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of a Paradox of the Old South White Southerners in the antebellum age placed great faith in the values and practices of Protestant Christianity. As Samuel S. Hill, Jr. observes in Religion and the Solid South, Few societies in modern Christendom can compare with the American South for proportion of religious affiliation or intensity of religious conviction…Christianity, the religion the people embrace so zealously, (teaches) that love is the ultimate power and purpose of reality, and the norm for human behavior. No serious reading of Christian teaching can challenge the conclusion that in its preachments concerning both the divine government of the world and man’s call to responsible living, the central, all-dominating motif as love defined as creative good will.i White Southerners also believed in the institution of slavery. Beginning around the late 1820’s, Southern faith in slavery became systematic, self-conscious, and took on the principles of a formal ideology.ii From the modern perspective, little doubt can be cast that slavery was barbaric and directly conflicted with the societies’ religious values as described above. Thus a paradox exists, and an explanation of how Southerners could reconcile slavery with Christianity and subsequently why they chose to do so is necessary to understand the Old South. Much light can be shed on the problem through classification of American Protestant teachings (Northern as well as Southern) during the colonial, revolutionary, and antebellum periods that greatly influenced pro-slavery thinkers into two basic
2 hypothetical spheres: efficiency and morality.1 All logical thoughts or actions justified upon or ingrained in benefits-versus-costs reasoning will be classified as efficient. In contrast, logical thoughts and actions derived from ethically right-or-wrong reasoning will be considered moral. Some key points must be made before classification of American religion into these spheres is possible. Often religious teachings or arguments do not fit into either approach on the surface. The evidence to be used often does not promote a religious practice or style of worship by directly stating that the benefits exceed the costs or because it is expressly right or wrong. However, all of the evidence still fits into one or both spheres. For example, purposeful inefficiencies based upon tradition, such as a preacher’s call to preserve a precious religious relic because of its connection to a Biblical figure, are moral. In contrast, actions with a goal that do not account for moral thought, such as if the preacher called for the relic’s preservation to increase levels of worship, are efficient. Further explanation of the two constructs is needed to avoid misunderstanding of the analysis. Neither sphere is inherently good or bad, correct or incorrect. Both efficient and moral religious arguments may state that they are backed by divine origin. In addition, certain situations would be “rightly” handled through an efficient approach, others through a moral one.2 Deciding which one would be best is purely subjective and
It is important to note that the two spheres carry arbitrary titles. Much due to their theoretical nature, no English word exists that would fully capture what they are intended to mean. Thus for the purpose of this paper, it is important for the reader to take efficiency and morality as they are defined next in the text, not by their classic connotations. 2 To help break previously held ideas about morality as good and efficiency as evil, consider the historical example of Hitler. Hitler’s call for the death of Jews based upon their inherent devilish nature was based upon moral reasoning, and would still be seen today by most as purely wrong or evil. To break the assumption that morality is always the correct approach to a situation, consider the following example where an efficient approach is appropriate, while a moral one would not seem to fit at all. Simple everyday acts would often seem ridiculous if handled morally. It generally seems clear that one should not ponder the moral correctness of whether or not to use a door handle to enter a room; rather they should simply consider if it is the fastest or easiest means of doing so.
3 dependent upon individual perspective. The purpose of meta-analyzing American religious influences is not to judge whether or not they were ingrained in the right or wrong sphere. Rather, the approach is used to show that the paradox stemming from the belief in both Protestant Christianity and slavery in the South can be partially explained by showing how the underlying values of the teachings of American religion shaped Southern approaches to making logical decisions. From the efficient/moral perspective, it becomes clear that the form of religion that swept America beginning in the Great Awakening and continuing until the Revolution, while containing strains of morality, was dominated by efficiency. Greatly influenced by the thinking style underlying the new breed of religion, Southerners grew to believe that efficient religious arguments were just as or more proper than moral arguments to defend slavery. Characteristic defenses of the institution referred to its benefits: blacks had easier lives and faced better conditions in America in contrast to Africa; God ordained slavery because it caused the South to prosper. Under such efficient frameworks of thought, white Southerners saw slavery as a logically correct, positive institution in religious as well as secular spheres. As a result, Protestant religion’s influence helped slavery become a staple in the region. However, a dilemma is created when it considered that after 1830, although efficiency continued to be used as a defense of the peculiar institution, the majority of pro-slavery arguments were moral. As Drew Faust notes, during the age of popular proslavery argument, “the Bible served as the core of this defense…southerners demonstrated…that both Old and New Testaments sanctioned human bondage. God’s Chosen People had been slaveholders; Christ had made no attack on the institution; his
