Palmer Hall Discernment Committee Report

Establishing a Process for Discernment:
In order to fully evaluate and establish a process for potentially changing a name of a historic campus space or memorial, an ad hoc committee was formed by President Troutt in the spring of 2017 to begin the process of examining contested names on our campus. In the fall of 2017, the Board of Trustees and President Hass established a larger ad hoc committee charged with developing principles for making such a decision. That committee identified six important principles that should guide the processes of discernment related to name changes. The name of Palmer Hall has been contested at the college for several years, with the most recent call for a discernment process related to the building’s name being stated as a key proposal of the 2014-2015 report of the Commission on Campus Culture. To begin the process of discernment about this building’s name, representatives from the Rhodes Board of Trustees, college administration, and student government visited leaders of the First Presbyterian Church New Orleans, the congregation that helped name the building after Palmer in 1925. During that visit, we received strong support for our current discernment process from the church’s leadership team. In the fall of 2018 the Board of Trustees and President Hass established a discernment committee to apply the principles to the naming of Palmer Hall. This discernment committee worked in the 2018-2019 school year to apply the principles and prepare this recommendation to the Board of Trustees on whether or not to change the name of Palmer Hall.

Throughout the 2018-2019 school year, the Discernment Committee gathered hundreds of primary and secondary documents and processed this information. The committee also engaged the Rhodes community, providing opportunities for all students, alumni, faculty, staff, and friends of Rhodes to learn more about the life and work of Benjamin Palmer and his primary legacy.

This report follows the processes described by the board’s six discernment principles. Beginning with a statement of the Rhodes Vision related to this process, this report continues with a description of the committee’s work on each of the principles and concludes with a recommendation to the Board.

The Rhodes Vision and the Naming of Palmer Hall:
The Rhodes Vision acknowledges our commitment to graduating students with a lifelong passion for learning, which inherently involves critical self-reflection, a compassion for others – both for those within our learning community and for those outside the college boundaries – and the ability to translate academic study and personal concern into effective leadership and action in their communities and the world. The Rhodes Vision further includes the goal of “attracting and retaining a talented, diverse student body and engaging these students in a challenging, inclusive, and culturally broadening college experience.”

One of the issues that has been a long-standing point of contention at Rhodes and many other campuses is the fact that some buildings were constructed and named in eras quite different from our own. How do such names, bestowed in an earlier time, affect our capacity to live up to our Rhodes Vision and be a fully inclusive community in this century? And what should be done about historical naming practices that may portray Rhodes as less welcoming than we are, or than we aspire to be? Our students and the worlds from which they come to us have changed since the naming of our oldest and most central building, Palmer Hall. While our liberal arts educational mission and values have not changed, they have evolved. In order to answers these questions, the committee was guided by the following six principles.

Principles for the Process of Discernment Related to Contested Names:
Principle of Alignment: The principles and processes of discernment related to contested names should align with and be informed by the college’s Vision, Honor Code, and Diversity Statement.

In all aspects of the work of the committee, we were guided by the college’s long-standing commitment to these core statements:

Rhodes Vision: Rhodes College aspires to graduate students with a life-long passion for learning, a compassion for others, and the ability to translate academic study and personal concern into effective leadership and action in their communities and the world. 

Honor Code: As a member of the Rhodes community, I pledge I will not lie, cheat, or steal, and that I will report any such violation that I may witness.

Diversity Statement: As a member of the Rhodes community, I pledge to help create a community where diversity is valued and welcomed. To that end, Rhodes College does not discriminate on the basis of race, gender, color, age, religion, disability, sexual orientation, and national or ethnic origin and will not tolerate harassment or discrimination on those bases.

Principle of History: History is the past that affects our present and future realities. A primary reason we study history is for a moral purpose: to learn from past behaviors and actions – good and bad – with the hope of adjusting future behaviors to reflect the positive actions and avoid past moral mistakes. History often involves painful recollections of our past, but we are shaped and influenced by that history and must allow ourselves to learn from it. We must take care in the process of discernment related to contested names not to obfuscate our history and thus avoid challenging conversations that could result in healing dialogue in our communities.

