Emancipation from British Dependence Poem

What does a person do if their country is on the brink of war with their better connected, better prepared, and better-funded mother country? For Philip Freneau, the answer was to write a scathing political satire claiming the British king has a "toothful of brains" and his countrymen "still follow on where delusion shall lead 'em." 

Emancipation from British Dependence Poem Emancipation from British Dependence Poem

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    Freneau's "Emancipation from British Dependence" (1775) details some of America's grievances with Britain and asks God to help the Patriots win the fight for their freedom. We will summarize and analyze the poem, its themes, and meaning, as well as the various literary devices Freneau used.

    "Emancipation from British Dependence": Overview

    Written By

    Philip Freneau

    Publication Date1775

    Form

    Quatrain

    Rhyme Scheme

    AABB CCDD...

    Poetic Devices

    Repetition

    Allusion

    Metaphor

    Figure of Speech

    Alliteration

    Metonymy

    Idiom

    Juxtaposition

    Consonance

    Frequently noted imagery

    Fools that are waiting for further submissions

    Scoundrels and rascals

    Pirates who murder and plunder

    Bloody noses

    Little fat man

    Pretty white hair

    Butchers

    Slaves willing to die

    Swelled with importance

    Bind in chains

    Tooth-full of brains

    Tone

    Critical, mocking, snide, informal

    Key themes

    Freedom vs. Oppression

    Thinking for Oneself

    Fighting for One's Beliefs

    Meaning

    Freedom from British influence is the only way the colonies can be free, as continuing to submit to British rule would make the colonists slaves to the king.

    "Emancipation from British Dependence" by Philip Freneau

    Philip Freneau (1752–1832) is known as "the poet of the American Revolution" for his poetry chronicling the tensions between the American colonies and Britain that led up to and immediately followed the American Revolutionary War.¹ As "Emancipation from British Dependence" was published one year before America declared its independence, it is a great example of Freneau's satirical poetry condemning Britain's involvement in the American colonies.

    Freneau was a staunch believer in freedom: he not only wrote about and fought in the American Revolutionary War, but he also wrote satire condemning the practice of slavery in America and the West Indies. After the war, he continued writing satires on oppression, critiquing politics that he thought went against the United States' ideals of liberty and independence. He was also an outspoken rival of Alexander Hamilton and George Washington.

    "Emancipation from British Dependence": Text

    Libera nos, Domine – Deliver us, O Lord,

    Not only from British dependence, but also,

    From a junto that labor for absolute power,

    Whose schemes disappointed have made them look sour;

    From the lords of the council, who fight against freedom

    Who still follow on where delusion shall lead 'em.

    From groups at St. James's who slight our Petitions,

    And fools that are waiting for further submissions;

    From a nation whose manners are rough and abrupt,

    From scoundrals and rascals whom gold can corrupt.

    From pirates sent out by command of the king

    To murder and plunder, but never to swing;

    From Wallace, and Graves, and Vipers and Roses,

    Whom, if Heaven pleases, we'll give bloody noses.

    From the valiant Dunmore, with his crew of banditti

    Who plunder Virginians at Williamsburg city,

    From hot-headed Montague, mighty to swear,

    The little fat man with his pretty white hair.

    From bishops in Britain, who butchers are grown,

    From slaves that would die for a smile from the throne,

    From assemblies that vote against Congress' proceedings,

    (Who now see the fruit of their stupid misleadings).

    From Tryon, the mighty, who flies from our city,

    And swelled with importance, disdains the committee;

    (But since he is pleased to proclaim us his foes,

    What the devil care we where the devil he goes.)

    From the caitiff, Lord North, who would bind us in chains,

    From our noble King Log, with his toothful of brains,

    Who dreams, and is certain (when taking a nap)

    He has conquered our lands as they lay on his map.

    From a kingdom that bullies, and hectors, and swears,

    I send up to Heaven my wishes and prayers

    That we, disunited, may freemen be still,

    And Britain go on – to be damn'd if she will.

    "Emancipation from British Dependence": Summary

    In this satirical poem, the speaker lists grievances against the British and the reasons why he believes the colonies should fight for their independence. The speaker formats the poem as if it were a prayer, but his use of wry humor and violent language makes the poem read less like a reverent petition to God and more like an invitation to fight.

    The speaker positions loyalists as unintelligent, passive, and naïve slaves to the crown. He condemns everyone whom he views as complicit in the king's tyranny, from the king and his bishops to military generals and commoners. The speaker uses allusions and figures of speech to ridicule his enemies. The poem ends with the poet's general prayer that the colonies will win their independence and Britain will be cursed with eternal punishment.

    "Emancipation from British Dependence": Literary Devices

    The literary devices in the poem include:

    • Repetition
    • Allusion
    • Metaphor
    • Figures of speech
    • Alliteration
    • Metonymy
    • Idiom
    • Juxtaposition
    • Consonance.

