Congratulations to our blog contributing editor Luke Harlow, who has completed his dissertation "From Border State to Solid South: Religion, Race, and the Making of Confederate Kentucky, 1830-1880" (Luke will also be decamping from Rice University to take a position as an assistant professor at Oakland University this fall, formerly home to our own Matt Sutton -- congratulations on that too, Luke).
Luke sent me PDFs of the diss., which I just had the pleasure of reading. This is one of those works that makes you wonder why it had not been done before, because the topic is so obvious, and so important, and yet Luke's work follows a story in a state that everyone in the Civil War era, from Lincoln on down, understood to be absolutely crucial, but tends to get neglected in the religious history of the period. The key players in Luke's dissertation are those he calls the antislavery conservatives -- the Presbyterian leader Robert Breckinridge and the Baptist organizer James M. Pendleton chief among them. They saw slavery as a scourge primarily for its effects on the ordinary white man -- a border state/Mid-South kind of free soilism that also informed Andrew Johnson. And the kinds of white supremacy that we associate with Johnson also deeply informed this view as well. After the Emancipation Proclamation and into the REconstruction era, Harlow shows, white Kentuckians, including the formerly antislavery conservatives, "embraced a decidedly pro-Confederate stance. . . Kentucky's postbellum white population, led by clergy and laity who rejected civil rights for African Americans, came to a broad embrace of Confederate ideas and paved the way for the emergence of a dominant white Democratic political bloc."
In short, white Kentuckians fought fiercely over the existence of slavery, over Unionism versus secession, and over the political allegiances of their churches (especially among the Presbyterians). But they bonded over postbellum white supremacy, to a degree that is sobering to read no matter how many times one has been over some of this material.
3 cheers for Luke's dissertation and new job, and I look forward to seeing this in published form in the future.