Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Speech Communication


This study investigated the rhetorical activities of the unreconstructed southern Protestant clergy during the Reconstruction period of 1865-1877. These years were marked by great social, psychological, and economic chaos with a variety of southern spokesmen attempting to re-establish a sense of order for the people of the region. The clergy were an active and dominating force in the region following the Great Awakenings. These clerics were strong supporters of slavery and secession in the antebellum South. Using a theoretical approach from organizational communication, this dissertation suggests that the various southern Reconstruction denominations may be understood as a single Southern Protestant Church in its political views. With such a framework, the denominational rhetoric of this period becomes important elements in sustaining the Southern Protestant Church's role as guardian of order and chief representative of God. The clergy consistently turned to the past in their efforts to create order. From the definitions and defenses of certain integral aspects of the Old South, audiences were given a hope of cultural redemption to replace the political nationalism which ended at Appomattox. Specifically, the clergy defined the essence of the Old South as its principles, an ambiguous term around which they clustered distinctly southern images and ideas. These principles endured the military loss and promised to lead the Reconstruction South out of chaos. The clergy also defended the South's racial policies. Clerical rhetoric offered a temporal vision of order, which defined antebellum slavery and postbellum segregation as reflective of God's will for the region. Clerics used the death of Robert E. Lee to comment on the Reconstruction period as well. From the mythic images presented in the Lee eulogies, the entire region was sacralized and collectively redeemed. This research suggests the impact of such clerical rhetoric was profound. The clergy kept alive rhetorically the Old South even in the midst of its political demise. Further, this rhetoric carried strong potential for creating a distinct culture--the sacred South. Such a southern culture, it is argued, extended well into the twentieth century. Therefore, an understanding of the contemporary South must take into account the clerical activities during Reconstruction.