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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LINES TO A CLERGYMAN WHO SAYS SLAVERY
IS NOT A SIN.
No sin to buy and sell and hold The negro in his galling gyves, And pocket the blood-crusted gold, The price of human hearts and lives? No sin to steal an African, And rob him of each sacred right; Wipe from his brow the stamp of man, And blot the stars out of his night?
No sin to score his quivering back With the red lash dripping there, Because his Maker made him black, Thickened his lips and crisped his hair? No sin to tear his frantic wife From his outreaching arms of love; What God has joined, divorce for life, Though Heaven forbid it from above?
No sin to steal the clinging child From the fond mother's dear embrace, And leave her broken-hearted, wild, And crazed, to curse her ebon race? God gave the black a living soul, A conscience and a heart to feel; Wrote freedom on his spirit's scroll, And sealed it with His holy seal.
Woe unto him who breaks the chart Endorsed by God's unerring hand, A curse shall smite his cruel heart, His brow shall wear the slaver's brand. No greater, grosser crime than this Can man commit who steps aside; Christ in the slave, with leprous kiss, Is thus betrayed and crucified.
When hoary priest, with honeyed tongue, Long face and lubricated knees, Bows low before this brazen wrong, And prates like the old Pharisees, We look to see the earth divide, And falling fire from Heaven consume The impious babbler in his pride, And leave no mourners at his tomb.
- This poem also appeared in the Anglo-African of October 24, 1863. The text of the poem is the same in both printings.
- Proslavery ministers like Bungay's clergyman supported their position by pointing to a range of scriptural quotations. As historian Mark A. Noll observes, "biblical defenses of slavery were once widespread throughout the western world"; however, "by the mid-nineteenth century, the force of the biblical proslavery argument had weakened everywhere except in the United States. There . . . it remained strong among Bible believers in the North as well as among Bible believers in the South" (Mark A. Noll, The Civil War as a Theological Crisis [Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006], 34). Slavery's defenders continued to argue that "slavery was blessed by the Bible, had existed throughout human history (a sure sign of God's approval), and established a sacred duty upon masters to be as benevolent toward their slaves as God was toward mankind" (Phillip Shaw Paludan, "Religion and the American Civil War," in Religion and the American Civil War, ed. Randall M. Miller, et al. [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998], 22). Pointing to the manifold ways in which slavery violated human rights and relations, Bungay reclaims the Bible for the antislavery cause. In the latter half of 1863, after the Union Army's Independence Day victories, an increasing number of Northerners came to believe that God willed slavery's destruction.
- The Oxford English Dictionary defines a "Pharisee" as "[a] member of a religious party within Judaism between the 2nd cent. B.C. and New Testament times, distinguished by its rigorous interpretation and observance of the written Mosaic Law as well as the traditions of the elders." Bungay's lines draw on New Testament representations that characterize Pharisees as hypocrites and quibblers. See, for example, Matthew 23:23–24: "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!"
- The New York Evening Post, founded by Alexander Hamilton in 1801. William Cullen Bryant (1794–1878) began to write for the title in 1826, having struggled to make a living as a poet; by 1830 he was the Post's editor-in-chief, and the daily's financial prospects looked good (Allan Nevins, The Evening Post: A Century of Journalism [New York: Russell and Russell, 1968], 134-136). Committed to Free Soil principles, Bryant severed the Post's connection with the Democratic Party in response to the Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854) and backed the fledgling Republican Party in 1856. He threw his weight behind Lincoln's presidential campaign in 1860. Although the Post remained staunchly Republican throughout the war, Bryant did not shrink from criticizing Lincoln's policies. The Post "shared with the Tribune the advocacy of what came to be called the 'radical' Republican doctrines during the Civil War—namely, emancipation, the need of strong and swift military measures, and the removal of pro-slavery and Democratic leaders from the government and army" (Frank Luther Mott, American Journalism: A History of Newspapers in the United States Through Twenty Years, 1690–1940 [New York: Macmillan, 1941], 5:344).
- George Washington Bungay (1818–1892), an advocate of temperance and abolition. His temperance crusade in Canada earned him notice as "the Canadian Gough" ("Married," The Lily: A Monthly Journal Devoted to Temperance and Literature, 1 [February 1849]: 16). He was actively involved in antislavery politics during the 1850s and used verse as a campaign tool. Nebraska: A Poem, Personal and Political (published anonymously in 1854) condemned the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, representing senator Stephen A. Douglas as a satanic figure who sought to turn Nebraska territory into "[a] vast plantation filled with suffering slaves!" (14). Sensational imagery and rhetorical questions feature in both Nebraska and "Lines." Bungay supported Lincoln's presidential campaign by editing The Bobolink Minstrel, or Republican Songster, for 1860. His New York Times obituary remarked on his associations with a number of prominent politicians and abolitionists, including Charles Sumner and John Greenleaf Whittier, and Frederick Douglass. Sumner secured him a patronage position as storekeeper at the New York Custom House during Lincoln's administration—a post Bungay held until 1887 (New York Times, July 13, 1892, ). Although Bungay was well connected and his poems were published in a host of reform papers, he remained a relatively inconspicuous figure in the mid-nineteenth-century literary landscape.