Menu Close

Sorting out the Civil War’s causes4 min read

Listen to this article

With the upcoming Sesquicentennial (150 years) of the Civil War, a lot of discussion is occurring around racism in America, as well as the role of religion and politics in the making and unmaking of slavery and racism in America.

Here’s two really good resources, both podcasts.

First, in Evangelical Fervor and the Crisis of the Civil War: A Conversation with Historian David Goldfield, Albert Mohler interviews historian and award winning author David Goldfield on his new book America Aflame: How the Civil War Created a Nation.

Goldfield covers the following topics:

  • The absence of discussion of northern Evangelicals in abolition – usual focus is on southern Evangelicals and their pro-slavery theology
  • The differences between the Evangelical emphases of northern and southern Evangelical theologies – northerners had a theology that included improving civic society, while southerners did not.
  • The Second Great Awakening and the Civil War.
  • The two great sins as per northern Evangelicalism – the increasing power of the Roman Catholic Church, and the great sin of slavery.
  • The anti-Catholic Know-Nothing Party, which merged with the abolitionist Republican Party, which united these ‘twin despotisms’ into one party and helped elect Abraham Lincoln.
  • The dramatic politicization of these moral issues due to Evangelical involvement in politics, hastening the Civil War.
  • And so much more!!!

Second, in another excellent, thoughtful weekly podcast, the Thomas Jefferson Hour’s Northwest Ordinance episode discusses how Jefferson’s abolition legislation efforts were influential in abolition as well as the start and end of the civil war.  Included is a fantastic discussion of many pieces of legislation:

  • 1776 – The Declaration of Independence: The removal of abolition language from the Declaration  by southern delegates,  originally included by Jefferson, in order to keep the southern states in the new Union against Britain
  • 1784 – The Western Territories Land Ordinance: Jefferson, a Congressman, tried to forbid slavery in all new states west of the Appalachians admitted to the Union. This legislation failed by one vote (there was one vote per state) – Jefferson’s own state of Virginia voted against him. He felt like this was our last chance to avoid future national calamity over slavery.  Jefferson said of this vote “Heaven was silent in this awful moment. Now millions of unborn Negros will be enslaved through no fault of their own to men they never offended for the lack of a single vote in the Congress of the United States.”
  • 1787 – The Constitution: Jefferson was not in the country during the writing of the Constitution, but in order to keep the Union, American legislators included such heinous language as the 3/5ths compromise,  thereby continuing the racist slavery policies.
  • 1787 – Northwest Ordinance: In this legislation, based on the 1784 bill which failed, Jefferson’s ideas succeeded in  forcing all northern states being admitted to the union to be non-slave states, but this set up the divide between north and south. However, this still could have prevented a civil war if more free states, which were generally more prosperous, were to join than slave states. This could have marginalized the slave states.
  • 1800 – Suggesting that Negroes born after 1800 were Free: Jefferson actually suggested this, but his idea, meant to phase out slavery in America, was rejected by legislators.
  • 1820 – The Missouri Compromise: This pretty much sealed the Civil War into place, ensuring that for every free state added, a slave-state would be added.

Both the Thinking in Public podcast (RSS) and The Thomas Jefferson Hour (RSS) podcast should be in the queue of every thinking person, certainly in the queue of every thinking Christian.