Suddenly everything changed. Newspapers that had engaged in friendly debates over the book of discipline and other ecclesiastical topics now were embroiled in the all-consuming passion of secession and civil war. Throughout 1860, most of the Old School press sought to avoid political topics (the main exception was J. G. Monfort’s Presbyter in Ohio). But after the November elections, every paper, north, west and south, wrote of little else.


1. The Political Climate of 1860

            The emergence of the Republican Party as a sectional party pressing anti-slavery claims forced northern Democrats to distance themselves from their southern colleagues. And as the Democrats divided over a presidential candidate, many northern moderates embraced the Republican party as the only viable alternative.[1] While many were attracted to the principles of Bell and Crittenden’s Constitutional Union party, they recognized that Bell had no real chance of election.[2]

            Nonetheless, as late as the summer of 1860, Old School unity was considered inviolable. Even the New School New York Evangelist concluded that the Old School was not likely to split. After watching the New School divide, the Evangelist declared that Old School conservatism was too deeply engrained. In a particularly astute summary of Old School dynamics, it declared:

1. Her strongest men are on the conservative side. 2. Her Southern men are of a more pacific character than the faction who left the New School Church. Those of strongest Southern sentiments, as Drs. Thornwell, Adger, and Smith, are men of mild and excellent spirit. 3. The Assembly is kept in admirable discipline by her leaders. There are no such bishops elsewhere in Protestant Christendom, as may be found to number of a dozen or more in the Old School Church. These men can be accused of no unfair means in gaining their power, and are not to be blamed for possessing it. Nay, and it works well for the harmony of the body, as a whole, though it may lay an uncomfortable suppression upon the real sentiments of the rank and file. 4. The Old School press is interested in maintaining its Northward and Southward patronage, and will of course use its utmost influence to prevent agitation. 5. An all controlling Church pride--the idea of belonging to the National Church--will hold in silence very many who otherwise would either speak out, or come out.[3]


These “bishops” (such as Nathan Rice, Charles Hodge, James Henley Thornwell, Thomas Smyth, George Junkin, and, of course, Robert J. Breckinridge) had come into their own as young ministers in the 1830s and 1840s. Now, a quarter of a century later, they wielded a commanding influence. So long as the nation remained united, the Old School would not divide.

            But the pockets of opposition to the conservative front identified in chapters 7-8 were growing–especially in the northwest and in the south. J. G. Monfort’s Presbyter continued to press the anti-slavery agenda. Convinced that many southerners wanted to end slavery, Monfort commented after the trial of John Brown that “if the South would allow, on her own soil, liberty of speech, and if the North would only abide by the constitution, there might be hope. We do not, however, expect either section to act again with much wisdom or discretion.” Monfort was convinced that “The South began the difficulty in persecuting unto death men who opposed slavery, and in this she had her Northern allies. The tables are about being turned in the North, and there is reason to fear equal lawlessness here.” Monfort feared that the day was past when the two sides could work together because northern conservatives and southern conservatives were no longer on the same page.[4]

            The northwest was the center of Old School political discussion early in 1860. Robert J. Breckinridge wrote an open letter to his nephew, John C. Breckinridge (vice-president of the United States), defending the importance of maintaining the union. As rumors of southern secession came to northern ears, the Danville theologian urged his nephew (and other southern Democrats) to reconsider their rhetoric. In a wide-ranging survey of the issues before the nation, he denounced slavery as “contrary to the spirit of the Gospel and the natural rights of man,” and declared his conviction that the Dred Scott decision was a travesty of justice. If southerners were intent on breaking up “the confederacy, the alleged tenor of the Republican party will answer as pretext.”[5] But Breckinridge was convinced that disunion was not a legitimate option.

            J. G. Monfort concurred with the basic point, but was disappointed–and indeed offended, “that he should feel himself called to throw such contempt and odium upon the political party which commands the largest vote in the country, a party to which nine-tenths of the ministers and members of his own church in the North-West belong.” While Monfort was given to exaggeration when identifying the strength of his party, it does appear that a large majority of Old School Presbyterians in the northwest had come to favor the free soil agenda of the Republican party.[6] Monfort, however, was convinced that the Republican party posed no threat to the South or its “peculiar institution.” What Monfort did not know was that Breckinridge himself favored the Republican party.

            Southerners could see this, and therefore they replied to Breckinridge with even greater fervor. The North Carolina Presbyterian declared that Breckinridge had practically rejected the United States Constitution by opposing the Dred Scott decision,[7] while the Mississippian (a political paper) asked whether Breckinridge’s statements on slavery were not “perfectly in keeping. . . with the dogmas which emanate from the vilest bigots of the Republican party?” The rhetorical level of the political newspapers went far beyond the normally calm debates of the Old School papers. With an invective simply not found in antebellum Old School papers (except for some of Breckinridge’s own writings), the Mississippian declared: “When the people of the South become so abject as to seek or accept the counsels of one who has by such record vindicated his claim to their unmitigated abhorrence, they will be fit subjects for the yoke which their Northern enemies are preparing for their necks.”[8]

            As the election of 1860 drew nearer, Old School Presbyterians could not agree about the prospects for the future. Some still hoped that the Democratic party and the Old School church would prevail. O. S. P. argued that these bodies might offer the best hope for the Union, because they were the “only party and church having strength in both sections of the Union. . . In the light of history and providence, we may learn that great evils are not often speedily removed; nor are great reforms hastily accomplished.” Northern Old Schoolers could pursue their conservative anti-slavery measures with confidence. “The church is safe. The Union will stand. Truth shall prevail.”[9] Nathan Rice’s Presbyterian Expositor refrained from political commentary, but it was widely known that Cyrus McCormick was the money behind the paper (as he was behind the two Democratic political papers in Chicago). In the opinion of the more politically-oriented Presbyter, this was an attempt to use money to sway the minds of the northwest. Indeed, one author thought that McCormick’s influence in both the religious and the political press of Chicago was “surely an anomalous mixing up of the world and the Church-- of politics and Presbyterianism.”[10]

            Eastern papers, though, agreed with Rice’s quieter stance. The Presbyterian reminded its readers to approach the election in the light of God’s providence. Engles warned that the masses “can be wrought on to believe that the very existence of our noble union is dependent on the success of a particular candidate, while they spurn as fanatical delusion the much more certain testimony from God, that the life of their immortal souls is dependent on their full belief in Jesus.” Because Christians believed in the sovereign government of God, “we should discard the feeling that the welfare of our country depends on the ascendency of this or that party, For God can confound the counsels of both alike.” Only a religious people, he argued, could withstand the pressures of party passions.[11]     


2. The Election of 1860 and Its Aftermath

            The election of Lincoln prompted comment from all over the Old School. J. G. Monfort, the Old School’s most politically engaged editor, rejoiced, though with most northerners he remained convinced for several months after the election that the Union would remain intact. While South Carolina and a few other states might temporarily secede, Monfort naively believed that “the ‘poor white folks’ in the South are really deeply interested in the abolition of slavery, and they will all know, in a month after civil war begins, that this is their interest, and that now is their time.” He thought that the south’s peculiar institution “levels them with slaves.” Betraying his ignorance of southern social relations, Monfort claimed that the southern army would consist solely of slaveholders who could not cook their own meals.[12]

            Others in the northwest were less sanguine. On Sunday, November 18, 1860, the Rev. Samuel R. Wilson preached a sermon on “The Causes and Remedies of Impending National Calamities.” Convinced that the “Central States, the borders of which are washed by the waters of the Ohio” would determine the future of the United States,[13] Wilson identified three main causes of civil unrest. First he warned that pride, the “sin of the Devil, the sin of Sodom, Egypt and Babylon, the sin of Tyre and Rome, the sin of God’s own chosen Israel, has become our sin already.”[14] Second, he declared that America had become a nation of oppressors, not merely on the plantations of the south, but also in the north. “And if I should confine my remarks to the colored race alone it would be no difficult matter to show that the laws of the free states, and the intense prejudice of the populace are more unreasonable and oppressive than are to be found in most of the slaveholding commonwealths.”[15] In the tradition of the jeremiad, Wilson called his hearers to accept their own responsibility for the national crisis. While the abolitionist’s “taunting finger may point to the slave-mart, the whipping-post, and the loose marriage-tie of the slave,” northern states were guilty of rising rates of “pauperism, prostitution, homicides, and divorces.” Finally, Wilson spoke of the growing prevalence of “lawlessness.” Southern secession aped northern nullification of the fugitive slave law, both equally lawless. In order to avert the impending calamity, Wilson called both north and south to restore the national covenant and obey the law of the land. J. G. Monfort, a Cincinnati colleague of Wilson’s, declared that Wilson was “not only in error, but he has so delivered his views as to do great damage to others, and to the cause of truth and righteousness.” Monfort insisted that there was no “powerful faction in the North who have a settled purpose to trample down the Constitution and break up the national covenant.” A significant portion of the Old School in the northwest refused to acknowledge any complicity in the destruction of the union. [16]

            In the east William Engles reminded his readers of his track record repudiating the “higher law,” protesting against radical reformers, and condemning sectional jealousies and divisions. “The recent political canvass which has stirred up the feelings of our country in so unusual a degree, has darkened our firmament, and awakened many fears for the future. . . . Forbearance is essential, and wise counsels requisite to soften the acerbity and compose the differences which may arise.” The only way to save the country was to rally behind the Constitution. The south should not assume that platform speeches by radicals expressed the true sentiments of the north. Engles, a northern Democrat, felt sure that a union based on the constitution could still stand.[17] And Engles still had some hope in the oft-cited dictum of “sagacious politicians, that as long as the Presbyterian Church remained united in its wide ramifications North and South, there was hope for the country amidst the turbulence of political feeling.”[18] But he knew the country needed more than Old School unity. The only solution, he claimed, lay “in the re-awakened good sense of the people, and in their determination to make all necessary concessions for the sake of harmony.” Either the whole nation accepted the provisions of the Constitution, or the Union would be lost.[19] In the worst case, he hoped the church could stay united even if the country split.

            A southern Presbyterian concurred: “We of the South will never introduce the vexed question into the General Assembly; I take it for granted that you of the North will not; and if so, there will be no contention, we will still ‘dwell together in unity.’” He insisted, though, that the dissolution of the union was “inevitable” unless the north quickly repealed the anti-constitutional personal liberty laws.[20]

            In Pittsburgh, one author noted that James Henley Thornwell had prayed for God’s favor “upon all those States which have a common interest with us,” in his prayer before the Legislature of South Carolina. “Is not this a prayer for the success of the plans of Southern fanatics, in their attempts to break up this great Republic?” Accusing Thornwell of treason, he made it clear that in his view, support for secession was rebellion against God and man.[21] Likewise, when Kentucky’s Presbyterian Herald called on the extreme south not to secede unless the Republicans actually violated the Constitution, the editor of the Presbyterian Banner, David McKinney, replied that “Secession can never be constitutional. There is no provision made for it. It is a violation of the compact, by which the people of these States become one government. . . . Let the laws be executed with promptitude and impartiality, and under the Constitution, and in accordance with law, let the majority rule. Such is Republicanism, and such is Democracy; such is right reason and such is holy Scripture.”[22] Hinting at the policies of the war years, McKinney identified Republicanism with Christianity, thereby transforming political dissent into heresy.

