Gordon Rhea

This year initiates the commemoration of the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War. This is an occasion for serious reflection on a battle that eliminated some 600,000 of our citizens and left many kind of thousands of thousands emotionally and physically scarred. Translated into today’s terms – our country is ten times even more populated than it was then -- the dead would number some 6 million, through tens of millions even more wounded, maimed, and also psychologically damaged. The price was indeed catastrophic.

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As a Southerner through ancestors that fought for the Confederacy, I have actually been intrigued through the question of why my ancestors felt compelbrought about leave the USA and put up their own nation. What brought the Amerideserve to experiment to that extreme juncture?

The brief answer, of course, is Abraham Lincoln’s election as president of the USA. What involved Southerners many around Lincoln’s election was his opplace to the expansion of slavery right into the territories; Southern political leaders were clear about that. If new says can not be servant states, went the debate, then it was just a issue of time prior to the South’s clout in Congress would certainly fade, abolitionists would certainly be ascendant, and also the South’s “strange institution” – the right to own human beings as residential or commercial property – would certainly be in danger.

It is straightforward to understand why slave owners would be concerned around the danger, actual or imagined, that Lincoln posed to slavery. But what about those Southerners that did not own slaves? Why would they danger their livelihoods by leaving the USA and also pledging allegiance to a brand-new nation grounded in the proplace that all men are not developed equal, a country establiburned to keep a kind of home that they did not own?

In order to uncover an answer to this question, please take a trip ago through me to the South of 1860. Let’s put ourselves right into the skin of Southerners that lived tright here then. That’s what being an historian is about: putting yourself right into the minds of people that resided in another time to understand things from their perspective, from their point of watch. Let’s set aside what human being shelp and wrote later on, after the dust had actually settled. Let’s wipe the historical slate clean and visit the South of 150 years earlier through the documents that survive from that time. What were Southerners saying to various other Southerners around why they had to secede?

Tbelow is, of course, a historical backdrop that formed the structure of suffer for Southerners in 1860. More than 4 million enslaved people resided in the south, and also they touched eextremely facet of the region’s social, political, and financial life. Slaves did not just work-related on plantations. In cities such as Charleston, they cleaned the roadways, toiled as bricklayers, carpenters, blacksmiths, bakers, and also laborers. They functioned as dockhands and stevedores, grew and sold create, purchased items and carted them ago to their masters’ residences wright here they cooked the meals, cleaned, elevated the children, and tfinished to the daily chores. “Charleston looks even more favor a Negro country than a nation settled by white world,” a visitor renoted.

Fear of a servant rebellion was palpable. The establishment of a babsence republic in Haiti and the insurrections, endangered and also actual, of Gabriel Prosser, Dennote Vesey, and Nat Turner stoked the fires. John Brown’s raid at Harper’s Ferry sent out shock waves through the southern. Throughout the decades leading up to 1860, slaincredibly was a burning national problem, and political battles raged over the admission of brand-new claims as slave or totally free. Comassures were struck – the Missouri Compromise, the Compromise of 1850 – however the dispute could not be lhelp to rest.

The South felt increasingly beleaguered as the North enhanced its criticism of slavery. Abolitionist societies sprang up, Northern publications demanded the immediate end of slaextremely, politicians waxed shrill about the imprinciples of huguy bondage, and abroad, the British parliament terminated slaincredibly in the British West Indies. A prominent historian accurately listed that “by the late 1850’s most white Southerners perceived themselves as detainees in their very own country, condemned by what they saw as a hysterical abolition motion.”

As Southerners became increasingly isolated, they reacted by ending up being even more strident in defending slaextremely. The school was not just a vital evil: it was a positive good, a helpful and ethical requirement. Controlling the slave population was a matter of concern for all Whites, whether they owned servants or not. Curfews governed the movement of slaves at night, and vigilante committees patrolled the roadways, dispensing summary justice to wayward servants and whites suspected of harboring abolitionist views. Laws were passed against the dissemination of abolitionist literature, and also the South increasingly resembled a police state. A influential Charleston lawyer explained the city’s citizens as living under a “power of terror.”


