American Liberty

Sit mini fas audits loqui
Jove fix’d it certain, that whatever day
Makes Man a slave, takes half his worth away


Present Situation of Affairs in North-America.—Address to the Deity.— Unhappy Situation of New-England, in particular.—The first Emigrations of the Colonists from Europe.—Cruelties of the Indian Natives.— All our Hopes of future Safety depend secondarily on our present Resolution and Activity.—Impossible for British Soldiers to join heartily for the purpose of enslaving us.—Present happy Unanimity among the Colonies.—The Baseness of pensioned Writers against their native Country.—General Gage's late Proclamation.—The Odium consequent upon his Undertaking his present Office.—Character of a weak Monarch.— Popery established in Canada.—General Washington.—The Honourable Continental Congress.—Hancock.—Adams.—Invitation to Foreigners to retire hither from their respective Slavish Regions.—Bravery of the New-England Forces in the late Engagements.—The determined Resolution of the Colonies to be free.—The future Happiness of America if she surmounts the present Difficulties.

Once more Bellona, forc’d upon the stage,
Inspires new fury, and awakes her rage,
From North to South her thun’dring trumpet spreads
Tumults, and war and death, and daring deeds.
What breast but kindles at the martial sound?
What heart but bleeds to feel its country’s wound?
For thee, blest freedom, to protect thy sway,
We rush undaunted to the bloody fray;
For thee, each province arms its vig’rous host,
Content to die, e’er freedom shall be lost.
   Kind watchful power, on whose supreme command
The fate of monarchs, empires, worlds depend,
Grant, in a cause thy wisdom must approve,
Undaunted valour kindled from above,
Let not our souls descend to dastard fear,
Be valour, prudence both united here,
Now as of old thy mighty arm display;
Relieve the opprest, and saving power convey.
’Tis done, and see th’ omnipotent befriends,
The sword of Gideon, and of God descends.
   Ah, see with grief fair Massachusetts’ plains,
The seat of war, and death’s terrific scenes;
Where darling peace with smiling aspect stood,
Lo! the grim soldier stalks in quest of blood:
What madness, heaven, has made Britannia frown?
Who plans our schemes to pull Columbia * down?
See Boston groan beneath the strong blockade,
Her freedom vanish’d, and destroy’d her trade;
Injur’d, opprest, no tyrant could exceed
The cruel vengeance of so base a deed.
   New Albion’s ** sons whom honest freedom moves,
(My heart admires them, and my verse approves),
Tir’d of oppression in a Stuart’s reign,
A Popish faction, ministerial train;
Bravely resolv’d to leave their native shore
And some new world, they knew not where, explore,
Far in the West, beyond where Poets said,
The Sun retir’d, and Cynthia went to bed.
Few then had seen the scarce discover’d Bourne,
From whence like death yet fewer did return:
Dire truths from thence the wand’ring sailor brought,
Enlarg’d by terror, and the power of thought,
With all the forms that pict’ring fancy gives,
With all the dread that in idea lives;
Fierce Cannibals that sought the blood of man,
Vast cruel tribes that through the desart ran,
Giants whose height transcends the tow’ring oak,
Brutes with whose screams the trembling forest shook,—
All these and more they held no cause of fear,
Since naught but slavery, dreadful could appear.
   Ah, see the day, distressful to the view,
Wives, husbands, fathers, bid a long adieu.
   Dear native land, how heav’d the heavy sigh,
When thy last mountains vanish’d on the eye;
Then their frail barks, just enter’d on the sea,
Pursu’d the long, uncomfortable way:
But pitying heav’n the just design surveys,
Sends prosp’rous gales, and wafts them o’er the seas.
   Behold the shore; no rising cities there,
To hail them welcome from the sea appear,
In the wild woods the exil’d host were spread,
The heavens their covering, and the earth their bed:
What expectations but a life of woe?
Unnumber’d myriads of the savage foe,
Whose brutal fury rais’d, at once might sweep
The adventurers all to death’s destructive sleep;
Yet ‘midst this scene of horror and despair,
Stout industry began his office here,
Made forests bend beneath his sturdy stroke,
Made oxen groan beneath the sweaty yoke,
Till half the desart smil’d and look’d as gay
As northern gardens in the bloom of May.
   But ah, review the sorrows interwove,
How the fierce native with the stranger strove;—
So heaven’s bright lamp, the all-reviving sun,
Just as his flaming journey is begun,
Mists, fogs and vapours, sprung from damps of night,
Mount up and strive to dim the approach of light;
But he in triumph darts his piercing ray,
Scatters their forces and pursues his way.
Oft when the husband did his labour leave
To meet his little family at eve,
Stretch’d in their blood he saw each well known face,
His dear companion and his youthful race;
Perhaps the scalp with barbarous fury torn,
The visage mangled, and the babe unborn
Ripp’d from its dark abode, to view the sun,
Ere nature finish’d half she had begun.
   And should we now when spread thro’ ev’ry shore,
Submit to that our fathers shunn’d before?
Should we, just heaven, our blood and labour spent,
Be slaves and minions to a parliament?
Perish the thought, nor may one wretch remain,
