How should we view the lives of the New Brahmins? What should we remember of their contributions? First and foremost, one must acknowledge that in a time of national crisis, they lived by the code they professed. Taught to embrace their role as society’s leaders and tasked with using their elevated status for the betterment of others, the New Brahmins, when the war broke out, acted in a manner befitting their position. Although many of their parents merely seem to have paid lip service to the lofty ideals that their sons learned in moral philosophy classes, the young men themselves fully embraced their role and behaved like men of character. At least two factors contributed to this. First, their belief in the New England–centric narrative of American history that viewed industry and free labor as the cornerstones of the republic prompted them to fight what they considered an alien and alternate vision for the nation—that is, the Confederate, proslavery version. Second, their self-conception as men of character pressured them to join in the war effort. Perhaps struggling with what being a man of character in peacetime entailed, they found that wartime service gave them an easier way of demonstrating their inner qualities. It was, indeed, easier to prove one’s character by training, inspiring, and leading men into combat than by rising in the ranks of politics, business, or other peacetime professions. Facing the dangers of the battlefield and the temptations of camp life with determination showed character....
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