James Madison Bell

The Progress Of Liberty

 Next Poem          

Dedicated to Rt. Rev. Jabez Pitt Campbell, bishop of the A. M. E. church, as a slight tribute to his many noble qualities, his exalted piety, and his labors in behalf of his oppressed race.


Never, in all the march of time,
Dawned on this land a more sublime
And grand event, than that for which
Today the lowly and the rich,
From thrice ten thousand altars, send
Their orisons to God, their friend.


The severance of the bondsman's chain;
The opening wide the prison door,
And ushering in this glorious reign
Of liberty, from shore to shore,
Has formed an epoch in the life
Of this great nation, that shall stand
And consecrate to sanguine strife,
The full redemption of the land.


Hail! hail! glad day! thy blest return
We greet with speech and joyous lay.
High shall our altars-fires burn,
And proudly beat our hearts today.
And thou, thou ancient holiday!
We hail thee with a new delight,
Since hope's bright beams and freedom's ray
Have dawned upon the bondsman's night --
Dawned on his night and interspersed
A deathless yearning to be free;
A heaven-approved and burning thirst,
That naught can quench but liberty.


O, Liberty, what charm so great!
One radiant smile, one look of thine
Can change the drooping bondsman's fate,
And light his brow with hope divine.
His manhood, wrapped in rayless gloom,
At thy approach throws off its pall,
And rising up, as from the tomb,
Stands forth defiant of the thrall.
No tyrant's power can crush the soul
Illumed by thine inspiring ray;
The fiendishness of base control
Flies thy approach as night from day.


Ride onward, in thy chariot ride,
Thou peerless queen; ride on, ride on --
With Truth and Justice by thy side --
From pole to pole, from sun to sun!
Nor linger in our bleeding South,
Nor domicile with race or clan;
But in thy glorious goings forth,
Be thy benignant object Man.


Of every clime, of every hue,
Of every tongue, of every race,
'Neath heaven's broad, etheral blue;
Oh! let thy radiant smiles embrace:
Till neither slave nor one oppressed
Remain throughout creation's span,
By thee unpitied and unblest
Of all the progeny of man.


We fain would have the world aspire
To that proud height of free desire,
That flamed the heart of Switzer's Tell
(Whose archery skill none could excel),
When once upon his Alpine brow,
He stood reclining on his bow,
And saw, careering in his might --
In all his majesty of flight --
A lordly eagle float and swing
Upon his broad, untrammeled wing.


He bent his bow, he poised his dart,
With full intent to pierce the heart;
But as the proud bird nearer drew,
His stalwart arm unsteady grew,
His arrow lingered in the groove --
The cord unwilling seemed to move,
For there he saw personified
That freedom which had been his pride;
And as the eagle onward sped,
O'er lofty hill and towering tree,
He dropped his bow, he bowed his head;
He could not shoot -- 'twas Liberty!


For men have ever been disposed
To crush their weaker fellows down;
Their selfish natures stand opposed
To the heart's free, aspiring bound.
For e'er, since Time his march began,
Or mighty rivers seaward ran,
In greater or in less degree
The world's been cursed by slavery.


Nor has the system been confined
To any nation, race or kind;
The Celt, the Saxon and the Dane,
Each, in their turn, have worn the chain;
Each have been slaves -- each bought and sold;
Their blood-price paid in paltry gold,
And from their kinships, loved and lorn,
To distant lands by strangers borne,
Where suffered they full many a wrong --
And where in bondage served they long.
Though long enthralled, yet there remains
Not e'en a vestige of their chains;
And were it not for history's lore,
The buried fact none could explore.
Freedom has swept their chains away
And clothed them with a brighter day.
For in despite all efforts made,
There e'er has been a certain grade
In the enslavement of a race,
At which reaction takes its place;
A point at which the crushed to earth,
Impelled by irate manly worth,
Throw off the yoke, discard the brand,
And claim their peerage in the land!
They rise, and fate proclaims the hour;
They seize the reigns and march to power.


