Wisconsin Lawmaker Claims Civil War Was Fought to Further a Christian Lifestyle

The Republican reliance on fake history was never more apparent when Wisconsin Rep. Glenn Grothman got together with Vicki McKenna of News/Talk 1130 WISN radio in Milwaukee. According to Grothman, the Supreme Court’s ruling was an insult to those who died in the Civil War because that war was “a strong religious war to further a Christian lifestyle by getting rid of slavery.”

Never mind that Christianity’s New Testament actually supports slavery rather than condemning it, and that the Bible was used to justify and to excuse the very black slavery the Union armies fought to end. Facts are never an impediment to Republican talking points, however:

“Our president during the Civil War was, of course, Abraham Lincoln, who was known as the most biblical of presidents, somebody who quoted the Bible a lot,” he said.

Not so fast, Mr. Grothman. Actually, Lincoln’s non-membership in a church was a big deal and made such Peter Cartwright, a Methodist clergyman, in 1846, when Lincoln ran against him for Congress. When Lincoln did finally join a church, he attended only occasionally.

According to William Herndon, who was Lincoln’s law partner,

Inasmuch as he was so often a candidate for public office Mr. Lincoln said as little about his religious code as possible, especially if he failed to coincide with the orthodox world. In illustration of his religious code I once heard him say that it was like that of an old man named Glenn, in Indiana, whom he heard speak at a church meeting, and who said: “When I do good I feel good, when I do bad I feel bad, and that’s my religion” (Herndon’s Lincoln, 1890)

No more than Thomas Jefferson, was Lincoln an Evangelical Christian.

When Lincoln began to speak about slavery after the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, he did so in terms relating to the Founding Fathers and their wishes for the future of this country, not in Biblical terms, that is was the intention of the Founding Fathers that slavery become extinct. He could hardly have made a biblically based argument without pretending the Bible opposed slavery, and Lincoln was far more honest apparently, than Grothman.

For Lincoln, slavery was a “monstrous injustice” and it allowed the world to call us hypocrites. Lincoln did not say “let us re-adopt the Bible” but rather, “Let us re-adopt the Declaration of Independence, and with it, the practices, and policy, which harmonize with it” (Speech at Peoria, October 16, 1854) Lincoln’s theme was the Declaration’s assertion that “all men are created equal,” not non-existent biblical assertions that slavery is evil.

Lincoln said, “I want every man to have the chance – and I believe a black man is entitled to it – in which he can better his position.” He said that, “If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong” (letter to Albert G. Hodges, April 4, 1864).

Contrast this with Paul writing in his letter to the Ephesians, “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling…” (Ephesians 6:5-9). No, if Lincoln was arguing, as he was, that “all men every where could be free,” (letter to Horace Greeley, August 22, 1862) he could hardly mount a biblical argument against slavery.

Grothman said,

“In the Civil War, some 600,000 people died in a country that was much less populated than that today. And it was a much more religious country and I think a lot of people who died fighting in that war felt they died fighting for a religious cause, you know, ‘Battle Hymn of the Republic’ and all that.

I think it would shock those people who died in that war to find out the constitutional amendment which was ratified kind of as a culmination of their great efforts and their great deaths would be 150 years later, a little less than 150 years later, used by these five robed, arrogant, robed people to take this constitutional amendment and say that that constitutional amendment that was drafted after the Civil War was in fact an amendment designed to say that same-sex marriage had to be legal.

Certainly Sullivan Ballou, whose letter to his wife Sarah was made famous by Ken Burns’ Civil War series on PBS, was not fighting for a religious cause: he was, he told her, fighting for “love of country,” for “American civilization,” and to “maintain this government,” the latter a very un-Republican thing today:

July the 14th, 1861
Washington DC

My very dear Sarah:

The indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days – perhaps tomorrow. Lest I should not be able to write you again, I feel impelled to write lines that may fall under your eye when I shall be no more.

Our movement may be one of a few days duration and full of pleasure – and it may be one of severe conflict and death to me. Not my will, but thine 0 God, be done. If it is necessary that I should fall on the battlefield for my country, I am ready. I have no misgivings about, or lack of confidence in, the cause in which I am engaged, and my courage does not halt or falter. I know how strongly American Civilization now leans upon the triumph of the Government, and how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and suffering of the Revolution. And I am willing – perfectly willing – to lay down all my joys in this life, to help maintain this Government, and to pay that debt.

But, my dear wife, when I know that with my own joys I lay down nearly all of yours, and replace them in this life with cares and sorrows – when, after having eaten for long years the bitter fruit of orphanage myself, I must offer it as their only sustenance to my dear little children – is it weak or dishonorable, while the banner of my purpose floats calmly and proudly in the breeze, that my unbounded love for you, my darling wife and children, should struggle in fierce, though useless, contest with my love of country?


Sarah, my love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me to you with mighty cables that nothing but Omnipotence could break; and yet my love of Country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me irresistibly on with all these chains to the battlefield.

An ancestor of mine, fresh from Sweden, fought as a volunteer in a Minnesota regiment. He was not fighting to make America a Christian nation. We have his letters. We know this. He was fighting for his adopted country, and like Sullivan Ballou, to preserve the Union.

Without lies, Republicans would have no platform. That is a simple and incontrovertible truth, and as assured today as death and taxes. Glenn Grothman is a liar. We can’t know how Lincoln would have felt about Marriage Equality. He is not here to ask. But we do know that if Lincoln was religious, he was religious in his own way, and he was in no way orthodox in his views, and that Grothman’s own Bible, should he bother to peek inside, has some very bad things to say about bearing false witness.

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