The committee took up our work with an awareness of our moral responsibility to understand our past, live in our present, and shape our future. We believe that renaming should only occur in exceptional circumstances. As a committee we committed to act humbly, knowing that we too will be studied and assessed by those generations that follow. We also carefully studied the differences between “erasing history” and recognizing that every generation has a duty to study and assess the histories of those generations that came before. We strongly oppose that this discernment work is for the purpose of “erasing history.” Rather, the committee encourages the college to provide even more opportunities for everyone to learn about the college’s history. This includes an appeal from the committee to the board and administration to ensure that all future constituents of Rhodes will have opportunities to learn about the life and legacy of one of our important forebears, Benjamin Palmer.

We also took up the question of the naming of Palmer Hall knowing that all institutions are subject to change over time. Rhodes College has intentionally – and with an eye to strengthening the college in its ability to fulfill its educational mission – embraced change. Embracing change is not the same as erasing history. The college, much like a living organism, has always grown and evolved in order to ensure its continued relevance and vitality. From the admission of women in 1917, to the move to Memphis in 1925, to the admission of the first African American students in 1966, to the last renaming of the college in 1984, Rhodes has continually striven to uphold its values in an ever-changing reality, and will continue to do so. Our discussion also recognizes the choice the institution made – from its initial founding as the Masonic University of Tennessee in Clarksville – to move to Memphis almost a century ago. The institution renamed itself Southwestern, adding “at Memphis” in 1945 to reflect its placement within this particular city. In fact, over its 169-year history, the college has had seven different names, most recently, of course, Rhodes College. Each name change has responded to the changing environment, in which the college pursues its mission of educating people to be engaged members of their communities.

Principle of Discernment: Fitting with our liberal arts heritage, the process of discernment related to contested names should be one of deep, ongoing inquiry and student engagement. Student engagement creates a profound opportunity for powerful and transformational learning that will reinforce foundational principles of the institution that are imperative to our shared liberal arts experience. In the learning and discernment process related to contested names, the central question should concern whether or not the principal legacy of the namesake is fundamentally at odds with the vision of Rhodes College. The principal legacy of a namesake must be determined through scholarly inquiry related to an individual’s reputation, the causes and ideas for which the person advocated, prevailing historical memory, and enduring consequences in the world. For example, after careful study, the college may find that a name is fundamentally at odds with our vision if the namesake’s principal legacy is connected to harassment or discrimination.

In order to provide the Rhodes community with a significant learning experience as part of this discernment process, the committee provided the following learning opportunities: 1. Developed a large bibliography and provided accessible copies of important works related to the life and legacy of Benjamin Palmer (Appendix A); 2. Built a website to provide easy access to all of our materials (­); 3. Hosted major events and provided video access to those events for all to view; and 4. Contacted all known college constituents by email correspondence to provide them with access to the materials and seek their feedback on the process.

The website included the following: a bibliography and copies of Palmer’s extant writings and sermons; access to recent publications referencing Palmer, and all books written about him; a video of the Prof. Haynes lecture that was presented last fall as part of the Search program; a video of the panel of Presbyterian ministers who discussed the legacy of Benjamin Palmer; a place for people to make comments; and the Principles for Discernment approved by our Board of Trustees.
The two major events were well attended, and many others viewed the videos from our website:

“Benjamin Palmer and the ‘Curse of Ham’: How Genesis Became a Pro-Slavery Text.” Prof. Steve Haynes gave a lecture for the Search course that was open to all students and community members on Sept. 26, 2018 at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. in McNeill Concert Hall.