As in the past, so shall it be
Through all the unborn years afar;
Till earth is wholly purged and free,
Will man 'gainst man go forth to war.
Wake, in your minds the sleeping world,
From Eden's banished pair till now,
Behold war's crimson flag unfurled
On every plain and mountain brow.
The sword has been the pioneer --
The civilizer of mankind --
The John the Baptist sent to clear
The way and fix the erring mind;


And the priest, with Bible spread,
Walks more securely where the tread
Of the swordsman in his wrath
Has left his foot-prints in the path.
Nor could the sciences unfold
Their wings that's purer far than gold,
Had not the savage in the breast
Of savage men been put to rest.


Thus, on her even-tenored way
Fair truth has ever kept her course,
Battling now with fell delay --
Now sweeping on with matchless force.
In mystic armor, bright and fair,
Her braves stand mailed 'gainst dread despair.
Hence, they who battle for the right
Are always stronger than the foe,
And only need the radiant light
Of liberty their strength to know.
Although its light may be withdrawn,
And error's blackening clouds increase,
Yet time will bring the glorious dawn
Of Liberty and Truth and Peace.
Their strength, numerically viewed,
May seem but nothing in the scale;
Yet, if their hearts are each imbued
With liberty, they cannot fail;
For they who fight for liberty,
They fight to conquest or to death,
And gain their proudest victory
When the cause receives her breath.


Though error's numerous hosts array
The march of freedom to impede,
'Twere vain: no forces can delay
A Heaven-commissioned mortal need.
The wrong cannot forever last --
The right is mightier than the chain,
And in the future, as in the past,
Liberty must and shall obtain.


The tyrant's hand may firmly clasp
And strive to hold within his grasp
Those whom his baseness has betrayed --
His fiendish nature helped degrade --
Yet, in power and might and main,
Liberty must and shall obtain.


The bondsman's gloomy night has passed;
The slavery of this land is dead;
No tyrant's power, however vast,
Can wake it from its gory bed.
For in the order of events,
And after an ignoble reign,
It died. None mourned its going hence,
Nor followed in its funeral train;
Ignoble birth, ignoble life,
Ignoble death, ignoble doom!
Conceived by fiends in deadly strife,
And cast into a nameless tomb.


Though slavery's dead, yet there remains
A work for those from whom the chains
Today are falling one by one;
Nor should they deem their labor done,
Nor shrink the task, however hard,
While it insures a great reward,
And bids them on its might depend
For perfect freedom in the end.


Commend yourselves through self-respect;
Let self-respect become your guide:
Then will consistency reflect
Your rightful claims to manhood's pride.
But while you cringe and basely cower,
And while you ostracise your class,
Heaven will ne'er assume the power
To elevate you as a mass.


In this yourselves must take the lead;
You must yourselves first elevate;
Till then the world will ne'er concede
Your claims to manhood's high estate.
Respect yourself; this forms the base
Of manhood's claim to man's regard.
Next to yourself, respect your race,
Whose care should be your constant ward;
Remember that you are a class
Distinct and separate in this land,
And all the wealth you may amass,
Or skill, or learning, won't command
That high respect you vainly seek,
Until you practice what you claim --
Until the acts and words you speak
Shall, in the concrete, be the same.


Screen not behind a pallid brow;
Paint lends no virtue to the face;
Until the Black's respected, thou,
With all the branches of his race,
Must bow beneath the cruel ban
And often feel the wrinkled brow
Bent on you by a fellow-man
Not half so worthy, oft, as thou.


Away with caste, and let us fight
As men, the battles of the free,
And Heaven will arm you with the might
And power of man's divinity.
There may be causes for distrust,
And many an act that seems unjust;
But who, when taking all in all,
And summing up our present state,
Would find no objects to extol,
No worthy deeds to emulate?


If such there be, deem him confessed
Before the shrine of liberty
As one that would the truth arrest
And crush to earth humanity;
For who, unless their sympathies
Are with the spoilers of the poor,
Could heedless pass realities
So fraught with freedom's genial lore?
Although the car of freedom moves
Less swift by far than we desire,
Yet stations gained and passed should prove
The destined goal is drawing nigher.


What though upon some distant verge,
Or in some rayless cave or den,
The cruel, fiendish tyrant's scourge
Doth still afflict the poor of men:
Has not the conquering arm of Right
Become the power behind the throne?
Shall not the fell oppressor, Might,
For all his ruthless acts atone?
To solve this query, ask not Tyre,
Nor wander back to Greece or Rome;
But of the living now enquire,
And read those foot-prints 'round your home.


