Posted by: rcottrill | July 4, 2010

Today in 1831 – My Country, ‘Tis of Thee first sung

Graphic American FlagIn 1831 Samuel Francis Smith’s patriotic hymn America (or My Country, ‘Tis of Thee) was first sung during an Independence Day Celebration of the Sunday School at Boston’s Park Street Church. Dr. Smith was an eminent clergyman, author and editor. He also taught modern languages in the college classroom.

The writing of the song came in a roundabout way. Hymn tune composer Lowell Mason returned from a visit to Germany with a number of German hymnals. Not being able to read the language, and knowing that his friend Samuel Smith could, Mason asked him to look them over and see if there was anything of use in them. In his examination of the books, Smith found a patriotic song using a tune that appealed to him.

Whether or not the tune is of British origin as some suppose, we do not know for sure. But for a long time it has been used for the British national anthem, God Save the Queen [or King]. Francis Smith dashed off some new American words on a scrap of paper with little thought that the song would soon be sung extensively. But it certainly has been.

In the song, after extolling the greatness of America, there’s a prayer that God will preserve the freedom enjoyed by its citizens. Smith said that the fact that the tune was used in both England and America was a “beautiful bond of union between the mother country and her daughter.” In 1887 Dr. Smith visited the Board of Trade in Chicago. While sitting in the gallery, he was pointed out to some of the members. Suddenly the trading on the floor ceased, and all joined in a rousing rendition of his song.

My country, ’tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty,
Of thee I sing;
Land where my fathers died,
Land of the pilgrims’ pride,
From every mountainside,
Let freedom ring!

Our fathers’ God, to Thee,
Author of liberty,
To Thee we sing;
Long may our land be bright
With freedom’s holy light;
Protect us by Thy might,
Great God, our King.

If you can find it on YouTube, take a look at the newsreel clip from Easter Sunday of 1939, when African American singer Marian Anderson made history by singing My Country, ‘Tis of Thee before the Lincoln Memorial.

Considered to have one of the greatest voices of the twentieth century, Marian Anderson, with quiet dignity, broke many barrier’s down. She was the first black performer to sing at the Metropolitan Opera, and she even sang hymns before an audience in the Soviet Union, during a time of severe religious oppression there–though she had been forbidden to do so! Her interpreter refused to translate the words, but the audience knew what she was doing. They stormed to the foot of the stage, pleading for her to sing them more sacred songs!

(2) Today in 1840 – James McGranahan Born
James McGranahan had little formal education, but he showed a special talent for music early on. His gospel music career was launched by a tragedy. After the sudden death of song writer Philip Bliss and his wife in a train accident (in 1876) their trunk was recovered from the burning wreckage. In it was perhaps the last song Bliss ever wrote, My Redeemer (I Will Sing of My Redeemer). James McGranahan supplied the tune for it.

After that, he became associated with Major Daniel W. Whittle in his evangelistic meetings on both sides of the Atlantic. He had a beautiful tenor voice, and pioneered in using men’s choirs in his meetings. McGranahan supplied the melodies for dozens of gospel songs, occasionally writing the words himself as well (as he did for the missionary hymn Go Ye Into All the World, and for Verily, Verily.)

The words “verily, verily” are found 25 times in John’s Gospel (King James Version), falling from the lips of Jesus. They translate a double amen in Greek and, coming at the beginning of a statement, give it special emphasis. Sometimes the phrase is translated “truly, truly,” or “most assuredly I say to you.” McGranahan’s song takes the Lord’s statement in John 6:47 as the basis for a clear proclamation of the gospel of grace: “Most assuredly [verily, verily], I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life” (cf. Jn. 3:3; 5:24)

Oh, what a Saviour that He died for me!
From condemnation He hath made me free;
“He that believeth on the Son,” said He,
“Hath everlasting life.”

“Verily, verily, I say unto you;
Verily, verily,” message ever new!
“He that believeth on the Son” ’tis true!
“Hath everlasting life!”

All my iniquities on Him were laid,
All my indebtedness by Him was paid;
All who believe on Him, the Lord hath said,
“Hath everlasting life.”

Mr. McGranahan also provided the tune for Horatius Bonar’s stirring hymn, Hallelujah for the Cross. It perhaps works better as a choral number, but a medium to large-sized congregation can handle it if they are used to parts singing.

The cross, it standeth fast—
Hallelujah, hallelujah!
Defying every blast—
Hallelujah, hallelujah!
The winds of hell have blown,
The world its hate hath shown,
Yet it is not overthrown—
Hallelujah for the cross!

