Study Guide

The Liberty Song Introduction

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The Liberty Song Introduction

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

Year1768 (music written 1759)
Writer(s)John Dickinson (words), William Boyce (music)

Music Video


Influenced by N/A

“The Liberty Song” was America’s first real Patriotic song, and as such it inspired countless other patriotic songs before, during, and after the American Revolution.

The Liberty Song Resources


John Dickinson
Statesman, essayist, and songwriter

Charles Townshend
His legislative proposal—the Townshend Acts—revived the tension between the American colonies and British Parliament in 1767.

Boston Tea Party
Even though most of the Townshend Acts would be repealed, the tax on tea remained, leading to this historic event in 1773. This lithograph was produced in 1846.


The American Revolution
PBS, Michigan State, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and Humanities & Social Sciences Online have partnered together to create a comprehensive site with further internet references, discussion threads, teaching tools, essays, and book reviews.

John Dickinson
The college named in his honor has a useful site that contains a biography and several helpful links.

Parlor Songs
“The Liberty Song” is among the patriotic songs explored on this useful website dedicated to music primarily from the 19th century.

Video & Audio

“The Liberty Song”
This rendition by Pittsburg Landing sounds much like the way the song would have been performed in 1768.

“Heart of Oak”
Dickinson used this British military march for his “Liberty Song.”

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