“Pacific Railroads will Settle the Indian Question”: the explicit militarism of the Northern Pacific Railroad, 1864–83

(map: “Map of the country from Lake Superior to the Pacific Ocean. From the latest explorations and surveys to accompany the report of the New York Chamber of Commerce, April 1868,” Library of Congress)

The transcontinental railroads completely transformed the American west in the nineteenth century, for white European immigrants in search of land or gold and for the Native Americans who had been steadily pushed westward by those immigrants. Sometimes the consequences of the railroads on Native Americans have been portrayed as “unfortunate and unintended consequences.” As white Americans advanced across the continent, they brought technological advances, like the railroad, and the ultimate effect was that it destroyed the Native way of life. This was unfortunate, and perhaps even tragic (depending on the narrator), but really, these are just the inevitable side-effects of “progress.”

In looking carefully at the Northern Pacific Railroad (bidding to be the second transcontinental railroad, it eventually was the third) one finds a very different story. Primary source documents of U.S. government and military officials, as well as the proponents of railroad (trustees, engineers) repeatedly emphasize that one of the main benefits of the railroad is that it would enable the U.S. military to better fight against Native Americans; it would divide Native tribes north and south and keep them from banding together; as settlers came it would push them out and replace a “savage” population with a “civilized” and “Christian” one. Rather than “unintended consequences,” the effects of the railroad on Native Americans was very much intended–it was actively promoted as among the main reasons to build the road.

The following is a compilation of such primary sources, including Ulysses S. Grant, Generals Sherman, Sheridan, and Sanborn, Representative William Windom from Minnesota, and several other Northern Pacific reports expressing the militaristic purpose of the railroad.

WARNING: as these sources are all representative of the dominant white perspective, Native Americans are consistently discussed in derogatory language (“savages,” “inferior,” etc.). Much of this material is very hard to read, but important for grappling with true motivations of those who promoted these railroads.

Here are a few choice quotes:

The United States shall extinguish as rapidly as may be consistent with public policy and the welfare of the said Indians, the Indian titles to all lands falling under the operations of this Act”

Northern Pacific and Indian Question
Charter of the Northern Pacific Railroad Company, Approved July 2nd, 1864.

Situated upon an extended and unprotected frontier, contiguous to a country now under the dominion of one of the most powerful and warlike nations of the world; traversing a territory occupied or overrun by numerous tribes of Indians, often hostile, never entirely trustworthy, it will be invaluable in times of danger, for the rapid transmission of troops and munitions of war.”

Northern Pacific and Indian Question
Northern Pacific Board of Directors (1867)

for the present the military establishment between the lines designated must be maintained at a great cost per man. The completion of the railroads to the Pacific will materially reduce this cost, as well as the number of men to be kept there. The completion of these roads will also go far toward a permanent settlement of our Indian difficulties.

Ulysses S. Grant (1867)

To construct this road will change the whole order of things at the West. It will, in an inconceivably short space of time, convert these vast plains, now laying waste and unproductive, into fruitful fields ; it will supplant the herds of buffalo, elk, and deer, with countless flocks and herds of domestic animals; it will occupy the streams of water now running waste with manufactories and mechanics’ shops, giving comfort and remunerative employment to thousands on thousands of intelligent citizens; it will extract from the mountains untold millions of the precious metals ; it will raise and utilize vast amounts of coal that now lie buried and useless in the mines; it will convert the iron and copper ores now reposing in the earth into implements for the use of man, or commodities for commerce; it will change the forests into thousands of new forms for the use, comfort, and profit of our people ; it will fill the channels of commerce with merchandise, and give additional employment and increased wealth to the busy throng that now crowd our commercial centres ; it will induce an increased emigration of the industrial classes from the Old World, and furnish them cheap and comfortable homes ; IT WILL TERMINATE INDIAN WARS, and supplant the savage Indian, who now roams over these fertile plains and rich mountains, by an intelligent, industrious, civilized population ; and, finally, it will add, almost beyond the power of computation, to the wealth and taxable property of the country

The Northern Pacific Railroad: Statement of its Resources and Merits (1868)

Can the Government afford to have the territory between the 45th and 49th parallels remain as it has done for centuries, occupied only by the Indian and buffalo? Will the people consent to have it shut out from settlement and remain a waste, for want of means of communication and facilities to reach it, when it can be made so accessible, and furnish happy homes for millions now struggling in the old world for a mere subsistence, and thus be productive of so much happiness to the human race?

Report of a Special Committee of the Chamber of Commerce of the State of New York on the Northern Pacific Rail-Road (1868)

The effect of the construction of this road will be… to terminate our Indian wars, and supplant the savage with a civilized and Christian population ; to increase our taxable property almost beyond computation or estimation, and thereby contribute directly and largely to the payment of the national debt, and the relief of our people.”

Report of a Special Committee of the Chamber of Commerce of the State of New York on the Northern Pacific Rail-Road (1868)

This road is a military necessity, and will very much stimulate the settlement of that region of our public domain.”

General Sherman (1868)

“I know that pecuniarily it would be to the advantage of the Government to help this road.” * * * “But, in addition, it almost substantially ends our Indian troubles by the moral effect which it exercises over the Indians, and the facility which it gives to the military in controlling them.” * * * “No one, unless he has personally visited this country, can well appreciate the great assistance which this railroad gives to economy, security, and effectiveness in the administration of military affairs in this department.” 

General Sheridan (1868)

“Railroads, more than all other things, extend our civilization [25] over men and remote regions, and will do more in a single decade to civilize Indians, and to compel them to abandon nomadic habits, than could be done in a century without them. The members of the commission, so far as I know, are all advocates of two more lines of road to the Pacific.”

General Sanborn (1868)

Pacific Railroads will settle the Indian Question: They can only be permanently conquered by railroads. The locomotive is the sole solution of the Indian question, unless the government changes its system of warfare and fights the savages the winter through as well as in summer… As the thorough and final solution of the Indian question, by taking the buffalo range out from under the savage, and putting a vast stock and grain farm in its place, the railroads to the Pacific surely are a military necessity. As avenues of sudden approach to Indians on the war-path, and of cheap and quick movement of supplies to troops, they are equally a military necessity.”

Report of the Majority of the Senate Committee on Pacific Railroad, February 19, 1869

Suggested Resources:

Northern Pacific Railroad Company: Pamphlets (1864–1875). (FREE on Google Books)

Angevine, Robert G. The Railroad and the State: War, Politics, and Technology in Nineteenth-Century America. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004. Chapter 9: “The Fruits of Symbiotic Exchange, 1870–1898.”

Cozzens, Peter. The Earth Is Weeping: The Epic Story of the Indian Wars for the American West. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2016. Chapter 11: “Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse.”

Lubetkin, M. John. Jay Cooke’s Gamble: The Northern Pacific Railroad, the Sioux, and the Panic of 1873. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2014.