    Many of the literary devices work in tandem to depict the British as fools, oppressors, and brutes, which we will have a look at in detail in the analysis below.

    "Emancipation from British Dependence": Analysis of Literary Devices

    Freneau purposefully uses each of the literary devices to present his major themes and create a satirical tone.

    Repetition

    Repetition throughout the poem serves two purposes:

    First, it reinforces the idea that this is a sort of prayer. The repetition of the word "from" at the start of every stanza refers back to the epigraph at the beginning of the poem that states:

    . . . Deliver us, O Lord,Not only from British dependence, but also, (1–2).

    The repetition in each stanza forms a litany (a series of petitions or requests for God). The adoration that is normally associated with a litany is directly counteracted by the harsh satire throughout the poem.

    The repetition is also a reminder that these grievances against Britain are ongoing and never-ending. The issues inherent within British sovereignty trickle out into every aspect of life for those in the colonies: they feel it in their churches, their politics, their trade, their travel, and their relationships.

     Emancipation from British Dependence, Praying hands, StudySmarterFig. 1 - The poem is a prayer to God to deliver the Patriots from their British enemies.

    Allusion

    The poem relies heavily on allusions and name-dropping. As a political satire, Freneau directly comments on current events in his time. Although the names of his contemporaries would be common knowledge to Freneau's direct audience in the eighteenth century, the poem is slightly harder to understand for a twenty-first-century audience.

    Allusion: a figure of speech in which a person, event, or thing is indirectly referenced with the assumption that the reader will be at least somewhat familiar with the topic

    The "groups at St. James's who slight our Petitions" (5) refer to The Court of St James's, which is the royal court for the monarch of the United Kingdom. In 1774, the First Continental Congress sent a petition, The Petition to the king, to King George III. This petition requested that the Intolerable Acts would be repealed. The petition was given little attention, and the colonies never received a formal reply to their complaints.

    Coercive or Intolerable Acts (1774): a series of punitive laws used to punish the colonies for the Boston Tea Party. It closed the Boston Harbor and replaced the elected local council in Massachusetts with an appointed one, increasing the British-appointed governor's power. British officials charged with capital offenses could go back to England for a trial as well as reinstated the expired Quartering Act, which allowed British governors to house soldiers in American buildings. There was major opposition to these acts.

    The third stanza refers to conflicts between the British Royal Navy and American ships. James Wallace was an officer in the Royal Navy, and Samuel Graves was an admiral. Graves ferried British soldiers to quell rebellions and destroyed seaports that were supporting the American rebellion. Wallace similarly fought on the side of the British. "Vipers and Roses" (11) refers to a British sloop ship and a British post ship, respectively.

    The line "the valiant Dunmore, with his crew of banditti" (13) is an allusion to John Murray, 4th Earl of Dunmore (1730–1809), who served as a colonial governor in the American colonies. He was the Governor of Virginia and, in 1775, issued Dunmore's Proclamation, a document offering freedom to any slave who fought against the Patriots in Virginia. He fled the country in 1776.

    "Hot-headed Montague, mighty to swear, / The little fat man with his pretty white hair" (1516) is Lord Charles Greville Montagu (174184), the last Royal Governor of South Carolina. He worked during the American Revolutionary War to recruit American prisoners to fight with Spanish forces for the British.

    "Tryon, the mighty, who flies from our city" (21) is a direct reference to the governor of New York, William Tryon (1729–88). When he was the Governor of North Carolina, Tryon refused to allow meetings of the colonial assembly to prevent any opposition to the Stamp Act. In 1774, after returning to New York from a trip to England, he sought refuge on a British ship in New York Harbor. He dissolved the assembly and called for new elections, but when the new assembly also voted for independence, Tryon dissolved that as well.

    Stamp Act (1765): The Stamp Act required a stamp to be purchased and placed on official documents, of which there were 55 that were covered by the act. The colonists viewed this as an infringement on their rights.

    "The caitiff, Lord North, who would bind us in chains" (25) is an allusion to Frederick North, 2nd Earl of Guilford (1732–92). He was the Prime Minister of Great Britain during the American Revolution and is largely thought to be the person responsible for losing the war for the British.

    Britain began imposing various acts and restrictions on its American colonies from the 1600s onward. This detailed how they were governed, what kind of taxes they owed the motherland, how they could trade, what their role would be in war, etc.

    From 1774 to 1789, the Continental Congress functioned as the government of the original 13 colonies and, after the American Revolutionary War, the newly established independent United States. The First Continental Congress sent a petition to King George III in 1774 asking to repeal the Intolerable Acts. He never formally responded. Tensions continued mounting until the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776, and the American Revolutionary War began.

