Baptists and the American Civil War: August 2, 1862

Civil War States MapWhile white Southerners carry on about the sins and evilness of the North, the Confederacy, albeit God’s chosen nation in the minds of many, is not without fault. An article in a Southern Baptist newspaper this week offers an analysis of the shortcomings of the South.

Everybody is crying out against extortion, and every one who has the ability, is an extortioner–the dry goods merchant, the grocer, the farmer, the wood cutter … The spirit of speculation runs riot over the land. It is becoming a mighty vortex of widening circumference and increased velocity, bearing upon its mighty current some of all classes of our people. An unusual love of gain has developed itself. Indications of its appearance have been visible ever since the beginning of the revolution, but for two or three months past it has received a new impetus.

….In the beginning of the war heavy drafts were made upon the pockets of all of our citizens who loved their country better than they did their gold–large contributions were freely made for the welfare of soldiers and their families, and supplies were sent in profuse quantities to the armies. This heavy expenditure was mentioned by observing christians, who contributed as liberally as others, as a providence, rebuking us for past covetousness, and showing us that we were able to give to the cause of benevolence much more than ever before, and that having more than was for our real good, a kind and loving Father was opening a channel for its distribution in such a manner, that it being a free will offering, the heart would be benefitted by the depletion of the pocket. This wise and christian view was beginning to do good: we were learning a lesson which would have been a service to the cause of Christ by teaching us to give as we had opportunity and were able. But this practical lesson would have struck a stunning blow to the cause of Satan, who is always on the alert, when good is about to be done. To counteract this happy influence, he presents the multiplied temptations to speculation in legitimate trade so as to engulf every tradesman in the land. Being a legitimate business there can be no harm in it. If a man, by being a little more diligent and watchful, and shrewd, and extending his business, and laying out large sums of money for one article which will be in demand, and which will be enhanced in value by the quantity purchased, if by so doing can make a few thousands, why, where is the harm? This, Satan argued, and with the christian went further. It would only enable him to be more useful–his pastor had to be paid, and the cause of missions supported, and he would be more able to do his fell duty, and then he would soon accumulate enough to retire from business, and give himself wholly to the work; he only wanted a few more thousands any how, and under the present state of affairs he could soon obtain it. Thus he aroused the spirit, first in the cities, then in the towns; and now, every family who has anything to sell, whatever, wants to make money on it….

Now, either the love of money, which is the root of all evil, begets and fosters the spirit of speculation, or the spirit of speculation fosters the love of money; it is not material to decide which; it is enough to know that evil grows out of it. Let us allude to some of these evils to christians.

1. It injures the good reputation of church members with the world, and disables them from the exercise of that influence over the unconverted which they might otherwise exert. Christians profess to have laid up their treasures in heaven, and to have placed their hearts there, but when it is obvious to all that they are striving with equal energy with the world-loving man for the accumulation of money, it is very difficult for the outsider to conclude his heart is still in heaven: his work does not seem to be heartless.

2. It engrosses his thoughts, and leaves no room, or but little, for religious meditation, or the consideration of the wants of the church.

3. It engrosses one’s time. He had not leisure for the study of the word of God, for secret devotional prayer, for attendance upon other religious duties, for religious conversation.

4. It absorbs his affections. “From the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.” He speaks of his trades, of his prospects, of his purposes, of his success. These facts show but too plainly that it has got hold of his heart.

5. It gives it food, and therefore expansion to the bitter root of all evil. It greatly increases the love of money. It begets us eagerness for its accumulation, which makes even a good man overleap occasionally his own sense of christian propriety, and thus sometimes brings into conflict the apparent interests of brethren, resulting in the production of alienation of affection and feeling. These sad results creep so gently and imperceptibly upon the christian, that their presence is not felt, not recognized. The excitement is intense, and the conflict of money-making fierce, and the wounded spirit does feel its laceration till the excitement subsides.

We fear that this storm will leave lasting evidence of its fearful power, in the church-wrecks which will be strewn along its track, and whose voice of warning will be too late to do us good. “Love not the world, neither the things of the world, for if any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”

Unable and unwilling to posit African slavery as sinful, Southern Baptist leaders throughout the war frequently turn to extortion, or the love of money, as a primary sin of the Confederacy.

The irony of such an argument is thinly-veiled: the Southern economy prior to the war was dependent upon the forced labor of African slaves, and now, with slavery slowly being whittled away by Federal advances in the South, the Southern economy is reeling. Whereas making riches off the backs of enslaved Africans treated as subhuman is a part of God’s divine will for the world, accumulating wealth in a time of national crisis is suddenly sinful. Rather than focusing on personal wealth, Southerners should sacrificially give of their money to shore up their nation’s war to preserve African slavery.

Source: “Love of Gain,” Christian Index, July 29 1862