Whittier as Abolitionist

The Hunters of Men

Fugitive slave being chased by dogs and menWhittier attacked the hunting of fugitive slaves in “The Hunters of Men,” to which he later attached an introductory note: Like many of his pre-war poems, Whittier puts his faith in public pressure to end slavery without war.

“These lines were written when the orators of the American Colonization Society were demanding that the free blacks should be sent to Africa, and opposing Emancipation unless expatriation followed.  See the report of the proceedings of the society at its annual meeting in 1834.”

The Hunters of Men

Oh, goodly and grand is our hunting to see,
In this "land of the brave and this home of the free,"
Priest, warrior, and statesman, from Georgia to Maine,
All mounting the saddle, all grasping the rein;
Right merrily hunting the black man, whose sin
Is the curl of his hair and the hue of his skin!


He then suggests, with irony, that these “hunters” will give it up if they don’t get “alms,” or approval. As a Pacifist, Whittier put his faith in public opinion and passive resistance to slavery.

Alms, alms for our hunters! Why will ye delay,
When their pride and their glory are melting away?
The parson has turned; for, on charge of his own,
Who goeth a warfare, or hunting, alone?
The politic statesman looks back with a sigh,
There is doubt in his heart, there is fear in his eye.
Oh, haste, lest that doubting and fear shall prevail,
And the head of his steed take the place of the tail.
Oh, haste, ere he leave us! For who will ride then,
For pleasure or gain, to the hunting of men?

Full text of "The Hunters of Men"

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