    Metaphor

    "King Log" (26) is both a metaphor and an allusion. Here, the speaker is comparing Britain's King George III to King Log from Aesop's fables. In the fable titled The Frogs Who Desired a King, a group of frogs wanted a king, so Jupiter gave them a king of wood, King Log. King George is equated to King Log in order to say that he is extremely lax, passive, and incompetent. (If you were wondering how that fable ends, the frogs complained about their bump-on-a-log-king, so Jupiter sent them a stork who eats all of them. King Stork wasn't all he was cracked up to be either.)

    Metaphor: replacing one thing with another to suggest a likeness between the two.

     Emancipation from British Dependence, Log, StudySmarterFig. 2 - The speaker compares King George III to Aesop's King Log, who was a literal log.

    Figure of Speech

    Figures of speech are used to dramatize the Patriot's grievances against the British.

    The speaker reflects on various Loyalists and states, "if Heaven pleases, we'll give bloody noses" (12). Here, "bloody noses" is a humorous way of saying "beat in a fight." Perhaps the speaker does want to cause some minor bloodshed (bloody noses instead of, say, a bayonet to the leg), but his bigger goal is to prevail against those who would like to see America under Britain's boot.

    The phrase "toothful of brains" (26) that is used to describe the king is also a figure of speech. King George III probably did not have a medical condition in which teeth grew and overtook his brain, but it is a humorous image that depicts the idea that nothing else is happening in there. It creates an image that the king is daft and dense.

    Figure of speech: the use of a phrase or speech that is used in a rhetorical sense and is not meant to be taken seriously.

    Alliteration

    Alliteration causes rhythmic tongue twisters to make some of the dark subject matter (a tyrannical king, impending war, political oppression) more humorous.

    There is alliteration of the "D" and "W" sounds in the following line:

    What the devil care we where the devil he goes" (24).

    The repetition and alliteration are humorous and suggest that the Patriots are unconcerned and unflustered as the speaker employs snarky tongue twisters and coarse language. In more contemporary terms the sentence reads: "What the hell do we care where the hell he goes," containing crude colloquialisms that typically wouldn't be found in poetry or in polite society.

    Alliteration: the repetition of the same consonant sound at the beginning of a group of closely connected words

    Metonymy

    Metonymy adds to the contempt that the speaker harbors towards the British monarchy. He says, "From slaves that would die for a smile from the throne," (18) reducing power structures in Britain down to a glorified chair, suggesting that the throne is an inactive force that has no meaning outside of what royalty gives it. This metonymy devalues the monarchy and all political structures in Britain.

    Metonym: the substitution of the name of a thing or concept for something that is closely associated with it.

     Emancipation from British Dependence, King on a Throne, StudySmarterFig. 3 - The speaker uses metonymy by representing all of Britain's political systems with the word "throne."

    Idiom

    The speaker plays with popular idioms throughout the poem. He takes common phrases and manipulates them to add to the comedic effect of his poetry.

    For example, "the fruit of their stupid misleadings" (20) is a play on the popular idiom "the fruit of their labor." The idiom means that people will be rewarded for their hard work, but in this case, the speaker uses it to mean that people will see the consequences of "their stupid misleadings."

    "What the devil care we where the devil he goes" (24) employs the idiom "(in) the devil" to create a sense of incredulous exasperation. "The devil" could be replaced by "the hell," and it would give the poem the same meaning, i.e., "what the hell should we care?" This idiom is used to intensify a question and express extreme aggravation.

    Idiom: a group of words with a meaning that can be deduced from collective knowledge rather than from the words themselves.

    Juxtaposition

    Juxtaposition adds to the snide tone of the poem. The speaker uses sarcasm to describe his enemies, labeling them with positive adjectives before depicting how they actually are.

    For example, he describes King George as "our noble King Log, with his toothful of brains" (26). Noble, of course, literally means being of a higher social class, but it also means virtuous and elevated. By comparing King George to a lazy wooden king and saying he has nothing in his brain but teeth, the speaker clearly and humorously contradicts that he is noble.

    This happens again with "the valiant Dunmore, with his crew of banditti / Who plunder Virginians at Williamsburg city" (13). "Valiant," which has extremely positive connotations, is directly contradicted by his deplorable actions. The use of juxtaposition uses sarcasm to show how his enemies view themselves versus how everyone else perceives them.

    Juxtaposition: when two things with contrasting meanings are placed close together.

    Consonance

    Consonance is used to represent the power dynamics at work in the poem. On the one hand, the British believe that the American colonies belong to them and that getting them to submit will be easy. But on the other side of the Atlantic, the speaker, representing all of the American patriots, thinks that the monarchy and its supporters are a joke. This is implied in juxtapositions, allusions, idioms, metaphors, and also in consonance.

    Consider the repetition of the "T" in:

    From hot-headed Montague, mighty to swear,

    The little fat man with his pretty white hair (14-15).

