Religion and the American Civil War

By Randall M. Miller; Harry S. Stout et al. | Go to book overview

15
Religion and the Results of the Civil War

SAMUEL S. HILL

In 1843, in western New York State, the Wesleyan Methodist Connection of America called itself into being. The provocation was its founding members' disagreements with the Methodist Episcopal church to which they had belonged. One issue was the power and authority of the episcopacy; the new body proceeded at once to designate its leader as president, not bishop.

The more dramatic incentive for their departure was abolitionism. Not that the large parent body sanctioned slavery; rather the M. E. Church was pursuing a gradual, noninterventionist strategy toward freeing the people and dismantling the institution. The Methodists who formed the Connection were caught up in the radical policy of immediate abolition, without regard to what practical disruptions might ensue.

A report of schismatic church behavior in antebellum America hardly startles us (especially in upstate New York). 1 The question for highlighting now and treating later is: What was the impact of the Civil War on this come- outer band of radical Methodists? Accordingly, the hypothesis of this paper is that the war led to a great many more, and more complex, changes than abolition and emancipation. Indeed, it wrought changes as dramatic as the churches' agendas, their sense of their missions; when that happens, the changes are basic, perhaps radical. In this one, apparently easy-to-read setting, what impact did the Civil War make? Or, turning the issue another way, we ask: was such a religious group's forthright behavior before the war matched by comparable behavior after it?

The North Carolina Friends, or Quakers--stalwart abolitionists in the antebellum South--had seen their ranks, never very large, diminished by the migration of many to the free states of Ohio and Indiana. But their company

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