Read but the record that appears
Upon the scroll of four short years,
And truth enough, I vow, you'll find
To satisfy an honest mind.


Four years ago fell slavery's reign
Within this land was absolute;
The brand, the fetter and the chain
Were forged for man as for the brute.


And in those ten miles square of earth,
Which ever sacred should have been
To liberty and manly worth,
The statesman sold and bought his kin;
For there the auction-block was seen,
And hard by stood the whipping-post,
Where oft, alas! from fiendish spleen,
The poor have yielded up the ghost.


Four years have gone, and now that square
Of two-score miles in circuit round,
Freights every passing breath of air
With freedom's grand and joyous sound.
The whipping-post, the slaver's mart,
The scourge, the brand, the yoke, the chain,
Have all been banished from the heart
Of fair America's domain.


Four years ago, and there was not
A sable freeman in this land;
Though thousands gloried in their lot,
Yet were they all beneath the brand.
That foul rendition law, which gave
To avarice unquestioned right
To seize the man deemed as a slave,
And drag him down to thraldom's night,
Exposed six hundred thousand souls
To insult, outrage and abuse,
In view of all the perjured scrolls
That fiends incarnate could adduce;
But that base law and baser hearts
Of those who gave it prominence,
Have each on earth performed their parts,
And gone to their dread recompense.


Nor is this all that has been done
In four short years beneath the sun:
Liberia has been recognized --
Also the Haytian's island home;
And lo! a Negro undisguised
Has preached within the Nation's dome!
And proud Columbia's highest court
Receives a counselor elect,
Which gives the lie to the report
That fain would rob us of respect,
While Taney, with curses on his grave,
Has gone to stand that Judge before,
At whose dread bar the poorest slave
Is judged a man, and he -- no more.


Like Cana's wine, the last and best,
And far transcending all the rest,
Is that grand act for which we meet
Each New Year day to laud and greet --
The issuance of that blest decree
Through which the millions now are free.
We laud the act and laud the worth
Of the noble heart which gave it birth;
For which today we gladly raise
Our hands and hearts in grateful praise
To Him who spake, and lo! 'twas done;
Whose work is finished -- e'er begun;
And while innumerous songs shall rise
In grand memorials to the skies,
The burden of all our songs shall be
To Lincoln, God and Liberty!
Sing, oh! my harp, one song of cheer
To that fond name we all revere;
Sing of his trust, sing of his love,
O, sing of his home in the realms above!
High on the towering spire of fame,
In bold relief stands out a name
Which time can ne'er efface or dim:
It is the peerless name of him
Who dared his frowning land despite,
Do what his conscience deemed as right;
Who dared proclaim, that all might hear,
The dawn of freedom's jubilant year.
And when the glorious news went forth,
It fell, like Heaven's benignant dew,
Upon the bondsmen of the south,
And all that wore the sable hue --
Not only those of sable hue,
But every lover of the right
Grasped his unsheathed sword anew,
And nerved his heart with tenfold might,
Determined to wipe out the stain --
The vile excresence to remove --
And free from each obnoxious ban
The home and country of his love.


Yon proclamation of the free
Is now the living testament
Of that great soul of liberty,
Whose heart conceived its continent,
Whose mission was to rend the chain
And let the long oppressed go free;
And having wholly filled his reign,
He laid aside mortality
And donned the vesture of the spheres,
And passed beyond our mortal ken,
To regions far remote from men --
Where all that's great and good appear.
Though gone from earth, he is not dead;
The great, the good, they never die;
But when these transient forms they shed,
In fadeless youth they bloom on high.


Oh! could we pass beyond the doom
And range through fields forever fair,
Arrayed in Heaven's eternal bloom,
We'd find our benefactor there.


