Context of Battle Hymn of the Republic

The United States, as a unified nation, was formed in the fiery hot struggle of the Civil War. Before the war the nation was referred to in the plural "The United States are...", after the war it was and is referred to in the singular "The United States is..."1 This struggle between North and South has been reputed to have many antecedents. Nevertheless, most of its participants understood it was about the South's peculiar institution, slavery.2 Many in the North believed slavery an evil. In the South it was seen as an expedient, a way to wield cheap labor in the plantation system.

Both North and South were deeply religious. The nation had just come through the Second Great Awakening.3 In the days before radio, the place most people heard or participated in music was church. There, familiar hymns were often sung so, with this common frame of reference, people would often sing hymns for entertainment when participating together in other activities. This was especially true when walking or marching. With the coming of the American Civil War, soldiers from different regions of particular states were gathered into regiments. Most soldiers had hymn singing in common. Thus, soldiers, marching along, would spontaneously break out into song.4 The soldiers, as well as the nation, were seeking inspiration. They were seeking a song, a hymn that would inspire a people to carry on a selfless struggle to free men shackled by the bonds of slavery. They were seeking a hymn proclaiming a just war, a hymn that would inspire men to fight and even die for that cause. Many in the North were intensely patriotic and felt intensely the abolitionist imperative.

It was in this environment that the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" was written and became popular.

< Understanding the Battle Hymn of the Republic | The Writing of the Battle Hymn of the Republic >

  1. United States, Singular or Plural?
  2. Causes of the Civil War
  3. A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada p.166
  4. The Story of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, by Florence Howe Hall, p.38

Interesting Fact:

The American Civil War was just beginning when the Battle Hymn of the Republic was written.


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