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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FOR THE ANTI-SLAVERY STANDARD.Harlem, N. Y., Nov. 1st, 1864.
THE EVE OF ELECTION!
TO THOSE WHO WILL UNDERSTAND IT.
Must they battle in vain, oh! my brothers, Who stand with the rifle in hand? When the Wrong and the Right Meet the issue to fight, In the passionate strife, When the current of life Shall leap out from each vein, oh! my brothers, Must they battle in vain, oh! my brothers, Who fight in defence of their land?
And the thousands who sleep, oh! my brothers, From the gulf to the lake and the sea; Must the vigil they keep, With their eyes sealed death-deep, Be in vain for the flag That from cliff and from crag To a free breeze should leap, oh! my brothers, Only freemen should keep, oh! my brothers, In the land God made for the free?
And the hearthstones so still, oh! my brothers, Once ringing with pleasure's sweet strain; And the cot by the rill, And the house on the hill, Where a sorrowful cry Reaches up to the sky, And the mourner's white face, oh! my brothers, Haunts the desolate place, oh! my brothers, Are these all in vain, all in vain?
Be ye up and awake, oh! my brothers, The moment of peril's at hand; Match the bullets that speed By the ballots that read, In defence of the right For the nation we fight, Till our faith has been kept with our brothers, And the curse has been swept from our brothers, And Freemen inherit the land.
Are there eyelids that close, oh! my brothers, Unheeding our peril or pain? If such cravens there be In the land for the free, May God's vengeance downfall Till on bent knee they call On the nation that saves, oh! my brothers, Though by hands that were slaves, oh! my brothers, And then—may their call be in vain.
Through the blood of the dead, oh! my brothers, The life of the Nation we save, By the living who vote Must the traitors be smote, Till the Stripes and the Stars That no slavery mars, As they float o'er the land, oh! my brothers, Shall protect all who stand, oh! my brothers, Beneath it on land or on wave.
- The presidential election of 1864 took place on November 8, seven days after Pabor dated "The Eve of the Election." On November 9, the New York Times declared Lincoln's victory over Democrat candidate George McClellan as a "glorious result" and "the Union triumphant."In August 1864, however, Lincoln had been convinced that his administration had no hope of reelection. The war dragged on with little Union success, and public opinion turned against what was perceived to be a war for abolition (James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom: The American Civil War [London: Penguin, 1991], 769). The next two months, however, saw Republican prospects brighten. In late August, the Democratic Party built a "peace plank" into their presidential platform, which condemned the war as "nothing more than 'four years of failure'" and demanded peace, then reunion (Michael Burlingame, Lincoln and the Civil War [Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2011], 102). The position alienated many Northern Democrats and angered Republicans. In Pabor's poem, the declaration constitutes nothing less than a betrayal of both the Union cause and the soldiers who fought and died for it; loyal citizens had a responsibility to fight against Copperhead "traitors" with their votes.Good news from the battlefield gave Northern morale a tremendous boost in early September. The fall of Atlanta caused "a perfect revolution in feeling" (John Nicolay, quoted in Burlingame, 103). Still, the outcome of the election was by no means decided—especially in Democratic strongholds like New York City, where a massive McClellan rally took place on November 5. The rhetorical questions in "The Eve of Election" suggest that the speaker at least is sure that his Republican brothers will triumph in "the moment of peril." Identified as having been written for the Standard, the poem invites voting readers of the paper to identify themselves as these knowing "brothers."
- William Edgar Pabor (1834–1911), wartime postmaster of Harlem, New York (New York Tribune, April 1, 1861, ). In the 1850s and 1860s his poems were published in Godey's Lady's Book, Graham's American Monthly Magazine, and Peterson's Magazine, as well as the National Anti-Slavery Standard. He served as secretary of the Twelfth Ward Republican Association and produced poems and song sheets for Lincoln's presidential campaigns in 1860 and 1864. In 1870 Pabor moved to Colorado, where he helped to establish Greeley, Fort Collins, and Colorado Springs (Faith Barrett and Cristanne Miller, eds. Words for the Hour: A New Anthology of American Civil War Poetry [Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2005], 388).