The Propaganda of War. The South’s Misinformation Machine.

Based on a paper titled “The Propaganda of War. The South’s Misinformation Machine“. by Misty Smith. Originally posted in HIS 330 on October 22, 2017, for Southern New Hampshire University.

As a result, the United States split into and a bloody Civil War ensued, fueled by rampant propaganda, especially religious propaganda claiming that it was God’s will that humans own others as slaves, misinformation that was designed to sway the court of opinion away from the issue of slavery.

 

The Propaganda of War. The South’s Misinformation Machine.

 

Slavery has been a part of civilization since the beginning of written history. Ancient civilizations, from Egyptians to the Vikings, enslaved those they conquered, with the color of the skin of those slaves meaning almost nothing. Instead, to those early empires, they enslaved those they saw as weak.[1] However, as with most human institutions, slavery evolved over time and moved into the realm of oppression, for greed and labor purposes of a people because of their race, a people who were most often betrayed by and sold off by their own people.[2] The trend of enslaving non-white Europeans came about fully when those Europeans discovered people who did not look like they did and they began to question the origins of the human race and if God had not himself designed others to be used.[3] “Philosophy and religion in the premodern era justified slavery as one of many forms of subordination to authority necessary for social order.”[4]  As a result, the new world was founded upon the back-breaking labor of not only explorers and determined new citizens but by the blood and sweat of an enslaved group of individuals.However, the evolution of thought started once again and the institution of slavery came to be a dividing force within the still-new United States of America. As a result, the United States split in two and a bloody Civil War ensued, fueled by rampant propaganda, especially religious propaganda claiming that it was God’s will that humans own others as slaves, misinformation that was designed to sway the court of opinion away from the issue of slavery.

White officers of 4th United States Colored Infantry at leisure, Fort Slocum, District of Columbia.
Library of Congress

There were numerous instances that lead up to the United States Civil War; however, the bedrock basis for the conflict will forever remain the states’ rights to hold other human beings as personal property. Although President Lincoln and his predecessors had often tried to allow compromises to prevent war between the states, the Union was doomed to fall apart because the slavery issue could no longer be ignored and accepted blindly as a Southern institution given by divine right. However, some believed that a split in the nation would become a healing factor. For example, abolitionists in the North “believed that secession would isolate the South and bring its peculiar institution under the ban of world opinion, end the North’s obligation to return fugitive slaves, relieve the U.S. army from the duty to suppress slave insurrections and hasten the final collapse of bondage”[5]. On the other hand, the leaders of the South were not going to give up their labor force freely: on December 13, 1860, the secessionist’s message was made clear by congressmen from the South, stating, “The argument is exhausted. All hope of relief in the Union, through the agency of committees, Congressional legislation, or constitutional amendments, is extinguished, and we trust the South will not be deceived by appearances or the pretense of new guarantees… The honor, safety, and independence of the Southern people are to be found only in a Southern Confederacy.”[6]

However, was the states’ right to own another human being enough for hundreds of thousands of boys and men to take up arms, sometimes against their own brothers? Was the idea of freeing a race of long disenfranchised people enough to fuel the passion of so many to allow a separation of the Union and a war upon its soil? Propaganda before, during, and in the many long years that have passed since the end of the war can be attributed to explaining why the issue of slavery is often downplayed as the cause of war in the South. The propaganda that led up to the Civil War was fueled on both sides, the Northern states who had been developing without the slave trade for decades were driven by abolitionists and the stories of horror often repeated by runaway slaves of the inhumanity of slavery as an institution. While the secessionists of the South held on to the long maintained believe that God had ordained them to own slaves, and was their responsibility to continue the tradition.[7] The battle of words through propaganda was designed to sway someone to one side over the other and varied upon location. Many who signed up to fight did so as a way to show support for their country, be it the United States or the Confederate States of America: “I am going, I am not laboring under any ‘sea [sic] fit’… but a duty which everyone ought to perform – love of country” claimed one soldier from Massachusetts.[8] Whereas a Confederate volunteer would sign up to fight for “the rights of property and self-government and the defense of home and hearth against ‘tyranny’ and ‘subjugation’.”[9]

