From Civil War to Culture War:
The Enduring Role of Religion in American Conflict
Barry Hankins, Baylor University
The Civil War has been called the central event in American history. Since Mark Noll’s framing of The Civil War as a Theological Crisis (2006) religion has moved from the periphery toward the center of our understanding of that great conflict. This paper will pick up where Noll left off, tracing in broad outline the ways in which the theological habits that contributed to the Civil War have defined the way Americans fight culture war as well. Whether gay rights or gun rights, religion and science, obscenity in film and literature, or abortion, the American habit is to move easily and intuitively from textual interpretation to political policy. And it doesn’t seem to matter if the text is the Bible or the Constitution.
Respondents: Patrick Connelly, Montreat College; Peter Kuryla, Belmont University
Slavery and Patriarchy: Enduring Burdens
Anne Blue Wills, Davidson College
By gendering the Civil War—examining how black and white men and women played out antebellum and wartime social scripts of masculinity and femininity—we gain a more historically sophisticated understandings of gender and sexuality in our own time. The slave system grew from white patriarchy. White and black female abolitionist agitation produced questions about the propriety of women speaking politically, in public, to audiences that included men—and changed everything forever. When the War brought liberation to enslaved black women and men, therefore, to some extent it also brought liberation to white women and free black women. Yet what burdens endured, for all women, beyond the War’s conclusion? And what new burdens fell on women in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries? How did entrenched white male power recalibrate for the new century, and what forces at our disposal might defuse it permanently?
Respondents: Beth Van Landingham, Carson-Newman University; Frances Henderson, Maryville College
Who Freed the Slaves?
Race, Regional Identity and Narratives of Emancipation
Aaron Astor, Maryville College
With the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, scholars reassessed and re-emphasized emancipation as the central consequence of the Civil War. A new debate emerged over who gets credit for emancipation. On one side were those who granted Northern abolitionists, idealistic Union officers and soldiers, and the Lincoln Administration ultimate credit for giving the nation a “new birth of freedom.” On the other side were scholars (originally in the black nationalist tradition) who located the slaves themselves as the primary agents of their own liberation, seizing the opportunities to escape to Union lines and forcing often-reluctant Federal officers and politicians to convert a war for the old Union into a war for emancipation. Decades later, the debate percolated through popular audiences in blockbuster movies like Glory and Lincoln, newer battlefield exhibits and in changing classroom curricula. The consequences of this shifting debate for the contemporary South are fascinating. There has emerged an ironic realignment of regional memory and emancipation, with white Southerners viewing black self-liberation as a heroic struggle for freedom and many Northerners clinging to old mythologies about “stations on the Underground Railroad.” The irony is remarkable.
Respondents: Alicia Jackson, Covenant College; Paul Thompson, North Greenville University
‘I Must Keep Some Standard of Principle Fixed within Myself’:
Abraham Lincoln, Moral Absolutes, and the Practice of Politics
Steven Woodworth, Texas Christian University
Abraham Lincoln was one of the most adept politicians in American history. He had an instinct for finding the electable middle ground and an ability to be flexible about many things when it was necessary to work with contrary political factions or disaffected voters. His seeming pliability was an almost unbearable provocation to abolitionist purists during his presidency, and they raged against him intemperately. One can understand their concern, since many politicians who begin flexing with a view to winning the next election end by losing sight of the causes and principles for which they supposedly sought election in the first place. Lincoln never did. Through all the complex political maneuvering of the 1850s and then of his presidency, Lincoln never lost sight of his goals of adhering to the Constitution, maintaining the national Union, and placing slavery firmly “in the course of ultimate extinction.” Above all, he attempted to maintain a firm grip on his personal integrity, even when it required him to keep politically unpopular obligations to former slaves. This paper will explore Lincoln’s highly unusual quality of being able to combine practical political flexibility with a “standard of principle fixed within” himself.
Respondents: Ben McArthur, Southern Adventist University; John Coats, Lee University
What We have Heard: Final Thoughts
Luke Harlow: University of Tennessee