The Counterrevolutionary South

What stake did nonslaveholding whites have in this crusade for the freedom of planters to own slaves? Some secessionists worried a great deal about this question…

…What if nonslaveowners were potential Black Republicans?

So they [secessionists] undertook a campaign to convince nonslaveholders that they too had a stake in disunion. The stake was white supremacy. In this view, the Black Republican program of abolition was the first step toward racial equality and amalgamation. Georgia’s Governor Brown carried this message to his native uplands of north Georgia whose voters idolized him. Slavery “is the poor man’s best Government,” said Brown. “Among us the poor white laborer…does not belong to the menial class. The negro is in no sense his equal…He belongs to the only true aristocracy, the race of white men.” Thus yeoman farmers “will never consent to submit to abolition rule,” for they “know that in the event of the abolition of slavery, they would be greater sufferers than the rich, who would be able to protect themselves…When it becomes necessary to defend our rights against so foul a domination, I would call upon the mountain boys as well as the people of the lowlands, and they would come down like an avalanche and swarm around the flag of Georgia.”

Much secessionist rhetoric played variations on this theme. The election of Lincoln, declared an Alabama newspaper, “shows that the North [intends] to free the negroes and force amalgamation between them and the children of the poor men of the South.” “Do you love your mother, your wife, your sister, your daughter?” a Georgia secessionist asked non-slaveholders. If Georgia remained in a Union “ruled by Lincoln and his crew…in TEN years or less our CHILDREN will be the slaves of negroes.” “If you are tame enough to submit,” declaimed South Carolina’s Baptist clergymen James Furman, “Abolition preachers will be at hand to consummate the marriage of your daughters to black husbands.” No! No! came an answering shout from Alabama. “Submit to have our wives and daughters choose between death and gratifying the hellish lust of the negro!!…Better ten thousand deaths than submission to Black Republicanism.”

To defend their wives and daughters, presumably, yeoman whites therefore joined planters in “rallying to the standard of Liberty and Equality for white men” against “our Abolition enemies who are pledged to prostrate the white freemen of the South down to equality with negroes.” Most southern whites could agree that “democratic liberty exists solely because we have black slaves” whose presence “promotes equality among the free.” Hence “freedom is not possible without slavery.”

– pages 242-244 of Battle Cry of Freedom, James McPherson

Dear Mr. McPherson,

I had wanted to finish your wonderful one-volume Pulitzer Prize winning Civil War history (part of the Oxford History of the United States series — next up for me will be the well-reviewed What Hath God Wrought covering the period right before the Civil War) book last year during the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, but I’m still not done as I keep getting side-tracked with other books and reading material. But I always return to your excellent history as it is a story well told and you have a lot of wonderful quotes from the original source material — which should leave anyone who is serious about the War, even those who admire Lee and Southern military valor, without a doubt that the South went to war for one reason and one reason only — to preserve (and hopefully expand) the institution of slavery. Slavery had become such a crazed part of southern life that, as the quotes above show, an elaborate mythology was erected to justify and defend the institution from the righteous attacks of the abolitionists (which, sadly, did not include many Catholic clergy — in fact, the Catholic position on slavery and the South would make for a fascinating study all by itself). As I wrap up your history, I’m sure I’ll share some more thoughts, if only to counter the silly narrative advanced by the brilliant but misguided Mencius Moldbug.


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12 Responses to The Counterrevolutionary South

  1. Bruce says:

    Why should Catholic clergy have attacked slavery? Doesn’t Paul tell slaves to submit to their masters just as husbands are to submit to their wives?

    • Fake Herzog says:

      Really Bruce? Surely you understand context and history? And you understand that most abolitionists were serious Christians who had serious Christian arguments for opposing slavery? Paul may not have wanted to incite slave revolts, but that doesn’t speak to his (or Christian thought in general) about the desirability of owning slaves or having slaves in the first place. Try harder the next time you stop by…but I do love intelligent comments!

      • Bruce says:

        I wasn’t “trying.” I put two questions (not statements) to you because I’ve seen reactionary Catholics say the opposite of what you’re saying and I wanted to dig deeper into your thoughts.
        For example, if my memory serves, Thomas Fleming of the Rockford Institute says the opposite of what you’re saying (or implying, really). I’ve seen him write that the text has the plain meaning that it appears to have and that the “slavery is immoral” advocates pit themselves against the early Church Fathers. As far as I can tell, he’s deeply learned in history, Classics and the early Church. I think he’s said that Christianity treats slavery like it treats drinking and male dominance. Something that is just is. Neither inherently good/ordained or bad. I assume that it follows from this position that slavery can be practiced charitably or uncharitably.
        Maybe the fact that the abolitionists weren’t Cathlolics and that so many were liberal Protestants means something.
        Regarding Paul, it seems to me that he had no expectation that a letter sent to the Church at Ephesus, that was addressed to the Christians (both slave and free) at that Church, and that noone else would care about would start a slave revolt. He was addressing the Christians and their relationship to one another. He had no problem calling people out on all sorts of sin. It’s hard for me to imagine that he was keeping his abolitionist sentiments covert.
        Jesus didn’t mention slavery even though it was a near-ubiquitous institution. Jesus didn’t hesitate to condemn all sorts of immorality such as sexual immorality, selfishness, etc.

