J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Tuesday, January 16, 2018

John Dickinson’s “Song, to the Tune of Heart of Oak”

On 4 July 1768, John Dickinson, already a delegate to the Stamp Act Congress and the author of Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania, wrote to James Otis, Jr., from Philadelphia:
I inclose you a song for American freedom. I have long since renounced poetry. But as indifferent songs are frequently very powerful on certain occasions, I venture to invoke the deserted muses. I hope that my good intentions will procure pardon with those I wish to please, for the boldness of my numbers.

My worthy friend, Dr. Arthur Lee, a gentleman of distinguished family, abilities and patriotism, in Virginia, composed eight lines of it.

Cardinal de Retz always inforced his political operations by songs. I wish our attempt may be useful. I shall be glad to hear from you, if you have a moment’s leisure to scribble a line to, dear sir, your most affectionate, most obedient servant…
For all of Dickinson’s diffidence about those lyrics, he had also sent copies to the printers of three Philadelphia newspapers, asking each to “insert the following in your next.”

“A Song, to the Tune of Heart of Oak &c.” duly appeared in the Philadelphia papers over the initial “D.” It began:
COME, join Hand in Hand, brave AMERICANS all,
And rouse your bold Hearts at fair LIBERTY’s Call;
No tyrannous Acts shall suppress your just Claim,
Or stain with Dishonour AMERICA’s Name.

In FREEDOM we’re BORN, and in FREEDOM we’ll LIVE,
Our Purses are ready,
Steady, Friends, steady,
Not as SLAVES, but as FREEMEN our Money we’ll give.

Our worthy Forefathers---let’s give them a Cheer---
To Climates unknown did courageously steer;
Thro’ Oceans to Desarts for Freedom they came,
And dying bequeath’d us their Freedom and Fame---
(The Pennsylvania Gazette rendered that last word as “Name.”)

Two days after sending his lines to Otis, Dickinson had second thoughts. He wrote again:
I enclosed you the other day a copy of a song composed in great haste. I think it was rather too bold. I now send a corrected copy which I like better. If you think the bagatelle worth publishing, I beg it may be this copy. If the first is published before this is come to hand, I shall be much obliged to you if you will be so good as to publish this with some little note, “that this is the true copy of the original.”

In this copy I think it may be well enough to add between the fourth and fifth stanzas these lines:
How sweet are the labors that freemen endure,
That they shall enjoy all the profit, secure—
No more such sweet labors Americans know,
If Britons shall reap what Americans sow.
In freedom we’re born, &c.
I am, dear sir, with the utmost sincerity, your most affectionate and most humble servant,…
Dickinson got that new verse into the Pennsylvania Chronicle publication of the song on 11 July. It went before one complaining about “Swarms and Placemen and Pensioners,” which he footnoted with the explanation, “The Ministry have already begun to give away in PENSIONS, the money they lately took out of our pockets, WITHOUT OUR CONSENT.” I think the Townshend Act actually provided salaries for royal appointees, not pensions, but Dickinson wanted to highlight the issue of taxation without representation and royal pensions already had a bad name.

The Boston Gazette published the original form of Dickinson’s lyrics on 18 July. Evidently his second letter didn’t arrive in time for Edes and Gill to insert the new verse. The Boston Evening-Post published the same version in August.

As Todd Andrlik traced, the Philadelphia and Boston publications were just the start. Dickinson’s verses, soon titled “The Liberty Song,” appeared in several more newspapers all over the American colonies.

TOMORROW: Dueling parodies.

1 comment:

G. Lovely said...

I'm not the patient sort, so thanks to the wonders of Google I was able to satisfy my curiosity with this rather operatic rendition:


And this more spontaneous version from the 2008 miniseries "John Adams":


I noted some of the YouTube commenters suggested this would be a far more fitting national anthem (and I might add, infinitely easier to sing).