level and urged in the same connection, neither will soon be accomplished.” [16]   Even so in some territories women were granted the right to vote in territorial elections, “women were given the vote in Wyoming Territory in 1869. However, Wyoming’s admission as a state twenty years later came only after a heated debate on the women’s suffrage article in the state constitution.” [17]

In the 1800s women in the United States found themselves bound by two major factors, law and culture. English common law and early in the life of the Republic it was determined by John Adams that women should be exclude from political life as they were “unsuited by nature for the businesses of life or the hardy enterprises of war, they had nothing of value to offer the state.” [18] Women had no claim to property, wages, or even their children. Thomas Jefferson had “defined the essence of liberty as independence, which required ownership of productive property. A man dependent on others for a living could never truly be free, nor could a dependent class constitute the basis of republican government. Women, children, and slaves were dependent; that defined them out of the polity of republican freedmen.” [19] This understanding of the rights and citizenship of women persisted as the official law of the nation throughout the ante-bellum era, through and after the Civil War, and up until the passage and ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment.

As such, single women had few rights while married women had even fewer as, married women could not “own property in her own right, make contracts or otherwise conduct business of her own. She was supposed to be modest and submissive. The married woman, in fact, was for all intents and purposes the chattel of her husband.” [20] The reality was stark for women, but especially married women for as one historian noted: “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.” [21] Adult white women were citizens in a constitutional sense, but in the North and South alike their terms “of their citizenship had always been set by the perceived necessities of marriage and its gender asymmetries between man and woman, husband and wife.” [22]

The role of culture and religion was another major constraint on women’s rights during the ante-bellum period and much of this centered on Victorian social and cultural ideals which brought about what can be safely called a “a cult of true womanhood” which “dictated that women always appear demure, submissive, pious, and concerned with the home and family.” [23] In the Victorian ideal, it was the man whose sphere of life was in worldly pursuits, while women were limited to the task of bearing and raising children and maintaining the traditional private domain of hearth and home. This understanding of separate spheres was supported was often supported by the churches, especially those the conservative and evangelical variety.

While this was true in the North it was especially prevalent in the South and promoted by southern evangelical churches. The “explicit goal of southern evangelicalism was to keep the religious role of white women within narrow and carefully policed bounds. Evangelical Southerners clearly designated men as society’s (and women’s) rightful rulers and ultimate authorities. They were, in the 1830 words of Southern writer Virginia Carey, “the anointed lords of creation”; St. Paul’s injunction that wives “submit yourself to your own husbands as to the Lord” provided the text for many a Sunday sermon.” [24]

In matters of sexual behavior there was a pronounced double standard between men and women. If a man was an adulterer it was frowned upon, but not necessarily a condition that would invoke the scorn of the community unless an aggrieved husband took the law into his own hands and killed the adulterer, in which case the murderer could easily be forgiven. However, for the married adulteress, the social damnation was all too real, even from other women, who often believed that there was no excuse for such behavior and that the adulteress “deserved the most stringent fate for her violation of the dictates of virtue.” [25]

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.”  [26] As they also did over blacks, white men ruled over women in all spheres of life. While the eventual emancipation of blacks provided more rights for black men, those did not help many black women as Sojourner Truth, a pioneering African-American abolitionist who spent forty-years as a slave said toward the end of her long life:

“There is a great stir about colored men getting their rights, but not one word about colored women; and if colored men get their rights, and not colored women theirs, you see colored men will be master over the women, and it will be just as bad as it was before. So I am for keeping the thing going while things are still stirring because if we wait till it is still, it will take a great while to get it going again….I suppose I am the only colored woman that goes on to speak for the rights of the colored women. I want to keep the thing stirring, now that the ice is cracked…” [27]

Elizabeth Cady Stanton was among the most vocal of women’s rights advocates. She was the daughter of a leading Federalist lawyer, who served a term in the House of Representatives and on the New York Supreme Court. Her father planted in her the desire to learn, a love for law, and a passion for civil rights which she was able to pursue. Unlike many women of her day, Stanton was able to graduate from the Johnstown Academy and the Troy Female Academy in Troy, New York, before she was married to Henry Brewster Stanton, a journalist, anti-slavery orator and attorney, with who she had seven children.

Stanton believed that a woman’s place in the home was ultimately destructive and “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.” [28] Stanton noted how the condition of women of her day was “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.”  [29] It was a key observation and something even today, a state that some politicians, pundits and preachers would like to return women.

