The America of Samuel F. Smith

Samuel Francis Smith was a friend and classmate of Oliver Wendell Holmes at Harvard University. Smith went on to attend Andover Theological Seminary, and after entering the Baptist ministry in 1832, subsequently assumed numerous ministry, professorial, and editorial posts. For their 1829 class reunion, Holmes wrote of his good friend:

There's a nice youngster of excellent pith,
Fate tried to conceal him by naming him Smith;
But he shouted a song for the brave and the free,
Just read on his medal, "My country," "of thee."

Holmes was here referring to the song, penned by Samuel Smith, which has survived the ages as "My Country, ‘Tis of Thee."

Known in its entirety nowadays by perhaps only a handful, and only by its first stanza for a somewhat larger group (many being upwards in age), most of the younger generations have only a vague notion of the melody, unaware of the parallel with Britain's national anthem. Indeed, Smith himself had no inkling of the similitude of musical elements with "God Save the Queen." He simply wrote a new hymn set to a traditional Germanic melody.

I recently took the occasion to read through the lyrics, and was once again amazed by the depth of meaning carried within these words. However, I was most particularly struck by the notions of education as a safeguard of Truth and Righteousness, which are essential elements in sustaining us as a Nation, pure and triumphant!

Here are the full lyrics: [Author's note: there exist a number of versions, and it is difficult to know with certainty which stanzas were later culled from the original, and which were added. This should not diminish from the premise of this article.]

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 mountain side.

Let Freedom ring.

My native country, thee,
Land of the noble free,
Thy name I love;
I love thy rocks and rills,
Thy woods and templed hills,
My heart with rapture thrills
Like that above.

Let music swell the breeze,
And ring from all the trees
Sweet Freedom's song;
Let mortal tongues awake;
Let all that breathe partake;
Let rocks their silence break,
The sound prolong.

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.

Our glorious Land to-day,
'Neath Education's sway,
Soars upward still.
Its hills of learning fair,
Whose bounties all may share,
behold them everywhere
On vale and hill!

Thy safeguard, Liberty,
The school shall ever be,
Our Nation's pride!
No tyrant hand shall smite,
While with encircling might
All here are taught the Right
With Truth allied.

Beneath Heaven's gracious will
The stars of progress still
Our course do sway;
In unity sublime
To broader heights we climb,
Triumphant over Time,
God speeds our way!

Grand birthright of our sires,
Our altars and our fires
Keep we still pure!
Our starry flag unfurled,
The hope of all the world,
In peace and light impearled,
God hold secure!

There are, of course, the glorious expressions of thanks to the Almighty for a rich and abundant land, and the opportunity to shine forth the spirit of liberty "with God's holy light." But notice the progression, from the fantastic discovery in the first two stanzas, to the sort of evangelical zeal bursting forth until midway through the song.

Now, an unexpected shift:  the verse progresses onward to the concluding two stanzas, where the timeless quality of the effort is fully revealed. From the free-spirited exuberance of a youthful zeal, one is suddenly made to face, albeit with joy and longing, the enormity of the responsibility to teach these truths to posterity. One can, from the within the lyrics themselves, discern three imperatives with regard to such a burden to educate the following generations:

  • 1. To more fully appreciate the bounties shared at great cost to our collective posterity.
  • 2. To safeguard our liberty from the encroachment of tyrants.
  • 3. To know and do what is Right and True, and hence ensure our standing throughout the ages.
This brings to mind how Harvard was established in 1636 by the Puritans as a means of providing affordable education to the vast majority of the people -- in direct defiance of the British Crown. This was in keeping with Puritan traditions of great tolerance and belief that only a population broadly schooled in logic, religion, and the liberal arts could remain free.

New England's reputation as a center of American learning is a legacy of the Puritan stress on diffusing knowledge as broadly as possible.

Sadly, this is no longer true of any but a handful of higher learning institutions. Indeed, the spirit of these words is best carried out within parochial education and the home-schooling "movement." In a way, it is also taking place through a kind of American "Awakening" best exhibited by the "Tea Party" movement. Time will tell, but perhaps we are in the midst of an American Restoration, wherein the People are returning to the sources of our true Liberty! If we are zealous and committed, perhaps we can even begin to influence our public schools toward this end!

On Samuel F. Smith's 80th birthday, Oliver Wendell Holmes sent him the following note:

Full ma­ny a po­et's labored lines
A century's creeping waves shall hide-
The verse a people's love enshrines
Stands like a rock that breasts the tide.

Time wrecks the proudest piles we raise,
The towers, the domes, the temples fall.
The fortress crumbles and decays-
One breath of song outlasts them all.

I remember singing this hymn of praise and patriotic thanksgiving many dozens of times; yet I have not the slightest recollection of some of the truly weighty portions. What a tragedy!

What a greater tragedy still that words such as these no longer echo from the rafters of the very institutions that brought about their very existence.