            But in early 1861 the Pittsburgh editor was still attempting to find a middle ground. While he insisted that northerners could not yield to “unrighteous demands,” such as the spread of slavery to the territories, he insisted that slavery should be left to the states. All northern Christians could legitimately ask of their southern brethren was “that they regulate slavery by Christianity. . . . If the institution can stand the application of those principles, let it stand forever; if it cannot stand the application of these principles, no wisdom of statesmen can prevent its fall.” Convinced that the preaching of the gospel would eventually eliminate slavery, he advocated a compromise to restore the Union–or even an amicable division. The north would “do justice and even more than justice, to the South. But they are not ready to sacrifice their conscience.”[23]

            Southerners now doubted R. J. Breckinridge’s qualifications as a moderate, but his January 4, 1861, sermon in Lexington, Kentucky, still sought a middle ground. He warned that “national judgments never come except by reason of national sins; nor are they ever turned aside except upon condition of repentance for the sins which produced them.”[24] Rejecting both northern nullification of the fugitive slave laws and southern secession, Breckinridge pleaded for moderation. Preaching before a crowd of Kentucky’s political leaders, Breckinridge insisted that only if the border slave states stayed in the Union could reunion work.[25]

            In Virginia, Robert L. Dabney also hoped to preserve the Union. In a sermon at Hampden-Sydney College just before the election, Dabney called upon the Church to show a Christ-like love that would put an end to strife.[26] Dabney’s discourse drew praise from Engles as “Conservative in its character.” If such moderate southerners could mediate between north and south, there might still be hope.[27]

            Further south, however, moderation was hard to find. South Carolina Presbyterians did not lag behind their fellow citizens in condemning the North. The Rev. A. A. Porter, the new editor of the Southern Presbyterian, declared that “while the infatuated multitude who have chosen Lincoln to the Presidency, thereby inflicting a cruel wound on the people of the South, and placing in imminent peril the most precious interests of the country, are celebrating their triumph with a joy that is indeed crazy, let us bow humbly and calmly at the mercy seat.” The time for discussion had ended: “the South cannot continue to endure the perturbations and harassments of the past.”[28] On December 1 Porter set forth his rationale for secession: 1) Lincoln was pledged to prevent the extension of slavery to the federal territories; 2) the northern states refused to enforce the fugitive slave law; 3) northern attempts at inciting slave revolts went unhindered; 4) the Republican party was pledged to run the country for the benefit of the free states alone; 5) the Republican party had rejected the decisions of the Supreme Court on Dred Scott; and 6) the sections simply differed to widely as to what was right and fair. In sum, he saw “the election of Lincoln as the final and solemn decision of the Northern States and people against the rights which the South claims under the constitution, and in favor of the policy and the principles of her irreconcilable enemies.” The South had no choice but to secede.[29]

            When the Synod of South Carolina met in November of 1860, W. B. Yates and William States Lee (members of the former Charleston Union Presbytery who had call for a separate southern Presbyterian church in 1838) “offered a paper stating that the action of 1818 relative to slavery, remained unrepealed by the GA, and that the North had shown its fanaticism in the election of Abraham Lincoln to the Presidency, and that fidelity to the South required a separation from the Northern churches.” John B. Adger called separation premature, and the synod laid the proposal on the table, 72-21. Instead it declared the 1818 action “virtually rescinded” by the statement of 1845. While deploring northern tendencies to get mixed up in political questions, the Synod insisted that the present political crisis had a moral and religious bearing, and declared flatly, “that the people of South Carolina are now solemnly called on to imitate their Revolutionary forefathers, and stand up for their rights.”[30]

            Further west, on November 29, 1860, the Rev. Dr. Benjamin Morgan Palmer preached a sermon in New Orleans entitled “Slavery a Divine Trust. Duty of the South to Preserve and Perpetuate It.”[31] Palmer had rarely touched on politics, but when he did he deployed the rhetorical skill that had made him one of the finest pulpit orators in the nation. Palmer believed that the question of slavery “which now places us upon the brink of revolution,” was initially a “question of morals and religion,” debated in the church before it reached the national stage.[32] He insisted on the duty of the south to “conserve and to perpetuate the institution of slavery as now existing.”[33] Although admitting that slavery might one day come to an end, Palmer urged his influential congregation to secede from the Union and establish a slaveholding republic. Declaring that “no despotism is more absolute than that of an unprincipled democracy, and no tyranny more galling than that exercised through constitutional formulas,” Palmer insisted that Lincoln was but the pawn of the Black Republicans, intent on destroying the south.[34] The only way to preserve slavery was to secede.

            Two weeks later, the Rev. Dr. Joseph R. Wilson, a native of Ohio and a graduate of Jefferson College (1844), but now a pastor on the South Carolina border at Augusta, Georgia, wrote to the Presbyterian Banner, that northerners were misinformed if they thought South Carolina divided regarding secession. “Never were a united people more immovably resolved to alter their political relations than are the people of South Carolina.” And, Wilson added, within a few weeks Georgia would be as unanimous. “The sole ground of disagreement is upon the question of time.” Some urged delay, to see what the North would do, but none spoke against secession in principle. Wilson insisted that only northern states’ repeal of the “personal liberty bills” could save the Union.[35]

            David McKinney replied to the southerners that they were doing precisely what the abolitionists had hoped for. “You are rushing into the very abyss into which William Lloyd Garrison, Wendel Phillips, and men of that class have been long anxious to see you fall. . . . For years they have been wishing you out of the Union.” In contrast, he insisted that the great mass of the North wanted to work with southerners, if only they would be patient and wait.[36]


3. Hodge on the State of the Country

            In January of 1861, Charles Hodge weighed in from Princeton. While on purely political matters, Hodge had generally remained silent, this, he argued, was not purely a political matter:

There are periods in the history of every nation when its destiny for ages may be determined by the events of an hour. There are occasions when political questions rise into the sphere of morals and religion; when the rule for political action is to be sought, not in considerations of state policy, but in the law of God. On such occasions the distinction between secular and religious journals is obliterated. When the question to be decided turns on moral principles, when reason, conscience, and religious sentiment are to be addressed, it is the privilege and duty of all who have access in any way to the public ear, to endeavour to allay unholy feeling, and to bring truth to bear on the minds of their fellow‑citizens.[37]


Arguing for the oneness of the nation on the basis of ethnic, linguistic, and geographical unity throughout the United States, Hodge claimed that the union was “determined by the homogeneity of its people, by its history, and by its physical character. It cannot be permanently dissevered.” But even more important was the national covenant–the constitution–which bound the nation together.[38] Hodge insisted that the Republican party “is not an antislavery, much less an abolition party.”[39] Lincoln won in 1860, not because the abolitionists had conquered the hearts of the north, but because the Democrats had utterly failed to provide a workable solution to the slavery crisis of the 1850s and then demonstrated their incompetence by dividing at their 1860 Convention in Charleston.

            Hodge then turned to the reasons for southern secession. While he doubted that the south would prosper as a result of secession, he did acknowledge that it had “some just grounds of complaint, and that the existing animosity towards the North is neither unnatural nor unaccountable.” Nonetheless, he argued that “these grievances are greatly exaggerated, and that this animosity arises in a large measure from misapprehension.”[40] Granting the justice of southern complaints against the language and conduct of the abolitionists, Hodge nonetheless argued that abolitionists were a tiny minority. “We do not know of one clergyman among the Roman Catholics, or the Episcopalians, or the Dutch Reformed, belonging to the class of abolitionists. Of the three thousand Old‑school Presbyterian clergymen in the country, we do not believe there are twelve who deserve to be so designated.” While northern Methodists had “more of that spirit,” the northern clergy as a whole had a “strong conservative element.” The election of Lincoln did not indicate the growth of abolitionism, because “the Republican party consists of those who desired to enter their protest against the repeal of the Missouri Compromise, and the attempts to force slavery upon Kansas, joined by thousands who wish for a protective tariff, and thousands more, who, from dislike of one candidate, and distrust of another, preferred to vote for Mr. Lincoln.”[41]

            Hodge also acknowledged that the south had good reason to complain about northern attempts to assist fugitive slaves, but he pointed out that the “conduct of a small band of fanatics over which the people have no control, and for which they are not responsible” could not warrant the division of the nation. But Hodge severely strained his credibility when he claimed that not more than one thousand northerners could be found who approved of the violation of the fugitive slave law.[42]

            Hodge then turned to the constitutional question. Had the north violated the terms of the national compact? The federal government remained committed to the enforcement of the fugitive slave law, and no southerner could complain of the fidelity of the federal government in the matter. In contrast, Hodge pointed out that the provision of the Constitution, that gave citizens of one state the same privileges in all others had been “formally nullified by law” with respect to free African-Americans who wished to move to the South. A free black citizen was denied his constitutional right to move to another state. If southern states could nullify the federal constitution through their state laws, why did they object when northern states did the same?[43] Moreover, Hodge argued that the so-called “personal liberty laws” were perfectly consistent with the constitution. Even if unconstitutional, the proper remedy was for the Supreme Court to declare the state law unconstitutional. There is no “breach of contract, so long as the Federal Government, the party bound, is faithful to its duty.”[44] The southern complaint was merely a pretext.

            The real issue, Hodge believed, was the south’s insistence on keeping control of the national government. As the northern states grew in population and as more free states joined from the west, the south feared losing its veto power in the United States Senate. Southerners insisted that there could be “no law enacted, no measure adopted, without its approbation, and consequently for its benefit.” But, Hodge pointed out, “this supposes that the interest of the slaveholders is antagonistic to all others, and is so important that it may rightfully be dominant, or at least co‑ordinate and limiting.” This insistence, Hodge argued, was contrary to the Constitution, which did not recognize “sections,” but only states.[45]

            Finally, Hodge turned to the question of secession. After all, even if all the grievances were imaginary, if states had the right to secede, no one could stop them. But Hodge claimed secession legally impossible because the several states formed one nation, indivisible except by revolution or common consent. The constitution itself declared the union to be “perpetual.” “A perpetual union is one which cannot be dissolved except on the consent of all the parties to that union. Secession is a breach of faith. It is morally a crime, as much as the secession of a regiment from the battle field would be.”[46]

            As for a solution, Hodge had little to offer. He suggested that the federal government reimburse southerners for escaped slaves and urged restoration of the Missouri Compromise, “the abrogation of which is the immediate source of all our present troubles. The adoption of these measures, both of which have been repeatedly proposed, would meet the views, as we cannot but believe, of the great body of moderate and good men in every part of the country.”[47]

            The response to Hodge was mixed. From his forced retirement in Indiana, Erasmus Darwin MacMaster replied that Hodge’s position at Princeton Seminary gave “his deliverances an influence to which they are not always entitled upon their own merits. This is especially true of all his deliverances in general on the subject of slavery, and in particular of his late article on the state of the country.” Rejecting Hodge’s definition of slavery (involuntary servitude) as “absurd,” he insisted that slavery was in fact “the system which makes the legal status of men, and women, and children to be that of property that is, of real estate, or chattels personal, as the case may be; and slavery is condemned as a sin against God, and the most gross outrage upon man.” MacMaster denied being an abolitionist. He recognized that a Christian could hold slaves–but only for the good of the slaves as he worked diligently to end slavery.[48]

            As to the character of the Republican party, MacMaster claimed that Hodge had grossly misrepresented its purpose. The Republican party was an anti-slavery party, and MacMaster believed that the church should be ashamed that rather than inculcating “a right public opinion” regarding the moral outrage of slavery, it had left it to “statesmen and politicians, and subjected herself to be reproached by them, as succumbing to the impudent assumption of the pro-slavery power, and, like the dominant political party, proscribing men who refuse to bow the knee to this Baal.” The great glory of the Republican party was exactly that it was anti-slavery, and Hodge had no business obscuring its true purpose.[49]

            MacMaster rejected Hodge’s proposed solution just as firmly. He insisted that the north should only pay the full value of fugitive slaves if the slave states embraced the full “religious and industrial training” of their slaves, along with a system for the “gradual emancipation of those thus prepared for freedom,” along with their colonization, either in the tropical regions of our own continent, or, what would be every way far better, and not impracticable, in Africa.” But if the south would not agree to this, then he insisted that the north should not “pay for their runaway slaves.” As for the restoration of the Missouri Compromise, MacMaster argued that it was so “abhorrent even to an obtuse moral sense, that it was the political death of every man from the Free States who voted for it.” Emancipation or resolute opposition to slavery within the bounds of the constitution were the only two options for MacMaster.[50]

            Nonetheless, MacMaster admitted that he was pleased with Hodge’s movement toward the Republican party. While the Princeton Review, in his opinion, had “done ten-fold more than all the other publications together, periodical and occasional, to perplex the minds of the simple, and to pervert the conscience of multitudes in the Church,” now Hodge was moving with the times. In a prescient commentary on the trajectory of his eastern brethren, MacMaster predicted that most of the Old School press would eventually come around. Since they tended to ride the tide of popular opinion, they would now no doubt “fall altogether into the gulph stream, and still going with the stream and the wind, will ride upon the top of the wave with all sails filled.” The time had passed for “another dishonest compromise about slavery in the Confederacy.” The anti-slavery forces would remain silent no longer. “Slavery must fall. Man is against it. God is against it. . . . If the nation and the Church do not bring it to an end, it will bring them to an end.” As to his long silence on the subject, MacMaster admitted he had found his ostracism difficult to bear, but at least it had given him the confidence and the right to speak out boldly.[51]