4 disciple Paul had demonstrated a commitment to maintaining it.”iii Popular religion during this time shows the same emphasis on morality. Thus from the Great Awakening to the Civil War, defenses of slavery and religion show remarkable similarity in changing spheres. Simultaneous faith in loving Protestant values and slavery during the proslavery age became possible because Southerners attempted to morally justify an institution that was previously justified through efficient means. Probably the largest contributing factor to the revivals of the Great Awakening was the growing failure of conservative, or “Old Light” religion throughout the colonies. Growing secularism was especially prevalent in populations on the frontier, as churches and conservative values were hard to establish in rough conditions. Eastern preachers’ negative views about the population in the West added to the problem. As Christine Leigh Heyrman observes about religious leaders in the South, The besetting sin of the Anglican clergy was the lackluster vice of sloth, which caused them to neglect the needs of men and women in those remote areas. In their indifference to concerns of western settlers they mirrored the attitude of the coastal gentry, the ruling group with whom they identified and whose dominant position they defended. There were a handful of Anglican ministers in the South who condemned the “Inattention and Indolence” that kept most of their colleagues from venturing into the backcountry, but such criticisms shamed few into forsaking their snug parsonages along the coast.iv The widespread answer to these growing problems in the colonies was evangelicalism. From method of teaching and worship to the values it taught, evangelical, or “New Light” religion contrasted markedly with American religion of the past, and was much more efficient. While the Northern, Middle, and Southern colonies were affected by the Great Awakening at different times and primarily by different religious leaders, the changes in
5 theology and style of religious worship brought about were generally similar. Breaking historical precedent, New Light preachers disregarded many prior denominational and sectional religious differences. As H. Shelton Smith writes, The Awakening produced numerous controversies, creating for a time internal divisions…But, paradoxically, it was at the same time a great unitive force, transcending colonial and denominational barriers as nothing in America had done before. The explanation is that the revival ignored many of the old alignments based on theology and church government, and created new alignments by making personal conversion the supreme test question.v Gilbert Tennent, a Presbyterian minister who preached in New England and the Middle colonies, reflected the religious pluralism in the colonies that grew during the Great Awakening, stating, “all societies who profess Christianity and retain the foundational principles thereof, notwithstanding their different denominations and diversity of sentiments in smaller things, are in reality but one church of Christ, but several branches of one visible kingdom of the Messiah.”vi As a result of the new Protestant consensus, while many popular preachers of the North and Middle colonies never traveled to the South, they still greatly influenced the region. The inter-denominational nature of revival preachers’ teachings was efficient in making New Light religion widespread, and was defended predominately on these grounds. As Sidney E. Mead observes, The pietist was not inclined to make logical consistency a test of either doctrine or fellowship, and in every period was not likely to permit basic theoretical differences to stand in the way of cooperation with those who seemed to be of like heart in working for “good” social and political ends…he was likely to equate… “spreading scriptural holiness over these lands” with reforming the nation, assuming that “if the man’s soul was saved fundamental social change would inevitably follow”.vii
6 Tennent, in his sermon The Danger of an Unconverted Ministry gives excellent evidence, arguing that citizens should be able to choose to hear any religious leader they choose based solely on their effectiveness at inspiring them: If the Ministry of natural Men be as it has been represented; Then it is both lawful and expedient to go from them to hear Godly Persons; yea, its so far from being sinful to do this, that one who lives under a pious Minister of less Gifts, after having honestly endeavour’d to get Benefit by his Ministry, and yet gets little or none, but doth find real Benefit and more Benefit elsewhere; I say, he may lawfully go… It is also an unquestionable Truth, that ordinarily GOD blesses most the best Gifts, for the Hearers Edification, as by the best Food he gives the best Nourishment. Otherwise the best Gifts would not be desirable, and GOD Almighty in the ordinary Course of his Providence, by not acting according to the Nature of Things, would be carrying on a Series of unnecessary Miracles; which to suppose, is unreasonable…If God’s People have a Right to the Gifts of all God’s Ministers, pray, why may’nt they use them, as they have Opportunity? And if they should go a few Miles farther than ordinary, to enjoy those, which they profit most by; who do they do wrong?viii Thus revivalists argued that the costs of denominational schism were outweighed by the societal benefits of cooperation. Possibly the most notable aspect of evangelical religion during the revivals that still persists even today was its ability to inspire emotion. As Alan Gallay notes, Revival meetings were held featuring fierce sermons condemning the unregenerate to an eternity in hell. Emotional outpouring of anguish by the congregation followed…The religious excitement created by the First Great Awakening was unparalleled in the previous century of European settlement in America.ix Evangelical preachers used unconventional preaching methods that made use of changing tones of voice and strong words that the general public could easily relate to. Jonathan Edwards in Sinners of an Angry God attempted to awaken faith in his readers by teaching both about damnation and salvation. In the work he wrote, The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully
7 provoked. His wrath towards you burns like fire…you are ten thousand times as abominable in his eyes as the most hateful, venomous serpent is in ours…consider the fearful danger you are in! It is a great furnace of wrath…There is reason to think that there are many in this congregation… that will actually be the subjects of this very misery to all eternity…But this is the dismal case of every soul in this congregation that has not been born again, however moral and strict, sober and religious they otherwise be.x Emotionally inspiring doctrines are not inherently efficient. However, one of religious leaders’ major defenses of this preaching style fits well into this sphere. New Lights used emotion because it was more effective at converting souls and increasing church membership. Attacking rational philosophy or abstract thought in theology in his work “Humble Attempt towards the Revival of Practical Religion among Christians, by a Serious Address to Ministers and People,” George Whitefield, an English preacher who traveled throughout the colonies, stated, Will this be our glory, to imitate the heathen philosophers, and to drop the gospel of the Son of God? to be complimented by unbelievers as men of superior sense and as deep reasoners, while we abandon the faith of Jesus, an starve the souls of our hearers by neglecting to distribute to them this bread of life which came down from heaven?…it is now a modish humour of the age to renounce almost everything that reason doth not discover, and to reduce Christianity itself to little more than light of nature and and the dictates of reason…xi Gilbert Tennant in The Danger of an Unconverted Ministry argued on similar grounds, attacking conservative preachers for their inability to offer spirituality or save souls: That such who are contented under a dead Ministry, have not in them the Temper of that Saviour they profess. It’s an awful Sign, that they are as blind as Moles, and as dead as Stones, without any spiritual Taste and Relish. And alas! isn’t this the Case of Multitudes? If they can get one, that has the Name of a Minister, with a Band, and a black Coat or Gown to carry on a Sabbathdays among them, although never so coldly, and insuccessfully; if he is from gross Crimes in Practice, and takes good “Care to keep at a due Distance from their Consciences, and is never troubled about his Insuccessfulness; O! think the poor Fools, that is a fine Man indeed; our Minister is a prudent charitable man…xii
In addition to efficient defenses, revival preachers during the Great Awakening backed emotional religion on moral grounds. New Lights sought to discount a growing philosophy called Arminianism that taught that man could partially control his own salvation through abstract reasoning and morality. Salvation was God’s work alone, and man’s only path to it was through pure emotional faith. As Gallay writes, “The goal of evangelical ministers was to spread the message of new birth while combating those who assumed grace was achieved gradually and by good works.”xiii Among all New Lights, Jonathan Edwards best expressed this belief in his essay A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections, in which he proclaimed, For who will deny that true religion consists in a great measure, in vigorous and lively actings of the inclination and will of the soul, or the fervent exercises of the heart? That religion which God requires, and will accept, does not consist in weak, dull, and lifeless wishes, raising us but a little above a state of indifference: God, in his work, greatly insists upon it, that we good in earnest, fervent in spirit, and our hearts vigorously engaged in religion…If we be not in good earnest in religion, and our wills and inclinations be not strongly exercised, we are nothing…The spirit of God, in those that have sound and solid religion, is a spirit of powerful holy affection; and therefore, God is said to have give the Spirit of power, and of love…And such, when they receive the Spirit of God, in his sanctifying and saving influences, are said to be baptized with the Holy Ghost and with fire…xiv New Lights drew far-reaching conclusions from these moral defenses. Evangelicals took their unbridled success in spawning revivals during the Great Awakening as a sign that God endorsed them. Jonathan Edwards went as far as stating that Christ would be reborn in the colonies. In The Latter-Day Glory is Probably to Begin in America he wrote, It is not unlikely that this work of God’s Spirit, so extraordinary and wonderful, is the dawning, or at least a prelude of that glorious work of God, so often foretold in scripture, which, in the progress and issue of it,
9 shall renew the world of mankind. If we consider how long since the things foretold as what should precede this great event, have been accomplished; and how long this event had been expected by the church of God; and thought to be nigh by the most eminent men of God, in the church; and withal consider what the state of things now is, and has for a considerable time been, in the church of God, and the world of mankind; we cannot reasonably think otherwise than the beginning of this great work of God must be near. And there are many things that make it probable that this work will begin in America.xv For evangelicals, this conclusion, as Alan Heimert explains, “provided assurance that no power was at work (in the New World) which operated contrary to, or even independently of, God’s redeeming Will.xvi As a result of the widespread influence of this idea, American intellectualism was greatly damaged. As Mead notes, “It was revivalism, stressing “evangelism more than creed” that “terminated the Puritan and inaugurated the Pietist or Methodistic age of American church history…(these religions were) peculiarly amorphous and intellectually uncritical.”xvii Subsequently, while it generated certain reforms, evangelicalism tended to equate prosperity with godliness, and sanctified pre-existing most American values and institutions wherever revivals prospered. Specifically in regards to slavery, evangelicals attempted to persuade slave owners that “neither profits nor security could be endangered by the true faith.”xviii Thus both the efficient and moral defenses of evangelicalism fostered efficient thinking in the colonies. By 1750, many churches in the New England and Middle colonies had reverted back to prior Congregational ideas and worship practices. In contrast, New Light ideas born during the Great Awakening remained in Southern religion through the early years of nationhood. As William Warren Sweet observes, “of the several phases of the great colonial revivals the southern was the most significant from the standpoint of forging new religious forces and setting the pattern for a new type of religious activity.”xix
