During the wartime period, it was very common for the colonists to take popular, well-known, and even patriotic British songs and rework the lyrics to fit the colonial cause for independence. That is exactly the case with these two following poems and songs (not to mention “Yankee Doodle” as shown in later posts).
This song printed in 1768 in Philadelphia declares to sing the lyrics to the tune of “Hearts of Oak,” which is the anthem of the Royal British Navy, which had established a long history of strong dominance amongst European sea fleets. The taking of such an honored British institution by the colonists and flipping it on its head to support colonial separation serves as a cruel mocking from the colonies from the very start before the lyrics are even read.
As shown in the loyalist songs and poetry, pro-English writings give the idea that England is a glorious country built on the military and regal strength of their monarch King George. At the end of “A New Song,” however, the text reads:
for Britannia’s Glory and Wealth: /
That Wealth and that Glory immortal may be, /
If She is but just – and if We are but Free
Yes, the text admits to England’s glory and strength, but qualifies it by proclaiming that the country can only really claim those qualities if it allows the colonies to have the freedom into which “we’re born” and rightfully deserve.
The word freedom, along with words like liberty and American, appear several times throughout the text, each time in all capital letters. The repetition of these words over those that the loyalists chose to concentrate on suggests that the colonists are looking to ideals of justice and virtuous principles as their rulers rather than a human royal crown. Whereas the British claim the thrown’s rule as inspired by God, the colonists claim their cause is called from Liberty:
In FREEDOM we’re BORN, not, To George we’ll follow.
The above song “Americans to Arms,” printed in Boston in 1775, depicts yet another poem spun to the tune of “Britons to Arms,” a British patriotic song. A woodcut image of General Joseph Warren accompanies the text. Besides serving as a general in the war and participating in the battles of Lexington and Concord, Warren road out with Paul Revere and William Dawes to alert American troops that the British were coming. His image above the poem shows a uniform much more polished and clean looking than the dirty, shabby clothing that British were so fond of making fun of the colonists for. His image serves to rally the colonists and show that they are just as good as their British counterparts.
Once again, liberty, freedom, and American appear throughout the text in bold, capital letters drawing attention to the fact that America fights for the cause of freedom, not a monarchy, and therefore fair representation. This song, however, unlike “A New Song” plays off the idea of going to war and battle that the loyalists sometimes used, as a way of inspiring colonial troops.
LIBERTY now calls for War /
Exert yourselves with Force and Might /
Show how AMERICANS can fight /
Despite the similar theme running through this American ballad and that of the loyalists, the colonies still have something to prove, seeing as how they are not yet even a country. The lyrics then urge Americans to prove themselves in war to show that they are just as good as the long established history of military victory that England has behind herself to draw from for poetic inspiration.