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A History of American Christianity by Bacon

Commercial houses competed for southern business


These

various factors of public opinion were actively manipulated. Political parties competed for the southern vote. Commercial houses competed for southern business. Religious sects, parties, and societies were emulous in conciliating southern adhesions or contributions and averting schisms. The condition of success in any of these cases was well understood to be concession, or at least silence, on the subject of slavery. The pressure of motives, some of which were honorable and generous, was everywhere, like the pressure of the atmosphere. It was not strange that there should be defections from righteousness. Even the enormous effrontery of the slave power in demanding for its own security that the rule of tyrannous law and mob violence by which freedom of speech and of the press had been extinguished at the South should be extended over the so-called free States did not fail of finding citizens of reputable standing so base as to give the demand their countenance, their public advocacy, and even their personal assistance. As the subject emerged from time to time in the religious community, the questions arising were often confused and embarrassed by false issues and illogical statements, and the state of opinion was continually misrepresented through the incurable habit of the over-zealous in denouncing as "pro-slavery" those who dissented from their favorite formulas. But after all deductions, the historian who shall by and by review this period with the advantage of a longer perspective
will be compelled to record not a few lamentable defections, both individual and corporate, from the cause of freedom, justice, and humanity. And, nevertheless, that later record will also show that while the southern church had been terrified into "an unexampled unanimity" in renouncing the principles which it had unanimously held, and while like causes had wrought potently upon northern sentiment, it was the steadfast fidelity of the Christian people that saved the nation from ruin. At the end of thirty years from the time when the soil of Missouri was devoted to slavery the "Kansas-Nebraska Bill" was proposed, which should open for the extension of slavery the vast expanse of national territory which, by the stipulation of the "Missouri Compromise," had been forever consecrated to freedom. The issue of the extension of slavery was presented to the people in its simplicity. The action of the clergy of New England was prompt, spontaneous, emphatic, and practically unanimous. Their memorial, with three thousand and fifty signatures, protested against the bill, "in the name of Almighty God and in his presence," as "a great moral wrong; as a breach of faith eminently injurious to the moral principles of the community and subversive of all confidence in national engagements; as a measure full of danger to the peace and even the existence of our beloved Union, and exposing us to the just judgments of the Almighty." In like manner the memorial of one hundred and fifty-one clergymen of various denominations in New York City and vicinity protested in like terms, "in the name of religion and humanity," against the guilt of the extension of slavery. Perhaps there has been no occasion on which the consenting voice of the entire church has been so solemnly uttered on a question of public morality, and this in the very region in which church and clergy had been most stormily denounced by the little handful of abolitionists who gloried in the name of infidel[285:1] as recreant to justice and humanity.

The protest of the church was of no avail to defeat the machination of demagogues. The iniquitous measure was carried through. But this was not the end; it was only the beginning of the end. Yet ten years, and American slavery, through the mad folly of its advocates and the steadfast fidelity of the great body of the earnestly religious people of the land, was swept away by the tide of war.


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