With that backdrop, let’s take our trip ago in time to hear what Southerners were hearing. What were they being told by their pastors, by their political leaders, and their community leaders about slaexceptionally, Lincoln, and secession?

Churches were the facility of social and also intellectual life in the southern. That was wbelow civilization congregated, wright here they learned around the civilization and also their location in it, and where they obtained ethical guidance. The clergy consisted of the community’s social leaders and also educators and lugged significant influence via slaveholders and non-slaveholders achoose. What were Southern pastors, preachers, and religious leaders informing their flock?

Southern clergy safeguarded the morality of slaextremely via an elaborate scriptural defense developed on the infallibility of the Bible, which they held up as the global and also objective typical for ethical problems. Religious messages from pulpit and from a flourishing religious push accounted in large part for the excessive, uncompromising, ideological environment of the time.

As Northern opposition to slaextremely grew, the three major protestant churches separation right into northern and also southern factions. The Presbyterians divided in1837, the Methodists in 1844, and the Baptists in 1845. The segregation of the clergy right into Northern and Southern camps was profound. It spelt an end to systematic dialogue, leaving Southern preachers to talk to Southern audiences without contradiction.

What were their arguments? The Presbyterian theologian Robert Lewis Dabney reminded his fellow Southern clergymales that the Holy bible was the finest method to define slavery to the masses. “We must go prior to the country via the Holy bible as the message, and ‘for this reason sayeth the lord’ as the answer,” he created. “We know that on the Scriptures debate the abolition party will be propelled to unveil their true infidel tendencies. The Holy bible being bound to stand on our side, they have to come out and also range themselves versus the Scriptures.”

Reverend Furman of South Carolina insisted that the appropriate to organize servants was clearly sanctioned by the Divine Scriptures. He emphasized a practical side also, warning that if Lincoln were chosen, “every Negro in South Carolina and eincredibly various other Southern state will be his very own master; nay, more than that, will certainly be the equal of eexceptionally among you. If you are tame sufficient to submit, abolition preachers will be at hand to consummate the marriage of your daughters to babsence husbands.”

A fellow reverend from Virginia agreed that on no various other subject “are instructions more explicit, or their salutary tendency and also affect more thoroughly tested and corroborated by suffer than on the topic of slavery.” The Methodist Episcopal Church, South, asserted that slaexceptionally “has actually obtained the sanction of Jehova.” As a South Carolina Presbyterian concluded: “If the bibles execute not justify slavery, I recognize not what they do justify.” 

The Biblical debate started through Noah’s curse on Ham, the father of Canaan, which was offered to show that God had actually ordained slaincredibly and also had actually specifically used it to Blacks. Commonly cited were passeras in Leviticus that authorized the buying, marketing, holding and bequeathing of servants as property. Methodist Samuel Dunwody from South Carolina documented that Abraham, Jacob, Isaac, and also Job owned slaves, arguing that “some of the a lot of eminent of the Old Testament saints were slave holders.” The Methodist Quarterly Review provided even more that “the teachings of the brand-new testament in regard to bodily servitude accord with the old.” While slavery was not expressly sanctioned in the New Testament, Southern clergyguys argued that the lack of condemnation signified approval. They cited Paul’s rerotate of a runamethod servant to his understand as Biblical authority for the Fugitive Slave Act, which compelled the rerevolve of runameans slaves.

As Pastor Dunwody of South Carolina summed up the case: “Hence, God, as he is infinitely wise, simply and holy, never might authorize the practice of a moral evil. But god has authorized the exercise of slaexceptionally, not just by the bare permission of his Providence, yet the express provision of his word. Thus, slavery is not a moral evil.” Because the Scriptures was the resource for moral authority, the instance was closed. “Man might err,” said the southerly theologian James Thornwell, “however God deserve to never before lie.”

It was a corollary that to assault slaexceptionally was to assault the Scriptures and the word of God. If the Scriptures expressly ordained slave holding, to oppose the exercise was a sin and an insult to God’s word. As the Baptist minister and also author Thornton Stringfellow listed in his prominent Biblical Defense of Slaextremely, “males from the north” demonstrated “palpable ignorance of the magnificent will.”

