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Nebraska -- A Poem, Personal and Political


Epic poem on slavery and the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854; published anonymously but attributable to journalist-poet George Washington Bungay (Boston: John P. Jewett and Co., 1854). Digitized by the Antislavery Literature Project.

This poem was published anonymously during national controversy over the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. Based on his acknowledgement of authorship, its author was George Washington Bungay (July 22, 1818 – July 10, 1892). Born in Walsingham, England, he immigrated with his family to the United States in 1827 at age nine. Bungay was a poet, journalist, biographer, and antislavery and temperance reformer. After publishing several books of poetry and prose, in 1855 he established a brief-lived newspaper in Ilion, New York. His reform politics were reflected in The Independent’s motto, “Independent in All Things, Neutral in Nothing.” Following the newspaper’s financial failure within a year, Bungay joined the editorial staff of Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune, the best-known newspaper in the United States of that day. Bungay continued to publish prolifically in temperance journals for many years.

Like the vast majority of antislavery poets, Bungay had minimal literary visibility. Beyond an 1852 letter of reference from John Greenleaf Whittier for two temperance advocates, sent to Bungay and three others, and one complimentary reference in 1876 by William Cullen Bryant to Bungay’s poetic opinion, there are no other immediately identifiable references to his work among better-known American writers of the mid-19 th century. See John B. Pickard [ed.], The Letters of John Greenleaf Whittier (Cambridge: Belknap, 1975) vol. 2, p. 200; William Cullen Bryant II and Thomas G. Voss, The Letters of William Cullen Bryant (New York: Fordham University Press, 1992) vol. 6, p. 336. Although Bungay was associated with the New York Tribune and acquired a reputation as one of its reform writers, Greeley does not mention him in his memoirs, Reflections of a Busy Life (New York: J.B. Ford, 1868). At the Tribune, Bungay joined famed writers such as George Ripley, Charles Dana, Fanny Fern, Bayard Taylor, Whitelaw Reid and many others. See Francis Nicoll Zabriskie, Horace Greeley, the Editor (New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1890), pp. 329ff. Unlike other journalists of the period, who established literary reputations, Bungay’s reputation remained that of a newspaper writer.

- Joe Lockard