Who dares not fight and in our cause be slain;
The cause of freedom daunts the hireling foe,
And gives each Sampson’s strength toward the blow,
And each, like him whom fear nor force confines,
Destroys a thousand modern Philistines.
   Who fights to take our liberty away,
Dead-hearted fights and falls an easy prey;
The cause, the cause, most cruel to enslave,
Disheartens thousands, and unmans the brave:
Who could have thought that Britons bore a heart,
Or British troops to act so base a part?
Britons of old renown’d, can they descend
T’ enslave their brethren in a foreign land?
What oath, what oath, inform us if you can,
Binds them to act below the worth of man?
Can they whom half the world admires, can they
Be advocates for vile despotic sway?
Shall they, to every shore and clime renown’d,
Enforce those acts that tyranny did found?
‘Yet sure if this be their resolv’d design,
‘Conquer they shall where’er the sun doth shine;
‘No expedition prov’d unhappy yet,
‘Can we Havanna’s bloody siege forget,
‘Where British cannon the strong fortress tore,
‘And wing’d whole legions to its infernal shore.
‘Or does the voice of fame so soon forego
‘Gibraltar’s action, and the vanquish’d foe,
‘Where art and nature both at once combin’d
‘To baffle all our hardy troops design’d?—
‘Yet there Britannia’s arms successful sped,
‘While haughty Spaniards trembled, felt and fled.’
   So say the pensioned fools of slavery,
So say our traitors, but so say not I—
(Tories or traitors, call them what you choose,
Tories are rogues, and traitors imps broke loose).
But know, ye few, the scandal of our land,
On whom returns the blood that we expend,
Those troops whose fears are told on every shore,
Here lose their spirit and are brave no more;
When armies fight to gain some cruel cause,
Establish tyrants or destructive laws,
True courage scorns to inspire the hateful crew,
Recall past fame, or spur them on to new;
Dark boding thoughts the heavy soul possess,
And ancient valour turns to cowardice.
   Dark was the prospect, gloomy was the scene,
When traitors join’d to break our union chain:
But soon, by heaven inspir’d, arose the cry,
Freedom or death, unite, unite or die.
Now far and wide a manly spirit reigns,
From Canada to Georgia’s sun burnt plains;
Few now insult with falsehood’s shameless pen.
Monsters from Tophet, driv’n in shapes of men:
Few pension’d scribblers left the daring head,
Some have turn’d lunatics and some have fled—
Some, late converted, scarce their pensions hold.
And from mere force disdain the charms of gold.
   What deep offence has fir’d a monarch’s rage,
What moonstruck madness seized the brain of Gage?
Laughs not the soul, when an imprison’d few
Affect to pardon those they can’t subdue?
Tho’ twice repuls’d and hemm’d up to their stations,
Yet issue pardons, oaths, and proclamations,
As if at sea some desperate madman crew
Should threat the tempest with what they could do,
And like proud Xerxes lash the angry waves,
At the same instant that they find their graves.
   But not the pomps and favours of a crown,
A nation’s anger, or a statesman’s frown,
Could draw the virtuous man from virtue’s way,
To chain by force what treach’ry can’t betray.
Virtue disdains to own tyrannic laws,
Takes part with freedom, and assumes its cause;
No part had she, her fiercest forces own,
To bring so far this heavy vengeance on;
She stood with Romans while their hearts were true,
And so she shall, Americans, with you.
   Should heaven in wrath decree some nation’s fall,
Whose crimes from thence for sacred vengeance call,
A monarch first of vulgar soul should rise,
A sure fore-runner of its obsequies,
Whose heart should glow with not one gen’rous thought,
Born to oppress, to propagate, and rot.
Whose lengthen’d reign no deed of worth should grace,
None trusted but a servile pensioned race;
Too dull to know what saving course to take,
That heaven in time its purpose might forsake,
Too obstinately will’d to bow his ear
To groaning thousands or petitions hear,
Dare break all oaths that bind the just like fate,
Oaths, that th’ Arch-Devil would blush to violate,
And, foe to truth, both oaths and honour sell,
To establish principles, the growth of hell,—
Still those who aim to be his truest friends,
Traitors, insidious rebels, madmen, fiends,
Hoodwink’d and blind, deceived by secret foes,
Whose fathers once with exil’d tyrants rose,
Bless’d with as little sense as God e’er gave,
Slave to wrong schemes, dupe to a noble knave.
So odd a monarch heaven in wrath would plan,
And such would be the fury of a man.
   See far and wide o’er long Canadia’s plains,
Old popish fraud and superstition reigns;
The scarlet whore long hath heaven withstood,
Who cries for murder and who thirsts for blood,
Establish’d there, marks down each destined name,
And plants the stake impatient for the flame,
With sanguinary soul her trade begins,
To doom her foes to hell or pardon sins;
Her crafty priests their impious rites maintain,
And crucify their Saviour once again;
Defend his rights, who, scatt’ring lies abroad,
With shameless front usurps the seat of God:
Those are, we fear, who his vile cause assert,
But half reform’d and papists at the heart.
   Bear me some power as far as the winds can blow,
As ships can travel, or as waves can flow,
