The Battle Hymn of the Republic (Refuted)
.The Battle Hymn of the Republic is a pseudo-Christian anthem which occupies
a prominent position not only within the programme of nearly every
nationalistic celebration, but also as part of many Christian services.
Admittedly, the anthem sounds good, but it is far from being a .hymn.. Many
Christians understand its stirring words to provide an image of a victorious
Church, but the connotations of a spiritual patriotism which have endeared
it to many, result from a mistaken and cursory reading of the song.
By definition, a hymn is a song which incorporates theological truth into
its text. Wonderful examples of Christian hymns are A Mighty Fortress Is Our
God, Great Is Thy Faithfulness and How Firm a Foundation. But despite its
author.s use of Biblical phrasing, the Battle Hymn of the Republic is not
about Christ .marching. against sin and the Church being .victorious. over
evil. The theological truths which it expresses are anti-Christian and
anti-Biblical, thus it should never be sung by a Christian congregation.
The Battle Hymn of the Republic was written in the fall of 1861. While in
Washington, D.C. with her husband, Mrs. Julia Ward Howe watched troops
marching off to war singing John Brown.s Body. She determined to write a
more inspiring war song to what was a good melody. First published in the
Atlantic Monthly, she received five dollars for her literary effort.
Born into a prominent New York City family, Julia Ward was raised in a
conservative, Christian home. As a young woman she rebelled against her
parents. strong Calvinism and ultimately married the Boston reformer, Dr.
Samuel G. Howe. She adopted the tenants of Transcendentalism, then
Unitarianism, and it was in that light that the .Battle Hymn. was written.
The Transcendentalists became the core of the radical abolitionist movement.
Dr. Howe, as well as their Boston pastor, the Reverend Theodore Parker were
two members of the .Secret Six. who financed and armed the anti-slavery
terrorist John Brown. After his murderous rampage in Kansas and at Harper.s
Ferry, Mrs. Howe lamented, .John Brown.s death will be holy and glorious.
John Brown will glorify the gallows like Jesus glorified the cross..
The Battle Hymn of the Republic can only be understood within the framework
of the Transcendentalist-Unitarian creed. The first verse reads:
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord. He is trampling
out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored; He has loosed the
fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword. His truth is marching on.
Mrs. Howe applied the apocalyptic judgment of the Revelation [14:17-20 &
19:15] to the Confederate nation. She pictured the Union army not only as
that instrument which would cause Southern blood to flow out upon the earth,
but also the Union army as the very expression of His Word [sword] itself.
The Transcendentalist-Unitarians believed that the evil in man could be
rooted out by governmental action. The South was evil and was thus deserving
of judgment of the most extreme nature its own Armageddon.
The second verse follows the same theme by presenting the Union army as the
abode of their vengeful God.
I have seen Him in the watch fires of a hundred circling camps; They have
builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps; I can read His
righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps. His day is marching on.
The third verse is so contrary of the Gospel of Jesus Christ that many
hymnals leave it out altogether.
I have read the fiery Gospel writ in burnished rows of steel. As ye deal
with My contempters, so with you My grace shall deal; Let the hero born of
woman crush the serpent with his heel. Since God is marching on.
Mrs. Howe proclaimed a gospel of judgment pictured by rows of affixed
bayonets. Taking God.s promise of deliverance from Genesis 3:15, she applied
it not to Christ, but to the Union soldier who would receive God.s grace by
This was certainly a different Gospel; the kind of which the Apostle Paul
said, .But even if we, or an angel from Heaven, preach any other Gospel to
you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed.. [Galatians 1:8]
Verse four returns to the prose of the Apocalypse with trumpet and judgment
He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never sound retreat; He is
sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment seat. O be swift, my
soul, to answer Him! Be jubilant, my feet! Our God is marching on.
