On May 22, 1886 John A. Broadus delivered an address at the Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville, Kentucky. Widely regarded as one of the nation’s premier preachers, Broadus could not help but sense the irony of standing among the graves of both Confederate and Union soldiers. Twenty-one years had passed since the war had ended, and in this place, combatants from both sides slept peacefully. It was truly a wonder. Yet, as Broadus saw it, the greatest wonder of his age lay in “the rapid restoration of good feelings in this country.” A number of factors fueled this optimistic vision of late-nineteenth century America, chief among them being the Christian faith. “The great religion of peace,” he claimed, “has healed the wounds and softened the asperities of the great civil war.” Differentiating between interregional right and wrong was not on this day’s agenda. Broadus was content to leave such questions to an “impartial historian.”1 Nonetheless, when that future historian wrote Broadus was sure he/she would find sufficient blame for northerners and southerners alike. After all, the war had been a long time coming and awful though it was, had settled two important issues; namely, the role of federal government and the fate of slavery. But, there was no shame in the Confederate deaths. The Union had been preserved and that was what mattered. So, I ask—what’s wrong with this picture?

In the Civil War’s aftermath, Americans struggled to find meaning in what has proven to be the nation’s bloodiest conflict. Among southerners, some came to grips with the Union’s victory sooner than others, while some never reconciled themselves to defeat. Given their past record on issues like race relations, it might be tempting to see Southern Baptists as poster children for the Lost Cause. And doubtless, some were. However, men like James Petigru Boyce, founding President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS), along with his close friend and successor, John A. Broadus, defy easy categorization. They neither reveled in Confederate lore, nor sought means to subvert the post-war order. Rather, Boyce and Broadus stand as exemplars of southern ministers who valued evangelical piety over cultural resuscitation. Accordingly, their lives and ministries raise questions about the extent to which the Lost Cause may be applied to post-Reconstruction era ministers in the American South.

Without doubt, the Lost Cause was pervasive, insinuating itself into nearly every facet of postwar southern life. Critiquing its influence, therefore, is challenging, especially since many southerners embraced the Lost Cause with religious zeal. Most southern states memorialized and glorified both the Old South and the Confederacy. Certainly, Southern Baptists were no different in this respect. Well into the twentieth century Southern Seminary Professor John R. Sampey self-consciously styled himself after Robert E. Lee. Once in a chapel service, Sampey opined, “Jesus was a good man. He was a good man. Good as Robert E. Lee.” Realizing he had just rewritten orthodox Christology, Sampey quickly righted his theological ship by exclaiming, “Better, Better. BETTER.”2

So, what should we do with the Lost Cause? My point here is not to offer a sustained critique of the Lost Cause as an interpretive paradigm. Rather, I want to raise the question: What about those who did not espouse the Lost Cause? Were there postwar religious leaders who wanted to build a new order without recreating the old? How does one account for religious leaders who neither extolled the Lost Cause nor sought to resurrect a mythical Old South? The founding of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary offers a lens by which one may assess these questions.

James Petigru Boyce was every inch the well-heeled southerner. Born on January 11, 1827, Boyce enjoyed the privilege that came along with being numbered among South Carolina’s wealthiest families.3 After receiving his education at Charleston College (1845) and Brown University (1847), his father wanted him to study law. But thanks in part to Francis Wayland’s chapel addresses and Richard Fuller’s preaching, Boyce converted to Christianity in 1846 and opted to enter the ministry. He studied systematic theology with Charles Hodge at Princeton from 1849 until 1851when he returned to minister in his native South Carolina.4

On July 31, 1856, Boyce delivered an address to the trustees of Furman University on the evening before fall commencement. Moved by Boyce’s eloquence and force of argument, the Trustees called for the address to be printed and distributed. It was a fateful decision. Boyce’s address, “Three Changes in Theological Institutions,” challenged the way Southern Baptists viewed ministerial education.

