The Two Pardons of Basil Manly, Sr.
by Ron F. Hale
Two pardons marked the life of Basil Manly, Sr.
One pardon was of a spiritual nature, while the other legal. The first occurred in a cornfield and the other in the White House.
Basil Manly, Sr. was born near Pittsboro, North Carolina, on January 28, 1798 to Captain John Basil Manly (1742-1824) and his wife Elizabeth Maultsby Manly (1768-1855). John Basil Manly rose to the rank of Captain in the Revolutionary War and became a successful planter and owner of the Oak Mount Plantation. Captain Manly eventually owned twenty-five slaves on his burgeoning post-war estate.
Basil Manly, Sr. became one of the most influential leaders in southern education, politics, and Baptist work. By the time of the Civil War, Manly owned more than 40 slaves and was a staunch proslavery activist. []
Historian Larry E. Tise lists Basil Manly, Sr. and Jr. along with 273 other American proslavery clergymen (from the north and south) in his unprecedented book on the American defense of slavery. Tise painstakingly shows how the American proslavery movement began in New England and how a Southern defense of slavery or a systematic critique of abolitionism was almost non-existent until 1835. [] Men like Charles Hodge, Richard Furman, James Pettigru Boyce, John L. Dagg, Robert L. Dabney, and George Whitefield are listed as authors of books, pamphlets, articles, or written sermons in defense of slavery. [] This article sheds more light on the 275 pro-slavery clergymen.(link)
The Spiritual Pardon
Manly’s first pardon is mentioned in the book Chaplain to the Confederacy: Basil Manly and Baptist Life in the Old South, as the author, A. James Fuller, describes the cornfield conversion of young Basil Manly Sr. as a family slave led him to Jesus in a sinner’s prayer:
One day in 1814, while the sixteen-year-old was walking alone in a cornfield in Orange County, North Carolina, near the Bingham Academy where he attended school, his mind turned toward spiritual things. His mother, at home on the family farm near Pittsboro in neighboring Chatham County, had been converted, baptized, and welcomed as a member of the local Baptist church. Her influence on her son brought religious conviction, as acceptance of the Christian life seemed to be the way of redemption from the guilt and spiritual distress he found himself in.
Walking through the corn, weighing heaven and hell in the balance of his mind, Manly was overcome emotionally, and tears soon coursed down his cheeks. Then, from distance, he heard a voice, and began to move toward it. As he drew closer, Manly recognized the voice as that of an old black man, and overheard the prayer of the slave pleading for the Lord to speak to “Mas Baz.” Young Manly was overwhelmed, and fell to his knees beside the old man, who helped him pray. Their weeping and praying soon brought other slaves and the white members of the family with whom Manly was boarding to the scene. The tears of spiritual angst soon became tears of joy, as the young man and his new Christian family, white and black, free and slave, celebrated his conversion. From that day forward, Basil Manly was a Christian. []
The Legal Pardon
Manly’s second pardon came after the Civil War. This pardon was granted by President Andrew Johnson on September 12, 1865, after Manly’s role in creating the Confederacy, for he was chaplain both to the Secession Convention of the State of Alabama and at the Inauguration of Jefferson Davis as President of the Confederate States of America. Manly helped draw up Alabama’s Confederate Constitution in January 1861. []
President Johnson signed a full pardon of offenses committed under rebellion for Basil Manly, Sr. of Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Included in Manly’s offenses was the prayer at Jefferson Davis’ inauguration as the President of the Confederacy in February 1861. As part of a special group of ex-confederates who could not sign the typical oath of allegiance, Manly needed a presidential pardon.
Manly agreed to five terms in regaining his United States citizenship. Never again using slave labor was one precondition. []
The Role of His Theology
Basil Manly, Sr. was president of the University of Alabama for 18 years beginning in 1837. [] The Encyclopedia of Alabama seeks to balance Manly’s defense of the institution of slavery, while encouraging slave-owners to treat enslaved workers fairly and provide for their physical, spiritual, and family needs. The article asserts that Manly sought to reconcile the tension of his views … “through his Calvinist theology, with its doctrines of duty and acceptance of one’s place in God’s divine plan.” []
Before his death on December 21, 1868, Manly accomplished two important things. First, his enduring dream of establishing the first seminary for Baptists in the South came true, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. As the first president of the seminary’s board of trustees and fundraiser, he worked hard to re-open the seminary after the war; he moved to Greenville, South Carolina, and lived with his son in 1867, who was a founding professor at the school.