10 Evangelical efficiency permeated both secular and religious thinking in the region, and was one of the primary logical methods Southerners used to think about major societal issues, including slavery. George Whitefield’s travels throughout the South offer an excellent example for the manner in which many white Southerners grew to defend the peculiar institution. In 1740, he expressed, in largely moral terms, that slavery was wrong. As Gallay observes, Whitefield composed an open letter…in which he condemned the brutality of slaveholders and urged the Christianization of bondspeople. The young evangelist castigated southerners’ treatment of their slaves in graphic detail…Unsure of “whether it be lawful for Christians to buy slaves,” Whitefield was positive that “it is sinful, when bought, to use them…as though they were Brutes.” He implored southerners to allow their slaves to enjoy a larger share of the fruits of their labor; he ominously claimed that punishment waited transgressors…xx By the mid-1740’s however, Whitefield changed his stance completely, acquiring a slave plantation and later becoming an apologist for the peculiar institution. His logic switched from primarily moral to efficient, as noted below: His “eight working hands…raised (more) in one year, and with a quarter the expense, than has been produced at (the) Bethesda (orphan house) for several years last past.” Whitefield deduced “that Georgia never can or will be a flourishing province without negroes.”…He rationalized enslavement by saying it was a Christian duty to “make their lives comfortable and lay a foundation for breeding up their posterity.”… Enslaving them was justified by the chance to “make their lives comfortable” and to convert their children to Christianity…xxi While in his anti-slavery arguments, Whitefield attacked slavery as sinful, after his change in position his justifications rested on benefits-versus-costs logic. He argued that slavery was godly because it caused the South to flourish, and that because slaves, under ideal relationships, would enjoy better lives than if they were free or in Africa. In
11 contrast, Whitefield’s works lack moral defenses such as that blacks were inherently inferior or references to Biblical passages stating that slavery was an ethical good. Evangelicals sought to bring efficient defenses of slavery to their logical limits by encouraging Christianizing slaves as a means to make them more productive. Beginning in the 1740’s, New Light Anglican and Presbyterian Churches actively provided slaves with access to religion in the South.xxii While after 1830 moral reasons were commonly cited for Christianizing slaves, the primary justifications beforehand included greater security for owners and greater profits. Bringing religion to slaves for this reason grew progressively popular from the Great Awakening until the Civil War, and was not diminished by the shift from efficiency to morality. William Jenkins, in his essay ProSlavery Thought in the Old South, wrote, “religion is one (of) the best securities we have to the domestic Peace & Safety of the State…take Measures for bringing them (slaves) to a full & just acquaintance with religion through letting them read the Bible.”xxiii Southern political leaders also endorsed these types of defenses. As Janet Cornelius observes: Prominent South Carolinian Charles Cotesworth Pickney, in advocating a southernwide Christian crusade to evangelize slaves in 1829…promised that religious training would make Negroes better servants-less reluctant to work, less likely to feign sickness, better producers, and better contented. Christian slaves would be more ‘anxious to promote their owner’s welfare.’xxiv The widespread influence of efficiency in colonial thinking after the Great Awakening can also be seen in the few attacks that existed on slavery. Surprisingly, antislavery sentiment in American history was not always based upon morality, and the primary attacks on the institution during this time relied on similar logic to pro-slavery sentiment. As Peter Kolchin notes,
12 The spread of capitalism, and the new “dismal science” of economics that it spawned, contributed significantly to the questioning of slavery. Slavery lacked a basic ingredient of capitalism: the free hire of labor through mutual agreement of consenting parties. Substituting the physical coercion of the lash for the economic coercion in the market place, slavery thus did violence to the central values implicit in capitalist relations… Quakers … a small sect dominated by hardworking businessmen “distinguished by their mercantile wealth and above all by their entrepreneurial leadership”… by the 1760’s … had come to view slavery as unethical. To Quakers, the slave represented the diametric opposite to the dependable, orderly, and industrious worker that they strove to create…As prominent Quaker abolitionist John Woolman put it… “Negroes, labouring to support others who claim them as their Property, and expecting nothing but slavery during Life, had not the like Inducement to be industrious.”xxv It is important to note that the term “unethical” used above does not place Quakers’ attacks on slavery into a moral sphere; rather, because the religious sect equated ethics and holiness with hard work and productivity, their attacks were efficient. Outside of the Quaker minority, efficient attacks on slavery in the colonies were rare; moral attacks were nearly non-existent. With the exception of arguments discussing economic consequences, in regards to the majority of Southerners, the effects of Great Awakening efficiency on opinions on slavery in the South are ironically more evident by an absence than presence of efficient defenses of the institution. When taking a moral stance, it is logical to constantly ethically question, regardless of the costs. In contrast, from the efficient viewpoint, questioning is only warranted if the benefits of a situation are not satisfactory or the costs are too high. On the whole, slavery in the South between the Great Awakening and the Revolution was tremendously profitable, and perceived as such. As Lester B. Scherer notes about this period, Altogether it was a flourishing economy, and it provided the basis for greater growth and stability than could have been imagined in the
