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A House Divided

33d. Sacred Beliefs

Major Sullivan Ballou's gravestone
The letter that Union soldier Major Sullivan Ballou wrote to his wife, Sarah, a week before the First Battle of Bull Run expressed his belief that he fought for a just cause. He was killed in the battle.

The Civil War was fought with awe-inspiring passion.

On the Union side, President Lincoln believed that failure to preserve the Union was a betrayal of the founders of the republic and the promise of the Declaration of Independence. He would not see it "perish from this earth."

Many others in the North echoed similar thoughts. On the day before the first battle of Bull Run, Major Sullivan Ballou of Rhode Island wrote to his wife: "I know how strongly American Civilization now leans on the triumph of the Government, and how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and sufferings of the Revolution." He died one week later in battle.

Wendell Phillips
After slavery was abolished, Wendell Phillips went on to fight for women's suffrage.

The cause of union did not drive all Northerners. Abolitionists believed they were acting with divine guidance to fulfill God's will. They would tolerate neither compromise nor legal obstacle. Majority consent was not necessary. Wendell Phillips, a well-known abolitionist, declared, "One, on God's side, is a majority." Abolitionists saw slavery as an affront to God to be ended by any means necessary. Abolitionists incited riots throughout the South that resulted in hundreds of deaths.

Passions raged as hot in the South. Like Lincoln, Jefferson Davis also believed in the Declaration of Independence. He insisted that governments existed with the consent of the governed. Northern interference with popular Southern law was an affront to this ideals.

The Emancipation Proclamation
The Emancipation Proclamation was issued by Abraham Lincoln in 1863. It freed slaves in the states that had seceded and were not yet under Northern control.

Robert E. Lee, who did not favor secession, felt that the North was seeking to wrest from the South its dearest rights. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, a devout Presbyterian, believed that the Southern cause was a sacred one. He ascribed his successes to God's will, and preached that religious certitude to his troops.

Many Southerners believed the Northern position was an outright attack on the Southern way of life. They observed that the poverty suffered by Northern industrial workers created living conditions worse than those endured by Southern slaves. They also cited the Bible in defense of plantation life.

Southern legalists believed that the North was undermining the original intent of the Founding Fathers. The cornerstone of the American system was the state government, for which Confederates believed the Northerners had little respect.

Such fiery passions were difficult to reconcile. After decades of compromise attempts, these sacred beliefs finally raged against each other in the cauldron of war.

Instant Quiz

Question: Both Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis believed they were fighting with the spirit of what document on their side?

    The Constitution
    The Declaration of Independence
    The Emancipation Proclamation
    Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America

Question: Abolitionists believed their cause was justified according to whose will?

    God's
    Abraham Lincoln's
    Jefferson Davis'
    The people

Question: Southern Legalists defended their rights as they saw them outlined in what document?

    The Constitution
    The Bible
    The Federalist Papers
    The Southern Legalists' Rights pamphlet

Question: Who said, "One, on God's side, is a majority."

    Sullivan Ballou
    Stonewall Jackson
    Thomas Jefferson
    Wendell Phillips
On the Web
Poetry and Music of the War Between the States
This site brings the music and poetry of the Civil War to the Internet, indexed by title, first line, and author. It's an extensive collection, but only the lyrics are offered. The background music of this site is the 1983 composition, "Ashokan Farewell," a haunting, evocative melody.
Wendell Phillips
From Harper's Weekly, comes a thumbnail biography of Abolitionist Wendell Phillips. He also supported temperance, women's rights, and labor reforms, and worked for the civil rights of African Americans after the Civil War.
Religious Revival in Civil War Armies
This quick and pleasant read describes how Civil War army camps in both the North and South were transformed from "legions of devils," where the sins of gambling, drinking and profanity ran rampant, to camps with heavily attended Bible-reading clubs and soldiers who continued to kneel in prayer even as the enemy rapidly approached.
The Sullivan Ballou Film Project
One of the most famous letters written by a soldier during the Civil War was the last letter Sullivan Ballou penned to his wife, Sarah. This love letter is timeless not only in its romantic sentiment, but also in the way it shows how the average soldier justified his cause. Follow the link to Major Ballou's letters to read the unabridged version of his original letter and to find out about the man and his principles.
Abraham Lincoln: Speeches and Writings
How did President Lincoln feel about slavery? How important was it to him that he "preserve the Union"? How did he feel about what he called the "House Divided"? Find out from the man himself. This collection of speeches, letters, writings, and quotations from Abraham Lincoln sheds light on why President Lincoln thought the Civil War was not only just, but necessary to preserve American ideals.
The Constitution of the Confederate States of America
The principles of any nation are described in its constitution. The Confederacy was no different. Read the text of the document upon which the Confederacy was founded to see how its members defined themselves and what they believed was important to their national identity.
The Emancipation Proclamation
Conventional wisdom holds that the Civil War was fought over slavery. If this is true, one of the most important documents of the war has to be the Emancipation Proclamation, issued by Abraham Lincoln in 1863. See a copy of the original document, read the transcript of it, and hear from a former slave how the Proclamation affected his life. Make sure to read about the limitations of the Emancipation Proclamation as well, many of which may come as a surprise.
The "Stars and Bars" was not the national flag of the Confederacy, just the battle flag. What did the real flag look like?
Learn More...
Sing along with "When Johnny Comes Marching Home," a favorite of both Union and Confederate troops.
Learn More...
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