Saturday, June 25, 2016

What Lincoln’s Election Meant to South Carolina

The finest of gentlemen founded South Carolina, informants assured the famous London Times correspondent, William Howard Russell, upon his arrival in Charleston in April, 1861. “It was established not by witch-burning Puritans, by cruel persecuting fanatics, who implanted in the North the standard of Torquemada, and breathed in the nostrils of their newly born colonies all the ferocity, bloodthirstiness, and rapid intolerance of the Inquisition,” the South Carolinians assured him, shortly after their bombardment of Robert Anderson’s band of astoundingly brave Union men at Fort Sumter. Confusing its own bigotry with Christianity, Puritanism had birthed “impurity of mind among men” and “unchastity in women,” thoroughly enveloping the New England soul, the South Carolinians continued. Evil, corrupt, and dark, Northerners might very well “know how to read and write, but they don’t know how to think, and they are the easy victims of the wretched imposters on all the ‘ologies and ‘isms who swarm over the region.”

To a southerner, the North seemed nothing short of decadent, its freedom not standing for anything but a loss of purpose and direction, its people confused, running in many directions, chasing nothing of import. “The parties in this conflict are not merely abolitionists and slave-holders—they are atheists, socialists, communists, red republicans, Jacobins on the one side and the friends of order and regulated freedom on the other,” a famous southern theologian, James Henley Thornwell, had written. “In one word, the world is the battleground, Christianity and atheism the combatants, and the progress of humanity is at stake.”

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