To some lone island beyond the southern pole,
Or lands round which pacific waters roll,
There should oblivion stop the heaving sigh,
There should I live at least with liberty.
But honour checks my speed and bids me stay,
To try the fortune of the well fought day.
Resentment for my country’s fate I bear,
And mix with thousands for the willing war;
See Washington New Albion’s freedom owns,
And moves to war with half Virginia’s sons,
Bold in the fight, whose actions might have aw’d
A Roman Hero, or a Grecian God.
He, he, as first his gallant troops shall lead,
Undaunted man, a second Diomede;
As when he fought at wild Ohio’s flood,
When savage thousands issu’d from the wood,
When Braddock’s fall disgrac’d the mighty day,
And Death himself stood weeping o’er his prey,
When doubting vict’ry chang’d from side to side,
And Indian sod with Indian blood was dy’d,
When the last charge repuls’d th’ invenom’d foe,
And lightnings lit them to the shades below.
   See where from various distant climes unites
A generous council to protect our rights,
Fix’d on a base too steadfast to be mov’d,
Loving their country, by their country lov’d,
Great guardians of our freedom, we pursue
Each patriot measure as inspir’d by you,
Columbia, nor shall fame deny it owes
Past safety to the counsel you propose;
And if they do not keep Columbia free,
What will alas! become of Liberty?
Great souls grow bolder in their country’s cause,
Detest enslavers, and despise their laws.
O Congress fam’d, accept this humble lay,
The little tribute that the muse can pay;
On you depends Columbia’s future fate,
A free asylum or a wretched state.
Fall’n on disastrous times we push our plea,
Heard or not heard, and struggle to be free.
Born to contend, our lives we place at stake,
And grow immortal by the stand we make.
   O you, who, far from liberty detain’d,
Wear out existence in some slavish land,
Fly thence from tyrants, and their flatt’ring throng,
And bring the fiery freeborn soul along.
Neptune for you shall smooth the hoary deep,
   And awe the wild tumultuous waves to sleep;
Here vernal woods, and flow’ry meadows blow,
Luxuriant harvests in rich plenty grow,
Commerce extends as far as waves can roll,
And freedom, God-like freedom, crowns the whole.
And you, brave men, who scorn the dread of death,
Resolv’d to conquer to the latest breath,
Soldiers in act, and heroes in renown,
Warm in the cause of Boston’s hapless town,
Still guard each pass; like ancient Romans, you
At once are soldiers, and are farmers too;
Still arm impatient for the vengeful blow,
And rush intrepid on the yielding foe;
As when of late midst clouds of fire and smoke,
Whole squadrons fell, or to the center shook,
And even the bravest to your arm gave way,
And death, exulting, ey’d the unhappy fray.
Behold, your Warren bleeds, who both inspir’d
To noble deeds, and by his actions fir’d;
What pity, heaven!—but you who yet remain
Affect his spirit as you lov’d the man:
Once more, and yet once more for freedom strive,
To be a slave what wretch would dare to live?
We too to the last drop our blood will drain,
And not till then shall hated slavery reign,
When every effort, every hope is o’er,
And lost Columbia swells our breasts no more.
   O if that day, which heaven avert, must come,
And fathers, husbands, children, meet their doom,
Let one brave onset yet that doom precede,
To shew the world America can bleed,
One thund’ring raise the midnight cry,
And one last flame send Boston to the sky.
   But cease, foreboding Muse, not strive to see
Dark times deriv’d by fatal destiny;
If ever heaven befriended the distrest,
If ever valour succour’d those opprest,
Let America rejoice, thy standard rear,
Let the loud trumpet animate to war:
Thy guardian Genius, haste thee on thy way,
To strike whole hosts with terror and dismay.
   Happy some land, which all for freedom gave,
Happier the men whom their own virtues save;
Thrice happy we who long attacks have stood,
And swam to Liberty thro’ seas of blood;
The time shall come when strangers rule no more,
Nor cruel mandates vex from Britain’s shore;
When Commerce shall extend her short’ned wing,
And her free freights from every climate bring;
When mighty towns shall flourish free and great,
Vast their dominion, opulent their state;
When one vast cultivated region teems,
From ocean’s edge to Mississippi’s streams;
While each enjoys his vineyard’s peaceful shade,
And even the meanest has no cause to dread;
Such is the life our foes with envy see,
Such is the godlike glory to be free.

* Columbia, American sometimes so called, from Columbus the first discoverer
** New Albion, properly New England, but is often applied to all British American


This poem is in the public domain.

About this Poem

On July 6,1775, there appeared an advertisement in Holt’s New York Journal, “humbly addressed to all true lovers of this once flourishing country, whether they shine as soldiers or statesmen,” announcing the sale, at John Anderson’s bookstore on Beekman’s Slip, of a poem by Philip Freneau. “American Liberty” was his first loud blast against the British, addressed not only to the men who stood fast against the stronger armament of General Gage’s troops in Boston, but to patriots everywhere who still wavered before the implications of the emerging struggle.