The Churches and the Civil War -- By: George W. Dollar

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 118:472 (Oct 1961)
Article: The Churches and the Civil War
Author: George W. Dollar


The Churches and the Civil War

George W. Dollar

[George W. Dollar, Ph.D., Chairman, Department of Historical Theology, Dallas Theological Seminary.]

This is the centennial of the Great Rebellion, one marked by pageant, history volumes, write-ups, and magazine articles colorfully produced and presented. Recently a great store in a large city ran a full-page advertisement in a city daily inviting shoppers to a magnificent display of “Lee’s chair, Sherman’s uniform, Brady’s photos, and the Fort Sumter diorama.” But little mention is made in widely circulated articles and books about the part played by the churches of the nation. It was a part so prominent as to deserve attention and study.

In his last speech in the United States Senate the famed Carolina orator, John C. Calhoun, claimed that among the strong ties binding the sections on the two sides of the Mason and Dixon line were the spiritual, and in gloomy but prophetic language the statesman pictured the severance of the political and the legislative because the spiritual had already broken (1850). Indeed, no group took a more prominent place in that severance than did the southern clergy. Between 1830 and the firing on Fort Sumter they “devoted themselves to producing a religious justification of slavery based on examples of Old Testament patriarchs and the oft-repeated commandment to do one’s duty in that state of life into which God had called one.”1 At the opening of the war they fortified southern arms with high-sounding affirmations of Scriptural undergirdings. These we shall note more fully later. Many secular agencies agreed with the ministerial spokesmen; the American Colonization Society held that “you cannot abolish slavery for God is pledged to sustain it.”2

Of course, not all agreed with this solution. A few voices in the South protested. An Episcopal rector, Rev. Joseph Doddridge, argued that “we debase them to the condition of brutes and then use that debasement for an argument for perpetuating their slavery.”3 Even a loyal son of Virginia,

Rev. Moncure Conway complained that “general licentiousness among the slaves…is compelled by some masters and encouraged by many.”4 But by and large the ministers of the South assented to the Carolina philosophy of Calhoun and Professor Thomas Cooper of the University of South Carolina which, in popular vein, amalgamated predestinarianism, states’ rights, Scott’s romanticism, and a generous criticism of everything connected with indus...

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