Roy Justice - Singing Historian

Excerpts from Patriotic Songs and Their Stories Booklet

Here is an excerpt from the booklet about the origins of the song Yankee Doodle: The original lyrics of the song were written in the mid-1750's during the French and Indian War (also known as The Seven Years War, and by other titles in different parts of the world). The song was written deliberately to ‘make fun’ of the British Colonial farmers and citizens who were being pressed into joining the King’s Army. I would encourage you to explore more of this period of time which predated The American Revolution by 10-12 years and began to establish the environment that would lead to the conflict in 1775. An old familiar melody was employed to support a number of derogatory lyrics that were intended to expose the British Colonist’s lack of sophistication and education. At that time in history the English Military and upper level aristocracy ‘looked down their noses’ at anyone who wasn't among one of their elite groups! That included Great Britain’s own, not quite as wealthy, outspoken, or especially poor citizens and subjects – but they most especially disrespected the ‘American’ Colonists. Yankee: No one is sure of the origin of the word Yankee, or what it might have meant when it was first used. Historians conjecture that it might be a mispronunciation of a Native American, or Dutch word or phrase. There is no ‘hard’ evidence that this is the case but there may be evidence of its tie to a Dutch term (Jan Kees – pronounced Yonehkee – and later, Anglicized to Yankee - which, translated, means ‘Johnny Cheese’. Some historians believe that this was a reference to the abundant dairy production in the Northeast.) Over time, the word ‘Yankee’ became accepted as a description of the people who lived in the north-eastern region of the Colonies. Today it refers more specifically to folks from the New England area. During the Civil War ‘Yankee’ referred to anyone living north of the Mason-Dixon Line. Note: The Mason-Dixon Line was a boundary line that was surveyed between 1763 and 1767 by Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon to resolve a border dispute between Great Britain and the Colonies. It marked most of the borders involving Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware and West Virginia. It would later be used to indicate the dividing line between the Northern and Southern States. Doodle is a British word (borrowed from a ‘low-German’ word) for a fool, or simpleton – someone not very bright and not schooled in the ways of conduct and manner of the wealthy, educated, and powerful. The ‘Yankee Doodle’ Colonists were not very well thought of! But then, neither was anyone else in the eyes of the British elite. During the mid-1700's, as the Colonies were growing and the British Empire was struggling to maintain its expanding global presence, King George III – the reigning British monarch at that time - used the Colonies as a financial resource demanding taxes on just about everything that we were consuming. The King didn't ask…he just levied taxes. This was where the phrase ‘taxation without representation’ would begin to stir people’s emotions and would lead to growing resentment for the King in the coming days. Perhaps, if he had been polite enough to ask first, we would have been more cooperative. When he taxed the one thing that every British subject believed was his (or her) ‘God-given right’ to enjoy, free from government taxation, the Colonists had finally had enough of this disrespectful treatment. What was that item? TEA!! Note: Today, the English consume in the neighborhood of 163 million cups of tea per day. Americans enjoy nearly triple that amount!

 

Regarding the War of 1812 and The Star Spangled Banner: The War of 1812 is sometimes referred to as ‘the forgotten war’. A complex set of circumstances would bring us to this conflict. Historians are now recognizing this war as one of the most significant that the U.S. would engage in. I mentioned earlier that the British military and aristocracy viewed themselves as a class of people above everyone else - even above their own citizens who were not as financially well-positioned in society. Consequently, the British Government did not recognize the sovereignty of other nations - especially of the United States of America! If someone had citizenship ties to Great Britain (Great Britain is comprised of the four countries of England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales) - even if those ties had long been broken and you had achieved legal citizenship in another country - the British government considered that person as a ‘subject’ (citizen) of Great Britain. That meant that the King believed that he had the right to command your destiny and that you were obligated to comply whether you wanted to – or not! The “Once a British subject, always a British subject!” attitude would be imposed most upon American Irish and English sailors. During the late 1700s and early 1800s the great number of British ships required a steady supply of sailors to ‘man’ them. Great Britain’s response to this need was to stop our merchant ships and press American Irish and English sailors into the Royal Navy by force - discounting their American citizenship. By 1812, President James Madison and the American people had had enough! This fledgling nation would surprise the world by declaring war upon Great Britain. One of the reasons that this war became known as ‘the forgotten war’ was because it was so insignificant to the British that it is not even mentioned in her history books. At the same time that we declared war on Great Britain we declared war on Canada, intent on extending our borders to the north. We were stretching our borders to the south, as well. Canadians celebrate this war as their nation’s defining moment! Why? Because they successfully repelled our military advances and defined their borders. In Canada you’ll learn all about this war. Here in the U.S. much less emphasis is given to it because it has not always been fully understood. The subtle consequences of this war would help to define our place in the world. From the story behind The Battle Cry of Freedom: By 1862, Lincoln, utilizing executive powers that were granted him during war-time, succeeded in repealing a Federal law that had been passed in 1792 prohibiting blacks - freed, or not - from participating in any American military force. Although there were freed black men in the North willing to volunteer for the Union Army they were forbidden, by that law, from joining the war effort. Lincoln, looking for any way to increase the ranks of his army (knowing that freed black men would be highly motivated to fight for the cause of freedom), encouraged Congress to pass the Second Confiscation and Militia Act, which passed on July 17th. This Act freed slaves who had masters in the Confederate Army. Soon after, on July 22nd, slavery was abolished in the United States when President Lincoln saw the successful passage of Emancipation Proclamation. This would add to the ranks of soldiers by 10% (approximately 10,000 soldiers). This was helpful, but, not sufficient to accomplish the task ahead. Note: The signing and passing of the Emancipation Proclamation did not effectively ‘end’ slavery. It apparently had the same effect that the signing of the Declaration of Independence had upon England when we declared our Independence from Great Britain. The Declaration worked ‘on paper’ but the allowance and recognition of the freedom would be contested by Great Britain for 7 more years after the document had been signed. In the same way, the Emancipation Proclamation stated the establishment of freedom for Black men and women who were slaves but it was ignored by those who did not agree with its content. President Lincoln would spend the next 2 years of the war insuring, through additional legislation, that the Emancipation for the slaves would be binding so that America would not return to the practice of slavery after the war was over. It is speculated that Lincoln had to purposely prolong the war to make sure that all of the necessary legislation was ‘in place’ to insure that slavery would be forever outlawed. I can’t imagine the toll that doing that must have taken upon him. Lincoln also called for 300,000 volunteers to join the Union Army in July of 1862, through a weak – but our first - ‘draft’. A second, stronger, better organized and implemented draft would be employed later in the war. At the announcement of the first draft, a prolific and respected songwriter and hymn-writer of the day, George Frederick Root, responded to the call in his own way by quickly writing a song called The Battle Cry of Freedom. It became a catalyst for men to volunteer for the Union Army and Root would receive a letter from Abraham Lincoln stating “You have done more than a hundred Generals and a thousand orators! If you could not shoulder a musket in defense of your country, you certainly have served her through your songs.” George Root would later refer to this quote with pride as he continued to contribute songs for the war effort. Based upon comments made to Root by soldiers and officers, and by the contents of the note that Lincoln sent to Root, the song apparently had a significant and positive effect upon enrollment. Just how much of an effect is not known and would be hard to gauge. Even with the draft system in place it was a struggle to acquire the preferred number of soldiers.

