Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


The antebellum southern clergy has often been characterized as narrow-minded and reactionary with little or no social vision and with little or no commitment to social reformation. My study, which is based upon an expansive survey of the sermons and religious writings of protestant slave state ministers, reveals instead an insightful, critical, and outspoken clergy determined to change southern society; principally to turn southerners from materialism and greed to spirituality and altruism. In their attempt to reform southern society, they condemned explicitly what they considered the ostentation, arrogance, and selfishness of the upper classes and called for a more equitable distribution of the South's wealth. They championed the cause of public education and struggled for the reformation of slavery. The clerics were anything but static or narrow minded. Their interests ranged well beyond camp meetings, the mode of baptism, and sectarian sniping. My study reveals more than a critical and socially aware clergy, however. For in the condemnations and criticisms of the divines one is able to discern a southern mind and character that was fully as commercial, entrepreneurial, and materialistic as the "Yankee mentality." Indeed the image of the Old South presented by the ministers was thoroughly at odds with the South protrayed by notable southern apologists like George Fitzhugh and John C. Calhoun The southern mind, in clerical perspective, was scarcely distinguishable from the northern mind as discussed by northern divines and southern apologists. The Southern ministers' testimony necessarily carries great weight, as clerics were a pervasive presence in southern society and were intense observers of that society. Recognizing the validity of clerical testimony forces the conclusion that the southern mind was perhaps far less unique or distinct than has often been assumed and argued--particularly in regard to things economic. The idea of dominant agrarian mentality in the Old South is clearly undermined by clerical testimony.