Of all the hymns that have found their way into our Christian hymnody, none is as poorly understood or as undeserving as Battle Hymn of the Republic. It is nothing more than a clever work of wartime abolitionist propaganda that has ever so slowly found its way into mainstream America. How sad that our citizens are so maleducated (the prefix mal meaning defective or evil).
To fully comprehend the insidious nature of this tune it is imperative that you understand abolitionism, the yankee worldview, Julia Ward Howe, and her religion. Julia Ward was born in 1819, in New York City, into a strict Episcopalian Calvinist family. Her mother died when she was young and she was raised by an aunt. When her father, a banker of only modest wealth, died, she became the responsibility of a more liberal-minded uncle. She herself grew more and more liberal on religious and social issues.
Julia married the reformer Samuel Gridley Howe when she was 21 years old. He had fought in the Greek War of Independence and had written of his experiences. He was a physician and had become director of the Perkins Institute for the Blind in Boston, Massachusetts. He was a radical Unitarian who had moved far from the Calvinism of New England, and was part of the circle known as the Transcendentalists. He carried his radical convictions into his work with the blind, the mentally ill, and with those in prison. He was also, out of his religious conviction, a virulent opponent of slavery. Julia became a Unitarian and as a religious radical did not see her belief as the only route to salvation; she had come to believe that religion was a matter of ‘deed’ not ‘creed’. Samuel and Julia attended the church where Theodore Parker was minister. Parker too was a radical but unlike Samuel Howe was an early proponent of feminism.
It is important to remember that these radical factions were primarily sectional and that sectionalism and radical yankee influence strained our Southern Founders and caused men like Patrick Henry and John C. Calhoun to predict the conflict we refer to as the War of Northern Aggression. Indeed, John Taylor of Carolina County, Virginia, in his excellent work Tyranny Unmasked, spends 268 pages discussing tyranny in general and central government tyranny in particular, and that was published in 1822 as his response to central government Protecting–Tariff Policy. It is also important to remember that the Unitarian Church denies the divinity of Jesus Christ and the Doctrine of the Holy Trinity, that the Transcendentalists worshiped God in all creatures and things (animals, rocks & trees). Finally, one must acknowledge that of the hundreds of references in our Holy Bible to slave, slaves, bondservant, maidservant, servant, & etc., never do the scriptures refer to that franchise as sin. Robert L. Dabney, D.D., of Virginia, late of the Confederate Army, states the crux of the slavery matter in his enlightening book published in 1867, A Defense of Virginia and the South. He says, “If men are by nature sovereign and independent, and mechanically equal in rights, and if allegiance is founded solely on expressed or implied consent, then not only slavery, but every involuntary restraint imposed on a person or a class not convicted of crime, and every difference of franchise (emphasis mine) among the members of civil society, is a glaring wrong. Such are the premises of abolition. Obviously, then, the only just or free government is one where all franchises are absolutely equal…where no magistrate has any power not expressly assented to by the popular will. For if inequalities of franchise may be justified by differences of character and condition, of course a still wider difference of these might justify so wide an inequality of rights as that between the master and servant. Your true abolitionist is then, of course, a Red-Republican, a Jacobin. Is not this strikingly illustrated by the fact, that the first wholesale abolition in the world was that enacted for the French colonies by the frantic democrats of the ‘Reign of Terror?’” Which, by the way, resulted in the death by unspeakable means of the entire white population of Haiti which was over 20,000 men, women and children. This scenario was repeated in most all of the French Colonies in the Caribbean.
I quoted Dabney in order to introduce you to the fact that it was Jacobin egalitarianism of the French Revolution which infected Calvinist New England to the degree that Unitarianism, Transcendentalism, Feminism and radical Abolitionism was spawned and flourished. All of this duly impressed an English reporter covering the “Civil War” by the name of Karl Marx. Marx, always the astute observer said of that war in 1861, “The war between the North and South is a tariff war. The war is further, not for any principle, does not touch the question of slavery, and in fact turns on the Northern lust for sovereignty.”
