A CONSUMING FIRE by Eugene D. Genovese


The Fall of the Confederacy in the Mind of the White Christian South
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A lucid investigation of the ideology of pro-slavery Southerners. In this book, derived from a series of lectures delivered at Mercer University, noted historian Genovese (The Southern Front: History and Politics in the Cultural War, 1995, etc,) examines the ways in which many Southerners convinced themselves that God was on their side—while, of course, many Northerners held that the Lord of Hosts was with them. Clerics and church officials of many denominations had been strongly pro-Union until Lincoln’s election, Genovese maintains, but most of them stood by secessionist politicians when war broke out. All “readily acknowledged that the South was fighting to uphold slavery,” he writes, and only when the war ended did they allow that slavery may have in fact been morally wrong. Until that time, some of the more inventive clerics sought legitimacy for slavery by appealing to biblical authority, arguing that Abraham and other key figures in the Old Testament had owned slaves without drawing down God’s wrath. That God had indeed visited his anger upon the slaveholders, these clerics insisted, was simply a test of their faith as they stood firm in “working out a great thought of God—namely the higher Development of Humanity in its capacity for Constitutional Liberty.” Not all Southerners, Genovese notes, shared these notions. Quoting from letters written by front-line soldiers, he shows that many of them in fact believed that their people had become corrupt thanks to slavery, and that the war itself was “entirely at variance with the commands given for our guidance.” After the Confederacy fell, Genovese writes, the ardent clerics turned their attention to other matters, seeing the time “as a new era in which the white race would take up the burden of civilizing the colored races of the world.” Genovese’s careful scholarship yields another book of importance to students of the Civil War era.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-8203-2046-3
Page count: 176pp
Publisher: Univ. of Georgia
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 1998