Some patriotic songs are inspired by international crises. “The Star Spangled Banner” was written during the ; “God Bless America” was written during and first performed as Europe moved to in 1938. In 1832, though, when Samuel Francis Smith wrote “My Country ‘tis of Thee,” the United States was not facing an international crisis. It was internal divisions that threatened to tear the Union apart.
Southern states vehemently opposed national tariff policies throughout the 1820s. They argued that tariffs, which imposed taxes on imported goods, protected Northern manufacturers but hurt Southern planters who were forced to pay higher prices for manufactured goods. Southern opposition to Northern-backed tariffs reached crisis proportions in 1832 when several states, led by South Carolina, threatened to “nullify” the tariffs passed in 1828 and 1832. Under the controversial doctrine of nullification, states claimed the right to void or ignore laws they believed unconstitutionally passed by Congress.
Although President Andrew Jackson was a supporter of states’ rights, he believed that the doctrine of nullification was unconstitutional. He threatened to use force against South Carolina if it failed to enforce the tariffs. For a time, South Carolina stood its ground, but at the eleventh hour Congress passed a compromise tariff that averted the crisis and allowed both South Carolina and Jackson to claim a victory.
Smith wrote “My Country ‘tis of Thee” as these events were unfolding. He never said that he was moved by fears of disunion, but he certainly knew that a sectional crisis was brewing, and like many Americans, he may have believed that a was imminent.