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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 (19 March 1864)
George H. Boker, "Hymn of the Contrabands" The Anglo-African (19 March 1864): [4]View Poem Image
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Surely God himself has risen Over all the wakened world; Burst the darkness of the prison, Into hell the shackles hurled; For we hear a mighty rattle Fill the valleys and the hills, As the freedmen march to battle, As the God of freedom wills.
Chorus—Then rally, rally, rally Round the flag of liberty; We are men at last and soldiers; We are free, are free, are free!
God has put the sword and rifle Into labor-hardened hands, And we dare not stop or trifle When our God himself commands.[3] We have cut our bonds asunder, As the mower cuts the grain, And the land shall fill with wonder Ere they find them on again. Chorus.
God has said make free your brother, As you now yourselves are free; Strike for wife and sire and mother, And for children on the knee. We are worse than Pagan scoffers If we fail to do the deed That God's grace so freely offers To our people's trampled seed. Chorus.
In the name of God, who heeds us, We will crush the tyrants' power, And trust to Him who leads us In the battle's bloody hour. He will take us safely over, He will heal our wounds with balm, And the blessed dead He'll cover In the hollow of his palm. Chorus.


  1. 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.Go back
  2. Philadelphian George Henry Boker (1823–1890) gave up the law for a literary life in the 1840s. He wrote several plays but success on the stage proved elusive; nevertheless, his household included several servants by 1860 (census records list his occupation as "Gent"). When the war broke out, Boker turned from drama to patriotic verse. He also cofounded Philadelphia's Union League in the winter of 1862; in addition to serving as the league's secretary, he used public poetry to promote Unionist sentiment in and beyond the city.Go back
  3. Many of Boker's contemporaries believed that "the almighty hand steadily guided the course of history" (George C. Rable, God's Almost Chosen Peoples: A Religious History of the American Civil War [Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010], 268). Antebellum slaves and abolitionists anticipated the year of jubilee; in 1863 an increasing number of Northern soldiers and civilians came to understand the war as divine punishment for the national sin of slavery (Rable, 155; Chandra Manning, What This Cruel War Was Over: Soldiers, Slavery, and the Civil War [New York: Knopf, 2007], 119). Boker's God commands freedmen to fight and thus secure liberty for their "brother[s]." Of course, his "contraband" speakers subscribe to a providential narrative that complements the aims of the Union League—to promote "loyal" sentiment and generate support for government policies like emancipation and African American enlistment.Go back