On 28 August 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr., described a dream of racial
equality "deeply rooted in the American dream." King drew upon the Bible,
the Declaration of Independence and the Gettysburg Address for the
inspirational texts of his secular sermon,
but to express
the substance of his dream, he turned to the lyrics of a song most of
his audience had learned as schoolchildren. He asked his listeners to
day when all of God's children will be able to sing with new meaning--"My
country! 'tis of thee; Sweet land of liberty; Of thee I sing; Land where
my fathers died; Land of the pilgrims' pride; From every mountainside;
Let freedom ring." And if America is to be a great nation this must
King, like many before him, used the text of the song "America" to express
the nation's principles, possibilities and shortcomings. Better known
today by its first line, "My country! 'tis of thee," "America"
is among the oldest and most widely known American national songs,
identified for over a century as "our national hymn"
and ritually performed in schoolrooms and patriotic ceremonies. As an
ideological expression of national ideals and aspirations, "America" has
been used in the civic training of children and the "Americanization"
of immigrants, Native Americans, and others. "America" makes a
first-person claim of identity and belonging on the part of its
citizen singers. This is "my country," its singer proclaims.
[End Page 623]
But for some, the claim that this is "my country" has functioned
as a premise from which the actual denial of the presumed entitlements
of citizenship might be appealed. Since the song's debut on 4 July 1831,
"America" has been employed by social and political activists to question
what it means to be an American and whether the country is, in fact, a
land where freedom rings "from every mountainside." Some have refused to
sing the song or have sung it in protest rather than piety. "You have
to be able to laugh to stand up and sing, 'My country 'tis of thee,
sweet land of liberty,'" Malcolm X argued;
a joke. And
if you don't laugh at it, it'll crack you up."
including abolitionists, suffragists, temperance activists, and labor
organizers, have written and performed alternate versions of the song
that adapt the original lyrics to question rather than proclaim America's
achievement of its aspirations. Can a country that countenances slavery,
disfranchisement, insobriety, or poverty, they ask, truly be deemed a
"sweet land of liberty"?
King's use of "America" unites these two divergent performative
traditions and constructions of the song: in one, the song is regarded
as the ultimate expression of American patriotism; in the other, it
is a singularly important site for contesting the nation's character,
self-image and actions. When King dreamt aloud of a time when "America"
might be sung with new meaning, he joined orators from Ida B. Wells to
James Baldwin and performers from Marian Anderson to 2 Live Crew who
have used the song "America" both to protest injustice and to express
the hope that America may yet achieve those principles professed in the
song that bears its name.
"America" has always been contested political territory. For much of the
country's history, it has been a locus for struggles to (re)define
the national character, citizenry and mission and has served
simultaneously and paradoxically as a text of identity and alienation,
of belonging and exclusion. In this essay, I examine the distinct yet
intertwined rhetorical traditions of the song "America," beginning with
its use in the nineteenth century construction of national identity
through school music programs, civic ceremonies, and "Americanization"
campaigns. Secondly, I discuss the use of the song, particularly in the
second half of the nineteenth century, as a touchstone for political
protest and parody. Finally, I discuss "America" as a central text in
the twentieth century African American jeremiad, a utopian discourse in
which the fulfillment of America's covenant is imagined.
[End Page 624]
Song and the Construction of National Identity:
"My Country! 'tis Of Thee"
Nations are social constructions more than geographic or demographic
entities, dependent upon the cultivation of a sense of collective identity
and belonging among their inhabitants.
patriotic songs served, as John Anthony Scott has observed, to give
"a scattered and struggling people a sense of unity and common destiny
amidst new and difficult problems"
by asserting shared
origins, trials, purpose and character ostensibly distinct from those
of other nations.
Yet the melodies of almost all early American patriotic music and
songs of resistance to British rule were taken from popular British
tunes of the day.
"God Save the King" (1744), Britain's
unofficial national anthem, was particularly subject to adaptation
Soon after the song's publication,
satirical versions appeared both in Britain and the American
Revolutionary War versions such as "God Save
America," "God Save the Rights of Man," "God Save George Washington,"
and "God Save Our Thirteen States" adapt the lyrics as appeals to
divine intervention on behalf of the insurrectionists rather than the
These early American versions of the song praise
liberty and decry monarchy, while using the shared melody to assist in
the transfer of popular affections. A song to the tune of "God Save the
King" welcomed Washington to New York for his inauguration as president
in 1789 and the melody was adapted many times to suit the patriotic
and ceremonial needs of the new nation.
By the time that
Rev. Samuel Francis Smith composed the lyrics to "America" in the winter
of 1831, its melody had been extensively and variously employed in the
assertion of national character and accomplishment for decades.
Smith (1808-1895) was a student at Andover Theological Seminary
when commissioned by pioneer music educator Lowell Mason to examine
a group of German song books and translate promising hymns for use by
Mason's children's choir.
Smith came upon a tune of "great
simplicity," which he later claimed not to have recognized as that of
"God Save the King." "I saw it was a [German] patriotic song and, while
I was thinking of translating it," Smith recalled, "I felt an impulse
to write an American patriotic hymn." He drafted new lyrics on a piece
of scrap paper in half an hour.
Smith's impulse to compose a patriotic hymn occured at a time of
[End Page 625]
enormous social unrest in America. Revolutions swept across
Europe in the preceding two years. "Thrones are tottering," wrote Boston
Unitarian minister William Ellery Channing in 1831, "and the firmest
establishments of former ages seem about to be swept away by the torrent
Increases in violent crime, the immigration
of Catholics, slave rebellions, and organized social agitation for a
variety of causes alarmed many Americans, who believed that the civic
culture and national identity were as yet too fragile to withstand
these pressures. Rev. Lyman Beecher, who delivered the prayer during the
service at which "America" premiered, warned in the same year that "the
dangers which threaten these United States, and the free institutions here
established, are numerous and appalling."
Smith and Beecher
believed love of God and love of country to be inextricably related. They
understood the national mission to be a divine charge and the individual's
proper relation to the state as one of worshipful obedience and inspired
service. Smith's hymn, "America," was designed to express and instill
these attitudes as pillars of social order in a time of perceived chaos.
Smith's new version of the song was first performed by Mason's
children's choir at an Independence Day celebration in Boston's Park
The 4 July 1831 performance not only unveiled
Smith's song, but also lent credence to Mason's then-controversial
claims that most children could benefit from musical instruction
and demonstrated the potential of song in the cultivation of civic
Headmasters of local private schools were
sufficiently impressed with the performance that they subsequently
contracted with Mason to construct a music curriculum.
1838, the Boston School Committee approved music instruction in all city
schools and named Mason the nation's first school superintendent of
The Boston program was rapidly adopted
by school districts throughout the country, as were Mason's published
collections of songs. "[A]s 'America' was in the collections furnished
the schools for use," Smith later explained, "it was not long before it
was sung everywhere."
"America" premiered during a period of enormous growth in public
education. The overriding mission of early public schools was the
moral and civic development of their pupils, as schools explicitly
sought to forge a "National Character" by imparting knowledge of and
allegiance to national principles. Regardless of the subject, as Ruth
Miller Elson's survey of nineteenth century textbooks reveals, "the
[End Page 626]
duty of schoolbook authors in their own eyes was to
attach the child's loyalty to the state and nation."
1838 report of the Boston School Committee supports music instruction as
a uniquely effective instrument for imparting civic virtue.
patriae nutrix, carmen,
the saying goes: song is the nourisher
of patriotism. Pronouncing it far more important "to feel rightly
than to think profoundly," the authors of the report argue that
"through vocal music you set in motion a mighty power which silently,
but surely, in the end will humanize, refine, and elevate a
The school music movement advanced
song as a means to cultivate proper respect for nation, home, and
"America" was rapidly adopted for use in public schools, Sabbath
schools, and civic ceremonies.