The problem again is that civil warfare was the instrument being promoted
for determining the hearts of men. A man.s positive response to the call for
enlistment in the Union army was the action which would reveal their
standing before God. The fifth and final verse gives the ultimate expression
of the warped and anti-Biblical theology which possessed the radical
In the beauty of the lilies, Christ was born across the sea, With a glory in
His bosom that transfigures you and me. As He died to make men holy, let us
die to make men free, While God is marching on.
To Julia Ward Howe, the work of Christ was incomplete. It was up to men
through civil government to bring about a utopian society.
She was quoted in her biography, .Not until the Civil War did Iofficially
join the Unitarian church and accept the fact the Christ was merely a great
teacher with no higher claim to pre-eminence in wisdom, goodness, and power
than any other man.. [emphasis mine]
The .Battle Hymn. theme has nothing to do with Christianity or God. It is a
political-patriotic song about the destruction of the South, written in
religious terminology. It is a clever product. Howe deliberately created the
idea that the north was doing God.s work. It paints a picture of a vengeful
God destroying His enemies the South, and elevating the north.s cause to
that of a .holy war.. In doing so, Howe portrayed the South and its people
as evil and the enemy of God. Outrageous, but it worked.
As a Unitarian, Julia Ward Howe believed the Unitarian doctrine that man is
characteristically good and he can redeem himself by his own merits without
any help from a saviour. She rejected basic Biblical truths such as a
literal Hell .I threw away, once and forever, the thought of the terrible
Hell which appears to me impossible.. Mrs. Howe also refuted the exclusive
claim of Jesus, .I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the
Father except through Me.. [John 14:6] by saying, .Having rejected the
exclusive doctrine that made Christianity and special forms of it the only
way of spiritual redemption, I now accept the belief that not only
Christians but all human beings, no matter what their religion, are capable
of redemption. Christianity was but one of God.s plans for bringing all of
humanity to a state of ultimate perfection..
Our challenge is to bring a proper understanding of the nature of this
battle anthem to the leadership of the Christian church. No Christian church
would intentionally sing a song of praise to Satan.s doctrines, nor would
any pastor or elder lead their flock into rebellion against true Biblical
doctrine. Yet by ignorance, is has been done on a regular basis in the
The .Battle Hymn of the Republic. is apostasy. It promotes hatred and
vengeful destruction. It has no place in a worship service.
Here is #2
Richard Weaver: Historian of the South
by Thomas E. Woods, Jr. found at http://www.LewRockwell.com
Along with Russell Kirk and Robert Nisbet, Richard Weaver was one of the
most influential intellectuals of the postwar conservative renascence in
America. A professor of English at the University of Chicago, Weaver was
also a scholar of Southern history, and his defense of Southern civilization
was at once so elegant and insightful that historians continue to study and
discuss his work some forty years after his untimely death. Although
despised in fashionable circles, the South, Weaver believed, possessed
insight and wisdom that a world increasingly enticed by liberalism (in the
American sense) neglected at its peril.
In 1830, one of the most famous debates in American history
occurred between Massachusetts Senator Daniel Webster and South Carolina
Senator Robert Hayne. Weaver analyzed the debate in his essay "Two Orators,"
and much of what in Weaver.s judgment separated North and South politically,
culturally, and ideologically came through in this celebrated exchange.
Before a packed and rapturously attentive Senate chamber, the two men
delivered a total of five speeches, in which they examined the nature of the
According to Hayne, the American Union was formed by distinct American
states, acting in their sovereign capacity to establish a federal government
to act as their agent in a few clearly specified areas. The political
consequences of this view were plain. The United States was composed of
independent, sovereign political communities, which retained all powers not
delegated to the federal government, and which as sovereign states could,
through secession, recall the powers delegated to that government. That
Hayne.s position possessed merit was evident in the grammatical construction
people generally used when speaking about the United States: the United
States are rather than the United States is.
