Baptists and the American Civil War: January 27, 1863

Civil War States MapNot surprisingly, Baptists North and South routinely speak unfavorably of their national counterparts. Rhetoric flows from pulpits and in print, the latter being more common in the South simply because there are far more Baptist newspapers operating in the Confederacy than in the United States. In addition, the war is almost exclusively battled on Southern turf, leading to intense feelings on the part of white Southerners. The particular target of white Southern anger is abolitionists, whom the Confederacy portrays as the immoral agitators who started the war over slavery and whose power holds sway over the U.S. government.

An editorial in this week’s North Carolina Baptists’ Biblical Recorder captures the feelings of many white Southern Baptists toward the North. The “social system” that the writer defends is that of white supremacy and African slavery, a racial arrangement that mostly benefits elite, large plantation owners, but that white Southern Baptists at large (with some exceptions, primarily originating in the less agriculturally fertile regions of the South) have for decades adamantly defended as biblical and as the will of God for humanity. The writer’s charge that the United States’ goal is to enslave Southern whites is an evocative scare tactic routinely employed throughout the war by white Southern elites for the purpose of spurring the masses to fight the evil North with abandon, in order to preserve the South’s “social system.” As such, the editorial, and others similar, serve as tools of propaganda. U.S. President Abraham Lincoln‘s recent “diabolical” Emancipation Proclamation, legally freeing the slaves in the rebellious states, has only increased the need for such rhetoric targeted at the poor white masses of the Confederacy from whom most of the South’s military defenders hail.

One of the results of this war has been the development of the real character of the people of the United States. In former years they were wont to boast of their superior civilization and enlightenment, their higher standard of morality and religion, and their unalterable devotion to the cause of human liberty. Those who are familiar with Northern literature will readily recal the tone of conscious superiority and self complacency, which pervaded it; how patronizingly the social system of the South was spoken of, at times; how, at others, it was caricatured and ridiculed, or bitterly and fiercely assailed. Conscious of the falsity of these assertions, and of the hyprocricy of the pretensions of the North, but little attention was paid them here, and in the course of years they came to be believed, not only by the people of the United States, but of Europe also. One of the good results of this war has been to show the real merits of the two opposing social systems; to test and develope the strength and beauty of ours, and to tear away the tinselry with which the people of the North had covered themselves, and to bring light their arrogance and corruption. It is interesting and profitable to compare their pretensions with their conduct towards us since the commencement of the present war.

They claimed to be the only real friends of liberty, on this continent, yet they have inaugurated a struggle whose object is the subjugation and enslavement of twelve million people. To do this, every safeguard to constitutional liberty has been torn away, the constitution itself has been utterly disregarded, and every right of freemen has been violated. In prosecuting the war, they have adopted measures, and resorted to instrumentalities, which will forever characterize them as prodigies of corruption and wickedness. The systematic falsehoods of the United States government, at the outset of this struggle; the appeals to the basest passions of human nature, to induce men to volunteer for the crusade against the South; the refusal to let medicines, and even the word of God be sent to us, a measure of Rome in her worst days, or of Satan himself; the efforts to block up the entrance to our harbors; the brutal outrages of their soldiery wherever they have penetrated; the plunder and destruction of private property; the arrest and imprisonment and even murder of unoffending citizens on the most frivolous pretences; outrages against propriety and decency, and all the usages of civilized warfare, from which no age or sex, or class, or profession, has been exempt; these are now matters of history. They have blown to the winds the claims of the government of the United States, to civilization and humanity and given to them an immortality of infamy. But, as if the work of degradation were incomplete, the finishing touch has been given in the late emancipation proclamation in which it is proposed to turn loose four millions of people possessing childish intellects, and strong passions, and totally disqualified from self-government; not only to liberate them, but to arm them against their masters. This measure, so diabolical in its character, has hitherto elicited but little opposition. On the other hand it has received the approbation not only of many of the secular journals and of the politicians, but also, of the religious men in some [of] the Northern cities, some of whom held a meeting on New Year’s morning to return thanks giving for the proclamation. Verily, Babylon, the Great has fallen. The United States, in spite of her advantages, and her boasted philanthropy and religion will take her place in history by the side of the French revolutionists, less successful, but not less daring in their wickedness, than they whom Edmond Burke appropriately denominated “the most skillful architects of ruin” that the world ever saw.

But the blind fanaticism, fiendish hate, inhuman designs, and brutal outrages of our foes are not without their good results to us. They have not only vindicated our character in the estimation of foreign nations, but justified us in separating from a people capable of such things. They have exploded the last hopes of reconstruction, have consolidated the people of the South, inspired them with a determination to be free, which is stronger than death, and imparted to our soldiers a valor which renders them invincible.

Source: “The Inhumanity of our Enemies,” Biblical Recorder, January 28, 1863 (link)