Baptists and the American Civil War: Feburary 4, 1861

Montgomery, Alabama

Montgomery, Alabama

To date, seven southern states have seceded from the union: South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas.

Dozens of Baptists have played significant roles in events thus far, including as governors of two of the seven seceding states: Georgia (Joseph Brown, secessionist) and Texas (Sam Houston, Unionist).

In addition, many Southern and Primitive Baptists in the South have served in secession conventions. Northward, rhetoric from abolitionist Baptists is increasing.

Today in Montgomery, Alabama (illustration) representatives from six of the seven secessionist states (Texas, recently seceded, is not involved in the early days of the conference) join forces to create the Confederate States of America, largely modeled after the United States Constitution.

In the coming days, Jefferson Davis – Mississippi U.S. Senator and former Secretary of War – is elected as president. A Provisional Constitution is enacted on February 8, and the permanent Constitution is adopted March 11.

Pro-secession speeches and written statements thus far have made it clear that black slavery is the cornerstone of the Confederacy. Preachers from white southern pulpits have continually reinforced the South’s slave-based economy, culture and society by pronouncing white supremacy and black servitude as God’s divine plan for the races. As the rhetoric escalates, black slaves in the South brace for even harsher treatment from their masters, not yet daring to hope that freedom might one day be realized.

As convention delegates assemble this day, slaveholder and Southern Baptist minister Basil Manly, Sr. (instrumental figure in the founding of both the Southern Baptist Convention and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary), now serving as chaplain of the slaveholding states’ convention, opens the first secession in prayer. Manly calls upon the “God of the Universe” to bestow blessings upon the Confederacy, a federation of states dedicated to “those rights which were guaranteed to us by the solemn covenants of our fathers, which were augmented by their blood.” Asking God to bless the Confederacy with an endless existence, Manly prays, “Let truth, and justice, and equal rights be decreed to our government.” Georgia’s Christian Index (February 6) refers to Manley’s prayer as “impressive.”

Meanwhile, as the Deep South slaveholder states’ convention convenes, in Washington D.C. Unionists begin a final effort to preserve peace and save the Union before Republican Abraham Lincolns ascends to the presidency.

The peace convention, called by Virginia (whose citizens today elect delegates to a convention to consider secession), is presided over by former President John Tyler of Virginia. Originally endorsed by politicians from the twelve border states (six slaveholding states, six free states), twenty-one states are today represented (fourteen free states, seven slaveholding states). Absent from representation are the seven southern seceded states, as well as Arkansas, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, California, and Oregon.

The peace convention is a long-shot effort to resolve the national crisis, and ultimately fails to prevent the Civil War.

Source: Manly’s prayer, A James. Fuller, Chaplain to the Confederacy: Basily Manly and Baptist Life in the Old South (Louisiana State University Press, 2000), pp. 293-294.