Gordon Rhea

This year initiates the commemoration the the Sesquicentennial of the civil War. This is an occasion for significant reflection on a war that killed some 600,000 of our citizens and left plenty of hundreds that thousands emotionally and also physically scarred. Interpreted into today’s terms – our nation is ten times an ext populous 보다 it to be then -- the dead would number some 6 million, with tens of millions an ext wounded, maimed, and psychologically damaged. The price was indeed catastrophic.

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As a Southerner through ancestors who combated for the Confederacy, I have been intrigued v the concern of why mine ancestors felt compelled to leaving the United claims and collection up their own country. What carried the American experiment to that extreme juncture?

The quick answer, of course, is Abraham Lincoln’s election as president of the joined States. What involved Southerners most around Lincoln’s choice was his opposition to the growth of slavery right into the territories; Southern politicians were clear around that. If new states can not be servant states, go the argument, then it was only a matter of time before the South’s clout in Congress would fade, abolitionists would certainly be ascendant, and the South’s “peculiar institution” – the appropriate to own human beings as home – would certainly be in peril.

It is easy to understand why slave owners would be concerned around the threat, genuine or imagined, the Lincoln posed to slavery. Yet what about those Southerners that did not very own slaves? Why would certainly they danger their livelihoods by leaving the joined States and pledging allegiance to a new nation grounded in the proposition the all men are not produced equal, a country established to maintain a type of residential or commercial property that lock did not own?

In order to find response to this question, you re welcome travel ago with me come the southern of 1860. Let’s placed ourselves right into the skin the Southerners who lived over there then. It is what being an historian is about: placing yourself into the psychic of world who live in another time to understand things from your perspective, indigenous their point of view. Let’s set aside what world said and also wrote later, after the dust had actually settled. Let’s wipe the historic slate clean and visit the south of 150 years earlier through the documents that survive from the time. What were Southerners saying to other Southerners about why they had to secede?

There is, that course, a historical backdrop that created the foundation of endure for Southerners in 1860. More than 4 million enslaved humans lived in the south, and they touched every element of the region’s social, political, and also economic life. Slaves did not simply work on plantations. In urban such as Charleston, they cleaned the streets, toiled as bricklayers, carpenters, blacksmiths, bakers, and laborers. They operated as dockhands and also stevedores, grew and sold produce, purchased goods and carted them back to your masters’ dwellings where they cooked the meals, cleaned, elevated the children, and also tended to the daily chores. “Charleston looks an ext like a Negro country than a country worked out by white people,” a visitor remarked.

Fear the a servant rebellion was palpable. The facility of a black color republic in Haiti and also the insurrections, threatened and also real, of Gabriel Prosser, Denmark Vesey, and Nat Turner stoked the fires. John Brown’s raid at Harper’s Ferry sent shock waves v the south. Throughout the years leading approximately 1860, slavery was a burning national issue, and also political war raged end the join of brand-new states as servant or free. Compromises were struck – the Missouri Compromise, the weaken of 1850 – however the conflict could no be laid come rest.

The south felt increasingly beleaguered as the North boosted its criticism the slavery. Abolitionist societies sprang up, northern publications demanded the immediate end of slavery, politicians waxed shrill about the immorality of person bondage, and also overseas, the British parliament terminated enslavement in the british West Indies. A prominent chronicler accurately listed that “by the late 1850’s many white Southerners viewed themselves as prisoners in their very own country, condemned by what they saw as a hysterical abolition movement.”

As Southerners became increasingly isolated, they reaction by becoming much more strident in defending slavery. The school was not simply a necessary evil: it was a confident good, a practical and also moral necessity. Managing the slave population was a issue of concern for all Whites, even if it is they owned slaves or not. Curfews administrate the movement of servants at night, and vigilante committees patrolled the roads, dispensing an overview justice come wayward slaves and also whites suspected of harboring abolitionist views. Legislations were passed versus the dissemination of abolitionist literature, and also the South increasingly resembled a police state. A prominent Charleston lawyer defined the city’s citizens as living under a “reign of terror.”


