The American jeremiad in Civil War literature

Jacob Hadley Stratman, Marquette University


This study explores and analyzes the religious rhetoric and Biblical allusions in literature written surrounding the American Civil War: Herman Melville's Battle Pieces: Aspects of the War ; Walt Whitman's Memoranda During the War ; selected poetry of John Greenleaf Whittier published in William Lloyd Garrison's abolitionist newspaper, The Liberator ; and, Harriet Beecher Stowe's Dred. Each chapter explores how writers promulgate certain ideologies by invoking religious and civic responsibility to form or reestablish a national community. The jeremiad is the obvious rhetorical formula to effectively meet these objectives. In each chapter, I use close reading and cultural analysis to show the relationship between the seventeenth-century Puritan jeremiad and Civil War literature. In the first half of the study, I show how Whitman and Melville use religious language, Biblical allusions, and the framework of the jeremiad to persuade the country to remember the sacrifices made during the war and to remember God's call to the founders of the nation to remain united and whole--essentially, to secede is to defy God. In the second half of the study, I show how Christian writers publicly responded to slavery and its influence on the war. Both Whittier and Stowe use their craft and elements of the jeremiad to preach the gospel of nonresistance and freedom, persuade Americans to fight against slavery, and ultimately unite the nation around Christ's teachings of peace and unity. This in-depth study of religious language in Civil War literature provides readers with a new way of understanding how the jeremiad functions without the firm grip of Puritan ideology. By invoking God in a national crisis, the literature, much like the Puritan preachers, attempts to unite a people around a common cause. Ultimately, this project assumes a place for reform literature and the usually ignored poetry and prose of the Civil War in contemporary scholarship and in the classroom. The jeremiad will continue to exist in contemporary literature as long as there is tragedy and pain in the world, as long is there is a writer who desires a restored nation, and as long as religious devotion is combined with political awareness.

Recommended Citation

Stratman, Jacob Hadley, "The American jeremiad in Civil War literature" (2007). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI3263798.