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1867

The Genius of American Liberty, Part 2

In the second half of her epic poem, Whipple allows even the most anti-Lincoln of observers insight into the Civil War as a libertarian moment.

Editor’s Note

Before offering our concluding portion of Frances Whipple’s epic poem—one of her last and more important works—I will take a moment to remind readers about where we have been. In the words of Whipple’s biographer, Sarah O’Dowd:

After Whipple moved away from New England and began to write for Spiritualist periodicals, her essays and poems were featured less often in New England abolitionist publications such as Garrison’s Liberator. Most people who became involved in a reform cause stayed with it for only a few years, then lost interest or became less active in it, but Frances Whipple never gave up her reform efforts. She continued to write—and after she moved to California, also to lecture—against slavery. …

In San Francisco in 1867 she published “The Genius of American Liberty,” a long allegorical patriotic poem that recapitulates the themes she had taken up in her antislavery writing in the 1840s. In this work she reviews American history since colonial days with an emphasis on the recently ended Civil War. She contrasts two metaphorical creatures: the Eagle of Freedom and the monster-serpent “Slave Power,” an alleged conspiracy of southern slaveholders and their northern henchmen such as Boston merchants, joined by the church, the press, and the law. The Eagle was present at critical moments in American history including the burning of the Gaspee, led by Whipple’s ancestor Commodore Abraham Whipple, and at the Boston Tea Party….The Eagle made her nest in the Tree of Liberty planted by America’s forefathers, and the Tree gave shelter to “the Oppressed of every Land” who “flocked to our shore by thousands,” but the deadly serpent Slave-Power lay around the root.

Using imagery similar to that in Shahmah [in Pursuit of Freedom], Whipple represents the spread of slavery to the western states as the serpent “Slave-Power” traveling through great distances in “its Juggernautic car.” “High and holy ‘virtue’” shakes hands with the devil as Slave-Power is blessed by churchmen and supported by the law. … Although freedom is finally regained after victory in the Civil War, many heroes die.

And this is really the most significant contribution Whipple can make to our understanding of her complex place in the ever-swirling nineteenth century; this sense that the Civil War was actually a libertarian moment can help us better see the potential of a society revolutionized from the bottom up rather than the top down. For her and countless thousands like her during her lifetime, Whipple believed the war was a marvelous opportunity to expand the zone of human freedom well beyond its previous limits. All other man-made curses paled in comparison to slavery, and if such a terrible war was the cost of its extinction, then so be it. The war was an opportunity as well as a sentence; it was the judgment of history made manifest in all its horror and a chance for all of us to atone for our various sins. And make no mistake—whether slaveholder or not; Yankee, westerner, or southerner; Baptist, Mormon, or Spiritualist—every American had something worth atoning for. Now was the time, and a better future was within their grasp. The circumstances were beyond reason, the costs of centuries worth of innocent blood, ceaseless toil, and inhuman suffering, but the potential gains were beyond all reckoning and well worth fighting for. After all, Whipple believed, death itself could not extinguish the enlightened soul.

 

See: Sarah O’Dowd, A Rhode Island Original: Frances Harriet Whipple Green McDougall, University of New England Press: Hanover and London, 2004.

Anthony Comegna, PhD
Assistant Editor for Intellectual History

The Genius of American Liberty: A Patriotic Poem

By Frances Harriet Whipple Green McDougall

San Francisco: Benjamin Todd & Co., 1867.

 

Out from the blossoming forest,
When the opening year was young,
Came forth our glorious Eagle,
And high in the air she hung,
Her keen eye piercing Southward,
And her talons striking, strong,
Into our lifting banner,
That woke the wondering throng:
“Ho! Dastards! Tarry not, nor lag!
Give to the winds our brave old Flag,
That hath lain idle long!”

On the verge of the far horizon
A threatening cloud uploomed;
From the time-worn towers of Sumter
The cry of “Treason!” boomed!
Old Hudson, through his Highlands,
Bore back the sound afar;
And, leaping from her parapet,
Niagara thundered “War!”
Erie to Narrangansett spoke;
And laughing Minnehaha woke,
With one wild cry of “War!”

