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What If: The American Civil War As A Religious Conflict


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Spin-off from the debate in the "Because, Trump" thread:

 

I strongly suspect if there had been a hint of religion in the causes of the American civil war, America would be no different right now

 

Given the extreme bloodshed of the ACW, had religion factored in, there would be two separate countries now. In the age of steam rail, canal boats, and efficient ships, people wouldn't have just stuck in place and endured.

 

However, I think you are badly off base in the usual European sense, that of conflating faith and religion in American culture. The worst overlap between religion and government here wasn't after the Revolution, or the ACW, it was during the 17th century when local governments at the behest of English governors required church (CoE, specifically) attendance in the mid-Atlantic colonies such as Virginia. Not surprisingly, the very concept of governmental secularity comes from Virginia (reinforced by the mess in Maryland after the Revolution).

 

There's a grandiose What If somewhere in there, though it would in fact take some effort to introduce a religious angle into domestic American conflict. Probably to the point of eliminating the Establishment Clause from the First Amendment.

 

There WAS some linkage. I remember listening to a Podcast about John Brown, and he was IIRC, regarded as something of a religious fanatic. The Harpers Ferry Incident clearly was very large step along the way towards the Civil War. But although he seemed to receive a lot of patronage from people with religious scruples whom were linked to slavery abolitionists I dont get the impression abolition was more more than a fringe issue. One that most churches in the US would perhaps, understandably for the time, have steered a wide berth around.

 

I just looked around a little, and I think a possible handle might be via George Whitfield's slavery advocacy and Methodism. If southerners had realized the use of linking government to a denomination justifying the institution during the revolutionary era, things might have looked differently. As it is, the Methodist Episcopals, Presbyterians and Baptists all split into Northern and Southern branches over the issue 1837-1845.

 

Wasn't a large segment of the abolitionist movement in the US and the UK vested in religious concepts?

 

How religious could it have been considering how deeply slavery is built into the Old Testament.

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Bible_and_slavery#Old_Testament

 

You can find a line for anything you want a religious backing for in the bible.

 

Slavery was baked into MOST cultures. It shows up in religion because most cultures had religion as one of the early structures for organizing their culture. It was a step forwards from the older step of just murdering all of the other members of the tribe you were in conflict for.

One need not look JUST at Christian doctrine for examples. Look also at any number of other pre-christian cultures and you find it there as well.

 

Christian abolitionists certainly believed God demanded they work to eliminate slavery. It may well be that their interpretation of the Bible disagreed with pro-slavery interpretations, but that does not invalidate their beliefs or work.

 

Some primers via Wikipedia:

 

The Establishment Clause in the First Amendment.

 

Pro- and anti-slavery positions in the US, Christian or otherwise.

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Since the establishment clause wasn't considered to apply to states until the 14th amendment was passed there was nothing preventing any state from establishing a state sanctioned religious denomination. I don't think that doing so would have have had much impact. Americans could be pretty contentious about religion, but for whatever reason long festering sectarian violence wasn't really a thing. There were some exceptions but for the most part it never turned into anything close to the violence in Northern Ireland during the 20th century let alone the European wars of the 17th century.

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Since the establishment clause wasn't considered to apply to states until the 14th amendment was passed there was nothing preventing any state from establishing a state sanctioned religious denomination. I don't think that doing so would have have had much impact. Americans could be pretty contentious about religion, but for whatever reason long festering sectarian violence wasn't really a thing. There were some exceptions but for the most part it never turned into anything close to the violence in Northern Ireland during the 20th century let alone the European wars of the 17th century.

 

I think the various imigrant groups from different countries had differences enough betwen them, so that religion was not as important as a differentiation.

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Many of the US states, originally colonies had official religions prior to the Formation of the US and several retained their state religions.

 

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/State_religion#Former_state_churches_in_British_North_America

 

The last to de-establish was New Hampshire in 1877.

