Baptists and the American Civil War: November 6, 1864

Civil War States MapThe war is approaching a crucial moment: the 1864 United States presidential and congressional elections are only two days hence, and many–North and South–believe that should Abraham Lincoln be defeated in his bid for re-election, or should the Northern anti-peace movement effect significant victories in congressional elections, the will to pursue a military victory over the South will wane.

Lincoln has done what he can to aid his chances and those of his party. New western states have been birthed, expanding the electoral voting power of the Republican Party (running under the inclusive banner of “National Union Party). Several Southern states have been reconstructed with Union governments, including Tennessee, from which Lincoln has tapped his running mate–Tennessee military governor Andrew Johnson, a Southern War Democrat–in an effort to blunt momentum for peace movements North and South. Lincoln’s choice of General William T. Sherman to lead the campaign against Atlanta has paid off spectacularly. Severely reduced Confederate armies (some two-thirds of soldiers have deserted) are characterized by despair and physical hunger.

On the other hand, the armies have gone into their winter camps with the Confederacy yet holding on to Petersburg and Richmond, fostering much unrest among the Northern population. In addition, Lincoln’s presidential opponent is Union General George B. McClellan, a hero to many in the North, and a candidate who–while personally committed to continuing the war–is not committed to ending slavery. In addition, his party’s platform champions the ending of the war altogether, allowing the Confederacy to secede and maintain the institution of black slavery.

Thus, despite all the political chess moves Lincoln has made, as well as signal victories over Confederate armies, the president and the Republican Party at large are uncertain of a win.

The coming election, in short, is a referendum on continuing the war until the Confederacy surrenders and slavery is abolished (the platform of Lincoln and the Republican Party) or cutting Northern losses by pursuing peace with the Confederacy and allowing Southern slavery to continue (the platform of the Democratic Party, and assuming that McClellan ultimately will follow the wishes of his party).

Christians of the North, including Baptists, are seemingly strongly in the camp of Lincoln and the Republicans. In recent weeks patriotic speeches and sermons have been heard in many American (Northern) Baptist pulpits, and this day, the Sunday before the election, is no exception.

In the First Baptist Church of Philadelphia, Rev. George Dana Beardman today delivers a vividly patriotic sermon on “Civil Government, a Divine Ordinance.” The sermon, a thundering endorsement of Lincoln, the war against slavery and for democracy and liberty, is framed on moral and religious terms. The sermon thus begins:

We are living in a most extraordinary epoch. It is an era of stupendousness in the field, stupendousness in the court, stupendousness in the arena of the nation’s feelings. It were but a miserable, guilty aifectation of indifference for the ministers of Christ to ignore mighty national crises like the present. In common with my countrymen, I have been profoundly agitated by these sublime events, following each other with such startling rapidity ; and yet, oppressed as I am with the terrible catastrophe which has overtaken our land, it is very seldom that I would venture to introduce into the pulpit topics, the discussion of which seem to have a political bearing. For, the Kingdom of which I am an ambassador, is not of this World. But, ever and anon, some billow of our tempest-tossed ocean, surging to an unwonted height, bears aloft the ship of state far above the level of considerations merely political, into the purer religion of Christian morals. At such times, when the Almighty visibly makes bare His arm, and the nation passes through some sublime moral crisis, that minister is false to his trust, as the prophet or spokesman of God, who does not seize the occasion and turn it to a religious use. Such an occasion, I solemnly believe, is the approaching Presidential election. Next Tuesday, this nation is to decide whether it will obey God by maintaining His own ordinance of Civil Government, or disobey Him by ignominiously yielding it to mad insurgents. We all know that there is throughout the nation more or less of misgiving as to the righteousness of this war. The secret heart of the great Republic needs assurance on this point. This is the grand question which is to be decided next Tuesday. The real question, stripped of whatsoever attaches itself to it incidentally, is simply this: Shall we have a peace by maintaining with the sword God’s ordinance of civil government, or by surrendering it ? Thus surveyed, the question assumes a profoundly religious aspect…

Sources: 1864 United Stats Presidential Election (link); Civil Government, a Divine Ordinance: A Discourse Delivered in the Meeting-House of the First Baptist Church, of Philadelphia, November 6th, 1864 (1864) (link)