Baptists and the American Civil War: May 13, 1861

Savannah First Baptist ChurchThe Southern Baptist Convention reassembles at First Baptist Church of Savannah, Georgia, opening with the reading of Psalm 23. Delegates at the time did not anticipate how deep would be the “shadow of death” the South would traverse in a few years. Rather, the highlight of the day is the unanimous adoption of the Report of the Special Committee on the State of the Country. The Christian nationalist statement emphasizes the evil nature of the North and the glorious political prospects of the Confederacy, pledges Southern Baptist loyalty to the Confederate States of America, and declares that the Confederacy ultimately exists to further “the progress of the transcendent Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

We hold this truth to be self-evident, that governments are established for the security, prosperity, and happiness of the people. When, therefore, any government is perverted from its proper design, becomes oppressive, and abuses its power, the people have a right to change it.

As to the States once combined upon this continent, it is now manifest that they can no longer live together as one confederacy.

The Union constituted by our forefathers, was one of co-equal sovereign states. The fanatical spirit of the North has long been seeking to deprive us of rights and franchises [African slavery] guaranteed by the Constitution; and, after years of persistent aggression, they have at last accomplished their purposes.

In vindication of their sacred rights and honor, in self-defence, and for the protection of which is dear to man, the Southern States have practically asserted the right of seceding from a Union so degenerated from that established by the Constitution, and they have framed for themselves a government based upon the principles of the original compact – adopting a character which secures to each state its sovereign rights and privileges.

This new government, in thus dissolving former political connections, seeks to cultivate relations of amity and good will with its late confederates, and with all the world; and they have thrice sent special commissioners to Washington with overtures for peace, and for a fair, amicable adjustment of all difficulties. The Government at Washington has insultingly repelled these reasonable proposals, and now insists upon devastating our land with fire and sword, upon letting loose hordes of armed soldiers to pillage and desolate the entire South, for the purpose of forcing the seceded States back into unnatural Union, or of subjugating them and holding them as conquered provinces.

While the two sections of the land are thus arrayed against each other, it might naturally have been hoped that at least the churches of the North would interpose and protest against this appeal to the sword, this invoking of civil war, this deluging the country in fratricidal blood; but, with astonishment and grief, we find churches and pastors of the North breathing out slaughter, and clamoring for sanguinary hostilities with a fierceness which we would have supposed impossible among the disciples of the Prince of Peace. In view of such premises, this Convention cannot keep silence. Recognizing the necessity that the whole moral influence of the people, in whatever capacity or organizations, should be enlisted in aid of the rulers, who, by their suffrages, have been called to defend the endangered interests of person and property, of honor and liberty, it is bound to utter its voice distinctly, decidedly, emphatically; and your committee recommend, therefore, the subjoined resolutions:

1st. Resolved, That impartial history cannot charge upon the South the dissolution of the Union. She was foremost in advocating and cementing the Union. To that Union she clung through long years of calumny, injury, and insult. She has never ceased to raise her warning appeals against the fanaticism which has obstinately and incessantly wared against that Union.

2nd. Resolved, That we most cordially approve of the formation of the Government of the Confederate States of America, and admire and applaud the noble course of that Government up to this present time.

3rd. Resolved, That we will assiduously invoke the Divine direction and favor in behalf of those who bear rule among us, that they may still exercise the same wise, prompt, elevated statesmanship which has hitherto characterized their measures; that their enterprises may be attended with success; and that they may attain a great reward, not only in seeing these Confederate States prosper under their administration, but in contributing to the progress of the transcendent Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ.

4th. Resolved, That we most cordially tender to the President of the Confederate States, to his Cabinet, and the members of the Congress now convened at Montgomery, the assurances of our sympathy and entire confidence. With them are our hearts and our hearty cooperation.

5th. Resolved, That the lawless reign of terror at the North, the violence committed upon unoffending citizens, above all, the threats to wage upon the South a warfare of savage barbarity, to devastate our homes and hearths with hosts of ruffians and felons, burning with lust and rapine, ought to excite the horror of all civilized people. God forbid that we should so far forget the spirit of Jesus, as to suffer malice and vindictiveness to insinuate themselves into our hearts; but every principle of religion, of patriotism, and of humanity, calls upon us to pledge our fortunes and lives in the good work of repelling an invasion designed to destroy whatever is dear in our heroic traditions; whatever is sweet in our domestic hopes and enjoyments; whatever is essential to our institutions and our very manhood; whatever is worth living or dying for.

6th. Resolved, That we do now engage in prayer for our friends, brothers, fathers, sons, and citizen soldiers, who have left their homes to go forth for the defence of their families and friends, and all which is dearest to the human heart; and we commend to the churches represented in this body, that they constantly invoke a holy and merciful God to cover their head in the day of battle, and to give victory to their arms.

Sources: 1861 Proceedings of the Southern Baptist Convention; photo by Sarah E. McKee, New Georgia Encyclopedia (link)