Secession as a Moral Imperative: White Southerners and Evangelical Theology Public Deposited

Downloadable Content

Download PDF
Last Modified
  • March 21, 2019
  • Young, Pearl
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of History
  • This dissertation explores the ways in which white Southerners used evangelical theology to rationalize secession as a moral imperative. The secession of eleven states from the Union in 1860 and 1861 ripped asunder its political bond between the federal government and the individual state legislatures. Yet the rhetoric of evangelical Christianity present in the political documents of secession begs the question of how white Southerners connected a political choice with their religious sensibilities. Even if politicians appropriated religious language for their own purposes, they did so because they spoke to an audience that engaged with the world on religious terms. This dissertation examines five specific aspects of Southern evangelical theology as each was used in the context of secession. Evangelical Christians did not always agree on a common rationale (or even on theological matters), but the aggregate of their debates reflect the depth of the Southern sense of sectionalism and the extent to which religious fervor spilled into the political sphere. Firstly, Southerners viewed their region as an example to the world of an ideal Christian society, a testimony brought into sharper relief with secession. Secondly, they remained focused on the future with their hopes set on a coming millennium, which they believed could be brought into fruition by altering the political status quo. Thirdly, they valued the individual, a hallmark of evangelical theology that reinforced a growing political rejection of federal authority and outside criticism. Fourthly, they maintained a robust sense of providentialism, arguing that because God called the South to secede, Southern independence could not fail to be successful. Lastly, they deliberately and urgently chose secession out of a sense of moral obligation to a holy cause, dispelling any notion that they were merely victims of Northern aggression.
Date of publication
Resource type
Rights statement
  • In Copyright
  • Barney, William
  • Bayne, Brandon
  • Brundage, W. Fitzhugh
  • Glatthaar, Joseph
  • DuVal, Kathleen
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Graduate School
Graduation year
  • 2018

This work has no parents.