13 seventeenth century…Africans produced far more wealth per unit of labor cost than any other segment of the population. No segment of the economy could have expanded without them. Not only did they directly produce the vital southern export crops, but they accounted for a large share of the profits from northern shipping…the growing prosperity of the American provinces thus became dependent on the toil of imported African slaves and their daughters and sons.xxvi In addition to economic profit, slavery had numerous other benefits for white males, such as support of a system of paternalism, voting rights, and added leisure time. As a result, it was obvious in the minds of most white Southerners that slavery was indispensable. Ingrained in efficient thinking, it was logical for Southerners to question little about either the ethics or benefits of the institution, rendering its reform nearly impossible. Larry E. Tise, in a comprehensive study of pro-slavery literature throughout American history gives support to this position, concluding, Little was written or published about slavery in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century America. What was available appeared largely in the form of descriptions of slavery in various colonies. Only about a dozen defenses were printed before the American Revolution, and they were in response to a similar number of antislavery tracts…the paucity of early American proslavery literature resulted neither from the absence of proslavery notions nor from any indisposition toward upholding slavery. What was missing was the need to defend an institution that nearly everyone took for granted.xxvii Slavery would remain unchallenged in Southern society so long as it was perceived as beneficial by whites in power and Southerners continued to consider such issues with efficient logic. Slavery’s profitability remained relatively constant throughout the colonial and antebellum ages; efficient thinking did not. In their quest for liberty, the leaders of the American Revolution infused American thinking with a great dose of morality, leaving a unique and sometimes uneasy mix of logic in society. As Kolchin explains,
14 Seventeenth-century settlers in the colonies—and usually their children as well—lived in a world that took for granted stocks and tongue-borings, religious prescriptions, fear of witches, and savage repression of the lower orders. The Found Fathers who led the American Revolution spoke instead of natural rights, political liberty, freedom of religion, and equality before the law. In this new intellectual climate, the treatment, and even the ownership of slaves became a pertinent subject.xxviii Almost overnight, Americans became concerned with moral concepts such as humane treatment, toleration of differences and human malleability. However, the Revolution only served to start widespread moral thinking in the country, and did not create great reform in the short term. Thomas Jefferson’s opinions on slavery during the Revolution and creation of the Constitution offer an excellent example of the mix of influence of efficiency and morality in the country. While Jefferson made it clear that he believed slavery was wrong, he in no fashion called for the institution’s immediate abolition. Instead, he “took a series of steps designed to bring about slavery’s gradual demise. As (a child) of the enlightenment, he typically abjured hasty of radical measures that would disrupt society, preferring cautious acts that would induce sustained, long-term progress.”xxix Thus, Jefferson argued using logic from both spheres, considering ethics in judging slavery as a whole but the costs to society in regards to attempting to end the institution. The beginnings of moral dominance in American thought were accompanied by the start of Southern moral pro-slavery argument. Southerners quickly realized the dilemma they created in defending their right against being held in slavery by England, while simultaneously holding nearly one-third of their region’s population in violent bondage. Traditional arguments based in efficiency would not solve the dilemma; for example, if Southerners argued that slavery was a godly institution because it made the
15 region prosperous, so in turn could England state that the colonies should be taxed for the mother country’s own prosperity. To maintain the institution outside of outright hypocrisy, slaveholders had to argue on moral grounds – that something inherent about blacks warranted their bondage and differentiated them from whites. Richard Nisbet, a former West Indian planter who migrated to the South, wrote Slavery Not Forbidden by Scripture in 1773. Nisbet’s essay was written in response to Benjamin Rush’s work, The Negroes Abilities and Rights, where he declared that blacks “colour, (as it is commonly called) neither subjects them to, nor qualifies them for slavery.”xxx Nisbet’s rebuttal accurately reflected the mix of morality and efficiency in the Southern mind, as he wrote, Slavery, like all other human institutions, may be attended with its particular abuses, but that is not sufficient totally to condemn it, and to reckon every one unworthy the society of men who owns a negro…The scriptures, instead of forbidding it, declare it lawful…it seems probable, that they (blacks) are a much inferior race of men to the whites, in every respect. We have no other method of judging, but by considering their genius, and government in their native country. Africa, except the small part of it inhabited by those of our own colour, is totally overrun with barbarism…What is the reason that the vast continent of Africa remains in the same state of barbarism, as if it had been created yesterday? It must, in all probability, be owing to a want of genius in the people…(slaves) are attended with the same care as if they were infants…there is always abundance of easy work…the employment of the most robust is moderate, and not more severe than the labour of peasants in other countries.xxxi The majority of Nisbet’s arguments were moral. He stated slavery was ethically correct because scripture ordained it and blacks’ racial characteristics made them intrinsically suited to Southern bondage. Efficient influence is also apparent in Nisbet’s arguments that blacks enjoyed benefits in slavery such as good care from owners and a comparatively easy workload. Nisbet’s ideas foreshadowed what was to come intellectually in the South between 1830 and the Civil War. However, when the essay
16 was written they still represented a minority opinion because moral ideas were relatively new to the nation, and slavery’s forced end was not a significant threat. The Second Great Awakening finished the process of transforming American thinking from primarily efficient to moral that began in the Revolution. Similar to the first Great Awakening, a westward moving and increasingly secular population was the largest contributing factor that gave birth to the second set of religious revivals that swept across the country. A brief yet profound movement away from religion accompanied the rapid growth of the United States in the early years of nationhood. As Sweet writes, in the period following the Revolution, Religious and moral conditions of the country as a whole reached the lowest ebb tide in the entire history of the American people. And it was in the very midst of this period of moral and religious depression that the great western migration began…If morals and religion were at low ebb in the older settled seaboard regions, what could be expected in the newer, ruder west of the mountains? They were cut off from the restraints and refining influences of the old home community with its church and school, and its strict observance of the Sabbath.xxxii Eastern and Western churches used two separate preaching styles as solutions to make religion widespread again. Western preachers, dealing with rugged people and conditions, used the emotional, flexible style of bringing religion to the masses that was reminiscent of the first Great Awakening. In contrast, Eastern churches turned away from evangelicalism, taking a significantly less emotional approach. Regardless of method of preaching, however, the general theological principles behind the revivals during the Second Great Awakening were constant, and stressed morality. While revival preachers during the Second Great Awakening’s still believed that the conversion experience was important in saving souls, significantly greater emphasis was placed upon man’s duty to do good works during and after his initial spiritual
17 experience. Revivalists assumed that religious education was the only way men could distinguish right from wrong in attempting to do these deeds. Horace Bushnell, a Congregational minister, offers perhaps the best reflection of revival ideas during the Second Great Awaking in his sermon entitled What Christian Nurture is. In his argument against the commonly accepted idea in the United States that children should be brought up in sin in order to later procure salvation from God through conversion as adults, he reflected numerous revival beliefs: The child is (not) to grow up in sin, to be converted after he comes to a mature age; but that he is to open on the world as one that is spiritually renewed…but seeming rather to have loved what is good from his earliest years…(there is) no absurdity in supposing that children are to grow up in Christ…For it is not for you alone to realize all that is included in the idea of Christian education…it belongs to the church of God, according to the degree of its social power over you and in you and around your children, to bear a part of the responsibility with you. On the other hand, if there is no absurdity, there is a very clear moral incongruity in setting up a contrary supposition, to be the aim of a system of Christian education.xxxiii Bushnell’s sermon relied heavily on moral principles. His analysis made numerous references to parents’ duty and responsibility to educate their children and themselves in the principles of religious education, while disregarding the expense this might involve. Bushnell’s sermon also attacked blind emotional faith as immoral, stating, “When we speak thus of a love for what is right and good, we must of course discriminate between the mere excitement of a natural sensibility to pleasure in the contemplation of what is good (of which the worst minds are more or less capable) and a practicable subordination of the soul to its power, a practicable embrace of its law. The child must not only be touched with some gentle emotions towards what is right, but he must love it with a fixed love, love it for the sake of its principle, receive it as a vital and formative power.xxxiv This idea expressed by Bushnell takes a pure ethical approach. He called for constant questioning – a purposeful inefficiency - regardless of precedent or prior
