Baptists and the American Civil War: January 5, 1865

African SlaveryThe fall of Savannah continues to ripple throughout the North and South. News of the event reaches the West coast this week, whereupon this day a group of citizens in Los Angeles assembles to organize a Soldier’s Aid Society to assist injured Union soldiers. Additional chapters are formed on both coasts in the weeks following, as grateful U.S. citizens demonstrate their appreciation for the brave men whose sacrifices are now bearing fruit as victory over the Confederacy seems assured.

Meanwhile, Charleston officials prepare for Sherman’s advance upon their city. All free white men of the city between the ages of 16 and 64 and not presently serving in the army are put on notice that they are “liable to militia service.” There “are no exemptions,” and those who resist when called will face “arrest and punishment.”

A Federal victory over Charleston stands to cheer Northerners even more than that of Savannah, as the South Carolina city is the ideological center of the slave-based Confederacy.

A commentary in today’s Georgia Baptist Christian Index considers whether or not white Southerners have failed to uphold their responsibilities concerning the divine institution of black slavery.

While we are suffering the calamities of war, it becomes our duty to recognize in them the hand of God laid heavily upon us for some wise and good purpose. So many mercies have been mingled with the Lord’s judgements, that we are authorized to receive the inflictions from which we suffer, not as tokens of perdition, but as fatherly chastisements, designed for our profit. We ought not to despise the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when we are rebuked by Him, but with filial confidence in His goodness, humble ourselves under His mighty hand, and study the purpose of His chastisement, that we may forsake every evil way, and be made partakers of His holiness.

The war which afflicts us, has a manifest connection with slavery, and it ought to be our first inquiry, whether in relation to this subject we have committed any sin which has offended God, and which we should deplore and forsake. We cannot screen ourselves under the plea that the relation between the master and the slave has the divine sanction. The relation of a father to his children is of divine institution, but the duties of the relation may be so sadly neglected as to offend God, and bring down His heavy judgments on the parents who fail to fulfill the parental obligations. In this manner we may have failed greatly in our duty to the slaves that God has placed under our authority, and it is right and wise to inquire into this matter.

The failure of our laws to recognize and protect marriage among slaves has attracted the attention of our religious bodies, but this failure is only a part of a general evil. We have not labored, in every possible way, to promote the welfare, for time and eternity, of our slave population, as of dependent and helpless immortals whom God has placed in our power and at our mercy. Multitudes of masters, we have reason to fear, regard their slaves as mere instruments for making money, and forget the distinction between the immortal minds that they control and the brute animals that they protect and use for the sake of gain. Many christian masters differ in this particular, and strive to promote the best interests of their slaves; but who among us has come up the full measure of his duty? As a government, and as a people, have we not much to confess before God? If, instead of hoarding our wealth from the labor of our slaves, or expending the gains of it in luxury, the world had seen us mainly intent on doing good in every possible way, to this degraded portion of our race, is it probable that our [?] would have had the hardihood to wage this unjust and cruel war against us? Or is it probable that Providence would have permitted so dire calamities to fall upon us?

The fact that the Bible sanctions the institution of slavery, has led some persons to [?] strong confidence that our Confederacy must be successful in the present struggle for independence, and it may be that the faith of those persons in the inspiration of the holy book should be weakened if our struggle should terminate disastrously. But if we fail, it will not be because the word of God has failed, but because we have not conformed our conduct to its holy requirements. If we would avoid a disastrous termination of the war, let us, as individuals and as a people, resolve to study the will of God as taught in His word, and in the [?] of his providence; and let us resolve, with honest and firm purpose, to perform all His will to the utmost of our ability, whatever sacrifice of self-gratification it may require. The rod of God is upon us—disaster staring us in the face.—There is no time for delay. Let God’s chastisement have its proper effect on our hearts, and we may then hope that the rod will be removed.

In how many different ways the condition of the African race among us may be meliorated in perfect consistence with the general good, Providence will teach us when we have honestly engaged in the work. We need not fear that their condition will become more elevated than he has designed. We may safely leave to God the fulfillment of His purpose, but we cannot safely violate His law which requires us to do good to all men, and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.

Conceding the obvious that some slaveowners are more interested in the wealth generated by their slaves than in the welfare of their chattel is but the smallest of concessions in regards to the peculiar institution. Charleston may be the geographical heart of the slave-based Confederacy, but even as the white South is shrouded in the darkness of national despair, white Southern religion defiantly remains the spiritual apologist for and defender of black slavery.

Sources: John W. Robinson, Los Angeles in Civil War Days, 1860-1865, University of Oklahoma Press, 2013, p. 157 (link); “Proclamation of the Governor of South Carolina, December 29, 1864,” Richmond Daily Dispatch, January 5, 1865 (link); “Our Chastisement,” Christian Index, January 5, 1865