The Confederate Republic: A Revolution against Politics

By George C. Rable | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 14
National Identity, the Political Cultures, and War's End

O n October 26, 1864, Jefferson Davis issued a proclamation calling for a day of national worship, but whether God still considered Southerners His chosen people had become a deeply troubling question. Although the president affirmed his faith in divine protection, he also acknowledged that "our sins have merited and received grievous chastisement." There was still time for the people to repent, offer God the glory for any victories, and win back the Almighty's indispensable favor. Indeed, in the midst of demoralization and the distractions of camp life, religious revivals continued in the Confederate armies during the winter and spring.1 National sin offered a convenient theological explanation for the anguish and despair of the war's final months.

In the tradition of evangelical Protestantism, ministers regularly lashed their congregations about their individual and collective transgressions. Increasingly, however, the jeremiads revealed cleavages over the nature of Confederate political culture. Alabama Episcopal bishop Richard Wilmer claimed that "the leveling doctrines of human equality, which tend downward to the gulf of Atheism, are disappearing before the stern reality that some men are 'born to honor.' "2 This defense of hierarchy ignored the class resentments and social divisions that had disrupted military and civilian life. Wilmer's words sounded quaintly anachronistic and suggested the persistence of dangerous delusions.

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