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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: The Anglo-African (3 October 1863)
[Unsigned], "Father Abraham's Proclamation" The Anglo-African (3 October 1863): [1]View Poem Image
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Father Abraham has spoken, and his words have magic
They tell us of the coming of the long-expected hour: Upon our night of sorrow the dawn of joy appears, And our hearts beat high with pleasure, though our eyes
     be dim with tears.
Farewell to the old plantation on the island by the sea! To the cabin and the overseer! Our home is with the
Beneath the flag of Freedom, with its red, white and blue, We'll show that new-made freemen can be to Freedom
Father Abraham has spoken, and we answer to his call, From the cotton-fields and rice-swamps we're coming one
     and all;
Having drained the cup of Slavery, we fear no greater
Its chain cuts closer to the heart than the weapon of the
In peace, they call both chattels—the bullock and the
In war, we claim the title to rank among the brave; Add where the battle thunder-clouds in wildest fury roll, We'll prove that black, as well as white, can show a hero's
Father Abraham has spoken, and through many a cabin
The light of hope has entered where it never shone
The Man has risen in his might where the Slave would
     powerless lie,
And for honest Father Abraham he will not fear to die. The slave may fear his master, but loose his shackled
And new-born courage fills his heart as he grasps a free-
And where the bravest lead the van, he'll follow with the
To gain a patriot's honored name, or fill a soldier's grave.


  1. President Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865) issued his Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. In it, he declared that "all persons held as slaves" in rebel states "are, and henceforward shall be free." He also pledged that "the Executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authorities thereof," would "recognize and maintain the freedom of said persons" (Roy P. Basler, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln [New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1953], 6:29–30). Although the proclamation did not touch slavery in loyal border states and exempted Union-occupied regions of the Louisiana and Virginia as well as Tennessee, abolitionists recognized and celebrated it as a great step forward.
    The familiar name "Father Abraham" circulated widely in the latter half of the war. James Sloan Gibbons's popular recruiting song "We are Coming, Father Abraham, Three Hundred Thousand More" (1862) likened Lincoln to the biblical patriarch. "Father Abraham" at once paid tribute to Lincoln's leadership and affirmed a close connection defined by paternal care and familial loyalty. Historian Michael Burlingame notes the discourse of fatherhood in black and white responses to Lincoln's death (Abraham Lincoln: A Life [Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008], 2:829).
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  2. The lyrics were probably set to the immensely popular tune of "John Brown's Body," described by Christian McWhirter as "the Union's national hymn" (Battle Hymns: The Power and Popularity of Music in the Civil War [Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012], 41). Versions of the song—associated with abolitionist martyr Brown and his militant antislavery message—promoted African American enlistment. In addition to "Father Abraham's Proclamation," see "A War Song for the Black Volunteers" (Anglo-African, October 10, 1863) and "Marching Song of the First Arkansas" (Anglo-African, March 5, 1864).Go back
  3. General Benjamin F. Butler, commander at Fortress Monroe, defined fugitive slaves as "contraband of war" in the summer of 1861. Labeled as rebel property, runaway slaves could be confiscated by Union troops; doing so would deprive the Confederate war effort of manpower and secure military laborers for federal commanders, without challenging slavery on legal grounds. Secretary of War Simon Cameron approved the policy, which was consolidated by the terms of the First Confiscation Act. See Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation, 1861–1867, ed. Ira Berlin, et al. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), series 1, 1:15–16. Although the final Emancipation Proclamation transformed the legal status of many "contrabands," the term continued to circulate in the North.Go back