Bishops, Bourbons, and Big Mules
A History of the Episcopal Church in Alabama
Publication Year: 2014
The consensus of southern historians is that, since the Second Great Awakening, evangelicalism has dominated the South. This is certainly true when one considers the extent to which southern culture is dominated by evangelical rhetoric and ideas. However, in Alabama one
non-evangelical group has played a significant role in shaping the state’s history. J. Barry Vaughn explains that, although the Episcopal Church has always been a small fraction (around 1 percent) of Alabama’s population, an inordinately high proportion, close to 10 percent, of Alabama’s significant leaders have belonged to this denomination. Many of these leaders came to the Episcopal Church from other denominations because they were attracted to the church’s wide degree of doctrinal latitude and laissez-faire attitude toward human frailty.
Vaughn argues that the church was able to attract many of the state’s governors, congressmen, and legislators by positioning itself as the church of conservative political elites in the state--the planters before the Civil War, the “Bourbons” after the Civil War, and the “Big Mules” during industrialization. He begins this narrative by explaining how Anglicanism came to Alabama and then highlights how Episcopal bishops and congregation members alike took active roles in key historic movements including the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the Civil Rights Movement. Bishops, Bourbons, and Big Mules closes with Vaughn’s own predictions about the fate of the Episcopal Church in twenty-first-century Alabama.
Published by: The University of Alabama Press
Series: Religion and American Culture
Title Page, About the Series, Copyright, Dedication
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The Episcopal Diocese of Alabama celebrated its 175th anniversary in 2005. Its history touches on a number of important topics in national, regional, and denominational history. Remarkably, however, only one historian has told its story, and that was over a century ago. Walter Whitaker, rector of Christ Church, Tuscaloosa, did an excellent job in his History of the Protestant Episcopal Church in...
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When most people hear the words religion and Alabama, they rarely think first of the Book of Common Prayer and mitred bishops. They are more likely to conjure up images of fire-and-brimstone preaching, tent revivals, and converts being immersed in river water. For example, when an Israeli concert pianist with whom I studied while an undergraduate at Harvard came to give a concert in...
1. How Anglicanism Came to America
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Long before there was an Episcopal Church, the Church of England established itself in English settlements on the east coast of the North American continent. It has been said that Great Britain acquired its empire in a fit of absent-mindedness; one could say the same about the Anglican Communion.1 The cross followed the flag, and wherever English colonists sought riches or adventure, the Church...
2. “No gentleman would choose any but the Episcopalian way”: From the Beginning to the 1850s
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In 1846 eminent British geologist Sir Charles Lyell, whose work was a precursor to Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, visited Alabama. While in Tuscaloosa, Lyell attended Christ Episcopal Church and heard a sermon by Nicholas Hamner Cobbs, the first bishop of the Diocese of Alabama, who had been elected only two years earlier. Lyell also had occasion to chat with a priest of the diocese: “A...
3. “This worldliness that is rushing upon us like a flood”: Secession and Civil War
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Nicholas Hamner Cobbs was strongly opposed to secession. One historian asserts that Cobbs was “the one man of character and influence who in all Alabama had opposed secession in any way, at any time, or for any reason.” It is difficult not to believe that his fear of the consequences of secession was behind Cobbs’s denunciation of “worldliness” in his jeremiad at the 1859 diocesan...
4. “How is the South like Lazarus?”: Reconstruction
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In 1890, Hilary Abner Herbert, a member of St. Thomas, Greenville, and future US secretary of the navy, described the effect of the Civil War on Alabama with these words:
It is difficult to convey any proper idea of the wretchedness that prevailed in Alabama at the close of our Civil War. Thousands who were totally unaccustomed to labor found themselves in extreme poverty, and in many...
5. The Age of “Dread-Naughts and Sky-Scrapers”: The End of the Nineteenth Century and the Beginning of the Twentieth
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“The year 1901 came and the century turned,” wrote Episcopalian Hudson Strode. Confirmed in 1913 at Trinity Church, Demopolis, Strode taught English for forty years at the University of Alabama. In his eighties, Strode looked back in his autobiography, The Eleventh House, remembering that in 1900 “the south was still poor and the price of cotton low . . . [but] food was abundant and . . . cheap. A...
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6. “Great and untried experiments”: From the 1920s to the 1950s
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John Temple Graves (1903–1961), a longtime columnist for the Birmingham News and a member of the Church of the Advent, recounted his childhood experiences of God in this way:
My deeper contacts with God were when the sun would set in summer evening glory behind Cox College across the road from our home. . . . I would be looking at God in red, blue, and gold, in seashores of pink ranked shells...
7. “The Carpenter of Birmingham must not be allowed to forever deny the Carpenter of Nazareth”: The Civil Rights Era
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On Monday, September 16, 1963, local attorney Charles Morgan delivered a powerful jeremiad to Birmingham’s Young Men’s Business Club:
Yesterday while Birmingham, which prides itself on the number of its churches, was attending worship services, a bomb went off and an all-white police force moved into action. . . . A police force which has solved no bombings. A police force which...
8. “O thou who changest not . . .”: From 1968 to the Present
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Novelist Walker Percy came from a family with strong ties to Alabama’s Episcopal churches. At St. John’s, Elyton, in 1887, the novelist’s grandfather—also named Walker—married Mary Pratt DeBardeleben, the daughter and granddaughter of two of the founders of Birmingham’s steel industry, Henry DeBardeleben and Daniel Pratt. Although the novelist’s father, LeRoy Percy, joined the Presbyterian...
Conclusion: “Unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required”
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The legacy of the Episcopal Church in Alabama is rich: It has produced distinguished bishops and priests who have served their people and the wider community faithfully and well, and some have acquired national reputations. Alabama Episcopalians claim a proud tradition of eloquent and intelligent preaching, faithful pastoral care, and innumerable works of mercy. Although the members of the...
Appendix A: Episcopal Churches in Alabama in Chronological Order
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Appendix B: Bishops of the Diocese of Alabama and the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast
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Appendix C: Membership of the Episcopal Church and US Population at Ten-Year Intervals from 1830 to 2010
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Appendix D: Episcopal Church Membership and Population of Alabama from 1830 to 2010
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Appendix E: Percentage of Alabamians Twenty-Five Years Old and Older with Four or More Years of Postsecondary Education from 1950 to 2010
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Abbreviations Used in Notes
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Page Count: 280
Illustrations: 11 illustrations
Publication Year: 2014
Series Title: Religion and American Culture