Baptists and the American Civil War: January 28, 1861

Sam Houston, Texas Governor

Texas Governor Sam Houston

In Georgia, the state’s secession convention continues under the leadership of Governor Joseph Brown, a Southern Baptist. Delegates pass a Bill of Rights for white citizens of the new Confederate state. The document both declares that Georgia is a Christian nation, and disallows a religious establishment:

The prevalence of the Christian Religion among the people, and the basis of Christian principles underlying the laws, entitle this State to be ranked among the Christian nations of the earth, and as those principles are independent of all political organization, no religious test shall ever be required for the tenure of any office, and no religious establishment allowed; and no citizen shall be deprived of any right or privilege by reason of his religious belief.

White Georgian politicians’ self-declaration that the slaveholding state is a Christian nation contrasts with that of the United States Constitution, which – to the chagrin of many Christians then and later – avoided mention of God and Christianity and instead established the world’s first secular nation.

Throughout the war, white slaveholders in the Confederacy would consistently repeat the refrain that the South’s slave-dependent society and culture were based on Christian principles. Blacks, however, had long realized that such claims were designed to serve the interest of wealthy whites. In the end, the white South’s concept of a Christian nation would not withstand the military might of a secular United States of whom many citizens (directly or not) envisioned a God (or Supreme Being, or Deity) who desired freedom and equality for all.

Simultaneously to Georgia’s Christian nation declaration, fellow Georgia politician, U.S. Senator Alfred Iverson, resigns from Senate. His final statement as a U.S. Senator defiantly declares that even should the United States win the impending war with the slaveholding states of the South, white southerners will never give up in their defense of black slavery:

You may whip us, but we will not stay whipped. We will rise again and again to vindicate our right to liberty, and throw off your oppressive and accursed yoke, and never cease the mortal strife until our whole white race is extinguished and our fair land given over to desolation.

Meanwhile, in Texas, the Lone Star state formally begins its journey to secession.

Unlike the secessionist states preceding, however, key state politicians prior to now have expressed little to no interest in the secessionist agenda of slaveholders. Foremost of these politicians is Texas governor Sam Houston (pictured), a Baptist, who from October to the present has stalled secessionist efforts.

Eventually, however, secessionist pressures overwhelm Houston’s stalling, and now a secession convention assembles in Austin. Delegates present are mostly slaveowners, the relative lack of Unionists and non-slaveowners a result of political manipulations by secessionist politicians.

Sources: Georgia’s Bill of Rights (link), Iverson’s speech (link), and Texas’ road to secession and Sam Houston (link)