TeacherServe® from the National Humanities Center
Divining America: Religion in American History
19th Century
Essay: "Religion in the Civil War: The Northern Side"

Excerpts: Rev. Marvin Richardson Vincent, Our National Discipline: A Thanksgiving Sermon Preached in the First Presbyterian Church, Troy, N.Y., Nov. 25, 1863 (Troy, New York: A. W. Scribner, 1863).
Full text at Making of America: http://moa.umdl.umich.edu/cgi/sgml/moa-idx?notisid=ABZ3961

God meant to put a moral power behind this movement [to preserve national unity], a deep, intelligent conviction of its import, which should propel it with the resistless sweep of an Alpine avalanche, gathering momentum at every bound, and should carry it on to the complete extinction of slave tyranny. Delay was needed to produce conviction. The North would not move without conviction, and it came slowly. Slowly the true issues of the contest sank into the Northern mind; slowly the depth of Southern hate, and the intensity of Southern purpose, and the radicalness of Southern treason, and the horrible nature of Southern designs, dawned upon the Northern mind. Each defeat, each vessel burned by Anglo Rebel pirates, each Union man murdered or imprisoned for his principles, was a spark gathering itself into the bosom of a cloud of wrath, which is already gathering blackness, and settling portentously down on the mountains of the South, soon to discharge its volleyed lightnings upon the hordes of treason. May God send its blasting, riving fires into the very heart of Rebellion; and if defeat and delay have brought our soldiers to fight, and our capitalists to pay, and parents, and husbands, and wives to sacrifice their dearest interests from a patriotism which is a principle, the outgrowth of understanding conviction, then thank God for defeat and delay. [pp. 40-41]

The evils we combat, have been growing for eighty years, and are not going to disappear at out word. They will die hard, and it is well; for God is testing our worthiness to enjoy the boon of liberty, by asking how much we love it, how hard we are willing to fight for it, how much we are willing to sacrifice for it: and if we shall do this work like men, if we shall fall in with God's manifest design to purge our national anthem, singing with ever bolder emphasis, until the palmetto groves, and the still lagoons, and the snowy fields of cotton, now no longer King, shall be stirred with the voice of thanksgiving. Aye! methinks, when that day shall dawn, the nation's shout might almost penetrate farther. Methinks it might steal into the hearts of those fallen heroes who sleep on hillsides far away, and by whose graves sorrowing hearts shall give thanks with sobs. Methinks it might reach them as they lie in their cold beds at Antietam, and Chancellorville [sic], at Donelson and Vicksburgh, at Fredericksburgh, and Chattanooga, and Bull Run, and stir their silent dust with a throb of thanksgiving—of thanksgiving, not that peace has been restored; not that husbands and sons, and fathers, shall go forth to battle no more; not that trade is revived and commerce safe; but that God has led the nation through the vale of tears, through the terrible baptism of blood and fire, to a nobler and purer national life. [pp. 46-47; conclusion of sermon]

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October 2000