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The Marines' Hymn Introduction

In a Nutshell

The Marines are a proud bunch, and their official song, “The Marines’ Hymn,” is a proud musical monument to the role that the Corps has played in America’s past wars. But Marines don’t sing the song just for the sake of pride. They sing it to remind presidents, Congresspersons, and the general public that they have been a critical part of America’s defense establishment for centuries. The fact of the matter is that while the Marines are an old and honored branch within the US military, they have been on the chopping block since the 1830s. Presidents like Andrew Jackson and Dwight Eisenhower have wanted to eliminate the Marine Corps.

So what exactly does “The Marines’ Hymn” celebrate? Why does the Corps promise to fight from the “Halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli?” And why would so many government officials be so anxious to eliminate this branch? Don’t worry, Shmoop’s got all the answers you need right here.

About the Song

Artist Musician(s)
Year1867 (words written ca. 1850)
Writer(s)Jacques Offenbach (music), Words—unknown
Learn to play: http://tabs.ultimate-guitar.com/u/usmc/marine_hymn_tab.htm
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Shmoop Connections

Explore the ways this song connects with the world and with other topics on Shmoop
“The Marines’ Hymn” begins with a reference to two memorable battles in American military history. One of these was fought against the Barbary pirates during Thomas Jefferson’s administration. The newly elected president abandoned America’s initial policy of appeasement and adopted a hard line against this old form of terrorism in what would become the First Barbary War. The second of these battles was fought against Mexican troops guarding their nation’s capital during the Mexican-American War. Between 1846 and 1848, the United States waged war against Mexico to secure California and the territory that would become Arizona, New Mexico, and parts of Utah, Colorado, and Nevada.

To fully understand the song, however, we need to understand the suspicion that Americans have historically held toward the military. Since the 18th century, Americans have questioned the need for permanent peacetime armies. Instead, they have argued that citizen militias should be America’s first line of defense. When Marines sing proudly of their past, they remind Americans that highly-trained, professional soldiers have played crucial roles in every American conflict.

The Marines have struggled with more, however, than just Americans’ historical suspicion of standing armies. For close to two centuries, Army officers have argued that their soldiers could fill the role played by the Marines in America’s defenses. President Andrew Jackson tried to dissolve the Marines; President Dwight Eisenhower tried to revamp their role within his larger attempts to restructure American defenses.

One factor always cited in support of the Marines is their record of contribution to every American conflict from the American Revolution (http://www.shmoop.com/american-revolution/) to the Spanish American War to Vietnam and beyond.

On the Charts

While “The Marines’ Hymn” is certainly popular among Marines, it is primarily used at and for military events, and as such it is not exactly a song that one would expect to find on the Billboard Hot 100 or Ryan Seacrest play on the radio.

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