Country music superstar Tim McGraw and the author and historian Jon Meachem have combined on a written duet that showcases 160 American songs that “make an emotional connection with history,” and a Delawarean is at the top of their hit list.
The first song featured by the unlikely Nashville duo in their book, Songs of America: Patriotism, Protest, and the Music That Made a Nation, was penned by one of Delaware’s most prominent early citizens.
“The first song that we speak of in the book is a song John Dickinson, one of our Founding Fathers, wrote called the Liberty Song,” McGraw explained on a recent appearance on MSNBC’s Morning Joe.
“To me, what is so special about that song, is there is a verse in that song that ‘our children will inherit the fruits of our pain’ … this was written in 1768, eight years before the Declaration of Independence; such a prescient view of our country and what our country could lead to for future generations. I thought it was really incredible to have that vision that early on.”
Dickinson’s ode to patriotism joins other iconic American songs featured in the book including “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee,” “God Bless America,” “Over There” and “We Shall Overcome,” that stirred national emotions and “helped to carry us through the dark days and to celebrate the bright ones.”
Born in Maryland, and splitting much of his adult life between Philadelphia and his Delaware plantation Poplar Hall, Dickinson is usually remembered more for his influential role as “Penman of the Revolution” for his twelve Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania, and for being one of the first Founders to free his slaves (1777).
According to Dickinson College, “The Liberty Song” was written in 1768 when John Dickinson set out to reflect on the political strife caused by the Townshend Acts of 1767, the latest in a series of British crown taxes levied on the Colonies. Dickinson wrote the words to fit the famous music of the anthem of the British Royal Navy, “Heart of Oak.”
First published in the Boston Gazette in July 1768, “The Liberty Song” later appeared in the Boston Chronicle of August 29, 1768. It was sung throughout the colonies at political meetings, dinners and celebrations; it is likely that “The Liberty Song” was the first song to express American patriotism. The most famous passage in the song is the source of a phrase known to many Americans centuries after: “By uniting we stand, by dividing we fall.”
“Music makes an emotional connection with history – a combination of heart and brain that work together when you hear a song especially a song that has something to do with an inflection point in our history,” said Meacham. “You can hear a song in a more emotional way than you can read it on a page or even hear a speech.”
The Liberty Song lyrics:
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 dishonor 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 deserts for Freedom they came,
And dying, bequeath’d us their freedom and fame.
Their generous bosoms all dangers despis’d,
So highly, so wisely, their Birthrights they priz’d;
We’ll keep what they gave, we will piously keep,
Nor frustrate their toils on the land and the deep.
The tree their own hands had to Liberty rear’d;
They lived to behold growing strong and revered;
With transport they cried, “Now our wishes we gain,
For our children shall gather the fruits of our pain.”
Swarms of placemen and pensioners soon will appear
Like locusts deforming the charms of the year;
Suns vainly will rise, showers vainly descend,
If we are to drudge for what others shall defend.
Then join hand in hand, brave Americans all,
By uniting we stand, by dividing we fall;
In so righteous a cause let us hope to succeed,
For heaven approves of each generous deed.
All ages shall speak with amaze and applause,
Of the courage we’ll show in support of our Laws;
To die we can bear, but to serve we disdain.
For shame is to Freedom more dreadful than pain.
This bumper I crown for our Sovereign’s health,
And this for Britannia’s glory and wealth;
That wealth and that glory immortal may be,
If She is but Just, and if we are but Free.
Come swallow your bumpers, ye Tories, and roar,
That the sons of fair freedom are hampered once more;
But know that no cut-throats our spirits can tame,
Nor a host of oppressors shall smother the flame.
In Freedom we’re born, and, like sons of the brave,
Will never surrender, But swear to defend her;
And scorn to survive, if unable to save.
And for those interested, here’s more on the book:
From “The Star-Spangled Banner” to “Born in the U.S.A.,” Jon Meacham and Tim McGraw take readers on a moving and insightful journey through eras in American history and the songs and performers that inspired us. Meacham chronicles our history, exploring the stories behind the songs, and Tim McGraw reflects on them as an artist and performer. Their perspectives combine to create a unique view of the role music has played in uniting and shaping a nation.
Readers will discover the power of music in the lives of figures such as Harriet Tubman, Franklin Roosevelt, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Martin Luther King, Jr., and will learn more about some of our most beloved musicians and performers, including Marian Anderson, Elvis Presley, Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan, Duke Ellington, Carole King, Bruce Springsteen, and more.