18 beliefs of one’s environment and teachings. This technique was to be used in order to find the correct answers and subsequently do Godly works, not for personal or societal benefit. Such ideas grew tremendously popular in the South and the rest of the nation between 1800 and 1830. Numerous “voluntary societies” were born by the work of ordinary citizens that did good works ranging from supporting education to temperance movements. Lyman Beecher, recognized as one of the greatest leaders of the movement, declared in 1814 his goal was for “A Bible for every family, a school for every district, and a pastor for every 1000 souls must be the motto upon the standard,” because “the Sunday school is eminently adapted to promote the intellectual and moral culture of the nation…and to reconcile eminent national prosperity with moral purity and future blessedness.”xxxv As with in the first Great Awakening, preachers during this time drew conclusions that the revivals were the work of God, and that America would be the home of the Second Coming of Christ. However, in contrast to the first set of revivals, preachers linked the coming of the divine event with moral ideas, rather than efficient. As Gaustad notes, “with a little more repentance, a little more reform, with greater piety and morality, the nation might enter that new and glorious, God-ruled age.”xxxvi Southerners practiced and believed in the moral ideals of the Second Great Awakening just as much as the rest of the country did between 1830 and the Civil War. It would seem that a region that associated morality and good deeds with the work of God would grow to see that slavery was an ethical wrong, but in fact Southerners during this time defended their peculiar institution to a greater degree than any other time in
19 American history. A new breed of moral northern abolitionism caused Southerners to formulate such moral arguments in favor of slavery. While the beginnings of moral abolitionism date well before the Great Awakening, Northern abolitionism beginning in the late 1820’s was significantly more widespread, and brought with its attacks the perceived power to successfully and immediately enact its philosophies and end slavery. While in the past, those opposed to slavery advocated gradual or less costly methods of getting rid of the institution, new abolitionist leaders like William Lloyd Garrison called for the immediate release of slaves accompanied by their incorporation into American society. Garrison took an absolute moral approach, declaring slavery a sin, and the only godly solution to grant slaves their full rights, regardless of cost.xxxvii Southerners believed that abolitionists not only attacked their institution, but their region as well. As Drew Faust notes, “when northern abolitionists in 1835 inundated the South with antislavery propaganda sent through the federal mails…southerners respond(ed) in force, exhibiting a new vehemence in their defenses of their way of life. The attack from the North made southern mobilization an immediate necessity, and latent proslavery feeling was quickly translated into action.”xxxviii Similar to the example of Nisbet in Revolutionary times, Southerners were thus forced to accompany previous efficient defenses with moral logic. However, slavery well established in Southern society partially as a result of efficient defenses, made it difficult for Southerners to see the conflict between the institution and humanitarian Christian morals. Furthermore, abolitionists’ connection in their attacks between the evil nature of slavery and the South itself made objective moral thinking or agreement with Northerners virtually impossible.
20 Southerners used the moral tools of the Second Great Awakening to defend slavery on numerous levels. On the whole, however, Southern pro-slavery defenders stuck to Biblical passages as the core of their arguments. Thornton Strinfellow, a Baptist Minister in Virgnia, offers an excellent example of Southern uses of the Bible to morally defend slavery in his work A Brief Examination of Scripture Testimony on the Institution of Slavery. Making references to numerous scriptural passages, Stringfellow argued that “the institution of slavery has received…1st. The sanction of the Almighty in the Patriarchal age…2nd. That is was incorporated into the only National Constitution which ever emanated form God…3rd. That its legality was recognized, and its relative duties regulated, by Jesus Christ in his kingdom; and 4th. That is full of mercy.”xxxix Southerners also combined modern scientific studies such as ethnology with Biblical passages to prove that blacks were inherently inferior to whites, and suited by God for manual labor. Josiah C. Nott, in Two Lectures on the Natural History of the Caucasian and Negro Races, relying on numerous “natural” historical defenses, argued that blacks were inherent inferiority, stating, “There is a marked difference between the heads of the Caucasian and the Negro, and there is a corresponding difference no less marked in their intellectual and moral qualities…the drawings and sculptures of early dates often represent negroes as slaves and captives…”xl Such pro-slavery defenses given in response to Northern abolitionism were widely believed throughout the South. It is crucial to note that on the whole, white southerners did not use these arguments as excuses to justify a system that greatly benefited them; they genuinely believed that while slavery was clearly efficient, it was also ethically right. Southern belief in the conflicting values of slavery and man’s necessity to do good works was created through an attempt
21 to find immediate moral defenses for an institution that since the beginning of the Great Awakening was justified efficiently. Southern slavery serves as an excellent historical example of how Americans may come to believe their actions are logical and correct in their time, yet be observed by future generations as unethical. If one is to take a moral approach and judge Southern slavery as wrong, then they also have a duty to examine aspects of their own lives through logic from this sphere. Numerous present day practices, ranging from drinking to sexual activity to divorce are defended on similar patterns as the chronology of proslavery defense. They are justified efficiently as logical, until they become standard practices ingrained in a person’s way of life. Later, when their actions are morally questioned, they quickly give poor moral defenses. While it is possible that none of the modern day practices listed above are morally wrong, people must examine their actions through moral as well as efficient logic before deciding what is truly the best cause of action.
