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Religion, Race, and the Making of Confederate Kentucky, 1830–1880

$90.00 (C)

Part of Cambridge Studies on the American South

  • Date Published: April 2014
  • availability: Available
  • format: Hardback
  • isbn: 9781107000896

$90.00 (C)

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About the Authors
  • This book sheds new light on the role of religion in the nineteenth-century slavery debates. In it, Luke E. Harlow argues that ongoing conflict over the meaning of Christian “orthodoxy” constrained the political and cultural horizons available for defenders and opponents of American slavery. The central locus of these debates was Kentucky, a border slave state with a long-standing antislavery presence. Although white Kentuckians famously cast themselves as moderates in the period and remained with the Union during the Civil War, their religious values showed no moderation on the slavery question. When the war ultimately brought emancipation, white Kentuckians found themselves in lockstep with the rest of the Confederate South. Racist religion thus paved the way for the making of Kentucky's Confederate memory of the war, as well as a deeply entrenched white Democratic Party in the state.

    • Shows the importance of theology and the significance of border slave states in shaping American political culture
    • Highlights the significance of debate between antislavery and pro-slavery historical actors, challenging the notion that 'moderation' or 'liberal toleration' leads to social or political harmony
    • Does not break the antebellum, Civil War, and Reconstruction years into separate periods, but instead shows continuity of thought over time
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    Reviews & endorsements

    "Harlow makes a significant contribution to our developing understanding of the unfortunate historical relationship between evangelical Christianity, slavery, and race throughout America … [A] masterful telling … Each assertion and point of analysis is amply documented, and the end result is both refreshingly source-based and absolutely convincing. In every way that matters, Religion, Race, and the Making of Confederate Kentucky, 1830–1880 is a seamless monograph."
    Timothy Wesley, American Historical Review

    "Harlow's book joins a small but significant literature recasting the relationship between Christianity and politics in the nineteenth century. He masterfully shows how religion can be a vital field of inquiry for unraveling the political peculiarities of the era … Religion, Race, and the Making of Confederate Kentucky, 1830–1880, is a very fine book richly deserving a place on the shelf any student of the nineteenth-century South."
    Journal of Southern History

    "… a welcome contribution … persuasively argued and well-documented … Harlow's study answers recent calls to integrate religion into political narratives, and it exemplifies the valuable insights gained by doing so."
    April Holm, Journal of American History

    "The legacies of slavery are still with us, and they include the assumption that whiteness is somehow close to godliness. Works like Harlow's … give us food for thought at a time when we need more sustenance to keep fighting and hoping that God will make right, for might has failed to do so."
    The Christian Century

    "… with uncommon skill, intelligence, and sensitivity, [Harlow] has deconstructed and re-centered the arguments of conservative evangelicals to show that for all their differences both antislavery gradualists and proslavery advocates worked from a common theological foundation."
    Journal of Southern Religion

    "Writing in clear, crisp prose, and drawing upon a rich arsenal of primary sources, including periodicals, archival materials, and primary texts, Harlow correctly notes that the commonwealth 'stood at the center of the nineteenth-century American debate over race, slavery, and abolition'."
    Ohio Valley History

    "Luke Harlow has written an important and ultimately sobering book on the relationship between religion, slavery, and race in a vitally important border state. By focusing on a number of key leaders, he exposes both the nature and limits of antislavery sentiment in the church and how the conservatism and timidity of religious leaders led Kentucky along a path toward proslavery Unionism and ironically greater identity with the Confederacy after the Civil War. A first-rate monograph with considerable interpretative bite."
    George C. Rable, Charles Summersell Chair in Southern History, University of Alabama, and author of God's Almost Chosen Peoples: A Religious History of the American Civil War

    "Highly original and deeply researched, Religion, Race, and the Making of Confederate Kentucky, 1830–1880 reveals how this border state was neither a moderate middle ground nor an outlier in the nineteenth century, but rather was a key front in the nation’s long-standing battle over slavery. Harlow painstakingly reconstructs a diverse array of arguments that vied for supremacy along the pro- and antislavery spectrum - and reveals the crucial position of evangelical religion at the root of it all. The result is a masterful journey through the tangled history of race and religion in nineteenth-century America."
    Amy Murrell Taylor, University of Kentucky

    "Luke Harlow's powerful book shows how the political theologies of slavery and white supremacy drove the Unionist state of Kentucky to 'become' Confederate after the Civil War. He ingeniously lays bare the long and contentious transition from the view of slavery as a 'necessary evil' to a full-throated embrace of white supremacy among white Kentucky Protestants, carefully demonstrating exactly how the faith that sustained slavery long outlived emancipation."
    Beth Barton Schweiger, University of Arkansas

    "Luke Harlow's carefully researched and gracefully argued book reveals the importance of religion - an often-overlooked subject - in the racial politics of the Civil War era. Religion, as Harlow shows, explains Kentucky's transformation from a state that favored the Union to one identified with the Confederacy and white supremacy after the Civil War. Harlow’s analysis, however, is about more than Kentucky. In his skilled hands, the state exposes broad national dynamics that explain the limits of change during Reconstruction more generally."
    Laura F. Edwards, Duke University

    "Harlow's book adds to a wealth of careful studies of the relationship between nineteenth-century evangelicalism and slavery. It is a significant virtue of [this book] that he persists with his narrative beyond the war's end into the Reconstruction years."
    John Turner, Patheos (

    "[I] have no doubt that [this] will make a big splash in a number of fields, including religious history, the history of the Civil War and Reconstruction, and southern history broadly construed."
    Heath Carter, Religion in American History (

    "By delving into the religious roots of both proslavery and antislavery adherents, Harlow reveals how the two opposite sides were united in racist theology by the post-war period … Harlow's work is a welcome addition to Kentucky history, religious history, and the literature on the issues of race and slavery in the nineteenth century."
    Andrea S. Watkins, Civil War Book Review

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    Product details

    • Date Published: April 2014
    • format: Hardback
    • isbn: 9781107000896
    • length: 258 pages
    • dimensions: 229 x 152 x 19 mm
    • weight: 0.55kg
    • contains: 1 map 1 table
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. The challenge of immediate emancipationism: the origins of abolitionist heresy, 1829–35
    2. Heresy and schism: the uneasy gradualist-proslavery ecclesiastical alliance, 1836–45
    3. The limits of Christian conservative antislavery: white supremacy and the failure of emancipationism, 1845–59
    4. The abolitionist threat: religious orthodoxy and proslavery unionism on the eve of civil war, 1859–61
    5. Competing visions of political theology: Kentucky Presbyterianism's civil war, 1861–2
    6. The end of neutrality: emancipation, political religion, and the triumph of abolitionist heterodoxy, 1862–5
    7. Kentucky's redemption: confederate religion and white democratic domination, 1865–74
    Epilogue: the antebellum past for the postwar future.

  • Author

    Luke E. Harlow, University of Tennessee, Knoxville
    Luke E. Harlow is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. His published work has appeared in Slavery and Abolition, Ohio Valley History and the Register of the Kentucky Historical Society. He is the co-editor of Religion and American Politics: From the Colonial Period to the Present.

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