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When Slavery Was Called Freedom

When Slavery Was Called Freedom: Evangelicalism, Proslavery, and the Causes of the Civil War

John Patrick Daly
Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    When Slavery Was Called Freedom
    Book Description:

    When Slavery Was Called Freedomuncovers the cultural and ideological bonds linking the combatants in the Civil War era and boldly reinterprets the intellectual foundations of secession. John Patrick Daly dissects the evangelical defense of slavery at the heart of the nineteenth century's sectional crisis. He brings a new understanding to the role of religion in the Old South and the ways in which religion was used in the Confederacy.

    Southern evangelicals argued that their unique region was destined for greatness, and their rhetoric gave expression and a degree of coherence to the grassroots assumptions of the South. The North and South shared assumptions about freedom, prosperity, and morality. For a hundred years after the Civil War, politicians and historians emphasized the South's alleged departures from national ideals. Recent studies have concluded, however, that the South was firmly rooted in mainstream moral, intellectual, and socio-economic developments and sought to compete with the North in a contemporary spirit.

    Daly argues that antislavery and proslavery emerged from the same evangelical roots; both Northerners and Southerners interpreted the Bible and Christian moral dictates in light of individualism and free market economics. When the abolitionist's moral critique of slavery arose after 1830, Southern evangelicals answered the charges with the strident self-assurance of recent converts. They went on to articulate how slavery fit into the "genius of the American system" and how slavery was only right as part of that system.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5851-8
    Subjects: History, Religion, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction Evangelical Proslavery and the Causes of the Civil War
    (pp. 1-5)

    The year 1831 marked a new epoch in proslavery. America’s fiercest moral debate erupted over the issue of slavery and was intimately linked to the sectional crisis that brought civil war thirty years later. The nearly suicidal violence of that conflict implies that the combatants disagreed about the nature of morality itself, but that was not the case. Deep political divisions, after all, do not necessarily stem from deep cultural divisions.¹ Antebellum political debatesweremoralized, and moral debates were politicized as the sectional crisis deepened, but, as David Potter has noted, America at the outset of the Civil War...

  5. 1 Freedom and Evangelical Culture in the South
    (pp. 6-29)

    Southern morality was an amalgam of Protestant traditions and blunt materialism, because evangelical ministers tended to sacralize the American institutions under which their denominations expanded. It is no surprise, therefore, that southern evangelicals reached seemingly self-interested conclusions on what they deemed wholly religious grounds.¹ The Protestant work ethic had established worldly success as a sign of divine favor since at least 1630 when the Puritans reached American soil. In the two hundred years that followed, and especially since the individualistic and democratic American Revolution of the 1770s, the subtleties of the Puritan theology of success had diminished, where they had...

  6. 2 The Post-1831 Birth of Evangelical Proslavery
    (pp. 30-56)

    Americans regarded slaveholding as a vaguely moral sign of success Long before the antebellum period. Slaves first arrived in the colonies in 1619, and by the time of the Revolution there were slaveholders in twelve of the thirteen colonies. From Aristotle to Locke, from Moses to George Whitefield, slaveholding had been accepted as a legitimate exercise of power; the burden of proof was therefore on those who opposed it.¹ Abolitionists had to articulate every step of their outrage for themselves, whereas by the end of the eighteenth century all theoretical elements needed for the defense of racial slaveholding were already...

  7. 3 Answering Abolitionists, Defending Slaveholders
    (pp. 57-72)

    The appearance of radical abolitionism and the subsequent growth of a moderate antislavery movement in the North after 1831 hastened and confirmed the transition already occurring in southern ideology.¹ Most movements do not become fully self-conscious until under assault. Abolitionist critiques confirmed growing southern self-righteousness. Innovative critiques of slaveholding had the effect of reinforcing long-standing patterns of religious identity in the South. In the slavery debate southern evangelicals reenacted familiar roles that had served them well in previous controversies. Although the parts were established, the script was still being perfected. The slavery debate brought more conscious applications of contemporary moral...

  8. 4 The Evangelical Vision of the South and Its Future
    (pp. 73-110)

    Ministers took up the battle against abolitionism with ferocious glee and quickly helped split the three evangelical churches into separate northern and southern wings. Religious secession and civil war followed instantly on the heels of the slavery debate. After they had split in spirit in 1835, the evangelical churches split in form in 1837 (the Presbyterians), 1844 (the Methodists), and 1845 (the Baptists). Proslavery then became even more popular after 1846, when evangelicals directed their messages to southerners from exclusively southern pulpits. Ministers had found a message that made them popular and relevant to events, and southern evangelicals published and...

  9. 5 Evangelical Proslavery, Free Labor, and Disunion, 1850–1861
    (pp. 111-135)

    During the sectional conflict of the 1850s, debate over the economic future of the country raged. A new enemy of southern evangelicals arose in the North: a self-consciously sectional movement based on the political and economic principle called “free labor.” The free labor movement produced a moderate antislavery position, and by 1856 the Republican Party. Their criticisms of the South differed significantly from the abolitionist attacks of the 1830s. Southern evangelicals had to confront a new set of arguments in the 1850s in an atmosphere of political tension. Their ministers, however, had the luxury of preaching to already converted audiences,...

  10. 6 The Proslavery Formula and the Test of War, 1860–1865
    (pp. 136-154)

    Evangelical morality and proslavery ideology constituted the heart of southern identity before the Confederacy existed. This identity encouraged a highly individualistic and future-oriented culture and ideology. Southern evangelical culture wastheglue of secession and the war effort.¹ A fairly formalistic evangelical ideology winds its way through the southern religious culture before, during, and after the war. The collapse of the Confederacy and the end of slavery did not obliterate or even seriously challenge white southerners’ views of their moral superiority or the justice of their cause. Indeed the war strengthened these convictions.

    If southerners did not lose their proslavery...

  11. Epilogue
    (pp. 155-158)

    During the Civil War abolitionist Charles Storey reflected on the future of the freed slaves. What would happen to them? What should the plan for them be? A simple solution was at hand, because in nineteenth-century America the natural operation of the moral law took care of everything. Storey said, “I have no fear that we can leave them [freed slaves] where the rest of us are, in the hands of God and subject to that great law which feeds the industrious and sometimes lets the idle starve.”¹ The evangelicals who defended slavery could have and did echo these beliefs...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 159-184)
  13. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 185-202)
  14. Index
    (pp. 203-208)