Copyright © 1996 The American Studies Association. All rights reserved. This work may be used, with this header included, for noncommercial purposes within a subscribed institution. No copies of this work may be distributed electronically outside of the subscribed institution, in whole or in part, without express written permission from the JHU Press.
American Quarterly 48.4 (1996) 623-652

"Of Thee I Sing":
Contesting "America"

Robert James Branham

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, 1 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 imagine a

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 become true. 2

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" 3 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; "That's a joke. And if you don't laugh at it, it'll crack you up." 4 Others, 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. 5 Early American 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" 6 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. 7 "God Save the King" (1744), Britain's unofficial national anthem, was particularly subject to adaptation and appropriation. 8 Soon after the song's publication, satirical versions appeared both in Britain and the American colonies. 9 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 crown. 10 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. 11 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. 12 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. 13

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 of revolution." 14 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." 15 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 Street Church. 16 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 virtue. 17 Headmasters of local private schools were sufficiently impressed with the performance that they subsequently contracted with Mason to construct a music curriculum. 18 In 1838, the Boston School Committee approved music instruction in all city schools and named Mason the nation's first school superintendent of music instruction. 19 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." 20

"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 first [End Page 626] duty of schoolbook authors in their own eyes was to attach the child's loyalty to the state and nation." 21 The 1838 report of the Boston School Committee supports music instruction as a uniquely effective instrument for imparting civic virtue. Amoris 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 whole community." 22 The school music movement advanced song as a means to cultivate proper respect for nation, home, and family. 23

"America" was rapidly adopted for use in public schools, Sabbath schools, and civic ceremonies. 24 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 Thanksgiving. 25 "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 support. 26

"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." 27 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" 28 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. 29 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 associations." 30 "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. 31 The number 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." 32 As a 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 The Melting-Pot, Jewish immigrant protagonist David Quixano believes America to be "God's Crucible, the great Melting-Pot where all the races of Europe are melting and reforming." 33 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 American culture. 34

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. 35 In Let Freedom Ring (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. 36

The singing of "America" in "Americanization" ceremonies and immigrant literature is an assertion of citizenship and a claim of belonging. 37 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 teacher. 38 Nor is it, as stated in the second verse ("My native land to Thee"), the immigrant singer's "native land." 39 The Ford workers and students who sang "America" on Independence Day in 1916 substituted the word "chosen" for "native." 40 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." 41

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. 42 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 one song. 43

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. 44

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. 45 In 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. 46

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. 47 In 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. 48 When an 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. 49

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 (1903), 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. 50 Four years 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. 51

Of course you have faced the dilemma: it ["America"] is announced, they all smirk and rise. If they are ultra, they remove their hats and look ecstatic; then they look at you. What shall you do? Noblesse oblige; you cannot be boorish, or ungracious; and too, after all it is your country and you do love its ideals if not all of its realities. 52

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. 53 Independence Day songs and speeches typically proclaimed the success of the American Revolution in securing liberty for all Americans, despite obvious exclusions. 54

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 pieties. 55 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 of "America." 56 In his address of 5 July 1852, 57 Frederick Douglass explains that

This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I 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. 58

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 liberty? 59

[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 liberty of purchasing as many negroes as he can find means to pay for, and also the liberty to sell them again." 60 Paul transforms the ideograph "Liberty" into a symbol of alienation, corrupted with the "free" exercise of oppression. 61 At 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." 62 That land was not America. "'Tis not of thee my native land," wrote James Madison Bell on the anniversary of emancipation in the West Indies. 63 Bell left the United States for Canada, where he helped John Brown plan armed insurrection and the establishment of a new black nation. 64

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 traditional material." 65 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 and practices.

