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E Pluribus Unum—a Civil war poem.

Between the leaves of an old and rare book recently donated the Historical Society we find the following poem by Rev. John Pierpont, who was minister of Medford's First Parish, 1849-1858. We remember it in our war song book of 1861, and the impression it made on our youthful mind. With music and astronomy furnishing similes, the author certainly ‘did his bit’ in contributing this poem to our literature and to the national cause in those troublous and stirring times. Though in his seventy-sixth year he was chaplain of the Twenty-second Massachusetts Regiment, and doubtless wrote this after the battle of Bull Run, when the Southern forces were ‘with victory flushed.’


E Pluribus Unum.

The harp of the minstrel with melody rings
     When the Muses have taught him to touch and to tune it;
And although it may have a full octave of strings,
     To both maker and minstrel the harp is a unit.
So the power that creates
     Our Republic of States
To harmony tunes them at different dates;
     And many or few, when the Union is done,
Be they thirteen or thirty, the nation is one.

[p. 60] The science that measures and numbers the spheres,
     And has done so since first the Chaldean began it,
Now and then, as she counts them and measures their years,
     Brings into our system and names a new planet.
Yet the old and new stars,
     Venus, Neptune and Mars,
As they drive round the sun their invisible cars,
     Whether faster or slower their races are run,
Are ‘E Pluribus Unum’—of many made one.

Of those federate spheres, should but one fly the track,
     Or with others conspire for a general dispersion,
By the great central orb they would all be brought back,
     And each held in place by a wholesome ‘coercion.’
Were one daughter of light
     Indulged in her flight,
They might all be engulfed by old Chaos and Night.
     So must none of our sisters be suffered to run,
For ‘E Pluribus Unum’—we all go, if one.

Let the Demon of Discord our melody mar,
     Or Treason's red hand rend our system asunder,
Break one string from our harp or extinguish one star,
     The whole system's ablaze with its lightning and thunder.
Let that discord be hushed!
     Let the traitors be crushed,
Though Legion their name, all with victory flushed,
     For aye must our motto stand, fronting the sun:
‘E Pluribus Unum’—the many are one.

John Pierpont.

By poetic license, he gives the states as thirty (really thirty-one then), though some were badly out of tune. The planet Neptune had been known as such by astronomers only fifteen years. The ‘coercion’ he quoted had been a political bugaboo, held impossible by many who held ‘state rights’ doctrines; and certainly everything was ablaze with the lightning and thunder of civil war. It was given him to see that great strife closed and the reconstruction begun that demonstrates to all the world that ‘the nation is one,’ and on the last Sabbath of his life, the day before his passing, to worship where he had preached, and from thence be borne to his rest. We fancy that had he been living in 1898, his rejoicing [p. 61] that the ‘many are one’ would have found expression in verse. How much more so today. The thirty-one, grown to forty-eight, are united as never before, and wherever the music to which his verses were sung in 1861 is heard, the people, because of that unity, give visibly respectful attention.

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