Lincoln’s Response to Global Evil
“Come all ye sons of freedom, and listen while I relate
The tale of Captain Gordon and his untimely fate.
He sailed the Middle Passage, his forture for to try,
But now he stands condemned by law, in grief and shame to die.”
Ballads, such as the one that begins above, were commonly called “broadsides” in the 19th century, and were often reminiscient of the most famous ballad of “Captain Kidd.” When pirates were hung from the gallows, hawkers would sell the broadsides for a penny before the execution.
“I do not feel afraid to die. Death is but a momentary pang—it is soon over, but such a death my very soul abhors. To have perished in a shipwreck, or in the natural way, would have been nothing, and I feel that my fate is an unjust one—that I do not deserve it. “A man must fulfill his destiny, no matter what it is.”…Nathaniel Gordon
Nathaniel Gordon’s destiny was to be the only man put to death for the crime of slave trading. As the captain of four slave voyages, he enslaved roughly three thousand Africans and brought them across the Atlantic to toil, suffer, and die. As the end of the ballad mourns:
“But pity more those tragic souls who walk the world no more,
Whose lives were traded off for gold upon the Afric shore.”
The slave trade was a “global evil” in which the whole “globe” participated. In this slide show/video close reading of Lincoln’s response to a “Request for Clemency,” Lincoln refuses to commute slave trader Nathaniel Gordon’s sentence of execution. In his letter, Lincoln reaffirms his opposition to slavery and makes Gordon an example for all the “globe.”
The ballad cited above came from a captivating book by Ron Soodalter titled Hanging Captain Gordon. To hear more from Soodalter, listen to his forty-six minute discussion from 2007 at the Abraham Lincoln Institute’s “Tenth Annual Symposium.”