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. 66 The Liberator, the 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 shameful 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;
Where men man's rights deride;
From every mountain-side,
     Thy deeds shall ring. 67

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 refiguration. 68

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." 69

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 uncommitted. 70 Brown assembled a compilation of movement songs, many set to popular or patriotic tunes of the day, in The Anti-Slavery Harp; A Collection of Songs for Anti-Slavery Meetings (1848). Brown [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 one." 71 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. 72

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. 73

The soldiers who fought the Civil War were largely drawn from the first generation to have learned "America" in school and its performance [End Page 635] was later lauded "as indispensable and as common as sunshine all through that bitter contest." 74 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. 75 Several alternate Civil War versions of "America," such as that written by 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 a slave." 76 At a time when the survival of the nation was in doubt, "America" was used to redefine the Union and the mission of the war.

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. 77

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. 78 "America" was used in [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. 79

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 too--"). 80 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." 81 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 and adapters. 82 What constitutes "liberty"? Who is entitled to claim the country as their own? From which mountainsides does freedom ring?

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 inexorable character. 83 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." 84

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] country had yet faced. 85 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. 86 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. 87

Alternate versions of "America" speak from the experiences of groups or individuals 88 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." 89 Similarly, rap 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 Be 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?" 90 Brown and 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." 91 She 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." 92 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." 93

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!" 94 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." 95 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. 96 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 "America" to [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 outrage." 97 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 whatever race."

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. 98

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 charity. 99 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 does 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 the [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 the promise." 100 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. 101

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 Convention. 102 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." 103

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 it ring. 104

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. 105 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. 106 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. 107 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 performed it. 108 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!" 109

King uses the last line of the song verse to frame the famous anaphora 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." 110 "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 Volosinov observes:

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 inner dialectical quality of the sign comes out fully in the open only in times of social crises or revolutionary changes. 112

"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] civic 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 the nation.

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. 113 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. 114

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 and applications. [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." 115

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." 116 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. 117 In the 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 epilogue to The Weary Blues: "I, too, am America." 118

Bates College

Robert James Branham is professor of rhetoric at Bates College, Lewiston, 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.

1. Robert Bellah, "Civil Religion in America," Daedalus 96 (winter 1967): 3-21.

2. Repr. in James M. Washington, A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings of Martin Luther King, Jr. (San Francisco, 1986), 219-20.

3. John Tasker Howard, Our American Music: Three Hundred Years of It (New York, 1931), 131.

4. Quoted in Peter Goldman, The Death and Life of Malcolm X (New York: Harper & Row, 1973), 25.

5. Graeme Turner, "Representing the Nation," in Popular Fiction: Technology, Ideology, Production, Reading, ed. Tony Bennett (London, 1990), 117-27. See also Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (New York, 1983), 16.

6. John Anthony Scott, The Ballad of America: The History of the United States in Song and Story (Carbondale, Ill., 1983), 3.

7. Ronald Davis, A History of Music in American Life, 3 vols. (Huntington, N.Y., 1980), 1:182-83.

8. "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! (New York, 1954); Stanley Sadie, ed., The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 20 vols. (London, 1980), 13:56-57; Paul Nettl, National Anthems (New York, 1952), 34-51; Louis Elson, The National Music of America and Its Sources (Boston, 1899), 116-21; James J. Fuld, The Book of World-Famous Music (New York, 1985), 249-51.

9. 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 (Philadelphia, 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 American Revolution (New York, 1976), 658-59. See also Russell Sanjek, 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.

10. 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.

11. 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, The National Music of America, 121-24.

12. Dumas Malone, Dictionary of American Biography (New York, 1935), 342-43.

13. Charles Francis Meserve, "Samuel Francis Smith: The Author of America," Biblical Recorder, 9 Mar. 1932, 5.

14. W. E. Channing, "The Perfect Life: The Essence of Christian Religion," in The Works of William E. Channing (1841; Boston, 1895), 1003.

15. Lyman Beecher, "The Necessity of Revivals of Religion to the Perpetuity of Our Civil and Religious Institutions," in The Spirit of the Pilgrims (Boston, 1831), 467, quoted in David Brion Davis, ed., American Antebellum Culture (Lexington, Mass., 1979), 377.

16. 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.

17. 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 (Ann Arbor, Mich., 1985), 48.

