Rothbard, Religion, and the War for Southern Independence

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    I recall listening to a lecture by Rothbard on the War for Southern Independence (on youtube) in which he mentions the role of religion in leading up to the war. Specifically, he mentioned the influence of radical Yankee (he notes that this was an ethno-cultural group) Protestants in the northern States who believed that sin must wiped out from the face of the earth in order for Christ to return. This was their motive in trying to abolish slavery. Of course, they believed that using force (i.e. the state) would be the most expedient means to achieving their end. According to Rothbard, this group believed that salvation could be achieved only by abolishing sin and working for the “salvation” of others. This was in contrast to the Catholics, who tended to be more libertarian, as they believed salvation could be achieved through life in the Church – not by forcing morality on others via the state.

    I was wondering if I could get some commentary from the professors here at LC. Was Rothbard correct in saying that theology played a notable role in leading up to the war? Are there any resources that I could seek out to learn more about this topic?


    Theology played a role on both sides, and certainly Northern Puritanical zeal had much to do with reform efforts aimed at not only abolishing slavery, but every other moral crusade as well (temperance, women’s suffrage, etc). Northern theology also gave the South its Christian defense of slavery. See Larry Tise, “Proslavery” for a nice discuss on this trend.


    Finkelman published a short collection of primary pro-slavery documents a few years back. My students have found it quite approachable, and it’s well selected. I recommend it highly.

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