Category Archives: Secondary Sources

Spring Break Research & Secondary Sources

I had hoped to have more to report after Spring Break, but at least I feel like I have a good idea of where my project is going, which is its own success! The major accomplishment of the last week has been in choosing my northern city to analyze. That decision enabled me to start doing my primary research in earnest, so I’ve located quite a few sermons and newspaper articles particular to Philadelphia, as well as found manuscript collections to look at when I do archive visits! I did accomplish some secondary readings, but I’ve gotten to the point in my reading list that most everything left is very long and generally important enough that I need to read closely, so the process is slow going.

Barring any unforeseen dilemmas (I’m meeting with Dr. Quigley on Thursday to discuss my progress), I will be doing a comparative study of Charleston and Philadelphia during the Secession Crisis. One of the major reasons for choosing Philadelphia is in its size and prominence. Both of these things mean: sources. Philadelphia was a publishing hub of sorts and possessed a healthy religious life with a multitude of churches and denominations represented. I had already considered using Philadelphia, but had originally shied away from it due to how much larger it was compared to my Southern city of choice, as well as the Quaker influence toward antislavery. Over break, however, I stumbled across a really interesting article that helped convince me that Philadelphia was a good choice. (I will describe that article below.)

For the most part, Philadelphia skewed conservative- probably due in part to Quaker influence, as well as in elite ties to the South (see the article below!). However, while many religious leaders encouraged peaceful relations, enough diversity existed in the city to present other views as well. Their are several great archives in Philadelphia (especially concerning Presbyterians) that I expect to help me flesh out the feelings of people not as readily represented in sermons and newsprint. Overall, I’m hopeful that this city will provide a productive ground for comparative study!

Kilbride, Daniel. “The Cosmopolitan South: Privileged Southerners, Philadelphia, and the Fashionable Tour in the Antebellum Era.” Journal of Urban History 26 (2000), 563-590.

Kilbride argues that ties existed between the elite of the South with Philadelphia’s privileged class in the Antebellum Era. These ties resulted in what Kilbride terms a “national social elite” (563) and could be seen in the frequent travel of the Southern upper classes to cities like Philadelphia, which boasted an upper crust culture. Kilbride remarks that the southern planter elite often felt isolated from their regional cultures which they understood to be “vulgar, excessively democratic, and provincial,” and rather preferred to travel to experience a “national upper-class community that transcended regional boundaries” (564). Through travel, elite Southerners formed connections with their northern peers and reinforced their own conceptions of upper class behavior and morality (564). The great thing about this article is in the connection that it provides between Charleston and Philadelphia in particular. I think it’s fascinating to think about how connections were present between people in these cities! Most helpful was Kilbride’s use of travel narratives to demonstrate these connections between people. I’ll definitely be looking into those as a potential source!

Wyatt-Brown, Bertram. The Shaping of Southern Culture: Honor, Grace, and War, 1760s-1890s. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001.

Wyatt-Brown argues that honor was “the ethic which white Southerners believed supported the other two pillars of their society: white supremacy and Christian faith” (xi). I paid most close attention to Wyatt-Brown’s chapters concerning religion specifically in the years leading up the Civil War. He makes the interesting point that Southern clergymen had to, in a sense, court public opinion in order to maintain their influence (166). In other words (and I think that this could be considered the case in the North as well), the preacher had to express ideas from the pulpit that kept generally in line with the opinions of the congregation. That seems to imply that sermons can be used as a means of measuring public opinion (to a certain extent), although perhaps sermons are not fully representative of the preacher’s personal feelings at all times. It would be really interesting if I could locate the personal papers of a few clergymen to gauge how sermons interacted with their own understandings as well as that of the public.

Marty, Martin E. Righteous Empire: The Protestant Experience in America. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc., 1970.

