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The Coming of the Lord: The Northern Protestant Clergy and the Civil War Crisis

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In this paper I will present an in-depth analysis of The Coming of the Lord by George M. Fredrickson.

This article presents a study of American religion and nineteenth-century society and examines the role of clergy in the life of the country. Fredrickson claims that “the proper role of Protestant ministers and their churches in American public life has been a contentious issue since the founding of the republic.” (110)

First of all, there is a need to figure out the primary thesis of the author. George Fredrickson defines the American clergy as gaining more and more influence within the country. I would like to quote the author and to outline the thesis of the article in the following way: he believes that can be perceived as “new exaltation of power [of Northern clergy] and authority as antidotes to democracy.” (121) But at last the country came out of the Civil War with “the clergy and the churches lost some of their earlier capacity to perform…criticizing and judging the secular order in the light of a higher morality.” (111)

The increasing importance of clergy can be perceived “as a potential danger to freedom of thought” (110) or examined in the framework of the need to establish national church.

The author uses sound evidence to support his thesis. The author suggests that by the end of the eighteenth century armed clerical opposition to slavery was influential. So he shows that clergy Northern clergy supported the Civil War and the abolition campaign. He speaks of the increase of clerical prestige the expense of embracing politics and secular methods.

Fredrickson suggest that the issue of slavery gave the protestant clergy more opportunities to influence on the affairs of state. “Political preaching” (111) was used to demand recognizing Protestantism as an unofficial national religion; Frederickson compares denominations to political parties.

Fredrickson offers examples from all the spheres of life, including social, political, and economic. Christian nationalism was opposed to religious liberalism that was considered to lead to uncontrolled capitalism.

The author also examines how the growing role of clergy was compatible to the tenets of religion.

Now I will proceed with identifying major strengths of the article. George Fredrickson speaks about the history of religion in the framework of war events and political culture of the country. The article doesn’t present bare facts but has strong emotional appeal and therefore appears more convincing. Fredrickson uses sources of different nature, so his approach is comprehensive.

As Frederickson notes in his article, he was the first to make a systematic effort in order to combine two approaches that perceive clergy as seeking to enhance its status and  simultaneously as important participants in ‘America debate’. The clergy took a surprisingly active part in the Civil War, so Frederickson made a good job observing the dynamics of changing role of Protestantism during the war and post-war period.

In the final part of the analysis I will concentrate my attention on the weaknesses of the article.

The article is very complex; it needs much scrutiny and attention. It complicates our sense of the politics during the Civil War. Another disadvantage of the article is that it doesn’t have a universal appeal. Many believers can have their religious feelings hurt by the notions expressed in the article since they believe that clergy is sacred and can’t be ascribed any functions (e.g. sociopolitical) except serving the Lord.

To sum up my paper, I would like to state that the article The Coming of the Lord is well-structured although controversial; it also has a clear and strong thesis supported by sound evidence.

References

George M. Fredrickson, The Coming of the Lord: The Northern Protestant Clergy and the Civil War Crisis, Religion and the American Civil War, Oxford University Press, 1998, pp.110-130.

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