"The President's March" and "Hail Columbia"

Music by Philip Phile, 1789; Lyrics by Joseph Hopkinson, 1798

What lines in this song seem directed to the Federalist/Anti-Federalist controversy? What was the "cost" of independence?

What did "liberty" mean to the people who first sang this song? Who was included in that definition? Who was not included?

How would you define liberty? Have we finally achieved liberty for all? Why or why not? If not, what do we still need to do to reach that goal?

This tune was composed for George Washington's inauguration in 1789. What makes this music a march? How does it differ from a military march? What other marches have a slow tempo? "Pomp and Circumstance," "Wedding March," etc. What do these marches have in common? Used in solemn ceremonies. What march is played for the president today? "Hail to the Chief."

This song remained popular long after it was written. Why did people still identify with it after the Federalist/Anti-Federalist crisis? For decades "Hail Columbia" was the U.S.'s unofficial national anthem, but in 1931 President Herbert Hoover proclaimed "Star Spangled Banner" to be the U.S.'s official national anthem. Why do you think it was chosen over "Hail Columbia"? Why do you think "Hail Columbia" isn't as popular today as some other patriotic songs?

"Hail Columbia" performed by Douglas Jimerson on Foster, Gounod, Et Al … Lincoln's Favorites, © 1998.

This recommended recording is one of the few that includes the lyrics as well as the music.

View the lyrics for "Hail Columbia."

View the published score.

Portrait of Francis Hopkinson by Robert Pine, Historical Society of Pennsylvania Collection, Philadelphia History Museum at the Atwater Kent, Philadelphia, PA.

“The President’s March,” composed by Philip Phile, was played at George Washington’s inauguration in 1789. Joseph Hopkinson, son of “founding father” Francis Hopkinson, wrote lyrics for the tune in 1798 for actor Gilbert Fox to perform at an event in Philadelphia.

The song was intended to stimulate national pride and shore up support for the Federalists amid their bitter political disputes with anti-Federalists, such as Thomas Jefferson. Federalists stood for a strong federal government and central bank. Anti-Federalists opposed centralized power and identified with the republican ideals of the French Revolution. Hopkinson wrote that he hoped the song would “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 honour and rights” (qtd. in Coleman, p. 33).

Despite Hopkinson’s pronouncement of nonpartisanship, his song’s reverence for Washington as a strong federal leader reflected his strong Federalist views—and earned him a political appointment from John Adams. Hopkinson’s song is perhaps best viewed as an example of the American tradition of nonpartisan partisanship. That is, it advocated for nonpartisanship that fell in line behind one faction’s vision for the nation.

Not surprisingly, the song’s reception was partisan. First Lady Abigail Adams, who was present for its first performance, wrote, “The whole Audience broke forth in the Chorus whilst the thunder from their Hands was incessant” (letter from Abigail Adams to Mary Smith Cranch, April 26, 1798). On the other hand, the editor of the anti-Federalist paper Aurora wrote,

  When the wished for song came,—which contained, amidst the most ridiculous bombast, the vilest adulation to the Anglo-Monarchical Party, and the two Presidents, the extacy [sic] of the party knew no bounds, they encored, they shouted … and in the fury of their exultation threatened to throwover, or otherwise, ill treat every person who did not join heartily in the applause. The rapture of the moment was as great as if …John Adams had been proclaimed king of America. (qtd. in Coleman, p. 35)

Nevertheless, “Hail Columbia” was widely adopted as a sort of unofficial national anthem. Although it is still performed today, it has been overshadowed by “The Star-Spangled Banner,” which Herbert Hoover made the official national anthem in 1931.

Compare these songs to:

Patriotic songs from other eras, especially those better known today:

"America" (Unit 3),

"Battle Hymn of the Republic" (Unit 4)

"America the Beautiful" (Unit 5).

"Star Spangled Banner" (Unit 3), which replaced it as the official national anthem.

Today's presidential march, "Hail to the Chief."


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