Samuel S. Hill, Jr. Religion and the Solid South (New York: Abingdon, 1972) 25. Drew Gilpin Faust. Southern Stories: Slaveholders in Peace and War (Columbia: Missouri, 1992) 74. iii Faust, 74. iv Christine Leigh Heyrman. Southern Cross: The Beginnings of the Bible Belt (New York: Knopf, 1997) 13. v H. Shelton Smith et. Al. American Christianity. (New York: Scriber’s Sons, 1960) 314. vi George C. Bedell et al. Religion in America (New York: Macmillian, 1975) 152. vii John M. Mulder and John F. Wilson, eds. Religion in American History (New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1978) 175. viii Edwin Scott Gaustad, ed. Religious Issues in American History (New York: Harper and Row, 1968) 32-3. ix John B. Boles, ed. Masters and Slaves in the House of the Lord (Kentucky: Kentucky, 1988) 20. x David E. Shi and Holly A. Mather. For the Record: A Documentary History of America (New York: Norton, 1999) 73. xi L. Tyerman. The Life of the Rev. George Whitefield (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1926) 68. xii Gaustad, ed. 32. xiii Boles, ed. 21. xiv Douglas Sloan, ed. The Great Awakening and American Education (New York: Teacher’s College, 1973) 257-8. xv Conrad Cherry, ed. God’s New Isreal: Religious Interpretations of American Destiny (New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1987) 55. xvi Mulder and Wilson, 133. xvii Ibid, 174. xviii David Brion Davis. The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Revolution (New York: Cornell, 1975.) 47. xix William Warren Sweet. Revivalism in America (Massachusetts: Scribner’s, 1944) 34. xx Boles, ed. 25. xxi Ibid, 33.
ii xxii xxiii
Janet Duitsman Cornelius. When I Can Read My Title Clear (South Carolina: South Carolina University Press, 1991)
Ibid, 38. Peter Kolchin. American Slavery: 1619 – 1877 (New York: Hill and Wang, 1993) 67-8. xxvi Lester B. Scherer. Slavery and the Churches in Early America (Michigan: Eerdmans, 1975) 47. xxvii Larry E. Tise. Proslavery: A History of the Defense of Slavery in America, 1701-1840 (Georgia: Georgia, 1987.) 15-6. xxviii Kolchin, 65. xxix Ibid, 77. xxx Louis Ruchames, ed. Racial Thought in America: From the Puritans to Abraham Lincoln. (Massachusetts: Massachusettes, 1969) 141. xxxi Ibid, 142-3. xxxii Sweet, 117-8. xxxiii Dewitte Holand, ed. Sermons in American History (Tennessee: Abingdon, 1971) 194-5. xxxiv Ibid, 200. xxxv James W. Fraser. Pedagogue for God’s Kingdom: Lyman Beecher and the Second Great Awakening (New York: University, 1985) 39. xxxvi Edwin Scott Gaustad. A Religious History of America. (New York: Harper and Row, 1966) 151. xxxvii Ibid, 186. xxxviii Faust, 79. xxxix Drew Gilpin Faust, ed. The Ideology of Slavery. (Baton Rouge: Louisiana, 1981) 139. xl Ibid, 206.
Bibliography Primary Sources
Cherry Conrad, ed. God’s New Isreal: Religious Interpretations of American Destiny. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1987. Douglas, Sloan ed. The Great Awakening and American Education. New York: Teacher’s College, 1973. Faust, Drew Gilpin, ed. The Ideology of Slavery. Baton Rouge: Louisiana, 1981. Gaustad, Edwin Scott, ed. Religious Issues in American History. New York: Harper and Row, 1968. Holand, Dewitte, ed. Sermons in American History. Tennessee: Abingdon, 1971. Ruchames, Louis, ed. Racial Thought in America: From the Puritans to Abraham Lincoln. Massachusetts: Massachusettes, 1969. Shi, David E. and Holly A. Mather. For the Record: A Documentary History of America. New York: Norton, 1999.
Bedell, George C. et al. Religion in America. New York: Macmillian, 1975. Boles, John B., ed. Masters and Slaves in the House of the Lord. Kentucky: Kentucky, 1988. Cornelius, Janet Duitsman. When I Can Read My Title Clear. South Carolina: South Carolina 1991. Davis, David Brion. The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Revolution. New York: Cornell, 1975. Fraser, James W. Pedagogue for God’s Kingdom: Lyman Beecher and the Second Great Awakening. York: University, 1985. Gaustad, Edwin Scott. A Religious History of America. New York: Harper and Row, 1966. Heyrman, Christine Leigh. Southern Cross: The Beginnings of the Bible Belt. New York: Knopf, 1997. Hill, Samuel S. Jr. Religion and the Solid South New York: Abingdon, 1972. Kolchin, Peter. American Slavery: 1619 – 1877. New York: Hill and Wang, 1993. Mulder, John M. and John F. Wilson, eds. Religion in American History. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1978. Scherer, Lester B. Slavery and the Churches in Early America Michigan: Eerdmans, 1975. Smith, H. Shelton et. Al. American Christianity. New York: Scriber’s Sons, 1960. Sweet, William Warren Sweet Revivalism in America. (Massachusetts: Scribner’s, 1944) 34. Tise, Larry E. Proslavery: A History of the Defense of Slavery in America, 1701-1840. Georgia: Georgia, Tyerman, L. The Life of the Rev. George Whitefield. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1926. 1987. New
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