Monday, October 13, 2008

A Matter of Politics and Religion

“The thing worse than rebellion, is the thing that causes rebellion.”

~ Frederick Douglas

Slavery was not the singular cause of antagonism which ignited the Civil War. Nevertheless, slavery was a primary cause of dissention between Northern and Southern political and religious leaders.

Contrary to popular mythology, not every Northerner was an abolitionist. Classic to the prevailing Northern sentiment was a group of wealthy Northern businessmen who candidly admitted their opposition to the expansion of slavery into newly formed states was not due to any feelings of piety, empathy, or beliefs in equality. Rather, they stated that their opposition was purely a financial matter. The businessmen did not wish to be forced to compete against slave labor within the expanding economic market[i]. Similarly, not all Southerners were slaveholders. Many white Southerners were poor rural farmers who never owned slaves. Personal views on slavery were mixed throughout the North and South. Union General Ulysses S. Grant’s wife owned slaves during the Civil War [ii]. Conversely, when Confederate General Robert E. Lee received slaves from his father-in-law's will, he released them[iii]. Even Abraham Lincoln seemed hesitant to put an end to the “particular institution.” In 1858 he spoke the following words:

“I will say, that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about, in any way, a social and political equality of the White and Black races, that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with White people. I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the White and Black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I, as much as any other man, am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the White race.”

The North and South had developed very different life styles, economic systems, and political beliefs. Understanding these differences is critical to comprehending the multiple causes of the Civil War. Sectionalism had taken root. Northern and Southern Statesmen had become loyal only to their own special interest. The interests of the national as a whole had been forgotten. Likewise, average citizens identified more with the region in which they resided. A man was more likely to identify himself as a NewYorker or a Texas than as an American.

The North had established itself as an industrial society. Labor for Northern factories was supplied by an underclass of newly arrived European immigrants. These immigrants often worked 16 and 18 hour days for paltry wages which failed to provide them with a minimal subsistence. Conversely, the Southern production of rice, hemp, sugar cane, tobacco, and cotton, along the invention of Eli Whitney’s cotton gin had combined to create an agrarian, plantation based society. By 1860 cotton reigned as the chief crop of the South and represented 57 percent of all U.S. exports[iv]. The great dilemma of the Southern economy was its dependency on slavery. Both slavery and indentured servitude had been an accepted part of agrarian culture within the American Colonies since 1619, when a Dutch ship brought 20 enslaved Africans to the Virginia colony at Jamestown. The white settlers of Virginia had brought the practice of slavery with them from their English homeland. Popular opinion of the 17th and 18th Centuries did not condemn slavery. Viewed as an economic issue, slavery was rarely addressed as an ethical quandary. Thus, the Evans family viewed the ability to own slaves and hire European immigrant laborers as a benefit of wealth.

Edward Evans, progenitor of Nelson County Evans Line, settled in Kentucky by 1795 [v]. He left solid evidence that he was a politically aware individual. While we do not have record of his voting habits, he clearly displayed his political opinions when he named his son, Isaac Greenup Evans, after Kentucky Governor Christopher Greenup. This selection of name sake reflected the Evans’ leanings toward the Democratic-Republican Party which had been founded by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. The Democratic-Republican Party favored state’s rights as opposed to the Federal government “meddling” in the affairs of the people. Furthermore, they reflected the concerns of wealthy farmers by supporting rural, agricultural interests and favoring the Jeffersonian ideal of one educated, white male landowner being entitled to one vote. The Revolutionary war was still fresh in the minds of leadership of Democratic-Republican Party. Thus it opposed close ties with Great Britain and supported the legitimacy of the French Revolution.

"I am for preserving to the States the powers not yielded by them to the Union"

~ Thomas Jefferson

Edward Evans raised his children in the Methodist Episcopal Church, which traced its roots back to England and John Wesley. While the church had experienced heated debate and division over the issue of slave ownership, the debate did not influence the habits of the many wealthy, influential Southerners. Thus, Edward Evans saw no moral dilemma in being a slaveholder[vi]. Following in his father’s footsteps, Dr. Isaac Greenup Evans also owned slaves and practiced the Methodist Episcopal faith.

In 1860 Dr. Isaac Greenup Evans owned eight slaves[vii] and had 2 white “servants” living in his household[viii]. From Kentucky Census Records we know that the servants were a 45 year old Irishman immigrant, Mr. James McKay, who was listed as a laborer and Ada Bevin a 60 year old woman. While the names of the slaves are unknown, the 1860 Slave Schedules list their ages as one 40 year old male black, one 10 year old male black, one four year old male black, one 40 year old female black, one 36 year old female black, one 15 year old female black, one 3 year old female black, one 1 year old female black.

In the Southern mind, Christianity and slavery were not diametrically opposed. Southern religion and Southern culture were mutually reinforcing.

“The primary focus of those using Christianity to defend slavery and segregation was the story of Noah, specifically the part where his son Ham is cursed to serve his brothers. This story long functioned as a model for Christians to insist that God meant Africans to be marked as the servants of others because they are descended from Ham. Secondary was the story of the Tower of Babel as a model for God’s desire to separate people generally rather than have them united in common cause and purpose.”[ix] .

Religious leaders across the nation engaged in arguments regarding slavery. For the first time, slavery became a moral issue. The Presbyterian, Methodist and Baptist churches, unable to settle the issue among their membership, divided into Northern and Southern sects. These denominational schisms broke the bonds of national unity, by establishing a model for regional independence and sovereignty, reinforcing hostilities between the North and the South through the spreading gross and distorted images in sermons and tracts, and elevating the level of moral outrage the North and South felt towards each other [x] .

