Today we look back at a campaign song that used new lyrics set to an old tune to support Abraham Lincoln’s run for president in 1860. Jesse Hutchinson Jr., part of a group of family singers, wrote the lyrics to the 1860 campaign song “Lincoln and Liberty.” I like the lines reminding the listeners that the candidate from Illinois also grew up in Kentucky and Indiana: “We’ll go for the son of Kentucky,/ The hero of Hoosierdom through.” Hoosierdom?
The music to “Lincoln and Liberty” comes from an old English drinking song going back at least to the 17th Century, “Rosin the Beau.” The tune had already been used in campaign songs for William Henry Harrison in 1840 and for Henry Clay in 1844. Before Lincoln’s campaign, the tune also had been used in an abolitionist song (“Come aid in the slave’s liberation / And roll on the Liberty Ball!”). So listeners’ familiarity with the tune might have helped the Lincoln version of the song become so popular.
Here is a version of “Lincoln and Liberty” recorded more recently by Matthew Sabatella and the Rambling String Band (with free download) from Ballad of America Volume 3: Songs in the Life of Abraham Lincoln (2009):
In this video, singer Ronnie Gilbert explains some of the background of the song, “Lincoln and Liberty” before singing the tune:
On November 6, 1860, Lincoln won 40 percent of the popular vote, which was enough to easily beat the three other candidates, John C. Breckinridge (Southern Democrat), John Bell (Constitutional Union), and Stephen Douglas (Northern Democrat). The election was not the end for the music to “Lincoln and Liberty.” The tune continued to be used after Lincoln’s presidency, including a song for Ulysses S. Grant’s reelection in 1872.
I doubt we will hear the tune during elections in the near future, but you never know. The use of an old song might help avoid the problems of presidential candidates angering rock stars. Still, I suspect that most of today’s musicians would be proud to have their music used to celebrate the former president born in February 1809.
Bonus Lincoln Information: Check out this post for a discussion of Lincoln’s birth. There are a couple of Lincoln films in the works too, including one with Daniel Day Lewis and one featuring Lincoln and vampires.
What do you think of “Lincoln and Liberty”? Leave your two cents in the comments.
(Some Related Chimesfreedom Posts)