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, 1863–1864Edited by Elizabeth Lorang and R. J. Weir
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Hunted by his rebel master Over many a hill and glade— Black Tom, with his wife and children, Found his way to our brigade.
Tom had sense, and truth, and courage, Often tried where danger rose— Once our flag his strong grasp rescued From the grasp of rebel foes.
One day Tom was marching with us Through a forest as our guide, When a ball from traitor's rifle Broke his arm and pierced his side.
On a litter white men bore him, Through the forest drear and damp, Laid him dying where our banners, Brightly fluttered o'er our camp.
Pointing to his wife and children, While he suffered racking pain, Said he to our soldiers round him, "Don't let dem be slaves again."
"No! by Heaven!" outspoke a soldier And that oath was not profane— "Our brigade will still protect them— They shall ne'er be slaves again."
Over old Tom's dusky features Came and stayed a joyous ray; And, with sadden'd friends around him, His free spirit passed away.
- According to George C. Rable, "War and swearing seemed to go together" (God's Almost Chosen Peoples: A Religious History of the American Civil War [Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010], 98). The line distinguishes the sincere "oath" from the common camp profanities that concerned contemporary chaplains and the producers of wartime tracts.
- Under the terms of the Emancipation Proclamation (January 1, 1863), U.S. military and naval authorities were instructed to "recognize and maintain the freedom" of newly freed people. By this time, the First Confiscation Act (August 6, 1861) had given U.S. military commanders power to seize slaves owned by rebels. However, the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 was not repealed until June 1864, and so although it was enforced less often after January 1863 (Donald Yacovone, ed., A Voice of Thunder: A Black Soldier's Civil War[Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1998], 130), loyal slaveholders could still utilize it as a means to recover human property—indeed, the government's early war policy allowed them to call on Union officers for assistance. Fugitive Tom's master is clearly identified as a "rebel"; the poem leaves readers in no doubt as to the legality of soldiers' oaths even as it emphasizes their personal antislavery commitment.
- The poem's title character and his death scene may have been influenced by Harriet Beecher Stowe's bestselling antislavery novel Uncle Tom's Cabin (serialized in the National Era from June 5, 1851 to April 1, 1852 and then published in book form). Little Eva's last moments are illuminated by a vision of "love,—joy,—peace!" (Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom's Cabin; or, Life Among the Lowly [Boston: Jewett and Company, 1852], 2:113). The knowledge that the freedom of his family will be defended after his death lends "old Tom" a similar radiance.
- Established as a weekly in 1861 by Republican convert John W. Forney (1817–1881), owner of the Philadelphia Press (est. 1857) and clerk to the House of Representatives (1851–1856; 1858–1861). Lincoln helped Forney secure a position as Secretary to the Senate (1861–1868) in return for valuable assistance rendered during the election of 1860. Lincoln and the editor-politician became good friends. Forney turned the Washington Sunday Morning Chronicle into a daily in 1862, apparently at Lincoln's suggestion (Richard Carwardine, "Abraham Lincoln, the Presidency, and the Mobilization of Union Sentiment," in Themes of the American Civil War: The War Between the States, ed. Susan-Mary Grant and Brian Holden Reid, rev. 2nd ed. [New York: Routledge, 2010], 137). According to Frank Luther Mott, the Chronicle "came nearer to being the Lincoln administration organ than any other newspaper" (American Journalism: A History, 1690–1960 [1962; London: Routledge, 2000], 347).