I was not expecting to care for this source- not only is it older than many of the sources I’m using, as well as a general history of Protestantism in America, but it also doesn’t cite it’s data! (No footnotes, no bibliography… one of the oddest things I’ve come across so far!) But it is wonderfully written. Writing for a public audience along with the scholarly community, Marty uses section headings and relatively short chapters to tell a really interesting story. I read the first half of the book, which deals with Protestants from roughly the First Great Awakening (around the 1730s and 1740s) to 1877 and the end of Reconstruction. This book wasn’t as helpful for identifying a specific argument, but it gives great background on the formation of Protestantism in America, both in the North and South. He makes the especially compelling point around Southern religion being much more orthodox and individualistic than in the North (64). This difference seems to account, in part, for why Southern clergymen were much more united than their peers in the North in the years leading up to the Civil War. He also notes that clergy had to be popular in order to maintain their positions of authority (72).

Article Methodology

This week I chose to read “The Divine Sanction of Social Order: Religious Foundations of the Southern Slaveholders’ World View” by Elizabeth Fox-Genovese and Eugene D. Genovese. This article is actually the precursor to a larger monograph later published by the authors entitled The Mind of the Master Class. I haven’t yet gotten a chance to read the larger volume, but thought that starting with the article might be a good way of getting a brief overview of methodology and basic argument.

Fox-Genovese and Genovese argue that slaveholders understood the defense of slavery as a positive good to be a necessary step toward the maintenance of Southern social order. Slavery was the mechanism through which a hierarchical system, paternalistic and sanctioned by God, could exist. The authors discuss several ways in which slaveholders and public figures, both religious and secular, spoke of the benefits and moral advantages of slavery. Literal biblical interpretation especially allowed for Southerners to point to the presence of slavery in the Bible and discredit abolitionist arguments.

I quite like the approach that Fox-Genovese and Genovese use in this article. While the majority of their argument revolves around the South, they make sure to provide a comprehensive picture by comparing the South with what is also going on in the North. I also appreciated their use of major political and religious figures to show strains of common thought in the South. Their use of Foucault’s ‘discourse’ also helped to define the religious aspects of Southern social order. There were a few weaknesses to the article as well, though perhaps some of these were due to the shortness of the article and the larger monograph that was published soon after. I’ll be looking to seeing especially if/how Fox-Genovese and Genovese address northerners in the larger volume. In the article, the authors make reference to northern abolitionists to contrast with the southern defense of slavery. While southerners were certainly overwhelmingly concerned with abolitionists, there was more going on in the North and I think that touching on some of that diversity would help to paint a clearer picture of the context of southern thought concerning slavery.

Secondary Sources: Southern Religion, Separatism, and Honor

Mitchell Snay, Gospel of Disunion: Religion and Separatism in the Antebellum South (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993).

Snay argues that religion contributed to the formation of a Southern sectional identity and nationalism in the antebellum South. Focusing on important religious and political figures, sermons, religious and secular periodicals, Snay depicts the ways in which religion was used to sanctify slavery and interpret secession as the moral responsibility of a Christian people. Most important for Snay is the relationship between religion and politics. Southern ministers criticized abolitionist arguments against slavery due to their dragging of a political issue into the religious sphere, however spoke in defense of slavery by claiming a moral responsibility to refute abolitionism.

This is the source that I chose to write on for my secondary reception essay. As I noted there, I found Gospel of Disunion to be extremely helpful for thinking about and framing my own research. Snay uses many of the same sources that I’ve been looking at, which gave me a ton of ideas for where to look for my own research. While Snay gives some comparative analysis between North and South,  his main points all revolve around the Southern perspective. I’m hoping that even though I’m pursuing a similar topic, my comparative treatment of North and South will give my study its own unique spin. Overall, this was a fantastic source to read and I’ll definitely be incorporating a lot of what I learned into my historiography!

Robert Elder, “A Twice Sacred Circle: Women, Evangelicalism, and Honor in the Deep South, 1784-1860,” Journal of Southern History 78.3 (Aug. 2012), 579-614.

