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When Slavery Was Called Freedom uncovers the cultural and ideological bonds linking the combatants in the Civil War era and boldly reinterprets the intellectual foundations of secession. John Patrick Daly dissects the evangelical defense of slavery at the heart of the nineteenth century’s sectional crisis. He brings a new understanding to the role of religion in the Old South and the ways in which religion was used in the Confederacy.

Southern evangelicals argued that their unique region was destined for greatness, and their rhetoric gave expression and a degree of coherence to the grassroots assumptions of the South. The North and South shared assumptions about freedom, prosperity, and morality. For a hundred years after the Civil War, politicians and historians emphasized the South’s alleged departures from national ideals. Recent studies have concluded, however, that the South was firmly rooted in mainstream moral, intellectual, and socio-economic developments and sought to compete with the North in a contemporary spirit.

Daly argues that antislavery and proslavery emerged from the same evangelical roots; both Northerners and Southerners interpreted the Bible and Christian moral dictates in light of individualism and free market economics. When the abolitionist’s moral critique of slavery arose after 1830, Southern evangelicals answered the charges with the strident self-assurance of recent converts. They went on to articulate how slavery fit into the “genius of the American system” and how slavery was only right as part of that system.

Honorable Mention, 2003 Seaborg Award for Civil War Scholarship

"Daly’s is an immensely valuable book, continuing and extending the recent focus on religion in the Civil War. His voice is a perfectly balanced one. His analysis draws on important theoretical, philosophical, and theological work, whichhe balances with solid historical documentation and deft analysis."—Civil War Book Review

"Makes a significant contribution of scholarly understanding of the social implications of religious faith in nineteenth-century America."—Civil War History

"This is a well-written, thought-provoking volume that raises new questions while covering familiar territory. The result is a book that nuances our understanding of the southern defense of slavery, the coming of the Civil War, and evangelicalism’s role in fostering the sectional crisis."—Georgia Historical Quarterly

"A valuable contribution to our understanding of antebellum ideology and the role of religious ideas in the sectional conflict."—H-Net Reviews

"A fascinating new perspective on religion in the Old South and the causes of America’s fratricidal conflict."—H-Net Reviews

"This book addresses big topics—religion, slavery, the Civil War—in a fresh way, with immense scholarship, and with incisive analysis, and the author forces the reader to think afresh about the role of religion (especially its influence on politics, society, and ‘public’ matters) in the Old South. Recommended for every scholar of the era and region."—John Boles

"Daly argues that, while race lay at the heart of southern slavery, it did not define the southern defense of the institution. Evangelicals defended slavery, not in the abstract, but as it was practiced by evangelical slaveholders in keeping with the evangelical emphasis on individual conversion and responsibility."—Journal of American History

"An important study of a significant aspect of southern culture, one that should be read by all who are interested in the intellectual defense of slavery."—Journal of Southern History

"An important new look at the nexus of evangelical Protestantism and Confederate nationalism. . . . Daly's artfully written work, as accessible an intellectual history as this reader has ever encountered, is a must-read for all interested in antebellum evangelicals or in proslavery theory."—Journal of Southern Religion

"A genuinely new perspective on religious proslavery and its role in bringing about the Civil War."—Journal of the Early Republic

"To his credit, Daly has produced that most laudable of things: a useful history book. Its short length plus its clear prose makes it an excellent introduction for beginners in the field, yet his insights into the southern evangelical mind make this fascinating reading for even the most dedicated expert."—Maryland Historical Magazine

"This bold account offers a fresh look at the ways that religion, and it strong influence on politics and society, contributed to the bloody conflict."—McCormick (SC) Messenger

"Draws historians back to one of the defining aspects of antebellum southern culture: evangelical religion. . . . Sheds light on the staying power of the South’s attachment to the Bible and its use in proclaiming racist and proslavery views both before and after the Civil War."—Southern Historian

"Daly covers new ground along a well-trodden path of historical scholarship."—Virginia Magazine of History and Biography

"Daly’s work is admirable, both for the thoroughness of his research and for his carefully detailed history of evangelicalism and the proslavery movement."—Journal of American Folklore

"When Slavery Was Called Freedom definitely provides new and useful information for those interested in the religious attitudes of the Confederate South."—Debbie A. Hanson, Journal of American Folklore

"This highly commendable work should make its mark in the field of American religious history."—Bertram Wyatt-Brown

Publication Date



The University Press of Kentucky

Place of Publication

Lexington, KY






Slavery, Evangelicalism, Antislavery movements, United States Civil War


United States History

When Slavery Was Called Freedom: Evangelicalism, Proslavery, and the Causes of the Civil War
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