THE ROLE OF RELIGION IN THE CIVIL WAR

Anthony E. Gallo

Speech given to the Civil War Discussion Group at the Cosmos Club in Washington on October   14, 2016

America has always been a religious nation.    Most of our colonies were founded for religious reasons, and our religious nature continues to this very day.   Our church attendance today is overwhelmingly the highest in the world.

And religion was at the heart of America during the Civil War.  Both Union and Confederacy.

 No American conflict has raised the specter of religion as has the Civil War. This   conflict saw the massacre of 700 thousand Americans and two grieving nations, North and South. Each searched for solace in religion; both claimed God was on their side.  The motto of the North was, “In God We Trust”; for the Confederacy, “God Will Determine the Victor.” Americans turned more and more to religion and even to the occult. Both the Union and the Confederacy upheld their Christian identities in the face of their adversary, and both sides believed that the Abrahamic God worked in their favor. Churches were filled.

 

Both Union and Confederacy invoked the Bible as the source of all truth. Northern and Southern soldiers had their Bibles. Abraham Lincoln himself read the Bible daily, and its cadences can be found in his three greatest speeches: The First and Second Inaugurals and the Gettysburg Address. Jefferson Davis also used the Bible as a tool of war. President Lincoln placed the Bible on the contraband list, believing that the spread of bibles would encourage the enemy. On the other hand, he was willing to overlook that most South- ern churches were also sedition centers. Ironically, the Bible strongly supports the institution of slavery beginning with Genesis and ding with St. Paul’s epistles.

 

This is a question I am often asked because I have written or in the process of writing four plays, Lincoln and God, The Springfield Boys, Robert, Shakespeare and Lincoln, and the musical, Lincoln and God.    In the process, I have spent 12 years researching Lincoln and the Lincoln family. I have    moved in with them. 

 

No, I am not a historian, but an economist of forty years before I became a playwright.   But any playwright who writes historical plays wants to be on the mark—getting it right.  And with Abraham Lincoln the onus of responsibility is even worse.  He is the most iconic figure in American history.   A hyperbolic statement.  But l let us take one measure.  The number of books written about him.  One estimate, 60 000, leading me to say that more books have been written about him than all other American Presidents combined

 

 This discussion is not about Abraham Lincoln per see, even though he began the war and ended the war.   But he is of course pivotal.   And any reading of the second Inaugural address will lead one to believe that yes the Civil War was a religious war.  Each war is a war of justice.  But this one was different.  I accept the basic premise that the war was totally rooted in one word   Slavery. All these other premises—state rights, economics war etc. a secondary cause Both sides fought to either destroy or uphold the institution of slavery which had been a part of the American civilization about 250      years.   

 

That this is a religious War is clear spelled out by Abraham Lincoln, Julia Ward How, Jefferson Davis among other said so.   When Lincoln was elected seven states left the union.    Why:  one-word slavery.

 

  A few things about Mr.  Lincoln.  He was the most religious president in American History.   Second no other President has had biblical knowledge as Lincoln.  Third, no president loved or had the knowledge of Shakespeare that Lincoln did, and fourth no president had had the love of theater as Mr. Lincoln.

 

   He left no doubt that his goal was to abolish slavery.  Yes, he did believe in the inequality of races, and spoke out of both sides of his mouth.   But in the end the abolition of the slavery was the cause of the Civil War. And here is the dichotomy.  The Bible and his beliefs.   As I said no President understood and read the Bible as much as Abraham Lincoln.   Some historians argue that this was only because he liked the cadence of the Kings James bible.  But no it was a moral guide too.  Much of the language he used in his speeches. Innumerable language in his speeches based on both old and new testaments

 

An important word Protestant, followed by       The inerrancy of the Bible.   The Bible lies at the center of our moral code, then and now.     Of the three major religious groups, Protestants most closely use the Bible as the core of moral authority. A significant portion believed in the inerrancy of the Bible.  

 

The significance e of Religion in the Civil War was displayed emphatically in Lincoln’s second inaugural address.  Second Inaugural Address with 703 words   Of those, 313 are about the role of religion.  Let us examine

 

Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained.  (Neither North nor South expected to was to last that long)

Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease.

Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding.   Each side thought it was going to prevail.

 Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other.  (Both Religious)

It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, (South had the Chutzpah to ask God’s Help in preserving slavery)

but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered.  (God could not answer both prayers

 That of neither has been answered fully.

 The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh. (Don’t second guess God)

” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, (God once willed slavery)

He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away.

Yet, if God wills that it continues until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must

  be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether

 

Also ascertaining the primacy of religion in the War was Jefferson Davis and Julia Ward Howe.   Jefferson said that the Bible approves of the institution of slavery and    he was right.     He also said that abolition interfered with his right of owning private property.  

 

 Slavery is rampant throughout the Bible in both the Old and New Testaments.  The Bible clearly approves of slavery in many passages, and it goes so far as to tell how to obtain slaves, how hard you can beat them, and when you can have sex with the female slaves. most abominable aspect of the slave trade, was fueled by the idea that Africans, even children, were better off Christianized under a system of European slavery than left in Africa amid tribal wars, famines and paganism

 There are 300 references to slavery in the Bible.   Not a single reference disapproves of the institution of slavery.   Jesus referred to Slavery 17 times.  In not a single instance did he disapprove.  Some examples No slave is greater than his master.   The owner who returns and find that slaves have not done   work and beats them., St. Paul has at least a dozen references to slavery, but one that stands out is his reference to the son of the slave woman Hagar but that followers of Jesus are born free.   Peter admonishes t slaves to bogey their masters, as does Paul in Titus.  

 

In conclusion several major points.  

  • Religion was fundamental to the belief of both sides during the Civil War
  • Both Sides believed that God was on their side
  • The Bible supported; the Southern position.
  • Abraham Lincoln and the abolitionist moved ahead to eradicate slavery, but this movement was based on what God had written on their hearts. Confirmed by Julia ward Howe in The Battle Hymn of the R:  As he died to Make Men Holy, Let Us Die to Make Men Free.
  • Lincolns second Inaugural address explicitly is devoted to the role of religion and the Civil War, and the immorality of slavery


 

 

 

 

 

 

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