Remembering The Old Songs:


by Bob Waltz
(Originally published: Inside Bluegrass, October 2007)

Last month, Lyle gave us a song with strong Minnesota connections. That was an interesting coincidence, because right about the day you got the magazine was the sesquicentennial of Minnesota's constitution. Having polished off its constitution, Minnesota achieved statehood in 1858 -- and there will be a lot of celebrations over the next fifteen months. And this column will take a small part: My columns over the next year or so will mostly be songs with some significance for Minnesota history.

This one goes back pretty much to the beginning: In 1803, Thomas Jefferson negotiated the Louisiana Purchase, which brought the larger portion of Minnesota into American hands (though it would be some time before Americans actually occupied the area).

In these days of whirlwind candidate tours, negative campaigning, and race-to-the-front primaries, we forget how different politics was circa 1800. They didn't even have nominating conventions back then, and people didn't vote for presidents; they voted for electors who then met to choose the president and vice president.

And -- no campaign ads. There was, after all, no television, no radio, and no national media. The candidates sat at home, writing occasional letters and giving an occasional speech, and local officials had what we might almost call "candidate parties." They talked up the candidates, made assorted promises, passed out strong drink -- and sang campaign songs.

The songs were quite a big deal; except for Washington, who faced no opposition, every major candidate had one. It's believed that the first of them, Adams and Liberty, was the direct source for the tune of The Star-Spangled Banner(if you've heard that the Banner tune was the drinking song To Anacreon in Heaven, -- yes, it was, but Adams and Liberty was set to that tune and was better known in the United States).

Trust me, you don't want to hear Adams and Liberty. But Jefferson and Liberty, while still pretty monotonous if you sing it all, has a much livelier tune (an Irish jig called The Gobby-O, played as a Virginia Reel); if you hold it to a few verses, it's quite fun. I don't know where or from whom I learned this; probably an old recording of my parents'. It never went into tradition, as far as I know, but it stayed "in print" better than any campaign song prior to 1860. I'm giving only a subset of the more than a dozen verses; there is a full set in the Digital Tradition. The references to the "reign of terror" in the first line are an exaggeration, but only a slight one; John Adams had approved the Sedition Act, which was a clear attempt to suppress free speech. Jefferson was not as good a president as he was a statesman, but his election may well have saved us from an early police state.


Complete Lyrics:

The gloomy night before us lies,
The reign of terror now is o'er;
Its gags, inquisitors and spies,
Its hordes of harpies are no more

Rejoice, Columbia's sons, rejoice
To tyrants never bend the knee
But join with heart and soul and voice
For Jefferson and Liberty.

O'er vast Columbia's varied clime
Her cities, forests, shores and dales;
In riding majesty, sublime,
Immortal liberty prevails.

Hail! long expected glorious day
Illustrious memorable morn:
That freedom's fabric from decay
Secures for millions yet unborn.

No lordling here with gorging jaws.
Shall wring from industry its food;
No fiery bigot's holy laws,
Lay waste our fields and streets in blood.

Here strangers from a thousand shores
Compell'd by tyranny to roam;
Shall find, amidst abundant stores,
A nobler and a happier home.

Let foes to freedom dread the name,
But should they touch the sacred tree
Twice fifty thousand swords would flame,
For Jefferson and Liberty.

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