Baptists and the American Civil War: May 20, 1864

African SlaveryToday Union General Ulysses S. Grant surveys the results of the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House thus far. The fighting has raged since May 8, but his forces have been unable to break through the entrenched Confederate lines. Casualties and losses have been extremely heavy, approaching 30,000 total for both sides, about 18,000 for the Union. The best Grant has been able to do is further reduce Confederate General Robert E. Lee‘s forces by attrition, no small feat in light of the limited number of soldiers now available to the Confederate army.

On the morrow Grant decides to disengage and attempt to force Lee to turn his right flank, in the process keeping pressure on the Confederate general to protect Richmond.

At the same time, Union General William T. Sherman continues putting pressure on Confederate forces defending Atlanta. Today Union troops are trying to maneuver around Confederate General Joe Johnston‘s forces en route to Dallas, edging ever closer to Atlanta.

Meanwhile, even as Northern (American) Baptists celebrate the successes of abolitionism and emancipation, white Southern Baptist elites continue their desperate efforts to convince their common folk base that the preservation of black slavery is yet worth the great price the South is paying in the war. Today Samuel Boykin, Georgia Baptist Christian Index editor, writes his seemingly umpteenth defense of the peculiar institution that is ordained of God.

Boykin pulls no punches this day: Baptists and others who oppose African slavery are atheists.

Evidently the result of divine agency in human affairs, is intended by the Almighty as a defence of the Institution of slavery. For more than a quarter of a century, abolition fanaticism has been battering against this special decree of Providence; for thirty years this fanaticism has sought to overthrow, in the South, that Institution which God planted here, which he has ever sanctioned, and for which he had purposely provided a people; and, in order to put a forcible stop to this sacrilegious interference with His own plans, the Almighty brought about this mighty war, the consequences of which, by its success on our part, will be the complete vindication of Slavery as a divine institution, the certain eventuation of that destiny which the Lord has alloted to the South, and a guarantee of the grand results, whatever they may be, which African slavery is intended to effect upon the human race. What that effect is, we know not; nor is it our purpose to inquire. But we would simply state, that that Institution must be from God, which is as plainly of divine origin as is the Bible itself; which as clearly possesses divine sanction as do human governments; to the existence of which all history and the writings of all the Fathers bear witness; which the ancient church approved and practiced; to which nearly all commentators of note since the Reformation; which philosophy clearly indicates and establishes; which received not one word of rebuke from the Savior or his apostles; the propriety of which has been approved by emancipation in the West Indies; the benefits of which has been shown by the moral and physical elevation of the slave; the consequences of which have been the wonderful amelioration of a race that else had continued to grope in heathen darkness and degradation; and the eventual result of which may be the evangelization of all Africa, and its disenthralment from the chains of gross error, heathen superstition and degrading barbarism. To such an institution no sin can attach; though sin may attach to its abuse; though it be no sin to hold slaves yet the slaveholder many sin in the treatment of his slaves. Since slavery, then, as an offspring of the divine mind, is not merely a sinless institution, but one from which accrues benefit to master and slave, opposition to slavery is the product of infidelity. Such opposition, beget by infidelity, conceived by error, and brought forth by misapprehension, is nothing more than an atheistic contest with God himself. And the sure result of that defeat in that contest is the confirmation of atheistic principles in the mind of the human contestant; which is proved by the declaration of the ranker abolitionists that if the God of the Bible is the God of slavery, they will abjure him altogether.

Such being the position of affairs, and abolitionism having become so foully rampant, it need not excite surprise, that the Almighty, who

“Works in mysterious ways, his wonders to perform,”

should have awakened the mighty Demon of War to vindicate His purposes and punish his opponents. That we, too, are made to suffer, may excite surprise; but let it be remembered that we may have abused our trust, or that we may need this fiery purification, or that our minds may require this decided confirmation of the Lord’s will of purpose.–But we may rest assured of this one thing, that if we are victorious in the conflict–and victorious we will be–the establishment of slavery as a divine institution may be considered strongly confirmed; and such grandeur and prosperity will result, or such benefit and human amelioration will accrue, as will open the eyes of all, and astound the nations of earth, and wring from their reluctant lips praises to the God of heaven. 

What will happen if the South loses the war and God’s will for the African race is thus thwarted? Boykin cannot yet bring himself to inquire of such a future.

Sources: Battle of Spotsylvania Court House (link) and (link) and (link); Atlanta Campaign (link) and (link); “The War,” Christian Index, May 20, 1864