America had a big war–brother against brother. It was started 150 years ago. They called it “civil,” but it was not. Hundreds of thousands of Americans were slaughtered by battle and disease. The physical devastation was tremendous–billions of dollars spent on warfare led to–burned homes, pillaged countryside, huge losses in crops and farm animals, ruined bridges and buildings and roads.
In our day it is popular to reenact the horror of America’s big war. Approximately 400,000 Americans regularly dress up in Blue or Gray uniforms and pretend they are reliving all that destruction. What are they reenacting?
President Abraham Lincoln came to believe that the big war was God’s judgment on America for the sin of slavery. In his Second Inaugural Address Lincoln said: “If God wills that it (the big war) continue until all the wealth piled up by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn by the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still must it be said, ‘The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’”
Ellen G. White, founder of the Seventh Day Adventist denomination said during the big war: “God is punishing this nation for the high crime of slavery. He will punish the South for the sin of slavery and the North for so long allowing its overreaching and overbearing influence.” William Lloyd Garrison said: “I have never been an enemy of the South, and in the desire to save her from this great retribution (the big war) I demanded in the name of the living God that every fetter should be broken and the oppressed set free.”
The Union soldiers acknowledged God’s judgment as they sang: “He is sifting out the heats of men before His judgment seat.” W.E.B. DuBois said: “The Negro knew full well that whatever their deeper convictions may have been, Southern men had fought with desperate energy to perpetuate the slavery under which the black masses shivered.”
United States Senator, Charles Sumner, said on June 4, 1860. “Look at slavery in the light of principles and it is nothing less than a huge insurrection against the eternal law of God.” Southern blacks also saw the big war as God’s judgment on slavery. Harper’s Weekly published “The Freedman’s Song” in 1865 which said: “The Lord, He made us free indeed, In His own time and way.” Rev. E.K. Love said in 1891: “Emancipation Day marks the day when the mighty arm of Jehovah was moved in our defense, and effected eternally our deliverance.”
Almost 180,000 Southerners fought for the Union army. These were people born and bred in the South, whose families went back for generations. They felt they had been mistreated by their fellow Southerners and sided with the Union because they and their families had, over a period of 200 years, been held in life-long bondage. For those Southerners the big war was not about “states rights to enslave them” but about their personal right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Samuel Allen McElwee, a Tennessean, spoke to the state legislature on February 23, 1887 and said: “For years American slavery was the great sin of the nation. In the course of time God made clear His disapproval of this national sin by a national calamity. Four years of destruction and bloody war rent our country in twain and left our Southland devastated. The war came as a result of sin; let us sin no more lest a greater calamity befall us.”
As Americans in our day casually reenact God’s awesome judgment on America, it is important to ask: Have the roots of the sin of slavery that brought this judgment been removed from America? Have the lies that were used to justify slavery–color prejudice, black inferiority, social inequality, “the curse of Ham,” segregation–been once and for all put away?