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

"Thoroughly researched and cogently argued . . . Gives historians of the pro- and antislavery causes much to think about."
American Historical Review

"Genovese makes a convincing, well-documented case that, although southern ministers supported the war for a slaveholding republic, they did not do so uncritically and repeatedly warned southerners that they had to conform to God's word on the treatment of their slaves if the Confederacy were to benefit from God's support and achieve victory."
—Gaines M. Foster, Civil War History

"It should be viewed as a challenge to us all to try to understand the Old South in all its contradictory complexity, and especially to try to comprehend those southerners earnestly argued that slavery was a God-given trust."
Southern Cultures

"Tests the rhetoric of slave-holding as stewardship against a fearful reality many argued to reform. Both challenging and complementary to works by Drew Gilpin Faust, Mitchell Snay, and Jack P. Maddex, this book is characteristic Genovese—informative, insightful, and provocative."
Library Journal

"Genovese has again essayed important questions that scholars need to address in more depth as they probe the many effects of the Civil War upon the South."
Journal of Southern History

"What seems most laudatory about Genovese is his attempt to try to see the white antebellum South in all its complexity and richness and to reaffirm the importance of religion in the region during the nineteenth century."

"A book that is sure to stimulate debate . . . Relevant to the struggles of American Protestantism with controversial issues today."

"An incisive, provocative, and mostly persuasive analysis of what certain white clergymen thought about slavery, the Confederacy, and the Civil War. The writing is vivid, the analysis rigorous, and the whole effectively illustrated with quotations. While the basic argument is not new, it has never before been spelled out so carefully and completely."
Journal of American History

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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.