    "T" typically denotes a sound of power because it sticks out more noticeably from the other sounds around it. It helps to create a fast rhythm and ultimately controls the pace. But here, the repetition of the consonant "T" is used to belittle and poke fun at a British political figure in the states. It switches the power dynamic from something dominant into something that is being ridiculed.

    The "R" sound in the second stanza has a similar mocking effect:

    From a nation whose manners are rough and abrupt,
    From scoundrals and rascals whom gold can corrupt. (7-8)

    Here, the "R" sound that is repeated in words like "manners," "rough," "abrupt," "scoundrels," "rascals," and "corrupt" is reminiscent of a dog's growling. This, in conjunction with the actual words of the poem, positions British soldiers and supporters as rough, uncultured brutes.

    Consonance: the recurrence of similar consonant sounds within words.

    "Emancipation from British Dependence": Themes

    Let's take a look at the major themes of the poem, including freedom vs. oppression and the importance of fighting for one's beliefs.

    Freedom vs. oppression

    The speaker uses satire to depict the theme of freedom vs. oppression. He draws a distinction between being under Britain's thumb (oppressed) and forming an independent country (freedom). All of those who oppose the American Patriots are grouped together as oppressors.

    The speaker calls those who are loyal to the crown "fools that are waiting for further submissions" (6) and "slaves that would die for a smile from the throne" (18). They are happy to be oppressed. Their loyalty runs so deeply that they are naïve and blind to all the ways the monarchy is abusing them. If the British colonial governors had it their way, the speaker argues, the same would happen to the colonists, and they "would bind us in chains" (18).

    Emancipation from British Dependence, Chains in hands breaking, StudySmarterFig. 4 - The speaker believes the king keeps his subjects oppressed in chains.

    On the other hand, being separated from Britain is the ultimate freedom for the speaker: "send up to Heaven my wishes and prayers / That we, disunited, may freemen be still" (31). The entire poem is a plea to God for deliverance from British dependence. Over the course of 32 lines, the only thing the speaker asks of God is to be free from British oppression.

    The importance of fighting for one's beliefs

    The poem is a critique of anyone who disagrees with the speaker's beliefs. The speaker is outspoken about his beliefs, and he is confident enough to directly list his enemies by name.

    In fighting for his beliefs, the speaker positions all of Britain's supporters as "other." There is clearly an "us" and a "them." The idea of "us" is repeated several times when the speaker is talking about the patriots: "Deliver us, O Lord," "who would bind us in chains," and "proclaim us his foes" (epigraph, 25, 23).

    The speaker positions his people as the righteous protectors of freedom, while his opponents are ignorant, barbaric, dull, and "now see the fruit of their stupid misleadings." (20).

    The central idea in the poem is that the poet believes the colonies would be better off without British influence. He fights for that belief with the facts that he has gathered and presents in the satire.

    "Emancipation from British Dependence": Meaning

    In this satirical poem, Freneau pokes fun at the British oppression of the American colonies and makes light of the American Revolutionary War. He reduces his opponents, in reality dangerous men, to a few adjectives ("hot-headed Montague" (14) and "Tryon, the mighty" (21)). Of course, the situation was much more serious than simply a few loyalist men who betrayed the colonies. American soldiers were fighting against one of the most powerful countries in the world.

    Underneath all it's humor and contempt, the poem is really about the need for freedom and the desire to escape from oppressive rule. This was so important to the American colonists that they were willing to die in order to see it through. Freedom from British influence is the only way the colonies can be free, as continuing to submit to British rule would make the colonists slaves to the king.

    Emancipation from British Dependence - Key takeaways

    • "Emancipation from British Dependence" was written by Philip Freneau in 1775.
    • Freneau was an American poet who wrote many anti-British pieces leading up to the war, earning him the title "the poet of the American Revolution."
    • This poem depicts his country's grievances with the British, who he believes are ignorant and ruthless. He argues that the colonies should be free.
    • The poem is set up like a prayer or a litany, but the violence and snide satire makes it far from reverent.
    • The themes in this poem are freedom vs. oppression and the importance of standing up for beliefs.

    1 "Philip Freneau." Britannica.

    Frequently Asked Questions about Emancipation from British Dependence Poem

    When was the poem 'Emancipation from British Dependence' written? 

    It was written in 1775. 

    Who wrote the poem 'Emancipation from British Dependence'?

    American poet Philip Freneau wrote  'Emancipation from British Dependence'

    What is the meaning of the poem  'Emancipation from British Dependence'?

    Freneau is satirizing Britain's oppression of its American colonies. He believes the only way for Americans to be free is for the country to be disunited. 

    What is the theme of the poem 'Emancipation from British Dependence'? 

    The themes are Freedom vs. Oppression and Fighting for One's Beliefs.

    What type of poem is  'Emancipation from British Dependence'?

    'Emancipation from British Dependence' is a satirical poem. 

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