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The Politics of Faith during the Civil War

Wesley L. Timothy

Publication Year: 2013

In The Politics of Faith, Timothy L. Wesley examines the engagement of both northern and southern preachers in politics during the American Civil War, revealing an era of denominational, governmental, and public scrutiny of religious leaders. Controversial ministers risked ostracism within the local community, censure from church leaders, and arrests by provost marshals or local police. In contested areas of the Upper Confederacy and Border Union, ministers occasionally faced deadly violence for what they said or would not say from their pulpits. Even silence on political issues did not guarantee a preacher’s security, as both sides arrested clergymen who defied the dictates of civil and military authorities by refusing to declare their loyalty in sermons or to pray for the designated nation, army, or president. The generation that fought the Civil War lived in arguably the most sacralized culture in the history of the United States. The participation of church members in the public arena meant that ministers wielded great authority. Wesley outlines the scope of that influence and considers, conversely, the feared outcomes of its abuse. By treating ministers as both individual men of conscience and leaders of religious communities, Wesley reveals that the reticence of otherwise loyal ministers to bring politics into the pulpit often grew not out of partisan concerns but out of doctrinal, historical, and local factors. The Politics of Faith sheds new light on the political motivations of homefront clergymen during wartime, revealing how and why the Civil War stands as the nation’s first concerted campaign to check the ministry’s freedom of religious expression.

Published by: Louisiana State University Press


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p. C-C

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-xiv

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pp. 1-7

Political preachers were at the heart of the debate over the separation of church and state during the American Civil War.1 American ministers and laypeople alike held various opinions about clerics who preached on political topics. The war brought to the forefront a controversy that had grown up in the prewar North over whether ministers...

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1. Preachers, Slavery, and Antebellum Politics

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pp. 8-31

The generation of Americans that fought the Civil War inherited a political tradition that celebrated the separation of church and state. During the tumultuous years immediately preceding the war, certainly the largest part of American church leaders kept politics and religion distinct. And yet, between the end of the U.S.-Mexican War and the start of the Civil...

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2. The Power and Place of the Wartime Northern Ministry

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pp. 32-42

In short order after Fort Sumter, Americans recognized the magnitude of the war and the unprecedented peril in which their beloved Union now stood. As they looked to the clergy for guidance, more and more of them abandoned their concerns over political preaching and grew critical of all but the most expressly patriotic preachers. By their...

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3. Partisanship and Potential Damage: Why Americans Feared “Disloyal” Preachers

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pp. 43-59

In most cases, northern ministers supported the Union war effort and the Lincoln administration and worked doggedly to sustain the resolve of both citizens at home and soldiers in the field. Some clerics, however, spoke ill of the president and other political leaders or highlighted northern societal inequities in positing that the Union’s shortcomings might very well...

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4. The Assault on Disloyalty in the Northern Ministry

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pp. 60-92

Ministers understood better than most that the eyes and ears of the people were upon them. The bulk of preachers welcomed the public’s increased attention, thinking it necessary if the clergy was to lead the patriotic vanguard on the homefront. At times, however, popular and church inquiry revealed parsons who were unable or unwilling to meet their nationalistic obligations. When that happened, all kinds of forces arrayed...

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5. What the Preachers Thought: Political Preachers in the North

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pp. 93-121

It is clear that preachers who, for whatever reason, refused to figuratively wave the Union standard from behind their consecrated lecterns garnered widespread reproach. And yet, many ministers and their defenders persisted in avoiding partisan preaching. Clearly many intractable Union clerics resisted the politicization of their pulpit—and...

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6. The Confederate Ministry

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pp. 122-140

A central reality plagued the South’s brief foray into nation building: the Confederacy was not original unto itself. Most in Dixie identified with their fellow southerners in a fundamentally different way than they did Americans elsewhere. But even if most in the South believed themselves a separate people by 1861, that did not make it easy for them to abandon old loyalties. Just as the colonists’ declaration of...

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7. Confederate and Unionist Religious Life under the Gun

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pp. 141-167

During the civil war, ministers in the occupied South frequently found the expression of their loyalties unwelcome, often dangerous, and sometimes deadly. The presence of the Federal military, for instance, severely stifled the dulcet tones of Confederate religious leaders. In such places as Nashville, New Orleans, and countless other southern cities, towns, and country hamlets, preachers and the churchpeople they directed...

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8. Black Church Leaders and Politics in the Civil War

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pp. 168-193

The African American clergy’s antislavery efforts constituted its most important role during the Civil War.1 While historians have acknowledged the centrality of black preachers in the struggle for freedom, however, they have sometimes failed to note the nuances and variants of wartime African American clerical leadership.2 This stems from the scholarly tendency to accentuate the immediate impact that emancipation...

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pp. 194-202

The end of the Civil War did not bring an end to all of the rhetorical battles between church members of common denominations or between preachers and their parishioners. Even those traditions that achieved a comparably amicable division, as was true of Episcopalianism, did not realize postwar reunion painlessly. Protestant Episcopals, overwhelmingly...


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pp. 203-258


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pp. 259-273

E-ISBN-13: 9780807150016
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807150009

Page Count: 320
Publication Year: 2013

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Religion and politics -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Religious aspects.
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