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Antislavery Poetry from San Francisco

Running man image from workshop poster

The Pacific Appeal was the leading African American newspaper on the West Coast during the early 1860s.  A newly-published set of eight antislavery poems from the journal's inaugural 1862 volume captures the sense of expectancy within the African American community for the imminent end of US slavery.  These poems include the work of James Madison Bell, a San Francisco plasterer, brickmason, and poet.  Read more... 
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The Slaveholders Rebellion (XHTML)






















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Now the lords of Southern Slavery,—

            Worsted in the Moral fight,

Where the Truth combats with Error,

            And the Wrong contends with Right,—

Saw their hellish institution                                                              [5]

            Going down beneath the blows

Of the sturdy Image Breakers,

            And Oppression’s earnest foes;—

While the Nation, to its centre,

            Was convulsed with moral throes:                                     [10]




Saw their power to wield the Union,

            For corruption and command,

Like the morning cloud departing

            From the Councils of the land:

In the Forum, on the Hustings,—                                                [15]

            They were beaten every where;

Till these vanquished lords of Slavery

            Quit the struggle in despair;—

Left the field of Moral combat

            To the friends of Freedom there.                                     [20]


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Then they raised the cry—“Secession”!

            “Let us tear the Union down;

Let us build a Slave Republic,

            Quite surpassing Rome’s renown;

Let us spread its wide dominions                                                     [25]

            To the noble Rio Grande;

Till the splendor of our triumphs

            Shall eclipse the Northern Land;—

Till the vanquished Yankee Nation

            Stands in awe of our command.”                                           [30]




So they broke the bond of union,

            They had promised to maintain;

And the Nation’s Starry Banner

            Trampled in their proud disdain;

Flaunted out their flag of Treason,                                                     [35]

            In the madness of their rage;

And with sword, and gun, and cannon,

            Dared accept the Battle’s gage;—

And with marshaled hosts of traitors,

            In the deadly strife engage.                                                       [40]




Now the loud-mouthed cannon thunder,

            Now the screeching bomb-shells fly;

Thick the deadly bullets whistle,

            While the war-clouds shroud the sky:

Still the proud contending forces                                                        [45]

            All their strength with vigor wield;

Each with other still contending,

            Still refuse the ground to yield;—

Till, in dreadful numbers fallen,

            Dead and wounded strow the field.                                          [50]


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Thus, for years, the rebel forces,

            Often winners in the fight,

Hurled defiance at the Union;

            Vaunted still the traitor right

Of their vile Constitution;                                                                          [55]

            Till the Nation, by its woes,

Learned that freedom for the Bondmen,

            Sealed the doom of Freedom’s foes;—

And that thus, by God’s appointment,

            Could the fearful struggle close.                                                 [60]




So, we smote the Demon, Slavery,—

            The Rebellion’s end and cause;—

And, anon, approving Heaven

            Smiles, and good men give applause;—

Heaven smiles and grants its blessing                                                      [65]

            On our arms by land and sea;

Till, through all the warring Border,

            Panic-stricken rebels flee;—

While the land, with exultation,

            Hails approaching victory.                                                                [70]




Still the Union force advances,

            Wins each bloody battle-field;

While the victory flashes brightly

            On each conquerer’s glittering shield;

And, the broken rebel legions                                                                         [75]

            ‘Neath the victors prostrate lie;

While above, in triumph waving,

            All the Starry Banners fly;

And resounding hallelujas

            Shake the arches of the sky.                                                                  [80]


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Now Rebellion, in its madness,

            With a mean and coward spite,

Of all honor quite regardless,

            Plays the savage in the fight;

In its triumph gives no quarter,                                                                        [85]

            But its helpless captive slays,

Or, with slow-consuming famine,

            Through the weary nights and days,

Wears away its suffering victim,

            Till for pitying death he prays.                                                               [90]




But, to crown their deeds infernal,

            There remained one bloody crime,

Of such dark and damning nature,

            That the villains of all time

Seldom ventured to enact it;                                                                                  [95]

            But these rebels, in despair

Of success by manly fighting,

            For this highest crime prepare;—

And with soul and conscience hardened,

            Heaven’s swiftest vengeance dare.                                                        [100]




So foul Treason turns Assassin,

            Steals with silent, stealthy tread,

Into where, in fancied safety,

            Sits the Nation’s honored Head;

And with cool and dread precision,                                                                    [105]

            Swiftly sends the deadly ball;—

And the Nation’s Chief falls lifeless,—

            Falls, but triumphs in the fall;—

While, through all the outraged Nation,

            Trumpet-tongues for justice call:                                                              [110]


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For the blow of the assassin,

            Lifts the vail from every eye;

Rends the last remaining cover,

            From the traitors’ Giant Lie;

Shows to all the heart of Slavery,                                                                              [115]

            With the fires of Hell aglare,

With its passions, all infernal,

            Which like demons revel there,—

Raging as do mad-men haunted

            By the Specter of Despair.                                                                                [120]




Oh! if justice dwells in Heaven,

            Can its hand of vengeance spare

Men so cruel, so inhuman,

            As these murderous rebels are!

And shall man, more kind than Heaven,                                                                  [125]

            Bid these villains go in peace?

Yield the law of retribution,

            And its penalties release?

And, by granting crime a licence,

            Bid the law its function cease?                                                                          [130]




Yet were found among us pleaders

            That these criminals might live;

That, instead of rigid justice,

            It were better to forgive:

Thus the plead till the assassin—                                                                                   [135]

            Quite surpassing blackest hell,—

With the dagger and the bullet,

            Broke the Sorceror’s magic spell;—

Made the doom of traitors certain,

            When the Nation’s Chieftain fell.                                                                      [140]

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Now let Banishment and Gibbet

            Execute a Nation’s will;

And, in awful retribution,

            Their appointed work fulfill;

Let these cruel slave tormentors,—                                                                                [145]

            These who maimed our hapless slain,—

These who starved our captured heroes,—

            These who, both on land and main,

Waged a dastard, pirate warfare,—

            Let them meet the doom of Cain.                                                                         [150]




Let these traitors, thieves, assassins,

            Answer at the Bar of State;

Pay to outraged Law the forfeit,

            Life for life,—the murderer’s fate:

And let none mis-judge the action,                                                                                 [155]

            When the awful blow descends;

Charging it to cruel vengeance,

            Prompted for mere selfish ends;

For the righteous God approves it,

            He the penalty commends.                                                                                      [160]




Then let Justice, vindicated,

            Be enthroned in every place;

Lift its sacred Shield above us,

            Guard the rights of every race:

So shall Peace through all our Borders                                                                             [165]

            Spread, and Fear no more appall;

Freedom reign in kingly splendor,

            While the Bondmen’s fetters fall;—

While the Land, from Sea to Ocean,

            Spreads its wings to shelter All.                                                                             [170]



New-York, May, 1865.