 “Assessing the Legacy of Benjamin M. Palmer for the 21st Century.” Rev. Dorothy Wells ’82 (Rector, St. George’s Episcopal Church) led a panel discussion with three panelists who have studied the legacy of 19th- and 20th-century church leaders who supported slavery, segregation, and white supremacy. The event was held on January 30, 2019, in Hardie Auditorium. Panel members included representatives from three major branches of Presbyterianism: Dr. Sean Lucas (Senior Pastor, Independent Presbyterian Church); Dr. George Robertson (Senior Pastor, Second Presbyterian Church); and Dr. R. Milton Winter (PCUSA Minister, and Historian of Presbyterianism).

While following this discernment principle, the committee sought to fully understand the principal legacy of Benjamin Palmer through our scholarly inquiry about his reputation and impact, the causes and ideas for which he advocated, the prevailing historical memory of his life, and his enduring consequences in the world. After spending several months reading and reflecting on the collected materials, including the essays and sermons written by Benjamin Palmer and the secondary material written about him, the committee drew the following conclusions about his principal legacy.

When the college moved from Clarksville to Memphis in 1925, Palmer Hall was the first building erected. A portion of the money for the building was donated by the people of New Orleans in memory of Rev. Benjamin Palmer (1818-1902), a southern Presbyterian theologian from South Carolina who was the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in New Orleans for 45 years. Palmer was a major figure in the establishment of Southwestern Presbyterian University, the predecessor of Rhodes College, serving on the college’s Board of Directors for 26 years. Palmer’s legacy, however, also includes his troubling use of the Bible to justify slavery and defend Jim Crow laws enacted to promote segregation and deny equal rights and justice to African Americans. Palmer was known for many things during and after his life (oratory, the promotion of Southern education, conservative social and theological views, initiating the separation of the Southern Presbyterian synods from the Northern, etc.). However, it is also clear that Palmer’s “Thanksgiving Sermon” (1860), which promotes slavery, and his involvement in promoting segregation after the Civil War, are key elements in any discussion of Palmer’s primary legacy. Although he spoke and wrote about many topics, a recurring and consistent theme of his sermons and public appearances was his strong and unchanging belief that slavery and segregation were mandated by the Bible. Many historians note that he was one of the most influential orators in support of slavery and segregation during the second half of the 19th century.

In the 19th century, there were many people in the US who changed their minds about slavery after the Civil War, at which time many Presbyterians, theologians, and scholars in the South developed more progressive ideas about racial identities. Palmer remained steadfast in his commitment to slavery and segregation (for a representative selection of quotations from Palmer’s sermons and speeches, see Appendix B). Moreover, as a leader in the late 19th century, he actively sought to influence the thinking of others in a way that strongly discouraged unity and reconciliation. The committee noted that this clearly appears to be the antithesis of what Rhodes stands for as a liberal arts college. The committee also observed that Palmer’s legacy and writings are still used by fringe groups who support white supremacy and defend modern racism and segregation.

In light of the detailed study of Palmer’s life and legacy, the following points were significant:

  • Palmer is most famous for being an outspoken advocate of slavery, which he viewed as biblically mandated.
  • During and after the Civil War, Palmer dedicated himself to establishing a biblical and theological foundation for slavery and segregation.
  • To the end of his life, and long after most Southerners had abandoned it, Palmer clung to these ideas about slavery and segregation.
  • Palmer’s primary legacy after the Civil War was as a leading representative of the South’s Lost Cause movement; he was a featured speaker at many celebrations of the Confederacy.
  • Palmer was an influential and career-long advocate of racism and segregation, and that legacy continues to this day.

Principles of Inclusion & Hospitable Environment: Our campus naming practices should indicate our desire that all students, faculty, and staff feel welcomed, valued, and safe on our campus. While this desire extends to every member of our community, we strive to be particularly attentive to the needs of groups who may feel isolated or alienated as a result of their underrepresentation on our campus. While we acknowledge that some of the college’s historical associations may cause discomfort, we believe that living in productive and creative tension with the past can mitigate the impact of these associations while we seek to become a more inclusive and welcoming campus.

