1 Jul 2020

Understanding the Times: Historical & Theological Thoughts on the Civil War and Our Crises Today

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: American Empire, Black History, Contemporary Ethics, Love, Politics, Race Relations, War -Peace
Dylann Roof

I wrote this five years ago, on June 23, 2015, after Dylann Roof massacred black Christians as they prayed. I find it as relevant, and perhaps more so, than I did when I wrote it. We are in the exact same place on most of the matters in this post.

The massacre of nine black Christians in worship, at Emanuel AME Church, by the white terrorist Dylann Roof, has been on my mind. Roof, according to his own testimony, chose that church because of its symbolic history and value. Since then there has been continued debate over history, our attachment to a certain heritage and being part of God’s New Creation.

One side, that I strongly disagree with, has again started the old myth that the Civil War was not really about slavery, therefore “the flag” is not about slavery or racism. Some, frankly, do not care what the historical record actually says.

But South Carolina waxes eloquently in her Declaration of Secession on Dec 24, 1860, on Southern grievances regarding the North on the matter of slavery (all mentioned explicitly). These grievances had been building for some time. The Declaration states point blank,

For twenty-five years this agitation has been steadily increasing, until it has now secured to its aid the power of the common government … A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the states north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of the President of the United States who opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery.

After the laundry list of perceived attacks upon slavery South Carolina moved to withdraw from the Union.

There is no way, on God’s green earth, as my mom used to say, any one can read SC’s Declaration, or any of the other States, that followed and not know that slavery was the engine driving conflict and the rock that broke it all.

But what about that 25 years stuff South Carolina mentioned …? In reality slavery was a bone of contention from 1776 to the framing of the Constitution to the “Gag Rule” enforced by slave states in the 1830s.

There was never a time when slavery was not the cause of violence, oppression, sectional strife, constant threats of secession, and slave revolts in the US prior to the Civil War. But in that 25 year period, if you read American history with any attention to detail from 1830ish to 1861 you see the “irrepressible conflict” in America. Look at these events.

1820: Missouri Compromise demonstrates early the death grip of slavery on the USA

1822: Denmark Vesey, free black man and founder of what is now Emanuel AME Church (that Roof attacked) organized a slave revolt. He was “outed” and hung with 35 slaves.

1829: David Walker, free black man, published Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World. Powerful work. Influenced William Loyd Garrison. South reacted by regulating the press and distribution of books and literature (so much for the free press).

1831: William Loyd Garrison begins publication of The Liberator (which was promptly banned in Southern states)

1831: Nat Turner, slave and preacher in Virginia, leads a revolution. Turner is captured and killed. The revolt was like an earthquake in the South. He was hanged, flayed and beheaded as an example to everyone especially slaves.

1832: Thomas Drew published Review of a Debate. This was a huge influence on the necessity of maintaining slavery in the South.

1833: American Anti-Slavery Society forms

1833 British Empire outlaws slavery

1834: college students at Lane Seminary revolt over the issue of slavery

1836: Gag Rule in Congress

1837: South Carolina senator John C. Calhoun (one of the most influential politicians in the US) insists that “Abolition and Union cannot coexist”

1837: Elijah Lovejoy, newspaper publisher and abolitionist, is murdered defending his press against mob violence in Alton, Illinois. Sends shock waves rippled thru the nation on both sides. People are willing to kill white people on this matter. A young Abraham Lincoln is stirred to the quick.

1837: Presbyterians split in the first north vs south denominational conflict over slavery

1830s: The Underground Railroad begins as Christians engage in civil disobedience led by Harriet Tubman. This is a major thorn in the side of the South.

1839: Amistad Supreme Court case argued by John Quincy Adams to the dismay of slave holders.

1840: the founding of the Liberty Party with an anti-slavery platform

1843: Southern Baptists split on the rock of slavery and form a separate convention

1845: Frederick Douglass publishes his Narrative

1845: The US annexes Texas as a slave state

1845: Methodist church splits on slavery. Southerners from the Methodist Episcopal Church, South

1848: War with Mexico over Texas

1850: Fugitive Slave Law & Compromise of 1850 (this was a hugely controversial law that forced Northerners to participate in Slavery).

1852: Harriet Beecher Stowe published Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the book that began the war as Lincoln opined. The book is banned and burned in the South.

1854: Kansas-Nebraska Act

1855-6: the “bleeding of Kansas.” Attack upon Lawrence and John Brown leads attack against proslavery settlers in Pottawatomi. The Civil War is on before the secession of South Carolina.

1855: James Shannon, a Disciples preacher, addresses the Missouri Pro-Slavery Convention, proclaims that his right to own a black person is not only worth dividing the Union over but going to war over.

1857: Dred Scott Decision seals the deal on the inevitable war.

1858: Lincoln-Douglas debates (if you have never read them do so because they lay to rest the myth that Lincoln somehow was not against slavery)

1859: Raid on Harpers Ferry and the hanging of John Brown.

1860: election of Abraham Lincoln and secession of South Carolina before Lincoln takes office.

1861: Other states join South Carolina in secession. Ratification of Constitution of the Confederacy guarantees the right to own slaves and white supremacy. Alexander Stevenson, VP of the CSA, delivers the Cornerstone Speech, the Southern government is founded upon the principle that men are not created equal and that Negros are by design inferior to whites. Confederacy starts war by firing the Star of the West on January 9, 1861 and then on Ft Sumter on April 12, 1861.

These are just the bare bones of those twenty-five years of agitation the Confederates mention in their grievances against the United States. Had there been no slavery the War would never have have happened. The participants knew this as they were doing it. They were willing to fight to the death on this supposed right to own a black human being.

I love Civil War history like many people. But there was a side that was right and there was a side that was wrong.

I am glad that the Nazis lost.
I am glad the Confederacy lost.

With 150 years of hindsight we should be able to say without equivocation that the Confederacy, its reason for secession, its reason for existence, its constitution, its symbols belong to a time long ago and should be left in the history books, the museums and not romanticized and held up as something “good.” They are not “good.”

Slavery, based upon white supremacy, was the issue driving every other issue.

I thank God it was defeated. The flags of the Confederacy are genetically connected to the values, aspirations and aims of the the explicit and stated purposes of the Confederates States of America as surely as the Swastika and Hammer and Sickle are inseparable from the governments they represented.

They do not represent my values, nor what I understand the Bible’s values to be, in any fashion. To say that all men are created equal is our corner stone is true. But the corner stone of the CSA is the denial of that proposition in explicit and express words.

The Confederate States were founded upon the confession that all men are NOT created equal. Alexander Stephen, the Vice President of the CSA, explicitly stated that black inferiority and slavery was the “Cornerstone” of the Confederacy. The flag is the visualization of the dreams of Jefferson Davis, William H. Thompson, and all the Secessionists.

I am so proud of how God’s People are coming together in South Carolina today. It is my hope and my prayer that all God’s people will do what it takes to move forward.

2 Responses to “Understanding the Times: Historical & Theological Thoughts on the Civil War and Our Crises Today”

  1. roofer leads Says:

    Blog of the day right here 🙂 #goodwork

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