            From the other extreme, the Rev. Dr. Charles Colcock Jones of Liberty County, Georgia, declared Hodge’s article “an unfair, one-sided, and lamentable attack.” Hodge’s logic respecting the unity of the nation would have repudiated the American Revolution, and his geographical argument would bring Canada and Mexico under American rule. Examining the Republican party platform and publications, Jones argued that “they are intensely, thoroughly anti-slavery and abolition, and this is their life-blood, upon which they run their candidates.” Jones insisted that “it is not the opinion of the North in regard to slavery that aggrieves the South, but the acts of the North growing out of that opinion.”[52]

            Hodge rarely sought publication in the weeklies, preferring to write for his magisterial Princeton Review; but he sent a reply to Jones. He acknowledged that neither extreme had appreciated his essay, but it wasn’t intended for them. He had hoped to “convince the South that the mass of Northern people are not Abolitionists or hostile to the rights and interests of the South,” and then to convince the North that the abolitionists were wrong.[53] A. A. Porter, the editor, replied that southerners were “well informed as to all the shades and variety of opinion in the North on the different religious, moral and political questions involved in the present controversy.” But, citing the North Carolina Presbyterian, he pointed out that Hodge had reviewed each allegedly just grievance and “each one is in turn frittered away by special pleadings and sophisms, until it appears very manifest that the South has no grievance whatever to complain of.” Hodge had even argued that even the personal liberty laws were not a breach of the Constitution, so long as the Federal Government enforces its own laws. Porter agreed with the North Carolina Presbyterian’s conclusion: “We read attentively, but with increasing sadness of heart, as the truth became more and more apparent, that another strong and venerable oak of the forest had yielded to the storm, and the Princeton Repertory had gone over to the enemy of our country’s peace and happiness.[54]

            Some northerners, though, defended Hodge. The Presbyterian Banner declared it a “noble, patriotic, Christian treatise on the ‘State of the country.”[55] One author reminded his readers of Hodge’s role in the maintenance of the unity of the Old School church: “Some fifteen or twenty years ago, when the anti-slavery feeling ran very high at the North, and many minds in the Presbyterian Church were disposed to either cast off their Southern brethren, or themselves to leave the body, Dr Hodge came out, in the Repertory, with a few powerful and most convincing arguments, showing that he relation of master and servant was Scriptural, and would be blessed of God for good, where the parties faithfully performed their mutual duties.” Hodge’s arguments had convinced the church that just because “a Christian holds bond-servants, and holds them even under oppressive and unjust laws, it does not hence follow that he is actually oppressive and unjust.” We think that Hodge did more to prepare the minds of ministers and people for the resolution of 1845 than anyone else. “For this a debt of gratitude is due; and if our Southern brethren esteem a united ad peaceful Church a blessing, their share in that gratitude should be great.”

            But now Hodge had performed another great service. “The peace of the country is in danger. . . . Dr Hodge again takes his pen, and in his own strong, fearless, and even-handed style of treating matters. . . reproves the North for failures of duty under the Constitutional compact, and for aggression on Southern feeling. He shows also that the South is wrong, and wrong especially in the mode adopted for a redress of grievances.” But this time the South turned against him. Of all the southern papers, only the True Witness had treated Hodge with respect. As one correspondent of the Presbyterian Herald had put it, “if I ever saw a man that had the ‘spirit of Christ’ Charles Hodge is that man; and I see nothing in that article to change my views on that subject. The excited people seem to be willing to endure nothing which is not all on their side. Not a syllable must be conceded to the other side. And the very speeches which are made for peace are pressed into war.”[56]

            Influential circles of ministers and laymen joined together throughout the country to cool down the heated rhetoric.[57] An honor roll of northern clergy including Episcopal Bishop Charles P. McIlvaine, Methodist Nathan Bangs, Charles Hodge, Gardiner Spring and many others called for all sides to return to the Constitution. Admitting that “too much of this fratricidal work has undeniably been done by the pulpit,” and “far more by the press,” they called for peace and Union. Responding in kind, Robert L. Dabney and his colleagues in Virginia circulated a “Pacific Appeal,” urging the southern states to avoid disunion. At the same time they warned the north that if southern states are “persistently refused their full rights in the confederacy and its common territory and the protection granted by the constitution to their peculiar property, then in our opinion,. . . the catastrophe, however lamentable, must be met, sorrowfully indeed, and yet with the resolution of freemen.” They hoped that patience and discussion could yet resolve the impasse.[58]

            As he left office, President James Buchanan, himself a Presbyterian, urged the nation to pray to God “to restore the friendship and good-will which prevailed in former days among the people of the several States; and above all, to save us from the horrors of civil war and ‘blood-guiltiness.’ Let our fervent prayers ascend to His Throne, that He would not desert us in this hour of extreme peril, but remember us as He did our fathers in the darkest days of the Revolution, and preserve our Constitution and our Union, the work of their hands, for ages yet to come. An Omnipotent Providence may overrule existing evils for permanent good. He can make the wrath of man to praise Him, and the remainder of wrath He can restrain.”[59]


4. Fort Sumter and the General Assembly of 1861

            The firing on Fort Sumter convinced most that amicable resolution was impossible.[60] J. G. Monfort reported that “The signs of the times indicate that this war is to be made by the South a conflict for the extension or destruction of slavery. We of the North have not so desired, and we still do not wish it to be so. We abhor slavery; we desire its abolition; but we feel ourselves bound by the Constitution to protect it in the slave States.” But if the south went to war for slavery, then slavery would be abolished. Ironically, in Monfort’s perceptive opinion, the only way for the south to preserve slavery was to remain in the Union.[61] By the beginning of May, as reports came from southern presbyteries that they would not attend the Assembly, Monfort became cautiously optimistic as to the possibilities for General Assembly action. Still, he warned that anti-slavery forces must be wary of “Northern pro-slavery opposition to any action of the Assembly on secession and rebellion. . . . If our church stands back at this time, and is dumb, she will be disgraced before the world.”[62]

            In Philadelphia, the conservative William Engles mourned that “the war spirit has been widely diffused.” Reluctant as he was to see the disasters of war, he agreed that “the government must and will be sustained, and the issue we must leave with God, who has doubtless some great purposes to be accomplished by this sudden revulsion of all the harmonies of our great confederation.”[63] Noting the sudden “tornado” of war excitement,[64] Engles called on Presbyterians to remember that God would bring justice in the end.[65] On the following page he informed his readers of the secession of Virginia.[66] Still, he hoped that the Old School Presbyterian Church could be a force for mediation and peace-making.

            Robert L. Dabney, however, did not see any such hope. In an open letter to Samuel Irenaeus Prime of the New York Observer he reminded him that Virginia had held out the olive branch, “even after it had been spurned again and again.” The north had simply refused to listen. But now Virginia’s “magnanimous, her too generous concessions of right have been met by the insolent demand for unconditional surrender of honor and dignity.” Lincoln’s call for troops to “wage war without the authority of law, and to coerce sovereign states into adhesion, in the utter absence of all powers or intentions of the federal compact to that effect,” would now force Virginia into secession. Dabney reminded his northern brethren that the American union had formed on the “right of freemen to choose their own form of government. This right the North now declares the South shall not enjoy. . . . The North undertakes to compel its equals to abide under a government which they judge ruinous to their rights! Thus this free, Christian, republican North urges on the war, while even despotic Europe cries shame on the fratricidal strife.” Dabney insisted that the Federal Government had initiated the war by seeking to fortify South Carolina’s forts against her. Calling upon like-minded northerners to come to the South, Dabney declared, “For you we have open arms and warm hearts; for our enemies, resistance to the death.”[67]

            This was the context in which the General Assembly of 1861 met. As the Assembly approached, Nathan Rice of the Presbyterian Expositor and William W. Hill of the Presbyterian Herald urged presbyteries to send their wisest men to the Assembly to meet the crisis of the country. Monfort, however, urged the church to “Let Caesar alone. He is doing very well.” This was not based on any “spirituality of the church” doctrine. Monfort’s rationale was purely political: “The men who rule the General Assembly–the united South and the great lights of our commercial cities–are not prepared to do anything for freedom.”[68] He was in for the biggest (and most pleasant) surprise of his life.

            Three weeks later, William McMillan, pastor of Hamilton, Ohio, disagreed, calling this Assembly the perfect opportunity for anti-slavery action. If it reaffirmed the 1818 deliverance, Thornwell and Palmer would secede from the church, ridding it of “this monster of iniquity, which has for years and years stood in the very gateway of progress.” The 1861 Assembly would be “the very body and meets at a very good time and place, to pronounce authoritatively that we now as heretofore wash our hands of its guilt.”[69]

            In South Carolina, Thomas Smyth urged southerners to remain united with the northern Old School. So long as they could hold different political views, the church could remain one. Porter, the Southern Presbyterian’s editor, commented that many southern Presbyterians desired a “separate ecclesiastical organization,” simply due to the awkwardness of crossing national boundaries for church meetings. But acknowledging that northern sentiment would not likely accept the repeal of 1818, he argued that “Our Northern brethren owe it to us to be perfectly candid and explicit on this subject. Let them frankly say whether they regard that act as reversed or not, and whether it is now an exponent of their views.”[70]

            The Southern Presbyterian explained the refusal of the Charleston Presbytery to send commissioners to the General Assembly on the ground that “when the Assembly meets at Philadelphia, Northern legions will be mustering for the invasion of our homes, if not actually engaged in the horrid work of slaughtering our families and friends.” They could not sit in deliberations with men whose “mercenaries” were invading the south, when “for all they knew even then the mangled corpses of these loved ones were lying bleeding on the altars of liberty.” David McKinney of the Pittsburgh Presbyterian Banner remarked that “This is about as cool a thing as we have ever known men in an excited condition to perpetrate. The whole world knows this war was altogether brought about by the conduct of the Secession party, South Carolina taking the lead. . . . Well may they be in terror under apprehension of the visitation of God’s providence upon their crimes.”[71]

            While Monfort rejoiced that the Presbyterian and the New York Observer had sided with the Union, he complained that they still hoped for peace. Monfort preferred the New School American Presbyterian’s view that “there are times when humanity, Christianity, and the Gospel of Christ join to impel us to war.” But when the Presbyterian Herald commented that its exchanges breathed the spirit of devils on both sides of the borders, Monfort could only ask, “With the Presbyterian Banner, we wonder with what Northern papers the Herald ‘exchanges.’”[72]


5. The Spring Resolutions

            With comments like these in view, the General Assembly of 1861 becomes easier to understand. On Saturday, May 18, the third day of the Assembly, the Rev. Dr. Gardiner Spring “offered a resolution, that a Special Committee be appointed to inquire into the expediency of this Assembly making some expression of their devotion to the Union of these States, and their loyalty to the Government.” Before any significant debate occurred, the Rev. James W. Hoyte of Nashville, Tennessee, moved to lay the motion on the table. His motion passed 123-102.[73] A small majority of the Assembly wished to avoid such exciting topics.

            But immediately, ruling elder Hovey K. Clarke of Detroit moved to take the resolution up from the table, which produced a long debate, resulting in a determination to consider the matter later. The debate in earnest began on Friday, May 24, when Spring himself proposed a series of pro-Union resolutions, and took the whole of Saturday, and large parts of Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.[74] The entire debate took place in front of a large audience (overwhelmingly in favor of Dr. Spring’s resolutions), which had a significant effect on the debate.

The Spring Resolutions

Gratefully acknowledging the distinguished bounty and care of Almighty God towards this favoured land, and also recognizing our obligations to submit to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, this General Assembly adopt the following resolutions:

                Resolved, 1. That in view of the present agitated and unhappy condition of this country, the fourth day of July next be hereby set apart as a day of prayer throughout our bounds; and that on this day ministers and people are called on humbly to confess and bewail our national sins; to offer our thanks to the Father of light for his abundant and undeserved goodness towards us as a nation; to seek his guidance and blessing upon our rulers, and their counsels, as well as on the Congress of the United States about to assemble; and to implore him, in the name of Jesus Christ, the great High Priest of the Christian profession, to turn away his anger from us, and speedily restore to us the blessings of an honourable peace.

                Resolved, 2. That this General Assembly, in the spirit of that Christian patriotism which the Scriptures enjoin, and which has always characterized this Church, do hereby acknowledge and declare our obligations to promote and perpetuate, so far as in us lies, the integrity of these United States, and to strengthen, uphold, and encourage, the Federal Government in the exercise of all its functions under our noble Constitution: and to this Constitution in all its provisions, requirements, and principles, we profess our unabated loyalty.