By the late nineteenth
century, "America" was commonly employed as the opening or closing
song for ceremonies celebrating Independence Day, Forefathers'
Day, Washington's Birthday, Columbus Day, Arbor Day, Labor Day and
"America" is an important text in the
rhetorical construction of national community on such occasions, from its
evocation of a "shared" Pilgrim past to its expression of nationalist
ideology on behalf of citizen-singers who pledge their loyalty and
"America" is, among other things, a discourse on citizenship. The
song lyric takes the form of a first person address directed from
the individual singer to the nation itself: "My country! 'tis of thee
. . . Of thee I sing." In performing the song, the vocalist makes a
claim of belonging (it is "my country"), advanced by right of ancestral
residence and sacrifice in a "land where my fathers died." "If he
had said 'Our Country,'" suggested Smith's friend and Harvard classmate
Oliver Wendell Holmes, "the hymn would not have become immortal, but that
'My' was a masterstroke."
When promoted by state or school,
the singing of "America" encourages the singers to embrace the nation
as their own.
The institutionalization of "America" was spurred by worry as well
as by celebration. The use of "America" and other patriotic songs to
"raise a half-consciously dormant emotion" of patriotism "into the
sphere of a complete consciousness"
originated during the
dramatic increase in immigration after 1828 and was intensified
in the period from 1880 through the first World War, when millions
more immigrants arrived in the United States.
Then as now,
many were concerned about the effects of immigration on the national
character and were alarmed
[End Page 627]
by the potentially divisive effects of the
newcomers' "habits and
customs arising out of sacred but alien
"America" has been a central text in national
deliberations about what it means to be an American and in efforts to
make loyal Americans of the new arrivals.
"Americanization Day" was celebrated in over 150 cities on 4 July
1915, and the National Americanization Committee was organized by the
Committee for Immigrants in America to "unify the various peoples in
the United States" by training both immigrant and native-born Americans
in the essentials of patriotic citizenship.
and diversity of immigrants made more apparent what had always been
true: that Americans could not be defined by common background
or religion. Instead, the Americanization movement argued, Americans
could best find meaningful association through adherence to shared
principles. The Americanization movement's self-described mission of was
a plainly rhetorical one: "Our national purposes must be clearly stated,
spread everywhere, and accepted throughout the land."
singularly clear and popular statement of national purpose and principle,
"America" became a basic text in many schools established for the civic
training of immigrants. For many newcomers, the song came to symbolize
the process and promise of naturalization and was a means through which
they might profess loyalty and belonging. Learning and singing the song
were acts by which aspiring citizens expressed their hopes for their
new country and affirmed their status as Americans.
In Israel Zangwill's 1909 play
protagonist David Quixano believes America to be "God's Crucible,
the great Melting-Pot where all the races of Europe are melting
Past associations are dissolved and new
identities forged. The play concludes on the evening of 4 July as David
embraces the daughter of the man who led the Russian pogrom that killed
his parents. From the rooftop of the settlement house, newly united
as Americans, they watch the sun set over the Statue of Liberty as the
sound of "My Country! 'tis of Thee" swells from the street below. "More
than any social or political theory," writes Werner Sollors, "the
rhetoric of Zangwill's play shaped American discourse on immigration
and ethnicity," partly by popularizing the melting-pot metaphor for
The choral performance of "America" by groups of new citizens was
emblematic of "melting pot" Americanism. On "Americanization Day,"
[End Page 628]
celebrated throughout the U.S. on 5 July 1915 and 1916, four
thousand foreign-born Ford employees marched in a parade together
with two thousand students of the Ford English School, pausing to sing
"America" when they reached the Detroit City Hall.
(1939), crusader Steve (Nelson Eddy) tries to persuade
immigrant rail workers to stop selling their votes to support the boss'
corrupt candidates and to take seriously the promise and responsibilities
of liberty that drew them to this country from many others. Steve's
final speech ("This is your land . . . it was won for you by men
like yourselves") fails to win them over. But just as the workers have
turned away and Steve is being led off by the sheriff, Steve's lover
begins singing "America." One by one the workers join in and the villains
skulk away. "You'd better leave town before we finish this song,"
the railroad boss is told.
The singing of "America" in "Americanization" ceremonies and
immigrant literature is an assertion of citizenship and a claim of
To sing the first-person "America" is
necessarily to sing of oneself as an American and the country as one's
own. Yet the lyrics of "America" might seem an unlikely vehicle for
the "Americanization" of immigrants as they base the singer's claim of
belonging on past generations of residence. However, for most recent
immigrants America is not the "land where my fathers died," as the young
Maxine Hong Kingston informed her surprised Hawaiian elementary school
Nor is it, as stated in the second verse ("My native
land to Thee"), the immigrant singer's "native land."
Ford workers and students who sang "America" on Independence Day in 1916
substituted the word "chosen" for "native."
For many Native
American singers, whose "native land" this truly is, the song's lyrics
are exclusionary in other ways. Vine Deloria, Jr., recalls the time he and
his friends began singing "America," only to break out laughing when they
reached the lines, "Land where our fathers died / Land of the pilgrims'
pride." "We realized," he recounts, "that our fathers undoubtedly died
trying to keep those Pilgrims from stealing our land."
By constituting and reconstituting "Americans," the song has been an
important text in the "dialectic between universalism and particularism,
between inclusion and exclusion" that Robert Bellah observes has
so marked American history.
In 1895, shortly before his
death, Samuel Smith addressed a large audience including the governors
and congressional representatives of several states, who had gathered
in Boston to pay tribute to him and his song. He explained that
[End Page 629]
In the singing of the song we are again all one. There are no democrats;
there are no republicans. There are no mugwumps. (Laughter.) But all are
patriots. There are no Baptists, no Congregationalists, no Methodists,
no Episcopalians; but all are one, singing one melody, and in the great
bursting of patriotism throughout the country attuning the one heart to
Smith and many others regarded "America" and other texts of the civic
culture as engines of unification that subsume and expunge all
differences. Smith's claim that "in the singing of the song we are again
all one" betokens the period's widely-held belief in a mythic past, prior
to mass immigration, assimilation, and emancipation, when America was
imagined to have been demographically homogeneous. At the same Boston
celebration of "America" at which Smith spoke, former Massachusetts
governor John D. Long described the song's birthplace in explicit
terms of racial purity--a place where "a homogeneous people of almost
pure English stock, unchanged for nearly two hundred years, dwell among
'her rocks and rills, her woods and templed hills,'" borrowing from the
song's second verse to chart the geography of white fantasy.
The performance of "America" has been an important element in the
construction of American racial myths. The period in which "America"
was popularized and institutionalized has been characterized as one
of romantic racial nationalism, when American history, character, and
destiny were conceived as distinctively Anglo-Saxon.
the decades that followed, race and nationality became increasingly
intertwined in popular and elite white thought and in the "unifying"
texts of the civic culture--including "America"--which were used to
construct a myth of homogeneity in the face of diversity.
As a text in "Americanization" campaigns for immigrants, "America" bore
a double-message; singing the song and believing its characterizations
were advanced as prerequisites of citizenship, yet the song
stipulated conditions for full citizenship that excluded immigrants and
others. Attempts to "Americanize" immigrants and Native Americans employed
symbols, rituals, and texts that would ostensibly unite diverse peoples by
shared allegiance. But by enshrining the history and experiences of one
group of Americans, the "shared" myths of national history and character
provided by the civic culture also divided the nation into those who were
"fully American" and those who presumably could never be.
[End Page 630]
"Sweet Land of Liberty": The Other "America"s
If "America" has historically been a site of struggle to define who
is an American, it has also been a ground for contesting national identity
and character. Not all Americans have felt that they could sing Smith's
description of America in good conscience. In 1831, when Smith proclaimed
America a "sweet land of liberty" and "land of the noble free," over two
million Americans were in bondage. A majority of the nation's residents,
including Native Americans and women, were denied the franchise and
other legal rights. Then-President Andrew Jackson was a slaveholder who
wagered his human property on horse races and championed the removal of
all Native Americans from lands east of the Mississippi.
Boston, where the song premiered, as in almost all Northern cities, public
transportation, schools, lecture halls, housing, churches, and public
entertainment were divided along the color line.
African American came to own a pew on the "whites only" lower floor
of Boston's Park Street Church one year before "America" was first
performed there, he was prevented from occupying it.
