Focus Statement

Nineteenth century Americans lived within a society thoroughly permeated with religious ideology and moral language. In the South, honor and religious feeling combined to defend a southern social order characterized by the racial hierarchy imposed by slavery. In the North, some groups used Christianity as a means of disparaging slavery and calling for abolition, while others left such dilemmas to the providence of God and called for peace instead. Both Northerners and Southerners, however, became accustomed in the first half of the nineteenth century to inserting religious discourse into the public sphere normally reserved for politics. Using sermons, newspapers, letters, and diaries, I wish to explore how Northerners and Southerners understood their distinctive duties as Christians in relation to debates over slavery and secession. Focusing specifically on the cities of Charleston and Philadelphia, I will attempt to argue that the way people understood ‘Christian Duty’ was a vital part of how they interpreted the Secession Crisis and the decision to go to war. Such a study will hopefully help to illuminate the differences between North and South, as well as the motivations of politicians, soldiers, and civilians for going to war.


Focus Statement — 9 Comments

  1. Yay, you picked your cities! Are you going to be making trips to either one? I like how you lay out your points and how you will go about your research. I didn’t know there were those that detached themselves from the slavery issue completely and just decided to, how you put it, left it up to the “providence of God.” Were these attitudes only in the North or in the South as well? I also like how clear your argument is and how you tie it into the bigger picture.

    • Thanks! The plan is to visit both cities for research purposes… I’ll definitely need to put in funding requests!

      While there were a few conservative voices in the South, to my knowledge there was a solid consensus among clergymen to support the Confederate cause by the time the Secession Crisis rolled around, and certainly by the firing on Fort Sumter. Usually even conservatives wanted the North to stay out of Southern business- they advocated for the reform of slavery, but still thought it was a divinely protected institution.

  2. Congrats on picking your two cities! I know that must have been a pretty huge relief. Your focus statement sounds really good, and I’m glad you’re making progress. I really think your subject is fascinating. The concept of Christian Duty as it relates to honor in war seems like it will be such a gold mine for understanding intrinsic motivations of people during the War. Very cool. Good job!

    • Thank you! It was definitely a huge relief to be able to begin pulling primary sources for a specific area in the North! I’m very much looking forward to seeing how I can relate concepts of duty and honor in both cities as well. πŸ™‚

  3. I am also glad that you have made progress towards narrowing down your cities. But just don’t limit yourself to these since we’re in the early stages of the process! You might find a wealth of information somewhere else, so don’t get bogged down in these two too early. I enjoyed your statement because you communicated that you know where the literature on this topic is. And your last sentence was great, hopefully it will get a little more in-depth as the research continues. Has your research so far allowed you to see how people are internalizing/reacting to these sermons? I think it would be great to do this kind of study, but it could be just as illuminating seeing what the sermons/newspapers said should be “Christian Duty.” I hope that made sense! Also, I would challenge you to use more forceful verbs! You’re smart and you know what you’re talking about, let us all know πŸ™‚

    • I completely agree with Taylor’s last point! Stake out a position — you can always change it later. Not necessary to just “attempt” or “hope!”

    • I really struggled with using forceful verbs since I’m not totally sure about my argument… but I’ll definitely do my best going forward!

      I would love to get at the way people internalized the rhetoric, and I’m hoping to find some of that in the manuscript collections I’ve located. One of the perks of using Philadelphia is that there are a great number of archives there! Though, you are definitely right about not settling if somewhere else seems a better fit. A lot of this is really open for debate until I get a chance to do in depth research over summer. I’m sure most everyone is in the same boat!

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