James Madison Bell

The Dawn Of Freedom

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When summer's hot and sultry rays
Are burdening our summer days,
And men and beast are sore oppress'd,
And vainly sigh and pant for rest;
Rest from the turbid cares of life,
Their wild convulsions and its strife --
Then something whispers in our ear,
And tells us of a covert near;
A quiet, soft and cool retreat,
Where morn and evening dew drops meet;
Where Nature, in her gorgeous dress,
Stands forth in all her loveliness;
And where the gentle zephyrs play,
And sport with leaflets all the day.
Oh! who would not for such a scene
Of artless beauty, native sheen,
Turn from the busy haunts of men,
And from the city's noxious fen,
And hie to some sequestered nook,
Some peaceful dell beside the brook,
Or bask within the ample shade
Of some proud monarch of the glade,
Where every passing breath of air,
Comes fraught with odors rich and rare;
Though housed beneath this sylvan bower,
Where Sol's hot rays lose half their power,
And where the green sward at our feet,
Invites us to an humble seat,
Yet come we not from homes afar,
By coach and boat and flying car,
These native scenes to eulogize,
How much soe'er their wealth we prize.
'Tis not of thee my native land,
Nor of thy triple folds so bright,
Nor of thy legions proud and grand,
That slew oppression in the fight.
'Tis not of thee, though worthy thou
Of many a song and plighted vow.
'Tis not of thee that we have ta'en,
Our harp to wake its humble strain;
But of a land and far away,
Bathed by the ever restless sea;
A land where freedom's sons to-day,
Are met in gladsome jubilee.
With them we would commemorate
An epoch in the march of years,
An epoch ever proud and great,
The chief of freedom's pioneers.
A day that saw a million chains
Fall from a million shackled limbs,
And heard a million glad refrains,
Of mingled shouts and prayers and hymns.
A day that saw a million men
Stand up in God's pure sunlight free,
Who never in all their lives till then,
Had breathed one breath of liberty.
The driver's horn, at early morn,
Had bid them to their task repair,
Where oft the lash, and many a gash
Was waiting their arrival there.
And thus they had from youth to age,
And from the cradle to the tomb,
Been driven forth from stage to stage,
Through moral night and mental gloom.
The day that saw their fetters riven;
The day that saw their gloom depart,
And heard their prayers and thank-shouts given
To freedom's God, fresh from the heart.
They've met to-day to celebrate,
And while they sing our songs shall rise,
And bowing, we shall venerate
A common parent in the skies.
Hail! hail! glad day, thy blest return,
We greet with prayer and speech and song,
And while from eulogies full urn,
We drink to thee, march proudly on.
March proudly on as heretofore,
Thou Black man's borrowed day of joy,
For long our native land was poor,
Too poor to yield such grand employ;
Columbia had her many days
Of frolic, sport and joy, and glee;
But none of universal praise;
No soul-inspiring jubilee;
No day on which, from palace dome
And from the lowly thatched-roof tent,
Would mutual heartfelt greetings come,
Memorial of some grand event.
She had her Independence day,
But what was July's Fourth to him
Whose class and kind and kindred lay,
All fetter-bound in mind and limb;
And what the pilgrim's yearly feast,
And what the birth of Washington,
To him whose grievous bonds increased
With each new day's unfolding sun?
He had no day -- there was not one
Of all the days that formed the year,
Which did not point to wrongs begun,
And oft beguile him of a tear.
And thus ten score of years passed by,
And yet no star of hope arose --
No rainbow arched his gloomy sky,
Nor respite offered to his woes.
Hence, when at length the British Isles,
Burst forth in shouts of liberty,
He set at naught a thousand miles,
And joined them in their jubilee.
Glad but to know on God's green earth,
One spot was consecrate and free,
Where Truth and right had given birth
Unto a black man's jubilee!
Though subjects of another land,
And dwellers 'mid a tropic sea,
Yet they, like him, had worn the brand,
And now were what he longed to be.
And in that act he faintly scan'd
The outstretched arms of Deity;
Extending t'ward his native land,
The golden wand of Liberty,
And dimly saw four million chains,
In broken wild disorder lay,
And Slavery's blight with all its stains,
Banished his native land for aye --
Hence, when upon the wheels of time,
The glorious First would roll its round,
His gladsome notes with theirs would chime,
And cause the valleys to resound --
In honor of that day and deed
When Briton's swarthy sons were freed --
That day when Justice wrenched from Might
The keys of power so long detained,
And clothed on man his every right,
Which foul oppression had restrained.
That day, when, after twenty years'
Persistence, pleading and appeal,
Midst all the scorn and taunt and jeers
That selfish bigots dare reveal --
When those who pleaded had grown gray,
And many, alas! had passed away --
Passed away, and left undone
The work their noble hearts begun.
