Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

A Consuming Fire: The Fall of the Confederacy in the Mind of the White Christian South

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

A Consuming Fire: The Fall of the Confederacy in the Mind of the White Christian South

Article excerpt

A Consuming Fire: The Fall of the Confederacy in the Mind of the White Christian South. By Eugene D. Genovese. [Mercer University Lamar Memorial Lectures, No. 41.] (Athens: University of Georgia Press. 1998. Pp. xvii, 180. $24.95.)

One relatively small point made by Eugene Genovese in his tome, Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made (New York, 1974), takes center stage in this new little book, the substance of which first appeared in the forty-first Annual Lamar Memorial Lectures at Mercer University. In the earlier publication Genovese noted that some Southern reformers aimed to strengthen rather than undermine the institution of slavery. In the newer text, Genovese investigates this aim by analyzing the nature and consequence of the South's insistence that "Christian slavery" not only was sanctioned by the Bible, but also could serve as the best hope for preparing for the Kingdom of God. While thus asserting the benefits of Christian slavery, many prominent Catholics, Protestants, and Jews also pointed out that the actual practice of slavery in the American South fell far short of biblical standards, and therefore called for significant reform. The voice of these reformers is the subject of Genovese's book.

Genovese credits other scholars, including Drew Gilpin Faust in The Creation of Confederate Nationalism: Ideology and Identity in the Civil War South (Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 1988), and Mitchell Snay in Gospel of Disunion: Religion and Separatism in the Antebellum South (New York, 1993), for furthering his and our understanding of Southern religion. Unlike these works, Genovese's own book does not rely as heavily on primary materials, but does offer complex analysis. For example, concerning the frequently debated question of whether Southerners felt guilty about owning slaves, Genovese slightly altered his long-held opposition suggesting that, in response to the challenges of the reformers, many slaveholders at least acknowledged their inability to live according to the standards of Christian slaveholding, even though at the same time they introduced little change to the management of their own slaves. …

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