Baptists and the American Civil War: November 18, 1863

constitutionFrom the presidency of Thomas Jefferson to the present, many Christians in America — including many Baptists of the South since the commencement of the present war — have complained of the United State’s founding as a secular nation. Movements to rewrite the Constitution as a Christian document, and to forbid Sunday mail delivery — both ardently opposed by Baptists prior to the war — have thus far failed.

The Confederate Constitution, by way of contrast, directly invokes God’s favor.

Responding to Southern Christians who view the United States as a secular nation — once lamenting America’s secular government, those same critics, now onlookers from afar and within a competing nation, now make such charges from a context of scoffing and derision — the South Carolina Confederate Baptist thus responds:

The constitution of the United States, framed by our revolutionary fathers, has been the subject of much vituperation, of late on the allegation that, by ignoring the name of Deity, it was essentially atheistical; and there have not been wanting pious interpreters of Providence who have ascribed the disolution of the Union, and the civil war which has followed it, to the vengeance of heaven on this godless constitution.

The charge is absurd. It is true that there is no express mention of the name of Deity in the constitution; just as there is no reference to those fundamental principles of the declaration of independence upon which the constitution rests. There was no occasion to refer to either. It was assumed that we were a republic people acknowledging our allegiance to the “Supreme Ruler of the universe.” In addition to this, the illustrious sages, who constituted the convention, may have been very properly averse to the imitation of the impious assumptions of the ruling sovereigns of Europe who pretended to reign “by the grace of God,” and, therefore, avoided their phraseology, that they might not be supposed to claim their awful prerogatives. The “divine right to govern wrong” had been too frequently asserted by tyrants, to commend their course to those stern apostles of freedom.

But the constitution of the United States was not the atheistical instrument which the fervor of religious enthusiasts have represented it to be. It recognizes the sanctity of the oath, which involves an appeal to Deity; and the instrument itself is said, in article 7, to have been confirmed “in the year of our Lord 1787.” The word our refers to the preamble, “We the people of the United States,” and therefore contains a distinct reference to Christ.

Again in article 1, section 7, chap. 2, provision is made for the observance of Sunday by the president, a provision which proceeds on assumption that the chief magistrate might have conscientious objection to the consideration of public business, on that day.

 The members of the convention which framed the constitution were all avowed Christians, except Jefferson and Franklin, and yet it is worthy of remark that the latter moved the resolution which secured the opening of its sessions with prayer to the Almighty.

It thus appears that the constitution which has been so maligned, so far from ignoring the existence of Deity, is somewhat obnoxious to the charge of having entrenched upon neutral ground by its recognition of the Mediator of the Christian dispensation.

Christian desires to reconfigure the United States government into that of a Christian nation do not end here, nor is this agenda laid aside when the war is over.

Source: “A Stereotyped Error,” Confederate Baptist, November 18, 1863