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IMHO:

 

1) It's a tough alt-history to come up with a response to, given that in reality the vast majority of mid-1860s US was at least nominally Christian and composed of a wide variety of sects that more or less got along fairly well with each other (our internecine killin' was for other reasons!). You'd need to take a step back and do some "what if the South turned Catholic?" or something, which runs the risk of going into Alien Space Bats territory.

 

2) For many of the Northern Evangelicals, the war was a bit of a crusade (washing away the sin of slavery, etc.) I actually think the guy who wrote this seems like a douchebag but at least he has some useful data points and quotes: https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/07/07/evangelicals-republicans-and-the-civil-war/

 

3) Not sure if the Euros fully realize what a horrifying bloodbath the American Civil War actually was, and not sure if bringing religion into the equation would have made it much worse.

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You could also run your state as you liked with various differences of opinion allowing the differences to go off and do their own state their own way. Until that ability to do so was curtailed by the federal government.

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IMHO:

 

1) It's a tough alt-history to come up with a response to, given that in reality the vast majority of mid-1860s US was at least nominally Christian and composed of a wide variety of sects that more or less got along fairly well with each other (our internecine killin' was for other reasons!). You'd need to take a step back and do some "what if the South turned Catholic?" or something, which runs the risk of going into Alien Space Bats territory.

 

2) For many of the Northern Evangelicals, the war was a bit of a crusade (washing away the sin of slavery, etc.) I actually think the guy who wrote this seems like a douchebag but at least he has some useful data points and quotes: https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/07/07/evangelicals-republicans-and-the-civil-war/

 

3) Not sure if the Euros fully realize what a horrifying bloodbath the American Civil War actually was, and not sure if bringing religion into the equation would have made it much worse.

 

Oh, we know. Ive read enough on Antietam, and played Ultimate General Civil war enough times to get some idea of the carnage involved. Although that game constantly underplays casualty rates for various reasons.

 

My idea is not that it would have made the American Civil War more bloody, which would have been difficult without issuing everyone with a repeating rifle. My idea was that it would possibly have created a separation between politics and Religion. Pretty much as the Civil War in Britain has largely achieved the same end. The possible exception to that being Northern Ireland, where there was a demonstrable linkage at least as late as the Late Rev Ian Paisley.

 

In America, there is clearly still at least some linkage, with politicians actively being lobbied by, and seeing the support of, religious groups. In the UK, that simply doesnt happen to anything like the same degree, and the only point of separation I can find is the English Civil War and the subsequent rule of the Roundheads. Which in my book at least rank as religious fanatics of a kind even the Taliban would take notes from.

Edited by Stuart Galbraith
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Regarding Ryans point,

 

rmgill, on 16 Sept 2019 - 5:10 PM, said:

Wasn't a large segment of the abolitionist movement in the US and the UK vested in religious concepts?

 

It seems so, certainly the growth of the abolitionist movement in England was based around methodism and other evangelical groups.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abolitionism_in_the_United_Kingdom

 

Its interesting to read of William Wilberforces background in evangelical religion and methodism.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Wilberforce

 

But here is the thing, even though these people were clearly of a religious background, the impression I have is they were able to expand their message beyond their faith. They obviously had to, Methodism then and now is, not to mock it, something of a niche position. For example, such ideas managed to inspire JW Turner to paint 'The Slaveship', even though its difficult to detect any religious devotion in the man at all.

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J._M._W._Turner

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Slave_Ship

 

639px-Slave-ship.jpg

 

This seems to me the case in the US also to some extent. From what ive heard of Brown, he managed to inspire people with his abolitionist arguments, even those I suspect would have felt wholly turned off by his rhetoric and his actions. I was listening to this podcast some weeks ago on him and the Harpers Ferry 'attack', and it seems to me that although his patrons were religious, the people he inspired were not necessarily. After all, look at his gang. It made the Dirty Dozen look respectable :D

 

Edited by Stuart Galbraith
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IMHO:

 

1) It's a tough alt-history to come up with a response to, given that in reality the vast majority of mid-1860s US was at least nominally Christian and composed of a wide variety of sects that more or less got along fairly well with each other (our internecine killin' was for other reasons!). You'd need to take a step back and do some "what if the South turned Catholic?" or something, which runs the risk of going into Alien Space Bats territory.

