Southern Evangelists and the Coming of the Civil War

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This book examines the connection between evangelical religious beliefs and antebellum southern culture. Evangelical assumptions and ideas seemed not only to justify slavery and patriarchy, but these assumptions made comprehensible life’s mysteries and heartaches. Southerners thus had a moral, as well as a material, investment in their culture. As they came to believe that the Republican Party threatened that investment, the religiously-minded southerners could accept and support secession. This moral ardor underlay much southern martial ardor during the Civil War. Rather than treat religion as purely a set of formal rituals or as membership in a church, this work treats the religious assumptions, rituals and symbols as a part of culture.


“Much of the book’s value derives from its explicit historiographical tone and its deep, layered foundation of secondary scholarship…. Describes, in considerable detail, the various movements, personalities and ideas of antebellum southern evangelicalism that coalesced to encourage and sustain the secessionist movement. He effectively marks the often subtle, gradual melding of piety and politics in the antebellum South…. Crowther’s book adds usefully to the growing corpus of solid scholarship defining the role of religion in southern history and in American history generally. As a capstone, a detailed and careful summation, it is especially valuable.” – The Journal of Southern History

“… a work well-grounded in recent scholarship on American religion and its place in antebellum political culture. Ever alert to the subtleties and nuances of a vast historical literature, Crowther is well aware of he pitfalls of pat descriptions of the South as an evangelical culture. He has thoroughly examined a range of primary sources, including published sermons, church proceedings, the religious press, and manuscripts to discuss a variety of topics…. Especially noteworthy are the tensions and complications between the evangelical emphasis on winning souls and the moral questions raised by the existence of slavery… His treatment of the relationship between evangelicals and the Know Nothings also opens avenues for future students. The most useful section of the book explores evangelicals’ response to abolitionism and the range of evangelical opinion on secession… will prove enlightening to a wide range of readers… a useful and thoughtful volume.” – George C. Rable

“A number of historians have looked at religion in the Old South as it relates to paternalism, slavery, the sectional crisis and its contribution to the creation of Confederate nationalism. Crowther revisits this previously trod ground and along the way not only retells the story in a careful and engaging manner, but opens new insights and nuances many older ones. This result is a fine book that brings together many different threads of thought and enriches our understanding of the Old South. . . Crowther explains this process in elegant prose and engaging argument.” - Kurt O. Berends

“He has a knack of knowing how much detail to include from what has been an enormous amount of research work on his part. He draws from other disciplines for his theoretical models.. . . .I find this to be a definitive work, a model of careful scholarship.” – Erling Jorstad

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