The 5th verse of the Battle Hymn of the Republic

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea

With a glory in his bosom that transfigures you and me

As He died to make men worthy, let us die to make men free

While God is marching on

Often is changed to "As He died to make us worthy, let us live to make men free"

I know what this does (it changes the entire meaning of the verse and is, quite frankly, disrespectful to the thousands of people who died in the Civil War), but I do not know why. I know songs are often changed to remove offensive terms (like "n*****" being changed to "chigger" in Oh Susanna), but I don't see how "let us die to make men free" could be seen as offensive in any sense, other than the sexism not addressed by the change. Can someone enlighten me to the reasoning behind the change, and possibly when it took place?

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  • While I do not think it is disrespectful to change the words, I chuckled a little at "thousands of people who died." So, in the spirit of this originally being posted on History, we should point out that while strictly true (thousands), the actual number is more properly described as hundreds of thousands: about 650,000. A number that shocked the sensibilities of the world at the time. – Yorik Jun 27 '17 at 14:00
  • Julia Ward Howe was inspired by God to use the words in her original text. I would not change the word from die to live because it changes what the meaning of what God said. The many people that died for a nobel cause should be glorified. The change was made for "political correctness" by a passive culture. I always feel uncomfortable when I hear the new rendition. – Harry Gordon Oct 8 at 20:12
up vote 5 down vote accepted

It's a philosophical change. The phrase "die to make men free" has an unmistakeably martial connotation, which matches with the song's origins as a literal "battle hymn" of the Civil War.

The modern version is more pacifist, it has more of a social gospel connotation. The core issue is that people love the song, but have become uncomfortable with its military orientation.

  • I don't think its "uncomfortable" as much as simply situational. Those words made perfect sense for soldiers in the Civil War to sing, because they were literally going off to die. They don't make much sense at all for civilians singing the song in church today. They died, but that should be in the past. Its our job today to live so that nobody needs to die for this again. – T.E.D. Jul 10 '17 at 15:13

I don't see it as disrespectful to those who died in the Civil War or people's uneasiness in signing about battle, rather it is a challenge to us who are living and singing it to live lives that make a difference. By doing so we honor the lives of those who died for the cause of freedom and just perhaps help to avoid putting others in harms way in the future.

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