Away on the wing of the Lightning,
And over the vocal wire,
Went the weird Herald westward,
Wrapped in a robe of fire!
The Golden Gate swung open,
With action true and bold,
As California answered
With men, and arms, and gold;
And still the rallying cry rolled on;
Nevada heard, and Oregon:
“Ho! Freedom for our gold!”

Over the western Prairies,
And over the woods of Maine,
Went forth our wide-winged Eagle;
Nor was her flight in vain:
“Out from the loom and spindle!
Up from the lathe and wheel!
Leave the plowshare in the furrow,
And plant your ground with steel!”
Then the young Kansas, listening, cried,
And hoarse old Plymouth quick replied,
“Yes; plant your ground with steel!”

She stood by the marbled Hero,
When the damning deed was done,
And the Friends of Right were gathered
In the shadow of Washington;
And she heard the serried City
To the distant Cities call:
“Up, with your mailed millions!
Up, for the Union, all!”
Then rolled along the distant sky
A pealing, pealing, pealing cry:
“For Union stand or fall!”

They came with the tread of an earthquake;
The ground beneath them shook;
And the loyal thought, and the loyal word,
To their heart of hearts they took!
Then who shall stand before them,
Or break their God-armed van,
As they go forth but to conquer,
For Freedom and for Man?
Then lift our time-worn banner high,
And wake our ancient battle-cry:
“For Freedom and for Man!”

Press on, heroic Champions!
Bear down the traitor band,
For home, for wives and children,
Freedom and Native Land!
Keep every soldier’s honor,
As gleaming saber, bright,
And cut each clanking fetter
With the tempered blade of Right!
On, with stout heart and straining breath,
To freedom, victory, or death!
Charge home! Charge heavy! Charge!

Crowned with the golden glory
That lit the dying day,
The gallant ship weighed anchor
That bore our brave away;
Like the silence that heralds earthquakes,
Was the stillness that heralds earthquakes,
Was the stillness that bound us all;
For, dumb and benumbed with aching,
Our hearts were held in thrall;
Then from the bannered vessel came
A shout, clothed with a breath of flame:
“Our country!—stand or fall!”

And a thrilling cry made answer,
That echoed along the bay,
As the laden ship moved seaward,
With the hosts she bore away;
Long may the listening Ages
Wait such another knell—
So helpless in its wailing—
So glorious in its swell!
But one wild word from ship and shore—
The last of friends to meet no more—
“Farewell! Farewell! Farewell!”

Out on the bannered sunset,
Tinged with its heavenly hues,
Above the ship high soaring,
The Eagle swift pursues;
And thus o’er the hosts heroic
She hovered while they slept,
As away to the Land of Southrons
Their tireless course they kept;
And there she decked with laurels brave
Full many a dark and nameless grave,
Where dews of Heaven wept!

O, never wore the Ages
Such high, heroic mood;
For Giant battled Giant,
Titan to Titan stood!
It seemed some strange enchantment
Of fabled Heroes’ power,
That made the brave Americans
Worthy their noble dower:
Such History no pen records,
Such Eulogy no hero lauds,
As opened every hour.

Our men, thank God! Were champions
Of Right’s eternal laws;
No tongue may tell their sufferings
For Freedom’s holy cause,
In the prisons dank and noisome,
Or fired with scorching light,
The bitter thirst and hunger,
Long day, and hideous night;
Snatched from a hard and hating Foe,
Happy were they whom Death laid low
Upon their armor bright!

Still our eyes o’erflow with weeping,
As we think upon the brave,
Who have poured their precious life-blood
Our own dear Land to save!
Mourn for the brave young ELLSWORTH!
To his laureled grave we bore him!
He sleeps on his native hill-side,
With the old Flag waving o’er him:
Long as we cherish virtue—truth—
Or love our patriotic youth,
O, we shall ne’er ignore him!

Miles away the cannon thundered—
Miles away the volleys blazed—
As the long lines of our army
The Flag of Union raised;
Leagues in length—all winding, sweeping
Through the field and by the wood,
Further than the eye could fathom—
One vast wall of brave men stood:
Behind, their camp-fires smouldering lay,
Where, in the soft declining day,
The deep death-shadows brood.

