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?6?CIVIL WAR HISTORY At the same time, their obsession with liberty, dependency, and thralldom places them squarely in the mainstream of Southern society and, it must be pointed out, antebellum America. The idea that republics were fragile and subject to declension; fear of manipulation; a determination to hew to and pass on the legacy of republican government; viewing the political universe through the prism of the American revolution; and an uncompromising determination to preserve the essence of the Constitution and Union was neither unique to secessionists nor Southerners. In short, if fire-eaters reflected the complexity of interests in the antebellum South, their distinctiveness as politicians is one of degree not kind. This shortcoming in Walther's otherwise fascinating series of portraits is not a failure of execution, but a function of his decision to study a cluster of political stars (or meteors) rather than the composition and parameters of the universe in which they traveled. Nevertheless, Eric Walther's contribution to our understanding of Southern politics and, specifically, the many worlds of the fire-eaters is welcomed, valuable, and revelatory. Michael A. Morrison Purdue University "God Ordained This War" : Sermons on the Sectional Crisis, 1830-1865. Edited by David B. Chesebrough. (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1991. Pp. xii, 360. $34.95.) Most historians, in contrast with myself and my collaborators in Why the South Lost the Civil War, have failed to see religion as playing a vital role in the sectional conflict; on the other hand, several historians have seen this, and recently their number has been increasing. Chesebrough's book strengthens the position of the latter group and sheds much light on the theological underpinnings of the pro-secession and anti-secession arguments. The twelve powerful sermons herein presented are potent position statements from the pulpit, an equal number from the North and from the South. A third section deals with sermons by black preachers, both Northern and Southern. It certainly is evident that the preachers on each side of the secession issue were convinced, beyond question, that their side's cause was God's cause. That God might be disinterested in the sectional crisis, or—as Abraham Lincoln broodingly suggested—that He might not be on either side, did not occur to very many preachers. A crucial question is did the preachers mold opinion, or did they reflect it? Chesebrough argues that they reflected, but— and more to the point—they reinforced then-current and popular attitudes "by giving them divine sanction" (10). There were, of course, thousands of sermons that Chesebrough could have selected. His criteria was threefold. First, the sermon selected for inclusion had to make some specific contribution and be well constructed. A second factor was the quality of the preacher himself; he had to be well BOOK REVIEWSl6l known in his time and be expressing a then-popular and accepted view. Lastly, Chesebrough strove for variety. Five denominations are represented. More than three hundred other sermons are noted, and abstracted, in the useful bibliography. The first section in both main parts of the book deals with slavery. Interestingly , "Northern preachers were never unanimous in their opposition to slavery" (24). Also, and perhaps even more interestingly, "most of the Southern evangelical clergy . . . were opposed to slavery in the eighteenth century" (143). It is thus intriguing to trace the change in position over time. Emphasis varied considerably, but several themes became dominant: that slavery was God-ordained and biblically sanctioned; that those who opposed slavery were anti-God and anti-Bible; that the races were not equal; and, lastly, that the slaves (for quite a variety of incompatible reasons!) should be given religious instruction. The second section in both parts deals with sectionalism. Northerners generally depicted "the South as an inferior culture" (58) and thought secession might be a good thing, that the mainline Protestant denominations divided, North and South, might be "the greatest contribution of religion to the sundering of the nation ..." (60). Furthermore, in these sermons we see clearly an embryonic American "civil religion." Most Southern preachers needed to be converted to a pro-secession stance. The third section in both parts deals with the war itself. Prior to the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 160-162
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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