Baptists and the American Civil War: June 9, 1863

Civil War States MapFree Will Baptists, equating Christian faith with human freedom, and human freedom with God’s blessings upon the American nation, remain consistent abolitionists throughout the Civil War. The tide has not yet turned decisively for the Union, but Lincoln‘s Emancipation Proclamation at the beginning of the year has encouraged abolitionist Baptists that victory over the slave states is inevitable, if not imminent.

From Concord, New Hampshire, Silas Curtis, The Secretary of the General Conference of the Free Will Baptist Connection, issues the following statement to General Baptists:

Dearly Beloved Brethren: — The last session of our Conference, which was held in the College Chapel at Hillsdale, Mich., on the first week in October, 1862, was a very interesting and memorable season. The delegation was larger than we ever had before. Nearly all parts of our beloved Zion were represented by letter and delegates. An unusual degree of harmony and brotherly love pervaded all our deliberations and discussions. A large amount of business was transacted with much unanimity.

The anniversaries of our benevolent societies were well attended, and the exercises were very interesting. More than one thousand dollars were raised for the mission societies.

The epistle from the last session of your Association was read in the Conference, and entered upon the journal. The Minutes of our Conference are herewith forwarded to your present meeting, from which you may learn the statistics of our denomination, and the state of religion among us.

The prosperity of our mission and educational interests is much retarded, on account of the financial embarrassments occasioned by the civil war which is still raging in our country. In fact, all religious enterprises, including the support of our pastors and the expense of sustaining the stated means of grace in our churches, are sensibly affected by this awful scourge in our land. Many of our ministers and their sons, with thousands of our church members, have enlisted in the army, and are now engaged in the suppression of this slaveholders’ rebellion. Still, we have enjoyed some good degree of success and religious prosperity. God has not forsaken us.

The labors of our ministers and brethren in winning souls to Christ have been blessed. As you may learn from our statistical table, more than six thousand have been added to our churches by baptism during the past three years.

Our beloved brother, Rev, O. R. Bacheler, has returned to his former field of labor in Orissa. On account of these war times, and the very high rates of exchange, we shall not be able to increase our foreign mission force during the present year.

We thank you, dear brethren, for the kindness and Christian sympathy manifested in your last epistle towards us, while our nation is passing through this mighty struggle for human freedom. While the wealthy, haughty aristocracy of England — with those who desire gold and cotton for themselves more than the freedom of 4,000,000 slaves, those who hate free governments and oppose the elevation of the poor—-are giving us the cold shoulder, building ships for rebel pirates, running our blockades, and otherwise giving aid and comfort to our enemies, our hearts are rejoiced to learn that the common people—the laboring classes—the lovers of liberty and the friends of human rights and progress, are sympathizing with the loyal people of this country, and ardently desire the success of our arms and the everlasting overthrow of the accursed institution of American slavery.

I doubt not you rejoice with us in the fact that our President has issued the Proclamation of Liberty to all the slaves in the rebellious States, and that they are flocking by tens and hundreds of thousands around the standard of liberty. It is estimated that at least one half-million of slaves have obtained their freedom since the war commenced. About 150,000 have already been mustered into the service of the United States as soldiers, and it is expected that the number of negro soldiers employed by our government will exceed 200,000 before the close of another autumn.

The system of slavery in this land has received its death-blow. The wound can never be healed. This is generally admitted on all sides. No compromise will ever be made between the North and the South, to restore this God-abhorred system to its former position. It may be months, and even years, before it entirely expires. There may yet be severe struggles and mighty death-throes, but die it must and die it will; and may God hasten the happy day.

Beloved brethren, we ask your prayers for us, as a Christian denomination, and for our nation, that God would sanctify our afflictions to us for good, and yet make us strictly a Christian nation.

We desire a continuance of the fraternal correspondence which has been so pleasant and profitable to us.

In behalf of the F. W. Baptist General Conference, I am, yours truly,

Silas Curtis, Secretary.

Source: Minutes of the General Conference of the Free Will Baptist Connection, Including Ten Sessions – From 1859 to 1886, Vol 2 (Boston: F. B. Printing, 1887), pp. 126-127.