Baptists and the American Civil War: January 8, 1861

Alabama’s secession convention continues. Accompanying James DeVotie as a secession convention delegate is fellow Baptist Samuel Henderson, Tuskegee pastor and editor of the South Western Baptist state paper. With DeVotie, Henderson is an avowed secessionist.

Somewhat of an outlier among Baptists in the South at large, Henderson since the early 1850s has been an advocate and promoter of the industrialization of the agrarian South. The booming coal and iron fields of northern Alabama are the basis of Henderson’s downplaying of the cotton economy. Yet his promotion of industrialization does not mitigate his pro-slavery views. Throughout the 1850s, as one slavery-related political crisis after another roils the nation, Henderson routinely uses his editorial pen to denounce northern abolitionists and defend southern slavery. His outspoken political advocacy, in turn, helps dramatically increase the circulation of the South Western Baptist.

During the war, Henderson uses his editor’s penmanship and his pulpit (Tuskegee Baptist) to promote the Confederacy, including the recruiting of soldiers.

Henderson’s newspaper suffers during the war. Temporarily suspended in March 1862 because of financial problems, the paper returns quickly, but in abbreviated form through the remainder of the war. In 1865, Federal troops close the offices of the South Western Baptist, and Henderson merges the defunct paper with Georgia’s Christian Index.

Henderson’s prominence in Alabama Baptist life is such that in 1858 he is elected vice-president of the Alabama Baptist State Convention.Yet it is after the war that Henderson’s Baptist stock reaches its height, as from 1868-1873 he serves as the president of the state Baptist convention.

For more information on Samuel Henderson, see Wayne Flynt, Alabama Baptists: Southern Baptists in the Heart of Dixie (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1998).