Elder argues that honor was applied to women as well as men in the early and antebellum South. Refuting previous historians’ claims that honor was a masculine concept at odds with the feminized evangelicalism, Elder notes that “evangelicalism shared with honor a common
vision of women’s symbolic role and moral authority” (592). Both a woman’s honor and religious virtue was understood to be a contribution to society and the honor of her husband.

I read this article, in part, because I know that there is a huge historiography on Southern Honor that I wasn’t sure if I would want to tie in with my discussion of “duty.” While I don’t know that I’ll incorporate this particular article into my further research, it was helpful in making me really think about my definitions of certain concepts. I’m going to need to be really careful about defining “duty” especially as it does resemble some other concepts, like honor, obligation, etc. It also made me think about whether (or even how) I will incorporate gender in my thesis. Just like Elder argues that honor was not a concept reserved for men, I’m sure that “duty” was also not confined to men. How I deal with that understanding is a much more complicated question for another day!

Secondary Sources: Search Methods, Civil Religion, and Hermeneutics

This last week, I’ve used WorldCat, America: History and Life, and the VT Summon feature to get a rough understanding of what sources are out there concerning the Civil War era and religion. Along with some recommended readings from Dr. Quigley and Dr. Dresser, I actually have quite a lot of literature to work with! That’s probably been one of the more surprising things about the research that I’ve done thus far. Another surprise is how my secondary sources have a healthy dose of interdisciplinary work within them. I have some literary theory and sociology alongside histories of the Civil War era and nineteenth century American religion in general.

It’s a bit of a pain to figure out what keywords to search- I’ve tried everything from “Civil War religion” (the most productive search to date) to “nineteenth century Christianity” to “American civil religion,” “Civil War sermons,” etc. One thing that I’ve definitely discovered is that I don’t care so much for WorldCat. America: History and Life seems (at least for me) much more intuitive, but it could be that I haven’t yet discovered the right limiters on WorldCat. VT Summon can be frustrating for similar reasons to WorldCat, but I’ve noticed that it is helpful for figuring out what articles/books are influential in any particular subject because those works will often have multiple reviews written or even be republished in a retrospective journal issue. It’s helpful to be pointed toward some of these more popular readings and to, in many cases, already have reviews ready to help understand the content. One of my readings this week (“Civil Religion in America” by Robert Bellah) is one such article.

Onto the readings!

Robert Bellah, “Civil Religion in America,” Daedalus 134.4 (Fall 2005), pp. 40-55. (Note: For those who aren’t familiar with it, Daedalus is the journal for the Academy of Arts and Sciences)

Bellah argues that the United States possesses a unique “civil religion,” stemming from the time of the American Founding. While it often resembles Christianity, American civil religion is non-sectarian and has its own religious observances, rituals, and major figures. He cites the Civil War as a key defining moment within this religion with Lincoln taking the place of a crucified Christ, and the post-war Arlington Cemetery becoming a significant religious monument.

I’m not sure how useful I’ll find this article in the long run, though apparently it’s considered somewhat important in the topic of civil religion. I do, however, think that it’s good to keep in mind that political language in the nineteenth century may have sounded religious, but should not necessarily be considered as such. The meaning of common language among various sources will definitely be a theme that I return to again.

David F. Holland, “Sovereign Silences and the Voice of War in the American Conflict over Slavery,” Law and History Review 26.3 (Fall 2008), pp. 571-594.

Holland relates constitutional theory to biblical hermeneutics in the antebellum United States. By demonstrating the ways in which differing interpretations of Scripture (strict vs. broad construction to use constitutional jargon) were debated, Holland notes that debates over the morality of slavery were at an impasse until another revelation of God was given. Such a revelation, or “scriptural moment,” was received in the Civil War, which was taken especially by Northerners as a providential sign to rid the country of American slavery.

