Le Marais du Cygne - Security Boulevard

SBN Le Marais du Cygne

By John Greenleaf Whittier
September 1858 (Atlantic Monthly)

A blush as of roses
Where rose never grew!
Great drops on the bunch-grass,
But not of the dew!
A taint in the sweet air
For wild bees to shun!
A stain that shall never
Bleach out in the sun.

Back, steed of the prairies
Sweet song-bird, fly back!
Wheel hither, bald vulture!
Gray wolf, call thy pack!
The foul human vultures
Have feasted and fled;
The wolves of the Border
Have crept from the dead.

From the hearths of their cabins,
The fields of their corn,
Unwarned and unweaponed,
The victims were torn,–
By the whirlwind of murder
Swooped up and swept on
To the low, reedy fen-lands,
The Marsh of the Swan.

With a vain plea for mercy
No stout knee was crooked;
In the mouths of the rifles
Right manly they looked.
How paled the May sunshine,
O Marais du Cygne!
On death for the strong life,
On red grass for green!

In the homes of their rearing,
Yet warm with their lives,
Ye wait the dead only,
Poor children and wives!
Put out the red forge-fire,
The smith shall not come;
Unyoke the brown oxen,
The ploughman lies dumb.

Wind slow from the Swan’s Marsh,
O dreary death-train,
With pressed lips as bloodless
As lips of the slain!
Kiss down the young eyelids,
Smooth down the gray hairs;
Let tears quench the curses
That burn through your prayers.

Strong man of the prairies,
Mourn bitter and wild!
Wail, desolate woman!
Weep, fatherless child!
But the grain of God springs up
From ashes beneath,
And the crown of his harvest
Is life out of death.

Not in vain on the dial
The shade moves along,
To point the great contrasts
Of right and of wrong:
Free homes and free altars,
Free prairie and flood,–
The reeds of the Swan’s Marsh,
Whose bloom is of blood!

On the lintels of Kansas
That blood shall not dry;
Henceforth the Bad Angel
Shall harmless go by;
Henceforth to the sunset,
Unchecked on her way,
Shall Liberty follow
The march of the day.

Background to this poem may be helpful for those studying conflict in America today:

FinConDX 2021

Slavery in 1820 had been formally abolished in the Missouri Compromise for the northern portion of the Louisiana Territory. It still was allowed to fester south of latitude 36 degrees 30′, with a very crucial exception made: a new slavery state of Missouri.

In other words an area prohibiting slavery (today known as Kansas and Nebraska) had been situated directly west of one created explicitly to expand slavery.

Instead of any actual balance, however, proslavery militants immediately gamed the compromise as an invitation to escalate tension: they stated any organization of western territories would be blocked from becoming states unless the 1820 ban on slavery was reversed.

It was in this context that the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 came about to work around the proslavery militant blockade — “popular sovereignty” (e.g. state’s rights) would be granted in new territory such that slavery could “peacefully” expand where it just had been prohibited.

The act had an almost immediate and opposite effect. Granting the right to decide whether to continue slavery headed the territory towards abolition (similar to the rest of the world).

The prospect of state’s rights suddenly very much angered the proslavery forces, as they obviously were deeply committed to violently preserving and expanding their business of human trafficking. When they agreed to the new state based on choice, they intended no choice at all.

On March 30th, 1855 proslavery militants by the thousands rode into Kansas attacking polling places and poisoning the votes; a flood of proslavery Missourians ruptured the Kansas political process.

Essentially a coup, Missouri violently staged a bogus proslavery puppet government in Kansas. Harsh censorship of speech and death penalties quickly became law, criminalizing freedom within what they expected to be an emergent white police state ruled by force.

Even President Pierce (northern politician who saw abolition as a threat to white rule) warned at the time that any attempts to organize a defense of freedom for Americans (abolition) would be treated as federally treasonous. This of course further amplified repeated violent attacks by proslavery forces on Kansas settlers if they dared to actually practice the state’s right to choose abolition.

Sovereignty of the state, while leaving the slavery question open, in other words had paved a road for terrorism from proslavery militias, which for decades in America had infamously been perpetuating and expanding slavery throughout the southern states (e.g. the colony of Georgia’s abolition of slavery in 1735 had been overturned by 1750, once Oglethorpe defeated the Spanish at the Battle of Bloody Marsh and returned to England).