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.”  [30]  Such women posed a threat to the pillars of Southern society. Since the South was now fighting tooth and nail against the abolitionist movement, anything closely connected with that movement, including the women who advocated abolition and women’s rights were shunned and their message rejected and inflammatory and revolutionary. It was not until the crisis caused by the Civil war that Southern women began to seize “the opportunity to lay claim to an increased reciprocity in gender relations.” [31]

But even with the abolition movement there was opposition the women’s rights, the 1839 meeting of the American Anti-Slavery Society witnessed a debate over including women in the membership. Conservative Evangelicals recoiled in disgust, and when the convention voted to allow women into the membership Lewis Tappan “got up a starchy “protest” which condemned the “repugnant” admission of women as an ‘expression of local and sectarian feelings…well suited to the unnecessary reproach and embarrassment to the cause of the enslaved as [it] is at variance with the general usage and sentiments of this and other nations.” [32] In May of 1840 the American Anti-Slavery Society split among religious lines when leading evangelicals led by the Tappan brothers withdrew from it.

senecafalls-womanspeaking

But that neither stopped Garrison from working with women, nor kept Frederick Douglass from embracing them as part of the abolitionist movement. 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 that 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.” [33] 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.” [34]

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.” [35] In the years following this meeting women took up an even more important place in the abolitionist movement, Abby Kelly Foster returned to head the work and recruited many talented women agents including Sallie Holley, Lucy Stone and Susan B. Anthony who “often made five or six appearances a week” in various abolitionist meetings and in 1850-1851 they were joined by the “black evangelist Sojourner Truth, whom Garrison had met and the Northampton colony in 1843 and for whom he had printed an autobiographical narrative.” [36] These women contributed greatly to the abolitionist cause and would in the years to come be among those who continued to fight not only for the rights of blacks, but the rights of women.

The new women’s rights groups continued to work hand in hand with the abolitionist groups but also began a campaign for the rights of women. In the mid-1850s primarily focused on “obtaining state laws guaranteeing women’s right to control their property and wages, to be legal guardians of their children, and to be paid salaries commensurate with their labors, while a few women advocated for more liberal divorce laws so that they could rid themselves of alcoholic, insane, criminal, or brutal husbands.” [37] These efforts secured some modest gains and by 1861 most states had granted women some type of property rights or had changed their laws to follow the community property principle.

While the movement made modest progress regarding property rights for women 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…” [38] 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.

During the ante-bellum period women made great progress in education. 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.” [39] Likewise a few women entered higher education, particularly at women’s seminaries, which were for all practical purposes boarding schools that 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.” [40]

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.”  [41]

To be continued…

Notes

[1] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning  p.395

[2] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p.374

[3] Massey, Mary Elizabeth, Women in the Civil War University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln NE 1966 p.5

[4] Roberts, Cokie Capital Dames: The Civil War and the Women of Washington, 1848-1868 Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2015 p.18

[5] McCurry, Stephanie The Politics of Yeoman Households in South Carolina  in  Divided Houses: Gender and the Civil War Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1992 p.23

[6] Ibid. McCurry The Politics of Yeoman Households in South Carolina p.23

[7] Ibid. Massey Women in the Civil War p.5

[8] Whites, Leeann The Civil War as a Crisis in Gender in Major Problems in the Civil War and Reconstruction, 3rd Edition Edited by Michael Perlman and Murrell Taylor Wadsworth Centage Learning, Boston 2011 p.16

[9] Ibid. Massy Women in the Civil War p.15

[10] Ibid. Zinn The Other Civil War p.121

[11] Ibid. Massey Women in the Civil War p. 16

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

[13] Mayer, Henry All on Fire: William Lloyd Garrison and the Abolition of Slavery  W.W. Norton and Company, New York and London 1998 p.265

[14] Ibid. Massey Women in the Civil War p.16

[15] Ibid. Foner Forever Free p.124

[16] Ibid. Foner Forever Free p.125

[17] Ibid. Massey Women in the Civil War p. 358

[18] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.24

[19] Ibid. McPherson Battle Cry of Freedom p.23

[20] Brant, Nat The Congressman Who Got Away with Murder Syracuse University Press, Syracuse New York 1991 p.67

[21] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.391

[22] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.23

[23] 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 p.3

[24] Ibid. Levine, Bruce Half Slave and Half Free: The Roots of the Civil War Revised Edition p.114

[25] Ibid. Brant The Congressman Who Got Away with Murder p.141

[26] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.391

[27] Ibid. Zinn The Other Civil War pp.53-54

[28] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.74

[29] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.50

[30] Ibid. Massey Women in the Civil War p. 19

[31] Ibid. Whites The Civil War as a Crisis in Gender p.21

[32] Ibid. Mayer All on Fire p.267

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

[34] Ibid. Blanton and Cook They Fought Like Demons: Women Soldiers in the Civil War pp.3-4

[35] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.392

[36] Ibid. Mayer All on Fire p.424

[37] Ibid. Massey Women in the Civil War p.21

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

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

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

[41] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p.392

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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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