America

Original Text: 

James Munroe Whitfield, America and Other Poems (Buffalo: James S. Leavitt, 1853): 9-16. Internet Archive

1America , it is to thee,
2Thou boasted land of liberty, --
3It is to thee I raise my song,
4Thou land of blood, and crime, and wrong.
5It is to thee, my native land,
6From whence has issued many a band
7To tear the black man from his soil,
8And force him here to delve and toil;
9Chained on your blood-bemoistened sod,
10Cringing beneath a tyrant's rod,
11Stripped of those rights which Nature's God
12   Bequeathed to all the human race,
13Bound to a petty tyrant's nod,
14   Because he wears a paler face.
15Was it for this, that freedom's fires
16Were kindled by your patriot sires?
17Was it for this, they shed their blood,
18On hill and plain, on field and flood?
19Was it for this, that wealth and life
20Were staked upon that desperate strife,
21Which drenched this land for seven long years
22With blood of men, and women's tears?
23When black and white fought side by side,
24   Upon the well-contested field,---
25Turned back the fierce opposing tide,
26   And made the proud invader yield --
27When, wounded, side by side they lay,
28   And heard with joy the proud hurrah
29From their victorious comrades say
30   That they had waged successful war,
31The thought ne'er entered in their brains
32That they endured those toils and pains,
33To forge fresh fetters, heavier chains
34For their own children, in whose veins
35Should flow that patriotic blood,
36So freely shed on field and flood.
37Oh no; they fought, as they believed,
38   For the inherent rights of man;
39But mark, how they have been deceived
40   By slavery's accursed plan.
41They never thought, when thus they shed
42   Their heart's best blood, in freedom's cause,
43That their own sons would live in dread,
44   Under unjust, oppressive laws:
45That those who quietly enjoyed
46   The rights for which they fought and fell,
47Could be the framers of a code,
48   That would disgrace the fiends of hell!
49Could they have looked, with prophet's ken,
50   Down to the present evil time,
51   Seen free-born men, uncharged with crime,
52Consigned unto a slaver's pen, --
53Or thrust into a prison cell,
54With thieves and murderers to dwell --
55While that same flag whose stripes and stars
56Had been their guide through freedom's wars
57As proudly waved above the pen
58Of dealers in the souls of men!
59Or could the shades of all the dead,
60   Who fell beneath that starry flag,
61Visit the scenes where they once bled,
62   On hill and plain, on vale and crag,
63By peaceful brook, or ocean's strand,
64   By inland lake, or dark green wood,
65Where'er the soil of this wide land
66   Was moistened by their patriot blood, --
67And then survey the country o'er,
68   From north to south, from east to west,
69And hear the agonizing cry
70Ascending up to God on high,
71From western wilds to ocean's shore,
72   The fervent prayer of the oppressed;
73The cry of helpless infancy
74   Torn from the parent's fond caress
75By some base tool of tyranny,
76   And doomed to woe and wretchedness;
77The indignant wail of fiery youth,
78   Its noble aspirations crushed,
79Its generous zeal, its love of truth,
80   Trampled by tyrants in the dust;
81The aerial piles which fancy reared,
82   And hopes too bright to be enjoyed,
83Have passed and left his young heart seared,
84   And all its dreams of bliss destroyed.
85The shriek of virgin purity,
86   Doomed to some libertine's embrace,
87Should rouse the strongest sympathy
88   Of each one of the human race;
89And weak old age, oppressed with care,
90   As he reviews the scene of strife,
91Puts up to God a fervent prayer,
92   To close his dark and troubled life.
93The cry of fathers, mothers, wives,
94   Severed from all their hearts hold dear,
95And doomed to spend their wretched lives
96   In gloom, and doubt, and hate, and fear;
97And manhood, too, with soul of fire,
98And arm of strength, and smothered ire,
99Stands pondering with brow of gloom,
100Upon his dark unhappy doom,
101Whether to plunge in battle's strife,
102And buy his freedom with his life,
103And with stout heart and weapon strong,
104Pay back the tyrant wrong for wrong,
105Or wait the promised time of God,
106   When his Almighty ire shall wake,
107And smite the oppressor in his wrath,
108And hurl red ruin in his path,
109And with the terrors of his rod,
110   Cause adamantine hearts to quake.
111Here Christian writhes in bondage still,
112   Beneath his brother Christian's rod,
113And pastors trample down at will,
114   The image of the living God.
115While prayers go up in lofty strains,
116   And pealing hymns ascend to heaven,
117The captive, toiling in his chains,
118   With tortured limbs and bosom riven,
119Raises his fettered hand on high,
120   And in the accents of despair,
121To him who rules both earth and sky,
122   Puts up a sad, a fervent prayer,
123To free him from the awful blast
124   Of slavery's bitter galling shame --
125Although his portion should be cast
126   With demons in eternal flame!
127Almighty God! 't is this they call
128   The land of liberty and law;
129Part of its sons in baser thrall
130   Than Babylon or Egypt saw---
131Worse scenes of rapine, lust and shame,
132   Than Babylonian ever knew,
133Are perpetrated in the name
134   Of God, the holy, just, and true;
135And darker doom than Egypt felt,
136May yet repay this nation's guilt.
137Almighty God! thy aid impart,
138And fire anew each faltering heart,
139And strengthen every patriot's hand,
140Who aims to save our native land.
141We do not come before thy throne,
142   With carnal weapons drenched in gore,
143Although our blood has freely flown,
144   In adding to the tyrant's store.
145Father! before thy throne we come,
146   Not in the panoply of war,
147With pealing trump, and rolling drum,
148   And cannon booming loud and far;
149Striving in blood to wash out blood,
150   Through wrong to seek redress for wrong;
151For while thou 'rt holy, just and good,
152   The battle is not to the strong;
153But in the sacred name of peace,
154   Of justice, virtue, love and truth,
155We pray, and never mean to cease,
156   Till weak old age and fiery youth
157In freedom's cause their voices raise,
158And burst the bonds of every slave;
159Till, north and south, and east and west,
160The wrongs we bear shall be redressed.
Publication Start Year: 
1853
RPO poem Editors: 
Data entry: Sharine Leung
RPO Edition: 
2012
Form: