The Embargo

Author: William Cullen Bryant  | Date: 1808



"When private faith and public trust are sold,

And traitors barter liberty for gold;

When fell corruption, dark, and deep, like fate,

Saps the foundation of a sinking state;

Then warmer numbers glow through satire’s page,

And all her smiles are darken’d into rage;

Then keener indignation fires her eye,

Then flash her lightnings, and her thunders fly!"



Look where we will, and in whatever land,

Europe’s rich soil, or Afric’s barren sand,

Where the wild savage hunts his wilder prey,

Or art and science pour their brightest day,

The monster Vice appears before our eyes,

In naked impudence, or gay disguise.

But quit the meaner game indignant muse,

And to thy country turn thy nobler views;

Ill-fated clime! condemn’d to feel th’ extremes,

Of a weak ruler’s philosophic dreams;

Driven headlong on, to ruin’s fateful brink,

When will thy country feel, when will she think!

Satiric muse, shall injured Commerce weep

Her ravish’d rights, and will thy thunders sleep;

Dart thy keen glances, knit thy threat’ning brows,

call fire from heaven to blast thy country’s foes.

Oh let a youth thine inspiration learn-

Oh give him "words that breathe and thoughts that burn"!

Curse of our nation, source of countless woes,

From whose dark womb unreckon’d misery flows,

Th’ Embargo rages, like a sweeping wind,

Fear lowers before, and famine stalks behind.

What words, O Muse! can paint the mournful scene,

The saddening street, the desolated green;

How hungry labourers leave their toil and sigh,

And sorrow droops in each desponding eye!

See the bold Sailor from the Ocean torn,

His element, sink friendless and forlorn!

His suffering spouse the tear of anguish shed,

His starving children cry in vain for bread!

On the rough billows of misfortune tost,

Resources fail, and all his hopes are lost;

To foreign climes, for that relief he flies,

His native land ungratefully denies.

In vain Mechanics ply their curious art,

And bootless mourn the interdicted mart;

While our sage Ruler’s diplomatic skill,

Subjects our councils to his sovereign will;

His grand "restrictive energies" employs,

And wisely regulating trade- destroys.

The Farmer, since supporting trade is fled,

Leaves the rude joke, and cheerless hangs his head;

Misfortunes fall, an unremitting shower,

Debts follow debts, on taxes, taxes pour,-

See in his stores his hoarded produce rot,

Or Sheriff sales his profits bring to naught;

Disheartening cares in thronging myriads flow,

Till down he sinks to poverty and woe!

Ye, who rely on Jeffersonian skill;

And say that fancy paints ideal ill;

Go, on the wings of observation fly,

Cast o’er the land a scrutinizing eye;

States, counties, towns, remark with keen review,

Let facts convince and own the picture true!

Oh, ye bright pair! the blessing of mankind,

Whom time has sanction’d, and whom fate has join’d,

COMMERCE, that bears the trident of the main,

And AGRICULTURE, empress of the plain;

Who hand in hand, and heav’n-directed, go

Diffusing gladness through the world below;

Whoe’er the wretch, would hurl the flaming brand

Of dire disunion, palsied be his hand!

Like "Cromwell damn’d to everlasting fame,"

Let unborn ages execrate his name!

How foul a blot Columbia’s glory stains!

How dark the scene! infatuation reigns!

For French intrigue which wheedles to devour,

Threatens to fix us in Napoleon’s power;

Anon within th’ insatiate vortex whirl’d,

Whose wide periphery involves the world.

Oh, heaven defend, as future seasons roll,

These western climes from Bonaparte’s control;

Preserve our freedom, and our rights secure,

While truth subsists, and virtue shall endure!

Lo Austria crouches to the tyrant’s stroke,

And bends proud Rome beneath his galling yoke;

Infuriate, reeking with the spoils of war,

O’er prostrate kingdoms rolls his blood-stain’d car;

Embattled hosts in vain his fury meet,

Sceptres and crowns he treads beneath his feet.

Aspiring Belgia, once the patriot’s pride,

When barbarous Alva, her brave sons defied;

The nurse of arts, th’ advent’rous merchant’s boast,

Whose wide-spread commerce whiten’d every coast.

Humbled, degraded, by the vilest arts,

Beneath his iron scourge, succumbing smarts;

The crowded city, the canal’s green shore,

Fair haunts of free-born opulence, no more!

Ah, hapless land! where freedom lov’d to dwell,

Helvetia’s fall, what weeping bard shall tell!

Warn’d too by Lusitania’s fate, beware!-

Columbians wake! evade the deep laid snare!

Insensate! shall we ruin court, and fall,

Slaves to the proud autocrator of Gaul?

Our laws laid prostrate by his ruthless hand,

And independence banish’d from our land!

We who seven years erst brav’d Britannia’s power,

By Heaven supported in the gloomiest hour;

For whom our Sages plann’d, our Heroes bled,

Whom WASHINGTON, our pride, and glory led;

Till heaven propitious did our efforts crown

With freedom, commerce, plenty, and renown.

When shall this land, some courteous angel say,

Throw off a weak, and erring ruler’s sway?

Rise, injured people, vindicate your cause!

And prove your love of liberty and laws;

Oh wrest, sole refuge of a sinking land,

The sceptre from the slave’s imbecile hand!

Oh ne’er consent, obsequious, to advance,

The willing vassal of imperious France!

Correct that suffrage you misus’d before,

And lift your voice above a congress roar.

And thou, the scorn of every patriot name,

Thy country’s ruin, and her council’s shame!

Poor servile thing! derision of the brave!

Who erst from Tarleton fled to Carter’s cave;

Thou, who, when menac’d by perfidious Gaul,

Didst prostrate to her whisker’d minion fall;

And when our cash her empty bags supply’d,

Didst meanly strive the foul disgrace to hide;

Go, wretch, resign the presidential chair,

Disclose thy secret measures, foul or fair.

Go, search with curious eye, for horned frogs,

Mid the wild wastes of Louisianian bogs;

Or, where Ohio rolls his turbid stream,

Dig for huge bones, thy glory and thy theme.

Go, scan, Philosophist, thy ****** charms

And sink supinely in her sable arms;

But quit to abler hands the helm of state,

Nor image ruin on thy country’s fate!

Ah hapless State! with wayward councils curst,

Blind to thy weal, and to thy laws unjust;-

For, where their blasting "energies" extend,

Foes undermine and dire divisions rend;-

Who shall sustain thy gradual sinking form,

And guide thee safely through the gathering storm?

What guardian Angel shall conduct thee o’er

Misfortune’s ocean to a peaceful shore?-

Remove the source whence all thy troubles rose,

And shield from foreign and domestic foes!

Oh for a WASHINGTON, whose boundless mind,

Infolds his friends, his country, and mankind;

He might restore our happy state again,

And roll our Navy o’er the billowy main;

From all our shores bid lawless pirates fly,

And lift our wond’ring Eagle to the sky!

But vain are reason, eloquence, and art,

And vain the warm effusions of the heart.

E’en while I sing, see Faction urge her claim,

Mislead with falsehood, and with zeal inflame;

Lift her black banner, spread her empire wide,

And stalk triumphant with a fury’s stride.

She blows her brazen trump, and at the sound,

A motley throng, obedient, flock around;

A mist of changing hue, o’er all she flings,

And darkness perches on her dragon wings!

As Johnson deep, as Addison refin’d,

And skill’d to pour conviction o’er the mind,

Oh, might some patriot rise! the gloom dispel,

Chase error’s mist, and break her magic spell!

But vain the wish, for hark! the murmuring meed

Of hoarse applause from yonder shed proceed;

Enter, and view the thronging concourse there,

Intent, with gaping mouth, and stupid stare;

While in the midst their supple leader stands,

Harangues aloud, and flourishes his hands;

To adulation tunes his servile throat,

And sues successful for each blockhead’s vote.

"The advocate of liberty I stand,-

Oh were I made a ruler in the land!

Your interests none more cherishes than I,

In your sweet service, may I live and die!

For the dear people, how my bowels yearn!-

That such may govern be your chief concern;

Then federalism, and all its lordling train,

Shall fall disgrac’d before our equal reign;

Dismay’d, diminish’d, our fair presence shun,

As shadows shorten to the rising sun;

Spontaneous banquets shall succeed to want,

No tax shall vex you, and no sheriff haunt."