Boyce’s plan appeared simple enough. He wanted to establish an institution that would offer all ministers adequate training regardless of their educational background. This institution would also allow gifted students the opportunity to develop their intellects. Finally, he believed that the faculty in this institution should be held accountable to a common doctrinal standard to which they subscribed and according to which they agreed to teach. In 1859, Boyce’s vision became a reality with the establishment of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Greenville, South Carolina.5

Boyce found like-minded ministers who shared his commitment to theological education. William Williams and Basil Manly, Jr. joined Boyce as members of Southern’s founding faculty, as did John Albert Broadus. While Williams and Manly both played significant roles in shaping the fledgling seminary, neither could match Broadus’s zeal for the seminary and its mission.

John A. Broadus rose from a different background than J. P. Boyce did. Broadus was born on January 24, 1827 in Culpeper County, Virginia, to a family of relatively moderate means. Nonetheless, his merchant father, Major Edmund Broadus, and his mother, Nancy Sims Broadus, maintained a home that valued both education and piety. He earned his M.A. from the University of Virginia where his resume included stints as tutor in Latin and Greek, chaplain to the University, and pastor of Charlottesville Baptist Church. In 1859, he joined Boyce in Greenville. The transition was not easy, but the seminary would allow Broadus to do the two things he enjoyed most, namely, teaching and preaching.6

It is nearly impossible to think of Boyce without Broadus. They worked in tandem, well-matched in temperament, perspective, and intellect. This alliance would serve the seminary well in the Civil War’s aftermath. The institution was only two years old when the war began. And with the postwar economy in ruins and southern casualties exceeding a quarter-million, no one knew where the seminary might obtain funding, much less students. Yet, Boyce was insistent. The seminary would reopen and it would have its four faculty members. Equally insistent, Broadus affirmed, “Suppose we quietly agree that the seminary may die, but we’ll die first.”7

Given time the seminary survived as Williams, Manly, Boyce, and Broadus worked tirelessly to keep Southern afloat. Each man promoted the seminary wherever he went. They also inspired loyalty in their students and, even more significantly, among the majority of their constituency. By the end of the nineteenth century Boyce and Broadus had died. But the seminary continued to live.8 Yet, Southern Seminary stood neither as a bastion of the former Confederacy, nor a guarantor of southern countercultural defiance. There are at least three reasons why Southern Seminary is not usually associated with the Lost Cause including the Union sentiments that both men held before the War, the friendships and ties they maintained with friends and associates in the North, and the ever-present need for funds. Stated simply, “Lost Cause Advocate” was a mantle that neither J. P. Boyce nor John A. Broadus could afford. Even more, it was a mantle that neither man desired.

While it is true that both Boyce and Broadus strongly identified with the South, it is important to note that both men supported the Union before the war and neither wanted secession. In Memoir of James Petigru Boyce, John Broadus noted that Boyce opposed secession as his father before and “a good many other prominent men in South Carolina.”9 Boyce’s Unionism may have been rooted in his family’s considerable financial interests and relationships with northern financial interests—but it was present.

In the years following the war, the seminary’s finances kept Boyce and Broadus from looking backwards as both worked hard to raise sufficient funds to pay salaries and bills. They also found that they walked a fine line in securing funding. On one hand, they risked alienating northern donors if they appeared “too southern.” On the other hand, they risked losing a significant number of their southern kinsmen if they did not appear “sufficiently southern.” Consequently, they consistently affirmed their southern heritage in their public appearances but remained open to non-southern ideas and influences. They created a “via media” that downplayed the Lost Cause and focused on building the seminary.

They quickly learned that raising money for theological education was extremely competitive. With numerous institutions vying for funding no one, especially Boyce or Broadus, could afford to alienate potential donors. Broadus described one donor as a “fine looking old gentleman, slightly lame,” and encouraged everyone to “show him attention” if he visited the campus.10 On another occasion, Broadus had been invited to deliver a series of lectures on preaching to a Ministers’ Institute in Bloomington, Illinois. Boyce, however, advised against it. “We have to be careful in Illinois as well as the South,” he explained. “I have had several intimations from Ohio and Indiana of help and cooperation with us. And we will excite opposition from Chicago and Rochester if we are not prudent.”11 Apparently, Boyce was as sensitive to alienating other institutions as he was alienating potential donors.