Webster, on the other hand, argued that the Union had been
formed by the entire American people in the aggregate. In Webster.s
conception, therefore, secession (and the less extreme method of resistance
to unconstitutional federal action known as nullification) was
metaphysically impossible. The Union was not, at root, a confederation of
states, but rather an indivisible whole.
Weaver frequently observed that the Southerner was very much a
local person, devoted to his particular plot of land and skeptical of
distant authorities or grandiose political schemes . and he perceived this
attachment to the locality in Hayne.s remarks before the Senate. Hayne.s
historical argument, Weaver wrote, "was devoted to the proposition that the
United States had been founded primarily to secure the blessings of liberty.
For Hayne the implication was clear that liberty required the independence
and dignity of the parts, with local attention to and disposition of local
affairs. In what may seem to many an excess of particularism, he opposed
local improvements financed by funds of the general government. Yet from a
strict point of view Hayne was but facing and accepting the price of
liberty. Freedom is something that gathers around the hearth, inheres in
local associations, and endears to a man his place of habitation."
The issue could also be conceived another way: was the American
Union simply a means to an end or an end in itself? For Webster "a nation
was something that filled the political horizon; it was a creation which
tended to carry its own vindication, and for which the sacrifice of local
rights was appropriate." But for Hayne, a nation "was a means toward a
higher end, not a self-glorifying structure which improved as it gained size
and authority for coercion." This was the fundamental issue at stake in
nineteenth-century American political thought.
Although the testimony of history was clearly on the side of
Hayne rather than Webster, whose rhetorical flights of fancy tended more to
the mystical than the strictly historical, it was Webster.s view that would
be established on the battlefield during the American Civil War. Weaver
observed with sorrow that "somewhere along the path of events the French
revolutionary theory of the people as a unitary whole, governing in the
interest of the whole without restrictions on its power, had seeped into the
political thinking of some Americans.. The .spurious democracy. of the
French Revolution, as Lord Acton was to term it, which placed power and rule
above local rights and autochthonous institutions, continued its sway during
the nineteenth century and profoundly altered the character of the American
Another aspect of the Southern character that Weaver identified is that it
is not utopian. When during the mid-nineteenth century Northerners were
setting up self-described "utopian communities" . in which there would be no
private property, or no marriage, or whatever . the Southerner shook his
head in amusement. The Southerner, said Weaver, "accepts the irremediability
of a certain amount of evil and tries to fence it around instead of trying
to stamp it out and thereby spreading it. His is a classical acknowledgment
of tragedy and of the limits of power." Weaver pointed out that such a
mentality was utterly incompatible with another character type with which we
are all too familiar. This other character type is "unhappy unless he feels
that he is making the world over. He may talk much of tolerance, but for him
tolerance is an exponent of power. His tolerance tolerates only the dogmatic
idea of tolerance, as anyone can discover for himself by getting to know the
modern humanitarian liberal." Although he naturally acknowledged the
existence of exceptions, it was these two impulses, Weaver suggested, that
comprised the two sections of the Union. (Which of them would ultimately
triumph is evident from a glance at current American foreign policy.)
Throughout American history, there have been those who have
sought to strengthen the central government and weaken the independence of
the states in order to bring about this or that allegedly desirable social
outcome. This tendency has manifested itself in many forms. In 1954, the
Southern states were told that they had to begin racial desegregation of
their schools. By 1957, federal troops were being used against a high school
in Little Rock, Arkansas, that had defied the federal government. By the
1960s, the Southern states were being told that desegregation was no longer
enough: they now needed to engage in active integration of the races. Simply
giving parents a choice of schools was not enough, the ideologues claimed,
since they might choose to continue sending their children to single-race
schools (as indeed happened in many cases). Even forced busing of students
hours each way was said to be a perfectly constitutional way of
accomplishing this task of social engineering. Whether any of this actually
improved anyone.s educational performance . it didn.t . was scarcely even
By the early 1970s, even Northern states that had never engaged
in overt discrimination against blacks were said to be in breach of the
mandate to integrate if their school systems were de facto segregated. Now
the forced busing would be extended to the North, where there had been no
legal discrimination in the past, and where a majority of parents . black
and white . opposed this intrusion into their local affairs.
