A website from the Massachusetts Historical Society; founded 1791.

Shall A Republic?


In the 1830s, Britain frees the slaves in her West Indian colonies. Antislavery crusaders in this country are encouraged by this development while noting the irony of the situation. Year after year they celebrate the actions of their former Mother Country at fairs and rallies, with songs and with cloth banners such as this one used by abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison.


Selection from the Massachusetts Historical Society: Shall a Republic? Cotton banner, [1840s].

Questions to Consider


  1. Look at the song "British Emancipation" by Rev. Pierpont - summarize the idea of the first verse in your own words. Where are "Britannia's Emerald Isles," and where are "Columbia's Plains"? In which place is there freedom for former slaves?
  2. Explain the line on the banner with "Bonds of a King." What are the "Bonds" in that case? What is the "Bondage" that this Republic is still "Cradling"? To what king or kings is the banner referring, and why? What two time periods are the subjects of this banner?


  1. To what country would the "islands" in the song be pointing the finger "as in scorn," and why? Why does the author refer to this country as one that is "called Freedom's Home"? Who are the "toiling millions" who "pine in prison" there? What is their prison?
  2. What is the irony suggested by the banner? How might life have been different for the slaves in America if there had been a different outcome of the Revolution? Provide evidence to support your conclusion.


  1. Why are people in Abington, Massachusetts, in 1858 celebrating emancipation in the British West Indies? Why is this event so significant to them?
  2. Who is William Lloyd Garrison, and why does he use this banner at antislavery fairs in the 1840s? Why do people in Massachusetts care about what had happened in the British West Indies?


  1. What is Reverend Pierpoint attempting to do when he pens these new words to a familiar hymn? http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/w/a/watchman.htm (Note: his son James, continuing the family musical tradition, had just published Jingle Bells the year before the Abington event!)
  2. Why is the text in this banner written in the form of a question? What might be the reason for using so few words? What further questions might this banner raise to those who see it?


  1. Assess both the song and the banner as methods of propaganda. In your opinion, which is the most effective? Provide evidence to defend your position.
  2. Imagine how this song and this banner might have been used at an antislavery rally and sketch the scene.
  3. In four lines, write either a.) a response to the question on the banner or b.) another question relating to slavery and freedom. Or in eight lines, write another verse to the song.