What could the do but conquer,
With such a force outspread?
His bold and dashing Irish boys
The brave young MEAGHER led;
With a wild shout rushing forward,
And plumage streaming gay,
The invincible Rhode Island men
Dashed in the hottest fray;
And where such spirits lead the van
As PORTER, SPRAGUE, and HEINTZELMAN,
O, we must win the day!

Wrapped in the fire of battle,
‘Mid the boom and blaze they go,
Where hide the hovering vapors
The crimson floods below!
On, till the mounting mid-day,
We have borne back the Foe,
While Death’s pale harvest thickens
In the heavy swath below!
But a fresh legion bars our way!
We faint! We fail! We lose the day!
Woe for our promise! Woe!

A death-defying courage
Lit the young SPRAGUE’s clear eye:
“Come on, my brave Rhode Island boys!
We conquer or we die!”
He vainly strove the panic
Of our flying men to quell,
Till twice a noble courser
In the fierce onset fell;
Then slowly, sadly turned away
From the red field where SLOCUM lay—
A blazing, bleeding Hell!

Behind lay the roaring River,
With the yelling Foe before,
When gained the gallant BAKER
That bold, defiant shore;
And he, with his hosts intrepid,
Stood still, and met the shock,
With hard, unmoved, flint faces,
As they were born of Rock;
Then blazed abroad their latent ire,
In one wild stream of battle-fire—
The Spirit of Rock!

 

For hours the god-like heroes
Held back the furious hosts,
Strewing the earth with bodies,
Filling the air with ghosts;
And still, above the tumult,
Rang BAKER’s charging cry:
“Forward, my Californians!
Let the poor coward fly!
Into the thickest—hottest—come!
And for the homes we love strike home!
Who  shall dare say die?”

No coward voice cried “Quarter!”
No white flag floated by;
But high, heroic madness
Illumined every eye!
Firm stood our brave Leonidas
Amid his Spartan band,
Still shouting—charging—cheering:
“Freedom and Native Land!”
And never struck for Liberty,
Upon the old Thermopylae,
A braver Spartan band!

The gallant crest of BAKER
A proud defiance wore;
But, the mark of many a foeman,
He fell, to rise no more!
That noble brow lies lowly
Upon the crimson mold;
Hushed is the voice all-eloquent;
The generous heart is cold!
But, winged with echoes, rich and clear,
That matchless voice we still shall hear,
Through ages yet untold.

Slack hung the shroud of midnight,
The woods and waters o’er,
As five dark forms crept slowly
By the old Ohio shore.
The weird Winds, shrieking wildly,
The leafless tree-tops tore,
While the roll of the rapid River
Went up with a sullen roar.
But hark! Above the sleet and rain
The iron tempest wakes amain!
Torpedoes burst before!

Near and nearer crept the gunboats,
Wrapped at first in friendly haze!
Nearer, till exploding cannon
Set the sulphurous air ablaze!
Pointed well, and manned so bravely,
Every gun made sure its hold,
Till the fell response was slackened
By our cannonaders bold.
“Another gun is thrown at large!
Cheerly, my brave men! Cheerly charge!
The fiery shroud unfold!”

Thus stood, with shout and cheering,
A youth, all fair and brave,
When from the sea of Battle
Rolled forth an iron wave!
With deeds of death on-sweeping,
It shot across our ken;
And the beautiful Boy BRITTAN
May never rise again!
For on his country’s altar, rife
With crimson gifts, his fair young life
Was made an offering then!

Is this the blue-eyed baby
I’ve dandled on my knee,
Crushed in this frightful carnage,
So horrible to see?
A fountain of manly courage
Lay deep in his tender breast,
And his flaxen locks were folded
With a hero’s shining crest!
He passed away, as he gave, the while,
A ringing cheer and a loving smile,
To gild his fair Southwest!

On the blood-field of Chantilly
Our gallant STEVENS fell,
His death-cold fingers clasping
The Flag he loved so well!
Shrouded by the sheeted lightning,
On the same ground KEARNY lay,
While a strange knell the solemn thunder
Pealed over their cold clay!
The storm above—the storm below—
With one terrific interflow,
Together rolled away!

Came forth the noble SEDGWICK,
And BAYARD left his bride,
To serve their suffering country,
Whatever might betide;
MCPHERSON, WALLACE, WADSWORTH,
Fell, challenging the Foe,
While SUMNER, LANDER, LYON,
In Death’s red ranks lay low—
All great and glorious, starry names,
Lit with the high, the immortal fames
That were not born to die!