Although Rhodes College is a private college on private land, we believe the college should approach its built environment as a public space. In addition to our valued relationship with the city and citizens of Memphis who enrich our learning environment, we also welcome visitors from across the globe. We want to be sure that those visiting our campus feel welcome, and have access to historical information (for example, signage or websites) about contested names on buildings, objects, or spaces.

Palmer Hall was dedicated in 1925 to honor a man who Southerners viewed as a Confederate hero and an embodiment of Old South values. Almost a century later, at Rhodes the discussion about Palmer Hall is now spurred on by the fact that, like our campus setting and footprint, our student body has also changed and grown both in its numerical size and in its diversity. Although our core values and mission as an institution of higher learning have remained unchanged, we seek to be an inclusive community and are compelled to ask about the name of Palmer Hall in this context. Based on Campus Climate Surveys and comments from students, faculty, alumni, staff, and Memphis community members, the committee found that the name of Palmer Hall does contribute to a feeling of this being an unwelcoming space to many in our community. The committee agrees that Rhodes should be a hospitable environment for all the people who visit, work, and live on our campus.

Principle of Transparency: In the process of discernment related to contested names, it is essential to communicate with the constituencies of Rhodes College throughout the process. In those instances when past donors or others were involved in our naming practices, every effort will be made to communicate with and work with their current agents and representatives. It is our affirmative obligation to interpret and reinterpret the names of college facilities and the narratives behind them, and to openly communicate the rationale for any decision to rename.

The committee’s work has been guided by the knowledge that we, the current members of the Rhodes community, are stewards of an intergenerational project. We recognized that we must be careful and humble when evaluating past decisions so that we set a model for future generations to respect the choices that we make. Yet we also believe we have plenty of opportunities to engage in the history of our campus in ways that neither erase the past nor create a process that disallows our own agency in making decisions about our campus that are guided by the current mission of the college. We have approached our work with the kind of intellectual curiosity we know undergirds the classroom experience at Rhodes.

Leaders from Rhodes held important discussions with the current leadership of the First Presbyterian Church of New Orleans, the organization that provided a portion of the funds almost a century ago to help build and name Palmer Hall. In 2017, the church’s leadership agreed that we should have this discernment process at Rhodes, and they advised that they have no interest in the decision the board will make about the future plans related to the naming of this building. The committee gathered significant research about the history of Benjamin Palmer and the time period in which the building was named. We have also been cognizant of the communities of people for whom the name of the building is currently most important, and the different kinds of relationships they have to it. While such community discussions can create understandable anxiety on any college campus, but particularly at a small school like Rhodes, we genuinely believe that the conversations we hosted, as well as future conversations about this topic, offer us a chance to learn more about our institution, about our campus as its own historically rooted place, and about each other.


In March 2019, the following members of the Palmer Hall Discernment Committee voted unanimously to recommend that the name of Palmer Hall be changed. This recommendation is based on the committee’s detailed investigation of the principal legacy of Benjamin Palmer, which was found to be fundamentally at odds with our college Vision. At the same time, the committee recommends that appropriate measures are taken by the administration to insure that the college’s history is not forgotten.

Meri Armour (committee co-chair, member of the Board of Trustees)
Bill Michaelcheck ’69 (committee co-chair, former Chair of the Board of Trustees)
Johnny Moore ’88 (Board of Trustees)
Stratton Bull ’74 (Board of Trustees)
Beth Simpson ’58 (alumna)
Chris Cardwell (’94, alumnus)
Prof. Terry Hill (faculty in the Department of Biology)
Prof. Esen Kirdis (faculty in the Department of International Studies)
Maggie Palopoli ’20 (student)
Tony Eskridge ’20 (student)
Milton Moreland (Provost, serving as an administrative convener)

The committee would like to thank Professors Tim Huebner (Department of History) and Steve Haynes (Department of Religious Studies) for helping to plan the campus events and for providing invaluable resources for the committee during this year of discernment.

