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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THE THIRD DECADE.
ON THE CELEBRATION OF THE ANTI-SLAVERY SOCIETY, AT
PHILADELPHIA, DECEMBER, 1863.
They quiet left behind, And station they resigned, Pilgrims afar for Freedom and for Truth! At Duty's high behests, They stifled in their breasts The eager longings of the heart of youth; And theirs were scorn and shame Instead of love and fame, Peril obscure, and pain that hath no name
Theirs was the prophet's woe— Misfortune to foreknow, Yet plead and warn in vain of judgment near: The dreamer to awake, The reveller's cup to break, Heralds of wrath and oracles of fear! To mock with bitter sneer To chide with frown austere— Harsh tasks for loving heart, unwilling seer
Or soon or late, the world is fiercely just! This they knew, and stood serene, and saw The years go by, and mock their trust In Order and in Law. They waited; but they wait no more. Behold! The hour is of the wrath which they foretold. O! who can doubt in such an hour as this, For nations as for men there is a Nemesis?
They ask not tardy honors at your hands Statue, or song or wreath! They are avenged! The future shall requite, Or, if not here, above! They sowed the seeds Of thoughts, ye reap to-day in glorious deeds Yet theirs were nobler, but for whom the night Of evil dreams, in which ye lay as long, Deaf to the warning voice, the awakening song, Had deepening brought unknown to the sleep of death.
Yet listen to the voices deep, Which could not flatter nor fawn In the darkness of days agone This the only boon they crave Whose heavy eyelids long for sleep Within the quiet grave. Listen! 'tis selfish wisdom which commands Nor mar with little hearts the labor of their hands!
- On December 4, 1833, sixty-three abolitionists from ten states met in Philadelphia and organized the American Anti-Slavery Society, the first national society of its kind. William Lloyd Garrison, one of the driving forces behind the society's organization, drafted its "Declaration of Sentiments" on a Revolutionary model. On December 6, delegates pledged "to overthrow the most execrable system of Slavery that has ever been witnessed upon earth—to deliver our land from its deadliest curse—to wipe out the foulest stain which rests upon our national escutcheon—and to secure to the colored population of the United States all the rights and privileges which belong to them as men, and as Americans—come what may to our persons, our interests, or our reputation—whether we live to witness the triumph of LIBERTY, JUSTICE, and HUMANITY, or perish untimely as martyrs in this great, benevolent, and holy cause" (Declaration of Sentiments of the American Anti-Slavery Society [New York: American Anti-Slavery Society, (1833)], 3).On December 3–4, 1863, American Anti-Slavery Society members and their friends packed into Philadelphia's Concert Hall to celebrate the society's thirtieth anniversary and "the emancipation of THREE MILLIONS THREE HUNDRED THOUSAND SLAVES" (Proceedings of the American Anti-Slavery Society, at its Third Decade [New York: American Anti-Slavery Society, 1864], 3). "We trust that we are very near the jubilee," declared long-time society president William Lloyd Garrison in his opening remarks (5); yet amid congratulatory testimonials and reminiscences, important questions were raised. When should the society be dissolved? When would the society's work be done? With concern, Abby Kelley Foster pointed out that some auxiliary societies already thought their work complete, and went on to remind the American Anti-Slavery Society that "nothing is done while any thing remains to be done" (72–73). Siding with those who felt that the moment called for caution and renewed effort, Frederick Douglass declared "a mightier work than the abolition of slavery now looms up before the Abolitionist" (111).Instead of probing the potentially divisive issues raised on the platform, "The Third Decade" celebrates the society's founding generation and champions ongoing antislavery commitment. By the time the poem was printed in the Standard, detailed accounts of the anniversary speeches had already appeared in the paper (December 19, 1863).
- Convinced of the sinfulness of slavery, many antebellum abolitionists severed connections with religious denominations that extended membership to slaveholders or refused to take an abolition stance. More radical "come-outers" regarded the state as a corrupt influence, too, and rejected structures of civil government that united them with slaveholders.
- Abolitionists from all denominations believed that slavery was a sin for which God would punish the United States; the Civil War was the "hour" of divine wrath and reckoning.
- Nemesis is the goddess of retribution and vengeance.
- Although the Anglo-African credits the Commonwealth as the source of the poem, "The Third Decade" appeared in the National Anti-Slavery Standard of January 9, 1864. Whether the Anglo-African actually reprinted it from the Commonwealth or from the Standard is not clear. The Standard and Anglo-African texts are nearly identical. There appear to be some differences in punctuation, but these apparent differences may actually stem from the degradation of the original paper and poor microfilming, rather than from how the poem actually appeared in the Anglo-African.The Commonwealth was 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). It 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.