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Collection Music for the Nation: American Sheet Music, ca. 1870 to 1885

Music for Public Occasions

Music in this online collection abounds in echoes of the Civil War. Some pieces are reprints of Civil War songs; some are nostalgic reminiscences; some are funeral marches for Civil War officers who died during the period. There are also many songs for Decoration Day, the holiday (now Memorial Day) first celebrated in 1868 as a memorial day for the dead of the Civil War. The signing of the Treaty of Washington (May 8, 1871), which settled American claims on Great Britain derived from the Civil War, produced at least one celebratory piece.

"American Centennial March"
Composer: A. Haevernick
Published: 1875
(Music Division, Library of Congress)

No event of this era inspired as much music as the Civil War had during the 1860s. But there was a steady stream of patriotic pieces, as well as pieces commemorating particular events in the life of the nation. Two events, one celebratory and one sad, produced particularly large amounts of music.

"Centennial Triumphal March"
Composer: Charles F. Helfrich
Published: 1875
(Music Division, Library of Congress)

The Centennial of American Independence produced a spate of music, much of it published before1876. Some of the earlier pieces celebrated pre-Revolutionary events such as the Boston Tea Party; others were by composers and publishers who wanted to get in early on the celebration. Many of the pieces celebrated the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, often with elaborate cover pictures of the Centennial buildings.

No event of the period produced a greater outpouring of music than the assassination of President James A. Garfield on July 2, 1881. There were songs of prayer for his recovery (he did not die until September 19), songs of mourning for his death, funeral marches, and songs dedicated to his widow. One piece even dispatched his assassin, Charles Guiteau, to Hades.

"Centennial March"
Composer: H. Maylath
Published: 1875
(Music Division, Library of Congress)

Presidential elections predictably brought out a set of campaign songs for each candidate; the victor was celebrated with victory marches and inaugural marches. Represented here are the campaign of 1872 (Ulysses S. Grant vs. Horace Greeley), the controversial election of 1876 (Rutherford B. Hayes vs. Samuel J. Tilden), 1880 (James A. Garfield vs. Winfield Scott Hancock), and 1884 (James G. Blaine vs. Grover Cleveland). The number of campaign songs increases with each election: this reflects the general increase in the amount of music published in America as well as the increased realization of the importance of campaign music. Some of the publications for 1884 are for neither candidate: they are electioneering bandbooks, designed for bands that could be hired to play for either party, and giving equal time to both. The winner was not always the candidate with the most songs: there are more songs for James G. Blaine in this collection than for any other candidate. Chester A. Arthur, who became president on the death of Garfield, managed to get a few songs without benefit of a presidential campaign. One state election, the 1882 candidacy of Ben Butler for Governor of Massachusetts, generated an occasional campaign song. There were also songs, most of them satirical, about elections in general.

"Centennial March"
Composer: Henry B. Hart
Published: 1873
(Music Division, Library of Congress)

Ulysses S. Grant was not only a candidate, he was a personage. Pieces were written about his policies, the White House wedding of his daughter Nellie, and his round-the-world tour after his presidency. In 1885 the outpouring of mourning music for the death of Grant rivaled that for the death of Garfield.

The Statue of Liberty was not dedicated until 1886. Nonetheless, this collection contains several pieces devoted to sculptor Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi's work-in-progress.

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