Lincoln had plainly reported about the terrorism tactics in America twenty years prior to Kansas in 1837 and 1838 with regard to the murder of Lovejoy… such that by the time Kansas troubles were flaring up Lincoln described the situation like this:

Lovejoy’s tragic death for freedom in every sense marked his sad ending as the most important single event that ever happened in the new world.

That’s just some of the essential context for what became known as “Bloody Kansas” and set the stage for escalation in violence, as abolitionists organized state resistance despite federal opposition.

On May 24th, 1856 a life-long abolitionist man named John Brown announced he no longer could idly watch the terrorist attacks on Kansans.

“Something must be done to show these barbarians that we, too, have rights” Brown famously said after hearing that proslavery forces had burned Lawrence, Kansas to the ground and that abolitionist Senator Charles Sumner had been brutally attacked on the United States Senate floor by a proslavery Congressman.

Brown assembled a militia of his own, who pulled five proslavery men from their homes and brutally massacred them, allegedly as retribution for slavery’s centuries of terrorism. It was a new point in the defense of abolitionists, a page out of the Lovejoy story with a very different ending. Armed resistance to proslavery militant groups had finally galvanized.

Raids by proslavery terrorists into Kansas began to meet armed resistance. Men like James Montgomery and General James H. Lane had assembled stiff defense of Kansans, pushing back and warning they would hold the line on the new state’s right to abolish slavery.

It was soon after one of Montgomery’s actions when a group of nearly 30 proslavery militants rode from Missouri across the border into Trading Post, Kansas on May 19, 1858.

Charles Hamilton led the group, a man from Georgia who aimed to use gruesome terror tactics to force slavery upon the new state.

1856 political cartoon of President Douglas’ platform that led to domestic terrorist groups trying to force Kansas settlers to expand slavery.

Hamilton ordered the capture of men that he had met personally and befriended during reconnaissance in Kansas. Eleven were targeted by him. They were gathered without any inclination of what Hamilton intended, and marched towards the border. The poem above put it like this:

From the hearths of their cabins,
The fields of their corn,
Unwarned and unweaponed,
The victims were torn,–

As they neared Missouri the group was told to line up in a ravine, where Hamilton ordered their mass execution.

Hamilton allegedly even dismounted and demanded all his men fire to ensure these innocent Americans would be dead. Five were killed yet five escaped. The eleventh survived unharmed pretending to be dead.

News spread quickly of the massacre by Hamilton near the Marais du Cygne river.

John Brown arrived soon after, establishing a substantial defensive fort near the site. He stayed at it through the summer and fall, and even staged a rescue mission by December into Missouri that liberated 11 slaves.

It was a year later in 1859 Brown very famously rode to Harper’s Ferry with bold plans to abolish slavery by force, attempting to ignite widespread armed resistance. Frederick Douglass explained this plan in a speech of 1881:

It must be admitted that Brown assumed tremendous responsibility in making war upon the peaceful people of Harper’s Ferry, but it must be remembered also that in his eye a slave-holding community could not be peaceable, but was, in the nature of the case, in one incessant state of war. To him such a community was not more sacred than a band of robbers: it was the right of any one to assault it by day or night. He saw no hope that slavery would ever be abolished by moral or political means.

On February 23, 1860 a Territorial Legislature passed a bill over the governor’s veto abolishing slavery in Kansas. And on January 21, 1861 Kansas joined the Union as a free state.

John Brown, as President Pierce had warned, was dubiously hanged on December 2, 1859 for treason… which ironically made the proslavery militants confident no one would dare resist them again, while the exact opposite happened.

When proslavery forces in April of 1861 launched their aggressive war to expand slavery they faced resistance known today as the Civil War.

And Hamilton? He had returned to Georgia after the massacre, eventually serving in the Civil War as a proslavery Colonel under General Lee. Lee had been a Colonel himself when he was the man ordered to march on Harper’s Ferry to arrest John Brown and send him to the gallows.

And just like in Kansas, despite Hamilton and Lee’s immorality, brutal tactics and terrorism, they lost. As the poem foreshadowed…

On the lintels of Kansas
That blood shall not dry;
Henceforth the Bad Angel
Shall harmless go by;
Henceforth to the sunset,
Unchecked on her way,
Shall Liberty follow
The march of the day.

*** This is a Security Bloggers Network syndicated blog from flyingpenguin authored by Davi Ottenheimer. Read the original post at: https://www.flyingpenguin.com/?p=36253