The powerful influence of the knave’s address,

In capers droll, the foolish dupes express;

With horrid shouts th’ affrighted sky is rent,

And high in air their tatter’d hats are sent.

But should truth shine distinguishingly bright,

And lay his meanness naked to the sight;

He tries new arts to blind their willing eyes,

Feeds with new flatt’ries, hammers out new lies;

Exerts his influence, urges all his weight,

To blast the laurels of the good and great;

Till reconfirm’d, the fools uphold him still,

Their creed his dictum, and their law his will.

Now morning rises borne on golden wings,

And fresh to toil the waking post-boy springs;

Lo, trudging on his raw bon’d steed he hies,

Dispersing Suns, and Chronicles, and Spys.

Men uninform’d, in rage for something new,

Howe’er unprincipled, howe’er untrue,

Suck in with greedy throat the gilded pill,

Whose fatal sweetness pleases but to kill.

Wide, and more wide the dire contagion flies,

Till half the town is overwhelm’d with lies.

Hence that delusion, hence that furious zeal,

Which wrong-heads cherish, and which hot-heads feel.

Oh, snatch me heaven! to some sequester’d spot,

Where Jefferson, and faction, are forgot;

Where never Suns nor Chronicles molest,

Duane and Colvin unregarded rest

Sick of the tumult, where the noisy throng,

In wild disorder, roar of right and wrong;,

Where lying pamphlets round the town are sped,

And knowing politicians talk you dead!

In vain Italia boasts her genial clime,

Her Rome’s proud towers, and palaces sublime;

In vain the hardy Swiss, inur’d to toil,

Draw scant subsistence from a stubborn soil;

Both doom’d alike, to feel, in evil hour,

The giant grasp of huge despotic power!

Touch not their shores, fair freedom dwells not there,

But far remote, she breathes Columbian air;

Yet here, her temple totters to its fall,

Shook from its centre by gigantic Gaul!

Oh, let not prating History proclaim,

The foul disgrace, the scandal of our name!

Write not the deed my hand! Oh may it lie,

Plung’d deep, and mantled in obscurity!

Forbid it heaven! that while true honour reigns,

And ancient valour glows within our veins,

(Our standard justice, and our shield our God,)

We e’er should tremble at a despot’s nod!

Oh, may the laurels of unrival’d fame,

For ever flourish round your honour’d name!

Ye, who unthrall’d by prejudice, or power,

Determin’d stood in that eventful hour;

Tore the dire secret from the womb of night,

And brought your country’s infamy to light!

Go boldly on the deep-laid plot unfold,

Though much is known, yet much remains untold.

But chief to thee our gratitude belongs,

Oh Pickering! who hast scan’d thy country’s wrongs,

Whose ardent mind, and keen discerning eye,

Trac’d out the true Embargo policy;

Shew’d that our Chief, unable to control,

The alien yearnings of his dastard soul;

And curst with feelings hostile to our trade,

At beck of France, the dire restriction laid!

Hail first of Statesmen! Massachusetts’ pride!

Fam’d in her wars, and in her councils try’d;

Long to thy friends by private worth endear’d,

"In pure majestic poverty rever’d"

At thy rebuke, (though late so monstrous grown,)

Corruption trembles on her venal throne!

Oh, may the people, with attentive eyes,

Peruse thy well-tim’d warnings and be wise!

Mournful reverse! the muse with grief would trace,

The painful scene of thy colleague’s disgrace.

Unhappy he, by glare of office lur’d,

Renounc’d the truth, and federal faith abjur’d!

With fine spun sophisms, and inflated style,

Strove to mislead, bewilder, and beguile;

O’er presidential error gently spread

The flimsy veil, perverted reason made.

Virtue abash’d beheld th’ apostate’s zeal,

And freedom trembled for the public weal;

Till Coleman rose, by honest anger led,

And at his touch the gay delusion fled;

The veil disparts, the painted bubbles burst,

The splendid fabric crumbles into dust!

Go on, ye pimps of France! intriguers fell!

Wind your dark ways, and aid the work of hell!

Go, rouse dire faction from her gloomy den,

Wake the worst passions in the breasts of men;

O’er a once free, once heaven-protected land,

Impel the tempest with infuriate hand;

Go, lure the simple, with unfaithful views,

To paths where error her wild way pursues;

But soon from heaven, shall justice wing her way,

Arrest your course, and immolate her prey!