The Southern Presbyterian of S.C observed that tbelow was a “religious character to the existing struggle. Anti-slavery is basically infidel. It battles upon the Scriptures, on the Church of Christ, on the reality of God, on the souls of males.” A Georgia preacher denounced abolitionists as “diametrically opposed to the letter and also heart of the Bible, and also as subversive of all sound principles, as the worst ravings of infidelity.” The influential South Carolina Presbyterian theologian James Henley Thornwell did not mince his words. “The parties in the conflict are not just abolitionists and also slaveholders. They are atheists, socialists, communists, red republicans, Jacobins on the one side, and friends of order and also regulated liberty on the various other. In one word, the civilization is the battleground – Christianity and Atheism the combatants; and the progression of mankind at stake.” 

Throughout the 1850’s, pro-slaincredibly arguments from the pulpit came to be specifically strident. A preacher in Richmond exalted slaextremely as “the a lot of blessed and also beautiful create of social government known; the only one that solves the trouble, exactly how affluent and bad might dwell together; a beneficent patriarchate.” The Central Presbyterian affirmed that slavery was “a relation essential to the existence of civilized society.” By 1860, Southern preachers felt comfortable advising their parishioners that “both Christianity and Slaincredibly are from heaven; both are blessings to humanity; both are to be perpetuated to the finish of time.”

By 1860, Southern churches were denouncing the North as decadent and also sinful bereason it had actually turned from God and rejected the Scriptures. Because the North was sinful and degeneprice, went their reasoning, the South should purify itself by seceding. As a South Carolina preacher provided on the eve of secession, “We cannot coalesce via guys whose culture will certainly eventually corrupt our very own, and also bring dvery own upon us the awful doom which awaits them.” The consequence was a pointedly religious bent to increasing Southern nationalism. As the Southern Presbyterian created, “It would be a glorious sight to watch this Southern Confederacy of ours stepping forth amid the countries of the civilization animated with a Christian heart, guided by Christian values, administered by Christian guys, and also adhering faithcompletely to Christian precepts,” ie., the slaincredibly of fellow people.

Shortly after Lincoln’s election, Presbyterian minister Benjamin Mbody organ Palmer, initially from Charleston, gave a sermon entitled, “The South Her Peril and Her Duty.” He announced that the election had lugged to the forefront one concern – slaincredibly – that compelled him to sheight out. Slaexceptionally, he described, was a question of morals and also religious beliefs, and also was currently the central question in the crisis of the Union. The South, he went on, had actually a “providential trust to conserve and also to perpetuate the college of slavery as currently existing.” The South was characterized by slaincredibly, he observed. “It has fashioned our settings of life, and established every one of our behavior of assumed and also feeling, and molded the extremely kind of our human being.” Abolition, sassist Palmer, was “undeniably atheistic.” The South “safeguarded the reason of God and also religion,” and also nopoint “is now left however secession.” Some 90,000 duplicates of a pamphlet incorporating the sermon were distributed.

Preachers were prominent at ceremonies hosted as troops marched off to war. In Petersburg, Virginia for example, Methodist minister R. N. Sledd railed versus Northerners, an “infidel and fanatical foe” that embopassed away “the barbarity of an Atilla more than the people of the 1nine Century” and also who verified “contempt for virtue and religious beliefs according to their savage purpose.” Northerners, he warned, wanted to “undermine the authority of my Scriptures. You go to add to the salvation of your nation from such a curse,” he told the departing soldiers. “You go to assist in the glorious enterpincrease of rearing in our sunny south a holy place to constitutional liberty and Bible Christianity. You go to fight for your world and also for the cities of your God.”


What were the South’s political leaders saying? In late 1860 and also at an early stage 1861, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, and also Louisiana appointed commissioners to travel to the other slave says and persuade them to secede. The commissioners addressed state legislatures, conventions, made public addresses, and also created letters. Their speeches were printed in newsdocuments and also pamphlets. These contemporaneous documents make fascinating reading and have freshly been gathered in a book by the historian Charles Dew.

