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After The War

When the five years of rending and tearing had passed, in which slavery
was dispossessed of its hold upon the nation, there was much to be done
in reconstructing and readjusting the religious institutions of the

Throughout the seceding States buildings and endowments for religious
uses had suffered in the general waste and destruction of property.
Colleges and seminaries, in many instances, had seen their entire
resources swept away through investment in the hopeless promises of the
defeated government. Churches, boards, and like associations were widely
disorganized through the vicissitudes of military occupation and the
protracted absence or the death of men of experience and capacity.

The effect of the war upon denominational organizations had been
various. There was no sect of all the church the members and ministers
of which had not felt the sweep of the currents of popular opinion all
about them. But the course of events in each denomination was in some
measure illustrative of the character of its polity.

In the Roman Catholic Church the antagonisms of the conflict were as
keenly felt as anywhere. Archbishop Hughes of New York, who, with Henry
Ward Beecher and Bishop McIlvaine of Ohio, accepted a political mission
from President Lincoln, was not more distinctly a Union man than Bishop
Lynch of Charleston was a secessionist. But the firm texture of the
hierarchical organization, held steadily in place by a central authority
outside of the national boundaries, prevented any organic rupture. The
Catholic Church in America was eminently fortunate at one point: the
famous bull Quanta Cura, with its appended Syllabus of damnable
errors, in which almost all the essential characteristics of the
institutions of the American Republic are anathematized, was fulminated
in 1864, when people in the United States had little time to think of
ecclesiastical events taking place at such a distance. If this
extraordinary document had been first published in a time of peace, and
freely discussed in the newspapers of the time, it could hardly have
failed to inflict the most serious embarrassment on the interests of
Catholicism in America. Even now it keeps the Catholic clergy in a
constantly explanatory attitude to show that the Syllabus does not
really mean what to the ordinary reader it unmistakably seems to mean;
and the work of explanation is made the more necessary and the more
difficult by the decree of papal infallibility, which followed the
Syllabus after a few years.

Simply on the ground of a de facto political independence, the
southern dioceses of the Protestant Episcopal Church, following the
principles and precedents of 1789, organized themselves into a Church
in the Confederate States. One of the southern bishops, Polk, of
Louisiana, accepted a commission of major-general in the Confederate
army, and relieved his brethren of any disciplinary questions that might
have arisen in consequence by dying on the field from a cannon-shot.
With admirable tact and good temper, the Church in the United States
managed to ignore the existence of any secession; and when the alleged
de facto independence ceased, the seceding bishops and their dioceses
dropped quietly back into place without leaving a trace of the secession
upon the record.

The southern organizations of the Methodists and Baptists were of twenty
years' standing at the close of the war in 1865. The war had abolished
the original cause of these divisions, but it had substituted others
quite as serious. The exasperations of the war, and the still more
acrimonious exasperations of the period of the political reconstruction
and of the organization of northern missions at the South, gendered
strifes that still delay the reintegration which is so visibly future of
both of these divided denominations.

At the beginning of the war one of the most important of the
denominations that still retained large northern and southern
memberships in the same fellowship was the Old-School Presbyterian
Church; and no national sect had made larger concessions to avert a
breach of unity. When the General Assembly met at Philadelphia in May,
1861, amid the intense excitements of the opening war, it was still the
hope of the habitual leaders and managers of the Assembly to avert a
division by holding back that body from any expression of sentiment on
the question on which the minds of Christians were stirred at that time
with a profound and most religious fervor. But the Assembly took the
matter out of the hands of its leaders, and by a great majority, in the
words of a solemn and temperate resolution drawn by the venerable and
conservative Dr. Gardiner Spring, declared its loyalty to the government
and constitution of the country. With expressions of horror at the
sacrilege of taking the church into the domain of politics, southern
presbyteries one after another renounced the jurisdiction of the General
Assembly that could be guilty of so shocking a profanation, and, uniting
in a General Assembly of their own, proceeded with great promptitude to
make equally emphatic deliverances on the opposite side of the same
political question.[354:1] But nice logical consistency and accurate
working within the lines of a church theory were more than could
reasonably be expected of a people in so pitiable a plight. The
difference on the subject of the right function of the church continued
to be held as the ground for continuing the separation from the General
Assembly after the alleged ground in political geography had ceased to
be valid; the working motive for it was more obvious in the unfraternal
and almost wantonly exasperating course of the national General Assembly
during the war; but the best justification for it is to be found in the
effective and useful working of the Southern Presbyterian Church.
Considering the impoverishment and desolation of the southern country,
the record of useful and self-denying work accomplished by this body,
not only at home, but in foreign fields, is, from its beginning, an
immensely honorable one.

Another occasion of reconstruction was the strong disposition of the
liberated negroes to withdraw themselves from the tutelage of the
churches in which they had been held, in the days of slavery, in a
lower-caste relation. The eager entrance of the northern churches upon
mission work among the blacks, to which access had long been barred by
atrocious laws and by the savage fury of mobs, tended to promote this
change. The multiplication and growth of organized negro denominations
is a characteristic of the period after the war. There is reason to hope
that the change may by and by, with the advance of education and moral
training among this people, inure to their spiritual advantage. There is
equal reason to fear that at present, in many cases, it works to their
serious detriment.

The effect of the war was not exclusively divisive. In two instances,
at least, it had the effect of healing old schisms. The southern
secession from the New-School Presbyterian Church, which had come away
in 1858 on the slavery issue, found itself in 1861 side by side with the
southern secession from the Old School, and in full agreement with it in
morals and politics. The two bodies were not long in finding that the
doctrinal differences which a quarter-century before had seemed so
insuperable were, after all, no serious hindrance to their coming

Even after the war was over, its healing power was felt, this time at
the North. There was a honeycomb