      • Fake Herzog says:


        Sorry about my testy first reply to you — sometimes it is hard to figure out who is a troll and who is serious on the internet. So, your first mistake is in trusting Thomas Fleming for your history; he is just plain wrong about the Church fathers. Many were opposed to slavery, most famously Gregory of Nyssa and Saint Patrick (himself a former slave). Rodney Stark adduces some additional evidence in this article for the Catholic anti-slavery position, although Stark has to be taken with a grain of salt as I think he is wrong about Aquinas (or at least is not telling the whole story about Aquinas, as I know Aquinas was willing to accept serfdom as the lot in life for some men).

        Finally, while perhaps my speculation about Paul is incorrect, I think it also incorrect to deduce any sort of moral argument from silence when it comes to the Bible. Jesus didn’t explicitly condemn lots of terrible crimes (e.g. cannibalism, rape and torture, etc.) but that doesn’t mean he would accept them as “neither good nor bad”. One can use logic and reason to develop a moral framework from the Bible that applies to specific cases that might not be addressed in detail by Biblical authors. I think slavery is one of those cases and I think the anti-slavery side has the better case to make, but I’m also not ignorant of history and I know that the Bible was used to justify slavery as well. Once you start from first principles (i.e. we are all created in the image of God) I think the anti-slavery case falls into place…

  2. Bruce says:

    I think Paul is significant because he offers the only mention I can think of in the NT (his letter to Philemon is ambiguous and is interpreted both ways). Paul condemned many sins but slavery wasn’t one of them.

    Agree in principle about the Gospels, but I think the omission in this case is significant. I don’t think cannibalism was widely and visibly practiced in Jesus’ time and place and rape would be condemned as fornication (and violence!) and torture as a form of extreme violence. To rape or torture one’s slave would (obviously) not be behaving in a charitable way but the owning of a slave is not inherently sinful.

    I think you’re wrong about Fleming. He’s extremely learned, both broadly and deeply and I don’t believe he’d get this wrong. I can’t find the discussion and he might have said “early Church Fathers.” Working from memory here.

    You list two Church Fathers. That certainly doesn’t make it pass St. Vincent’s test: quod ubique quod semper quod ab omnibus creditum est.

    BTW, I don’t like slavery, think it was a mistake and have no desire to own a slave.

  3. Lydia says:

    Another thing we should avoid for a biblical writer (as opposed to Jesus Christ, who was God) is to go from, “I think I can figure out what so-and-so thought about this subject” to “What so-and-so may well have thought about this subject is equivalent to biblical teaching.” It _may_ be true that St. Paul would have assented to the proposition, “Owning chattel slaves is not intrinsically immoral.” (There are also about a zillion different types of relationships that could be called “slavery,” including indentured servitude and the like, and not all of them are in the same moral boat.) And it may be that Paul’s fairly calm acceptance of the slave-master relationship (if we assume he was talking, inter alia, about chattel slaves) supports this conclusion. But that’s a conclusion about Paul’s thoughts outside of what he actually wrote. Not all his thoughts outside of what he actually wrote are _entailed_ by what he actually wrote, and hence not all of such possible or probable thoughts are equivalent to teaching that is binding on Christians. So even if Paul would have assented to, “Chattel slavery isn’t intrinsically immoral,” which is a conjecture, that doesn’t mean he couldn’t have been wrong on that point. And since he didn’t actually _teach_ that in Scripture, his conjectured thoughts on the subject aren’t in any sense binding on Christians anyway.

    Things are quite different with the male-female relationship, because Paul actually teaches in many Scriptural passages the non-equality of men and women in their roles both within the home and within the church–the proper leadership of men in these roles. Those aren’t just conjectures about what he might have thought but actual teachings that come up in multiple contexts (the teaching about women not teaching in the church, about selection criteria for pastors, about wives being “keepers at home,” and so on and so forth).

    When Paul teaches wives to submit to their husbands, he makes an elaborate and even mystical analogy between marriage and the relationship of Christ and the church. There isn’t anything like that for slaves and masters. And say what you will about Philemon, at a minimum he seems to be hoping that Philemon will free Onesimus from slavery, whereas no such possibility is hoped for with wives and husbands! Obviously not.