The religious bodies of the time before the Civil War had not been in the formal habit of meddling in the affairs of the government. The first amendment of the United States Constitution had made it clear that religions and the government should not intertwine, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” Therefore, the

Source: John Winston Coleman, Slavery Times in Kentucky (1940).

majority of religious bodies of that time had long traditions of upholding the separation of Church and State as it had been outlined in the United States’ Constitution. However, when the Union dissolved many men of the cloth took it upon themselves to sway their congregations to one view or another using a form of religious propaganda. These types of propaganda tactics were key to persuading individuals who may have become keen on the idea of “All men being created equal” as the bedrock of the nation as outlined in the Constitution. “Ministers and priests inspired their congregations, while poets, such as Walt Whitman in the North and Henry Timrod in the South, composed verses lauding their separate causes.”[10]

In the South, the religious propaganda differed vastly from that in the North. One such religious authority of the time was the Rev. Stephen Elliott who claimed the titles of being the first Bishop of Georgia, serving from 1841-1866, and the only bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church of the Confederate States of America.[11] In the Address of the Rt. Rev. Stephen Elliott, D. D., to the Thirty-Ninth Annual Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church, in the Diocese of Georgia published by the Savannah: Power Press of John M. Cooper & Company, 1861, Rev. Elliott, in a collection of sermons and letters, outlines the cause for his Protestant Episcopal Church to enter the realm of politics and stand behind the Confederacy and its right to slavery.[12] He reminded his congregation that God had ordained slavery, “However the world may judge us in connection with our institution of Slavery, we conscientiously believe it to be a great missionary institution–one arranged by God, as he arranges all the moral and religious influences of the world, so that good may be brought out of seeming evil, and a blessing wrung out of every form of the curse…”[13] Strongly held beliefs such as these were spread throughout the South, including falsehoods such as that the slaves could only be saved and educated by their masters, and that without a masters protection that they would be condemned to intolerable conditions and even thrust into Hell if slavery were to end.[14] It was propaganda such as this which fueled many, including slaves, to join the Confederacy against the United States of America. For example, an article appeared in the newspaper The Spectator on August 18, 1863, praising the patriotism of a black man to the Confederate cause:

“A day or two ago a letter was received at the Treasury Department from a negro man, named Henry Jones, the property of Mr. E. Cannon, of Clarksville, in this State, which is worthy of the highest commendation, and justly entitled to be imitated by those who have been hoarding their treasure during the troubles which at present afflict the country. Henry places at the disposal of the Secretary of the Treasury $465 in gold, which he hopes will be of some service to the Government. In his letter, he speaks of “our glorious cause,” and declares that the slaves of the South have a deeper interest in the establishment of Southern independence than the white population. He thinks if the Yankees are successful the negroes are destined to the most cruel [sic] treatment at their hands.”[15]

An 1866 racist poster attacks Radical Republicans on the issue of black suffrage.

The propaganda used in the Civil War of the United States of America was not restricted to the North and South but spread across the globe. The United States was not prepared for a war, not the North or South had the proper provisions on hand to handle the strife. However, the North was in better monetary shape than the South due to the development of the North’s industry. The North had enjoyed an economic and infrastructure boom due to the industrial revolution and the influx of a large immigrant workforce.[16] Conversely, the South had not developed as far when it came to manufacturing and they had continued to be dependent upon slave labor, therefore, they lacked provisions, large-scale manufacturing provisions, and manpower.[17] Therefore, the propaganda machine was expanded overseas to countries such as England, France, and Spain. It was intended to help form not only create strategic military and monetary alliances with foreign governments but also to sway the minds of general populations they ruled.

