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Hail Columbia, happy land!
Hail, ye heroes, heav’n-born band,
Who fought and bled in freedom’s cause,
“Hail, Columbia” cover sheet 1861
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.
Firm, united let us be,
Rallying round our liberty,
As a band of brothers joined,
Peace and safety we shall find.
Listen to “Hail, Columbia”
These words, the first verse, and chorus of America’s earliest, unofficial national anthem were penned in 1798 by Joseph Hopkinson, a US representative and federal district judge from Pennsylvania. He added them to music that had been composed in 1789 for George Washington’s first inauguration. Some do not realize that America had no official national anthem until 1931, when “The Star-Spangled Banner” was designated as such by Congress. Previously several songs had served as unofficial national anthems, and the earliest of these was “Hail, Columbia.”
Columbia was the early female personification of the United States, taking her name from Christopher Columbus. The use of Columbia focuses attention on the possibilities of the New World and on the United States as its best example.
Several themes are evident in the song. The first is the heaven-born heroes who fought the war that brought American independence and the heavy price they paid in blood and treasure. And it reminds us that we should be grateful to those who shed their blood on our behalf.
But the second theme of the peace and freedom that were won depicts the hope that America felt at the dawn of the nineteenth century. The purpose of the war had been peace and liberty – the war was not an end in itself, but it was worth the terrible price because it restored the ancient liberties that the English colonies had previously enjoyed.
The final theme reminds Americans to be united and rally around liberty as a band of brothers so that we can find peace and safety. There is an ongoing responsibility to secure that liberty for ourselves and our posterity.
Although “Hail, Columbia” remains the official entrance march for the vice-president of the United States, it lost popularity in the twentieth century and was replaced as a national anthem in 1931 by “The Star-Spangled Banner.”Published in