“It can be argued that the Civil War was as much theological as it was political. The split between northern and southern churches may have precipitated political secession — once religious leaders stopped trying to work together, political leaders didn’t bother. Ministers signed up for war in larger numbers, especially in the South. All the officers in one Texas regiment were, apparently, Methodist preachers. Religious propaganda drove war fever and inspired confidence in ultimate victory.” [xi] .

Political debate over slavery was increasingly embedded with religious language with both sides loudly proclaiming that the Bible supported their views. Northerners appealed to the spirit of the Bible in opposing slavery, whereas Southerners appealed to the letter of the Bible in defending slavery.

“The Bible sanctioned slavery and by implication the society in which it existed. The Bible allowed for slavery but also pronounced judgment on societies where the slave-master relation was abused.”[xii].

The Republican Party found support from evangelical Protestants of the North, even encouraging its membership to adopt the language and passages from their sermons. Reticent Southern evangelicals refused to blur the separation between the church and state. However, when Northern evangelicals attempted to equate the Kingdom of God with the Republican Party, Southern evangelicals quickly came to the defense of the Confederacy [xiii].Abolitionists then jumped into the fray in an effort to persuade Northern churches to endorse demands for immediate emancipation[xiv]. Not every Republican however was eager to embrace immediate emancipation.

“I have no prejudice against the Southern people. They are just what we would be in their situation. If slavery did not now exist amongst them, they would not introduce it. If it did now exist amongst us, we should not instantly give it up…. I surely will not blame them for not doing what I should not know how to do myself. If all earthly power were given me, I should not know what to do, as to the existing institution.”[xv].

~ Abraham Lincoln

Politicians were reaching the end of their tethers. They had come to realize that compromise on slavery, states rights, and tariffs would not be reached due to increasingly open hostilities.

“I worked night and day for twelve years to prevent the war, but I could not. The North, mad and blind, would not let us govern ourselves, and so the war came.”

~ Jefferson Davis

The South, resisting industrialization, clung tenaciously to its agrarian lifestyle. Because they chose not to develop manufacturing capabilities, the South was forced to import man-made products. Thus Southern states opposed the high tariffs which had been placed on imported goods. The United States government heavily taxed the importation of all finished products, which the South consumed, while allowing Northern businessmen to import raw materials without paying import fees. In Congressional debate, The South cried foul. The North responded that it was only protecting its economy. Furthermore, Northerners claimed that tariffs were necessary to protect their products foreign competition which could offer lower prices. Disgruntled Southerners complained that the North was stealing the profits of the cotton crop by imposing tariffs. They fully understood that the tariffs were designed to support American industry and that these taxes were successful in benefiting the Northern industrial economy. However, Southerners continually asserted that the tariffs were damaging the Southern agricultural economy [xvi].

Southern statesmen where quick to point out that, under Federal Legislation, the exports of the South had been the basis of the Federal Revenue. Exports of agricultural products were taxed, keeping the grower’s profits low. Cotton and tobacco exports from Virginia, the two Carolina's, and Georgia, defrayed three fourths of the annual expense of supporting the Federal Government. Yet, even as the South supplied this source of revenue, nothing, or next to nothing, was returned to them in the shape of Government expenditures such as roads, turnpikes, and canals. Thus, the statesmen claimed, wealth disappeared from the South only to rise again in the North filling the pockets greedy of Yankee business men, bankers, and politicians. Therefore, Southners refused to continue as the economic vassals of the North. The South foresaw greater economic opportunity under its own rule, rather than in unrelenting subservience to the oppressive, Northern controlled government of the United States.

[i] Civil War- MSN Encarta
[ii] James Ronald Kennedy and Walter Donald Kennedy, “ The South was Right!” Second ed., 1994, p. 27
[iii] Scott, Jeffery Warren and Jefferys, Mary Ann. “Fighters of Faith,”
[iv] Civil War- MSN Encarta
[v] 1795 Washington County Census
[vi] Virginia Circuit Court Records Preservation Program, Record 92-1, " Edmondson vs. McNeale" supports the fact that Edward Evans was married to Sarah Sally Edmondson daughter of Patty Stevens Edmondson and niece of Gen. Edward Stevens. Edward Evans is listed as a Plantiff in this suit reagrding the distrubution of the slaves of Edward Stevens.
[vii] Slave Schedules, 1860 Kentucky, Nelson County, District 1: Isaac G Evan's slave ownership list, lines 33 - 40
[viii] 1860 Kentucky Census, Nelson County, District 1
[ix] Cline, Austine. "Christianity in the Confederate South: Southern Nationalism and Christianity,”
[x] Goen, C. C. “Broken Churches, Broken Nation” 1985
[xi] Cline, Austin. "Christianity in the Confederate South: Southern Nationalism and Christianity,”
[xii] Noll, Mark “Religion and the American Civil War,” 1998, p. 49
[xiii] Carwardine, Richard J.“Evangelicals and Politics in Antebellum America” 1993
[xiv] McKivigan, John R. “War Against Proslavery Religion: Abolitionism and the Northern Churches, 1830-1865,” 1985
[xv] Freedman, Russell.“ Lincoln: A Photobiography,” 1987, p. 52
[xvi] Swogger, Michael J.“ American Civil War. Causes of the Civil War: Taxes and Tariffs,” 1998, p. 2

No comments: