Religion before, during, and after the Civil War

In 1860’s America, despite the lack of an established church, religion was a major part of life. The churches held much sway over higher education, popular media, and whole communities. In the sparsely populated South, West, and Northwest regions, church was an opportunity to catch up on current affairs, converse, and socialize. So when the Civil War split America in two, religion was especially important, and in analyzing how religion adapted, we can gain better insight into the minds of the common people of the time.

To start things off, Americans definitely used religion to justify their expansion through “Manifest Destiny”, a belief that God gave them the new world so that they could spread democracy from coast to coast.

100% TRUE

Manifest Destiny was an excuse used to fuel the Mexican-American War, which in turn fueled sectionalism. So it wouldn’t be preposterous to say that religion is partly to blame for the Civil War, along with everything else that is ever happened.

u know i love you christians but SRSLY

It was also largely believed that America was the vanguard of civilization, forwarding the human race out of the dark era of monarchy and feudalism. So to many Unionists, the Civil War was not just to preserve the union, but to preserve the human race. There was also religious purpose; the Unionists believed that they were preparing the earth for the Kingdom of God with the Civil War. (This did not mean they expected jesus to return; they were post millennialists. However, they believed life would be prosperous and similar to paradise by establishing God’s reign better in the world, once the war had ended.)

Slavery was thought to be sinful by many, although many recognized that slavery occurred when the Bible was written and neither the Old or New testament had damned it. So Northern Protestants weren’t necessarily abolitionist, although they believed it was morally reprehensible. In fact, they abhorred abolitionists for their relentless attacks on slaveholders as sinners, and their demands for immediate swift emancipation. A small minority of abolitionists believed that any book that sanctioned slavery was “the Devil’s book”, which southerners took to mean that Northerners were atheists, although only a minority of Northerners were abolitionist, and a minority of abolitionists made such boastful claims. Sentiment shifted when disaster occurred however; Protestant preachers, believing that God had a hand in everything, took battles with high casualties to mean that God was punishing them. They believed that God was punishing them for the continuance of slavery in America, which pushed opinions to favor abolition more.

In the South, people used the Bible to justify slavery. After all, the Bible did not condemn slavery, so how could God find it immoral? In fact, slavery made it possible for blacks to learn the word of God, so slavery was actually a benevolent win-win situation. When the Civil War came about, southerners believed they were fighting for their independence. They were also disappointed in how the Constitution didn’t include the word “God”, which led to the Confederacy nominating itself as a Christian nation.  The southerners had a sense of moral superiority, and they too believed that God was on their side, especially due to the stereotype that Northerners were atheists.

Once the Civil War had ended, black churches were instrumental in creating communities where black people could assemble, be educated, be protected, and most importantly, make their dissatisfaction known. (Religion was a great part of the Civil Rights movement; Martin Luther King Jr. was a preacher, churches are where African-Americans could get involved) It was a place where people could express themselves, become uplifted. Religion both justified slavery and healed the wounds it caused.

Religion was a significant force in justifying slavery and the Civil War, as well as providing morale and reason for both sides, before it finally prepared the black community for the fight for equality.




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