This article was difficult to get through due to its use of constitutional theory (I’m not the biggest fan of legal history in general…), but it was tremendously helpful in getting me thinking of the issue of hermeneutics. Holland cites Mark Noll, who has published a ton of amazing work on this era and the literal biblical interpretation that prevailed among 19th century Americans, but Holland also adds his own twist in seeing the war as another kind of scriptural revelation. He also had some very useful footnotes that I’ll be referring to for additional sources!

Brown. “Citizenship, Democracy, and the Structure of Politics in the Old South.”

Brown, David. “Citizenship, Democracy, and the Structure of Politics in the Old South: John Calhoun’s Conundrum.” In Creating Citizenship in the Nineteenth-Century South, edited by William A. Link, David Brown, Brian Ward, and Martyn Bone, 84–108. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2013.

In this article, David Brown argues that the supposed democratization that swept across the antebellum South in the 1830s did not result in universal suffrage.  Using state-specific works, he shows how each state south of the Mason-Dixon line responded differently to calls for universal white male voting rights.  Though proslavery politicians often equated whiteness as the “bedrock of universal suffrage,” this was not the case (85). He says that “to characterize citizenship as solely a matter of whiteness is to ignore ways in which elites remained influential (100). Brown shows that the newer states along the Gulf and in the trans-Appalachian region were more likely to institute more democratic measures, beginning with Alabama’s state constitution in 1819 (86).  Local politics, however, remained in the hands of the elite regardless of the state, as few democratic reformed applied at the local level (87).  This was especially true in North Carolina, as one historian called local politics a “squirarchy” (97).  Though not dealing specifically with black disfranchisement, this article is important to my thesis.  Because reading this article, I assumed that Tennessee and North Carolina had similar democratic structures since Tennessee was once a part of North Carolina.  Yet elites exerted less control on Tennessee politics, which Brown says was due to the lack of a “black belt” region, than in North Carolina (88).  The discussion of North Carolina is relevant because it shows that elites took away black voting rights and did not really grant universal white suffrage either.  Also local elite actually determined who could or could not vote, another reasons why I need to look at black suffrage in the local context (101).  The article is a goldmine of sources, as well.

Orth and Newby. The North Carolina State Constitution

Orth, John V, and Paul Martin Newby. The North Carolina State Constitution. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2013.
Because the state constitution was amended to exclude African Americans from voting, constitutional history is relevant to my study. This work is actually an in-depth analysis of North Carolina’s current state constitution, but it does provide some good information about former state constitutions.  Orth and Newby argue that the delegates to the constitutional convention of 1835 essentially replaced class with race as the primary suffrage requirement (3). The 1776 constitution allowed all men to vote, regardless of race, as long as they met the property requirement.  To vote for the state senate, one had to own fifty acres of land; to vote for the house, any man could vote so long as they were a taxpayer (6).  Also important for my study, the authors discuss the “borough town” issue, as the towns of Edenton, New Bern, Wilmington, Fayetteville, Salisbury, Hillsborough, and Halifax each sent a representative to the House separate from the county delegate. This is a good place to start looking for black suffrage, I think. Based on some previous research, free southern blacks tended to reside in cities and towns, so maybe there are references in these towns’ newspapers to black political activity. Orth and Newby also make the interesting point that after being disfranchised, free blacks were still counted as whole persons for representation, though not allowed to vote (15).  By excluding blacks from voting yet still including them in the total number for representation, city whites that usually did not receive support of free African Americans would have an incentive to disfranchise them.

Counihan. “The North Carolina Constitutional Convention of 1835: A Study in Jacksonian Democracy”

Counihan, Harold. “The North Carolina Constitutional Convention of 1835 : A Study in Jacksonian Democracy.” The North Carolina Historical Review 46, no. 4 (1969): 335–364.