But Wilberforce -- long live his name!
With trembling voice, still pressed his claim
In Parliament, in Court, or Hall;
His theme was, LIBERTY FOR ALL!
He claimed that Briton had no right
To suffer man, nor black nor white,
To wear perforce a slavish chain
Within her realm, by land or main,
That such too long had been the case.
And even then, to her disgrace,
A group of Isles, far out from land,
And sheltering 'neath her own command,
Were pouring forth a piteous wail
On every breeze and passing gale.
His voice at length Britannia heard,
And lo! her mighty heart was stirred --
Stirred for the tale so often told,
And unto thousands had grown old,
Fell for the first time on her ear,
And from her heart compelled a tear --
Compelled a tear for the man enchained --
Compelled a tear for the sin which stained
The proud escutcheon of her land,
And stamped it with a slaver's brand.
Then swiftly went an edict forth,
Of grave importance, matchless worth;
Close followed by that proud decree
Which swept the land and swept the sea,
Where'er the British flag unfurled
Throughout the regions of the world,
And there established in the name
Of Briton's throne, of Britain's fame,
Upon the purest, broadest plan,
ETERNAL LIBERTY FOR MAN!
Then Freedom's joyous angel flew
With lightning speed o'er land and wave,
And loud her clarion trumpet blew,
And woke to life each panting slave.
Woke them to life? They did not sleep,
But there in anxious silence stood,
Waiting the welcome sound to sweep
Athwart Atlantic's briny flood.
And when the sound fell on their ear,
They laughed, they wept, they knelt in prayer;
And rising from their bended knees,
They sang in joyous ecstacies,
Till hill and vale and distant plain
Gave back the gladsome sound again.
Oh! for a Raphael's hand to draw
The matchless grandeur of that sight,
That earth might see as angels saw
From off the parapets of light;
For shining ones of heavenly birth
Bent o'er the jasper walls on high,
And caught the jubilant songs of earth,
And bore them upward to the sky;
And Heaven gave audience to the strain
Of those fair minstrels as they sang,
Gathering up the glad refrain
With which the hills and valleys rang,
And sending them forever on,
And on, and on, eternally;
For Heaven itself can boast no song
Of sweeter strain than Liberty.
The heart with exultation glows,
Discanting on the joyous theme
Of broken chains and buried woes --
'Twere glorious, though 'twere but a dream.
But since it is a truth sublime,
On history's page inscribed as such,
And brightening with the march of time,
We cannot say in praise too much.
We cannot laud the truth too high,
Nor praise too much the noble deed;
Nor can we brand too deep the lie
Where innocence is caused to bleed;
Nor can we say too much in praise
Of Britain's bloodless victory;
Nor of the glow and halo blaze
Which circled India's Jubilee,
When Freedom waved her wand and spoke,
And lo! a million chains were broke.
No weary interregnum lay
'Twixt Slavery's night and Freedom's day;
But when their fetters fell to earth,
'Twas followed by a very birth.
And in the change which there began,
Stood up a Briton and a man --
A Briton, in fact, in every sense,
His new creation to commence.
Though great as was this noble deed,
Whereby a million souls were freed,
And a million Britons made
Of men, whom crime had long betrayed.
Yet 'twas no action based upon
Some worthy deed these may have done --
Some service rendered in a time
Of revolution, blood and crime.
No, these had no such claims to press --
Their only plea was their distress;
They ne'er had fought 'gainst Scot or Dane,
That British freedom might obtain;
Nor had they in dread peril's hour,
When bravest hearts were wont to cower,
Been called to take a patriot's stand
And quell the treason of the land.
Yet, when their liberties were given
'Twas like the genial rays of heaven --
So pure, so just -- no rights denied;
'Twas Freedom, broad, unqualified.
Yes, Freedom in its broadest sense,
Of unrestrained significance;
No force work that -- no soulless cheat;
But thorough, once done and complete!
In this, Britannia's proudest act,
The world beheld a noble fact;
They saw what truth had long required --
Humanity had long desired --
They saw it, and they understood,
For Britain did it as she should;
She broke the yoke, banished the chain,
And left no link thereof remain!
No, not in all her broad spread land
Left she a relic of the brand!
But let us here a question press:
Could she, in justice, have done less;
Could she a single right suppress
And not have made a mockery
Of all her towers of Liberty?
Would not the whole, from base to dome,
Become the meanest cheat, a sham, a gnome
Whereon the finger of disdain
Might trace the link-marks of the chain?
Though men may prate of Blacks and Whites,
There is no such thing as halving rights!
All partial justice is unjust,
And merits man's profound distrust!
