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Songs of Yesterday: Civil War, Part 4 - Lincoln and Liberty Too

The campaigns to elect, and then re-elect, Abraham Lincoln as the Country's President, who would no doubt be taking the nation into a War Between the States, were fueled by the same sort of mud-slinging we see in today's pre-election activities. Without television or Internet to communicate the virtues and vices of the candidates, musicians were employed to carry the message of those running. Here are some of the messages from Lincoln's time.


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Civil War songs served many purposes. They helped raise the morale of the troops, they provided a sense of solidarity (there is something about singing a song together that unites people), they taught the facts (and some fictions) of the events, and they promoted patriotism. It is this last category that we will examine here with the song "Lincoln and Liberty Too," and its companion piece "The Liberty Ball."

Serving the President was one of the patriotic approaches taken by the recruiters: We want to aid "Father Abraham" in his efforts to win the War. But even before the War began, when Lincoln was running for office, campaign songs were used to promote the man and his cause. In an earlier article in this publication, detailing the promotion of "Tenting on the Old Camp Ground," I discussed the role of the Hutchinson family and their popularizing the song by Walter Kittredge; but the Hutchinsons, specifically Jesse, were also known for penning their own song lyrics. Such is the case with "Lincoln and Liberty," a campaign song sung to the popular Irish folk tune "Rosin the Beau" (Silverman, Civil War Songs, pp. 41 & 45).

Using music to further presidential campaigns came into vogue in the 1840s with Van Buren's campaign (using the same tune mentioned above); by the time 1860 rolled around, such promotional songs were an expected part of politics. Not unlike the campaigns today, many spent more words disparaging the opposition than communicating the virtues of the chosen candidate. But the Hutchinson piece, used to promote Lincoln, was one that was designed to join the country together in unity behind the Republican nominee (Silverman, Songs and Stories, p. 44).

It bears mention here that, while the different versions of the song all apply the same Irish tune, there is some disagreement on the author of the composition. While at least two musicologists agree that Jesse Hutchinson was the songsmith (and the fact that the Hutchinson Family Singers popularized it is not in dispute), another source attributes the authorship to F. A. Simpkins (McNeil & McNeil, p. 5). The words in the Simpkins version are slightly different from the one claimed to be written by Hutchinson, so it is possible that Simpkins simply made some adjustments to the piece.

Let's look at some of these words, as they are unique to the region from which Lincoln originated. "Hurrah for the choice of the nation,/ Our chieftain so brave and so true,/ We'll go for the great reformation,/ For Lincoln and Liberty, too!/ We'll go for the son of Kentucky,/ The hero of Hoosierdom through,/ The pride of the 'Suckers' so lucky,/ For Lincoln and Liberty, too!" (Silverman, Civil War Songs, pp. 46-47). In this first verse are references to the three primary states with which Lincoln is associated: natives of Indiana (the home state of Lincoln's family) are frequently referred to (then and now) as "Hoosiers" (supposedly a slur from the original "husher," meaning a person who known for his strength and physical ability). A lesser known term - "Suckers" - is the nickname for Illinoisians (allegedly stemming from the practice of sucking water from the holes made by crayfish on the Illinois plains, where Lincoln's political career was formed). Of course, the mention of Kentucky is a clear reference to Lincoln's birth place (Silverman, Songs and Stories, pp. 44 & 47).

The second and third verses continue to speak of Lincoln's virtues: "They'll find what by felling and mauling,/ Our railmaker statesman can do;/ For the people everywhere are calling/ For Lincoln and Liberty, too./ Then up with the banner so glorious,/ The star-spangled red, white, and blue,/ We'll fight till our banner's victorious,/ For Lincoln and Liberty, too." The third verse is the first to specifically mention Lincoln's platform of anti-slavery: "Our David's good sling is unerring,/ The Slavocrat's giant he slew,/ Then shout for the freedom preferring,/ For Lincoln and Liberty, too." The last refrain repeats the one from the first verse (Silverman, Songs and Stories, p. 47). The obvious reference to the Biblical David and Goliath, with Lincoln facing the giant of slavery, gives us an image of success against great odds (though Lincoln's army was far more efficient than that of the South).