Smalley, Eugene V. History of the Northern Pacific Railroad. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1883. (FREE on Google Books)

“Fraternal” to Whom? White Evangelicalism’s Centuries-long Problem with Race

For hundreds of years white American evangelicalism has been a compromised group, like oil and water, or “iron mixed with clay” that struggles to “adhere together” (Daniel 2:43). Issues of race and slavery have been at the core of what has plagued the movement from the very beginning, and they are still plaguing us today, as black and brown Christians who bit on the promise of “multi-ethnic” churches and ministries began yet another “silent exodus” in recent years and are now “leaving loud” and shaking the dust off of their feet.

One of the factors that has caused this exodus has been the fact that time and time again “white Christians in the U.S. constantly and continually choosing whiteness over brothers and sisters in Christ” (Michael Emerson, The Grand Betrayal). Under the banner of “unity” with fellow Christians, otherwise well-intentioned Christians have remained silent in the face of divisive racialized rhetoric from their fellows. Though they maybe wouldn’t “say it that way” or “differ in some particulars” nevertheless, for the sake of “gospel unity” it is determined important to retain “fraternal relations” with their brothers in Christ.

But a crucial question remains unasked: “fraternal” to whom? Because when one “brother” begins attacking another, one is faced with a choice — will you refrain from rebuking a divisive and contentious brother in order to maintain “unity,” while permitting another brother to be attacked and not coming to their defense? In so doing, you have chosen “fraternal relations” with one brother at the expense of another, and we have seen this play out time and time again. Jemar Tisby’s testimony is just one more example of this (see: “Leave Loud: Jemar Tisby’s Story”).

None of this is new. This consistent choice to compromise in the name of “unity” has plagued white evangelicalism for centuries. One particular controversy from the 1850s seems instructive for navigating our times now, the controversy surrounding one of the largest white evangelical ministries of the day, the American Tract Society. In their effort to maintain ties to “both sides” they failed to take any clear moral stand, and the end result was a split. The lukewarm position of the “white moderate” has always proved dissatisfactory on any issue demanding moral clarity, but it has never satisfied the white-supremacist side either. Eventually iron and clay must separate and the idol topple over. (For an account of William Lloyd Garrison’s engagement with the ATS, see “We have much theology, but what does it amount to?”: William Lloyd Garrison’s critique of the American Tract Society”).

Here is a paper further exploring this controversy and the various compromises displayed in it:

Here are a few quotes from the paper:

The Weymouth and Braintree Female Anti-Slavery Society held the conviction that separation from fellowship with slave-holders was “an essential requisite of Christian character. ‘If any man love not his brother whom he hath seen, he cannot love God whom he hath not seen. No man can love his brother and enslave him, or connive at his being enslaved, or apologize for or commune with the enslavers… By this rule do we judge and reject the majority of the American churches, the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, and the American Tract Society and other kindred societies. By this rule, too, do we judge the so-called evangelical churches of this town.”

The ATS adopted five resolutions, including, that, “the political aspects of slavery lie entirely without the proper sphere of this Society, and cannot be discussed in its publications; but that those moral duties which grow out of the existence of slavery, as well as those moral evils and vices which it is known to promote, and which are condemned in Scripture, and so much deplored by evangelical Christians undoubtedly do fall within the province of this Society, and can and ought to be discussed in a fraternal and Christian spirit.”

“William Lloyd Garrison introduced a series of resolutions condemning the ATS yet again, for pretending to move on the issue, while not moving at all. He mocked the resolution passed by the special committee of the ATS. They were now willing to discuss “those moral duties which grow out of the existence of slavery.” Imagine a tract on  “‘The moral duties growing out of the existence’ of piracy, high­way robbery, and burglary ! Why, these are sins to be exterminated at once, and the moral duty is to slay them at once.”

“Does any moral duty throw out of drunkenness, to the drunkard, except that of immediately turning from it? Does any moral duty grow out of adultery, to the adulterer, except that of immediately turning from it? Does any moral duty grow out of either of these sins, to those in the community who have not committed them, except utter opposition to them, at all times and in all places? It is utterly absurd to speak of any moral duty but this growing out of a sin!”

“The society wished to discuss slavery, and all other issues, “in a fraternal spirit.” But Charles K. Whipple posed the crucial question: “Fraternal to whom? To the slave, sympathizing with his bondage ‘as bound with him’ [Hebrews 13:3]? Is there the slightest probability that Rev. Baron Stow, with those members of his ‘respectable white’ church who have a vote in the Tract Society, had this in their minds when they voted?”

On the contrary, “fraternity” and “Christian spirit” had always been extended toward slave-holders, not to the slaves nor to anyone too ardently anti-slavery. Whipple’s judgment was that the Boston society was gaining “the reputation” of opposing slavery without having taken any real steps to actually do so, and that the majority of people were being deluded into believing that they had done their duty by supporting Boston and not New York. Whipple concluded that this belief was “pernicious,” was “an acceptance of something false as true,” and as “a direct, and gross, misleading of the minds of men in regard to the actual truth.”

Doug Wilson and the Association of Christian Classical Schools

The Association of Christian Classical Schools is a national organization headquartered in Moscow, Idaho. It was founded by Douglas Wilson in 1994, and “provides accreditation for CCE [Classical Christian Education] schools” (see “Classical Christian Education and Doug Wilson” and the Christianity Today September 2019 cover story “The Rise of the Bible-Teaching, Plato-Loving, Homeschool Elitists“).

At present (March 2021) there are over 300 schools listed in their nationwide directory. A number of colleges and businesses are listed as “affiliates” and number of prominent evangelical figures “stand with ACCS” in including Albert Mohler, Eric Metaxas, John Piper, and Rod Dreher, as well as ministries like the Nehemiah Institute, and Desiring God.

In 2002, Preston Jones, professor of history at John Brown University, published an article on classical Christian schools (“Christian Classical Learning” pp. 12–13). Jones noted Wilson’s role in the classical Christian education movement and the founding of ACCS, but suggested that “If the Christian classical schools movement is going to be taken seriously in the academic world in the long run, its members would probably do well to distance themselves from some of their current leaders.” He noted Wilson’s views on southern slavery, and the book Southern Slavery as it Was, co-authored by “a neo-Confederate Presbyterian minister and League of the South leader named J. Steven Wilkins.” This book, published by Wilson’s publishing house Canon Press, “maintains, among other things, that the antebellum South was, literally, a holy land and that slavery bred mutual respect between the races— indeed, that relations between blacks and whites were never better than in the South before the Civil War.”

Jones noted that “Wilkins has been a speaker at major conferences of the ACCS, and at their national conference in Memphis last June were featured the wares of a neo-Confederate vendor.” He did note that “most of the parents who send their children to schools affiliated with the ACCS aren’t aware of the nature of some of the leaders’ views.”

In 2016 ACCS was denied accreditation in the state of Tennessee specifically because of Doug Wilson and his views on race, slavery, and other issues (“Bill yanked after school group founder’s views on slavery, homosexuals, adultery revealed”). However, it appears that in 2019, Tennessee reversed course and granted accreditation to ACCS member schools (Tennessee HB1392).

