I’ve never been much interested in military history nor in the Civil War. (My relatives fought, I believe, on both sides, but – and this is telling – I’m not even sure about that.)
Still I love mid-nineteenth century lit. So, here I am – trying to pick the quite excellent and well-stocked brains of my co-Chicagoboyz and our knowledgeable commenters.
Clearly I have some really big holes in my knowledge. My impression (and something I always make a point of when teaching Frederick Douglass) is the splits in so many of the major Protestant denominations came from beliefs about slavery. (I’m sure economics & politics entered, as well, but to ignore the polarizing issue of slavery is to ignore the voices in the literature we read.)
I’d thought the church in the south found reasons to defend slavery, while the core of the Abolitionist movement came out of the Northern Protestant churches. I’m curious: am I wrong or have I been miseducating students? What are some good treatments of the role of religion in both the Civil War itself and the movements that led up to it?
My students have taken to politely observing that slavery had nothing to do with the Civil War, that the motives were political. This isn’t what the voices of Thoreau or Douglass would say, of course. I’ll accept there’s some truth to what they say, but my suspicion is that there isn’t as much as they would like to think. For instance, they are quite willing to see the Southern churches as hypocritical, but less willing to believe the Northern church’s role in the Abolitionist movement. Cynicism sounds more truthful when we are 18 or 20 than it does when we’ve seen a bit more of the world.
People’s motives are always a mixed bag, but it is best not to simplify them too much. When they approvingly quote their anthro teacher who argues that all of history is one group having something and another group wanting it and so wrenching it from them, I figure they are ignoring much that has compelled man to act. We are covetous, but we’re also complicated.