Samuel F. Smith, author of America

by Edwin Watts Chubb

The Rev. Dr. Samuel F. Smith, author of America, died in Boston in 1895. On April 3, of the same year, he had received a grand public testimonial in Music Hall in recognition of his authorship of America. In the souvenir of that occasion Dr. Smith tells how he came to write the poem that made him famous.

"In the year 1831 William C. Woodbridge, of New York, a noted educator, was deputed to visit Germany and inspect the system of the public schools, that if he should find in them any features of interest unknown to our public schools here they might be adopted in the schools of the United States. He found that in the German schools much attention was given to music; he also found many books containing music and songs for children. Returning home, he brought several of these music-books, and placed them in the hands of Mr. Lowell Mason, then a noted composer, organist, and choir leader. Having himself no knowledge of the German language he brought them to me at Andover, where I was then studying theology, requesting me, as I should find time, to furnish him translations of the German words, or to write new hymns and songs adapted to the German music.

"On a dismal day in February, 1832, looking over one of these books, my attention was drawn to a tune which attracted me by its simple and natural movement and its fitness for children's choirs. Glancing at the German words at the foot of the page, I saw that they were patriotic, and I was instantly inspired to write a patriotic hymn of my own.

"Seizing a scrap of waste paper, I began to write, and in half an hour I think the words stood upon it substantially as they are sung to-day. I did not know at the time that the tune was the British God Save the King. I do not share the regrets of those who deem it an evil that the national tune of Britain and America is the same. On the contrary, I deem it a new and beautiful tie of union between the mother and the daughter, one furnishing the music (if, indeed, it is really English), and the other the words.

"I did not propose to write a national hymn. I did not think that I had done so. I laid the song aside, and nearly forgot that I had made it. Some weeks later I sent it to Mr. Mason, and on the following Fourth of July, much to my surprise, he brought it out at a children's celebration in the Park Street Church, in Boston, where it was first sung in public."