“Washington’s March”

America’s earliest presidential elections were simple contests in which the candidate who garnered the most votes won. With impassioned partisan races yet to emerge, political songs were expressions of patriotism. “The Favorite New Federal Song” came to be associated with George Washington (1732–1799) after it was played for him in 1789 during a visit to Trenton, New Jersey, the site of one of his military victories. For many years, the tune, now known as “Hail, Columbia,” did duty as a national anthem.

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Celebrating John Adams

One of the most popular patriotic songs of the late-eighteenth century was “Adams and Liberty,” with words written by Robert Treat Paine (1731–1814), one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. The song celebrates all who worked for liberty, including second U.S. president John Adams (1735–1826), in office from 1797 to 1801, who is pictured in a cameo engraving on the music. The words were sung to the tune of “To Anacreon in Heav’n.” This melody is today best known as “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Robert Treat Paine. “Adams and Liberty.” New York: G. Gilbert, ca. 1798. Music Division, Library of Congress (1)

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Lincoln’s Call and Andrew Johnson’s Satire

Although he is perceived today as one of America’s presidential icons, when Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865) ran for office in 1860 he was not as well-known as his Democratic opponent, famed orator Stephen Douglas (1813–1861). While Douglas embarked on a speaking tour to win votes, campaign songs like “Freedom’s Call” helped to spread the word about Lincoln, promising that all who voted for him “in triumph ride at last!” Vice President Andrew Johnson (1808–1875) was thrust into the presidency after Lincoln’s assassination but when he attempted to run as a Democrat in 1868, Johnson faced biting musical satires ridiculing him for switching parties and attacking his background and character.

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  • Karl Cora. “Freedom’s Call” from The Campaign, 2 Lincoln Republican Songs. Boston: Russell & Tolman, 1860 Music Division, Library of Congress (3)

  • J.M. Stillman, music, and S.C. Burdicks, words. “Andy Never Was the Man He Used to Be.” Chicago: H.M. Higgins, 1866. Music Division, Library of Congress (4)

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