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SOUTHERN PRESBYTERIANS AND THE SECESSION CRISIS Haskell Monroe the presidential election of I860 had angered the South. Across the land of tobacco and cotton, men both feared and despised what they thought the election of Abraham Lincoln represented. As far as the average Southerner was concerned, the election had been unfair; perhaps it had even been a usurpation. For most men south of the Ohio and Potomac rivers, the period of debate and argument was over. The only discussion left was to decide the best means cf defense for the principles and rights of the South. Gradually the fire-eaters won the battle and led the agrarian states of Dixie out of the Union. As the leaders of the debate searched for reinforcements, they sometimes turned to religion to assist them. Since the South was very vocal in its attachment to its churches, the religious discussions on secession were significant. Like most men in the South, Presbyterians pondered the issues of the day. Some preached and prayed, others wrote letters, and the careful citizens meditated quietly. With almost 100,000 members in the slave states, they could not match either the Baptists or Methodists in numbers, but along with the Episcopalians, they were the social and economic leaders.1 These Calvinists usually relied on their elected "judicatories " (secession, presbytery, synod, and general assembly) to decide important matters of theology and church policy. Although the sessions of the congregations continued to meet during the secession winter, very few of the higher judicial bodies were scheduled to convene in the weeks between the election and inauguration of Lincoln. Because of the urgency of the crisis, the average churchman had either to decide his Mr. Monroe, now completing his doctoral studies, is a member of the history faculty at the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas. This article is a synopsis of his doctoral thesis, being done under the supervision of The Rice Institute. 1 Lewis G. Vander Velde, Presbyterians and the Federal Union, 1861-1869 ( Cambridge , 1933), pp. 3-17. 351 352HASKELL MONROE own course of action or rely on the leadership of trusted clergymen and laymen. As South Carolina prepared to act first, the ministers proclaimed their opinions. The most vocal spokesman was James Henley Thornwell, the acknowledged leader of the southern wing of the church. This tiny, frail seminary professor and minister of the Presbyterian Church in Columbia , South Carolina, had decided that there was no safety in the Union. Labeled the "Calhoun of the Church" by some, even his critics praised him as "a man ofmaster mind and commanding intellect."2 On November 21, 1860, a day of fasting, humiliation, and prayer throughout South Carolina, he preached to his congregation on "National Sins." Not only did he blame the sectional crisis on the abolitionists, but he also proclaimed the territories to be the joint property of all the states and announced that the "organs of Government have been perverted from their original design."3 With Thornwell's words setting the pattern, other Presbyterians in the state made their attitudes public. The weekly Southern Presbyterian openly favored secession but professed sadness.4 Thomas Smyth, a bookish minister, perhaps second to Thornwell in prestige in the area, preached in Charleston on the fast day. His sermon centered upon the defense of slavery and skirted the arguments over disrupting the Union. Born in New England, Smyth maintained a large personal correspondence , particularly with ministerial colleagues in the North, and hoped for reconciliation. But he considered separation better than meek submission .5 Up in the foothills of the mountains, Rev. Zelotes L. Holmes found "Providence Indicating Secession" and in Charleston, Rev. W. C. Dana spoke of the righteous cause as he advocated Southern unity.6 On November 28 the Synod of South Carolina gathered in Charleston , and the delegates discussed the current problems at some length. After agreeing that politics had no place in the church, they concluded 2 James W. Silver, "The Confederate Preacher Goes to War," North Carolina Historical Review, XXXIII (1956), 500; John Miller Wells, Southern Presbyterian Worthies (Richmond, 1936), p. 46. 3 James H. Thornwell, National Sins: A Fast Day Sermon . . . (Columbia, 1860), pp. 24-27. * Southern Presbyterian, Nov...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 351-360
Launched on MUSE
2013-01-02
Open Access
No
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