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August 11, 2006



Good post, but calling the Civil War the "War between the States" is a classic way of legitimizing the Southern cause. Are you a secret Southern sympathizer?


I don't really understand the phrase "dying in vain". It's like the Viking (and other's) concept of a "good death" it just puts me in mind of an excuse to kill each other. Death is inevitable: how does it matter how one goes: we're all going out.

I think it's more important to not live in vain.


Anon, no. I'm just varying my language. (I had an ex-girlfriend who was from a strong, proud, South Carolina family -- she quite seriously talked about "the War of Northern Aggression." It was charming but a bit scary.)
I'm not an apologist for the Lost Cause...

Antigone, I'll agree it's important not to live in vain. What interests me as a Christian is how a particular statement about Christ's death on the cross becomes a standard trope in American speeches about those who die in war.


Now, I couldn't say for certain, but I'm willing to bet that Lincoln was intentionally making the allusion (the following people could have been alluding to Lincoln instead of the Bible, however). I think Lincoln was trying to draw parallels to Christ's sacrifice and soldier's sacrifice.

As I'm not Christian, and I don't like war, I don't know how well I can comment and this, however

Col Steve

Lincoln may have remembered a letter sent to him in the early days of the Civil War from a father of a young officer for whom Lincoln had great affection.

"We trust he did not die in vain, but that his death will advance the cause in which he was engaged."

Ephraim D. Ellsworth to Abraham Lincoln, Wednesday, June 19, 1861 (Acknowledgment) (Library of Congress)


Thanks for that, Col Steve. I just presumed the direct link between the KJV and the Gettysburg address, but the phrase may have a longer history.


Interesting thoughts. I think Lincoln might have thought too highly of Christ's sacrifice to be intentionally lifting the phrase straight from Scripture. It seems more likely that he was trying to convey the idea that giving one's life for a cause should not be in vain--and there aren't a lot of other English words that make the point.


"As Christ died to make men holy, let us die to make men free" - From abolitionist hymn "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" by Julia Ward Howe.

If the phrase originates with Lincoln, the sentiment does not.

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