The Moses kind Heaven in mercy had lent
To lead us away from our discontent,
For we, like Israel, were oppressed,
And long our bleeding hearts' unrest
Has fallen on the dewy night,
While pleading with the Infinite.
The orbit-lamps, which burn on high
And flood with joy the azure sky --
The silver moon and clouds that sweep
Athrough the far-off realms so deep,
Are all familiar with our woe,
And of our griefs how much they know:
For when from pleasure's jovial round
The careless world lay slumber-bound,
We've knelt and looked up through our tears,
And asked of Heaven, how many years
Shall vile injustice basely reign?
How many years from 'neath the chain
Shall Godlike man, a creature made
But one step lower in the grade
Of wisdom's all-creative skill
Than those bright heralds of His will
Which stand His throne forever by,
Or on their spotless pinions fly;
Pour forth upon the midnight air
The doleful wail of his despair;
And oft from out the lunar heaven
Glad signs of promise have been given.
A Moses has been typified --
A prophet and a people's guide;
And we by faith have looked away
Beyond the night to the glorious day,
When in His strength the arm of God
Should rend the chain and break the rod,
And lead the oppressed from 'neath the brand
To manhood's joy in freedom's land.


Although intense the darkness grew,
As nearer still and nearer drew
The rising dawn ordained to bring
The day of promise on its wing,
And every hand against us turned,
And on us every passer spurned,
Yet, was our deathless trust the same
In Him who gave the sun his flame,
And spake from dark chaotic gloom
Bright worlds on worlds to live and bloom,
And by some deep, unfathomed source
Bound them forever to their course,
And on their broad and convexed face
To all the breathing tribes gave place;


To these that ply their finny oar,
And live where ocean thunders roar;
To those that float upon the breeze
And build their homes 'mid rocks and trees;
To those that prowl in quest of prey,
When night has closed the eye of day,
And those that serve and blessings bring,
With every beast and creeping thing,
And holds forever in His hands
The destiny of men and lands --
The destiny of every sphere
In heaven's blue fields, remote or near,
While every creature He has made
Commands His care and special aid.


A God like this, we'd fain adore;
His friendship ours, our cause is sure.
As Israel, when they neared that sea
Whose waves rolled back with majesty,
And stood congealed in all their pride,
A liquid wall on either side;
Assembled on the farther strand,
And holding up their leader's hand,
They prayed, harped, danced and sung,
The aged mingling with the young,
While this refrain was heard afar,
"The Lord, the Lord's a Man of war,
And like no other God is He;
God of the whirlwind and the sea!"


And while they danced did Miriam sing:
"The Lord's my strength, the Lord's my king!"
Like them, we've halted on the shore,
To sing and tell our triumphs o'er.


The bondsman's chains at length are riven,
The fettered limbs forever free;
Shout thou, O Earth, and thou, O Heaven,
Proclaim the gladsome jubilee!


Now, to that feature of our lay
Involving interests of today --
Involving interests of the state --
Interests small and interests great;
The interest of the rich and poor --
Their interest now and evermore.


The rebels -- crushed in their endeavor
To rend in twain this glorious land --
Are still its foes, and will forever
Upon the side of treason stand,
Till all the streets which lead to power
Freedom shall firmly barricade;
They'll wait in hope and pray the hour
Auspicious to their fiendish raid.


The panther changeth not his nature,
Though chained, is still a treacherous beast,
Seeking ever for his capture
And on his captor's life to feast.
To this extent doth bloody treason
Pervade the powerless rebel's heart;
They still are traitors, and bide their season
To hurl at truth their poisoned dart.


Look to those streets which lead to office:
'Tis long those by-paths they would come;
Place there a strong and trusty police;
Guard well the nation's classic dome.
Raise no seceder to position,
Place no foul traitor in command,
And thereby hinder a sedition
Deep as the base-work of our land.


Oh, let it not in truth be spoken,
For four long years we've war'd in vain;
The gordian knot remains unbroken,
And we are yet beneath the chain,
And they, the plotters of secession,
Have still their rods above our head,
Extorting from us a concession
E'en in the face of all our dead.


Where is that fiend-like will which fostered
The dark rebellion at the first?
Deem it not dead, or e'en exhausted --
It waits its time to slake its thirst,
And in an hour the least expected,
And from a source we little deem --
When liberty's the least protected,
'Twill start again the crimson stream.


Unless the roots are all extracted,
The cancer will return again;
For partial surgery, when enacted,
Imperils life, engenders pain.
Unless the causes which incited
This fearful war we now remove,
The torch again will be ignited --
And peace an airy bubble prove.


Of what avail is their parolment --
What vow so sacred could they make,
That, once released from war's controlment,
Their perjured natures would not break?
There are no oaths, nor vows can alter
The life-long purpose of the heart;
Though firmly pledged, man will not falter
When chance proclaims to play his part.