They also risked alienating fellow Southern Baptists at the state level. For example, Charles Taylor and James S. Purefoy asked Boyce to suspend his fundraising efforts in North Carolina until Wake Forest College became fully endowed. Likewise, Baptists in Alabama asked him not to seek funding for 1876. “If I assent,” Boyce noted, “we will never get a dime, for the colleges have been trying for ten years and we have kept out of the way and they will be struggling for ten more.”12 Broadus agreed. “So far as we can see,” he said, “it seems clear that you cannot, and must not withdraw from any of them…. Even if they promised, in good faith, to give way to you at the end of the year, they would find themselves disappointed, and fall to begging you to wait another year, and so on. If the Seminary is not wanted in addition to the colleges, it is not wanted at all.”13

If raising money was a problem, finding a suitable home for the seminary proved to be equally challenging but not because the seminary failed to fly the Lost Cause banner. If not South Carolina, where should the seminary be located? Both men understood the value of northern funding while considered removing the seminary from Greenville. At one point Broadus mused about relocating to Lynchburg. But, upon further analysis, they did not want anyone to say that the seminary was “too Virginian.” So, they looked further west, which presented its own host of problems. Some, like James Robinson Graves opposed the seminary because they promoted their own personal agendas. Graves, editor of The Tennessee Baptist and one of the most controversial figures in Southern Baptist history, had moved his own operational base from Nashville to Memphis after the Civil War. Graves viewed denominational organization with great suspicion and frequently criticized SBC leaders. Boyce knew that if Southern Baptists were to have a seminary they could not build it in Tennessee without fierce opposition from Graves.14

Ultimately Boyce chose Louisville, Kentucky as the new home for the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Briefly, however, he contemplated merging Southern with Crozer Seminary in Upland, Pennsylvania and moving both institutions to Washington, D.C. It was a tantalizing prospect but in the end, the difficulties entailed in merging the two institutions outweighed the potential advantages.

When the seminary opened in fall 1877, there was stiff opposition from certain corners of the Commonwealth. Nimrod Long, a wealthy merchant from Russellville, Kentucky supported Bethel College and Georgetown College. Both colleges were established features of Kentucky Baptist life, which offered ministerial training. Hence, Long saw no real need for Southern to be located in Louisville. “I find Nimrod Long so much in my way,” Boyce said, “that I think I shall go down and try my best to conciliate him.”15 Boyce could ill afford bad blood from potential donors or institutions that might supply students.

In addition to his issues with other colleges, many of the Baptists in Louisville offered tepid support for the seminary. Some only wanted the seminary if it boasted a hefty endowment. Others simply rejected the seminary outright. In a slightly different vein, some feared the seminary would introduce a number of poor students who would present themselves to the churches for aid. “I would not ask Lawrence Smith for aid for Students fund. One of the great arguments he has pressed,” said Boyce, “or others connected with him had been that we will throw on the Baptists of Kentucky a number of ‘pauper’ students which they will be obliged to support.”16

Notwithstanding his frustrations, Boyce also enjoyed strong support from many influential Kentucky Baptists as well as from the local Louisville community. As important as this support may have been, though, it was imperative to maintain good relations with their northern brethren. This meant distancing themselves from overt Lost Cause-ism. In late 1874 Boyce noted that he had an invitation from the Brooklyn Social Union for their meeting of December 9th. He wanted Broadus to attend if possible, but Broadus was unavailable.17

Eager to maintain good relations with non-southerners, Boyce accepted his invitation and apparently made quite an impression with the meeting’s attendees. On December 11, 1874 The Brooklyn Daily Eagle recapped the event under the heading, “The Baptists.” According to the article, Boyce spoke after New York Governor, Samuel J. Tilden, Massachusetts Governor, William Gaston, and Brooklyn Mayor, John W. Hunter. Seizing the rhetorical moment, Boyce opened his address by saying, “You have begun tonight with bitter doses. Two Democratic governors, a Democratic Mayor, and a reconstructed Rebel … I hope you will not be injured by it.” The article further stated that Boyce “closed amid great applause.”18

Notwithstanding opposition from any number of individuals and groups, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary ultimately carved a niche for itself in Louisville. Contrary to some, the seminary neither flooded Louisville with a legion of mendicants nor sapped other institutions of their resources. Students came from a variety of places and the seminary achieved financial stability. Southern owed its viability to a self-styled “reconstructed rebel” and his Virginia compatriot, both of whom found receptive audiences in New York as if they were in Charleston.