                And to avoid all misconception, the Assembly declare that by the terms “Federal Government,” as here used, is not meant any particular administration, or the peculiar opinions of any particular party, but the central administration, which being at any time appointed and inaugurated according to the forms prescribed in the Constitution of the United States is the visible representative of our national existence.

Source: Minutes (1861) 329-330.


            The Rev. Dr. Thomas E. Thomas, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Dayton, Ohio, and formerly professor at New Albany Theological Seminary, opened the debate, arguing that Caesar deserved the church’s loyalty: “Is it not the duty of ministers and members of churches to promote the interest and integrity of these United States, by a faithful adherence to the laws of our country?” Since the government had protected the church, “now if our blood is demanded, the people of the Presbyterian Church of the United States, should freely pour it out for his support.” At this the gallery broke into loud applause–silenced by the moderator, John C. Backus of Baltimore. Mindful of the audience, Thomas continued, insisting that “public sentiment will condemn that General Assembly which will not sustain the Government.”[75]

            The southwest uniformly opposed the resolutions. Rev. James H. Gillespie of Denmark, Tennessee replied that he had come to Philadelphia to save the church. He feared that the North and the South did not understand each other. These resolutions were proof. They would divide the church. He pointed out that southern Presbyterians had been told that if they came to the General Assembly they would be hanged as traitors, and some had believed these lies. The Presbyterian church needed to maintain clear channels of communication.[76]

            The northwestern ministers divided. Kentucky-born Charles Lee, pastor in Scipio, Indiana, declared that the church must sustain the government and the army and therefore urged passage of the resolutions. But others, like the Rev. Dr. John G. Bergen, a retired minister in Springfield, Illinois, insisted that while he loved the Union, he would have to vote against the resolutions because they would divide the church.[77]

            At this point, the Rev. Dr. Charles Hodge, professor of theology at Princeton Theological Seminary, arose and presented a substitute for Spring’s resolutions. He admitted that he personally had no objections to Spring’s resolution. “It expresses the sentiments of the people of the North.” But, Hodge argued, loyalty to the government required something else: “A Member of the President’s Cabinet on being consulted on the subject, said, ‘the best thing you can do for the Union is to keep unbroken the unity of your Church.’” At this point, the Rev. Dr. J. T. Backus of the First Presbyterian Church of Schenectady, New York, said that he had a telegraph from this cabinet member to prove it, which caused quite a sensation amongst the gallery. Hodge continued that since the Old School was “the most conservative Church in the land,” their action could work to save the Union. By “pleading for the Church we are pleading for the Government, for the entire Church in this land, and for the entire world.”[78]

            The Rev. Dr. William C. Anderson, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of San Francisco (a colleague of Erasmus Darwin MacMaster at the failed Madison University in 1844, and MacMaster’s successor as president of Miami University in Ohio from 1849-1855), objected that “If we desert our national flag, the backbone of our Church, the Scotch Irish element, ‘the blues’ of the West and Northwest, will leave our Church in a body, and join the nineteen hundred ministers of the New School Church, together with the Associate Reformed Church.” Hodge’s resolution offers us “milk and water–mostly water. . . . Shall it be said that we are afraid of offending rebels in arms against us, for this is the whole reason why Dr. Hodge’s paper is offered.”[79] Scorning Philadelphia/Princeton conservatism as mere appeasement of southern interests, Anderson insisted that the church must support the government.

            Spring, genuinely taken aback at the opposition to his resolutions, claimed to “mourn over the South, for I have friends there.” But the duty of the hour required the church to “sympathize with the North, to sympathize with the right.” Judge Martin Ryerson of New Jersey agreed that “no such efforts as Dr. Hodge’s resolutions could save the Union against a conspiracy of thirty years’ standing.” The south would leave, regardless of what the Presbyterian church did. Therefore, he argued, the church must sustain the government. Likewise, the Rev. John M. Hastings, pastor at Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania, insisted that the southern church had already declared for the confederacy. “If so, will the General Assembly, the greater portion of it gathered here from the North, bow in submission to their conspiracy?” To which a loud voice declared, “No, sir.”[80]

            The Irish-born Rev. Robert Watts of Westminster Church in Philadelphia reminded the Assembly that they “were indirectly called upon by venerable men to divide the Church.” Watts was convinced that the church might yet succeed. “There had been nothing yet to prove that the Old School Presbyterian Church has not in her ranks a conservative power, which might blend together in one Union the entire States of this Confederacy.” Further, Watts argued that scripture called the church to honor the civil magistrate, but it never required the church to pass resolutions of support. It is interesting to note that the only person to question the constitutionality of the Spring resolutions was an Ulster Presbyterian (who would return to Northern Ireland to teach theology in the Assembly’s College in Belfast from 1866-1895).

            The Rev. Dr. George Washington Musgrave, secretary of the Board of Domestic Missions, insisted that this was not a mere sectional controversy. The United States was one nation. “If it be a moral duty to honor our rulers, to be loyal to the lawful Government, if it be a moral duty for us as citizens and as Christians to pray for our rulers, and to encourage and sustain them, my conscience will not allow me to refuse to say that this is right and obligatory.” Southerners had no different obligation. They were required to affirm their loyalty to the Federal Government. Therefore the Assembly should say so.[81]

            As the hour was late, the Assembly adjourned until the next morning. That morning (Saturday), the Rev. E. C. Wines, President of the City University of St. Louis, read a telegram from the Hon. Edward Bates, Lincoln’s attorney general, and an Old School Presbyterian ruling elder from Missouri, stating that in his opinion the Presbyterian Church should abstain from deliverances in order to maintain the unity of the church.[82] Wines then offered a substitute:

Whereas the General Assembly has come to believe that the National Administration itself is of the opinion that the silence of this body on the present fearful crisis in public affairs as tending to preserve the unity of the Presbyterian Church, would at the same time and for that reason be in the interest of peace and of National Union, and would strengthen the hands of the General Government;

            And whereas further, the minsters and elders present in this Assembly, true to their hereditary principles as Presbyterians, have already in their civil and social relations given the most decisive proof of their devotion to the constitution and the laws under which we live, and are ready at all suitable times and at whatever personal sacrifice to demonstrate their loyalty to the American Union; therefore,

            Resolved, That the General Assembly think it inexpedient at this time to give any formal expression of opinion touching the existing crisis, and that, consequently, the whole subject be indefinitely postponed.[83]


            The Rev. Dr. William C. Matthews, pastor at Shelbyville, Kentucky, objected that the entire discussion had become too political. The church needed some pastoral concern for the flock in the border states. “Do not oppress us! Do not crush us with this burden! (The speaker was here almost in tears.) We feel here too much political spirit; our debate

here is not spiritual enough. Remember the handle our California brother [Anderson] made of Dr. Hodge’s resolutions, to ridicule our Philadelphia brethren and to ridicule Princeton.” Matthews believed that there was too much “passion kindled in the Assembly by the outside pressure, such as crowds, telegraphic dispatches and letters. Why, sir, it is just so at the South.” If only the two sides could calm down long enough to realize their folly: “Oh! If this Church is to be severed in twain I feel like throwing my arms about both divisions and crying, ‘Oh! My mother! Oh! My mother!’” His plea for the Union and the Church was a powerful speech that apparently moved many to tears.[84]

            As the debate continued, it became clear that Hodge’s resolution had no real chance. Therefore Hodge withdrew his resolutions and threw his support to Wines. One Ohio minister declared that as an “Old Line Whig” who had voted for Abraham Lincoln, he still could not divide the church. A Wisconsin minister agreed that Wines was the best alternative, but if that failed, he said that he would have to vote for Spring’s resolutions rather than say nothing. The Rev. Henry M. Robertson, pastor at Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, argued that without a declaration of loyalty, the Northwest would not listen to the Presbyterian Church. “It had been asked who doubted the loyalty of the Old School Church? The speaker said that he, for one, doubted its loyalty.” Anything short of Spring’s resolutions would cripple the Presbyterian Church in the Northwest.[85]

            On Monday morning, May 29, at least twelve substitutes were proposed, from the Rev. Joseph Glass Monfort’s (editor of the Presbyter, in Cincinnati, Ohio) detailed patriotic declaration of loyalty to the Rev. William M. Stryker’s (pastor at Clarinda, Iowa) acknowledgment of impotence: “that as this Assembly can do nothing, it sit still and see the salvation of God.” As the debate continued to go in circles, the Rev. Dr. John W. Yeomans objected to the development of a “Northwestern sentiment. . . he would have but one sentiment pervading all. And when he saw this North-western sentiment leaping up into the saddle behind Dr. Spring, the connexion with the great question now agitating the civilized world was apparent. Our conservative position must be sustained.”[86]

            The Rev. Dr. Willis Lord, who had been associated with Nathan Rice, both at the Cincinnati Theological Seminary, and at the Northwestern Theological Seminary, demonstrated his independence from Rice, by arguing for the Spring resolutions. He rejected Watts’ contention that they were unconstitutional, insisting that this was a “a new doctrine introduced from the region of State rights,” which, he pointed out, even the Synod of South Carolina could not live with–since they had passed resolutions endorsing the formation of the Confederacy.[87]

            In the final speech of the night, the Rev. William Baker, pastor at Austin, Texas, revealed that he had spoken and voted against the secession of Texas–“and in my soul I hate secession. Now, if slain, I am likely to have a monument erected neither in the North or the South (Laughter).” But he was beginning to see that division was inevitable. If the Presbyterian Church passed these resolutions they would force southern Presbyterians to identify solely with the Confederacy, “and henceforth her destiny will be our destiny.” After this speech, Charles Hodge thought that the momentum had turned. He moved to postpone the whole subject indefinitely. But he had judged incorrectly, and his motion failed 87-153.[88] While many men had hoped to avoid the subject altogether, now that the debate had progressed this far, they felt that the church must speak.

            At this juncture, David McKinney, editor of the Presbyterian Banner, had to send an incomplete record of the debate to his western Pennsylvania audience. He added a comment that the departure of the south would be a comparatively small evil to the departure of the northwest. Therefore, if for no other reason than to keep the northwest, the church must speak.[89]

            Tuesday morning, the matter was referred to a committee of ministers George Musgrave of Philadelphia, Charles Hodge of New Jersey, William Anderson of San Francisco, John Yeomans of Pennsylvania, and E. C. Wines of St. Louis, together with ruling elders M. Ryerson of New Jersey, Jackson B. White of Nashville, William Semple of Ohio, and Hovey K. Clarke of Detroit (all judges). While Musgrave, Ryerson, and Clark had all spoken for Spring’s resolutions, they were willing to seek common ground with Hodge, Yeomans and Wines. They reported a compromise document that afternoon that simply softened Spring’s resolutions to avoid the danger of division. They simply altered the words, “this General Assembly,” to “the members of this General Assembly,” which had the effect of making the resolution a mere expression of the opinions of those who happened to be at the Assembly, rather than a statement of the whole church.[90]

            But Anderson could not agree with this, and reported as a minority of one, giving Spring’s resolutions in full (except changing the day of prayer from July 4 to July 1). The majority had divested the resolution of all binding authority, rendering it ambiguous–which in Anderson’s view, did not meet the crisis.[91]

            The debate resumed in earnest on Wednesday morning. Finally, after three days of debate, the southerners gained the floor. The Rev. Richmond McInnis, editor of the True Witness of New Orleans, realized that the church had already made up its mind, but he wished to remind his brethren that “the Southern churches are. . . perfectly loyal to the Presbyterian Church, and they are loyal to Government. They have in the South a Government which they are as much bound to obey as you in the North are bound to obey your Government. If Dr. Spring’s resolutions are passed, they place us in rebellion to the Government de facto at home.” He argued that the resolutions were unconstitutional because they decided a political question. He could vote for neither set of resolutions.[92]

            The Rev. Thomas A. Ogden of Natchez, Mississippi, identified himself as a native of New Jersey and a graduate of Princeton Seminary, who had devoted 34 years to the religious education of slaves. He opposed the constitutional views of the previous speaker (McInnis). He did not object to the church speaking on the subject, but he could not vote for Spring’s resolutions, because it pledged the church to the Administration–a political party pledge. Nonetheless, he would vote for the majority report.[93]