With that backdrop, let’s take our trip earlier in time to hear what Southerners were hearing. What were they being told by their pastors, by their politicians, and also their neighborhood leaders about slavery, Lincoln, and also secession?

Churches to be the center of social and also intellectual life in the south. The was where human being congregated, wherein they learned about the world and also their ar in it, and where castle received ethical guidance. The clergy consisted of the community’s social leaders and educators and carried tremendous influence with slaveholders and also non-slaveholders alike. What were southern pastors, preachers, and religious leaders telling their flock?

Southern clergy protected the principles of enslavement through an intricate scriptural defense developed on the infallibility the the Bible, i beg your pardon they hosted up as the universal and objective traditional for moral issues. Religious messages native pulpit and also from a growing religious press accounting in big part for the extreme, uncompromising, ideological atmosphere of the time.

As northern opposition to enslavement grew, the three major protestant churches separation into northern and also southern factions. The Presbyterians split in1837, the Methodists in 1844, and also the Baptists in 1845. The segregation of the clergy into Northern and also Southern camps to be profound. The spelt an end to coherent dialogue, leaving southern preachers to speak to southern audiences there is no contradiction.

What were your arguments? The Presbyterian theologian Robert Lewis Dabney reminded his other Southern clergymen the the bible was the best way to define slavery to the masses. “We must go before the country with the holy bible as the text, and ‘thus sayeth the lord’ together the answer,” that wrote. “We recognize that on the bible argument the abolition party will certainly be driven to unveil your true infidel tendencies. The holy bible being bound to stand on our side, they have to come out and array themselves against the Bible.”

Reverend Furman of southern Carolina insisted that the best to hold slaves was plainly sanctioned by the holy Scriptures. He emphasized a handy side as well, warning the if Lincoln were elected, “every black in southern Carolina and also every other Southern state will certainly be his own master; nay, much more than that, will certainly be the equal of every one of you. If you space tame enough to submit, abolition preachers will certainly be at your disposal to consummate the marital relationship of your daughters to black husbands.”

A fellow reverend native Virginia agreed the on no other subject “are instructions an ext explicit, or their salutary tendency and influence an ext thoroughly tested and also corroborated by endure than top top the subject of slavery.” The Methodist Episcopal Church, South, asserted that enslavement “has obtained the sanction of Jehova.” together a south Carolina Presbyterian concluded: “If the scriptures execute not justification slavery, I understand not what they do justify.” 

The Biblical discussion started with Noah’s curse on Ham, the dad of Canaan, which was supplied to show that God had ordained slavery and had expressly applied it come Blacks. Commonly cited were passages in Leviticus that authorized the buying, selling, holding and bequeathing of servants as property. Methodist Samuel Dunwody from south Carolina documented that Abraham, Jacob, Isaac, and Job own slaves, arguing that “some that the most eminent of the Old testimony saints were slave holders.” The Methodist Quarterly Review listed further that “the teachings that the new testament in regard come bodily servitude accord v the old.” While enslavement was not expressly sanctioned in the brand-new Testament, southerly clergymen said that the lack of condemnation signified approval. They cited Paul’s return that a runaway slave to his master as Biblical authority because that the Fugitive slave Act, which forced the return the runaway slaves.

As minister Dunwody of southern Carolina synthetic up the case: “Thus, God, as he is infinitely wise, just and also holy, never might authorize the practice of a ethical evil. However god has authorized the practice of slavery, not only by the bare permission the his Providence, yet the express provision the his word. Therefore, slavery is no a moral evil.” because the bible was the source for ethical authority, the situation was closed. “Man may err,” claimed the southern theologian James Thornwell, “but God deserve to never lie.”

It to be a corollary the to strike slavery to be to attack the Bible and also the word of God. If the scriptures expressly ordained servant holding, to protest the practice was a sin and an insult to god’s word. Together the Baptist minister and author Thornton Stringfellow listed in his significant Biblical Defense of Slavery, “men indigenous the north” prove “palpable ignorance of the magnificent will.”

