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My Country ‘tis of Thee Introduction

In a Nutshell

Most people know “My Country ‘tis of Thee.” It’s one of the first songs children learn in American schools. Easy to sing and filled with liberty and pilgrims, the song provides a popular little exercise in patriotism.

But did you know that the song owes its melody to the British national anthem, “God Save the Queen”? The British anthem predates the American song by almost a century. What’s up with that? Was American lyricist Samuel Francis Smith some sort of English wannabe? In copying the British anthem, was he merely suggesting that the United States and Great Britain were related? Or was he up to something more mean spirited? Was he trying to rub a little salt in British wounds by claiming the anthem just as Americans had claimed their freedom?

Or is there some other explanation for the rather unpatriotic origins of one of America’s most popular patriotic songs? You better come up with some answers, Mr. Smith.

About the Song

Artist Musician(s)
Writer(s)Samuel Francis Smith (words), Music—Traditional (taken from Great Britain’s “God Save the Queen/King”)
Learn to play: http://www.musictechteacher.com/flash_piano_practice/flash_piano_lesson_my_country.htm
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Shmoop Connections

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When Samuel Francis Smith wrote “My Country ‘tis of Thee” in 1831, the United States was still a young country. Its political system had been worked out in 1787 with the drafting of the Constitution, and it’s religious character had started to take shape during the Second Great Awakening, but America’s literature, art, and music were still in formation. In fact, this patriotic song was written at a time when Americans were actually debating the merits of homegrown versus European art and music.

Smith sided with those who thought that Americans should imitate British and European examples, but others would insist on defining truly American forms of art. James Fenimore Cooper, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Walt Whitman, Mark Twain, and Aaron Copland were among a large group of artists who argued that American writers should find their own voice and American musicians should draw exclusively from American genres, like the blues and country.

On the Charts

“My Country ‘tis of Thee” predates the modern system of charting popular music by a good century, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t popular. In fact, at one point the song was considered by many to be America’s national anthem until “The Star-Spangled Banner” was officially adopted in 1931.

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