18. James H. Stone, "Mid-Nineteenth-Century American Beliefs in the Social Values of Music," Musical Quarterly 43 (Jan. 1957): 39.

19. 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" (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1946), 13-76.

20. "America's Author Consents," Boston Post, 3 Dec. 1894, n.p.

21. Ruth Miller Elson, Guardians of Tradition: American Schoolbooks of the Nineteenth Century (Lincoln, Nebr., 1964), 5-6, 2, 282.

22. Quoted in Gehrkens, "Public School Music," 1702.

23. Stone, "Mid-Nineteenth-Century American Beliefs in the Social Values of Music," 40.

24. G. H. Whittemore, America: Our National Hymn (Boston, 1884), n.p.

25. Henry B. Carrington, Patriot Sons and Patriot Sires, A Song For Young America, & Programs for Patriotic Occasions (Boston, n.d.) 5-7; "The National Hymn," The Boston Post, 30 Nov. 1894, n.p.

26. David Procter, "The Dynamic Spectacle: Transforming Experience Into Social Forms of Community," Quarterly Journal of Speech 76 (May 1990): 120.

27. Quoted in Lewis R. Hovey, "My Column," The Beverly (Mass.) Republican, 20 June 1957, n.p.

28. Nettl, National Anthems, 6.

29. 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," Americanization Studies: The Acculturation of Immigrant Groups Into American Society, vol. 1 (Montclair, N.J., 1971), x.

30. Emory S. Bogardus, Essentials of Americanization (Los Angeles, 1919), 11.

31. Ibid., 12.

32. Ibid., 16.

33. Israel Zangwill, The Melting-Pot: Drama in Four Acts (New York, 1909), 37. I am grateful to Marcus Bruce for bringing this play to my attention.

34. Werner Sollors, Beyond Ethnicity: Consent and Descent in American Culture (New York, 1986), 66.

35. "From Codfish to Motor Cars," Ford Times (Aug. 1915): 31.

36. Let Freedom Ring (Metro Goldwyn Mayer Studios, 1939).

37. John Shotter, Cultural Politics of Everyday Life: Social Constructionism, Rhetoric, and Knowing of the Third Kind (Toronto, 1993), 193.

38. Maxine Hong Kingston, The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts (New York, 1976), 167.

39. Carl Becker, "The American Political Tradition," in Freedom and Responsibility in the American Way of Life (New York, 1945).

40. "Better Workmen and Citizens," Ford Times (Feb. 1916): 319.

41. Vine Deloria, Jr., Custer Died For Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto (New York, 1969), 2.

42. Robert Bellah, The Broken Covenant (New York, 1975).

43. "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.

44. "His Country Honors Him," Boston Herald, 4 Apr. 1895, 9.

45. Reginald Horsman, Race and Manifest Destiny: The Origins of American Racial Anglo-Saxonism (Cambridge, Mass., 1981), 158-59.

46. George Frederickson, The Black Image in the White Mind: The Debate on Afro-American Character and Destiny, 1817-1914 (New York, 1971), 135.

47. Leonard R. Richards, "The Jacksonians and Slavery," in Antislavery Reconsidered: New Perspectives on the Abolitionists, ed. Lewis Perry and Michael Fellman (Baton Rouge, La., 1979), 104-9. Harry L. Watson, Liberty and Power: The Politics of Jacksonian America (New York, 1990), 104-13.

48. Marilyn Richardson, ed., Maria W. Stewart, America's First Black Woman Political Writer: Essays and Speeches (Bloomingtonm Ind., 1987), 13-14. See also, John Daniels, In Freedom's Birthplace: A Study of the Boston Negroes (New York, 1914).

49. William Lloyd Garrison: The Story of His Life Told By His Children, 4 vols. (New York, 1885), 1:253.

50. W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk (Chicago, 1903), 17.

51. 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 71 (Feb. 1985): 22.

52. W. E. B. Du Bois, "My Country 'Tis of Thee," in Creative Writings 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.

