The Christian Nation of the Confederacy

I‘m going to be doing a debate on the question of whether the Constitution is based on Christianity on Nov. 12 and in my research I came across this article from Christian historian John Fea. He points out that, in contrast to the U.S. Constitution, the Confederate Constitution was explicitly Christian in its language.

Southerners were convinced that the Confederate States of America was a Christian nation. They viewed the Confederacy as a refuge for the godly amid the “infidelity” of the Union to which they once belonged. One hundred fifty years ago this month, Southerners prepared to engage in a war that would prove God was on their side. This mentality is clear in the Confederacy’s decision to adopt the Latin phrase Deo Vindice (“With God as our defender”) as its national motto.

Southerners looking for evidence that the Confederacy was a Christian nation needed to look no further than their Constitution. Unlike the U.S. Constitution, which does not mention God, the preamble of the Constitution of the Confederate States of America made a direct appeal to “Almighty God”:

We, the people of the Confederate States, each State acting in its sovereign and independent character, in order to form a permanent and federal government, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, and secure the blessing of liberty to ourselves and our posterity—invoking the favor and guidance of Almighty God—do ordain and establish this Constitution for the Confederate States of America.

Southern clergy were absolutely giddy over this insertion of such God-language. Benjamin Morgan Palmer, the minister of the First Presbyterian Church of New Orleans, called it “a truly Christian patriot’s prayer.” He blasted the “perilous atheism” of the U.S. Constitution, adding that its framers had been too tinctured with the kind of “free-thinking” and “infidel spirit” that was often associated with the “horror of the French Revolution.”

Palmer described the ratification of the Constitution in these terms: “The American nation stood up before the world, a helpless orphan and entered upon a career without God.” The Confederacy, however, was charting a godlier path. Its framers had made a conscious effort to avoid the scandalous secularism of the U.S. Constitution. When Palmer read the preamble of the Confederate Constitution, with its “clear, solemn, official recognition of Almighty God,” he claimed that his “heart swelled with unutterable emotions of gratitude and joy . . . At length, the nation has a God: Alleluia! ‘the Lord reigneth let the earth rejoice.'”

Interestingly, the clergy in the 1780s were equally upset by the lack of acknowledgment of our dependence upon God and railed against it for that reason. Attempts were made at several of the ratification conventions and for decades thereafter through the amendment process to add similar language to the Constitution. They all failed.

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  • Alverant

    Should be a pretty straight-forward debate. Just ask where pre-USA christianity endorsed the concepts of voting for your leaders, balance of power, freedom, liberty, and government with consent of the people. However be on the look out for fake quotes from the “Founding Fathers”.

  • jd142

    Have they defined “Christian” yet? There were as many forms of Christianity at the time as there are today. Catholics are Christians, but no one would say we were founded as a Catholic nation. If it comes down to an acceptance that Jesus was literally both the son and father, than my understanding is that Jefferson would not be considered a Christian.

    Is this the Gish Gallop or changing the definitions? Your opponent has an advantage of being able to change what “based on Christianity” means.

    Multiple religions have the same basic ideas. I don’t think any founder would be considered Sikh, but the very basic tenets sound the same. Worship God, treat everyone equally, etc. According to About.com, http://sikhism.about.com/od/sikhism101/tp/Top_Ten_Sikh_Beliefs.htm, their top 10 is pretty much identical to Christian beliefs, the 10 commandments and the 7 deadly sins. About the only two that don’t fit perfectly into Christianity are the specific clothing they wear and the prohibition against tobacco and cutting your hair. And some Christians do follow those. So any sufficiently broad definition of Christianity would fit the bill.

    And what does “based on” really mean? All of the founders grew up and were acculturated into a society based on Christian thought. No matter what their personal religions or beliefs, it would have been very hard to break out of the culture they were born into in any truly radical way. Even if they all had decided that their own belief system was based on Aztec religion, I think it would be hard to step outside the culture they grew up in and have a completely different set of underlying beliefs. Not that it can’t happen, but it is rare. Even so, they knew that they would have to get the Constitution ratified by the colonies. They had to make all sorts of political compromises, and doing something radically outside the general culture would have doomed it. Look at the 3/5ths compromise.

