Our Countrymen in Chains


Our Fellow Countrymen in Chains, alternatively titled, Expostulations. was published in Whittier's Anti-Slavery Poems and Songs of Labor and Reform (1834).
Our Countrymen in Chains
Josiah Wedgwood, Society for the Abolition of Slavery seal, 1787
OUR fellow-countrymen in chains!
     Slaves, in a land of light and law!
     Slaves, crouching on the very plains
     Where rolled the storm of Freedom's war!
     A groan from Eutaw's haunted wood,
     A. wail where Camden's martyrs fell,
     By every shrine of patriot blood,
     From Moultrie's wall and Jasper's well!

     By storied hill and hallowed grot,
     By mossy wood and marshy glen,
     Whence rang of old the rifle-shot,
     And hurrying shout of Marion's men!
     The groan of breaking hearts is there,
     The falling lash, the fetter's clank!
     Slaves, slaves are breathing in that air
     Which old De Kalb and Sumter drank!

     What, ho! our countrymen in chains!
     The whip on woman's shrinking flesh!
     Our soil yet reddening with the stains
     Caught from her scourging, warm and fresh!
     What! mothers from their children riven!
     What! God's own image bought and sold!
     Americans to market driven,
     And bartered as the brute for gold!

     Speak! shall their agony of prayer
     Come thrilling to our hearts in vain?
     To us whose fathers scorned to bear
     The paltry menace of a chain;
     To us, whose boast is loud and long
     Of holy Liberty and Light;
     Say, shall these writhing slaves of Wrong
     Plead vainly for their plundered Right?

     What! shall we send, with lavish breath,
     Our sympathies across the wave,
     Where Manhood, on the field of death,
     Strikes for his freedom or a grave?
     Shall prayers go up, and hymns be sung
     For Greece, the Moslem fetter spurning,
     And millions hail with pen and tongue
     Our light on all her altars burning?

     Shall Belgium feel, and gallant France,
     By Vendome's pile and Schoenbrun's wall,
     And Poland, gasping on her lance,
     The impulse of our cheering call?
     And shall the slave, beneath our eye,
     Clank o'er our fields his hateful chain?
     And toss his fettered arms on high,
     And groan for Freedom's gift, in vain?

     Oh, say, shall Prussia's banner be
     A refuge for the stricken slave?
     And shall the Russian serf go free
     By Baikal's lake and Neva's wave?
     And shall the wintry-bosomed Dane
     Relax the iron hand of pride,
     And bid his bondmen cast the chain
     From fettered soul and limb aside?

     Shall every flap of England's flag
     Proclaim that all around are free,
     From farthest Ind to each blue crag
     That beetles o'er the Western Sea?
     And shall we scoff at Europe's kings,
     When Freedom's fire is dim with us,
     And round our country's altar clings
     The damning shade of Slavery's curse?

     Go, let us ask of Constantine
     To loose his grasp on Poland's throat;
     And beg the lord of Mahmoud's line
     To spare the struggling Suliote;
     Will not the scorching answer come
     From turbaned Turk, and scornful Russ
     "Go, loose your fettered slaves at home,
     Then turn, and ask the like of us!"

     Just God! and shall we calmly rest,
     The Christian's scorn, the heathen's mirth,
     Content to live the lingering jest
     And by-word of a mocking Earth?
     Shall our own glorious land retain
     That curse which Europe scorns to bear?
     Shall our own brethren drag the chain
     Which not even Russia's menials wear?

     Up, then, in Freedom's manly part,
     From graybeard eld to fiery youth,
     And on the nation's naked heart
     Scatter the living coals of Truth!
     Up! while ye slumber, deeper yet
     The shadow of our fame is growing!
     Up! while ye pause, our sun may set
     In blood, around our altars flowing!

     Oh! rouse ye, ere the storm comes forth,
     The gathered wrath of God and man,
     Like that which wasted Egypt's earth,
     When hail and fire above it ran.
     Hear ye no warnings in the air?
     Feel ye no earthquake underneath?
     Up, up! why will ye slumber where
     The sleeper only wakes in death?

     Rise now for Freedom! not in strife
     Like that your sterner fathers saw,
     The awful waste of human life,
     The glory and the guilt of war:'
     But break the chain, the yoke remove,
     And smite to earth Oppression's rod,
     With those mild arms of Truth and Love,
     Made mighty through the living God!

     Down let the shrine of Moloch sink,
     And leave no traces where it stood;
     Nor longer let its idol drink
     His daily cup of human blood;
     But rear another altar there,
     To Truth and Love and Mercy given,
     And Freedom's gift, and Freedom's prayer,
     Shall call an answer down from Heaven!

Dr. Charles Follen, a German patriot, who had come to America for the freedom which was denied him in his native land, allied himself with the abolitionists, and at a convention of delegates from all the anti- slavery organizations in New England, held at Boston in May, 1834, was chairman of a committee to prepare an address to the people of New England. Toward the close of the address occurred the passage which suggested these lines. "The despotism which our fathers could not bear in their native country is expiring, and the sword of justice in her reformed hands has applied its exterminating edge to slavery. Shall the United States—the free United States, which could not bear the bonds of a king—cradle the bondage which a king is abolishing? Shall a Republic be less free than a Monarchy? Shall we, in the vigor and buoyancy of our manhood, be less energetic in righteousness than a kingdom in its age?" —Dr. Follen's Address.
"Genius of America!—Spirit of our free institutions!—where art thou? How art thou fallen, O Lucifer! son of the morning,—how art thou fallen from Heaven! Hell from beneath is moved for thee, to meet thee at thy coming! The kings of the earth cry out to thee, Aha! Aha! Art thou become like unto us?" —Speech of Samuel J. May.


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