Weaver had warned that the federal government, claiming to act on behalf of
freedom, would not so restrict itself for long. "The instrumentality of
union, with its united strength and its subordination of the parts, is an
irresistible temptation to the power-hungry of every generation," he wrote.
"The strength of union may first be exercised in the name of freedom, but
once it has been made monopolistic and unassailable, it will, if history
teaches anything, be used for other purposes" (emphasis added). He observed
in another context that "[w]hen doctrinaire liberalism is applied to
societies," the result is "an enforced Utopia sustained by the police
The only use a liberal has for power, said Weaver, is to
destroy. Anyone who thinks liberalism will restrict its use of federal power
to the purely benign is deceiving himself. "If these fanatical destroyers
are allowed to have their way," he warned, "the next thing to be challenged
will be the basis on which the more general .American way of life. is
forming. The same charges of inequity leveled against the Southern regime
will be leveled against capitalism, private property, the family, and even
With the Civil War over and the American nation consolidated (in
1869, the Supreme Court blandly described secession as "unconstitutional,"
without deigning to justify that statement with evidence), the imperially
minded could turn their attention at last to the international arena. Weaver
remarked, "One cannot feign surprise, therefore, that thirty years after the
great struggle to consolidate and unionize American power, the nation
embarked on its career of imperialism. The new nationalism enabled Theodore
Roosevelt, than whom there was no more staunch advocate of union, to strut
and bluster and intimidate our weaker neighbors. Ultimately it launched
American upon its career of world imperialism, whose results are now being
seen in indefinite military conscription, mountainous debt, restriction of
dissent, and other abridgments of classical liberty."
The American South has often been criticized for being slow to adopt modern
ideas, and for being insufficiently "progressive." But the South with which
Richard Weaver attempts to acquaint us, while doubtless imperfect, possesses
some of the characteristics of the tragic hero. Southerners attempted to
resist the spirit of the age . this was, after all, the age of the
unifications of Germany and Italy . as well as overwhelming military force.
By resisting the idea of a centralized, consolidated nation, the South kept
alive a pre-modern conception of political authority that acknowledged the
independence and integrity of the constituent parts that comprised political
society, and which rejected the idea that a single, irresistible sovereign
voice had the right to ride roughshod over traditional local rights. (The
South was Althusius to the North.s Rousseau.) Southerners are thus an
inspiration to people anywhere who wish to keep regional cultures alive in
the face of the standardization and uniformity enforced by modern, unitary
Southerners could not have known of the historically unprecedented
destruction that such large-scale centralized states would wreak in the
twentieth century. But having attempted to resist the transformation of the
United States from a decentralized republic of many jurisdictions to a
centralized state little different from that forged during the French
Revolution, they made a stand against what has proven to be one of the most
destructive institutions in history. Indeed, Professor Donald Livingston of
Emory University has described the modern unitary state precisely as
one of the most destructive forces in history. Its wars and totalitarian
revolutions have been without precedent in their barbarism and ferocity. But
in addition to this, it has persistently subverted and continues to subvert
those independent social authorities and moral communities on which
eighteenth-century monarchs had not dared to lay their hands. Its subversion
of these authorities, along with its success in providing material welfare,
has produced an ever increasing number of rootless individuals whose
characters are hedonistic, self-absorbed, and without spirit. We daily
accept expropriations, both material and spiritual, from the central
government which our ancestors in 1776 and 1861 would have considered
In a similar vein, Weaver cited the lament of Alexander Stephens, Vice
President of the Confederate States of America:
If centralism is ultimately to prevail; if our entire system of free
Institutions as established by our common ancestors is to be subverted, and
an Empire is to be established in their stead; if that is to be the last
scene of the great tragic drama now being enacted: then, be assured, that we
of the South will be acquitted, not only in our own consciences, but in the
judgment of mankind, of all responsibility for so terrible a catastrophe,
and from all guilt of so great a crime against humanity.
