To the tune of "Yankee Doodle," the American obsession with politics was born alongside America itself. From the end of the Revolutionary War through to the antebellum era, music made front page news and brought men to blows. Both common citizens and politiciansâeven early presidents of the young nationâused well-known songs to fuel heated debates over the meaning of liberty, the future and nature of the republic, and Americans' proper place within it. As both propaganda and protest, music called for allegiance to a new federal government, spread utopian visions of worldwide revolution, broadcast infringements on American freedoms, and spun exaggerated tales of national military might.
In Hail Columbia!, author Laura Lohman uncovers hundreds of songs circulated in newspapers, broadsides, song collections, sheet music, manuscripts, and scrapbooks over the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. These give evidence that a diversity of Americansâelite lawyers, immigrant actresses, humble craftsmen, and African American abolitionistsâemployed music for political purposes, creating new and deeply partisan lyrics to famous tunes of "Yankee Doodle," "The Star-Spangled Banner," and the like. These charged versions found their way to electioneering, tavern gatherings, presidential encomia, street theatre, and community celebrations, making song a political weapon between neighbours and citizens, to hail the new nation in partisan terms.