The Genius of American Liberty, Part 1
In the first half of Whipple’s epic poem, the spirit of freedom (embodied in the form of an ageless eagle) watches over its chosen country.
By now, I hope Frances Whipple is one of your favorite early libertarians—as she certainly is one of my own. Her example to us is as complicated as her life story, which we have covered extensively elsewhere. Readers should take a moment to pause before beginning the current piece, one of Whipple’s final noteworthy productions, one of her most prophetic and yet naïve, to remind themselves of a few essential details about this remarkable woman. First, and perhaps most significantly, she devoted her entire life to the broad cause of reform: reform in politics, economics, social dynamics, intellectual life, personal ethics, and our connections with spiritual beings. Whipple’s entire career, her whole body of work (even seemingly mundane books like her guide to housekeeping or her botany textbook), and her long history of personal activism were spent in service to revolutionizing the world her generation had been given. For Young Americans and radicals like Whipple, the American, French, and even the Haitian Revolutions all proved that when the average citizen determined to assert their rights, history could not stand in their way. Tyrants of all kinds could be laid low if and when the people determined it should be so; but far too often the people’s weak wills betrayed their inconsistent ideals. Her long history of involvement with the abolitionist movement, Rhode Island’s suffragist, constitutionalist struggle, the “Dorr War,” and even her dabbling in political stumping all informed Whipple’s opinion that people too often appealed to power over principle when dealing with their fellow beings. Far too many of us tend toward petty tyranny over our families, our coworkers, people somehow in our employ (including those in “the service industry”—a phrase laden with class bias I cannot stand), our political, religious, and economic opponents, and any other possible enemy out there in the world. Far too many of us, moreover, stand by and watch idly while some misuse their power or prestige to exploit others. We figure that so long as it’s not us or people like us on the chopping block, then so be it. If you want to keep at least a white man’s republic, you might just have to break some black, Indian, or female eggs—noble sacrifices in the interests of our freedoms! Visionaries and constant reformers, consummate revolutionaries like Whipple knew better and spent their lives trying to show others the way to a better future. In her case, she capped off a brilliant and far under-examined career with an epic poem suited to the times—“The Genius of American Liberty” tells the story of a grand eagle, the manifestation of Liberty in the broad field of history, standing watch over the key moments in American history. The spirit of Liberty watches over the Pilgrims, generations of colonists, the revolutionaries, and the Revolution’s direct ancestors—the abolition movement. Each step of the way, the Eagle delights in the advances made for human freedom, but apprehensive over the influence of history great evil force, the serpent of Slavery.
The Genius of American Liberty: A Patriotic Poem
By Frances Harriet Whipple Green McDougall
San Francisco: Benjamin Todd & Co., 1867.
Stern Fosterer of Freedom, stooping down
So grandly from the summit of thy mountains!
But crimson spots are on thy radiant crown,
And their dark shadow stains thy silvery fountains.
Not such wert thou described in early pages,
Thy strong wing sunny with the Golden Ages.
Wash, and be clean; then soar, sublime, above,
Thy brave heart sanctified and warmed by Love—
Still looking outward from thy forest bower,
With all the Eagle’s majesty and power—
Still stretching upward, with a straining pinion,
Unto an Angel’s glory and dominion!
Be thy bright plumage over Earth unfurled!
Fold thy protecting wings around the world!
She sat on the mast of the Mayflower;
She perched in the white, wintry wood;
And as the bold bark bore inland,
On a crag of the cliff she stood;
And she heard the Pilgrims’ paean
Over the wild waves roll:
“Shout unto God thanksgiving,
For Liberty of Soul!”
And waving wood, and heaving main,
Sang, as they caught the loud refrain,
“To Liberty of Soul!”
She lit up the flaming Gaspee
By the wild Narragansett shore;
And the Tyrant’s Tea, at Boston,
To the gulfing wave she bore.
She stood by PATRICK HENRY,
And winged his burning breath,
When he cried out “Give me Liberty,
O God! Or give me death!”
That word was borne on banners high:
For still our Country’s charging cry
Is “Liberty or death!”
And when the Patriot Sages,
By the old, retiring Night,
Held up their glorious Charter
In the new and wondrous light,
Thrones shook, and Despots trembled,
As if their bolts would sever;
When came the stooping Eagle,
To watch that bold endeavor,
Crying aloud, with stirring stress,
“Life, Liberty, and Happiness
Are Human Rights forever!”
She stood on the summit of Bunker,
When the storm of battle awoke,
And the shock of the thundering cannon
From the could of the onset broke;
And she cried, with a din that sounded
Above the battle’s breath,
“Press on, ye noble Warriors!
