18 Pages

The Northern Churches and the Moral Problem of Slavery

WithJohn R. McKivigan

Historians' accounts instead regard the sectional schism of several large denominations in the mid-1840s as evidence of rapidly growing Northern antislavery sentiment that imperilled political institutions as well. By examining the churches' relations with the abolitionists before the Civil War, considerable insight can be gained into the problems that antislavery activists encountered with the Northern public in general. Even moderate antislavery church leaders dissented from the abolitionist description of slaveholding as an unqualified sin. These antislavery moderates contended that some slave owners could not be held morally accountable for their actions. Analysis of the Northern churches' response to the debate over slavery reveals that a number of sociocultural and institutional factors interacted with theological issues to erect complex barriers against the success of abolitionist efforts. The coming of the Civil War broke down much of the Northern churches' resistance to taking aggressive antislavery actions.