  • Chiroptera

    …whether the Constitution is based on Christianity….

    Makes sense. Wasn’t Jesus always mentioning the Constitutional Republic of Heaven? And teach with parables where God is symbolically represented by a democratically elected chief executive?

  • Crimson Clupeidae

    Alverant@1: Then turn around and ask them to point out those explicit references in the Constitution. This may be the shortest debate in the history of debates!

  • Alverant

    #4 Crimson

    There’s a reference to the year, the word “Creator”, and I think one other divine reference somewhere that’s equally vague.

  • jnorris

    Well, the US Constitution does allow slavery, but not Bible slavery. It also prohibits women from participating in the government. So on those two points there is a bit of Christianity in the Constitution.

  • celcus

    This might explain some things…perhaps the wingnuts have been reading the wrong Constitution all this time.

  • http://zenoferox.blogspot.com/ Zeno

    To quote Gomer Pyle: “Surprise, surprise!” The Confederacy: Officially racist. Officially Christian. I guess those two things aren’t incompatible at all.

  • Synfandel

    He blasted the “perilous atheism” of the U.S. Constitution, adding that its framers had been too tinctured with the kind of “free-thinking” and “infidel spirit” that was often associated with the “horror of the French Revolution.”

    Palmer described the ratification of the Constitution in these terms: “The American nation stood up before the world, a helpless orphan and entered upon a career without God.”

    This is very typical. Theocrats really don’t grok the difference between the terms ‘atheist’ and ‘secular’.

    The U.S. Constitution is not an atheist document; it’s a secular document. It makes no statement one way or another about God, leaving matters of religion to each individual’s intelligence and conscience. Nor was the French Revolution an atheist revolution; it was anticlerical, but that was only because it opposed the illegitimate social, economic, and political power of the clergy. Almost every single participant was, and remained, a practising Christian—the vast majority Roman Catholic.

    “The American nation” (if one could legitimately say that there was an American nation in the 1780s) was not “without God”. On the contrary, its people were overwhelmingly Christian. But it’s government was specifically designed to be neutral on questions of religion, because it was not the government’s place to tell people their consciences.

  • johnhodges

    I have always wanted to ask WHAT “Christian Principles” they think this country was based on. “Please quote for me something Jesus taught that we could recognize as a founding principle of the United States.” Not laying up treasures on Earth, but instead selling all you have and distributing to the poor? Not resisting evil, but instead turning the other cheek? Following the entire Law of Moses down to the last Iota, except the dietary laws? Abstaining from all sin even in your thoughts, even to the point of self-castration to avoid thoughts of lust, which is spiritually equivalent to adultery? Please, where in the Bible, New Testament or Old, is there any support for religious liberty or representative government?

  • Pierce R. Butler

    “With God as our defender”

    Who went AWOL even before General Sherman showed up.

  • Michael Heath

    johnhodges writes:

    I have always wanted to ask WHAT “Christian Principles” they think this country was based on.

    I immediately can think of two. The assertion Jesus brings a sword, and the U.S. threat to our enemies that the damage to the enemy will be far worse than that inflicted on us. E.g., we lost how many on 9/11, and then how many innocents died in the Iraq War?

    Oh, the Iraq War brings up a third: we’re a piss poor aim at reigning down terror as blowback. Kind of like God laying down tornadoes in the Bible Belt because of gays outing out in San Francisco, or God missing the gay-heavy neighborhoods in New Orleans during Katrina while slamming where his devout black flocks lived.

  • howardhershey

    I think we can agree that the U.S. Constitution was founded by at least ‘nominal’ Christians, much like today’s Republican/Tea Parties. The difference being that the founders often looked at Christianity skeptically whereas today’s Republican/Tea Partiers look at it hypocritically.