William Harris, Mississippi’s commissioner to Georgia, described that Lincoln’s election had actually made the North more defiant than ever. “They have actually demanded, and now demand also etop quality in between the white and also negro races, under our constitution; equality in representation, equality in appropriate of suffrage, etop quality in the honors and also emoluments of office, etop quality in the social circle, etop quality in the rights of matrimony,” he cautioned, adding that the brand-new management wanted “liberty to the slave, however eternal destruction for you and me.”


"The Miscegecountry Ball" Library of Congress


As Harris observed things, “Our fathers made this a federal government for the white man, rejecting the negro as an ignorant, inferior, barbarian race, incapable of self-federal government, and not, therefore, entitresulted in be connected via the white guy upon terms of civil, political, or social ehigh quality.” Lincoln and also his followers, he proclaimed, aimed to “overrevolve and strike dvery own this great attribute of our union and to substitute in its stead their new theory of the global etop quality of the black and also white races.” For Harris, the choice was clear. Mississippi would certainly “fairly see the last of her race, guys, woguys, and youngsters, immolated in one common funeral pyre than watch them subjugated to the deterioration of civil, political and also social etop quality via the negro race.” The Georgia legislature ordered the printing of a thousand duplicates of his speech.

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Two days before South Carolina sedelivered, Judge Alexander Hamilton Handy, Mississippi’s commissioner to Maryland also, warned that “the first act of the black republihave the right to party will be to exclude slaexceptionally from all the areas, from the District of Columbia, the arsenals and also the forts, by the activity of the general federal government. That would be a acknowledgment that slaextremely is a sin, and confine the school to its current boundaries. The moment that slaincredibly is pronounced a moral evil – a sin – by the basic government, that minute the safety of the legal rights of the south will certainly be entirely gone.”

The next day, two commissioners addressed the North Carolina legislature and also warned that Lincoln’s election intended “utter destroy and degradation” for the south. “The white children now born will be compelled to flee from the land also of their birth, and also from the slaves their parental fees have toiled to acquire as an inheritance for them, or to submit to the deterioration of being diminished to an ehigh quality with them, and also all its attendant horrors.”

Former South Carolina Congressguy John McQueen was crystal clear about where points stood once he wrote to a team of Richmond civic leaders. Lincoln’s routine was based upon the “single principle that the African is equal to the Anglo-Saxon, and through the purpose of placing our servants on a position of ehigh quality through ourselves and our friends of eexceptionally problem. We, of South Carolina, hope quickly to greet you in a Southern Confederacy, where white men shall dominance our destinies, and also from which we may transmit to our posterity the civil liberties, privileges, and also honor left us by our ancestors.”

Common of the commissioner letters is that written by Stephen Hale, an Alabama commissioner, to the Governor of Kentucky, in December 1860. Lincoln’s election, he oboffered, was “nopoint much less than an open declaration of war, for the triumph of this brand-new concept of government destroys the residential or commercial property of the southern, lays waste her fields, and also inaugurates all the horrors of a San Domingo servile insurrection, consigning her citizens to assassinations and also her wives and daughters to pollution and violation to gratify the lust of half-civilized Africans. The servant holder and non-slaveholder need to ultimately share the exact same fate; all be degraded to a place of ehigh quality via cost-free negroes, stand also side by side with them at the polls, and fraternize in all the social connections of life, or else tright here will certainly be an eternal war of races, desolating the land also through blood, and also utterly wasting all the resources of the nation.”

Henry Benning Library of Congress

What Southerner, Hale asked, “can without indigcountry and horror contheme the triumph of negro ehigh quality, and check out his very own sons and daughters in the not far-off future associating through free negroes upon terms of political and also social equality?” Abolition would certainly sudepend intend that “the two races would certainly be continually pushing together,” and “amalgamation or the extermicountry of the one or the other would be unavoidable.” Secession, said Hale, was the just implies through which the “heaven ordained superiority of the white over the black race” might be continual. The abolition of slaincredibly would certainly either plunge the South into a race war or so stain the blood of the white race that it would be contaminated for all time.” Could southern men “submit to such deterioration and ruin,” he asked, and responded to his own question, “God forbid that they should.”

