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Intro

In a Nutshell

In 1768, Pennsylvanian John Dickinson had had enough. British Parliament had recently imposed yet another set of taxes on the American colonies, and Dickinson, like many other colonists, was fed up. Some colonists boycotted British goods; others rioted. Dickinson, a wealthy lawyer, wrote “The Liberty Song,” which urged Americans to resist British tyranny and fight for their rights.

Today “The Liberty Song” is recognized as America’s first patriotic song, and Dickinson is celebrated as a great patriot, the “penman of the Revolution.” But in one of the final verses, Dickinson proposed that Americans drink a toast to the King of England and Great Britain’s glory. Exactly what sort of patriot was Dickinson? How could he urge Americans to unite and fight, in fact coining one of the most famous lines in American history—“By uniting we stand, by dividing we fall”—while toasting the despised King and British Empire? Apparently this song, like America’s Revolution, is a bit more complicated than we might at first think.

About the Song

ArtistN/A Musician(s)N/A
AlbumN/A
Year1768 (music written 1759)
LabelN/A
Writer(s)John Dickinson (words), William Boyce (music)
Producer(s)N/A
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Shmoop Connections

Explore the ways this song connects with the world and with other topics on Shmoop
Shmoop Connections

“The Liberty Song” by John Dickinson is considered America’s first patriotic song. Written in 1768, the song predates the lyrics for “Yankee Doodle” that we usually sing today (though not the music). Penned shortly after Parliament imposed the Townshend Acts, the song called on the colonists to unite as “Americans” and fight for their rights. But eight years later, Dickinson would refuse to sign the Declaration of Independence. Even though he took up arms against the British, he always dreamed of reconciling with the Crown. Thus it’s difficult for this song—and its author—to be fully understood without sorting out the entire story of the American Revolution. Not all American patriots were on the exact same page; the decision to declare independence was made by different people at different times, and some very patriotic Americans, like Dickinson, never embraced this decision at all.

This song is as much about the freedom of thought as it is about American freedom. The founding Fathers would enshrine this principle in the First Amendment, but long before it became a part of the United States Constitution, the freedom of thought and expression was a part of the American experience. Patriots like Dickinson modeled the idea that freedom meant not just freedom from British taxes, but also the freedom to disagree and dissent.

On the Charts

“The Liberty Song” predates Billboard’s Hot 100 by a full two centuries, but it was nevertheless an extremely popular song among American patriots during its time.
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