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Catholics, Slaveholders, and the Dilemma of American Evangelicalism, 1835-1860

W. Jason Wallace

Publication Year: 2010

Although slaveholding southerners and Catholics in general had little in common, both groups found themselves relentlessly attacked in the northern evangelical press during the decades leading up to the Civil War. In Catholics, Slaveholders, and the Dilemma of American Evangelicalism, 1835–1860, W. Jason Wallace skillfully examines sermons, books, newspaper articles, and private correspondence of members of three antebellum groups—northern evangelicals, southern evangelicals, and Catholics—and argues that the divisions among them stemmed, at least in part, from disagreements over the role that religious convictions played in a free society. Focusing on journals such as The Downfall of Babylon, Zion’s Herald, The New York Evangelist, and The New York Observer, Wallace argues that northern evangelicals constructed a national narrative after their own image and, in the course of vigorous promotion of that narrative, attacked what they believed was the immoral authoritarianism of both the Catholic and the slaveholder. He then examines the response of both southerners and Catholics to northern evangelical attacks. As Wallace shows, leading Catholic intellectuals interpreted and defended the contributions made by the Catholic Church to American principles such as religious liberty and the separation of church and state. Proslavery southern evangelicals, while sharing with evangelicals in the North the belief that the United States was founded on Protestant values, rejected the attempts by northern evangelicals to associate Christianity with social egalitarianism and argued that northern evangelicals compromised both the Bible and Protestantism to fit their ideal of a good society. The American evangelical dilemma arose from conflicting opinions over what it meant to be an American and a Christian.

Published by: University of Notre Dame Press


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pp. ix


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pp. 1-6

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Chapter One

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pp. 7-37

On the evening of July 29, 1835, Charleston, South Carolina’s postmaster, Alfred Huger, dutifully opened mail sacks delivered direct from New York City on the steamship Columbia. Once every two weeks the Columbia made the run between New York and Charleston, and for...

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Chapter Two

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pp. 39-69

In 1840 Francis Wayland visited Paris and was not impressed. He wrote to a friend that France was a nation bowed down “in form to the Romish Ceremonial,” yet without “a God in the world.” “If France is a Christian nation,” he continued, “what are we, then, to say of the millions and hundreds of millions...

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Chapter Three

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pp. 71-88

In the two decades prior to the Civil War, northern evangelicals found a domestic complement to the threat of Catholic Europe in the slave system of the American South. It has been well documented that evangelicals played a significant role in the antislavery fervor that swept through...

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Chapter Four

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pp. 89-112

That the northern evangelical press incessantly portrayed Catholicism and slavery as irreconcilable with democracy had little to do with the reality of either Catholicism or slavery in the American South. Southern Catholics retained the political commitments of their region, and this alone indicted them by evangelical...

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Chapter Five

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pp. 113-145

As northern and southern Protestant denominations slowly divided over slavery, the American Catholic hierarchy worked hard to keep the Church out of sectional conflict. Throughout the antebellum period, differences in ethnicity and cultural habits severely separated many Catholic communities...

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pp. 147-152

Nineteenth-century Americans were the first modern westerners to live in the absence of an established church. Religious nonestablishment proved a remarkable inheritance for evangelicals. Evangelicalism, which at one time flourished outside of religious establishments, slowly became a kind...


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pp. 153-187


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pp. 189-200

E-ISBN-13: 9780268096670
E-ISBN-10: 0268096678
Print-ISBN-13: 9780268044213
Print-ISBN-10: 026804421X

Page Count: 216
Illustrations: NA
Publication Year: 2010