In 2016, the current president, David Goodwin, tried to address some of the controversy surrounding Wilson and create some distance between the organization and its founder (“A Response to ‘Classical Christian Education and Doug Wilson’”). Though Rachel Miller’s article explicitly references Wilson’s views on “theology, history, slavery, patriarchy, marriage, and sex,” Goodwin chose to sidestep these issues, referring only generally to the “theological debates that have involved Mr. Wilson” and noting that “Mr. Wilson certainly offers food for thought.”

Goodwin says that Wilson, “takes specific care not to exert influence on the ACCS.” However, it is interesting to note that:

  • Wilson is listed as an “Educator in Residence” at ACCS.
  • Wilson is featured as a plenary speaker every year at their national “Repairing the Ruins” conference (here’s the 2021 lineup; past and future speakers include Al Mohler, Rosaria Butterfield, and Joel Beeke)
  • Three out of their top five  recommended books are by Wilson, more than any other author on the page. 
  • If you wish to know “What is CCE [Classical Christian Education]?” and click “Read About It” one of Wilson’s books is considered “Foundational for new teachers and parents.”
  • Doug Wilson’s affection for the white-supremacist Robert Lewis Dabney is also reflected in ACCS book recommendations, which includes the Canon Press republication of Dabney’s “Secularized Education.” (For those needing to get caught up, here’s “What’s So Bad About R.L. Dabney?”). However, some might think “just because someone has bad ideas in one area (white supremacy) doesn’t mean they can’t have good ideas in another (education).” Unfortunately, Dabney’s views of education were thoroughly influenced by his white supremacy. Sean Michael Lucas notes in his biography of Dabney that after the Civil War, Dabney opposed public education and particularly the education of the formerly enslaved people of the south. He thought public education was “heretical” because of its “leveling impulse” because “God had ordained a hierarchy of superiors and inferiors.” He also objected “for fears of racial mixing” and opposed the philosophy that “claims to make the blacks equal, socially and politically, to the most respectable whites” (Robert Lewis Dabney: A Southern Presbyterian Life, 182–86). It’s disturbing to see Dabney’s work on education recommended by the ACCS, though I’m sure this has been edited of any overtly racist sentiment before republishing.
  • Doug Wilson’s Omnibus curriculum is used in a number of ACCS schools (a quick search of of the school listing found schools from California, to Minnesota, to Missouri, to Maine using this curriculum). Consistent with Wilson’s views of southern slavery, the curriculum includes an assignment asking students to: “Write a letter to a friend in the North who thinks that all slaves are mistreated and beaten. Explain how your family treats your slaves well.” (Omnibus III).

Nearly twenty years after Preston Jones wondered if the Classical Christian Education movement might want to “distance themselves from some of their current leaders,” there are no signs of that happening. In fact, ACCS has become more and more mainstream and has found support from several prominent figures. Back in 2002, Jones assumed that Wilson’s views “aren’t widely taught in ACCS schools.” That may be true. Parents, however, may wish to do a little homework of their own, asking about the level of affiliation and influence of Doug Wilson before entrusting the formation of their children to an ACCS school.

(Photo by Museums Victoria on Unsplash)

Christian Religion in the Twenty-Seventh Massachusetts Regiment, 1861–65

(image: Henry A. Hubbard, descended from missionary David Brainerd)

Abraham Lincoln famously noted that both sides of the Civil War “read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other.” While much has been made of the “Christian character and piety” of Confederates like Robert E. Lee, Christian belief and practice was ever present in the Union Army as well as the North as a whole (see for example Massachusetts Baptists and The Civil War).

William P. Derby’s, Bearing Arms in the Twenty-Seventh Massachusetts Regiment of Volunteer Infantry During the Civil War 1861–1865 (Boston: Wright & Potter Company, 1883) is an example of a “regimental history,” histories of particular regiments compiled and published after the war by members of those regiments (see more on regimental histories here). Derby’s account of the 27th Massachusetts contains a number of references to Christian practice and belief, some of it incidental, some of it in the form of Biblical allusions, and some of it in extended accounts of religious services. Attached here is an edited compilation of a number of those references as an example of the various ways that Christianity infused the Union War effort.

An important note is to be made regarding the depiction of African Americans in Derby’s account. Racism was prevalent in the Union Army, and even the “best intentioned” white soldiers still held patronizing and condescending views of the newly freed slaves. When reading Derby’s accounts of Black church services, one must often read “against the grain” of his white perspective to see more clearly the rich religious belief and feeling expressed in the Black church.

Nevertheless, this is a fascinating look at the role of Christianity in the Union Army, one that could doubtless be repeated across any number of the hundreds of regimental histories available.

Here are a few quotes:

[As the regiment was preparing to leave for the front]: “Sunday, October 20th, [1861] Rev. Henry M. Parsons, pastor of the First Congregational Church, Springfield, [Massachusetts] preached upon the grounds an eloquent and stirring sermon from 1 Cor. 16 : 13 — ‘Quit yourselves like men ; be strong'” (16).

To the Citizens of North Carolina : … We are Christians as well as yourselves, and we profess to know full well, and to feel profoundly, the sacred obligations of the character. No apprehensions need be entertained that the demands of humanity or justice will be disregarded. We shall inflict no injury unless forced to do so by your own acts ; and upon this you may confidently rely” (74)

“On the morning of the 9th, as the troops were awaiting orders to move, Chaplain Woodworth rode along the line, saying,“Boys, this is the Sabbath, and as we cannot have other religious exercises, can’t we all join in the Doxology!” Comrade Oliver A. Clark of Company A, to whom music and the sentiment were both inspiring, led off in a clear, strong voice. Like electricity it sped from line to line, and the rising sun witnessed five thousand warriors with uncovered heads, singing“ Praise God from whom all blessings flow” (140).

“If Nicodemus would not wake under such fervency as moved the crowded cabin at that midnight hour, melody and volume will do little to accomplish it. Emancipation was to them a great jubilee, and in the realization of long -deferred hope, every power of body and mind was thrown into this melody which expressed their faith in God’s deliverance” (217).

“Sunday, May 22d, [1864] was a sad day, as with depleted ranks we gathered for divine service, and reviewed the terrible experiences of the previous week. Fervent prayer was offered, that God would shield those who had fallen into the enemy’s power, and temper the winds to the bereaved at home. While we were engaged in this service, Maj. Gen’l Martindale arrived, and, dismounting, remained with uncovered head until the close, joining tears with us over lessons drawn from the lives of comrades slain” (292).

[At the siege of Petersburg, 1864]: “It seemed as if the sun were standing still a second time, and this time for the benefit of the Amorites” (339).

[In prison in Andersonville, Georgia 1864]: “When the storm had passed, and the waters had receded to the banks of the stream , it was found that the swift current like a faithful scavenger, had cleared the swamp of all its filth, and that at the foot of the hill and just over the dead line, a spring of clear, cold water had burst forth, sufficient to supply the wants of the entire camp. This spring continued to flow undiminished, until our departure, a constant reminder of God’s miraculous care and intervention. No Moses had been sent to smite the rock, but none the less had the Almighty cleansed this Gehenna by floods of water, and opened the fountains of the earth to minister to the wants of his suffering creatures” (381).