For many, to sing of America as a "sweet land of liberty" was to deny the
reality of their own experience. At the same time, "America" expresses
principles and aspirations endorsed by the abolitionists, and its lyrics
advance the claim of rightful citizenship that fired movements for
social and civil equality. In
The Souls of Black Folk
W. E. B. Du Bois explained that "One ever feels his two-ness--an
American, a Negro" in a country still not reconciled to its composite
population and divided along the color line.
later, he introduced an alternate version of "America" by describing
the ambivalence many have felt toward Smith's lyrics--the awkwardness
of feeling both affiliated and excluded, and obliged to sing yet
unable to do so without self-denial.
Of course you have faced the dilemma: it ["America"] is announced, they
all smirk and rise. If they are
they remove their hats
and look ecstatic; then they look at you. What shall you do?
oblige; you cannot be boorish, or ungracious; and too, after all it
your country and you
love its ideals if not all of
In the nineteenth century, the occasion on which America's ideals
and realities were most likely to be the subject of public observance
[End Page 631]
was Independence Day, the occasion on which Smith's song premiered
and for which it soon became a favored text. Communities across the
country gathered to sing patriotic songs and listen to speakers extol
national principles and achievements.
songs and speeches typically proclaimed the success of the American
Revolution in securing liberty for all Americans, despite obvious
But the Fourth of July was for many Americans a bitter reminder of
the nation's promises and hypocrisies and was observed by protests
and counter-ceremonies as well as by the expression of patriotic
The patriotic songs, especially "America," used
to mark conventional Independence Day ceremonies were particularly
galling to antebellum African Americans. "There is no song for me / 'Till
all mankind are free / From lash and brand," proclaims Joshua McCarter
Simpson in his song, "Fourth of July in Alabama" (1854), set to the tune
In his address of 5 July 1852,
Frederick Douglass explains that
This Fourth of July is
must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand
illuminated temple of liberty and call upon him to join you in joyous
anthems were inhuman mockery and sacreligious irony.
Douglass compares the expectation that African Americans would join in
the celebration of the Fourth and the singing of patriotic songs that
accompany it to the predicament of the ancient Israelites during their
exile in Babylon. He quotes Psalm 137: "For there they that carried us
away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of
us mirth, saying, sing us one of the songs of Zion." But Douglass asks,
in the words of the Israelites, "How shall we sing the Lord's song in
a strange land?" How, he implores, can one sing a song of freedom in a
land where one is not free?
In an 1856 address, Sara G. Stanley of the Delaware (Ohio) Ladies'
Anti-Slavery Society compares these national hymns with the sounds of
human misery they conceal:
As the song of freedom verberates and reverberates through the northern
hills, and the lingering symphony quivers on the still air and then
sinks away into silence, a low deep wail, heavy with anguish and despair,
rises from the southern plains, and the clank of chains on human limbs
mingles with the mournful cadence.
What to the toiling millions there, is this boasted
[End Page 632]
As the "national hymn," the song most widely performed in civic
ceremonies and in which the boast of liberty was most pronounced,
"America" became an important touchstone for Black abolitionist
orators. In the "land of liberty," Nathaniel Paul explained in London
in 1833, "the laws are so exceedingly liberal that they give to man the
of purchasing as many negroes as he can find means to
pay for, and also the
to sell them again."
Paul transforms the ideograph "Liberty" into a symbol of alienation,
corrupted with the "free" exercise of oppression.
the Ohio State Negro Convention of 1850, following the passage of the
Fugitive Slave Act, delegates passed a resolution that reaffirmed
the "doctrine of urging the slave to leave immediately with his hoe
on his shoulder, for a land of liberty."
was not America. "'Tis not of
my native land," wrote
James Madison Bell on the anniversary of emancipation in the West
Bell left the United States for Canada, where he
helped John Brown plan armed insurrection and the establishment of a
new black nation.
For abolitionists and others, the contrast between the principles of
"America" and the social reality of America was stark. The popularity of
the song thus created both problems for reformers expected to sing it and
opportunities for the creation of a counter-discourse in which the song
is employed to critique, rather than praise, the state of the Union. "A
new language, if it is to be political, cannot possibly be 'invented,'"
writes Herbert Marcuse; "it will necessarily depend on the subversion of
More than sixty alternate versions
of "America" are known to exist, drafted by abolitionists, temperance
activists, women's suffragists, labor organizers, and others. In most,
pointed intertextual references exploit "America" as a vehicle through
which to call attention to the disparity between national principles
Alternate versions of "America" began appearing soon after the debut
of Smith's song. A new era in abolitionism, marked by greater stridency
and the insistence upon immediate emancipation, began in 1831, the year
in which "America" premiered.
influential Boston-based newspaper of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery
Society edited by William Lloyd Garrison, began publication in January,
1831. Eight years later, a contributor remarked upon the already enormous
popularity of "America" and suggested an alternative version.
[End Page 633]
In the popular little hymn, entitled "America," written by S. F. Smith,
and often sung with such great eclat, there is such a manifest unlikeness
to our true condition as a nation, which it was the author's design
to depict, that if it were divested of its caption and the author's
signature, it would be difficult to guess the original. In order
to bring out some great and
truths in relation to our
national character and condition, which are concealed by this otherwise
beautiful production, I send you for publication the following parody.
My country! 'tis of thee,
Stronghold of Slavery--
Of thee I sing:
Land, where my fathers died;
From every mountain-side,
Thy deeds shall ring.
As in Smith's version, the singer of this parody addresses the nation, but
in reproach, not worship. The author's preliminary statement of purpose
laments the extent to which Smith's version has come to define
the "national character and condition" for many Americans. However,
it also invests some hope in the prospect that the song, when properly
reconstructed, might serve to reveal and make poignant the "great and
shameful truths" of American society, as "Thy deeds shall ring." Working
intertextually with Smith's version, the lyrical variations on America
designate the song as an "arena of struggle" subject to dispute and
As in the twentieth century civil rights movement, song played a very
important part in the organizational efforts of the anti-slavery movement,
gathering individual voices in a unified chorus of shared sentiment
and commitment. In both movements, familiar melodies were used to ease
learning and, in some instances, to create meaningful counterpoint
between the movements' lyrics and those they supplanted. Subversive
antislavery versions of "America" were sung at abolitionist meetings and
at counter-observances of the Fourth of July--which pointedly paralleled
the dominant performances of "America."
Some activists, such as abolitionist and former slave William Wells
Brown (1815-1885), believed song to be more persuasive than the
greatest oratory, and therefore, the most effective means to reach the
Brown assembled a compilation of movement
songs, many set to popular or patriotic tunes of the day, in
Anti-Slavery Harp; A Collection of Songs for Anti-Slavery Meetings
[End Page 634]
includes an alternate version of "America," entitled
"Spirit of Freemen, Awake," to rally sympathizers to action: "Sons
of the Free! we call / On you, in field and hall, / To rise as
Invoking the patriotic devotion of the implied singer
of "America," a later verse asks, "What lover of her fame / Feels not
his country's shame, / In this dark hour?"
Antislavery versions of "America" from the early 1850s include
those composed by African American poet Joshua McCarter Simpson
(1820-1876), a conductor on the Underground Railroad who believed
that "you can sing what it would be death to speak." His song collection,
The Emancipation Car,
contains several alternate versions of
"America," including the "Song of the 'Aliened American'": "My country,
'tis of thee / Dark land of Slavery, / In thee we groan." Simpson borrows
from the original lyrics ("My country! 'tis of thee") in laying claim
to justice. It is his country; he has been "aliened" against his will
and rights. He recharacterizes the nation as one in which slavery, not
liberty, is the definitive property and recasts the performance of
the piece as a lamentation. For Simpson, America is a land of tyranny
and oppression, not liberty ("The white man rules the day-- / He holds
despotic sway, / O'er all the land"). Simpson again samples Smith's lyrics
in the final verse, but finds "sweet freedom's song" in Black
pleas for justice rather than patriotic paeans to past achievement:
We now "Eight Millions Strong,"
Must strike sweet freedom's song
And plead ourselves, our wrong--
Our chains must break.
When the Civil War finally offered some prospect that the chains of
slavery might be broken, African Americans were willing but unwelcome
to fight for the Union. In the midst of the war, when seventeen
year-old Eli Biddle attended public school in Boston, all students were
required to begin each day's classes by singing "America." When Biddle
declined to do so, his teacher gave him an ultimatum: sing the song or
be dismissed. Biddle persisted in his refusal and left school. Later
that day while roaming the streets of Boston, he encountered a recruiter
for the newly formed Massachusetts 54th Colored Infantry. He enlisted,
willing to fight in the attempt to create a country he had not been
able to praise in song as if it already existed.
The soldiers who fought the Civil War were largely drawn from the
first generation to have learned "America" in school and its
[End Page 635]
was later lauded "as indispensable and as common as
sunshine all through that bitter contest."
It was sung
to celebrate victory, to lift soldiers' spirits after defeat and to
steel them for upcoming battle. A somber "America," for example, was
sung on the eve of the bloody Second Battle of Bull Run.
Several alternate Civil War versions of "America," such as that written
Uncle Tom's Cabin
author Harriet Beecher Stowe, explicitly
link the song's praise of liberty with arguments that the war's aim
must be emancipation: "Let Freedom's banner wave, / Till there be not
At a time when the survival of the nation was in
doubt, "America" was used to redefine the Union and the mission of
On the eve of 1 January 1863, when Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation
would finally take effect, former slaves and others gathered in
hundreds of communities. At one such gathering in South Carolina, Union
Colonel Thomas Wentworth Higginson observed that after an opening prayer:
The President's proclamation was read . . . [and] the colors were
presented. . . . All this was according to the programme. Then followed
an incident so simple, so touching, so utterly unexpected and startling,
that I can scarcely believe it on recalling. . . . The very moment the
speaker had ceased, and just as I took and raised the flag, which
now for the first time meant anything to these poor people, there
suddenly arose, close beside the platform, a strong male voice (but
rather cracked and elderly), into which two women's voices instantly
blended, singing, as if by impulse that could no more be repressed than
the morning note of the song-sparrow.
'My Country, 'tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty
Of thee I sing!'
People looked at each other, and then at us on the platform, to see
whence came this interruption. . . . firmly and irrepressibly
the quavering voices sang on, verse after verse; others of the colored
people joined in; some whites on the platform began, but I motioned them
to silence. I never heard anything so electric; it made all other words
cheap . . . after it was ended, tears were everywhere.
For newly freed men and women, the act of singing "America" marked
their first symbolic step toward citizenship after generations of
bondage. With the end of slavery in a land that professed dedication
to human liberty--the "central paradox of American history," as Edmund
Morgan has termed it--seemed at an end.
[End Page 636]
postwar ceremonies such as Boston's mammoth 1869 National
Peace Jubilee to symbolically reconcile the divided nation, as former
Confederate soldiers and citizens joined their Union counterparts in
singing of the United States as their own country.
But the end of the Civil War and passage of the Thirteenth, Four-teenth,
and Fifteenth Amendments by no means resolved national debates about the
meanings of liberty and the character of the nation. After the war, as
before and during it, "America" was an important text in the conduct of
these disputes. Advocates of women's rights had published an alternate
version of "God Save America," entitled "Rights of Woman," in 1795
("O Let the sacred fire / Of freedom's voice inspire / A female
A century later, after the pointed exclusion of
women from the Fifteenth Amendment, suffragists adapted Samuel Smith's
lyrics to envision "The New America," in which the singers proclaim
their independence: "Our country now from thee / Claim we our liberty
/ In freedom's name."
Meaningful "liberty" is impossible
without the franchise--a status doomed to dependency and inequality. The
"double-voiced" discourse thus constructed works dialogically between
Smith's refracted intentions and the inquiries posed by later parodists
What constitutes "liberty"? Who is entitled to
claim the country as their own? From which mountainsides does freedom
The suffrage, temperance, and labor movements, like the anti-slavery
campaign, frequently adapted popular songs, including "America," in
order to interrogate national principles and ideology. Members of the
temperance movement believed true freedom to be impossible without
sobriety. To be drunk, warned Rev. Lyman Beecher, is "to resign your
liberty forever, and come under a despotism of the most cruel and
Temperance versions of "America"
insist upon prohibition as a prerequisite for the "sweet land of liberty"
imagined in Smith's song. "Temperance, Thy Noble Name" imagines what
life will be like "when thy victory's won," a time of "Freedom for all
to share, / And joy beyond compare, / To endless days."
In its appropriation of "America," the organized labor movement of the
late nineteenth century argued that economic security was a prerequisite
to liberty. The Knights of Labor, International Workers of the World,
and American Federation of Labor each produced alternate versions of
"America" between 1893 and 1897, a period in which heightened union
activity coincided with the worst economic crisis the
[End Page 637]
Over sixteen thousand businesses went bankrupt in
1893, the stock market collapsed, hundreds of thousands were unemployed,
and homelessness and hunger were common. Without food, what is liberty? In
"America--1895," labor activist O. J. Graham updated Smith's lyrics to
describe the contemporary state of the nation.
Our country 'tis for thee,
Land where once all were free,
We take our stand.
We once had liberty,
Peace and prosperity;
Now, want and misery
All through our land.
Like many of the alternate versions, Graham's "America" temporally
displaces the country described by Smith. The suffragist "New America"
hypothesizes a future in which women have gained their rights,
thus creating a true "land of liberty" where none has previously
existed. Graham's version, however, locates Smith's "America" in a past
("Land where once all were free," "We once had liberty") from which his
contemporaries have fallen, perhaps irretrievably. Those who attributed
the economic ills of the late nineteenth century to the greed, misdeeds,
and corruption of trusts and tycoons often drew upon an idealized past
and saw in contemporary affairs the devolution and potential demise of
the political system. In "A Rational Anthem," for example, misanthrope
Ambrose Bierce's version of "America," past liberty has been subverted
in a "sweet land of felony" and "land where the thief is free," where
the "rail-rogues" and other criminals own the government.
Similarly, the National Greenback Party's 1878 "New National Anthem"
recalls the "Once land of liberty" now lost through corruption and
economic inequity ("Land of the millionaire, / Farmers with pockets
bare"), but voices confidence that the "Greenback men, / Who strive
with tongue and pen / For liberty again" will soon restore the nation
to Smith's ideal.
Alternate versions of "America" speak from the experiences of groups or
who believe their access to liberties heralded
in Smith's version has been denied or limited. These counter-discourses
attempt to identify the unmet prerequisites of true liberty (temperance,
economic security, racial harmony, equal rights). The authors of alternate
"America"s contrast the original's "boasted liberty" with grim reality,
its ideals with national achievements and practices. If in Smith's
[End Page 638]
"America" the national character seems fixed--an achievement
to be celebrated--the alternate versions speak of "America" as a land
still becoming. In the other "America"s, Smith's "sweet land of liberty"
is elusive, lost or yet to be achieved.
"Let Freedom Ring": The African American Jeremiad
Alternate versions of "America" play upon audience knowledge of Smith's
lyrics in order to raise pointed concerns regarding the extent to which
America's ideals have been realized or maintained. But some have reversed
this process. Instead of refusing to sing "America" or changing its
lyrics, some singers and orators have retained Smith's original words,
but cast them against a backdrop of circumstances that alters their
meaning, changing the context from piety to inescapable irony.
Ironic recitations or performances of Smith's lyrics occur when the
speaker's or singer's liberty is believed to have been abridged. When
singer James Brown was released from prison in 1991 after serving an
unusually severe sentence, he explained that he "knew there was no
justice," then sang "My Country 'Tis of Thee." Brown identified
himself as a believer in "God and country," trusting that "The Bible will
save your soul, the Man put you in jail."
group 2 Live Crew used an ironic "America" to protest court decisions
upholding the ban on sales of their album
As Nasty As They Wanna
in Broward County, Florida. Their subsequent single, "Banned
in the U.S.A.," employs Smith's "America" as backdrop for an angry rap
that asks, "What is this? Is this not America?"
2 Live Crew place the original "America" in new contexts, juxtaposing
the song's proclamations with the circumstances that have befallen the
performers. Both ask: "How can such things happen in a 'sweet land of
liberty?'" By reframing Smith's song within the context of their own
predicaments, they seek to undermine the understanding of the United
States as a extant "sweet land of liberty," and to gain public support
by wrapping acts widely perceived as antisocial in the protective fabric
of commonly-shared ideals.
A more successful and enduring performance of "America" was that of
Marian Anderson in 1939. When the great contralto performed Smith's
lyrics as the highlight of her Easter protest concert, she had
achieved enormous international acclaim and performed in the greatest
[End Page 639]
European opera houses. Yet the stages of the Metropolitan and other
major American companies were still denied her because of her color
and when her manager sought to book Washington's Constitution Hall, the
Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) refused to rent it to Anderson
or any other black artist. Amidst much uproar, an alternative concert
site was arranged in front of the Lincoln Memorial and over fifty
thousand people attended. With the encouragement of National Association
for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Secretary Walter White,
the opening song of Anderson's program was "America."
chose to sing of a "sweet land of liberty" at the public observance of
liberty's denial, and to challenge the DAR as custodians of "Americanism"
by laying claim to the principles expressed in "America."
Framed in the context of the highly publicized treatment of Anderson
that had impelled the performance and induced the audience to attend
it, singing Smith's "America" became an act of resistance and a call
to action. To emphasize this, Anderson alters one small word in the
song, substituting "To thee I sing" for "Of thee I sing."
Anderson reinforces Smith's statement of principle. "America" is
invoked as evidence of an unfulfilled covenant between the nation
and its citizens, a premise of shared values from which appeals might
be constructed. "America never was America to me," writes Langston
Hughes; "And yet I swear this oath-- / America will be!"
Smith's lyrics have long been a touchstone for those engaged in the
rhetoric of social criticism and prophecy that has been termed the
African American jeremiad. This "rhetoric of indignation" draws upon the
shared texts, myths, symbols and rituals of the American civil religion
for the purpose of "expressing deep dissatisfaction and challenging
the nation to reform."
The traditional structure of the
jeremiadic sermon stipulates the American covenant, traces the nation's
declension and failure to keep the covenant, and concludes by imagining
its prospects for salvation. In its distinctive African American variant,
the jeremiad warns whites of the judgment that will befall them because
of the sins of slavery or racial discrimination and prophesies a coming
day of justice.
For more than a century, African American
jeremiadic orators have used the lyrics of Smith's "America" to suggest
the promises of the past, the sins of the present, and the redemptive
possibilities of the future.
Antilynching activist Ida B. Wells used Smith's
[End Page 640]
refigure the nation for her listeners. In the 13 February
1893, address at Boston's Tremont Temple with which she launched her
national campaign, Wells explains that "in one section, at least, of
our common country . . . a government of the people, by the people,
and for the people, means a government by the mob; where the land of
the free and home of the brave means a land of lawlessness, murder and
By pairing "freedom" with "lawlessness," bravery
with the commission of "outrage," "by the people" with "by the mob," Wells
redefines the sacred terms of the American civil religion to argue
that the very "foundation of government, law and order" is imperiled. In
the conclusion of her address, Wells takes as her text the lyrics of
"America." She imagines a utopian future in which "mob rule shall be
put down and equal and exact justice be accorded to every citizen of
Then no longer will our national hymn be sounding brass and a tinkling
cymbal, but every member of this great composite nation will be a living,
harmonious illustration of the words, and all can honestly and gladly
join in singing:
My country! 'tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty
Of thee I sing.
Land where our fathers died,
Land of the Pilgrim's pride,
From every mountainside
Freedom does ring.
Wells demands that freedom ring "from every mountainside" to the
"coral reefs of the Southern seas." Central to Wells' campaign was the
understanding of lynching as a national crime that required national
solutions. Until equal justice is available to all American citizens,
she explains, the national hymn "America" will be but "sounding brass
and a tinkling cymbal," a pretension to virtue betrayed by lack of
Wells imagines a time when the words of "America"
will reflect national reality. Like Anderson, Wells alters but one
word in Smith's lyrics. Instead of pretending that we now "Let freedom
ring," Wells projects the song into a millennial future when its lyrics
can be sung in honesty, when "freedom
ring" and the nation
"will be a living, harmonious illustration of the words." Wells's speech
and use of "America" assume the structure of the American jeremiad. She
cites the nation's founding principles as promise and covenant, criticizes
[End Page 641]
present declension of society in its failure to keep the promise,
and prophesies that "society will shortly complete its mission and redeem
Wells uses "America" to express the national
mission and its potential fulfillment, thus turning the very texts
of nationalism to challenge dominant views of the culture.
Seventy years later, Martin Luther King, Jr., made strikingly similar
use of "America" and the jeremiadic structure in his 1963 address to
the March on Washington. King clearly modeled the concluding section of
his speech, built around the lyrics of "America," on remarks delivered
by family friend Archibald Carey at the 1952 Republican National
On the evening after the Eisenhower forces
had succeeded in gutting the party's civil rights platform opposing
discrimination in housing and employment, Carey told fellow delegates
and viewers of the first nationally televised party convention that
African Americans want "'[n]othing special.' Just what everybody else
wants, nothing more and nothing less."
We, Negro-Americans, sing with all loyal Americans:
My country, 'tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty
Of thee I sing
Land where my fathers died
Land of the Pilgrims' pride
From every mountain side
Let freedom ring!
That's exactly what we mean--from every mountain side, let freedom
ring. Not only from the Green Mountains and the White Mountains of Vermont
and New Hampshire; not only from the Catskills of New York; but from the
Ozarks in Arkansas, from the Stone Mountain in Georgia, from the Great
Smokies of Tennessee and from the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia--let
King adapted Carey's conclusion for his own famous speech, delivered
eleven years later at the Lincoln Memorial--the site where Marian Anderson
performed the song in 1939 and where Mahalia Jackson sang "America" for
the Southern Christian Leadership Conference's "Prayer Pilgrimage for
Freedom" on 17 May 1957.
King draws upon this location
early in his speech to embody the past, "in whose symbolic shadow we
stand today," and the unkept promises of justice and equality. King
characterizes the declension of the present in "the fierce urgency
of now" and warns of the coming judgment: a
[End Page 642]
"whirlwind of revolt"
that will engulf the nation if the cry for justice is not heeded.
But it is King's imagination of the millennial future for which
the speech is best remembered as well as his use of Smith's lyrics
to give shape to his prophecy of a fulfilled covenant between
government and citizens.
The use of deductive reasoning
from accepted premises is a hallmark of the sermonic style in African
American public address, particularly in appeals to predominantly
white audiences. Orators and others engaged in public address may
draw upon sacred or secular texts that, like the Bible, require no
external validation or proof.
Segregation is wrong (and
"un-American"), King argues, because it violates the principles declared
in Smith's "America" and embraced by millions of Americans who have
King extends Lincoln's musical vision of
a reconciled nation in which "the jangling discords of our nation" are
transformed "into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood" to describe his
own dream of "the day when all of God's children will be able to sing
with new meaning: 'My country, 'tis of thee.'"
And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let
freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire . . .
But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!
Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!
Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill in Mississippi. From
every mountainside, let freedom ring. When we let freedom ring, when
we let it ring from every village and hamlet, from every state, and
every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's
children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and
Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old
Negro spiritual, "Free at last! free at last! thank God almighty, we
are free at last!"
King uses the last line of the song verse to frame the famous
of his conclusion, in which he urges his audience to "let
freedom ring." He embraces the song "America" as a statement of national
principle and purpose but recasts its vision from present to future tense
in a dream that is speculative, contingent, deferred. For King, America's
status as a "sweet land of liberty" is yet to be achieved and "must
become true." The imagined act of a nation joined in singing "America"
symbolizes King's vision of an "America made whole."
"In the quasi-mythical time of this vision," J. Robert Cox has written,
"past and future are reconciled; no longer is there any tension between
promise and reality, or between struggle and deliverance."
111[End Page 643]
King, Carey, and Wells employ the song "America" not as a
proclamation of what the country is, but of what it could and must
be. They imagine a future when the song can be sung without irony or
hypocrisy, "honestly," in Wells's words, or "with new meaning," as King
says. King, Carey, and Wells all use the uniform political landscape
described in "America," where freedom rings "from every mountainside," as
a beacon beyond the sectionalism that apportions rights by region. "Let
freedom ring," they admonish, because it does not now.
Conclusion: "Sweet Freedom's Song"
Let music swell the breeze,
And sing from all the trees
Sweet freedom's song;
Let mortal tongues awake;
Let all that breathe partake;
Let rocks their silence break,
The song prolong.
For most of this country's history, "America" has been a cultural text of
enormous importance through which individuals and groups have sought to
(re)mold community and to express their relationships to the country and
their experiences within it. At any given point in the nation's history,
Americans have lived under vastly different circumstances. The qualities
of their lives and extent of their liberties have varied enormously,
as have their perceptions of the degree to which America has secured
its stated aims and principles. The disjunct rhetorical histories of
"America" are composed of efforts to proclaim the nation's principles
and hypocrisies, accomplishments and failures, unity and diversity. As
Each living ideological sign has two faces, like Janus. Any current curse
word can become a word of praise, any current truth must inevitably
sound to other people as the greatest lie. This
of the sign comes out fully in the open only in times of
social crises or revolutionary changes.
"America" was written in the tumultuous 1830s and popularized in the Civil
War era. The song's institutionalization was part of a concerted effort
to deepen patriotic affiliation and to construct enduring
[End Page 644]
order in a time when the nation's fate seemed precarious. Similarly, the
song's appropriation by social and political movements has been most
pronounced in times of perceived national emergency. When events spur
reflection on the state and purposes of the nation, "America" has
been a favored resource of contention. To examine the disparate uses of
"America" at moments of national crisis is to glimpse the extraordinary
diversity of peoples, privilege, and politics that (re)constitute
In 1893 for example, different uses and versions of "America" variously
addressed an America beset by economic depression, racial and labor
violence, hostility toward immigrants, and the rising fever of foreign
expansionism. "America" was sung in most American classrooms and civic
ceremonies in 1893. As America entered its age of empire, "My country"
took on a more expansive meaning. In 1893, American businessmen in
Hawaii staged a coup against Queen Liliuokalani with troops who sang
"My Country 'tis of Thee" as they occupied the palace and began the
process of American annexation.
In the same year, Ida
B. Wells closed her Boston antilynching address with the text of
"America," imagining a day when "freedom does ring." However, when
Reverend Henry McNeal Turner addressed the convention of the National
Council of Colored Men in Cincinnatti, also in 1893, he used the text of
"America" to voice his despair and disaffiliation:
"Give me liberty, or give me death!"
Other American Negroes may sing--
My country, 'tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty,
Of thee we sing.
But here is one Negro, whose tongue grows palsied, whenever he is invited
to put music to these lines.
Disillusioned by the lack of American progress toward social justice in
the decades since the Civil War, Turner became a leader of the African
emigration movement. For Turner, this nation no longer offered hope
and its songs and symbols were but painful mockeries of the principles
forsaken. The divergent yet contemporaneous uses of "America" reflect
a multiplicity of Americas, concealed and denied by the dominant reading
of the song, yet poignantly revealed through its subversive variants
[End Page 645]
Why have so many turned to the text of "America" in order to
voice their hopes and grievances? In part, the popularity of the song as
a vehicle for protest reflects its popularity for the expression
of patriotism, its prominent role in civic ceremonies and its daily
performance in classrooms. The song's ubiquitous performances were a
grating reminder to many of the liberties extended to others and promised
but denied to themselves, a statement of supposed universality that were
"a mere smokescreeen for someone else's particularity."
The persistent use of "America" to protest these exclusions also
reflects the song's singular ability to express a common vision
of American ideals and the rights of citizenship. "The famous sign,
'I AM A MAN,' may have been morally compelling," writes Scott Sandage,
"but winning political and legal rights for blacks required a more focused
message: I AM AN AMERICAN."
The singer of "America," whether
immigrant, African American, labor activist, or suffragist, makes a claim
of entitlement to social justice: This is "my country"; this is the "land
where my fathers died," many in its defense; this is the self-proclaimed
"land of liberty." Arguing from what Frederick Douglass termed the
"just force of admitted American principles," "America" has afforded
social and political activists an accepted premise by which to judge
national performance and appeal to broader audiences.
tradition of the jeremiad, "America" provides a succinct and immediately
recognizable statement of national promise, a gauge by which to measure
the gap between present conditions and the promise, and a millennial
imagination of national destiny in which the promise is redeemed.
In its myriad uses and variations, "America" is a crucial text of
American identity and alienation, of belonging and exclusion, and of
patriotism and protest. By singing "America" in any of its versions and
performative contexts, the singer imagines the nation and his or her
place within it. "I, too, sing America," as Langston Hughes wrote in
The Weary Blues: "I, too, am America."
Robert James Branham is professor of rhetoric at Bates College,
Maine. He is co-editor (with the late Philip S. Foner) of Lift Every
Voice: African American Oratory from 1787 to 1900 (forthcoming).
Abbreviated versions of this essay have been presented at Loyola
University, Chicago, IL (February, 1992), and at the Temple University
Discourse Analysis Conference on Conflict and Diversity,
Philadelphia, PA (April, 1992). The author wishes to thank Marcus Bruce,
Rob Farnsworth, David Howard-Pitney, Mary Hunter, Keith Miller, and
Ann Scott for their many helpful suggestions and the Maine Humanities
Council for their support.
Robert Bellah, "Civil Religion in America,"
(winter 1967): 3-21.
Repr. in James M. Washington,
A Testament of Hope: The Essential
Writings of Martin Luther King, Jr.
(San Francisco, 1986),
John Tasker Howard,
Our American Music: Three Hundred Years of
(New York, 1931), 131.
Quoted in Peter Goldman,
The Death and Life of Malcolm X
(New York: Harper & Row, 1973), 25.
Graeme Turner, "Representing the Nation," in
Technology, Ideology, Production, Reading,
ed. Tony Bennett (London,
1990), 117-27. See also Benedict Anderson,
Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism
John Anthony Scott,
The Ballad of America: The History of the
United States in Song and Story
(Carbondale, Ill., 1983), 3.
A History of Music in American Life, 3
vols. (Huntington, N.Y., 1980), 1:182-83.
"God Save the King" has been incorporated by many composers, including
Beethoven, Paganini, and Handel. Its melody has been used for the
anthems of nineteen nations, including Denmark, Sweden, Russia, and
Switzerland. See Percy Scholes,
God Save the Queen!
1954); Stanley Sadie, ed.,
The New Grove Dictionary of Music and
Musicians, 20 vols. (London, 1980), 13:56-57; Paul Nettl,
(New York, 1952), 34-51; Louis Elson,
The National Music of America and Its Sources
116-21; James J. Fuld,
The Book of World-Famous Music
York, 1985), 249-51.
Richard Grant White,
National Hymns: How They Are Written and
How They Are Not Written, A Lyric and National Study for the Times
(New York, 1861), 60. "God Save the King" was first published in
the American colonies in 1761 as part of James Lyon's
Urania, or a
Choice Collection of Psalm-tunes, Anthems, and Hymns
1761), and was given its first-known public performance in 1769 by
William Tuckey. In 1764, the song was performed with new lyrics in honor
of Benjamin Franklin. Kenneth Silverman,
A Cultural History of the
(New York, 1976), 658-59. See also Russell
American Popular Music: The First Four Hundred Years
(New York, 1988), 278; and Gilbert Chase,
America's Music: From the
Pilgrims to the Present
(Urbana, Ill., 1987), 114.
Oscar G. T. Sonneck,
Library of Congress Report on "The
Star-Spangled Banner," "Hail Columbia," America," "Yankee Doodle"
(Washington, D.C., 1909), 77; Oscar Brand,
Songs of '76: A Folksinger's
History of the Revolution
(New York, 1972), 166.
Douglas Southall Freeman,
George Washington: A Biography, V.6
(New York, 1954), 180; James Thomas Flexner,
George Washington and
the New Nation
(Boston, 1970), 179; and Louis Elson,
Music of America, 121-24.
Dictionary of American Biography
Charles Francis Meserve, "Samuel Francis Smith: The Author of
9 Mar. 1932, 5.
W. E. Channing, "The Perfect Life: The Essence of Christian Religion,"
The Works of William E. Channing
(1841; Boston, 1895), 1003.
Lyman Beecher, "The Necessity of Revivals of Religion to the
Perpetuity of Our Civil and Religious Institutions," in
of the Pilgrims
(Boston, 1831), 467, quoted in David Brion Davis,
American Antebellum Culture
(Lexington, Mass., 1979), 377.
There has long been confusion regarding the date of the first
performance of "America." In his later years, Smith often recollected
(although usually with some explicit uncertainty) that the song was
first performed on 4 July 1832. Its one hundredth anniversary
was celebrated at the Park Street Church in 1932, as was its 125th in
1957. A printed broadside of the lyrics distributed at the inaugural
performance survives in the Library of the American Antiquarian Society,
however, with the title: "Celebration of American Independence By the
Boston Sabbath School Union at Park Street Church, July 4, 1831." This
date has gained acceptance by the Samuel Francis Smith Homestead Society
and by recent musicologists.
Only one year before in the Park Street Church, Mason had directed
the earliest known public singing performance by an American children's
choir. Carol A. Pemberton,
Lowell Mason: His Life and Work
Arbor, Mich., 1985), 48.
James H. Stone, "Mid-Nineteenth-Century American Beliefs in the
Social Values of Music,"
43 (Jan. 1957): 39.
For detailed description of Mason's teaching philosophy and role in
the development of music instruction in the public schools, see Pemberton,
Lowell Mason, 61-95, 113-28; and Arthur Lowndes Rich,
Lowell Mason: "The Father of Singing Among the Children"
Hill, N.C., 1946), 13-76.
"America's Author Consents,"
3 Dec. 1894, n.p.
Ruth Miller Elson,
Guardians of Tradition: American Schoolbooks
of the Nineteenth Century
(Lincoln, Nebr., 1964), 5-6, 2, 282.
Quoted in Gehrkens, "Public School Music," 1702.
Stone, "Mid-Nineteenth-Century American Beliefs in the Social Values
of Music," 40.
G. H. Whittemore,
America: Our National Hymn
Henry B. Carrington,
Patriot Sons and Patriot Sires, A Song For
Young America, & Programs for Patriotic Occasions
n.d.) 5-7; "The National Hymn,"
The Boston Post,
Nov. 1894, n.p.
David Procter, "The Dynamic Spectacle: Transforming Experience Into
Social Forms of Community,"
Quarterly Journal of Speech
Quoted in Lewis R. Hovey, "My Column,"
20 June 1957, n.p.
David H. Bennett,
The Party of Fear: From Nativist Movements to the
New Right in American History
(Chapel Hill, N.C., 1988), 28-29;
William Bernard, "General Introduction,"
The Acculturation of Immigrant Groups Into American Society, vol. 1
(Montclair, N.J., 1971), x.
Emory S. Bogardus,
Essentials of Americanization
The Melting-Pot: Drama in Four Acts
York, 1909), 37. I am grateful to Marcus Bruce for bringing this play
to my attention.
Beyond Ethnicity: Consent and Descent in American
(New York, 1986), 66.
"From Codfish to Motor Cars,"
(Aug. 1915): 31.
Let Freedom Ring
(Metro Goldwyn Mayer Studios, 1939).
Cultural Politics of Everyday Life: Social
Constructionism, Rhetoric, and Knowing of the Third Kind
Maxine Hong Kingston,
The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood
(New York, 1976), 167.
Carl Becker, "The American Political Tradition," in
Responsibility in the American Way of Life
(New York, 1945).
"Better Workmen and Citizens,"
(Feb. 1916): 319.
Vine Deloria, Jr.,
Custer Died For Your Sins: An Indian
(New York, 1969), 2.
The Broken Covenant
(New York, 1975).
"America: The Author's Own Account of How the National Hymn Was
Written. Address of the Rev. S. F. Smith at the Testimonial Recognition
Tendered Him By the Governors of All the States in Boston, April
3, 1895," broadside in the Colby College Special Collections, Miller
Library, Colby College.
"His Country Honors Him,"
4 Apr. 1895, 9.
Race and Manifest Destiny: The Origins of
American Racial Anglo-Saxonism
(Cambridge, Mass., 1981), 158-59.
The Black Image in the White Mind: The Debate
on Afro-American Character and Destiny, 1817-1914
Leonard R. Richards, "The Jacksonians and Slavery," in
Reconsidered: New Perspectives on the Abolitionists,
Perry and Michael Fellman (Baton Rouge, La., 1979), 104-9. Harry
Liberty and Power: The Politics of Jacksonian America
(New York, 1990), 104-13.
Marilyn Richardson, ed.,
Maria W. Stewart, America's First Black
Woman Political Writer: Essays and Speeches
1987), 13-14. See also, John Daniels,
In Freedom's Birthplace:
A Study of the Boston Negroes
(New York, 1914).
William Lloyd Garrison: The Story of His Life Told By His
Children, 4 vols. (New York, 1885), 1:253.
W. E. B. Du Bois,
The Souls of Black Folk
(Chicago, 1903), 17.
Robert Branham, "Speaking Itself: Susan Sontag's Town Hall Address,"
Quarterly Journal of Speech
75 (Aug. 1989): 261; Robert Branham
and W. Barnett Pearce, "Between Text and Context: Toward a Rhetoric
of Contextual Reconstruction,"
Quarterly Journal of Speech
(Feb. 1985): 22.
W. E. B. Du Bois, "My Country 'Tis of Thee," in
by W. E. B. Du Bois,
ed. Herbert Aptheker (White Plains, N.Y., 1985),
15. I am indebted to Marcus Bruce for introducing me to this version.
Howard H. Martin, "The Fourth of July Oration,"
Journal of Speech, 44 (Dec. 1958): 393-401; and Cedric Larson,
"Patriotism in Carmine: 162 Years of July 4th Oratory,"
Journal of Speech, 26 (Feb. 1940): 12-16.
Robert James Branham, "Reflexivity in Public Address:
Reconstructing the Fourth of July," paper presented to the annual
convention of the Speech Communication Association, Atlanta, Ga., 2
Nov. 1991. 4 July 1831, the date on which "America" premiered in Boston,
was, for example, the date originally scheduled for Nat Turner's slave
rebellion. An abolitionist counter-ceremony was held on the same date at
Abington, Mass. Herbert Aptheker,
American Negro Slave Revolts
York, 1943), 297; Philip S. Foner,
We the Other People: Alternative
Declarations of Independence by Labor Groups, Farmers, Woman's Rights
Advocates, Socialists and Blacks, 1829-1975
Reprinted in Vicki Eaklor,
American Antislavery Songs: A Collection
(New York, 1988), 210.
Many Black Americans before 1863 observed the fifth of July,
rather than the Fourth, noting that if freedom were ever to come, it
would be a long day late. Peter Osborne, "It Is Time For Us To Be Up
and Doing," in
Voice of Black America, ed. Philip S. Foner (New
York, 1975), 62.
Frederick Douglass, "The Meaning of the Fourth of July For the
Voice of Black America, 136.
Sara G. Stanley, "Address to the Ohio Convention of Negro Men," in
A Documentary History of the Negro People in the United States,
ed. Herbert Aptheker (New York, 1951), 382.
Reprinted in Dorothy Porter, ed.,
Early Negro Writing,
(Boston, 1971), 287.
David E. Procter, "The Dynamic Spectacle," 123; Michael Calvin McGee,
"'The Ideograph': A Link Between Rhetoric and Ideology,"
Journal of Speech
66 (Feb. 1980): 12.
Quoted in Earl Ofari,
"Let Your Motto Be Resistance," The Life
and Thought of Henry Highland Garnet
(Boston, 1972), 44.
James Madison Bell,
The Poetical Works of James Madison Bell
(Lansing, Mich., 1901), 36. Bell also composed a "Song For the First of
August" to the tune of "God Save the Queen" (ibid., 198-99).
For further information on the life and writings of Bell, see
A History of Afro-American Literature
Rouge, La., 1989), 254-56; and Joan R. Sherman,
Poets: Afro-Americans of the Nineteenth Century
Counterrevolution and Revolt
Ronald G. Walters, "The Boundaries of Abolitionism," in
Quoted in Eaklor,
American Antislavery Songs, 96-97.
Walters, "Boundaries of Abolitionism," 8; Dave Morley, "Texts,
Culture, Media, Language: Working Papers in
Cultural Studies, 1972-79,
ed. Stuart Hall (London, 1980), 167;
Stuart Hall, "The Rediscovery of Ideology," in
Culture, Society and
ed. Michael Gurevitch, Tony Bennett, James Curran and
Janet Woollacott (London, 1982), 80-81; Michel Foucault,
History of Sexuality, 3 vols. (New York, 1980), 1:101; and Stuart
Culture, Media, Language, 137-38.
An alternate version of the song was written by D. S. Whitney for
the 5th of July, 1852, observance at Abington, Mass. "Original Hymn,"
22 (16 July 1852). See also Eaklor,
Antislavery Songs, 97, 124-25, 183-84, 209, 217-18.
William Wells Brown,
The Anti-Slavery Harp; A Collection of Songs
for Anti-Slavery Meetings
(Boston, 1854), 13.
Quoted in Eaklor,
American Anti-Slavery Songs, 209.
From an interview with George Coblyn, Biddle's grandson, in the
The Massachusetts 54th Colored Infantry
(Jacqueline Shearer, 1990).
Joseph W. Thayer, quoted in "His Country Honors Him,"
4 Apr. 1895, 9.
"Tribute to Dr. Smith,"
The Newton Graphic,
29 Nov. 1895.
Harriet Beecher Stowe, "Hymn For A Flag-Raising" (1861), in
Rebellion Record: A Diary of American Events,
ed. Frank Moore
(New York, 1862), 140.
Thomas Wentworth Higginson,
Army Life in a Black Regiment
(1870; East Lansing, Mich., 1961), 30-31.
Edmund Morgan, "Slavery and Freedom: The American Paradox," in
Africans Become Afro-Americans: Selected Articles on Slavery in the
ed. Peter Charles Hoffer (New York, 1988), 160.
P. S. Gilmore,
History of the National Peace Jubilee and Great
(New York, 1871), 339.
Vera Brodsky Lawrence,
Music for Patriots, Politicians and
(New York, 1975), 130.
Recorded by Elizabeth Knight on
Songs of the Suffragettes,
Folkways FH5281 (1958).
M. M. Bakhtin,
The Dialogic Imagination, trans. Carol Emerson
and Michael Holquist (Austin, Tex., 1981), 324-25.
Six Sermons on the Nature, Occasions, Signs, Evils
and Remedy of Intemperance, 8th ed. (Boston, 1829), 45.
Walter K. Fobes,
Temperance Songs and Hymns
19. A note on the title page explains that "These songs are written to
familiar tunes so that all may join together in singing for the grand
Philip S. Foner,
American Labor Songs of the Nineteenth Century
(Urbana, Ill., 1975), 151, 164, 183, 184, 251, 268.
Ambrose Bierce, "A Rational Anthem," in
The Collected Works of
Ambrose Bierce, 12 vols. (New York, 1911), 5:201.
Songs America Voted By
The lyrics to "My District, 'Tis of Thee," written by Frederick Wile,
were distributed to those who attended District of Columbia Day at the
Philadelphia sesquicentennial on 6 Oct. 1926. Washington, D.C., lacking
representation in Congress, is portrayed as a "land without liberty,"
"Where income tax is paid, / Yet, when all's done and said, / Freedom
can't ring." Samuel Brylawski, "A Song For the Asking,"
Weekly, 1 Oct. 1989. I am grateful to Joseph C. Hickerson of the
Library of Congress Archive of Folk Culture for bringing this piece to
Gerri Hirshey, "I Feel Good! The Umpteenth Resurrection of James
(27 June 1991): 64.
I am grateful to Lauren Popell for transcription of the lyrics.
Scott A. Sandage, "A Marble House Divided: The Lincoln Memorial,
the Civil Rights Movement, and the Politics of Memory, 1939-1963,"
The Journal of American History
(June 1993): 144.
Allida M. Black, "A Reluctant but Persistent Warrior: Eleanor
Roosevelt and the Early Civil Rights Movement," in
Women in the Civil
Rights Movement: Trailblazers and Torchbearers, 1941-1965,
ed. Vicki Crawford, Jacqueline Rouse, and Barbara Woods (Brooklyn, N.Y.,
"Let America Be America Again" (1938), Langston Hughes and Arna
The Poetry of the Negro, 1746-1970
N.Y., 1970), 195. See also Arnold Rampersad,
The Life of Langston
2 vols. (New York, 1986), 1:315-20.
The Afro-American Jeremiad: Appeals
for Justice in America
(Philadelphia, 1990), 6. See also Sacvan
The American Jeremiad
(Madison, Wisc., 1978); and
The New England Mind: From Colony to Province
(Cambridge, Mass., 1953).
Wilson Jeremiah Moses,
Black Messiahs and Uncle Toms: Social and
Literary Manipulations of a Religious Myth
(University Park, Penn.,
Ida B. Wells, "Lynch Law in all Its Phases," in Mildred I. Thompson,
Ida B. Wells-Barnett: An Exploratory Study of an American Black Woman,
(Brooklyn, N.Y., 1990), 171.
Voice of Deliverance: The Language of Martin Luther
King, Jr., and Its Sources
(New York, 1992), 146-49.
"Warning on Civil Rights,"
New York Times,
9 July 1952, 12;
C. P. Trussell, "Civil Rights Battle Averted As Party Adopts Platform,"
New York Times,
11 July 1952, 1, 9.
Archibald J. Carey, Jr., "An Address to the Republican National
Convention," in Roy L. Hill,
Rhetoric of Racial Revolt
Colo., 1964), 153-54.
Got to Tell It: Mahalia Jackson, Queen of
(New York, 1992), 132.
Martha Solomon, "Covenanted Rights: The Metaphor Matrix of 'I Have
A Dream,'" in
Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Sermonic Power of
ed. Carolyn Calloway-Thomas and John Louis Lucaites
(Tuscaloosa, Ala., 1993), 73.
Symbols, the News Magazines, and Martin Luther
(Baton Rouge, La., 1990), 76-78.
J. Robert Cox, "The Fulfillment of Time: King's 'I Have a Dream'
Speech (August 28, 1963)," in
Texts in Context: Critical Dialogues on
Significant Episodes in American Political Rhetoric,
C. Leff and Fred J. Kauffeld (Davis, Calif., 1989), 201.
V. N. Volosinov,
Marxism and the Philosophy of Language,
trans. Ladislav Matejka and I. R. Titunik (New York, 1973), 23.
Ethel Moseley Damon,
Sanford B. Dole and His Hawaii
Calif., 1957), 253-54.
Henry McNeal Turner, "Justice or Emigration Should Be Our Watchword,"
Voice of Black America, 595.
Cornel West, "Diverse New World," in
Debating P.C.: The
Controversy Over Political Correctness on College Campuses,
Berman (New York, 1992), 331.
Frederick Douglass, "The Present Condition and Future Prospects
of the Negro People," an address delivered at the annual meeting of the
American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society, New York City, May 1853, in
The Life and Writings of Frederick Douglass, ed. Philip S. Foner,
5 vols (New York, 1950), 2:243.
The Weary Blues
(New York, 1926), 109.