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
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Complete Issue: National Anti-Slavery Standard (5 September 1863)
B. T. J., "American Slavery" National Anti-Slavery Standard (5 September 1863): [4]View Poem Image
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AMERICAN SLAVERY.[1]

     

DEDICATED TO UNION MEN.[2]

Wipe out the blot! Wipe out the spot![3] Jehovah's sword is flaming high! Wipe out the blot! Cut out the rot! In its own venom let it die!
It is the scorpion girt by fire; Self-kindled are the flames that spread; In its own ire let it expire,[4] Its own sting rankling in its head!
Wipe out the spot! Wipe out the blot! The parricidal, horrid thing! For him be not a freeman's lot Who'd back to life the monster bring.
On to the long predestined end— The march of time is moving now! As sweeps the surge events converge To rend the vail from Freedom's brow.
Wipe out the spot! Wipe out the blot! The only stain our banner shows; O! who has not bewailed the lot That heaped on us the bondman's throes!
We stand for all our country's laws; But now that they have rent the chain,[5] Who backward draws from Freedom's cause Let him not rank with men again!
The worm that eats the root is found; The surgeon's knife is at the sore; Shall health abound? The tree grow sound? Or, conscious, wither as before?
It is for life! and ours the tale To sound to ages yet to come. Shall fiends prevail? Shall Heaven fail? The answer leaps e'en from the dumb.
The cancer dries the vital flow While one polluting root remains; And even so no healthful glow Can spread, where Slav'ry clogs the veins.
Behold the curse! Its desp'rate bands Are shaking now the sacred base, Where Freedom stands with clenchéd hands And sinews strained to save her race.
Let no man fear! Our Eagle yet Will cleave the clouds and ride the wind, Tho' Slav'ry fret, its star be set— His flight shall leave that night behind!
Still brighter smiles shall dress the soil Where sugar, rice and cotton grow, And freeman's toil shall know no foil, Though black or white his color show.
Wipe out the blot! Wipe out the spot! Jehovah's sword is flaming high! Wipe out the blot! Cut out the rot! In its own venom let it die!
Evening Post.[8]

Notes

  1. "American Slavery" appeared in the Anglo-African of September 12, 1863, one week following its publication in the Standard. The text of the poem in the Anglo-African printing is identical to that of the Standard version.Go back
  2. The dedication situates the poem as a loyal Republican response to Peace Democrats (represented here as disunion men, or traitors). In a letter published in the New York Times on September 5, 1863, prominent Peace Democrat and US representative from New York Fernando Wood wrote, "I believe that the Union has not been and cannot be severed beyond restoration, unless it may be by a continuance for another Presidential term of the policy of the last two years. There has been no period within one year in which the Union could not have been restored, provided those in authority in the Executive and Legislative Departments of the Government had desired it. It can yet be restored, but in my opinion only by conciliatory measures and other equally constitutional methods" ("A Note from Hon. Fernando Wood").Go back
  3. Figured as both stain and disease, slavery compromised the American Republic's ideals, and endangered the Republic itself. B. T. J.'s metaphors were well established. In 1854, Lincoln argued that slavery was "hid away, in the constitution, just as an afflicted man hides away a wen or a cancer, which he dares not cut out at once, lest he bleed to death; with the promise, nevertheless, that the cutting may begin at the end of a given time" (Abraham Lincoln: His Speeches and Writings, ed. Roy P. Basler [1946; New York: Da Capo, 2001], 313). "Our republican robe is soiled, and trailed in the dust," he told his audience moments later (315). Liberator editor William Lloyd Garrison used the same analogy in the same year: "Some men still are talking of preventing the spread of the cancer, but leaving it just where it is" (No Compromise with Slavery [New York: American Anti-Slavery Society, 1854], 27).Go back
  4. Scorpions were rumored to sting themselves to death when surrounded by fire. Lord Byron used the tale as the basis for his famous metaphor in "The Giaour" (1813): "The Mind, that broods o'er guilty woes, / Is like the Scorpion girt by fire" (Lord Byron, Selected Poems, ed. Susan J. Wolfson and Peter J. Manning [New York: Penguin, 1996], ll. 422–23). B. T. J. echoes Byron's phrasing but transforms the simile: American slavery will destroy itself.Go back
  5. B. T. J. argues that, as law-abiding, God-fearing patriots, "Union men" must lend abolition their support. The strong regular rhythm of these lines complements the reasoned argument they contain; together, form and content suggest that rational thought and moderation distinguish Union men from lawless rioters and radical abolitionists, known as fanatical adherents to "higher law."Go back
  6. The New York dateline places the poem's declaration of patriotic allegiance against the backdrop of the New York City Draft Riots (July 13–16, 1863). In the aftermath of the riots, which saw mobs attack African American New Yorkers and destroy their property, Peace Democrat politicians like Fernando Wood and New York governor Horatio Seymour were blamed for inciting the violence.Go back
  7. Unidentified.Go back
  8. The New York Evening Post, founded by Alexander Hamilton in 1801. William Cullen Bryant (1794–1878) began to write for the title in 1826, having struggled to make a living as a poet; by 1830 he was the Post's editor-in-chief, and the daily's financial prospects looked good (Allan Nevins, The Evening Post: A Century of Journalism [New York: Russell and Russell, 1968], 134-136). Committed to Free Soil principles, Bryant severed the Post's connection with the Democratic Party in response to the Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854) and backed the fledgling Republican Party in 1856. He threw his weight behind Lincoln's presidential campaign in 1860. Although the Post remained staunchly Republican throughout the war, Bryant did not shrink from criticizing Lincoln's policies. The Post "shared with the Tribune the advocacy of what came to be called the 'radical' Republican doctrines during the Civil War—namely, emancipation, the need of strong and swift military measures, and the removal of pro-slavery and Democratic leaders from the government and army" (Frank Luther Mott, American Journalism: A History of Newspapers in the United States Through Twenty Years, 1690–1940 [New York: Macmillan, 1941], 5:344).Go back