To victory or death!”
Then sharply rang the clashing steel
With armed hoof and armed heel,
“To victory or death!”
She stooped in the cloud over Yorktown,
When the Foes of Freedom failed,
And before our glorious Leader
The brave CORNWALLIS paled;
And she heard, in the roll of the ocean,
The song of the woodland bowers,
And the throb of the rock-ribbed mountains,
“Freedom for us and ours!”
Then high her starry banner swung,
And far the thrilling chorus rung,
“Freedom for us and ours!”
Then hand in hand close clasping,
Our conquering Fathers stood,
Strong in the sacred Union
So sealed with patriot blood;
Deep in the earth they planted
A fair and goodly Tree,
To grow with the growing ages,
A shelter for the Free;
And there, to watch, and wait, and rest,
The Eagle came and made her nest,
In the Tree of Liberty.
Strong grew the spreading branches;
The Oppressed of every Land
Flocked to our shore by thousands,
In many a woful band!
The good Earth gave her treasures,
And the lax hands grew strong;
And minds, deformed and crippled
In the long arrear of Wrong,
Came out of the deep dark, to be
Intelligent, enlightened, free
From Tyrants, bold and strong.
With a full self-possession,
The conscious Man awoke;
And there went forth from his presence
New power, with every stroke;
His shining ax, fast swinging,
In the forest deep and wide,
Called forth the latent village,
In its beauty and its pride;
And while, amid the bowering green,
The school-house and the church were seen,
Where woke Life’s tuneful tide;
He drove his piles down deftly
In the ocean’s oozy marge;
And the sound of his ringing iron
Woke turret, tower, and barge;
And there, with inspiring Freedom
To gladden the classic bower,
We focalize the ages
In the baptism of an hour;
A truer Science and a nobler Art
Enrich the mind and purify the heart,
With high, immortal power.
No wilder tales of magic
The Orient ever knew,
Than concrete all around us,
Yet tangible and true.
Forth walks the great Enchantress,
All-opulent in might,
And a thousand noble cities
Stand strong against the light;
Then weaves she many million miles
Of iron road, to bind their piles
In union true and tight.
Her Ariel is the Lightning;
And around the Earth she’ll bind
A girdle for his pathway,
Till his flight outspeeds the wind;
She yokes the snorting Steam-Steed
To the ponderous iron car,
And through the tunneled mountains
He bears our burdens far;
And when her longest trail is done,
From Sunset to the Rising Sun,
We’ll ride away, ha, ha!
Fair grew the Tree of Freedom;
But a deadly Serpent lay
Around the root, close coiling,
And the Weak he made his prey.
His poisonous breath infected
With its venom all the air,
Till its vaporous folds hung heavily
Around the noxious lair;
And, like some fell narcotic flower,
It bound the Eagle with its power,
The while she nestled there.
Thus, side by side with Freedom,
An arrant Slave-Power grew;
But its strength, its wrong, its danger,
We never saw or knew.
It cracked its cutting scourges,
Defiant, daring, bold;
And at its simple history
All human blood runs cold:
The weeping friends asunder led,
The husband’s violated bed,
Are stories true and old.
Hard grew the grasping Slave-Power,
Pushing to outposts far,
Beyond all former limits,
Its Juggernatuic car.
The godly Gospel blessed it,
With a bold, emphatic “Vive!”
And Law the golden sceptre
Held out, and bade it live.
Thus honored, in its high estate
The blinded Power defied its fate,
Forever crying, “Give!”
It made its own vile statutes
To suit its own vile ends;
And learned Judge, and pious Priest,
Stood fast among its friends.
Profaned and helpless Woman
Before its presence fell;
And high and holy “Virtue”
Beheld, and said ‘t was well—
(For who might hope or dare to save?
The Master owns his chattel-slave)—
And thus struck hands with Hell.
Though strong and bright as Lucifer,
All-mighty it would stand;
And, like him, it wrought sedition,
With suicidal hand.
The chain, with deep corroding,
Thought dumb and dark so long,
At length reached human bosoms
With its magnetism strong:
The mother’s shriek, the virgin’s prayer,
The dark dethroned Man’s despair,
Found voice to speak their wrong!
The ground grew rank beneath it,
And the crimson cry was heard;
For one true heart with sympathy
Unto its depths was stirred:
The good and brave young LUNDY,
With his simple scrip in hand,
Went forth, to print on paper
The Sin of this great Land.
Alone, unaided, thus he hurled
The Truth upon a lying World—
Challenged, and bade it stand.