This article published in 1869 by Harold J. Counihan explicitly addresses the North Carolina state constitutional convention of 1835.  Counihan address the reasons offered by legislators on whether or not to hold a convention (336-337), the Convention Act which that called for a convention to be held (337-338), the various constitutional reforms enacted, and the eventual passage of the amendments in a popular vote (361).  Counihan’s analysis is important for my study, as he categorizes convention delegates in three different ways in order to see voting patters: for/against internal improvements, eastern/western, Whigs/Democrats.  Some of the conclusions he comes to regarding the disfranchisement of African Americans change my perspective (346-348).  First, he shows that thirty-five westerners and twenty-six easterners did not vote on the issue at all (347).  Second, that all of the delegates agreed on some form of black suffrage; no one wanted to continue the status quo (346).  Third, 62 percent of advocates of internal improvements voted against disfranchisement (348), and fourth, forty-nine eastern votes were the “backbone” of the resistance to black suffrage (348).  I think it is going to be important for me to look closer at this break-down to see how urban easterners voted because I have been thinking that politicians in urban areas might see the black vote as an important demographic.  This assumption goes against Counihan, though, as he asserts that “being labeled the Negro’s choice was one of the surest ways to end a promising political career (346).

Counihan’s article is certainly useful in that it offers an analysis of the convention and the new constitutional amendments.  I think, however, that it won’t be particularly useful as a framework.  I need to go back to the primary documents relating to the proceedings of the convention, so that I can offer my own analysis of the same sources.  This article is also an example of the political history that excludes race or class, two aspects that I think will be of utmost importance if I am going to craft a good thesis about antebellum black suffrage.

Secondary Readings: Race, Gender, Religion, and Society

Gary S. Selby, “Mocking the Sacred: Frederick Douglass’s ‘Slaveholder’s Sermon’ and the Antebellum Debate over Religion and Slavery,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 88.3 (Aug 2002), 326-341.

Selby argues that Douglass used parody in his “Slaveholder’s Sermon” in order to disrupt the seemingly ‘natural’ social order that elevated whites above blacks. He notes that social structures are hierarchical in nature, and those hierarchies may often be seen as sacred to the people that live within them. He cites Kenneth Burke’s work on “the ways that people use language to impose order . . . on their experience and how that impulse toward order is translated into larger social structures” (327) especially to make his case.

This article was extremely helpful. It started me thinking about how literary theory might be of use to me if I continue to pursue ideas of Christian Duty. It also introduced me to Kenneth Burke, whose work I will definitely look at in the near future. The article also helped me to see how I might incorporate race into my research. I’ll definitely keep Selby’s (and Burke’s) idea in mind that nineteenth century American society was characterized by a racial hierarchy that was propped up (especially in the South, but in the North as well) by religious feeling and practice. I also browsed the footnotes and found quite a few great secondary sources to refer to!

Brenda E. Stevenson, “‘Marsa Never Sot Aunt Rebecca down’: Enslaved Women, Religion, and Social Power in the Antebellum South,” The Journal of African American History 90.4 (Autumn 2005), 345-367.

Stevenson argues that religious expression gave some enslaved women access to additional “social power” outside of the domestic sphere in the Antebellum South. Using conversion narratives, autobiographies, and interviews of former slaves, Stevenson shows how certain enslaved women held respect and leadership roles in their communities because of their work in sharing the gospel with other slaves and fostering religious community. This work then helped slaves, especially other women, gain an outlet for self-expression and hope in an oppressive society.

This was another great article that got me thinking about how I might incorporate race in my research. The conversion narratives and interviews that Stevenson used are gorgeous- really vivid depictions of the role that religion could play in the lives of the enslaved by providing a community and a sense of hope. I’m really interested to see if I could look at narratives like these to find out what major themes are present and if any of them overlap with what’s being said in white churches in the North/South. Is Christian duty a predominantly white concept, or does it also exist within black communities? The only issue is that I’ve come to understand that the records of black churches are pretty sparse, so I don’t know what I would actually find. On another note, Stevenson’s footnotes are extensive (to say the least) and very helpful for finding secondary and some primary sources!