That's the main problem I see to make it "work", too. Even with the mentioned "state churches", Christianity in the US was always rather diverse - which was one of the attractions for European Immigrants, after all - and despite the internal divisions over the concept of slavery, there was nothing like the theological contradictions between the various protestant denominations like historically with Catholicism.

 

It would probably in fact have taken going to that divide for any kind of religiously-influenced conflict. And even then - despite widespread anti-Catholic feelings towards recent immigrants, Irish Americans famously fought on both sides of the ACW (and the roots of the IRA can be traced back to those veterans). How many Catholics were there in the former French and Spanish parts of the South, anyway? More than in New England? Though a Catholic South may have attracted more immigrants of that faith than historically.

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IMHO:

 

1) It's a tough alt-history to come up with a response to, given that in reality the vast majority of mid-1860s US was at least nominally Christian and composed of a wide variety of sects that more or less got along fairly well with each other (our internecine killin' was for other reasons!). You'd need to take a step back and do some "what if the South turned Catholic?" or something, which runs the risk of going into Alien Space Bats territory.

That's the main problem I see to make it "work", too. Even with the mentioned "state churches", Christianity in the US was always rather diverse - which was one of the attractions for European Immigrants, after all - and despite the internal divisions over the concept of slavery, there was nothing like the theological contradictions between the various protestant denominations like historically with Catholicism.

 

It would probably in fact have taken going to that divide for any kind of religiously-influenced conflict. And even then - despite widespread anti-Catholic feelings towards recent immigrants, Irish Americans famously fought on both sides of the ACW (and the roots of the IRA can be traced back to those veterans). How many Catholics were there in the former French and Spanish parts of the South, anyway? More than in New England? Though a Catholic South may have attracted more immigrants of that faith than historically.

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Again, if your denomination had a particular preference for certain things, you could find a state that was of that mindset already in all likeliness. That and the excess amount of room to go and make your own community with little real control by the Federal Government allowed many folks to get plenty of elbow room to make their own communities and get along.

 

The diverse range of dissident religions that one finds all over the US as pockets of this or that culture is evidence of that.

 

The ability to take your group of fellow believers into the wilderness, establish your own town and live as you please was a strong motivator and incentive. It also relieved pressure. If your group found going hard with another established group in say New Jersey, you could easily move west and find room.

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Well, of course on the flip side that means if some states got rather oppressive about religion, many dissenters would just up stakes and move where they felt more welcome/unbothered. So this actually has some potential to create segregated denominational areas.

 

However, I think the period between the Revolutionary and the Civil War is rather short by historical standards for that kind of religious segregation to become sufficiently entrenched for a major contribution to conflict.

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Competition for resources OR competition for control of the nation is an aspect that will push such a civil war. Deciding that they're less than human is also an aspect that allows such movements (cf St. Bartholomew's Day massacre).

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Somebody coming up with an elaborate argument that abolitionists are no more "fully" human than the slaves they want to be freed would probably do that. Though declaring opposition to slavery heretic based upon Old Testament precedent would technically suffice, I can indeed not see a link between government and religion close enough for the former to go all inquisitory on behalf of the latter in 19th century America - even if it was politically advantageous to defend the economic base of the South. But a theological argument by your state church dehumanizing opponents would certainly come in handy.

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IMHO:

 

1) It's a tough alt-history to come up with a response to, given that in reality the vast majority of mid-1860s US was at least nominally Christian and composed of a wide variety of sects that more or less got along fairly well with each other (our internecine killin' was for other reasons!). You'd need to take a step back and do some "what if the South turned Catholic?" or something, which runs the risk of going into Alien Space Bats territory.

