Anti-slavery poems : songs of labor and reform
John Greenleaf Whittier
Written on reading the Message of Governor Ritner, of Pennsylvania, 1836. The fact redounds to the credit and serves to perpetuate the memory of the independent farmer and high-souled statesman, that he alone of all the Governors of the Union in 1836 met the insulting demands and menaces of the South in a manner becoming a freeman and hater of Slavery, in his message to the Legislature of Pennsylvania.
THANK God for the token! one lip is still free,
One spirit untrammelled, unbending one knee!
Like the oak of the mountain, deep-rooted and firm,
Erect, when the multitude bends to the storm;
When traitors to Freedom, and Honor, and God,
Are bowed at an Idol polluted with blood;
When the recreant North has forgotten her trust,
And the lip of her honor is low in the dust, —
Thank God, that one arm from the shackle has broken!
Thank God, that one man as a freeman has spoken!
O'er thy crags, Alleghany, a blast has been blown!
Down thy tide, Susquehanna, the murmur has gone!
To the land of the South, of the charter and chain,
Of Liberty sweetened with Slavery's pain;Page 48
Where the cant of Democracy dwells on the lips
Of the forgers of fetters, and wielders of whips!
Where "chivalric" honor means really no more
Than scourging of women, and robbing the poor!
Where the Moloch of Slavery sitteth on high,
And the words which he utters, are — Worship, or die!
Right onward, oh, speed it! Wherever the blood
Of the wronged and the guiltless is crying to God;
Wherever a slave in his fetters is pining;
Wherever the lash of the driver is twining;
Wherever from kindred, torn rudely apart,
Comes the sorrowful wail of the broken of heart;
Wherever the shackles of tyranny bind,
In silence and darkness, the God-given mind;
There, God speed it onward! its truth will be felt,
The bonds shall be loosened, the iron shall melt!
And oh, will the land where the free soul of Penn
Still lingers and breathes over mountain and glen;
Will the land where a Benezet's spirit went forth
To the peeled and the meted, and outcast of Earth;
Where the words of the Charter of Liberty first
From the soul of the sage and the patriot burst;
Where first for the wronged and the weak of their kind,
The Christian and statesman their efforts combined;
Will that land of the free and the good wear a chain?
Will the call to the rescue of Freedom be vain?
No, Ritner! her "Friends" at thy warning shall stand
Erect for the truth, like their ancestral band;
Forgetting the feuds and the strife of past time,
Counting coldness injustice, and silence a crime;
Turning back from the cavil of creeds, to unite
Once again for the poor in defence of the Right;
Breasting calmly, but firmly, the full tide of Wrong,
Overwhelmed, but not borne on its surges along;
Unappalled by the danger, the shame, and the pain,
And counting each trial for Truth as their gain!
And that bold-hearted yeomanry, honest and true,
Who, haters of fraud, give to labor its due;
Whose fathers, of old, sang in concert with thine,
On the banks of Swetara, the songs of the Rhine, —
The German-born pilgrims, who first dared to brave
The scorn of the proud in the cause of the slave;
Will the sons of such men yield the lords of the South
One brow for the brand, for the padlock one mouth?
They cater to tyrants? They rivet the chain,
Which their fathers smote off, on the negro again?
No, never! one voice, like the sound in the cloud,
When the roar of the storm waxes loud and more loud,
Wherever the foot of the freeman hath pressed
From the Delaware's marge to the Lake of the West,Page 50
On the South-going breezes shall deepen and grow
Till the land it sweeps over shall tremble below!
The voice of a people, uprisen, awake,
Pennsylvania's watchword, with Freedom at stake,
Thrilling up from each valley, flung down from each height,
"Our Country and Liberty! God for the Right!"