Nor from the roll of heroes
Can we with honor go,
Without a passing tribute
To the brave young CHARLIE SNOW!
With a heart broad as high country,
And a mind as deep and high
As the arch that first bent o’er him
In his native Rockland sky;
We read but rarely such a name,
So lustrous in its early fame,
And aspiration high.

With a will to do brave service,
He went forth from the band
Of home-loves, nerved to suffer
For his struggling, suffering Land.
Like a young god—glad and glorious—
He stood, in that parting dire,
With his eagle eye uplighted
With patriotic fire!
But from the old, familiar door
He went away, and came no more:
Yet still his word is, “HIGHER!”

And men of Light and Learning
Amid our forces fell:
MITCHELL, and WILKES, and WINTHROP,
Leave names to cherish well
And praise, with heads uncovered,
With reverent, loving thought
Of all the immortal beauty
That with their lives was wrought;
Their presences from us ne’er departs;
We take unto our heart of hearts
The lessons which they taught.

But the space of ponderous volumes,
Filling, swelling, flying fast,
Teeming with a thousand Epics,
Would require a theme so vast.
Every man becomes a hero,
When for Liberty he draws;
And our Foes had skill and courage
Worthy of a better cause:
They yet shall give, with heart and hand,
Their strength unto our common Land,
And aid our common cause.

On your brows, heroic WOMEN!
We the crown of virtue set;
At the Hospital or Fireside,
Bravely still your work ye met.
Who can know its strength—its pureness?
Who can measure all its power,
Save the Suffering ye have cherished
In the agonizing hour?
Weave and wear your crowns immortal,
And, in passing Death’s dark portal,
Claim your glorious dower!

 
Shall our hard-handed Freedom,
With its all-grasping Toil,
Drive from beyond our borders
The Princes of the Soil?
Room for the hapless Indian
To flourish by our side,
And reach the grand proportions
His fate has yet denied!
Cherish—unfold the Forest Braves,
The while and Equal Freedom waves
O’er all our country wide!

Now our weeping hearts are joyful,
Thinking sweetly of the Brave
Who have poured their precious life-blood,
Our bleeding Land to save.
Now in hosts they gather round us!
Say not, then, that they are dead;
For they walk on the wider pathway
From Earth to Heaven outspread:
And thus come forth the brave Immortals,
With light illuming Death’s dark portals
Around each starry head!

The Eagle led our armies forward,
As they crowded rear and van;
And never more heroic hosts
Honored the name of Man.
The clash of their glittering weapons
Struck out new sparks of light,
That warmed the waking Nation
With a truer sense of Right;
Then soared the Eagle, far and high,
Pouring her bugle through the sky
For Honor and for Right!

She looked through the eye of LINCOLN,
When the glorious word he gave
That woke the dumb and dreaming Man
In the bosom of the Slave;
“Snap off the soul’s deep rivet!
The fetters fast unbind!”
Then the Four Winds sang together,
“Freedom for ALL MANKIND!”
From shore to shore—from main to main—
Swept on the world-awaking strain:
“FREEDOM FOR ALL MANKIND!”

The inmost heavens burst open
With Freedom’s quenchless fires,
As the multitude of Angels
Smote their responsive lyres:
“The human step is forward;
Hand, heart, and soul are free!
Lead on the happy Ages
To higher Liberty!”
Through worlds remote the chorus rang,
And Heavens and Earths together sang,
“To higher Liberty!”

But when our martyred Chieftain
On his bloody bier was borne,
The World wept, and the Nations
Came forth, like friends to mourn;
Then the stooping Eagle softly,
With her folding plumage, crept
Close to the faithful bosom,
And there her vigils kept;
And thus—his bright, immortal bays
Illumed by Love’s divinest rays—
A People’s Savior slept.

Up rose our glorious Eagle,
With victory on her crest,
And the Starry Banner flowing
Around her pure, white breast;
And she shall still soar upward,
Her broad wing hovering o’er
One BROTHERHOOD OF NATIONS
To Earth’s remotest shore!
Her strength still grasping truer Right,
Her deep eye shedding purer light,
Forever, ever more!

This is part of a series