Baptists and the American Civil War: October 22, 1862

Confederate flagOn the eve of the war, the South had more millionaires than did the North, all of whom (in the South) were large slave owners. Reflecting this reality, in 1860 the twelve wealthiest counties in the United States were all in the South. Southern elites — large to mid-size slave owners and their families — pride themselves as refined gentlemen and and gentle ladies with good tastes and manners. The non-slave owning professional class — wealthy merchants, university professors, and well-known writers, journalists and artisans — circulate in the same social circles as the slave owning elites. Owing their good fortunes to the wealth generated by the South’s slave labor, these professionals assist in maintaining the cultural and social status quo.

In the years leading up to the war, and now during the great conflict, Christianity in the South rises upon the tide of the region’s social elites and their wealth. Although not as ingratiated among the Confederacy’s elites as are Episcopalians, some Baptists now reside in the upper echelons of Southern society. From this lofty perch, these privileged Baptists reflect the values and views of the nation’s wealthy class, as is reflected in an article entitled “Religion and Good Manners” in today’s North Carolina Baptists’ Biblical Recorder.

The meek and benevolent spirit of our religion has had a powerful influence in sweetening and refining all the comforts of human society, and conversation among the rest. That human society, and kind affection, whereof good breeding always assumes the outward form, Christianity establishes in the heart as a permanent principle and indispensable obligation. That generous love of human kind which prompts the Christian to watch for the good of others, and embraces every opportunity of prompting not only their welfare, but their virtue, taking care never to offend, and avoiding even the appearance of evil–would not the man of taste acknowledge it to be the very perfection and heroism of good behavior!–Must not the affecting view which true religion exhibits, of all mankind bearing one to another the relation of brethren, impart keenness and activity to those tender sympathies of our social nature, whereof the language of good breeding is so remarkably expressive.

Christianity commands not the suppression only, but the extinction of every indelicate thought, arrogant emotion, and malevolent purpose; would conversation stand in need of any further refinement, were this law as punctually fulfilled as it is earnestly recommended? What is more efficacious than habitual good humor in rendering the intercourse of society agreeable, and in keeping at a distance all intemperate passion, and all harshness of sentiment or language!

In a word, true Christianity alone and at once, transforms a barbarian into a man; a brutal, selfish, and melancholy savage into a kind, generous, and cheerful associate.

In such flowery language exalting refined white society of the South, not a word is mentioned of the inhumanity, evil and brutality of African slave labor that allows such elite white Christians to spend their time in leisure and praise of one another.

Sources: A review of William W. Freehling’s work on the Confederacy and brief notes on southern wealth (link); Dr. Beattie, “Religion and Good Manners,” Biblical Recorder, October 20, 1862 (link)