Baptists and the American Civil War: January 8, 1862

Edward A. Pollard, The Southern SpyWhite southerners are defending African slavery by the Bible, sword, blood … and southern literature. The Civil War has brought added urgency to an ongoing southern effort to lend literary credibility to a society and culture based on African slavery. Today’s North Carolina Biblical Recorder makes note of this scholarly effort on the part of Confederate intellectuals:

Every day brings us fresh evidence of the determination of the Southern people to free themselves forever from Northern thraldom and of their capacity for making this resolution effective. The struggle in which we are engaged has given us a fresh impetus to every department of industry, and has already developed our resources to a remarkable extent. Three Southern books before us, show that, in these times of strife and bloodshed, literature is not entirely forgotten.

The first of them, “The Southern Spy,” consisting of a series of letters addressed to Messrs. Lincoln, Seward, Gen. Scott, Dr. Tyng and other prominent men in the United States, is a spicey and readable book and we predict for it an extensive circulation.

The second, “Causes and Contrasts,” gives a review of Southern political philosophy and of the causes and progress of the war which has been so unrighteously forced on the people of the Confederate States. The writer wields a vigorous pen and we apprehend that his book will be extensively read. With much that is good and valuable, there is one serious objection to it. In defending the peculiar institution of the South, the author seeks to justify it by the old infidel theory of a plurality of races. We regret to see this. There is abundant proof from reason and the Bible, that slavery, as held and practised in the Confederate States, is right, without attempting to make infidelity aid us. Every effort of this kind will fail to produce the desired effect. . . .

The first referenced volume is Edwin Pollard’s The Southern Spy: Letters on the Policy and Inauguration of the Lincoln War, published in 1861. Pollard is already a well-known southern author. His 1859 book, Black Diamonds Gathered in the Darkey Homes of the South, is a collection of letters written by Pollard in defense of the southern institution of African slavery. Africans, according to Pollard, are children by nature, destined by God to be in perpetual enslavement to the superior white race. A review of Black Diamonds declared: “It abounds in incidents of Southern slaves and masters, illustrating, very happily, the patriarchal relation which subsists between the races of the South, and defending the institution more than all argument, from the assaults of ignorance or prejudice.”

Pollard’s The Southern Spy defends the slave-based Confederacy as the true champion of liberty and freedom. History, however, remembers Pollard as the author of the seminal post-war (1866) volume, The Lost Cause: A New Southern History of the War of the Confederates. Pollard, in this latter volume, reverses his own earlier contentions, widely shared by other southern leaders (religious and secular) and intellectuals and embedded within official declarations of secessionist states, that slavery was the cause of the Civil War. Instead, Pollard’s New Southern History posits that slavery did not really exist in the antebellum and war-era South. Rather, “negro servitude” was a benevolent institution that was conveniently appropriated by the United States as a pretext to invade the South. The real cause of the war, in Pollard’s revised history, was an all-consuming desire of the North to control the prosperity of the South.

Pollard’s immediate post-war revisionism not only posited a South in which slavery had not truly existed, but argued that the “peculiarity” of the “Southern people” was “State Rights.” Yet the latter phrase was a term Pollard had not employed in his previous writings. In addition, Pollard’s use of “peculiarity” in referring to “State Rights” contrasted (intentionally) with the long-time, popular southern positioning of slavery as the South’s “peculiar institution.”

The second volume recommended by the Biblical Recorder is T. W. MacMahon’s Cause and Crisis: An Essay on the American Crisis. Published January 1, 1862, Cause and Crisis endeavors to offer a scholarly apology for what everyone already knows – and what Pollard now affirms but four years hence will deny: that African slavery is the foundation of the Confederacy and necessary for the well-being of religion and civilization. The cause of the war is white southerners’ defense of African slavery and northern opposition to slavery. MacMahon defends African slavery as the “constitutional right” of the South worth fighting for, whereas after the water Pollard reconstructs the paradigm by positioning “State Rights” as the ideological political doctrine, detached from slavery, over which the Confederacy resisted an illegal invasion by the United States.

Thus, the Baptists of the South who today read the recommended two volumes (as well as Pollard’s earlier Black Diamonds) find ample reinforcement for the prevailing southern position that the preservation of African slavery is the cause of the present war, a cause inextricably associated with freedom and liberty for the white race and the survival of Christian civilization, and a cause worth flinging the lives of hundreds of thousands of southern white men into battle against the United States.

Note: The “plurality of races” theory referenced is a popular early 19th century belief that certain races of people — notably Africans and Native Americans — developed entirely separate from (and were considered inferior to) the Caucasian race. Hence, human “races” rather than the human “race.”

Sources: “Literary Notes,” Biblical Recorder, January 8, 1862 (link); Edward A. Pollard, The Southern Spy: Letters on the Policy and Inauguration of the Lincoln War. Richmond: West & Johnston, 1861 (link); T. W. MacMahon, Cause and Contrast: An Essay on the American Crisis. Richmond: West & Johnston, 1862 (link); Edward A. Pollard, Black Diamonds Gathered in the Darkie Homes of the South. New York: Pudney & Russell, 1859 (link); Edward A. Pollard, The Lost Cause: A New Southern History of the Confederates. New York: E. B. Treat, 1866 (link)