Music for the Nation: American Sheet Music, ca. 1820-1860 consists of more than 15,000 pieces of sheet music registered for copyright during the years 1820 to 1860. This collection reflects the development of popular song in America and complements such American Memory collections as Music for the Nation: American Sheet Music, 1870-1885, Band Music from the Civil War Era, and the sheet music found in the Alfred Whital Stern Collection of Lincolniana. The collection includes popular whimsical songs, ballads, patriotic anthems, sacred music, campaign songs, and compositions reflecting historical events.
Music for the Nation: American Sheet Music, ca. 1820-1860 provides a glimpse into the social and political history of the United States prior to the Civil War. Popular music of the early 1800s reflected historical events, migrations of people, reform movements, and virtually every aspect of life. A study of lyrics to popular songs or an analysis of reasons underlying the composition of musical arrangements, whether dedicated to individuals or composed to celebrate pivotal events, adds a new dimension to the study of history by examining popular interests of an era. The era best covered in the collection is Expansion and Reform, 1801-1861, with the collection being particularly strong for the period from 1834-1857.
Since early nineteenth-century music reflects both the racial stereotyping and prejudice of the era, students should be warned of epithets, pejorative terms, and racially stereotyped images that may be encountered as they search the collection. Such language is especially evident in minstrel songs.