Baptists and the American Civil War: December 23, 1863

African SlaveryMany in the Confederacy have reacted quite negatively to U.S. President Abraham Lincoln‘s recent Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction. The policy provides a way for Confederate citizens to pledge loyalty to the United States and thus receive a pardon, while also setting in place a plan to, over time, re-incorporate into the United States those Southern states comprised of many Union loyalists and now largely under Union control.

In the Deep South, white Southern Baptists scoff at Lincoln’s plan. The South Carolina Confederate Baptist newspaper, as it has done many times in the past, directs harsh criticism at the United States president, mincing no words.

The infamous proclamation appended to the last message of the usurper, at Washington, is an attempt to demoralize the people of the Confederate States, so pitifully puerile that the indignation it awakens is lost in contempt. If the despot’s proposition to betray our president and leaders, were suggested by a knowledge of the character of our people, it would indeed, be humiliating. To suppose them capable of an act of such stupendous ingratitude and perfidy, so utterly inconsistent with every principle of Christian magnanimity and manly courage, is an outrage which could have been perpetrated only by the deluded tyrant, who rules the United States.

The writer protests to much, perhaps. In the coming months far more Southerners seek pardons than Lincoln had anticipated as reconstruction in some border states is initiated more quickly than the president had hoped.

To be certain, however, freedom for the South’s slaves is a condition of a state’s re-admittance into the Union. South Carolina, a state rich in slaves and home to many of the largest plantations in the Confederacy, is not about to emancipate her slaves. Southern Baptist divines of the state remain wholly committed to African slavery, albeit during the war years some have admitted that the peculiar institution is in need of some reforms, as an editorial in today’s Confederate Baptist acknowledges.

The newspaper’s warning, however, cuts close to the marrow as it focuses on the widespread practice of slave owners raping their slave women, sexual unions that often produce mixed-breed children with light brown skin.

Our governors have summoned us to humiliation, confession of sin and prayer. It is important for us to inquire what are our sins and delinquencies. Our own impression is that our chief sin consists in the failure to accomplish the design of God, in reference to our peculiar institution. Slavery is God’s adjustment of the relation of labor to capital. Most of the nations of the earth have rejected it, and the curse of Heaven has fallen upon them, in the shape of pauperism, want and disaffection. We have retained slavery, and thus far, have submitted to the divine plan. But have we been faithful? Have we fully accepted and carried out the divine will?

Facts compel the confession that we have proved false to our high mission. Slavery, in its high moral and spiritual aspects, has well nigh proved a failure among us. It ought to have been the educator of the inferior race, in virtue and piety; and such would have been its beneficent results, had we been true to our august mission. But we have proved false. We have depreciated the institution … and have reared up a class of free negroes and mulatoes, who have become the pander to our vices.

Law is impotent to check our iniquities, and vice walks, unchallenged and unrebuked through the public streets. Our thoroughfares of travel are the witnesses of our apostacy; and every train transports the colored accomplices of vice. We have no hope that God’s hand will be uplifted from us, until this flagitious iniquity is rebuked and suppressed. Slavery must be brought back to its normal condition, and amalgamation must cease. If we desire the termination of the war, we must awake to our duty, in this respect. The land must be purged of its abominations; and the offenders against public decency must be summoned to a strict account. It is useless for Governors or Presidents to proclaim fasts, whilst iniquity is allowed to ride rampant, defy the law, and expose its unblushing front, in the public streets.

We have repeatedly called attention to these enormities; and we verily believe that unless they are corrected, we are a doomed people. The curse of Sodom will fall upon us; and we shall be as hideous and as righteous, a monument of divine vengeance, as were “the cities of the plain.” Our preachers, on fast day, instead of dealing in generalities, or flattering the people, about their great mission, would do well to “lay the axe at the root of the tree” and cut up the sins of the nation.

Source: “Lincoln’s Proclamation” and “The Times” in Confederate Baptist, December 23, 1863