As a new academic year begins at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, we are wise to look back to the events of the summer of 1865, when the continued existence of this institution was in doubt. The seminary closed in 1862 amidst the turmoil of the Civil War. Following the end of the war, physical and economic conditions in the South were desperate and there was doubt as to whether the seminary could feasibly open again. The founding faculty members corresponded throughout the spring and summer of 1865 and then met in the late summer to make decisions regarding the future of Southern Seminary.
James P. Boyce, John A. Broadus and Basil Manly Jr. agreed on the vital importance of the seminary resuming classes with a majority of its faculty intact in order to inspire confidence and continued support for a common theological school for Baptists in the South. Manly wrote to Broadus in July the “it is desirable to return to the Seminary, if possible to reorganize it. That work is the most agreeable to my feelings. Its prompt re-establishment secures the institution for the churches of the country with all its boundless possibilities for good.”
Still, they were fully aware that it would be extremely difficult to raise the necessary funds to support themselves as faculty and the institution in the post-war South. The currency upon which the economy of the former Confederate states had been established was worthless; it was a struggle for families to meet their own needs, let alone honor pledged investments to institutions such as the seminary. There was also a concern that few students would be able to begin a course of seminary study amidst the period of Reconstruction in the South.