Go, ferret out those vile seceders --
Seek them anear, seek them afar,
And bring to justice all their leaders --
Base plotters in this bloody war.
Be they bishops, priests or laymen,
Bring them, nor through pity spare;
Confine them where the truth placed Haman --
Confine them in the middle air.


There let them swing from early morning
Till night shall wrap the earth in gloom,
A fit rebuke and needful warning
To all who chance escape their doom;
That ne'er again while Sol illumines
The regions of unbounded space,
May dark, mysterious, fearful omens
O'erspread our land with such disgrace.


Oh, ye, who claim to scan the future,
And read for man -- unborn events,
Pray tell us what shall be the nature
Of the bondsmen's future tense;
Shall they, from whom the yoke has fallen,
From whom the fetter has been loosed,
Aspire to no loftier calling,
But still live on to be abused?


And will this land of boasted freedom,
In whose defense our braves have died,
Now, when the cause no more doth need them,
Remand them back without a guide,
And institute no laws to shield them
From the brutal acts of those,
Who long in abject bondage held them,
Whose heart no love nor pity knows?


Those swarthy troops, who bore their rifles,
And bravely fought the nation's foe,
Regarding e'en their lives as trifles
Compared with freedom's overthrow,
Won them laurels, and should inherit
The ballot as their rightful due;
Aye, should inherit, if deeds of merit
E'er merit aught that's good and true.


'Tis not enough, to rend the fetter;
'Tis not enough, to part the chain --
The soldier merits something better --
A full erasure of his stain,
That future years, in their enfolding,
May of those wrongs no vestige find --
No shadowy clue to base withholding
Of human rights from human kind.


There is no civil right that can equal
The ballot in a freeman's hand;
It is the apex and the sequel
To all that's noble, great and grand.
The poorest of the land invested
With the ballot, may stand erect,
And pass this life through unmolested,
Commanding ever a respect.


Rescind all systems of oppression;
Raise all men to a common plain;
And there will not of vain secession
Nor root, nor limb, nor branch remain.
O! give Columbia's swarthy subjects --
The valiant-hearted and the true --
A noble base for future prospects;
Give them the ballot -- as their due.


Their due for deeds of manly bearing,
Whene'er the chances were revealed,
And for their brave, chivalric daring
On many a hot-contested field.
Give it for victories won the nation,
And often, too, 'gainst fearful odds,
Such as, at times, to keep their station,
Appeared a mystery to the gods.


Now, in your memories backward wander,
And near Fort Hudson take your stand;
Where you may in safety ponder
Upon the fearful and the grand.


Hark! hark! that deafening sound pervading
The hills anear and hills afar;
Lo! 'tis the charge and cannonading
Of the veteran hosts of war.
Look you kindly on that battle --
The former slaves are in that fight!
They, who have herded long with cattle,
Are warring for the freeman's right.


From off the earthworks of the foemen,
See how the grape and bullets fly --
Mowing down my hardy yoemen,
As doth the scythe the autumn rye;
But onward! onward! nothing daunted,
Sword unsheathed or hand on spring,
To where those murderous guns are planted,
Whose mighty force those missiles fling.


Now, see them, as the foe advances,
With sabres drawn, on hurried feet;
They halt, and now they poise their lances,
And now the fierce combatants meet.
The former slave and former master --
See how furiously they rave;
Which shall outlive the disaster,
The master or his former slave?


List to their swords and sabres clashing,
As slave confronts his tyrant lord;
See! see them, at each other dashing --
Now, see them writhing on the sward!
See the struggling; hear the screaming;
Hear the curse and hear the prayer;
See the crimson life-tide streaming
From their sword-points through the air.


Now the blacks are beaten backward --
Backward beaten by the foe;
And now again they rally onward;
On to the breastwork, on they go!
The walls are gained, their braves have scaled them;
Behold the stars and stripes on high!
The former masters' hearts have failed them;
See! see! before their slaves they fly.
See on the field the dead, the wounded --
Fallen, fallen to rise no more;
Beside them, see their sabres grounded,
All reeking still with human gore.