    • Bruce says:

      Excellent thoughts for me to chew on, Lydia.
      Forgive the nitpicking but when we quote Jesus, we do quote a biblical writer (who, we assume of course, quoted Jesus accurately).
      A summary of your first paragraph seems to be that we can’t draw much of a conclusion from the epistiles (since one could easily conclude from your position that belief in the slavery position as well as belief in the anti-slavery position is non-binding.) I don’t see a strong case in Philemon either way but my bias (maybe just how my brain works) is that in the absense of anything close to an explicit statement, the relationship is assumed to be legitimate and not undesirable.
      I may make a mistake, but my tendency is to see much of what the Lord said as making higher level points about morality (often not to be interpreted literally or overly mechanically – though sometimes He is obviously quite specific ) and, of course, giving us a look at the true nature of the Godhead. I’ve always seen Paul’s words as assisting the first Christians/Churches in how they are to live their lives as Christians, what their relationship to one another and the world is, and, of course, addressing certain problems in the specific churches. So I’m not trying to pit Paul against Jesus but so much of what we understand about how we live our faith is from Paul and he seems essential to our understanding of what a Christian society actually looks like.
      I agree that the husband-wife relationship isn’t a good analogy. In the Fleming discussion I think he wrote “male-dominance” meaning physical and behavioral dominance not the husband-wife relationship specifically. The point, I think (this is entirely from memory) was that these are features of the world that just are. Just like drinking alchohol, it isn’t inherently good or bad. It just is.
      Regarding us being bound by scripture, as an Anglican Catholic (I think you said you’re a more protestant leaning Anglican??) I look at scripture as interpreted by the undivided Church of the first millenium. This results in a strong bias towards the teaching of the early Church. Scripture is critical, but how it’s to be interpeted is essential too.

      • Lydia says:

        Yes, I don’t think we can draw much of a conclusion about slavery from the Pauline epistles. If that’s how you understood me, that’s correct. I don’t derive my understanding of the wrongness of owning and selling people as chattel from the epistles of Paul but from reflection on the imago dei–namely, that people _are not_ objects for sale and buying, and therefore that it is a kind of lie to treat them as such. Very similar in structure, in fact, to the argument I would make against prostitution–namely, that sex just isn’t the type of thing to be sold. Or cannibalism, or selling dead human bodies for research, and so on and so forth. This is related to the intrinsic dignity of man. I’m not sure you want to say that human actions, which humans can choose either to do or not do, “just are.” I mean, _if_ drinking alcohol were intrinsically wrong, then people shouldn’t knowingly and deliberately do it. It’s not really a “feature of the world” in some unavoidable sense, any more than, say, having an affair with your neighbor’s wife “just is.” Both are very widespread human behaviors. We need to decide if they’re wrong or not and act accordingly. Same with treating human beings as chattel.

  4. Fake Herzog says:


    I think you are right to say that the early church wasn’t overly concerned with slavery — my only point is that some (maybe even rare exceptions) early church fathers did speak out against the practice. I also think that you are too quick to ignore the problem with the so-called “argument from silence” — there were plenty of violent and cruel Roman (and pagan) practices going on at the time of Chirst and during the first century — the fact that Jesus and the Biblical authors choose only to focus on certain sins doesn’t make other sins (like cruelty to animals, which was common in the games in the colosseum) any less wrong. As for Fleming, I have heard from many that he is an excellent teacher and a learned scholar, so I will defer to your judgement of the man — I only know him from his political writing, which I think is atrocious, so what can I say 😉 Finally, it is worthy to note that eventually Popes did condemn slavery, especially the practice of enslaving Indians in the New World. See the Stark article for specific links to the Papal Bulls and Encyclicals.


    Great points — thanks for stopping by and lending me your wisdom!
    Great points about Saint Paul.

    • Bruce says:

      Regarding your point about the Pope, no offense, but I’m Anglican Catholic. If I couldn’t , for practical reasons, be Anglican Catholic, I’d be EO. So, as you can imagine, I don’t believe RC claims about the Pope. Don’t want to start a debate on that. Just letting you know where I’m coming from.

    • Bruce says:

      Also, I think we’re of a very different political orientation because I really enjoy Fleming’s political writing. He’s extremely negative about our national prospects which can make him sound un-American. But I don’t think he’s wrong in his assessment of where we’re at culturally.

  5. Bruce says:

    I can’t get this comment to nest under Lydia’s so I just put it here.

    I think Fleming was discussing human institutions that “just are.” But I can’t find the discussion and wouldn’t presume to represent his views from my faulty memory of a discussion I saw years ago.
    I wonder what forms of slavery were familiar to Paul? Maybe it wasn’t chattel slavery. I can imagine other forms. Maybe it was one of these.

    Enough of my sub-amateur noodling.

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