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Christian Interpretations of the Civil War1

  • William A. Clebsch (a1)


The Civil War more than any other episode in American history struck into the lives of all the families of the land, demanding that everybody take sides. Partisanship focused upon many facets and features of the conflicting causes, but the order of the event allowed no bipartisanship. Only a handful of anticipative revisionists, who earnestly cried that the whole affair, even once begun, was needless and somehow avoidable, found ground for nonpartisanship. Families branched across Mason and Dixon's line split and sided in spite of torn loyalties and wistful recollections of unity. Had slaves foreseen, as freedmen knew, that emancipation's price was personal degradation, they might have borne mixed feelings about the issue, but even their ambivalences purchased no point of impartiality.



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2. Boston, 1872–77, quoted by Stainpp, Kenneth M. (ed.), The Causes of the Civil War (Englewood Cliffs, N. J., 1959), p. 12.

3. Quoted by Potter, David M. and Manning, Thomas G. (eds.), Nationalism and Sectionalism in America 1775–1877 (New York, 1949), p. 311.

4. Buchanan, James, Mr. Buchanan's Administration on the Eve of the Rebellion (New York, 1866), quoted by Stampp, op. cit., p. 89.

5. Pressly, Thomas J., Americans Interpret Their Civil War (Princeton, N. J., 1954), pp. 115f.

6. See Beale, Howard K., “What Historians Have Said about the Cause of the Civil War,” Theory and Practice in Historical Study: A Report of the Committee on Historiography, Social Sciences Research Couizdl Bulletin 54 (New York, 1946); Brogan, D. W., “Historical Revisions LIII. — The Origins of the American Civil War,” History (London), New Series XV (04, 1938), 4751; Kane, Harnett T., “The Cannon Are Silent, But the Bugles Still Blow,” The New York Times Book Review, February 6, 1955, p. 7; Perkins, Dexter, “American Wars and Critical Historians,” Yale Review, XL (Summer, 1951), 682695; Ramsdell, Charles W., “The Changing Interpretations of the Civil War,” Journal of Southern History, III (02, 1937), 327; Rozwenc, Edwin C. (ed.), Slavery as a Cause of the Civil War (Boston, 1949); Vann Woodward, C., “The Irony of Southern History,” Journal of Southern History, XIX (02, 1953), 319.

7. Dabney, , “Wilson's Slave Power in America,” Southern Planter and Farmer, July 1897; reprinted in and cited from Dabney, , Discussions (ed. Vaughn, C. B., 4 vols., Mexico, Mo., 1897), IV, 259et passim.

8. Munger, , “Providence and the War,” Hoosac Valley News, May 30, 1885.

9. “Popular Government by Divine Right,” Building Eras in Religion (New York, 1881), p. 294.

10. Ibid., p. 301.

11. Ibid., p. 311.

12. Quoted by Parker, Edwin P., “Ministry at Large,” Life and Letters of Horace Bushnell, ed. Mary Bushnell Cheney (New York, 1880), p. 474.

13. “The Doctrine of Loyalty,” Work and Play (New York, 1881), p. 373.

14. “Our Obligations to the Dead,” Building Eras in Religion, p. 327.

15. Ibid., p. 329.

16. Nevins, Allan. The War for the Union (New York, 1959), I, v.

17. Cf. the well-known passage from Bushnell cited by Gabriel, Ralph Henry, The Course of American Democratic Thought (New York, 1940), p. 115.

18. “The Gettysburg Week,” Scribner's Magazine, XVI (July, 1894), 2130.

19. (Third edition; Berlin: Wiegandt und Grieben, 1866); translated as “Dr. Schaff's Lectures on America Delivered in Europe, 1865,” by S[tarbuck], C. C., The Christian Intelligencer, ed. by Porter, Elbert S. (New York: Charles Van Wyck), XXXVII (1866), Nos. 9–20 (03 1-05 17); hereinafter Buergerkrieg; translations hereinafter CI with number of issue and page.

20. American Nationality (Chambersburg, Pa., 1856), p. 24.

21. Buergerkrieg, pp. 8, 28 (CI, 9:2, 12:1).

22. Ibid., p. 16 (CI, 9:3).

23. American Nationality, p. 21.

24. Buergerkrieg, p. 9 (CI, 9:2).

25. Ibid., p. 25 (CI, 10:1).

26. Ibid., p. 16 (CI, 9:3).

27. Idem.

28. Wilmer, , The Recent Past From a Southern Standpoint (New York, 1887), pp. 273, 25.

1 See my Baptism of Blood: Christian Contributions to the Interpretation of the Civil War in American History (Th.D. dissertation, Union Theological Seminary, New York, 1957) for a fuller elaboration of the subject.

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Church History
  • ISSN: 0009-6407
  • EISSN: 1755-2613
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