My Country, ’Tis of Thee

by Samuel F. Smith

Samuel Francis Smith was a twenty-four-year-old Baptist seminary student in Massachusetts when he wrote the lyrics of “America (My Country, ’Tis of Thee),” theSamuel F. Smith to J. Wiley Edmands, January 29, 1864. (Gilder Lehrman Collectio patriotic song that would serve as an unofficial national anthem for nearly one-hundred years.

In 1831, while studying at Andover Theological Seminary, Smith was asked by composer Lowell Mason to translate some German song books. Inspired by one of the German songs—“God Bless Our Native Land” (set to the tune of “God Save the King”)—Smith set out to write an original patriotic song for America set to the same melody. The result was what Smith called “America” and what would eventually be better known as “My Country, ’Tis of Thee.” The song was first performed on July 4, 1831, by a children’s choir in Boston.

Smith’s lyrics invoked the history of America—“Land where my fathers died, / Land of the Pilgrims’ Pride, / From every mountain side / Let freedom ring”—as well as its beauty and sense of itself as a blessed land—“I love thy rocks and rills, / Thy woods and templed hills, / My heart with rapture thrills, / Like that above.” “America” soon took on a life of its own, quickly becoming widely known and well loved, and the song served as an unofficial national anthem until the adoption of “The Star-Spangled Banner” in 1931.

Samuel F. Smith, America (My Country Tis of Thee) August 4, 1886. (Gilder LehrmIn 1864, in the midst of the Civil War, Smith sent a copy of the song to former US Representative J. Wiley Edmands of Massachusetts. More than thirty years after he composed the lyrics to “America,” Smith wrote of the words’ enduring power: “I am happy to have been the means through them of adding a momentary joy to a festive, or light to a gloomy hour.”

The verses below were copied out by Smith in 1886:

“America”

My country, ’tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty,
   Of thee I sing;
Land where my fathers died,
Land of the Pilgrims’ Pride,
From every mountain side
   Let freedom ring.

My native country, thee,
Land of the noble, free,
   Thy name I love;
I love thy rocks and rills,
Thy woods and templed hills,
My heart with rapture thrills,
   Like that above.

Let music swell the breeze,
And ring from all the trees
   Sweet freedom’s song;
Let mortal tongues awake,
Let all that breathe partake,
Let rocks their silence break,
   The sound prolong.

Our fathers’ God, to Thee,
Author of liberty,
   To Thee we sing;
Long may our land be bright,
With freedom’s holy light,
Protect us by Thy might,
   Great God, our King.

A full transcript of the letter is available.
A full transcript of the song is available.

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