Scholarly Editing

The Annual of the Association for Documentary Editing

2013, Volume 34

"Will not these days be by thy poets sung": Poems of the Anglo-African and National Anti-Slavery Standard, 1863–1864

Edited by Elizabeth Lorang and R. J. Weir
page 1 page 2 page 3 page 4
Complete Issue: National Anti-Slavery Standard (2 May 1863)
Caroline A. Mason, "Our Promise to the Slave" National Anti-Slavery Standard (2 May 1863): [4]View Poem Image
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FOR THE ANTI-SLAVERY STANDARD.

OUR PROMISE TO THE SLAVE.[1]

Were the rebel States to say to the Federal government
to-morrow, "Withdraw your proclamation of freedom, and
we will each return to loyalty, elect members to the next
Congress, and fulfil every constitutional obligation," we hold
that the President would be at perfect liberty to accept the
offer if he saw fit,
taking care that every one, whether
white, black or of mixed blood, who had adhered to and
served the Union in the struggle should be shielded from
persecution therefor.—N. Y. Tribune.[2]
Ay, take it back, that plighted word the Nation's lips have
     spoke;
Make null and void the holy pledge we vowed should be
     unbroke;
Then pause, and o'er the worthy deed God's sacred name
     invoke!
—Oh, Countrywomen, fair and leal! oh, brave men, strong
     and true!
The Crisis-hour has come at length, has come to me and
     you;
For in the house of Christ's own friends His soul is pierced
     anew.
Not in the ranks of arméd foes the fiercest danger lies; The bolt that carries death may crash from out serenest
     skies,
And where the green grass greenest grows, may rankest
     poisons rise.
O fevered lips that long have drank the bitter, Marah tide![3] Was it for this we brought you forth sweet Freedom's fount
     beside,
And bade you taste the healing draught so long to you
     denied?
No!—by each drop of blood we've given the nation's life
     to save,
By every Hero-soul gone up from blue Potomac's wave, We'll keep unbroke our plighted word, our Promise to the
     Slave!
No!—prate of peace on other terms than Justice, ye who
     may;
A nation's word is no light jest to bandy for a day; And what is writ is writ, and like God's truth, shall stand
     for aye!

Notes

  1. The Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863 stated that "all persons held as slaves" in rebel states "are, and henceforward shall be free." Lincoln also pledged that the federal government and military would "recognize and maintain" this freedom (Roy P. Basler, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln [New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1953], 6:29–30).
     
    The president publicly announced his intention to take this step in the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation (September 22, 1862). By the end of December, however, Lincoln's views and Northern public opinion had shifted toward a more radical position. The final proclamation made no mention of compensated emancipation or colonization; instead, it paved the way for African American men to serve as soldiers and sailors in the US armed forces (see Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation, ed. Ira Berlin, et al. [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985], series 1, 1:36–37).
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  2. Horace Greeley (1811–1872) established the New York Tribune as a Whig daily in 1841. From its earliest days, the title was animated by a spirit of reform. By the mid-1850s, the various editions of the paper—daily, weekly, and semiweekly—had almost 280,000 subscribers (Adam Tuchinsky, Horace Greeley's New-York Tribune: Civil War-Era Socialism and the Crisis of Free Labor [Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2009], 2). Greeley, a force in the fledgling Republican Party, adopted a more radical stance against slavery in the 1850s. During the war, the Tribune "advocated vigorous prosecution of the war and expansion of its meaning: namely, that the war should become an emancipationist crusade, and that the emancipated slaves ought to be armed" (Tuchinsky, 171–72).
     
    Former National Anti-Slavery Standard editor Sydney Howard Gay managed the Tribune from 1862 until 1865. Gay sidelined his own abolitionist convictions and concentrated on satisfying the general hunger for timely war news (Tuchinsky, 217). But Greeley, in his famous editorial address of August 1862, "The Prayer of Twenty Millions," urged Lincoln to make war on slavery as a matter of military and moral necessity. Lincoln, then waiting to announce the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, responded by stating that "My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery" (Roy P. Basler, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln [New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1953], 5:388).
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  3. According to Exodus 15:23, Moses and the Israelites found water after three days in the wilderness, but it was too bitter to drink: "And when they came to Marah, they could not drink of the waters of Marah, for they were bitter: therefore the name of it was called Marah."Go back
  4. Caroline Atherton (Briggs) Mason (1823–1890), poet. Mason's early poems appeared in local newspapers under the name "Caro." In 1852 she moved with her family from Marblehead to Fitchburg, Massachusetts. Utterance; or Private Voices to the Public Heart, the only collection of Mason's poetry to appear in her lifetime, was published in the same year. She married Fitchburg lawyer Charles Mason in 1853. During the 1850s she contributed poetry to Washington's National Era; her choice of publication suggests that she had antislavery and reform sympathies.
     
    Throughout the war, Mason contributed poems to a host of newspapers, including the Liberator, the New York Independent, the Christian Inquirer, the Fitchburg Daily Sentinel, the Boston Commonwealth and the National Anti-Slavery Standard. She also tackled more explicitly antislavery subjects at this time. Her "Sowing in Hope" (National Anti-Slavery Standard, January 30, 1864) suggests that she was a friend of Liberator editor William Lloyd Garrison, who apparently encouraged her to have faith in the moral influence of her words. Although she was primarily known as a poet, Mason also wrote "short stories, essays . . . and frequent letters to local newspapers" (Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, "Briggs Family Papers, 1820–1915: A Finding Aid"). Her husband published a posthumous collection of her verse, The Lost Ring and Other Poems, in 1891.
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