53. Howard H. Martin, "The Fourth of July Oration," Quarterly Journal of Speech, 44 (Dec. 1958): 393-401; and Cedric Larson, "Patriotism in Carmine: 162 Years of July 4th Oratory," Quarterly Journal of Speech, 26 (Feb. 1940): 12-16.

54. Bellah, Broken Covenant, 88.

55. 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 (New 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 (Urbana, Ill., 1976), 168.

56. Reprinted in Vicki Eaklor, American Antislavery Songs: A Collection and Analysis (New York, 1988), 210.

57. 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.

58. Frederick Douglass, "The Meaning of the Fourth of July For the Negro," in Voice of Black America, 136.

59. 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.

60. Reprinted in Dorothy Porter, ed., Early Negro Writing, 1760-1837 (Boston, 1971), 287.

61. David E. Procter, "The Dynamic Spectacle," 123; Michael Calvin McGee, "'The Ideograph': A Link Between Rhetoric and Ideology," Quarterly Journal of Speech 66 (Feb. 1980): 12.

62. Quoted in Earl Ofari, "Let Your Motto Be Resistance," The Life and Thought of Henry Highland Garnet (Boston, 1972), 44.

63. 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).

64. For further information on the life and writings of Bell, see Blyden Jackson, A History of Afro-American Literature (Baton Rouge, La., 1989), 254-56; and Joan R. Sherman, Invisible Poets: Afro-Americans of the Nineteenth Century (Urbana, Ill., 1974), 80-87.

65. Herbert Marcuse, Counterrevolution and Revolt (Boston, 1972), 80.

66. Ronald G. Walters, "The Boundaries of Abolitionism," in Antislavery Reconsidered, 4.

67. Quoted in Eaklor, American Antislavery Songs, 96-97.

68. Walters, "Boundaries of Abolitionism," 8; Dave Morley, "Texts, readers, subjects," 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 the Media, ed. Michael Gurevitch, Tony Bennett, James Curran and Janet Woollacott (London, 1982), 80-81; Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, 3 vols. (New York, 1980), 1:101; and Stuart Hall, "Encoding/decoding," Culture, Media, Language, 137-38.

69. An alternate version of the song was written by D. S. Whitney for the 5th of July, 1852, observance at Abington, Mass. "Original Hymn," The Liberator 22 (16 July 1852). See also Eaklor, American Antislavery Songs, 97, 124-25, 183-84, 209, 217-18.

70. Eaklor, American Antislavery Songs, xx-xxi.

71. William Wells Brown, The Anti-Slavery Harp; A Collection of Songs for Anti-Slavery Meetings (Boston, 1854), 13.

72. Quoted in Eaklor, American Anti-Slavery Songs, 209.

73. From an interview with George Coblyn, Biddle's grandson, in the documentary film, The Massachusetts 54th Colored Infantry (Jacqueline Shearer, 1990).

74. Joseph W. Thayer, quoted in "His Country Honors Him," Boston Herald, 4 Apr. 1895, 9.

75. "Tribute to Dr. Smith," The Newton Graphic, 29 Nov. 1895.

76. Harriet Beecher Stowe, "Hymn For A Flag-Raising" (1861), in Rebellion Record: A Diary of American Events, ed. Frank Moore (New York, 1862), 140.

77. Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Army Life in a Black Regiment (1870; East Lansing, Mich., 1961), 30-31.

78. Edmund Morgan, "Slavery and Freedom: The American Paradox," in Africans Become Afro-Americans: Selected Articles on Slavery in the American Colonies, ed. Peter Charles Hoffer (New York, 1988), 160.

79. P. S. Gilmore, History of the National Peace Jubilee and Great Musical Festival (New York, 1871), 339.

80. Vera Brodsky Lawrence, Music for Patriots, Politicians and Presidents (New York, 1975), 130.

81. Recorded by Elizabeth Knight on Songs of the Suffragettes, Folkways FH5281 (1958).

82. M. M. Bakhtin, The Dialogic Imagination, trans. Carol Emerson and Michael Holquist (Austin, Tex., 1981), 324-25.

83. Lyman Beecher, Six Sermons on the Nature, Occasions, Signs, Evils and Remedy of Intemperance, 8th ed. (Boston, 1829), 45.

