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 (29 April 1865)
F. B. Sanborn, "Abraham Lincoln" National Anti-Slavery Standard (29 April 1865): [4]View Poem Image
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ABRAHAM LINCOLN.[1]

           
Though forts are stormed and cities won, And banded Treason melts away, As sullen mists that hate the sun Flee at the bright assault of Day,— Our heavy hearts will not be gay.
For thee we weep, in victory's hour, Whose courage no defeat could shake, Who held'st the State's resistless power In trust but for thy people's sake,— For thee thy people mourning make.
No haughty palace claims thy birth, No purple princes' ancient line; The woodman's hut, the humble worth Of lowliest ancestry was thine,— Thy rank not kingly, but divine.
For He that sways the world with love, Though War and Wrath his angels are, Throned thee all earthly kings above, On threatened Freedom's flaming car,— To frighten tyrants near and far.
His purpose high thy course impelled O'er war's red height and smouldering plain; When awe or pity thee withheld, He gave thy chafing steeds the rein,— Till at thy feet lies Slavery slain.
Then ceased thy task—another hand Takes up the burden thou lay'st down;[3] Sorrowing and glad the rescued land Twofold awards thy just renown,— The Conqueror's and the Martyr's crown.
Commonwealth.[4]

Notes

  1. President Abraham Lincoln (1809–April 15, 1865), assassinated by John Wilkes Booth days after General Robert E. Lee surrendered his army to General Grant at Appomattox Courthouse. Booth, a devotee of the Confederacy, shot Lincoln in the back of the head as he watched an evening performance of Our American Cousin at Ford's Theatre. At the same time, one of Booth's co-conspirators attacked Secretary of State William Seward at his home. Lincoln died the following morning; the news turned Northern elation into shocked grief. Twenty-five thousand people came to the White House to pay their respects as Lincoln's body lay in state. Processions and gatherings took place across the country on the day of the funeral (April 19), and at each stop on the corpse's subsequent journey to Springfield, Illinois. Lincoln was finally buried on May 4.
     
    An untold number of Franklin Sanborn's contemporaries responded to Lincoln's death by contributing elegies to newspapers; commemorative verse provided Americans with one way to "make" mourning (see line 10). Like others, Sanborn praised Lincoln as a martyr and God's chosen instrument for the destruction of American slavery. More unusual is his fleeting reference to the president's caution—transmuted into "awe or pity"—in stanza 5. These lines attempt to incorporate Lincoln's gradual conversion to antislavery policy in a larger narrative of divine inspiration and sacrifice.
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  2. Franklin Benjamin Sanborn (1831–1917) moved to Concord after Emerson invited him to teach there in 1854. In Concord, he became a radical abolitionist; he met John Brown in 1856 and supported the Harpers Ferry raid as a member of the "Secret Six." After the raid failed, Sanborn was taken to Washington, DC to testify in the subsequent investigation. Concord's citizens "rescued" him, and the Massachusetts Supreme Court eventually threw out the warrant for his arrest (Robert E. Burkholder, "Sanborn, Franklin Benjamin," in American National Biography Online). Sanborn edited the Boston Commonwealth from 1863 to 1865 and Samuel Bowles's Springfield Republican from 1868 to 1872.Go back
  3. Vice President Andrew Johnson (1808–1875) took the oath of office on the morning of April 15, 1865 and became the seventeenth president of the United States. The Democrat from Tennessee was still a mystery at the end of April 1865, as far as his plans for Reconstruction were concerned.Go back
  4. A Boston-based weekly, established in August 1862 "as the semiofficial organ of the Emancipation League" (James M. McPherson, The Struggle for Equality: Abolitionists and the Negro in the Civil War and Reconstruction [Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1964], 438). The Commonwealth had particularly strong connections with abolitionist communities in New England. George Luther Stearns provided the fledgling title with financial support, and Franklin Sanborn became editor-in-chief when Moncure Conway left for England in April 1863 (438). Both Stearns and Sanborn supported John Brown's Harpers Ferry raid in 1859.
     
    In 1863, the Commonwealth advertised itself as "an independent journal devoted to the cause of Free Democratic Government; government by the whole people without respect of race, nativity, or sect." The paper advocated "the utter extinction of Slavery" and "insist[ed] upon the full employment of Liberty as the legitimate and specific weapon against the rebellion of Slavery" ("The Commonwealth," Commonwealth, May 22, 1863, 3) Here, the Civil War offered an opportunity to realize the Constitution's antislavery spirit and fulfill the intentions of the nation's founders. In mid-1863, the Commonwealth's list of contributors included the likes of Lydia Maria Child, Julia Ward Howe, Louisa May Alcott, William Ellery Channing, Caroline A. Mason, the Reverend Octavius Brooks Frothingham, and James Redpath.
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