            Encouraged to speak for the south, a couple of younger ministers weighed in from the border states. The Rev. George Frazier of Newstead, Kentucky, insisted that the Assembly had no right to fix and pronounce upon any man’s political allegiance.” He was opposed to secession, but he feared that the Assembly was not considering the effect of their actions on the border states.[94] Likewise, the Rev. S. A. Mutchmore of Fulton, Missouri, said that the suspicion in his region was terrible. “King Jesus was the only King they would acknowledge in the Church; nor could the Church say there was not such a thing as the right of revolution.”[95] At this, the Rev. John Crozier of Olney, Illinois, called the speaker to order, insisting that he should avoid “exciting topics.” Mr. Mutchmore replied that “if his remarks excited the gentleman, he begged pardon. Mr. Crozier said he was not excited, but could not bear to listen to treason.” To this Mutchmore replied that abolitionism and secessionism were “alike of the devil.” But he feared that this resolution would create a new term of communion. Sessions would debar a man if he were not as loyal as they wished.[96]

            After other speakers had insisted that there was nothing objectionable in Spring’s resolutions, Hodge arose to admit that if Spring’s paper were presented in the Synod of NJ, he would vote for it, but here allegiances were unclear, and the Assembly was called on to decide a political question. Therefore he could not vote for it.[97]

            The Rev. Dr. Jonathan Edwards then presented a telegram from Salmon P. Chase (secretary of the treasury), in which Chase declared that he could think of “no valid objection to unequivocal expressions in favor of the Constitution and Freedom.” The reporter commented that “the reading of the latter paper elicited a perfect furor of applause. A number of hisses followed, and it was with considerable difficulty that order was again restored.”[98] But if there was any doubt before the telegram was read as to the direction of the Assembly, afterwards there was none. The majority report, softening the Spring resolutions, was voted down 84-128 and the Assembly adopted the minority report of Anderson/Spring 154-66.[99]

Regional Votes on the Spring Resolutions, 1861

                                To Table                For Compromise   Final Vote

Northeast              38-50                       48-31                       56-27

Northwest             17-102                     23-97                       97-11

South                     32-1                         13-0                         3-28

                                87-153                     84-128                     156-66


            The northwest was set on Spring’s resolution by a 5-1 majority. The northeast, as usual, was ready to find a compromise to preserve the unity of the church. Had the entire south been present, they would have had the extra fifty votes necessary to pass the compromise report. But the absence of the south guaranteed that the northwest could control the Assembly. And the northwest was finished with compromise. The lower northwest led the way. Of the twelve northwestern presbyteries that bordered the Ohio River, only three (Washington, St. Clairsville, and Vincennes) supported the compromise report crafted largely by easterners.[100]

            The geographical division of the speakers reveals the same distribution. Of the twelve ministers who spoke in favor of Spring’s resolutions, eight were northwesterners. Of the twelve ministers who spoke against the resolutions, five were southwesterners, and another four were from the northeast. But otherwise, the backgrounds of the speakers were nearly identical. Half of each cohort were Princeton Seminary graduates (though each side was supported by one Andover graduate and one New Albany graduate, along with a handful who had been privately trained). The only significant difference was that two of those speaking against the Spring resolutions were born in the south.

Speakers on the Spring Resolutions

For:                                                         Born       Seminary                Pastorate or other position

Gardiner Spring (1785-1873)               CT           AndTS 1810          Brick Church, New York City, NY

Thomas E. Thomas (1812-1875)         England Private 1836           1st Church, Dayton, OH (Former NATS prof)

Thomas M. Hopkins (1827-1901)       OH          PTS 1855                Bloomington, IN

Charles Lee (1817-1863)                      KY          NATS 1855            Scipio, IN

William C. Anderson (????-1871)      ??            Private 1820s         1st Church, San Francisco, CA

John M. Hastings (????-????)           ??            ??                            Wilkinsburg, PA

George W. Musgrave (1804-1882)     PA          PTS 1828                Secretary, Bd of Domestic Miss, Phila.

L. H. Long (????-????)                        ??            ??                            Urbana, OH

Henry M. Robertson (1822-1899)      NY          PTS 1848                Fond du Lac, WI

David J. Waller (1815-1893)                PA          PTS 1837                Bloomsburg, PA

George C. Heckman (1825-1902)        PA          PTS 1848                Janesville, WI

Willis Lord (1809-1888)                       CT           PTS 1833                professor, NWTS, Chicago, IL

Martin Ryerson                                                                                    Judge in New Jersey

William F. Allen                                                                    Judge in Western New York



James H. Gillespie (1804-1888)           TN          PTS 1830                Denmark, TN

John G. Bergen (1790-1872)                NJ           Private 1812           retired, Springfield, IL

Charles Hodge (1797-1878) PA          PTS 1819                professor, PTS

Jonathan T. Backus (1809-1892)        NY          PTS 1830                1st Church, Schenectady, NY

Robert Watts (1820-1895)   Ireland    PTS 1852                Westminster Church, Philadelphia, PA

James W. Hoyte (????-1886)              ??            NATS 1852            Smyrna, TN

E. C. Wines (????-????)                      ??            ??                            President, City Univ., St. Louis, MO

William C. Matthews (1805-1880)      NC          PTS 1830                Shelbyville, KY

J. P. Lloyd (????-????)                         ??            ??                            Crestline, OH

Samuel Mehaffey (1816-1887)            PA          PTS 1844                Concord, OH

John W. Yeomans (1800-1863)           MA         AndTS 1826          Mahoning Church, Danville, PA

William M. Baker (1825-1883)             DC          PTS 1848                Austin, TX

T. Charlton Henry                                                                                Ruling elder, Philadelphia

            Six protests were filed against the Assembly’s action, signed by sixty-two commissioners, fifty-eight of whom signed the protest authored by Charles Hodge. Hodge’s protest denied “the right of the General Assembly to decide the political question, to what government the allegiance of Presbyterians as citizens is due.”[101] Presbyterians disagreed among themselves as to whether allegiance to the state or federal government was paramount, but the Assembly had required all Presbyterians to declare allegiance to the federal government, “making that decision practically a condition of membership.”[102] Hodge claimed that the action was unnecessary, because Old School Presbyterians throughout the north had demonstrated their loyalty, and stated his fear that such an act would weaken the church “and expose it to the danger of being carried away more and more from its true principles by a worldly or fanatical spirit.”[103]

            Dr. Thomas E. Thomas, finally in the majority at the Assembly, was appointed chairman of the committee to respond to the protests.[104] Turning Hodge’s “State of the Country” address against him, Thomas admitted that the Spring Resolutions were political, but affirmed that “There are occasions when political questions rise into the sphere of morals and religion.”[105] There was only one supreme government in the country, and that was the federal government of the United States. The General Assembly could not acknowledge traitors as a legitimate government. The church was called “to warn men against prevailing sins,” and since the most prevalent sin in the southern part of the church was treason against the government, the church needed to warn them.[106]

            The responses were predictable. The northwestern papers were delighted. J. G. Monfort rejoiced that “The day is past when this section can be ignored and vetoed, as it has been for several years, by the help of the East and South. The Northwest is true to the doctrines, policy and deliverances of the Presbyterian Church, and hereafter her parity will not be called in question.”[107] But both he and David McKinney of the Presbyterian Banner were upset with Hodge’s protest. McKinney insisted that Hodge “misrepresents the position of the majority to a great degree, and does more to mislead and inflame the Southern section of our Church than any thing that occurred during the entire discussion.”[108]

            From the south, “A Sexagenarian Elder” (probably Judge E. A. Nisbet, since the editor commented that he was a “high-standing” elder from Georgia) wrote an open letter to Gardiner Spring, chiding him as one who should have known better. The south had counted him as one of its best friends in the north. Convinced that the north was set on a “crusade against the South” with the object of “the emancipation of our slaves, an end which every rational man is fully convinced will result in their ultimate ruin.” He argued that the Africans had progressed further towards Christianity and civilization under slavery in the south than they had with freedom in the north. Now Spring had turned his back on the south and his “own principles, the cause of truth, of right and of justice,” all for the praise of the crowds. Indeed, Spring’s success at the Assembly had resulted in the division of the church. “With ruthless hand, you seized the pillars that sustained it, and its mouldering ruins now lie prostrate before you. By your resolution, antagonistic to every principle of Presbyterianism, of civil and religious liberty and Christian charity, you formed a Procrustes bed, and reared a guillotine, to adapt to it the dimensions of every member of the Church. Your object was on a purely political question, that all should stand on your platform, or be ejected from the Church.”[109] From the perspective of this Georgian ruling elder, Gardiner Spring had betrayed the church for the sake of the state.

            Charles Hodge mourned the division of the church. “It was the case of a mother who was called upon to take part for one child against another. It was in vain she urged that both were her children; that it was not her province to decide the point in dispute between them.”[110] He blamed the pressure of public opinion for the church’s failure of nerve: “The scourge of public indignation was lifted over their heads. It was threatened that the people would desert a church by thousands which hesitated to speak out in such a time as this.”[111] But Hodge himself felt the weight of that “scourge” and felt compelled to explain how loyal men could vote against the Spring Resolutions. He said that it was “For the same reason that they would refuse, at the command of an excited multitude, to sing the "Star Spangled Banner" at the Lord's table. They refused because in their judgment it was wrong and out of place.”[112] The church did not have the authority to determine which view of the constitution was correct. Hodge was convinced personally that the establishment of the Confederate government was an act of treason, but he could not find authority in the word of God to enforce his views in the church courts. He warned northern Presbyterians not to allow political matters to dominate the church.[113]

            But southerners viewed Hodge’s efforts on their behalf as halfhearted at best. After perusing his annual review of the General Assembly, the Rev. A. A. Porter, editor of the Southern Presbyterian wondered why Hodge would want “us in the Church when he thinks that our right place is the gibbet?”[114] Analyzing three fast day sermons by James Henley Thornwell, Benjamin Morgan Palmer, and Thomas Smyth, Edward Crowther underlines the deep conviction which these ministers shared with many southerners that the north had substituted majority rule, both in political and religious life, for the orderly and beneficent dictates of scripture.[115] The “inability” of their old friend and mentor, Charles Hodge, to perceive what they viewed as a creeping liberalism, as Eugene Genovese puts it, “exposed a widening and unbridgeable chasm in theology, worldview, and ultimately in sectional politics.”[116] While these southern ministers championed the concept of the spirituality of the church, they still maintained the traditional Presbyterian attitude of engagement with the political world as individual citizens. They sought to bring the theological resources of the Reformed tradition to bear on the antebellum political world, but that political world also shaped the way that they interpreted their own tradition.

            The border states were the most hotly contested. E. E. reviewed the 1861 General Assembly for Kentucky’s Danville Quarterly Review.[117] He suggested that if a member from South Carolina had asked the Assembly to give spiritual counsel to help him determine which government rightly required his submission, the Assembly could have answered (though he thought that it still might be prudent to avoid the question–like the Presbyterian Synod during the Revolutionary war).[118] In this case there was “no judicial case before the Assembly involving the question of allegiance, nor a formal appeal from any party for the solution of a case of conscience.” The Assembly had the right to speak, but it spoke unwisely. There was a question as to which government demanded the allegiance of the southern members.

