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Prodigal NationMoral Decline and Divine Punishment from New England to 9/11$
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Andrew R. Murphy

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780195321289

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2009

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195321289.001.0001

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Decline, Slavery, and War

Decline, Slavery, and War

The Jeremiad in Antebellum and Civil War America

(p.44) Three Decline, Slavery, and War
Prodigal Nation

Andrew R. Murphy (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

This chapter explores the important role played by the jeremiad in antebellum and Civil War America. It begins with the national day of fasting proclaimed by President James Buchanan in January 1861. Nineteenth‐century Jeremiahs lamented their society's moral state, looked to the example of the nation's founders, and called their fellow Americans to reform. Surrounding these narratives of decline were deeply‐rooted ideas of American chosenness, often fostered by varieties of millennialism that saw the United States as integral to the accomplishment of God's purposes in history. The chapter also explores two rival narratives to the mainstream American jeremiad during these years: an African‐American jeremiad that called down God's justice on white oppressors, and the Southern “Lost Cause” narrative, which viewed the South as a quintessential Christian civilization and lamented its defeat as a sign of God's disapproval of Southern immorality. The chapter concludes with an examination of Abraham Lincoln's unconventional employment of the jeremiad tradition.

Keywords:   Civil War, antebellum, James Buchanan, Abraham Lincoln, jeremiad, American jeremiad, millennialism, African‐American jeremiad, Lost Cause

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