What happens when both sides pray to the same God?

By Bill Federer

Civil War prayer

The federal government’s revenue before the Civil War came mostly from tariff taxes on imports, the majority of which were collected from Southern ports, like Charleston, South Carolina. There was no federal income tax.

Tariffs made foreign goods more expensive, resulting in people buying domestically produced goods from Northern factories. But the taxes that helped the North, hurt the South, as the South had no factories to protect. Southern economy was agricultural, mostly cotton and rice, which relied heavily on slave labor.

Less than two months after Lincoln was inaugurated president, South Carolina’s economy experienced a downturn and the state threatened to stop collecting tariffs. Federal troops were sent to Fort Sumter in Charleston’s harbor to force them to collect the tariffs. This provoked Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard to fire upon Fort Sumter, April 12, 1861, beginning the Civil War.

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The first years of the Civil War, the Confederate Army was nearly unstoppable, twice winning battles at Bull Run, Virginia, just 20 miles from Washington, D.C. Union troops fled in panic to the fortifications of the U.S. Capitol. The tide of the war did not begin to turn until Lincoln claimed the moral high ground by recasting it as a war to end slavery by issuing the Emancipation Proclamation. This caused European support for the Confederacy to evaporate, as no country wanted to be accused of supporting slavery.

On Nov. 15, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln spoke with Pastor Byron Sunderland of the First Presbyterian Church of Washington, D.C.: “If it had been left to us to determine it, we would have had no war. And, going further back to the occasion of it, we would have had no slavery. And, tracing it still further back, we would have had no evil. … On both sides we are working out the will of God. Yet, how strange the spectacle! Here is one half of the nation prostrated in prayer that God will help them to destroy the Union and build up a government upon the cornerstone of human bondage. And here is the other half equally earnest in their prayers and efforts to defeat a purpose which they regard as so repugnant to … liberty and independence. … And they are Christians and we are Christians. They and we are praying and fighting for results exactly the opposite.”

On March 4, 1865, in his second inaugural address, just 45 days before his assassination, President Abraham Lincoln stated: “Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. … Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. … If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God … He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came … so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.'”

President Calvin Coolidge, on May 25, 1924, at the Confederate Memorial in Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia, stated: “It was Lincoln who pointed out that both sides prayed to the same God. When that is the case, it is only a matter of time when each will seek a common end. We can now see clearly what that end is. It is the maintenance of our American ideals, beneath a common flag, under the blessings of Almighty God.”

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