The Link Between “Oh Holy Night!” and Abolitionism

At church on Sunday morning, we sang a verse of “O Holy Night” that caught my attention:

Truly He taught us to love one another;

His law is love and His gospel is peace.

Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother;

And in His name all oppression shall cease.

Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,

Let all within us praise His holy name.

I’m sure that I’ve sung this verse before (although coming from a Baptist tradition that loved to skip verses other than the first and the last, I can’t be certain), but the abolitionist sentiments never struck me before.

I did some online research, and it appears that the original composer, Placide Cappeau, was opposed to slavery. Acutely aware of the nation’s political debates, American John Sullivan Dwight, a Unitarian minister, transcendentalist, and abolitionist, translated the original song from French in 1855, rendering the final verse as we know it today.

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