The southern Presbyterian that S.C observed the there to be a “religious character to the current struggle. Anti-slavery is basically infidel. It wars upon the Bible, on the Church of Christ, top top the reality of God, top top the souls that men.” A Georgia preacher denounced abolitionists together “diametrically protest to the letter and spirit the the Bible, and also as subversive of all sound morality, together the worst ravings that infidelity.” The influential South Carolina Presbyterian theologian James Henley Thornwell did no mince his words. “The next in the problem are not simply abolitionists and slaveholders. They space atheists, socialists, communists, red republicans, Jacobins ~ above the one side, and also friends that order and regulated flexibility on the other. In one word, the people is the battleground – Christianity and also Atheism the combatants; and also the development of humanity at stake.” 

During the 1850’s, pro-slavery debates from the pulpit came to be especially strident. A preacher in Richmond exalted slavery as “the many blessed and also beautiful type of social federal government known; the just one the solves the problem, exactly how rich and poor may dwell together; a beneficent patriarchate.” The central Presbyterian affirmed that slavery was “a relation essential to the visibility of polite society.” by 1860, southerly preachers felt comfortable advising your parishioners the “both Christianity and Slavery are from heaven; both are blessings come humanity; both room to it is in perpetuated to the end of time.”

By 1860, southern churches were denouncing the North together decadent and sinful due to the fact that it had turned from God and also rejected the Bible. Because the North was sinful and also degenerate, went your reasoning, the South need to purify itself by seceding. Together a south Carolina preacher noted on the night of secession, “We cannot coalesce with males whose society will ultimately corrupt our own, and bring under upon united state the horrible doom i m sorry awaits them.” The repercussion was a pointedly spiritual bent to rising Southern nationalism. As the southerly Presbyterian wrote, “It would certainly be a glorious sight to view this southern Confederacy of our stepping forth amid the countries of the world animated with a Christian spirit, guided through Christian principles, administered by Christian men, and adhering faithful to Christian precepts,” ie., the slavery of fellow human beings.

Shortly after ~ Lincoln’s election, Presbyterian minister Benjamin Morgan Palmer, originally from Charleston, provided a sermon entitled, “The southern Her Peril and also Her Duty.” he announced the the choice had carried to the forefront one concern – slavery – that forced him to speak out. Slavery, that explained, was a inquiry of morals and religion, and also was now the main question in the crisis of the Union. The South, that went on, had actually a “providential to trust to conserve and also to perpetuate the school of slavery as currently existing.” The south was defined by slavery, that observed. “It has actually fashioned our settings of life, and determined every one of our actions of thought and also feeling, and molded the very kind of ours civilization.” Abolition, claimed Palmer, to be “undeniably atheistic.” The south “defended the reason of God and also religion,” and also nothing “is currently left yet secession.” part 90,000 copies of a pamphlet incorporating the sermon to be distributed.

Preachers were prominent at ceremonies hosted as troops marched turn off to war. In Petersburg, Virginia for example, Methodist minister R. N. Sledd railed against Northerners, an “infidel and fanatical foe” that embodied “the barbarity of one Atilla much more than the civilization of the 19th Century” and also who proved “contempt because that virtue and also religion follow to your savage purpose.” Northerners, he warned, wanted to “undermine the authority of mine Bible. You go to add to the salvation of your nation from together a curse,” he told the departing soldiers. “You walk to aid in the glorious enterprise of rearing in ours sunny south a temple to constitutional liberty and Bible Christianity. You walk to struggle for your people and also for the urban of her God.”

WHAT THE political leaders WERE SAYING

What to be the South’s political leaders saying? In late 1860 and also early 1861, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, south Carolina, and also Louisiana appointed commissioners to take trip to the other slave states and persuade them to secede. The commissioners handle state legislatures, conventions, make public addresses, and also wrote letters. Their speeches were published in newspapers and pamphlets. These contemporaneous records make fascinating reading and also have recently been collected in a publication by the historian Charles Dew.

