My Country, 'Tis of Thee: The Story Behind the Song
Kenneth W. Osbeck
"Men must be governed by God or they will be ruled by tyrants."
-- William Penn
Moved deeply by the desire to create a national hymn that would allow the American people to offer praise to God for our wonderful land, a twenty-four-year-old theological student, Samuel Francis Smith, penned these lines on a scrap of paper in less than thirty minutes in 1832. Yet even today many consider My Country, 'Tis of Thee their favorite patriotic hymn and call it our "unofficial national anthem."
The easily singable words of the song are matched with a popular international melody used by many nations, including England, where it accompanies "God Save the King/Queen." The emotionally powerful ideas that Smith expressed had an immediate response. The hymn soon became a national favorite. The stirring tributes to our fatherland in the first three stanzas lead to a worshipful climax of gratefulness to God and a prayer for His continued guidance.
Following his graduation from Harvard and the Andover Theological Seminary, Samuel Smith became an outstanding minister in several Baptist churches in the East. He composed 150 hymns during his 87 years and helped compile the leading Baptist hymnal of his day. He was also editor of a missionary magazine through which he exerted a strong influence in promoting the cause of missions. Later he became the secretary of the Baptist Missionary Union and spent considerable time visiting various foreign fields. Samuel Smith was truly a distinctive representative of both his country and his God.
My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing:
Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrims' pride,
From ev'ry 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!
with permission from Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions (2nd Edition).
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