Gateway to the Classics: Historic Poems and Ballads by Rupert S. Holland
Historic Poems and Ballads by  Rupert S. Holland

Hail Columbia

I N 1798 the United States Congress authorized the enrollment of an army of ten thousand men, and instructed the President to order the captains of all American war-ships to seize any armed French vessels that were found hovering near the coast and attacking American merchantmen. Patriotic feeling ran high, and Joseph Hopkinson of Philadelphia wrote this poem to express the feelings of the times.

This letter from Joseph Hopkinson is given in "Poets and Poetry of America," edited by Rev. R. W. Griswold. "It [Hail Columbia] was written in the summer of 1798, when war with France was thought to be inevitable. Congress was then in session in Philadelphia, 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; while others were for connecting ourselves with England, under the belief that she was the great conservative 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 that portion of the people who 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 one 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. 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 honor and rights. No allusion is made to France or England, or the quarrel between them: or to the question, which was the most at fault in their treatment of us: of course the song found favor with both parties, for both were Americans; at least neither could disavow the sentiments and feelings it inculcated."

The song was first sung at the Chestnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia, in May, 1798; and became tremendously popular.

The air to which it was sung was one written by Phyla, a naturalized German, living in Philadelphia, an air which had been used at the inauguration of Washington, and was known as "The President's March."

Hail Columbia

by Joseph Hopkinson

Hail! Columbia, happy land!

Hail! ye heroes, heav'n-born band,

Who fought and bled in freedom's cause,

Who fought andbled in freedom's cause,

And when the storm of war was gone,

Enjoyed the peace your valor won;

Let independence be your boast,

Ever mindful what it cost,

Ever grateful for the prize,

Let its altar reach the skies;

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 shrinewhere sacred lies

Of toil and blood the well-earned prize;

While offering peace, sincere and just,

In Heav'n we place a manly trust,

That truth and justice may prevail,

And every scheme of bondage fail.

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 every clime to freedom dear

Listen with a joyful ear;

With equal skill, with steady pow'r,

He governs in the fearful hour

Of horrid war, or guides with ease

The happier time of honest peace.

Behold the chief, who now commands,

Once more to serve his country stands,

The rock on which the storm will beat!

The rock on which the storm will beat!

But armed in virtue, firm and true,

His hopes are fixed on Heav'n and you.

When hope was sinking in dismay,

When gloom obscured Columbia's day,

His steady mind, from changes free,

Resolved on death or liberty.

Firm, united let us be,

Rallying round our liberty,

As a band of brothers joined,

Peace and safety we shall find.

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