The Power of a Bad Idea 

Howell Cobb (1815-1868). (Photo By Encyclopaedia Britannica/UIG/Getty Images)

Howell Cobb had quite a résumé: speaker of the House, governor of Georgia, and secretary of the treasury. 

He was also the author of a widely read and influential book, which he penned in between leaving the governor’s mansion and his return to Washington for his Cabinet post: A Scriptural Examination of the Institution of Slavery in the United States.

“African slavery is a punishment inflicted upon the enslaved, for their wickedness,” he wrote in 1856. “Slavery, as it exists in the United States, is the Providentially-arranged means whereby Africa is to be lifted from her deep degradation, to a state of civil and religious liberty.”

Yes, Secretary Cobb would not only go on to be one of the founding fathers of the Confederacy, he was one of the chief architects of the moral case for a rebellion to protect slavery. If anybody ever tells you that the principal cause of the Civil War and object of the Confederacy was something other than the perpetuation of human bondage, you can send them over to the works of one of its leading intellectual forces, and his authoritative judgments on how the Bible commanded Americans to keep slaves.

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