Massachusetts Baptists and The Civil War

In January of 1861 Massachusetts governor John Andrew issued a call for volunteers to serve in the Union Army and recruiters began gather troops in various towns in the state. Baptist pastor H.L. Wayland of Worcester resigned his pastorate to become the chaplain of the 7th Connecticut Volunteers, serving from 1861–64. Other graduates of Newton Theological Institution also served including George Henderson as a chaplain, and Daniel Litchfield in the United States Christian Commission (The Newton Theological Institution General Catalogue 1835–1912). Albert Arnold, in his 1861 report for the Worcester Baptist Association, noted that “almost all our churches have representatives in the armies that have been assembled to put down a rebellious conspiracy against the lawfully constituted authority of the land” (Fifty-Ninth Annual Report of the Massachusetts Baptist Convention).

The Massachusetts Baptist Convention met in November 1861 in Boston and approved a series of resolutions on the war:

Resolved, That we regard the existing revolt against our National Government, not only as a breach of human law, but as a wanton rebellion against the authority of God; and whether we consider the sovereignty which it spurns, or the iniquity which it seeks to enthrone, it must be contemplated with execration and loathing by all unprejudiced and God-fearing men.

Resolved, That inasmuch as this unrighteous war against a good and beneficent government, is waged avowedly in the interest of African Slavery, which has been authoritatively set forth as the corner-stone of the so-called Southern Confederacy, the fact ought to open the eye of all loyal men as to the character and tendencies of that system of abominations, and to lead the public authorities to avail themselves of every measure justified by the spirit of the Constitution, and demanded by the political or military exigencies of the time, for its eradication from the land…

Resolved, That we recognize in the present mournful state of our country, the righteous visitation of a jealous God; and that we can look for salvation only by turning away from our vain boastings, by repairing the wrongs which we have practiced against the weak, by renouncing the greed of our avarice, and by dealing justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with our God. 

(Historical Sketch of the Massachusetts Baptist Missionary Society and Convention, 1802-1902).

A official copy of these “strong and patriotic resolutions” was sent to President Lincoln and to his cabinet. William Seward, the Secretary of State, replied, noting that he had given them to Lincoln. The President had received “with pleasure and gratitude the assurance of the Massachusetts Baptist Convention that its intentions and influence will be unanimously given in favor of the efforts which the government shall make for the public safety in the crisis to staying and so important” (“Response from the Government,” Christian Watchman and Reflector, January 23, 1862).

If many of these establishment Baptists had previously been only moderately anti-slavery, and unwilling to break fellowship with their southern brethren over the issue, the precipitation of war had pushed them over the edge, and they whole-heartedly supported the war effort. Baptists who had hesitated to condemn slavery too strongly now called it an “abomination” and called for it to be eradicated (though Lincoln would not emancipate the slaves until 1863). The federal government welcomed their support, and recognized the importance that ministers, even Baptists, could play in encouraging widespread support for the war efforts. 

As the war continued, so did Baptist pronouncements in support of it. On August 20 and 21 of 1862, J.L.A. Fish was appointed the moderator of the Worcester Baptist Association, filling the role left by H.L. Wayland. Besides the usual activities, the war was on everyone’s mind, and “strong union resolutions were passed respecting the state of our country” (“Worcester Association,” Christian Era, August 29, 1862). A letter was read on “the Necessity and Encouragement to Special Prayer for the Holy Spirit in this time of trial. Free utterance was given against ‘the sum of all villainies’ now casting its shadow over us, and confidence urged in God alone” (Christian Watchman and Reflector, September 4, 1862).

The 1862 American Baptist Missionary Union met in Providence, Rhode Island. They noted that one year previously, “everything without and around wore an aspect portentous of evil to our people, our government, and our missionary operations. No man could tell what a day would bring forth, and all were shut up to hope and faith in Him who ‘alone doest wondrous things.’” Now everything had changed: “In a year, we have lived a generation, if we reckon time by the number and magnitude of the events it brings forth… You may thank God and take courage. You may thank Him for placing you in a position where you might learn lessons never received in a day of material and outward prosperity.” The ABMU passed the following resolutions on the war, a remarkable expression from the largest Baptist society in America:

The officers and members composing the American Baptist Missionary Union, assembled at their annual meeting in the city of Providence, May 27th and 28th, 1862, deem it incumbent on them as patriots, and not for­eign to their sphere as a religious Association, to give this public expres­sion of sentiment in reference to the present stupendous crisis through which the nation is passing. 

Resolved, That we regard the war now waged by the National Govern­ment to put down the unprovoked and wicked rebellion that has risen against it, and to establish anew the reign of order and of law, as a most righteous and holy one, sanctioned alike by God and by all right-thinking men, involving our very life as a nation, and every thing precious depend­ ing on that life, and related most intimately to the progress of civilization, freedom and Christianity throughout the earth. 

Resolved, That we believe the institution of slavery to have been the principal cause and origin of this attempt to destroy the government, and that a safe, solid and lasting peace cannot be expected short of its complete overthrow. 

Resolved, That we tender to the President of the United States and his associates in the government our hearty confidence, sympathy and support, with the assurance of our fervent prayer that the same Divine Hand which has so manifestly guided them in the past may lead them on to the full and triumphant establishment of union, justice and liberty over the whole coun­try and among all ranks and conditions of its people. 

Resolved, That a copy of this preamble and these resolutions be sent to the Secretary of State, signed by the President and Secretary of this meet­ing.

(The Missionary Magazine (1862), 214.)

Baptists also published their views in religious periodicals:

Newton Theological Institution professor Horatio Hackett published an entire book depicting the Christian influences in the Union Army: Horatio B. Hackett, Christian Memorials of the War: Or, Scenes and Incidents Illustrative of Religious Faith and Principle, Patriotism and Bravery in Our Army. With Historical Notes (Boston: Gould and Lincoln, 1864). Hackett wrote this book because he:

thought it might be a grateful service to the friends of our brave solders, as well as an act of justice to the soldiers themselves, and because I felt a hearty interest in the work. Facts like those here spread before us are adapted to give us our strongest impression of the intelligence, the earnestness, the Christian principle and heroism of so large a class of men, who have come forward to support the Government in this great emergency.

Hackett, Memorials of the War, (vi).

In 1866 the Boston South Baptist Association approved several striking resolutions on the aftermath of the war and the initial stages of Reconstruction:

Whereas, The nation is evidently passing through an exceedingly critical juncture in its history, the judgment of civil war having been succeeded by the only less heavy judgment of official recreancy and dereliction, and the struggle with open treason by a bitter struggle with the pseudo-loyalty of those in the high places of power; and

Whereas, The peace and victory for which we gave devout thanks at our last meeting have been so far frittered away that treason is again asserting its sway; reenacting the worst horrors and outrages of the barbarities of slavery, driving loyal pastors from their pulpits, burning the churches of the freedmen and massacreing Union citizens for the simple offence of loving liberty and praying for its triumph, therefore 

Resolved, That in these sad and painful events we recognize a clear warning of God against the folly and crime of suspending the appointed penalties of law, and substituting a weak, sentimental leniency for a wholesome, rigorous punishment of civil crime. 