Appendix A: Bibliography of Resources on Benjamin Palmer

Online Resources for the Sermons and Works by Benjamin Palmer: 

Collection of Sermons and Speeches edited by John Mark Ockerbloom, University of Pennsylvania   

Scanned Copy of The Life and Letters of Benjamin Morgan Palmer (1906):   

Major Published works of history in recent decades referencing Benjamin Palmer (by date): 

James B. Silver, Confederate Morale and Church Propaganda (Tuscaloosa, AL: Confederate Publishing, 1967). References to Palmer on pp. 16, 17, 21, 22, 37, 42, 43, 52, 54, 73, 74, 78, 86, 95. 

Gaines M. Foster, Ghosts of the Confederacy: Defeat, the Lost Cause, and the Emergence of the New South 1865 to 1913 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987). References to Palmer on pp. 50-51. 

Larry E. Tise, Proslavery: A History of the Defense of Slavery in America, 1701-1840 (Atlanta: University of Georgia Press, 1983). References to Palmer on pp.183-186, 419. 

Farmer, James Oscar, The Metaphysical Confederacy (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1986). References to Palmer on pp. 10, 32, 34, 60, 71, 117, 202, 236-39, 255, 259, 263-64, 272-73.

Charles Reagan Wilson, Baptized in Blood: The Religion of the Lost Cause, 1865-1920 (Atlanta: University of Georgia Press, 1990). References to Palmer on pp. 66, 74, 83, 158. 

Charles Royster, The Destructive War: William Tecumseh Sherman, Stonewall Jackson, and the Americans (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1991). References to Palmer on pp. 9-10, 198.

Mitchell Snay, The Gospel of Disunion: Religion and Separatism in the Antebellum South (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993). References to Palmer on pp. 67, 100, 109, 170, 170-180, 203. 

Daniel W. Stowell, Rebuilding Zion: The Religious Reconstruction of the South, 1863-1877 (Oxford University Press, 1998). References to Palmer on pp. 33-35, 42, 50, 127, 170-172. 

Stephen R. Haynes, “Race, National Destiny, and the Sons of Noah in the Thought of Benjamin M. Palmer,” The Journal of Presbyterian History Vol. 78, No. 2 (SUMMER 2000), pp. 125-143.
David W. Blight, Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2001). References to Palmer on p. 261. 

Stephen R. Haynes, Noah’s Curse: The Biblical Justification of American Slavery (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002). References to Palmer on pp. 13-15; 124-174. 

Edward Sebesta and Euan Hague, “The US Civil War as a Theological War: Confederate Christian Nationalism and the League of the South,” Canadian Review of American Studies 32, 3, (2002).  

Julia Huston Nguyen, “Keeping the Faith: The Political Significance of Religious Services in Civil War Louisiana, 1860-1865,” Louisiana History: The Journal of the Louisiana Historical Association, Vol. 44, No. 2 (2003), 165-183.  

Elizabeth Fox-Genovese and Eugene D. Genovese, The Mind of the Master Class: History and Faith in the Southern Slaveholders’ Worldview (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005). References to Palmer on pp. 151, 168, 180-181, 210, 213, 215, 299, 330, 335-336, 461, 466, 523, 592, 673, 686, 758, 767, 778, 789. 

Harry S. Stout, Upon the Altar of the Nation: A Moral History of the American Civil War (New York: Viking, 2006). References to Palmer on pp. 213, 254, 274-275, 415-416. 

Mark A. Noll, The Civil War as a Theological Crisis (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 2006). References to Palmer on p. 117. 

Peter S. Onuf, “Antebellum Southerners and the National Idea,” in The Old South’s Modern Worlds: Slavery, Region, and Nation in the Age of Progress, ed. by L. Diane Barnes, B. Schoen, and F. Towers (Oxford University Press, 2011). References to Palmer on pp. 33, 37. 

Milton Winter, Outposts of Zion: A History of Mississippi Presbyterians in the Nineteenth Century (Memphis: Alphagraphics, 2014).

