Carl Lawrence Paulus’s The Slaveholding Crisis examines how, due to the fear of insurrection by the enslaved, southerners created their own version of American exceptionalism—one that placed the perpetuation of slavery at its forefront. Feeling a loss of power in the years before the Civil War, the planter elite no longer saw the Union, as a whole, fulfilling that vision of exceptionalism. As a result, Paulus contends, slaveholders and nonslaveholding southerners believed that the white South could anticipate racial conflict and brutal warfare. This narrative postulated that limiting slavery’s expansion within the Union was a riskier proposition than fighting a war of secession. In the end, Paulus argues, by insisting that the new party in control of the federal government promoted this very insurrection, the planter elite gained enough popular support to create the Confederate States of America. In doing so, they established a thoroughly proslavery, modern state with the military capability to quell massive resistance by the enslaved, expand its territorial borders, and war against the forces of the Atlantic antislavery movement.
As Charles Irons persuasively argues, white evangelicals' ideas about slavery grew directly out of their interactions with black evangelicals. Set in Virginia, the largest slaveholding state and the hearth of the southern evangelical movement, this book draws from church records, denominational newspapers, slave narratives, and private letters and diaries to illuminate the dynamic relationship between whites and blacks within the evangelical fold. Irons reveals that when whites theorized about their moral responsibilities toward slaves, they thought first of their relationships with bondmen in their own churches. Thus, African American evangelicals inadvertently shaped the nature of the proslavery argument. When they chose which churches to join, used the procedures set up for church discipline, rejected colonization, or built quasi-independent congregations, for example, black churchgoers spurred their white coreligionists to further develop the religious defense of slavery.