Luke E. Harlow, Religion, Race and the Making of Confederate Kentucky, 1830-1880 (Cambridge University Press, 2014) examines the role of religion, and more specifically,...

Luke E. Harlow, Religion, Race and the Making of Confederate Kentucky, 1830-1880 (Cambridge University Press, 2014) examines the role of religion, and more specifically, conservative evangelical Protestant theology, in the struggle over slavery and abolition in a crucial period of American history. The book makes an impressive case that we cannot really understand that struggle or the war that grew out of it without fully appreciating the political, cultural, and intellectual history of conservative evangelical theology.

Harlow describes a profoundly religious period in American history, where people claimed religious motives for all kinds of political positions, in a slave-holding border state that remained part of the Union. Kentucky was home to a diverse theological climate that nonetheless seemed always to break toward finding a Biblical warrant for slavery. Politically, however, gradualist emancipationists and pro-slavery advocates were often far apart. When the Civil War came, thousands of black Kentuckians joined Union ranks, profoundly shaping how their emancipation unfolded. Former gradualists, in response, fled to the pro-slavery side. While white Kentuckians had not overwhelmingly embraced the Confederate cause in the war, after it ended, they did so – fully and vigorously. The result, as Harlow shows, was that Kentucky arguably became the least reconstructed former slave state, and that development held profound implications for the shape of the society the Civil War made.

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