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.

“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

Sources:

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)