Unfortunately for the South, the dark cloud of the slavery issue loomed over their head which threatened the chances of any foreign alliances. However, the religious propaganda that had long been employed in the South to justify slavery would become a necessary overseas tool. For example, under the orders of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, Bishop Patrick Nelson Lynch of Charleston, South Carolina was appointed to be the Commissioner of the Confederate States of America to the States of the Church in 1864.[18] His appointment was intended to provide a two-fold outcome. First, by Confederate President Jefferson Davis appointing, and claiming, an official church for the newly formed Confederacy he was showing how the Confederacy was going to be different in many ways from the old United States of America who had separated any church from the government.[19] Secondly, Bishop Lynch was to use his newly appointed status to travel abroad to meet with heads of the Catholic Church and foreign government officials alike in order to gain political alliances for the Confederacy.[20] In order for Bishop Lynch to further the cause of the Confederacy, he addressed the issue of slavery, when addressed, as God’s will. For example, Bishop Lynch used the often repeated propaganda that it was the Christian duty to take care of the slaves, “Southern white clergy–Lynch among them– typically defined slavery as a system of mutual obligations between master and servant and taught that slaveowners had clear Christian obligations toward their bondsmen.”[21]

Religious authorities were not the only means of spreading the messages of the Civil War to possible overseas alliances; the Confederacy also employed individuals such as George Nicholas Sanders, a Canadian native who had made a name for himself over the years as a man who had worked in United States politics abroad, including England and France.[22] Sanders and others worked on “the establishment of a Confederate operation in Canada to promote Northern anti-war sentiment” which was designed to weaken the North and strengthen the South.[23] Other propaganda means employed by the Confederacy abroad was in the form of newspapers in England such as the Index which was in direct competition with the Union equivalent named the London American.[24] By use of the newspapers, neither side filtered their causes; however, the Confederacy gained large monetary sums of support via their propaganda efforts from the upper social classes in England.[25]

In conclusion, although the Union and Confederacy alike used propaganda to further their causes. The Confederacy employed religious indoctrination alongside traditional means in order to secure the support of their cause both on the home front and abroad. By involving the church within the government of the Confederacy, President Jefferson Davis hoped to persuade the Church, including its leadership and foreign officials, that slavery was God’s will and they should stand behind the Confederate States. Individuals such as George Nicholas Sanders and newspapers printed abroad helped to spread the misinformation of the South to the citizens of the foreign bodies the Confederacy attempted to sway. The lasting effects of the misinformation laid by the Confederacy during the dark period of the Civil War in the hope of leading the narrative of slavery away from the causation of war carry on until this very day in the South.

Footnotes:

 

