James Monroe Whitfield was born April 10, 1822 in New Hampshire. A contemporary of Frederick Douglass, in addition to being a poet, he was active in the abolitionist movement and many of his poems advocate against slavery. His poems were published in multiple newspapers, and he published one volume of verse, America and Other Poems (1853). He died on April 23, 1871 in San Francisco, California.
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America, it is to thee, Thou boasted land of liberty,— It is to thee I raise my song, Thou land of blood, and crime, and wrong. It is to thee, my native land, From whence has issued many a band To tear the black man from his soil, And force him here to delve and toil; Chained on your blood-bemoistened sod, Cringing beneath a tyrant's rod, Stripped of those rights which Nature's God Bequeathed to all the human race, Bound to a petty tyrant's nod, Because he wears a paler face. Was it for this, that freedom's fires Were kindled by your patriot sires? Was it for this, they shed their blood, On hill and plain, on field and flood? Was it for this, that wealth and life Were staked upon that desperate strife, Which drenched this land for seven long years With blood of men, and women's tears? When black and white fought side by side, Upon the well-contested field,— Turned back the fierce opposing tide, And made the proud invader yield— When, wounded, side by side they lay, And heard with joy the proud hurrah From their victorious comrades say That they had waged successful war, The thought ne'er entered in their brains That they endured those toils and pains, To forge fresh fetters, heavier chains For their own children, in whose veins Should flow that patriotic blood, So freely shed on field and flood. Oh no; they fought, as they believed, For the inherent rights of man; But mark, how they have been deceived By slavery's accursed plan. They never thought, when thus they shed Their heart's best blood, in freedom's cause That their own sons would live in dread, Under unjust, oppressive laws: That those who quietly enjoyed The rights for which they fought and fell, Could be the framers of a code, That would disgrace the fiends of hell! Could they have looked, with prophet's ken, Down to the present evil time, Seen free-born men, uncharged with crime, Consigned unto a slaver's pen,— Or thrust into a prison cell, With thieves and murderers to dwell— While that same flag whose stripes and stars Had been their guide through freedom's wars As proudly waved above the pen Of dealers in the souls of men! Or could the shades of all the dead, Who fell beneath that starry flag, Visit the scenes where they once bled, On hill and plain, on vale and crag, By peaceful brook, or ocean's strand, By inland lake, or dark green wood, Where'er the soil of this wide land Was moistened by their patriot blood,— And then survey the country o'er, From north to south, from east to west, And hear the agonizing cry Ascending up to God on high, From western wilds to ocean's shore, The fervent prayer of the oppressed; The cry of helpless infancy Torn from the parent's fond caress By some base tool of tyranny, And doomed to woe and wretchedness; The indignant wail of fiery youth, Its noble aspirations crushed, Its generous zeal, its love of truth, Trampled by tyrants in the dust; The aerial piles which fancy reared, And hopes too bright to be enjoyed, Have passed and left his young heart seared, And all its dreams of bliss destroyed. The shriek of virgin purity, Doomed to some libertine's embrace, Should rouse the strongest sympathy Of each one of the human race; And weak old age, oppressed with care, As he reviews the scene of strife, Puts up to God a fervent prayer, To close his dark and troubled life. The cry of fathers, mothers, wives, Severed from all their hearts hold dear, And doomed to spend their wretched lives In gloom, and doubt, and hate, and fear; And manhood, too, with soul of fire, And arm of strength, and smothered ire, Stands pondering with brow of gloom, Upon his dark unhappy doom, Whether to plunge in battle's strife, And buy his freedom with his life, And with stout heart and weapon strong, Pay back the tyrant wrong for wrong, Or wait the promised time of God, When his Almighty ire shall wake, And smite the oppressor in his wrath, And hurl red ruin in his path, And with the terrors of his rod, Cause adamantine hearts to quake. Here Christian writhes in bondage still, Beneath his brother Christian's rod, And pastors trample down at will, The image of the living God. While prayers go up in lofty strains, And pealing hymns ascend to heaven, The captive, toiling in his chains, With tortured limbs and bosom riven, Raises his fettered hand on high, And in the accents of despair, To him who rules both earth and sky, Puts up a sad, a fervent prayer, To free him from the awful blast Of slavery's bitter galling shame— Although his portion should be cast With demons in eternal flame! Almighty God! Ât is this they call The land of liberty and law; Part of its sons in baser thrall Than Babylon or Egypt saw— Worse scenes of rapine, lust and shame, Than Babylonian ever knew, Are perpetrated in the name Of God, the holy, just, and true; And darker doom than Egypt felt, May yet repay this nation's guilt. Almighty God! thy aid impart, And fire anew each faltering heart, And strengthen every patriot's hand, Who aims to save our native land. We do not come before thy throne, With carnal weapons drenched in gore, Although our blood has freely flown, In adding to the tyrant's store. Father! before thy throne we come, Not in the panoply of war, With pealing trump, and rolling drum, And cannon booming loud and far; Striving in blood to wash out blood, Through wrong to seek redress for wrong; For while thou 'rt holy, just and good, The battle is not to the strong; But in the sacred name of peace, Of justice, virtue, love and truth, We pray, and never mean to cease, Till weak old age and fiery youth In freedom's cause their voices raise, And burst the bonds of every slave; Till, north and south, and east and west, The wrongs we bear shall be redressed.
This poem is in the public domain.
This poem is in the public domain.
James Monroe Whitfield
James Monroe Whitfield was born April 10, 1822 in New Hampshire. A contemporary of Frederick Douglass, in addition to being a poet, he was active in the abolitionist movement.