James Henley Thornwell

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James Henley Thornwell (December 9, 1812 – August 1, 1862) was an American Presbyterian preacher and religious writer from the U.S. state of South Carolina during the 19th century. During the American Civil War, Thornwell supported the Confederacy and preached a doctrine that claimed slavery to be morally right and justified by the tenets of Christianity.[1]

James Henley Thornwell
BornDecember 9, 1812
DiedAugust 1, 1862
Spouse(s)Nancy Witherspoon
Children9 [2]

Early life and education[edit]

Born in Marlboro County, South Carolina, on December 9, 1812, Thornwell graduated from South Carolina College at nineteen, studied briefly at Harvard, then entered the Presbyterian ministry starting at the Waxhaw Presbyterian Church.[3] He became prominent in the Old School Presbyterian denomination in the south, preaching and writing on theological and social issues. He taught at South Carolina College, eventually served as its president, and went on to teach at Columbia Theological Seminary. He was a contemporary of Charles Hodge and represented the southern branch of the Presbyterian church in debates on ecclesiology with Hodge.


When the American Civil War broke out, Thornwell supported the Confederacy. He founded the Southern Presbyterian Review, edited the Southern Quarterly Review, and had a prominent role in establishing the Presbyterian Church in the Confederacy. Thornwell preached the first sermon and wrote the first address for the new denomination.

As a supporter of the Confederacy, Thornwell held the view that slavery was morally right and justified under the Christian religion. He accused those who viewed slavery as being morally wrong, namely the Republicans, as being opposed to Christianity:

The parties in the conflict are not merely abolitionists and slaveholders. They are atheists, socialists, communists, red republicans, Jacobins on the one side, and friends of order and regulated freedom on the other. In one word, the world is the battleground – Christianity and Atheism the combatants; and the progress of humanity at stake.

— James Henley Thornwell, [1]


Thornwell died on August 1, 1862, after a long struggle with tuberculosis. Thornwell is buried in Elmwood Cemetery, Columbia, Richland County, SC.


Thornwell, in the words of Professor Eugene Genovese, attempted "to envision a Christian society that could reconcile - so far as possible in a world haunted by evil - the conflicting claims of a social order with social justice and both with the freedom and dignity of the individual."[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Rhea, Gordon (January 25, 2011). "Why Non-Slaveholding Southerners Fought". Civil War Trust. Civil War Trust. Archived from the original on March 21, 2011. Retrieved March 21, 2011.
  2. ^ "Thornwell, James Henley". South Carolina Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2019-10-12.
  3. ^ Appletons' annual cyclopaedia and register of important events of the year: 1862. New York: D. Appleton & Company. 1863. p. 669.
  4. ^ Eugene Genovese, "James Henley Thornwell and Southern Religion" in Abbeville Review, May 5, 2015. Online at http://www.abbevilleinstitute.org/review/james-henley-thornwell-and-southern-religion/


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Religious titles
Preceded by
The Rev. Charles Hodge
Moderator of the 59th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (Old School)
Succeeded by
The Rev. Alexander T. McGill