  • Al Dente

    This mentality is clear in the Confederacy’s decision to adopt the Latin phrase Deo Vindice (“With God as our defender”) as its national motto.

    Gott mit uns had already been taken.

  • Chiroptera

    Didn’t there used to be a couple of Confederacy apologists who would show up and provide the comedy on these threads? Here we have two Confederacy related posts in as many days and not a peep. Frankly, I’m disappointed.

  • wordsmatter

    Will a recording of this November 12 debate ever be available online?

  • dingojack

    howardhershey (#13) = “The difference being that the founders often looked at Christianity skeptically critically whereas today’s Republican/Tea Partiers look at it hypocritically”.

    [Amended for rhetorical euphony].

    😉 Dingo

  • https://www.facebook.com/wes.aaron.5 Wes Aaron

    It defies all laws of logic, the lows these people sink to.

  • Abdul Alhazred

    The piety in the preamble of the Confederate constitution is a relatively minor matter. Such piety was equally fashionable on both sides of that war. Note the words to The Battle Hymn of the Republic.

    The Confederate constitution is well worth reading for historical interest.

    Most of the main body of the Confederate constitution is taken verbatim from the US constitution (including the Bill of Rights). But the support for the institution of slavery is much more detailed and explicit, including provisions for fugitive slave laws.

    That’s the historically important bit.

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    Reading the Confederate constitutions, both provisional and permanent (which I did as research for a paper in high school), one can’t help noticing how lame and unoriginal its drafters were — all they did was copy the 1787 original practically word for word, with extra bits thrown in to keep slavery in place and justify it by invoking “Almighty God.”

  • jonmoles

    Researching for a debate? Interesting strategy, too bad the other side won’t do the same thing, then there would be no debate. My pre-debate strategy would be a lot of calming exercises where I continually try to convince myself not to go apeshit when they start lying. It would also probably consist of taking a Xanax a half hour before it begins.

  • wscott

    If anyone’s interested, here’s a useful side-by-side comparison of the US & CSA Constitutions: http://www.jjmccullough.com/CSA.htm

    It’s not surprising they’re 90% the same, but it’s interesting to note what parts they changed. For those who insist the Civil War was really about states’ right, not slavery, they don’t seem to have done much to increase state’s right in the CSA Constitution apart from some fairly minor taxation powers. But boy howdy did they make sure slavery was protected – in fact, CSA States did not have the right to outlaw slavery.

  • colnago80

    Re wscott @ #22

    It’s not surprising they’re 90% the same, but it’s interesting to note what parts they changed. For those who insist the Civil War was really about states’ right, not slavery

    Actually, it was about coal mines in West Virginia.

  • http://www.pandasthumb.org Area Man

    Honestly, I don’t even consider this a debatable issue. You want to debate whether the foundational document of our country is based on Christianity when 1) the document no where mentions Christianity, Jesus, God, or any explicitly Christian concept, 2) the founding document of Christianity (i.e. the Bible) no where mentions representative government, separation of powers, freedom of speech/religion, etc., which are the Constitution’s defining concepts, and 3) all Christian nations and lands at the time and for roughly 1000 years prior had almost exclusively monarchical and feudalistic governments.

    Okay, go for it.

  • http://festeringscabofrealityblogspot.com fifthdentist

    @ Alveran #5,

    I like it when they argue the bit about “in the year of our Lord” makes the U.S. Constitution a holy document.

    Because when they do I can point out that bills of sale for slaves written at the same time also included the same dating. Which, I suppose, would mean that the sale of slaves equally holy as the Constitution.

  • wscott

    @ fifthdentist #25: Especially given that in the US Constitution “the year of our Lord” only appears in the signature block; elsewhere in the document, they just refer to “the year.” The CSA Constitution, by contrast, did use year of our Lord throughout.