It did not make a whit’s difference whether secession under the Constitution be a just or an unjust claim, a right or an impudent lie–the very meanest lie, if you please, whereby the devil has ever attempted to beguile men into a revolt–still the manifest fact was, a government over ten States, claiming to be independent of that at Washington, did actually exist. It may have been set up without sufficient cause; it may have been as bad as Nero’s; it might prove permanent or not; no matter: it was a government.[119]


The proper manner of handling the situation was to deal judicially with those synods who had “encouraged rebellion against the powers that be. . . and if the case can be reached in no other way, exscind it, according to the precedent of 1837.”[120]

            E. E. was troubled by the “young giant” of the northwest, and especially J. G. Monfort’s intimations that reunion with the New School was a centerpiece of their agenda. Having driven the “domineering slave power, as they call it, out of the Church. . . . [t]he way would then be open to strike for a new combination at the North.”[121]

            Further, E. E. claimed that the Assembly of 1861 was “not a free Assembly,” because the building “was crowded with ministers and members of other denominations as well as our own. . . urging the adoption of the obnoxious resolution; the populace demanded it with loud cries and threatening demonstrations of fearful import; the streets of Philadelphia were thronged with thousands of troops and vast trains of baggage and munitions of war, intensifying to the highest pitch the popular enthusiasm in behalf of the government.”[122]

            The south was no better. He reminded his readers of what James Henley Thornwell had said on the floor of the 1859 Assembly: “Sir, the salt that is to save this country is the Church of Christ–a Church that does not mix up with any political party, or any issues aside from her direct mission.”[123] Yet now Thornwell’s own Synod of South Carolina “of which he is the animating spirit,” had “plunged headlong into the political whirlpool. They manifested an eager haste to soil the fair garments of the Church with the filth of the world. When the time came to test their allegiance to the principle that was to save the Church and the country, they were found wanting.”[124] The frenzy of the hour had “muddled [the] brain” of both northern and southern churchmen. In time both would return to their senses. But E. E. reassured his readers that the Spring Resolutions did not bind the church. General Assembly declarations, if not in accord with the Word of God, had no force. It was only if the Assembly ruled judicially as the Supreme Court of the Church, that the minority must “submit, or else renounce her communion or be put out of it.”[125] Gardiner Spring’s resolution “is just as incapable of doing harm to any man’s rights, civil or religious, as was Mr. Lincoln with the South in the Union.”[126]

            E. E. disagreed with Breckinridge, though, regarding the situation at the south. He rejected the claim that there was a reign of terror at the south. But he further rejected the southern claim that the Spring Resolutions caused the secession of the southern church. “It is but a pretext to cover up a purpose formed and settled before that Assembly met. . . . The division of the Church was a foregone conclusion,” and just as the division of the nation awaited a pretext–so also the church.[127]


6. The Southern General Assembly of 1861

            With the division of the nation, however, the southern Presbyterian church had no intention of ever meeting with the northern Old School again. Many southerners thanked the Spring Resolutions for making their job easier, but a southern General Assembly was inevitable. J. G. Shepperson insisted that southerners should act as though the northern church had seceded–which he claimed it virtually had by its unconstitutional action.[128]

            After some debate as to the best manner in which to proceed, the first southern General Assembly gathered on December 4, 1861. The Central Presbyterian gushed over the magnificent gathering of ecclesiastical statesmen. Among the thirty-eight ruling elders were twelve lawyers (including two states’ chief justices)[129] and of the 93 members, 48 were Scots-Irish, 11 Scottish and 27 English (including nine of Puritan ancestry). The moderator, Benjamin Morgan Palmer, the editor pointed out with pride, was a lineal descendent of Herbert Palmer, one of the Westminster Divines.[130]

            While James Henley Thornwell was one of the most influential members of the first southern General Assembly, his distinctive views still met fierce opposition in the south. The southern Assembly established “committees” instead of “boards,” but over Thornwell’s objections they required all presbyteries to take up collections for the denominational work of domestic missions, in addition to any collections designated for presbyterial missions.[131] Jack Maddex has pointed out that the Southern Presbyterian church order was not decentralized. While Thornwell had opposed the boards, he did not oppose centralized power in the General Assembly.[132]

            But the highlight of the 1861 southern General Assembly was the adoption of Thornwell’s “An Address to All the Churches of Jesus Christ Throughout the Earth,” which opened by setting forth the southern church’s justification for its action in forming a separate Assembly. Denouncing the Spring Resolutions as yielding to “the mandates of Northern phrenzy,” and insisting on the propriety of following national lines in organizing the church, Thornwell declared that the catholicity of the church remained intact through this proper “division of labor.”[133] Erskine Clarke rightly points out that this document articulates a southern nationalism, as Thornwell declared that the United States and the Confederate States differed in “manners, habits, customs and ways of thinking, the social, civil and political institutions of the people,” just as much as the United States differed from Scotland. But what were these differences? Thornwell states it plainly: “the antagonism of Northern and Southern sentiment on the subject of Slavery lies at the root of all the difficulties which have resulted in the dismemberment of the Federal Union, and involved us in the horrors of an unnatural war.”[134]



            The “bond of union” was no more. Or rather, there were now two bonds of union (two General Assemblies) for two separate republics. Perhaps Old School Presbyterians should have known better than to think that a church could hold together a nation, but their historic understanding of the catholicity of the church had convinced them that they held the moral fabric of the nation.

            They reckoned not with the power of the conscience. With northerners convinced that slavery must not expand into the territories, and southerners convinced that the north was intent on ending their peculiar institution, neither side could trust the other. And this was partly due to the fact that northerners and southerners spent so little time interacting with each other. The Methodists and Baptists had divided, and no longer met together. The Old School General Assembly had few counterparts to its harmonious annual sessions of northerners and southerners between 1846-1860.

            One fruit of this long union was the prominence of Old School Presbyterians among dissenters during the war–both north and south. Clement L. Vallandigham, an Old School Presbyterian from Dayton, Ohio, and a Democratic congressman, was one of Lincoln’s most vocal critics during the early months of the war. Arrested for his “implied treason,” he was banished to the Confederate States in 1863. Vallandigham requested a writ of habeas corpus before Humphrey H. Leavitt of the United States District Court for Southern Ohio.[135] Leavitt, an Old School ruling elder, denied the request on the ground that there was a “type of treason. . . that was not covered by the U. S. Constitution and the laws of the land.”[136]

            In the border states, Stuart Robinson, the editor of the True Presbyterian, clashed with R. J. Breckinridge over the best policy for Kentucky. Robinson had avoided any public advocacy of secession, but he had made the mistake of writing to Breckinridge in January of 1861 that if the Crittenden Compromise failed, Kentucky, “as the least of evils, should go to a Southern Confederacy,” rather than be left in “a confederacy with Ohio.” Naturally, when Breckinridge wished to demonstrate Robinson’s “true” political loyalties, he published the letter.[137] Robinson’s tendency to sarcasm and ridicule did not help him during the war years, and in the summer of 1862, he fled to Canada to avoid prosecution.[138] Others, like Samuel B. McPheeters of St. Louis attempted to stay out of politics entirely, only to find themselves driven from their pulpits by military order.[139]

            The south sounded like a reverse echo of the north. The violence against northern sympathizers in the south included several who were driven from their pulpits for their failture to pray for Jefferson Davis and the success of the southern armies.[140]Sinclair served as a colonel in the Confederate Army, and was excommunicated by Fayetteville Presbytery in 1866 for treason. The North Carolina Presbyterian declared as early as November of 1859 that those who preached against slavery were no better than “cut-throats and assassins, and the sword of the civil magistrate is the instrument which God had appointed for their punishment.” (Quoted in Chesebrough, 39).  When John H. Aughey called his central Mississippi church to submit to the authority of the federal government on the ground that the election of Lincoln had been constitutionally held, he was tried by a vigilance committee, including one of his own ruling elders. When he tried to escape to the north, he was captured, charged with sedition and was sentenced to death, but finally escaped.[141] On the other hand some Unionists, like James Lyon, who had established himself in Columbus, Mississippi since 1841, avoided major problems by remaining submissive to the de facto government in their region. David Chesebrough is probably correct when he suggests that the reason why southern Presbyterians included a significantly higher number of northern sympathizers was that the other southern denominations had long since divided from their northern brethren, while southern Presbyterians had cherished cordial relations across the Mason-Dixon line until the outbreak of the war.[142]

            A second parallel between the two sections was their perception of the moral deviance of their erstwhile colleagues. David McKinney attempted to understand how someone like Dr. Thomas V. Moore of Richmond who was born and reared in western Pennsylvania could have so rapidly turned to treason and perjury:

What has caused the moral defection in Dr Moore? (a dear friend whom we do not wish to harm). . . . We would reach and expose the monstrous destroyer of truth, honor and virtue. What then is the fatal cause of the evil which we mourn? It is THE SYSTEM OF OPPRESSION which prevails in Mr Moore's new surroundings.


McKinney suggested that the corrupting influence of the slave system “was never adequately known until the breaking out of the present rebellion.” But he admitted that he should have seen it coming. After all, “what may we not expect from those who will enslave, in indefinite perpetuity, a whole race of their fellow-men; depriving them of the first rights of manhood, in man's state of innocence, and of manhood, under a dispensation of grace?”[143]

            Likewise, the Southern Presbyterian attributed the division of the nation to a problem of a misinformed conscience in the north. Operating on the assumption that if the intelligence misinformed the conscience, the conscience would pronounce a false judgment, editor A. A. Porter suggested that “for the last twenty years the conscience of the North has been wilfully and fearfully perverted by gross misrepresentations. The idea of slavery is associated in the Northern mind with every species of cruelty and barbarism.” The result was that the north had become “so unrelenting just because it does everything in the name of law and conscience.” And once it was elevated to a matter of conscience, there was no hope for any compromise to adjudicate the differences.[144]

            But the most radical statement of northern declension came in 1863 from Richard S. Gladney, who penned a forthright rejection of the Declaration of Independence, which he saw as tending towards the leveling of the abolitionist movement. He declared that such principles as:

that all men are created, or born, free and equal; that they are endowed with certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; and the dogma that men can only be rightfully governed by his own consent, as received and understood by the great mass of the people, are subversive of every precept in the decalogue. Infidel in their origin, they are practically atheistic. . . . They assert a freedom in opposition to that state of subjection to law in which every man is born.[145]


Gladney saw a “connection between the political and theological heresies of the present century.” Just as the Revolution had protested against taxation without representation, so now nineteenth century theology was denying the imputation of Adam's sin because it eliminated personal choice. The results of the Declaration of Independence were the heresies of Albert Barnes and Harriet Beecher Stowe, along with the “demand for an anti-slavery Bible and an anti-slavery God,” together with Atheism, Communism, Woman's Rightsism, Free-Loveism, Mormonism, and Agrarianism.[146] While few writers in the Southern Presbyterian Review spoke as radically as Gladney, many articulated more subdued criticisms of northern ideology and called for a society founded upon “biblical,” rather than “rationalistic” principles.[147]

            Presbyterian ecclesiology functioned as a strong force in maintaining the bonds of union throughout the 1850s. But Presbyterian ecclesiology itself was being remade into the image of American political culture. While the transformation of attitudes in the newspapers appears stark and sudden–from calm statements of mutual confidence to strident cries of fratricidal hatred–the transformation in institutional location and ideological vision took place more gradually. While Old School convictions regarding the catholicity of the visible church had helped keep the church together, Old School convictions regarding the relationship between church and state helped drive the church apart.

[1]Don E. Fehrenbacher, Sectional Crisis and Southern Constitutionalism (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1995) 48. For the emergence of the Republican Party, see William E. Gienapp, The Origins of the Republican Party, 1852-1856 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987); Eric Foner, Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men: The Ideology of the Republican Party before the Civil War (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995/1970). Gienapp points out that the Republicans did not simply draw former Whigs. They dominated formerly Democratic states such as Maine and New Hampshire, and drew former Democrats from Illinois and the northwest. (10) Foner points out that the radical abolitionists chastised Republicans for failing to oppose slavery where it existed–in the south–but he goes on to suggest that the Republicans recognized that they needed to form a coalition which would include moderates and conservatives in order to gain power. (303-306). Victor B. Howard argues that free soil also included free religion and free schools in his Conscience and Slavery: The Evangelistic Calvinist Domestic Mission, 1837-1861 (Kent, OH: The Kent State University Press, 1990) xiv.

[2]See the arguments of Hodge and Breckinridge below, both of whom voted Republican. Also see Peter B. Knupfer, The Union As It Is: Constitutional Unionism and Sectional Compromise, 1787-1861 (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1991) chapter 6. For the political history of the 1850s leading up to disunion see David M. Potter, The Impending Crisis, 1848-1861 (New York: Harper & Row, 1976). Not surprisingly, the leaders of the Constitutional Union party were in their sixties and seventies–an older generation that still believed in the merits of compromise (Potter, 417).

[3]Quoted in “Prophesying Again” Presbyterian Herald (June 21, 1860).

[4]Editorial, “John Brown” Presbyter 19.12 (December 8, 1859).

[5]“Dr. Breckinridge on Disunion,” Presbyter 19.19 (January 26, 1860).

[6]“Dr. Breckinridge on Disunion,” Presbyter 19.19 (January 26, 1860). William E. Gienapp, in his The Origins of the Republican Party, 1852-1856 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), has attempted to identify the denominational voting trends in various states. For 1856 he estimates that 91% of Pennsylvania Presbyterians voted Republican along with 76% in Ohio, but only 22% in Indiana and 47% in Illinois. (He suggests 44% of Indiana Presbyterians voted for Buchanan, while Illinois Presbyterians were split between the Democrats and the Know-Nothings). (541-542) Unfortunately he does not give the numbers for 1860, but the Republican numbers definitely went up.

[7]“Dr. B and the South,” Presbyter 19.21 (February 9, 1860) 82. They argued that the constitutional powers given to the Supreme Court meant that the Dred Scott decision should be considered final and binding.