With pinion low and drooping,
Our outcast Eagle fled;
For she, like other Traitors,
Had a price upon her head;
But when she saw that Pilgrim,
So fed with heavenly light,
As, weary and heavy-laden,
He journeyed through the night,
She soared aloft, with daring wing,
And woke the Hosts of Heaven, to sing
Her glory and her might.
There came forth then, from Bennington,
The youth we needed most,
And power enough within him
To GARRISON a host;
And the stopping Eagle knew him,
As she looked into his eye,
And felt a power within it
Prepared to “do or die.”
And when all night alone he wrought
To clothe with form his fiery Thought,
The bird of Jove was nigh.
The BURLEIGHS woke, and WHITTIER,
And BRYANT, brave and strong,
And winged with indignation
Speech, paragraph, and song.
Good GERRITT SMITH and LOVEJOY,
ROGERS and CASSIUS CLAY,
The eloquent young SUMNER,
With GIDDINGS came, and MAY;
And out from every thunderous stroke
On giant Wrong, new light awoke,
That opened a new day.
The GRIMKES, Slavery’s nurselings,
Came, first among the Free;
And the noble PHILOTHEA
Stood strong for Liberty;
The beautiful young CHAPMANS,
And the musical SOPHIA,
Were firm amid the conflict,
Braving the fiercest fire;
While WENDELL PHILLIPS, eloquent,
A tide of strength and courage sent
To sufferers dark and dire.
The brave old Poet, PIERPONT,
Whose fame resounds afar,
Made the Slaveholder some stanzas
For the meddlesome North Star.
Amid the world’s corruption
He stood immaculate;
And the HUTCHINSONS, sweet singers
From “the Old Granite State,”
The first fruits of their genius gave,
To help the poor despairing slave,
Invoking happier fate.
And Afric’s sons and daughters
Among the foremost show,
That they who strike for Freedom
“THEMSELVES MUST GIVE THE BLOW.”
And they have done it bravely;
No people on the Earth,
‘Mid conflicts so terrific,
Have brought such power to birth;
And many a grand and glorious name
Sheds on the Race and immortal fame
Of intellect and worth.
L’ISLET, AMO, and CAPETEIN,
Are names that e’er will stand
Among great Men of Learning,
The elite of every land;
TOUSSAINT, the black Napoleon,
Rivaled that son of Mars;
And the dark-browed Herschel, BANNEKER,
Who walked among the stars,
Lives with imperishable names,
Whose glorious, constellated fames
Shine high above the stars.
Poor PLACIDE, the young Cuban,
Felt with a poet’s soul,
Till his burden grew too heavy;
Spurning the base control,
He boldly struck for Freedom;
But ah! It was in vain:
With his beauty and his genius,
He perished in his chain!
Chanting, as unto death he went,
With heavenward eye, and form unbent,
A sweet, seraphic strain.
The Orator, black GARNET,
With a genuine genius shines;
And WILLIAMS, CRUMMEL, PENNINGTON,
Are eloquent divines;
All these, with BROWN, the scholar,
Came out from Slavery grim;
And yet their brows wear lustre
That whiter crowns may dim.
No marvel that his people boast
Of DOUGLASS, in himself a host,
And cry out, “Who floors him?”
The Slave-Power, clutched its manacles,
And drove the rivets in,
Swearing to make more damnable
Its foul and fiery sin.
It mobbed and murdered LOVEJOY,
And made his press a wreck;
Through Boston dragged out GARRISON,
With a halter round his neck.
Unchecked, unchallenged, it came forth,
And then went tramping through the North,
Bidding us mind its beck.
It basely struck down SUMNER,
With murderous intent,
And silenced in our Congress
The “old man eloquent.”
It burned down halls of Learning,
Broke up and scattered schools;
And the brave young PRUDENCE CRANDALL.
It made the prey of fools,
Who, blest themselves with liberty,
Were so debased, that they could be
The Slaver’s slavish tools!
Armed with flint, and shod with iron,
Forth it trampled in its pride,
Spreading death and desolation
Through our borders, far and wide,
Doing deeds whose bare rehearsal
Seems the savagest of tales.
Still more bold and overbearing,
It attacked and robbed our mails,
All faith and public honor spurning!
Behold our private letters burning,
Lit by infernal gales!
With their cotton, and their sugar,
For a mote in either eye,
No wonder an unwelcome truth
Should, sometimes, show awry;
And that engrossing color,
Which we have known as White,
Should, looking from between them,
Make Wrong seem fair as Right—
Its high prerogative a deadly ban,
Poor human beings to unsex, unman,
And plunge in endless night.