Finally, at the age of 67, he completed the terms of his oath of allegiance and Basil Manly, Sr. soon died as a citizen of the United States of America.
Questions to Consider
The life of Basil Manly, Sr. presents several questions to ponder. Was he a man bound by the biases and geographic mind-set of his day? Of this era, do we have moral measurements to help us discern vice and virtue?
Dr. Timothy George advocates the following support for Manly’s reputation:
Manly was, of course, a child of his times as well as a shaper of his times. Like many Southern theologians of his day, he was blind to the horrible evils of slavery. []
Contrariwise, by 1835, the Sandy Creek Baptist Association in North Carolina officially stood against the practice of slavery and asked their congregations “to exclude members who will not abandon the practice, after the first and second admonition.” []
The Sandy Creekers were led by farmer-preachers and their Baptist congregations consisted of subsistence farmers, yet they chose the higher moral ground twenty-five years before the Civil War. [] Can we conclude that if one group of Baptists (in the South) could rise above the prevailing prejudices of their day then all Baptists could have risen to a loftier level of love?
In contrast to the slave-holding elites, the much poorer and less-educated Sandy Creek Baptists made two major moves in the mid-1800’s: they moved away from a deterministic theology that kept people “in their place” and they moved away from chattel slavery.
In dealing with the “elephant in the room,” I must ask, could Manly and others within his theological stream rise above their reformed paradigm in dealing with slavery? As noted earlier, it was those who knew Manly best wrote in the Encylopedia of Alabama that he sought to reconcile these views, “through his Calvinist theology, with its doctrines of duty and acceptance of one’s place in God’s divine plan.”
Distinguished professor of history at Auburn University, Dr. Wayne Flynt, wrote, “As Baptists prospered on plantations, they extolled the positive benefits of slavery. Strict Calvinists, many of whom owned slaves themselves, led the assault on the antislavery forces.”[] Leading Calvinist leader Richard Furman and longtime pastor of the Charleston Baptist Church suggested that slavery was part of “the order of things, which the Divine government has established … .”[] In 1800, The Charleston Baptist Association assured its members that the “scriptural doctrine on the station and duties of servants, is clear and decided … this doctrine required of slaves, faithfulness, submission, quietude, and obedience.”
This frame of mind was first adopted in Puritan New England. Historian Douglas Harper writes of the early Puritans in New England who saw themselves as God’s Elect and how Cotton Mather (1663-1728) told blacks they were the “miserable children of Adam and Noah”, for “they were enslaved because they had sinned against God and that God, not their masters had enslaved them.”[] Pastor-theologian Jonathan Edwards defended the institution of slavery his entire ministry; at his death in 1758, his slaves were not emancipated.
Culpability and Choice
The Manly family were members of the powerful, wealthy, and very educated antebellum South and this plantation class fought hard to maintain their way of life. Once it was “gone with the wind” they had the money, education, and influence over media outlets to soften their personal responsibility and culpability in the cause of the Civil War.
Manly’s cornfield conversion reveals his awareness that the ground at the foot of the cross was level. His fair treatment of slaves underscores his conclusion that these were humans made in the image of God. Even so, there is no law that prevents gratitude for the good and noble even in the presence of grievous error.
Between his cornfield pardon and his presidential pardon, Manly Sr. was one of the few men in the South with the influence to change the course of American history. Score upon score of slave and soldier could not escape the consequences of that choice.
© Ron F. Hale, March 11, 2018
 Larry E. Tise, Proslavery: A History of the Defense of Slavery in America, 1701-1840, (Athens: University Press of Georgia, 1987), 308.
 Ibid. 363-366.
 A. James Fuller, Chaplain to the Confederacy: Basil Manly and Baptist Life in the Old South, Louisiana State University Press, 2000, 11-12.
 Wayne Flynt, Alabama Baptists: Southern Baptists in the Heart of Dixie (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1998), 110.
 Wayne Flynt, Alabama Baptists: Southern Baptists in the Heart of Dixie,19.
 Flynt, Wayne, Alabama Baptists: Southern Baptists in the Heart of Dixie, 43-44.
 Furman, Expositions of the Views of the Baptists, p.8.
 Rachel N. Klein, Unification of a Slave State: The Rise of the Planter Class in the South Carolina Backcountry (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press for the Institute of Early American History and Culture, 1990), 287.