[8]Quoted in Presbyter 19.23 (February 23, 1860) 90. Breckinridge’s “record” on emancipation was the ground for their complaint.

[9]O. S. P, Presbyter 19.47 (August 9, 1860).

[10]Another Subscriber to the Expositor, “The Expositor's Politics,” Presbyter 20.2 (September 27, 1860).

[11]Editorial, “The Heated Season,” Presbyterian 30.29 (July 21, 1860) 114. Cf., Editorial, “God Reigns,” Presbyterian 30.36 (September 8, 1860) 146.

[12]“Disunion,” Presbyter 20.13 (December 20, 1860).

[13]Samuel R. Wilson, The Causes and Remedies of Impending National Calamities (Cincinnati: J. B. Elliott, 1860) 2.

[14]Ibid., 9.

[15]Samuel R. Wilson, The Causes and Remedies of Impending National Calamities (Cincinnati: J. B. Elliott, 1860) 10.

[16]Editorial, “Dr Wilson's Sermon,” Presbyter 20.15 (January 3, 1861) 58.

[17]Editorial, “State of the Country,” Presbyterian 30.46 (November 17, 1860) 186.

[18]Editorial, “Position of the Presbyterian Church,” Presbyterian 30.50 (December 15, 1860) 198.

[19]Editorial, “Threatening Clouds,” Presbyterian 30.50 (December 15, 1860) 198.

[20]Border South, “Position of the Church,” Presbyterian 30.52 (December 29, 1860) 205.

[21]Consistency, “Does Dr. Thornwell Pray for the Success of Treason?” Presbyterian Banner 9.10 (November 24, 1860).

[22]Editorial, “Submission to the Majority,” Presbyterian Banner 9.12 (December 8, 1860).

[23]Editorial, “The Christian and the Crisis,” Presbyterian Banner 9.16 (January 5, 1861). See also the editorial of March 16.

[24]“Discourse of R. J. Breckinridge, delivered at the Day of National Humiliation, January 4, 1861, at Lexington, Ky,” Danville Quarterly Review 1.2 (June, 1861) 320.

[25]“Discourse of R. J. Breckinridge, delivered at the Day of National Humiliation, January 4, 1861, at Lexington, Ky,” Danville Quarterly Review 1.2 (June, 1861) 319-341.

[26]This sermon was published in several southern newspapers, and was also included in a collection entitled, Fast Day Sermons: or The Pulpit on the State of the Country (New York: Rudd & Carleton, 1861) 81-97. Five of the eleven sermons in the book were by Old School Presbyterians. The other four were: Thornwell’s “Our National Sins,” Palmer’s “Slavery a Divine Trust,” and Henry J. Van Dyke’s “The Character and Influence of Abolitionism.”

[27]Presbyterian 30.51 (December 22, 1860) 202. David McKinney also praised this sermon. Presbyterian Banner 9.15 (December 29, 1860). McKinney also noted the pro-Union sermon of Dr. Watson of Natchez, Mississippi in February of 1861.

[28]Editorial, “The Election,” Southern Presbyterian 1.2 (November 9, 1860).

[29]Editorial, “Politics,” Southern Presbyterian 1.5 (December 1, 1860).

[30]“Synod of South Carolina,” Presbyterian Banner 9.13 (December 15, 1860).

[31]Benjamin Morgan Palmer, “Slavery a Divine Trust. Duty of the South to Preserve and Perpetuate It,” Fast Day Sermons: or The Pulpit on the State of the Country (New York: Rudd & Carleton, 1861) 57-80.

[32]Palmer, “Slavery a Divine Trust,” 61.

[33]Palmer, “Slavery a Divine Trust,” 62.

[34]Palmer, “Slavery a Divine Trust,” 72.

[35]J. R. W. (Augusta, GA), “Southern Feeling,” Presbyterian Banner 9.13 (December 15, 1860).

[36]Editorial “A Word to Our Southern Brethren,” Presbyterian Banner 9.15 (December 29, 1860). Eric Foner points out that the Republican Party had a significant conservative element, and that the radicals were generally focused in “rural and small town New England, and in the areas of rural New York, Pennsylvania, and the West settled by New England migrants.” Foner, Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men, 106. Given that the conservative Whigs generally sided with the Republicans, this is not surprising.

[37]“The State of the Country,” BRPR 33.1 (January 1861) 1.

[38]“The State of the Country,” BRPR 33.1 (January 1861) 2.

[39]“The State of the Country,” BRPR 33.1 (January 1861) 4.

[40]“The State of the Country,” BRPR 33.1 (January 1861) 9.

[41]“The State of the Country,” BRPR 33.1 (January 1861) 12.

[42]“The State of the Country,” BRPR 33.1 (January 1861) 14.

[43]“The State of the Country,” BRPR 33.1 (January 1861) 16-18.

[44]“The State of the Country,” BRPR 33.1 (January 1861) 21.

[45]“The State of the Country,” BRPR 33.1 (January 1861) 22-26.

[46]“The State of the Country,” BRPR 33.1 (January 1861) 28.

[47]“The State of the Country,” BRPR 33.1 (January 1861) 36.

[48]E. D. MacMaster, “The Princeton Review on the State of the Country,” Presbyter 20.21 (February 14, 1861) 81.

[49]MacMaster, “The Princeton Review on the State of the Country,” 81.

[50]MacMaster, “The Princeton Review on the State of the Country,” 81.

[51]MacMaster, “The Princeton Review on the State of the Country,” 81.

[52]Charles Colcock Jones, “The Princeton Review on ‘The State of the Country,’” Southern Presbyterian 1.16 (February 16, 1861).

[53]Editor of the Princeton Review [Charles Hodge], “A Response from Princeton,” Southern Presbyterian 1.12 (January 19, 1861). The same day Hodge’s communication was printed in the Central Presbyterian as well. “A Communication from Rev. Charles Hodge DD,” CP 6.3 (Jan 19, 1861) 10.

[54]Editor of the Princeton Review [Charles Hodge], “A Response from Princeton,” Southern Presbyterian 1.12 (January 19, 1861).

[55]Presbyterian Banner 9.17 (January 12, 1861).

[56]“Dr Hodge and the South,” Presbyterian Banner (February 9, 1861).

[57]“Circular Letter to the Clergy and Laity in the Southern States of the Union,” CP 6.4 (Jan 26, 1861) 13. Seventeen of the thirty-three signatories were Old School: Gardiner Spring, William W. Phillips, George Potts, John McElroy, John M. Krebs, Nicholas Murray, David Magie, Charles Hodge, Alexander T. McGill, John McLean, Henry A. Boardman, Charles Wadsworth, Charles W. Shields, William P. Breed, Robert Watts, James M. Crowell and Joseph H. Jones. Five Episcopalians, three Methodists, and two each of the Baptists, Dutch Reformed and New School Presbyterians, rounded out the list along with the secretaries of the American Bible Society and the Evangelical Knowledge Society.

[58]“An Address to the Clergy and Laity of the Christian Church of the Country,” CP, 6.4 (January 26, 1861) 13. The appeal was signed by: Robert L. Dabney, Samuel B. Wilson, Benjamin M. Smith, and Thomas E. Peck, the faculty of Union Theological Seminary in Virginia, along with the President and one Professor from Hampden-Sydney College, the Editor of the Central Presbyterian, three other Presbyterian ministers, an African church, the late President of Davidson College, and five professors from the University of Virginia (twelve of the sixteen signatories were Old School Presbyterian ministers). Others in general agreement included the entire faculty of Washington College in Virginia (Presbyterian) and two professors from the Virginia Military Institute, along with one minister each from the Episcopal, Methodist and Presbyterian churches. The President, Presiding Elder, and Chaplain of Randolph-Macon College (Methodist) appreciated the address and still hoped for a peaceful solution, but feared that secession was necessary. Once again it was Old School Presbyterians who were trying to hold the Union together.

[59]James Buchanan, “To the People of the United States,” Presbyterian 30.51 (December 22, 1860) 202.

[60]Rogan Kersh points out that at least in the north, April of 1861 was “the first time since the 1780s” when there was “no confusion over the union’s meaning.” Dreams of a More Perfect Union (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2001) 191.

[61]Editorial, “The War,” Presbyter 20.31 (April 25, 1861).

[62]Editorial, “The Next Assembly,” Presbyter (May 2, 1861).

[63]Editorial, “State of the Country,” Presbyterian 31.17 (April 27, 1861) 66.

[64]Editorial, “The Excitement,” Presbyterian 31.17 (April 27, 1861) 66.

[65]Editorial, “The Trial of Faith,” Presbyterian 31.17 (April 27, 1861) 66.

[66]Editorial, “The War,” Presbyterian 31.17 (April 27, 1861) 67.

[67]R. L. Dabney “On the State of the Country,” CP (April 20, 1861) reprinted in Discourses vol. 4. pages 421ff.

[68]Editorial, Presbyter 20.27 (March 28, 1861).

[69][William] Mc[Millan] of Hamilton OH, “Slavery--General Assembly,” Presbyter 20.30 (April 18, 1861).

[70]T. S., “Shall Our Church Divide?” Southern Presbyterian 1.22 (March 30, 1861). One of the minor acts of the 1861 Assembly was to take exception to the Minutes of the Synod of South Carolina, when it declared the acts of 1818 to be “virtually rescinded” by the act of 1845. The Assembly declared that the 1846 action had plainly reaffirmed the earlier action of 1818. Minutes (1861) 333.

[71]Presbyterian Banner 9.33 (May 4, 1861).

[72]“Spirit of the Religious Press,” Presbyter 20.32 (May 2, 1861) 126.

[73]Minutes (1861) 303. The vote was not recorded.

[74]Minutes (1861) 315-330. The text of the resolutions as adopted is found on page 329-330.

[75]“General Assembly,” Presbyterian Banner 9.37 (June 1, 1861).

[76]“General Assembly,” Presbyterian Banner 9.37 (June 1, 1861).

[77]“General Assembly,” Presbyterian Banner 9.37 (June 1, 1861).

[78]“General Assembly,” Presbyterian Banner 9.37 (June 1, 1861).

[79]“General Assembly,” Presbyterian Banner 9.37 (June 1, 1861).

[80]“General Assembly,” Presbyterian Banner 9.37 (June 1, 1861).

[81]“General Assembly,” Presbyterian Banner 9.37 (June 1, 1861).

[82]Bates, along with secretary of war Simon Cameron, were pewholders with Lincoln in the Old School New York Avenue Presbyterian Church. George M. Apperson, “Lincoln, the Churches, and Memphis Presbyterians,” American Presbyterians 72:2 (Summer 1994) 98. Bates had been the conservative Republicans’ candidate at the Republican Convention of 1860, but “there was so little anti-slavery in Bates’s record that he was unacceptable to all but the most conservative Republicans.” This resulted in the nomination of Lincoln–the moderate candidate–over radicals Salmon Chase and William Seward. Eric Foner, Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men: The Ideology of the Republican Party before the Civil War (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995/1970) 213. His status as a ruling elder is affirmed by the CP 6:27 (July 6, 1861) 108.

[83]Presbyterian Banner 9.37 (June 1, 1861).

[84]“General Assembly,” Presbyterian Banner 9.37 (June 1, 1861).

[85]“General Assembly,” Presbyterian Banner 9.37 (June 1, 1861).

[86]“General Assembly,” Presbyterian Banner 9.37 (June 1, 1861).

[87]“General Assembly,” Presbyterian Banner 9.37 (June 1, 1861).

[88]“General Assembly,” Presbyterian Banner 9.37 (June 1, 1861).

[89]“General Assembly,” Presbyterian Banner 9.37 (June 1, 1861).

[90]This device had been used in 1829 to affirm that the members of the 1829 General Assembly pledged not to drink ardent spirits, without committing the entire church to that stance. Minutes (1829) 375-6 (in Baird, 796).

