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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
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Complete Issue: The Anglo-African (12 December 1863)
Frances E. Watkins Harper, "The Sin of Achan" The Anglo-African (12 December 1863): [4]View Poem Image
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            "Will God give us peace and victory while one slave
clanks his chain?"[3]
Night closed o'er the battling army, But it brought them no success; Victory perched not on their banners, Night was full of weariness.
Flushed and hopeful in the morning, Turned they from their leader's side; Routed, smitten, and defeated, Came they back at eventide.
Like the snow on ice-bound streamlets, Melting neath the South wind's breath; Backward from the field of battle, Flowed the bloody tide of death.
Joshua when he heard the tidings, How his valient men had fled; Rent his mantle, and each elder, Cast the dust upon his head.
Then in tones of earnest pleading, Joshua's voice soon arose: Tell us, Oh! thou God of Jacob, Why this triumph of our foes?
To his prayer, then came the answer, Why the hosts in dread did yield; Twas because a solemn trespass Mid their tents did lie concealed.
Clear and plain before his vision, With whom darkness is as light, Lay the spoils that guilty Achan, Covered from his brethren's sight.
From their tents they purged the evil, That had ruin round them spread; Then they won the field of battle, Whence they had in terror fled.
Through the track of many ages, Comes this tale of woe and crime; Let us read it as a lesson, And a warning for our time.
Oh, for some strong-hearted Joshua, Faithful to his day and time; Who will wholly rid the nation Of her clinging curse and crime.
Till she writes on every banner, All beneath these folds are free; And the oppressed and groaning millions, Shout the nation's jubilee.


  1. See Joshua 6:18–7:26. After the destruction of Jericho, Joshua sent his men to attack Ai. The Israelites were defeated because one of their number had disobeyed the divine injunction to leave Jericho's spoils untouched. Achan stole and hid riches reserved for God, who responded to Joshua's prayers with a command to "sanctify the people": "There is an accursed thing in the midst of thee, O Israel: thou canst not stand before thine enemies, until ye take away the accursed thing from among you" (Joshua 7:13). When Achan was discovered by Joshua, he and his family were stoned and then burnt with all his possessions. In Harper's analogy, the "accursed thing" that prevents the Union's triumph is slavery. Lincoln, she suggests, is no Joshua (see stanza 10).Go back
  2. Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (1825–1911), activist, orator, and writer. Born Frances Ellen Watkins in Baltimore, Maryland, Harper was raised by her aunt and schoolmaster uncle after the death of her parents. She received a rigorous education at the Reverend William Watkins's Academy for Negro Youth and took part in antislavery activities with his family. In her midtwenties, she taught in Ohio and Pennsylvania. She pledged herself to the antislavery movement in response to the death of a free black man whom Maryland authorities had arrested and sent into slavery for the crime of entering the state. In 1854, she began to lecture for the Maine Anti-Slavery Society. Her Poems of Miscellaneous Subjects appeared in the same year (the first of ten volumes of poetry published between 1854 and 1901). In November 1859 she championed militant abolitionist John Brown as "the hero of the nineteenth century" (William Still, The Underground Rail Road [Philadelphia: Porter and Coates, 1872], 762).
    Harper continued to lecture with great success until late 1860, when she married Fenton Harper, a widower with three children. The family moved to a farm in Grove City, Ohio, where Harper managed their domestic life and wrote for the antislavery press. The Christian Recorder of September 27, 1862, printed her criticisms of Lincoln in late September 1862: "The President's dabbling with Colonization just now, suggests to my mind the idea of a man almost dying with a loathsome cancer, and busying himself about having his hair trimmed according to the latest fashion." The Emancipation Proclamation raised her hopes, and she returned to the platform to speak on "the President's Proclamation." "I know that all is not accomplished," she told William Still, "but we may rejoice in what has been already wrought,—the wondrous change in so short a time" (766). Her poems appeared in the Anglo-African, the Free Nation, and other newspapers. As "a form of public speech addressed to concrete, empirically identifiable others" (Paula Bernat Bennett, Poets in the Public Sphere: The Emancipatory Project of American Women's Poetry, 1800—1900 [Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003], 5), these pieces represent a continuation of her mission as a lecturer. The newspaper served as another platform.
    Fenton Harper's death precipitated a financial crisis in May 1864: the contents of the family home were seized by creditors. Harper returned to the lecture circuit and "turned her attention to Reconstruction, temperance, education, moral reform, and women's rights" (Shirley Wilson Logan, 'We Are Coming': The Persuasive Discourse of Nineteenth-Century Black Women [Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1999], 48). She and Edmonia Highgate were the only women to address the National Convention of Colored Men in the fall of 1864. After the war, she lectured throughout the South. Her first serialized novel, Minnie's Sacrifice, appeared in 1869. After the publication of Iola Leroy; or, Shadows Uplifted (1892), she helped found the National Association of Colored Women (1896).
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  3. Unidentified source. Abolitionists recognized that Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation (January 1, 1863) left work undone: any one of them could have asked such a rhetorical question. Harper uses the quotation to establish a parallel between Achan's transgression and the national sin of slavery.Go back
  4. On October 3, 1863, President Lincoln declared a day of national thanksgiving on the last Thursday of November. Among other blessings for which citizens should be thankful, he listed harvest "bounties" and continued territorial expansion, the preservation of peace with "all nations" and a "greatly contracted" theater of military conflict. These "gracious gifts of the Most High God" should be "acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American people" (Roy P. Basler, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln [New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1953], 6:496–97). He also recommended that citizens "implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union."Go back