84. Walter K. Fobes, Temperance Songs and Hymns (Boston, 1889), 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 temperance cause."

85. Philip S. Foner, American Labor Songs of the Nineteenth Century (Urbana, Ill., 1975), 151, 164, 183, 184, 251, 268.

86. Ambrose Bierce, "A Rational Anthem," in The Collected Works of Ambrose Bierce, 12 vols. (New York, 1911), 5:201.

87. Irwin Silber, Songs America Voted By (Harrisburg, Penn., 1971), 154.

88. 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," The Washington 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 my attention.

89. Gerri Hirshey, "I Feel Good! The Umpteenth Resurrection of James Brown," Rolling Stone (27 June 1991): 64.

90. I am grateful to Lauren Popell for transcription of the lyrics.

91. 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.

92. 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., 1990), 235-43.

93. Sandage, "A Marble House Divided," 135-36.

94. "Let America Be America Again" (1938), Langston Hughes and Arna Bontemps, The Poetry of the Negro, 1746-1970 (Garden City, N.Y., 1970), 195. See also Arnold Rampersad, The Life of Langston Hughes, 2 vols. (New York, 1986), 1:315-20.

95. David Howard-Pitney, The Afro-American Jeremiad: Appeals for Justice in America (Philadelphia, 1990), 6. See also Sacvan Bercovitch, The American Jeremiad (Madison, Wisc., 1978); and Perry Miller, The New England Mind: From Colony to Province (Cambridge, Mass., 1953).

96. Wilson Jeremiah Moses, Black Messiahs and Uncle Toms: Social and Literary Manipulations of a Religious Myth (University Park, Penn., 1982), 30-31.

97. 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, 1893-1930 (Brooklyn, N.Y., 1990), 171.

98. Wells, "Lynch Law in All Its Phases," 187.

99. Wells quotes I Corinthians, 13:1. "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal."

100. Pitney, Afro-American Jeremiad, 8.

101. Turner, "Representing the Nation," 126-27.

102. Keith Miller, Voice of Deliverance: The Language of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Its Sources (New York, 1992), 146-49.

103. "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.

104. Archibald J. Carey, Jr., "An Address to the Republican National Convention," in Roy L. Hill, Rhetoric of Racial Revolt (Denver, Colo., 1964), 153-54.

105. Jules Schwerin, Got to Tell It: Mahalia Jackson, Queen of Gospel (New York, 1992), 132.

106. Martha Solomon, "Covenanted Rights: The Metaphor Matrix of 'I Have A Dream,'" in Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Sermonic Power of Public Discourse, ed. Carolyn Calloway-Thomas and John Louis Lucaites (Tuscaloosa, Ala., 1993), 73.

107. Miller, Voice of Deliverance, 113.

108. Sandage, "A Marble House Divided," 157.

109. In Washington, A Testament of Hope, 220.

110. Richard Lentz, Symbols, the News Magazines, and Martin Luther King (Baton Rouge, La., 1990), 76-78.

111. 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, ed. Michael C. Leff and Fred J. Kauffeld (Davis, Calif., 1989), 201.

112. V. N. Volosinov, Marxism and the Philosophy of Language, trans. Ladislav Matejka and I. R. Titunik (New York, 1973), 23.

113. Ethel Moseley Damon, Sanford B. Dole and His Hawaii (Alto, Calif., 1957), 253-54.

114. Henry McNeal Turner, "Justice or Emigration Should Be Our Watchword," in Voice of Black America, 595.

115. Cornel West, "Diverse New World," in Debating P.C.: The Controversy Over Political Correctness on College Campuses, ed. Paul Berman (New York, 1992), 331.

116. Sandage, "A Marble House Divided," 138.

117. 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.

118. Langston Hughes, The Weary Blues (New York, 1926), 109.