Spirit & Heritage In Song is a series highlighting Traditional American Music.
In the last half century many of these traditional songs have been forgotten in a flood of contemporary music and international cultural influences. Yet these songs, ballads, melodies and hymns reflect the events, cultural backgrounds, aspirations, land and faith that make up the soul of the American People far more than the strains of moderne music that have washed upon the nation’s shores. This series is offered as a reminder of the Spirit of America as given voice in song.
“One good song is worth a dozen addresses and proclamations”
Joe Barlow, American poet and diplomat
at the start of the Revolutionary War
A song now over 200 years old bearing and borne of the Revolution, no longer sung in America, generally unremembered, but its concepts and spirit still alive in the hearts of hundreds of millions of free-men and women graced by the gift of freedom, self-determination and self-government by those who struggled and perished in that epic and world changing event.
It is said that there is theology in old religious hymns. Read the lyrics below for the burgeoning national “theology” of America in Liberty Song.
“The Liberty Song” was written in 1768 when John Dickinson set out to reflect on the political strife caused by the Townshend Acts of 1767, the latest in a series of British crown taxes levied on the Colonies. Dickinson wrote the words to fit the famous music of the anthem of the British Royal Navy, “Heart of Oak,” composed in 1759 by Dr. William Boyce (1711-1779). Boyce’s music was first performed in London in Harlequin’s Invasion with the words that famed British actor David Garrick (1716-1779) penned to celebrate the three great victories of that year in the Seven Year’s War. Dickinson freely adapted Garrick’s lyrics, especially in the chorus, and Dickinson’s friend, Arthur Lee, in Boston enroute to England for law studies, also contributed two stanzas.
When Dickinson wrote his lyrics, he undoubtedly knew well the patriotic association with the Navy of the words and the music of “Heart of Oak.” Perhaps because of this, he also used the song to comment on his colleague John Hancock’s ship, called Liberty, which had been seized by the authorities for smuggling. This seizure, along with anger over the acts, precipitated riots and led to the declaration of a suspension of English imports by Boston merchants in August, 1768 to begin December 31.
First published in the Boston Gazette in July 1768, “The Liberty Song” later appeared in the Boston Chronicle of August 29, 1768. It was sung throughout the colonies at political meetings, dinners and celebrations; it is likely that “The Liberty Song” was the first song to express American patriotism. The most famous passage in the song is the source of a phrase known to many Americans centuries after: “By uniting we stand, by dividing we fall.” Less considered is the final stanza, which calls for toasts for “our Sovereign’s Health” and “Britannia’s Glory and wealth.” Such loyalty notwithstanding, Dickinson still worried, in his typical conservative fashion, that his first version had been too fiery.
An original copy of the Boston Chronicle printing is housed in the Dickinson College Archives and Special Collections in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. The song more recently appeared in a book of songs published in 1937 by the College, called Songs of Dickinson. In 2001, the Dickinson College Choir recorded a new rendition of the song on compact disc.
The original patriotic song “Heart of Oak,” incidentally, remains in the British patriotic lexicon and today is the official march-past of the Royal Navy and the Royal Canadian Navy.
Source: Liberty Song http://chronicles.dickinson.edu/encyclo/l/ed_libertysong.html
More songs of the American Revolution here >>
Liberty Song, The Massachusetts Historical Society
The Coming of the American Revolution 1764 – 1776
Liberty – The American Revolution
See other songs of the American Spirit in History and at Music
Come, join hand in hand, brave Americans all,
And rouse your bold hearts at fair Liberty’s call;
No tyrannous acts shall suppress your just claim,
Or stain with dishonor America’s name.
In Freedom we’re born and in Freedom we’ll live.
Our purses are ready. Steady, friends, steady;
Not as slaves, but as Freemen our money we’ll give.
Our worthy forefathers, let’s give them a cheer,
To climates unknown did courageously steer;
Thro’ oceans to deserts for Freedom they came,
And dying, bequeath’d us their freedom and fame.
Their generous bosoms all dangers despis’d,
So highly, so wisely, their Birthrights they priz’d;
We’ll keep what they gave, we will piously keep,
Nor frustrate their toils on the land and the deep.
The tree their own hands had to Liberty rear’d;
They lived to behold growing strong and revered;
With transport they cried, “Now our wishes we gain,
For our children shall gather the fruits of our pain.”
Swarms of placemen and pensioners soon will appear
Like locusts deforming the charms of the year;
Suns vainly will rise, showers vainly descend,
If we are to drudge for what others shall defend.
Then join hand in hand, brave Americans all,
By uniting we stand, by dividing we fall;
In so righteous a cause let us hope to succeed,
For heaven approves of each generous deed.
All ages shall speak with amaze and applause,
Of the courage we’ll show in support of our Laws;
To die we can bear, but to serve we disdain.
For shame is to Freedom more dreadful than pain.
This bumper I crown for our Sovereign’s health,
And this for Britannia’s glory and wealth;
That wealth and that glory immortal may be,
If She is but Just, and if we are but Free.