In his first book published in 1929, John Brown: The Making of a Martyr, Robert Penn Warren states, “ Immediately after his arrival (in Boston) John Brown met Frank B. Sanborn. Sanborn, just out of Harvard, was a very young man, who had given up school teaching in order to follow God’s will and work for the Massachusetts State Kansas Committee. He was an excessively earnest young man, confident of himself, and confident that he knew God’s will; beyond this he possessed to a considerable degree that tight especial brand of New England romanticism which manifested itself in stealing Guinea niggers, making money, wrestling with conscience, hunting witches, building teaclippers, talking about Transcendentalism, or being an Abolitionist.” You see, John Brown had gone to Boston to seek favor from his wealthy radical Unitarian Abolitionist supporters. Again from Warren’s John Brown, “ When John Brown ate a good Sunday dinner at the table of the wealthy George Luther Stearns, he recognized an opportunity to consolidate his position as the fighting hero of Kansas…Stearns was completely won to the support of John Brown, and he was not alone in his conviction. Theodore Parker, the radical clergyman, S. G. Howe… and Amos A. Lawrence… were among the number of converts to the support of John Brown.” These are but four of the men later known as the secret six who backed and prodded Brown. The other two were Gerrit Smith a New York Capitalist and Thomas Wentworth Higginson a Transcendental Clergyman. Together they were the forerunners of today’s Muslim fanatics intent on demonstrating to the rest of the world the righteousness of their cause. These are the type of folk who only want to help bring about God’s Heaven on earth and those who disagree are greeted with imprisonment, torture or death. These were the men who frequented the home of Julia Ward Howe. Warren says, “ Captain Brown talked of war and had a chance to repeat his favorite Bible text: ‘without the shedding of blood there is no remissions of sins.’ His present business in the east was to get $30,000, ostensibly to equip a company whose purpose, among other purposes, would be the shedding of blood.” He Succeeded.
From the flyleaf of the book, The Secret Six: the True Tale of the Men Who Conspired with John Brown, by Edward J. Renehan, we have, “…very few know the story of how a circle of Northern aristocrats covertly aided Brown in his quest to ignite a nationwide slave revolt. These influential men, who called themselves the Secret Six, included the editor of the Atlantic Monthly, a world-famous physician, a Unitarian minister whose rhetoric helped shape Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, an educator and close friend of Emerson and Thoreau, and two prominent philanthropists. Renehan recounts how these pillars of Northern society came to believe that armed conflict was necessary to purge the United States of a government-sanctioned evil, how the messianic Brown enlisted their support, and how they sought to cover up their association with him – even perjuring themselves before a congressional investigation – after his bloody debacle.” Indeed, it was the esteemed Ralph Waldo Emerson who said of John Brown at the Tremont Temple in Boston, shortly after his capture by Colonel R.E. Lee and a contingent of US Marines, “The saint whose fate yet hangs in suspense but whose martyrdom, if it shall be perfected, will make the gallows as glorious as the cross!” Mrs. Howe parrots those same sentiments when she pens these words to her sister, “I should be glad to be as sure of heaven as that old man (John Brown) may be, following right in the spirit and footsteps of the old martyrs, girding on his sword for the weak and oppressed. His death will be holy and glorious – the new saint awaiting his martyrdom, and who, if he shall suffer execution, will make the gallows glorious like the cross.”
Scriptures teach that ye shall know them by their fruits. What might be some of the fruits of Mr. Brown? On the night of May 24, 1856, Captain Brown and his small band of yankee abolitionist equipped men descended on a settlement of Southerners at Pottawatomie Creek, Kansas. They carried with them newly sharpened swords – a prominent symbol in Mrs. Howe’s song. There they proceeded, under cover of darkness, to split the skulls and hack to death five innocent people. The first three of their victims, James P. Doyle and his sons, twenty-two year old William and twenty year old Drury, were Catholics from Tennessee. They were never slave owners and when later asked why her husband and sons had been so brutally murdered, Mrs. Doyle replied, “just we were southern people, I reckon.” Drury had made an attempt to flee, which resulted in particularly gruesome hacking, and his body minus limbs appeared more as a pile of meat. The other victims were Allen Wilkinson, hacked to death while his wife and children watched in horror and William Sherman, whose mutilated body was found floating in the creek with his left hand hanging by a strand of skin and his skull split open and some of his brains washed away. When she received word of the massacre, Julia Ward Howe’s own words reveal her to have been perversely thrilled and inspired by this grisly crime. The “terrible swift sword” was terrible indeed but hardly reflecting Christian values. Did I mention that John Brown had in his company of murderers that night his sons, John Jr., and Jason and that later John Jr., nearly lost his mind from the memory of the horrors of that night?