From the story of God Bless America!: In 1917, at the age of 30, (Irving) Berlin was drafted into the Army. WWI had started in 1914 and Irving was to serve two years at Camp Upton, in Yaphank, New York, out on Long Island. Irving disliked one aspect of Army life more-so than any other – Reveille! Having to get up at 5:30 in the morning every day was so irritating to him that he wrote a little protest song about the experience. It was called “Oh, how I hate to get up in the morning!” and it became a favorite of the camp! A wise commanding officer saw the morale boosting possibilities of having Irving in the camp and asked him to write a Broadway style production that ‘poked a little fun’ at, but was a tribute to, Army life. They would produce the show for the surrounding communities as an income generator to raise funds for improvements to the camp. There are varying reports about when all of this actually took place but the facts were that when Irving was reviewing the production, and the Finale was being sung and played, he stopped the dress rehearsal and decided to remove the last number because it slowed down the pace of the musical and wasn’t as well-written as he had wanted it to be. He removed the piece from the show and placed it in a trunk of rejected manuscripts, where it would stay, unsung, for a little over two decades. It was the sheet music to God Bless America! The musical production, titled ‘Yip, Yip, Yaphank!’ was produced and performed on Broadway, in New York City, with Irving Berlin singing “Oh, how I hate to get up in the morning!” on stage and it was a hit! The shows took in over $150,000 for a camp service center. A movie about the production was made in the early 1940's and included the scene I’m about to describe for you. First, a little background material: Armistice Day: After WWI ended, it was determined that November 11th would be the day designated to honor the Veterans of WWI. Why November 11th? An armistice, or ‘temporary cessation of hostilities’, went into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, in 1918. That’s why November 11, 1918, is generally considered to be the end of “the war to end all wars”, even though the Treaty of Versailles wasn't signed until July of 1919. In 1954, due to the growing number of War Veterans groups from conflicts that took place after WWI, President Dwight D. Eisenhower would enact legislation to honor all of the veterans of all of the wars and conflicts that Americans were involved in including, and following, WWI. Armistice Day would, from that year forward, be known as Veteran’s Day. After all, there were too many individual Veterans groups to give each one a separate holiday and they all had earned the right to be recognized! On to the story of the song: One week before Armistice Day, in 1938, a well-known radio personality, with a nationwide following and popular radio program broadcasting out of New York City, Kate Smith, contacted Irving Berlin requesting a patriotic song that hadn't been published. She wanted a new song to sing in honor of the Veterans of WWI. Irving had nothing patriotic written that was unpublished. He took two days to attempt to write something for her but was not happy with the new song that he had started writing. He had his secretary retrieve God Bless America from his ‘rejected manuscripts’ trunk, where it had been packed away, untouched and unsung, since 1918 – 20 years! He changed a few of the lyrics to make it more relevant to the times and sent it to Kate. She read through it, loved it, and asked Berlin if she could have it for her program. Irving was aware that the world, in 1938, was on the verge of WWII. It wasn't a question of ‘if’ America was going to get involved – it was a matter of when. He added a more patriotic introduction to the ‘prayer’ that he originally penned.

There is much more information about these and many other aspects of American History in the booklet!

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