English Literature
Emancipation from British Dependence Poem

Emancipation from British Dependence Poem

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Emancipation from British Dependence: A Satirical Masterpiece by Philip Freneau

As tensions between the American colonies and Britain reached a boiling point, poet Philip Freneau saw an opportunity to fight back against the oppressive rule of his mother country. In 1775, he published his political satire "Emancipation from British Dependence", using his pen as a weapon to express his grievances and rally for America's freedom. Let's explore the themes, meaning, and literary devices used in this powerful poem.

An Introduction to "Emancipation from British Dependence"

Philip Freneau (1752-1832) is known as "the poet of the American Revolution" for his poetry that captured the tensions leading up to and during the Revolutionary War [1]. "Emancipation from British Dependence" was published a year before America declared its independence and serves as a prime example of Freneau's biting satire aimed at condemning Britain's involvement in the colonies.

Freedom was a cause close to Freneau's heart. Not only did he fight in the American Revolution, but he also used his pen to criticize the practice of slavery in America and the West Indies. Even after the war, he continued to write satires denouncing oppression and policies that went against the principles of liberty and independence. Freneau was also a vocal opponent of Alexander Hamilton and George Washington.

The Text of "Emancipation from British Dependence"

In this poem, the speaker pleads to the Lord for deliverance not only from British rule, but also from those seeking absolute power. Through clever use of allusion and figures of speech, the speaker paints the British as a group of tyrants, pirates, and bullies. He condemns anyone who supports the king's tyranny, from the highest of clergy to the commoners. The use of repetition at the beginning of each stanza emphasizes the speaker's grievances and reinforces his call to arms. The poem ends with a prayer for the colonies' freedom and for Britain to face eternal punishment.

Allusions and Literary Devices in "Emancipation from British Dependence"

Freneau skillfully employs literary devices to strengthen the impact of his satire. Allusions to historical figures and events, such as St. James's Palace and the commanders Wallace, Graves, Vipers, and Roses, highlight the speaker's contempt towards the British. Metaphors, such as comparing the British king to a "toothful of brains", add another layer of mockery. The use of figures of speech, such as "groups", "fools", and "slaves", further denounce anyone who opposes the colonies' fight for independence. Alliteration, as seen in "pursuing", "petitions", "proceedings", and "proclamations", adds emphasis to the speaker's words.

"Emancipation from British Dependence" serves as a powerful reminder of the American Revolution and the role of literature in sparking change. Through his clever use of satire and literary devices, Philip Freneau captures the frustrations and calls for freedom of the American colonies in a way that continues to resonate with readers today.

Analyzing the Literary Techniques Used in "Emancipation from British Dependence"

In Philip Freneau's "Emancipation from British Dependence," the British government is depicted as a powerful and oppressive force through the use of various literary devices. In this analysis, we will examine how Freneau's skillful employment of these devices reinforces his central themes and conveys a satirical tone.


The poem's repetitive structure serves a dual purpose. Firstly, it creates a prayer-like tone, with each stanza beginning with the word "from" in reference to the epigraph: ". . . Deliver us, O Lord, Not only from British dependence, but also" (1-2). This repetition forms a litany, or a series of requests, to God. However, this pious tone is contrasted with the poem's biting satire.

The repetition also highlights the ongoing nature of the grievances against Britain. The British's tyrannical rule affects all aspects of life for the colonies, from their religion and politics to trade, travel, and relationships.

Example: The poem petitions God to save the Patriots from their oppressive British rulers.


Freneau uses allusions and references to contemporary events to enhance the political satire in his work. While these references may have been familiar to the audience in the 18th century, they may be less recognizable to a modern reader.

Definition: Allusion is a literary device that indirectly references a person, event, or thing, assuming the reader is familiar with the subject.

For instance, the line "groups at St. James's who slight our Petitions" (5) makes an allusion to The Court of St James's, the British royal court. In 1774, the First Continental Congress sent a petition to King George III requesting the repeal of the Intolerable Acts. However, the petition received little attention, and the colonies never received a response to their grievances.