Stephen R. Haynes, “Distinction and Dispersal: Folk Theology and the Maintenance of White Supremacy,” Journal of Southern Religion 17 (2015):

Milton Winter, Citadels of Zion: A History of Mississippi Presbyterians, 1900-2016. 2 vols. (Memphis: Alpha­graphics, 2016).

Published works specifically about Benjamin Palmer (by date): 

Wayne C. Eubank and Dallas C. Dickey, “Benjamin Morgan Palmer, Southern Divine,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 30, no. 4 (1944): 422-428. 

Margaret Burr DesChamps, “Benjamin Morgan Palmer, Orator-Preacher of the Confederacy,” 
Southern Speech Journal 19, no. 1 (1953): 14-22. 

Wayne C. Eubank, “Benjamin Morgan Palmer’s Thanksgiving Sermon, 1860,” in Antislavery and Disunion, 1858-1861: Studies in the Rhetoric of Compromise and Conflict, ed. by J. Jeffery Auer, 291-298 (New York: Harper & Row, 1963). 

Haskell Monroe, “Bishop Palmer’s Thanksgiving Day Address,” Louisiana History 4 (1963): 105-118.  

Timothy F. Reilly, “Benjamin M. Palmer: Secessionist Become Nationalist,” Louisiana History 18, no. 3 (1977): 287-301. 

Richard T. Hughes, “A Civic Theology for the South: The Case of Benjamin Morgan Palmer,” Journal of Church and State 25 (1983): 447-467. 

Stephen Haynes, “Race, National Destiny, and the Sons of Noah in the Thought of Benjamin M. Palmer,” The Journal of Presbyterian History Vol. 78, No. 2 (2000), pp. 125-143. 

Christopher Duncan, “Benjamin Morgan Palmer: Southern Presbyterian Divine,” Auburn University: PhD Dissertation, 2008.  

Milton Winter, 2018, “Palmer of New Orleans: “Big Villain of the Play”—A Southern Journey from Slavery and Secession Toward Justice and Racial Reconciliation,” Unpublished Paper Made Available to the Rhodes Community and the Discernment Committee, based on work published in Milton Winter, Outposts of Zion: A History of Mississippi Presbyterians in the Nineteenth Century (Memphis: Alphagraphics, 2014) and Citadels of Zion: A History of Mississippi Presbyterians, 1900-2016. 2 vols. (Memphis: Alpha­graphics, 2016).
Early history of Rhodes College that references Benjamin Palmer & Palmer Hall 

Waller R. Cooper, Southwestern at Memphis: 1848-1948 (Richmond, VA: John Knox Press, 1949): . References to Palmer or the funding of Palmer Hall on pp. 34, 53-62, 65, 74, 76, 82, 85, 87-88, 107, 110, 115-116, 122, 127-128.  

Online resources about Benjamin Palmer: 


Appendix B: Understanding Palmer’s “Principal Legacy”
Sample Quotations from the sermons and speeches of Benjamin Palmer
Compiled for the Committee by Dr. Steve Haynes

