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FRIDAY SURPRISE: The Star Spangled Banner wasn't always our national anthem. What was?


So, let's say you're starting a new country. There are lots of things you need to do, but once the fighting has stopped and your new nation is established you turn your mind to more important things - you know, things like adopting a Constitution, setting up a court system, figuring out a national currency, paying off your war debts, and so on. Management, it's called.

One of those management tasks on your to-do list might be the adoption of a national anthem. After all, every other country has one; music has always been a good tool to get citizens to rally in support of their new country, to bring people of perhaps disparate opinions together, and to build solidarity.

Surprisingly, our Founding Fathers (and the first Congress and our first President) didn't bother with one. In fact, it wasn't until March 3rd, 1931, that the United States had an official national anthem. It was then that we adopted a poem written by Francis Scott Key, mated to an old tune called "The Anacreontic Song" (no, really), as the national anthem of the United States of America.

Before President Herbert Hoover got into the act, however, we did have an
unofficial national anthem. It was played at state events and gatherings around the country, and the reason it was so popular was because of the stirring lyrics. The song was "Hail, Columbia" by Phillip Phile, who wrote it to be played at the inauguration of President George Washington. Its lyrics, by Joseph Hopkinson, were added in 1798 to remind Americans what freedom was, what it had cost us, and the importance of defending it:

Hail Columbia, happy land!
Hail, ye heroes, heav'n-born band,
Who fought and bled in freedom's cause,
Who fought and bled in freedom's cause,
And when the storm of war was gone
Enjoy'd the peace your valor won.
Let independence be our boast,
Ever mindful what it cost;
Ever grateful for the prize,
Let its altar reach the skies.

Chorus
Firm, united let us be,
Rallying round our liberty,
As a band of brothers joined,
Peace and safety we shall find.

Immortal patriots, rise once more,
Defend your rights, defend your shore!
Let no rude foe, with impious hand,
Let no rude foe, with impious hand,
Invade the shrine where sacred lies
Of toil and blood, the well-earned prize,
While off'ring peace, sincere and just,
In Heaven's we place a manly trust,
That truth and justice will prevail,
And every scheme of bondage fail.

Chorus
Firm, united let us be,
Rallying round our liberty,
As a band of brothers joined,
Peace and safety we shall find.

Behold the chief who now commands,
Once more to serve his country stands.
The rock on which the storm will break,
The rock on which the storm will break,
But armed in virtue, firm, and true,
His hopes are fixed on Heav'n and you.
When hope was sinking in dismay,
When glooms obscured Columbia's day,
His steady mind, from changes free,
Resolved on death or liberty.

Chorus
Firm, united let us be,
Rallying round our liberty,
As a band of brothers joined,
Peace and safety we shall find.

Sound, sound the trump of fame,
Let Washington's great name
Ring through the world with loud applause,
Ring through the world with loud applause,
Let ev'ry clime to freedom dear,
Listen with a joyful ear,
With equal skill, with God-like pow'r
He governs in the fearful hour
Of horrid war, or guides with ease
The happier time of honest peace.

Chorus
Firm, united let us be,
Rallying round our liberty,
As a band of brothers joined,
Peace and safety we shall find.


Apparently, however, the citizens of the early 20th century wanted something more martial, something more exciting, and pushed to have the Star Spangled Banner (which had become popular during the previous fifty years or so) adopted officially. Despite Key's lyrics being about the bombardment of Fort McHenry and not the birth of our nation, its repeated references to the stars and stripes appealed to the masses. As a result, the Star Spangled Banner got the President's signature and "Hail, Columbia" was reduced to being the song used to usher in the Vice President - a job famously described by John Nance Garner as "not worth a bucket of warm piss". (Garner should know - he was the 32nd Vice President, under Franklin Roosevelt.) It's a sad fate for such a great song!

What, you may ask, did our first national anthem sound like?
You can listen to "Hail, Columbia", and learn much more about it, over at the American Creation blog.


-=[ Grant ]=-
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