Robert L. Hall


The Confederate firing on Fort Sumter in 1861 was a watershed not only in the political and military history of the United States, but also a turning point in its social history. The heady wine of secessionism and the rupturing of lines of communication and calm moral discourse were experienced in some religious polities for more than a decade before the fateful military event. Southern Methodists and Baptists had parted company with their non-southern counterparts by 1845, when, as John Hope Franklin has written, “slavery had become as much a part of the religious orthodoxy of the South as the Creation in the Book of Genesis or Armageddon in the Book of Revelations. The work of promoting and defending slavery, when entrusted to the southern clergy, could not have been in safer hands.“ On the eve of secession, bishops of the Episcopal and Catholic churches in Florida were urging secession and preaching fiery pro-slavery sermons. Bishop Frances Huger Rutledge of the Episcopal Church was so enthusiastic in his exhortations on behalf of southern independence that Edmund Ruffin, an eyewitness observer of the Florida secession convention, was impressed with Rutledge’s “ardent and active patriotic sentiments.“ Not only did he refuse to attend church services on the national day of humiliation and prayer proclaimed by President Buchanan, but Rutledge also pledged $500 to help defray the new government’s expenses if the ordinance of secession passed.