Friday, April 27, 2007

CWL --- Reluctant Rebels: Religion and Rebellion

Reluctant Protestant Confederates: The Religious Roots of Condititional Unionism, Charles F. Irons, in Virginia's Civil War, Wallenstein and Wyatt-Brown, eds., Univesity of Virginia Press, 2005, pp. 72-86.

'Evangelical Christians throughout the Confederacy gave active endorsement to the rebellion' is a somewhat tried and somewhat true statement. Exceptions to the statement occur regularly when examining the attitudes of evangelical Christians in the Upper South, particularly in Virginia. An examination of resistence to secession by Christians in Virginia reveals that 'white Virginians considered slavery and secession distinct and divergent moral issues.' (72-73)

Also, evangelical Virginians accepted 'civil debates over the future of slavery with more grace' than those evangelicals hailing from the Deep South. Virginia's Protestants' vigorous defense of the Union until Lincoln's call for troops in mid-April 1861 'persuaded them that they held the moral high ground' and easily interpreted 'their rebellion a just resistence to a tyrant.' (76-77)

Unionism among Virginia's Protestants seems paradoxical by today's understanding of Confederate nationalism. During the 1840s and 1850s, Upper South pastors endorsed slavery and demanded loyalty to the 'higher power' of the national government. Loyalty to the Union was a religious duty for Virginia Christians, even after October 1859, the month of the Harper's Ferry raid. Discussions of slavery were channeled away from congregational meetings by Upper South clergy. On the other hand in the Lower South, discussion of slavery were not only channeled away from congregational meetings but also from political meetings. In the Upper South, Protestants believed that slavery discussions must be contained in 'the civic sphere'. This is exemplfied by Augusta County, Virginia and Baltimore, Maryland; the Methodist Episcopal Church's Northern jurisdiction contained the Baltimore Conference, which housed both anti-slavery and pro-slavery worshipers. (79-80)

Many Episcopal Methodist Virginians willingly remained in fellowship anti-slavery congregants in the Baltimore Conference, even through October 1859 as John Brown raided Harper's Ferry.
The Conference remained undivided until mid-April 1861. The call for troops by Lincoln, in order to supress the rebellion, caused an over night change in Virginia's Christians. Irons cites several pastors' change as occuring within a few days of April 17. For Protestants, disunion and disobedience to authority was a sin, unless some party breeched the contract. Protestants in the Upper South understood that Lincoln's call for troops abrogated the contract that held the democratic republic together. (80-81)

'Did the Deep South's greater material interest in slavery compel the churgoers of this region to read the Bible differently and to reach different conclusions' about the secession?' Yes.
And did the Upper South's successful attempt at keeping the Baltimore Conference within the larger organization of Episcopal Methodism support Unionism up until mid-April 1861? Yes

Virginia's Christians swung their support from Unionism to rebellion due to Lincoln's call for troops. Virginians, in particular Robert E. Lee who was a Unionist, Episcopalian and slave holder, decided to join the Lower South in rebellion because Lincoln abrogated the South's Constitutional contract with the Federal government. (81-84)

No comments: