Music: Patriotic Songs

views updated

Music: Patriotic Songs


Hail Columbia. The nationalist impulses at work in the early republican era achieved their clearest expression in patriotic songs, which in turn furthered a sense of unity among Americans. One of the best-known patriotic songs from this period was Hail Columbia, by Philadelphian Joseph Hopkinson, the son of Francis Hopkinson, a composer and a signer of the Declaration of Independence. The younger Hopkinson wrote the words to this song at the request of singer Gilbert Fox, who performed it on 25 April 1798, to the music of the Presidents March by Philip Phile. This song was motivated by tensions between the United States and France that had brought the two nations to the brink of war. With France and Great Britain already at war, Americans were deeply divided, with Federalists in favor of war with France and Republicans deeply hostile to England.


Bostonian Robert Treat Paine Jr. wrote Adams & Liberty (1798) at a time when New England Federalists were campaigning for war with France and a Constitution that would establish a strong federal government. The following stanzas from Pained song express attitudes typical of the region.


While FRANCE her huge limbs bathes recumbent in blood,

And Societys base threats with wide dissolution;

May PEACE, like the Dove, who returnd from the flood,

Find an Ark of abode in our mild CONSTITUTION!

But though PEACE is our aim,

Yet the boon we disclaim,

If bought by our SOVREIGNTY, JUSTICE, or FAME.


Should the TEMPEST OF WAR overshadow our land,

Its bolts could neer rend FREEDOMs temple asunder;

For, unmovd, at its portal, would WASHINGTON stand,

And repulse, with his BREAST, the assaults of the THUNDER!

His sword, from the sleep

Of its scabbard, would leap,

And conduct, with its point, every flash to the deep.


Let FAME to the world sound AMERICAs voice;

No INTRIGUE can her sons from their GOVERNMENT sever,

Her PRIDE is her ADAMSher LAWS are his CHOICE,

And shall flourish, till LIBERTY slumber foreverl

Then unite, heart and hand,

Like Leonidas band,

And swear to the GOD of the ocean and land,

That neer shall the sons of COLUMBIA be slaves, While the earth bears a plant, or the sea rolls its waves.

Source: Robert Treat Paine Jr., Adams & Liberty. The Boston Patriotic Song (Boston: Printed by I. Thomas & E.T. Andrews, 1798).

Partisan Patriotism. As Hopkinson explained, his objective was to promote a sense of nationalism that would transcend these divisions: to get up an American spirit which should be independent of, and above the interests, passion and policy of both belligerents, and look and feel exclusively for our honor and rights. Yet despite Hopkinsons claims to the contrary, Hail Columbia served a highly partisan purpose. A Federalist himself, he set the lyrics to the tune of the Presidents March, which was closely associated with George Washington and had become a rallying song for the Federalists. In giving this tune a set of patriotic lyrics Hopkinson enhanced its effectiveness and reinforced Federalist claims to patriotic nonpartisanship. One Republican paper condemned the song as a partisan tool, which contained, amidst the most ridiculous bombast, the vilest adulation to the anglo-monarchical party. Despite its partisan overtones, Hail Columbia achieved widespread popularity and was quickly established as the first American national anthem. Later the same year poet Robert Treat Paine Jr. wrote the lyrics for Adams & Liberty, which also tapped into partisan passions against France.

The Star-Spangled Banner. War was also the occasion for the writing of The Star-Spangled Banner, which became the official national anthem in 1931. Francis Scott Key, a Baltimore lawyer, wrote an early version of this song in 1805 to celebrate the heroism of Stephen Decatur and the other Americans fighting in the war with Tripoli. Using the same rhyme scheme, Key rewrote the lyrics during the War of 1812, after observing the British bombardment of Fort McHenry on the night of 13 September 1814. The result was The Star-Spangled Banner, which expressed Keys excitement on seeing at dawn that the Stars and Stripes was still flying as a sign that his countrymen had withstood the attack. Set, like Keys earlier lyrics, to the tune of To Anacreon in Heaven, a popular English drinking song, The Star-Spangled Banner points to the complex relationship between American and England. Although inspired by nationalist pride and antagonism toward Great Britain, The Star-Spangled Banner at the same time reveals Americas continuing cultural dependence on the mother country.


Robert Allison, The Crescent Obscured: The United States and the Muslim World, 17761815 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995);

Gilbert Chase, Americas Music From the Pilgrims to the Present (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1987);

John Tasker Howard, Our American Music, Three Hundred Years of It (New York: Crowell, 1930);

Burton Alva Konkle, Joseph Hopkinson, 17701842 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1931);

Vera Brodsky Lawrence, Music for Patriots, Politicians, and Presidents: Harmonies and Discords of the First Hundred Years (New York: Macmillan, 1975);

Oscar G. Sonneck, Report on The Star-Spangled Banner, Hail Columbia, America, Yankee Doodle (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1909).

About this article

Music: Patriotic Songs

Updated About content Print Article