A Consuming Fire
The Fall of the Confederacy in the Mind of the White Christian South

Eugene D. Genovese

A leading historian examines the white Southern Christian response to slavery, military defeat, and emancipation


"A remarkable and important contribution to southern history during its most critical period . . . Written with intellectual rigor and impressive scholarship . . . [This] book belongs on the required reading list of all seriously interested in southern history."
—C. Vann Woodward, Civil War Book Review

"Always a superb essayist, [Genovese] develops a crisp and powerful argument about the religious strand in the pro-slavery argument, before, during, and after the war."
Times Literary Supplement

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The fall of the Confederacy proved traumatic for a people who fought with the belief that God was on their side. Yet, as Eugene D. Genovese writes in A Consuming Fire, Southern Christians continued to trust in the Lord's will. The churches had long defended "southern rights" and insisted upon the divine sanction for slavery, but they also warned that God was testing His people, who must bring slavery up to biblical standards or face the wrath of an angry God.

In the eyes of proslavery theorists, clerical and lay, social relations and material conditions affected the extent and pace of the spread of the Gospel and men's preparation to receive it. For proslavery spokesmen, "Christian slavery" offered the South, indeed the world, the best hope for the vital work of preparation for the Kingdom, but they acknowledged that, from a Christian point of view, the slavery practiced in the South left much to be desired. For them, the struggle to reform, or rather transform, social relations was nothing less than a struggle to justify the trust God placed in them when He sanctioned slavery.

The reform campaign of prominent ministers and church laymen featured demands to secure slave marriages and family life, repeal the laws against slave literacy, and punish cruel masters. A Consuming Fire analyzes the strength, weakness, and failure of the struggle for reform and the nature and significance of southern Christian orthodoxy and its vision of a proper social order, class structure, and race relations.

Mercer University Lamar Memorial Lectures

Page count: 200 pp.
Trim size: 5.5 x 8.5


List price: $24.95

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Eugene D. Genovese (1930–2012) was the author of several books, including Roll, Jordan, Roll, for which he won the Bancroft Prize, The Southern Tradition, and The Southern Front.