Resolved, That while as Christian citizens we are bound to accord all due respect to the Chief-Magistrate of the nation, we nevertheless cherish profound aversion for his plan of reconstruction, whose only issue thus far has been the reconstruction of an exploded rebellion and the rehabilitation of perjured rebels. 

Resolved, That we extend our warmest sympathy to our Union brethren in the South who are reaping the bitter fruits of this policy, some of whom are now exiles and wanderers in consequence of it. 

Resolved, That in this exigency it is meet that all Christians, with a firm reliance on Almighty God, should constantly beseech him for his gracious assistance and succor, that harmony and brotherly love may be restored, that the sundered portions of our country may be again united, and that perfect civil and religious equality may prevail throughout the length and breadth of our country. 

Resolved. That we regard the assassination of our late beloved fellow-patriot and Christian brother, Rev. Jotham W. Horton, at the hands of the police of New Orleans, as one of the natural results of that “policy” In its restoration by the executive pardon of conquered but unrepentant traitors to all their former power of mischief:—and that we recognize in the deliberate murder of that faithful minister of Christ at his post of duty, a sign of the times that proves the still unabated bitterness of the hatred to free institutions which cost our country the calami­ties of war, and that speaks with a trumpet warn­ing to all loyal citizens to guard the future peace and liberties of the nation by choosing for their leaders men who will rule in righteousness.

“Boston South Baptist Association,” Boston Evening Transcript, October 12, 1866

Jotham Horton was a graduate of Newton, and his death in the New Orleans Massacre of 1866 outraged Baptists in Massachusetts (See also J. Ellen Foster, Jotham Warren Horton). Baptists in Massachusetts remained concerned about the state of the country, particularly the condition of the Freedmen in the South. This would spur a number of northern Baptists to go and serve directly in the efforts of Reconstruction through the American Baptist Home Mission Society as well as other agencies.

Records like these form an important counterpoint to Lost Cause depictions of religion in the Confederate Army. After trying so hard for decades to maintain “fraternal” relations with their southern brethren, the tensions proved too much. Once the breach was made, Massachusetts Baptists became ardent supporters of the Union cause. As Abraham Lincoln famously said, both sides “read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other,” and Baptists in Massachusetts were as fervent in this as anyone.

“The Problem of Evil and its Relation to the Ministry to an Underprivileged Minority”

Fall 2020 I took a class on “the problem of evil,” and decided to write a paper exploring Richard Ishmael McKinney’s work on the problem of evil from a Black perspective.

McKinney earned his Bachelor of Divinity at Newton Theological Institution in 1934 and wrote a thesis paper on “The Problem of Evil and its Relation to the Ministry to an Underprivileged Minority.” McKinney would go on to a PhD at Yale, and then a lifelong academic career in philosophy in Historically Black Colleges and Universities. McKinney’s life spans nearly the entire range of the 20th Century as a Black academic serving in Black schools, though unfortunately his academic career would essentially remain behind the shadow of ‘The Color Line’ of segregation and Jim Crow.

Here’s the introduction to the paper:

All of the work on the problem of evil that I have been exposed to has been written by white theologians and philosophers, either Christian or otherwise. Often their examples and reflections betray their status from the highest of upper classes, those afforded the opportunity to pursue PhD level education at elite universities, and then to go on to academic and publishing careers. Yet an important voice seems missing, the voice of the marginalized. Interestingly, there are identifiable traditions of Black Theology and Black Philosophy that have wrestled with the problem of evil from within the context of the Black experience in the United States. This paper will explore one vein within these traditions, that provided by Richard I. McKinney (1906–2005), and the thinkers he engaged with, including W.E.B. Du Bois and Howard Thurman, seeking to discover what unique contribution this tradition has to offer to our thinking on this topic.  We find that Black theologians have a unique perspective on the Problem of Evil from their perspective within a marginalized community, a perspective that is vital to hear when engaging this subject.

The bibliography includes as nearly a complete c.v. for McKinney as I could construct.

You can read the whole thing here:

Here are a few quotes:

These peoples voice their experience thus: “Why must I or my people suffer? Is my kind cursed of God? Why, if God is good, does he let injustice go on? Is not God himself partial to certain races? What about these inequalities in human life?” In the face of these questions, McKinney asks: “What in view of these facts, are the resources of religion for such suffering?”

McKinney would later suggest that “Doubtless Jesus himself would be outraged if he were to witness in the flesh some of the un-Christian and undemocratic practices of the institution and people which bear his name.”

McKinney claims that “In general, the Negro spirituals represent one of the most significant aspects of Negro life in America.” Here it is worth pausing to make an observation regarding theological method. Normally, students of theology focus our attention on written texts, great works of systematic theology or philosophical theology. One thinks of the “Great Books,” including works by Jonathan Edwards or (for some traditions) the great Reformed Theologian Robert Lewis Dabney. Why is it that we don’t have works of theology from the same time period written by Black Christians and thinkers? Individual theologians like Jonathan Edwards or Robert Lewis Dabney were afforded the luxury of time and energy to think and to write, in part, because they owned African slaves. Theological institutions like the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary were sustained, in part, by the labor of slaves and the financial support of slave-owners. What could the enslaved produce? Songs. And a case could be made that the source material for a more genuine form of Christianity will be found in these spirituals, than in the books that were written on the backs of those who sang them.

Howard Thurman captures the deep paradox and opportunity seen in Black Christianity: “the slave took over the religion of the master and became a traditional Christian. In many ways this fact is amazing as well as ironical. It was a fateful moment in the life of the new world when the African slave was brought face to face with the Christian religion. It may be that then, as now, this black minority was called upon to redeem a religion that the master and his posterity disgraced in their midst.”

In facing the problem, McKinney does not want us to pull any punches: “he would be Christian in this world must not close his eyes to any of its facts. The problem of evil and suffering is a fact, and a very immediate one for many people; and as such it cannot be lightly explained away. We must not be afraid to look at life with open eyes.”

McKinney regularly referred to a quote from Arnold Toynbee’s A Study of History: “the noted historian Arnold Toynbee asserted that it is likely that a revitalization of Christianity, if it comes at all, will come as a result of the religion of the Black people.”

Christians seeking to find a more authentic expression of Christianity, the family of those who follow the crucified and risen Lord, would do well to look to the Black church tradition, and will find there abundant resources for engaging the problem of evil, and numerous other situations as well.

2021 English and Greek Bible Reading Plans

I found a plan for reading through the Greek New Testament in one year over at Lee Iron’s site several years ago, but it was a pdf and needed to be updated each year. I loved this plan so much, I made my own for reading the English Bible through in one year as well. Two principles are at work: (1) chapters longer than 38 verses are broken into two readings; (2) extra day(s) added at the end of each month in order to build in space in case you fall a day or two behind.