During the three years between his cowardly massacre and insane attack of Harpers Ferry, John Brown kept in regular correspondence with his northern benefactors. He made it clear to them and to his band of followers that, “God had created him to be the deliverer of the slaves, just as Moses was of the children of Israel.” In writing of the impending raid of Harpers Ferry, Warren says, “ John Brown let each man know, or surmise, just what it was best for him to know of the total adventure. The adventure was the conquest of the South…Brown knew so little about actual conditions in the South that he believed every negro was only waiting the chance to rise and cut his master’s throat…It was John Brown’s idea to corrupt the soldiers of the regular army, and from these men to provide the officers for his own army of conquest. Besides gaining trained men who could drill and direct the liberated negroes, he would, by the same blow, paralyze the United States Government, and give time for the disunion sentiment in the North to be transformed into action. The North would be convulsed with its own revolution, the central government would be but a word, and he would have his own army behind him and a collapsing South at his feet…The New England disunionists, who had contributed money to John Brown in the past, would concoct the Northern Revolution.” Speaking of one of Brown’s later visits to Boston and New England, Warren says,” Most of the people who sat about him in those parlors, and gave their earnest attention to his words, found something peculiarly congenial to their own prejudices and beliefs. Captain Brown was a ‘Higher Law Man.’ He was ‘Superior to any legal tradition’- just as most of these people felt themselves to be – and if he claimed to have a divine commission, they could understand what he meant, for they too were privy to God.” It is interesting to note that Julia’s husband fled to Canada after John Brown’s capture, returning only after given assurances from Massachusetts authorities that he would not be prosecuted.
But, you say, the abolitionists were well meaning Christian folk, patriotic Americans who only wanted freedom for the slaves. Well, that is very nice sounding but it is not true at all. First, I would not call them Christians. How can you refer to someone who denies that Jesus is the Son of God, denies the Tri-unity of God, and the inerrancy of Holy Scripture as a Christian? Secondly, these folk were about the destruction of the Constitutional Republic as intended by our Founders and the bloated monolithic Federal bureaucracy in Washington today is proof enough of their success. In Madison, Wisconsin in 1864, Stephen D. Carpenter published a rather lengthy book titled Logic of History and in that book he convincingly states, “Wendell Phillips is the most honest and outspoken of all the Northern Abolitionists. He does not hesitate to claim that this revolution began in the North, and that it had a purpose in view, and that purpose was dissolution – the means being the slavery agitation.” In the same book Carpenter quotes a speech by Boston Liberator Publisher and abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison who in 1856 said, “ The Union is a lie. The American Union is an imposture, and a covenant with death, and an agreement with hell! I am for its overthrow.” Well, so much for patriotism.
It should be abundantly clear that these people were neither Christian nor patriots, so what were their thoughts concerning the soon to be freed slaves? Julia Ward Howe in a letter wrote, “the ideal negro would be one refined by white culture, elevated by white blood…the negro among negroes is a coarse, grinning, flat-footed, thick-skulled creature, ugly as Caliban, lazy as the laziest brutes, chiefly ambitious to be of no use to any in this world.” Need I say more?
Then you might ask, what was the purpose of the abolitionists? I’m not convinced the bulk of them had a purpose other than their personal, mystical crusade for the nebulous concept of liberty for some other fellow in some distant land of whom they knew nothing. Much like the abortion activists of today, so consumed with the concept of a woman’s right to choose that they overlook the permanent emotional damage they cause when they cajole a young girl to abort her unborn child and presume upon God. By and large, the abolitionists like the abortionists, were simply foolish folk, mystical, pantheistic, influenced by Jacobin egalitarianism and eastern religions and ever learning but never able to come to the knowledge of the truth yet absolutely convinced of their divine spirituality. They were perfectly suited for the task unknowingly assigned them by their Jacobin business and banking interests of Boston and New York. Wendell Phillips admitted as much!
In November of 1861, Julia Ward Howe in the company of Unitarian Reverend James F. Clark and a multitude of wistful onlookers had traveled to Northern Virginia to participate in a review of northern troops. However, a sudden Confederate skirmish cancelled the review. Howe and Clark patiently awaited the return of the Union troops in the comfort of their buggy by the roadside. By and by the troops returned from the skirmish and while marching past were overheard merrily singing an obscene version of John Brown’s Body. Upon return to Washington, Reverend Clark asked Mrs. Howe if she could not pen a more dignified song to that tune. Thus, inspired by the memory of her late martyred hero John Brown and the skirmish that so rudely interrupted her review of the invading Northern Army, she wrote the words for that infamous anti-Southern anthem.
