Baptists and the American Civil War: April 3, 1864

Green Clay SmithThe New York Times today reprints a speech on slavery delivered by Kentucky Baptist layman and U.S. Congressman Green Clay Smith (1826-1895).

Smith served as a Second Lieutenant in the Army during the Mexican War, after which he graduated from Transylvania University and then practiced law with his father, John Speed Smith, an attorney and U.S. Representative from Kentucky.

Moving to Covington, Kentucky in 1858, two years later he was elected to the state legislature as a supporter of the Union. When the war came, he enlisted in the 4th Kentucky (Union) Volunteer Cavalry and was made a Colonel, rising to Brigadier General of Volunteers on June 11, 1862. He distinguished himself by claiming several battlefield victories over the rebels, including a battle in which he helped defeat Confederate General John Hunt Morgan.

Elected to the U.S. Congress in the fall of 1862 as an Unconditional Unionist, Smith resigned his officer’s commission on December 4, 1863 in order to fill his congressional seat. Currently serving in Congress, he is an ardent advocate of the Union and of emancipation, as evidenced by this excerpt from today’s speech.

The Cincinnati Gazette reports in full the speech delivered at Lexington, Ky., by Hon. GREEN CLAY SMITH. The following is the concluding part of the speech:

I went to Congress pledged to vote men and money to sustain the Government. I beat my opponent because he promised to do the same, and did not do it. The enrollment bill came up, enrolling every man between the ages of 20 and 45. The bill was proper, and I determined to vote for it. I wanted to see the military strength of the country brought into the field. If volunteers filled the quotas, the draft would not be necessary. When under discussion in the House, an amendment was offered that every able-bodied man, white or black, of suitable age, should be subject to the draft, there was no question amongst the best lawyers in Congress on the power and right of the Government to conscript men of the proper age. All admitted the right to call into the field every able-bodied man, to save the Government. It was simply a question of policy whether it should be done. I knew the bill would pass. An amendment was offered to give a bounty to loyal masters for every slave who went into the army. When the question was put to me, “Will you vote for it?” I answered “Yes.” I voted for it, and so did ANDERSON. [Cheers.] RANDALL voted against the amendment, but for the bill on its final passage. The question which now arises, is not the necessity of raising these armies, but the reason for including slaves. Nearly all the able-bodied slaves of Maryland, thousands from Missouri and from our own State had enlisted in the army, and their owners had not the scratch of a pen for them. The Government had a right to enlist them.

In this State, in 1860, there were 200,000 slaves, valued at $70,000,000. In 1862, there was the same number as in 1860, less 447. Is this not a remarkable fact in history, that nearly 200,000 rebels had overran the State at various times, and yet there was a loss of only 447 slaves less in the State! Their valuation in 1862 was $57,000,000. In 1863, probably less than $25,000,000. Able-bodied men are not worth to day over $250 each, and yet every loyal master is offered $300 by the Government for every enlisted slave.

But they say it violates the sacred rights of Slavery to draft the negroes. Show me a single scratch of the pen in the Constitution of Kentucky which prohibits it. You admit Congress is right in going into your house and my house, and taking your son or mine by the draft — in taking the farmer from the plow, the mechanic from the bench — that is just and right, and there is no harm in it. The working man’s wife and child may be left without support and care, while he is put to digging trenches or throwing up fortifications, or made a mark for rebel bullets. But the owner of twenty or thirty negroes must not have them subject to the same perils. It is right that the white man should be subject to the hazards of war, you admit. When you say, then, that negroes shall not be, all laws and constitutions are trampled under foot. [Applause.] I have come to believe this Government, is for the benefit of the white people. [Cheers.] I love my son dearer than a negro. I do not prefer to see my son shot than to see a negro shot. If it had not been for your friends, those with whom you sympathize, those in rebellion, this law would never have been necessary. You have created the necessity of enlisting negroes, and if you suffer, it is your own fault. The question is, shall the law be enforced? I answer “yes.” [Yes,” came in response from the audience.] Nobody will be hurt by the law. Already on your Southern border thousands have gone into the army whose masters have not the scratch of a pen for them. ANDERSON says all the young men in the district are in the rebel army. Were the full quota of the District called for it would take 6,000 men to fill it. Nine-tenths of the white men liable to draft cannot pay $300. If half the rebels were to be drafted or furnish negro substitutes, he thinks they would fill a negro regiment at once. But you say it is disgraceful for negroes to serve in our armies. Not according to that high authority with you, the Rebel Government. They used them to build fortifications at Charleston and Vicksburgh, and have put arms in their hands too, by thousands. We think the negroes are as good on our side as on theirs.