So prays the muse;- while bursting on the sight,

Hope’s torch diffuses an enlivening light;

And scenes, prophetic of Columbia’s rise

To former glory, greet the gladden’d eyes.

Rous’d by the murmurs of the coming storm,

Lo, freedom’s genius lifts her radiant form!

Rolls her keen eye, and hovering o’er the land,

Calls in loud thunders to her slumbering band.

Far o’er the realm, electric, unconfin’d,

Flies the quick flame, and runs from mind to mind.

Wak’d from her stupid lethargy, at length

Old Massachusetts, feels returning strength;

Her sons, reflecting, break the baneful league,

With factious zeal, and popular intrigue;

No more they hug delusion’s magic chain,

Nor grasp at objects, fleeting, and inane;

But break the charm, false, flatt’ring error binds,

The pleasing mania, that enchain’d their minds.

And now as Truth with growing lustre shines,

Before her, beams Democracy declines;

Vain are all arts her baffled leaders try,

And vain alike, to flatter or to lie.

From their long sleep alarm’d the people rise,

And spite of sophisms, learn to trust their eyes.

Rise then, Columbians! heed not France’s wiles,

Her bullying mandates, her seductive smiles;

Send home Napoleon’s slave, and bid him say

No arts can lure us, and no threats dismay;

Determin’d yet to war with whom we will

Choose our allies, or dare be "neutral" still.

Ye merchants arm! the tyrant Gaul repel,

Your prowess shall the naval triumph swell;

Send the marauders shatter’d whence they came,

And Gallia’s cheek suffuse with crimson shame.

But first select, our councils to direct,

One whose true worth entitles to respect:

In whom concentrates all that men admire,

The Sage’s prudence and the Soldier’s fire;

Who scorns ambition, and the venal tribe,

And neither offers, nor receives a bribe;

Who firmly guards his country’s every right,

And shines alike, in council, or in fight.

Then on safe seas, the merchant’s barque shall fly,

Our waving flag, shall kiss the polar sky;

On canvass wings our thunders shall be borne,

Far to the west, or tow’rd the rising morn;

Then may we dare a haughty tyrant’s rage,

And gain the blessings of an unborn age.

’Tis done, behold, the cheerful prospects rise!

And splendid scenes the startled eye surprize;

Lo! busy Commerce courts the prosperous main,

And peace and plenty glad our shores again!

Th’ industrious swain sees nature smile around,

His fields with fruit, with flocks, his pastures crown’d.

Thus, in a fallen tree, from sprouting roots,

With sudden growth, a tender sapling shoots,

improves from day to day, delights the eyes,

With strength, and beauty, stateliness, and size,

Puts forth robuster arms, and broader leaves,

And high in air its branching head upheaves.

Turn now our views to Europe’s ravag’d plains,

Where murderous war, with grim oppression reigns;

There long, and loud, the storm of battle roars,

With direful portent to our distant shores;

The regal robber, rages uncontrol’d,

No law restrains him, and no faith can hold;

Before his steps, lo! cowering terror flies,

And pil’d behind him, heaps of carnage rise!

With fraud, or force, he spreads his iron sway,

And blood, and rapine, mark his frightful way!

Thus some huge rock of ice, on Greenland’s shore,

When bound in frost, the surges cease to roar,

Breaks loosen’d from its base, with mighty sweep,

And thunders horrid o’er the frozen deep.

While thus, all Europe rings with his alarms,

Say, shall we rush, unthinking, to his arms?

No; let us dauntless all his fury brave,

Our fluttering flag, in freedom’s gale shall wave,

Our guardian Sachem’s errless shafts shall fly,

And terrors lighten from our eagle’s eye!

Hear then I cease, rewarded, if my song,

Shall prompt one honest mind, though guided wrong,

To pause from party, view his country’s state,

And lend his aid to stern approaching fate.

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Chicago: William Cullen Bryant, The Embargo Original Sources, accessed June 24, 2024,

MLA: Bryant, William Cullen. The Embargo, Original Sources. 24 Jun. 2024.

Harvard: Bryant, WC, The Embargo. Original Sources, retrieved 24 June 2024, from