  • Palmer is most famous for being an outspoken advocate of slavery, which he viewed as biblically mandated.
    • Based on his interpretation of Genesis 9:20-27, Palmer maintained that enslavement was the destiny of the “sons of Ham” based on Noah’s curse of Ham’s son Canaan following the Flood. As Palmer put it, “If we ascend the stream of history to its source, we find in Noah’s prophetic utterances to his three sons, the fortunes of mankind presented in perfect outline. Upon Ham was pronounced the doom of perpetual servitude--proclaimed with double emphasis, as it is twice repeated that he shall be the servant of Japheth and the servant of Shem” (“National Responsibility before God,” 1861).
    • He argued that by placing Africans in “domestic servitude” the American South had reproduced the patriarchal form of slavery depicted in the Hebrew Bible. As he wrote, “whilst slavery has existed in every variety of form through the whole tract of human history, it has been reserved to our times to beat up a crusade against it under precisely that patriarchal form in which it is sanctioned in the word of God” (“Address to the General Assembly of South Carolina,” 1863).
    • Palmer claimed that maintaining and protecting the institution of slavery was the American South’s “divine trust.” As he put it in his most famous sermon, it was the South’s “providential conserve and to perpetuate the institution of slavery as now go and root itself wherever Providence and nature may carry it” (“Thanksgiving Sermon,” 1860).
    • Palmer maintained the “positive good” view of slavery elaborated by his fellow South Carolinian John C. Calhoun. As Palmer put it, because slavery was a benefit to both the slave and slaveholder, Southerners were determined to “conserve this institution of domestic servitude…from a special sense of duty to mankind” (“Our Historic Mission,” 1858).
  • During and after the Civil War, Palmer dedicated himself to establishing a biblical and theological foundation for slavery and segregation.
    • Following the election of Abraham Lincoln, he preached secession in a series of influential sermons that were published and disseminated across the country, most famously his “Thanksgiving Sermon” of November 1860.
    • Palmer’s argument for secession was based in slavery. As he put it, “the particular trust assigned to…a [historic] people becomes the pledge of the divine protection; and their fidelity to it determines the fate by which it is finally overtaken….If then the South is such a people, what, at this juncture, is their providential trust? I answer that it is to conserve and to perpetuate the institution of domestic slavery as now existing” (“Thanksgiving Sermon,” 1860).
    • Palmer told departing Confederate Troops: “History reads to us of wars which have been baptized as holy; but she enters upon her records none that is holier than this in which you have embarked” (“Address to the Washington Artillery,” 1861).
    • As he wrote in 1872, “the argument for [racial separation] I base upon the declared policy of the Divine Administration from the days of Noah until now. The sacred writings clearly teach that, to prevent the amazing wickedness which brought upon the earth the purgation of the Deluge, God saw fit to break the human family into sections” (“The Present Crisis and Its Issue,” 1872).
    • “It cannot be denied that God has divided the human race into several distinct groups, for the sake of keeping them apart. When the promise was given to Noah that the world should not be again destroyed with a flood, it became necessary to restrain the wickedness of man that it should not rise to the same height as in the ante-diluvian period. Hence the unity of human speech was broken, and “so the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth” [Genesis 11:9] (“Address to the Presbyterian General Assembly,” 1887).


  • To the end of his life, and long after most Southerners had abandoned it, Palmer clung to these ideas about slavery and segregation.
    • As late as 1901, just before his death, he was still preaching the same message: “Almost before the waters of the deluge had subsided from the face of the earth, you have the tripartite division of the human race, all of it yet to be born, signalized in the destinies assigned to the three sons of Noah. ‘Cursed be Canaan, a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren.’‘ God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem.’ ‘Blessed be the Lord God of Shem.’ Servitude to the first, enlargement to the second, and a sort of priestly function assigned to the third, fulfilled in the fact that his seed were first put in possession of the oracles of God through which the whole human race is finally to be blessed”; and “It was in the way of a judgment, strictly retributive in character, that [God] swept the old Canaanites into the pathless deserts surrounding their land in order to find room for his chosen people, and when the Indians had, for countless centuries, neglected the soil, had no worship to offer to the true God, with scarcely any serious occupation but murderous inter-tribal wars, the time came at length when, as I view it, in the just judgment of a righteous and holy God, although it may have been worked out through the simple avarice and voracity of the race that subdued them, the Indian has been swept from the earth, and a great Christian nation, over 75,000,000 strong rises up….” (“The Century Sermon,” 1901).


