I meet people who cannot love their motherland. These are usually those who were told lies in school about the nation, then disillusioned when they heard the truth. Some few are the pharisaical souls that can only love what is perfect. They judge harshly. For example, ancient Athens was a city built on slavery where only men could vote. This is bad: no excuses. Still, the republic of ancient Athens spread as far as any place up to that time and produced a literature so compelling that the republican vision lasted into the future. Nobody would wish to live in ancient Athens now, but the vision of that republic has been made better in many lands. The vote has been spread. One need not say one good word about any evil Athens did to glory in that gift to the world.
Nothing can justify the race based slavery in America. The bulk of Christians at the time knew it was wrong and they had to harden into the heresy of white supremacy to sustain their lust for power and greed for wealth. This sapped the virtues of the American Republic, debauched our leadership, and left a wound still unhealed with reparations still to come. The Civil War was a downpayment, Reconstruction a payment plan suspended and so the work continues.
All this is true, undeniably true. Yet in 1848 a women freed herself from chains, having seen the worst of her country, and had hope. She claimed her humanity given to her by Almighty God. She demanded that we be as beautiful as the land and true to our national vision. In Christian language she pointed out that we are all pilgrims. She was right. We are all headed to the undiscovered country as pilgrims. We are in God’s creation, headed to God’s paradise.
Her mind was and is free. She is in a world created by God that a person may occupy, but not truly own. She could, like the American eagle, soar above our sins and see what is: God’s land and God’s natural beauty. This was her own and she was a lady in that creation and her meditation was on liberty.
There is in this poem a hope that states like those in the North will make good the promise of emancipation. The slave states will diminish and the Union will not exist half slave and half free. She had hope, she called the nation to live up to our words. She was unwilling to hide her God given glory and pride: she was the American Eagle. This hearkens to Revelation 8: 13 in the New Testament:
And I beheld, and heard an angel (an eagle) flying through the midst of heaven, saying with a loud voice, Woe, woe, woe, to the inhabiters of the earth by reason of the other voices of the trumpet of the three angels, which are yet to sound!
The woe would not merely “fall on us” passively, but this American Eagle, this visionary Black woman, saw that she would tear down the debauched flag. She would be the instrument of doom, because she was a “son of Liberty.” This is a powerful vision, true so frightening, but also strangely hopeful. This Lady, this American Eagle, had hope that we could make the world true. She loved the beautiful land and the best ideas.
Song of the American Eagle
By A Lady of Vermont [Brandon, Vermont]
The North Star, January 7, 1848
I build my nest on the mountain’s crest,
Where the wild winds rock my eaglets to rest;
Where the lightnings flash and the thunders crash,
And the roaring torrents foam and dash:
For my spirit free henceforth shall be,
A type for the sons of Liberty.
Aloft I fly, from my eyrie high,
Through the vaulted dome of the azure sky;
On a sunbeam bright take my airy flight,
And float in flood of liquid light:
for I love to play in the noontide ray,
And bask in a blaze from the throne of Day.
Away I spring, with a tireless wing,
On the feathery cloud I poise and swing;
I dart down the steep where the lightning leap,
And the clear blue canopy slowly sweep:
For dear to me is the revelry
Of a free and fearless Liberty.
I love the land where the mountains stand,
Like the watchtowers high of a patriot band:
For I may not hide, in my glory and pride,
Though the land be ever so fair and wide,
Where Luxury reigns o’er voluptuous plains,
And fetters the freeborn soul in chains.
Then give to me in my flight to see
The land of the pilgrims ever free;
And I ne’er will rove from the haunts I love,
But watch, from my sentinel track above,
Your banner free over land and sea,
And exult in your glorious destiny.
Oh, guard ye well the land where I dwell,
Lest to future times the tale I tell,
When slow expires in smoldering fires
The goodly heritage of your sires,
How Freedom’s light rose clear and bright
From fair Columbia’s beacon-height,
Till ye quenched the flame in a starless night.
Then will I tear from your pennon fair
The stars ye set in triumph there!
My olive branch on the blast I’ll launch,
The flattering stripes from the flag-staff wrench!
And away I’ll flee, for I scorn to see
A craven race in the land of the free.*
*Voices Beyond Bondage . NewSouth Books. Kindle Edition.