Baptists and the American Civil War: January 19, 1865

kelley_redeemedToday Edmond Kelley, formally a slave and now a mulatto Baptist clergyman, writes U.S. Vice President, and former Tennessee governor, Andrew Johnson.

Kelley is the author of the 1851 book, A Family Redeemed from Bondage; Being Rev. Edmond Kelley, (the Author,) His Wife, and Four Children.

Originally from Tennessee, Kelley currently lives in the North but wishes to return to his native state.

He thus writes to Johnson:

New Bedford Mass—Jan 19 1865

Most Respected Sir:

I Congratulate & rejoice with you and all engaged in the good work of abolishing slavery in my old native state—from which I have been at exile since 1846—but the enclosed documents will illustrate that I have not been Idle since then—I enclose you—a copy—of the series of resolutions passed at our last meetings in which we expressed our Convictions—views—& feelings [and] two ballads—which I would be pleased if they are sung in your Convention if compatible with your sense of propriety—and I also send one of my pamphlets—Containing important question & cards with the Testimonials of approval of my mode of Teaching the Bible both North & South—from all persuasions—with two pictures of my two children born North since—I came North[.] I rejoice that I had the extreme pleasure of introducing them —to my much esteemed late friend Hon. Wm Polk the last time he was at Boston—I revere his memory not only because he was a frend of me while in Slavery, but because he stood up to the last for the Union—although related by Politics and fortune—as he was—Now gentlemen if any of or all approve of the same—& will contribute sums more or less—to enable me to labor more particularly among our freed brethren and will send it to me It will be thankfully recd—Gentlemen, it is my conviction that a knowledge of the bible is the only lasting bases of all that is good—I spoke of being an exile—The facts were as follows I was born a slave in Columbia Tenn—my people sent me to a free state to keep me out of the hands of their Cerditors—who refused any other terms from me but to return & go up on the Auction block but I could not see it in that light—there was or is a man in or about Nashville—who had $77 of my money to keep for me—who after I came to the free states refuse to give it up to me—but handed it into the Educational department at Murfresborough to aid a student for the ministry—Gentlemen can you help me to get it—

E. Kelley

P.S. I want to visit my old state next spring—or summer—

While Kelley views slavery as evil, many white Southerners view the abolitionist North as evil. This dichotomy, existing for decades, is at the heart of the war currently raging.

During the war years the pages of the Georgia Baptist Christian Index have unsparingly and consistently defended slavery and condemned the North for its opposition to slavery. A commentary in today’s Index is merely the latest of many that praise the Christian nature of the Confederacy, while condemning the depravity of the North.

In the moral discipline of war we are taught some of the most salutary and important lessons of life; lessons which we would never learn in the unclouded sunshine of prosperity.

Since the present war commenced, we have been taught our dependence on God. In long continued seasons of health in the midst of plenty, with the luxuries of life abounding on every side, men are prone to forget their entire dependence on the Great Giver for every breath they draw, and for every blessing and joy of their existence.—But when disease and death invade their dwellings, and their “riches make to themselves wings and fly away,” in their weakness, penury, and suffering, they are constrained to see that their hearts and eyes have been “set upon that which is not,” and that they are entirely dependent on the supporting hand of God. The war has impressed this truth on the hearts of thousands. It is recognized in the solemn declaration of our legislative councils, in the appointments by the President of days of fasting, prayer and thanksgiving, as well as in all the meetings for prayer which have been held in the Confederacy for nearly four years, and in the public services of the Church. In all these solemnities, the people profess their dependence. With many it is more than mere profession. They see and feel it as reality—and with the settled conviction that the blessing must come from God, they are daily praying for peace.

The privations, sufferings, and bereavements produced by the war have prepared the minds of thousands to read and understand the Holy Scriptures as they never understood them before. They are studying the sacred volume, the history of the ancient wars, and the prophetical books of the Bible with new interest, and learning that it is God who has “made desolations in the earth,” and who also “maketh wars to cease unto the end” thereof. They also learn why God brings the evils of war upon His chosen people, and how He delivers and saves them from the wrath of their enemies. This is a most important lesson—and it is repeatedly and variously illustrated on many pages of the Bible. It is better for us, far better to suffer the evils of war, than to remain ignorant of what God has taught on this subject in the volume of his truth.

What a lesson has the war held up before the world in human depravity! The people of the Northern States have for years imagined that they were morally elevated above every other people in Christendom. In their self-complacency, they have regarded their large houses, their rich furniture, their railroads, and telegraphs, and their advancement of the useful arts, as unmistakeable evidence of a very high state of civilization.—But the atrocious deeds of those whom they placed in authority, in the robbery and murder of unarmed citizens, women and children, in the wanton destruction of private property to gratify their malicious hatred, as well as the perfidy and mendacity which have marked their career, give the lie to their boasted profession of civilization and the virtues of the Christian faith.—The savage barbarities which our enemies have perpetuated on the unoffending and defenceless, will stamp their history with the indelible marks of infamy.

The vivid contrast between Kelley and the Christian Index writer is such that one might wonder: who are the righteous, and who are the depraved? Who are the suffering, and who are the privileged?

Sources: Edmond Kelley, A Family Redeemed from Bondage; Being Rev. Edmond Kelley, (the Author,) His Wife, and Four Children, New Bedford, Mass.: 1851,┬ádigitized by Documenting the American South, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (link); Edmond Kelley Letter, Jan 19, 1865, The Papers of Andrew Johnson, 1864-1865 (link); “The Disciplines of War,” Christian Index, January 19, 1865