The third stanza mentions conflicts between the British Royal Navy and American ships, specifically referencing officers James Wallace and Samuel Graves. "Vipers and Roses" (11) is a nod to a British sloop ship and a British post ship, respectively.

The line "the valiant Dunmore, with his crew of banditti" (13) alludes to John Murray, 4th Earl of Dunmore (1730–1809), a colonial governor who issued Dunmore's Proclamation in 1775, offering freedom to any slaves who fought against the Patriots in Virginia. He later fled the country in 1776.

"Hot-headed Montague, mighty to swear, / The little fat man with his pretty white hair" (15–16) makes a reference to Lord Charles Greville Montagu (1741–84), the last Royal Governor of South Carolina who recruited American prisoners to fight with Spanish forces.

Lastly, "Tryon, the mighty, who flies from our city" (21) directly refers to New York governor William Tryon (1729–88), who dissolved the colonial assembly to prevent opposition to the Stamp Act and fled to a British ship in New York Harbor after the colonies declared independence.

The Impact of the Controversial Stamp Act of 1765 on American Colonists

Enacted by the British, the Stamp Act of 1765 required the purchase of a stamp for 55 official documents. However, American colonists strongly opposed this act, seeing it as a violation of their rights.

The act was referred to as an attempt to "bind us in chains" (25), making a direct reference to Frederick North, 2nd Earl of Guilford (1732–92), the Prime Minister of Great Britain during the American Revolution. He is largely held responsible for the British's defeat in the war.

Britain had been imposing restrictions and acts on its American colonies since the 1600s. These measures controlled their governance, taxation, trade, and involvement in wars. This led to the establishment of the Continental Congress, which acted as the government for the original 13 colonies from 1774 to 1789. Despite petitioning King George III in 1774 to repeal the Intolerable Acts, the colonists received no formal response. As tensions continued to rise, the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776, marking the start of the American Revolutionary War.

Using Satire, Allusion, and Metaphor

The speaker of the poem cleverly uses allusions and metaphors to express their discontent with British rule. King George III is compared to Aesop's "King Log" from the fable "The Frogs Who Desired a King," symbolizing his incompetence and passivity as a literal log. (In the original fable, the frogs met their end when a stork, sent by Jupiter, devoured them, reflecting the speaker's desire for political change.)

Figures of Speech to Highlight Patriot's Complaints

The speaker uses figures of speech, such as "give bloody noses" (line 12) and "toothful of brains" (line 26), to humorously convey their grievances against Loyalists and the king. These phrases are meant to symbolize their desire to resist and overcome British oppression, rather than be taken literally.

Adding Humor with Alliteration

The use of alliteration in the line "what the devil care we where the devil he goes" (line 24) adds a humorous tone to the poem's serious subject matter. It also reflects the speaker's rebellious and carefree attitude towards the British monarchy. The use of crude language in the poem contributes to this effect.

Metonymy to Undermine the British Monarchy

The speaker uses metonymy, such as "a smile from the throne" (line 18), to diminish the power structures in Britain, reducing them to a mere chair with no significance without the monarchy. This further emphasizes their disdain for British rule and their call for change.

Satirizing Idioms

The speaker employs common idioms throughout the poem in a satirical manner, highlighting the absurdity of the situation and the need for revolution. This adds to the overall tone of resistance and rebellion against British rule.

He cleverly manipulates well-known phrases to add humor to his poetry. For instance, in line 20, the speaker plays on the idiom "the fruit of their labor" by changing it to "the fruit of their stupid misleadings." While the idiom usually refers to reaping rewards for hard work, in this context, it conveys facing the consequences of foolish choices.

Line 24 also showcases the speaker's knack for using idioms in an amusing way. The phrase "what the devil care we" is a play on the idiom "(in) the devil," which is often used to express frustration. By replacing "devil" with "the hell," the speaker intensifies the question to convey extreme exasperation.

