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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TO GERRIT SMITH.Serus in cælum redeas.
IBend, Winter skies! O! gently bend To arch this day of sacred joy! Blow, Winter wind! O! softly blow, And add thy music's sweet alloy!
II.Roll, swinging Earth! O! slowly roll This happy day's recurring round! Shine, torch of Heaven! O! brightly shine, To gild the day from bound to bound!
III.Hail, sweetly hail, O gentle wife, The chosen day which dawned to be The herald of a noble life, And noblest then, when worthiest thee!
IV.Shout, gladly shout! O captive race, And clank to Heaven a myriad hands To greet the day whose radiant face Brings promise unto darkening lands!
V.O happy month! the hint of Spring; Of life renewed; of waving fields: Uncounted thanks that thou didst bring That life which richer promise yields!
VI.If days by deeds are numbered best, Strong friend of Man! thou'rt full of years. But Heaven, in thee supremely blest, Long spares her son, nor wakes our fears!
- On March 6, 1797, Gerrit Smith (d. 1874) was born into an immensely wealthy family. He cultivated a fortune that provided him with the means to support a host of antebellum reform movements, abolition foremost among them. Initially a supporter of colonization schemes, Smith joined the American Anti-Slavery Society and completed his conversion to the principles of immediate abolition in 1837. (John Stauffer, The Black Hearts of Men: Radical Abolitionists and the Transformation of Race [Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002], 98). He became a leading political abolitionist, helping to organize the Liberty party, the National Liberty party, and the Radical Abolitionist party. Political abolitionists nominated him for the U.S. presidency in 1848, 1856, and 1860 (John R. McKivigan, "Smith, Gerrit," American National Biography Online). The same period saw the formation of a remarkable Radical Abolitionist alliance between Smith, Frederick Douglass, James McCune Smith, and John Brown (Stauffer, 15).Smith won a seat in the Thirty-Third Congress but resigned partway through his term, frustrated by his failure to further his cause. The inefficacy of political abolition prompted him to sponsor militant action; he gave thousands of dollars to the free-soil movement and was one of the "Secret Six" who funded John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry (October 16–18, 1859). In the aftermath of the raid, Smith collapsed and spent two months in Utica State Lunatic Asylum. Historian John Stauffer characterizes the early 1860s as a period of "retrogression" for Smith: "stopping the rebellion and preserving the Union now took precedence over ending slavery" (266, 265). Smith's Republican loyalties tempered his abolition fervor, but they did not prevent him from criticizing the party's approach to slavery.
- From Horace, Odes, 1.2: "do not return too soon to the sky" (trans. David West, Horace Odes I: Carpe Diem [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995], l. 45).
- Ann Caroll Fitzhugh married Smith in 1822.
- "Birth-day Tribute" also appeared in the National Anti-Slavery Standard of May 14, 1864, and the Standard similarly identified the Tribune as the source of the poem. Whether the Anglo-African reprinted it from the Tribune or from the Standard is not clear. The Anglo-African text is identical to the Standard text.Horace Greeley (1811–1872) established the New York Tribune as a Whig daily in 1841. From its earliest days, the title was animated by a spirit of reform. By the mid-1850s, the various editions of the paper—daily, weekly, and semiweekly—had almost 280,000 subscribers (Adam Tuchinsky, Horace Greeley's New-York Tribune: Civil War-Era Socialism and the Crisis of Free Labor [Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2009], 2). Greeley, a force in the fledgling Republican Party, adopted a more radical stance against slavery in the 1850s. During the war, the Tribune "advocated vigorous prosecution of the war and expansion of its meaning: namely, that the war should become an emancipationist crusade, and that the emancipated slaves ought to be armed" (Tuchinsky, 171–72).Former National Anti-Slavery Standard editor Sydney Howard Gay managed the Tribune from 1862 until 1865. Gay sidelined his own abolitionist convictions and concentrated on satisfying the general hunger for timely war news (Tuchinsky, 217). But Greeley, in his famous editorial address of August 1862, "The Prayer of Twenty Millions," urged Lincoln to make war on slavery as a matter of military and moral necessity. Lincoln, then waiting to announce the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, responded by stating that "My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery" (Roy P. Basler, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln [New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1953], 5:388).Gerrit Smith was one of Horace Greeley's many reform-minded friends.