[91]“The General Assembly of 1861,” Presbyterian Banner 9.38 (June 8, 1861)

[92]“The General Assembly of 1861,” Presbyterian Banner 9.38 (June 8, 1861)

[93]“The General Assembly of 1861,” Presbyterian Banner 9.38 (June 8, 1861)

[94]“The General Assembly of 1861,” Presbyterian Banner 9.38 (June 8, 1861)

[95]“The General Assembly of 1861,” Presbyterian Banner 9.38 (June 8, 1861)

[96]“The General Assembly of 1861,” Presbyterian Banner 9.38 (June 8, 1861)

[97]“The General Assembly of 1861,” Presbyterian Banner 9.38 (June 8, 1861)

[98]“The General Assembly of 1861,” Presbyterian Banner 9.38 (June 8, 1861)

[99]“The General Assembly of 1861,” Presbyterian Banner 9.38 (June 8, 1861)

[100]Minutes (1861) 321-322, 329-330. The eleven northwesterners who persistently rejected the Spring resolutions came from the presbyteries of Clarion, two from Washington, two from St. Clairsville, Marion, two from Coshocton, Maumee, Vincennes, and Chippewa. In other words, seven came from western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio, two from northern Ohio, one from southern Indiana, and one from Wisconsin. Others were willing to compromise: three from Iowa, two from Minnesota, two from northern and central Indiana, and one each from central Illinois, central Ohio, and Michigan. Notably absent from these lists are Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and Chicago, or the Ohio River presbyteries.

[101]Minutes (1861) 339.

[102]Minutes (1861) 340.

[103]Minutes (1861) 341. The regional breakdown of the protesters fits the earlier pattern. Twenty-five of the protesters were from the southwest.

[104]The rest of the committee consisted of William C. Anderson of San Francisco, Willis Lord of the Northwestern Theological Seminary, and ruling elders Jesse L. Williams of Fort Wayne, Indiana, and Nathaniel Ewing of Redstone Presbytery in western Pennsylvania. Since Anderson was a northwesterner serving in California, the committee entirely consisted of northwesterners. Minutes (1861) 333.

[105]Minutes (1861) 342, quoting Hodge.

[106]Minutes (1861) 343. There is no statement in the Minutes that this response was adopted, but its inclusion in the Minutes probably means that it was.

[107]“Dr Spring's Resolutions,” Presbyter (June 13, 1861).

[108]Editorial, “The Action of the Late General Assembly on the National Crisis,” Presbyterian Banner 9.38 (June 8, 1861).

[109]A Sexagenarian Elder, “A Letter to Rev. Gardiner Spring, D. D., New York City,” Southern Presbyterian 1.48 (September 28, 1861).

[110]Charles Hodge, “The General Assembly,” BRPR 33.3 (July, 1861) 541.

[111]Hodge, “The General Assembly,” 542.

[112]Hodge, “The General Assembly,” 543.

[113]Hodge, “The General Assembly,” 557-567.

[114]“Dr. Hodge on the Last General Assembly,” Southern Presbyterian 1.48 (September 28, 1861).

[115]Edward Riley Crowther, “Southern Protestants, Slavery and Secession: A Study in Religious Ideology, 1830-1861,” (Ph.D. dissertation, Auburn University, 1986) 284-296.

[116]Eugene Genovese, The Slaveholders' Dilemma 35. Genovese plainly thinks that sectional politics was the driving force, but there was also a significant divide over ecclesiology which cannot be ignored. Of course most southern Presbyterians were more comfortable with Hodge’s ecclesiology than with Thornwell’s (as the debates over southern church order reveal).

[117]E. E., “The Late General Assembly–Church and State,” Danville Quarterly Review 1.3 (September, 1861) 498-534. If E. E. are his initials, then it is likely Ebenezer Erskine, pastor of Sterling, Illinois, who went on to become the moderate editor of the Northwest Presbyterian after the war (friendly toward Kentucky).

[118]E. E., “The Late General Assembly,” 502.

[119]E. E., “The Late General Assembly,” 514.

[120]E. E., “The Late General Assembly,” 514-5.

[121]E. E., “The Late General Assembly,” 519. For New School antislavery activity see Victor B. Howard, Conscience and Slavery: The Evangelistic Calvinist Domestic Mission, 1837-1861 (Kent, OH: The Kent State University Press, 1990)

[122]E. E., “The Late General Assembly,” 519.

[123]E. E., “The Late General Assembly,” 520.

[124]E. E., “The Late General Assembly,” 520.

[125]E. E., “The Late General Assembly,” 522.

[126]E. E., “The Late General Assembly,” 523.

[127]E. E., “The Late General Assembly,” 526. He pointed to the growing sense of self-sufficiency in the south during the 1850s as it drew away from their northern brethren as evidence that the south had anticipated this.

[128]CP 6.30 (July 27, 1861) 117.

[129]CP 6.51 (Dec 21, 1861). Judges included ex-Chancellor Job Johnstone of SC (SC Pby), Judge J. G. Shepherd of NC (Fayetteville Pby), Judge J. T. Swayne of TN (Memphis Pby), and Wm A. Forward Judge of the Supreme Court of FL (Florida Pby).

[130]CP 7.3 (Jan 16, 1862)

[131]CP 7.2 (January 9, 1862). Likewise, John Leighton Wilson was able to defeat Thornwell’s attempt to rename the secretary of each committee simply the “convener.” The debate later revealed that the majority of the Assembly was against Thornwell’s approach, but, as S. D. Stuart put it, they were willing to compromise with him so as not to “impose a yoke upon the conscience of the brethren.” 7.3 (January 16, 1862).

[132]So the southern church initially permitted the General Assembly to take original jurisdiction over a minister, without waiting for a trial at the presbytery. Jack Maddex, “Presbyterians in the South, Centralization, and the Book of Church Order, 1861-1879,” American Presbyterians 68:1 (Spring, 1990) 24-45. Maddex points out that the move towards decentralization came from Stuart Robinson after 1869.

[133]Thornwell, “Address to All Churches of Jesus Christ throughout the World,” reprinted in Collected Writings 4:451, 453.

[134]Thornwell, “Address,” 454. This statement launched a nine page defense of slavery, thus forming more than half of the “Address.” Erskine Clarke, “Southern Nationalism and Columbia Theological Seminary,” American Presbyterians 66:2 (1988) 123-133. For treatment of the constitutional issues see Arthur Bestor, “State Sovereignty and Slavery: A Reinterpretation of Proslavery Constitutional Doctrine,” in Proslavery Thought, Ideology, and Politics edited by Paul Finkelman (New York: Garland Publishing, 1989) 13-76. In his 1961 essay Bestor argued that state sovereignty was a “legal postulate,” to be distinguished from the idea of decentralized government as a “political philosophy.” He argued that the states’ rights doctrine was not especially an emphasis on local self-government, since the same southerners argued for strong federal authority in the case of the enforcement of fugitive slave law, rejecting the attempts at nullification by northern states (16-17, 58-59). Don E. Fehrenbacher notes that it is remarkable how much the Confederate Constitution “transcended those principles [of states-rights] in order to build a nation. The national supremacy clause remained, and no provision for nullification was included. Sectional Crisis and Southern Constitutionalism (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1995) 142-144. Likewise, Bestor shows that the Confederate Constitution gave national protection to slavery–practically eliminating the possibility for a state to abolish slavery, “State Sovereignty and Slavery,” 72-73.

[135]James L. Vallandigham, A Life of Clement L. Vallandigham (Baltimore: Turnbull Brothers, 1872). Clement L. Vallandigham (1820-1871) was the son of a Presbyterian minister, and had served as a Democratic state legislator and Congressman from Ohio (1857-1863). He had united with the First Presbyterian Church of Dayton, Ohio, in 1855, while James H. Brookes was pastor (Brookes, an early dispensationalist from Tennessee, left for St. Louis in 1858 where he would become known as a champion of the “spirituality of the church” doctrine in Missouri during the Civil War). Vallandigham withdrew from the Presbyterian church when Brookes was replaced by Thomas E. Thomas, one of the most vigorous abolitionists in the Old School, and attended the Lutheran church. On July 4, 1861 Vallandigham spoke publicly on the floor of Congress against the “executive usurpation” of Congressional rights and for peace, which he hoped could eventually restore the Union through negotiation rather than warfare. His constant criticism of the Lincoln administration peaked in his objection to General A. E. Burnside’s Order No. 38, which forbade “implied treason,” and Order No. 9, which prohibited criticism of the civil or military policy of the Administration. On May 4, 1863 he was arrested on General Burnside’s orders and tried before a military commission on the charge that he had declared the present war “a wicked, cruel and unnecessary war.” (263) He was found guilty and sentenced to confinement in Fort Warren, Massachusetts, later changed to banishment to the South. (296) After reaching the South, Vallandigham departed for Canada, where he resided in Windsor, across from Detroit, for a year. He returned to Ohio in 1864 to serve as a delegate to the Chicago Democratic Convention, daring the Lincoln Administration to arrest him again.

[136]Frank L. Klement, Lincoln’s Critics: The Copperheads of the North (Shippensburg, PA: White Mane Books, 1999) 180. Lincoln was pleased with Leavitt’s decision because Vallandigham’s criticisms “weakens the Union cause as much as he who kills a Union soldier in battle.” (181) After the war the U. S. Supreme Court rebuked Leavitt’s decision in Ex Parte Milligan (1866) declaring that military courts should not be used for political ends. Klement argues that the Copperheads were not particularly pro-southern, but were focused on economic and constitutional objections to the war. They were dissenters, not traitors.

[137]“In Memoriam. A Tribute to Rev. Stuart Robinson and others,” Danville Quarterly Review 2.1 (March, 1862) 155, citing Stuart Robinson to Robert J. Breckinridge, January 24, 1861.

[138]Preston D. Graham, Jr., A Kingdom Not of This World: Stuart Robinson’s Struggle to Distinguish the Sacred from the Secular during the Civil War (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 2002) 53-54.

[139]For more on this fascinating episode see Joseph H. Hall, Presbyterian Conflict and Resolution on the Missouri Frontier (Lewiston, NY: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1987) chapter 7; Charles Hodge, “The General Assembly,” BRPR 36 (July 1864); John S. Grasty, Memoir of Rev. Samuel B. McPheeters (St. Louis: Southwestern Book and Publishing Co., 1871); A Correspondence between Some of the Members of the Pine Street Presbyterian Church and Its Pastor (Saint Louis: Printed for the Information of the Members of that Church, 1862).

[140]David B. Chesebrough, Clergy Dissent in the Old South, 1830-1865 (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1996) 24, 51-85. Chesebrough gives six Presbyterian examples:


Name:                                  Birth        Sem                         Church (Presbytery) Tenure                 

Eli Caruthers (1793-1865)      NC          PTS 1820                Alamance NC (Orange) 1821-1861        forced to retire

Robert J. Graves (?-?)             VA          UTSVA 1860          Bethlehem NC (Orange) 1860-1862       arrested/treason

James Sinclair (1827-18??)     Scotland WTS 1857                Smyrna NC (Fayetteville) 1857-1862    arrested/treason

Thaddeus McRae (?-?)           SC           private ?                  Port Lavaca TX (Western Texas) 1861 

John H. Aughey (?-?)             ?              private ?                  Poplar Creek MS (Tombeckbee) 1861   arrested/treason

?? Galladet (may be New School)                                           Aberdeen MS



[141]Chesebrough, Clergy Dissent 74-78.

[142]Chesebrough, Clergy Dissent 92. For Lyon’s attempt to reform slavery, see James A. Lyon, et al, “Slavery, and the Duties Growing Out of the Relation,” SPR 16.1 (April, 1863): 1-36. Also see R. Milton Winter, “James A. Lyon: Southern Presbyterian Apostle of Progress,” JPH 60:4 (Winter 1982) 314-335. Fehrenbacher suggests that many southerners could not see the difference between the oppression of the north and the oppression of the Davis Administration as the military enforced conscription and the impressment of goods. The Confederate Congress authorized the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus twice, totaling seventeen months, and enforced conscription. Don E. Fehrenbacher, Sectional Crisis and Southern Constitutionalism (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1995) 156-157.

[143]“Effects of a System of Oppression upon the Morals and Judgments of the Oppressors,” Presbyterian Banner 10.19 (January 25, 1862).

[144]Shadow, “The Northern Conscience,” Southern Presbyterian 1.43 (August 24, 1861).

[145]R. S. Gladney, “The Downfall of the Union,” SPR 16 (1863) 49-50. Gladney here echoed the statement of John C. Calhoun in 1850 that the theory of the natural right of equality was false: “it never did nor can exist.” Men were inherently unequal. Quoted in John Niven, John C. Calhoun and the Price of Union (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1988) 332.


[147]“Dr. Thornwell's Memorial on the Recognition of Christianity in the Constitution [of the Confederate States of America],” SPR 16 (1863) 77-87; Thomas Smyth, “The Character and Conditions of Liberty,” SPR 16 (1864) 201-236; John B. “Northern and Southern Views of the Province of the Church,” SPR 16 (1866) 384.