For my English Bible reading I use the NKJV. The plan is arranged in Hebrew canonical order (Law, Prophets, Writings), and not the typical English Bible order (which follows the Septuagint). I switched to Hebrew canonical order several years ago and have loved the effect it has on my reading through the OT.

For the NT, I read the Robinson-Pierpont Byzantine text which (rightly!) places the Catholic Epistles immediately after Acts, rather than the Pauline epistles. Again, I love reading James, Peter, John, and Jude up front, rather than towards the end of the year. I wonder how our theology might shift if we gave slightly more prominence to these books than we typically do. I use this plan to get through the Greek NT in a year, but you could use it to read through the NT in English as well if you’d like.

So, for that tiny group out there who hopes to read through the the Bible following the Hebrew and old Greek canonical order in 2020, here are a couple of plans to print out and check off as you go:

Whole Bible Reading Plan (2021)

NT Reading Plan [Greek or English] (2021)

“We have much theology, but what does it amount to?”: William Lloyd Garrison’s critique of the American Tract Society

The 1857 meeting of the New England Anti-Slavery Convention leveled a number of critiques, including the Dred Scott decision, the Republican Party, and the local newspaper. But the topic that took up the largest amount of discussion was the American Tract Society. William Lloyd Garrison introduced several resolutions condemning the ATS, as well as a full length speech on the floor, which contain a profound critique of American Christianity. Unfortunately, it appears that this material has been resting silent in the archived pages of The Liberator, so in an effort to let Garrison “be heard!” again, I’ve transcribed and formatted them here:

New England Anti-Slavery Convention meeting minutes:

Speech of William Lloyd Garrison

Background and Significance

The controversy surrounding the American Tract Society (ATS) was of such prominence that Abraham Lincoln referenced it in the Lincoln/Douglas debates of 1858: “What has jarred and shaken the great American Tract Society recently, not yet splitting it but sure to divide it in the end?” (The Lincoln-Douglas Debates of 1858, 479). The ATS was formed in 1814 in Boston, and another branch was formed in New York in 1825 (A Brief History of the American Tract Society). The two organizations then partnered together, and was known generally as a single organization that published tens of thousands of tracts each year and distributed them through a network of colporters in every part of the country.

The ATS was interdenominational, including Baptists like Francis Wayland and Presbyterians like Charles Hodge. Thus, they avoided publishing on denominational questions (like baptism) instead focusing on the doctrinal issues that “all evangelical Christians” could agree on. The organization was also national in its scope–its leadership, financial support, and fields of service–and thus also avoided any political questions that “all evangelical Christians” could not agree on, including slavery.

In the minds of abolitionists, the ATS was one of the most prominent examples of the compromise and complicity of the American church with the evil of chattel slavery. Abolitionists intensely critiqued the ATS for years for editing out any reference to slavery from the material they printed, while publishing on an array of “sins” that didn’t enjoy unanimous support from “all evangelical Christians,” including dancing, card-playing, alcohol, and tobacco.

The pressure on the ATS built throughout the 1850s, and in 1856 they appointed a “Special Committee” to investigate the Publishing Committee’s position on slavery. The Special Committee was a compromise group including some moderate anti-slavery figures like Francis Wayland and some pro-slavery figures. They quickly reached a resolution, which they proposed at the May 13, 1857 annual meeting (Thirty-Second Annual Report of the American Tract Society). Just two weeks later, the New England Anti-Slavery Society met at the Melodeon in Boston, and William Lloyd Garrison had a few things to say.

I find this material significant for several reasons.

  • It sheds fresh light on one of the most prominent anti-slavery struggles of the day, the controversy in the ATS. These speeches are not referenced in the standard treatments of the controversy, including John McKivigan’s The War Against Proslavery Religion, Clifford Griffin, “The Abolitionists and the Benevolent Societies, 1831-1861” (JStor), or even Henry Mayer’s full length biography of Garrison.
  • It gives evidence of a more complex view of Garrison’s engagement with Christianity. It is clear from reading his speeches that he very much favors what he sees as the religion of Jesus, but he abhors the compromised “orthodox” Christianity he sees all around him. Mark Noll has popularized the notion that Garrison abandoned an orthodox view of the Bible (in The Civil War as a Theological Crisis, and America’s God), but there is much more to the picture than that, and this material helps fill out the picture with more nuance.
  • Garrison issued a prophetic critique of compromised Christianity, and his critiques are worth wrestling with, especially for those of us who hold tightly to “theological orthodoxy.”

Some Garrison Quotes from the Meeting and His Speech

We have much theology, but what does it amount to? In the light of it, slavery lives and thrives, as all evil must under a system of religion that is purely theoretical, and which overlooks the practical. We must not look to it to regenerate the country. 

We are all too callous to the sufferings and claims of the slave. We have sympathy enough for a single case that comes to our notice; but while our hearts bleed for the individual, we forget the millions of equal sufferers, and do not realize their sufferings. Four millions are in an enforced Sodom and Gomorrah, and four millions of Church members consent to their enslavement. What is such a Church, such a religion ? It is spuri­ous, it is satanic. And if for this denunciation they brand me as infidel, I will bind their epithets as the choicest laurels about my brow. 

Let me ask you, Where do you stand in this mat­ter ? I care not what is your theology, whether you believe in the unity or the trinity, or whatever shade of theological opinion, but how do you stand to the slave ? You are a member of a church, are you ? Is it a pro-slavery church ? Does it keep silence in the presence of this gigantic crime? Then it is your duty to flee out of it as did Lot out of Sodom, Do you support the Bible, the Tract, or the Missionary Society ? Do you dare support them while they are in league with the vilest oppressors ?

Mr. Garrison, as it was near the hour of adjourn­ment, said he would make but a single remark in re­lation to one word which fell from the lips of our friend, Rev. Mr. Stetson, viz., that ‘he would as soon sell into slavery Christ himself, were he here on earth, as to sell the humblest black man.’ That remark was worth, holding a New England Convention for. To be sure, it was but another statement of the old declara­tion of Jesus, ‘Inasmuch as ye have done it to one of the least of these, ye have done it unto me.’ Yet it is a bold and fresh form of that old saying, and is deserving all commendation. It is true, and we should all feel its force, that it is no more criminal to sell Jesus himself, than to sell one of his disciples.

Speaking generally and popularly, we have no other religion in Ameri­ca but an orthodox religion. What is called hetero­doxy is purely exceptional, feeble, insignificant, and more or less proscribed, in all parts of the land. In the slave States there is scarcely any thing else than orthodoxy of the most stringent type, the whole body of slaveholders and slave-traders pluming themselves on being thoroughly evangelical, and giving no quarter to heresy, in any direction. The religion of our country is evangelical; and we have been exper­imenting with it, in connection with slavery, for more than two centuries. And what has been the result ? We have been growing steadily in favor of slavery, multiplying the number of its victims, extending our slave territory, and endeavoring to subjugate this continent to the dominion of the Slave Power.