Congressmale Curry, one more of Alabama’s commissioner’s, similarly warned his fellow Alabamans that “the subjugation of the south to an abolition dynasty would cause a saturnalia of blood.” Emancipation meant “the abhorrent degradation of social and political equality, the probcapacity of a battle of extermicountry between the races or the requirement of flying the country to avoid the association.” Usual also was the message from Henry Benning of Georgia – later on one of General Lee’s the majority of talented brigade commanders – to the Virginia legislature. “If things are allowed to go on as they are, it is certain that slaincredibly is to be abolished,” he predicted. “By the time the north shall have actually attained the power, the babsence race will certainly be in a large majority, and also then we will certainly have actually black governors, black legislatures, babsence juries, babsence everything. Is it to be expected that the white race will certainly stand for that? It is not a supposable instance.”

What did Benning predict would certainly happen? “War will certainly break out almost everywhere favor surprise fire from the earth. We will be overpowered and our men will certainly be compelcaused wander favor vagabonds all over the earth, and as for our womales, the horrors of their state we cannot conlayout in creativity. We will be totally exterminated,” he announced, “and the land will certainly be left in the possession of the blacks, and then it will certainly go ago to a wilderness and also end up being an additional Africa or Saint Domingo.”

“Join the north and also what will certainly end up being of you” he asked. “They will hate you and also your institutions as much as they execute currently, and treat you as necessary. Suppose they elevate Charles Sumner to the presidency? Suppose they elevate Frederick Douglas, your escaped servant, to the presidency? What would certainly be your place in such an event? I say offer me pestilence and also famine sooner than that.”

In amount, the commissioners explained one apocalyptic vision after an additional – emancipation, race battle, miscegenation. The collapse of white dominance would be so cataclysmic that no self-respecting Southerner might fail to rally to the secessionist cause, they suggested. Secession was essential to maintain the purity and survival of the white race. This was the unvarnimelted, close to universal message of southerly political leaders to their constituencies.


Southerners heard the the same message from their neighborhood leaders. In the fevery one of 1860, John Townsend, owner of a cotton plantation on Edisto Island, authored a pamphlet delineating the consequences of Lincoln’s elevation to presidency. The abolition of slaexceptionally would be unpreventable, he warned, which would mean “the annihilation and end of all Negro labor (agricultural especially) over the totality South. It means a loss to the planters of the South of, at least, FOUR BILLION dollars, by having this labor taken from them; and also a loss, in addition, of FIVE BILLION dollars more, in lands, mills, machinery, and also other great interests, which will be rendered valueless by the desire of slave labor to cultivate the lands, and the loss of the plants which provide to those interests life and prosperity.”


Slaves work in Sea Islands, South Carolina. Library of Congress


More to the allude, he listed, abolition intended “the turning loose upon society, without the salutary restraints to which they are currently accustomed, more than 4 numerous a really poor and ignorant populace, to ramble in idleness over the nation until their desires should drive the majority of of them, first to petty thefts, and also thereafter to the bolder crimes of robbery and also murder.” The planter and his household would certainly “not just to be lessened to poverty and also desire, by the robbery of his property, but to finish the refinement of the indignity, they are to be degraded to the level of an inferior race, be jostled by them in their paths, and also intruded upon, and insulted over by rude and also vulgar upstarts. Who deserve to explain the loathsomeness of such an intercourse;—the constrained intercourse between refinement reduced to poverty, and swaggering vulgarity all of a sudden elevated to a position which it is not all set for?” 

Non-slaveholders, he predicted, were likewise in peril. “It will certainly be to the non-slaveholder, equally through the largest slaveholder, the obliteration of caste and the deprivation of essential privileges,” he cautioned. “The shade of the white guy is now, in the South, a title of nobility in his relationships as to the negro,” he reminded his readers. “In the Southern slaveholding States, wright here menial and degrading workplaces are turned over to be per formed specifically by the Negro servant, the standing and color of the black race becomes the badge of inferiority, and also the poorest non-slaveholder might rejoice through the richest of his brethren of the white race, in the difference of his shade. He may be poor, it is true; but there is no suggest upon which he is so justly proud and sensitive as his privilege of caste; and tright here is nothing which he would resent out through even more fierce indignation than the attempt of the Abolitionist to emancipate the servants and also elevate the Negroes to an ehigh quality through himself and his household.”