Baptists and the American Civil War: October 4, 1862

African SlaveryBaptists of the North continue celebrating U.S. President Abraham Lincoln‘s decision to emancipate African slaves. The Philadelphia Baptist Association — the oldest Baptist association in America, founded in 1707 — joins in a stream of praises for the president’s actions by writing a letter to the Lincoln administration. Quoting scripture, evidencing patriotism, and claiming the high ground on liberty, peace and religion, Philadelphia Association Baptists see God at work in the United States of America.

Resolved, That, as members of the Philadelphia Baptist Association, we reaffirm our unswerving loyalty to the Government of these United States.

Resolved, That in the trials through which we are passing as a nation we recognize the guidance of the Almighty, and see, not dimly, the purpose of his love to purify the fountains of our national life and develop in righteousness the elements of our national prosperity.

Resolved, That, as Christian citizens of this republic, it is our bounden duty to renounce all sympathy with sin, to rebuke all complicity with evil, and cherish a simple, cheerful confidence in Him whose omnipotence flowed through a stripling’s arm and sank into the forehead of the Philistine.

Resolved, That, in pursuance of this spirit, we hail with joy the recent proclamation of our Chief Magistrate, declaring freedom on the 1st day of January next to the slaves in all the then disloyal States, and say to him, as the people said to Ezra, “Arise, for the matter belongeth unto thee; we also will be with thee: be of good courage, and do it.”

Resolved, That in the name of Liberty, which we love, in the name of Peace, which we would make enduring, in the name of humanity and of Religion, whose kindred hopes are blended, we protest against any compromise with rebellion; and for the maintenance of the war on such a basis, whether for a longer or a shorter period, we pledge, in addition to our prayers, our “lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”

Resolved, That a copy of these resolutions be forwarded to the President and his advisers, with assurances of the honor in which, as Christians, we hold them, and with our solemn entreaty that no one of them will, in the discharge of duties however faithful for his country, neglect the interests of his own personal salvation.

William Seward, Secretary of State, responds on behalf of Lincoln. Complimentary of Philadelphia Baptists, Seward also affirms that the Lincoln administration will protect religious liberties in the face of the raging war.

Washington, October 18, 1862. To The Philadelphia Baptist Association :—

Gentlemen :—I have the honor to acknowledge for the other heads of Departments, as well as in my own behalf, the reception of the resolutions which were adopted by your venerable Association during the last week, and to assure you of our high appreciation of the personal kindness, patriotic fervor, and religious devotion which pervade their important proceedings. You seem, gentlemen, to have wisely borne in mind, what is too often forgotten, that any Government—especially a republican one—cannot be expected to rise above the virtue of the people over whom it presides. Government is always dependent on the support of the nation from whom it derives all its powers and all its forces, and the inspiration which can give it courage, energy, and resolution can come only from the innermost heart of the country which it is required to lead or to save. It is indeed possible for an administration in this country to conceive and perfect policies which would be beneficent, but it could not carry them into effect without the public consent; for the first instruction which the statesman derives from experience is that he must do, in every case, not what he wishes, but what he can.

In reviewing the history of our country, we find many instances in which it is apparent that grave errors have been committed by the Government, but candor will oblige us to own that heretofore the people have always had substantially the very kind of administration which they at the time desired and preferred. Political, moral, and religious teachers exercise the greatest influence in forming and directing popular sentiments and resolutions. Do you, therefore, gentlemen, persevere in the inculcation of the principles and sentiments which you have expressed in your recent proceedings, and rest assured that, if the national magnanimity shall be found equal to the crisis through which the country is passing, no efforts on the part of the administration will be spared to bring about a peace without a loss of any part of the national territories or the sacrifice of any of the constitutional safeguards of civil or religious liberty. I need hardly say that the satisfaction which will attend that result will be immeasurably increased if it shall be found also that in the operations which shall have produced it humanity shall have gained new and important advantages. Commending ourselves to your prayers, and to the prayers of all who desire the welfare of our country and of mankind, I tender you the sincere thanks of my associates, with whom I have the honor to remain, gentlemen,

Your very obedient servant,

William H. Seward.

In the wake of Lincoln’s late September emancipation announcement, many Baptists of the North are confident that God is on the side of a United States that is fighting for liberty and freedom for all. Yet just as fervent are the beliefs of white Baptists of the Confederacy, who, firmly convinced that God’s will of liberty and freedom extends to the white race only, believe that the Confederate States of America, as God’s chosen nation, will triumph over the northern “black president” and his hordes of warriors.

Source: B. F. Morris, Christian Life and Character of the Civil Institutions of the United States, Developed in the Official and Historical Annals of the Republic, Philadelphia, George W. Childs, 1864, pp. 743-745 (link)