Julia Ward Howe in the words of John Brown was, “A defiant little woman, full of flash and fire.” Her diary indicates that the marriage was violent, Samuel controlled, resented and at times mismanaged the financial inheritance her father left her. Later she discovered that he had also been unfaithful. They considered divorce several times. Instead of divorce she threw herself into her abolitionist crusade while studying transcendentalist philosophy and religion and writing poetry.
Julia Ward Howe said, “Not until the Civil War did I really officially join the Unitarian Church and accept the fact that Christ was merely a great teacher with no higher claim to preeminence in wisdom, goodness and power than many men. Having rejected the exclusive doctrine that made Christianity and especial 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.”
James T. Fields, the editor of the Atlantic Monthly, accepted her submission and suggested it be titled Battle Hymn of the Republic. It was subsequently published in the February 1862 issue.
Mr. Lincoln was experiencing great difficulty in his attempt to invade the South while simultaneously subduing rebellion on the part of the Northern citizenry and pressure to expedite on the part of New England banking and mercantile interests. He had already imprisoned most of the Maryland Legislature, several mayors, scores of newspaper editors and various other northern community leaders who had dared to speak out against his unconstitutional grab for power. He even issued a warrant for the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court who had the nerve to claim that what he was about was unconstitutional! Being a consummate politician he seized upon the message of the song, shrouded in religious terms, as an anthem to rally the people of the North to become involved in his “Holy War” for a righteous cause. Eleven months later he issued his infamous “Emancipation Proclamation” which resulted in freeing not a single slave. Indeed, General U.S. Grant did not free his slaves in Washington, DC, until December of 1866.
Julia Ward Howe portrayed the Union Army as the “coming of the glory of the Lord.” When she states that “I have seen Him (God) in the watchfires of a hundred circling (Union) camps,” Lincoln’s 75,000 troops were the “Army of God” going forth to slaughter the evil resisters of social reform and progressive government. Her “burnished rows of steel” refer to the polished Union cannon that rained death and destruction on Confederate soldiers, but also Southern cities, towns, and innocents. Over 620,000 men and boys perished in that crusade and untold millions of Southern families were left ruined and forever changed. And for what purpose, Greed?
The title given the song is especially repugnant. The Constitutional Republic as intended by our Founders was erased in 1861 upon Mr. Lincoln’s invasion of Virginia. We no longer live in a Republic and our poor Constitution has been raped by generations of egalitarian judges who legislate with impunity. Our present condition is our Founders worst nightmare, just read John Taylor, Patrick Henry or John C. Calhoun. Even George Washington warned of the present evils when he referred to democracy as mobocracy, and on more than one occasion.
What we have been investigating here is the classic clash of good and evil, the two diametrically opposed world-views. One is man centered and the other God centered. One is the “I Am” of Exodus while the other is the “me” of the world.
It has been said that the Confederate Army was really a moving, fighting, revival tent meeting. Contemporary chaplains have estimated that over 100,000 men were genuinely converted to Christ. That is the origin of the term “Bible Belt” given to the South in scorn by the writer H.L. Menckin.
The South was agrarian while the North was urban. You can see today, those troubles are still with us; the war has never really ended. It never will until Christ returns.
Ever since Mrs. Howe wrote the words to this song many sincere well-meaning Christians have unknowingly sung this song with religious zeal and fervor without understanding its original intent and meaning. So, should you choose to sing the Battle Hymn of the Republic, do not take offense that I will not join in. You see, I know what it means.
Battle Hymn of the Republic
Mark Twain, 1835 -1910
Mine eyes have seen the orgy of the Launching of the Sword;
He is searching out the hoardings where the stranger’s wealth is stored;
He hath loosed his fateful lightnings, and with woe and death has scored;
His lust is marching on.
I have seen him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps;
They have builded him a altar in the Eastern dews and damps;
I have read his doomful mission by the dim and flaring lamps –
His night is marching on.
I have read his bandit gospel writ in burnished rows of steel:
“As ye deal with my pretentions, so with you my wrath shall deal;
Let the faithless son of Freedom crush the patriot with his heel;
Lo, Greed is marching on!”
We have legalized the strumpet and are guarding her retreat;
Greed is seeking out commercial souls before his judgement seat;
O, be swift, ye clods, to answer him! Be jubilant my feet!
Our god is marching on.
In a sordid slime harmonious Greed was born in yonder ditch,
With a longing in his bosom – and for others’ goods an itch.
As Christ died to make men holy, let men die to make us rich –
Our god is marching on.
Samuel Langhorne Clemens, Mark Twain, though born in Florida, Missouri, was very proud that both his parents were descendants of Virginians.