This dissertation examines Southern civil religion in the post-Reconstruction era (c. 1877-1920). Geographically, it focuses on the “unfinished South” – an area encompassing Middle and West Florida, Southwest Alabama, and Southwest Georgia. Metaphorically, the word “unfinished” amplifies this study’s principal thesis. That is, after Reconstruction the many voices of the many Souths competed to have their civil religious values recognized and actualized. In the unfinished South, civil religion remained an unfinished product, a river-like demonstration of eternal flux influenced by the position of the speaker, the tenor of the time, and the topic under consideration.
Previous histories concerning this topic have centered on the Lost Cause. These studies have sufficiently proven that after the Civil War, public devotions to the Confederacy became an important part of the Southern white identity. As this dissertation reveals, however, the Lost Cause was but one civil religious topic among many. Blacks, whites, men, women, Northerners, Southerners, Democrats, Republicans, Catholics, Protestants, and Jews each formulated unique civil religious worldviews. Furthermore, within each circle, variations existed. Some groups had more political influence, economic strength, or numbers than others did. Still, the politically disfranchised, the economically alienated, and the numerically diminutive had a picture for what they believed society ought to be.