The South, as a result both of the devastation she endured during the Civil
War and the orthodox Christianity in which she has believed, has appreciated
the element of tragedy in human existence, and has therefore viewed with
skepticism those whose utopian schemes neglect both common sense as well as
the baneful influence of original sin. An appreciation of this important
insight has never been more urgently needed than now, when the American
foreign policy establishment believes it reasonable to remake the political
culture of an entire region of the world, as if societies were mere
tinkertoys, easily taken apart and reassembled.
Around the world, secession and devolution movements abound; even the
European Union can at times be heard to acknowledge the desire for
devolution. The Confederate Battle Flag, ignorantly condemned by American
Jacobins as a symbol of slavery that should be forcibly uprooted wherever it
is found, has been seen to fly wherever in the world a people seeks to
resist their subordination to unchecked central authority. These are some of
the valuable things that Richard Weaver found in Southern civilization, and
why we can say, with Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens, that
"the cause of the South is the cause of us all."
September 30, 2003
Professor Thomas E. Woods, Jr. holds an AB from Harvard and a PhD from
Columbia. He teaches history, is associate editor of The Latin Mass
Magazine, and is co-author of The Great Fašade: Vatican II and the Regime of
Novelty in the Roman Catholic Church (2002). His next book, on Catholic
thought during the Progressive Era, will be published next year by Columbia
An Italian translation of this article appeared in the journal Ideazione
I thought you might enjoy my chaplain's column for this month, also the
link to our SCV website.
Chaplain's column for February.
In this post 9-11 world, do you often wonder as I do what causes the
ongoing conflict between the Arabs and Israel and the West? Recently I
asked a Saudi Arabian Air Force colonel why the Muslims (and Arabs) hate
America so much. He said "We don't hate America, we love America and
American culture, what we hate is America's support of Israel". These are
profound words and point to the root of the problem, but not a solution.
While reading the Bible researching this column I came across this amazing
history. It seems that Abram (later called Abraham) and his wife Sarah (or
Sarai) had no children and no heirs. God had promised Abraham that Sarah
would bear him a son even though she was well past childbearing years.
(Genesis 17:19) But Sarah arranged for Abraham to have a child with her
Egyptian slave girl Hagar, (Genesis 16: 1-4). The resulting child was named
Ishmael. God had spoken to Hagar:
"Behold, you are with child, and shall bear a son, you shall call his name
Ishmael. He shall be a wild ass of a man, his hand against every man and
every man's hand against him, and he shall dwell apart from all his
kinsman." (Genesis 16: 11-12 RSV) He grew up to be a man of the desert,
wild and hostile toward others and skilled with the bow.
Thirteen years later Sarah gave birth to Isaac just as God had promised,
and there was conflict between the half brothers from the beginning.
Abraham loved both his sons although Sarah told him to cast out Hagar and
her troublemaker son. But God told Abraham to do it and that he would make a
nation of the descendants of Ishmael. (Genesis 21: 12-13 RSV)
Ishmael lived 137 years (Genesis 25:17), had 12 sons who fathered the
Ishmaelite tribes that spread from Egypt to what is now Iraq. Modern day
Arabs are descended from the tribes of Ishmael while the Jews and Israelites
are descended from Isaac and his descendants. Therefore the Arabs and the
Jews are half-brothers, as it were. Ishmael was denied his inheritance from
Sarah and Abraham, hence the jealousy with Isaac the legitimate son and the
conflict has gone on ever since. (Galatians 4: 21-31)
Doesn't it seem strange that a conflict that started over 4000 years ago
should still be causing misery and grief? But it is also amazing and
humbling that such wisdom and understanding can be found right on our own
bookshelf at home. Read your Bible!
All quotes are from the New International Version of the Bible.