Baptists and the American Civil War: February 6, 1862

J. D. HufhamToday United States General William Tecumseh Sherman issues General Order 9, a request for “highly favored and philanthropic people” and religious and philanthropic societies to provide assistance for the contrabands (emancipated African slaves). Among the groups volunteering to help is the American Missionary Association, comprised of Baptists as well as other northern Christians. The AMA is soon assisting in the education, welfare and employment of freemen in South Carolina’s Union-controlled Port Royal.

White elite Baptists of the South (reflecting southern white elites at large), however, have little interest in educating their slaves, much less bestowing freedom upon them. African slavery is biblical, in their estimation, and they intend to fight for their beloved and sacred institution — and to make certain that their non-slaveholding southern brethren understand that African slavery is worth fighting, and dying, to preserve. The war must be fought, even if the European powers, as it now seems, refuse to side with the Confederacy.

J. D. Hufham, leader among North Carolina Baptists and editor of the Biblical Recorder, reflects the sentiments of many Southern Baptist elites:

It is necessary that we [the South] alone should achieve our independence, if we would have a permanent peace. The first step necessary to the accomplishment of this end, is to show our enemies that we are able and determined to maintain our independence at any cost….

It is necessary for us to learn thoroughly the nature of war; the miseries and burdens which it always imposes on a people, even when fighting in defense of their most cherished and sacred rights….

It is necessary, to the development of our self-respect and self-reliance, that we should achieve our independence… this lesson of self-respect and self-reliance, so indispensable to individual or national success has yet been but imperfectly learned. The future must perfect it….

We must fight it out by ourselves, if we would make advantageous treaties and avoid embarrassments with foreign powers….

We must rely on ourselves in this war, if we would take the position to which we aspire among the nations of the earth. This position is not a humble one. Every lover of his country desires to see her the peer of the proudest realms on the globe. This they a right to expect. Her natural advantages, her soil, her climate, her government and her social system admirably fit her for such a destiny. In this contest everything which can animate the soul, or stir the hearts to deeds of noble daring and patience and endurance or privations and sufferings, is involved. Justice and truth are on our side. The right to govern ourselves, the sanctity of our fire-sides, the integrity of our institutions everything on which the heart is wont to repose are at stake. To yield, is to turn loose on the fair and fertile fields of the South, on our homes and institutions a hireling foe corrupt as the grave and unprincipled as Satan. The nations of the earth are watching us. If we acquit ourselves well in this contest, we shall be hailed as a noble and chivalrous people, and we shall at once and by universal consent be admitted to the position which we desire ourselves and which we are entitled to expect.

Sources: History of Mitchelville (link); brief biographical sketch and illustration of Hufham, William Cathcart, Baptist Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, 1888, p.555 (link); “We must Fight it out by Ourselves,” Biblical Recorder, February 5, 1862 (link)