Hallelujah, hallelujah,
Hallelujah for the cross;
Hallelujah, hallelujah,
It shall never suffer loss!

’Twas here the debt was paid—
Hallelujah, hallelujah!
Our sins on Jesus laid—
Hallelujah, hallelujah!
So round the cross we sing
Of Christ, our offering,
Of Christ, our living King—
Hallelujah for the cross!

(3) Today in 1900 – Joseph Macaulay Born
Born in Ireland, Joseph Cordner Macaulay served on the faculty of Moody Bible Institute, in Chicago. He also pastored a church in Ontario, Canada, and was president of London College of Bible and Missions in that province. Dr. Macaulay wrote a number of books, as well as 25 hymn texts and 20 hymn tunes. In 1957 he authored the text for the hymn We Sing the Boundless Praise in his desire “to maintain the note of praise in modern evangelical hymnody.” The hymn was published in Hymns for the Living Church (Hope Publishing Company, 1974).

We sing the boundless praise of Him who reigns on high,
And of His glorious Son, the Lamb who brought salvation nigh.
Thine everlasting pow’r and majesty we sing,
But with our songs of sov’reign grace we’ll make heav’n’s arches ring.


  1. Hi Bob. Well that was a great surprise seeing the hymn My Country Tis of Thee. After all that was a very special song to me for a long time. Of course now that I am a True Canadian it still has a special meaning to me, but the Canadians have a lot of beautiful hymns as well.
    Your American/Canadian sister

    • Yes, quite a few of our traditional hymns have Canadian roots. However, we are lacking this kind of national hymn–other than what we have in the final verse of O Canada. (“Ruler Supreme, who hearest humble prayer, / Hold our Dominion in Thy loving care…”)

  2. for years I used to go to a Sovreign Grace conference in NJ and the theme hymn was WE Sing the Boundless Praise (by Joseph Macaulay) I love this hymn and it rings in my heart, but it is missing in most hymn books except an old Hope Publishing one. I would appreciate some more information. I manage to get “copies” of the music, but I cannot find sheet music for it.

    • Wish I could help you. I found the same thing. Hope Publishing has the hymn you ask about in Hymns for the Living Church. But I was unable to find it elsewhere. Joseph Macaulay lived near where I lived in Ontario, many years ago, and I likely heard him preach when I was a boy. From all I’ve heard, he was a great man of God. His songs–and he wrote about 25 of them, along with nearly as many hymn tunes–deserve a wider use.

  3. That is interesting, I think that the Pastor at the church in NJ also knew the writer from early in his life. There were many Canadians who used to come to this conference, which is no longer being held. It was always nice to have lunch or supper with a pastor who with his family made the conference their vacation and a time to be fed. I always admired them for the work that they do in small churches out in the country.

  4. […] the original post here: Today in 1831 – My Country, 'Tis of Thee first sung « Wordwise Hymns Posted in Country Tags: boundless, Country, country song, Cross, Hallelujah, horatius-bonar, […]

  5. It so wonderful to learn the middle name of the late Dr. Macaulay. Smile.

    I had the pleasure to hear him preach at Calvary Baptist Church in New York City. It was a time when Dr. Stephen F. Olford served as the Pastor and Dr. Macaulay served as Dean of the Bible School. Each Great Men of God.

    Are you able to share with me the names of the 50 songs Dr. Macaulay wrote and co-wrote?

    • Thanks for writing. With reference to Dr. Macaulay, it’s often much harder to find either a full biography or a list of hymns for someone who lived so recently. It takes time to gather that information. The Cyber Hymnal doesn’t have him listed at all, because it deals almost exclusively with hymns in the public domain, while this author’s songs are still under copyright. Most of what I have on my blog comes from a short biographical note in Donald Hustad’s Dictionary-Handbook to Hymns for the Living Church. lists the following hymns for him. That’s about all the information I have to this point.

      Merry, Merry Christmas Voices
      Now Let Songs of Triumph Swell
      This is the Book of God
      Thy Will, Not Mine, Be Done
      To All the World, the Love of God
      We Sing the Boundless Praise

  6. […] (2) Today in 1895 – Samuel Smith Died American Samuel Francis Smith was a Baptist clergyman who also wrote a number of hymns. But he is remembered today chiefly as the author of the national song, My Country ‘Tis of Thee. (For more, see Today in 1831.) […]

  7. […] Wordwise Hymns The Cyber […]

  8. […] Wordwise Hymns (James McGranahan) The Cyber […]


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