An idiom is a phrase that derives its meaning from cultural understanding rather than the literal definition of its words. The speaker's clever use of idioms throughout the poem adds to its sarcastic tone.

Another literary device employed by the speaker is juxtaposition, which adds to the mocking tone of the poem. Through irony, the speaker describes their enemies with favorable adjectives before revealing their true, less admirable qualities. For example, King George is depicted as "our noble King Log, with his toothful of brains" (line 26). While "noble" typically refers to someone of higher social status, in this context, it mocks the king's intellect by comparing him to a lazy wooden king with no brains. This use of juxtaposition effectively undermines his supposed nobility.

The same technique is used in line 13 to portray the British governor, Dunmore, as "valiant" despite his infamous actions of plundering Virginians in Williamsburg city. This juxtaposition serves to highlight the disconnect between how his enemies view themselves and how they are perceived by others.

Consonance is another literary device used by the speaker to reflect the power dynamics in the poem.

The Fight for Freedom: A Critique of British Oppression in "Emancipation from British Dependence"

In the eyes of the American patriots, breaking free from British control is the ultimate form of freedom, as seen in the lines "send up to Heaven my wishes and prayers / That we, disunited, may freemen be still" (31). This plea to God for deliverance from British dependence sets the tone for the 32 lines of passionate appeal for liberation from oppressive rule in the poem.

The Importance of Defending One's Beliefs

The speaker boldly criticizes anyone who opposes their beliefs, directly mentioning specific enemies by name. Through this, they create a clear divide between "us" and "them," painting all supporters of Britain as "other." This idea of "us" is reinforced throughout the poem when speaking of the patriots: "Deliver us, O Lord," "who would bind us in chains," and "proclaim us his foes" (epigraph, 25, 23).

The speaker portrays their people as virtuous defenders of freedom, while their opponents are portrayed as ignorant, barbaric, and dull. This is exemplified in the line "now see the fruit of their stupid misleadings" (20).

The central message of the poem is that the colonies would thrive without British influence. The speaker passionately defends this belief with facts and presents it in a satirical manner.

The Meaning behind "Emancipation from British Dependence"

In this satirical piece, Freneau uses humor to ridicule British oppression of the American colonies and diminish the significance of the American Revolutionary War. By reducing powerful men to mere adjectives such as "hot-headed Montague" (14) and "Tryon, the mighty" (21), he brings a lighthearted tone to a serious situation where American soldiers were fighting against one of the most dominant countries in the world.

Beneath the humor and contempt lies a deeper message about the desire for freedom and escape from oppressive rule. This desire was so strong among the American colonists that they were willing to sacrifice their lives for it. The poem emphasizes that freeing themselves from British dominance is the only way for the colonies to truly be free, as remaining under British rule would mean becoming slaves to the king.

Key Messages from "Emancipation from British Dependence"

Written in 1775 by American poet Philip Freneau, "Emancipation from British Dependence" earned him the title "the poet of the American Revolution." It is a satirical representation of the grievances the colonies had with Britain, portraying them as ignorant and ruthless. The main argument is for the colonies to break away from British influence. The poem's structure resembles a prayer or litany, but the use of violence and sarcastic humor makes it anything but reverent. The themes of freedom versus oppression and the importance of standing up for one's beliefs are prominent throughout the poem.

  • 1. "Philip Freneau." Britannica.A Critical Analysis of "Emancipation from British Dependence"
  • "Emancipation from British Dependence" was composed in 1775 during a tumultuous period of rising tensions between the American colonies and Britain.
  • The author responsible for this noteworthy poem is none other than Philip Freneau, a renowned American poet whose pieces powerfully denounced British dominance in the lead up to the Revolutionary War.
  • The underlying message conveyed in "Emancipation from British Dependence" centers around Freneau's use of satire to condemn British oppression of the American colonies and advocate for their freedom.
  • Among the prominent themes explored in this work are the struggle for liberty in the face of oppression and the significance of staying true to one's convictions.
  • This satirical poem skillfully uses humor to expose and criticize a serious issue, making it a standout example of its genre.

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