In December of 1860 young anti-secessionist Dora Miller was almost alone among her New Orleans friends and family in her support for the Union. She had already decided to confide her patriotic thoughts to her diary because, as she said, “I can not, or dare not, speak out.”
As Louisiana reeled toward secession and the civil war it would bring on, Dora Miller felt herself to be under intense pressure to conform to the rabidly pro-secessionist enthusiasm almost every white person in the South seemed to be in the grip of.
Perhaps she thought that the one place she could find peace in the midst of this political storm was in church. But even that wasn’t to be. In this diary entry, Dora tells of being invited to attend the Sunday service at a friend’s church. Even there she couldn’t escape the secessionist pressure.
In a scene that was at that time being repeated over and over throughout the slave-holding South, the preacher converted his sermon into a propaganda piece on why the North was evil, and the South should leave the Union. Dora wrote that the text the preacher spoke on was “Shall we have fellowship with the stool of iniquity which frameth mischief as a law?” That the “stool of iniquity” with which his hearers should have no fellowship was the North was made very clear.
[By the way, Dora seems to have misquoted the preacher’s text – “stool of iniquity” does not appear in the Bible. The closest verse to what Dora remembered is Psalm 94:20, which says, “Shall the throne of iniquity have fellowship with thee, which frameth mischief by a law?”]
For Dora’s friend, as for the vast majority of white Southerners who were hearing exactly that kind of sermon from their pulpits during that time, the message “prove[d] from the Bible that slavery is right and that therefore secession is [also right].”
That’s the message most Southern states pastors were delivering to their congregations. Their preaching was instrumental in plunging the nation into civil war.
Sunday, Dec. —, 1860
In this season for peace I had hoped for a lull in the excitement, yet this day has been full of bitterness. “Come, G.,” said Mrs. — at breakfast, “leave your church for to-day and come with us to hear Dr. — on the situation. He will convince you.” “It is good to be convinced,” I said; “I will go.” The church was crowded to suffocation with the elite of New Orleans. The preacher’s text was, “Shall we have fellowship with the stool of iniquity which frameth mischief as a law?”. . . . The sermon was over at last and then followed a prayer. . . . Forever blessed be the fathers of the Episcopal Church for giving us a fixed liturgy! When we met at dinner Mrs. F. exclaimed, “Now G., you heard him prove from the Bible that slavery is right and that therefore secession is. Were you not convinced?” I said, “I was so busy thinking how completely it proved too that Brigham Young is right about polygamy that it quite weakened the force of the argument for me.” This raised a laugh, and covered my retreat.
Dora Miller’s Diary