MY COUNTRY ‘TIS OF THEE written in 1832
Samuel Smith (1808-1895) was 24 years old, had just graduated from Harvard, and was attending seminary. He had a reputation for being able to speak 15 languages. That’s why composer Lowell Mason (1792-1872) handed him a collection of some German songs for children. Mason didn’t know German, and he didn’t know if any of the songs were worth translating… but he trusted Samuel’s judgment and asked him to check them out for him.
Here’s the way Samuel wrote it later: “One dismal day in February 1832, about half an hour before sunset, I was turning over the leaves of one of the music books, when my eyes rested on a tune which is now known as ‘America’. I liked the spirited movement of it…. I glanced at the German words and saw that they were patriotic and instantly felt the impulse to write a patriotic hymn of my own, adapted to that tune. Picking up a scrap of waste paper which lay near me, I wrote at once, probably within half an hour, the hymn ‘America’.”
Samuel didn’t know it, but the British had been singing a song to this same tune for a hundred years before… a song called “God Save the King”.
The following July 4th, “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” was sung publicly for the first time.
It is the last verse that might cause this anthem to be classified as a hymn.
Read this hymn, and – today – celebrate the great blessing America is!
My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty,
of thee I sing;
Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrims’ pride,
from ev’ry mountainside 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.