Baptists and the American Civil War: May 30, 1864

Abraham LincolnIn the face of a grinding, drawn-out war in which the North by now has the decided upper hand, U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, having been a Baptist in his youth, today composes a letter to three prominent northern Baptists – George B. Ide, James R. Doolittle, and A. Hubbell – offering further reflection on the role of religion and the war.

George B. Ide is the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Springfield, Massachusetts, and one of the most outspoken northern Baptist preachers during the war years. James R. Doolittle is a Republican U.S. Senator from Racine, Wisconsin, and a member of the First Baptist Church of Racine. The Hon. A. Hubbell is a judge and is active in the work of Northern Baptist missionary and benevolent organizations. The three men recently wrote Lincoln on behalf of American Baptists to formally convey the denomination’s sentiments concerning the war. Lincoln focuses his remarks on the home mission work, now primarily concerned with the emancipation of slaves, of American Baptist.

In response to the preamble and resolutions of the American Baptist Home Mission Society, which you did me the honor to present, I can only thank you for thus adding to the effective and almost unanamous support which the Christian communities are so zealously giving to the country, and to liberty. Indeed it is difficult to conceive how it could be otherwise with any one professing christianity, or even having ordinary perceptions of right and wrong. To read in the Bible, as the word of God himself, that “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread,[“] and to preach there–from that, “In the sweat of other mans faces shalt thou eat bread,” to my mind can scarcely be reconciled with honest sincerity. When brought to my final reckoning, may I have to answer for robbing no man of his goods; yet more tolerable even this, than for robbing one of himself, and all that was his. When, a year or two ago, those professedly holy men of the South, met in the semblance of prayer and devotion, and, in the name of Him who said “As ye would all men should do unto you, do ye even so unto them” appealed to the christian world to aid them in doing to a whole race of men, as they would have no man do unto themselves, to my thinking, they contemned and insulted God and His church, far more than did Satan when he tempted the Saviour with the Kingdoms of the earth. The devils attempt was no more false, and far less hypocritical. But let me forbear, remembering it is also written “Judge not, lest ye be judged.”

The president’s harsh words concerning white southern Christians reflect the widespread views of Northern Christians, whose early war views had been more anti-slavery than the Northern population at large.

Sources: Letter from Lincoln to Ide, Doolittle and Hubble (link); George B. Ide information (link); James R. Doolittle information (link); Resolution from the American Baptist Missionary Union, see American Annual Cyclopedia and Register of Important Events of the Year 1864, New York: D. Appleton, 1870, pp. 162-163 (link)