And shall the heroes of such battles,
Who fought for liberty for all,
Again be classed with goods and chattels --
With beasts of burden in the stall?
Shall patriots have their rights contested,
And thereby forced to wear a brand,
While heartless rebels are invested
With all the honors of the land?
Ye men who prize Columbia's honor;
Ye who should guide her in the right:
Oh, suffer not this base dishonor;
Let naught so foul her glory blight.


Remove your doubts, dispel your fears,
And in the right move bravely on;
For ere one round decade of years
Have passed, full liberty shall dawn.
Your every right shall be obtained,
And you respected here shall be;
Here in this land, where long enchained,
You've worn the badge of slavery;
While here we sing of liberty
Upon this far-off western strand,
The soul-inspiring symphony
Is welling up o'er all the land.


For lo! Arkansas doth rejoice,
And Texas sings with cheerful voice,
And Mississippi's heart doth swell,
And hail with joy the rising knell
Now sounding on her gulf-bound coast --
The dirge of a departed ghost.
And Louisiana's fields of cane
Doth wave in triumph the refrain;
And Alabama's lofty pines,
And Florida's sweet-scented vines
Today doth joyously exhale
Rich odors on each passing gale.
And Georgia, freed from every vice,
Now offers up her fields of rice --
And South Carolina -- first to err --
Repentant of the days that were,
Now waves her chainless hands on high,
In praise of freedom's victory.
And North Carolina's Dismal Swamp,
Arrayed in rich and gorgeous pomp,
Doth hail with pride the loud acclaim,
And sweetly sing in freedom's name.
And Old Virginia, proud and grand,
With her fair sister, Maryland,
Doth chant the chorus, swell the song,
The which today shall roll along
In p├Žans deep, and loud, and strong,
O'er every hill and vale and plain
Throughout the land, from Gulf to Maine,
And in one grand halo of sound,
Sweep fair Columbia's distant bound,
And on the radiant wings of light
Soar upwards to the Infinite,
And pour upon the Eternal's ear
One song and shout of grateful cheer.


And now, my muse, thy song resume,
'Twixt hope and doubt, 'twixt joy and fear,
'Twixt morning gray and twilight gloom,
Along a path nor dark, nor clear --
Sing now of him in high estate,
On whom is bent the nation's eye --
Where all her glories culminate
To form a radiance for her sky.
The now incumbent of that chair
Where he, our good friend, sat before --
Has spoke full oft and loud and clear,
Within the audience of the poor.


And poorer none than those that wait
And feeless serve his native state --
A shoeless, coatless, hatless throng,
Who ne'er have deemed the journey long,
If 'twere to catch his words and smiles,
Between them lay a score of miles;
With hasty feet they'd wend their way --
No child in heart more blessed than they,
With but one word, or e'en a look
From him who had his friends forsook,
And stood apledged before high Heaven,
That he would see their fetters riven:
That he would be their fathful guide,
And lead them past the crimson tide,
Athrough the wilderness that lay
Between their night and that bright day
Which shines forever on the rest
Of all the worthy, free and blest;


That he their Moses would become
And bring them to the freeman's home --
That he their cause would ne'er forsake,
Nor his pledge nor promise break,
Till every bondsman in the land
Should on the plains of freedom stand --
Pledged to the sacred cause of truth;
Pledged in the early days of youth;
Pledged by the summer, the winter and spring,
And pledged by all that truth may bring.


And now, that he sits in high estate
And holds the interests of the great;
The interest of the passing poor --
Their interest now and evermore
Within the hollow of his hand,
Oh! will he, will he firmly stand?
Or, in the mantlings of the just
Will he betray his sacred trust?


Forbid it, Heaven! O, Heaven, forbid!
And moisten not the trusting lid
With scalding teardrops from the heart,
Which needs must flow should he depart
Now, from the sacred cause of truth,
And from the pledges of his youth.
To these, oh, may he ever stand!


Firm as the mountains of his land!
And from his high, majestic place,
Look favoring on an injured race,
And use his Heaven-entrusted might,
To raise them from oppression's night,
And in this all-auspicious hour,
Invest them with a freeman's power:
Whereby they may themselves protect
Against the wiles of base neglect,
And cause this glorious land to be,
In fact, the home-land of the free.


Then shall mankind call him blest,
And when he sinks to his quiet rest,
From that bright, hoary autumn, he will look back and see
This broad land -- all happy and free.

Next Poem 

 Back to
James Madison Bell