In War Time

To Englishmen


John Greenleaf Whittier

YOU FLUNG your taunt across the wave
    We bore it as became us,
Well knowing that the fettered slave
Left friendly lips no option save
    To pity or to blame us.

You scoffed our plea. “Mere lack of will,
    Not lack of power,” you told us
We showed our free-state records; still
You mocked, confounding good and ill,
    Slave-haters and slaveholders.

We struck at Slavery; to the verge
    Of power and means we checked it;
Lo!—presto, change! its claims you urge,
Send greetings to it o’er the surge,
    And comfort and protect it.

But yesterday you scarce could shake,
    In slave-abhorring rigor,
Our Northern palms for conscience’ sake
To-day you clasp the hands that ache
    With “walloping the nigger!”1

O Englishmen!—in hope and creed,
    In blood and tongue our brothers!
We too are heirs of Runnymede;
And Shakespeare’s fame and Cromwell’s deed
    Are not alone our mother’s.

“Thicker than water,” in one rill
    Through centuries of story
Our Saxon blood has flowed, and still
We share with you its good and ill,
    The shadow and the glory.

Joint heirs and kinfolk, leagues of wave
    Nor length of years can part us
Your right is ours to shrine and grave,
The common freehold of the brave,
    The gift of saints and martyrs.

Our very sins and follies teach
    Our kindred frail and human
We carp at faults with bitter speech,
The while, for one unshared by each,
    We have a score in common.

We bowed the heart, if not the knee,
    To England’s Queen, God bless her
We praised you when your slaves went free
We seek to unchain ours. Will ye
    Join hands with the oppressor?

And is it Christian England cheers
    The bruiser, not the bruised?
And must she run, despite the tears
And prayers of eighteen hundred years,
    A-muck in Slavery’s crusade?

Oh, black disgrace! Oh, shame and loss
    Too deep for tongue to phrase on
Tear from your flag its holy cross,
And in your van of battle toss
    The pirate’s skull-bone blazon!

1.    Written when, in the stress of our terrible war, the English ruling class, with few exceptions, were either coldly indifferent or hostile to the party of freedom. Their attitude was illustrated by caricatures of America, among which was one of a slaveholder and cowhide, with the motto, “Haven’t I a right to wallop my nigger?”    [back]

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