That's the main problem I see to make it "work", too. Even with the mentioned "state churches", Christianity in the US was always rather diverse - which was one of the attractions for European Immigrants, after all - and despite the internal divisions over the concept of slavery, there was nothing like the theological contradictions between the various protestant denominations like historically with Catholicism.

 

It would probably in fact have taken going to that divide for any kind of religiously-influenced conflict. And even then - despite widespread anti-Catholic feelings towards recent immigrants, Irish Americans famously fought on both sides of the ACW (and the roots of the IRA can be traced back to those veterans). How many Catholics were there in the former French and Spanish parts of the South, anyway? More than in New England? Though a Catholic South may have attracted more immigrants of that faith than historically.

 

 

I guess the closest real-world event I can think of is the 1838 Mormon wars? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1838_Mormon_War

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I knew of that, but it wasn't on my current screen. There's even reference to abolition, and a statement that "Mormons are no more allowed to vote here than negroes", so it's a useful example.

 

I actually think I've come up with something in a roundabout way after looking at US Catholicism. It's not in fact a good vehicle for slave state governments; numbers were very small before bolstered by massive Immigration from Europe (and also Quebec) from about 1840, mostly to the North, and by that time Pope Gregor XVI. had just issued the anti-slavery bull in supremo apostolatus. While some American bishops argued that it prohibited only the slave trade, and the Spanish and Portuguese governments seem to have largely ignored it, that's not a particularly sound theological base for governments to utilize.

 

Now let's just make a very simple reverse case: What if Abraham Lincoln hadn't come from an anti-slavery Baptist church, but been a Catholic? The short answer is probably that a hundred years before Kennedy he would never have been elected president, but if he was, it's easy to see that combination of denomination and abolitionism make his opponents go apoplectic. You wouldn't even need state churches; against the background of period anti-immigrant feelings, politicians, protestant preachers, slaveholders and much of the rest of the Southern population are likely to rail in unison against bloody Catholic invaders taking over our country and infringing upon our way of life. Voilá, instant religious moment to the ACW.

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Competition for resources OR competition for control of the nation is an aspect that will push such a civil war. Deciding that they're less than human is also an aspect that allows such movements (cf St. Bartholomew's Day massacre).

 

That massacre did not happen in a vacuum.

 

Huguenots had tried to kidnap the King, make him, using whatever means, to become Calvinist, and, in application of that Cuius regio, eius religio thing, i.e. the religion of the country must be the same as the religion of the King, force all of France to become also Calvinists. After all, that had worked in England, and in several German States.

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I knew of that, but it wasn't on my current screen. There's even reference to abolition, and a statement that "Mormons are no more allowed to vote here than negroes", so it's a useful example.

 

I actually think I've come up with something in a roundabout way after looking at US Catholicism. It's not in fact a good vehicle for slave state governments; numbers were very small before bolstered by massive Immigration from Europe (and also Quebec) from about 1840, mostly to the North, and by that time Pope Gregor XVI. had just issued the anti-slavery bull in supremo apostolatus. While some American bishops argued that it prohibited only the slave trade, and the Spanish and Portuguese governments seem to have largely ignored it, that's not a particularly sound theological base for governments to utilize.

 

Now let's just make a very simple reverse case: What if Abraham Lincoln hadn't come from an anti-slavery Baptist church, but been a Catholic? The short answer is probably that a hundred years before Kennedy he would never have been elected president, but if he was, it's easy to see that combination of denomination and abolitionism make his opponents go apoplectic. You wouldn't even need state churches; against the background of period anti-immigrant feelings, politicians, protestant preachers, slaveholders and much of the rest of the Southern population are likely to rail in unison against bloody Catholic invaders taking over our country and infringing upon our way of life. Voilá, instant religious moment to the ACW.

 

But like you said yourself, it would have been really tough for a Catholic to get elected president in 1860; it was slightly dicey even for JFK.

 

I don't actually know very much about Southern Christian support for the Confederacy, and that would be an interesting thing to read up on.

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