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The Politics of Faith during the Civil War

320 pages / 6.00 x 9.00 inches / no illustrations

ebook available

Civil War | Religious Studies

  Hardcover / 9780807150009 / May 2013

In The Politics of Faith during the Civil War, Timothy L. Wesley examines the engagement of both northern and southern preachers in politics during the American Civil War, revealing an era of denominational, governmental, and public scrutiny of religious leaders. Controversial ministers risked ostracism within the local community, censure from church leaders, and arrests by provost marshals or local police. In contested areas of the Upper Confederacy and border Union, ministers occasionally faced deadly violence for what they said or would not say from their pulpits. Even silence on political issues did not guarantee a preacher’s security, as both sides arrested clergymen who defied the dictates of civil and military authorities by refusing to declare their loyalty in sermons or to pray for the designated nation, army, or president. 

The generation that fought the Civil War lived in arguably the most sacralized culture in the history of the United States. The participation of church members in the public arena meant that ministers wielded great authority. Wesley outlines the scope of that influence and considers, conversely, the feared outcomes of its abuse. By treating ministers as both individual men of conscience and leaders of religious communities, Wesley reveals that the reticence of otherwise loyal ministers to bring politics into the pulpit often grew not out of partisan concerns but out of doctrinal, historical, and local factors.
The Politics of Faith during the Civil War sheds new light on the political motivations of homefront clergymen during wartime, revealing how and why the Civil War stands as the nation’s first concerted campaign to check the ministry’s freedom of religious expression.

Timothy L. Wesley teaches history at Pennsylvania State University, where he is a fellow with the George and Ann Richards Civil War Era Center. He and his wife Linda live in State College, Pennsylvania. He will begin teaching as Asst. Professor of History at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, TN in August, 2014.

Praise for The Politics of Faith during the Civil War

“[A] thought-provoking and ambitious volume. . . . This book uncovers a previously overlooked chapter in the history of civil liberties in wartime.”—Reviews in American History

“[Wesley’s] wide-ranging scope, extensive research, and at times downright contrarianism make his book not only an intriguing read, but also an important contribution to the ever-expanding scholarship on the American Civil War’s religious history.”—Fides et Historia

“[A] fine volume….Anyone interested in nineteenth-century American religion should read Wesley’s work.”—Church History

“The strongest element of the book analytically is Wesley’s effort to create a taxonomy of preacher politics. . . . The Politics of Faith during the Civil War is a noteworthy contribution for relentlessly returning the religious class to its rightful place at the political center of everything that brought the war on and fought it through.”—Civil War History

"Wesley's book is an important contribution to our understanding of religion's significant influence on the home front during the war." —Civil War Book Review

"In taking up this topic, Wesley has offered one of the most helpful studies to date for why religion mattered in the lively and often rough-and-tumble political world of the Civil War."—Civil War Monitor

"The Politics of Faith During the Civil War is an excellent book about the influence of home-front ministers during the Civil War era, every bit as interesting a subject as the oft-covered role of ministers as chaplains to the opposing armies...Highly recommended."—Civil War Medicine and Writing

"Timothy L. Wesley's useful new study examines the ways in which the clergy, laity, denominational bodies, and national authorities, responded when a minister addressed civil and political issues from behind the sacred desk. This narrow focus represents a welcome addition to a field in which it would be easy to conclude that religion was simply in the Civil War era ether—everywhere and nowhere at the same time...a fine contribution to our understanding of religion and the Civil War, and to our understanding of the clergy's place in that struggle."—The Journal of Southern Religion

"Wesley has...made an original contribution to our understanding of the war years through his study of ministers on all sides of the conflict."—American Catholic Studies

"The Politics of Faith during the Civil War is an excellent analysis of political motivations of religious leaders of every sect, north and south." —The Advocate

“[Wesley] delivers an engaging book-length study . . . that details and examines the rhetorical practices of the clergy, their national organizations, and their congregations. . . . While filling in important gaps in the scholarship, the book presents a compelling picture of the role of religious rhetoric in the lives of citizens and politicians.”—Journal of American Culture

“Timothy L. Wesley contributes to what is becoming a deep and diverse literature on religion in the Civil War era. . . . Wesley adds nuance to this important discussion with a keen sense of change over time and regional variation.”—Journal of Southern History

Links for The Politics of Faith in the Civil War

Video interview with Timothy Wesley (Civil War Monitor)

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