Verse > Anthologies > William McCarty, ed. > The American National Song Book
William McCarty, comp.  The American National Song Book.  1842.
THE COMPILER of these volumes for many years entertained the plan of making a collection of national songs and ballads: deeming the task, however humble, one the result of which would be acceptable to his countrymen.  1
  To fulfil the undertaking, required little else than resolution to begin, and industry to finish the work. The songs lay scattered through magazines, newspapers, and other periodicals, common song-books, and stall-ballads. All these were to be collected and examined. Files of newspapers from the period of Braddock’s defeat to the death of President Harrison, a period of eighty-six years, have been carefully searched: and the Pennsylvania Magazine of 1775–76. Carey’s American Museum, the Port Folio, the Analectic Magazine, and Niles’ Weekly Register, have also been examined.  2
  The compiler has also to acknowledge contributions from several gentlemen of Philadelphia, who have made collections. Yet he cannot flatter himself that he has all that may be obtained. Many copies of songs and ballads of the revolution, and of the war of 1812, he is persuaded yet remain in private hands. He would respectfully solicit from persons possessing such productions, the loan of their copies for publication: it being his intention to publish all that can be obtained. Some of the ballads included in this work, may be deemed of small poetical merit; but the present and future generation of Americans will hardly disdain those strains, however homely, which cheered and animated our citizen-soldiers and seamen, “in the times that tried men’s souls,” at the camp-fire or on the forecastle. The introduction to Patriotic Songs 10 and 18, was written by Alderman JOHN BINNS. That to 31, was taken from the National Gazette, about three years since, and is substantially corroborated by the annexed letter, from the author himself, written a short time before his death. A few party songs have been given: but as they seem to refer to important eras in our political history, the compiler hopes he may be pardoned for introducing them, especially as he has shown himself impartial, by giving as many on the opposite side of the question.  3
Philadelphia, April 24, 1841.    
  IN compliance with your request, I give you an account of the occasion and circumstances attending the composition of the national song of “HAIL COLUMBIA.”
  It was written in the summer of 1798, when war with France was thought to be inevitable. Congress was then in session in this city, deliberating upon that important subject, and acts of hostility had actually taken place. The contest between England and France was raging, and the people of the United States were divided into parties for the one side or the other; some thinking that policy and duty required us to espouse the cause of republican France, as she was called; others were for connecting ourselves with England, under the belief that she was the great preservative power of good principles and safe government. The violation of our rights by both belligerents was forcing us from the just and wise policy of President Washington, which was to do equal justice to both, to take part with neither, but to preserve a strict and honest neutrality between them. The prospect of a rupture with France was exceedingly offensive to the portion of the people which espoused her cause, and the violence of the spirit of party has never risen higher, I think not so high, in our country, as it did at that time, upon that question. The theatre was then open in our city. A young man belonging to it, whose talent was as a singer, was about to take his benefit. I had known him when he was at school. On this acquaintance, he called on me on Saturday afternoon, his benefit being announced for the following Monday. His prospects were very disheartening; but he said that if he could get a patriotic song adapted to the tune of the “PRESIDENT’S MARCH,” he did not doubt of a full house; that the poets of the theatrical corps had been trying to accomplish it, but had not succeeded. I told him I would try what I could do for him. He came the next afternoon; and the song, such as it is, was ready for him. The object of the author was to get up an American spirit, which should be independent of, and above the interests, passions, and policy of both belligerents: and look and feel exclusively for our own honour and rights. No allusion is made to France or England, or the quarrel between them: or to the question, which was most in fault in their treatment of us: of course the song found favour with both parties, for both were Americans; at least neither could disavow the sentiments and feelings it inculcated. Such is the history of this song, which has endured infinitely beyond the expectation of the author, as it is beyond any merit it can boast of, except that of being truly and exclusively patriotic in its sentiments and spirit.
Very respectfully,
Your most obedient servant,                
  Rev. Rufus W. Griswold.

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