The Lost Cause does not explain some aspects of southern religion very well, others not at all. The history of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary under James P. Boyce and John A. Broadus stands as a cautionary tale to those who would apply it uncritically. In a 1972 article titled, “Southern Baptists and Reform: 1890-1920,” Wayne Flynt warned would-be inquirers into Baptist doings not to fall into the “consensus trap.” Perhaps the same caution applies to the Lost Cause.19

Taking Boyce and Broadus at face value also raises issues about the pre-war southern religious experience. Throughout the extensive correspondence between J. P. Boyce and John A. Broadus, one finds few remarks that reflect inconsolable loss of the “South that was.” Their sensitivity to location, fundraising, and maintaining good inter-regional relations suggest that these men may have lived among those who looked backward, but they chose to plant their feet in another world. Their world recognized other possibilities. How could it have been otherwise? They were neither bent on preserving something they were already trying to change nor using the Old World to build their seminary.

  1. John A. Broadus, “The Confederate Dead: Address at Cave Hill Cemetery, Louisville, Kentucky, May 22, 1886,” in Sermons and Addresses, Second Edition (Baltimore: H. W. Wharton and Company, 1887) 368-372. The quotations are found on p. 368. Toward the end of the Address, Broadus references a poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Although unnamed in the text, Broadus appears to be referring to “In Memoriam A. H. H.” but for some unexplained reason, he ends the Address with an uncited quotation from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “Footsteps of Angels.”

  2. Hershel H. Hobbs, My Faith and Message: An Autobiography (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1993) 65-66.

  3. Hugh Wamble, “Boyce, James Petigru,” Encyclopedia of Southern Baptists. See also Thomas J. Nettles, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2009). Before entering theological education as a vocation, Boyce edited a paper called The Southern Baptist. He also served as pastor of First Baptist Church, Columbia, SC, from 1851 until 1855.

  4. Wamble, “Boyce.”

  5. The history of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary is well-documented. See Gregory A. Wills, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1859-2009 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009).

  6. V. L. Stanfield, “Broadus, John Albert,” Encyclopedia of Southern Baptists.

  7. John Broadus as quoted in Wills, History of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 64. Of all the things said about Southern by friend or enemy, Broadus’s words may be the most significant, if not the most quoted.

  8. Wills, History of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 53-188. Boyce died in 1888, Broadus in 1895.

  9. John A. Broadus, Memoir of James Petigru Boyce (New York: A. C. Armstrong, 1893), 220.

  10. Ibid.,220.

  11. James Petigru Boyce, 1827-1888, [Letter] 1872 December 10, Louisville, Ky. to “Bro. [John A.] Broadus” / James P. Boyce. 1872. SBTS Special Collections Manuscripts - Archives (SBTS Special Collections). 922.6173 .B79c

  12. Boyce to Broadus, 1876 April 10, SBTS Special Collections.

  13. Broadus to Boyce, 1876 April 15, SBTS Special Collections.

  14. Boyce to Broadus, 1871 July 25, SBTS Special Collections. For the best biographical treatment of Graves see James Patterson’s James Robinson Graves: Staking the Boundaries of Baptist Identity (Nashville: B & H Academic, 2012). Graves especially disliked John Broadus.

  15. Boyce to Broadus, 1872 November 18, SBTS Special Collections.

  16. Boyce to Broadus, 1875 August 23, SBTS Special Collections.

  17. Cf. Boyce to Broadus, 1874 November 30 and Broadus to Boyce, 1874 December 3, SBTS Special Collections. For a brief description of the Union see The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, December 11, 1874, “The Baptists,” p. 2, cols. 5-6.

  18. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, December 11, 1874, “The Baptists,” p. 2, cols. 5-6. Emphasis mine.

  19. Wayne Flynt, “Southern Baptists and Reform: 1890-1920,” Baptist History and Heritage, 7 (October 1972) 212-213.