Orthodoxy will not save us. I do not think any par­ticular form of theology will save us. It is not theology that we want—we want honesty. 

We are ortho­dox to the backbone. We do believe in everlasting punishment, in the atonement according to John Cal­vin, in total-depravity—and well nigh demonstrate the truth of that doctrine as a people. (Applause.) We believe in all these things, and at the same time, we believe in slavery as an institution to be guarded, extended and protected, and in perpetuating a worse than heathenish caste against those whose skins are not colored like our own !

Our land has al­ways accepted this faith as essential to salvation, and the more it thrives, the worse we are off as a nation.

In conclusion, let me say, I am for a religion which emancipates man from all bondage, both within and without. I am for a religion which holds to the sanctity of marriage throughout the world. I am for giving the Bible to every human being on the face of the earth, to be made use of as far as possible, to promote his own highest and everlasting interests. I am for a church which has no stain of blood upon its garments. I am for a Christ whose every testimony is to the value of man to a child of God, and whose mission it is to de­stroy all the works of the devil, to emancipate those who are in bondage, and to set every captive free. I understand this to be the religion of the Anti-Slavery enterprise, and the religion of this Convention ; but a religion unfashionable, proscribed and outlawed even to this day, while that which is falsely called the Christian religion bears sway every where, and the consequence of that sway is the enslavement of every seventh person in our land, to be owned, and bought, and sold, and treated as a beast of burden ! Let that religion be accursed, and the religion of freedom pre­vail ! (Loud applause.)  

“Missionaries or Presidents”? Newton Theological Institution’s contribution to the founding of HBCUs

Newton Theological Institution was the first Baptist seminary in America (1825), and during the nineteenth century the school was massively influential in American Baptist life, as seen in the hundreds of graduates who served in pastorates, denominational leadership, education, and the mission field.  A number of Newton graduates went on to work in education, serving as presidents or professors in various colleges and seminaries. Particularly, after the Civil War, “Christian men were needed to train leaders among the freedmen of the South, and Newton alumni stepped into responsible positions as educators” (Historical Addresses, 7). Many of these schools would go on to become what we know today as HBCUs.

Henry Jones Ripley

Henry J. Ripley, professor at Newton Theological Institution (1826–60)

Henry J. Ripley (1798–1875) could be considered the grandfather of the Baptist HBCUs founded by Newton graduates. Ripley was the second professor hired at Newton and served thirty four years from 1826–1860. He had entered Harvard University at the age of fourteen, and then attended Andover Theological Seminary, graduating in 1819. While at Andover, he “became interested in the religious welfare of the colored people of the South.” Ripley said this was “partly, perhaps, because a number of colored families were settled in a lane not far from my parents’ residence, among whom, in my vacations, I used to hold religious meetings, and whom I visited, family by family, for religious purposes” (A Tribute, 10). Ripley’s interest was also awakened by reading Thomas Clarkson’s The History of the Rise, Progress and Accomplishment of the Abolition of the African Slave Trade by the British Parliament. Ripley was appointed as a missionary in Savannah, Georgia and served a pastor and evangelist among the Black population between 1819 and 1826. Interestingly after his 34 years of service at Newton, “his early passion for ‘the elevation of the colored race in the United States returned,” and after the war Ripley served again in Savannah, Georgia for nine months as an American Baptist Home Mission Society (ABHMS) missionary (A Tribute, 33). It seems likely that it was Ripley’s example that multiplied among his students, as seen in almost two dozen Newton graduates who followed his example in going south to work among either enslaved people or freedmen.

The Choicest Jewels

J.L.A. Fish, president of the Florida Institute (1880–1890)

Alvah Hovey (Newton president, 1868–1898) held these men in high esteem: “whether the honored brethren at the head of these schools be called missionaries or presidents, or, rather, be supposed to unite these two forms of Christian service in one person, they are doing a great and good work in a very satisfactory manner, and we number them among the choicest jewels which adorn the brow of our alma mater” (Historical Address, 51). Even in 1926, Newton was still proud of this heritage: “To the stolen sons and daughters of Africa, Newton has provided a brilliant list of missionaries, nearly all of them commissioned by the Home Mission Society” (Historical Addresses, 30).

Charles H. Corey, president of Richmond Theological Seminary (1868–99)

In their reflections, one can detect a tinge of pride and paternalism: “The annals of sacrificial devotion to the cause of backward and oppressed peoples contain no more shining names than those of the Newton men who have given their lives to educate the Negro youth of our southern states” (Historical Addresses, 48). This dynamic, the “well educated minister” serving among the “backward and oppressed” people of the south, would continue through Reconstruction and beyond. In 1926, it was noted that “altogether twenty-three Newton men have taught in the Negro colleges of the South, of whom sixteen have been presidents and seven professors.” A few of the most notable included:

  • Lewis Colby (graduated 1835), agent for the Benedict Institution, Columbia, SC (1865–75)
  • Daniel W. Phillips (1840), president of Roger Williams University in Nashville, TN (1864–90)
  • Charles Ayer (1852) president Natchez Seminary, Natchez, Mississippi (1877–83) and Jackson College (1883–94)
  • Edward Mitchell (1853), president Leland University (LA) (1887–1900)
  • Joseph Leroy Atwell Fish (1856), president of the Florida Institute (1880–1890)
  • George M.P. King (1860), president Wayland Seminary (1869–1897)
  • Charles H. Corey (1861), president of  Richmond Theological Seminary (1868–99)
  • Henry Martyn Tupper (1862), president of Shaw University, North Carolina (1866–93)
  • George Rice Hovey (1885), professor at Richmond Theological Seminary (1887–91) Wayland Seminary (1897–99), president of Virginia Union University (1899–1918)

Detailed study remains to be done on most of these figures. A spreadsheet with a nearly complete listing of all Newton graduates who served in HBCUs can be found here, sortable by name, date, and institution: Newton Graduates who served in HBCUs


Nice surveys of Newton’s history can be found here:

Books exploring the complex dynamics between white Northern Baptists and Black Baptist in the south:

  • James Melvin Washington, Frustrated Fellowship: The Black Baptist Quest for Social Power (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1986)
  • James D. Anderson, The Education of Blacks in the South, 1860-1935 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1988)
  • William E Montgomery, Under Their Own Vine and Fig Tree: The African-American Church in the South, 1865-1900 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1993)
  • Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham. Righteous Discontent: The Women’s Movement in the Black Baptist Church, 1880–1920, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994)
  • Jay Riley Case, “From the Native Ministry to the Talented Tenth: The Foreign Missionary Origins of White Support for Black Colleges,” in The Foreign Missionary Enterprise at Home: Explorations in North American Cultural History. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2003: 60–74.

Books on specific Newton graduates serving at HBCUs:

What Have the Clergy to do with Politics?

