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  • A Kingdom Divided: Evangelicals, Loyalty, and Sectionalism in the Civil War Era by April E. Holm
  • Robert Elder (bio)
A Kingdom Divided: Evangelicals, Loyalty, and Sectionalism in the Civil War Era. By April E. Holm. (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2017. Pp. 276. Cloth, $47.50.)

This clearly written and carefully argued book is a worthwhile addition to the already groaning bookshelf that bears the weight of the study of the border region during the Civil War era. April Holm describes the conflicted and shifting loyalties of Methodist, Baptist, and Presbyterian churches in the border region, defined as Kentucky, Missouri, Delaware, Maryland, and western Virginia, from the 1830s to the end of the nineteenth century, a story that she claims ultimately provides an important exception to traditional narratives of national reunion. In her introduction, Holm writes that A Kingdom Divided is "the first comprehensive study of white evangelical Protestants in the border region during the nineteenth century" (3). Her book is broader geographically than other recent books about religion on the border by Luke Harlow (on Kentucky) and Bridget Ford (on Cincinnati and Louisville), but for the most part it makes more modest historiographical and interpretive claims than either.1 And while A Kingdom Divided embraces much of the same border geography as recent books by the likes of Christopher Phillips, Holm focuses tightly on the denominational conflicts, so we do not often see outside the views provided by ministers' diaries, denominational publications, and church record books. This is not [End Page 702] to say that the conflicts Holm describes were insignificant. Holm quotes Laurie Maffly-Kipp's reminder that the "'antiquated intricacies of denominations' mattered deeply to nineteenth-century Americans" (4), and one of the virtues of A Kingdom Divided is that Holm takes these conflicts as seriously as those engaged in them unquestionably did.

In the first three chapters of the book, Holm nimbly covers well-trod territory as she describes the reorientation of the border region from an evangelical "West" that was the focus of missionary efforts from all three of the major Protestant denominations into a contested border region between a North and a South defined by slavery in the 1840s. This latter development culminated with the splitting of all three denominations into northern and southern wings over slavery and precipitated bitter disputes, sometimes in civil courts, over denominational affiliation and property ownership.

The Fugitive Slave Act and the outbreak of armed conflict over slavery in Kansas made it all the more difficult to navigate the minefield of politics on the border. In response, border evangelicals "clung stubbornly to the hope that a careful separation of the moral and the political was possible and that moderation could prevent 'alarming agitation'" (83). The centerpiece of this effort was "the spirituality of the church," a doctrine that proclaimed the otherworldly purposes of the church and denied that politics had any place in the pulpit. In Holm's telling, on the border the emphasis on the spirituality of the church was often a sincere effort to avoid conflict within churches and denominations. But she is equally clear that it was not truly a neutral doctrine. She writes "Keeping religion out of politics and politics out of religion meant keeping millions enslaved" (88). Nevertheless, it would have been interesting to hear more from Holm about how this doctrine differed on the border from the very similar version being proclaimed in South Carolina and elsewhere by the likes of James Henley Thornwell, which most historians have agreed was a more calculated effort to defend the peculiar institution against abolitionist critiques.

During the Civil War, the pronouncement of northern denominations against slavery and the Confederacy, as well as the Union army's sometimes intrusive efforts to ensure the loyalty of churches and ministers on the border, alienated many border Christians. After the war, direct interventions into church matters by the Union army ceased, but northern denominations further alienated many in the border churches who had tried to maintain neutrality during the war through measures such as the so-called Reconstruction Resolutions passed by the northern Old School Presbyterians in 1865 declaring the Confederate experiment "malignant and wicked" and calling...


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