In truth there is no safety short
Of freedom's unrestrained resort;
All less than this is tyranny --
All more than that is bigotry.
The principle, that dare withold
The least known rights, on growing bold,
Would grind the subject to a brute
And e'en the claim to life dispute,
Despite all vain prerogatives!
Despite the fame which power gives --
Despite the verdict of the throng.
What e'er curtails a right is wrong
And quite as wrong in temperate zone
As 'twere beneath a tropic sky;
'Neath a Republic or a Throne
'Twere but the same, a heartless lie!
'Gainst which in Truth all conquering might
The brave should arm themselves and fight
For manhood, self-hood and the right,
Valiant and fearless, though all alone,
Knowing that if they battle on,
That in the future ever near
To those who fight, and trust and fear,
Success will crown their work of love,
And God, in smiling from above,
Will say, "Well done, faithful and true,
A crown of stars and a robe's thy due!"
Now cast your eyes o'er this fair land,
Where hopes and fears alternate rise,
Where long the demon of the brand
Stalked boldly forth in native guise.
Here, where in opulence he sat,
And waved his ebon rod of might,
And waved it where our rulers met,
And many trembled at the sight,
Their trembling fed his arrogance
And flattered his ambitious dream,
Till puffed with vain intolerance,
He dared aspire to rule supreme,
And seized the dictatorial chair --
Blandished the weapons of his power,
And by his own vain greatness swore
To rule or ruin from that hour.
Then rose the legions of the North
In all their majesty and might,
And 'gainst his minions and the South
Went forth to battle and to fight;
And after much of wasted life,
Attended by a fearful cost,
The South, o'ercome, gave up the strife,
And all her hopes as staked and lost.
Had then this land her duty done,
In justice and without delay,
There would have been beneath the sun
No land so free as this today.
Not only would the chain be broke,
But veil be rent and wall removed,
And all that would the taunt provoke
In simple justice disapprove
All the base relics of the night,
Of barbarism's foulsome reign;
We should have banished at the sight
Of reason's torch and freedom's train,
For there's no spot where in its pride
Yon tri-hued starry flag doth wave,
That manhood's claims should be denied,
Or rights withheld the recent slave.
The yester bondsman must be made
Not only part, but wholly free:
There must not live a single shade
To dim his manhood's liberty;
When such obtains, throughout the land,
Then shall this gladsome song be sung
By myriad voices proud and grand,
The aged mingling with the young:
"The long black night of bondage,
With all its fiendish train,
Of nameless wrongs and outrage,
At length has ceased to reign;
And Freedom has arisen,
And gone forth in her might,
Nor left a slavish prison
Her glorious name to blight;
And chains that were enthralling,
The friendless and the poor,
And yokes that were so galling,
Have changed to molten ore;
And o'er our mighty nation,
Now and forever free,
Floats proud in exultation,
Our Bird of Liberty.
Throw out your starry banners,
And let them float the gale,
Sweeping our broad Savannas,
With freedom in their trail --
Out, out! on every flag-staff,
Or low or towering grand,
Out and let the welkin laugh
In honor of our land;
And you, ye lofty mountains,
And gorgeous vales profound,
Where gush forth crystal fountains,
Your gladsome notes resound;
And lake and flowing river,
And streamlets everywhere,
In ripling wavelets quiver
The joys ye would declare;
And merry woodland songsters,
And beast and lowing kine,
And fish and ocean monster
Your varied notes combine --
Then shall the sons of gladness,
Five millions, wronged, arise,
And with the shouts of gladness
All nature vocalize,
Until the hosts of Heaven
Shall catch the joyous strain,
Floating aloft unriven,
From mountain, vale and main;
And by that crystal river,
And on that glassy sea,
Where harpers stand forever,
Reecho Liberty;
For O, there is in earth or Heaven
No sweeter note or purer key
To mortals known, or angels given,
Than peerless, chainless Liberty!"
Now in conclusion e'er we lay
Our shattered harp in silence by,
To westward turn the mental eye,
And once more greet the far away.
Though years have passed since freedom's morn,
First dawned on those glad Isles at sea,
Yet there to-day is upward borne,
The grateful peans of the free --
To God, who holds within his hands
The destiny of men and lands;
The destiny of every sphere
In heaven's blue fields remote or near --
To Him, God of the earth and skies,
To-day their songs and prayers arise.
And thus we stretch our puny arm,
Across the broad, unfathomed deep,
With heart-congratulations warm,
For all the free-born joys they reap.
Long may their Island-home remain,
As now, beneath the fostering care
Of Freedom's wise and glorious reign,
Where each his manly rights may share.
Long may the banner of the free,
Wave o'er them in its purity --
Pure as the zephyrs in their flight --
Chaste as the radiant stars of night.

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James Madison Bell