Apparently the theme of "Liberty" was not unique to the Lincoln campaign; in prior years, Adams, Jefferson, and Jackson had aligned their promotions with the same term, one that has always been linked with America. It is said that the 1864 reelection campaign also employed this song in the Republicans' pleas for votes, though other songs were also used to push the President into the winner's circle for a second term (Silber, pp. 90-91).

And between the two elections, a war was going on. Getting recruits to become committed to fighting for the Northern cause proved to be a job for the musicians! Using the same tried and true tune, the song "The Liberty Ball" (also attributed to Jesse Hutchinson) was born. This version was also used as a campaign song in 1860, employing, as well, lyrics from an earlier abolitionist "songster" from 1851, to serve two purposes: promote the Republican candidate and urge people to join "the cause" (Silber, p. 91).

The song "The Liberty Ball" made the war sound like it would be a giant party, with the end result being the freedom of all slaves. Because it was written before the first shots were even fired, the composer would not be expected to know that (1) the war would go on for many more months and years than the originally projected three months and (2) the conflagration would not come close to resembling a ball or party (which is not to say that, at various times throughout the four years of fighting, parties and cotillions weren't held; they were just the diversion, not the norm). Nevertheless, the verses to this patriotic composition bear placement here (refrains were simply the repetition of the last two lines of the preceding verse):

1) Come all you true friends of the nation, Attend to humanity's call;

Come aid in the slave's liberation, And roll on the Liberty ball.

2) We're foes unto wrong and oppression, No matter which side of the sea,

And ever intend to oppose them Till all of God's image are free.

3) We'll finish the temple of freedom, And make it capacious within,

That all who seek shelter may find it, Whatever the hue of their skin.

4) Success to the old-fashioned doctrine, That men are created all free;

And down with the power of the despot, Wherever his strongholds may be.

5) The liberty hosts are advancing, For freedom to all, they declare,

The downtrodden millions are sighing, Come break up our gloom of despair. Repeat first verse (Silber, p. 98).

So, with this sort of rousing tune with its words of encouragement, hope, and sense of unity that formed the country, who wouldn't be inspired to become part of the change that was facing the nation while stamping out all those who did not believe in these uplifting values. I am not sure that such a song would have had success four years later: though the sentiments might still be genuine, the weary nation might not have been as able to maintain the enthusiasm with which this song was most likely performed in its early version.

The fact that war was (and is) tightly bound to and by economy, an earlier verse in this song pronounced: "Ye Whigs, forsake slavery's minions,/ And boldly step into the ranks,/ We are not for party opinion,/ But invite all the friends of the banks." It wasn't long after that verse was employed that it was banished, perhaps not desiring to dry up the money options by offending them; perhaps to give yet one more push to encourage participation. It was replaced with: "Ye fogies quit slavery's minions,/ And boldly renounce your old pranks,/ We care not for party opinions,/ But invite you all into our ranks" (Silber, p. 91).

Unfortunately, as far as I am aware, there are no statistics that quantify how many soldiers joined the war (on either side) as a direct or indirect result of a song. But the feeling of being "one in song" as people join in harmony (some better than others) is a well-recognized phenomenon. I can visualize people being inspired by the ideals expressed in supporting the cause because they were moved by a rousing chorus of "roll on the Liberty Ball." If your ancestor was one of those who joined the cause early, it would be interesting to know if a song of patriotism was even partially involved.


McNeil, Keith and McNeil, Rusty. Civil War Songbook with Historical Commentary. Riverside, CA: WEM Records, 1999.

Silber, Irwin (Ed.). Songs of the Civil War. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1995.

Silverman, Jerry (Ed.). Civil War Songs and Ballads for Guitar. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, Inc., 1997.

Silverman, Jerry (Ed.). Songs and Stories of the Civil War. Brookfield, CT: 2002.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2011.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

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