The patronizing Slave-Power
Fondled a currish Law;
And the animal, obedient,
Made haste, and “gave its paw.”
It turned us all to blood-hounds,
And led us in its chains,
To hunt the flying fugitive
Over our own free plains;
And all the powers of Church and State
Made its decrees as fixed as fate,
And licked its bloody chains!
The Land of our Pilgrim Fathers
Became one vast SLAVE-PEN;
And the Hills of our free New England
A HUNTING-GROUND FOR MEN;
For we were bought with money,
Though our chain we could not see;
And we caught the Slave, no only,
But we TRAFFICKED IN THE FREE!
Yes, we were a guerilla band,
When, from the Slaver’s bloody hand,
We took the bloody fee.
The famished and the foot-sore
Our mercy sought in vain,
Till mothers slew their children,
To save them from the chain!
Through old, time-honored King Street
We dragged the preacher, BURNS;
Yes, o’er the very pavement
Which the blood of ATTUCKS urns!
Not unto death, for that were kind;
But the deep dark of heart and mind,
Where no sweet day-star burns.
With more than Spartan courage,
Came forth John Brown, the brave,
And the first blow struck for Freedom—
The freedom of the Slave!
And the Slaver swaggered hugely,
And swore it in his song,
That HE should die for Treason—
Yes, TREASON AGAINST WRONG!
But hosts of angels round him hung,
Shouting aloud, as off he swung:
“Good heart! Great heart! Be strong!”
He sleeps in his mountain fastness,
Where the blue-bird earliest sings,
And the towering Pines make music,
Like the swoop of an eagle’s wings;
And there shall the Friends of Freedom
Gather, with reverent tread,
To look on the earth that shelters
So blandly the brave old head;
While the free wind goes sweeping by,
And pillared wood, and arching sky,
Entomb the glorious dead.
But the North, though so long hooded,
Could NOT be made a slave;
For a sterling heart was in it,
And it came out true and brave.
The sugar, and the cotton-bags,
Like cobwebs dropped away,
And on the People’s naked eyes
Fell Truth’s most potent ray;
Quickened and warm, it woke, to shine
Forth from the soul, with light divine—
Life of the fair new day!
Like the young god in his cradle,
By serpent foes entwined,
Came forth, unto our rescue,
THE FREE, ENLIGHTENED MIND;
It grasped the subtle clasper,
And broke his sinuous tie;
Writhing, with savage impotence,
He gave himself the lie:
The Coward COURAGE seemed to show!
The “MUDSILL” might not be so low!
But blenched that cruel eye!
The North awoke so grandly,
And knew her strength once more,
Fired with the quenchless freedom
She had inhaled of yore;
Though mystified by Leaders,
A slavish, selfish band,
There yet was conscience in her heart,
And sinew in her and;
From her long lethargy she woke;
And, with ten thousand voices, spoke
Our glorious Native Land.
And the MAN for this great conflict
Was living; and he stood
Beside his father’s cabin
In the opening of a wood;
So small the corn-clad clearing,
It seemed all hid away,
Like an island, ‘mid the ocean
Of deep green that round it lay.
The Eagle came and watched the boy
With a far-seeing, prescient joy,
As he went forth day by day.
To wider paths she led him,
And higher lessons taught;
And she opened for him volumes
Of deep, unwritten thought.
The Stars looked down and blessed him,
As he boated by the shore,
While the solemn cypress shadows
Fell round, ad stretched before;
With muscle strong, and spirit free,
Thus grew the MAN OF DESTINY,
As men grew up of yore.
He came forth for an Era,
That made the Ages wait;
And he was duly chosen—
For HIS VICTORY WAS FATE.
Before him was a purpose
Unto his heart most dear—
‘Tween Scylla and Charybdis
The Ship of State to steer.
He never seemed to heed or know
The praise or blame of friend or foe,
But kept his canvas clear.
The Nations old, King-ridden,
As they watched the clouded star
That crowned our boasted Freedom,
Laughed bitterly, “Aha!”
And they told the slaves around them,
Whene’er our flag unfurled,
That ours, like all Republics,
Into ruin, should be hurled;
And as they answered from afar,
The hissing sneer, the bold “Aha!”
Went ringing round the world.
Sneer on, ye owl-eyed prophets!
Nor seek, as yet, to know
The deep and deadly ruin
That quickens now below
All rule—all power engrossing—
However high or strong,
That fixes its foundations
On the rotten base of WRONG!
Round RIGHT’S eternal center stand
The Nations true, a deathless band,
As peopled ages throng!