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Antislavery Poetry from San Francisco

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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 Tocsin (XHTML)

Broadside containing a poem by John Pierpont; probably published prior to 1843. Digitized by the Antislavery Literature Project.

The Tocsin

________


“If the pulpit be silent, whenever or wherever there may be a sinner, bloody with this guilt, within the hearing of its voice, the pulpit is false to its trust.’  

D. Webster

Wake! children of the men who said,

  ‘All are born free’!—Their spirits come

Back to the places where they bled

  In Freedom’s holy martyrdom,

And find you sleeping on their graves,

And hugging there your chains,—ye slaves!

Ay—slaves of slaves!  What, sleep ye yet,

  And dream of Freedom, while ye sleep?

Ay—dream, while Slavery’s foot is set

  So firmly on your necks,—while deep

The chain her quivering flesh endures

Gnaws, like a cancer, into your!—

Hah! say ye that I’ve falsely spoken,

  Calling ye slaves?—Then prove ye’re not:

Work a free press!—ye’ll see it broken:

  Stand, to defend it!—ye’ll be shot.—

O yes! but people should not dare

Print what ‘the brotherhood’ won’t bear!—

Then from your lips let words of grace,

  Gleaned from the Holy Bible’s pages,

Fall, while ye’re pleading for a race

Whose blood has flowed thro’ chains for ages;—

And pray—‘Lord, let they kingdom come!’

And see if ye’re not stricken dumb.

Yes, men of God! ye may not speak

  As, by the Word of God, ye’re bidden;—

By the press’d lip,—the blanching cheek,

  Ye feel yourselves rebuked and chidden;

And if ye’re not cast out, ye fear it:—

And why?—‘The brethren’ will not hear it.

Since, then, through pulpit, or through press,

  To prove your freedom ye’re not able,

Go,—like the Sun of Righteousness,

  By wise men honored,—to a stable!

Bend there to Liberty your knee!

Say there that God made all men free!

Even there,—ere Freedom’s vows ye’ve plighted,

  Ere of her form ye’ve caught a glimpse,

Even there, are fires infernal lighted,

  And ye’re driven out by Slavery’s imps.

Ah well!—‘so persecuted they

The prophets’ of a former day!—

Go then, and build yourselves a hall,

  To prove ye are not slaves, but men!

Write ‘Freedom’ on its towering wall!

  Baptize it in the name of Penn;

And give it to Her holy cause,

Beneath the Ægis of her laws:—

Within, let Freedom’s anthem swell;—

  And, while your hearts begin to throb,

And burn within you—Hark! the yell—

  The torch—the torrent of the Mob!—

They’re Slavery’s troops that surround you sweep,

And leave your hall a smouldering heap!

At Slavery’s beck, the prayers ye urge

  On your own servants, through the door

Of your own senate,—that the scourge

  May gash your brother’s back no more,

Are trampled underneath their feet,

While ye stand praying in the street!

At Slavery’s beck, ye send your sons

  To hunt down Indian wives or maids,

Doomed to the lash!—Yes, and their bones,

  Whitening mid swamps and everglades,

Where no friend goes to give them graves,

Prove that ye are not Slavery’s slaves!!

At Slavery’s beck, the very hands

  Ye lift to heaven, to swear ye’re free,

Will break a truce, to seize the lands

  Of Seminole or Cherokee!

Yes—tear a flag, that Tartar hordes

Respect, and shield it with their swords!

Vengeance is thine, Almighty God!

  To pay it hath thy justice bound thee:—

Even now, I see thee take thy rod:—

  Thy thunders, leashed and growling round thee—

Slip them not yet, in mercy!—Deign

Thy wrath yet longer to restrain!—

Or—let thy kingdom, Slavery, come!

  Let Church, let State, receive thy chain!

Let pulpit, press, and hall be dumb,

  If so ‘the brotherhood’ ordain!

The Muse her own indignant spirit

Will yet speak out;—and men shall hear it.

Yes:—while, at Concord, there’s a stone

  That she can strike her fire from still;

While there’s a shaft at Lexington,

  Or half a one on Bunker’s Hill,

There shall she stand and strike her lyre,

And Truth and Freedom shall stand by her.

But should she thence by mobs be driven,

  For purer heights she’ll plume her wing:—

  She’ll soar,—where she can safely sing—

God of our fathers, speed her thither!

God of the free,—let me go with her!