  1. Mintz and S. McNeil, “Slavery in the Ancient, Medieval, and Early Modern Worlds,” Digital History, 2016.
  2. Robin Law, The Slave Coast of West Africa, 1550-1750: the Impact of the Atlantic Slave Trade On an African Society (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), 1.
  3. Abby L. Ferber Director of Women’s Studies Associate Professor et al., The Matrix Reader: Examining the Dynamics of Oppression and Privilege (New York, N.Y.: McGraw-Hill Education, 2009), 51.
  4. James M. McPherson, Ordeal by Fire: the Civil War and Reconstruction, 4 ed. (Boston: McGraw-Hill Education, 2010), 43.
  5. James M. McPherson, Ordeal by Fire: the Civil War and Reconstruction, 147.
  6. Ibid p. 149.
  7. Abby L. Ferber Director of Women’s Studies Associate Professor et al., The Matrix Reader: Examining the Dynamics of Oppression and Privilege, 51.
  8. James M. McPherson, Ordeal by Fire: the Civil War and Reconstruction, 184.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Joan E. Cashin, “Some of Them Also Served: White Civilians and Mobilization During the Civil War,” OAH Magazine of History, 2012.
  11. Archives of the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia, “Stephen Elliott,” Archives of the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia.
  12. Stephen Elliott, “Episcopal Church. Diocese of Georgia. Bishop (1841-1866: Elliott) Address of the Rt. Rev. Stephen Elliott, D. D., to the Thirty-Ninth Annual Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church, in the Diocese of Georgia.” Documenting the American South.
  13. Stephen Elliott, “Episcopal Church. Diocese of Georgia. Bishop (1841-1866: Elliott) Address of the Rt. Rev. Stephen Elliott, D. D., to the Thirty-Ninth Annual Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church, in the Diocese of Georgia.” Documenting the American South.
  14. Ibid.
  15. “Civil War Era Newspapers. Staunton Spectator: August 18, 1863,” Valley of the Shadow.
  16. James M. McPherson, Ordeal by Fire: the Civil War and Reconstruction, 5-19.
  17. Ibid.
  18. Heisser, David C. R. 1998. “Bishop Lynch’s civil war pamphlet on slavery.” Catholic Historical Review 84, no. 4: 681. MAS Ultra – School Edition.
  19. Ibid.
  20. Ibid.
  21. Ibid.
  22. William A. Tidwell, “The Man Who Shifted the Blame.” Civil War Times Illustrated, vol. 40, no. 3, June 2001, p. 50.
  23. Ibid,
  24. Thomas E. Sebrell II, “Persuading John Bull: Union and Confederate Propaganda in Britain, 1860–1865,” The Journal of the Civil War Era 5, no. 3 (2015): 456.
  25. Ibid.

Bibliography:

Archives of the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia. “Stephen Elliott.” Archives of the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia. Accessed September 15, 2017. http://archives.georgiaepiscopal.org/?page_id=229.

Cashin, Joan E. “Some of Them Also Served: White Civilians and Mobilization During the Civil War.” OAH Magazine of History, 2012.

“Episcopal Church. Diocese of Georgia. Bishop (1841-1866: Elliott) Address of the Rt. Rev. Stephen Elliott, D. D., to the Thirty-Ninth Annual Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church, in the Diocese of Georgia. ,” Documenting the American South, accessed September15, 2017,  http://docsouth.unc.edu/imls/elliott39/menu.html.

Heisser, David C. R. 1998. “Bishop Lynch’s civil war pamphlet on slavery.” Catholic HistoricalReview 84, no. 4: 681. MAS Ultra – School Edition, EBSCOhost (accessed October 15, 2017).

Law, Robin. The Slave Coast of West Africa, 1550-1750: the Impact of the Atlantic Slave Trade On an African Society. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.

Mintz, S., and S. McNeil. “Slavery in the Ancient, Medieval, and Early Modern Worlds.” Digital History. 2016. Accessed October 10, 2017. http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/disp_textbook.cfm?smtid=2&psid=3027.

McPherson, James M. Ordeal by Fire: the Civil War and Reconstruction. 4 ed. Boston: McGraw- Hill Education, 2010.Professor, Abby L. Ferber Director of Women’s Studies Associate, Christina M. Jimenez Associate

Professor, Andrea O’Reilly Herrera, and Dena R. Samuels Senior Instructor. The Matrix Reader: Examining the Dynamics of Oppression and Privilege. New York, N.Y.: McGraw-Hill Education, 2009.

Sebrell II, Thomas E. “Persuading John Bull: Union and Confederate Propaganda in Britain, 1860–1865.” The Journal of the Civil War Era 5, no. 3 (2015): 456.

Valley of the Shadow. “Civil War Era Newspapers. Staunton Spectator: August 18, 1863.” Accessed 2017. http://valley.lib.virginia.edu/news/ss1863/va.au.ss.1863.08.18.xml#02.

Tidwell, William A. “The Man Who Shifted the Blame.” Civil War Times Illustrated, vol. 40, no. 3, June 2001, p. 50. EBSCOhost, ezproxy.snhu.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=f5h &AN=4405760&site=eds-live&scope=site.




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