In 1854 Stephen Douglas introduced the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which would have permitted the expansion of slavery into the western territories, breaking the compromises over slavery between north and south that had been enshrined in the U.S. Constitution (1787) and the Missouri Compromise (1820). As the proposed Act made its way through Congress, previously moderate clergy began to speak out, some for the first time. They had been silent when anti-slavery activists began organizing in the 1830s; they had resisted attempts to break fellowship with the slaveholders in the 1840s; but now in the 1850s, they realized that “the Slave Power” of the south intended to expand its reach through the entire country, and they finally began to speak out against the evils of slavery.

On March 7 a group of clergy in Providence, Rhode Island organized a meeting to protest “the Nebraska Bill,” to memorialize their opposition in a series of resolutions, to publish them, and to send them to Congress (“Nebraska Meeting in Providence,” Christian Watchman and Reflector, March 23, 1854). The meeting included addresses by several clergy, including Baptist pastor and educator Francis Wayland (“Dr. Wayland on the moral and religious aspects of the Nebraska bill. Speech at Providence, R. I., March 7“). A writer for The Liberator seemed pleasantly surprised that those who had previously “done what they could to put a stop to the agitation of the subject of Slavery, and have never been known as sympathizing with the movement against Slavery,” were now giving speeches “as radical Anti-Slavery as could be wished” (“Nebraska Meeting in Providence, Rhode Island,” The Liberator, March 17, 1854).

3,000 of the New England clergy signed the resolutions, and they were presented on the Senate floor. Douglas and others responded vociferously, declaring that the memorial was “disrespectful to the Senate, an atrocious slander” and that these New England clergy were “slanderers and demagogues” (“Congress,” Christian Watchman and Reflector, March 23, 1854).

The following week, the Baptist newspaper Christian Watchman and Reflector published a response titled “What Have the Clergy to do with Politics?” The piece is excellent is quoted here in full:

“We alluded cursorily, in our last week’s congressional summary, to the greeting which the protest of the New England clergy against the Nebraska bill received in the Senate. Except as an indication of the soreness which the striking manifestations of public sentiment have produced in the minds of those who are most responsible for the measure, the affair would hardly be worth a second reference. If the fathers and sponsors of that most audacious iniquity think that they will help it, or help themselves, by their intemperate abuse of men who represent the all but unanimous feeling of the ministers of religion in six States,—if they suppose that the moral and religious sentiment of the people will thus be more easily conciliated or subdued—they will not have to live many years to discover their error.

Whether the document was sufficiently respectful to the Senate, the first issue raised in the debate, is not now a material question, as the point was waived by the reception of the memorial. We are willing to concede that it might have been better expressed, not because there was anything intrinsically objec­tionable in its phraseology, but from its liability to misconstruction. 

But since this incident has been made the occasion for reproducing, in and out of the Senate, the old and mischievous notion that ministers transcend their proper sphere whenever they interest themselves in political questions, we can do no less than endeavor to expose it, more especially as it has been counte­nanced by many excellent people, for very different reasons, however, from those that we believe actuate politicians. 

We do not care to insist on the right of ministers of the gospel, as citizens equally with others interested in the welfare of the state, to have a voice in the discussion of public measures, nor on their ability to do this as intelligently, to say the least, as some who aspire to be thought statesmen. We assert their duty, as ministers, charged to “ declare the whole counsel of God,” in certain circumstances to weigh schemes of public policy in the balance of the sanctuary. 

There are questions frequently arising, and always liable to arise, in the sphere of political action, over which the conscience asserts a clear and express juris­diction, and the ministers of Him who is lord of the conscience cannot refuse to speak in his name with­ out faithlessness to their mission.

There may be those who are atheistical enough to deny that any moral responsibility attaches to their political action. But all who believe that there are such things as political duties, we suppose, will agree that there is also a moral obligation in respect of the manner in which they are discharged. Is there any species of moral obligation to which the sanctions of religion do not apply? And by what process are ministers exempted, or prohibited, from applying the sanctions of religion to any subject within the appoint­ed limits of its application? If it be admitted that men may do wrong in their political capacity, who can rebuke the wrong more fitly than those who are commissioned for the very purpose of “ warning every man, and teaching every man,” that they “may pre­sent every man perfect in Christ Jesus?”

The truth is, as we have had occasion more than once to observe, what is commonly called the inter­ference of clergymen with politics is generally an interference of politicians with religion, and ministers are only defending their proper domain, against in­truders. Questions of policy and expediency, merely as of political economy, and what are called in gene­ral public interests, do not concern the clergy as such. As citizens, having a common stake in the general welfare, they have a right to entertain and express opinions on these matters. But when politicians con­coct any project at war with morality and the pre­cepts of religion, it is no longer a question of right; it is their manifest duty to denounce it. It is their duty to the country, placed in peril;—to our public men, who are in danger of staining their own souls; —to the whole people, whom these political schemers are leading into temptation. Iniquity proposed in the capital cannot generally be executed without support at the ballot box. Every man who so votes as to fur­ther it, makes himself a consenting party to the wrong. Yet we are told that a minister must not warn the people of his own charge from the pulpit, nor remon­strate with others through the press, against acts of public wickedness. An ambitious aspirant for power tempts them to evil, and their spiritual guide must hold his peace. He must not interfere.

Many very worthy people reason that as the gospel is to renovate society, ministers must content them­selves with preaching that, and thus “ leaven” the whole community. That is to say, they must aim exclusively at the conversion of men, in the confi­dence that, being made the subjects of regeneration, they will not fail of grace to do everything uprightly. Just as if the Bible were not full of instances in which good men committed grave errors! Nathan did not preach to David, generally, the duties of faith and piety, but charged his conscience with the sin that had awakened the divine displeasure. Now, the American people possess the attribute of sovereignty. As the prophet before the king, as the  apostle before the procurator Felix, so the American minister before the American people, should fearlessly rebuke the abuses of, their power.

It should be remembered that piety and its fruits require cultivation, and that there is nothing so injurious to it as inattention to the claims and distinctions of moral duty. Tenderness of conscience, a quick susceptibility that shrinks from the least contamina­tion of evil, is essential to Christian virtue. Men are peculiarly liable to fail in this respect when they act in masses. It is very easy to lose the sense of individual accountability in matters of co-operative action. This is an age of combinations and associations, that invite men to cast their resources and their ability into common stock, and the temptation is strong to allow themselves, their minds and hearts and consciences, to be lost on the crowd. Political parties are the most extensive and powerful combinations known among us, for they embrace between them, nearly the whole people. Interest, prejudice, patriotism, combine to swell the tide of excitement. Men are hurried along with such speed that it requires more than common steadiness of mind to pause long enough to consider whither they are going. Moral thoughtlessness leads to moral blindness, and those who think to promote  “spirituality,” while, careless of moral impressions, will find their work drive heavily. Minis­ters need great discretion as to how they shall exert their influence; undue zeal in political questions is to be avoided; but to require that, for whatever motives, they should withdraw from their consideration, is to require them to neglect the souls of men just where they are in peculiar danger.” 

What Have the Clergy to Do with Politics?” Christian Watchman and Reflector, March 30, 1854 (2).

(Image: “Reynolds’s Political Map of the United States” (1856) from the Library of Congress Geography and Map Division, Public Domain, Link)