  • Palmer’s primary legacy after the Civil War was as a leading representative of the South’s Lost Cause movement; he was a featured speaker at many celebrations of the Confederacy.
    • As he said at the one of the last reunions of Confederate veterans at Louisville in 1900, “…we of the South, [are] convinced of the rightfulness of our cause, [and] can accept defeat without the blush of shame mantling the cheek of a single Confederate of us all; and while accepting the issue of the war as the decree of destiny, openly appeal to the verdict of posterity for the final vindication of our career….[This day’s discourse] is to set before you the tribunal of history, before which all the issues of the past continue to be tried; and which in the view of many sound thinkers is rendering a proximate judgement in what is occurring before us in the immediate present.…We may corrupt single facts, but cannot transmute the whole history of a people into a lie. A thousand hints of the truth will lie imbedded in the record, which antiquarian research will disentomb. The long silent voices will deliver their testimony in the court of final adjudication, and in these solemn historical retractions the good and brave will find an honest vindication” (“Confederate Reunion Speech,” 1900).
  • Palmer was a career-long advocate of slavery and segregation.
    • 1858: “Each of the three divisions into which the human family was separated after the Flood has been occupied with a distinct mission throughout out the entire tract of their history. The race of Shem was providentially selected as the channel for transmitting religion and worship;...Japhet and his race...seem designated to be the organ of human civilization, in cultivating the intellectual powers...The descendants of Ham, on the contrary, in whom the sensual and corporeal appetites predominate, are driven like an infected race beyond the deserts of Sahara, where under a glowing sky nature harmonizes with their brutal and savage disposition” (italics added).
    • 1861: Since Ham and his African descendants are condemned to “perpetual servitude…history records not a single example of any member of this group lifting itself, by any process of self-development, above the savage condition. From first to last their mental and moral characteristics, together with the guidance of Providence, have marked them for servitude” (italics added).
    • 1863: “All the attributes of the negro character, and...the whole history of God’s dealings towards him, and...all the light shed upon his destiny from the sacred Scriptures” lead to the conclusion that the African's “true normal position” is as a servant of servants.”
    • 1872: “As I can understand the teachings of history, there is one underlying principle which must control the question. It is indispensable that the purity of race shall be preserved on either side; for it is the condition of life to the one, as much as to the other” (“The Present Crisis and Its Issue,” 1872).
    • 1882: “But a very small portion of the earth’s surface and few of its nations are historic. You may, for example, throw all Africa overboard, except its Mediterranean coast and a small portion that lies upon the delta of the Nile. In like manner, nearly the whole of the massive and monotonous continent of Asia may be discounted” (Speech before the Southern Historical Society, 1882).
    • 1890: “China, with her four hundred millions of people—nearly one-half the population of the globe—[does not add] a fraction to the general history of the world….Africa, stretching its length between the Tropics and beyond them, occupied for thousands of years by naked savages engaged in internecine and tribal wars;…so far as the broad record of mankind is concerned, the Dark Continent might just as well have been sunk in the depths of the two oceans which wash its borders—utterly dead, without a history” (Speech before the Southern Historical Society, 1890).
    • 1901: “Almost before the waters of the deluge had subsided from the face of the earth, you have the tripartite division of the human race, all of it yet to be born, signalized in the destinies assigned to the three sons of Noah. ‘Cursed be Canaan, a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren.’ ‘God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem.’ ‘Blessed be the Lord God of Shem.’ Servitude to the first, enlargement to the second, and a sort of priestly function assigned to the third…” (“The Century Sermon,” 1901).
    • 1901: “During all the past, as far back as any knowledge of time goes, this vast continent was inhabited by tribes of wild native Indians. Nothing was heard in all those vast primeval forests, in conjunction with the roar of the wild beasts, save the savage war cries of these naked and painted Indian tribes, engaged in their internecine wars. What do we see to-day? The Indian practically extinct; the vast forests through which he pursued his game leveled to the earth, and the fertile bosom of the soil receiving culture and yielding its fruit a thousand-fold to the industry of man. Instead of the war-whoop of the Indian, we hear the chimes of Sabbath bells, and songs of praise issuing from myriads of Christian homes to the glory of that God ‘who hath prepared his throne in the heavens, and whose kingdom ruleth over all’” (“The Century Sermon,” 1901).