William Harris, Mississippi’s commissioner come Georgia, defined that Lincoln’s election had made the North more defiant 보다 ever. “They have demanded, and now demand equality between the white and also negro races, under ours constitution; equality in representation, equality in right of suffrage, equality in the honors and emoluments that office, equality in the social circle, equality in the legal rights of matrimony,” that cautioned, adding that the new administration want “freedom to the slave, however eternal degradation for you and me.”


"The Miscegenation Ball" Library of congress


As Harris observed things, “Our fathers made this a government for the white man, rejecting the black as one ignorant, inferior, barbarian race, i can not qualify of self-government, and not, therefore, licensed has been granted to be connected with the white guy upon terms of civil, political, or social equality.” Lincoln and also his followers, the stated, aimed to “overturn and strike down this great feature of our union and to substitute in that stead their new theory that the universal equality that the black and also white races.” for Harris, the an option was clear. Mississippi would certainly “rather see the critical of she race, men, women, and children, immolated in one typical funeral pyre than see them put down to the destruction of civil, political and social equality through the black race.” The Georgia legislature notified the to press of a thousand duplicates of his speech.

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Two days prior to South Carolina seceded, referee Alexander Hamilton Handy, Mississippi’s commissioner come Maryland, warned the “the very first act of the black color republican party will certainly be come exclude slavery from all the territories, from the district of Columbia, the arsenals and the forts, through the action of the general government. That would be a acknowledgment that enslavement is a sin, and also confine the college to its present limits. The minute that enslavement is pronounce a moral evil – a sin – by the basic government, that minute the safety of the rights of the south will be completely gone.”

The following day, two commissioners handle the phibìc Carolina legislature and also warned the Lincoln’s election intended “utter ruin and also degradation” because that the south. “The white youngsters now born will certainly be compelled come flee from the soil of your birth, and from the slaves their parents have actually toiled to obtain as an inheritance because that them, or to send to the deterioration of being lessened to an equality with them, and also all that attendant horrors.”

Former south Carolina Congressman john McQueen was decision clear around where things stood once he wrote to a group of Richmond public leaders. Lincoln’s routine was based ~ above the “single idea the the african is same to the Anglo-Saxon, and with the objective of place our slaves on a position of equality with ourselves and our friends of every condition. We, of south Carolina, hope soon to greet girlfriend in a southern Confederacy, whereby white guys shall dominance our destinies, and also from which we may transmit to our posterity the rights, privileges, and honor left united state by ours ancestors.”

Typical of the commissioner letter is that created by Stephen Hale, an Alabama commissioner, come the governor of Kentucky, in December 1860. Lincoln’s election, that observed, was “nothing less than an open declaration the war, because that the triumph of this brand-new theory of government destroys the residential or commercial property of the south, lays waste she fields, and also inaugurates every the horrors that a san Domingo servile insurrection, consigning she citizens come assassinations and also her wives and daughters to pollution and violation to gratify the lust that half-civilized Africans. The slave holder and also non-slaveholder must at some point share the same fate; every be degraded come a position of equality with complimentary negroes, was standing side by side v them at the polls, and fraternize in every the social relationships of life, or else there will be one eternal war of races, desolating the land through blood, and utterly wasting every the resources of the country.”

Henry Benning Library of conference

What Southerner, Hale asked, “can there is no indignation and also horror contemplate the triumph of black equality, and also see his own sons and daughters in the not distant future shortcut with totally free negroes upon terms of political and social equality?” Abolition would certainly surely typical that “the two races would certainly be continually pressing together,” and “amalgamation or the extermination of the one or the other would it is in inevitable.” Secession, said Hale, to be the only method by i m sorry the “heaven ordained superiority the the white end the black race” can be sustained. The abolition of enslavement would one of two people plunge the South right into a race war or so stain the blood of the white race that it would be contaminated for all time.” might southern men “submit to such degradation and also ruin,” the asked, and responded come his own question, “God forbid that they should.”

