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Consuming Fire

The Fall of the Confederacy in the Mind of the White Christian South

Eugene D. Genovese

Publication Year: 1998

The fall of the Confederacy proved traumatic for a people who fought with the belief that God was on their side. Yet, as Eugene D. Genovese writes in A Consuming Fire, Southern Christians continued to trust in the Lord's will. The churches had long defended "southern rights" and insisted upon the divine sanction for slavery, but they also warned that God was testing His people, who must bring slavery up to biblical standards or face the wrath of an angry God.

In the eyes of proslavery theorists, clerical and lay, social relations and material conditions affected the extent and pace of the spread of the Gospel and men's preparation to receive it. For proslavery spokesmen, "Christian slavery" offered the South, indeed the world, the best hope for the vital work of preparation for the Kingdom, but they acknowledged that, from a Christian point of view, the slavery practiced in the South left much to be desired. For them, the struggle to reform, or rather transform, social relations was nothing less than a struggle to justify the trust God placed in them when He sanctioned slavery.

The reform campaign of prominent ministers and church laymen featured demands to secure slave marriages and family life, repeal the laws against slave literacy, and punish cruel masters. A Consuming Fire analyzes the strength, weakness, and failure of the struggle for reform and the nature and significance of southern Christian orthodoxy and its vision of a proper social order, class structure, and race relations.

Published by: University of Georgia Press

Series: Mercer University Lamar Memorial Lectures


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pp. xi-xii

Six years ago I took a graduate seminar on comparative slavery from one of the foremost living scholars of American history, Professor Eugene D. Genovese. Although I would enjoy engaging in a bit of revisionist history and say that I was not intimidated by his reputation, I cannot, for I was acutely aware...

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pp. xiii-xvi

I am grateful to Professors Michael M. Cass and Sarah Gardner as well as their colleagues at Mercer University for having honored me with an invitation to deliver the Lamar Lectures. Together with their students and the good people of the Macon community, they favored me with formidable...

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1. Waiting on the Lord

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pp. 1-33

In 1861 Southern Christians marched to war behind their Lord of Hosts, convinced that He blessed their struggle to uphold a scripturally sanctioned slavery and their right to national self-determination. The Episcopal Church in Virginia responded to the Yankee invasion by declaring the War...

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2. Give an Account of Thy Stewardship

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pp. 35-71

All wars test the fiber of a nation, each war in a special way. In the War for Southern Independence the Confederacy had to prove itself a God-fearing nation in the eyes of the Lord of Hosts. As in every country and in every war, some Southern ministers, although fewer than often alleged, plunged into...

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3. In Your Fathers' Stead

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pp. 73-98

When all is said and done, white Christian Southerners failed the test to which, as they acknowledged, God had put them. To understand that failure, the roots of which lay deep in the structure of Southern slave society, we must look backward and forward from 1865: backward to the Old...

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4. An Uncertain Trumpet

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pp. 99-121

When the Confederacy collapsed, the divines ruefully allowed that God had punished the South for failing to do justice to its slaves. Simultaneously, they reiterated their conviction that they had not sinned in upholding slavery per se. In October 1865, the Baptist Religious Herald of..

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Epilogue: The Sixth Seal

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pp. 123-127

I have read the story of my own South," Thomas L. Stokes wrote in The Savannah, "of a beautiful and tragic story of men who built a way of life upon foundations of sand. For cruelty and jealousy, bravery and high idealism, all are mingled in the story of the Savannah...


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pp. 129-169


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pp. 171-180

E-ISBN-13: 9780820340708
E-ISBN-10: 0820340707
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820320465
Print-ISBN-10: 0820320463

Page Count: 200
Publication Year: 1998

Series Title: Mercer University Lamar Memorial Lectures
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OCLC Number: 724086096
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Consuming Fire

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Slavery -- Southern States -- History -- 19th century.
  • Southern States -- History -- 1775-1865.
  • Southern States -- Church history -- 19th century.
  • Confederate States of America -- History -- Religious aspects -- Christianity.
  • Slavery and the church -- Southern States -- History -- 19th century.
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