If Kentucky fills her quota from negroes, she will have white laborers at home, and the interests of industry will not suffer. But would any Union man take from our armies the 159,000 negroes now in the service, 50,000 at least bearing arms? If so, he must draft from the laboring white population an equal number to fill their places.

Now this state of thinge exists in consequence of the rebellion. Louisiana and Arkansas are free, with free constitutons and free-State Congressmen. You have no conception of the vast numbers of men who come from those sections of the country to Washington and ask the Government to go on with this work. The majority of the people of this Commonwealth do not propose to resist the action of the Government. They do not seek to do it, for if they do they must meet the consequences. I love Kentucky, as a proud and glorious Commonwealth, but love my whole country more. She stands as a bright star in the galaxy of nations, and must not be plucked out. The time is coming, not only in Kentucky, but in every Southern State, when the dark clouds will pass away, and all be under one Administration, under one Government, under one flag, and you cannot prevent it. The hundreds of thousands who have lost their lives in the struggle have not lost them in vain.


We have arrived again near the period for electing another President. I do not know who will be the nominee of the Baltimore Convention, though I have a pretty good idea who it will be. I intend to go to the Baltimore Convention, and stand by its nominee. Whoever he may be, it is my honest belief he will carry the State of Kentucky. We must crush the rebellion for our own safety. That done, harmony will soon unite us together. We see in the history of the war repeated instances of the speedy fraternization which takes place on the battle-field between our men and the rebels immediately after a victory. The same result will be seen when the rebellion is crushed. For the masses, the speaker would grant an amnesty; for the leaders, none. He had no desire to live with them again. When GRANT, MEADE, SHERMAN and ROSECRANS have finished their work, then another famous Kentucky General will come in for a share of the work — General Hemp. [Cheers.] The punishment of these arch-traitors must be so terrible, that no leaders will ever dare to enter upon the work of rebellion again.

The speaker closed with a happy and touching reference to a nameless grave he had visited at Richmond, Ky., of one of the heroes who fell there, and paid a high compliment to the self-sacrifice of the noble women who have sent their husbands and sons into the field. The Union would be restored, the brave men of the North respected at the South, and the nation purified and redeemed through blood, resume its high rank among the nations of the earth.

Following the war, Smith resigns his congressional seat in 1866 to accept an appointment as governor of Montana Territory. Yet politics only partially fulfills his desire to serve humankind. In 1869 Smith resigns the governorship and returns to Kentucky, where he assumes the pastorate of the First Baptist Church of Frankfort, Kentucky. In the decades following until his death, Smith is a popular Baptist preacher and evangelist who also advocates the cause of Prohibition, a position that a growing number of Baptists embrace towards the end of the century. In 1876 he is the presidential candidate of the National Prohibition Party.

Reflecting his affinity for politics, Smith returns to Washington, D.C., where from 1890 until his death he serves as pastor of the city’s Metropolitan Baptist Church. Upon his death he is buried in Arlington Cemetery.

Sources: “Green Clay Smith” (link) and (link) and (link); “A Patriotic Kentuckian.; ELOQUENT SPEECH BY HON. GREEN CLAY SMITH, New York Times, April 3, 1864″ (link)