Congressman Curry, another of Alabama’s commissioner’s, likewise warned his fellow Alabamans that “the subjugation of the south to one abolition dynasty would an outcome in a saturnalia of blood.” Emancipation supposed “the abhorrent deterioration of social and political equality, the probability that a war of extermination in between the races or the necessity of flying the nation to stop the association.” Typical likewise was the post from Henry Benning that Georgia – later one of basic Lee’s most talented brigade leaders – come the Virginia legislature. “If points are enabled to walk on together they are, it is specific that enslavement is to it is in abolished,” he predicted. “By the time the phibìc shall have actually attained the power, the black color race will be in a big majority, and also then us will have actually black governors, black color legislatures, black juries, black color everything. Is it to be supposed that the white race will certainly stand because that that? it is not a supposable case.”

What did Benning predict would certainly happen? “War will an outbreak everywhere like hidden fire indigenous the earth. We will be overpowered and our guys will be compelled come wander choose vagabonds all over the earth, and as because that our women, the horrors of your state we cannot contemplate in imagination. We will be completely exterminated,” the announced, “and the land will certainly be left in the possession of the blacks, and also then it will certainly go back to a wilderness and become an additional Africa or Saint Domingo.”

“Join the north and what will come to be of you” the asked. “They will certainly hate you and your institutions as lot as they carry out now, and also treat you accordingly. Suppose they elevate Charles Sumner come the presidency? mean they elevate Frederick Douglas, your escaped slave, to the presidency? What would certainly be your place in together an event? ns say provide me pestilence and also famine sooner 보다 that.”

In sum, the commissioners defined one apocalyptic vision after one more – emancipation, race war, miscegenation. The collapse of white supremacy would be so cataclysmic that no self-respecting Southerner can fail to rally to the secessionist cause, they argued. Secession was important to preserve the purity and also survival that the white race. This to be the unvarnished, close to universal article of southerly political leaders to their constituencies.


Southerners heard the the same message native their community leaders. In the fall of 1860, man Townsend, owner of a cotton plantation on Edisto Island, authored a pamphlet delineating the results of Lincoln’s elevation to presidency. The abolition of enslavement would be inevitable, the warned, i m sorry would typical “the annihilation and end the all negro labor (agricultural especially) over the entirety South. It way a loss to the planters the the southern of, at least, four BILLION dollars, by having actually this labor taken indigenous them; and a loss, in addition, of 5 BILLION dollars more, in lands, mills, machinery, and also other great interests, which will be rendered valueless by the desire of servant labor to maintain the lands, and also the lose of the crops which give to those interests life and prosperity.”


Slaves job-related in Sea Islands, southern Carolina. Library of congress


More to the point, the noted, abolition meant “the turning loosened upon society, without the salutary restraints to which they are currently accustomed, an ext than 4 millions the a an extremely poor and ignorant population, to ramble in idleness end the nation until their wants should drive most of them, an initial to petty thefts, and after that to the bolder crime of robbery and murder.” The planter and also his family members would “not only to be lessened to poverty and also want, through the rob of his property, yet to finish the refinement the the indignity, they room to it is in degraded to the level the an worse race, it is in jostled by castle in their paths, and intruded upon, and insulted over by rude and also vulgar upstarts. Who can explain the loathsomeness of together an intercourse;—the constrained intercourse between refinement diminished to poverty, and swaggering vulgarity all of sudden elevated come a place which that is not all set for?” 

Non-slaveholders, that predicted, were additionally in danger. “It will be to the non-slaveholder, equally with the biggest slaveholder, the obliteration of caste and the deprivation of crucial privileges,” he cautioned. “The color of the white guy is now, in the South, a location of the aristocracy in his relations regarding the negro,” the reminded his readers. “In the southerly slaveholding States, whereby menial and degrading offices are turned over to be every formed solely by the black slave, the status and also color that the black gyeongju becomes the badge of inferiority, and the poorest non-slaveholder may rejoice through the richest of his brethren the the white race, in the distinction of his color. He might be poor, the is true; but there is no suggest upon which he is therefore justly proud and also sensitive together his privilege the caste; and there is nothing i m sorry he would resent with more fierce indignation than the effort of the Abolitionist to emancipate the slaves and elevate the Negroes come an equality v himself and his family.”