Michael Fraley flew 29 combat missions in Operation Desert Storm - and in true faith and allegiance, vows to forever support and defend U.S. Constitution from all enemies, be they foreign or domestic.
Samuel Francis Smith was a friend and classmate of Oliver Wendell Holmes at Harvard University. Smith went on to attend Andover Theological Seminary, and after entering the Baptist ministry in 1832, subsequently assumed numerous ministry, professorial, and editorial posts. For their 1829 class reunion, Holmes wrote of his good friend:

There's a nice youngster of excellent pith,
Fate tried to conceal him by naming him Smith;
But he shouted a song for the brave and the free,
Just read on his medal, "My country," "of thee."

Holmes was here referring to the song, penned by Samuel Smith, which has survived the ages as "My Country, ‘Tis of Thee."

Known in its entirety nowadays by perhaps only a handful, and only by its first stanza for a somewhat larger group (many being upwards in age), most of the younger generations have only a vague notion of the melody, unaware of the parallel with Britain's national anthem. Indeed, Smith himself had no inkling of the similitude of musical elements with "God Save the Queen." He simply wrote a new hymn set to a traditional Germanic melody.

I recently took the occasion to read through the lyrics, and was once again amazed by the depth of meaning carried within these words. However, I was most particularly struck by the notions of education as a safeguard of Truth and Righteousness, which are essential elements in sustaining us as a Nation, pure and triumphant!

Here are the full lyrics: [Author's note: there exist a number of versions, and it is difficult to know with certainty which stanzas were later culled from the original, and which were added. This should not diminish from the premise of this article.]

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 mountain side.

Let Freedom ring.

My native country, thee,
Land of the noble free,
Thy name I love;
I love thy rocks and rills,
Thy woods and templed hills,
My heart with rapture thrills
Like that above.

Let music swell the breeze,
And ring from all the trees
Sweet Freedom's song;
Let mortal tongues awake;
Let all that breathe partake;
Let rocks their silence break,
The sound prolong.

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.

Our glorious Land to-day,
'Neath Education's sway,
Soars upward still.
Its hills of learning fair,
Whose bounties all may share,
behold them everywhere
On vale and hill!

Thy safeguard, Liberty,
The school shall ever be,
Our Nation's pride!
No tyrant hand shall smite,
While with encircling might
All here are taught the Right
With Truth allied.

Beneath Heaven's gracious will
The stars of progress still
Our course do sway;
In unity sublime
To broader heights we climb,
Triumphant over Time,
God speeds our way!

Grand birthright of our sires,
Our altars and our fires
Keep we still pure!
Our starry flag unfurled,
The hope of all the world,
In peace and light impearled,
God hold secure!

There are, of course, the glorious expressions of thanks to the Almighty for a rich and abundant land, and the opportunity to shine forth the spirit of liberty "with God's holy light." But notice the progression, from the fantastic discovery in the first two stanzas, to the sort of evangelical zeal bursting forth until midway through the song.

Now, an unexpected shift:  the verse progresses onward to the concluding two stanzas, where the timeless quality of the effort is fully revealed. From the free-spirited exuberance of a youthful zeal, one is suddenly made to face, albeit with joy and longing, the enormity of the responsibility to teach these truths to posterity. One can, from the within the lyrics themselves, discern three imperatives with regard to such a burden to educate the following generations:

  • 1. To more fully appreciate the bounties shared at great cost to our collective posterity.
  • 2. To safeguard our liberty from the encroachment of tyrants.
  • 3. To know and do what is Right and True, and hence ensure our standing throughout the ages.
This brings to mind how Harvard was established in 1636 by the Puritans as a means of providing affordable education to the vast majority of the people -- in direct defiance of the British Crown. This was in keeping with Puritan traditions of great tolerance and belief that only a population broadly schooled in logic, religion, and the liberal arts could remain free.

New England's reputation as a center of American learning is a legacy of the Puritan stress on diffusing knowledge as broadly as possible.

Sadly, this is no longer true of any but a handful of higher learning institutions. Indeed, the spirit of these words is best carried out within parochial education and the home-schooling "movement." In a way, it is also taking place through a kind of American "Awakening" best exhibited by the "Tea Party" movement. Time will tell, but perhaps we are in the midst of an American Restoration, wherein the People are returning to the sources of our true Liberty! If we are zealous and committed, perhaps we can even begin to influence our public schools toward this end!

On Samuel F. Smith's 80th birthday, Oliver Wendell Holmes sent him the following note:

Full ma­ny a po­et's labored lines
A century's creeping waves shall hide-
The verse a people's love enshrines
Stands like a rock that breasts the tide.

Time wrecks the proudest piles we raise,
The towers, the domes, the temples fall.
The fortress crumbles and decays-
One breath of song outlasts them all.

I remember singing this hymn of praise and patriotic thanksgiving many dozens of times; yet I have not the slightest recollection of some of the truly weighty portions. What a tragedy!

What a greater tragedy still that words such as these no longer echo from the rafters of the very institutions that brought about their very existence.

Michael Fraley flew 29 combat missions in Operation Desert Storm - and in true faith and allegiance, vows to forever support and defend U.S. Constitution from all enemies, be they foreign or domestic.

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